Tuesday, January 29, 2013

RTBookReviews Interview - and Jane

A while back I had a great conversation with Liz French from RTBookReviews. Seems like we talked about everything under the sun, and the result is a fun interview that ran in the March issue.

RTBR also reviewed Garden of Stones in that issue, saying this:

“Mesmerizing… shocking… heartbreaking… A story of unspeakable injustice and bitter sacrifice, it will leave you shaken.”

I do love that magazine. I've been reading it for years. I have to tell you, though, it was a special thrill to share cover space with Jane Porter, and I'll tell you why:

About a million years ago (okay, more like fifteen) I went to an RWA National conference with my friends Lisa and Lynn and we went to hear an author I'd never heard of: Jane Porter. I remember that she had these little plastic dinosaurs that she set on the podium. The dinosaurs represented determination. For forty-five minutes, Jane talked about determination, about getting the job done in the face of rejection and disappointment. She was so real, and it felt like she was talking directly to me. I took everything she said to heart, and when I got home I often thought of her dinosaurs and her positivity.

jane and me in 2009...if you look close you can see my "first sale" ribbon on my badge
When I got my first contract, I sent her a gushy fan letter, telling her she was one of the reasons I'd finally succeeded. When my first book came out I hunted her down at the literacy signing and asked her to pose for a picture with me.

Jane's the real deal - she works hard, doesn't let obstacles get her down, and looks out for others along the way. And that's an example for us all.

Friday, January 25, 2013

YA Romance Story Fodder: Your Own Young Love

Some friends and I were talking this week about writing romance and how sometimes we don't trust our own intuition to guide us through the story arc, even if we're in successful relationships ourselves. Its especially difficult when adults write for teens, since we have likely forgotten the way young love differs from mature relationships, in matters of caution, self-protection, baggage, other demands on our time, trust, and many other issues.

By total coincidence, I came across a box of letters from freshman year and spent an afternoon re-reading them.

(Here I need to do a shout-out to my Dad: Dad, thank you for writing to me faithfully on your typewriter just about every week, typos and all. I'm guessing today's college kids can't fathom such a thing, but back then money was too tight for frequent long-distance phone calls, and we didn't have email so we relied on the postal service. Sometimes we even *hand-wrote* letters.)

Anyway, I'd forgotten a few of the succession of boyfriends I went through that year. (another aside: Matt Spicer of St. Louis, should you ever come across this, you were a great boyfriend. Sorry I didn't appreciate you enough.) But saved in a shoebox, dusty and yellowed with age, were letters from all kinds of boys: some ardent, some kind of silly, some incomprehensible - and all of them full of wonderful, mine-able inspiration.

I just have to share this one - I won't use his name, of course - because I got curious about what happened to the boy I met on Spring break in Cocoa Beach, Florida, who liked me enough to figure out how to write to me. Google found him in two shakes. People, he went on to become a much-decorated Colonel in the air force...it was hard for me to reconcile the image of the handsome, confident-looking man in uniform with the awkward boy who bought me a mai-tai, but there you go.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

12 April '82

Dear Sophie,

Are you confused? Surprised? Considering the fact that all you would tell me was your first name - finding your address proved to be a little difficult. In case you still haven't figured out who this is - I'm the guy you met at Brassy's in Cocoa Beach about 3 weeks ago. Why am I writing you a letter? Good question - especially when you consider that getting you to say anything that night was like pulling teeth. [ed note: see? I told you I'm shy.] Yet - I haven't met another girl quite like you. You're attractive, obviously very intelligent, and then there is whatever is prompting me to write this letter.

[ed note: this "whatever" is what we are trying to convey in YA or frankly any romantic story arc! I can't tell you how many times I've been criticized for not showing enough reason for my h/h to be together.]

Anyway - I'm a Third Class Cadet (sophomore) at the U.S. Air Force Academy who just happened to be vacationing with three friends in sunny Florida a few weeks back - and....my major is Astronautical Engineering and my sights are set on graduation, entry into pilot training, good school, and getting into the space shuttle program. That's me in a nutshell.

[ed note: people, note how this boy describes himself and his aspirations. Very different from, say, a 50-something on a first date. I mean, don't get me started...]

Well - what I'm hoping for is that you will reciprocate and write a litter back. You can always use a pen pal! Of course if I don't hear from you in a few weeks Ill know you probably never got this far in the letter. Hope to hear from you soon.

