Gearing up for NESCBWI 2016

Conference season is most certainly upon us, and I’m thrilled to be gearing up for NESCBWI 2016 this year. Last year, I chose the amazing Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA over the conference (so many events, so little time/cash/what have you), and while I hope to head back to that one again next year, there’s nothing quite like NESCBWI, as evident in my recap post from the last time I attended (in 2014).

I have to say before even going how excited I am about the workshop offerings this year. I registered the first minute they opened and managed to get all my top choices, which focus on everything from Scrivener to verse novels to revision. So exciting! I consider myself a lifelong learner and always walk away from this conference with new tools tucked into my bag, so I’m already looking forward to all the new knowledge around the corner.

business_cardsAlso, business cards! I haven’t gotten new cards in a while, so I figured it was time for some new ones.

Of course, another thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing all my writing friends. In general, I prefer to hide out at home, but I do make exceptions for bookish events, and this one brings together so many of my favorite authors as well as fellow travelers on the path that it’s even possible for an introvert to enjoy. Perhaps best of all, I’m finally going to meet one of my longtime critique partners, Michelle Mason, in person!

So who else is going? Let me know because I’d love to meet up!

A History Lesson from Erika Mann

Erika Mann, the flamboyant, fascinating daughter of Nobel prize winner, Thomas Mann, piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw the 1932 film, Mädchen in Uniform. Erika plays a supporting role as one of the teachers in the film, and seeing her onscreen sent me in a spiral of research, reading works by and about both of the eldest Mann children, Erika and her close brother, Klaus.

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Library of Congress: Erika Mann

From Berlin’s cabarets in the 1920s to a life of exile in the 1930s that made her stateless until her lavender marriage to English poet, W.H. Auden, got her a passport, Erika zoomed about trying to find joy while taking issue with the political climate.

I have no desire to be political myself, but as it becomes more likely that someone many of us once thought was a joke is now a viable candidate for president, with comparisons to even contemporary leaders that make one shudder, we must look to history for proof of what can happen when radical leaders take power. Because it’s all there.

Erika Mann’s essay, “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes,” appears in the 1940 collection Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free. This appeal, to a young American she meets on a train on the way to Los Angeles, is meant as advice to a country on the sidelines of a Europe under siege, but her words are just as applicable today:

But what constitutes the disease? Fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, defeat? No! Because they already are death. The “disease”—that is the inability of the body to resist Death. The decay of the organism, the breakdown of resistance, that is the disease.

She goes on to write a full essay-within-the-essay for her young companion, outlining the symptoms of decay, her own experience as a non-political actress silenced by a horde of Brownshirts in 1931, a political meeting with a group of friends in Berlin, and ultimately the failure of resistance. Perhaps most haunting of all are her words closer to the beginning of the essay, when she passionately tries to explain why this history matters:

“You will not believe,” I added, and noticed that my tone was a little too intense, “you can’t imagine how painful it is gradually to discover that no country, no nation, no youth has wanted to draw a lesson from our dreadful example.”

Please, draw a lesson. History like this—a dreadful example like this—should not be allowed to repeat itself.

THIEF OF LIES Release Day

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I’m thrilled to be taking part in Brenda Drake’s Release Day Launch (hosted by Jen Halligan PR) for THIEF OF LIES (Library Jumpers #1)! Check out the book and excerpt below, and be sure to enter the amazing giveaways!

Thief of Lies (Library Jumpers #1)Thief_of_Lies_cover
by Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: January 5, 2016

Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather-
clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum suddenly disappears. While examining the
book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her
and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where
Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the
creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.
Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come
true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard
seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed
with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart
and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed.
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Excerpt from THIEF OF LIES

We stepped into the Children’s Library and stopped in the center of the room. A massive light fixture designed to resemble the solar system dominated the ceiling. The hushed rumble of two male voices came from one of the reading nooks. I crossed the room, paused at the built-in aquarium, and inspected the fish.

