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Friday, April 30, 2010

DIY Friday: easy lemon cookies!

Do you ever just get a random craving for lemon? (I confess: I do.) I haven't posted a recipe for a while, and this one came out so yummy!

(Gluten-free friends, this is such a basic recipe that I think it would be terrific with gf flour substitute!)

So without further ado, here are...Iced Lemon Shortbread Cookies:

For cookies (adapted from a Martha recipe):

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp almond extract
grated peel of one lemon
dash salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For icing:

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
lemon juice to icing consistency


Beat butter, sugar, lemon, and salt with mixer until light. Add flour on low until just blended.

Roll into a 1.5" diameter log on a sheet of waxed paper. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Slice dough in 3/8" slices and bake until lightly golden, about 12-15 minutes. Cool on rack.

To prepare icing, stir lemon juice a few drops at a time into icing until you reach desired consistency (about like stirred yogurt). When cookies are cool, spoon about a teaspoon of icing onto cookie and spread to edges.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Story Secrets: A BLUE SO DARK by Holly Schindler + Giveaway!

How happy I am to be able to introduce you to my friend and fellow "2K10 Debut Holly," Holly Schindler!

Holly's debut novel, A BLUE SO DARK, releases on May 1st and just garnered a *starred review* from Booklist. Hooray, Holly! So I invited her to visit us to spill some of her story secrets (and A BLUE SO DARK has many of them)...

Welcome, Holly!


Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura’s dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

And here is Holly's story behind the story:

…I decided to devote myself full-time to my writing as soon as I got my master’s degree back in the spring of ’01. By the winter of ’06, I’d already endured almost (yikes!) five solid unpublished years…To pay my pesky bills, I taught piano and guitar lessons and offered English tutorials out of my home—which turned out to be fabulous YA author training!

Maybe some instructors get annoyed by their students’ interruptions, but my absolute FAVORITE parts of the lessons were the times my students would just TALK to me…tell me funny stories about their days, or blow off steam about a teacher, or let me in on something hurtful that had happened with one of their friends. And it hit me how similar they were to the kids I’d gone to school with. Sure, the cut of the jeans are different now, kids might listen to iPods instead of Walkmans, but so many of our experiences are the same…

I’ve also always LOVED art—took as many art courses in high school as English—and I knew I wanted to explore my fascination with artists and creativity—why creativity can just ooze out of some people’s pores, and others practically have to set out a trap to snare a muse.

To get started, I pulled out all my old high school journals and notebooks, mining them to reconnect with my own teenage “voice.” When I realized how similar it sounded to my nearly-thirty-year-old voice AND to my students’ voices, I was off and running…first draft took just a couple of months! I polished it up a bit and began submitting.

…And the rejection slips started to pour into my inbox and mailbox both. But I was getting really great rejections for A BLUE SO DARK…positive response and REALLY helpful critiques from editors.

Once I’d distanced myself from the manuscript I loved and had connected with from the start, I could understand what those editors were trying to tell me. I could look at the pages objectively and identify the weaknesses. I then began to revise…and revise…and revise. I went through several different drafts, each time making the book less internal…I inserted more scenes in the novel, brought Aura out of her head and allowed her to interact with the world around her.

…In the end, I created a young girl for whom creativity and madness are inextricably linked. And there’s no denying that many artists were mad, so she really gives readers something to chew on…But by listening to those editors’ suggestions, I also created a fully-rounded character who is more than just the daughter of a schizophrenic. Aura became her own person, with her own interests and fears, her own sense of humor…

I can’t wait for readers to meet Aura…which they’ll be able to do, starting May 1, 2010!


Gorgeous cover, don't you think? Readers, if you have missed previous Story Secrets with amazing YA authors, check them out here!


Holly has very generously donated one copy of A BLUE SO DARK to go to a lucky commenter. So leave a comment below about either a) why you really want to read this book, b) what creative gift you would like to have and why, or c) your favorite "mad" character in literature. Please include a way to contact you.

We'll collect comments until Monday, 5pm PST!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Story Secrets: JUST DON'T FALL winners

Thanks to everyone who entered to win one of TWO copies of memoirist and inspirational speaker, Josh Sundquist's JUST DON'T FALL: HOW I GREW UP, CONQUERED ILLNESS, AND MADE IT DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.

Josh's story and his positive attitude are inspiring to me, and I hope they were to you, too.

So, on to the winners!


We're sending a copy of JUST DON'T FALL to...

