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Author of the young-adult thriller Shock Point, as well as five other mysteries and thrillers.
Statistics for So many books, so little time

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 35
1. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of paper cutouts

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2. Two months into 2015: my year of risk

My resolution for 2015 is a single word: risk. I'll be turning 56 this year. The opportunities I will have to take physical risks are narrowing.  I also want to take social risks, and emotional risks, and risks with my writing - all kinds of risks.

So far, I've had a frank conversation with someone I respect but who also used an exaggerated campy "gay" voice to make some points.  I think it was eye-opening for both of us.

And in three weeks, I'm signed up to do that Urban Escape and Evasion class, which includes a day spent trying to elude pursuers after you are "kidnapped."

This past weekend, I competed in a Brazilian Jiujitsu (grappling tournament).  In this tournament, we were split up by gender, but in my grappling classes I grapple with men, usually only with men since none of the other women in my school regularly take BJJ class.  One of my regular partners is 228 pounds, which let me tell you is a lot of weight when someone centers it and pins you.

For a long, long time, I said there was no way I would grapple past what I needed to do for whatever color of sash I was working on in kung fu. It felt too ob-gyn-y. Too rape-y. You couldn't tell me that one of the best positions was on your back with your legs wrapped around some guy's waist.  It seemed too vulnerable and weird.

Guys will often grow up wrestling with their friends.  None of the girls I know ever did that.

But then my kung fu school started offering BJJ classes four times a week and I started going to them. I am still don't have a very good offense. And at  my gender and my age and my weight compared to many of my partners, I mostly play defense.  But I have a damn good defense.
BJJ Tournament april looks dominant
BJJ Tournament April refuses tap
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BJJ Tournament Syd
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3. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling misty forested mountains

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4. Do you live in the South? Can you help me find Clem and SLY?

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Isn't this amazing! A writer in Cummings, Georgia (Meghan Harker, http://exquisitelyodd.com/) found it in her till at work. She posted it on Twitter and a friend alerted me. I traded her $5 bills - only mine was in a copy of Girl, Stolen.

Can you help me find Clem & her friend SLY? I would guess Clem and SLY are in middle school. I originally thought Clem was short for Clementine, but a librarian in Georgia says Clem is a pretty common boy's name there.
April and Jenny KOIN Clem Sly
After I put it up on Twitter and Facebook, I heard from KOIN-TV. Reporter Jenny Hannson and her photographer Ole interviewed me Monday for a story that will run on Friday (and be online) about the $5 bill found in Georgia with instructions that it be used to buy a copy of Girl, Stolen. There's a chance the story may air in Georgia as well.

April and Ole KOIN Clem and Sly croppedI would love to find Clem and SLY and give them and their school library some books!  And if you could help, I'd give you books, too!

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5. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling typefaces plus black and white and red all over

Both are YAs. I think it was those loopy Ls that caught my eye. I wonder how long it will before teens won't be able to read cursive?  Note the similiarity between the hands, and that all the art looks like paper cutouts.
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6. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of neon signs

Must have been something in the air...
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7. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Ever more dueling covers of scary woods

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8. Haven't I seen you someplace before? More dueling covers of colorful dots

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9. What I learned from Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat

I've written over 25 books. Seventeen have been published, with two more coming out this year and three more in the works.

You'd think I'd have this whole novel-writing thing down. You would be wrong.

In January, I took Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat Workshop. It lasted three days and there was a lot of pre-work. Before it even started, you had to read two books on writing, and read three manuscripts from people you would be in a small group with during the conference. And of course you had to have your own book done so you could finish it with them.

Girl I Used to Be Deal
cropped Nora FBI hatsI took the manuscript for The Girl I Used to Be, which I sold last Memorial Day and I finished writing the day I needed to turn it in to my partners. The book is super important to me, not just for all the usual reasons, but because I put my mom, Nora Henry, in it. I gave the character the name Nora, and she looks, acts and talks like Nora. Her house, her beliefs, her favorite things - they are all in the book. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but my desire is that people will fall in love with the Nora in the book and realize a bit what a loss it is that she is no longer in this world.

I learned so much at the workshop. One was that there was a decided lack of conflict in the early chapters. In the book, the main character is mainly trying to figure out who killed her parents. It's not a thriller (which is what I usually write) where she is on the run, but rather a mystery where she tries to collect clues. So in the last two weeks, I worked to put conflict in those spots - or cut them.

I also realized I needed to call out emotions more.

And that I had an opportunity for a symbolic object - in this case, a necklace that Nora gives the main character - and I didn't use it at all.

I realized my final scene did not make it clear that the character had come full circle, even while she had changed internally. Now her epiphany is there on the page.

