Friday, September 30, 2011

Manic Memos

Dear Time,

WHERE THE HECK DID YOU GO? I mean really, it's already Friday? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? And don't even get me started on the fact that tomorrow is OCTOBER??????????? Holy crap, WHERE HAS THE YEAR GONE?????????????

Confusedly Yours,
A very-behind-on-everything Shannon



Dear Felines of the Messenger house,

Let this serve as a warning that you are all on verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry dangerous ground. I'm very glad those of you who had stomach issues are feeling better and that those of you who were injured in cat fights are recovering. But if I have to clean up one more hairball, drag one more of you to the vet, or put hot compresses on any more oozing wounds, I'm trading all of you in for a pet rock.

Ominously Yours,
The pretty-darn-sick-of-her-crazy-cats-lady



Dear Week,

We've been through a lot together. No really, a LOT. In fact, I think it's safe to say that you were one of the craziest weeks I've experienced in a looooooooooooooooong time. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And someday I hope to be able to process it all (without sounding like a cheesey Dickens rip-off). But for now I'm simply going to say: Whoa. And maybe root for a calmer ride next week. Preferably with no pus-y cat wounds (and no, that is not a typo. I mean PUS! *gags*)

Exhaustedly yours,
A totally-grossed-out Shannon



Dear Followers,

I had big plans to turn in an awesome blogging performance this week. But thanks to some unexpected curveballs, my plans kind of turned out like this:


But I do have some AWESOME contests going on HERE and HERE. And I promise I have some pretty darn amazing things planned for the next couple weeks. So thank you for bearing with me. I will hopefully be back on track next week. Barring anymore un-forseen insanity.

Gratefully Yours,
A totally-exhausted-blogger

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bookanista Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins--AND A GIVEAWAY!!!!

I am so, so SO excited that I finally get to do my Bookanista Review for LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by the amazing, awesome, uber-talented and ultra-kind Stephanie Perkins. 

I read the ARC ages ago, but ... loved it so much, I wasn't willing to share my copy (sorry, my generosity has its limits). And since I like to include a giveaway with my reviews, that meant I had to wait until release. BUT LOLA IS FINALLY IN STORES!!!!!!!!

*tosses confetti*


Here's how the publisher describes LOLA:

For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit - more sparkly, more fun, more wild - the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door.

When the family returns and Cricket - a gifted inventor and engineer - steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

For those who don't know, LOLA is the second book by Stephanie Perkins, and is a companion novel (of sorts) for her amazing, AMAZING debut, ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. (If you haven't read ANNA, get thee to the bookstore--STAT! You are missing out on an incredible, beautiful, and oh-so-smexy read!) 

So to say that I had high expectations for LOLA is a bit of an understatement. And I'll admit, there were times I wondered if LOLA could ever meet those expectations. I mean, no Paris? No Etienne? A new boy named CRICKET? There was definitely some skepticism swirling around in my head.

BUT I WAS A FOOL FOR WORRYING!!!!

Steph is a MASTER of character development, and I never ever should have doubted that she wouldn't be able to create characters I would instantly fall in love with. Lola is not Anna, and Cricket is not Etienne--but when you meet them you don't want them to be (especially since Anna and Etienne are still hanging around in scenes). They are complicated, flawed, beautiful people and you want to know THEM, know THEIR story, share THEIR journey from the very first page. 

And just like ANNA, the setting of LOLA plays a huge role in the story.  I'm not sure anything can ever replace Paris--for me--but San Francisco is such a rich, diverse, fascinating landscape that you don't miss Paris, and its perfectly suited for Lola's story. Lola and Cricket belong right were they are, in their Victorian style houses right next door to each other. Where readers can fall in love with them while they fall in love with each other.

I know that's a whole lot of comparing ANNA to LOLA, which really isn't fair because they are completely different books, both amazing and perfect and awesome all on their own. But since comparison is inevitable, I figured it made sense to state the obvious: yes, LOLA is not ANNA. But I PROMISE you, once you meet her you won't want her to be. I have equal amounts of love for both. And I hope you guys will feel the same.

