Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Year in Writing--2010

Last year, for my last post of the year, I did this kind of cool (well, I thought it was, anyway), month by month look back on my year in writing to see how far I'd come. And ALL year I've been planning to do the same thing this year. But when I started to write the post I realized something: MANS was it boring. I spent so much time in Revision Hell it started to read like a broken record.

So instead, I'm still calling it my year in writing, but I'm going to focus on a bunch of other things that happened too. You'll thank me later.

Endings and Beginnings
After twelve previous drafts--yes, TWELVE--over the last seven months, I *finally* felt like draft thirteen was ready for me to type the two words I hadn't let myself type before--at least not together. "The End." I *might* have cried a little. And it was just in time because two weeks later I attended my first writer's conference. Not gonna lie, it was 3 of the most stressful days of my life. I didn't know anyone, and I had 5 pitches to agents and some of the other writers I met...well...let's just say they were less than friendly. But I SURVIVED. And walked away with 3 partial requests, a full request, and a conference choice award for my first chapter. Yeah, I was shocked too.

Stalling and then Twitter changes lives
After LOTS of going round and round on who to query and when to query and OMG-I'm-too-scared-to-query, my family, friends, and CPs ganged up on me with an epic Twitter campaign (#hitsend) and shoved me into the querying pool, kicking and screaming the whole way. Within 12 hours I had my first rejection, 2 partial requests and a full request from a partial--oh, and I still had ten chapters to finish line editing before I sent the full. It's amazing my head didn't explode.

After 2 roller coaster weeks of querying, my dream came true, and I got an offer of representation from my #1 Wish-List agent. Yeah, it was totally cool. She was traveling when I accepted her offer, so I had to wait 3 weeks to announce (I was too worried I'd get a "just kidding" email, so I wasn't going public until I had my contract in hand) and when I finally shared the news, the reaction and support was AMAZING. Such a high. I'll never forget it. And then...reality set in, when I got my first Laura Rennert revision letter. It was LONG. And thorough. And full of amazing ideas. And OMG SO SCARY! 

Self Doubt, Drama, and Re-Grouping
I started out the month pretty much paralyzed with fear. Wondering what would happen if I couldn't nail the revision (would I lose my agent and have to flee the country for the shame of it?). Wondering where to even start on her notes. Doubting I was good enough. (Incidentally, this was when the revision-is-stressful diet kicked in). And as if that wasn't fun enough, some things in my personal life became...well, let's just say drama-filled. Not gonna lie, it was a tough month. I took a few weeks off blogging. I lost some weight. But by the end of it I knew who my real friends were, what I needed to do with my draft, and I had finally started tackling the revision.

Full steam ahead
Here's where the writing part becomes repetitive (*coughs* Revision *coughs*). But somewhere in the midst of that, I got an email from a friend saying, "Hey, I want to plan an online writer's conference. You in?" (well, okay, she was more articulate than that, but I'm too lazy to go back and find her actual wording) And I of course said, YES. Even though I had NO idea how in the heck we were going to do that.

Slogging through
WriteOnCon was slowly becoming a REAL THING (hey, it even had a name!) and even though I still didn't really understand how any of it was going to work, we were contacting agents/authors to participate--and they were saying YES! Wheels were in motion. Hundreds and hundreds of emails were being sent and group chats were being held and websites were being built and life was pretty much insane.

The tough month and the sekrit to keeping the joy.
July was an INSANE month. Comic Con. SCBWI LA. WriteOnCon planning. Oh yes, also more revision. And I'll confess, I was getting burned out. BIGTIME. A friend who knew my struggles suggested I start another project to give me a change of pace, and I wanted to laugh. I was SO busy already, when would I have time for that? But when I was out of town with my husband for our anniversary I couldn't sleep (insomnia sucks) so I grabbed my laptop. I'd planned to get some work done, but my heart just wasn't in it. So on a total whim I opened a new, blank document and wrote from this new voice that had been hanging out in my head--a new character with a new story I hadn't planned on telling. And it was a revelation. I only wrote 6 pages but they were the best 6 pages I'd written in a long time--not because they were perfect (if only...), but because they were FUN. My sekrit project was born, and ever since, whenever I need a break or to fall back in love with writing, I spend some time with it. It's like therapy in a draft.

Everything was down to the wire. Faculty were being added. Some were dropping out. Then some who'd dropped out wanted back in. And the emails. Oh, the emails. It's amazing gmail didn't close my accounts. And just when I thought it couldn't get any crazier, it was CONFERENCE TIME. Longest three days EVER. Between Error 403 (I *still* have nightmares about that) and keeping up with the forums and the emails and moderating events and everything else, I pretty much didn't eat or sleep the entire time. But it was SO worth it. Not just because we reached so many more thousands of people than we expected. Not just because Publishers Weekly ran a story on us. But mainly because here was this HUGE thing we'd done that helped a whole lot of people, and it had all come from a few vague ideas and a ton of email. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it. Who knew?

Back to normal--or not
Just when I thought life would calm down, WriteOnCon came back for more. We got so many emails from people who were sad they'd missed the conference, we decided to hold monthly live events. And whilst we were scrambling to organize those, we found out the only way to avoid another Error 403 was to switch to a different web hosting company--and it was expensive. Cue scrambling to put together an epic fundraiser. Cue hundreds more emails. But that's okay. I happen to love email. And the fundraiser and live events were another huge success.

October, November, December
Group blogs, more of the same, and finally--a routine!
Funny thing about being super insanely busy for an extended period of time: it starts to feel normal. And then it IS normal. I finally figured out a way to organize my time so that I can answer all my emails, organize the live events, revise, work on ze sekrit project when I need to, blog, play on Twitter, and occasionally eat and sleep see my husband. So I figured, why not join a couple of group blogs??? ;) But hey, I'm kind of a pro at juggling now. I don't even really feel it. And hopefully between that and the fact that I am FINALLY getting close with my writing, here's hoping 2011 will be the year I sell my first book. Only time will tell.

*Phew* So there you have it, my year in revising/querying/signing-with-an-agent/blogging/planning-an-online-writer's conference/stressing/not-eating-or-sleeping-enough/surviving-drama and oh yeah, WRITING! Sure, I've had some ups and downs. But I've always moved forward.

And I do want to add one more thing. This year I have made some of the most amazing, supportive writer-friends ever. I seriously don't know how I survived without them, and with their help I know I can handle anything this crazy publishing business throws at me as I continue to chase my dream. Bring it on 2011. I'm ready!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--5 Favorites of the Year (plus a giveaway and a winner!)

Not sure how many of you will be blog hopping this week--I've seen *quite* a lot of bloggers announce their hiatus this week. But I, OCD Shannon, couldn't close out 2010 without a few more year-end themed posts. And today, I wanted to kick that off with my year end Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--my five favorite MG books I read this year.

IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, by Lisa Schroeder
How can you go wrong with a cover like that? Simple: you can't! And when you add in a sweet story about mothers and daughters finding a way to understand each other through baking, well, you have a winner in my book. Bonus: Lisa Schroeder is one of the nicest, sweetest, most supportive authors ever. Win and win!

