Saturday, July 31, 2010

SCBWI LA 2010 - Day 1 - Writing Middle Grade

Wow. Just wow.

There are so many amazing things that happened today, I can't possibly blog about all of them. Luckily, I don't have to. The amazing team at SCBWI is blogging the conference for you! It's just like being there, minus the scramble for caffeine at the Lobby Starbucks and getting lost at the Century Mall while looking for the grocery store.

But I did make it back in time to attend a Middle Grade workshop with the awesome Linda Sue Park (and you can see me here - I'm in the left corner in green).

Not only is Linda Sue a talented writer, but she ran an insightful and inspiring workshop about writing middle grade and had the best description I've heard yet for the difference between middle grade and young adult: middle grade readers are finding out about the world, and young adult readers are finding out about themselves. I love that focus, and since I write both, it helped to sharpen my perspective about why I write differently for those two audiences.

I had to write constantly while listening to Linda Sue, because it seemed as if every word out of her mouth was important. Memorable. Requiring further study.

She posited that middle grade readers are learning about the world and finding out that the world isn't fair. She wanted us to ask our middle grade protagonists: What are you going to do about it? Just because the world isn't fair, doesn't mean that it has to be miserable.

This question brought into relief the essence of middle grade novels and why I write them: I want to bring the world alive for middle grade kids, and ask them hard questions about larger themes like slavery and friendship and right and wrong. Linda Sue is clearly passionate about bringing out compelling themes in middle grade fiction, something that drives my writing as well. But she spent most of our too-short hour taking us through a writing exercise to show how plot, character, and setting are all tied up together, and how you should think about them intertwined as you write your middle grade novel.

Specific and Universal
First, she asked us to write (and share!) five things about ourselves that the other people in the room might not know. There was a range of funny to sad, poignant to joyful. Here were mine:

1) I'm allergic to pineapple
2) I once designed supersonic engines for NASA
3) I was elected to my local school board
4) I once ran biathalons, but now they would kill me
5) I have a Ph.D. in engineering, but studied global warming

You already knew I was a geek, but my fellow MG workshoppers didn't.

Then, she asked us to repeat the exercise in the first person, about our main character.

Here's mine for Kate, 13 year old protagonist of Byrne Risk:

1) I really miss my mom, and I don't know why I have to have this stupid caretaker instead
2) I've secretly named one of my genetically engineered experiments "Perky"
3) I once raced my best frined Kip on our hover scooters to the junkyard...and let him win
4) My brother Duncan once snuck into my room to watch holos of our mom. I pretended I didn't see him.
5) I don't remember the planet I was born on.

One cool part about this exercise was to see elements that crossed over - ways in which we related to our MC's. But the most important part was seeing how the particulars of time and space could quickly flesh out your character. In this way specific information (highlighted above) about setting is used to define your character - your character doesn't exist outside of their setting, some floating head or amorphous "everyman" kind of creature. They exist because they are part of a specific time and place, and these are intertwined with your setting. Elements of your character that exist outside of this specificity, tend to be more universal (and often emotional), and these universal themes can often be drivers of plot or character motivation.

Linda Sue emphasized that you needed a balance of the specific and universal in describing your character, and that your character is not separate from your setting or plot.

Using the Default Setting
For contemporary settings, the "default" setting of "now" and "here" have to be even more carefully described than a fantastical future world in a different galaxy. If your story takes place in a middle school in 2010, you have to work as hard as a speculative fiction writer does to create a detailed world that is believable and specific enough to bring that setting alive for your reader. Otherwise it will feel empty and blank.

Defining the Stuff
Nothing could be more common than a child's room. But if you walked into five different children's rooms, you would instantly get a sense of those five different children, just from the stuff that filled their rooms. Long before you ever asked them any questions. Having a list of the stuff filling your main character's room is a great place to start in visualizing them, placing them in the time and place (both past and present) that defines who they are.

OK, I'm off to digest the contents of a day overly filled with writing experiences. That is, I'm going to sleep.

p.s. live blogging will continue at the conference tomorrow, if you want to eavesdrop on the awesome going on here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

SCBWI Conference!

I'm here in Los Angeles, gazing out my window at the Avenue of the Stars. It's a bit like returning home, since I attended UCLA and spent about five years roaming the streets of Santa Monica on my bike or riding the bus. I'm a little shocked to be staying at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, as that was always reserved in my mind for the rich and famous. Maybe I'll get lucky and see Shia LaBeouf.

Speaking of Indiana Jones (wow, that was an awful segue), yesterday at Disneyland, I stumbled across several steampunkish gems which I cannot share with you because I left the cable for my camera at home (drat!). But I found this beastly machine in Tomorrowland, which is still as cool as I remember as a kid.

I'm not sure what it is, but I love it.

