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26. We’re back! (fingers crossed)

Some web work is better left to the experts. That is, people with skills and understanding. That is, people other than me.

Humpty_Dumpty_TennielWe are back—not just from vacations and working holidays, but from the netherworld that is 404 status for the blog. In a heart-breakingly comic series of mishaps, I managed to delete both the company blog and, in trying to restore that, the entire desktop from my computer (where I’d unwisely stored thousands of files), and my Time Capsule backups of same were no longer recognizing his computer. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Enter the tech monkeys at Apple, the friendly folks at our web hosting service, and the snarky genius who is Symon Chow, and it is all back up and running. I’ve aged a few decades in the past couple of days, and I lost two weeks’ work on a couple of books, but you know what? That feels like a small price to pay considering the alternative.

All of which is to say only this: Backup early and backup often. Your work is more fragile than you suspect.

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27. Get Ready To Be WARPED!

Congratulations to Maurissa Guibord on the release of her debut novel, WARPED, from Delacorte Press.

Warped

About WARPED:

Tessa doesn’t believe in magic. Or Fate. But there’s something weird about the dusty unicorn tapestry she discovers in a box of old books. She finds the creature woven within it compelling and frightening. After the tapestry comes into her possession, Tessa experiences dreams of the past and scenes from a brutal hunt that she herself participated in. When she accidentally pulls a thread from the tapestry, Tessa releases a terrible centuries old secret. She also meets William de Chaucy, an irresistible 16th-century nobleman. His fate is as inextricably tied to the tapestry as Tessa’s own. Together, they must correct the wrongs of the past. But then the Fates step in, making a tangled mess of Tessa’s life. Now everyone she loves will be destroyed unless Tessa does their bidding and defeats a cruel and crafty ancient enemy.

Booklist says: “Debut author Guibord easily shifts the action between de Chauncy’s 1511 Cornwall village, the timeless and forbidding forest world of the tapestry, and Tessa’s modern-day Portland, Oregon. Will’s enslavement is told in flashbacks, which builds a nice tension around the connections between Tessa and Will and allows the author to reveal details at just the right moments.”

The Bulletin says: “The relationship between Tessa and Will is fraught with misunderstandings and secret longings, a standard but wholly effective formula for irresistible romance. Teens who just can’t get enough of the brooding hero and the spirited heroine will therefore do well to pick this one up.”

WARPED truly has something for everyone: romance, action-packed adventure, chilling and exciting unicorn and Fates mythology, and of course…a sultry villainess!

Get your copy of WARPED now—everyone is crowing about it!

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28. Award Announcement!

Schneider Family Book Award image

The American Library Association Awards were announced this morning, and I am incredibly proud to congratulate Antony John on winning the 2011 Schneider Family Book Award for Teens for his novel Five Flavors of Dumb.

The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

Five Flavors of Dumb is Antony’s second novel (his first was Busted: Confessions of An Accidental Player) and is published by Dial, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers.

Five Flavors of Dumb

As described on the ALA website: Dumb is not the name Piper, a high school senior who is Deaf, would have chosen for a heavy metal band, yet she volunteers to manage this disparate group of would-be musicians. In her attempt to make Dumb profitable, Piper learns a few things about music and business, striking a chord within herself.

This novel is so many things: an incredible portrayal of what it’s like to live with a disability, a depiction of what it feels like to confront a challenge head-on and succeed, a hysterical, laugh-out-loud rollercoaster, a tender love story, and an examination of the many different definitions of the word “family.”

And the critics agree!

In a starred review, Kirkus says: “Making Piper the manager of a rock band never feels like a cheap trick (pardon the pun) because Piper is not A Great Deaf Character but a great character who is deaf. Complex characterizations, authentic dialogue and realistic ups-and-downs give this title chart-topping potential.”

School Library Journal says: “The parallel attention to Piper’s hearing family and the strain her parents’ decision to treat her sister with cochlear implants adds to the greater story and informs the novel’s direction and ending in a satisfying way. Set in the Pacific Northwest, this rock-and-roll novel joins the ranks of Randy Powell’s equally thoughtful Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star (Farrar, 2003) and Blake Nelson’s Rock Star Superstar (Viking, 2004)

Publishers Weekly says: “In this witty yet thoughtful behind-the-music account of Dumb’s journey to semistardom, John (Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player) creates a series of humorous surprises while demonstrating how Piper’s deafness, which is integral to the story and never feels like a gimmick, affects her life and those of her parents and brother, who are equally complex and well-developed characters. Relying on help from unexpected sources, Piper learns important lessons about music and media hype, while growing closer to her family and friends in the process.”

Please pick up your copy of FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB today, and visit Antony at his website: http://antonyjohn.net

And from everyone here at Upstart Crow: CONGRATULATIONS!

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29. Two New Releases!

Even though 2011 is upon us, two Upstart Crows made huge splashes in December with their sophomore novels for teens.