SELLING HOPE, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb
There are SO many things to love about this book but I think what I love most is that it's truly one of a kind. It's one of those "perfect books" in my opinion, and I just want to read it over and over and over. I'm sure I will. (I gush much more in-depth about it HERE if you missed it).

THE INSIDE STORY (Sisters Grimm book 8), by Michael Buckley
I love when a series just keeps getting better, and since this happens to be one of my favorite middle grade series, I was especially excited. I mean, maybe it's partially to do with how much time I've spent in Revision Hell this year and the fact that there's REVISION MONSTERS in the story, but this one is my favorite in the series.Can't wait for #9!!!!

I was a little worried this book could never live up to the sheer awesomeness of its cover, but it definitely delivered. Such a unique, imaginative take on middle grade fantasy and my only complaint is that it totally leaves unanswered questions and I don't WANNA wait for the next one. Here's hoping the ARC fairies will deliver one early. (I also gush more about this book HERE, if you missed it)

THE EMERALD ATLAS, by John Stephens
Okay, this is technically cheating, because the book doesn't come out until April 2011. But I've had my ARC for a few months and all I can say is: I foresee big things for this series. BIG. I'll save any further comments for the review I'll do when we're closer to release (and I'm still deciding if I'm willing to share my ARC with one of you) but for now, mark this one down "to read." You won't want to miss it.

There's SO many more books I could list here--but I'm limiting myself to five to save everyone an endless post. Plus, all the ones I haven't mentioned will definitely be part of future Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays. So many awesome books. So little time.

And on that note, I thought I'd do the giveaway a little different today. I'm giving one $10.00 gift card (or B& gift card--winner's choice) to one lucky commenter on today's post so they can pick whatever book they want. Any of the above are excellent choices, but this way, if you've already read them, you can pick something else. All you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment by 11:59 pm PST on Friday, January 7th. I'll announce the winner on Sat, January 8th. Good luck!

Oh, and before I forget, the winner of PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale is....



*tosses confetti*

If that's you, please check your email--you have one in there from me asking for your mailing address. For everyone else, thanks for entering. See you back next year for more awesome MMGM fun!

(Oh, and if you've done a MMGM feature today and would like me to link you, email me and I'll update this post. Thanks!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Um... Oh, and some winners!

Okay, this was supposed to be a proper post, but it's not. Because every time I try to write a proper post all I can come up with is:


Not exactly inspiring, I know.

Not surprising either, considering how many things I'm supposed to be doing right now, but quite simply am not. Like LAUNDRY (yes, I'm still behind from my weekend in Vegas--seriously, did I somehow go through three times as many clothes as normal, because I can't possibly fathom how else I generated this much laundry in four days????). And finally unpacking the pots and pans my parents gave me for my anniversary back in JULY so that giant box won't take up space in my living room anymore. And going to the grocery store so there's actually food in the house. And hey, maybe I could take those unpacked pots and pans and that newly purchased food and try that crazy cooking thing for once, so the take-out places around our house stop recognizing my voice and knowing my order as soon as I say "hello."

Yeah...none of that is going to happen either.

Neither are those INSANE writing/revision goals I set for myself for the end of the year (Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha--those are SO not gonna happen.)

Interestingly enough, though, I have done SOME things this week. For instance, I have spent a LOT of time staring out the window and watching the rain whilst petting a giant fluffy cat who's planted himself in my lap. (I mean, it's raining! In Cali! We do not see that very often, guys!!!!! Not to mention the giant fluffy cat is, in fact, GIANT--25 pounds giant, all of which is muscle--and when he decides it's time to be petted, well, there's kind of no stopping him)

I've also watched a number of my favorite movies when I caught them on TV. (Even though they'd been edited to shreds and split up with a zillion commercials and I owned the DVD and could have easily gotten up and put on the real movie and watched it in its proper form. But...that was SO much extra work.)

Oh, and I've spent a LOT of time googling hot guys. You know, as one does. For "research."

And this activity is particularly time consuming, because, well, it's hard not to STARE and let hours pass and suddenly the hubs is home from work and all I've done is ogle these pictures, trying to decide who has the prettier eyes... Paul Rudd, Chris Pine, or Ian Sommerhalder...

(RIGHT? Can you see how this would require hours of contemplation???? And don't even get me started on who has the best abs...)

So yeah, not a whole lot of productivity going on in Shannonland. I promise I will try to dig my brain out of the mush soon. In the meantime, enjoy the eye candy! :)

Oh--and I need to do winners. Yikes, I got so distracted by all those gorgeous guys I almost forgot. Okay, so, the winner of the ARC of DESIRES OF THE DEAD by Kimberly Derting is...


*tosses confetti*

And the winner of the SIGNED copy of ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine is...


*tosses glitter and streamers and sparkles*

*wonders what the difference between "glitter" and "sparkles" is...*

*cannot come up with an answer*

Okay, so if you see your name there, check you email, there's one in there from me asking for your mailing address. But I'll be honest guys, making it to the post office in the midst of all the OMG-I-HAVE-TO-MAIL-THIS-PACKAGE-BEFORE-XMAS-CHAOS is another one of those things that's probably *not* going to happen. But still send me your mailing address and I'll ship the prizes off next week. Promise. 

For everyone else, thanks for playing. And don't lose heart, there's always another contest to come. You have no idea how many books I have piled up just waiting for me to give them away. Yet another thing I need to get cracking on. Sigh.

What about you guys? How are you using your time these days? Any of you being about as productive as I am?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Author Voice--Shannon Style

Okay, ever since I talked about Finding Your Character's Voice in last week's Shannon Style post, I've been trying to figure out how to talk about the vague, indescribable concept of Author Voice, and how I found mine.  And I'm still not sure I've really figured out how to properly cover the topic, but I'm going to give it a try. (heh--not exactly a ringing endorsement for this post, but go with me here) :)

So, first of all, what is author voice, and how is it different from character voice?

Basically it's your style of writing--the way you put words on the page and the way you tell the story that is uniquely yours. It's something that will cross over from project to project, regardless of whether you're using the same characters or writing in the same genre or POV.

Some projects will showcase it more than others, but it still has to be there to some degree. And if you've ever read a draft that fell a little flat, I guarantee you it's because that writer hasn't quite figured out how to inject their voice into the story. For me it's the single most defining element of "good writing," and is the reason writers are able to become career authors. If they have a good "voice" their readers will keep coming back for more, no matter what the story.

Which is hard, because voice isn't something anyone can teach you. It has to come from you. You can learn all the tools of writing: plot fundamentals and grammatical rules, and whatnot. But in the end, the way you use and consciously break those is your voice, and no one can tell you what your voice is. You have to find it on your own.

Think of it like learning to draw. You can study rules of proportion and learn how to play with line and shading and color. But the way you choose to use those tools when you draw is uniquely your style. Van Gogh didn't draw the same way Picasso did. And no one should put words on paper quite the same way you do.

It took me five or six drafts of my current MS to find my voice, and each of the many revisions I've done after that has refined that voice. And I can tell that my voice will continue to evolve with every word I write. Which really is the plain and simple secret with voice. You have to write.

