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Friday, January 29, 2010

DIY Friday: the hat

I must be part Amish, because there are an awful lot of flaws in this to prove I am not a deity.

Still - it's a HAT!


No, I'm not procrastinating! I did this in December. Mostly.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Story Secrets: CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder

I'm very pleased to welcome Lisa Schroeder to Story Secrets to talk about CHASING BROOKLYN, a gorgeous verse novel just released by Simon Pulse and a companion to her very popular I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME.

Lisa and I met a couple of years ago at the second annual Kidlit Blogger Conference, and she just made the northwest trek from P-land to Seattle for our December SCBWI WWA meeting to talk about writing YA along with Liz Gallagher. (And I got a signed copy! Yay!)

Welcome, Lisa!


CHASING BROOKLYN is about a girl who is still struggling with the death of her boyfriend, Lucca, from a year ago. Then, a friend of hers, Gabe, dies of a drug overdose and her world gets even darker. Gabe begins to haunt her, and she doesn’t know why. Lucca begins to haunt his brother, Nico, trying to get him to help Brooklyn. Told from two points of view, Nico and Brooklyn, we see them dealing with their pain and the ghosts in their own different ways, until they realize they might actually be able to help each other.

My first YA novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, has been fairly successful and I had many teens writing to me, asking me to write another book “just like that.” I approached my editor about doing a sequel, but he felt like we left Ava in a good place. He suggested we might have Ava appear in another book, however, and perhaps make it more of a companion novel. So I started thinking about what made sense, and I thought Ava might be there to comfort to someone else experiencing a difficult loss. And that’s how it started.

How did you come up with the idea to write from two points of view?
This might be terrible to say, but some of the details as to HOW I came up with the two narrators are a bit fuzzy at this point. I remember thinking that it needed to be different from I HEART YOU. It couldn’t really be another book about a girl being haunted by her dead boyfriend. And I think at some point, I decided adding in that second narrator would really help the book to be different. And wow, it was fun to write from a male POV for a change.

Are your novel ideas top secret, or do you share them?
It depends. I run the idea by trusted writing friends, and I’m now to the point where once I have a strong beginning, I send it to my agent to see what she thinks, along with a blurb that describes the story. But when random people ask me what I’m working on? No way. It’s definitely a big fat secret then! It doesn’t do any good to tell people at that point, and sometimes it can curb my enthusiasm, if I get a funny look when I start telling them what it’s about. So I keep it closely guarded now, except for the select few I let in as I need to, for feedback.

You're here to spill your secrets, so let us in on some!
Hmmm… Okay, here’s a little secret!

I based Brooklyn’s family life off of one I heard about on the TV show “The Biggest Loser.” My kids love this show, so every week we settle in with popcorn and juice and watch these amazing people drop the pounds and change their lives. At about the time I was starting to write this book, one of the young women on the show told the story of how badly it hurt when her mom moved out and took her brothers with her and left her to live with her dad. She always felt like her mom loved her brothers more than she loved her. It was an interesting family dynamic I hadn’t considered before, and I could totally understand feeling that way. And so, shortly after meeting Brooklyn in the book, the reader learns she lives with her dad, and her mother lives in Las Vegas with her twin brothers.

The only other secret is that I worked really hard on this book and I hope, hope, HOPE people see that and like the book!!


Excellent secrets, Lisa, and thank you for visiting to share them! To learn more about Lisa, visit her website.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Story Secrets winner: DeNiSe MaDnEsS!

And today we announce the winner of our first Story Secrets contest, a copy of Tina Ferraro's THE ABC's OF KISSING BOYS! (Thanks again to Tina for the prize!)

And the winner is...

DeNiSe MaDnEsS!!!! Yay, Denise!