Sarah Ockler tackles romance, secrets, betrayal and family drama in her novel FIXING DELILAH, a follow-up to her debut novel TWENTY BOY SUMMER.

FIXING DELILAH was recently an Amazon.com Kindle bestseller, and has been receiving a slew of rave reviews.

Fixing Delilah

A starred review from VOYA claims that Delilah is “one of the more realistic adolescent girls in contemporary fiction. She tells her own story in a lyrical and authentic voice; the thoughtful reader will get lost in her anguish, her triumphs, and her eventual resolution.”

Booklist says: Ockler’s follow-up to 20 Boy Summer (2009) is another perfect fit for those seeking expressive writing, emotional depth, and lush, cinematic romance, cementing her comfortably next to similar teen favorites like Deb Caletti, Carolyn Mackler, and Sarah Dessen.”

Go pick up your copy today!

Meanwhile, Bree Despain offers up the second entry in her DARK DIVINE trilogy, delving into the star-crossed love of Grace and Daniel in THE LOST SAINT.

With hot romance, thrilling action scenes, and an incredibly unique take on the werewolf mythology—this series has it all. It is totally un-put-downable and readers have simply been eating these books up!

Kirkus says: “Despain’s fans will be pleased by the introduction of a flannel-clad hottie who is more than ready to comfort Grace during Daniel’s mysterious absences” and acknowledges the presence of “rippling muscles and naked pecs”—so be sure to pick this baby up to keep you warm on these cold winter nights!

And if you haven’t read THE DARK DIVINE…shame on you! But fear not: it’s out in paperback!

Huge congrats to Sarah and Bree on these fantastic new books!

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30. Closed for the Season: Our Sabbatical/Holiday/Catch-Up Period

[Dear All— Reposting this note from last December because, well, it says it all. Why remake the wheel? Enjoy your holidays and we'll see you back here in January. —MS & CR & DC & TM]

_______________________________________

I am a huge fan of good design, and also a great fan of pithy expression. So it probably makes sense that Stefan Sagmeister would be a hero of mine. He has a firm in New York that has designed packaging for many things you’ve likely seen but not known came from his team, and he is also a creator of winningly temporary public art installations. For a few years now, he’s been orchestrating a series of strange and stunning artworks that deliver aphoristic bits of wisdom (such as “Assuming is stifling,” or “Helping other people helps me,” or “Complaining is silly; either act or forget”), many of which have been collected in a truly gorgeous Abrams book entitled Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. Want to give it a gander? Click on the video above. Abrams, who have never forgotten the impact of beautiful book production, show us just how beautiful a book can be—it’s a series of pamphlets in a die-cut cardboard sleeve.

But that’s not the reason for this post. No, I’m writing because of the video I’ve linked to below,which is a talk Sagmeister gave via the free-lectures-by-awesome-people website TED. A deeply reflective man, Sagmeister often takes time out of the hustle of life to consider who he is and what he is doing, so as to be certain he is focusing on where the worth of his life may be. In his TED talk, he explains why he requires his team to take a year-long break every seven years. It’s not about vacation, it’s about rekindling one’s love of the work, and about seeing in a fresh way again.

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31. Happy Release Day, Antony!

When Antony John informed me that he wanted to write a novel about a deaf girl who was the manager of a rock band, I thought he was…brilliant.

And, as it turns out, others do too.

“Making Piper the manager of a rock band never feels like a cheap trick (pardon the pun) because Piper is not A Great Deaf Character but a great character who is deaf. Complex characterizations, authentic dialogue and realistic ups-and-downs give this title chart-topping potential”—Kirkus, Starred Review

“In this witty yet thoughtful behind-the-music account of Dumb’s journey to semistardom, John (Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player) creates a series of humorous surprises while demonstrating how Piper’s deafness, which is integral to the story and never feels like a gimmick, affects her life and those of her parents and brother, who are equally complex and well-developed characters. Relying on help from unexpected sources, Piper learns important lessons about music and media hype, while growing closer to her family and friends in the process”—Publishers Weekly

Huge congrats on the release day for FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB, which is actually quite smart, incredibly charming, and wonderfully feel good.

Everyone at Upstart Crow is incredibly proud of this novel. Get your copy now!

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32. Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Interview today.

Looking for a little light reading/book chat/way to procrastinate whatever tasks are on your to-do list today? Head on over to the excellent Mother.Write. (Repeat.) blog, where I’ll be answering reader questions about all things books until 5pm. today.

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33. Why Revisions Matter (Or: Giving Editors A Reason to Say Yes)

I’m currently in the process of finishing up intensive manuscript revisions with several of my clients. And since I’m a total geek, I think it’s a whole lotta fun. But I’m not so sure my clients agree with me, at least not at this particular moment in time.yes

Giving editorial advice and doing revisions with clients is a large part of my job, and I take it quite seriously. That’s why, even when I sign clients whose manuscripts are in fine shape, I have them do at least one round of revision before I submit their project to publishers.