And seriously, if you ever get a chance to attend the Jedi Training Academy at Tomorrowland, DO IT!

I'll return later with an actual posting on all the wonderful writerly lessons I'll be learning at the conference today!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Tips from A Teen - What Bugs Me In MG/YA

Today's guest post comes from Angela A, teen blogger and aspiring writer. Did I mention how cool I think it is when teens blog? And WRITE?? Very cool. Even better when they share their unique perspective with writers who are a few years (*cough*) past their teens.

Tips From A Teen: What Bugs Me In MG/YA
By Angela A.

Well, hi there! I'm Angela, if you haven't already met me out there in the bloggerverse, and you can find me at

There are so many Young Adult books out there that it's pretty much inevitable: you get the good, the bad, the really, REALLY good, the really, REALLY bad, and...well, you get the point. A lot of things can go wrong in a book. Writing, plot, setting, etc. Don't even get me started. This guest post will focus on elements that I have seen repeatedly in Middle Grade/Young Adult books that I simply cannot stand.

*Disclaimer: I'm not trying to be negative. I'm trying to let writers into the brain of their target audience, so that they know the things we really, REALLY can't stand, and can ultimately improve their writing.

**Another disclaimer: This is just my opinion. I'm sure there are other teenagers that feel differently. These are just the pet peeves that I have developed, that I have discussed with other teenage readers, and that I find all too common in MG/YA writing.

1. Stereotypes

You know what I mean. The Jock. The Nerd. The Cheerleader. The Rebel. If there's one thing teenagers hate, it's being boxed in. Don't get me wrong: stereotype or two can be a good way to add comic relief, or to show that you can't judge a book by its cover. But when every! single! character! is a've got a problem. Football players aren't always dumb. Nerds aren't always awkward. Cheerleaders don't always want to claw people's eyes out with manicured nails.

Let your characters be who they are, not what they appear to be.

2. Whiners

Yes, teenagers can be extremely whiny, myself included. But that doesn't mean your MC has to constantly complain about their parents/friends/boyfriend/life. From the perspective of a lot of teens, they're lucky to HAVE parents/friends/boyfriend/life.

We don't want spend our time reading about how much the MC's life sucks, we want to see them DO something about it, we want to see them take action!

3. Possessive/Overly-Heroic Love Interests

You know what I'm talking about. The boyfriend who is unnecessarily concerned, ALL THE TIME. Or who swoops in to save the MC every time she's in trouble, NEVER even thinking about letting her save herself.

A certain book Saga has a boyfriend like that, and has made a great deal of money. So I guess you can still be successful with this kind of character. But this was pulled off very, very carefully. Any of the other times I've seen these kinds of boyfriends in novels, they've come off as creepy, or stalkerish, or stiff.

Let's be honest:if you're writing MG or YA, the love interest is going to be young, probably somewhere from the ages 12-18. How many twelve-to-eighteen-year-olds do you know that would risk EVERYTHING for a girl? Probably not that many. And when a boy gets possessive in a relationship, the girl usually has a freak-out, instead of running back into his arms and thinking how wonderful and protective and strong he is.

4. Boys Who Don't Act Like Boys

Come on now. No matter how sensitive/poetic/wonderful a boy is, he still has guy friends, and still acts a certain way around his guy friends. Cocky and confident and laid-back and lazy. He can't ALWAYS be paying attention to his girlfriend, or ALWAYS acting like he's above their childish antics. What fun is a guy who doesn't know how to have a good time with his buddies? A guy can be a good boyfriend while still acting regular around his friends.

For the sake of positivity, I'll include three things that I, as a teenager, LOVE in MG/YA books:

1. Shy Guys

They're just so cute and quiet and amazingly awesome!!! Enough said.

2. Love Triangles

Especially the irreconcilable kind. It lets us, as the reader, decide what WE would do if we were in that situation

The Edward-Bella-Jacob. The Peeta-Katniss-Gale. People form TEAMS about these relationships. Need I say more?

3.Realistic Siblings

Because not everything is always chummy-chummy between sibs, but they aren't constantly fighting, either. It's usually a mix of the two, a strong companionship that is hard to perfect in writing but is totally touching when you do it right

Do you agree? Disagree? What elements do you love/hate in MG/YA? Leave a comment, let me know!

Thanks, Susan, for letting me do a guest post on this awesome blog! :)

Thank YOU, Angela, for some fabulous advice for MG/YA writers, direct from our target audience! I am off the grid today, so Angela will be fielding your questions/comments.

Also: here is an excellent post about stereotyping boys in YA lit!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Science Fiction is Dead! Long Live Science Fiction!

