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1. Zee Avi sings Nia's song?

I don't want to spoil CANDOR's ending for anyone, so I suggest that you skip this post if you haven't finished the book!

Zee Avi's song "Honey Bee" is a song that some CANDOR fans might think Nia would sing to Oscar after the book ends... check it out here:

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2. Ripping out the stitches

My mother taught me how to sew. We huddled over her 1960s Kenmore sewing machine, up in finished part of the attic, and I learned about bobbins, backstitching, and quarter-inch seams. I picked out patterns and learned how to trace the outlines of those tissue pattern pieces onto fabric. Like magic, I transformed something flat—fabric, rolled off big bolts that thump-thump-thumped on the fabric-store table when I bought my yardage—into a dress or shirt or, most memorably, a tapestry-fabric jumpsuit.

Loved that jumpsuit.

I haven’t sewn since high school, unless you count the slipcover I made for a living room chair. But I’ve been busy creating other things—most notably, stories. Today my mother reminded me of something from sewing that applies to the writing work I’m doing right now. It was something Baba, her grandmother and my great-grandmother, taught her about sewing.

“Nothing is worth making unless you rip it out three times,” she said.

Ripping out is just what it sounds like—you take a sharp, mean little tool and run it along your hard-won seams, ripping stitch by stitch until the two pieces of fabric fall away from each other. I sewed a lot in high school, which means I’m really good at ripping out seams too. You can’t avoid it. You get five steps into a pattern and realize that you messed up step 1B and now everything has to be ripped out, unless you want your shirt to have two and a half sleeves on it. And then you get to the eighth step and it happens all over again.

My beloved jumpsuit? The seams started to fray, in spots, because I had to rip it out so many times.

As for my writing, I’m now ripping out the seams on my story DROUGHT—for the third time. We’re talking some major ripping; shifting the timeline of the story back and cutting out a big BIG chunk of the current draft. It’s like I finished making that jumpsuit and realized I’ve got the right fabric, the right pattern, but I somehow managed to sew it inside out and backwards. Every little stitch has got to come out before I can make it the right way.  Sure, I could try wearing that jumpsuit out in public, and forget about fixing it, but there’d be no hiding that it wasn’t the best I could do. There would be way to conceal its flaws.

So I am taking a deep breath and picking up my stitch ripper. I’m not afraid: I have the fabric. I have the pattern. I cut everything into the right shape, and I wound my bobbin. I even have the buttons picked out.

I just have to find the right way to sew it all together.

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3. Plots: fiddleheads and fern fronds

I’ve been playing with some major plot revisions on my work in progress, after getting feedback from my editor and agent. My story, as it stands today, has a lot going on. It’s full of action and allusions to even more action that happens offstage. Just as things get interesting in one part of the story, we speed off to another. So I’m pondering whether I need to cut things out… slow things down… simplify.

I basically served my editor and agent a big bowl of fiddleheads. And I’m wondering whether this story ought to be a single lovely fern frond, instead.

Haven’t heard of fiddleheads? They are curled-up baby ferns, gathering their fern strength before they pop out into big fronds. Some people like to boil and eat them in the spring. I tried one once. It was sort of like a brussels sprout. I remember that the texture was very dense. That makes sense, given that I was eating an entire fern frond in a single bite.  I also remember being a little freaked out by eating baby ferns!

So when’s a novel like a bowl of fiddleheads? When it’s full of densely-packed events, a whole series of them. So much is going on that the story can feel a little jumbled, or intense. But you’d be hard-pressed to get bored—at least, when the author does a good job cooking up those fiddleheads.

On the other end of the spectrum is a novel that takes its time: a single fern frond. The plot lingers over each small detail, each little leaf that makes up one lovely frond. Some readers might find that the story is a little too slow, or that they’re skipping past the quiet details that help to build the plot and establish characters. But even a single fern frond can have lots of little leaves. A well-done “frond” story doesn’t have to be boring.

Either approach can work. Take a look at one perfect contrast in two best sellers: Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS (a big old bowl of fiddleheads) versus J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series (one lovely frond after another). Both tales are a boy’s coming-of-age set at a secret, exclusive academy for budding magicians. What Grossman does in one book takes Rowling seven. Grossman packs interesting details into the stories but sometimes manages to encompass an entire year at the Brakebills academy in a few chapters—while Rowling, of course, takes an entire volume for each year of Harry Potter’s education at Hogwarts. Both authors manage to turn out engrossing stories that have me reading while I’m drying my hair, eating my lunch and putting my shoes on. I wouldn’t want to see either approach changed.

Perhaps market explains part of the contrast between those two stories. THE MAGICIANS is a story sold as adult fiction while HARRY POTTER is of course marketed, first and foremost, as a book for children ages 8-12. Maybe younger readers demand that we slow down and examine each detail, and go with a deliberate and predictable pace. Adults are less jarred by sudden jumps in timeframe, and less patient with detail. The implication for YA writers? Maybe we need to land somewhere in the middle.

I haven’t decided whether my story is a single fern frond, a bowl of fiddleheads, or somewhere in-between. But understanding the difference between the two is a step in the right direction.