Why am I so keen on revision? Is it because I enjoy being a slave driver? Because I’m addicted to the pretty colors that pop up on the screenwhen I use track changes? No and no. You see, editors are constantly bombarded with manuscripts—way more projects than they could ever hope to accommodate on their seasonal publishing lists. For that reason, editors say no to many more projects than they say yes to. Which is why it’s of utmost importance for a manuscript to be in tip-top shape before sending it out to publishers. It helps you stand out from the pile, rather than getting lost in it.

When I begin an edit with an author, and sometimes even before I sign them, I give them some variation of this speech: Before I submit your book to publishers, I’m going to edit it. At the beginning of the edit, you’re going to love me. Somewhere around the halfway point, you’re going to start to think I’m annoying and picky. About three-quarters of the way, you’re going to hate my guts. And by the end, you’ll love me again.

At this point, I have a couple of authors in the three-quarters stretch.  I know they’re tired. I know they dread seeing my name pop up in their inboxes, asking for more changes here or there. I know they feel like they’re going to rip their hair out if they have to look at their manuscript for another second. I know that every time they see my yellow highlights and my wordy little track changes, complete with my over-use of inspirational exclamation points (it’s a writing tic of mine!), they feel like calling me up and telling me where to stick my suggestions.

But that’s okay with me. I can live with them shaking their fists at me or ranting about me on Twitter or to their writing groups. What I can’t live with is sending a manuscript out into the world that’s in less-than-nearly perfect shape.

These days, editors have plenty of reasons to say no, even to manuscripts that show flashes of greatness. It’s not my job to give editors reasons to say no. It’s my job to give them a reason to say yes.

And so: Revisions.

You may hate me for it now, but you’ll love me for it later.

What about you? Do you enjoy revising your work? Do you have any revision tricks or tips that you use to get through the process?

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34. Bookshelf Porn

tumblr_lauhhnxMds1qzupj0o1_500Do you like books? Do you love books? Do you have more of the damned things than you know what to do with? More than you can read in a lifetime? Do you sacrifice the love of spouses, friends, pets, whatever because of the many volumes that clutter your home like snowdrifts after a blizzard?

Well, my friend, join the sorry ranks of us book-loving fools. And take shelving inspiration from the awesome pictures at Bookshelf Porn, a website dedicated to … well, to what its name suggests: Photographs of groovy bookshelves. Up there and to the right is Karl Lagerfeld’s bookshelf in his apartment. (He also owns the bookstore next door, which I suppose you can afford when you’re a super-wealthy creepy looking living dead fashion designer). But there are just as many other cool/strange/head-scratching shelves on the site. Makes you want to redesign your home, doesn’t it?

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35. Middle grade?! Teen?!! Unlocking a Mystery.

PD punc 4If you have never participated in the Twitter feed #kidlitchat, you really ought to give it a shot. The discussions are always about smart topics and draw a wide range of commentators—both veterans and newbie writers, editors, agents, and the occasional gibbering weirdo. (I’m looking at you, @chrisrichman.) The tweets ratchet up the Twitter client in a fast and sometimes furious stream, so quick as to be nearly unreadable. Trying to follow the many threads of conversation is like watching three hundred tennis matches held simultaneously on the same court—there’s no way to keep the threads separate, and yet … you try anyway.

Last Tuesday night’s chat was a gem. You can read the transcript here, but the gist of the discussion was this: What qualities make a manuscript middle grade instead of teen/YA? How do you know which you have?

The answers were all interesting and, for the most part, valid. Some dismissed the categories as the joint creation of publishers and booksellers; others tied the categories to the age of a novel’s protagonist or a word count; still others quoted interesting takes from fine writers. (My favorite was Tobin Anderson’s assertion that for middle grade books, he writes to the target audience, while in teen fiction he writes from the vantage of the target audience.)

[I disagree with a simple "It's the age of the protagonist" saw, if only because there are so many examples of books that don't fit into the box. Here are four off the top of my head: Brian Hall's The Saskiad. Tony Earley's Jim the Boy. John Wray's Lowboy. Russell Banks' Rule of the Bone. The first two are definitely adult in terms of tone and interest level, while the latter two have a strong interest for teen readers and yet are determinedly adult.]

At any rate, none of the suggested criteria seemed to capture my take, which has to do more with a quality of the prose. How complex is the writing? The vocabulary? Does it spend more time on abstraction or concrete things? Does it rely more on the outward markers of experience, or is there an interiority to it? That is—is what happens to the characters’ ways of seeing as rich and interesting an element as what happens to the characters in the outward world?

Screen shot 2010-10-20 at 7.54.27 PM

[I know, I know—you're thinking, That is art, my friend—you should go into the business of creating informational visuals, because this one is about as clear as one of my Uncle Tommy's boozy stories about his time in the Navy and pushing that truck up the muddy hill and—oh, forget it.]