Thanks to everyone for their awesome kiss stories (in fact, you inspired me through this book #2 revision to write a few steamy kisses of my own...)!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elizabeth Scott's first rgz contest

Elizabeth Scott, beloved YA author of such favorites as BLOOM, PERFECT YOU, and her upcoming THE UNWRITTEN RULE (watch for her Story Secrets here on March 25th!), is the second readergirlz Author-in-Residence. Below, she talks about writing, reviews, and why loss plays a prominent role in her work:

For a chance to win a copy of any one of Elizabeth's books, leave a comment at the readergirlz post about your favorite part of her vlog. Thank you, Elizabeth, for starting your term with a heartfelt look into your writing life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Story Secrets contest reminder: win THE ABC's OF KISSING BOYS

Best kiss? Worst kiss? Don't forget to tell us by 5pm PST today for a chance to win Tina Ferraro's THE ABC's OF KISSING BOYS! (Thanks to Tina for generously donating a book!)

Are you thinking of applying for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant?

A couple of days ago, I got an email from someone wanting to apply for an SCBWI WIP Grant who had run across my articles from last year:

Part 1: Grants open doors, and
Part 2: Some tips on applying.

She also asked about the application process, and how to format answers (that, I think, would depend on your answers) and how much personal information to put in the Career Summary/Background section.

I'm not sure if the questions are still the same as the year I applied, but I would encourage you to think of these as part query, part personal essay. You want to stand out - not in a gimmicky way, but in a way that shows the heart of your work...and in that sense, the heart of YOU. What was your story inspiration? What would the grant mean to you, to your writing life? Though I would by far spend the most time polishing your story excerpt - whatever you write on the application, your work will stand on it's own.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Friday, January 22, 2010

So what happened at ALA, you ask?

Ok, other than the books (which I will get to in a moment)...

Besides stalking the HarperCollins booth for a glimpse of TELL ME A SECRET advance copies (!!!), I teamed up with Loriene Roy of If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, an organization devoted to the literacy of Native teens and children, to talk about readergirlz/GuysLitWire/YALSA and publisher's third annual Operation Teen Book Drop!

We chatted with several groups of librarians who were working tirelessly in both urban and rural settings, community libraries and school libraries, to bring books into the hands of many teens. These people are passionate and dedicated, and we're really excited to have a chance to work with them. Many thanks, especially to Susan Hanks and Liana Juliano for everything!

And as a side note, LIBRARIANS ARE AWESOME! I knew when I met a bunch of Seattle/King County area librarians in the airport - including Judy Nelson, Angela Nolet, Dave Sonnen, Cecilia McGowan, and lots of others - that the trip was going to be fab (and it was really cool that they wanted my TELL ME A SECRET bookmarks - the first to receive them besides my mom!). Then I sat by Nancy Pearl on the way home! (Nancy: the answer to the secret question is..."takeoff decision speed.")

Highlights included meeting YALSA folks and being deemed an honorary YALSA rock star (thanks to Beth Yoke!), hanging out with my peeps at the HarperCollins meeting school/library/account divas Laura and Camilla and editors Tara, Rosemary, Molly, and Sarah - who are all rock stars in my book , seeing copies of TELL ME A SECRET fly off the table (and even signing some - surreal!), catching some of the Best Books for Young Adults panel discussion, especially hearing my editor's work with Jenny Valentine honored for Broken Soup (yay, Catherine!), and being present for the 2010 Youth Media Awards!!!! (Hooray for all of the very deserving winners, especially Libba Bray, Tanita Davis, L.K. Maddigan, Grace Lin, Jerry Pinkney, Tanya Lee Stone, and others!)

At the Kidlit/YA Tweetup organized by Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan, I ran into Kate Messner, Dawn Metcalf, Edith Cohn, Mitali Dave, Marissa Doyle, Ann Haywood Leal, Jennifer Rummel, EgmontGal, HipWriterMama, and so many others! Here are a few pics (my camera takes terrible inside shots, so I include credits...):

Here's one I stole from Edith Cohn (taken by Mitali Perkins - my first book-signing!) with Anindita, Edith, me, and Mitali of Alley of Books in the background:

And with EgmontGal Elizabeth Law and Mitali of Alley of Books (photo from Elizabeth's tweet, taken by Ann Haywood Leal!):

Plus a couple from the album of Judith Jango-Cohen with Harper friends Tara Weikum and Sara Shumway:

And here's one the inimitable Mitali Perkins and Vivian Mahoney (HipWriterMama!) after meeting Vivian in person for the first time, after working together on readergirlz for years!

