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Viewing Blog: Reading, writing, and chocolate, Most Recent at Top
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Stacy DeKeyser's journal
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1. Moving day

I've moved to Another Blog Site. I hope you'll follow me there, for info on my newest book, coming from Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2012. 

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2. Irish connections and good news

I shall enjoy getting used to saying it: "I'm a McElderry author."

Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is going to publish my midgrade fantasy novel. The one I struggled to finish. And I can get used to saying this too: "My editor is the lovely Karen Wojtyla."

For all this loveliness, I owe untold thanks to my sweet and savvy (and lovely) agent Tracey Adams.

I also owe a small nod of gratitude to whatever magic resides in the campanile at Trinity College, Dublin:

Trinity College, Dublin campanile

I was lucky enough to visit in September, just after Tracey sent my manuscript out into the world. (Note to writers: I highly recommend a fun vacation to keep your mind off a manuscript sitting on editors' desks!)

Apparently, campus tradition says that it's bad luck to walk under the campanile if you're awaiting exam results, or other important news. So my husband made sure I walked around it. The rest of the tour group laughed. Little did they know!
The luck of the Irish? I believe! 
(Hey! Isn't McElderry an Irish name....?)

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3. About that ending

I have a guest post up at  Eating YA Books, wherein I talk about how I wrote--and rewrote-- the ending of Jump the Cracks, and why I think it's the perfect ending. 

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4. Poetic pottery

I love to collect ceramics, and here are two of my favorites, because they're literary:

A Louisa May Alcott quote on a little mug I ordered from England via the Internets.
Very sweet!

A little hand-painted cup encircled by a poem (the sentiment of which is pretty much my mantra):

I meant to do my work today
But a brown bird sang in the apple-tree
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

--Richard Le Galllienne (1866-1947)


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5. Hidden New York, and other stuff

Some people go to New York City for the shows. Some go for the museums.

The next time I go to New York, I'm going here

On other topics:

1. It's the time of year for royalty statements, wherein there was good news and bad news.

Good news: My novel has earned out! This is a very satisfying milestone for me.

Bad news: Apparently my first book, Sacagawea, is out of print. And no one told me except in royalty statement code. Sigh.

2. Am waiting for news on the next book and it's funny how many "waiting"-themed songs have been floating through my head: "Anticipation" (Carly Simon)..."Needles and Pins" (some really old group)...and other (sigh) oldies that I'd forgotten I even knew--until now.

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6. The new gadget reveals...a reader

Ring the bells, sing a song, jump for joy, all you lovers of the civilized mind: The long-form fictional format (e.g. the novel) is alive and well.

And residing in an iPhone.

My older son, the gadget-lover and recent college graduate (go Red Foxes!) got his iPhone 4 the other day. A cool gadget in lots of ways, but by Day 3 what was the app Tom liked best?

iBooks. He had downloaded a whole slew of public-domain titles, include most of Arthur Conan Doyle.

And by evening he was engrossed in (gasp!) A BOOK. A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. Tom is planning to read all of Conan Doyle from beginning to end. And he was following me around the house, reading me his favorite passages. Commenting on how readable a 123-year-old story is. How much he's enjoying it.

This is a kid who's never had anything against reading, but tended to save it for when all the electronic alternatives have been removed or lost their battery power.

So is this the secret? Put the pages on the electronic gadget?

Fear not, book lovers! The book is not dead. It's just becoming pixillated. 

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7. The semicolon explained

It's all here in black and, er...fur?
Check out the link below for a quick, useful, and adorable guide to "the most feared punctuation on earth."
(And get some insider info on rats in the process.)


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8. Some days

Some days writing a novel feels exactly like this:


And on other days it feels like this:


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9. I want to go here:


The Guardian Hay Festival of Literature

where they have tons of cool book events on the "programme" and {REALLY?} at least one of the days it's rainy.

Then I want to "walk" the seacoast path around Wales. 