To my mind, there is a direct relationship to the sort of complexity I’m talking about and the age of the readership. In the chart I whipped together above, we have picture books in the lower leftmost corner (Harry the Dirty Dog, say) and in the upper right-hand quadrant, the most self-conscious post-moderni

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36. Rule #2: A Thousand Words

TypewriterIn my younger and more vulnerable years, I was given a piece of advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. (And no, it is not to shamelessly rip off The Great Gatsby’s opening line; that I do all on my own.) The advice was this: Write a thousand words of your work-in-progress each day. No more, no less. Just a cool grand.

Here’s the why of the advice:

  • A thousand words is a fair bit, to be sure. But it’s not so much that you can’t see the end of your target when you sit down to begin. It’s not so much that you can get lost in those thousand words. It’s not so much that you’ll have to set aside hours and hours of your day that really should be spent working for a living or cleaning the house or reading other people’s books or petting the cat. It’s just enough that you can do it in a good hour or so of work. That is to say, it’s eminently doable.
  • A thousand words a day means you can draft the entirety of a seventy-thousand word novel in three months. Not in a NaNoWriMo blaze of ill-considered prose, but in a measured thousand-word bites.
  • If you’ve noticed that my math is off in the above calculation, that’s because I’ve allowed for mistakes and blind alleys and pages that have to be burned. Did your characters lead you on a long digression that has no bearing on anything else? You can cut it easily and go back. Why? Because even if that bit is, say, seven thousand words, that’s only a week’s work, and you will quickly make up that lost time by your daily thousand words.
  • After that three-month draft is complete, you can then revise the work three times in the remaining nine months of the year. Me, I rekey the entirety of the manuscript every time so that I weigh every line and nuance to make sure I want it. Other people find this tedious. But however you work, again revising only a thousand words a day, you can push through three serious revisions of your novel in the remainder of the year.
  • And why stop at a thousand? This is the question I most hear from people. “I’m writing in a white heat! I don’t want to stop! I want to finish this section!” But that is precisely when you should stop. Why? Because the next day, you will know what comes next. You’ll sit down to your work and know the next page or two because you already had them in mind. And by the time you reach the end of what you’d had in mind yesterday, your head and momentum will have given you the beginnings of new material. Stopping after a thousand words ensures that you never write to the end of your inspiration and face that dreaded blank page. You leave your desk having prepared yourself for the next day’s work.

A thousand words is kind of an arbitrary number. It is the number my long-ago advisor chose, but you can adjust it to suit your needs. Graham Greene wrote exactly eight hundred words and boasted that he would stop mid-sentence when he’d reached that number. (He had a finely calibrated internal word counter, apparently.)

But he wrote every day—the set number of words—no matter what was going on in his life. Writing every single day makes it easier to beat a path to the well, makes it easier to re-enter the fictive dream of the manuscript as though the preceding 23 hours haven’t intervened. And that piece of advice—”Write every day”—is why today’s post is Rule #2.

Do you all write to set word count? Does it work for you? Or do you sit at your desk for

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37. The Tenners at Books of Wonder

BoW

Hey folks! If you’re in the greater New York area this weekend and find yourself pining for great books, cupcakes, or moustaches, feel free to come out to a really terrific event at Books of Wonder.

On Sunday the 10th of 2010 (10/10/10) at 1 pm, Books of Wonder will be hosting ten authors whose debut books came out in ‘10. And just to make it even more special, they’ve added an eleventh author in Amber Benson, who you may know from her days playing Tara Maclay on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. The real stars of the event in our 100% biased opinion, however, will be Upstart Crows Shaun David Hutchinson and Josh Berk (pictured below), who will each be reading from and signing their books for legions of screaming fans.

The complete list of participants:

  • Josh Berk – The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin
  • Shaun David Hutchinson – The Deathday Letter
  • Alexandra Bracken – Brightly Woven
  • Magg Gelbwasser – Invonvenient
  • Emily Horner – A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend
  • Phoebe Kitanidis – Whisper
  • Jessica Leader – Nice and Mean
  • Mindi Scott – Freefall
  • Laura Toffler-Corrie – The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz
  • Amy Brecount White – Forget-Her-Nots
  • Amber Benson – Among the Ghosts

And now for the real reason you came to this blog post: Josh Berk and Shaun David Hutchinson, reimagined with Tom Selleck moustaches. Hope to see you there!

BerkMoustache

shaunstache2

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38. How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Pirate?

35ce024128a035ee5e120110.LIf you are the sort who, instead of writing your pages, dithers on the web, checking up on the news and reading blogs and watching Orson Welles drunk outtakes, then you may well have seen Jackson Pearce’s screed against book pirates. Some background: She’d tweeted a few days ago that she must subsist off of ramen because she is broke, and meanwhile her books are being downloaded illegally. People responded to the tweet (apparently in support of book piracy—arrrrr!), and she answered those people with this charming video in which she costars with a pirate puppet.