******JET HARRINGTON and D.M. Cunningham!!!!*******

Congratulations, Jet and D.M.! Stay tuned tomorrow for Story Secrets from fellow "2K10 Debut Holly," Holly Schindler, author of A BLUE SO DARK!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Circle of Secrets

Not long ago, I noticed that there were several secretive YA debuts this spring... There was only one thing to do: form the Circle of Secrets!

Jenn Hubbard, C.J. Omololu, and I have been secretly planning some fun joint events - the first of which is the official Circle of Secrets twitter - come on over and follow us!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Superquick Newsflash

Behind the scenes, the engine is revving...here's a superquick update on what's happening!

Next week, beginning May 1st, Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts will be featuring an exclusive two chapter preview of TELL ME A SECRET! What an honor, to be included. Thank you, amazing VCFA editors!

Plus, TELL ME A SECRET Tuesdays begin soon - with news, tidbits, sneak previews, links, and fun swag giveaways!

Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf featured readergirlz' Operation Teen Book Drop! At right, we're at the Muckleshoot Middle School Library with two local librarians, delivering books to the kids.

They had a bigger-than-life-sized standup of Jacob from Twilight, which was...wow. He's kind of hunky, up close.

You have until 5pm PST today(!) to leave a comment to win Josh Sundquist's JUST DON'T FALL - an inspiring read, and also a great gift for a brother or boyfriend...

Friday, April 23, 2010

DIY Friday: Making a gorgeous necklace with Gypsy Wings!

I'm very excited to host a guest today for DIY Friday: Gypsy Wings, also known as Gypsy Rae Photography, also known as Georgia Cranston!

Georgia is an artist, a writer, a mama, a reader, a Twilight Mom, and has been a friend to readergirlz since the very beginning.

You can get to know her better by visiting her Esty shop (with more cool necklaces!), her website, and her amazing photostream.

She's here today to teach us how to make a beautiful necklace with stones and findings - Miranda's sister in TELL ME A SECRET is a DIY girl, and she would most definitely approve.

Welcome, Georgia!


Necklace Tutorial


  • A small smooth rock or stone from a trip or location special to you
  • Aanraku Jewelry Bails (easily found online)
  • E6000 glue
  • Clear Glossy Acrylic Sealer
  • wax paper
  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Chain for your necklace (2mm chain is my favorite)
  • 4mm jump rings to match your chain (also, smaller 2mm jump rings are optional for your charms)
  • Necklace clasps (I prefer lobster clasps)
  • Various beads or charms to embellish your necklace with. Get creative with these, you can turn many small items into charms with a little creativity.
All of the supplies for this necklace (except the aanraku bails) can be found at your local Michaels Craft Supply store, or a similar craft store. To purchase the bails, I generally will go to ebay or etsy for the best deals.

Making the necklace

1. Begin by selecting a small stone to be your focal piece. This stone should be clean and dry. I like to wash them and let them dry overnight.

2. Spread a sheet of was paper out on a piece of scrap wood or cardboard. Once you have chosen your stone/stones lay them out on the wax paper and spray a thin coat of clear glossy acrylic sealer onto them. Once they have dried, turn the stones over and spray the other side. To get the best glossy coating I do this several times on each side. Allow these to dry for at least several hours.

3. Once your stones are nice and glossy, and completely dry it is time to glue your bail to the stone, do this according to the directions on the package. I will hold the bail in place for a minute or two to make sure it does not shift, then I let it sit again usually overnight to insure a very secure hold.

4. Now it is time to determine how long your necklace should be. An average length for a necklace is 18 inches. Take your jewelry chain and measure out the desired length, then cut with the cutting edge of your needle nose pliers.

5. Hang the stone from the chain, and place a jump ring on each end of the chain. Then put the necklace clasp on one end using the jump ring. To open a jump ring, use your needle nose pliers and gently bend it open, just a small amount. Once your jump ring is where you need it, use your pliers again to close it back up. Be sure not to leave a big gap in the jump ring opening.

Making the charm

1. To make the charm, cut a tiny tiny section of chain (it depends on how large your chain links are and how far down your stone you want the charm to hang) and hang one of your charms or beads from it using a jump ring. Add another jump ring to the top of this small chain and attach that to the hole in the aanraku bail.

Your charm should hang down in the front or side of your stone, resting against its surface. You can add multiple elements to your charm, I usually will add a bead or two in addition to the main charm piece. A popular combination when I was making the First Beach Sea Stone Necklaces was a small starfish with freshwater pearls or shell beads. Use your imagination and see what you can come up with!


Thank you, Georgia! Readers, if you make a necklace, let me know and I will post a pic!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


My adoration for Deb Caletti is no secret - she writes amazing books exploring difficult relationships and dark family pasts (and she said the nicest things about TELL ME A SECRET!). She is also the featured author over at readergirlz this month, so if you missed her live chat last night, go check it out!