All this and I haven't even talked about Darcy's most famous idea for revision - the shrunken manuscript.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 10.32.34 AMYou don't even need to go a retreat to use Darcy's methods. You could/should buy this book. And yes, I know I look a little crazed, but I mean it!

But if do get a chance to go, take it!
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10. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of paper on blue background

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11. Haven't I see you someplace before? More dueling nape covers

There is something so alluring about the nape of the neck and a bun. Just begs to be taken down.
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12. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of girls in red coats leaving

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13. 2015: the year of risk

I used to make elaborate New Year's Resolutions with 20, 30, even 40 things I was going to change, do, fix.  I would be thinner and a better friend, run faster and pray more.

Often, the only thing that changed on that list was the year at the top.

This year, my resolution was a single word: risk. I'm increasingly aware of my own mortality. Time is flying by and I don't want to say "If only I had."

I got a chance to act on my resolution only a few days into the new year. A man I don't know well but respect often uses a series of funny accents as he makes his points:  New York.  Russian.  Etc.

And one is a big campy gay voice.

That day, I looked around the room, trying to see if it made anyone else as uncomfortable as me. But I felt like I was alone. Still, I waited until everyone else had gone and told him how I felt.

The conversation took some interesting turns I hadn't expected. I think it was eye-opening for both of us.

And afterward I was glad I had taken that risk.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 4.19.04 PMIn a few months I'm going to be taking a class called Urban Escape and Evasion (I snagged the photo from their web site). You spend two days learning how to survive in a dangerous chanotic urban environment (say after a terrorist attack or being kidnapped in a foreign country), then on the third day you are  “kidnapped: hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You will be expected to escape, find your own transportation legally using your social engineering skills, and make your way to the first cache location, where directions for a series of tasks using all your new skills await.Meanwhile, expert trackers will be hunting you down, and if they catch you, you will have to start again from a more distant location."

I know this is going to stressful. As a writer, I'll be an outlier, surrounded by preppers and ex-military.  My guess is I'll be older and one of very few women.

But for the risk, I'll have the reward of having so much amazing writing material. So it will be worth it.

Are you taking any risks this year?

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14. Where did you come from, Martha?

Martha Bond Henry 1881 This is my great grandmother Martha L. Bond Henry. Family lore has it that before she married my great grandfather she was married to a man named Carroll. There was a daughter named Sarah, a baby who died. Mr. Carroll died. Marha married my great grandfather.  Sarah shows up in one census and is gone by the next. That same family lore has it that she went back to her father's people.

After my mom died in the fall of 2013, I found this tintype of Martha in the photos my parents had kept. My dad had written a little bit about his family, but Martha died before he was born and he knew nothing about her past.  He quoted part of an old note of my grandmother's saying "She was a beautiful woman, but she had no liberty to express her personality. She could not read. She was gentle and sweet in her disposition and did as she was told."

(i'm pretty sure Grandma Effie would never have called herself a feminist, but she was one all the same. My dad used to talk about a job his dad had in the 1920s. When he felt called to preach, my grandmother took over the job. For half the salary. Because she was a woman. Even though my grandfather wasn't making any money.)

After I found the tintype, cue months of obsessive Ancestry.com searches. I spent months chasing a Martha Jane Bond born in the same year, but it turned out she wasn't my grandmother. On the other side of the country, a woman was researching her husband's relatives from the mid-1800s - including a family named Bond. Thanks to Ancestry's DNA tests and a lot of joint sleuthing of places and names, DNA and records, it seems very likely we share great-great grandparents.

I'm not sure why, but it's very satisfying to have solved this 15-month puzzle.  

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15. Being a writer is a great job for a naturally nosy person

My vanity license plate reads

TUVWXY:

In California, where you can have up to 8 characters, it would read:

RSTUVWXY

So do you know what it means?

I'm nosy!

Although I like to think of it as "genuinely interested in people."

I'm starting on a sequel to Girl, Stolen. When I wrote that book, which is about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom's car, I was working full time and had a kid in middle school. I had zero free time. So I read books about what it's like to be blind and did research on the Internet.

Now I have the freedom to talk to people. Today I'm interviewing someone who is blind and here are some of the questions I want to ask:


  • Do you know Braille? How important is it? How many blind people really know Braille?

  • What apps do you use/what do you they do? Can you show me?

  • How has your life changed in the last five years in terms of technology?

  • Do you cook? How do you see how fine the pieces are when chopping or know if things are done?

  • Open the freezer - how do you know what’s in it?

  • How do you sweep or keep floor clean and know it is?

  • How would you walk in straight line across crosswalk without the cues of the sidewalk?

  • How would you find the bathroom in a strange building?

  • How would you find your locker at school and spin it?

  • Do you do any sports?

  • What smells do you notice the most?

  • Are there sayings people say all the time, like Love Is Blind or getting embarrassed about “see”?