But to my mind, both she and the people she’s answering are missing a bigger question, which is this: If those downloaded copies of the book(s) weren’t available on a pirate board, would the people who download them instead have purchased copies? That is, what is the actual impact of these downloads on sales?

There’s no way to be sure, of course, but I’d argue that the effects are negligible or positive. And that, considering that piracy is unavoidable, best then to find ways to make it work to one’s advantage—such as using a Creative Commons license. (For a better explanation of all of this, see Cory Doctorow’s post at the Guardian—which additionally has some startlingly frank talk about how artists should not expect to make a living from their art; in short, don’t quit your day job.)

The thing is, people who download illegally? They aren’t going to buy the book anyway. They’re just not. (Or a few may, but the lion’s share never will.) They are part of the culture of ferreting out uploads and taking what’s available. They are never going to wander into a bookstore real or virtual to buy the book. I know several of these people—they have files of all the latest movies and albums and like to boast about what they’ve “got” recently.

They are habitual thieves of a sort, but never mind that: They do talk up what they’ve got. They are one part of word-of-mouth. A scurrilous part, surely, but a group whose activities and talk may well spur awareness of a project—whether album, film, or book. As Doctorow has said elsewhere, his biggest fear isn’t that people will download his book for free, it’s that they will have never heard of it.

If the piracy of intellectual property is unavoidable (as it seems to be), then the only recourse is to create art that creates fans—people who are willing to support it. I have had friends “slip” me downloads of albums that I then went out and bought (in some cases—as with Frank Turner—six copies over time, more than paying him back for the brief time I “pirated” his album). I’ve become a fan, and it was because of that first sample. It may well have to be this way for authors, too.

What do you think? Is free the way of the future? How are authors going to make a living once everything is digitized and available for the price of a little bit of poking around the internet?

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39. A Star is Born

51ux54Laq4LSpecial congratulations are in order to Antony John, whose upcoming teen novel Five Flavors of Dumb just received its first review—a starred one from Kirkus!

Typically, we’d wait until the book appears in stores to ballyhoo a starred review, but we’re just so jazzed about this novel that we thought we’d share the good word early. Here’s what the smart folks over at Kirkus have to say:

Piper—gutsy, savvy and, yes, deaf—has signed her way into a gig that promises a big, necessary payoff: manager of Dumb, Seattle’s Battle of the Bands winners. Seething with resentment and feelings of inadequacy after her parents raid her college account to pay for her baby sister’s cochlear implants, Piper is determined to shape both Dumb’s future and her own. Piper’s struggles and growth as a manager—she is initially hampered by lack of both experience with intra-band politics and knowledge about music—enjoy realistic treatment, as do her nuanced relationships with family members and the super-talented and adorable Ed Chen. As Piper learns about Seattle’s rock heroes (Cobain and Hendrix), she sees both the band Dumb could be if they would choose rocking over fighting and the person she will become once she truly owns her deafness. Making Piper the manager of a rock band never feels like a cheap trick (pardon the pun) because Piper is not A Great Deaf Character but a great character who is deaf. Complex characterizations, authentic dialogue and realistic ups-and-downs give this title chart-topping potential.

Visit Antony and learn more about how to be DUMB @ antonyjohn.net

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40. Hooray for Banned Books!

BannedBooksAs many of you clever writers out there already know, it’s ALA’s Banned Books Week, a yearly celebration in support of reading in general and the First Amendment.

As you also probably know, the four of us here at Upstart Crow are huge readers and have been heavily influenced by a great number of titles on the banned list over the years. And then I discovered, by way of a lovely blog post by my client Josephine Cameron about her struggles with banned books as a child, that young adult writer Jo Knowles has started a fun meme on her blog as a way of celebrating Banned Books Week.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Go find your favorite banned book. 
  2. Take a picture of yourself with said book.
  3. Give that book some love by explaining why you think it is an important book.
  4. Post it to your blog.
  5. Spread the word!

KingGeraldsGame-thumb-330xauto-25123I don’t want to spend too much time boring you with a rehashing of some of the banned books that shaped my life as a reader. I’ve spoken about how Harry Potter changed my perception of children’s books, my love for J.D. Salinger, and how an early introduction to Stephen King in the fourth grade set the tone for years of bookwormery to come.

I will say, however, that I’m grateful for an upbringing in which my love of reading was encouraged. I’m grateful for having the freedom to read whatever I wanted, aside from a few times when my mother said something was “too adult” for me, like with Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, and asked me not to read it which, of course, made me want to read it more. For the record, I definitely SHOULD NOT have read Gerald’s Game when I was thirteen.

But I digress. My main point is we need books that challenge us, force us to face truths that can be sometimes uncomfortable, and don’t always conform to the accepted norm. Keep writing, keep pushing against the walls, and keep taking risks.