P.S. My male ego bruises very easily.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Necessary Reminder to Crush Negativity

Today's been a funny day so far. I woke up feeling a little draggy. These days, I get up at 5:30am so I can have a few minutes with my son before driving him to the train station. It takes him a train and a bus, and an hour and a half, to get to school so neither of us are particularly cheerful first thing.

But it's a time to cherish nonetheless, and I'm mindful that these days are precious. Anyway, while waiting for the coffee to brew, I skimmed the sites that I imagine many authors review when they sit down to work each day, seeing what's new in social media and what's going on with one's books, as though anything significant could have happened since the last time I peeked (come on, y'all, we're all obsessive; might as well admit it). And I discovered a brand new scathing reader review of a recent book of mine, much the way I used to wander downstairs in the morning and discover dismembered mouse corpses left by a cat I once owned.

(Does it surprise anyone to know that a Littlefield cat would amass an impressive body count?)

Anyway, before I could even process this little gem, I saw that a post I read a while back for Adventures in YA Publishing also went live today. And it was exactly the reminder I needed. Reviews are exactly as significant as I allow them to be.

From the post: "I learned to judge my work by the only standard that matters. Instead of letting negative criticism crush my spirit, I silence those voices and get back to the words."

Read the full text, as well as lots of other useful and amusing commentary from the folks at Adventures in YA Publishing :) - here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Best Writing Advice You'll Ever Ignore

I've been thinking of posting this for a while, but earlier in the year I was in a bit of a funk and it was all I could do to meet my deadlines - which is too bad, because I could have used the reminder.

Here's the advice, in short: WRITE EVERY DAY.

Write some words each day, whether it's 100 or 10,000, no matter how arduous, no matter how hard you have to clench your teeth, no matter if you have to clamp your hands over your ears to drown out the derisive inner voices.

I don't care if you have a job. I don't care if you have kids. I don't care if you have three jobs and eleven kids because, my friend, the book doesn't care about that either. The book only cares if you feed its hungry maw, and if you just pop in ever few days or weeks or whenever the muse speaks or the planets align or the kids leave you in peace or your ex stops being an asshole, the book will punish you like a pit bull left on a choke chain in the rain all day while you go do lines in the bathroom of the corner bar.

Actually, the book will do you worse than that: it will freeze you cold. You'll come back ready to go and there will be nothing, a frozen tundra of zero, an absence of inspiration so deep and so dark it's like the bottom of the sea where only prehistoric blind mud creatures will keep you company and even they will turn away because they will KNOW that you are not worthy.

Think I'm being tough? Well, yeah, but I save my most painful scorn for myself. Because I ignore this advice too. Not as much as most of you, probably - I can count the days I took off last year on my kids'  fingers and toes - but I do it. In fact, we *all* do it. Most of my writing friends agree with this advice, but we all fall off the horse, no matter how sterling our intentions.

There are plenty of authors who don't agree with this advice, and feel free to seek them out to make you feel better if you don't want to believe me. But let me ask you this - what do you think of their work? When did they last have a book out? Do they give interviews where they talk about a writer's "sacred space" and the necessity of days spent doing nothing more than thinking and "letting the story come to them"?

I guess I've probably alienated most of you by now, and I probably deserve it, especially because my frustration is directed about 65% at myself for constantly ignoring my own advice. But seriously. Be the person who shows up in the chair every day, and you'll amaze yourself. You'll write circles around the rest of us and you'll earn the right to smirk - and perhaps you'll even be gracious about it, and then you can teach me to do the same.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Greetings From Scenic Buffalo!

Guess where I've been? Buffalo, New York, at the Harlequin Distribution Center, where I signed 5000 copies of GARDEN OF STONES with these lovely ladies.

From left to right that's me, Jessica Marriott, and Stefanie Buszynski and Joanna Karra of the Toronto office who drove down to help.

You may be wondering how the heck you sign that many books in a day and a half. I know I sure was. The first step is a brand new package of Sharpies, of course. And look at this - they had a little blue squeezie ball for me because I'd whined so relentlessly about my hand injury. They were much better sports about it than I was! (But as I type this, I have no pain at all in my hand, which I believe I owe to the healing powers of the magic tater tots I had at our celebratory lunch.)