I stayed with friends Kasson and Kathryn in Boston, who not only fed me, housed me, and even turned up their heat for me, but they carted me to and from the T-station so that I wouldn't get lost in the big (well, bigger) city. Then there was new music from Kasson and knitting wonders from Kathryn. Thanks, K&K! Here's my favorite thing I spotted in their house:

Plus some envy-worthy art from Etsy:

Now...on to the book stack. Here, let's look at them one more time and drool:

The publishers at ALA were exceedingly generous to us YA book groupies, and I picked up copies of (in order of the stack, release month in parentheses):

The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart (4/10)
Stranded, by J.T. Dutton (6/10)
Borderline, by Allan Stratton (3/10)
Very LeFreak, by Rachel Cohn (1/10)
The Timekeeper's Moon, by Joni Sensel (3/10)
Captivate, by Carrie Jones (1/10 - see her Story Secrets!)
Life As We Knew It/The Dead & The Gone/This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer (3rd book in 4/10)
Tangled, by Carolyn Mackler (1/10)
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver (3/10)
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green & David Levithan (4/10)
Illyria, by Elizabeth Hand (5/10)
Happyface, by Stephen Emond (3/10)

And a couple of copies of Tell Me a Secret for upcoming blog giveaways! What a weekend!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Story Secrets: THE ABC's OF KISSING BOYS by Tina Ferraro - and a giveaway!

Story Secrets is back, this time with fabulous, fresh, funny, and simply delightful YA author Tina Ferraro on THE ABC's OF KISSING BOYS! (If you missed previous Story Secrets, you can check them out here.)

Tina and I met at an SCBWI midwinter conference in NYC. She recognized me on the spot...as someone who'd won her book TOP TEN USES FOR AN UNWORN PROM DRESS from YA Fresh, the blog she co-helms with fellow YA author Kelly Parra (I wrote about the white tulle with glow-in-the-dark dots I wished I'd made after one of the most disastrous co-dates in history...).

I'm especially excited for Tina because today's book was featured on Amazon's Great Gifts for Teens list - and it just made YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults List! So if you still have holiday dollars, Tina's book is the perfect way to spend them.

Welcome, Tina!


When I first started taking about my third Random House novel, The ABC’s of Kissing Boys, I really wasn’t sure what to say. The plot sounded ridiculous, even to my own ear: in order to get promoted to varsity soccer with the rest of her team, 16 year-old Parker has to learn to kiss the socks off last year’s prom king. And she finds help in the unlikeliest of places: the freshman guy across the street.

I mean, say what?

But thankfully, reviewers provided cleverer and more succinct versions.

Here’s YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), when nominating it for Best YA Book of 2009: "Learning to kiss from her father's archenemy's son (a freshman) can lead to consequences Parker never imagined. A funny, poignant, and sweet Romeo and Juliet.”

Booklist calls it: “...a mashup of Bend It Like Beckham, Mean Girls, and Can’t Buy Me Love, and will find a happy audience in fans of the same.”

So at the risk of appearing unoriginal with my own original project--what they said!

How did you come up with the idea for the do-or-die kiss scenario?
For me, it was a crash-boom-bam of ideas.
  • I had been thinking about a girl who doesn’t make varsity with her teammates, and how awful it would be to get left behind.
  • I loved the idea of a title that started “The ABC’s of...”
  • I thought it would be fun to research kissing.
Suddenly, they all banged together--plus the fact I knew several high school soccer players and a coach who would help me--and I knew I had a book!

Did you know the Romeo and Juliet story would become a significant part of the plot?
The whole Romeo and Juliet father-feud happened during the writing process, and the more it emerged, the more I liked it. So I found myself going back and heightening some previous areas, and setting the scene for more drama along the line. So the fact YALSA chose that to highlight completely delights me!

Do you talk with anyone about your ideas as you are writing, or do you keep them top secret?
Both! I often tell my critique partner, author Kelly Parra, what I am planning. But sometimes I’m unsure about an element, or I want her “cold” reaction to something I’m trying, so I’ll keep it quiet to gauge her reaction.

Any secrets you might be willing to share?
I now know totally random and ridiculous information about kissing. You don’t want to be on the opposing team in Trivial Pursuit if a kissing question comes up!

