"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

So I'm here in Virginia (right outside DC) having a great time! I love this place. There is so much to do. So much to see. I get so caught up in touring around, making sure we see everything. But one thing to keep in mind even when on vacation:

Take time to smell the flowers.
or
Dip your feet in the fountain as the case may be.

We've managed to go to The Natural History Museum which has many of its exhibits back opened (new ones, too), the Sculpture Garden and fountain outside Archives, and also to Fort Washington on the Maryland side of the Potomac.

* First, speaking of The Natural History Museum, have you seen the forensic's exhibit with all the skeletons? What are your thoughts on displaying these? I guess it's no different than displaying mummies, but still, it was a bit...well, it made me think.

** Second, I really can't recommend Fort Washington enough. It's got secret tunnels, tons of steps, old bricks (though I didn't take any for my collection), and the background of war on the Potomac. It's never crowded and the kids love it. Yeah, so do it!

*** And third, speaking of bricks, my dad gave me two awesome ones for my antique brick collection which now brings my collection to three. The biggest question is how to get them back to Austin.

Tomorrow we're off to the Smithsonian Museum of American History (newly opened after remodeling). I'm psyched to see what they've done with it. Anyone been?

I've gotten no writing done thus far, though I'm hoping my parents will babysit a bit in the two upcoming weeks (hint, hint).

But I have been reading.

On the reading front, I forgot to mention how addictive a read The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is. I could not put this book down. Seriously.
And I read The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan which finishes off his Percy Jackson series nicely.
Also, I started the second Fablehaven book, Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull, which I'm loving. There's something about this world that really grabs me which I find wonderful in MG fiction these days!

Movies watched:
Inkheart (not the best, but entertaining)
The Naked Jungle (Has anyone seen this? It's an old movie with Charlton Heston and is FABULOUS. Top notch. Watch it. And it's based on a short story written back in the 30s.)

Other than that, I want a Sangria recipe. Anyone have a favorite they want to share?

Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Do you have a list?

Happy Monday!

The list I'm talking about is not a goals list. Or a to-do list. It's the list that fills in the blank for the question:
"You know you've made it when..."

It's important to have this question answered because no matter how far you get, no matter how much you accomplish, there will always be that someone you think is doing better. Someone who has accomplished more. Gotten a bigger deal. Written more books. You know, that kind of stuff.
And it's not wrong to feel this way as long as you keep these feelings in check.
If anything, it's a good thing and keeps us on track for continuing to work hard and accomplish. Sure, enjoy life and all that, but you know, don't stop moving forward. Don't stop trying.

So why the list then? Why answer the question at all?
For me, it's so I am able to look backwards from where I am and feel good about the things I have done. I have managed to get some things marked off my list. And I still have many more to go.
My list in answer to the question "You know you've made it when..." includes the following:

  • Your book is carried at the Scholastic book fair.
  • Your book is available at Wal-mart.
  • You're invited to an event at the White House.
  • You give a keynote speech.
  • Your book is available at the airport bookstore.

And yes, the list does go on. you get the idea.

My favorite, though not authorly, answer is this:

You know you've made it when there are animatronics made to look like you at Disney World (Johnny Depp can mark this one off his list).

So what's on your list? How will you know when you've made it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five on a Friday

Friday already! It's been a great writing week here. Kung Fu camp combined with Art Camp has provided me with three solid hours for writing each day. Nice! It took a bit to get back into the swing of things, but I'm thrilled to report the words are now coming. Whether every single one needs to change or not, I don't care. For me, getting that draft pounded out is key.

Here's my five for the week!

1) POV - Wow. This dual POV thing really has my head spinning. I'm working on the following:
  • making sure each voice is unique
  • making sure each voice is consistent
  • asking whether each of the POV characters has a story to tell
  • asking whether I need two POVs or not. Either way, this is a fantastic writing exercise, and I'm so happy I'm actually doing it, even if I end up trashing one of the POVs. The funny thing is, at this point, if I did get rid of one, I'm not sure which one it would be.

2) Read The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. I'll give no spoilers. Did anyone else read it? Your thoughts? It held my interest and had a interesting surprise ending. And yeah—it's totally set up for book 2. Nice job.

And started The Chosen one by Carol Lynch Williams. I'm like 20 pages in and already hooked.

3) There's a book giveaway going on over at The Spectacle. Along with THE EMERALD TABLET, we're giving away REPOSSESSED by A.E. Jenkins (a Printz Honor Book) and a $20 gift card. So what are you waiting for? Head over and comment to win!

