Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Have You Read a Book for Kids or Teens Lately?

This post is not aimed at my writer friends, because they already know how utterly amazing literature for kids and teens can be. No, this post is for the woman at the beauty shop yesterday. You know who you are. You were getting your highlights done right next to me, and you asked me what I was reading, and I said, "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," and you squinted your eyes and tilted your head in a way that prompted me to say, "It's a book for teens." And then you laughed.
Yes, you laughed dismissively, as if I must be missing a brain cell or two to be spending my hour in the colorist's chair reading a book for teens. I noticed you spent your hour reading Glamour, but I'll try not to hold that against you.

This post is also for the woman I met today at the library. You were checking out a few novels, and I recognized the one on the top of the pile as Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, and, thinking I had found a kindred spirit, I said, "That is a fantastic book." And you said, "Really? My friend recommended it to me, but it was in the teen section. Isn't that weird?" And I said, "Well, it's written for teens." And you scrunched up your nose as if you smelled something putrid and said, "But it was in the teen section."

Hello, people out there in the world. Have you read a book written for kids or teens lately? Because if you haven't, you are missing out on some of the best literature being written today. And I'm quite certain that you all were kids and teens at one point in your life, so I bet you can find something to relate to. It's not all about wizards and vampires, you know (not that there's anything wrong with wizards and vampires). There are amazing books coming out every year. Take a stroll into the kids and teens section of your library or bookstore, and see for yourself. I promise I won't laugh at you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the Radio!

I'm doing a live internet radio interview on Tuesday, April 20th. I'll be on from 1-2 CST at for the Believe in Your Fairytale and Your Zing Will Come True Show, hosted by Dhana Cohen and Debbie Glickman. I'll be talking about my books and how I made my dream of becoming a published children's book author come true. I will also be giving away free autographed copies of Julia's Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire! Call 877-864-4869 between 1-2 CST on Tuesday for your chance to win.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Trailers 101

Are you a published or soon-to-be-published author interested in learning about book trailers and online promotion? If so, please join me at this upcoming event:

April 17, Food for Thought: Book Trailers and online promotion. Several SCBWI-IL authors and illustrators will share their experiences creating book trailers and other on-line promotional tools for the picture book, middle grade, and YA markets. Both content and the how to’s of book trailers and online promotions will be covered. We will also consider what kinds of response actual trailers have received.

Our panel includes:

Host, librarian, and blogger Amy Alessio.

Picture book illustrator Larry Day whose Nanook and Pryce has a website and book trailer--

YA writer Laura Ruby. Check out her trailer for Play Me

And me. I'll be talking about how and why I made these two trailers for Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.

This Food for Thought is intended for published and soon-to-be-published writers and illustrators who are members of SCBWI.

Here are the details:
Schaumberg Township District Library, Youth Services Classroom, 130 S. Roselle Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60193
9:30 am to noon
$10—please pay at the door
If your last name begins with A-L, please bring a breakfast treat to share (about 6 servings). Juice, coffee, and tea will be provided.
RSVP to Sallie Wolf,

Friday, April 09, 2010

Critique: Fantasy vs. Reality

On Monday, my critique group discussed my work-in-progress. I had given them the manuscript a month earlier, and I'd been fantasizing about how the critique would go...

Fantasy Critique:
Smart Writer: This is amazing! Have you shown it to your agent yet??
Writer Whose Prose Reads Like Poetry: Best thing you've ever written. I can't believe this is only your first draft.
Me: (Blushing) Well, actually, it's a second draft.
Overly Critical Writer: I think you could have used a semicolon instead of a comma on page 83.
Hilarious Writer: I was cracking up at parts.
Best Selling Writer: I cried at parts, too. You really captured what it feels like to be a thirteen-year-old girl.
Brilliant Writer: And that climax... I was dying!
Me: Really? Wow, thanks!

In reality, critique group didn't sound much like that at all. (Although one member, who is now my favorite person on the planet, did say the manuscript reminded her of something Judy Blume or Paula Danziger would have written.)

It would be nice to be one of those authors who writes brilliant fiction without much effort (is there such a being??), but since no fairy has granted me that magical power yet, I'm grateful for every bit of constructive criticism my critique group hands to me. Yes, it can be overwhelming. But I gotta tell you, I'd much rather hear my secondary characters need development from a critique group than from an editor in the form of a rejection letter. Or worse yet, from a reviewer after there is nothing more I can do about it.