I've talked before about the dearth of science fiction in kidlit, and the demise of adult science fiction has been long hailed. Is it because the pace of technology has sprinted past our wildest imaginations? That authors fear SF books that will be out-of-date before they go to print? Or are SF books (rightly or wrongly) simply seen as uncool, or too mentally challenging compared to SF movies, and thus languish on the shelves? Was it the combination of fantasy and science fiction that brought the death-knell? Calling it "speculative fiction" doesn't make putting Elves next to Robots any more sensical.

No, I think it is something more subtle. And more grand.

There was a golden age of science fiction, that was over long before I picked up my first Foundation novel, or gobbled up I, Robot. A time when everything was fantastical and new, and a wide-eyed optimism gripped the nation (because most SF came from American writers). We put people on the Moon. We invented computers and cracked the genetic code. We had beat back Fascism, and a period of (relative) peace and prosperity reigned.

But then the world, and especially technology, got a lot more complicated. Suddenly tech seemed almost magical, with gadgets multiplying faster than we could keep pace and computer speeds doubling every nine months. Rather than technology being the Grand Master on the stage of Progress, it become at once impossibly fantastic and utterly mundane.

Your computer could fit in your lap.
Your phone could fit in your pocket.
Your music was tailored to you and could fit in the palm of your hand.

This wasn't the technology of adventure. This wasn't the technology that would change The World as We Knew It. And yet it was, in ways so pervasive that we can hardly imagine a world without computers or email or cell phones. We came to see technology as an infallible workhorse that would always improve, always do more with less.

We expected it to fix busted oil wells in the gulf. And give us wars without civilian casualties.

But it couldn't do that either.

At some point along the way, we internalized technology. It went beyond Terminator and cyberpunk, and became something that was a seamless part of our lives. Paranormal powers and magical abilities became as believable as the light saber app on my iPhone.

Today, I think a resurgence in science fiction novels is quietly happening, and as with all things revolutionary with a small "r", it begins with the children. The kids and teens who believe in a brighter future, but who also fear the End of the World is indeed nigh. This new SF is whimsical and dystopian; it is science fantasy rather than science fact; it is wrapped up in the stiff clothing of steampunk, but with contemporary sensibilities of justice.

It is born of the knowledge, held deep within the genetic code of these millenial children, that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

I couldn't be more excited.

This new breed of science fiction is being written by authors that remember the classics with fondness and are birthing them into a new era.

Here's a taste of what's already here (see Devafagan for a more extensive and rockin' list):

RESTORING HARMONY, JoĆ«lle Anthony (2010, YA) - The year is 2041, and sixteen-year-old Molly McClure has lived a relatively quiet life on an isolated farming island in Canada, but when her family fears the worst may have happened to her grandparents in the US, Molly must brave the dangerous, chaotic world left after global economic collapse—one of massive oil shortages, rampant crime, and abandoned cities.

SHIP BREAKER Paolo Baciagalupi (2010, YA) In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .

HUNGER GAMES / CATCHING FIRE / MOCKINGJAY Suzanne Collins (2010, YA) Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

FLIGHT OF THE OUTCAST Brad Strickland (2010, MG) Asteria Locke has never left her father's farm on the remote planet of Theron. But in one terrible moment, a surprise attack by space raiders destroys everything she's ever known. Orphaned and alone, Asteria vows to avenge her father's death by joining the Royal Spacefleet Academy. . . even if she has to lie to get in. Branded an outcast at the Academy from the start, Asteria must work twice as hard as the other students to prove herself. But in time, she suspects that the Aristocrats who torment her have more sinister motives than shaming a commoner. They'll stop at nothing to hide a secret from her father's past-a secret that could shift the balance of power throughout the entire universe.

LEVIATHAN (2009), BEHEMOTH (2010, MG) Scott Westerfeld In an alternate history, Europe is headed towards a Word War. The Germanic Clankers, with their advanced machinery, face off against the British Darwinists, with their crossbred animals. The Darwinists have a new weapon, the Leviathan, a flying whale ship. Deryn Sharp is new to the service and is on the Leviathan for her first assignment. But only males are allowed to be in the service, so she must hide her identity from everyone, and disguise herself as a boy. Meanwhile, Prince Aleksandar Ferdinand is woken in the middle of the night and forced to flee his home. With only a small group of men, Aleksandar faces foes at every turn. When the Leviathan lands near Aleksandar, he meets young Deryn, and their fates intertwine.

And what's to come:

THE LONG WALK HOME (2011, YA) Jeff Hirsch
CONTROL ISSUES (2011, YA) Elana Johnson
XVI (2011, YA) Julia Karr

It's an exciting time to be writing at all, but crafting a new wave of science fiction feels wondrous. Fascinating. And a little intimidating. Just the way SF should be.

I can't wait to get reading!

Also: I will be off the grid for a week, as I visit my family in California. I have a special guest post coming on Monday, so please stop back and see what a real-live teen has to say about what she loves/hates in MG/YA books today.