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4. 5 reasons why journalism majors are ^&*% excellent YA writers

I took a grand total of two English courses in college: advanced composition and comparative romantic literature. Nothing against English majors and profs, but I'm proud of my alternative path. I am a proud journalism major (go COM!). For good and for bad, my days of j-school shaped me into the writer I am today. Here are five unique offerings that journalism majors bring to writing YA novels:

1. Every single word counts. No florid descriptions or waffling dialog here. We get to the point!

2. We know headlines and lead grafs. Our first chapters are gonna grab you, because we've been trained to make that reader flip to the jump.

3. Two common and successful elements in YA lit: snark and anxiety about the future. Nobody knows that stuff better than a journalist who's had to face down the newspaper job market in the last ten years.

4. If there's swearing to be done, nobody does it better than us. We were trained by the old salty dogs of the newsroom. I'm not ^&%&^ kidding you. Don't even %^&% try to &*^&* with me, you *&(*()%^!

5. Copyeditors love our stuff: it's ^&*( clean. Unless we're too busy being snarky and anxious to give it a good read.

Fellow j-school grads, got anything to add?


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5. Birds of every feather should sing

This year I indulged in a daily desk calendar—an indulgence because I know that sometimes it will sit for days, forgotten, stuck on Tuesday while the rest of try to steal some sleep on Sunday morning. An indulgence in another way, too, because it’s billed as being an “inspirational calendar for working women”, which makes me roll my eyes but secretly sounds really nice—if it can really inspire me.

Yesterday’s entry made me glad I bought that chunk of paper and plastic backing. It had a quote from Henry Van Dyke: “Use what talents you possess. The woods soul be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”

I’ve never heard this particular quote before. I love it—what artist wouldn’t? It gives us permission to keep creating even when we know full well that we’re not at the top of the heap, or even near it. Do your best. It’s enough. Don’t be ashamed to share your best efforts with the world.

I have this lovely vision, now, of writers perched in a strange forest of trees—all different sorts: fruit trees, towering pines, thick-canopied oaks. Everyone is working away, intent, pages fluttering to the forest floor in a light constant rain. Every kind of story is on those pages. Imagine yourself walking through that forest—how the floor would be soft under your feet, cushioned by years of other writers’ efforts. Imagine how you’d be a little taller, on that cushion, and a little closer to the first foothold that waits in your own tree. Pick your tree. Look around at all those other writers, birds of every sort of feather. Then turn your eyes to your own story and write.

You’re not alone---and you are worthy.

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6. I propose a new genre: “Extra-Ordinary”

When people ask me what kind of book CANDOR is, my first answer is “it’s a novel for ages twelve and up”. But I know they want more. Is it realistic fiction? Well, no, unless brainwashing is a reality (that’s another post for another day!). Is it fantasy? Mmmm, I guess not, since it’s set in our modern everyday world and there’s a distinct lack of magical or supernatural elements. Well then. It must be science fiction, right? Yes, indeed: Wikipedia defines science fiction as “a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations on current or future science or technology”, which definitely fits CANDOR.

But sometimes the label of sci-fi feels like an itchy fit for books like CANDOR--stories that are set in a world with one imagined technology element but otherwise don’t dwell on the mechanics or history of that technology. Maybe it’s because sci-fi makes a lot of people think of only robots and space ships. I worry about readers who don’t regularly delve into science fiction getting turned off. Don’t get me wrong: I am not ashamed to be called a sci-fi writer. I’ve been a sci-fi fan since my father and I spent a summer eating TV dinners in front of Star Trek re-runs (perhaps an unfortunate example, give that ST is replete with both robots and space ships!). And if I spent my entire career being called a sci-fi writer, that’s fine by me. Talk about being in fantastic company.

I wonder if some fantasy authors have a similar issue. A lot of people think the fantasy books all have dragons and dudes wearing long robes, bearing wands. And that is just as narrow a view of the genre as the aforementioned robots and space ships. That’s probably why the sub-genre name “urban fantasy” emerged.

I’d like to propose a new genre name: extra-ordinary.

Extra-ordinary books have at least one element that doesn’t exist in our mundane world. Sure, it could be robots. But it could be a moon that’s moved closer to the earth, as in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. Or it could be a virus that turns New Yorkers into vampires, a la Scott Westerfeld’s PEEPS. Some fantasy books fit in here. So do some sci-fi. But they’re about the normal world, twisted by forces that (supposedly) don’t exist.

Do we really need a new genre name? Shouldn’t we instead hope that readers come to see that sci-fi and fantasy are broad homes for all sorts of cool ideas? Maybe so. But I think this type of book is only going to grow in popularity and hopefully it will attract a broader cut of readers. And darn it, if paranormal romances—which now, I notice, are often just called “paranormals”—can get their own special name, why not extra-ordinary books too?

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7. Punching in, or why I’m combing Ebay

Everyone’s got their New Year’s resolutions and I won’t bore you with my entire list (does anyone except me care that I’m determined to take a multi-vitamin everyday?). But I think this idea is fun. Or crazy. Or both. So I’m sharing.

