Friday, October 19, 2012

I'm Here, But Not Really

So, you may have noticed that I missed a few weeks' worth of posts.  Yeah...about that....

Photo from
I've been knee deep in a book drive for my other blog* for half of September and all of October, and though I love that we can provide such a wonderful collection of books for one library out there, it does take a lot of work to get everything together and the logistics figured out.  That's my first excuse.

The other knee has been plunged into planning our Regional Conference** for SCBWI.  Though this year we opted for a plot intensive instead of a true conference as in years past, so you'd think it would be less work.  Yeah...right.  Excuse #2.

I am also knee deep (I have a lot of knees) in the middle of a revision for an upper MG manuscript*** that I love to pieces.  Unfortunately, Excuse #1 and Excuse #2 have pretty much stolen any writing time I've had the last month or so, and I need to get back on track and Get. This. Manuscript. Finished.

So, because of this, I'll be shutting down this blog temporarily and pulling back on my other online projects through the end of this calendar year.  I'll still probably check in online occasionally, so I'll be here, but not really.  The best chance to see me online will be Thursday night at the #MGlitchat sessions, though I may not be able to get to all of them, either (it's a good thing we have 8 hostesses for the chats, or I'd be in trouble).  And, as always, if you really want to reach me, drop me an email at elissadcruz at gmail dot com.

So, until next year, dear readers!

*This is not an attempt to get you to stop by and vote on who should receive our collection of books.    Okay, it really is.

**This is also not an attempt...oh, who am I kidding?  I totally want you to check out our amazing Plot Intensive with Cheryl Klein, and maybe even sign up to come.

***This is not an attempt to get you to read the manuscript.  I mean it this time.  Maybe if it sells to a publisher someday, then I might attempt to get you to read it, but you're safe for now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Friday Reads, Monday Edition: Bird By Bird

I spent the weekend tucked away in the mountains of Idaho at the SCBWI Utah/S. Idaho's Novel Revision Retreat (I'll attempt to blog about that later this week/month, but don't hold your breath--I spent a good chunk of the time doing dishes and driving people around), so this Friday Reads is coming to you a few days late.  And since writing was on my mind this weekend, I figured I'd share a non-fiction title our faculty member, Senior Editor Kendra Levin from Viking Children's Books mentioned as one that speaks to her.  It spoke to me when I read it for the first time years ago.  I hope it speaks to you, too.

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

For: Adults

Genre: Non-fiction, Writing,

Published: 1995

Description from Barnes and Noble: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is an inspiring and humorous look at the spirituality and sometimes dull reality of writing and the writing life. Lamott offers practical and honest suggestions on how to beat writer's block, find inspiration, or tackle a project that seems overwhelming, all of it wrapped in her warm and often hilarious viewpoint. With lessons in craft, art, and even life, having Bird by Bird on the shelf is like having a fellow writer and friend on hand for whenever you need motivation, inspiration, or even just a chuckle or two.

Why I Liked It: There are times when writers need  more than practical tips about craft.  This book left me inspired to keep pursuing the writing life.  Though the tips are amazing as well, it was the pep talk from Anne that gave me the courage and determination to keep going at a time when things in my own writing life looked bleak.

From the book: "Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Priceless advice, and only one of the gems hidden in this book.  You'll have to take the info in this book bird by bird, I must say.  You might as well buy a copy now, because you'll keep coming back to it again and again.

Do you have any other books about writing that you like?  I have a list of favorites, of course, but I'd love to hear about yours.  Leave me a comment if you have a title to share.

And happy weekend weekday reading!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Reads: Moon Over Manifest

A dear friend sent me this book in the mail.  For no reason.  Just because.  Now you know why she's a dear friend.  (Thank you, Wendy!)

Moon Over Manifest
by Claire Vanderpool

For: 8-12-year-olds

Genre: Historical fiction

Published: 2010

Description: Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Why I liked it:  I really loved how the author weaved two different time periods together into one story.  The main story is set in the 1930's and is from the main character's point of view, but I the second time period during World War I was told through newsprint  and letters and stories from folks who'd lived through it.  But mostly I connected with the main character as she struggled to find herself by searching to find who her father really was and how the town of Manifest had molded him.    I felt her longing, and I wanted her to grow from the experience (which she did).  In my opinion this deserved the Newbery Medal (which it received in 2011).

Have any other historical fiction from either WWI or the 30s to share? Please do!  And happy weekend reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nominate a Library Today!

(Psst.  Hey, I know you are curious to know why I missed last Friday's Friday Reads.  It was because I wasn't actually reading.  I was getting ready for a baby shower I was hosting for my baby sister.  In fact, I spent the whole week offline.  I don't think I turned my computer on the whole week, either.  So, sorry about that.  But we're back on schedule for this week, so it's all good.  Hope you'll forgive me.)

Today on my other blog we are launching our second Great Library Giveaway.  We've collected almost 50 middle-grade titles and we would like to donate them to one lucky public, private or school library.  The problem with this great idea is that it's hard to narrow down which library to choose.  So we are asking our readers to nominate one.  

Head on over and tell us which library you'd suggest we send our collection to.  We'll be accepting nominations through October 16th.  Then, from Oct 20th-30th we'll choose three finalists at random and let our readers vote on which library should receive our middle-grade collection.  