Starting next Friday (7/31) through Monday (8/2) I will be blogging live from the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators Conference in LA! And following #LA10SCBWI on twitter. Let me know if you will be there! I can't wait to meet my cyber friends in RL.

p.s. Thanks to Beth for a chance to interview over at her blog, Project 52!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do Book Trailers Increase Sales?

What do you think of book trailers?

Omnific Publishing has made a trailer for my debut novel Life, Liberty, and Pursuit. Not only is it GORGEOUS (ok, I may be a little biased, you can judge for yourself), but the music is an original work by Don Cannon (from the group Fake Uncle Jack), composed just for my trailer. How awesome is that?

More than anything I love the mood that the trailer gives. It accurately reflects the novel, the feel of the characters, their essential conflict.

When I watch a book trailer, I look for that feeling. Is it spooky or thrilling? Funny or serious? If I wasn't already intrigued by the cover or the title, I probably wouldn't bother viewing the trailer, so I'm not sure if a trailer closes the deal and leads to more sales. Then again, it's one more marketing tool, so I think it can't hurt.

Unless it's done badly.

Thank the heavens Omnific made the trailer for me, because I have no artistic ability and wouldn't have dared to make one on my own. And there is no way in heck I would be making a trailer that featured ME*, rather than the book. Lord help me if anyone ever asks me to do that.

According to the NY Times, less than 0.1% of people buy books because of trailers, but that number zooms to 45% of teens buying a book after viewing a trailer. So are trailers just starting to break out, with online teens leading the way? Or are they a passing fad?

Do you watch book trailers? Do they make you more or less likely to buy the book?

*Thanks to Nate B. for the link.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coarse Language in Middle Grade Fiction?

Jan Dohner is a Library Media Specialist who blogs about books for her 5th and 6th grade students at Maltby Intermediate School. She posed a fascinating topic for discussion here on Ink Spells and I'm happy to have her guest posting today. Please chime in to the conversation below!

Susan asked for guest columns and I volunteered. Actually, I was looking for some input on something that has been vexing me for several days. The folks here are good at input.

As background, I’ve been a library media specialist for a long time - too long to admit to online. Obviously I’ve been reading and buying children’s fiction for a very long time as well. After spending the past ten years in a 6th through 8th grade middle school, I’m now at a 5th and 6th grade intermediate school. I looked forward to the change; in fact, I was responsible for dividing the collection of two 6-8th grade middle schools into the current 5-6 and 7-8 buildings.

One of the reasons I liked this new configuration was my continuing dilemma with deciding what was appropriate for my students in terms of language and content. Sixth graders - well - they are really, mostly middle grade fiction readers while the older kids need some YA. Fifth-sixth will be a snap, I thought - middle grade all the way!

Well of course, nothing is a snap and I’ve discovered lots of new challenges in working with kids ages 9 to 11. But that pesky concept of “appropriate” was a bit of a surprise. Although it’s hard to pin down a definition of middle or intermediate grade fiction, I occasionally found myself perplexed with reviews that labeled books grades 5-8 or 5-7. To say nothing of the publisher’s claims of ages 8-12. In the old days, I clearly thought of these books as middle school suitable. But then I started reading with my new 5th-6th grade eye and the old dilemma rose up again.

Here’s my most recent example. In my summer weekly browsing at my local bookstore, I bought a new book (which will remain un-named here). Great cover. Mystery with an interesting setting. Boy character. And some gross-out stuff thrown in for good measure. New author. School Library Journal review was OK, not spectacular, grades 5-8. Booklist, good review, grades 5-7. I happily settled into my favorite reading chair looking forward to a new book to blog to the students over the summer. Several minutes later I nearly threw it across the room.

While the gross-out stuff was not my cup of tea, it was the language that bothered me. First 21 pages and I’d already read screwed, pissed-off, screwed-up, bastard. Really, I wasn’t counting just getting annoyed. And disappointed. I wasn’t going to be able to blog or book talk this title to my 9 and 10 year-olds.

As Susan and I recently discussed it - this isn’t profanity but it is coarse language. It’s also pretty commonplace language, I guess. Is it now so commonplace that it is acceptable in middle grade fiction? Should it be?

Maybe the bigger question is - am I now to old to be doing this job?

As Linda Richman would say on Saturday Night Live - ‘Talk among yourselves.” I’m interested - really I am.

Jan Dohner
Library Media Specialist

Thank you, Jan! I would love to hear opinions from parents, kids, readers and writers of all stripes. If you are an agent or publisher of middle grade fiction, we would love to hear your perspective as well!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet An Author Monday

Today I'm participating in the MEET AN AUTHOR Blog Hop, designed specifically for readers to find and get to know new authors and discover great new reads.