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10. Fear of finishing

I've read 3/4 of The Tale of Desperaux twice now. I still don't know how it ends. I don't want that book to end. (Yes, I'm in denial.)

This happens all the time with books I really love (though eventually I finish them, with the above exception). It's a bad habit of mine, and now I realize I do the same thing when I'm writing.

I'm 3/4 of the way into my WIP. I really like this book. On the one hand, I can't wait to finish it, and send it out into the world.

But I'm having the hardest time finishing. Oh, I know how it will end. I know pretty much everything that has to happen.

I just can't seem to write it, because then the story will end.

This is a problem.

Does anyone else ever have this problem? Please someone tell me YES!?

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11. Are you sure you wanna go with the clown costume? Or why writing is like Olympic figure skating

So I was watching the pairs skating last night, poetry on ice, etc. etc.
And last up come the German pair, who were wearing just the most...interesting costumes I’ve ever seen:

(image from France24.com)

Striking, you might say. Eyecatching. Well, they were all that and more. But the problem was, the costumes were SO striking that I couldn’t focus on anything else.

“Did you see that triple axel?”

 I dunno…what is up with those CLOWN COSTUMES?

“Wow, they’re so perfectly in sync.”

If you say so…they even  have a BIG BLACK TEARDROP painted on their faces!

What this has to do with writing: 

If you’re writing a novel, especially a novel for kids, please don’t get carried away with your beautiful, flowery, metaphor-laden prose. Just tell the story. Be straightforward, and stay out of the way. Otherwise, no one will notice your characters, or your story. They’ll just be staring at your clown costume.

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12. Snowshoeing: Good news, bad news

Good news: It was beautiful today, and plenty of just enough fluffy snow.

Bad news: I had to go alone because my Valentine is far away this year.

Good news: I did bring Chipper, who is good company in his own way.

Bad news: Chipper would not have been able to protect me from coyotes or bobcats (both of which have been observed in the neighborhood lately).

Good news: We did not see any coyotes or bobcats (or even any people, for that matter).

Bad news: When you haven't gone snowshoeing in a year, you forget how to walk so that you don't flip chunks of snow up from the back of your snowshoes onto your butt as you walk.

Good news: See note re no people above, so at least I wasn't embarrassed.

Bad news: When you go snowshoeing without your glasses on, you may take a picture of your dog not looking at you:

Good news: When you're walking all alone (mostly) in the woods, you can make a lot of progress working out story problems in your head, and even saying it all out loud.

Bad news: When you get home, you realize you still have a lot of work ahead of you.

Good news (because it's always best to end with good news): I think I'm starting to feel my toes again!

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13. Manuscript housekeeping: forest vs. trees

When writing a novel:
You (meaning me, I guess) can’t just plow along putting down words all the time (though I do love seeing that word count climb).

Sometimes you have to stop and take stock. Look at Big Picture stuff. If the words on the page are the trees of your manuscript, then here’s how you (I) look at the forest:

Chapter list, including:

            word counts

            chapter titles (if any)

            a one- or two-phrase summary of each chapter

            POV used (if it changes)

            maybe a note of which characters are in each chapter

            Clearly identifiable turning points (I like to first one to be about ¼-1/3 of the way through the ms, and if I predict I’ll need 50,000 words to tell this story, this should happen at about the 12,000-15,000 word mark.)

When I do this, I can see at a glance how my story is structured, and if it’s balanced. I think novels need a certain amount of balance, even if it’s not perfect.


Character list:

            Who’s who: full names, nicknames, spelling, etc.

            Who’d related to whom, and how

            Their ages

            Where they live
(Note: I do NOT describe what they look like, or what they're carrying in their pockets, or what their greatest fears and happiness are -- UNLESS it has a direct bearing on the story. That's just the way I do it.)



            A map of each setting in the book, for my own use so I remember and can describe things correctly each time.