I am honored to welcome her to talk about THE SECRET LIFE OF PRINCE CHARMING (which just got a lovely new paperback cover). Welcome, Deb!


PRINCE is the story of a girl who sets out on a road trip with her younger sister and the step-sister they never knew to return the objects their father has stolen from the women he’s been in love with.

Deb's story behind the story:
When I was nineteen, I met a twenty-one year old young man who was dark and handsome, mysterious and moody. Three years later, after a long-distance relationship, we would marry, and that’s when he became the abusive husband I would live with for the next thirteen years. This one decision, this decision to have this particular relationship, would result in years upon years of devastation – emotional, physical, financial – complicated layers of pain and damage that would affect me, our kids, our families and friends.

As my kids approached the age when I first met their father, and as I got clearer over the ten years since I left, the need to write about relationship choices and self protection grew. Grew? Became urgent. The choice of a partner (even just a dating partner) is one decision has an impact and weight we can’t even begin to see at nineteen, and yet where is the guidance on how to make it? Where are the high school classes about healthy relationships? Even if a relationship does not evolve into a marriage with children, an unhealthy one can harm or haunt for a good long while. And… the letters I was getting from readers were telling me that many, many young women were in harmful places. I decided, then, to write a story where I could pull in everything I had learned about making good relationship choices – everything. From my own experiences, from those of many women I knew.

How did you sit down to write it?
I was sitting on my back deck one summer day when the idea came to intersperse the voices of the actual women characters throughout the narration. I was so pleased about this way of approaching the story, because it allowed me to convey the experiences of many people in their own, individual way, and because it supported the idea that we all make mistakes and have (or will have) these stories to tell. It created a fictional community of women. As a writer, it was also great fun to play with “voice” in such variety.

Was it strange to be so transparent in your fiction?
Well, it was the first time I’d ever been THAT honest in “public” about that part of my life. It’s a strange thing to write so personally, yet under the handy guise of fiction.

Biggest inspiration?
Great books, great writing – they always inspire me. I’m also inspired by the desire to make my kids and family proud. :)

I'm always curious to hear about authors' writing process - how do you get your brilliant novels on paper?
A book usually takes me about 12-18 months to write, and I go through too many drafts to count. Hopefully, as you revise, you take out the clunky noises and smooth out the bumps. You know how you sometimes turn the radio up when the car makes bad noises? (Okay, I sometimes do this.) That’s a first draft. But later, it’s time to face the problems. You fix them, you drive straight through, maybe you add a little extra scenery along the way.

Life experiences help build empathy. To me, empathy is what gets you to the heart of any story.

Are your ideas top secret, or do you share them?
Usually it’s top secret. Occasionally my husband or my kids or my mother will hear a bit of how it’s going. But even my agent, editor, and publisher only know a few, bare facts. None of us know what we’re going to end up with until it’s arrived. That’s trust on my publisher’s part!

Secrets about PRINCE CHARMING?
I think I told enough secrets in PRINCE! PRINCE is my most autobiographical story yet. That said, I’ll tell you guys what I told my kids and family members (who I knew would recognize some things in the book): PLEASE REMEMBER, I MADE A LOT OF IT UP, TOO!


Thank you, Deb, for sharing a little about THE SECRET LIFE OF PRINCE CHARMING! And here is the adorable movie Deb shot for readergirlz:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

rgz LIVE! chat tonight with Deb Caletti!

Stop by tonight for a chat with Deb Caletti, author of THE SECRET LIFE OF PRINCE CHARMING! Live chat at 6pm PST/9pm EST at the readergirlz blog - see you there!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Story Secrets: JUST DON'T FALL giveaway!

Because of the mayhem and excitement of Operation TBD last week, we're extending the deadline to comment for a chance to win a copy of athelete, memoirist, and inspirational speaker, Josh Sundquist on his debut book JUST DON'T FALL: HOW I GREW UP, CONQUERED ILLNESS, AND MADE IT DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.

If you missed Josh's interview, check it out here:

The JUST DON'T FALL Giveaway:
We have TWO copies of Josh's book to give away - I gave a copy to my nephew, and he says it's "good." Which is high praise from a guy of few words!

So just leave a comment below about either a) what is inspiring to you or b) why you'd like to read Josh's book. Comment by 5pm PST Monday, April 26 - please include a way to contact you.

Then on Thursday, we have Story Secrets with none other than Deb Caletti, who is also our featured author over at readergirlz this month! In fact, we'll be chatting with her tomorrow night at the readergirlz blog:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thank you for rocking Operation Teen Book Drop!