I want to start “punching in” to my writing time. It’s real work, and it deserves real devoted time, and I feel like it would help me to mentally recognize it as such. Maybe it would cut down on the Wordtwist/Facebook/Twitter procrastination during my writing hours—but that’s not the big reason for doing it. There are weeks when I beat myself up for not spending enough time on my writing, and then there are weeks when I beat myself up for neglecting the rest of my life for my writing. Punching in, I hope, will help me to push aside the self-hate (and save it for more useful times, like when I eat birthday cake leftovers for lunch!). I set a goal at the start of the week: I will work X hours. I punch in, I punch out. I meet my goal (hopefully). Job done. No more guilt. It’s a variation on the old Butt In Chair (BIC time) concept. I also have visions of looking at my timecards, come next December, and feeling Very Good about how much time I put into my writing work.

Yes, I could use a spreadsheet or just scribble down times on a piece of paper. But why do that when there are fun old-fashioned TIME CLOCKS out there to play with, to be had for relatively cheap on Ebay?  I’ve got my eye on the Acroprint125 NR4. It’s a avocado green chunky square, and it even comes with time cards (if I’m going to do this… I might as well DO it). If I end up springing for it, you’ll see a picture of it installed in my writing space. It’s, um, tax deductible right?

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8. CANDOR is a Cybils finalist!

What a fantastic way to start 2010--CANDOR is a finalist in the Cybils Award category of Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction! The Cybils are awards given by the community of bloggers who review books for children and teens. The award is aimed at books with the "highest literary merit and kid appeal".

What amazing company CANDOR is in--fellow Debutante Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON'S LEXICON, A.S. King's THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, Kristin Cashore's FIRE, Laini Taylor's and Jim Di Bartolo’s LIPS TOUCH, Kathleen Duey's SACRED SCARS, and Antonia Michaelis's TIGER MOON. The winner of each category will be announced on February 14...check out the finalists in all categories and go congratulate your favorites!

Thank you very, very much, Cybils!

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9. ALAN: panel! signing! movie time!

A belated and brief report on the blast I had at the ALAN conference just before Thanksgiving:

  • Through devoted practice, was able to explain what ALAN stood for at any time, any place (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents)!
  • Met lots of very dedicated teachers, professors and librarians who reminded me that writing for teens is one very cool job
  • Spoke on a panel with the talented Matt de la Pena, Maureen Johnson and Paula Jolin. Managed to include talk of pastries. Perhaps incited apple pie hunger in all attendees. Or at least one.
  • Signed lots of copies of CANDOR, may they bring joy to all their future readers and owners (pic at left)
  • Snuck away for a near-midnight screening of NEW MOON, made doubly fun by my brave companions... learned that apparently it is Philly tradition to talk to the movie without shame (fun! but my relatively staid upstate NY upbringing only allowed me to mutter into my giant bottle of Aquafina)
  • Listened to, and was inspired by, lots of authors on panels... I think my favorite was Sharon M. Draper, whose passion and focus blew me away.
  • Slept like the dead after my whirlwind ALAN tour!
A big hello to everyone I met while in Philly! And a special thanks to Karin for the pic.

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10. CANDOR's UK cover

I am thrilled to unveil the striking, beautiful cover for CANDOR's UK edition, due out in 2010 with Egmont. If you can't read the tagline, it says "If you stick around, you'll get the message".

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11. This Book Belongs To You

I was poking through the liner notes to Colbie Caillat’s album BREAKTHROUGH today, and I found this:

“These songs can mean whatever you want them to mean, they are now yours.”

I love that—because I believe any sort of art is transformed by the experiencing of it. We each bring our own experiences and life viewpoints to art. No two people hear the same exact song or feel the same exact way when they listen to it. The same thing goes for looking at paintings, and eating a gourmet meal, and… reading a book.

And yet we authors are often asked what messages we wanted to convey in our book. And goodness knows that countless hours have been spent in literature classes, debating exactly what The Author wanted the reader to see behind their words. Doesn’t this imply that authors want to control their audience and their experience? That we want to pick up their puppet strings and tell them how to feel and what to think when they read our stories?

Sure, CANDOR has some things to say about individuality and the dangers of control. But that’s my read of the book. Somebody else might find that my story says something different to them. And that’s just fine with me. It’s just as valid as my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong—I think there’s great value in discussing literature and the author’s intent. But I bet if you sat down with 10 authors and asked them to say, honestly, what they hoped to accomplish with their book…. you know what they’d say?

“I hoped it would be a good read. And I hoped someone would publish it. And that lots of someones would read it.”

If we’re lucky, our readers will feel strongly about our work. And they’ll make it their own.

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12. Read This Book: THE ESPRESSOLOGIST

Maybe your weather is better than it is in DC today, but I’m personally sitting here with down slippers and a steaming cup of coffee, cursing the cold drizzle outside. Which is the perfect night to be talking about Kristina Springer’s debut young adult novel, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST. Grab a latte and cozy up to her story today! (Buy on IndieBound, Amazon or your local bookstore).

