Blog Writer Chain Thingie

Hey guys,

Hope you're having a glorious summer! Wilma the Beagle's summer has been quite relaxing, as you can see...

So, I was asked to be part of a Blog Writer Chain Thingie (not the official name), in which the baton was passed from my dear novelist friend (and writers' group member) Laura Pritchett to me, and after answering these questions, I in turn, will pass it along to another writer friend...

If you want to see Laura's interview, you can go here and see it in conversation form with another awesome writer friend, Amy Kathleen Ryan.  Laura Pritchett's latest novel is STARS GO BLUE and it's gorgeous and gritty and moving.  (Note it's marketed for adults, not YA.)  

Here is the blurb I posted about STARS GO BLUE on Goodreads: 

Reading this book was a profound experience that I don't think I'll ever forget. It made me FEEL so DEEPLY. It made me feel BIG things, like life and death and love and sorrow and laughter and landscape... Pritchett has this incredible ability to capture the expansive range of human experience and make readers feel it all, right down to their bones. I was already crying just a few pages in-- but the good kind of crying, the kind that lets you glimpse what matters about being a human on earth. There are hard and gritty elements in this book, like the murder of a loved one and mental deterioration from Alzheimer's... but there is a soaring beauty as well, seen in the poetically spiritual descriptions of snow or trees. And Pritchett somehow manages to weave all this poignancy into a suspenseful and breath-taking plot that kept me glued to the book.

Okay, so as I understand it, for this Blog Writer Chain Thingie, I am supposed to answer these questions about my own writing:

1. What am I currently working on?

I'm revising my upcoming novel with my wonderful new editor... and I hate to be mysterious, but the contract is not quite signed, so I'm not allowed to tell you about it yet.... argh!!!  (I'll just say that it's set in Oaxaca, Mexico and there's magical realism in it, as well as a rescued skunk, goat, and duckling.  It also involves a caravan and outdoor films and lightning and coins and dust.)   Okay, I'm afraid I'll get in trouble if I say anything else, so I'll move on to the next question!)

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I feel passionate about indigenous rights and immigration issues, and I hope this comes through in my novels.  I think these issues need to be approached with a sense of empathy and compassion, and with the understanding that we're all connected on this earth.  I think that my anthropology training comes through in my work-- I know my participant-observation research style has been an essential part of my process.  Oh, and also, I can't resist weaving in sparkling threads of magic and travel and adventure...

3. Why do I write what I write?

Er, see above?  ;-)
4. How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

Let's see, first I find myself jotting down ideas and notes on a possible future story.  This stage often involves my dozens of spiral-bound notebooks, and it might take a few months, or a few years, or a few decades.  At some point, I start writing bits and pieces of the story, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes not.  I don't censor myself, and let it flow out in a stream-of-consciousness way. 

After a few pages, or a few dozen pages, I write a kind of provisional outline, mapping out the character arcs and plots and subplots.  I also take notes on the imagery, symbolism, tone, atmosphere, etc.  Then I write more stream-of-consciousness stuff for a while, and then at some point, I revisit the outline and tweak some things to accommodate all the cool surprises that pop up while I'm doing the actual writing.  I go back and forth like this for months, and sometimes years. 

When I have a pretty good chunk of manuscript, I start revising, looking at elements like character development, pacing, plot, layers of meaning, imagery, language, etc.  I might move between revising what I have, revisiting the outline, and writing new stuff, until finally I have a solid draft. 

I show it to my critique partners and writing group members, and once they give me their feedback, I do more revising.  When it feels right, I pass it along to my agent and if she wants any revisions, I do them.  Then it's on to my editor.  And then there's more revising ahead...

which is where I am now.  I'm at the point where I'm fine-tuning and polishing and fact-checking, working with a spiral bound hard copy.  It's nice because I can just sit on the wee balcony just outside my writing room, get cozy with Wilma, and revise away...

Okay, so I'm not sure yet which writer will be next in this chain, but once I know, I'll update this post with an intro and a link.

Thanks for swinging by, and have fun this summer!


Favorite Reads of 2013

Hello, dear readers!

I was going through my Goodreads list and picked out my reading highlights of the year.  Thought I'd share them with you!  Let me know if you have any recommendations for me... :-)

Middle Grade Books (ages 8-12)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman-- Hilarious, charming, delicious, tender tale of a girl gourmande who becomes a secret restaurant critic for the biggest newspaper out there.  This would make an excellent read-aloud-- parents and upper-elementary school children will be giggling together through the entire book.  So much fun! (Release date this summer-- I read a review copy.)

