Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Sketchbook Project

Yesterday my Mom sent me a link to The Sketchbook Project.

What a cool thing! The idea is that you sign up for $25 ($20 additional to digitize the sketchbook), pick a theme from their ample list, and they send you a 32-page sketchbook to fill with art based on the chosen theme. The sketchbooks--ALL of them, whether you're famous or a no one or how talented you are judged to be by any given person--then tour North America. The 2011 sketchbooks are going to be near me at the end of July so I definitely have to go check that out!

After the tour the sketchbooks will be kept at the Brooklyn Art Library.

Although $45 is a lot of money for me right now, I signed up for the sketchbook and the digitization, because I love the idea of people being able to see such an intimate piece of my art and thumb through it and enjoy it without having to visit me and ask me to see it, and I like the idea in general. I chose the theme "Time Traveler" and I'll be filling my book with characters from my books and their historical trappings. Since it'll be digitized you can see it online even if you can't get to the tour stops or the Brooklyn Art Library.

I also love the "themed sketchbook as art piece" idea in general. I have slews of sketchbooks but none of them are themed. I think it will be easier to buckle down and create something good if I know it will be out in the world.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why does kidlit hate hippies?

Seriously. This is something I have noticed many times over the years as a reader. I keep thinking it will get better, and MAYBE there have been fewer books published about crazy hippies recently, but there are not any sensible new age folk taking their place.

There was a discussion on the Blue Boards recently about portrayals of homeschoolers in kid/YA lit, where this link was referred to: Homeschoolers in Fiction. I have read a few of the books on the list that made me cringe in the same way they cringed, and meanwhile I did thank David Almond when I met him for writing Mina as a sensible, normal girl. I've also read a couple bad portrayals that weren't on the list. I won't name names, but one book stands out for making fun of ORGANIC APPLES.

That is where I start losing my cool, guys. Mocking the way I was educated? That is one thing. You mess with my organic apples? WHYYY? Organic apples are the way apples have been for most of history! They are tasty and free of poison! Some homeschoolers are crazy (hey, I have watched Wife Swap) but I can't live without organic apples.

But the portrayals of homeschoolers as wacky, crazy people who can't cope in normal society and have never seen television is only one aspect of a larger trend to portray all people with "new age" beliefs as nutjobs.

Note: When I say "new age" or "hippie" I am referring to a lifestyle that MAY incorporate such things as (but not limited to):
Homeschooling, unschooling, vegetarianism or other diets such as vegan; raw; macrobiotic, making ethical food choices (or even growing your own organic food), going off the grid or making environmental choices in your life, rejecting conventional medicine in favor of holistic medicine such as homeopathics, herbs, energy medicine and acupuncture to name a few, meditation, yoga, astrology, Reiki, etc etc etc. It can also mean a spiritual belief system that draws from various religions. Or it might be a lifestyle choice for one's life on this planet that can fall under the banner of Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism, atheism...anything.

I was raised that way and I don't believe everything I grew up with or everything my Mom believes but overall it was a wonderful, joyful childhood and I think that I am a smart and responsible adult who deeply cares about other people and the planet. I try to live my life in a way that is in harmony with the values of holistic living and sustainability, and I'm proud of that. I TRY not to push it on other people (yeah I am a nag about food sometimes). I'm not much of an activist, even. But as childhoods go, mine was set pretty high on the hippie dial. I made my own tie dye AND my own Native American-style (exactly what style of Native American, I do not know, that was just how it was billed) drum, attended sweat lodges and crystal shows, and was unfazed by talk of Lakota medicine women or Indian gurus because that was pretty normal. It wasn't until I went to 2nd grade that I had a huge culture shock that has never quite left me. I am weird. I have had to defend my lifestyle and choices all my life. Why I didn't go to school, didn't go to college, don't take Tylenol when I have a headache, try to avoid GMOs.

In kidlit, OTOH, many hippie characters are parents that the MC is desperately trying to distance themselves from. I have seen mockeries of recycling! Herbal tea drinking! And, lest you forget, poor tasty organic apples! How dare those mean old parents foist environmentalism on their groaning teenagers! Even though in the real world I often see kids caring deeply about the planet. And I think the children of environmentally minded parents don't usually reject everything their parents taught them. Ditto other lifestyle choices.