Thanks to everyone who participated in Operation Teen Book Drop!

You can read about all of the awesome YA authors who rocked the drop, see the amazing TBD wishlist put together by Colleen Mondor over at GuysLitWire, and visit Powell's Books to buy a book for a Native teen.

Many hands devoted themselves to the cause of getting books into the hands of Native teens living on tribal lands: readergirlz, GuysLitWire, YALSA, If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, publishers and the many librarians, teachers, and champions of YA and Native teens who helped us make this project a reality!

Dia Calhoun, Rachel McDonald, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen:

Thanks also to Richard "Blackhawk" Kapusta and Symbion Project for the amazing trailer music, and to Cory Doctorow for plugging his vast network into the TBD cause.

(Here are Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, Cory, and me!)

Thank you, everyone!

Friday, April 16, 2010

TELL ME A SECRET winner! (SCBWI WWA Conference)

Thank you again to everyone who came to the SCBWI WWA Conference who signed up for the TELL ME A SECRET advance copy giveaway! I was so happy to hear my story touched you and hope it inspired you to listen for that story of your heart, seek the open door, and open doors for others.

So now, the winner...

*********Jennie Englund!*********

Congratulations, Jennie - I'll be emailing you! And have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

rgz Operation TBD Post-Op Party is tonight!

To celebrate Support Teen Literature Day, join the TBD 2010 Post-Op Party tonight at the rgz blog! Tell us how you rocked the drop!

Here are some things you can do to celebrate Operation TBD with us:

* Upload a photo of your book left in your community to the chat!

* YA authors, drop your book in a teen hot spot!

* Check out the TBD Wish Lists over at Powell's which are adding hundreds of books to two tribal libraries?

* Come chat about YA lit!

YALSA, GuysLitWire, If I Can Read I Can Do Anything and rgz just finished dropping over 10,000 publisher-donated books into the hands of teens on Native American tribal lands across the country. Come party with us!

The chat box will go live at 6PM PST/9PM EST at the readergirlz blog!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Operation Teen Book Drop: Rock the drop with us tomorrow!

Woohoo -- readergirlz' Operation Teen Book Drop is almost here!

Tomorrow, April 15th, is the day of Operation Teen Book Drop! This is the third year rgz has helped lead the effort, and we'll be delivering 10,000 new books to teens on Native reservations and tribal lands. To learn more about the effort and our partners, check out our Operation TBD page. Many thanks to our partners at GuysLitWire, YALSA and If I Can Read I Can Do Anything!

All you have to do is leave a book in a public space for some lucky reader to find. Viola! You've rocked the drop. (Grab an official bookplate and extras here!)

Plus you can tweet #operationtbd with us tomorrow to raise awareness for teen literacy.

Let us know at the readergirlz blog if you plan to Rock the Drop, and take photos to send to us (readergirlz AT gmail DOT com) for a post-drop roundup! (See last year's fun one.)

Thanks, everyone!

Story Secrets: JUST DON'T FALL by Josh Sundquist + Giveaway!

This is actually a little bit of a departure from the usual Story Secrets - not because it's a "guy" book (we've had Swati Avasthi's SPLIT, Allan Stratton's BORDERLINE) or even because it's a video response (watch Sara Zarr talk about ONCE WAS LOST!) - but because this is the first non-fiction book to be featured.

As a memoirist and inspirational speaker, Josh Sundquist is in the business of telling his own secrets - and he does so with wit, charm, and I daresay a a huge dose of inspiration. Plus he's a really nice guy and didn't mangle my last name. :)

Josh is here to talk about his debut book, JUST DON'T FALL: HOW I GREW UP, CONQUERED ILLNESS, AND MADE IT DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. Welcome, Josh!

The JUST DON'T FALL Giveaway:
We have TWO copies of Josh's book to give away - I gave a copy to my nephew, and he says it's "good." Which is high praise from a guy of few words!

So just leave a comment below about either a) what is inspiring to you or b) why you'd like to read Josh's book. Since there's lots going on this week with Operation Teen Book Drop, I'm extending the usual deadline by one week - we'll tally them up by 5pm PST Monday, April 26 - please include a way to contact you. Comment away!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fun at the SCBWI WWA Conference!

Joni Sensel, Laurie Thompson, Kim Baker, Jaime Temairik, Sara Easterly, and all of the people at SCBWI WWA have outdone themselves again, if that were even possible!