            Some authors collect photos of people, to help them envision their characters. I don’t do that (see above), but I do like to collect photos of the setting, or of objects significant to the story; it helps me describe my story world, and sets a mood for me that I hope I can relay in the book.


And these are all necessary diversions from putting words on the page. But then it’s back to words on the page.

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14. How to derail a perfectly good writing day

What's my theme????

This book here says I'm supposed to know my theme...

I have 22,000 words...it must be in here somewhere...

(Moral of the story: Some days are meant for reading. Some days are meant for writing. DO NOT MIX.)

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15. oooh, I want to do this!

(photo from SLJ and IdeaPaint)

You can make an entire wall into a dry-erase board.

Wouldn't that be great for a writer's office????

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16. ALA Boston

I'm attending ALA BostonI'll be at ALA Midwinter on Sunday, January 17, signing books in the Llewellyn/Flux booth from 2:30-3:30pm.

If you're there, please come say hi. It would be great to see some friendly faces!

Two other friends will also be signing that day in the booth:

Varian Johnson from 10:30-11:30

Laurie Faria Stolarz  from 1:00-2:00

Sounds like THE place to be on Sunday!

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17. A soft spot for dogs and for Christmas

Time for my favorite Christmas poem:

The Sheepdog       

U.A. Fanthorpe

After the very bright light,
And the talking bird,
And the singing,
And the sky filled up wi' wings,
And then the silence,

Our lads sez
We'd better go, then.
Stay, Shep. Good dog, stay.
So I stayed wi' t' sheep.

After they'd cum back
It sounded grand, what they'd seen.
Camels and kings, and such,
Wi' presents - human sort,
Not the kind you eat -
And a baby. Presents wes for him
Our lads took him a lamb.

I had to stay behind wi' t' sheep.
Pity they didn't tek me along too.
I'm good wi' lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such.

Peace to all, and see you in the New Year.

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18. Swallow all beverages before viewing

The Onion has done it again.

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19. Advice that's hard to hear

I've gotten my first request from a teen reader:

"Can you tell me how I can get published?"

I'm not sure how to answer him, and I think it's because I really have no good answers.

The thing is, the only thing a writer can control is his writing. The publishing part is out of our hands. We have to rely on someone else to do that for us.

(No, we are not going to divert into the self-publishing option right now.)

So how do you get published? You can only do your best at what YOU can control:

1. Write, write, and write some more. Become the best writer you can be, which takes practice. Think of yourself as the literary version of a concert violinist. You don't get to Carnegie Hall without practice.

2. Read a lot of what you like to write...so you won't be derivative, but you WILL learn what's being published now, so you can teach yourself to recognize a marketable book idea when you get one.

3. Learn as much as you can about publishing, so you don't spin your wheels when you're ready to submit.

4. Don't give up. You have to want it. Bad.

And if you've read this far, and you know any print or online publications specifically for teen writers, please let me know so I can pass it on.

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20. "How Bad Do You Want It?"

Crime author James Ellroy spills the brutal truth about getting published.

P.S. I have no idea what he's talking about at the very beginning. Start listening when he says, "I'm happy."

P.P.S. At first I disagreed with his comment at the end about plot, but on second thought, I think he's right.

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21. Things I have in common with some really famous authors (or not)

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal  talks about the writing process of some famous authors, and it hit close to home in a few ways:

1. Hilary Mantel gets some of her best ideas in the shower.

So do I! I can't speak for Hilary, but I know my family is thankful for this one.

2. Kate Christensen "does housework, writes emails, and talks on the phone to avoid facing her work... In the past, she's played 30 games of solitaire before typing a first sentence."

How many ways do I love this woman?? Hey-- the housework isn't gonna do itself, and believe me, I've given it plenty of chances. But I have NEVER played 30 straight games of solitaire and I'm sticking to that story.

3. Edwidge Danticat "creates a collage...(of) photos she's taken...and images from magazines" that depicts the settings of the books she writes.

