Saturday, January 30, 2010

"So where can I buy your book?"

As an author, I like to focus on creating books. I'd rather not worry too much about selling them. It's a complicated business, and there are people who know much more about it than I do. However, I am clear on one very important thing: My books need to be in bookstores in order for people to buy them. And a second, related thing: If my current books don't sell, it becomes riskier for a publisher to take a chance on anything I write in the future.

Having my books in bookstores seems rather basic. It seems like something I should be able to count on, considering I am published by a well respected New York publisher. But I've come to realize there are thousands of new books published every year by well respected New York publishers, and not all of them get picked up by Borders, Barnes & Noble, or the independents. Even with cute covers, glowing reviews, and fine literary awards, these giants might say no thank you to your book for a variety of reasons. (Rumor has it they wanted Jemma Hartman in paperback, but it was only available in hardcover.)

When people ask me, "Where can I buy your book?" I usually tell them to try their local independent but that they can always order it from Amazon. Because Amazon carries everything. Right? Well, apparently, not anymore.

Amazon and Macmillan are having a little tiff about how to price their Kindle books, and Amazon has just pulled every Macmillan book off its shelf. Including mine. Including tons of best sellers that people will be way more upset about than my two little books.

How this will play out, I have no idea. I understand the principles at stake here. But as an author who wants her books to sell, I have a vested interest in making sure my books are available for purchase. Somewhere! E-books are not going away. I hope someone figures out a solution soon.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The End!

My fake writing retreat was a huge success! Not only did I enjoy the Arizona sun, get a massage and facial, hike in the desert, help deaf and disabled children ride horses, and spend lovely evenings with my husband and his colleagues, but... drum roll please... I also finished my novel!


Seriously, this is an amazing feeling! One that I've only felt twice before. I have started plenty of novels, but I've only gotten to the end of three. Something happens as you get to those last few pages. Instead of hoping you'll finish, you know you'll finish. Instead of creating your characters and writing their story, it feels more like you are reading their story. You laugh and cry at their growth and silliness. You love them.

I hope you don't think that this book will be available at bookstores next month. That only happens in movies. I will spend the next few months revising this baby until I don't know how to make it any better. Then I'll send it to my agent, and she'll help me see the things I couldn't see on my own. I'll make it better still. And then we'll send it off into the big publishing world and some fabulous editor will help me see things my agent and I both missed. The book will get even better.

As my husband teases every time I spend 45 minutes blowing dry and straightening my hair, "It's such a process!"

It certainly is. I guess I like it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fake Writing Retreat

I am so close to finishing the first draft of this novel. And in a couple of days, I'm joining my husband on a business trip in Arizona. This is a yearly event at a beautiful resort, where in the past I've gotten fabulous spa treatments, visited art galleries, taken cooking lessons, read books by the pool, and even gone rock climbing. Although my husband has to work on this trip, I've always thought of it as a mini vacation. (I know... lucky me!)

But this year I've decided I don't need a vacation. What I need is a writing retreat. So that's what it will be. And it will be pretty swanky, too. I'll have delicious meals prepared for me, exercise classes whenever I need a break from writing, and evenings with my husband. We'll eat dinner with his colleagues and their significant others. I really love catching up with all of those people. There is a fireplace in our room, and Alan and I always fall asleep to that smoky cedar smell and the sound of the crackling fire. It really doesn't get better than that.

Wish me luck with finishing! I hope to report good news when I get back!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Award Season

The award season is upon us, and I'm not talking about the Golden Globes (although I will be rooting for Inglourious Basterds and Modern Family to win big). Tomorrow morning some lucky authors will get "The Call." The ALA awards are the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow of writing for children. And although most children's book authors will tell you how lucky and proud they are to be riding the rainbow at all, I think, secretly, we all dream of someday reaching that pot of gold. At least I do. Nothing wrong with admitting that, I hope!

I fully understand that winning the Newbery, just like getting published, is out of my control. So I focus on what I can control... writing the very best manuscript I am capable of creating at this point in time. I can't aim to win the Newbery. But I can aim to write a Newbery-quality novel. I mean, why wouldn't I? I used to work in advertising at Leo Burnett. And Leo Burnett was famous for saying, "When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either."

I'm not rooting for any books in particular to win tomorrow. Chances are, the books that win will be books I haven't read yet. That seems to be the way it goes for me. But you can bet I will read them. And that's why these awards are so golden. It's not the medal, or the sticker, or the money authors make in sales and speaking engagements... it's the readers. The thousands and thousands and thousands of new readers! Gold, for sure.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I've written about 140 pages of my new novel, and I probably have about 25 pages left to write. Normally I hate writing first drafts. I've blogged plenty about how horrible it feels and how impossible a task it is. One of my friends, Jenny Meyerhoff, likens writing first drafts to conjuring clay out of thin air. When you revise, you're molding and shaping that clay. Fun stuff. But first drafts? Seriously... where do you think that clay comes from? There's no big bucket in the corner of the room. We have to make the clay! I'm convinced there is magic involved.

So here's the weird thing... I am loving writing this first draft. I've only had one or two bad days. Mostly, I am thrilled to be hanging out and getting to know these characters and their story. I wish I knew why. Why does this novel feels so good to write? What magic forces are at work? Why these characters? Why now?

I ask these questions because I haven't felt this way in ages. And I'd really like to duplicate this feeling again and again and again. But perhaps there isn't a simpler answer. It probably has something to do with my real life being less stressful, and my main character being so likable and relatable, and the central question of the novel being so interesting to me. (What does it take to make you step out of the shadow and own your own light?). And I'm pretty sure there is magic at work. How else can I explain that strange feeling of reading my work-in-progress and wondering how it got written.