A bit about THE ESPRESSOLOGIST:

espress What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

Kristina answered my three fave questions:

--I think teen books can, and should, be read by grown-ups. Tell my grandma Grace why she should read your book.
You would love it Grandma Grace! The Espressologist hooks up coffee lovers of all ages!
--What would your 16-year-old self say if she read your book?
This is so good-- and that farting in the bathroom thing totally happened to me in junior high too. Weird.
--I am fascinated by writers' inspirations. Tell me about a real-life setting that found its way into your book.
Starbucks. I wrote the entire book from the same table in my local Starbucks. This was so incredibly useful- I wish I could sit down and write in every setting I use in my books.

And finally, all about Kristina:

Kristina Springer has a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul University. Her first novel, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on October 27, 2009. Her second novel, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, also from FSG, will be published in the fall of 2010. She lives in a suburb of Chicago, IL with her husband Athens and their four small children Teegan, Maya, London, and Gavin.

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13. CANDOR the purse

Last night, some of my girlfriends took me out for drinks and gave me my one-of-a-kind, very swank CANDOR purse! Yes, purse: it's made from the actual hardcover. The pages are removed, then replaced with a fabric lining (including a nice little interior pocket) and a button to keep the purse from flopping open. I'm posting some pics but they don't give you a great sense of how totally elegant this baby is. I love that's a little bit stealthy; you don't see that it's CANDOR unless I show you the bottom... but it's still got that beautiful butternutty cloth cover.

The artist who made it, Caitlin at Rebound Designs, does custom orders. If you're looking for a very cool gift for an author, I highly recommend her. She also has pre-made purses available on her site, including Nancy Drew and Five Little Peppers. DC residents might have seen her at the Crafty Bastards show about a month ago in Adams Morgan. I think her purses are also at the Pyramid Atlantic store in Silver Spring.

If you're coming to NCTE/ALAN, I'll be toting this purse , so keep an eye out!

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14. Because my kid needs my shoulders, or why I don’t quit writing

Any writer who tells you they’ve never thought about quitting writing is a big fat liar.

I’ve thought about it plenty. And I’ve even tried, a few times. For me that never last more than a few sulky hours. I am most likely to walk out on my writing in the heat of the moment: when a plot seems impossible, when I hate every word that I write, when my big gorgeous ideas become shrunken, dried-out bits of blah on the page.

But last week I saw some discussion on a listserv about a writer, Declan Burke, who has thought long and hard, applied logic and reason, and decided to quit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this guy. We’ve got a lot in common: GenX’ers with a young family to take care of, trying to squeeze writing around that and our demanding day job. I think I know how he felt, when he made this decision; he probably felt like there would never, ever be enough time in the day. Like writing was the ultimate selfish act. Like if he just quit writing, things would be easier. Much easier. Hey. I feel all those things sometimes too.

But you know what stopped that thinking cold for me, the last few months? When my four year old insisted that I read him CANDOR—my young adult novel with over 200 pages and zero illustrations. I’d given him his own signed copy, thinking he’d put it on the shelf with the other signed chapter books I’d collected for him at conferences, for Some Day Far Away when he’d read them. But no—he brought it to me, the biggest smile on his face, and insisted: “read, Mommy. Read me the book that you wrote. Read me all the words.” I read him the first chapter, and thought that would be it. But no. Every night he asks for the next chapter. We’re nearly at the halfway point now. No worries, I’m not reading him all the words or even paragraphs (if you’ve read CANDOR, you can imagine the bits I’m excising). But he’s fascinated. I’d like to think it’s fabulous writing that’s got him enthralled, but I think it’s something else.

This book made me a real-life superhero in my son’s eyes. A superhero whose cape he can borrow.

I did something that he knew, theoretically, was possible. Someone had to write all those books that threaten to spill from every available space in his room. Mo Willems and Ted Arnold and Kate DiCamillo are real people, he knows. He’s just never met them, let alone seen them in sweatpants with hair that hasn’t been washed in three days. But here’s his ordinary mother, whose book sits right next to those other books. She did this.

Which means he can do it too.

Now he’s dictating “chapters” of a story about a dinosaur family to a very patient teacher at his school. He brings one home each night and I read it to him, usually several times. He’s so proud of his story. And he tells me he’s going to write more, and more…just like Mommy.

How could I quit now?

I know this could be a short-term thing. And there’s no way I’ll pressure him to write. This has to be his thing. But… it could last forever. My example could boost him to write bigger, bolder, better things than me.

My grandfather played piano in bars and restaurants, every Friday and Saturday night, while he held down a full-time corporate job. He never quit that job. He never quit playing. Then his kids came along and loved music too. One even made a living teaching music. She was able to make her passion for music a full-time job… something he probably dreamed of, but never got to do.

They say that children stand on their parents’ shoulders. Being a writer makes my shoulders a pretty cool place to stand. So now, when I want to quit, I think of my son’s face when he held that copy of CANDOR out to me. I want him to hold other books out to me too. Books that inspire him and show him that anyone can write a book… or follow any dream.