A little about me: I write both middle grade and young adult books, drawing on my background as an ex-engineer and scientist, and the generally zaniness of having a house filled with three boys. You can find out more about my works-in-progress here.

A little about my book: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit is my debut novel. It is a teen love story about a college-bound girl who falls in a pool, the navy recruit who saves her, and their struggle to choose between following their dreams and daring to love. The book website has lots of tidbits, including a sneak peek at the first chapter, a lost love letter, and ways to support our soldiers.

READERS: Follow as many authors as you like. Use the Linky list below to hop along from author-to-author and discover some great new reads! Leave a comment and introduce yourself! We're all happy to chat and get to know our readers. You're the reason we write!

AUTHORS: If you have a book for sale or under contract, joining the Hop by following the instructions below.
  • Follow the Meet An Author host (Cali Cheer Mom) along with any of the wonderfully talented authors on the list.
  • Create a post about the hop, including the Blog Hop button, and write something about you, your writing, your book, whatever.
  • You will need to enter your name and blog url into the Linky tool on Cali Cheer Mom's site. This allows readers to hop from blog to blog. If you'd like to share the Linky list in a post on your blog, just follow the link and grab the code.
  • Hop around and meet "new to you" authors and discover great new reads!
Happy hopping!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creating the Breakout Setting

Contest winners, an interview, and an Author Blog Hop can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, a few words about setting.


Yes, that's what I thought, too. But reading Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel, Chapter 4 (Time and Place) has completely upended my ideas about writing setting. Now, I already knew that the best stories, especially dystopias, have a setting that contains the essential conflict: the world is literally warring with the protagonist or holds disparate elements battling with each other. I also knew that evoking description without info dumps and endless wordy pontifications on the beauty of architecture was essential, although difficult to craft in practice.

But Maass goes much further, talking about setting as a character that interacts with your MC, evokes a time as well as a place, and encapsulates societal trends and the movement of history.

Enclosing Spaces: Architecture as Psychology
Being an engineer, I've always thought of architecture primarily as stresses and strains and concrete - with a few artsy touches thrown in. Maass talks about architecture as the art of enclosing space with material to create a feeling in people. Likewise, the setting in your novel is the art of enclosing the space of your world with words to create an environment that interacts with your characters. Seeing the space through your character's eyes elucidates what it means to them, and what's more, how their relationship with it changes as they go through their character arc. The surroundings may not change, but how your character sees it will: what was once harsh, may now be welcoming; what was once home, may now be foreign. I spend a lot of time thinking about my character's evolution in a story, but I had neglected to think explicitly how that changed their relationship with the larger surroundings.

The SpaceTime Continuum
As any quantum physicist or Star Trek afficiando will tell you, time is space and space is time. There is no here without a when. It was a revelation to me that this is true of setting as well: your story doesn't just take place in a physical location, but in a transitive time with a history and a future. Movement from the past to future is happening right under your character's feet. Having a thorough sense of your character's world is essential for placing them in it, whether it occurs in the past or future or present day NYC. Evoking how that time-space location impacts your character, in detail, will make it come alive in the reader's mind.

Trendy Hair and Period Dress
Having authentic details, whether of the past or future, is important, but doesn't substitute for a deeper understanding of what those things mean. Why was big hair important in the 80's? What did it evoke in the characters? More importantly, what were the social/political mores of the day, of your character's social class and their place in the world? It always comes back to seeing the world through your protagonist's eyes, but in a thorough way that brings out the social milieu of the period that you are writing. Their world is defined by your character's thoughts and reactions to it.

So, it's much more than a kitchen and a chair. In fact, maybe the setting needs to move out of the kitchen, to more accurately reflect the true power behind the scene. Maass gives me a lot to chew on, and I'm only on Chapter 4! You really need to read this book.

On to the fun parts ....

INTERVIEW: The lovely Sherrie Peterson has graciously posted an interview of me on her blog Write About Now. I talk about writing love scenes, navy tidbits, and share an old picture of me with Chuck Yeager's experimental aircraft, the X1E.

MEET AN AUTHOR: On Monday, I will be participating in the MEET AN AUTHOR Blog Hop. 
The purpose of the hop is to meet "new to you" authors and discover great new reads. Follow as many authors as you can. Leave a comment and introduce yourself! We're all happy to chat and get to know our readers. You're the reason we write!

Authors: If you have a book for sale, or under contract, you can participate by joining the Hop. Follow the Meet An Author host (Cali Cheer Mom) along with any of the wonderfully talented authors that will be on the list. On Monday, create a post about the hop. Include the Blog Hop button, and write something about you, your writing, your book, whatever. You will need to enter your name and blog url into the Linky tool on Cali Cheer Mom's site. This allows readers to hop from blog to blog. If you'd like to share the Linky list in a post on your blog, just follow the link and grab the code.