In order to process all the comments I received (there are seven of us in critique), I went through page by page and copied everything into my one document. This is what a typical page of compiled comments looks like:

Note the smileys and stars! Note the, "Love this," and, "Such great timing!" Note also, all the questions. Clearly I have a lot of thinking and writing to do.

But this is my favorite part of writing. I'm taking something whole and making it better. I can do that. After all, I have some amazing writer friends with very high standards guiding me. And that's no fantasy.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Five Random Things on a Sunday

1. I'm reading Anne of Green Gables. Somehow I missed this book as a child. And when it wound up as #9 in Betsy Bird's Top One Hundred Children's Book Poll, I decided I had better give it a go. So far I am loving it. But I can't help laughing every time the author says "ejaculated" instead of "exclaimed."

2. Last night I picked up Alan and Sammy from the airport after they enjoyed three jam-packed days in New York City. Alan and I have taken each of our kids on one-on-one vacations over the years. When you have three kids in a nineteen month span, you have to do what you can to give them individual attention, and these trips are always so special. They went to The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Times Square, and Central Park, and they saw The Colbert Report, West Side Story, and Avenue Q! I am happy for them, but I am also quite a bit jealous!

3. What did I do over my spring break? Well, I didn't go to NYC. I took care of my other son, Jacob, after he got all four wisdom teeth removed. I have to say, Jake was a great patient, and he's back to eating almost normally. The best thing about staying home doing a bunch of nothing was watching The Food Network with Jake. Who knew there were that many awesome cooking shows?

4. Today was so beautiful (74 degrees and sunny) that I spent some time swinging in a hammock in my backyard, just being grateful.

5. Tomorrow at critique group, we are discussing my new novel in its entirety. I asked for a brutally harsh critique. I told these writer friends of mine I could take it. That seemed smart and brave a month ago. But now I'm getting nervous. I hope they aren't that brutal. I hope they aren't that harsh!

Friday, April 02, 2010

How To Revise a Novel: Step #3

Back to thinking about revising...
And now for Step #3:

The other day, I was doing my Revising with Power and Purpose presentation for some seventh graders, and when I spoke about needing to write until it's true, a student asked if you have to worry about that when you're writing fiction. It was the perfect question because I was able to explain exactly what I mean by "writing until it's true." The story needs to feel 100% true, even when you've made the whole thing up. Especially when you've made the whole thing up. It needs to be 100% believable, logical, and emotionally authentic. Otherwise, your readers will be bumped out of the story.

Imagine you are reading Harry Potter, and you get to the scene when Hagrid first takes Harry away from the Dursleys to bring him to Hogwarts. If Harry had a tearful goodbye with Dudley, told him he would miss him, and promised to write, you would be completely bumped out of the story. You wouldn't believe a word of it. You're not bumped out by the magic, or the idea of Hogwarts; you're bumped out by Harry acting in a non-authentic way for his character in his particular story.

I put all my work through the "Telling-your-best-friend-the-story-over-coffee" trick. You imagine that you are telling your best friend this very true story. Then you imagine the questions your friend would ask you along the way. With Julia's Kitchen, one of the questions my editor asked me was, "Wouldn't a school social worker get involved?" The answer to that question was, "Yes, but I didn't want to write about that." Guess what? I had to write about that in order to make the story believable. Another question was, "Wouldn't Marlee get annoyed with all of Cara's grieving after a while?" A perfectly good question. After all, these girls are only 11 years old. I knew the answer was yes, but again, I didn't want to write that. I wanted Marlee to be the perfect best friend. Cara had enough bad stuff to deal with. Right? Wrong! To make the story believable and true, I had to write a scene with Marlee getting fed up. Marlee had to act like a real 11-year-old.

Confession: I cried my eyes out when I wrote that scene. And plenty of readers have told me they cried when reading it. I can't imagine the book without the fight between Cara and Marlee. The truth is hard to write, but it's worth it.

So don't cut corners here. Make sure your novel is factually accurate, emotionally truthful, and filled with authentic characters. You want your readers to be carried away by the story. You never want them realizing there's an author behind it all, making this stuff up. Keep the "Wizard" behind the curtain. Don't let your readers peek.