We are also hoping to collect 100 titles for this giveaway, and we are only half-way there.  Please consider donating a middle-grade book for this, since you'll be helping a worthy library.  Any book will do--a new release or an old classic--but it needs to be in new or like-new condition.  Also, hardcover is preferred, though we will accept paperback as well.

I hope you'll join in the fun and nominate or donate, or both!  See you on the MG side! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Reads: Amelia Lost

Here's a little family history lesson for you:

My 23rd great-grandfather was the 15th great-grandfather of Amelia Earhart's husband.  (Or something like that, anyway.  It's hard to count back that many generations.)

That makes us almost related, right?

Anyway, ever since I realized this pseudo-family relationship existed, my fascination about her story has bordered on obsession.  So when I heard about this book, I had to read it.  In fact, I made my son choose it for one of his school book assignments.  Hey, he thanked me for making him read it, so my obsession turned out to be a good thing in this case.

You should read it, too.  I'm just saying....

Buy this book!

Amelia Lost
by Candice Fleming

For: 8-12-year-olds

Genre: non-fiction, biography

Published: 2011

Description (from Booklist): Drawing on her training as a historian and her considerable writing talents, Fleming (The Great and Only Barnum, 2009) offers a fresh look at this famous aviatrix. Employing dual narratives—straightforward biographical chapters alternating with a chilling recounting of Earhart’s final flight and the search that followed—Fleming seeks to uncover the “history in the hype,” pointing out numerous examples in which Earhart took an active role in mythologizing her own life. While not disparaging Earhart’s achievements, Fleming cites primary sources revealing that Earhart often flew without adequate preparation and that she and her husband, George Putnam, used every opportunity to promote her celebrity, including soliciting funds from sponsors. The use of a gray-tone background for the disappearance chapters successfully differentiates the narratives for younger readers. Frequent sidebars, well-chosen maps, archival documents, and photos further clarify textual references without disturbing the overall narrative flow.

Why I liked it: Aside from my Amelia Earhart obsession, this book was so well-written and captivating that I couldn't put it down.  The recounting of her final flight, in particular, was mesmerizing.  And I appreciated that the author was willing to point out Amelia's flaws as well as her successes, since it gives the reader a more well-rounded picture of who Amelia Earhart really was.

Do you have any other narrative biographies that you can recommend?  I really do love a good biography, so if you know of one, please tell me in the comments below.

And happy weekend reading!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Reads: Gregor the Overlander

You may have noticed that I missed a few Fridays.  I had to take some time off in order to finish a few unusually large projects I had brewing.  Thanks for being patient while I worked through my work.

Anyway, I do a lot of confessing on this blog, and I have another one to share.  Brace yourself.

I have not read Hunger Games yet.

*waiting for you to pick your jaw off the floor*

Truth be told, I haven't felt the urge to read it yet, but I did hear that the author had written a middle-grade series before her HG success.  I did want to read that.  So I picked up the first book.  And here it is.

Shop Indiebound
Gregor the Overlander (Book 1 in the Underland Chronicles)
by Suzanne Collins

For: 8-12-year-olds

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Published: 2003

Description: When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

Why I Liked It: You should know that I really hate cockroaches.  I've lived in Texas once for a few years, so I know what real, big, ten-gallon-hat-wearing cockroaches look like.  But they are nothing compared to the roaches in this book.  So, oddly enough, I liked the roaches in this book.  And any book that can make me like roaches is a winner in my eyes.

Oh, and the adventure in this book sucked me right in.  I suppose that's a good reason to like it, too.

If you know of any other underworld adventures, please share them in the comments below. And happy weekend reading!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho Revision Retreat

Just a heads up that the SCBWI Utah/S. Idaho novel revision retreat in Ashton, Idaho still has a few spots left.  I will be there, so this is your chance to meet me in person AND work on a MG or YA novel.  And if you live relatively close to me, I have room for 5 people to head up with me in my vehicle.  That is an irresistible offer, I know.  Many long hours in an enclosed traveling box. With me.  Talking the whole way.

It brings tears to your eyes, I know.

If you're interested in learning more, here are the details from the source, my ever lovable RA:

2012 Novel Revision Retreat

Sponsored by the Utah/Southern Idaho Region of the SCBWI

Join us in beautiful Ashton, Idaho, along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River at Mesa Falls Lodge

October 4, 5, 6, and 7, 2012with
Kendra LevinFacilitating
Kendra is an editor with Viking and a life coach for writers. She will provide sessions about revision, the writing life, and other matters pertinent to novel writing.

Participants will also be paired with three others. You will read all three manuscripts prior to the retreat and provide written critiques. You will also meet with this group regularly throughout the weekend to comment on one another's manuscripts.

There will also be time to write and revise.

Space limitations allow for only 12 participants in this intensive revision retreat.
You MUST have a completed draft of a novel (either middle grade or young adult). A first draft is still a draft. DEADLINE to submit your draft is August 25. (Elissa's note: this has been extended to Sept. 6th.) Send your full manuscript in an attachment to You will then receive three manuscripts by Sept. 1 that you will read before the retreat.

Registration is now open. Cost is $450 for non-members of SCBWI, $400 for members. All lodging, food, and sessions are included in this fee.(If you join SCBWI before registering, you will receive member price.) You may pay using the PayPal buttons here. Or you may mail a check made out to SCBWI Utah/southern Idaho to: 1809 North 7th St., Boise ID 83702.

Please do come!  And pass this on to anyone else who might be interested.  Thanks!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Organizing Your Writing Life: Tips from a Disorganized Organizer

Not my office, but it could be. Flickr photo by EvelynGiggles.

Confession time: I'm still working on being an organized person.

Now, some of you might laugh hysterically at this.  On the surface I seem to be the most organized person on the planet.  Just the fact that I can do everything I say I do in my About Me section on this blog proves that I have mastered those pesky organizational skills, right?

But the truth of the matter is that there is still a lot of room for improvement.  The last few years have taught me much about organizing people and large projects, but I still can't file to save my life.  (My piles work for me...most of the time.)  And you do not want to take a look at the rest of the disorganized house I live in.  Trust me on this.  I blame the children.  And The Container Store for charging so much for their cool organizational tools that I can't afford most of them.

Anyway, I've always been fascinated with the idea of organization.  I am one of those people who buys every magazine that lists storage tips on the cover.  I routinely check organizational books out of the library (my favorite to date: Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern).  I even attempt to organize my life every so often (with mixed results).

Buy this book! 
This bring me to the point of this entry: I think having an organized writing life is important, too.  Being organized with my writing is a task I am working on perfecting.  In fact, here are a few tips I'd like to share about having an organized writing life (okay, they are the things I'm working on myself):

1. Make writing a priority.

What time of the day you write or how much you write during each session isn't as important as the fact that you're putting your writing time on your schedule.  I actually hate the word "schedule"--my free spirit finds the word so restraining.  I much prefer the term "routine."  Either way, the point of this is to make sure writing is at the top of your list and not the bottom.  Or close to the top, anyway.

2. Work when you're inspired and work when you're not.

When I first started writing, I only wrote when inspiration hit.  That's common for newbies, but incredibly unhelpful if you want to keep writing or make a career with your words.  I'm still learning how to push through the days of drudgery and gloom, but it's an important skill to master.  Learn to work even if you don't feel like it.

3. Work methodically.

Whatever method you use is fine, but find one that works for you and use it.  If you tend to work best by writing chronologically, then do it.  If you work best by writing scenes out of order and pulling them together later, then do that instead.  If you find it easier to write an outline, by all means, write an outline.  And if you work best without one, don't feel pressured to produce one before you start writing.  The point is to find a method that helps you be successful.  Once you find that groove, you'll find the work is easier to tackle and you'll feel more organized as you work through your manuscript.

Also, be prepared for that method to change with each manuscript.  What works for one book may not work for another.  And that's okay.

Good luck on getting your own writing life organized.  And if you are already organized, good job.  I'm not jealous or anything.  Honest.

Okay.  Maybe just a little.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Welcome Amanda Sun, Today's MSFV Success Story

This week the Miss Snark's First Victim Success Story Blog Hop is in full swing!  And today it’s my turn to host one of the Success Stories.  I pulled up a (virtual) chair to talk with Amanda Sun about her book and her love of multicultural settings. You all are welcome to join us.  I hope you do.

Photo by Alex Neary of Wild Eyed Photography
First, a little bit about Amanda:

 Amanda Sun was born in Deep River, a small town where she could escape into the surrounding forest to read. An archaeologist by training, her intense fear of spiders keeps her indoors where she writes novels instead. She will write your name in Egyptian Hieroglyphic if you ask, though. The Paper Gods is inspired by her time living in Osaka and travelling throughout Japan. She currently lives in Toronto, where she keeps busy knitting companion cubes, gaming, and sewing costumes for anime conventions. INK is her first novel. Visit her on the web at and on Twitter at @Amanda_Sun.

Welcome to the blog, Amanda!

Since this whole blog hop is because of Authoress and her blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim (which we lovingly call MSFV), first would you share with us how MSFV helped you get to where you are today?

Sure! Before I had an agent, I entered a lot of the different contests and critiques on MSFV. I entered a couple Secret Agents with different manuscripts, and while I didn't place, I did get requests from lurking agents! The comments also helped me understand what was going wrong with my opening. Another time I received a request for my ms from Authoress' First Kiss critique--and the agent knew the ms wasn't finished yet! That gave me the encouragement to get it done, polished, and ready to send out. I entered the polished ms in the first Baker's Dozen Auction which was incredibly exciting. I learned so much from the feedback I got from the agents and MSFV community! MSFV has been a supportive home base through the querying and submission process, and the feedback and encouragement I received there definitely helped me get to this point. So thank you guys for being awesome!

Yes! I second that thanks to all those in the MSFV community.  They are an incredibly selfless group of people.

Well, Amanda, it looks like you were very successful at getting past the querying and submission stage, because your debut novel, INK, comes out in July 2013. Congrats!


Can you share a blurb?

INK is a YA paranormal set in Japan. It is the first in a series called The Paper Gods.  After her mother's death, 16-year-old Katie is uprooted to Japan to live with her English-teaching aunt. There she crosses paths with her new school's arrogant and gorgeous kendo star Tomohiro, whose drawings come to life in dangerous ways, pulling them both into Japan's paranormal underworld--that is, if the Yakuza don't get them first.

Oooh, it sounds sooooo amazing!   Good multicultural books are so hard to find these days.  How did you choose Japan as the setting?

The walking bridge into Sunpu Park, an important scene in INK.  © Amanda Sun.
Thank you! INK is mostly inspired by time living in Osaka, with a healthy combination of my background in Archaeology and my addiction to JDramas. I love diverse YA and I knew I wanted to write something that was multicutural as a backdrop, but without that being the actual plot of the story.

I love the idea of a multicultural paranormal.  What a cool idea!

Originally I set out to write INK as a contemporary, but there was one scene where Katie looked over Tomohiro's shoulder at his drawing--and it moved. And then I realized I had a paranormal on my hands. :)

That paranormal element is very clever.  I really loved the idea of sketches coming to life.  Tell us a little bit more about how you came up with that premise.

The idea for sketches that come to life in dangerous ways came from a couple places too. Kanji, the characters used in Chinese and Japanese writing, were originally used to communicate with the spiritual realm. In a similar way, Egyptian scribes used to chisel a line through any snake hieroglyphs, we think in case they slithered off the walls and bit the Pharoah entombed. So I loved that idea of sketches holding power, and I pictured a Japanese teen trying to deal with this frightening ability.

I love how you weaved your love of Egyptian hieroglyphs with Chinese and Japanese writings as well.  That is truly multicultural thinking, in my opinion.

But I am also impressed with all the thought you have put into the multicultural setting.  Japan is nothing like the western civilization we live in, so it must have been difficult to capture a world so very different from your own.  Did you do a lot of research in order to accurately portray Japanese culture?

Sunpu Castle, a setting in INK.  © Amanda Sun.
 While my time living in Japan provided a great basis for writing INK, I did a lot of research to make sure I was as accurate as possible. I'd like to see a lot more Asian teens (and teens of color) in YA, and so it's important to me to get it as right as I can. After writing the first draft of INK, I revisted Shizuoka, the city INK is set in. I took a ridiculous amount of photos [three of which she shares with us here], walked the routes my characters walk, rode the buses they ride, and so on. I watched every school-themed JDrama I could get my hands on to fill in the gaps, and I also have a former host student from Shizuoka who allowed me to quiz her about any details I wasn't sure of (for example, what kind of slang Japanese teens use to make sure my words were current). I checked all my character names and Japanese phrases with her and another friend from Osaka, so everything is as accurate as I can make it.

Wow.  Impressive research!  But you must have been overwhelmed with the amount of research you had on hand to use.  It must have taken some work to distill it all down.  So, tell us, what do you think are the most important things to capture about another culture in a novel?

Great question! I think the most important thing to capture in a novel about another culture is the common ground we have, the similarities between their lives and ours. Sure, Japan is exotic and different and interesting. But as much as life is different there, it's also the same. Teens still have club meetings, homework to do, and real life issues to deal with. I wanted to make Japan accessible to readers, to see a peek into what life is really like over there. But even more than that, I wanted to tell a story pulled from a very different mythology than the one we're used to in North America. :)

Before we leave, do you have any other tips for writers out there?

Do everything you can to be accurate and respectful. I think in YA especially we often deal with cultural stereotypes that make their way into our characters--and often it's not intentional, but a lack of understanding on our part. Read everything you can that's set in that culture. Try to find people from that culture that you can talk to about your WIP. Try to visit if you can, and stay a while. Traveling through a country as a tourist and actually living in the country will give you very different experiences, so try to go off the beaten track. If you can't visit, use the internet to "walk around" and see the sights. And remember that as different as we are, we have even more in common.

Words of wisdom, Amanda.  Thanks for stopping by and sharing them with us.

Thanks so much for having me, Elissa! :)

You’re welcome!

Shizuoka Futaba Gakuen, the inspiration for the high school in INK.  © Amanda Sun.

Because of the awesomeness that is Amanda, today you lucky people can enter below to win the following prize pack:
  • a signed copy of Tesseracts Fifteen, an anthology of YA SF/F (including "Fragile Things" by Amanda Sun)
  • two rolls of Puccho candy, one soda flavor, one peach soda flavor
  • one box of Japanese pretzel sticks, honey butter flavor
  • a query letter critique OR first five page critique (your choice); if you don't have one, this prize is transferrable to a friend
  • your name written in Egyptian Hieroglyphic and Japanese
I am jealous, people.  You have no idea how lucky you are that you can enter to win.  Oh, and this is open internationally.

Anyway, hop on downwards and enter.  And keep an eye out for INK, coming out July 2013!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and don't forgot to keep following the MSFV Success Story Blog Hop.  On Amanda's blog tomorrow, she will be interviewing the amazing Kristi Helvig, so head on over to join in more MSFV fun!

And here's the entire blog hop schedule so you can check out each Success Story:

August 1--David Kazzie (@davidkazzie)
August 2--Leigh Talbert Moore (@leightmoore)
August 3--J.Anderson Coats (@jandersoncoats)
August 4--J.M. Frey (@scifrey)
August 5--Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz)
August 6--Amanda Sun (@Amanda_Sun)
August 7--Kristi Helvig (@KristiHelvig)
August 8--Leah Petersen (@Leahpetersen)
August 9--Monica Bustamante (@Monica_BW)
August 10--E.M. Kokie (@emkokie)
August 11--Monica Goulet (@MonicaGoulet)
August 12--PeterSalomon (@petersalomon)
August 13--Sarah Brand (@sarahbbrand)
August 14--Angela Ackerman (@angelaackerman & @writerthesaurus)
August 15--Tara Dairman

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Reads: Grave Mercy

I've been steering clear of YA lately, mostly because I'm trying to keep my MG* sensibility while I revise my current MG manuscript, but when I heard people mention Robin's newest book, I HAD to get a copy and read.  I'm a huge fan of her MG Theodosia series, but this YA is completely different.  And oh so good!

Grave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers

For: Teens

Genre: YA fantastical historical romantic adventure (aka hard to categorize, which is awesome)

Published: 2012

Description: Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Why I liked it: I am not a huge fan of anything dark, so I was a little nervous when I started this book, since it begins in a very dark place and promises more darkness throughout.  But this story is not about assassination and death and darkness as much as it is about Ismae coming to terms with herself and her past, and how she finds her own path forward.  And the romance in this book is real and deep and not gratuitous (which I appreciated immensely).  I highly recommend this to anyone who loves historical romance with lots of intrigue.

Do you have any other suggestions for YA historical romance or historical adventure with a romantic twist?  Please share, because I am ready to read!

And happy weekend reading!

*Because someone always asks, MG stands for middle-grade, books written for 8-12-year-olds.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Announcing the first ever MSFV Success Story Blog Hop!

Some of you may remember that a million years ago I entered my first page in the Secret Agent Contest held on the Miss Snark's First Victim blog.  I was declared the winner, whisked my full manuscript off to that month's Secret Agent, and he signed me a few months later.  I was the first direct success story from one of her contests.

Now there are almost two dozen authors who owe their agent success stories (in part or directly, like me) to Authoress and her MSFV contests.  Some of us are still waiting to sell and others have gone on to critical acclaim, but we're all one big, happy MSFV family.  So many of us have come together to help promote each other in our first ever blog hop.

For the first two weeks in August, a different author will post an interview of one of our fellow Success Stories.  There may be giveaways involved, too.  Or so the rumor goes.

So, from August 1 through August 15, check in on the following blogs and celebrate Authoress and her Success Stories:

August 1--David Kazzie (@davidkazzie)
August 2--Leigh Talbert Moore (@leightmoore)
August 3--J.Anderson Coats (@jandersoncoats)
August 4--J.M. Frey (@scifrey)
August 5--Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz)
August 6--Amanda Sun (@Amanda_Sun)
August 7--Kristi Helvig (@KristiHelvig)
August 8--Leah Petersen (@Leahpetersen)
August 9--Monica Bustamante Wagner (@Monica_BW)
August 10--E.M. Kokie (@emkokie)
August 11--Monica Goulet (@MonicaGoulet)
August 12--PeterSalomon (@petersalomon)
August 13--Sarah Brand (@sarahbbrand)
August 14--Angela Ackerman (@angelaackerman & @writerthesaurus)
August 15--Tara Dairman

For you Twitter people, get more details and tidbits by following our hashtag, #MSFVSuccessStory.

I hope you enjoy the blog hop!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy 1st Anniversary to #MGlitchat

This summer has been insanely hectic.  I keep meaning to post more often here, but it's all I can do to get my Friday Reads up.  But it will get better soon.  (I hope.)

Anyway, one of the things that has been keeping me away from this blog is my good old Twitter chat for those who love middle-grade books, #MGlitchat.  Our 1st anniversary is upon us, and my chat team has been hard at work devising the coolest chat giveaway in the history of chat giveaways.  We will be handing out 16 giveaways, in fact, from author and agent critiques to books to art and jewelry.  And it all happens TONIGHT.

So, if you are at all inclined to read or write middle-grade, you might just want to stop by and join in the celebration.  To join in, use the hashtag #MGlitchat, and we will be handing out prizes randomly to those who do.  There will be a few that require being the first to answer a question, but the majority will be handed out to those who simply use the hashtag during the chat hour.

The fun begins at 9pm Eastern.  (That 6pm for you Californians.)

I hope to see you there!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Reads: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

I discovered Alexander McCall Smith's novels years and years and years ago, and I still periodically check the shelves for any new ones he may have written.  This was the first one I read, which is why I chose it over some of the others ones I like just as well.  I can't remember how I found it, other than I was at the library at the time.  I was probably browsing the shelves for a good mystery, and it had the phrase "Detective Agency" right there in the title.

But I quickly found out this wasn't your normal detective novel.

It was better.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith

For: Adults

Genre: Mystery, Detective Fiction

Published: 1998

Description: This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Why I Liked It: I was sucked into the culture of Botswana from the first page.  I loved how the book's slower paced mirrored the slower pace of life in Gaborone.  And I also loved that a mystery could be so slow and still be thoroughly enjoyable.  I loved sharing every single moment with Mme Ramoswe and the people around her.

Do you know of any other slower-paced (but in a good way) detective mysteries?  If you do, let me know in the comments below.

And happy weekend reading!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Reads: The Prince Who Fell From the Sky

This brand-new book promised all sorts of wonder, and though it was very different from what I had envisioned, it still delivered.  It makes me wonder if I should look up the author's other works.  Hmmm....

The Prince Who Fell From the Sky
by John Claude Bemis

For: 8-12 yos

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Postapocalyptic Fiction

Published: 2012

Description: In Casseomae's world, the wolves rule the Forest, and the Forest is everywhere. The animals tell stories of the Skinless Ones, whose cities and roads once covered the earth, but the Skinless disappeared long ago.

Casseomae is content to live alone, apart from the other bears in her tribe, until one of the ancients' sky vehicles crashes to the ground, and from it emerges a Skinless One, a child. Rather than turn him over to the wolves, Casseomae chooses to protect this human cub, to find someplace safe for him to live. But where among the animals will a human child be safe? And is Casseomae threatening the safety of the Forest and all its tribes by protecting him?

Middle-grade fans of postapocalyptic fiction are in for a treat with this fanciful and engaging animal story by the author of the Clockwork Dark trilogy.

Why I Liked It: I thought this was a fresh take on postapocalyptic fiction, since we see this entire story from the point of view of animals instead of humans.  It was interesting to watch how they related to the human boy, and to see how the author weaved in "human" understanding but still kept the animals animals.  Plus there were a few surprises for the animals that I found entertaining (since, as a human reader, I knew something the animal characters didn't).

Do you know of any other middle-grade fiction like this?  If so, please let me know in the comments below.

And happy weekend reading!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Reads: Savvy and Scumble

So, I forgot to post last week.  Oops.  To make up for it, I'm giving you a twofer today.  I loved both of these books--so did my oldest boy--and we both are waiting for the promised third installment.  And the movie.  (Fingers crossed that both actually happen.)

by Ingrid Law

For: Ages 8-12

Genre: Fantasy

Published: 2008

Description: Thirteen is when a Beaumont’s savvy hits—and with one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity, Mibs Beaumont is eager to see what she gets. But just before the big day, Poppa is in a terrible accident. And now all Mibs wants is a savvy that will save him. In fact, Mibs is so sure she’ll get a powerful savvy that she sneaks a ride to the hospital on a rickety bus with her sibling and the preacher’s kids in tow. After this extraordinary adventure—full of talking tattoos and a kidnapping—not a soul on board will ever be the same.

Why I Liked It: You know, I love fantasies, but most of them are seeped in European history.  But this was a true stars and stripes fantasy. It's wild and wacky but heartfelt...and completely American.  Ingrid does a great job with subtle humor, too, so this book is one part adventure, one part fantasy, one part humorous, but with meat on it.  It deserved the Newbery Honor it received, in my opinion.

by Ingrid Law

For: Ages 8-12

Genre: Fantasy

Published: 2010

Description: It's nine years after Savvy, and Mibs' cousin Ledge is on the verge of turning thirteen. More than anything, he wants the power to run like the wind. But when his birthday comes, he discovers that his savvy is actually making things fall apart. It starts out with small things, but then it gets worse. To top it all off, someone outside the family has witnessed his destruction. Now, in addition to trying to figure out how to control - or scumble - his savvy, he's got to worry about how to protect the family secrets. Over the course of one amazing summer, Ledge learns a lot about himself and his family, makes a new - and very unlikely - friend, and learns to appreciate his newfound skills.

Why I Liked it: This was just as good as the first (maybe better).  I enjoyed seeing glimpses of the characters from the first book, but I adored the new characters who take center stage.  Again, this was  wild and entertaining but had substance as well.  I found the savvies particularly clever, but I mostly enjoyed that the troubles Ledge finds himself in with his own savvy are, destructive.  Perfect for the boy readers out there.

Do you know of any other fantasies like these?  I've been searching, but to no avail.  If you know of some, please share in the comments below.

And Happy Friday Reading!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Friday Reads: A Curse Dark As Gold

Okay, so it's actually Monday.  Let's just call this my Friday Reads: Monday Edition.

In my defense, I have been offline pulling together and practicing my presentation tomorrow at the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers Workshop tomorrow.  I just realized I completely forgot to post my Friday Reads suggestion on Friday.  Oh, well, better late than never, right?

On another note, I have had the privilege of getting to know Elizabeth a little on a message board I frequent.  It was there that I first heard about this book.

 A Curse Dark as Gold
by Elizabeth C. Bunce

For: Ages 12-18

Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling

Published: 2008

Description: Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.

Why I liked it: This book has romance, suspense, and some spookiness, too.  And I loved seeing deeper into the characters lives behind the already familiar story.  As usual, I was drawn to the characters, but more than anything I do love that it ended on a more uplifting note than the original fairy tale.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Reads: Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians

Now, I really do love librarians. I even wanted to be one when I grew up. So I doubt there are many evil librarians in the world. So, librarians, no offense.

Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians
by Brandon Sanderson

For: Ages 8-12

Genre: Humorous fantasy/science fiction, Humorous Action/Adventure

Published: 2007

Description: A hero with an incredible talent...for breaking things. A life-or-death rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network...the evil Librarians.
Alcatraz Smedry doesn't seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them! infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.

Why I liked it: This book was pure fun from the first page clear to the last.  And the premise was one of the most clever I have ever come across.  I read this aloud to my middle-grade aged boys, and they loved it as much as I did.  Word of caution: it's probably best not to read this as a bedtime story like I did.  Nobody slept much when I did.  We were too busy laughing.  Also of note: this is the first in a whole series of books.  You should read them all, imo.

Do you know of any other humorous fantasy or science fiction novels?  If you do, please share them with me in the comments below.

Happy Weekend Reading!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

See the Pretty Butterflies!

Kimberley Griffiths Little and I met through that other blog I started two years ago (exactly 2 years ago, in fact.  You should head over there and enter to win the NOOK Simple Touch and $25 B&N gift card we're giving away in celebration.  But I digress...).  Kimberley and I are now good friends, so I couldn't resist the urge to celebrate the cover reveal of her newest book, WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME.

Isn't it pretty?  I love this cover. And I can't wait to get a copy of the book for my home library.  I also love this because I am also working on a book with butterflies in it.  Great minds think alike and all that.

But, unfortunately, I'll have to wait until 2013 to get a copy.  If you, however, are a book blogger, you could be one of three lucky people to snag an ARC.  All you need to do is head on over to Kimberley's blog and enter her amazing 9-book giveaway.  For the rest of us, she's offering three copies of her amazing THE HEALING SPELL (I love this book) and three copies of her amazing CIRCLE OF SECRETS (ditto).

Here's the link.

Now go!  Hurry up, because she's choosing winners next week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Reads: Robot Zot!

I've been a Jon Scieszka fan since my kids and I discovered The Stinky Cheese Man about a decade ago. In fact, pick up any of his books and you won't be disappointed.

Robot Zot!
by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by David Shannon

For: 3 and up

Genre: Humorous picture book

Published: 2009

Description:  From the minds of Scieszka and Shannon comes a tale of a quixotic robot determined to conquer the earth. The only problem is that the earth he lands on is a suburban kitchen and he is three inches tall. Robot Zot, the fearless and unstoppable warrior, leaves a trail of destruction as he encounters blenders, toasters, and televisions. But when he discovers the princess...a pink cell phone...his mission takes a new course. Robot Zot must learn how to be a hero - in the name of true love.

Why I liked it: As usual, Jon Scieszka manages to entertain readers with this quirky but hilarious book.  I love Jon Scieszka's humor and his unique perspective.  And this book is full of both.  The pink cell phone...*chuckles at the absurdity of it all*.  

Do you know of some humorous pictures books that I can share with my kids?  Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Linky Love in May

Photopedia image by Anna Strumillo
I do love seeing what links people find fascinating enough to pass on to others in their social networks.  I find Twitter particularly useful for this, though Facebook and Google+ aren't far behind.

And, lucky you, I've been keeping track of the links I liked best.  Don't ask me how I found them...sometimes one link would send me to another, and so on.  But I do want to thank my social network for sending these gems along to me.

Here's my linky love for May (in random order):

  • I love this cartoon about literary devices.  My favorite: the Irony Board, though the Random Analogy Generator is pretty funny too.
  • Are you writing a book about digging a hole straight through the earth?  Well, here is an antipodal map that will show you exactly where you'd come out the other end.  For you U.S. people, sorry to disappoint, but it won't be China.  Just sayin'.
  • The Merit Badger has created merit badges just for writers.  Never fear, non-writers.  There are merit badges for readers and some for holidays, too.  I love these.  I am so going to make* a bandelo one of these days, and put my very own writing merit badges on it.
  • Harold Underdown's website, The Purple Crayon, is an amazing resource for anyone writing for children.  But my favorite part of his site is the Who's Moving Where? page.  If you are obsessed about keeping up with the editorial staff changes at children's book publishers, this is the page for you.
  • Need help with names?  Serendipity is a site that has random generators.  I've had this bookmarked for years.  There are place name generators, people name generators, and even a fantasy title generator.  It's particularly helpful for you fantasy writers out there.  Cool beans.

There you go, dear readers.  I hope you enjoy some of those links!

*Okay, not really.  Though I am rather handy with a sewing machine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Reads: The Eyes of the Dragon

I mentioned back when I started this series that I wouldn't highlight horror, because I don't read the genre.  So why highlight a Stephen King novel, you ask? Because this is not one of his horror novels.  This is classic fantasy.  Read on, my friends.

 The Eyes of the Dragon
by Stephen King

For: Adults

Genre: Fantasy (yes, you read that right)

Published: 1987

Description:  A kingdom is in turmoil as the old king dies and his successor must do battle for the throne. Pitted against an evil wizard and a would-be rival, Prince Peter makes a daring escape and rallies the forces of Good to fight for what is rightfully his.

Why I liked it: You should already know by now that I love fantasy, and this is a classic good vs. evil with magic and dragons and everything tale.  But it's also more than that.  It's the story about two brothers, one who stands for what's good and right, and one who must learn that lesson the hard way. And in more ways than one, it's a story about conquering your own demons.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pace Yourself!: The Art of Pacing in a Novel

Photo by Robin Stevens   
I have a lovely critique partner (actually, I have quite a few, but this is a story about only one of them.)  She is knee-deep in revisions of a book that I hope someday the rest of you will get to read, and we've been trying to nail down what is and isn't working.  It finally dawned on me that the pacing needed some attention.  I tried to explain this to her, and realized I didn't quite understand how it worked myself, much less well enough to teach it to anyone else.  It's never been an issue in any of my manuscripts yet, so it's never come up in my own education.

Side note: I'm aware this doesn't mean I'm good at pacing.  So take the following with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I sat down and walked through all the elements of what I thought good pacing was this week, so I'm going to share with you what I uncovered.  I'm warning you, I made all of this up on my own, so if you find competing information elsewhere, particularly if it comes from  published authors or editors/agents, I'd go with their suggestions first.

My thoughts on pacing:

1. It's all about the story, baby.

Pacing is, first and foremost, an issue of story.  A story with lots of action that's sparse on details is going to be fast-paced.  A story that weaves you through setting and details and inner monologues but where the characters don't do much is going to be slower-paced.  And plenty fall somewhere in the middle.  So the story you are telling is going to influence the pace at which it's told.  Whichever pace you use is fine as long as it fits with the type of story you write.  So it might be worth your while to take some time to figure out what basic pace you want to set for the entire novel.

2. It's a balancing act.

There is such a thing as speeding through scenes too quickly.  There is also such a thing as laboriously drawing out scenes until your readers die of boredom.  Make sure you don't swing too far one way or the other, or bounce between the two.  Moderation in all things is a good motto to live by.

3. Speed up when you slow down, and slow down when you speed up.

Yeah, you read that right.  The funny thing about pacing is that different parts of your story require different speeds in order to get something that feels like a steady pace throughout the entire novel.  During the parts where things are slow (narrative, descriptions, setting, etc.), you need to remember to speed up a little.  Get through them faster, don't dwell too much on them.  Inversely, when you are in the thick of things (dialogue, action, especially when a climax or turning point happens), you want to show the scene as if you entered super-slow motion on the camera in your readers' heads.

4. Can you use that in a sentence, please?

Pacing is also a structural issue.  The way you string words together does make an impact on your pace.  Long, descriptive sentences will feel slower-paced than short, snappy ones.  So if you find people mentioning the pace feels really slow even though the plot arc seems okay, you might want to take a look at breaking up some of your sentences into shorter ones.  And vice versa for faster-paced scenes.

5. Variety is the spice of life.

Structurally, the way sentences are strung together also makes an impact on the pacing.  If you write sentences that are all the same length, your pacing will slow down and readers will get bored.  So don't forget to spice things up.  Vary your sentence lengths.  Sandwich a few short sentences between really long and medium-length sentences, and don't stick too many together that are the same size. Sorta like I did with this paragraph, actually.

This also goes for paragraph structure.  Even if you vary your sentences, if each paragraph ends up being the same length as the one before and after it, the pace will be affected, and readers will feel the monotony.  So watch those paragraphs lengths, too.

Don't give your readers' any excuse to put your book down.  Learn how to pace yourself!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Reads: The Grey King

I was introduced to Susan Cooper in school.  We read The Dark Is Rising in class, and I was hooked.  That book won the Newbery Honor in 1974, and rightly so.  Two years later, the fourth book in the sequence, The Grey King, won the Newbery Medal, also rightly so. It's my favorite in the sequence, so it's the one I chose for this week's Friday Reads.  (Note: It may be wise to start at the beginning of the sequence and work your way to this book.  You'll get the full impact that way.  However, if you must, this book can be read as a stand-alone, too.)

The Grey King  (Book 4 in The Dark is Rising Sequence)
by Susan Cooper

For: 8-12yos

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Published: 1975

Description: There is a Welsh legend about a harp of gold, hidden within a certain hill, that will be found by a boy and a white dog with silver eyes--a dog that can see the wind.  Will Stanton knew nothing of this when he came to Wales to recover from a severe illness.  But when he met Bran, a strange boy who owned a white dog, he began to remember.  For Will is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to saving the world from the forces of evil, the Dark.  And it is Will's task to wake--with the golden harp--the six who must be roused from their long slumber in the Welsh hills to prepare for the last battle between the Dark and the Light.

Why I liked it: I love how Susan Cooper brings Wales alive (in each of her books in the sequence, really).  This one, in particular, is as beautiful as it is powerful.  The green mountains, the hilly fields, the idylllic Mlyn Mwyngil (the Welsh name for the lake in this book), all buzz with the unseen power of Light and Dark.  And the climax is as wrapped up in the setting as I was.  Truly, this entire sequence is a must-read for fantasy lovers.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Reads: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

My neighbor across the street wanted me to read this book, so she brought her copy over one afternoon.  I'm so glad she did!

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind
by Ann B. Ross

For: Adults

Genre: Southern Humor (is that a genre?)

Published: 2000

Description: Miss Julia, a recently bereaved and newly wealthy widow, is only slightly bemused when one Hazel Marie Puckett appears at her door with a youngster in tow and unceremoniously announces that the child is the bastard son of Miss Julia's late husband. Suddenly, this longtime church member and pillar of her small Southern community finds herself in the center of an unseemly scandal-and the guardian of a wan nine-year-old whose mere presence turns her life upside down.

With razor-sharp wit and perfect "Steel Magnolia" poise, Miss Julia speaks her mind indeed-about a robbery, a kidnapping, and the other disgraceful events precipitated by her husband's death. Fast-paced and charming, with a sure sense of comic drama, a cast of crazy characters, and a strong Southern cadence, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind will delight readers from first page to last.

Why I liked it: This was a charming book in every way.  I adored the main character, Miss Julia, and I hoped things would turn out for nine-year-old Little Lloyd.  I also appreciated the twist at the end, but it was the characters I enjoyed the most.  Even Hazel Marie grew on me.