You just can’t quit. And y

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15. What Makes a Writer? Ask My Sister...

A little while ago, I got sick of answering interview questions and interviewed my Mom and Dad instead. My sister Patty read the interview and said “hmph. I’ve got a few things to add to that.” She also found a blatant error that my poor father will hear about for years. But more about that below.
And so here Patty’s take on what makes a writer, and how a little sister survives said writer…and by the way, Patty, don’t believe Mom about the lake monsters. You know they’re real, and they’re just waiting for an unsuspecting swimmer…one who is foolish enough not to believe.
Q. I write dark things. Why? Can you shed any light on this?

You have always had an "active" imagination. As my big sister, I'm always inclined to believe you when you speak of things like lake monsters and psycho squirrels that hide in the bedroom. But then Mom usually has to remind me that I shouldn't believe everything you tell me. I wouldn't be surprised if the basis for your dark material comes from those crazy, whacked out nightmares you have!
Q. Go ahead. Tell people what it was like growing up with me!
Honestly, you were the best sister any little sister could have. Well, except for when you and your friend Amy thought it'd be fun to put your baby sis out on the patio roof. But, I was always ready and willing to be your 80's fashion model and walk the "runway" and I was always jealous that you could go out on the sailboat by yourself. Beyond that, you were a bit of a "drama queen", not only because you were the star lead in all the plays (which I attended EVERY SINGLE PERFORMANCE THANK YOU VERY MUCH), but because you tended to be a taaad over dramatic about things like failing your driver's test. Sometimes people think sisters who are far apart in age couldn't be close, but I tell them it's just the opposite - my sister is my best friend!
Q. What was your first clue that I might end up being a writer?

It definitely came as no surprise to me, you were always getting published here and there in places like Merlyn's Pen and Talent Unlimited! English was always one of your favorite subjects, and you were an editor of your college newspaper at Boston University. I was always pulling for you to be an actress so I could go to the Oscars with you, but I guess being a writer isn't a bad second choice. Does the Pulitzer have an award ceremony I can go to?
Q. You read Mom and Dad's interview. Anything you want to add or rebut?

Yes. In our parents’ interview, they make reference to you writing a review for a software program. Would just like to mention that the review was written by moi, your little sis, and it was for a dinosaur computer program for Zillionaire magazine. Go figure that I also, to an extent, write for a living by writing grants!
Q. What's the craziest thing you've done to promote your beloved sister's book?

I am always looking to promote CANDOR whenever I can. I consistently go to the Border's in New York city during my lunch break to make sure they have copies of your book and that they're outward facing. I also request CANDOR through my library, "read it" for a week, return it, and then request it all over again. At first they didn't have it, so I had to 'request' it. Probably looked suspicious that Patty "Bachorz" was requesting a book she had heard "such great things about!" that was written by a Pam "Bachorz"…

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16. Two years later, DC finally feels like home

Two years ago, our little family said goodbye to Florida. It had been home, a good home, for six and a half years. Why did we do it? And what did we gain from it?

And what did we lose?

Halloween will probably always make me remember our last night in Celebration. We sat on our porch handing out candy from a moving box. Behind us the house was empty; the moving truck had pulled away the day before. Little Dude dressed up like a fireman, oblivious and joyful, not understanding that this was goodbye. That night we slept in a fancy hotel just south of town. I washed away tearstains with grapefruit-scented soap.

We left for Washington, DC. Every single person here was a stranger to us, except for the people who had hired us to work for them, and one couple we’d been friends with in Florida but hadn’t seen in several years. We didn’t have doctors, dentists, a favorite Chinese takeout place, a coffee shop where they recognized our faces… and we definitely didn’t know any shortcuts around town. In fact I’m still working on the shortcuts. When we had my son’s third birthday party a few months after moving in, I put invitations in his school friend’s mailboxes and prayed that at least some of the parents would come to a stranger’s house for my kid’s birthday (they did--and in fact, some of those kind strangers are close friends today).

There are people, and memories, in Florida that we simply can’t replace. We said goodbye to a wide, warm circle of friends and a huge comfort level with our town and our jobs. And we left behind tangible proof of memories, too. I remember tracing my finger over the dent in Little Dude’s nursery wall, the one that the rocker left behind, and crying. My husband filled in the dent before we left. I didn’t return to the room to see the job finished.

Why did we do it? And why did we do it twice? Yes, twice… before Florida, we lived in Boston, another wrenching goodbye that found me wailing “I can’t leave!” as we pulled away. No, wailing isn’t quite the right word. Shrieking, maybe, mixed with gut-twisting sobs. Not that I tend towards drama or anything.

We did it for adventure, and to grow; neither of us is content with simply mastering something and then resting. We did it for our family, too, especially moving up to the DC area: we’re closer to our extended family, now, and Little Dude will get to enjoy some of the best schools in the country. And we missed city life and culture.

The move wasn’t easy, but we’ve gained so much—beyond the benefits I’ve already mentioned:

--As a family, we’re more resilient, and we know that we can handle anything so long as we have each other.