Tea with Mitali Perkins & readergirlz, Kidlit drink night, dinner with Secret Agent Man Edward Necarsulmer (who is no longer a secret, after he made a huge splash here), an unbelievable lineup of speakers (Laini Taylor, Jay Asher, Michael Bourret, Elizabeth Law, the classy women of Blue Slip Media, Mitali, and many more).

Here's tea with Mitali and the readergirlz team, Martha Brockenbrough, Lorie Ann Grover, Mitali Perkins, Jackie Parker, Janet Lee Carey, me, and Dia Calhoun:

Dinner with the faculty: Suzanne Young, Jay, Jolie Stekly, me, and Edward:

Jay Asher asked to take a picture with me. Yeah, I couldn't believe it, either!

Late addition: me with Deborah Reber of Smart Girls Know, who writes savvy, cool non-fiction for teen girls:

And I was on the local success panel with incredibly distinguished local writers Robin Cruise, Kevin Emerson, Lois Harris, Paul Schmid, Suzanne Selfors, and Suzanne Young! Here's a shot, courtesy of Jay:

It was my first time talking about TELL ME A SECRET - boy, was I nervous and left out half of the important stuff...especially the happy ending:

I wanted to encourage all of you that you not only came to learn the craft of writing and to connect with peers and professionals, but you also came to listen for that story that calls your heart. You came to seek the open door. And you might even open the door for someone else.

Thanks to everybody who came up to me and was excited about TMAS - you are all the best. Come back Friday to see who won the advance copy!

Story Secrets winners: BEFORE I FALL and SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Wow, what a terrific response for last week's Story Secrets author, fellow 2010 debut Lauren Oliver, who came to chat with us about BEFORE I FALL. And I'm SWOONing from all of the super entries we got for Sydney Salter's newest YA, SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Who won, you ask?

First, we'll award the winner of SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK...

Drumroll, please:


We were swoony with laughter when we read this entry, from Cleverly Inked:

"Well... My worst moment in a bathing suit had to be when I was 13 I believe. I was such a bean pole and all the girls already had developed. I had not. Well I decided I need to wear padded bras and my bathing suit needed padding too. (duh can't have boobs in clothes then not in a bathing suit) I had my mom buy me a bathing suit and sew pads in it. I thought I looked super cute in my one piece. ERR boy was I wrong. As soon as I got into the water the top part of my bathing suit was weighed down so it looked as if I had saggy boobs that were misshaped!"

*****Congratulations, Cleverly Inked!****

And now we have not one but TWO copies of BEFORE I FALL to give away. In the comments, there were some fantastic stories of friendship and lost opportunities - I think there are a lot of amazing novel ideas in these experiences, and if the commenters haven't thought about writing their stories already, I hope they do! These are the things that make for powerful reading.

We were charmed by this one:

My friends and I are dying to read this book. Being friends with my sister is the best even if our relationship isn't perfect.

and this one:

Something I wish I could change? Well one I'd change is how I left my friend, Greg Consolo, defenseless. People picked on him. A lot. It was all so stupid, too. Not only was Greg incredibly smart, but he was one of the most brilliant drawers. We met in advanced art class, and from then me were inseparable. He was like a cuddly teddy bear with all the comforting he did.

One day I had to leave for a moment to call my mom about lunch. As I was walking back to class, I saw a few kids ganging up on a smaller one.

Poor kid!' was pretty much all that crossed my mind. Then I saw the familiar green shirt peeking out form the small crowd.

It was Greg!

I wanted to help him so badly, but I couldn't move. I was a wimp and was too scared. I should have helped him.

My one major regret is that I didn't help him as I should of.

We remained best friends until last year when Greg moved, and I became part of the "popular" crowd. (It's funny how a new haircut and some fashionable outfits change everything...) But whenever I see someone who needs help, I always stop and do so for Greg. I regret my reaction to his beating, but it was also a valuable lesson learned.

Hey, don't worry! It doesn't end too badly. Greg and I talk every few weeks, and at his new school, he's managed really well. He has a bunch of good friends, and he scored a girlfriend, too! It's same old Greg, but he'd around people who appreciate him.

See? Not ALL of these regret stories end too horribly. :)

*****So congratulations to Dani and Hannah S., who will receive copies of BEFORE I FALL!****

And Josh Sundquist will be back tomorrow with giveaways of his debut 2010, JUST DON'T FALL (I swear, I did not plan this title irony.) I'm doing Story Secrets a day early this week because Thursday is...


Monday, April 12, 2010

rgz CAMEO! chat tonight with Diane Duane

Stop by tonight for a special online release party with Diane Duane, author of A WIZARD OF MARS! Live chat at 6pm PST/9pm EST at the readergirlz blog - see you there!

Friday, April 09, 2010

SCBWI WWA Conference!