Mid-way through the book, Parker and Tristan attempt something called The Steam Kiss. I had planned to try it out with my husband to see if one kisser with hot water in his mouth and one kisser with icy cold water could really make steam when kissing-- but got busy and forgot. Suddenly, I was writing that scene and I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized the thing to do was to have the kissing experiment rushed and therefore fail. So it wasn’t a real and true answer, but something they swear they’re going to “get back to.” To this day, I haven’t tried it and don’t know if it works!


I'm sure everyone could use some kissing research (if anyone tries the Steam Kiss, I'd be very curious about the results). Thanks for sharing your secrets, Tina!

So here's The Great Kissing Giveaway:
Tina has generously offered to send one winner a copy of THE ABC's OF KISSING. For a chance to win, leave a comment - your best or worst kiss ever - and some way to contact you, and we'll choose one winner to receive the book by Monday at 5pm PST. May the best kiss win!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

rgz LIVE! chat with E. Lockhart tonight!

Tonight at the readergirlz blog, 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST, join us while we chat with E. Lockhart herself about pranks, boyfriends, and clever girl characters.

See you there!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back from Boston!

New friends, old friends, an airport-full of librarians, and books!

Nap now...more later!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The suspense...

And I'm there right now!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Off to ALA Midwinter Conference!

DIY Friday is taking a holiday this week...because right now I'm in Boston, USA to attend the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference!

I'll be teaming up with Loriene Roy of If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything - a very awesome organization dedicated to getting books into the hands of Native American kids and teens - to talk about readergirlz' third annual Operation Teen Book Drop!

Check out the trailer:

Plus I'll be armed with lots of TELL ME A SECRET goodies (and I heard a rumor there will be some advance copies there...)


I'm looking forward to meeting YALSA friends, YA friends, TBD friends, and new friends!

Oh, and the wonderful ladies over at YA Fresh are spotlighting Tell Me a Secret today in their Fresh Teasers series - thanks, Kelly and Tina!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Story Secrets: CAPTIVATE by Carrie Jones

Welcome to Story Secrets! This is a weekly feature where YA authors (some well-known, some debut) spill their secrets about their latest and greatest YA offerings.

Today, I'm excited to chat with writing friend and agent-mate, Carrie Jones, about CAPTIVATE, which just hit the shelves (along with the paperback of the first book, NEED). Whenever I get grumpy, I check out Carrie's blog for her unique brand of insight and hilarity. Carrie is a person who writes with heart. I promise, her books (and quite possibly her werewolves) will charm you.

Welcome, Carrie!


First, tell us a little bit about CAPTIVATE.
CAPTIVATE is the sequel to NEED. They are stories about Zara who is tormented by human-sized pixies who are full of evil. It's really about how Zara goes from a grieving zombie-like girl to a hero that can total kick some butt while being quirky, because basically everyone should be a quirky butt-kicking hero who has peace symbols on their jeans.

How did you come up with the idea for the series?
I was at the Common Ground Fair, which is this huge, cool fair in Maine, in a rural part of the United States, that’s sponsored by Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA). To get to the main part of the fair you have to walk through this sweet trail that curves through these tall spruce trees.

Right in front of me was this guy. He had a weird vibe. He was wearing all corduroy – blazer, pants. And sticking out from his blazer was this long tail-like appendage that was wrapped in different colored earth-toned cloth. I guess he could tell I was checking him out because he turned his head and looked at me. His eye was this startling silver color. How startling? So startling that I actually gasped and got creeped out.

Then when we were in line to pay we made eye contact again and his eyes were brown. I know! I know! I probably imagined the silver eye color.

It doesn’t matter. That was one of the main things that got me started. Then, I just had this image of a man standing outside an airport pointing at an airplane this girl was on.

It also wigged me out.

So, I started writing.

Anything unusual about the way it came about?
Well, I kept creeping myself out when I wrote it. I'd look outside and think I'd see things in the woods. This was not good for my mental health but it did show me that I can survive my heart beating over 200 times a minute.

Did the process take you anywhere unexpected, either in writing or in life?
My first three books came out really quietly and were sort of the literary/contemporary genre, so I was really surprised that NEED did so well. I'm not used to royalty checks that actually had money in it. So that changed.