Which is why I'm giving away a hardcover copy of LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR to one lucky winner. To enter, make sure you follow my blog and leave a comment by 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, October 8th. I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Sunday, October 9th. International entries welcome.

For more fabulous book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are talking about:

Elana Johnson interviews Elle Strauss, author of Clockwise
LiLa Roecker discusses S R Johannes' e-book experiment
Christine Fonseca  is wowed by The White Assassin - with giveaway
Beth Revis delights in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – with giveaway
Shelli Johannes-Wells falls for Fracture
Carolina Valdez Miller adores Ashfall – with giveaway
Jessi Kirby marvels at The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Shana Silver steps up to Audition
Corrine Jackson is crazy about Cracked
Stasia Ward Kehoe swoons for Swan and To Dance

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Filling the Well

Sooooooooooooooo sorry for not blogging yesterday--I'm still struggling to catch up from being gone last week at the retreat.

And I had big plans to write a brilliant, inspiring, fabulous post for today (okay, fine, it was going to be random and rambly, whatevs). But then a friend of mine told me there was a red tide and that that I needed to drop everything and get myself to the beach--stat. And you know what? She was RIGHT!

These pictures really don't do it justice, but they give you a small idea of what it's like to see the ocean glowing red and flashing neon green and blue with each wave.



Truly, truly breathtaking. And so worth the drive. (the pictures SO don't do it justice, but it was the best I could do). But, it meant I didn't have time to put together a proper post for you guys today. It also meant I lost a whole evening of writing time--and I'm already a little behind on where I need to be.

But... I actually think there's a lesson there too. 

I am a BIG believer in pushing yourself hard and setting deadlines and sticking to them. But I also believe in "filling the well." If you never get out and experience anything, how will you find things to write about?

I may never write a scene with phosphorescent waves crashing against the shore. But watching them definitely inspired me. So really, I think it comes down to balance. Working hard and refining your craft and doing the butt-in-chair method is only part of it. You have to stop, and let yourself soak up life. And sometimes I forget that.

So I thought I'd pass that little reminder on to you. Push yourselves hard to get where you want to be. But don't forget to take some time for yourself too. Otherwise you might be missing out on amazing, inspiring things!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Dork Diaries, by Rachel Renee Russell--and a Giveaway!

Phew--wasn't sure if I'd find time to put together an MMGM this week, what with being gone all weekend (I'm actually still traveling today). But I MADE IT! And I'm so glad I did, because now I get to gush about the DORK DIARIES, a series I absolutely love. Specifically book one: DORK DIARIES: TALES FROM A NOT-SO-FABULOUS LIFE, by Rachel Renee Russell.



Here's the sweet, simple description from the publisher:

New school. New mean girl. New crush.

New diary so Nikki can spill about all of it...

Now, obviously it's hard not to see the very pink cover and the use of the word "Diary" in the title and the illustrations throughout the book and think "Wimpy Kid for girls." And... on some level it is--in the BEST sense of the comparison. But don't let those similarities fool you into thinking this is just some re-imagining of something already out there. 

The Dork Diaries are very much their own creation--smart, funny, and oh so addicting. It's not surprising at all that the books have appeared on the NYT Bestseller list, both individually and as a series. Which means the series probably doesn't need my help getting people to discover it. But I love it too much not to gush about it.

There are many, many things I love about the series--the awesome doodles and illustrations being HIGH on that list. But what I love most is how real the main character is. Reading the books makes me feel like I'm a 13-year-old girl again. I can so relate to the things she thinks and feels--the author nailed the tween girl experience.

And don't let the pink cover and girl on the front fool you. I know many boys who love the books, once they're willing to look past the pink. Boy, girl, kid, grown-up, whatever, I highly recommend giving the series a chance. For a quick, fun, hilarious read you can't do better.

Which is why I'm giving away a copy of Book 1 in the series, "Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life" to one lucky winner.