Tonight is the kickoff of the incredible event that is the SCBWI WWA Conference!

I'm super excited to see friends (including my amazing agent, Edward Necarsulmer IV), plus I'll be a speaker on the local success panel!

Plus I will be giving away one advance copy of TELL ME A SECRET!!!! You have to enter at the conference to win!

And the kickoff event is... KID LIT DRINK NIGHT! From the Chinook Update blog:

Anyone with an interest in children's literature is welcome to come and schmooze with children's book writers and illustrators (including some of the conference faculty!) in the Marriott’s Meritage Restaurant and Bar on Friday evening, April 9, starting at 7 p.m. We don’t know for sure who you’ll bump into (or what they’ll be doing!), but shake off any twinges of introversion and get out for what’s sure to be a fun mingle!


This special event will be held Friday night at the Marriott Redmond Town Center, conveniently located in the Redmond Town Center—Redmond's beautiful open air shopping center—just 14 miles from Seattle.

7401 164th Avenue NE
Redmond, Washington 98052
Phone: 1-425-498-4000

See you there?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Story Secrets: BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver + Giveaway!

We're chatting story secrets today with my fellow HarperCollins debut author, Lauren Oliver - and to have not one but TWO advanced copies of BEFORE I FALL to give away! (See below for details on how to win!)

I picked up this book when I went to the American Library Assocation meeting in Boston, and ironically, I found myself reading it the day it is supposed to take place: Friday, February 12th. So I'm very interested to hear about the story behind her story and hope you will be, too.

Welcome, Lauren!


Samantha Kingston, a popular (and very self-absorbed) senior, believes she has everything she wants: the perfect boyfriend, amazing friends, the ability to get away with pretty much anything at her high school. In the first chapter, she is on her away home from a party when she gets into a car accident and dies.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she must relive the day of her death seven times before she discovers she has the power to change her fate. The book is really about her evolution as a character, from someone who is self-absorbed and petty, to someone with a great capacity for love and empathy and understanding.

BEFORE I FALL is such a fascinating look at Samantha's transformation - where did the story come from?
When I was younger, I used to try and visualize, in as much detail as possible, a perfect moment or day. It was a kind of game or relaxation technique, I guess; I often did it just as I was falling asleep. I would try to imagine the kind of day I would be content to relive forever. So that question—what makes a day worth living, or reliving—has always been bouncing around in my brain.

I’ve also always been interested in the mean-girl phenomena. I think a lot of people in high school are cruel without necessarily even intending to be; they’re just selfish and self-absorbed and don’t often think about the ramifications of their actions. I thought it would be interesting to know what would happen if a character could really trace the ramifications of her actions, and was suddenly confronted with all of the effects of her behavior. I wondered how that would affect her sense of self, and her sense of the world and her place in it. I think a lot of the difficulty of being a teenager is that people feel (wrongly, I hope) that they are incredibly isolated. There is a tremendous sense of disconnection. So from those two elements came the idea for the book.

How did Sam's voice come to you?
I typically just hear a character’s voice pipe up in my head and start narrating his or her story. I understand why the Greeks always appealed to the muses at the start of their plays and epics—sometimes it does feel as though the inspiration comes from elsewhere.

How did the theme of changing actions to change outcomes and relationships develop, and did anything surprising come out of that?
One of the big themes of the book turned out to be the importance of striving to understand people in a truthful and multi-dimensional way. It is easy, particularly in high school, to confuse reputations or stories one hears about other people for the people themselves, and I think that’s very dangerous. People are assigned roles early on in school, and often these roles become stifling, and distortions of people’s true selves. Real people don’t fit neatly into categories. They have contradictions, and quirks, idiosyncracies and competing desires.

I hadn’t intended for this to be a major element of the book, but it was. And at the same time I was writing, I randomly ended up bumping into someone from my high school I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. I had tons of preconceived notions about him; we’d been in school together practically since kindergarten, and though we had never actually interacted in a significant way, I felt I knew him because of the stories and rumors I’d heard about him (and trust me, my impression was not favorable).

But I think I must have been absorbing lessons from my book, because I became willing, for the first time in years, to push past those prejudices and actually get to know this person in a real way. And I was surprised—and pleased!—to find that, in fact, he defied and surpassed every expectation I’d had of him. Actually, he turned out to be the exact opposite of the person I’d always assumed him to be in school. I had written him off as selfish, obnoxious, insensitive, and superficial, and he turned out to be incredibly sensitive, understanding, deeply intelligent, and extremely artistic. He’s now one of my closest friends.