Afton halted beside me.

“This is great,” I whispered, not wanting to disturb whoever was in there with us.

“Fish and books. What’s not to love?” Spotting a sign referencing classic books, I
searched the shelves for my all-time favorite novel.

The male voices stopped and there was movement on the other side of the bookcase.

I paused to listen, and when the voices started up again, I continued my hunt.

Warmth rushed over me when I found The Secret Garden. With its aged green cover, it was the same edition I remembered reading as a young girl. The illustrations inside were beautiful, and I just had to show them to Afton. Coming around the corner of the case, a little too fast for being in a library, I bumped into a guy dressed in leather biker gear. My book and notebook fell and slapped against the floor.

“Oh, I’m so sorry—” I lost all train of thought at the sight of him. He was gorgeous with tousled brown hair and dark eyes. Tall. He flashed me a crooked smile, a hint of dimples forming in his cheeks, before bending over and picking up my forgotten book.

He held the book out to me. “Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” He’d quoted a verse from The Secret Garden with a sexy accent that tickled my ears.

I stood there like an idiot, my heart pounding hard against my chest, unable to think of a response. The fact that he had read the book and could recite a line from it stunned me. And impressed me.

Say something. Anything.

“Good read there,” he said when it was obvious I wasn’t going to speak. He winked and nodded to a guy behind him before ambling off. When he reached the end of the row, he paused and glanced back at me, flashing me another killer smile, and then he disappeared around the bookcase.

Tingles rose in my stomach. He looked back at me. The guy following his Royal Hotness gave me a final appraisal before departing. His stringy blond hair hung over his large forehead. It looked like he hadn’t washed it in weeks, and there was probably an acne breeding ground under it. He grinned, and I broke eye contact with him, making for the nearest window.

Oh God, you’re so lame, Gia. You could have finished the quote or anything less tragic than not speaking at all. The response I would have said played in my head. With silver bells, and cockleshells, and marigolds all in a row. Why? Why hadn’t I said that?


brenda-drakeAbout the Author

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Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the
continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric,
Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling.
So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the
fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts
libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic
(much to her disappointment).

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Aside

Most-Anticipated Books for 2016

There are so many fantastic-sounding books coming out in 2016! My TBR pile will be growing quickly as friends read and recommend others, but I had to share my top ten most-anticipated books for 2016. I’ve read a couple of these when they were mere baby manuscripts, and heard or read snippets of others. Five of these are debuts and the other five are by authors whose work I already love. Several are historicals, since that’s my favorite genre, but there are also some fantasy and contemporary picks here. I simply can’t wait for …

Get these books on your own lists pronto! You won’t be sorry, and I’m sure I won’t be either!

Favorite Books of 2015

My favorite books of 2015 are definitely a strange mix of wonderful and weird. This year, I read a lot of the books everyone is raving about, and while I also enjoyed most of those big-hit titles as well, I have to be honest that the books I love are usually a bit off the beaten track. In past years, I included some adult and middle grade books I loved on my year-end list, but this year, I’m sticking with my favorite young adult titles (although as an added bonus, I’ll list my girls’ favorite books at the end!). Hope you find something new to love in my list of ten favorites here!

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

I was looking for YA book recommendations with nonlinear plots, and this book, filled with fairies discovering love while warring with gnomes and tightropers in present and past narratives, definitely fit the bill. Beautifully-written story.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

So this one actually came out in 2014, but I was looking for YA frame stories, and this story does so in such an amazing way, alternating between a present-day teen writing a novel and her main character living that novel. Truly innovative!

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

I absolutely love YA historicals, and this Western with a Chinese-American girl passing for a boy on a high-stakes adventure was a real page-turner with characters I loved. Can’t wait for Stacey Lee’s next books!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

I almost forgot about this one because I was lucky enough to read an ARC before the book was officially released, but this story absolutely captivates, with unreliable narration between multiple POVs, a creepy, otherworldly element, and ballerinas in prison. Oh, yes.