**INSANELY AWESOME UPDATE**

You guys! The Ever-So-Fabulous Rachel Renee Russell has emailed me offering to take this prize to a WHOLE other level of awesome. So the winner will now receive:

DORK DIARIES 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life
DORK DIARIES 2: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl
DORK DIARIES 3: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star
AND the soon-to-be-released DORK DIARIES 3 1/2: How to Dork Your Diary

That's right--the winner gets FOUR amazing hardcover books, all fabulously Dorky. Gotta admit it guys, I'm totes jealous.  

And since the prize just reached uber-awesomeness, I've decided to extend the entry time for another week. See the instructions below, with changes in red.

To enter, make sure you follow my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, October 8th. I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Sunday, October 9th. International entries welcome.

And... go!

For more middle grade love, make sure you check out these other MMGMs floating around the blogosphere:

- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week!

- Barbara Watson is featuring THE OWL KEEPER. Click HERE to learn all about it. 

- Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth is showcasing THE CITY OF EMBER. Click HERE to see why she loves it. 

- Michael Gettel-Gilmartin is featuring THE RAT BRAIN FIASCO. Click HERE to see what he thinks.

- Myrna Foster is gushing about THE EMERALD ATLAS. Click HERE to see why.


- Deb Marshall sings the praises of PETER NIMBLE AND IS FANTASTIC EYES. Click HERE to see what all the hype is about.


- Sheri Larsen is highlighting MIDDLE SCHOOL--THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. Click HERE to read her review.


- Charlotte Taylor makes her MMGM debut with a feature on BREADCRUMBS. Click HERE to see what she thought.


- Brooke Favero has an interview with authors Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson about their new book: THE FAMILIARS: SECRETS OF THE CROWN. Click HERE to read more. 

And if you want to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog. It's easier if you email me before Monday, that way your link will be included in the post from the moment it goes live. But if you decide to spontaneously join the fun, I do update the post at several points throughout the Monday. Just email me a link and I'll add you when I do!

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Retreat!

Believe it or not, I'm traveling again!

(I know, my suitcase has gotten more use this summer than like, the last 3 years combined.)

This time, I'm heading to Nashville, Tennessee!!!!

Well... actually, I'm going near there. Specifically, to a cabin in... well... kinda the middle of nowhere.

But that's the point. It's my very first Writer's Retreat!!!!!! (I feel so... writerly.)

My friends CJ Redwine, Sara McClung, and MG Buehrlen and I have been planning it for months. We wanted a small group, so we'd actually get work done (in theory...) somewhere with lots of trees and no noise or distractions. AND WE'RE EVEN GOING TO TRY TO GET WORK DONE!!!!! (though... CJ and I are fairly famous for our shenanigans...)

So, at this point you're probably wondering why I'm telling you all of this (since, I have a feeling you guys aren't nearly as excited about my retreat as I am.) Mainly, I wanted you to know that I won't be blogging again until Monday (what WILL you do to fill the empty void in your lives???) (*is slightly delusional*). But also... four writers holed up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere could get... interesting. (Especially with CJ there and her were-llamas.) So if you hear any strange noises--or the zombie duck apocalypse begins, well... you'll know why.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. :)

Hope everyone has a great rest of the week!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knowing it's "the one"

I remember when I first started dating I used to ask my older, already married friends how they knew they'd found, "the one." And they'd all give me the same answer: a smug smile, paired with, "you just know."

Yeah, I wanted to kick them in the shins and scream THAT DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING, YOU SMUG MARRIED PEOPLE!!!!!!!

And then I met my husband and... you know what? I *just knew.*

Sadly, I find the same thing happens when it comes to picking a project. One of the questions people ask me ALL the time is: how did you know your project was "the one" and that you should query it--instead of writing something else? And they usually look ready to kick me--or ready to fling salty brined things at me--when I say, "I just knew."

So I've put some thought into it and tried to figure out HOW I knew, since... well... one of these days someone probably WILL kick me or pelt me with olives when I tell them "I just knew" and... that really won't be fun. And strangely enough, it comes down to very much the same ways I knew the Hubs was the one for me:

- It needs to be different from the others

No, I don't mean your draft must be different from every single thing out there--though originality is definitely a big plus. What I mean by "others" is: OTHER THINGS YOU'VE WRITTEN. Yeah, I know there are those flukey stories where someone sells the very first thing they've ever written and it sells for a quadrillion dollars and is an insta-bestseller and we all kind of hate them and want to pelt THEM with olives. But that is RARE.