I’m curious to know what some of your favorite banned books are, and how these books worked to shape you as a reader and writer. Let us know in the comments!

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41. What’s in Your Reading Pile?

As we zoom into another week, I thought it might be fun to start out with a light post, a little game of sorts, to see what you’re reading these days.

old-stack-of-books

As a devoted lover of books, it’s not unusual for me to have many books and magazines stacked haphazardly on my bedside table, some of which I’m in the process of reading, some of which I’m hoping I’ll be in the mood to read soon, and some I’ve already read (multiple times) and love so much that I just can’t stand to put them back on the bookshelf just yet.

The books on my bedside stand are a reflection of my mood, of inspiration, and my goals. Books are my greatest pleasure, my stolen moments, and my meditation. I simply cannot fall asleep without reading at least a few pages of a book. And oftentimes, I like to wake up in the very early morning before the day gets too crazy, grab a book from my bedside table, and tiptoe into the living room (so as not to wake The Husband or The Daughter), and spend a delicious, silent hour curled up on the couch, reading.

And so, dear readers, I present to you, my list:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book I by Maryrose Wood
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The American Woman in the Chinese Hat by Carole Maso
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

And on the floor next to the bed: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, which my daughter flung to the floor this morning in a joyous fit of giggles once we finished reading it.

What about you? What’s in your reading pile (or, for those of you techie folks out there, on your Kindle/iPad/e-reader thingy) at the moment?

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42. “The Dark Divine” Goes Hollywood!

Being a writer has a lot to do with being a dreamer.

Every writer dreams about writing a novel–the characters, the plot, the emotions that will go into telling your story. The next step, of course, is to dream about getting that novel published. To have your writing reach others. And sometimes, the dream extends beyond that.

We are ecstatic here at Upstart Crow with congratulations to our very own Bree Despain, whose DARK DIVINE trilogy has been optioned by 1019 Entertainment.

You can read the Variety article here: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118024579.html?categoryid=2431&cs=1

And don’t forget about THE LOST SAINT, which releases on December 28th, 2010. Pre-order now!

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43. Dead Beautiful is Alive!

I am thrilled to offer my hearty congratulations to Yvonne Woon, whose debut novel, Dead Beautiful, releases today from Disney-Hyperion.

Dead Beautiful was an exceptionally rewarding book to work on, and has the wonderful mixture of literary and commercial qualities that we are all looking for in a novel. Already garnering a ton of great reviews, be sure to pick up this outstanding novel and get ready to fall in love with Dante and Renee.

Congrats, Yvonne!

Early reviews for Dead Beautiful:

“Anyone who reads knows that vampires are in. But this hefty novel takes a new and unconventional look at the undead, focusing on story and interesting characters and leaving gore and mayhem hidden in the background…Well written, intriguing and, above all, different, this story ends with much to explore in what one hopes will be swiftly forthcoming sequels.

Kirkus (Starred Review)

“Boarding-school story meets Murder, She Wrote meets the Twilight series in this nifty title, which also offers an attention-grabbing take on zombies. Detailed world building and setting contribute as much to the story as character and plot. Atmospheric touches such as school rituals, classes like Imaginary Arithmetic, and the use of Latin as the “insider” language all add to the ambience… give this to the earnest Twilight crowd but also to teens who like impossible love stories with supernatural flavor.

Booklist

“It’s a Harry Potter start and a Twilight finish”

Publishers Weekly

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44. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

September—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  you’ll see an improvement in your productivity–and your writing.

1. Write often. Blogging doesn’t count. Texting your friends doesn’t count. Tweeting that you’re thinking about writing doesn’t count. Facebooking that you have writer’s block doesn’t count. Unplug yourself from the white noise of social networking babble and write.

2. Finish what you started. You know how it happens—you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a novel that’s so brilliant, so amazing, that you simply have to get out of bed and write it down because you’re convinced you’re about to become the next J.K. Rowling. You work on it feverishly for awhile, then you start to feel kinda lost about where you’re going with the story, and before you know it, you’ve forsaken your novel for surfing the internet. It’s still there, languishing on your hard drive. You think of it fondly, but just haven’t found the time to get back to it. Guess what? Now is as good a time as any.  So whether you join one of those crazy nanowrimo thingies or set your own goals, commit to finishing a project.

3. Read well. US Weekly does not count. Sh*t My Dad Says (though hilarious) does not count. Sports blogs do not count. For your pleasure reading, choose something well-written (and maybe something—gasp!—out of your comfort zone) that will help you think about craft and inspire your own writing. Personally, I always seem to return to the classics. I re-read The Great Gatsby over the summer, and enjoyed it so thoroughly that upon finishing, I had to fight the urge to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.