There's no shortcut. No exercise you can do to quickly and easily find your voice. No questionnaire that will lead you straight to it. They say every writer has to purge a million bad words to get to any halfway decent ones, and that is mostly because it will probably take you at least that many to find your voice.

That being said, I do think it *helps* to study voice in other books. I can't say this enough: writers need to be readers. Pay attention to the different "voices" authors use when you read. Which ones are you drawn to? Which ones remind you a little of the way you write? Then analyze them, break them down to figure out what gives them their particular voice. Understanding how they do what they do can help you find your own voice.

Really, it comes down to your own personal taste and preferences. Going back to the art analogy, my style of drawing is very precise, very dramatic, and extremely detailed. Why? Because that's what I personally find appealing to look at. I'm not about loose, rough, free lines and muted colors. I like, clean, sharp lines, dark blacks, extreme whites, and lots of meticulous detail. Does that make me right and other artists who do the opposite wrong? Of course not. But it's my taste, and that's what I strive for when I sit down to draw.

When it comes to writing, I have my own tastes and preferences as well. Personally I love the rhythm of words. So I love to break up sentences into fragments--or to connect sentences with em dashes. I love shorter paragraphs. Single sentence paragraphs. I like to avoid dialogue tags whenever possible, because they feel like they interrupt the flow of a conversation. And I like to give the scenes plenty of emotional "beats." I'm also a HUGE fan of humor--I'm pretty much incapable of taking a scene 100% seriously--and I'm not a fan of heavy description so I tend to break it up and scatter it around.

I'm sure there's more to it than that, but those are--to me--the most defining elements of my "voice." I never consciously sat down and said: I'm going to write with fragmented sentences and use a lot of humor and write around dialogue tags. It's just the method I fell into as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again.

And you'll find yours the more you write, write, write.

It also helps to do what I just did in this post. Find the right words to describe and define your voice. The more you analyze your writing and think about your style, the more you'll figure out what you do and don't do when you're writing. Take a few minutes and try to come up with 2 or 3 sentences that describe the essence of your voice. Then reread a couple of your chapters and see if you're really doing what you think you're doing. Can really show you where you need to polish.

I have heard of a couple of other exercises to help you find your voice, but I've never done them so I have no idea if they really help. One is to write in present tense for a while, because apparently it's easier to be "voicey." I've also heard it can help to rewrite the same chapter in an opposite POV (switching from 1st to 3rd or vice versa) and comparing what stylistic elements stay the same in each version. You are welcome to try them--and if you do let me know if they work.

But personally I don't think you can short-cut your way around this. Sure, some people just have a natural gift for having a very strong voice, and have it in even their earliest MS's. (It's hard not to hate those people...) The rest of us have to write and write and revise and rewrite and repeat with project after project until we finally figure it out. But it's worth the effort. Nothing makes your book stand out more than a spot-on voice. Push yourself and don't give up until you find it.

What about you guys--any tips for finding your author voice? And how would you define your own "voice?"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--Princess Academy (and a Giveaway!)

Thanks for all the comments on Friday guys (sorry for not responding--still catching up from being on vacation *drowns in laundry*).  I had a lot of fun in Vegas!!! Sadly I don't have any pictures to share (it rained the entire time, so there weren't any photo opps. Sorry) but I did a ton of eating and shopping and relaxing and oh, did I mention FUN. Yes-- <3 Vegas so much!

But I'm also sooooo glad to be home and back to my normal life and my normal blogging schedule. Which of course means another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday feature--and this week I'm talking about an absolutely beautiful book: PRINCESS ACADEMY, by Shannon Hale.

Yes, that shiny medal means it won a Newbery Honor--and it totally deserved it. This was probably the 5th Middle Grade book I bought and read (I started with the Newbery winners) and if I'd had any doubts that this genre could have beautiful prose and deep, powerful stories they were erased here. 

Don't be fooled by the title into thinking this is some fluffy fantasy about pretty dresses and fairy godmothers. The story is based off a fairytale, and there is a slight magical feel, but this is an emotional, rich story about a poor, uneducated mountain village that learns they are chosen to have a "princess academy" to prepare one of their girls to become the next princess.

We follow Miri, the youngest and smallest member of her family, who's been deemed by her father to be too fragile to help in the quarries that provide the only income for the village. As she struggles with feelings of uselessness and doubts her father's love, she's shipped off to the new princess academy to learn how to read and write and use proper social etiquette. And while she's there, she has her eyes opened to the power of education and discovers how many ways her life could be better if she applied her newly acquired knowledge. 

I know that may sound like a simple story, but the plot actually takes a number of surprisingly intense turns that keeps you turning the pages, needing to know what will happen next. And the writing is gorgeous. No really, it's GORGEOUS. Shannon Hale writes the way I *wish* I could write, but I'm just not lyrical or poetic like that. She is a master. *bows*

Obviously I love the book (I wouldn't feature it on MMGM if I didn't) and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to any of you. I love all of Shannon Hale's books, but this one is definitely my favorite. 

And I know this book is sometimes classified as YA. But it really falls into that vague Upper MG/Lower YA Category that no one knows quite what to do with. Most of the time it's sold in the same section with all the MG books. But online it's listed as YA, probably because Miri is 14, which is a tad old for MG, and Hale's other books are YA. Personally I see it as MG, and know for a fact I would have loved it when I was 11, 12-ish. But I loved it as an adult too. So really it's for all ages (as most middle grade is). Trust me on this one, it's a beautiful book. You will not regret giving it a chance.

Which is why, as usual, I'm giving away a copy. You guys NEED to read this. Sorry, it's not a signed copy, but it's still a free book to one lucky commenter on today's post. All you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment between now and 11:59 pm PST on Sunday, December 26th. I'll post the winner on Monday, the 27th. International entries welcome.

For another MG recommendation, make sure you stop by Shannon O'Donnell's blog tomorrow (she's doing her MMGM on Tuesday this week and you don't want to miss it.)

And if anyone else has done a MMGM feature today please, email me and I will add linkage. :)

Happy Monday!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You will never believe it!

Okay, I know today is supposed to be Bookanista day, but amazingly enough, I'm not here. I'm in Paris!!!

Well...okay, I'm in Paris Las Vegas--which is SO not the same. But it's close enough for this girl, who hasn't had a real vacation in almost 2 years and since the 4 hour car drive to Vegas is MUCH more realistic than the 12 hour flight to Paris...well...yeah. I'll take what I can get.

And hey, it still has an Eiffel Tower:...

If you've been following my blog for a while now you'd know that this is sort of a tradition my husband and I have, because the weekend before Christmas is DIRT CHEAP in Vegas. So we go every year and once again we'll be staying in a beautiful room and seeing a show and doing lots of shopping and eating and--believe it or not: RELAXING!!!!

I know. I'm not sure if I remember how to do that--but I'm going to try, cause oh mans do I need a break!!!

But sorry, I don't have a Bookanista review for you today, and I won't be posting for the rest of the week/weekend. But I'll be back on Monday with a vengeance and I promise a full report on my trip next week--especially if I stumble into any of the shenanigans that seem to be the norm for me.

Have a wonderful rest of the week! Oh, and in case you missed it, don't miss your chance to win an ARC of DESIRES OF THE DEAD (enter HERE) or a signed copy of ELLA ENCHANTED (enter HERE).