But what about parents who won't let their children watch TV or play video games? Gasp! This is a common "thing" in books with hippie parents. Well, let me tell you, there were plenty of video games and television involved in my childhood. In fact, one of my childhood friends drove me nuts because he had, like, EVERY GAME FOR EVERY SYSTEM EVER that I wanted. This was the same family that always put nutritional yeast on their popcorn instead of butter. I can't recall anyone who didn't have a TV. Although my mom did try to restrict our TV time sometimes, it never lasted very long.

What about that other trope of the new age character? The teenager. The VEGETARIAN ACTIVIST TEENAGER. Sometimes they are all right. After all, they care about things! They teach the MC an important lesson and inspire everyone! But that is my problem with them. They fare similarly to "goth" or "witch" teenagers in falling into the mold of the supporting character who behaves somewhat predictably. While we might admire these kids for always starting the "Save the Planet" club at school and thrusting flyers in everyone's face and hugging trees and playing their guitar, these neo-hippie children still perpetuate the idea that all unconventional children are pushy about their beliefs and don't have many friends. They are oftentimes revealed to be rebelling against something. Like conservative-minded parents! Aaand we come full circle.

I would really like to see more kids in YA/MG books like the kid I was--who care about the things I cared (and still do) about without it being SUCH a THING.

Although...I do wonder if the lack of it isn't because we're all off writing fantasy books! No childhood makes a better writer than an unschooled magical hippie childhood, I daresay. When I was ten, magic was close enough to taste.

BTW, if you have read any books with new age/hippie characters that aren't stereotypes, please tell me!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuff I Dig: Underground New York

I often see people say that they prefer when authors talk about themselves and their lives on their blog. I would love to do that, but seriously my life is SO boring. When I worked in retail I talked about my life a lot more because I was out doing things and encountering strange people. And some authors travel a lot and have fascinating adventures. I, alas, mostly sit at home and do a relatively limited amount of activities: writing, reading, cooking, watching TV or playing video games with Dade. I hope my life will become more blog-worthy someday (in a good way, not like my adventures trying to fly out of Branson). But for now, I'm thinking that maybe on Mondays I will try to briefly talk about something that is not so writing specific. Something I've been liking or doing or thinking about. I can come up with one interesting thing a week, right!?

So, a couple of scenes in my current book take place in abandoned subway tunnels. I have to admit I am pretty fascinated by the subway. My first subway experience was the one in Toronto, which I barely remember, but when I went to NYC the second time, for a week, I learned to actually USE the subway. Maybe it's because I don't drive...but the magic of walking down into this subterranean world, stepping on a train, and coming out somewhere new is pretty enthralling to me.

Anyway, I needed to do some research on underground cities, but my library is not exactly flush with books on the topic. At the university library I found New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City by Julia Solis and I found myself reading every word. I knew there was some pretty cool stuff under the city--I remember when they found a whole 18th century ship at the World Trade Center site. But this book covers a lot of ground, tantalizing with mysteries like, how many stories down does Grand Central Station go, and what is down there? Is there an old locomotive buried in Brooklyn? Ooh.

And then I found this video, of urban explorer Steve Duncan going to several underground sites. Not only is the history and architecture fascinating, but the video is well-shot with a raw sense of danger as he and the cameraman dodge cops and MTA workers. I was riveted. (Plus I think he's kinda cute. Heh.)

(Blogger cuts part of it off. Yuck. Well, go here: I'll just leave the embedded movie up so my blog looks visual.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This is what my brain looks like right now

First drafting is exhausting. I immerse myself in images, music, research, characters, flashes of scenes, and try to hold it all in there for months at a time and write as fast as I can before it starts to slip away again. Not that my brain in a sieve, but you know, I want it to be potent.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In case ya missed YA Lit Chat...