--We know what we really need to be happy, too: a big move strips away so much. You learn what you really need to be content and what’s just trappings. Most stuff? Just trappings. Although, um, I still have a ton of trappings collecting dust in my fabulous basement. (Didn’t have THOSE in Florida!).

--We’ve learned how to make the things we want HAPPEN. Because when you move, you get lots of practice at that. Want friends? Better go find some (I started a new Bunco group here and I treasure my friends from it). Homesick? Get out in your new community and find new places to love (like the Parkway Deli and its amazing matzo ball soup). It’s a lot of work. But you learn how to be a self-starter, and how to get what you want without anybody else’s help.

I’ll always miss parts of living in Florida and Boston, but I love our lives here in the DC area too. After two years, it feels like home, finally. Except for when it’s dark and I miss the turn from East West Highway to Colesville once again… and I remember for a few minutes how it felt to be brand-new.

It’s exhilarating. Terrifying. And odds are, someday we’ll do it again. Paris, here we come…someday, probably when Little Dude is off to college. Or maybe London? Sydney? The upper west side? Who knows!

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17. Read This Book: FLASH BURNOUT

After I had my son nearly five years ago, I was too exhausted to commit to an in-person critique group. So I tried my first online critique group, and that’s where I met L.K. Madigan. She was working on FLASH BURNOUT at the same time I was working on CANDOR. It’s funny that our debut books ended up pubbing within a few weeks of each other! I feel like I’ve known Blake’s loyalty, love and SNARK for a long time and I’m so excited that everyone gets to read his story now. So please check out the details below and head off to get your own copy of L.K.’s book today!

A bit about FLASH BURNOUT:

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who's a girl. One of them loves him, the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa's long-lost meth addicted mom.

In a tangle of life, death, and love, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of loyalty.

L.K. answered my three fave questions:

--I think teen books can, and should, be read by grown-ups. Tell my grandma Grace why she should read your book.
Grandma Grace, my book is about the eternal conflict between love and friendship between the sexes.
--What would your 16-year-old self say if she read your book?
Is that really how guys think?
--I am fascinated by writers' inspirations. Tell me about a real-life setting that found its way into your book.
I visited a morgue when I was writing the book. So does my main character.

And finally, all about L.K.:

L.K. Madigan is a writer living in Portland, Oregon, who finds it odd to speak in the third person. Therefore:

Hi. I am married with one son, two big black dogs, hundreds of books, and a couple of beaters, I mean vintage cars.

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18. Lessons from picture book illustrators

Yesterday my kidlit bookclub discussed Dilys Evans’ title Show and Tell: The Fine Art of Picture Book Illustration.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure this would be the most relevant book for me, since I focus on writing YA and I’m definitely not an artist. But I’m so glad I read this book. I discovered new illustrators and learned fascinating things about the ones I was already familiar with. And I definitely will look at picture books with a whole new level of appreciation. But perhaps most importantly, this book reminded me of three things that are important to any artist in any medium:

1. You are what you eat: So many of the profiled illustrators grew up in homes that were filled with art, or were exposed to diverse visual sources and inspirations at an early age. Lane Smith’s mother, for example, brought home interesting objects from her antiques business, which influenced Smith’s style of collages and decayed finishes. The lesson for writers? Keep reading to your kids, of course. But surround yourself with interesting objects and writing, too. Even if it doesn’t seem directly relevant to your genre or your current work-in-progress, seek out what fascinates you. It’ll find its way into your art.

2. Every artist’s career and body of work is “seat of the pants”: Not a single one of the illustrators sat down and drew up a 30-year career plan, or even a 5-year career plan. Most did actively seek out work and I’d say every single person eventually found a mentor or partner who helped to shape their career. But they built their impressive careers one project at a time, choosing the work that spoke to them and growing with every book. Writers, we don’t have to know what’s coming 10 years from now. Write what you believe in, take advantage of the opportunities that you do discover, and then do they very best you can with it. It’s all you really can do. If you set out with one particular path in mind, odds are you will be disappointed.

3. Follow your bliss: David Shannon finds that he’s still drawing the things that fascinated him as a kid (such as, oh, the pirates that helped to make HOW I BECAME A PIRATE such a smash hit). Trina Schart Hyman was obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood when she was a very small girl and won the Caldecott Medal in 1984 for her illustration of that story. As artists we shouldn’t dismiss the things that fascinate us—we should embrace them, even if we worry that they’re silly or childish. Our interpretation of those things will deepen and mature as we grow as artists.

I will caution any writer or artist that reading this book has a dangerous side effect: you WILL want to immediately set to work on creating your own picture book. Hmmm, maybe it’s time to pull GO HOME GRANDMA out of the dustbin for some polishing (did you hear my agent just shudder?)….

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19. Read This Book: My Invented Life

Today I’m celebrating the release of the Lauren Bjorkman’s debut, MY INVENTED LIFE. I was into theater in a major way in high school, so I totally loved this story. If you head over to her blog before 10/20, you can enter to win a handmade sisters necklace! And while you’re surfing, go buy a copy and enjoy it for yourself!

