Friday, October 24, 2014

October Giveaway!

October is here! (In fact, it's nearly gone.) The season of ghosts, goblins, ghouls... and great gobs of giveaways from the Fall Fourteeners!

Yes, we have another giveaway, this one featuring our two October releases:

Amy Finnegan, Not in the Script

Lisa Maxwell, Sweet Unrest










You know the drill: leave a comment, telling us which book you'd like to win. (No fair listing both--ya gotta choose for the entry to be legit!) Be sure to leave your comment by the end of October (no later than midnight PST on Halloween night, the 31st). We'll randomly select one winner for each book!

Please note: contest open to US only.

So even if you don't think you have a ghost of a chance, leave us a comment telling us witch of these great books you'd like to win. That way, you won't have to pump kin for the money to buy a copy!

Good luck from the Fall Fourteeners!

UPDATE: The winners have been chosen, and they are:

Not in the Script: KIKID
Sweet Unrest: Natalie (Never Trust a Duck)

Thanks to all who entered, and congratulations to the winners!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Books in the Blood

I want to tell you a little about my dad.

He died very suddenly last month (official cause flu, unofficial cause heavy and unapologetic smoking and fanatical avoidance of doctors). Anyway, Andy was a voracious reader, everything from Stephen King to Hilary Mantel. He carried a bunch of plastic shopping bags wherever he went, and these bags were filled with scribbled-in notebooks, tabloid newspapers, books of all shapes and sizes. He read with a sharpened pencil to keep the words from flying off the page because of his dyslexia. I remember getting stabbed by that pencil (kept in breast pocket, point up, when not in use) repeatedly as a kid.

My dad was a writer too, although he only published one book. It was called Up Against the Brass (Simon & Schuster, 1970) and it recounts his Quixotic mission to unionize the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. It is chock full of little gems, like this from the day he was inducted in 1966:

It was, I imagine, a typical swearing-in ceremony. The lieutenant told us that if anyone went AWOL he would probably be shot, because there was a war on. Apparently, quite a few before us had already gone over the hill, but I didn't think the lieutenant's absurd threat was going to deter many people.

It didn't. As our train pulled out for the long, hot ride to South Carolina, we saw one of the guys who had been inducted with us.

He was on the train going the other way. He was AWOL.

When my dad would tell this bit, he would do the classic double-take. Like, "Hey, guys, isn’t that…?"

Born and raised in Philly, Andy ended up stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, described thusly:

Lawton is a typical Oklahoma town. It has sixty thousand citizens, and in the summer the temperature goes to 105 degrees and stays there…Lawton's sole swimming pool is white-only. When twenty-three black Gis and civilians tried to use it, they were arrested, and General Critz, the Post Commandant, refused the NAACP request to put it off limits for all Fort Sill soldiers.

Most bars in Lawton feature weak beer and juke boxes that blare recordings distributed by a southern outfit called Rebel Records. Rebel Records uses a confederate flag as its label and the racism its songs encourage is typified by titles like "Cajun KKK" and "Lookin' for a Handout."

During the summer of 1967 news of a record burning in Lawton got our hopes up that enlightened citizens had destroyed some of the Rebel Records. But no; it was the week after the Beatles had announced they were more popular than Jesus Christ, and a group of ministers had persuaded their followers to burn Beatle records in the public square.

Incidentally, the fire got out of control and almost burned down a city-owned building…

My dad was one of my best early manuscript readers. When my first publisher imploded, I think he was actually more devastated than I was. Then, when I was offered a new contract, he proceeded to call or text me nearly every day asking if I'd signed it yet. Due to a number of reasons (which I patiently explained anew every time we spoke), it took a few months for this to happen. It was apparently the same time that he was losing huge amounts of weight and getting really sick without telling anyone, but he still found the energy to drive me half crazy (the other half I managed on my own). It makes me happy that I was able to tell him I signed it a week before he died.

Now, when I read aloud to my daughter, I think of all the bedtime reading he did with me when I was little, including stuff that was obviously way over my five- or six-year-old head, like Darwin's Descent of Man. That didn't really matter though. Being read to is a magical thing you never forget.

He was also not above buying the most blatantly tear-jerking children's books as birthday presents, like Robert Munsch's I Love You Forever, which we both agreed kind of crossed the line into creepy and stalker-ish but which still gets me at the end every single time.