4) I'm off to DC next Wednesday. We're mentally putting together out list of places to see. My son is really excited to get back to Fort Washington and Fort Hunt, and of course there's the Air and Space museum and the Natural History museum. I'm hoping to add a couple new places to the list this year, and I wouldn't mind getting back to Arlington Cemetery. Top on my list is The Library of Congress. Never been there.

5) My editor Madeline Smoot at Blooming Tree Press had a baby this past weekend, so a huge congratulations to her!

Hope everyone has a GREAT weekend! We're getting a new roof tomorrow (Friday), so if nothing else we're guaranteed some construction noise and debris to keep us amused. And my ARCS for THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD are scheduled to ship tomorrow! I'm so psyched to see them!

Monday, June 15, 2009

DDDs, New Books, and Writing Time

After the week of Cub Scout camp, I escaped Saturday morning and headed to BookPeople to get some much appreciated writing time in. It's funny how there can be music and a meeting in the background and I can filter it all out, but when I'm at home, I get distracted.
And I've come to realize that an optimum minimum amount of time for me to write is two hours. I can do less, but two hours is really key. I can get a lot done and really start using my brain in that amount of time.

After my awesome writing time, BookPeople hosted a panel of five Austin YA authors. The Delacorte Dames and Dude (or DDDs for short). It was

April Lurie (author of The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine)
Shana Burg (author or A Thousand Never Evers)
Varian Johnson (author of My Life as a Rhombus)
Margo Rabb (author of Cures for Heartbreak)
Jenny Ziegler (author of How Not to be Popular)

all there in a panel moderated by Sarah Bird, talking about everything you always wanted to know about YA. Such fun! And so inspirational. Here's the message we need to repeat to ourselves every day multiple times:
STICK WITH IT!

Here's a photo of the panel


and a photo of the crowd



While at BookPeople, I of course had to pick up a couple new books. I bought:

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Chosen one by Carol Lynch Williams

And speaking of reading, I finished and loved Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill. This is a book which totally has as much guy appeal as girl appeal even though there's a female protagonist. I was really happy to see there wasn't a girl on the cover; lots of times this can scare guys away. (Actually this topic was also discussed at the YA panel). Smart marketing. Good humor. Fun concept.

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So this week it's Kung Fu camp all week for my son and art camp for my daughter from 1-4 each day. This gives me three hours a day of pure, unadulterated writing time. I plan to bring my computer, find a chair, and work for the three golden hours.
Nice.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I'm Googling these days

Here's what I'm doing this week:

  • Surviving Cub Scout Camp. This includes shooting BB guns, doing Archery, and making S'mores. This does not include baiting a fishing hook.
  • After discovering an antique brick in the creek at Cub Scout Camp (Whiteselle Cherry Reds Corsicana for you brick aficionados), I've decided to start collecting antique bricks with writing on them.
  • Getting ten pages of a new MS in shape for a workshop submission due next Wednesday. (Technically it's due this Friday, but as I'm helping organize the workshop, I get a few extra days, and I'm taking them.)
  • Slowly making my way through Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill . I'm really loving it, but this Cub Scout camp is sucking every spare ounce of energy out of me. Come reading time, my eyes need toothpicks to prop them open.
  • Practicing for my Kung Fu black belt test which will happen this August.

Here's what I'm googling for book research:

  • Animals that hiss
  • Animals that are deaf (the earthworm anyone? And interestingly enough, I was able to use this tidbit in conversation at the fishing station at Cub Scout Camp today. See, writing makes me a smarter person.)
  • Civil War battles
  • Google Maps
  • Car emblems
I love looking at my Google research trail. What cool things have you googled in the name of research recently?

And hope everyone is having a great week!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Class of '09 and Reading

You know those fab book reviewers out there? Well, Book Chic has been doing the whole book review thing for two years now and is celebrating his two year anniversary over on MySpace. I have a guest post over there and a chance to win a hardcover of THE EMERALD TABLET and an ARC of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. All you have to do is comment at this link.

(Please enter! It will make me feel loved and popular.)

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In other news, I got this on Friday.

And took it to a high school graduation party Friday night. I decided to ask all the kids there what the very best book they'd read in the last year was. I'd planned (and still do) to make it into a video, but haven't gotten that far yet. So I'll do a bit of summary.

The kids ranged from 15 to 18 (mostly 18-year-old guys).
One gal mentioned THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES.
Another 15-year-old gal mentioned BREAKING DAWN (and was totally Team Edward), but other than that, the only other mention of TWILIGHT was a flat out refusal to read the books by one girl.
THE HUNGER GAMES - Not mentioned.
THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH - Ditto.
GRACELING - Nope.
There was not another cool new YA title even mentioned. Not one.
Seriously, the only other books mentioned were classics. (THE GREAT GATSBY anyone?)