When You Leave by Monica Ropal

This book is for the outsider in all of us. While it’s a fast-paced murder mystery involving skater kids, it’s also a story about finding acceptance and love among scrappy yet endearing characters.

Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

This heartbreaking story gives the reader a glimpse of what it’s like to live with ALS by going extremely deep in the head of a present-day Japanese teen (so deep that it hurts).

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

I love two things about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement: that people can now find themselves represented in books (when many couldn’t before), and that those of us who have no idea can experience those emotions through books like this one about a teen girl born as intersex. I simply couldn’t put it down.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

As mentioned, I generally like books that are weird instead of highly popular, but I guess some of you others like weird books too, yeah? The whispered magic in this book is there from the beginning, and the dual POVs and twisty turns kept me turning pages like mad.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Another dual POV novel, this book has all the gorgeous and wonderful things I love. I’m fascinated by the 1930s, and if you throw jazz musicians, airplanes, and a magical twist into it, I’m pretty much smitten (as I was by this book if you can’t tell).

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

This book! Gorgeous writing, fascinating atmosphere, a swoony romance, and just the right amount of magic kept me turning pages and savoring each line. All the high stakes that come with Romeo-and-Juliet-esque warring families along with the unique and beautiful weirdnesses of a detail-rich, special story. My absolute favorite read of 2015.

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Bonus Material

Since my eight-year-old daughters (twins!) are reading more and more these days but have very different tastes, I thought I’d share their favorites from this year.

One of my girls reads voraciously and loves everything from fantasy to biography. Her absolute favorite was Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, and the series she’s currently devouring is The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The other loves to write so much that she prefers it to reading, but she can’t stop raving over El Deafo by Cece Bell (released in 2014), and she also adores the Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules.

ElDeafoOphelia

They’re not completely on their own though; we still read books together out loud every day. We’re currently making our way through the Harry Potter series, and the other book we all fell for hard this year was Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Next up on our read-together list is Princess Juniper by Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Please share your own favorites here!

Winning NaNoWriMo

NaNo-2015-Winner-BannerYay! I did it! As you can see from this handy-dandy banner, I won my very first NaNoWriMo by writing at least 50,000 words during the month of November, official National Novel Writing Month. My skeleton of a draft clocked in at just over 56,000 words and is not much more than a quivering mass of word vomit at the moment. I expect that my finished draft of this same project will probably end up about 25% longer and a whole lot different. Still, the act of writing this draft and winning NaNoWriMo was absolutely gratifying and something I’m so glad I tried. For those of you still working on your goal (or thinking about doing it next year), here are some things that worked for me.*

  • I chose a project I love. Doing this helped me more than anything else. I woke up each day excited to dig in to my story. At night, I tossed and turned, thinking about my characters. This is a story I really want to read, and though of course it didn’t come out as the perfect, lyrical dream of how I hope it to read someday, the act of living in this world for several hours a day to write it was a giant step in the right direction.
  • I shot for a higher-than-average word count goal a day. 50,000 words is 1,667 words a day, but I shot for 2,000 a day, and wound up averaging close to 2,400 words a day.
  • Nano_chartI outlined the heck out of this project (in advance). There is nothing more intimidating to me than the idea of something immense. A huge plate of food in front of me? Thanks, but not so much. A little at a time works much better for me. I started this project by mapping out the key plot points, developed that into a chapter-by-chapter outline, and then wrote out a description of what should happen in each scene and piled that all into Scrivener, where I easily broke it down into digestible word count goals. The idea of 50,000 words is somewhat terrifying, but 500-word chunks are much more manageable to me.
  • I did a ton of research (in advance). That included reading all of these books well before November 1, as well as some really helpful online research that turned up some great articles I hadn’t been able to find before. rilke-shelf
  • I kept several of these books at my side the whole time. A day didn’t go by when I didn’t look something up, and having the information readily accessible was essential.
  • I tried to get an early head start each day and squeezed in chunks of words whenever I could. I get up by 5am every day, but I also brought my laptop along to my children’s music and chorus classes and sat spewing out words in the hall while they sang and played.
  • I work part-time from home, and I found it more helpful to work in those duties throughout the day, trading off writing for work anytime I got stuck, rather than dedicating 100% of my time to writing or working blocks.
  • I still exercised every day and ate pretty well. I swim a few days a week, practice flamenco with my children, and was also doing physical therapy this month, so I was glad for all the excuses to get moving. Our refrigerator unfortunately died about halfway through my draft, which made for a tricky few days, but for the most part, we were fully stocked on fruits, veggies, and proteins to keep me going.
  • I also ate a lot of candy. I blame Halloween for that one.
  • I did almost nothing social. I’m an introvert anyway, but was even more of one this month. The only exception was an outing I made was to a rare Weimar-era film, Mädchen in Uniform. That wound up a lower word count day, but was totally worth it.