It's not an exaggeration to say we all have to purge a million bad words before we get anything good. I know it may not feel like it when you're writing it, because new words have a tendency to look really shiny and pretty. And you may even do a lot of revision on that first book and make it WAY better than it was when you first started it. But honestly? There's a really, REALLY good chance it's still not good enough. Because that's just how writing goes. Most published authors have really bad books/screenplays/plays/whatever shoved in their closets of shame. And for good reason.

So if the project you're working on is the very first thing you've ever written--EVER? There's a really good chance it's not, "the one." AND THAT IS NOT MEANT TO BE DISCOURAGING. No writing is ever wasted. You never know what you might do with it. But odds are, if you let that project sit and then return to it in a few months you'll reread it and realize wow, this wasn't "the one." 

- It needs to stand the test of time

You can't rush good writing---and you SHOULD NOT query your draft the second it's done. I know how exciting it is to finish a book and how much work it was and how much you want to get it out there and hopefully get that huge book deal. But it needs time, first. For revision--yes. But also, you might want to consider giving you and the project some space. Put it on a shelf for a couple of months and work on something else. When you go back and reread it, you may be stunned at what you find. Time has a way of giving you a whole new perspective on what is and isn't awesome about the draft. You may go back and realize "wow--this is even better than I remember!" Or you may realize, "yeah, this was part of those million bad words."

- It needs to have "friend approval"

And I'm not talking about the polite friend who's of course going to tell you "it's great" because they would never, ever want to say anything to upset you. I'm talking about the brutally honest friend who has NO problem telling you exactly what they think. Give your draft to your most brutal CP--and make them promise they will be honest. If they say, "it's the one," well... there's a good good chance they're right.

If any--or preferably all three--of those apply to your draft, then there's a very good chance it's "the one." If they don't, well, maybe it's worth waiting till you have a project that is "the one." 

But that being said, I do think there's a certain "gut feeling" that also goes along with it. You really do *know* when it's the one, deep inside. A tiny, subtle instinct telling you this is it. So when you feel that, trust that voice. 

It's hard, I know. And there's no fail proof guarantee. But if you apply the above criteria and listen to your instincts, you will know when it's the one. 

Then you can be all smug and tell your writer friends, "I just knew." It's the circle of life. :)

What about you guys? Any other pointers for knowing it's "the one?"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Sprinkles and Secrets, by Lisa Schroeder--and a Giveaway!

Yay--I'm so excited for this week's MMGM because I finally get to feature a book I'm so super excited about (and it comes out TOMORROW!!!!): SPRINKLES AND SECRETS, by Lisa Schroeder


How perfect is that cover? WANT! 

And if that alone doesn't sell you (I mean really, what more do you need?) here's the description of the book:

Twelve-year-old Sophie has always dreamed of being an actress and being in front of the camera. When that dream comes true and she's offered a T.V. commercial spot, she's over-the-moon happy. But then she finds out what exactly she'll be advertising: the delectable, ever-popular brownies from BEATRICE'S BROWNIES, which just so happns to be the number one competitor to IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES—owned by her best friend, Isabel's, family.

Sophie has a tough choice to make: Follow her dreams or crush her best friend.

What's a girl to do?

If you've been following my blog for a while, you already know that I'm a huge fan of anything Lisa Schroeder writes (if you haven't tried any of her books you NEED to--they are AMAZING!) But this one I was especially excited about, because, well, it's middle grade--and also because it's a companion novel to IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, which is such a fun, sweet, adorable book (not to mention it  has cupcakes in it--need I say more??????) And this time it's Sophie's story--which is awesome because Sophie is one of my favorite characters in the first book.