  • What’s one thing people always get wrong about what it's like to be blind?

  • What’s one thing people don’t realize?

  • What would scare you the most?

Anything you think I should add?

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16. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of kids and dogs running against the clouds

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17. How to squeeze more words out of your time

Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there, and not ever actually adding any new words?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some tools that have helped me more productive:


  • The Pomodoro Technique

  • Freedom

  • Write or Die

  • Twitter sprints


The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing - not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text - interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off. Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to http://www.pomodorotechnique.com  Or find a free online timer, go here: http://tomato-timer.com

Freedom
Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the Internet until a set of amount of time (as long as eight hours - you decide) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult. Which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for "research" or to see if I've gotten any important emails. Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. And realized I probably would have clicked on the Internet a dozen times if it weren't for Freedom.Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique. You can find out more at: http://macfreedom.com.

They also sell a program called Antisocial that will lock you off certain sites, but I haven't used it.  Have you?

Write or Die
Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the Internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then copying and pasting into your own word processing program.

I make a running list of ideas - scenes, characters - that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it - or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I don’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at http://writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

Twitter sprints
There's something about competition that gets most of us to work harder, longer or faster than we would if we were doing it in isolation. So if you're looking for someone to spur you on, look for hashtags like #wordsprint or #1K1hr .

What works for you?

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18. Out with the old (and actually I don't need anything new) - The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

We are all hoarders, according to a crime scene investigator I know. He says he always laughs when a show like CSI depicts a victim's home with a few garments hanging evenly spaced in a closet. Every house he has ever been in is stuffed to the rafters, making it much more difficult than it is on TV to figure out what is a clue and what is just part of the mountain of stuff.

So I had been hearing about this book:
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and decided to give it a try. I have read many books about organizing your stuff or sorting your stuff. I even own some. Many of them say you should ask yourself a series of questions: is something useful or beautiful or some other question designed to help you sort. Or I remember one piece of advice I've tried off and on for years - get rid of five things every day.

Basically what Marie Kondo says is you should get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy." And not to do it piecemeal.  Instead, you should pull out everything you own in a particular category, like clothes or books, spread it on the floor, then pick up each item and see if it sparks joy. If it doesn't, off it goes. She also has some whimsical ideas: clothes should be hung up if they are "happier" that way, socks should never be balled up because they deserve to relax.

For whatever reason, this book really clicked with me. I stopped listening to the voices that always say:


  • You might use that one day.  (But you've had it for years, and haven't.)

  • That looked really cute in the catalog. (But not so cute on.)

  • That cost a lot. (But you don't like it.)

  • If that fit better, it would be amazing.  (But it doesn't.)

Clothes that belonged to my mom but that aren't to my taste, a rice cooker I haven't used in ten years, two of three nearly identical sweaters - none of them sparked joy. I put two dozen items up on ebay. I gave two bags of clothes to a friend (with instructions to pass on to GoodWill if they were not to her  or her daughter's taste). Today we are bringing well over a dozen bags to ARC (formerly Association for Retarded Citizens - my husband has been a volunteer "buddy" for years).

One thing that made it easier is that I left my day job seven years ago, and I have a pretty good idea of what I have worn/used/acquired since then. It's just freeing to have more space and less stuff. I'm sure there are many more things I can get rid of, and I'm energized by that idea.

Photo Dec 24, 5 36 23 PM2014-12-27 14.03.51

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19. Standing in the shower and hearing someone break in to your apartment

Many readers have asked me why I write the kinds of books I do - where a girl is kidnapped, being chased, held captive, or otherwise in danger. For a long time, I would say I didn't know. I had a great childhood in a safe neighborhood.  I've never been kidnapped, chased, etc. But something had happened to me. I just didn't think about it. I didn't like to think about it.

The Night I Could Have Died
It all goes back to a night in 1982. A night when I could have died, but didn't.

Corbett ApartmentsWhen I first moved to Portland after college, I lived in an old apartment building that probably dated back to the 1920s. These apartments were carved into a steep hillside just below the freeway. The hill was held back by a retaining wall a few feet from the back of the apartments. Because of the steep hill, the building had shifted over the years. If you dropped a pencil, it would roll into one corner.  You couldn't lock the bathroom door because it no longer fit in the frame. You just closed it until it caught.

UnknownIn 1982, everyone was doing Jane Fonda exercises, and I was no exception. I didn't have the doofy legwarmers, but I did have a leotard. And on the night in question, I had been doing my Jane Fonda exercises. And like everyone in the apartment building, I didn't have curtains on my back windows. Why should I, a broke college student, go to the expense of buying curtains when there was only a retaining wall back there?

Naked and Shivering
That night, as I did my donkey kicks, I head rustling from the back. Raccoons, I figured. Then I turned off all the lights, went into the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower.  At which point I heard another noise. A rusty-sounding squeal.