Readers: Come back on Monday to check out the fun! Use the Linky list to hop along from author-to-author and discover some great new reads!

And now ....

CONTEST WINNERS! Thank you to everyone who entered! By random drawing the winners are ...

Prize #1: 20 page critique from my editor CJ: Sharon K. Mayhew
Prize #2: 20 page critique from me: Ali Cross
Prize #3: A book of your choice: Adam Heine

I will be contacting you shortly with further instructions!

See you Monday for the Author Blog Hop!

This isn't really a post, just a reminder ...

... the CONTEST ends at noon EST! I will be back then, with a real post, the winners (!!!) and more cool stuff.

Also: The lovely Sherrie Peterson has graciously posted an interview of me on her blog Write About Now.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Call for Guest Posts

Have a fun kidlit related tidbit to share?

Recently read a middle grade book that you want to review?

Looking for somewhere to chat about writing, summer, or why Dr. Who has more plot holes than swiss cheese?

Guest Post on Ink Spells!

The SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) 2010 summer conference is coming, and I will be vacationing in CA with my family prior to attending the conference at the end of July. During the conference I will be in a mad haze of writing, learning, and blogging/tweeting nirvana, but before then I would love to host your guest post!

Just send your ideas to !

Also, don't forget to enter MY CONTEST! Ends tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Linky Madness (aka contests for readers and writers)

There's lots of AWESOME going on right now, and I wanted to share some of it with you.

First, make sure you enter MY CONTEST where you can win critiques or a free book. Contest ends Friday!

Second, if you have a book currently for sale, enter KarenG's awesome contest to support writers: she will buy your book and review it on her blog, Amazon, and Goodreads. Karen has an awesome pay-it-forward attitude I try to emulate.

Third, a whole host of great writers, bloggers, agents, and other literati (including blogger friends Cynthia Reese, Matthew Rush, and Beth Revis) are helping get micro-loans to Ghana by donating critiques and other giveaways. This amazing contest is WIN all around - a good cause and great prizes.

Fourth, subscribe to Random House's new blog Random Acts of Reading, created by ten sales reps at Random House Children's Books, and be entered in a contest for four free books!

Finally, some of my favorite guy-librarian-types have started a new blog, Boys Rock, Boys Read!!! I've put them on my sidebar, just because they are so awesome in encouraging boys to read. They also have fun boys-eye perspective reviews!

Monday, July 12, 2010

100+ Follower Contest

100+ followers!! People, you rock!

To thank all my erudite and thoughtful followers for helping me reach that lovely 100-follower mark, I'm holding a CONTEST! 

First (because it's the most fun): PRIZES

Since Ink Spells talks about both reading and writing middle grade books, I'm going to have a READER'S prize and a WRITER'S prize.*

*note: I stole this idea from Beth Revis, who did it even better.

WRITER'S prize
Prize #1: Critique from my sharp-penciled editor CJ at Omnific Publishing: CJ edited my debut novel Life, Liberty, and Pursuit and has graciously offered to critique the first 20 pages of your WIP.
Prize #2: Critique from me: I'm not an editor or an agent, but I have been told that my critiques are helpful, or at least better than a sharp stick in the eye. I'll also critique the first 20 pages of your WIP.

READER'S prize

Prize #3: A book of your choice.

To be clear, there are THREE prizes. You can specify that you want the WRITER'S prize, the READER'S prize, or BOTH if you want to be eligible for all three. There will be three winners (one for each prize).


1) You must be a follower (this is a contest celebrating followers, after all).
2) You must leave a review for a book (any book of your choice) either on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or Goodreads. It can be a book you've previously reviewed, a book you've previously read, but review just for this contest, or a book you read and review just for this contest. However you do it, you must leave a link to your review in the comments below (so I know that you did it, and so that others can check out your review!). This is all in keeping with our pledge here at Ink Spells to help fellow authors by reading and reviewing.
3) You must specify if you want the WRITER'S prize, the READER'S prize, or BOTH.


Feel free to tweet, blog, facebook or what-not to spread the word! Thanks!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reluctant Boy Readers

Photo from The Art of Manliness
Is there something about summer that brings out the reluctant reader? The temptations of the pool and camps and just running around being crazy seem to make curling up with a book even less attractive than normal for my two reluctant readers (Dark Omen continues to drain the new fiction shelf faster than they can fill it).

I loved Kyle's analogy (at The Boy Reader) between enticing a reluctant reader and picking the right lure for fly fishing. Matching readers to the right books is exactly what Ink Spells is about, and I think that idea goes double for reluctant readers.