His tiny Manhattan apartment had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, almost entirely devoted to Greek and Roman history and the ancient world. He was an expert on all that. They live on my shelves now, and remind me why I still love tangible paper books so much.

Anyway, I bet lots of us have parents that read and write and talked about books and took us to the library all the time, and always gave books as presents. Who made them living, breathing things. I think that if we give our own kids just one single thing…well, that’s the thing.

Thank you, dad.


p.s. The New York Times did a really nice obit on him too, you can see it here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding your Tribe



One of the best parts of being a writer is the writerly community that comes along with it. At the heart of it, being a writer is solitary, right? I mean, you have to have your butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard to actually get your work done. HOWEVER…not all of us are solitary creatures.

So how do you find your tribe?

It’s easier that you might think. First you have to ask yourself if you want an online tribe or if you want to see their faces in real life. I like both. I love having the hive mind that is twitter and facebook. But I also really like to share a glass of wine or a nice meal with my peeps.

You can follow hashtags like #MGLITCHAT or #YALITCHAT. Or #KIDLITCHAT. There’s seventy gazillion, so keep looking until you find a group of folks who feel like kindred spirits.

I’ve met my besties through SCBWI (society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).


Specifically, the New England chapter of SCBWI—but there are other chapters all over the world, so find the one that’s nearest to you. I love going to conferences and workshops and gleaning tips and knowledge from peers and colleagues. Chatting with friends about their processes and their successes and losses makes me feel like I’m not the only one.

And there’s nothing better than a glass of wine at a simple local meet up with like-minded friends.
When I discovered that there were no meet ups locally for me, I decided to start my own. I just made a reservation at a local watering hole, and then sent out the invites. And to my surprise…people showed up. We’ve been meeting every other month for about four years now.

If you want a more academic experience, there are critique groups. Contact your local SCBWI chapter or other writers group to find out if there are any groups with vacancies near you. Or simply contact your local library and start your own!

Leave your comments below if you have suggestions or anecdotes about finding your tribe!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Thing I Wish the Non-Writers in My Life Knew

So, I'm in the weeds, writing my second book for Harper Teen. While Rites of Passage only took me six weeks to draft, this book has taken a year. Each book is different, so I'm not horribly upset about the process, but there's a difference between being a writer and being a writer in the middle of creating.

For me, the act of drafting is the most mentally intense time. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I get immersed in drafting. I can write for hours a day, 4,000 or 5,000 words a day, sometimes even more. That means most, if not all, of my brain is consumed with creating.

In short, this is tiring.

I forget to eat. Sometimes sleep doesn't happen. Permission slips and RSVPs for school happenings--they're not on my radar. Showers, forget about it.

When I am in the process of creating, everything, and I do mean everything else falls by the wayside. My husband picks up the slack--he feeds Thing One and Thing Two, and Dog One and Dog Two. He makes sure there is food on the table, that I actually go to sleep at some point--sometimes on the couch because we both know it won't last long or I'll be too restless to let him sleep.

I have descriptions running through my head non-stop. I've got characters beating at my imaginary doors trying to get out. Imaginary conversations are taking place all the time.

While I'm driving, while I'm eating, while I'm playing with my kids or walking the dogs--I'm 97% focused on my story, even if I'm not at my computer. I only half-hear things people say, and if I don't write something I have to do on my calendar immediately, I'm going to forget it and there's no way I'll remember it on the day of.

Does this all-consuming make me a bad person? I hope not.

But I may seem like a bad person. My communication is slow, of not non-existent. E-mails can go unanswered for weeks, I may miss a dentist appointment, I may forget what the outside world feels like. I may have to run lunch to a Thing when I was too distracted to make sure it got into the backpack that morning.

Here's the thing, and this isn't an excuse, or an apology, it's just the way I work: I don't mean to put everything else on the back counter. The phone calls from my mom that I ignore--I'm not doing it to be mean or put her off. It's just...the story is so present, taking up so much of my mind, that it's hard to communicate with anyone.

I know it's a short-coming, and I'm working on it, but if you've ever tried to communicate with an author and you think we've forgotten or we're ignoring you on purpose, I promise, we're not.

We just might be in the act of creating.

And while it's amazing and beautiful, it's a hard place to be. Six weeks was hard. Being this way for a year, as I've been with The Harder You Fall, is exhausting.

But it'll be done soon, and I'll start communicating again soon.

I'll be human again soon. I'll get to be social (in a non-awkward-writer kind of way).

I can't wait!