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt-- This is a classic with a Newbery *and* Printz Honor.  The story is a beautifully told, multi-layered story of a friendship and civil rights issues in the middle of last century.  Gorgeous, breath-taking ocean setting, complex and funny characters, gorgeous and elegant imagery.  Gary writes with soul-shivering wisdom and a deep sense of the sacred.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage-- A well-deserved Newbery Honor book from last year.  Sheila is simply an amazing story-teller!  The small-town setting is absolutely delightful, the characters are eccentric and thoroughly loveable, and the plot is suspenseful and exciting.  And to top it all off, the story is truly moving, and stays with you.

YA Stand-Alone Books

Backwards by Todd Mitchell-- This was the most imaginative and original YA I've read in a while... and I have to say that as a writer, I was in awe.  This story is told backward, by an enigmatic, supernatural narrator, with mystery after mystery unfolding. It's a page-turner that had me asking myself lots of deep, philosophical questions.  Loved it!

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell-- This book actually lives up to the hype!  Beautiful, moving, funny, poignant romance, unlike any you've read before.  It was set during my own high school years (late eighties, early nineties), which made me love it all the more (though it's relatable to any generation.) The coolest thing is that the guy who is now my husband wooed me with the SAME MIX TAPES that Park gives to Eleanor... really and truly... The Smiths, Joy Division, Elvis Costello, etc.  *happy sigh*

Feed by MT Anderson-- A classic that I've reread several times already.  Brilliant-- this is what dystopian fiction should be-- biting social commentary on where our current society is headed. (And a National Book Award Honor).

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer-- Also brilliant, incredible dystopian fiction which I've read several times.  I love the Latin American setting-- so unusual for this genre.  Printz Honor, Newbery Honor, and National Book Award-- well-deserved shininess!

YA Fantasy trilogies

Flame (third in the Glow series) by Amy Ryan-- Loved this sci-fi series, set on spaceships in the future.  It's wonderfully fast-paced and poses important ethical questions about religion, politics, and society.  (I love my fellow anthropology-majors-turned-writers!)  This was a deeply satisfying conclusion to the series.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (second in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series)-- Not only does Laini Taylor have a wild and wonder-filled imagination, but she's able to transform her vision into mind-bendingly beautiful prose.  I love her unique characters and settings (primarily Prague and Morocco)-- definitely places I love spending time in within my imagination (and in real life.) This book was darker than the first, and completely gripping.

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers (Second in the Grave Mercy series)-- Really unique and imaginative historical fantasy that breaks the mold in a delightful way.  This follows another "assassin-nun"-- one who played a minor role in the first book.  Robin is a masterful story-teller and writer-- it's such a joy to read her elegant-yet-accessible prose and feel swept away in the story.  It's so intelligently written, with wit and feminism and intrigue and meaningful romance.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (first in the series)-- Smart, believable, action-packed dystopian novel with wonderful characters and romance. I read this after beginning (and abandoning) a string of mediocre dystopian books, and it was an exciting breath of fresh air for me.  Veronica has artfully created a truly vivid and believable world, full of adventure and intrigue.

"Grown-up" Books

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter-- Loved the cover of this book-- even prettier in real life.  Small-town Italy setting-- can't go wrong there.  I love books that go back and forth in time, showing when a character was young and old-- it gives me an expansive feeling and makes me think about life differently.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer-- Another book with a sweeping feel that covered several decades in the four main characters' lives.  There was something so real-feeling and honest about this book, and Meg captured a range of intense emotions so beautifully.... from jealousy to love to nostalgia.  Impressive and engrossing.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman-- Short and strange and creepy and oddly moving.  Neil has such a distinctive style and sensibility-- a simple, matter-of-fact way of writing about the darkest, most surreal, dream-like things.  And somehow, his tales appeal to adults (in books like this) and kids (in books like The Graveyard Book and Coraline).  I'm not quite sure how he pulls it off, but I'm glad he does.

Whew! So that's my list... if you read any of them, I hope you enjoy them, too!


More Extreme Cuteness (of the Wee Library Variety)

Have you guys seen any mini libraries in your neighborhood?  A new one just popped up down the block from me!  Voila:

*If you click the image to enlarge, you'll see one of my books that I exchanged for Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonders.*

Are these not adorable?!