The friendships in BEFORE I FALL are so complex - fierce and loyal and affectionate. Were you inspired by your own friendships?
A major element at the book’s heart and core is Sam’s relationship to her three best friends: Elody, Lindsay, and Ally. I, too, have three best friends (we call ourselves, fairly unoriginally, “The Four”), and although my friends are significantly kinder than Sam and her crew, my feelings for them definitely informed the novel. We’ve all been best friends since high school, and concrete details of my friendships worked their way into my writing: for example, in the book Sam, Lindsay, and Elody drink their Dunkin Donuts coffee exactly the same way (no sugar, extra cream), just as I did with two of my best friends in high school. In a deeper way, however, because of my friendships I think I was able to communicate that magical alchemy of fierce love and loyalty and protectiveness and jealousy and worship and, occasionally, resentment, that so often characterizes extremely close female relationships. At least, I hope I communicated it successfully!

Any secrets you might be willing to share?
When I am sad or feeling lonely in social situations, even though I’ll smile and nod and pretend to be listening, I am probably retreating into some fictional world in my head. I really like Miley Cyrus’s music, not in an ironic way. Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. A best friend and major presence in my life died in 2009, and a year later I still cry about it a lot, but only when no one else is around. There! Now they’re not secrets anymore. :)


Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your story and your heart - TELL ME A SECRET also came out of a loss, and my hope is that those stories can be the most powerful to reach out to others.

Check out the amazing trailer:

AND We have TWO COPIES of BEFORE I FALL to give away!
For a chance to win one of TWO copies of BEFORE I FALL, comment below on one of the following: a) something you wish you could change about your past (or present) or b) tell us about friendships that have been important in your life. Deadline is Monday at 5pm PST, and please leave a way to contact you. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Secrets of Landing and Agent, Part II: The Agent!

Yesterday we interviewed Katherine Grace Bond, newly agented and still giddy with happiness, about recently signing with Awesome Agent Sara Crow of Harvey Klinger.

Today we hear from Sara herself about why Katherine's query stood out, and how you can make your query more interesting to the agents you hope to work with - welcome, Sara, and thank you for sharing your wisdom!


SARA CROWE: I am thrilled to be working with Katherine on her debut YA novel. I just looked back at her emailed query to attempt to pinpoint what made me request it, and noticed that she did not describe the book at all in the body of the query, which is not standard, and not usually a good idea! But she had a great opening line:

"I’m querying because you are a friend to poets (don’t worry; this isn’t a poetry collection), seem to like theatre-types, and represent the fabulous Randy Powell, who once trekked from Seattle to visit and critique my teenage writing group, even though I was too poor to even buy him a cup of coffee."

She also has a good publication history, which she included, and she did let me know that specific editors, whose tastes I admire, have read some of the book at conferences and have requested it. She kept it short and direct, and then pasted the first five pages, giving me a chance to hear Brigitta's voice, and enough of a taste to know I wanted to read more.

As to what query advice I have for YA writers: don't sell yourself or your book short by not writing a great letter that highlights what is special about your book and you. A query is your opportunity to make a connection with an agent, and is the first step in getting published. Reread it and revise until its perfect! I can point to may queries that have made me request books that did not follow the rules, and what they all have in common is that they are well written. I am not a stickler about format, though I do notice grammar and spelling mistakes, because it makes me think the writer is not serious enough about being a writer to proofread her own letter. Finally, do not make it all about the query. Make sure your first pages are polished and perfect, so that when we do request the book, we are not disappointed.


Thank you, Sara! I hope some of you out there find the agent-searching advice useful.

Sara also dishes about more agent secrets at her blog, A Crowe's Nest. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Secrets of Landing and Agent, Part I: The Author!

My friend Katherine Grace Bond, poet and YA author and teacher and terrific critiquer, recently heard the words that writers long to hear: "May I represent you?"

*sound of crowd cheering!*

That's right, Katherine is now represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger!

So I invited Katherine to spill some of her secrets to landing an agent right here. Welcome, Katherine!


HOLLY: The actual event of receiving an agent offer is kind of a momentous and memorable event in any case, but yours is particularly hilarious. Tell us how it went down!

KATHERINE: Now you’ll find out what an awful wife and mother I am!

My husband was having sinus surgery on the day I had scheduled to talk with Sara. He thought this wouldn’t be a problem because I was to simply drop him off at the hospital at 5:45 in the morning and then spend the day at my mom’s, which was ten minutes away. I planned to take the call at Mom’s, where I would have a quiet room to talk. As it happened, he got out surgery an hour earlier than we’d anticipated. And I couldn’t bring myself to stay away from the hospital. I had to see him and know he was okay. So I went, phone in hand, and found him just about to transfer out of recovery. He was having an adverse reaction to the anesthesia and was very nauseated. But they got him settled into his room and I asked him if I should reschedule the phone call. “No,” he said bravely. “This is important.”