As a final note, congratulations to all the other NaNoWriMo winners, and to everyone still trying to get there. I’d love to hear what works for you, either for NaNo or for fast-drafting in general. Best of luck to you all!

*Disclaimer: probably obvious, but what worked for me might not necessarily work for you!

Dear 2015 PitchWars Mentees

Congratulations, lucky mentees of the 2015 PitchWars class!!! You are about to embark on a beautiful, terrifying roller coaster of a journey with your mentor, your fellow mentees, and your manuscript. While not being accepted does not mean there’s anything wrong with your project (subjectivity!), being accepted certainly means that there’s something right about it. It’s something to cling to in the Dark Night of the Soul. Your mentor picked you. No matter what happens in the agent round, a hearty handshake to you for making it this far.

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If nothing else, this whole process will make you a better writer. Last year, my amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, made me question decisions I’d made while writing and revising, and was able to point out ways to fix problem areas in my manuscript that I can now carry along with me on other projects. Throughout the process, she also kept reminding me that she believed in me and that she believed in my project–something I very badly needed to hear. While most writers have critique partners and writing friends pulling for us, it’s another thing entirely to have a stranger who’s read our work and who wants to champion it. And what’s more, wants to help you make it better! What a wonderful, wonderful gift!

So above all, my advice to you is:

  1. Listen. Your mentor has the experience and the know-how to be able to point out problems. It doesn’t mean you have to take every single suggestion or go along and make changes blindly, but take all that feedback and consider every piece of it. One comment might lead you to fix something related that neither of you thought of. But listen to everything, take some days to let it sink in, and then make a plan of attack to see how you can use that feedback to bring your story to the next level.
  2. Play nicely. Never forget how lucky you are to have been chosen. Plenty of other writers would gladly take your spot, and being nice about it goes a long, long way. Brenda Drake and all of the other mentors are putting in their time for free when they have a lot of other things they could be doing, so being grateful and positive is absolutely essential.
  3. Join in. Our PitchWars 2014 mentee group became a family through a private Facebook group where we can ask any question, cheer each other on, and pick each other up. I love my PitchWars peeps and the community we formed.
  4. Believe. Mentors pick the stories they can personally help, stories that they love, and stories that they believe can make it. Revising a full novel in two months is hard work, so you need to believe in yourself and your story to be able to do the best you can, so a big cheer for you: You can do it!!! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out these letters to you from other 2014 mentees here:

Don Quijote with Kids

During an incredible summer with the Spanish half of our family, we did our best to bring Don Quijote de la Mancha to life for our seven-year-old twins. Step one of the indoctrination had them learning how to properly recite the first line: “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.” Check!

Once that was accomplished, there are a lot of Quijote activities in and around Madrid. Stops for us included the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. You can only enter the library on a guided tour, but the library also houses a free museum with some really cool bookish attractions, especially the kid-friendly Quijote room.