But what kinds of books do those reluctant readers like? Although I believe every kid is unique, there certainly are some trends, and Sydney at The Mixed Up Files asks kids directly: What do you like? Their answers include action, adventure, and humor. Not surprising, I suppose, and these elements are found in abundance in The Red Pyramid, which has spent an amazing eight weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.

But you don't have to be a bestseller book to lure a reluctant reader - indeed some bestsellers are large fantasy books, which may be popular with avid readers and adults, but may be too intimidating for the reluctant reader. Fortunately, Pragmatic Mom has an extensive list of picks just for reluctant boy readers, and it is rife with great stories like The Far Side of the Mountain and How to Train Your Dragon and Secrets of Droon as well as many I didn't know. If those aren't enough for you, there are even more over at The Art of Manliness - the top fifty books for boys and young men, to be exact.

It's well worth the time to lure those little fish into the world of reading. Off I go, to hook my own little trouts once more . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Interview and Contest at The Write Game

The lovely and talented C. Lee has posted an interview of me over at her blog The Write Game! Also, I'm running a contest over there for a free copy of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, so hop on over to enter! :)

On Being Versatile with Substance


Blogger awards are a lovely way to show appreciation for our blogging friends, but these two awards in particular resonate with me. Versatile 1. capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.: a versatile writer.

Being someone who has dabbled in many different fields, versatile is a nice way of describing someone who just can't make up her mind what she wants to do with her life. :) Seriously, I appreciate the love on this one, and it feels like it fits!

So thank you to Amanda for bestowing upon me the Versatile Blogger Award! Amanda is an aspiring writer who also wants to be an agent (so get on her good side now). :) I also received this award from the very awesome Laura Kaye (check out her books!). And I must really be versatile, because just today I was handed another one of these awards by Cynthia Reese, who is as Southern as Sweet Tea, and just as nice. She's also a published author, if you're looking for a summertime romance, as well as a hilarious Twitter follow.

Now, I'm supposed to tell you seven true things about myself, but because I like to bend the rules (I'm ornery that way - that's a true fact), I'm going to tell you EIGHT. However, one is false. Leave a comment if you think you know which one. This isn't a contest for my 100+ followers (yay!) - I'm still dreaming up something awesome for that.

Seven (Maybe) True Things about Me:
1. I can calculate the re-entry speed of the space shuttle, but I can't run my new TV.
2. I was once an assistant to brain researchers at UCLA, transcribing data on pithed monkeys.
3. I took six years of piano lessons, but Worm Burner (9yo) plays better than I do.
4. My husband proposed to me at 2000' in a hot air balloon, but I was so afraid of dropping the ring that I made him unwrap it and put it on me.
6. I once drove six hours in the middle of the night to watch a pre-dawn Space Shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. The launch was scuttled.
7. I have an unnatural fear of deep water. It doesn't matter if it's a clear water pool, if it's over my head, I'm certain there's something down there that wants to eat me.
8. I could never live in Seattle, because I require I certain number of sunny days to stay mentally balanced. Either because I was raised in So. California, or because I'm some kind of plant-human hybrid.

While that was fun, perhaps my most favorite award so far is the Blog of Substance award from Big Fat Mama! I'm never happier than when I'm making people think! For this award, I'm supposed to sum up my blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience in 5 words. My top 5 labels on the left are:
writing (69)
Book Reviews (27)
Ages 10-12 (25)
Ages 8-10 (22)
silliness (22)

Hey, how did silliness make that list? Must be the cats.

p.s. Still looking for guest bloggers for the summer! Send me an email at if you are interested.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ink Spells talks The Red Pyramid

Wow, people! Over the holiday weekend, Ink Spells sneaked past 100 followers!! Very cool. I will have to ponder some way to celebrate this. Possibly another book giveaway? Or a true contest this time? Hmm ... I'll get back to you on that.

Meanwhile ...

The Red Pyramid!! This is the first book of a new series by the crazy-popular Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Now if you're a Percy fan like me, you may have some trouble with this book. It is both similar to Percy (boy and friends brother and sister, on a quest, beset with Greek Egyptian gods, where they discover they are half-god-bloods possessed-by-gods), and maddeningly NOT Percy (hilarious fly-by-your-seat madness vs. down-to-earth magical realism). Although I kept waiting for the sarcastic half-blood to make an appearance (he does not), humor was dispensed in ample doses by a sarcastic Sadie ("Just because you cannot discern my wit, doesn't make me sarcastic." Thank you, Sadie.) I suppose this is the price to be paid for having already written a fantastic book with a compelling hero.

RL: 4.5 CSM: 10+ Rating: PG Content: comic-book violence, peril of characters

However, Book One of The Kane Chronicles does not disappoint, and is the wonderfully rich story of Carter and Sadie Kane and their adventures around the world, trying to save their father from Egyptian gods, and possibly bring back their mother from the Land of the Dead. An amazing amount of Egyptian mythology is crammed into this hefty book, and a few times I felt like I needed a scorecard to keep track of all the players. "Another lot of daft, arrogant gods. Brilliant!" as Sadie Kane would say, in her fantastic British voice, which Riordan captures so well.