I was to hear from Sara at noon and every few seconds I looked at my phone for the time. Andrew was more and more miserable and began throwing up blood. I was patting him and nurses were going in and out and checking on him. I kept checking the phone: Two minutes to twelve…one minute to twelve… At 12:03 the phone rang.

“Mom?” It was my youngest. He loves to give me detailed descriptions of his morning, or complain bitterly about how unfair his brother is.

“Thomas, I can’t talk right now. I have an important call coming.” I said this rapidly, shooting a glance at the wall clock.

“What, honey?”
“Can I have a root beer with my lunch?”
“Yes!” I clicked the phone off.

At 12:04, the phone rang again. It was Sara. Of course I blathered that I was in the hospital with my post-surgery husband.

“Should we schedule another time?” she asked, concerned.

“No, no. It’s fine,” I said blithely, as my poor husband began to moan in pain.

I moved to the other side of the room. Sara and I discussed my novel, BODACIOUS MYSTERY GALPAL TELLS ALL. She was enthusiastic and--glory be--didn’t think it needed many changes. What she did want changed was, I thought, spot on. She understood my project and I knew she could help me make it a better book. While my husband intermittently threw up and moaned, I paced the hallway talking with Sara. I went to the nurse’s station mid-phone call and asked them to get him more pain meds--really, I did! Sometime during all that pacing, Sara made it clear that she wanted to work with me. And I knew I wanted to work with her.

After I hung up, I checked on my husband. “I have an agent,” I whispered.

Through cracked lips, he croaked, “I’m so proud of you!”

What has been your process for querying agents?

I’m a member of SCBWI, so I notice who is attending the conferences and try to get in and hear them. I especially take recommendations from friends who know the market better than I do. I have a brilliant writer-friend who has been more actively involved in SCBWI than I have. She has a knack for knowing which agents would be best for a particular author, so I always listened to her. In fact, she told me I should find out who represented verse-novelist Lisa Schroeder. Turned out it was Sara Crowe!

So now that you’ve signed with Sara, what’s next? Did she ask you for revisions?

Yes. More and more agents take time on the revision process before sending the book out. Sara’s notes were done with a light touch, and were so respectful in tone. I feel like she is a collaborator, rather than some mean teacher red-penciling my precious book. Since my life is so full, I had to figure out where I was going to get some more writing time, so I’ve been getting up at exactly 5:00 the last few mornings and writing for three hours before I go off to teach or drive my kids around or go to meetings. Once she’s seen the revisions, we’ll discuss it and decide whether it needs another go. I’m confident that she’ll send it out at its best.

What advice would you give to other agent-seekers?

Set a target: Mine was that I wanted to have representation by June. I realize that you can’t have a “goal” that requires someone else’s actions to achieve it, but having that target forced me to set the goals of querying a certain number of agents, keeping queries circulating, and always having an agent or two in mind to research. That way, if things came back, I knew to whom I would send next. I’m encouraged that it took less time than I expected.

Do your research: Talk to other professionals, read the Verla Kay boards (I was a lurker), read AgentQuery, read industry blogs. Pay attention to the books you read and love. Check the acknowledgments to see if the agent is mentioned. Go to SCBWI meetings and conferences. If your career goal includes writing for adults, join other writing organizations in keeping with your genre and market.

Gather with like-minded people: You must do this so that you can have encouragement in your writing. The process is too grueling to do alone. As artists, we need each other and it helps us to both give and receive support.

Hone your craft: Pay attention to critique given by your writing group, by writing teachers, by editors and by agents who take the time to do so. Be honest with yourself about whether your project is ready to go and ask for honest feedback from writer-friends you respect (don’t ask them to critique your manuscript, though – unless you are VERY good friends!) Be a lifelong learner and keep a sense of “beginner’s mind” about your writing. Don’t let your writing get so hooked into your ego that you can’t hear critique. That being said, if you are consistently hearing, from writers you respect, that your work is ready…

Take risks!: Carve out the time to write, even if it feels foolish. Guard it like a mama bear guarding her young and bare your teeth at anyone who tries to impinge on it. Query even if it makes you nervous, and even if you have received multiple rejections. Go to the SCBWI conference in New York. Yes. It is worth the plane fare. Take your writing seriously and it will take you seriously.


Thanks, Katherine!

Check back tomorrow for Part II, where we hear from Sara Crowe, the agent, herself!