But in writing it's made me much more aware of plot and the forward motion of a story. Believe me, that's totally a good thing!

What would you say is your biggest inspiration?
Strudel. [Editor's note: hmmm...another author inspired by food...]

How long did it take you to write, and did you have to go through a lot of drafts? How did the story evolve as you revised?
I go through a MILLION TRILLION drafts. It takes me about six months to get it to where a copy editor looks at it.

The first draft is sort of luck this big lump of mold on the basement floor. There are all these spores, but it's not connecting right and there's way too many love scenes. My editor is always hacking out the love scenes.

This kind of depresses me.

She, however, is intelligent and says, "How many times can he feed her a cookie, Carrie?"

For some reason I think cookies are romantic.

So the story becomes more of a straight line of mold as I revise. I cut out spores. I get some bleach and I kill things off.

Do you talk with anyone about your ideas as you are writing, or do you keep them top secret?
It's not that I'm trying to keep them secret, it's just I don't want to bore anyone with all my "I am so concerned that the narrative arch doesn't coincide with the existential nature of the emotional arc during act two of the piece."

I do ask people about their ideas if I am blocked in the plot. So, I might be talking to you on the phone and we could be talking about Jon Stewart being totally cute and then all of a sudden I'll say, "If you were going to get to this mythical place where only gods live how would you get there?"

Or "Do you think it's worse to die by fire or drown?"

So what is the real story behind the novel? Any secrets you might be willing to share?
CAPTIVATE is sort of about doing what you have to do to save someone you love. I think this is a recurring theme in my work because when I was little my stepdad died of a heart attack. He was the best bonus dad ever. We'd been eating at his sister's house and he left the table. I kept checking on him and he kept telling me he was okay, but I knew he wasn't telling the truth. I kept telling the other adults that something was wrong, but they didn't listen. Eventually he died on the couch and I brought him back once but then all the adults came and took over and he died again. I remember all these people pacing around, flustered, helpless, confused and basically not very good in a crisis. Then they put him in an ambulance and I knew if he got in that ambulance I would never see him again.

That kind of loss and helplessness and annoyance at not being able to be the one in charge because I was so little sort of informed the series.

I can't believe I just told that story! What a downer! I am so sorry. Anyway, that's one of the main reasons, I write what I do. I want teens to realize that they have power, that it isn't cool when you aren't listened to, or thought of as 'less' just because of your age.


Thank you, Carrie! I think that kind of honesty and heart are what makes your books special.

For more about Carrie, visit her website. And don't miss Melissa Walker's cover story on NEED.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Operation Teen Book Drop

In just a couple of days, I'll be flying to Boston for the ALA Midwinter Meeting to talk about...

This year's Operation Teen Book Drop!

readergirlz, GuysLitWire, YALSA, and publishers have teamed up with If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything to get 10,000 YA books into the hands of Native American teens.

Check out the trailer, featuring music from Blackhawk Kapusta and my friend Kasson's just-released Symbion Project album:

Thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Seattle University Bookstore!

On Sunday, I went to the U-District branch of the University Bookstore to celebrate their 110th Anniversary!

To commemorate, the store created a book with contributions from 110 local authors of 110 words (including me!).

Here's Dia Calhoun reading hers, a lyrical fantasy:

And Julie Reinhardt, bbq chef extraordinare, reading hers:

The most fun was getting a copy of the book and circulating among author friends and new author friends to collect signatures on our pages (as Liz Gallagher, fellow contributor, said, it was like signing high school yearbooks!). Here's a shot of Liz and me:

(yes, that's the scarf!)

Here I am with Newbery stars Karen Cushman and Kirby Larson (perhaps some of their brilliance - and sparkles - will rub off!):

Other star contributors include Martha Brockenbrough, Deb Caletti, Justina Chen, Kevin Emerson, Robin Hobb, Meg Lippert, Deb Lund, Nancy Pearl, Deborah Reber, and Jaime Temairik (some with their own illustrations!).

For my 110 words, I submitted a little teaser in verse form from...you guessed it, Tell Me a Secret:

It’s tough, living in the
shadow of a dead girl.