The concept is this: You make a tiny, waterproof house and stick it in your front yard with a sign encouraging neighbors to borrow and donate books.

Here's the website of the Little Free Library movement, with instructions on how to build our own (and officially register it if you wish). And here is the mission:
  • To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
  • To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

I'm hooked!  I want to do this with Ian and Little Dude sometime soon.  Maybe we could retrofit a large birdhouse or something... hmmm... I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, happy reading to all...


Lil Dude in Kindergarten and Book Recommendation

Hey guys!

So, my Lil Dude started *kindergarten* last week!  Can you believe it?  (This morning he's home sick with a cold, though, dressed in a Superman outfit and, at this moment, directing (bashing, actually) his remote control police car into my desk chair in an attempt to get my attention.

*time lapse*

Okay, situation under control now.  So, as I was saying, car-bashing aside, my Lil Dude is now becoming a Big Dude, *sniff sniff.*.... If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might remember this post I did just after we adopted him from Guatemala when he was nine months old.

On a different note, I thought I'd let you know about one of the many great books I've enjoyed this summer. Here is Jeannie Mobley's charming older-middle-grade novel, Katerina's Wish (ages 8-12)... such a sweet cover, isn't it?

Jeannie and I have much in common-- she also has an anthropology background, also lives in northern Colorado, and has the same agent as me (Erin Murphy).  Jeannie and I actually worked together in the anthropology department at the local community college (where she still teaches.)  I already knew quite well that she's a clever, hard-working, and warm-hearted person, so I wasn't too surprised to find those same qualities in Katerina, the loveable main character of her debut novel.

I was lucky enough to get a review copy over the summer... and I loved it! I'm in awe-- Jeannie is a master of historical fiction.  Here's the blurb I gave:

I adored this beautiful debut novel about a spunky Bohemian immigrant girl who dares to realize her family’s American dream through creativity and hard work.  The loveable characters, vivid setting, and magical folktales completely drew me into Katerina’s world, and I didn’t want to leave.

You can visit Jeannie's website here and see the starred reviews and honors this book has already received (and it's just coming out this week!)

I've read some other wonderful new middle grade books dealing with immigration this summer, like Natalie Dias Lorenzi's Flying the Dragon, which I plan to review here soon (stay tuned!)

Big congrats to Jeannie on her book release!  I'm planning on attending her launch party (open to everyone) at the Longmont Public Library from 3:00- 5:00 on Saturday, Sept 8.  Maybe we'll see you there...

And speaking of events, just a reminder to you Maryland folks-- I'll be on the Baltimore Bred panel of the Baltimore Book Festival  on Sat, Sept 29 at 5:30. Please come and chat if you're in the area! 

That's it for now!


Fort Collins Writer Friends and their Creations!

Hello everyone,

One of the best things about being a writer for teens is the great sense of community that comes with it.  Here are what two of my YA writer friends in town are up to....

Todd Mitchell, another Fort Collinite, had a recent book release -- The Secret to Lying.  Full disclosure: I read an early draft of this YA novel years ago and fell in love with it... and ever since I've been incapable of talking about this book without gushing!

 Over the next few years, the story went through many revisions, but it was definitely worth the wait... it is now a perfectly polished gem.  Here's the review I posted of it on amazon:

Oh, how I wish this book existed when I was a teen! I would have connected so strongly with it. (Now, in my thirties, I still connect with it, but in my teens I was *craving* a story like this!) I love how the book deals with multiple layers of reality and consciousness-- the faces we show to people and the parts of ourselves we don't. The story really resonated with my feelings about existence as a young adult-- how I felt unsure at times what was real, wondering to what extent I could create reality, puzzling over who I was, grappling with how to connect with people. (Deep stuff!) The matrix-like alternate dreamscape works beautifully in the story and really sets it apart from similar books (like John Green's work-- incidentally, I have to say that as a John Green fan, I liked The Secret to Lying even better than any of J.G.'s stuff for this reason). In addition to the psychological thriller/philosophical elements, this book is full of hilarious dialogue and a tender romance and mystery/suspense. Don't miss this fascinating, funny, and utterly engaging read for teens and adults alike! 