Honestly, I'm not usually as much of a fan of contemporary middle grade (I know, I know--what's wrong with me? I just love fantasy too much, I guess). But I LOVE these books. Lisa has such a knack for creating real, endearing characters and she lets their stories unfold so honestly and gently that I totally don't miss that there are no fairies or unicorns or secret worlds within worlds. And in the process, she manages to create a story that feels like it's real, like if you went to a little town in Oregon you'd totally find a shop called It's Raining Cupcakes and two best friends inside giggling over frosting. Man I wish that were true--I would so be there! But alas, I guess I'll just have to settle for reading about it. :)

Which is why I'm so extra excited that tomorrow I can finally go buy my shiny hardcover copy of SPRINKLES AND SECRETS!!!! And while I'm there I'll be picking up an extra copy to give away to one of you guys!!!!!!!!

To enter, make sure you follow my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, October 1st (extra long contest this time, since I'll be out of town this weekend). I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Sunday, October 2nd. International entries welcome.

And... go!

For more middle grade love, make sure you check out these other MMGMs floating around the blogosphere:

- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week!

- Barbara Watson is featuring PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES. Click HERE to learn all about it. 


- Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth is showcasing BURN. Click HERE to see why she loves it. 


- Joanne Fritz is spotlighting PIE. Click HERE to see her review. 


- Michael Gettel-Gilmartin is featuring WE ARE NOT EATEN BY YAKS--with an author interview and a GIVEAWAY! Click HERE for all the details.


- Deb Marshall is raving about A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT. Click HERE to see why she thinks it's awesome.


- Danika Dinsmore is highlighting WISE CHILD. Click HERE to see what she says.

And if you want to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog. It's easier if you email me before Monday, that way your link will be included in the post from the moment it goes live. But if you decide to spontaneously join the fun, I do update the post at several points throughout the Monday. Just email me a link and I'll add you when I do!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

All the Weekend Winners

Okay first--sorry if your google reader/ blogger feed for me is a tad confusing. I was putting together tomorrows MMGM and there was a snafu involving a cat and the enter button and his big stupid paws and... yeah, it posted before I was done with it (and when it wasn't, yanno, Monday). So I've deleted it where I can, but the feed will still show up in some places. Just ignore it.

*sigh*

Anyway, right--the winners! Lots of winners to announce today.

First up, the winner of my amazing signed ARC of LEGEND, by Marie Lu is:


Next, the winner of the lovely paperback of HALF UPON A TIME, by James Riley is:


And, last--but certainly not least--the winner of the gorgeous hardcover of SO SILVER BRIGHT, by Lisa Mantchev is:


YAY!

*tosses buckets of sparkles*

Okay, if that's you, please email me your mailing address at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com so I can ship off your prize. For everyone else, thanks for all the enthusiasm for these amazing books--I highly recommend all of them, whether you go buy yourself a copy or borrow one from a friend or library. Trust me, you won't regret it!

Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do you Believe?

I've done lots of posts where I've given writing advice and publishing industry advice and talked about how to refine your craft or survive the ups and downs of this crazy "getting published" dream we're all chasing. But really, it all boils down to one thing:

You have to believe.

- that you are good enough
- that your writing is good enough
- that if you just keep going and don't give up you WILL get there

Does that mean that you will never have to shelve projects or face rejection along the way? Sadly, no. 

It takes time to pick the right project and really push yourself to get it right and then get it in the hands of the right agent who believes in it and gets it in the hands of the right editor who loves it and says I MUST HAVE THIS!

But in order for any of that to happen, you have to believe that it WILL HAPPEN. That's what keeps you going through the difficult revisions and the endless waiting and the heartbreaking rejections--believing that someday, with some project, it WILL HAPPEN. 


So that's my motivational message for the day, I guess. BELIEVE.

I do. I hope you do too. :)

Also: how many of you now have that horrible Cher song stuck in your head? *evil laugh*

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bookanista Review: So Silver Bright, by Lisa Mantchev--AND A GIVEAWAY!!!!


I know my Bookanista Reviews are usually for upcoming releases, but today we're doing something a little bit different. The book I'm featuring today actually came out this week--so you can run out and get your copy NOW if you want!!!!

Or, you can try to win it here. Either way, you want to read this one. Trust me: SO SILVER BRIGHT, by Lisa Mantchev, is AWESOME!