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We also hit passed by a bit of the Ruta de Don Quijote in Toledo, but perhaps the coolest event we found was a free walking tour through Alcalá de Henares (the birthplace of Cervantes) with actors playing the parts of Quijote and Sancho. Our girls will not soon forget that experience!P1060778
This was a pretty Quijote-heavy trip, but we had also wanted to get back to Granada to visit the houses where Federico Garcia Lorca lived (one in the city and one outside of town), but unfortunately, there simply wasn’t time this visit. At least we paid FGL a visit at his statue in Madrid:

P1070207Finally, the best tribute to Don Quijote and Cervantes is reading. We found so many beautiful books throughout the trip! Some of us might have cried about the books we had to leave behind, but at least we brought a nice stack home:

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Fall of Poppies Cover Reveal and Giveaway

As a World War I history buff and big fan of historical fiction author, Heather Webb, I’m thrilled to participate in the cover reveal of Fall of Poppies (William Morrow, March 2016), a collection of short stories about loss, longing, and hope in the aftermath of World War I. The collection features bestselling authors such as Hazel Gaynor, Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig and is edited by Heather Webb. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

In case my excitement isn’t enough, a few quick teasers about some of the stories:

A squadron commander searches for meaning in the tattered photo of a girl he’s never met…

A Belgian rebel hides from the world, only to find herself nursing the enemy…

A young airman marries a stranger to save her honor—and prays to survive long enough to love her… The peace treaty signed on November 11, 1918, may herald the end of the Great War but for its survivors, the smoke is only beginning to clear. Picking up the pieces of shattered lives will take courage, resilience, and trust.

Within crumbled city walls and scarred souls, war’s echoes linger. But when the fighting ceases, renewal begins…and hope takes root in a fall of poppies.

And now for the big reveal of this beautiful cover!

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Finally, if that’s not enough, there’s also a giveaway! Enter here for a chance to win print copies of After The War is Over, A Memory of Violets, and Land of Dreams to celebrate the release of Fall of Poppies.

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Making the Most out of PitchWars

It’s almost that time of year again, and as a proud member of the 2014 PitchWars mentee family, I thought sharing my experience from last year might help 2015 PitchWars hopefuls decide whether or not to enter and how to make the most out of it.

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First off, this contest is truly different from other contests. Most online contests help you get your work in front of agents, and yes, this contest does that too, but that’s only the final–and honestly least important–part of the process. While a crazy-high percentage of the 2014 PW family is now agented (with several book deals already announced!), most of us got our agents through traditional slush. (See my own agent story here.)

If you decide to enter, you’ll see that PitchWars, like many other aspects of publishing, depends a lot on timing. The point of the contest is to devote two months to revising the novel, so having a complete, polished (but not too polished) manuscript is key. Basically, if the project needs so much work that two months won’t be enough time to finish revisions, or if it’s so close to ready that it doesn’t need an overhaul, PitchWars probably isn’t for your manuscript. Likewise, while it’s great if it’s a completely unqueried, virgin-to-the-trenches manuscript, having sent out a few queries isn’t going to get in the way of a successful PitchWars stand.

The chance to be paired with an experienced writer (mine was the amazing Sarah Guillory) who hasn’t read your project is a gift, and the time and effort of the mentors to help you get your work ready is without a doubt the best part of the contest. When I entered, I had two goals in mind: to make my particular manuscript better, and to learn more about improving my writing in general. There’s nothing like one-to-one attention to achieve goals like those!

Another huge benefit of the contest is the writing friendships formed. You might have noticed I called the other members of the 2014 group my “PitchWars family” in the first paragraph, and it couldn’t be more true. Many of us connected from the contest in an online, secret group, where we have a safe place to pick each other up, ask questions, and cheer successes. It hasn’t been an easy road for anyone, and we’re there for each other like crazy.

So while the agent round is fun and exciting, and PitchWars is absolutely one of the best contests out there, do it for the right reasons, and the 2015 group will be just as awesome as the 2014 one. GOOD LUCK!