A bit about MY INVENTED LIFE:

invented Roz and Eva are sisters, close friends, and fierce rivals. Roz fantasizes about snagging the lead in the school play and sexy skate god Bryan as her boyfriend. Sadly a few obstacles stand between her and her dreams. For one, Eva is the more talented actress. And Bryan happens to be Eva’s boyfriend. But is Eva having a secret love affair with a girl? Enquiring minds need to know.

Roz prides herself on random acts of insanity. In one such act, she invents a girlfriend of her own to encourage Eva to open up. The plan backfires, and Roz finds herself neck deep in her invented life. When Roz meets a mercurial boy with a big problem, she begins to understand the complex feelings beneath the labels. And she gets a second chance to earn Eva’s trust.

My Invented Life is set in a small California high school during rehearsals for a Shakespeare comedy.

Lauren answered my three fave questions:

--I think teen books can, and should, be read by grown-ups. Tell my grandma Grace why she should read your book.
Everyone should read YA for its immediacy and engaging stories. YA novels make me laugh and cry, and remind me of that whacky, distressing, and yet hopeful time. You should read my book because it’s extra funny, extra whacky, and it will make you feel good. Pop yourself a bowl of popcorn, and settle in for a wild ride.
--What would your 16-year-old self say if she read your book?
Hey, I followed my dream! But why did I create an oblivious main character? Oh.
--I am fascinated by writers' inspirations. Tell me about a real-life setting that found its way into your book.
The beloved theater at Yolo Bluff’s High, dubbed the Barn by the stage geeks. The idea came from a restored barn/music hall near UC Davis called The Palms. Amazing musicians come to play there.

And finally, all about Lauren:

I grew up on a sailboat, sharing the tiny forecastle with my sister and the sail bags. We are still friends. Visiting exotic lands continues to be a big part of my life. I once learned how to make bread in Yemen Bedouin style. I’ve played Hacky Sack with children in Thailand. My passion for travel is second only to my love for books because take me to every world imaginable. I live in Taos, New Mexico with my husband, two sons, a cat that thinks he’s a dog, and another cat that thinks he’s a rabbit.

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20. Teen Read Week: It's Waffles for Dinner

So I'm pondering what to make my family for dinner. It could be grilled chicken, or maybe whole-wheat pasta, or there's that leftover chicken soup from the other night...

Are you salivating? Longing to knock on my door and join me, Little Dude and Patron of The Arts for dinner?

No??

What if I said I was considering homemade belgian waffles with peanut butter sauce and chocolate chips? Or maybe an apple pie with ice cream. Or deep dish pizza straight from the oven, with garlic sticks on the side. Or... how about a sampler platter of every cupcake made by Georgetown Cupcake?

That's more like it, eh?

Nutrition has its place in our everyday lives, and so does the Very Important Reading that teens have a regular diet of in school. You can't miss out on Steinbeck and Shakespeare. But you know what? Sometimes all you want is something that you picked out. Something nobody told you to read. Something that made you drool---like a red velvet cupcake, only, you know, made of paper and entirely inedible.

That's what the American Library Association's Teen Read Week is all about. Libraries all around the country are putting together fun programs this week to encourage teens, and pre-teens, to stop on by for some partying and some fun reading. Call your local library to see what's stirring in your town, or check out the ALA wiki for the event.

And even if you can't make the event, pick up a book that fascinates and transports you. My recommendation? Read it under your bedspread, with a flashlight, and maybe even a cupcake (shh, don't tell anyone that part was my idea). It will be even more delicious.

And psst.... adults, this is for you too. Put down your work report/night school textbook/bank statement/ Very Serious Book and grab something you're just dying to read, too. Like... a YA novel. C'mon. You know you want to.

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21. Since when do four year olds need abs to fight crime?

Little Dude is counting the days until Halloween. As soon as the costume aisle in Target showed up (you know, right around July 4th), he was agonizing: Batman or Superman? Doctor or policeman?

For those keeping track, Superman won. I think the snazzy rubber yellow belt did it.

But I had my own little agony, looking at all of his choices. Apparently kids can't be superheroes without a little enhancement these days. It's not enough to don a cape and mask. No. Now you need a six pack. All of those spandex-type costumes come with build-in little plastic abs: Superman, Batman, Iron Man... you get the idea. Target calls them "muscle chest" costumes.

Maybe it seems cute at first. But imagine if we did this to costumes for girls. "Big-chested Tinkerbell"? "Bouncing Barbie"? Hardly. I would like to think, at least, that there would be an outcry.

So why is it OK to give boys this message? If you want to save the world, better hit the gym, dudes. Sooner the better. Put down that stinking book already and give me fifty.

And how about little girls who want to play at being the Dark Knight and friends? I mean, it's impossible for find a Supergirl costume at Tarjay. Sometimes a girl has to compromise. But she's far less likely to do so if faced with donning a manly six-pack. Our toys for kids just get more and more "gender identified" (another rant for another time).