And if you're craving some wonderful book recommendations, check out what the rest of the Bookanistas are up to today:

Kirsten Hubbard celebrates JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD and THE MOCKINGBIRDS

Elana Johnson gives a little love to JOEY FLY 2: PRIVATE EYE

Beth Revis chimes in on CHIME

Lisa and Laura Roecker rave about BOOKS THEY’RE DYING TO READ

Carolina Valdez Miller looks ahead to JANUARY RELEASES

Bethany Wiggins fawns over Firelight

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finding Your Character's Voice--Shannon Style

The last couple of weeks I've talked about some techniques I use for writing/revising dialogue  and for creating characters. So it seemed only natural to spend this week's Shannon Style post talking about how I find my character's voices.

And I know that may seem like it's the same thing as dialogue, but it's not. Especially in first person--but even in third person--every word on the page is in a character's "voice" (which is different from the author's voice, something I will attempt to talk about another time, once I actually figure out how to say something useful ;) ). So it's essential to find the unique, authentic "voice" for the characters telling the story, because that--imho, at least--is what separates a "good" draft from a "great" draft. Basically, it's the brass ring to strive for.

Now, again, I have to confess...a lot of this is something I do kind of unconsciously. Meaning that my characters often come to me with a very clear, distinct voice, and I just sort of channel that into everything I write. I'm very very grateful for that, and I hope it never stops, because finding the voice can be HARD. But, I have picked up a few tricks along the way, either through trial and error or through film school, so I thought I'd pass them on to you.

Okay, first and foremost: to find your character's voice you have to write. There's no magic trick to avoid it. Butt in chair. Fingers on the keyboard. Write. Write. Write. Tons of it may be horrible. Shoot--all of it may be horrible. But the only way to figure out what a voice sounds like on paper is to try it out. Vomit out those words and somewhere in that mess I guarantee you will find the character's voice.

That being said, there are some other things that make a HUGE difference for me.

1) Make a character playlist. Even if you aren't like me and don't write to music, this is still a super helpful exercise. And I'm not referring to a "book playlist" or a "plot playlist" or anything else like what you see on writer's websites when their books are released. Those are awesome and wonderful and you can definitely make them. But this is different. The songs on this playlist probably won't "fit" your story at all. But they're not supposed to. 

Here's what you do: imagine your character was really alive and handed you their iPod. What songs would they have on there? Not just genres of music--though that's a start. Specifically what songs? Make a playlist out of those, and listen to it either before or while you write. 

I have one character who loves pop-country like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. (I never mind listening to her playlist.) I have another who likes the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. (Her playlist is TORTURE to listen to--and omg I DIE whenever one of those songs pops up on my iPod when I have people in the car). Another loves indie rock like The Spill Canvas and Anberlin. (He's my favorite.) Knowing that about them really gives me a feel for who they are as a person--cause let's face it, musical taste is a very personal thing, and it does affect the way you think and talk. Try it with your characters. Spend a couple hours making them a playlist. I think you'll be amazed at what you learn. 

2. Interview your characters: Okay, this is another one of those tricks where the process can be a little embarrassing, so I highly recommend you do this one alone. But it is worth the humiliation--and this is one I am not too proud to admit that I do. A lot. (And yes, a few times my husband has caught me and found it rather hilarious. I just tell myself he'll appreciate my methods when I have a book in the stores someday :D)

Basically, you pretend you're a reporter (or a talk show host--shoot, pretend you're Oprah if you want) and ask the characters the kinds of questions an interviewer would ask them. Then you make the characters answer the questions--out loud. Like it's a real interview for all the world to see. Why? Because if you've ever watched a news report, you've probably noticed how the way the person relates what happened to them is distinctly their own way of telling it. You can find your character's "voice" by making them do the same.

Make them talk about the things you're putting them through. The things they think and feel. Say their answers out loud and try to put yourself in their shoes and really feel it. Even if you're like me and your acting skills leave MUCH to be desired, you'll be amazed at how you still get such a clear feel for the way they think and talk. Do they give lots of details? Do they try to keep emotion out of it? Do they gesture a lot with their face and body? All of that should and will be reflected in their "voice" when you let them tell their story on the page.

3. Voice Exercises: Yes--I know. They're kind of a lot of work and they often yield nothing useable for your book. But they can be PRICELESS. Why? Because sometimes when you sit down to write the actual draft you can get lost in the PLOT and the STORY and the pressure you put on yourself to NAIL THE SCENE that you forget about the voice, or at least temporarily lose sight of it.

So it can be a huge help to start your writing time with a short voice exercise, just to get into your character's head. No pressure to be good. No plot or story. Just thinking and writing like the character for 15-20 minutes before you dive into the draft. Makes a huge difference.

There's a million-and-a-half different ones you can do, but personally I like to do exercises where I delve into the character's past or memories. I make them tell me the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to them. Or maybe a sad memory, if I'm about to work on a sad scene. Maybe they talk about what kinds of animals they do or don't like. Or what they imagine high school will be like when they get there. I'm sure there are books/websites out there with lists of them, but I personally just come up with my own. I pick something that interests me about the character--something I haven't put much thought into before--and I just free-write a couple of pages. Every so often I even end up with something I can use in the book. But that's not the goal. The goal is to get inside my character's head and learn to think like them, so I can channel that on the page.

I'm sure there are more to finding character voice than this--and like I said at the beginning, a lot of times the character's voice just sort of comes to me. But when I get stuck, or I have to change a character during the revision process or I stumble across a difficult scene where I'm not quite sure how the character would tell that particular part of the story, I fall back on these tricks. And they have helped me immensely. Hopefully if you decide to try them they'll work as well for you.

How about you guys: any tricks you use for finding the character's voices? Or do you have any questions on any of this? Feel free to load up my comments section. I love the dialogues these "Shannon Style" posts open up every week. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--Ella Enchanted (and a signed book Giveaway!!!)

I can't tell you how excited I am for today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. In fact, I've been saving this prize for months because it's particularly special to me. But with this year almost over--the year I finished my first middle grade book and signed with an agent--I thought it only fitting to feature the book that inspired me to write middle grade in the first place. So I humbly (re)introduce you to ELLA ENCHANTED, by Gail Carson Levine.

Before I gush and rave about the book, I should probably tell you my story. How this one book changed everything for me.

I think most of you know I went to film school and worked in Hollywood for a bit. But I left about a year after I graduated because Hollywood just wasn't me. At first I put all those dreams behind me--including writing--and for a little more than two years I didn't write at all. But I missed inventing characters and telling stories and letting my imagination run wild. Eventually I realized I needed to write again. I just had no idea how to do that, or what I wanted to write anymore.

To spare you an endless post, I'll skip all the steps that brought me to the children's section at my local Barnes and Noble, and cut straight to the moment when I finally recognized a title. ELLA ENCHANTED. I'd never read it, and I didn't know much about it, but I knew it was a reinterpretation of Cinderella (my favorite fairy tale) and that it won the Newberry Honor. That was enough for me.