It’s like living
at the foot of a mountain blocking out the sun, where no one says,
“Damn, that mountain is big.”

It’s something we hardly
Not even when it’s crushing us
under its

No one mentions my sister.
If they do, it’s by omission,
that I am
nothing like her.
I am the good sister.

Thank God.

To speak of my

There’s nothing more sacrilegious.

who was,
and is,
and is to come.

To speak her name is my family’s purest form of

Tell me a secret, and I’ll tell you one.

Happy birthday, U-Bookstore! Thanks for including me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Writing: Seven Cures for Creative Paralysis

In the spirit of starting fresh with writing goals in the new year, I am posting a few articles throughout the month of January. I hope you are inspired to make this your best writing year yet!


Think you have writer's block? Here are seven proven cures
from the Dr. Weils of the writing world.
Originally published in the SCBWI Bulletin.

My passion for writing began with a single idea—one destined to change the children’s book world. When I wasn’t in class or doing homework, I diligently wrote and rhymed until my picture book text reached a whopping 1,600 words. I smiled with satisfaction. Finally, it was ready for pictures!

I vividly recall the moment my first fear gripped me. I was in the shower, musing about my story and reciting the lines. I froze: what if this is my first, last, and best story? What if I never have another idea?

Thankfully, the fear was unfounded. But now, a number of years (and a few classes on writing for children) later, I tend to have the opposite problem. I have a zillion ideas. What I don’t have is time to develop them all. Combine that with unhealthy tendencies toward perfectionism, distraction, and procrastination, and the result is a strain of writer’s block I’m particularly susceptible to. I call it “creative paralysis.”

Maybe you have great beginnings for two Middle Grade novels, four picture books, and numerous nonfiction articles, poems, and short stories (as I do). Or maybe you have one great story, but are so overwhelmed with possible directions you can’t seem to write a single word for any of them. If you have ever been reeling with ideas but stop cold when faced with choosing a direction, you know what I’m talking about.

This ailment comes up over and over for me, so I decided to see what my personal panel of experts has to say on the subject.

Choose One Story—and Write It
“Writing isn’t a matter of sitting around and waiting for the spirit to move you,” says Nancy Lamb, author of The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. When life is happening around us, that’s when we need Lamb’s three Ds the most: Desire, Discipline, and Determination.

First we must separate the desire to have written a book from the desire to write. Desire will propel us to the next and more difficult stage, discipline. I have the most trouble with this D—writing every day whether I’m in the mood or not, but Lamb personalizes the struggle into inspiration: “Discipline means we make up our minds not to let ourselves down.” Lastly, Determination won’t let obstacles bring you to a halt. Hidden within the three Ds is a fourth—Direction. So choose one story now and put the Ds to work.

Face Your Fears
Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way suggests blocks are barriers that must be dealt with in order to proceed with creative work. “Blocks are seldom mysterious,” she writes. “They are, instead, recognizable artistic defenses.”

To clear the flow, she offers several questions for close examination. What are the resentments and fears associated with this project? Any silly ones left over? What do you have to gain by not doing the project? Once you have brought these roadblocks to light, however petty they may seem, you clear the way for quantity—and ultimately quality.

In the Chaos, Act
When the kids are fighting, your spouse can’t find the car keys, the pets have ruined your notebook, and there’s no grocery money, Writing Down the Bones author Natalie Goldberg says to just write. “In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake.”

Dashing all my hopes (and many of my reasons for procrastinating) to pieces, Goldberg adds, “There is no perfection. If you want to write, you have to cut through and write. There is no perfect atmosphere, notebook, pen, or desk, so train yourself to be flexible.” Goldberg suggests writing in lots of different places and circumstances to find what works for you. Every word you write is a positive step.

Do Your Draft Aerobics
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts,” Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird. “You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper.” Give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft, knowing that only you will see it.

According to Lamott, the first draft is the “down draft”—get it down. Worry about cheesiness and boring verbs later. The next draft is the “up draft,” where you fix it up. Too often I try to go straight for the draft she dubs the “dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.” I end up with a down draft regardless, but the order she suggests is far less painful!