But first--check out the GORGEOUS cover:

(I swear I want to frame this and hang it in my loft)

And here's how the publisher describes it:

All Beatrice Shakespeare Smith has ever wanted is a true family of her own. And she’s close to reuniting her parents when her father disappears. Now Bertie must deal with a vengeful sea goddess and a mysterious queen as she tries to keep her family—and the Theatre Illuminata—from crumbling. To complicate it all, Bertie is torn between her two loves, Ariel and Nate.

In case you don't already know, this is the third and final book in the Theatre Illuminata trilogy (which includes EYES LIKE STARS and PERCHANCE TO DREAM)--one of my favorite series. So yes, I had HUGE expectations for this book. And it... did and didn't meet them--but in a good way, I promise.

See, what I love about this series is that it's different. It's truly unlike anything else I've found. So I shouldn't have been surprised that when it came time for Lisa to wrap up the trilogy, she didn't play by any rules or conventions. She wrapped things up her way--and in the way that really does make sense for the series. Were there some unexpected twists? Oh, you betcha. But with this series I shouldn't have expected anything less. 

It's hard to say more about it without giving anything away--and I do not want to spoil it for any of you. So I'm just going to say, if you're a fan of this series, pick up a copy. You NEED to see how it all ends. And if you haven't tried the other books in this trilogy, get thee to the library or bookstore and see what you've been missing out on. 

And because I love the book so much, I'm giving away a hardcover copy of SO SILVER BRIGHT to one lucky winner. To enter, make sure you follow my blog and leave a comment by 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, September 17th. (another quick contest--but I'm traveling next weekend so I won't be around to pick winners). I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Sunday, September 18th. International entries welcome.

For more fabulous book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are talking about:

Elana Johnson is in a tizzy over Texas Gothic
Scott Tracey is on board for Starship Academy
Christine Fonseca  is transformed by Shifting
LiLa Roecker  celebrates Something Like Hope
Beth Revis shouts about The Name of the Star
Shana Silver loves Lola and the Boy Next Door
Carolina Valdez Miller goes gaga for Glow and Shifting – with giveaway
Sarah Frances Hardy adores Birdie’s Big Girl Dress
Stasia Ward Kehoe takes a fancy to Fracture
Rosemary Clement Moore is distracted by Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who I Write For...

I know it seems like such an obvious thing. I write kidlit--therefore I write for kids. And that's true--I do write for kids. And I am dreaming of the day I'll get to see MY BOOK in kids' hands--and hopefully they'll even have smiles on their faces. *wistful sigh*

But when I write, I'm not thinking about some nameless mass of kid readers that I'm trying to appeal to. I'm only thinking about one kid:


Yep--in case you haven't guessed--that's me, with the thick bangs (why, Mom? WHY?) and the obsessively lined up stuffed animals on my bed (they're arranged by HEIGHT--that is some serious pre-OCD going on there!!!) (and Ella is shockingly absent. I must be pretty young in this photo.)

Like I said in my post yesterday--I write for me. So when I'm dreaming up scenes or characters, I'm seeing them through the eyes of this girl:

Who had to pick every flower within a ten mile radius 
(clearly this was before I discovered that fresh flowers generally have BUGS CRAWLING ON THEM *shudder*)
(Side note: WHAT AM I WEARING????)

And this girl:
Who loved Barbies arguably more than any little kid has ever loved them before
(Side note: Mom? WHY ARE MY HORRIBLE BANGS SO HORRIBLY CROOKED????)

And this girl:
Who had the tannest legs EVER because she spent every afternoon in the pool, from the moment she got home from school to the moment the sun set.
(only way to survive growing up in the desert)
(And yes, I'm aware of the hat)
(I ... don't want to talk about it)

The same girl who ALWAYS had messy hair in her school pictures because she hated picture day (and the camera in general) and still played outside during recess:

(ugh--the pre-braces teeth.)
(Guess it really was worth all the pain and suffering)

Except, of course, THE YEAR OF THE PERM:
(Dear Mom: I do remember begging you to let me do this--but why, WHY did you let me????)
(I thought the bangs couldn't get any worse, but PERMED BANGS????)
(*sobs*)
(*flails*)
(um ... I think we also need to talk about the dress)

I think you get the point, without needing any more horribly embarrassing Shannon pictures. Well, maybe one more (though this one's not TOO bad):
(I had to leave you with something besides that horrible perm)

That's the girl I'm thinking about as I write.