It was the first children's book I bought as an adult (I even remember being a little embarrassed as I bought it, and pretending it was a "gift"--*blush*) and I'll confess...I had fairly low expectations. I'd imagined it would feel "simple" and "young." Like reading a picture book or something. So imagine my surprise when I found a book of beautiful writing, compelling characters, and so much imagination I was astounded. I read the whole book in one sitting and I swear if I were in a movie a light would have come from the sky to visually represent my Ah Ha! moment. I finally finally FINALLY knew what kind of book I wanted to write.

So believe me when I tell you, this is an amazing book--and you don't have to be a kid to appreciate it. The world Levine has created is fabulous, and the way she's tweaked the classic fairy tale to give (cinder)Ella some much needed gumption and personality makes you want to throw rocks at the earlier story--not to mention the writing is knock-me-down gorgeous. It's glaringly obvious why this book won the Newberry Honor, pretty much from the first page.

And do not let the movie--whether you've seen it or not--influence you. It's not the worst movie I've ever seen--and it's certainly not the best. But mostly, it's not ELLA ENCHANTED. Sure, there's certain elements in common, but really...not a whole lot. (ahhh...Hollywood, why do you do it?) Judge the book by the book, and you will not be disappointed.

I'll stop the gushing and praising there, because I have a feeling most of you have at least heard of this book. It's kind of a classic. Plus I want to make sure I leave room to talk quickly about the giveaway.

Over the summer I was lucky enough to meet Gail Carson Levine--twice--and she was every bit as amazing as I'd imagined her. And of course, I picked up a signed copy of ELLA ENCHANTED to give to one of you. They only had paperbacks--le sigh--but did I mention that it's SIGNED? See:

And I'm giving it away to one lucky commenter on today's post. All you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment on this post before 11:59 pm PST on Tuesday December 21st. I'll announce the random winner on December 22nd. International entries welcome.


Oh, and if anyone else has done a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and would like me to link your post, drop me an email and let me know. :)

UPDATE: The always fabulous Shannon O'Donnell (I guess we Shannon's have to stick together) has done a fabulous MMGM feature on Tyger Tyger. Make sure you hop over THERE and check it out.

MORE EXCITMENT: Joanne Fritz is talking about BOOM, a fabulous MG book you may have missed when it came out this year. Make sure you STOP BY to check it out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Healing Spell Winner!

Once again, I am blown away by all your enthusiasm and support for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. I wish I had a copy of THE HEALING SPELL to give away to all of you, but alas, I only have one. So I've chosen one lucky, random winner who gets to to keep this lovely prize:

And the winner is...

*drumroll please*


*tosses buckets of confetti*

If that's you, check your email--you have one from me asking for your mailing address. I'll ship your prize off as soon as I hear back.

And if that's not you, again, I'm so so so sorry I don't have a copy to give away to everyone. But I HIGHLY recommend you pick up a copy or borrow it from a library or a friend because it is an AMAZING book. It's also an absolutely beautiful story, and the hardcover edition is GORGEOUS. Would make a wonderful gift to any young readers on your list. 

Need more convincing? Check out this AWESOME book trailer--one of the best I've ever seen. Really gives you the feel for the story.

Thanks again, you guys!

I'll be back tomorrow with another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and of course another giveaway. And if you're planning on doing a MMGM on your blog feel free to email me the link. I will gladly cross-link to your post. The Middle Grade Crusade marches on! *fist pump*

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anna and the French Kiss Winner!!!

Ahhhhhhh--sorry I'm so late posting this. I don't know where my morning went!!!!

And since I've already kept you waiting, I'll cut right to the chase. The winner of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by the lovely, amazing Ms Stephanie Perkins is...


*tosses glitter and streamers and confetti*

If that's you, check your email--there's one in there from me asking for your mailing address (and if it's not there, please email me. If I don't hear from you in a week I'll be forced to give this to another person who entered, and you wouldn't want that)

For everyone else, thank you so much for entering and I'm sorry I can't afford to give a prize to all you you. It really is an AMAZING book though, so I really hope you either pick up a copy, borrow it from a friend, or check it out from a local library. You will NOT regret it. 

Hope you're having a great weekend!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bookanista Review: Desires of the Dead, by Kimberly Derting--AND AN ARC GIVEAWAY!!!!

Today's Bookanista review is a book I've been raving about since the day I scored an early ARC: DESIRES OF THE DEAD, by my fabulous agent-in-law, Kimberly Derting. (And yes, I will be sharing that ARC with one of you at the end of this post--but we'll get to that in a minute. First things first: the GUSHING!)

Isn't the cover amazing?

It's so simple, but I can't seem to stop staring at it. 

And here's the official blurb:

Violet can sense the echoes of those who've been murdered—and the matching imprint that clings to their killers. Only those closest to her know what she is capable of, but when she discovers the body of a young boy she also draws the attention of the FBI, threatening her entire way of life.

As Violet works to keep her morbid ability a secret, she unwittingly becomes the object of a dangerous obsession. Normally she'd turn to her best friend, Jay, except now that they are officially a couple, the rules of their relationship seem to have changed. And with Jay spending more and more time with his new friend Mike, Violet is left with too much time on her hands as she wonders where things went wrong. But when she fills the void by digging into Mike's tragic family history, she stumbles upon a dark truth that could put everyone in danger.

So obviously this is the sequel to Kim's first book, THE BODY FINDER, one of my favorite reads of 2010. Which meant that even though I was super insanely excited for this book, I was also a little worried, because so often a sequel can fall just a tiny bit flat. But I should never have doubted Kim's talent!

Not only did she manage to bring back everything that made the THE BODY FINDER so incredibly awesome, (the fabulous chemistry between Violet and Jay, the gut-wrenching suspense of the murders and mystery--not to mention jealously-inducing writing)--but she took so many things to the next level. 

This time it's not just the killer threatening Violet's safety, it's the authorities--one FBI Agent in particular who seems to have guessed the secret Violet isn't willing to share, and seems to want something from Violet she's not ready to give. Kim's also managed to ramp up the chemistry between Violet and Jay even more than the BODY FINDER--something I wouldn't have thought possible.  And the mystery--while not being another large-scale serial killer on the loose--is full of so many twists and turns you will definitely be guessing right up to the very end. 

I loved pretty much everything about DESIRES OF THE DEAD, but if I had to pick a favorite thing to gush about it would be Kim's mastery of suspense. Do not sit down with this book unless you are ready to give several hours to it!!! The plot grabs onto you and does not let you put it down. I read it all in one sitting, and my eyes were blurry by the end but I kept reading anyway because I HAD to know what would happen next. I'm really not sure how Kim manages to pull that off--and if she weren't so darn sweet I'd be bitterly jealous about it. But it makes for an amazing, roller-coaster of a read that you definitely want to pick up as soon as it's available to buy.

Need more proof of the book's awesomeness? There's been so much buzz and anticipation for it, Harper decided to move up the release. So now you only have to wait until February 15th to buy your copy. Or you can be safe and preorder now. Methinks this might be one of those books that sells out--and you do not want to wait any longer than you have to. Trust me on that!

But I also made a promise to you guys when I got this ARC (and started bragging about it) that I would share it with one of you. So even though it KILLS me to pass it on (I already want to read it again) I am going to be a girl of my word and give my precious ARC to one lucky commenter on today's post.