“Be a Pirate! Be a Lion!”
Be careless and reckless, encourages Brenda Ueland in her classic 1938 work, If You Want to Write. Dwelling on mistakes simply veers you straight toward them, as a child on a bike veers toward a tree. Instead, she suggests, “See how bad a story you can write. See how dull you can be.” She guarantees you can’t. Instead, you will have conquered the perfectionism that binds you.

Recklessness and freedom have an even greater benefit: it will lead you to your true voice. This kind of touching, living honesty will “break through the shell of glibness to what is true underneath.”

Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection
In The Heart of the Artist, Rory Noland talks about the black-and-white thinking that often stymies creative types: “I’m either a good artist or I don’t even deserve to call myself one. There’s no in-between.” Noland says the key is not to pursue perfection but to pursue excellence—“doing the best you can with what you have.”

“Best” is fluid if “what you have” keeps expanding and improving. Part of striving toward artistic excellence is developing skill, and skill involves effort. We need training, ongoing development, and practice to hone our craft. A word of caution, however: beware of using classes as crutches. Training can’t replace doing the work. Practice makes excellence.

Trust Like a Child
In the act of creativity, the artist must let go of the illusion of complete control to which he clings. “There is much that the artist must trust,” Madeleine L’Engle writes in Walking on Water. “He must trust himself. He must trust his work. He must open himself to revelation, and that is an act of trust.”

When we let go, we are “open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating, but not unless we let go our adult intellectual control and become as open as little children.” Children do not fear revelation. They anticipate it. They spend time waiting, hoping, and being. As L’Engle writes, “Being time is never wasted.”

That Said …
I was relieved to discover no one had anything curative to say about having too many ideas, though I’m still in search of how to choose among so many possibilities. I have listed a few practical strategies I’ve found helpful in teaching myself to stay put, focus, and just write.

And that first story? Amidst the chaos of life and a hundred other ideas, I’ve managed to whittle it down to a slim, snappy 400 words. I think—perhaps—it’s finally ready for pictures.

Eight More Suggestions for Foiling Creative Paralysis:

  • Use your critique group as a motivator. Always bring something to show. Ask them to hold you accountable to your goals. Keep in mind they are your coworkers—and cheerleaders.
  • Set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. Keep your goals posted where you can see them. Strive to meet them, and reward yourself tangibly when you do (though I humbly suggest avoiding food as a reward!)
  • If you don’t enjoy working solitaire, find a writing partner or group. Meet regularly, and commit to using the full block of time to create. Many libraries, universities, and community centers have meeting rooms.
  • If you have so many ideas you don’t know which one to work on, make a deal with yourself to concentrate on just one for a month. Focus. Give it your best shot! If you don’t like where it goes, work on something else the next month.
  • Set a timer. This works especially well for procrastinators, many of whom like the “last minute” adrenaline rush. Give yourself permission to work on only one project. The time is sacred: no phone calls, other projects, meetings, or laundry can encroach.
  • Get to know where your story is going. I’ve found if I don’t take time to plan my direction, I end up with tons of intriguing beginnings going nowhere.
  • Skip the section giving you trouble and write a different part of the story. The chronological writing police are a myth. You may even make discoveries critical to your problem spot.
  • Write an article about your weakness. You might just surprise yourself with great ideas, and you’ll have solutions right there in one handy reference!

Friday, January 08, 2010

DIY Friday: A scarf!

Remember that really cool UK knitting book I told you about last summer? The whole book is incredibly gorgeous: HEARTFELT: The Dark House Collection by Kim Hargreaves.

So this winter, while I cuddled up under blankets and wrestled with novel revisions and slutty new ideas (coined by Laini Taylor, a universal dilemma!), I knitted away on the most crazy difficult scarf pattern I've ever tried. And...

I did it!

Now, for the even more crazy difficult hat...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Story Secrets: ICE by Sarah Beth Durst

Welcome to my very first STORY SECRETS, a series which will run throughout 2010 with a spectacular lineup of YA authors, both established and debut! (And thanks to Jay, who suggested a logo - yes, we've got a logo!)