 Here I am with Todd at last spring's CO Teen Lit Conference

Here's the front jacket flap summary for The Secret to Lying:

          James was the guy no one noticed —another fifteen-year-old living in a small town. So when he gets into the American Science and Mathematics Academy (or ASMA), James decides to leave his boring past behind. In a public boarding school made up of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless lies to invent the new James: rebel, punk, street fighter. Everyone’s impressed —except for the beautiful Ellie Frost, whose icy demeanor holds an inexplicable attraction for James, and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees right through his new identity.
           But James is riding high —playing pranks and hooking up with the luscious Jessica Keen. Things seem perfect until he begins having strange dreams of a dark city haunted by demons. As the line between dreams and reality blurs, James begins to wonder: What’s the price for being the coolest guy around?
            Funny and real, Todd Mitchell's debut YA novel takes readers into a school for the intellectually gifted and socially awkward, as readers discover the secret —and consequences— to lying. 

Todd made a really funny book trailer for The Secret to Lying called "How NOT to Promote a Book"... you can see it here.

Speaking of funny videos, if you've ever wondered how reviews affect the emotional well-being of us authors, check out this short and hilarious YouTube video made by writer friend  (and Fort Collinite) Amy Kathleen Ryan.

Surprisingly, I don't have a photo of us together, but here's her very elegant author headshot...

     I'm looking forward to reading her recent release Zen And Xander Undone -- I just saw the book trailer on her website, and the book looks fantastic.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I must figure out how to embed videos in my blog! ;)

Before I go, I'll leave you with the latest funny thing Lil Dude said... Last night we were on our way back from a bluegrass festival in the mountains (Lyons), and the sunset was breathtaking-- liquid pools of red, pink, orange, all golden and glowing and melting across the mountains.  I told Lil Dude to check out the sunset, and he said, "Aw!  It's sooo cuuuute!"  Hehehe... but his comment did make me think objectively about the words we use to describe sunsets-- spectacular, beautiful, gorgeous... Cute is definitely outside of the box!

Have a cute week!


What I've Been Reading...

Hi everyone!
Springtime has been treating me well, except for these headaches that have been plaguing me lately.  But I'll focus on the good stuff in life.... I've been reading some great books-- the latest is Grace Lin's Newbery Honor book:

She weaves in Chinese folklore and mythology, and she did the gorgeous illustrations herself.  A magical  read, with a beautiful  message about gratitude. I discovered, while perusing her website, that she also wrote an "adoption fairytale" picture book, which I promptly bought for my Lil Dude, age 3.

He loves the book.  We usually pay attention to the author photo at the back of any book we read, since he's starting to understand that I'm an author, and he's interested in other authors.  He loves Grace's author photo, and points to it and says, "I love her.  I love Grace Lin."  "Why?" I ask.  "Because," he says, "she write nice words and she draw pretty pictures."  He loves the red thread coming from the queen and king's hearts, and always listens to my heart a few times during the book.  So sweet.

Photo credit: Alexandre Ferron

I'd heard about the bit of red thread folklore years ago, and loved it.  When I wrote The Indigo Notebook, I wove in the idea of a red ribbon, which has significance to Wendell, who is searching for his birth family in Ecuador. A number of readers have commented that they really like that element of the book, but I can't take credit for it.  Here's the quote from the beginning of The Red Thread: "There is an ancient Chinese belief that an invisible, unbreakable red thread connects all those who are destined to be together." I believe with all my heart that my Lil Dude and I were destined to be together, and I love how Grace portrays this idea with tenderness and humor and magic, on a level accessible to preschoolers.

Other books I've been reading-- Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams, another middle grade book-- lovely story of friendship and family and love, complete with a secret nook in the attic, wisps of ghosts, an intriguing old diary, a parallel story of a girl who lived in the house decades earlier.  I'm lucky to be friends with the wonderful author, Sarah, who I met a few months ago on our agent's retreat.

I'm now just about finished Ten Cents a Dance, a captivating young adult novel set in the early 1940s, which thrums with dance hall jazz -- the setting is just stunning, and the main character, Ruby, is super-spunky.

If you're curious what else I've been reading, check out the Goodreads widget-thingie on the sidebar to the right (you'll have to scroll down to the bottom).  You can click on the icon and it will bring you to my Goodreads page and you can be my friend and follow what books I'm reading (and of course, write glowing reviews about my books...  hehehe... ;-)

On a different note, I just got a shiny, gorgeous hard copy of the actual jacket of my book, The Queen of Water, which I'll take a picture of and post soon, along with some other photos related to the book.  I just love this cover!

I'm off to my NIA class now, and then I'll settle in for a few hours of writing more of The Jade Notebook.

Happy weekend!