And I'm going to keep things nice and simple again. To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment on this post before 11:59 pm PST on Tuesday December 21st. I'll announce the random winner on December 22nd. International entries welcome. And since I have a feeling you guys will fight for this--you should, btw--I'll award 2 extra entries to anyone who spreads the word via twitter, facebook, or their blog/website. Just paste a link in the comments so I can verify.


To hear about more incredible books, check out what the rest of the Bookanistas are up to today:

Christine Fonseca and Elana Johnson recommend THE WRITERS GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY

Megan Miranda gushes about REVOLUTION

Lisa and Laura Roecker present a special Guestanista review of PERSONAL DEMONS

Bethany Wiggins and Carolina Valdez Miller praise ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lost shoes, wandering minds and being different

Sometimes I forget how different being a writer can make me. Not in a bad way, necessarily (at least, *I* don't think so--though I'm sure some might disagree). Just ... unique. Not like everyone else.

I notice things other people don't see, and the wheels in my mind start turning, dreaming, putting together pieces. Next thing I know I'm off in my own world imagining all the possibilities, lost in the story I'm already telling in my head. Oblivious to everything else around me.

Like yesterday. I was with a group of friends who were deep in some sort of conversation I was supposed to be listening to and participating in. But I wasn't. Because a few minutes earlier I'd spotted a lost shoe on the side of the road.

It was a black, men's dress shoe (I'm still lamenting the fact that I'd left my camera at home and couldn't take a picture) and I couldn't help wondering how it ended up there. What crazy string of circumstances led to its unfortunate, cast-off fate--abandoned in a dirty gutter, like roadkill.

I'd concocted at least 5 different scenarios--and a possible picture book concept--when I realized something had changed. The buzzing, humming sounds around me had quieted. The conversation my friends had been having had stopped, and they were all looking at me, waiting for me to answer some question I hadn't heard.

I thought about telling them I was distracted by characters and worlds and stories that ended in a lone, lost shoe--but I was afraid they wouldn't understand. So I played the tired card, asked them to repeat the question and *tried* to be a better friend and pay attention to what they were saying. But my mind kept wandering back to that lost shoe.

That's the thing about being a writer. You see stories everywhere--and you never know when inspiration will strike. I'll probably never write any of the stories that raced through my head yesterday--but I had to keep thinking about them until I saw them through. Because every so often, one of those stories or pieces of ideas becomes a book. It's an amazing, magical process. But non-writers just don't fully understand it. 

Some find it funny, like my husband--who has learned to laugh when he catches me smiling at a joke only I heard, or shaking my head at a character who's been telling me what to do (sadly I'm not making those things up. I swear I'm not crazy) Others just ignore me. And some think I'm distant, easily distracted. Possibly rude.

I'm probably all of the above. But mostly...I'm a writer. That's what writers do. We see. We wonder. We dream. And then, we write.

What about you guys? Do your minds wander as easily as mine? Any tips for how to prevent getting *quite* so distracted around non-writer friends?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Writing Dialogue: Shannon Style

Okay, I had a request from a follower to talk about my methods for writing dialogue, so I'm going to give it a try. But I should probably preface this by saying that the title of the post is a little bit of a misnomer. I will be talking about writing dialogue, but I won't be talking about how *I* write dialogue, because I honestly don't know how I write most of the dialogue I do. I write dialogue almost completely unconsciously. (No really, I can't tell you how often I stare at the screen and think: where did THAT come from?)

Thanks to all my character building exercises (and my way too vivid imagination--my characters are so real they talk to me) I don't really spend a whole lot of time thinking: what would the character say here? I just know. In fact, I usually get so lost in the scene that it's like I can't type fast enough to get the conversation down, and I only really know what I wrote once I go back and reread.

That doesn't mean I don't have to revise though. Usually I have to cut at least a third of the dialogue simply because the characters rambled on way longer than they needed to. And sometimes I'll have to revise because the character(s) hijacked the scene and took the emotions somewhere I don't want them to go, so I have to step in and find a way to stop them from saying what they seem to want to say. (Yes, I realize how crazy I sound. I swear I'm relatively sane.)

But none of that is, I'm sure, particularly helpful to any of you, since I have a feeling most of you are far more normal than that. I do maintain, however, that one of the key elements to writing dialogue is knowing your characters.

I know filling out character profiles can feel like drudgery, but it is so worth it. So if you're struggling with dialogue, that's my first and best piece of advice. Step back and get to know your characters better. Figure out what makes them THEM, what makes them different from everyone else. Their dialogue usually comes naturally after that. (You can find more info on how I build my characters HERE.)

I'm sure that's still not enough, though, so I'm also going to share three tricks I learned in film school (screenplays are allllllllllll about the dialogue), that I have occasionally used to shine up some conversations in difficult scenes:

Remove the dialogue tags and reread: One of the hallmarks of good dialogue--imho--is that it needs to be specific to the character. Your reader should know who's talking just from the way the dialogue is worded, without needing a dialogue tag to tell them. And dialogue should never be interchangeable between characters. Each character should have their own distinct "voice." So the best way to check that is to remove all the dialogue tags and reread the scene to see if it's easy to figure out who's saying what (and don't worry, you'll put them back in when you're done). If you can tell who's talking without being confused, you probably have the dialogue right. But if you have to stop and think, "who's saying this?" you need to revise.

Act out the dialogue out loud: I know most of you probably read your draft out loud to yourself before you declare it, "done" (and if you don't, you should try it. It's AMAZING what you find that way). But that's not quite what I mean. I mean: pretend you're auditioning for a play and the scene you're performing is your book. Read the lines that way, attempting to convey the emotion or comedic timing or verbal cadence of the characters. I know it's embarrassing (best to do this one when no one else is around) and I know we're not all actors, so it probably won't be an Oscar-worthy performance. But it doesn't have to be. You'll still be able to spot problems, even if your acting skills leave much to be desired. If there's no way you can say what's supposed to be a sweet, romantic line without giggling, well...that tells you something, doesn't it? Or if the sad lines don't really feel sad. Or if the jokes don't feel funny. You really get a sense for what feels like real, believable conversation when you do this. Give it a try if you're struggling with your scenes.

Ask yourself: what's the character's motivation?: "What's my motivation" is a classic actor cliche for a reason. They need to know why the character says or does the things they do, so they can understand it  and be able to perform it. So when I was studying screenwriting, it was drilled into me that I needed to know the motivation behind every line or gesture, because the actor might ask me about it. And it was amazing how often, when I analyzed my scene from that perspective, I found out the answer was simply, "I don't know." Not good enough. Take the time to really think about why the character says what they do. And if you can't find a reason for it, change what they say to something that does have a reason. Totally takes the scene to a whole other level.

I wish I had a more magic formula than that--or that I could really explain how my dialogue appears on the page--but that's kind of the best I can do. I hope it helps.

Any of you have any other suggestions for writing dialogue that I missed? Please, help a girl out and share your secrets in the comments!

Oh, and if there's any particular aspect of the way I write you'd like me to cover in this Shannon Style series, (or even other stuff like queries, blogging, Twitter, whatevs) feel free to leave me a suggestion in the comments. I have a bunch of them planned already, but I'm always open for more ideas. :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--The Healing Spell (and a Giveaway!!!)