We've all heard the thoughts these days that kids are too busy to read. That they have too much homework and too much AP English reading to do. But yet they have time for video games and TV and texting and Facebook and Twittering and whatever else is going on these day. Why not reading?

Where is the love??? And how do we get it back?

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I survived my son's 8-year-old sleepover. The four boys only stayed up until midnight, and the decorate-your-own cupcake idea was a hit. Get enough sprinkles, whipped cream, and icing, and everyone is happy. One kid threw up, but it was from the dodgeball and too much Gatorade.
My son's favorite part? Staying up late talking.


Hope everyone has a great week ahead!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Reasons for Reading in your Genre

Since the start of the year, I've made a huge effort to read a ton more. It's kind of funny because I used to do nothing but read. It was my hobby of choice (well that and cross stitch), but once I started writing consistently, it kind of fell to the wayside (as did the cross-stitiching).

Why?

1) I felt I didn't have time.
* With two young kids, a full time job, a husband, a house, etc., this seemed very plausible.

2) I didn't want to confuse my own voice and style with that of others.

3) I was reading a ton of books on craft.
And I figured this was important, which it is, so don't get me wrong.

All good and valid reasons, right?

But really, mid-2008 I picked up the books again. And since January 2009, it's become a priority (and passion) again.

Mid-year, here are my thoughts on the subject:

1) My critiquing ability has improved a ton.
I find it easy to read a book now, look at the whole picture, and identify what I think could be improved. (yes, I realize this is my opinion). But I have to think if I can identify issues in other books, I will become better at identifying issues in my own writing.

2) I can see trends, what works, what doesn't, what I'm sick of seeing.
I can identify cliches and even roll my eyes when I see them.


3) I'm a more credible children's author when I can talk credibly about other books being published in the genre.

4) I love to buy and read books of people I know!
Yes, support your author friends! Books can be for you, for gifts, for collecting. Anything is fine.

5) I've lost my fangirl status.
I noticed this when I realized, after reading a first book in a series, if I didn't really have a compelling reason to read book 2, I didn't have to do so. Reading all books in a series is not a requirement. And unless I love the book, I'm not going to.
That said, when I discover a book and realize I'm totally psyched for the next book, I'm thrilled. Two books that come to mind here are The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The sequels to these I am psyched for.

6) Going along with (5) above, it is blatantly obvious to me that every book is not for every person.
Yes, I know this, but seeing what I like and what I don't makes it way easier to accept that my writing and books are not for everyone either.

7) I've rediscovered my love of reading.

I love how Cynthia Leitich Smith phrases the whole reading thing:
Reading is part of the job of writing.
(Yes, these aren't her exact words, but they convey the correct idea, I believe.)

So really, if you've been letting your reading slack, give it another chance. Sure, it does slow down how many words you can actually get out yourself, but I totally believe in the long run it will pay off for us writers.
* And if you want a great book suggestion, how about The Emerald Tablet by me. What better way to get ready for The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World :)

Happy Thursday!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Multiple POVs and The Library of Congress

Hey!
I've started my Monday morning with Kung Fu, Carrot Juice, and Coffee. Does life get any better? And I have new A/C in my car (finally). And a new timing belt, water pump, shocks, some other hose, inspection, and oil change. I think the car should fly for the money I spent. But as long as it blows cold air, I'm not complaining.
Texas with no A/C is brutal.

Join National Give your Girlfriend a Book Day (June 15th, but you can and should join now). Because giving books is the coolest gift you can give, right?

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My new WIP seems to be screaming two POVs. For me, this is a new experience in writing. I've read some fantastic multiple POV books this year including:
The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King,
The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante, and
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
In all three of these cases, it totally worked for me. I felt engaged in both main character's stories and not bumped around back and forth. But I've yet to try it myself.

I need to at least give it a shot. Why you might ask? I was actually doing my character worksheets and one of the main characters was so interesting, he seemed to be asking to have his say also. So what the heck. It's not like I can't change it if it doesn't work, right?

Has anyone has multiple POV experience? Suggestions? Have any good book recommendations? All appreciated!

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In other news, I'm off to DC in a few weeks for the yearly research trip (and got great deals on the flights, BTW). Okay, I grew up there, and my parents live there, but there are just so many cool things to do and see and having kids to haul along and see them all is priceless.
I've yet to see the Library of Congress, so I'm thinking this will make the list. Is it kid friendly? (For reference here, the Smithsonian Art Museum most definitely was NOT kid friendly. Natural History and Air and Space—totally kid friendly).
And this year we're having a family cookout for the Fourth of July in Central Pennsylvania. ATV anyone?

Okay, off to reread last nights 700 words I managed to write, take a shower, and do whatever else comes next on the list.

Happy Monday!