The violence in The Red Pyramid is on par with the comic-book variety in The Lightning Thief - a lot of hacking and slicing of demons and gods, turning them into sand or mist. There is some peril ("Some peril. Did you even read the book?" Yes, Sadie, I read the book. Please stop interrupting.). Ok, a lot of peril, but our young protagonists come through unharmed. Did I mention that this book has alternating, first-person, point-of-view? Riordan breaks the rules successfully with his distinctive voices for Carter and Sadie.

Fourteen-year-old Carter and twelve-year-old Sadie both have mild love interests in this book, which I'm sure will grow as the series continues. But it is barely touched upon, with no kissing or even serious puppy love. Riordan also touches on racial experience in this novel, with Carter and Sadie being biracial (their mother is white and their father is black). Because of the differences in the kids' skin tone, they have very different experiences of the world, and I thought Riordan handled this extraordinarily well.

Overall, fans of Percy Jackson will love this book. While advanced readers will not be challenged by the reading level, they might be by the length (516 pages!), but more importantly, they will be fascinated by the depth and detail of the Egyptian gods and magic that Riordan brings to life. I heartily recommend The Red Pyramid for readers ages 8+.

I decided I needed to follow Rick on Twitter, and found that he's launching a new series The Lost Heroes (more Olympians) and that The Kane Chronicles has a rockin' website, with an awesome amount of information about Egyptian lore and games for the kiddos. There's also a link on his blog to the Theoi Project, an effort to catalogue all kinds of information about Greek Mythology in literature and art.

Ok, I'm insanely jealous of Rick as a writer - not only does he entertain, he educates and enthralls legions of children with his bestseller books. Time to get back to work on that middle grade manuscript ... *clackity clack clack*

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hometown U.S.A.

Candy flies through the air and skitters along the pavement, chased by little hands. Fireman heroes in shiny trucks blare the lead as sweaty faced teens playing Seventy-Six Trombones follow behind. A swell of applause rises and falls as weathered veterans solemly carry the flag, the severe lines of their faces hiding the pride.

Friends smile and wave and cheer the walkers, drivers, and odd unicycle riders. The crowds are filled with shaded babies, panting dogs, and children clutching bags of parade booty - stickers, cups, pamphlets, and treats. They are nine months to ninety years, towering basketball players to tiny band-leading midgets. They are black, brown, and white. Red, white, and blue.

They are America, my home sweet home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Motivation for Writing

Since I can't decide if the Fourth of July holiday occurs on the 2nd or the 5th, I'm posting on the 1st, just to be sure (<--there's logic in there somewhere).

A series of posts, especially an amazing video about what motivates people, have gotten the clockwork in my head spinning.

The video is 10 minutes long - I've watched it twice! It's worth the time, but here's the upshot:

Studies show that people are not motivated by money.* For tasks requiring any level of cognitive effort, people are motivated by having autonomy in their lives, developing mastery over their work, and knowing the higher purpose that animates what they do.

This approach explains why people spend vast amounts of time doing tasks that have no monetary reward: learning a musical instrument, playing sports, building open source software, contributing to wikipedia. Hello, can you say BLOGGING?

*above a certain amount to get by on, and not for rudimentary tasks

But the truth of these words rang closest to why I write. I've talked before about the importance of knowing WHY you write. I write to touch (and change) young lives. I want the children and teens who read my books to walk away thinking, Huh. I never thought of that before. That higher purpose drives me to write dystopians with lessons about what it means to be human, love stories about making choices in our lives, and kids stories that bring science alive for young minds. I don't write these stories because I think I will make money from them - I'm fairly certain that I will not, or at least not for a long time. I write them to have an effect on people's lives (as well as entertain).

The video also helped me understand why I have a constant drive to improve my craft. Striving for mastery of the craft of writing is inherently rewarding - it is in the growth, the demonstrated improvement, that I (and people in general) find satisfaction.

And writing gives me a double gift in autonomy, both in the writing itself and as an occupation. I have always had a high need for directing my own work, and writing is the ultimate in self-directed employment (until you're under contract - but that's a different post). But the writing itself is an expression of autonomy: I am the master of my stories, able to decide everything from the main character's quirks to the ultimate demise of the bad guy. I literally create my own world. And how cool is that?

It is no wonder to me why writers steal any snippet of time they can to write: it hits a trifecta of fulfillment.

Happy Birthday to the United States! This weekend I'll be giving thanks for the many freedoms we take for granted in the U.S., including that treasured First Amendment.

Ink Spells will return after the holiday weekend.