You guys--I am SO excited for today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, because not only do I get to talk about a book I LOVE, but I get to introduce you to the amazing author who wrote it. AND she was kind enough to donate a gorgeous signed book for me to give away. So yeah--LOTS of good stuff. This will be a bit of a longer post, but it's so packed with awesome I doubt you'll feel it.

Okay, so the book we're talking about came out earlier this year: THE HEALING SPELL, by Kimberley Griffiths Little. Here's the beautiful cover and blurb:

Twelve-year-old Livie is living with a secret and it's crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother's coma, but she can't tell anyone. It's up to her to find a way to wake her momma up.

Stuck in the middle of three sisters, hiding a forbidden pet alligator, and afraid to disappoint her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else, Livie struggles to find her place within her own family as she learns about the powers of faith and redemption. Livie's powerful, emotional, and sometimes humorous story will stay with readers long after the last line is read.

I'd heard amazing things about this book from my fellow Bookanistas, so as soon as I had a spare second to read, I dove into this story. And it did not disappoint!

I read the book all in one sitting because I had to know Livie's secret, or if the healing spell would work. And the writing is gorgeous! Lovely. Powerful. Made me laugh AND cry. Yep. Definitely a winner.
Added bonus: Kimberly is one of my favorite people. Sweet. Supportive. So much fun. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. I give you, the FABULOUS Kimberley Griffiths Little:

Me: Thank you SO much for sparing a minute to hang out with me Kimberley--I know how busy your revision schedule has been recently--so I'm going to jump straight into the questions! One of my favorite things about THE HEALING SPELL is how the setting is so deeply integrated into the story, and the lovely way you describe it. It makes me want to pack my bags and head to the south. But as a Cali girl who has *blush* never gone to the south, I'm not sure where to go. Any place in particular I should visit?

KGL: I'm a Cali girl, too (*patiently pauses while Shannon squeals and fist pumps for Cali girls*)- and the first time I visited Louisiana and took a swamp tour, I fell in love. HARD.

You can take a bayou/swamp tour in just about any small town between Lafayette and New Orleans. Just get off I-10 and explore all the wonderful small towns along Highway 90 in "Cajun Country". I've been to them all; visited schools, graveyards, neighborhoods, cafes, Main Street, sugar cane refineries, etc. Google "swamp tours" and you'll find tons of websites, like Cajun Jack. 
He's terrific! We even got rained on!

Of course, New Orleans is a fabulous, mysterious city, with creepy voodoo museums, great food, carriage rides, haunted hotels, like the Bourbon New Orleans Hotel. I stayed there with a girlfriend on a research trip and there is a ballroom at the top of the hotel where they used to hold Quadrille Balls before the Civil War where French plantation owners came to pick out a mulatto mistress. Cindy-Rae and I walked up and down the halls and visited the ballroom several times while we were there - with our tape recorder on - and kept hoping for "paranormal" activity. Spooked ourselves silly! I also had my fortune told by a Voodoo Priestess with a crystal ball. Verrrry interesting. I recorded my *session* on a hidden tape, too, mwah, ha, ha.

You've also GOT to visit the plantations along the Mississippi River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge - fantastic and romantic! Natchez, Mississippi is also another *must-see* city with dozens of city and country plantations to tour. We stayed at the Choctaw Mansion right in town and it was like staying at Tara from "Gone With the Wind".

A few years ago my husband and I spent our anniversary at Nottaway Plantation which is open for tours and as a Bed & Breakfast. 
(Nottaway (nicknamed White Castle) is in my current Victorian Paranormal WIP.)

Me: Okay, that's it--you will officially be my vacation planner from now on! Awesome suggestions. And while I've never been to the south, I LOVE their food. What's your favorite southern delicacy? And do you have a magic spell for making all those delicious fried foods low calorie? ;)

KGL: Beignets, crawfish etoufee, pralines, deep fried catfish, hush puppies, to name a few food groups! The secret to *not* putting on weight is DANCING. Those Cajuns eat up all that good food in those restaurants and then hit the dance floor and burn it all off to the live bands! But recently, I have been working on some beauty spells . . .

Me: Beauty Spells? Okay, I definitely need some of those. Maybe that could help me get rid of the "Overworked Writer" look I've been rocking lately. It's ... not cute. *sighs* Moving on to less depressing thoughts: I'm also amazed that your descriptions of T-Baby made me want a pet alligator! (I'm...not a big reptile fan) Which makes me wonder, did you have (or still have) any unique pets growing up? 

KGL: My cat Sparky lived until she was 18 years old and I got her when I was three. Other than a few German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers over the years, nothing extraordinary, but as the mother of THREE BOYS, we've had several snakes in the house, geckos, lizards, tarantulas, gerbils, and a scorpion as pets. Can you tell that I'm a mother who can't say "NO"?! 

Me: LOL. Which also means you are an awesome mother! Though if I ever come visit you, I'm going to need some sort of guarantee there won't be any tarantulas or scorpions on the premises! *shudder* Okay, as a middle grade writer, I have to take this chance and talk craft with a fellow middle grade writer. What do you think is the biggest challenge writing for kids in this age range? 

KGL: I think the biggest challenge is keeping your MG self alive and well nourished. Remembering those emotions and embarrassments and angst and tears and friendships and family problems. It's huge at those ages, the age before kids turn into independent, sneaky teenagers taking your car keys and eating you out of house and home and having hormonal melt-downs. (Actually, I love teenagers, too!) 

Me: So true! Everything feels insurmountable at that age. And that's before hormones *really* complicate things! (Ah...teenagers) :) Any advice you'd like to pass on to the aspiring writers reading this? 

KGL: Write. Write. Write. Never, never, never give up. Learn your craft. Get feedback from trusted crit partners. Get online and learn the biz! And most of all, LOVE THE JOURNEY, LOVE THE WRITING. At the end of the day, that's often all you got - even after you're published. 

Me: Brilliant. *applauds* Okay, I know you need to get back to work, so we should probably wrap this up. But before you go, let's do a quick speed round of random questions, so my followers can get to know you better. Ready...Go!

Iced tea or hot tea? 
Um, no tea. I'm a Dr Pepper fan. And a milk fan. And strawberry lemonade. 

Worst hair style you've ever sported? 
My mother is the original creator of Princess Leia hair balls on each side of my head. 


*Shannon pauses to giggle uncontrollably*

*minutes pass*

*clears throat*

Cookies or Cake? 
Cake. Warm. I could eat half a cake all by myself. 

Which book do you wish you'd written? 
How can I possibly choose? Oldies: JANE EYRE, GONE WITH THE WIND, HARRIET THE SPY. I just finished reading, THE KNEE BONE BOY and thought it was brilliant. I'm on an Ellen Potter kick and adore her OLIVIA KIDNEY books. They are so clever and funny and true-to-life and witty. I want to be HER when I grow up!

Guiltiest TV Viewing Pleasure? 
"So You Think You Can Dance!" (I'm a frustrated ballet dancer. I grew too tall. So I took up Middle Eastern belly dancing. For reals. See my upcoming YA called SECRET RITES OF THE GODDESS in 2012 with Scholastic.) 