4. Get out of your own head. Writing is quite the solitary journey, but just because you write by yourself doesn’t mean your work in progress should remain under lock and key until you’ve lovingly typed that final page. The best way to improve your writing (other than writing consistently), is to find inspired, like-minded individuals whom you trust to read and critique your work. So if you haven’t already, join a crit group, and if possible, make plans to attend writer’s conferences (either locally or nationally), where you can attend workshops, meet other writers, and get the chance to put your work in front of editors and agents.

5. Carry a notebook. Keep a notebook in your purse (or your man-purse or messenger bag or whatever guys are calling their purses these days). Use it to jot down sudden ideas, titles, thoughts, and impressions of what you see and experience. By jotting down things that touch you, impress you, strike you as beautiful or funny or odd, you’re giving yourself permission to take a break from the rush of daily life and reconnect with the world around you. It’s good for the soul—and for your fiction.

6. Set a weekly goal. Too often, I see writers tweeting away about being waaaay shy of their daily word count goal for their WIP (gee, maybe that’s b/c they’re tweeting instead of writing). Well, rather than set a lofty daily goal for yourself, why not try a more reasonable goal? With life being so busy, it’s entirely understandable tha

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45. Out of Sight and Out of Mind

bookpadMy complaint is a simple one.

Look at the picture there on the right.

See the stack of books to the right? See the stack of books on the iPad? Which one reminds you of the stories still to be read, the books you want to reread; which one literally occupies a space in your conscience (as well as on your bookshelf)?

But I’ve found in my experience that when I look at my iPad, I don’t see books. I see an iPad. On the device is Middlemarch, a Jonathan Ames novel, a Charlie Huston mystery, a couple of P.G. Wodehouse books, and a half-dozen nonfiction books I thought I wanted to read once upon a time.

This could just be a sad side effect of the way I consume books: Some people buy and read books on a strictly one-at-a-time basis. Me, I tend to buy three at a time and leave them on the bedside shelf so that I have an array of choices when I finish one book and move to the next. Today I’ll put up Mockingjay and then go back into the final hundred-and-fifty pages of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. And then I’ll browse my shelf to see what matches my mood, and that’s what i’ll read next.

But I don’t “see” anything to read when I glance at the iPad. And when I open the iPad, I am distracted by the many other applications available on it. So instead of making reading more of a presence in my life, it has the opposite effect: It makes reading just one more media application. Provided I even remember the dozen or so books I have downloaded on the device.

I love e-readers—honest, I do. Before I had the iPad, I read on a first-generation Kindle, which comically ugly and poorly designed, was still a damn sight better than carrying around a satchel full of books and manuscripts. And the iPad’s reader is pretty spiff, as are the other reading apps—GoodReader and Nook—but the iPad (and before it, the Kindle) don’t fit into my head and consciousness in the same way.

Am I alone in this? Or is anyone out there finding that these e-readers make books out of sight and out of mind?

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46. Big Book Trailer!

Kurt Cyrus’s fabulous Big Rig Bugs was published this past spring. It’s a near-perfect model of how to do a lot with a little: In seventy-six words, it tells the story of a bunch of bugs clearing away some litter from a construction site. And, because that’s not near enough, it also a slew of great parallels between how some construction devices mimic what bugs do in the natural world. Kurt is a poet and an artist, and he excels in both realms here—this book is a crackerjack read-aloud perfect that should please the youngest fans of big rigs or bugs.

But that’s not what this post is about. No, this post is merely to present this nifty book trailer Kurt made for the picture book, just as a side project while he finishes up something else. For all the bug-obsessed kids out there, no matter their age.

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47. Recapping the Summer of 2010

Photo from trekearth.com

Photo from trekearth.com

Well hello there, friends. Long time no blog. I hope everyone had a wonderful end of the summer and you’re all ready for back-to-school for the parents, back-to-work for the teachers, or back-to-working-every-week if you’re like the rest of us working stiffs.

And yes, I include myself as someone who worked. “But what of your ‘break?’” you ask. Well, it wasn’t really a break. It was a chance to try (and fail) to catch up on the queries in my inbox (I’m almost through June as of this posting…I know, I’d hoped to do better), spend some time relaxing like in the scene pictured right (you can’t see me in the picture–I’m in the water on the other side of the boat about to be struck in the head by the oar), and read, read, read (Who read MOCKINGJAY? Omg text me K?). There may have been a mojito and some golf and some softball mixed in, but trust me, not much.

So what else happened this summer? I was lucky enough to see my client Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE: THE SHADOWS hit the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s a terrific achievement for anyone, but especially a debut writer. THE SHADOWS also garnered two starred reviews, the first of which I wrote about here, and the second which just came from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, who predict “this will be a hit with young fantasists ready for a measured helping of menace.” If all this isn’t enough to get you to check out the book, then I don’t know what will!

The summer also kicked off with the release of Shaun David Hutchinson’s THE DEATHDAY LETTER, an occasion Shaun celebrated by jumping out of a freaking plane. While he was up there watching the ground come up to meet him, VOYA was writing that main character “Ollie’s unabashed self-acceptance of his foibles makes him both a hilarious and a heartbreaking character,” and Booklist said “the reader is pulled along in Ollie’s grip, wrestling with the big questions of life (and afterlife) at a punishing pace…This first novel will appeal to male readers who care more about sex than philosophy.” I think they served donuts on the ground, too, which is pretty cool.

At the end of the summer came Matt Myklusch’s JACK BLANK AND THE IMAGINE NATION. What did the critics think? School Library Journal said JACK BLANK had “just the right amount of plasma blasts, fusion cannons, and major explosions” and that the “especially careful plotting that leads to an exciting and thought-provoking conclusion.” Publishers Weekly called it an “ambitious, no-holds-barred adventure” and that “the exuberance and anything-goes whimsy of this story–enhanced by a light, comic book sensibility along with questions it raises about fate, corpo

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48. More Good News for THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE

Shadows IllustrationsYes, yes—I already mentioned that Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE: THE SHADOWS garnered a second starred review in this post yesterday, but I then realized there were a few other pieces of ELSEWHERE news I wanted to share. One thing led to another and before I knew it, there was too much information to shoehorn into the previous post. So here we are, with a second post chock full of great Jacqueline West-related info!

First—and well worth repeating—is how thrilled all of us were to see THE SHADOWS hit the New York Times Bestseller list. We then received more great news when we learned the fine folks at Penguin were interested in extending the series. Now there will be three additional installments after next summer’s SPELLBOUND, the second in the series, bringing the total number of books in the series to five. Five times the books for five times the goodness!

But wait, there’s more!

In relatively minor but still very cool news, there’s the completely super dope website for THE SHADOWS, where you can solve puzzles, hear an audio excerpt, and wander around the scary McMartin household. And with the music, it’s seriously a little creepy. Not pee-your-paints creepy, but definitely make-sure-there’s-a-light-on creepy. Check it out!

German OliveAnd for all of you Germans out there wondering to yourself, “When can I enjoy the wonder that is THE SHADOWS?” or, perhaps more accurately, “Wo ist das pie ich am Dienstag verloren?” fear not! The long wait for the arrival of OLIVE UND DAS HAUS DER SCHATTEN is finally over! Check out the crazy old-school-yet-weirdly-awesome cover you guys have! One day I’ll post the covers from all the different countries that will be enjoying Olive’s adventures so we can compare and contrast, but for now, Genießen Sie diesen Hut von Würsten, dass ich für dich gemacht hat!

Finally, below you can read the complete second starred review for THE SHADOWS from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. They wrote:

The atmospheric old house is a new home for eleven-year-old Olive, and though she finds it fascinating, with its colorful contents that include a collection of arresting paintings, she also finds it creepy. Her instincts prove to be accurate: the vivid paintings are actually portals into other realms, accessible to her if she’s wearing the spectacles found in the house. Advised, albeit cryptically, by Horatio, a talking cat secretly still resident in the house, Olive dabbles in exploration of those realms, but she also unwittingly comes ever closer to enabling the evil trapped inside the house to break free. West creates a delightful concoction of quirky humor blended with a rumbling ominous undertone (“This house belongs to someone else,” Hor

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49. The Big Time

Lights! Camera! Action! I’m thrilled to announce that this week, two of my clients snagged themselves a segment on the CBS Early Show (which, in case you didn’t know, boasts a cool 3 million viewers).

A big congratulations to the phenomenal Deesha Philtvyaw and Michael Thomas, a powerful ex-wife and ex-husband writing duo who teamed up to practice and advocate co-parenting. What the heck is co-parenting, you ask? Co-parenting is the post-divorce practice of putting aside your differences with your ex for the sake of the children in order to create a stable, loving family environment.

In addition to their personal commitment to their children, Deesha and Mike created the website coparenting101.org, an online resource for divorced parents looking for ways to effectively and lovingly care for their children. Additionally, they co-host a weekly radio show called Co-Parenting Matters. Last but most definitely not least, their book proposal, Co-Parenting 101, which shows readers how to put the most important principles of co-parenting to work in their daily lives, is in the hands of publishers as I write this, so there should be good publishing news coming for Deesha and Mike very soon.

Deesha and Mike are an inspiration, and true role models for parents who wish to foster a nurturing family environment after divorce.

You can watch a clip of their interview on the Early Show and learn more about their amazing story here.

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50. Getting To Know Me

You’re in the thick of your search for an agent. You’ve come upon our lovely website. You’ve read all of our biimagesos, read about our tastes, etc. You think the agency rocks (of course you do!). You kinda like my vibe. But you’re still looking for more info, for clues tell you if I’m the perfect agent match for you.

Why not head over to the Chuck Sambuchino’s fantastic blog, where you will not only learn tons about writing and the business of publishing, you’ll also learn a little bit more about little ol’ me.

See you in queryland!

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