This looks like a lot of books in front of Joanna and Stefanie, right?  - but it was only the tip of the bookberg.

Before we got going, Jessica - whose job title is something like She Who Oversees All, gave me a tour of the factory floor. An astonishing number of books are printed, boxed, and shipped from this facility every day. 

On the way to the floor, I spotted this poster in the hallway (yay!) - - my mass market reissue which will be out in March.

Jessica stopped to show me just a few of the boxes of books we'd soon be opening and signing. Gasp.

There is a dizzying variety of machines that do everything from fold boxes to apply stickers to sort orders.  At the start of the process, giant rolls of paper are printed with the author's words. I found it amazing to see the pages all laid out before they were cut.

Here is just a small section of the track that runs around the room, on which boxes travel on their way to being sent all over the world. Lisa Wray, from the Toronto PR team, described it as a roller coaster for books!

Here's Jessica standing in front of just a few of the pallets of books being readied for shipment.

That row of gray containers are "book condos," in Jessica's words. It's here that small numbers of backlist and older titles are stored so that they can easily be added to a customer's order.

Lots and lots of a popular title...

and one of the more stunning sights on the tour, bales of shredded books (Don't look, Junior! All books go to heaven, I swear it!)

In the background below is a machine called the "tin man" where (gulp) remaindered books are turned into what you see above.

And finally, this row of chutes sorts outgoing deliveries according to their destinations. Bon voyage, little books - readers await!

 It's been a fascinating and invigorating few days. I wasn't the least bit surprised to discover that my new pals are every bit as generous and fun as everyone else I've met at HQ.

And now...though I'm not sure how I got so tired when all I've moved in the last 8 hours is my signing hand...which also served as my tater tot forking hand...it's time for a restorative nap.

Tomorrow, the adventure continues as I head to North Dakota!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Little Getaway

Did you know they only let high school students loll about the house for a measly two weeks over the holidays? It's positively barbarous. 

As the end of Junior's vacation drew near, we decided to take a little trip. We drove a couple hours down the coast to monterey and spent a few glorious days enjoying the sunshine and playing Bananagrams for hours and hours and hours in outdoor cafes. It was a little chilly, but we were undaunted.

This place had the most amazing crepes. We had seconds - we couldn't resist! This was one of our better hands, to the right. Since we were on vacation, we relaxed the rules to include things that *ought* to be words, even if they technically aren't in current usage.

When I returned home, I discovered that a little birdie had sent me a gift. Yet more evidence that I am *great* at picking my inner circle! That's my adorable son, who shares my taste in TV shows.

I'm off again in the morning for another adventure - check back next week to see how it went. Meanwhile, best wishes to everyone who's kicking off a new year of school or work or writing!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Traditions

I started two new New Years traditions yesterday, on the first New Years Eve of my new life.

First I packed up all the things that don't belong here and took them to Goodwill. Because I live in a small place now, I'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of things that aren't necessary, and I'd been accumulating them in boxes and bags. I'm amazed at how much there was, given that I've lived here only four months. I think a lot of it was due to not knowing exactly what I would need, and erring on the side of bringing too much along in the moving caravan. Nowadays, I take a lot of thinking time before I buy anything new, so next year I shouldn't have quite as much to give away.

Two items in particular deserve a noble sendoff. I finally decided to retire my writing sweatshirt and pants. They were not new when I began writing full time in the fall of 2007, and I wore them pretty much every single day between October and May. It's not that I don't own other clothes - but these were perfect. Soft, and warm and snuggly, and cozy and comforting. I did wash them every few days, but I put them on right out of the dryer. I wrote about ten books and a couple dozen stories in those sweats, and that is not an exaggeration...and, sadly, they wore plum out.

I could have eked another year out of them, I suppose. The holes weren't that big. The fact that the pants were falling off me was testament to my healthier lifestyle. But in this year of change, it seemed like I might as well take a deep breath and let go.

The other new tradition was to watch the sun set over the city. I looked up the official sunset time - 5pm - and made sure to get a great seat half an hour in advance. I had the steps to a grand mausoleum all to myself, and I sat and watched the sky streak with color and then erupt in brilliant orange before the sun slipped down behind the San Francisco hills across the bay. I felt deliciously melancholy and inspired and yes, a little smug that I thought of doing this. I'll definitely be back next year.