I'm thrilled to welcome Sarah Beth Durst - Sarah Beth and I met at the winter SCBWI conference the year of her debut novel, INTO THE WILD, and we've been fast friends ever since. Here she'll share some of the story behind the story of her third YA fantasy, ICE, just released this winter. What better novel to kick off in the snow and ice?

Welcome, Sarah Beth!


ICE is a YA fantasy novel set in the present-day Arctic. It's about a polar bear, true love, and one girl's impossible quest across the frozen North.

I wrote this book as a love letter to my husband. It's about true love... the kind of love where you'd go east of the sun and west of the moon for each other. So this novel is very closed to my heart.

It's also about polar bears, one of the coolest animals ever. No pun intended.

Besides being really excited that it's you (I confess, I'm already a SBD diehard fan), I was thrilled to hear you were inspired by East of the Sun, and West of the Moon. How did the tale influence your story?

I love fairy tales. I think they have tremendous power. For many of us, they're among the first stories we ever hear, and as such, they help form our understanding of what story is. Plus they are a huge part of our culture, and everyone brings such emotional baggage to them. These things make them a great tool for a writer.

So I knew I wanted to work with a fairy tale, but I didn't want one where the girl just slept for the entire tale. Or was stuck in a tower. Or was dead.

I fell in love East of the Sun, West of the Moon because it's about a fearless girl who saves an enchanted prince, instead of vice versa. In the original tale, she's asked multiple times, "Are you afraid?" And the answer is always, "No, she wasn't." That little exchange was the spark that became ICE.

From there, I veered rather far from that original spark. My fearless girl became the daughter of an Arctic research scientist, and my prince became a kind of Angel of Death for polar bears.

Did it take you anywhere unexpected, either in writing or in real life?

Yes, it took me to the Arctic. Not literally. (I really, really don't like being cold. Or hot. I prefer to be temperature regulated.) But I buried myself in research, and I was able to live vicariously through Cassie as she treks across the frozen sea, the tundra, and the Canadian boreal forest.

I think one of the best things about being a writer is that it lets you live other lives and go to places that you'll never be able to go to in real life. It's the ultimate in armchair – or more accurately, desk chair - traveling.

I love to hear the story behind stories. So what's the real story behind ICE? Any secrets you might be willing to share?

Raisinets. That's the secret to writing. I keep a bag next to me while I write to keep me going.

Seriously, the secret is to find what keeps you going. I strongly believe that the key to being a writer is perseverance. So whether it's a quote next to your computer, a person who cheers you on, a set of songs that puts you in the mood, or a particular food, use whatever works for you and don't give up!


For more info about ICE, visit Sarah Beth's website, and check out Melissa Walker's ICE Cover Story here.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

rgz LIVE! with Beth Kephart tonight!

Join us tonight at the readergirlz blog for a rgz LIVE! chat with Beth Kephart, our first Author-in-Residence!

Beth Kephart is the amazing author of several books (including the delicious mystery NOTHING BUT GHOSTS), and she's been our author-in-residence since December. We have one last chat with her tonight at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

readergirlz in January

Lots going on over at readergirlz - here's a rundown:

Liz GallagherWelcome to new diva Liz Gallagher, author of THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE! Liz has been helping us out for months with Seattle events, and now it's official. She'll not only continue to set up events for readergirlz and YA friends in Seattle, but she'll head up a team to do it in key cities all over the country!

Then there's my trip to Boston for ALA Midwinter this year to team up with Loriene Roy of If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything to talk with librarians and other kidlit folks about this year's Operation Teen Book Drop, getting 10,000 books into the hands of Native American teens! (Plus I'll have a bagful of TELL ME A SECRET swag, and I hear there will be advance copies!)

I am flying in just in time for the YALSA meet-and-greet, will talk with groups about TBD, and join other kidlitters at the YA/Kidlit Chat Meetup on Saturday. Then I'll be there to hear the Youth Media Awards announcements on Monday morning - the Printz! The Newbery! I still remember the year Midwinter came to Seattle and our friend Kirby Larson took home a Newbery Honor (so proud!).

Our featured author this month is E. Lockhart, author of strong and clever girls, and we have a special chat tomorrow with our first Author-in-Residence, Beth Kephart:

See you at the readergirlz forum!