Little Dude doesn't seem to notice the muscles, though this Beauty Myth disciple does worry about how it's messing with his mind, at some level.  If he starts hefting my five-pound dumb bells, I'm writing a letter to... someone.

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22. Libraries everywhere want me…for my fines…

I’ve been a library fine scofflaw ever since my mother stopped returning my library books for me (just last year! ba-dum-ching!)… but seriously folks, I have a problem with library fines.

The good librarians of Ballston Spa, Saratoga, Salem, Plymouth, Weymouth, and Orlando haven’t chased me down, at least yet (do you loyal blog readers understand the RISK I undertake for you in daring to write this entry?).  Although I do seem to recall that my mother was denied a card a A Certain Library because of my checkered background (luckily she was able to demonstrate that I had lived on my own for oh, ten years by that point…). And I won’t get any static from last Florida county of residence, Osceola County, because they did not HAVE library fines (a beautiful, beautiful thing…).

As for my current public library, I actually keep up with my fines, mostly because they let me pay online. Do I keep up with returning things on time? No. And there’s guilt, lots of guilt. And big fines when I forget about movies, especially. A dollar a day, people. I could have owned “Marley and Me” twice over.

My current library system sends me the nicest little e-mail reminders that say something along the lines of “please return your materials promptly so that others may enjoy them.” They remind me twice, even, before the book is due. I walk by my (most always sizeable) stack of library books and I can almost hear them talking to me.

“You’re not reading us,” they’d say. “You were done with us weeks ago. Or maybe you read a few chapters and you tossed us aside like 3-day-old fish. If you don’t want us, if you don’t love us, then why don’t you give somebody else a shot?”

“It’s just… the library is 2 miles away. And that left-hand turn off Colesville is a killer during rush hour,” I tell them. “Plus there was that one time I didn’t find parking. It scarred me. I swear it’s me, not you.”

The books do not believe me. And maybe they shouldn’t. I’ve found that I tend to return my favorites fast, like they’re burning through the shelf. The ones I don’t like tend to linger in my book pile. Ironically, they are the ones that tend to earn the library fines. I don’t know if I’m hoping at some level to try them again and like them. Or maybe some part of me thinks I’m doing the world a service by clinging to that book a few more days.

At least the librarians still smile at me when I come to check out a book. They know me at this point; if they charged for reserving books I would have bought them a new Children’s wing by now. And they know my card is always… uh, enhanced by a few fines.  But still they hand over the books, even help me slide them into my bag.

Just imagine what they say as I walk out the door with my latest treasure trove of books. “See you next year, book,” they say. “We’ll send you a Christmas card.”

Or maybe they say “hey, that’s the lady that bought us a new coffee maker with all those fines she paid!”

Drink on, sweet patient librarians. Next year it’ll be an espresso machine.

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23. Collaborating to build the CANDOR podcast

This week I launched a free audio podcast that is an extension of CANDOR's world. The villain of CANDOR, Campbell Banks, narrates his personal diaries at the time that the town of Candor, FL was built. I'm really excited about these podcasts; I think they're an interesting way to promote the book while also giving fans a fun extension to the world they've already experienced in CANDOR.

But I feel very guilty saying I launched these podcasts. This project has been an amazing collaborative effort. I wrote the scripts--something entirely new to me--after brainstorming series ideas with my agent, Elana Roth, and e-guru Dan Patterson. Then Dan hooked us up with CC Chapman, who did a most excellent job recording the podcasts and bringing Campbell Banks to life. But no podcast is complete without some rocking music, so Dan also reached out to musician Matthew Ebel. Finally, Dan mixed, posted and promoted the podcasts.  And of course none of this would have been possible without support and enthusiasm from my publisher, Egmont USA.

I would love to see other authors play with podcasts that extend their book's world. I am indeed very lucky to have Elana, Dan, CC and Matthew collaborating with me, but I think it would be possible to do a one-woman or one-man show too. I also wonder if some of us YA authors ought to get together and make podcasts with our own characters interacting--kind of our very own fanfic!

Number three ("Runaway Mom") just went live late last night, and there's more to come, so I hope you'll stay tuned or subscribe to the podcast.

And authors, if you want to play in podcast land with me, get in touch...
 

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24. School and Public libraries, win 42 new YA/MG books!

As I've mentioned in my blog before, I am a proud member of the Debutantes, a group of authors whose first Young Adult and Middle Grade books are coming out in 2009. We are, as a group, giving away 42 of our titles to one lucky public or school library--anywhere in the world. I sure would love to see an entry with CANDOR in the pic! Good luck to all the library entrants!


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25. CANDOR the jack-o-lantern

I love carving jack-o-lanterns. This year I decided to make a tribute to CANDOR. I mean, c'mon, pumpkins are ORANGE, after all!

I started by carving a surprised face. Then I got out the drill and used dots to write a message (or should I say Message?) across the back of the pumpkin: U R WHAT U HEAR. If you've already read CANDOR, you know where that came from.

A favorite naughty, naughty CANDOR snack found its way in front of my jack-o-lantern, too. Is that pumpkin shocked? Or is it just making a move on the M&Ms?

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