Maybe my job isn't to understand the magic but rather to recognize when the magic is there. I spent a year and a half suffering through first drafts that were magic-less. My stubborn nature made it hard for me to put those unfinished novels away. We writers are supposed to struggle, right? Maybe. But I'm quite certain we are supposed to be having fun, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's Your Favorite Book?

Betsy Bird, at Fuse #8, is putting together a list of the top 100 chapter books of all time. These are books for kids basically in 3rd-8th grade. Not picture books. Not easy readers. Not young adult. The list will be based on our votes. Everyone is allowed to vote for their top ten of all time. To vote, all you have to do is email Betsy at with your list. Subject heading should be "Chapter Book Poll." Put your favorite as number one, and go in order from there. You can add a little reason why if you want, but you don't have to. Click here for more information. The voting deadline is January 31, 2010, so don't delay!

Here's my list:

1. Are You There God It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume: Groundbreaking in its candor about God, religion, and puberty. And think of all the authors Judy has inspired. She changed the children's lit landscape forever.
2. Holes by Louis Sachar: Critically acclaimed literary fiction + popular appeal = Success with a capital S!
3. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: Enduring classic (as opposed to the other classics that teachers continue to make kids read but that kids really don't like)
4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Best introduction to the Holocaust for this age group. Love the treatment of courage and the seamless weaving of Red Riding Hood into the story.
5. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park: Proof that any topic can be made interesting in the hands of a master storyteller
6. Blubber by Judy Blume: Another Judy title, just to make sure she gets as many points as possible.
7. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech: Best free verse novel. Best dog story. Gotta love it!
8. Rules by Cynthia Lord: With so many kids with special needs today, I predict this story of friendship and accepting differences will stand the test of time.
9. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos: Voice voice voice.
10. The Giver by Lois Lowry: My favorite dystopian novel for this age group.

I realize I left off any fantasy novels (Sorry Harry Potter!) and any humorous novels as well. But ten is ten, so here you go. I would love to see your favorites. And I'm really looking forward to seeing the final results.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

All Things Graceling

Have you read Graceling, by Kristin Cashore? It is truly remarkable, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I wrote my latest Book Look column all about the wonders of its first chapter.

This morning I read a fabulous article by Cashore about the challenge of following the rules of the world she created in her fantasy novel. Anyone interested in Graceling, or Cashore, or writing will want to read this. Even if you don't write fantasy, this article is interesting because there are these rules of logic and believability in all novels. Having to manage time, space, and character traits while weaving together a believable and interesting plot... that is the challenge we authors face every day.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Puppy Update

I think people are generally more interested in puppies than they are in children's literature. You would not believe the number of emails I get about my Mini Whoodle, Ozzy! I blogged about our decision to get him, and I guess when people do a web search for Whoodles, they find me. So I figured it was high time I give an update about our life with Ozzy, otherwise known as The World's Sweetest Dog.

We got Ozzy from Barb at Old McDoodle Farm. I highly recommend her. Ozzy is now about 1 1/2 years old, but he still has that sweet, excited, loving puppy attitude. Perhaps that's why he has earned the nickname "Puppa" or "Puppalicious" or "Puppadoo." Ozzy has never met a human or animal he didn't like. He barely ever barks, only to come in from outside or to say hello to a friend across the street. He doesn't bite either, although he will jump up on people sometimes. (We are working with him on that one.) He will do just about anything for a belly rub.

He loves to take walks and go to the dog park. He also loves to sit on the couch and snuggle with whoever is watching TV or reading a book. We have an invisible fence, and he was trained on it very quickly. We think of him as the mayor of our street because he sits in the front yard and interacts nicely with all the people and animals who walk past. His favorite time of day is when the school bus stops in front of our house, and all the kids come by to say hello. He is 22 pounds, which is the perfect size. Small enough to snuggle with but not tall enough to reach the counter tops. His coat never changed to the wheaten color, but he lightened to a charcoal gray, and he has a cute, blonde, very 1970's mustache.

We house trained him with no trouble at all. He never has accidents. He sleeps in a crate. In his first year, he chewed up two retainers, a pair of glasses, a couple rolls of toilet paper, and countless socks. We have learned to keep bedroom and bathroom doors shut.

I never really wanted a dog. I wasn't much of an animal lover as a kid, and as an adult, I turned into a cat person. But after our kids became teenagers, and our cats died, and my beloved grandmother passed away, and our house was burglarized... something clicked inside of me, and I was determined to get a dog. My husband was not on board at first. He didn't want the responsibility. He didn't want anything interfering with the freedom we were starting to have as our kids were getting older. But shhh... he's embarrassed by those thoughts now! Ozzy has brought so much joy and laughter and love to our family. The responsibility is definitely worth it!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How To Be Married To An Author

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. I know I did! I've been busy busy busy writing and then being with my family, so I'm just popping into the blogosphere to bring your attention to this fabulous essay written by Kristin Walker, author of the upcoming Match Made in High School. If you are a spouse of an author, or of any creative sort really, you should read this to see how to do it right.

For the record, my husband totally does it right. His perspective is all, "Oh, we're in that stage now?" This comment comes in handy whenever I say pretty much anything about the writing journey. I like it because it reminds me that all my moods will pass, no matter how dire they seem in the moment. It helps to take some of the power away from potentially overwhelming feelings of insecurity or uncertainty or fantasies of brilliance. It reminds me that I'm on a journey of my choosing. It's sometimes familiar, sometimes new and exhilarating, and sometimes frustrating. But it's my journey, and I know how truly fortunate I am to be experiencing it all.