What did she like? What would she want to read about? I write scenes I know she would've loved (and surprisingly they're not as girly as you'd think. I may be in dresses/pink/purple in most of those pics--and yes I had a Barbie obsession--but I was not all that girlie of a kid. I lived outside.)

Young Shannon was also a BIG reader--and kind of picky about what she liked--so it's not always easy to keep her happy. She constantly pushes me to try harder.

And focusing on that little girl makes writing stay fun for me, despite revision and deadlines and everything else that gets piled on top of it. I'm just keeping my inner child happy, telling myself the kind of stories I've always loved.

So I guess that means I have to hope that there's a bunch of 9-12 year-old Me's out there, desperate to read my book. Which is actually a terrifying thought. A world full of miniature Shannons would be a very scary place. (especially if they had permed bangs *headdesk*) :)

What about you guys--who do you write for?

Actually, better question: do any of you have equally embarrassing childhood photos? PLEASE tell me you do!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nurturing My Inner Writer

The writing process is a pretty miraculous thing, when you think about it. It never ceases to amaze me how word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page a story unfolds itself in front of me. And most of the time I find myself rereading my words at the end of the day and thinking, "wow--where did that come from? I didn't know I had that in me."

But it's also a very ... fragile process.

If my confidence gets shaken, or my resolve gets shattered, or I let too much noise into my head, it can set me back for days, weeks--maybe even months.

So I've learned that I have to sort of ... nurture my inner-writer--protect that part of myself in various ways, in order to keep myself going. And I've developed a few personal rules I try to live by in order to do that:

I write for me.

Yes, in order to be published I have to think about what agents / editors / publishers / readers / reviewers / teachers / librarians might want from my story. But I CAN'T think about any of that when I'm writing--especially in the drafting stage. At that point I'm just writing to entertain myself, to see the story in my head play out on the page. As long as I'm having fun and liking what I'm seeing, I'm good. I'll worry about all those other people in the revision stage.

I have full permission to suck.

Writing is rewriting. It really, really is. Sure, we all wish we could get it right the very first time. But that just doesn't happen--at least not for the draft as a whole. There's always some stuff that's salvageable--and the more I write the more salvageable stuff I seem to get. But on the whole, I'm going to spew out a whole lot of stuff that SUCKS in the beginning. And that's okay. That's just Step One in the process. Word vomit on the page. I will clean it up later.

My writing life is a drama-free zone.

Honestly, I have no time or tolerance for drama in any part of my life--but DEFINITELY not in my writing life. I surround myself only with supportive, talented, encouraging writer friends who build me up when I need it, push me to make every word I type the best it can be, and cheer me along at every victory--big or small. Nothing can be more discouraging or damaging to a writers confidence than being surrounded by competition or comparison or negativity. So if I see any sign of that (which fortunately doesn't happen very often in the children's writing world) I separate myself as quickly as possible.

My journey is my own.

It's HARD not to compare myself to others--but that is such a toxic, destructive thing that I take extra care to prevent it from happening. I refuse to let myself dwell on how much a book sold for or how fast it sold or how much publicity it's getting. Sure--I'm aware of it. It's impossible not to be, and honestly, I always want to be able to celebrate for my friends, so I want to know what's happening for them. But then I force myself to put that out of my mind. It's not easy to do, but here's how I do it: I love what *I'm* writing. Do I wish someone else loved it enough to snatch it up for seven figures within mere hours of me typing, "The end"? Sure. Who doesn't? But if they don't, I'm okay with that, because *I* love it. It's *my* book--the book *I* wanted to write. At the end of the day, that's what matters.

I write the way that works for me.