So, a week ago I participated in YA Lit Chat on Twitter! There were so many people there, it was almost impossible to follow even while it was happening, so I thought I'd repost some of my answers to the questions. The questions have been edited for brevity/clarity/combing a couple questions into one/etc. These questions were posed to everyone in the chat, but these are just my answers obviously.

How long does it take you to finish a draft?
I've had some that took years and some that took six months.

What is the most effective marketing thing you've done?
Just being around and about and friendly. & Goodreads giveaways work well.

What do you do when you're stuck?
I either sit down and work out the problem, or let my subconscious stew.

How many words a day do you write?
I used to write 6k a day fairly often but I ended up ripping up a lot of it. 1k a day and I keep a lot more. I do edit as I go along and before I write the last chunk I stop and do an editing pass.

How do you develop your characters?
I sketch, and think about them before bed when I'm all half in a dream world. Live with them in your head. Think about them outside the story! That's what I do anyway.

Before you got the call, how confident were you in your writing?
Um...well, both very confident and very nervous about it at the same time if that makes sense!

Do you write in reaction to trends in current publishing?
Well, I do dip into collective unconscious, with a mermaid book in 2011! But I try to write a book NO ONE would write but me. If I'm worried about someone else having the same idea, I throw it out or mix it up.

How do you research characters and locations?
I am always collecting books on the topics I am or will write about. I own SO MANY non-fiction books.

Would you ever consider writing an MG?
I started an MG...I was having trouble not making it YA-ish though...I love reading MG, but I like realistic MG best and I write fantasy, that might be part of the problem too!

When you send out final proofs, is the story finished to you, or are there still things you'd rather change?
I kinda hate reading final proofs because I'm forced to think about the story this story will never be.

Do you start with plot or character?
I've actually been starting with SETTING... Maybe that's totally weird.

What books do you re-read?
Little House, Betsy-Tacy, Emily of New Moon, Jane Eyre.

Any advice on writing sequels?
I added a new POV to my sequel to give it a fresh angle.

What is most painful; brainstorming, drafting or revisions?
I really <3 all parts of writing, except the stuck parts (which pop up anywhere)

Did you start out writing YA or did it evolve into that during submissions?
I used to think I wrote adult fantasy b/c YA wasn't such a "thing", but...during subs it was always intended YA.

How many conferences do you attend a year?
Like...0-3? I'd love to do more things!

How much planning do you do before and during drafting?
I think about my books on the back burner for months or years while writing something else. I do some on paper too, but only when I write. Then I just sort of freeform ask & answer questions to myself.

Do you outline?
I used to not outline, but I never finished anything. I have to outline, personally. But not everyone does.

How nervous are you when you submit new projects to your agent/editor?
Depends on how good I feel about it,'s definitely never NOT AT ALL nerve-racking...

If your characters were real, who would your best friend be?
Ha! That's a great question. No one my fans know them yet... But I'd be friends with a lot of my characters.

In response to POV discussion...
I did 1 POV with first two books, 2 POVs with third, current one has 3 POVs! #proceedingwithcaution I've written in 1st and 3rd, single and multiple, but I can NOT write in present. Must be past. I can read present, but not write. I write in third more often generally even though Magic Under Glass was first. I actually like multi POV cause when I get stuck I can switch POV.

What YA novels do you think are underappreciated?
A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE! Love that book! Also, Hollow Kingdom trilogy, Sharon Shinn's Dream-Makers, etc.

Do you get attached to any of your characters?
I actually get attached to ALL my (important) characters. I love them! I can't write without feeling that love.

Have you ever done any screenwriting?
i would gladly write comics. I think screenwriting is too far out of my brain zone.

On books into movies:
I have a not-so-secret fantasy of Studio Ghibli adapting Between the Sea and Sky. I dream about this ALL THE TIME...

Do you read your reviews?
I do read my reviews. I like to know the general opinion and I'm not too bothered by bad ones.

Do you like happy or sad endings?
I like happy or bittersweet endings but not outright SAD.

What time of day do you write?
I usually write after lunch and then sometimes after dinner. Basically I like writing on a full stomach. I usually sleep from 2 or 3 am until 11 or noon.

All right! Hope you found the recap a bit easier to keep up with! =D

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Short Story: The Trouble With Procreating Immortals

I had one of those wild short story-writing hairs today.

This is a Det and Stan story, set when Stan is 17. I've been writing about these characters for 15 years, and one of the continuing conflicts between Det and Stan is... Well, there are plenty of stories about beautiful, dangerous, magnetic immortals and the girls who love them. But what if said immortal (in this case, "immortal" = someone who lives a WHILE, but not forever) had a kid, who was not quite as beautiful and dangerous and magnetic as their parent?

Such has always been poor Stan's woe.

(YES, TWO BLOG POSTS IN ONE DAY AND ON A SUNDAY TOO. I know it's not practical...but I gotta post while I'm in a postin' mood.)

The first time she looked at him, he wasn’t sure it meant anything. She’d wandered into the coffeehouse and ordered a drink, then planted herself against the back wall not far from where he was sitting, glancing at the blues act on-stage between texting.

Stan smiled back at her. He liked to think he was good at flirting, but he’d never had that confirmed. And he didn’t have much experience. Homeschooling wasn’t known for its dating pool.

She glanced at him again. Still with a little gleam in her eye.

“Hey,” he said. “If you want to sit down, you can have this chair.” He pulled out the one next to him. They were in short supply.

“Oh! Yeah. Sure.” She sat down, still absorbed in her phone, red curls spilling over her face. Was that natural? Maybe. She had that pale red-head skin, but she was the cute kind of red-head. Not overly freckled. Not actually freckled at all. All fairy tale princess-like, Rose Red in blue jeans—oh, song title—except for the braces, but they were kind of hot too.

She looked up. “Do you like this kind of music?”

“Uh… Well, this band is just okay. In theory, maybe. I like all kinds of music.”

She nodded at his shirt. “I like your shirt.”

It was a Beatles shirt. The cover of Let It Be. Maybe not a great revelation in things-in-common, but he’d take it. “You like the Beatles?”

“Who doesn’t love the Beatles?” She tucked her phone in the pocket of her jeans and put her chin in her hand. Her hoodie was a little too big so the sleeves covered most of her hands. The blues band was thanking the audience and packing up their guitars.

“Next up is Gray Reilly,” Stan said, making a possibly ill-advised attempt to show off his insider knowledge of the Cherry Coffeehouse’s “Folk You 2011” lineup. “He’s one of the best banjo players around, so you can take that as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your banjo stance.”

“I have a pretty neutral banjo stance.”

“One time this guy stole Gray Reilly’s car, and then he brought it back and said, ‘Here you go, man.’ Gray said, ‘Why’d you bring it back?’ He said, ‘I can’t get the new banjo smell out.’”

She laughed. “You must be a musician. Quick on the draw with the banjo jokes.”

“I play guitar.”

She leaned a hair closer. Girls liked musicians. They didn’t like folk musicians quite as much as rocker boys, but he guessed it was still better to be a musical geek than most other flavors of geekery. “How long have you been playing for?”

“Like…five years.”

“Oh wow. Do you go to college here?”

He thought she was a college student already. Nice. He prayed his dad wouldn’t walk in too soon. Det had wandered off to the bookstore around the corner half an hour ago and it was hard to say when he’d be back. Still, he wasn’t sure if he should lie about college. If she ended up being really interested, lying was a bad idea, so he reluctantly admitted, “No. Not yet.”

“Oh. It’s okay. I graduate next year. From high school, I mean. Do you go to Lincoln?”

“Homeschooled.” He made a face. “But not in a weird way. Well, maybe kind of a weird way, in the sense that everything is weird. In its own way.” Yuck. No. Not the rambling.

She still seemed to like him. “I’m Reese, by the way. Like the Pieces and the Witherspoon.”


“That’s not a name you hear too often anymore.”

“Yeah, well. It was my dad’s cousin who died when he was young, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes.

“Oh. Family names. That’s why my middle name is Gretchen.”

“Gretchen is a cool name, though.”

“But, Reese Gretchen? Doesn’t roll off the tongue.” She had shifted now to truly face him. They were really getting somewhere. Closing in on exchanging email addresses or something.

He was already imagining it. His first real girlfriend. The thing with his neighbor didn’t really count, because for one thing, she was a neighbor, and they were both hormonal, but they only kissed once. More of a test run than a girlfriend, really. He had cried when she dumped him for some kid at school—not in front of her, of course—but the next day he realized he was kind of relieved.

But Reese Gretchen, here, she could be the real deal. He could write her a song like, Reese Gretchen, your name is awesome and weird/ like a 19th century beard… He’d work on the rest later, but that could be a start.

And this was a pretty good story, talking to her with a backdrop of Gray Reilly on banjo in a busy coffeehouse, in the spring, when all good love stories began…

Reese looked up somewhere behind his head, and a shadow fell across Stan.


He took in the coffeehouse in a glance. No more empty chairs. “Well, boy, you seem busy,” he said.

“Yeeeah. I mean, kind of. This is Reese. I’m boring her with banjo jokes.”

Reese giggled, eyes shyly pointed toward Det. “Nah.”

“Ah. Well…” Det tucked a newly purchased book under his arm and checked his pocketwatch. “I suppose I’ll get a coffee and lurk a bit. Someone will leave soon.”

“Yeah.” Stan tried to look like, As far as possible, please.

Det went to the counter.

Reese leaned in very close now, but her eyes remained stuck on Det. “Who is that?”

“That’s just my dad. I know. We don’t look alike. He’s weird.”

“Your dad?”

Stan had never really found his father attractive. Of course, it would be really strange to find his father attractive, so that was definitely for the best. But women did. No denying they did. Yet, every time, when they saw Det, he couldn’t help engaging in a losing battle to convince them otherwise. “Yeah. I know. You’re probably wondering why someone as tall, dark and hip as me has a dad that is so small, pasty and old-fashioned.”

“I love his fedora,” she whispered. “But no way is he your dad! He’s too young. Isn’t he?” Her eyes were still riveted to his back. Det’s age always confused people. His air of maturity didn’t match his appearance. He hadn’t really aged a day since…1962 or something.

“Yeah, well. We think maybe he’s actually from fairyland.”

It was the closest he’d ever come to telling her the truth. Especially when he knew she’d never look at him the way she looked at his father.

Magic Under Glass, 3 years later, and writer growth

First, a couple bits of news. Between the Sea and Sky ARCs exist! I had it confirmed by some bloggers who were at TLA! Can I just have a moment to flail with mingled joy and terror? *FLAILS*

Also, I got a sneak peek of the Magic Under Stone cover. (Whoa, I almost spelled that "peak" after having a whole Twitter convo yesterday about people who screw up peek, peak and pique...) Anyway, it'll probably be ages until I can show it off (AND NO I do not know what season in 2012 it comes out) but it's preeeetty.

Between the Sea and Sky sold in Turkey! So to all my Turkish blog readers, which as far as I know is zero, you may rejoice!

And, last but not least, Magic Under Glass has been chosen by Amazon UK for their Easter E-Book promotion. From tomorrow to May 2nd, UK readers can purchase the e-book of Magic Under Glass for a mere 75p!

All right, so I've been thinking lately about how it took me three years to get an agent. My writing, by the end of my search, was a light year ahead of where it had been at the beginning. I could see myself grow in a trail of increasingly better rejections, but more than that, I could see it in the books. I knew they were better.

It has now been three years since I finished the version of Magic Under Glass that got me an agent and sold. Two years, even, since I did revisions with my editor. A mere 16 months since it was released. But man oh man, I can't wait to have another book out. I'm sure my writing won't always keep growing with every book (it would be nice, but few people seem to peak right before death...) but for now, I think it has. A book I wrote three years ago already feels like ancient history. Not downright embarrassing...actually, I'm never really embarrassed by my work because I think it was always good for the time in which I wrote it...but that time is over now. If I wrote Magic Under Glass all over again, it would be a very different book now.

They say the best way to grow as a writer is to write another book. I think that's true. I've been thinking over the books I wrote and when I wrote them, and how each of them advanced:

Selkie Rock, age 18: The first novel I ever finished. I had a lot of unfinished works before then, but this was where I learned how to tell a story from beginning to end.
Untitled Det and Leslie novel, age 23: I learned I could write more than one novel! And quickly! So there was no longer any excuse for not being a writer.
Magic Under Glass, age 24-26: I tore up and reconstructed this book three times. I really learned to revise with Magic Under Glass, how to tighten my writing, make a book page turning, and push the characters and themes deep enough to compel someone to buy it.
Between the Sea and Sky, age 27: Magic Under Glass was more plot-driven. I wanted this book to have more character depth and heart.
Magic Under Stone, age 28: This book had two POVs. (Actually my second novel with two POVs, but I left the other off the list because it is somewhat out of sequence with the rest of the timeline.) My first sequel, so it was a bit messy in that regard, but because I already knew the characters I could push them deeper still.
The Dark Metropolis, age 29: Not finished yet, but this one has been more experimental than my others, with three points of view, darker themes and several elements I am somewhat surprised I'm tackling.

After TDM, what I really want is to be able to write a series! But we'll see.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Ode to Book Bloggers

I've been getting quite a lot of requests for ARCs and interviews for Between the Sea and Sky, many more than for Magic Under Glass--I'm not sure if it's that I am more well known or if winged dude/mermaid romance is such a good hook, but it makes me happy, and most of the requests have been very professional, with blog stats and some personal notes about the reviewer's interest in the book, etcetera.

I know there is periodical hammering on book reviewers/bloggers. Are they important, do they think they're more important than they are, should they review things negatively, do teens even read them, etc. etc.

Well, sure, most of the books I've sold probably weren't because of book bloggers, but I know a chunk of them were. Maybe 1%, maybe 20%, I don't know.

And yes, I've seen some reviews for Magic Under Glass that were really snide and unprofessional. Sure. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of book bloggers out there and not all of them are absolutely sterling examples of humanity, but it would be silly to expect otherwise from any group of people.

Do teens read them? Well, some teens ARE book bloggers themselves, so sure, some teens do. Most teens probably don't. Most teens don't know who even the hottest selling YA writers are besides Meyer and Rowling. Books are already a little off the beaten path, book blogs moreso.

But the thing is, I don't really care about these things. What I do care about are the worldwide community of readers who are passionate about books--talking about them with each other, talking about my books with me, doing interviews and contests and guest posts and super cool events like the upcoming Fairy Tale Fortnight at The Book Rat and Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing!, or fan sites that have evolved into community sites like Mundie Moms.

I don't want to sound like I'm kissing up. I do think SOME authors overestimate the power of book blogs. Some of the most popular authors don't appear on book blogs or engage with bloggers and reviewers and they do just fine. I don't really worry about the career benefits, for better or for worse. I just love it because it's fun. Bloggers, you guys love books, you talk about books. It makes my day when you ask me for an ARC or an interview. It makes my LIFE when you run up to me at trade conferences, recognize me, and want my autograph or picture!

Librarians, teachers, booksellers, professional reviewers, etc., do a LOT to get books noticed. And I love all those people too. But usually, they're invisible--behind the scenes--unless they themselves are book bloggers, of course! I might stumble across a mention of Magic Under Glass on a school or library reading list (YAY), but I'm not privy to the discussion. I might see a nice trade review, but they're short and kinda dry and I don't get to squee with the reviewer about Jane Eyre unless I bump into them at ALA (that totally did happen, though, it was awesome). Most of my life is spent in a quiet room, in pajamas, surrounded by chocolate wrappers, sun deprived and slightly lonely. You guys give my life scope, reminding me my books are going all kinds of places, all the time, even when I can't.

I always try my best to make time for you because I just enjoy the heck out of it. I don't really care if a blog interview doesn't sell many copies (although huzzah if it does), it's amazing to have such engaged readers. Your excitement over Between the Sea and Sky makes ME more excited about it (and I was already pretty excited). As I wrote Magic Under Stone, interest in Magic Under Glass spurred me on. Even when your reviews sting a bit, I'd rather see more talk than silence.

So, thanks. Really. Just stop asking me where I get my ideas.