Confession: I have nothing in common with Edwidge Danticat. BUT I plan to, because I'm going to make a collage of my own based on my WIP. I've done that to very small degrees for all my novels, but I've never put the images all in one place. I can't wait to get this one started! Also, Edwidge is an awesome name.

4. Junot Diaz says "90% of my ideas evaporate because I have a terrible memory and because I seem to be committed to not scribble anything down."

Same here!

Then he says, "As soon as I write it down, my mind rejects it."

I say: "As soon as I write it down, my mind goes huh??" (I think this is a small but important difference.)

Also, Mr. Diaz "listens to orchestral (music) as he writes, because he's easily distracted by lyrics."

Me too!

So now I'm sure the prose will flow because we're all so much alike.

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22. Procrastination picture, er, bookshelves

I like peeking into other people's work spaces, so I thought, in the spirit of getting up and stretching, I'd take photos of my office bookshelves*:


1. The TV is ONLY there for breaking news, announcements of school closings, and very important baseball games.

2. Binoculars for trying to see what the dog is barking at outside.

3. Wall shelf is for favorite picture books. I really like that shelf.

What do YOUR bookshelves look like?

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23. One chapter at a time -- oof!

I'm in the middle of a first draft, and it's going well, considering. I have a bare-bones synopsis that's guiding me, so I know pretty much what needs to happen in each next chapter.

But I can only manage about one chapter per week. It's exhausting! It takes me a full day or two to write a 1500-word chapter. Then another day or two for tweaks. Then I need to let it sit for another day or two, so I can come back to it and see if it makes any sense, especially if it flows from the previous chapters, and if it's doing what I need it to do. I CANNOT move forward to the next chapter without doing all this first.

That takes pretty much a week. Then I can take it and read it at crit group, and hope they don't send me back for a complete rewrite.

Next week: repeat with next chapter.

It feels soooooooo slooooooowwwww...but I don't know if I can break myself of this habit, or even if I should. (Can you tell I'm NOT a candidate for NaNoWriMo?)

What's YOUR writing routine?

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24. You can't believe everything you read

I subscribe to daily e-mails from Book2Book, which is sort of the British version of Publisher's Lunch. You get publishing news here first, plus it's fun to read about literary festivals in Bath and York and other places I wish I could visit.

But today there were two headlines right NEXT to each other that read:

"Publishers Pay Big Money For Celebrity Memoirs — And Make Big Money"


"Publishing House Jobs Go As Celebrity Books Fail To
Sell :The lustre of celebrity memoirs is fading "

OK, so don't those sound like exact opposite sentiments?

This is why most days I try not to worry about it too much. Just keep my head down and write. Because the business it too unpredictable and too completely out of my control for me to do anything about it anyway.

Just write your little heart out.

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25. Truman Award nominee

I'm thrilled to announce that Jump the Cracks is among 12 nominated titles for the 2010-2011 Truman Readers' Award in the state of Missouri.

It's an award that is chosen by kids in grades 6-8.

I honestly can't think of any higher honor than to be given an award by your readers. And to even be considered, and included among such wonderful books and talented authors is just ...wow!

Here's the list. Last-minute holiday gifts, anyone??

Anderson, Laurie. Chains. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Bodeen, Stephanie. Compound. Feiwel and Friends.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press.

DeKeyser, Stacy. Jump The Cracks. Flux.

Goodman, Allegra. Other Side of the Island. Razorbill.

Grant, Michael. Gone. HarperTeen.

Kogler, Jennifer. Otherworldlies. HarperTeen.

Mackel, Kathryn. Boost. Dial Books.

Meehl, Brian. Suck it Up. Delacorte Press.

Pearson, Mary. Adoration of Jenna Fox. Henry Holt.

Ratmthun, Bonnie. White Gates. Random House.

Spradlin, Michael. Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail. Putnam's.

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