It sounded like someone forcing open my kitchen window.

I turned off the water and stood there, dripping in the silence. Only it wasn't completely silent. Because I heard footsteps. In my kitchen. And I was naked and shivering, staring at the door that didn't close, let alone lock.

I got out of the shower and dragged on my leotard. Then I walked out into the dark hallway and said, "Who's in my kitchen?"

No answer, but I could hear a man. Breathing.

I came to my senses and ran past the kitchen and through the living room and out the front door. I remember being too frightened to reach back into the darkness to close the door.

Guns Drawn
o-POLICE-OFFICER-GUN-facebookI pounded on my neighbor's door. He answered wearing tiny black briefs and releasing a cloud of pot smoke. He was a law student at the time.  "I'll call that new emergency number!" he shouted.  "1-1-9!"

"I think it's 9-1-1."  I answered. He did, and then he ran around opening all the windows and waving his arms, trying to dissipate the smell.

And when the two cops showed up - a man and a woman - there we were, me in my wet clinging leotard and my neighbor in his tiny black briefs. For a long time, this was the part of the story I focused on. The funny part.

They searched my apartment, found no one, and talked to me in my living room. Then there was a thump from the bedroom. Both cops drew their guns. It was like a bad movie, because in walked - my cat. Which was also kind of funny.

The Mystery of the Missing Dishtowels

Unknown-1The cops asked me to look through my apartment to find what was missing. I was a poor college student. I didn't own a lot for someone to take. But all my dishtowels were missing. I thought this was funny. "Why not take my salt shaker?" I said to one of the cops. "Or my pancake turner?"

"Ma'am," he said, "he was planning on tying you up with them."

I spent that night at my boyfriend's, and moved out shortly thereafter, when the landlord was taking his sweet time about fixing the broken lock. As for who broke into my apartment that night, I think it was one of the painters - or someone they knew - who had been working on the backside of the building a week earlier.

The Girl I Could Have Been
So I was very lucky.

But today I'm thinking about the girl I could have been. Tied up with her own dishtowels. Certainly raped. Probably murdered.

So yeah, there's a reason I write what I do.

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20. Haven't I see you someplace before? dueling covers looking up at the trees against the sky

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Amazon may be a marketing juggernaut, but I feel like the covers for the books they do in-house seldom look original. 

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21. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Curled up girls dressed in white

I guess they just look so innocent and fragile....
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22. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling maps with red writing

Kind of an unfortunate coincidence for books that are both kind of high profile.
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23. It's official - I'm a purple belt in kung fu!

I've been wanting to take my purple best test in kung fu forever, but a series of unfortunate events (death in family, medical error that resulted in hospitalization, and knee injury from running) conspired me to be out of town or out of commission whenever there was a belt test.

You have to demonstrate kicks, punches, grab counters, grappling, stick fighting, stances, forms, and more. Martial arts has been key to me being successfully able to describe physical enounters.

Last night I finally tested and got my purple belt.

Now all I need to do is get a single stripe on my belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and I'll be happy!



April chokes 3 purple belt webMonkey line attacks Purple Belt web
April fights monkey line purple belt webApril fights monkey line purple web
April takes arm bar purple belt webApril finishes arm bar purple belt web
April MiKenzie spar purple belt webApril spars MiKenzie purple belt web
Redondo purple belt web

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24. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of scary woods

These are all so similiar I almost wonder if they all came from the same stock photo shoot:
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25. How to start a new book

I'm starting a new book this week. It's been a while since I did that. The book I finished a few weeks ago was originally my old "affair" book (the one you sneak off to write on the side), one that had been underway for a couple of years. The two books before that were series books.

While this book will revisit some characters I've already created (in Girl, Stolen), the two books will only be loosely linked. In fact, one of the first things I want to do is give my blind character some technology that didn't exist when I wrote the first book.  Did you know there are apps for blind people that will read a menu to you? Tell you the denomination of the bill you are holding? Tell you what color something is? I don't think apps even existed when I wrote Girl, Stolen in 2007-2008.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 8.07.27 PMSo I'm going to read about apps for the visually imparied. I'm going to make a list of questions. I'm going to talk to an author I know who is blind.  I'm going to meet someone at the Oregon Commission for the Blind. I'm going to do some free writing (I just got these cool prompt cards called Storymatic).  I'm reading a book on plotting.  I'm re-reading Girl, Stolen. I'm going to watch a documentary on the Multnomah County Jail, since one of the characters is being held there. I also want to learn more about Google's self-driving cars.

You may have noticed what I didn't mention: actually writing the book. Sometimes that's the scariest part. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump.

So I need to do that too.

If you write, what do you do to help you start a new book?

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