Some people write in public. Some people write in groups. Some people write on a schedule, with daily goals and deadlines. Some people write at a desk. Some people need total silence. Me, I write at home, alone, in my bed with my laptop, for large blocks of time but without any specific word count goals and I always have music playing. That's what works for me--and it took me a while to figure that out. Now that I have, that's what I stick to.

Writing is priority one.

Okay, obviously my husband and family and health and such come before writing. But all the other stuff: blogging, Facebook, Twitter, email, WriteOnCon, Bookanistas, reading, whatever. All of that is great and I try to give it as much priority as I can, because I really do enjoy it. But writing has to come first. So if I'm too busy to blog, I take some time off. I disappear from social media when it's becoming overwhelming. Or I take a break from reading/reviewing. Or my email response time increases. And I try not to let myself feel guilty about that. Because really, what good is all that other stuff if it chokes out my time to write?

I know some of those seem obvious, but it's amazing how easy it is to forget those things. And it can be HARD to stick to those rules. But I try to be vigilant about it.

Writing is a beautiful, wonderful dream--and an intense passion of mine. It's something worth protecting. So I fight to keep it safe and nurtured. Any way I can.

What about you guys? Any goals/rules you set for yourself to keep your writing life well nurtured?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Half Upon a Time, by James Riley--and a Giveaway!

Okay, MMGM is back again--this week featuring a hilarious book I only recently discovered (and have NO idea how I missed it before!!!): HALF UPON A TIME, by James Riley.  


Here's the description of the book:

Jack lives in a fantasy world. Really. He’s the son of the infamous Jack who stole the magic beans from the giant, and he’s working hard to restore his family’s reputation. He finds the perfect opportunity when a “princess” lands in front of him, apparently from the land of Punk, as her Punk Princess sweatshirt implies.

May is from the regular world, and she’s really confused to suddenly find herself in the midst of the fairy tale characters she has read about.

But Jack and May have more in common than they realize—and together, they’ll embark on a hilarious and wild adventure in this accessible fantasy that pushes the bounds of reality.


So, it's a fairy tale re-imagining--and I love me a good fairy tale re-imagining. But that's just it--it has to be a GOOD fairy tale re-imagining. It has to add things to the characters/stories, and I want to love those additions so much that I almost don't want to reread the original anymore, because it won't be the same without them.

HALF UPON A TIME definitely does that. 

But I think the best thing about this book is the voice. It. is. hilarious. I mean, I knew it would be. I met James at SCBWI LA and, well, let's just say I learned not to take a sip of anything before he started to talk because I would end up snorting that beverage. His writing is just as funny. This is a book that WILL make you laugh out loud (if it doesn't--I almost worry there's something wrong with you). Kid, grown-up, big kid in a grown-up's body, or any combination there-of, you will not make it through this book without cracking up. 

Which is why I'm giving away a copy of the fancy new paperback version (which releases to the masses TOMORROW!!!) to one lucky winner. To enter, make sure you follow my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, September 17th. I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Sunday, September 18th. International entries welcome.

And... go!

For more middle grade love, make sure you check out these other MMGMs floating around the blogosphere:

- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week!

- Barbara Watson is featuring JUNONIA. Click HERE to learn all about it. 


- Joanne Fritz is highlighting SECRETS AT SEA. Click HERE to see what she thought of it.

- Michael Gettel-Gilmartin is spotlighting BORN TOO SHORT. Click HERE to read his review.


- Deb Marshall is raving about WILDWOOD--with a GIVEAWAY! Click HERE for all the details.


- Karen Yingling has more awesome nonfiction recommendations for everyone. Click HERE to see what they are. 


- Pam Torres is showcasing THE INQUISITORS APPRENTICE. Click HERE to see why she loved it.


- Yay--Danika Dinsmore joins the MMGM fun with a feature on THE MAGICIAN'S ELEPHANT. To see what she thinks, click HERE.

And if you want to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog. It's easier if you email me before Monday, that way your link will be included in the post from the moment it goes live. But if you decide to spontaneously join the fun, I do update the post at several points throughout the Monday. Just email me a link and I'll add you when I do!

Happy Monday!