What color are your toenails at the moment? 
I have weird toes so I hide them in socks nearly all the time. Or slippers.

Favorite city?
Oh, gosh, how can I choose! Paris. Edinburgh. New York. San Francisco where I was raised.

How many hours do you sleep at night? 
I wake up off and on all night long so about 6 hours. Sometimes I catch up with 8 on weekends. 

And, of course, the most important question of all (careful how you answer): Twizzlers or Redvines?
I know that the online world is ALL ABOUT the Twizzlers, but sssh! I'm a total Red Vines chick! I ate a whole package last week in the car driving to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving!

Hm...I SHOULD hold that last answer against her...but I can't. She's way too sweet. If you don't believe me, look at this BEAUTIFUL hardcover of THE HEALING SPELL she has donated for me to give away. 

And even though I *want* to keep it...I'll be good and pass it on to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment on today's post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, December 11th and you'll be entered to win. I'll draw one random winner and post their name on December 12th. International entries welcome. Good luck everyone!

To hear about another awesome middle grade book, hop over to Elle Strauss' blog to hear her rave about IDA B by Katherine Hannigan.

UPDATE: Myrna Foster is also doing a MMGM, focusing on THE CLOCKWORK THREE by Matthew J. Kirby. Make sure you head over THERE and check it out.

Joanne Fritz is also raving about NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT by Gennifer Choldenko. Click HERE to read her review.

And the always awesome Shannon O'Donnell is talking about one of my particular favorites: THE CANDY SHOP WAR by Brandon Mull. Click HERE to read all about it.

So exciting to see other bloggers doing MMGMs!!!

If you've done one on your blog, email me a link and I will happily link you. Together we can give MG the spotlight it deserves!

Phew, okay, I think that's everything. Thanks for reading to the end. Don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win THE HEALING SPELL.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Secret Series Winner!

This is going to be a quick post today guys, because I am actually getting out of the house and spending the day at Disneyland! (I know, I'm as amazed as you are!) You'd think with how many bajillion times I've gone there I'd get tired of it--but nope. I can't WAIT.

But before I can leave, I have a winner to announce. So lets get right to it.

Thank you for your entries and for helping spread the word. I've counted all the entires and the random winner of the 3 signed Secret Series books is...


*tosses buckets and buckets of confetti*

I must admit, I always root for Lenny in these contests, cause, well, it's hard NOT to root for such an awesome kid. Not to mention I love that he's an actual middle grade reader. So I am SO excited he finally won--and a 3 book prize too! 

Congrats Lenny. Check your email--there's one in there from me needing your mailing address. 

Huge thanks again to everyone else who entered. You guys are such a wonderful support for middle grade books, which is all kinds of amazing. Make sure you come back tomorrow cuz I have another fabulous MMGM with a giveaway and an awesome author interview. You won't want to miss it! :)

And now--off to the magic kingdom to fight the crowds and overspend on beverages and eat too much junk food and somehow still have the BEST. DAY. EVER!  See you tomorrow!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bookanista Review: Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins--and a GIVEAWAY!

OMG you guys--do you know what day it is????????

Yes, I know it's Thursday, Bookanista Day, and also December 2nd (and probably some random, unimportant holiday I'm unaware of, like National Pickle Day)--but none of that matters!

What matters is that today is the day you seriously all should have been counting down to for months and months and months: the official release day for ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by the adorable, talented, funny, fabulous, and amazing Stephanie Perkins!

*tosses glitter and sparkles and confetti and streamers*

Yes--that's right. The wait is FINALLY over! And even though I was lucky enough to read an ARC a few months ago, I had to pass it on to the rest of the Bookanistas and have been DYING to re-read ever since. So you can bet I will be racing to my nearest book store to pick up a copy. And one for my mom and all my other friends because OMG EVERYONE HAS TO READ THIS BOOK!

And in case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard of it, here's the official blurb:

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Awesome, right? And if, for some bizarre reason, you still need more convincing--here's 5 undeniable reasons why you NEED to read ANNA like, NOW!

1. Incredible pacing: Don't be fooled by the "love story" concept and think this is going to be a slow moving story. I haven't quite figured out how she did it, but Stephanie moves the plot along like it were an action/suspense novel. You are on the edge of your seat the entire time. Need proof? I started the ARC on my weekend away for my anniversary, and we almost missed our dinner reservation because I had. to. know. what was going to happen next. And when we got back from dinner? Yeah, I picked right back up where I left off (my husband was less than thrilled...)

2. Delicious moments: And I don't mean kissing--though there's plenty of yummy kisses too, don't you worry. But what I think Stephanie really mastered was the "almost" moments. Two people sitting next to each other in a dark theater, feeling their legs touching and wondering what it means. Wondering why the other person doesn't move away and hoping it's because they want to touch more. Late night phone conversations helping each other through hard times, sharing secrets you never shared with anyone else. All those little "SO close" moments that tug at your heart and make you want to shout at the book: JUST REALIZE YOU WERE MEANT FOR EACH OTHER! It's awesome

3. Believability: You know how some romantic books or movies have these absolutely RIDICULOUS reasons why the two characters aren't together? Yeah...ANNA doesn't have that problem. Even though you want want want them to be together more than anything and they come so so so close several times, you totally get why they aren't together. Bonus: it's not so impossible of an obstacle that when they do get together it feels forced like, can you really let that go? It's the perfect mix of obstacles and struggles. 

4. Imperfection: No--that's not a bad thing, in this case. What I mean is, ANNA's characters aren't perfect. They have faults, even some physical faults (Etienne may be a regulation hottie, but he's not *quite* as tall as some girls might like, and he has an imperfectly perfect smile). And that makes them even more likable. Because they're real. I grow tired of books where the characters are just a little too perfect. It's delightfully refreshing to have some real, relatable flaws, and love the characters even more because of them.

5. Setting: Could there be a more perfect setting for a romantic story than Paris? I think not. And Stephanie paints such a beautiful, tangible Paris you feel like you're there. You walk the streets. You taste the food. It's almost like the city is a character in the book, and you can definitely tell she took the time to know all the ins and outs of her setting and make it as detailed and real as possible. You will feel like YOU lived a year in Paris by the end. 

I could keep going and going, but I'll stop there because I don't want to bore you with my ramblings. Plus, what you should really be doing is racing to your nearest book store and picking up your own copy! But, I know times are tight financially right now, and I firmly believe that EVERYONE should read this book, so I'm giving a copy away here, to one lucky commenter on this post. 

Sadly, it's not signed. But it's a beautiful story and a beautiful hardcover and all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment between now and 11:59 pm PST on Friday December 10th. International entries welcome.

For more awesome book recommendations, check out what the rest of the Bookanistas are up to:

Christine Fonseca recommends JOEY FLY, PRIVATE EYE in BIG HAIRY DRAMA

Elana Johnson raves about MATCHED

Megan Miranda celebrates DESIRES OF THE DEAD

Lisa and Laura Roecker salute REVOLUTION

Bethany Wiggins and Suzette Saxton cheer for THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY