Happy Bookish Things

So last week was hard, and my last post was sad. Let’s brighten the blog up!

Check this out, my favorite thing on the Internet last week – and an Academy Award-nominated short animated film!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Oh, and in Nikki News, I placed two pieces so far this month! I will have the great pleasure of seeing another one of my short stories in Pockets magazine this June, and (how’s this for a long lead time?) another short essay in the Bylines 2013 Calendar!

Now, back to the Revising Cave. Thank goodness I’ve put by enough chocolate to last the winter.


A Casserole Week

It’s been a long week, friends, and I’ve been cooking. But not the “writing like crazy” kind of cooking. The “dirty dishes and grocery shopping” kind.

A few days ago, one of my friends had her daughter — two months early, but doing well for a preemie. My next-door neighbor died in an accident the same day.

A long week.

I may have mentioned before that I worked in churches long enough to qualify as a Professional Church Lady. One of the quirks of Church Ladies is that, when faced with great celebration or great tragedy, our response is universally the same: Casseroles.

To the Church Lady, there is something almost holy about the combination of pasta, meat, cheese, and vegetables, a deep ritual in the preparation of meatloaves and lasagnas. The mixing of salt and pepper, chopped onions and garlic brings a calm, taking over the hands with sacred routine, like speaking the Lord’s Prayer, or the Twenty-Third Psalm.

A casserole takes work, but it’s a very forgiving dish. If you mix too hard, angry at the chance that took away a friend, or cry with joy at the thought of a new life, a new baby — the casserole will come out pretty much the same. And if you really goof up, you can always grate cheese on the top, even add some crumbled Ritz crackers if you want to get fancy. Nobody will notice the tumbled layers underneath.

So many times in life, I don’t know what to say to mark the great events that occur, to comfort, or cheer. But thanks to all those years in church, I know exactly what to do: brown the meat, cook the pasta, stir the sauce, mix it together, grate the cheese, and pray for one hour at 350 degrees.


ALA Midwinter Mayhem

Oh my goodness. I just had the Most Fun Weekend Ever at the ALA Midwinter conference. I met the Entire Writing World there, and took home a bunch of ARCs I’d been longing for. (Okay, I’m not planning on keeping most of these — they’re for my local librarian, who couldn’t go this year. But I’m reading them first, naturally, just to make sure they’re, um, suitable, or something.)

I don’t even want to talk about all the things I did. I’ll just post pictures instead.

First on the agenda: Hanging out in the local cemetery with author Jenny Moss.

Wait - is that Anne Nesbet's debut? I already bought it last week! Hardcovers rule.

Hannah Moskowitz's AMAZING book Zombie Tag was front-and-center. Hmm... I already own this one, too.

Hooray! An ARC I'm dying for! Savenaz Tash's The Mapmaker and the Ghost! But... it's not being handed out yet? *sobs*

Eureka! I finally hit ARC gold with Greg Leitich Smith's upcoming The Chronal Engine!


Time to hang out with the literati: Jenny Moss, P. J. Hoover, and Jessica Anderson Lee. (Maybe their talent will rub off if I squeeze in?)


Could I smile any wider? I just got two books signed by Michael Buckley!

And then... an ARC of Tom Angleberger's upcoming Fake Mustache. Which came with - you guessed it - a fake mustache.

And then the cows came home. With so many ARCs they could hardly lift the bags.

My kids think I am a Magical Book Fairy now, as I snagged the Very Best books from the actual HANDS of their most favorite authors. I’ll have to admit, it was a very Cinderella-ish weekend for me, between the books and the author-idols, and meeting all the sweet Penguin fairy-godmother-type marketing and sales folks.

Now, off to read!

The Power of Pajamas: How Not Changing Clothes Can Change Your Life

Guess what, Writer Friends? My very first newspaper interview EVER was just posted! I think I avoided embarrassing myself too much, although I may have given a little TMI on what I wear when I’m writing, and how much chocolate I consume. Click here to read more about the Power of Pajamas, and how refusing to get dressed changed my writing life. 🙂 (And a big thanks to Melissa Buron for asking me to contribute!)

Now, I’m off to Dallas for the ALA Midwinter conference to hang out with the literati and act like I Know Stuff. So excited. But I have to pack — I’ve heard a rumor that (unlike Austin) jeans and a nice t-shirt do NOT constitute appropriate conference attire in Dallas. Weird, right?


My Ideal Listener

I am hip deep in halligators, Writer Friends. I’m writing and revising my way to sending a new manuscript off, and I only have a few minutes to post here, but I had to share this wish for you:

I wish for you, an ideal listener. Not reader, although ideal readers are out there, and when you find one, it makes you want to write faster and better, thinking of your words flying across the page in front of their wide, hungry eyes.

I have an ideal listener, and I think it’s possibly the best part of my writing life.

My ideal listener sits on the bed behind me as I read the chapters of my WIP aloud, wating patiently as I correct typos on the fly, listening intently to every word. He laughs and hoots and kicks at the covers when I read the funny bits. When the tension mounts, he stands up, crosses the room, and stands right behind my chair, his quick breath on my shoulder, tense fingers gripping the back of my chair.

He sneaks out of bed sometimes at night long after I’m done reading, tiptoes downstairs, opens my documents file, and steals an illicit next chapter because he can’t wait.

He tells me, at bedtime, that the book I’m writing is the best he’s ever heard, better than anything.

“Rick Riordan good?” I ask.


“Better than… The Ranger’s Apprentice?” I ask.


“You’re crazy. How about… Harry Potter?” We laugh. It is *almost* sacrilege.

Different, he says. Just as good.

Then: Can I hear just one more chapter tonight? Please?

I know it’s not all true, Friends, but it doesn’t matter. You need at least one cheerleader on the sidelines at the early stages of the game. And if your cheerleader will sit quietly as you read aloud (the MOST important part of revision, in my estimation), it makes even that part of the process deeply rewarding.

Now I have to go write about wishes, and ideas, and seeds. Just a few more pages…

Write well, Friends!


I’m a Bylines Calendar Girl

2012 is almost upon us! Have you bought your weekly writer’s calendar? If not, feel free to pick up this one:

Not just because I’m a calendar girl, although of course that would be a good reason. (I’m pretty sure I’m August, but I haven’t gotten mine in the mail yet. I’m thinking August will be a month to remember.) It’s a great calendar, chock full of inspirational stuff and handy references… check it out!

I should add, if you’re family, you’re required to get one because it has my kids’ pictures in it. Seriously.

If you’re a writer, go ahead and submit a short essay for next year’s calendar. Who knows, you might be Ms. /Mr. August 2013. (But you’ll never be as amazingly cute as those kids from August 2012, don’t even try.)

Happy New Year, Friends. I’ll see you next week with word on my broken resolutions!

Christmas Comes Early: My ARCs Arrived!

When you start to explore the crazy world of book publishing, it’s like walking into a room where everyone is speaking Pig Latin: you don’t understand every word, especially not at first. There’s all sorts of terminology to onfuse-cay ou-yay.

Three years ago, I wouldn’t have known what an ARC was, unless you meant the kind Noah started building when God whispered “rain.”

But I just got the ARCs of my book, and so that you’ll understand and celebrate with me, rather than feel confused, I’ll tell you what they are. ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy. These are copies of a book put out months before the publication date of the novel, and sent to reviewers, booksellers, librarians… and authors.

Look! I got a box of these beauties, and they’re mine ALL MINE!

And NO, the final cover art will not be pink. Or anything like this at all.

Er… No, not really.

ARCS are a marketing tool, NOT copies of the book, exactly. They still have that last batch of typos and errors that didn’t get picked up in early rounds of edits (and, yes, it kills me to know that on page 183 or whatever, people will  see that horrible logic flaw. I took it out after these were printed!)

My NAME is on the SPINE! With candy. How apropos.

Since ARCs are not copies of the final book, they are not for sale! You cannot buy them, and if you see them for sale online, someone is doing a Very Bad Thing called piracy. Don’t support them, please. Writers need to eat, and that only happens when actual money changes hands.

Speaking of money, ARCs are very expensive to produce! They can cost upwards of $16 apiece to print, since they’re run in small batches. (And that’s in softcover! My book will come out in hardcover and cost the reader about the same. Weird.) So if you get one, be happy! Read it, review it if you like, and maybe pass it on (if you really liked it, to a librarian who might buy a copy for her collection. Just don’t ever sell it. See piracy, above.)

So, my ARCs are now out in the world, going to all the fancy schmancy people who might possibly write lovely (or not-so-lovely) things about my book. It’s more than slightly scary. But it’s wonderful, too.

It has a back cover, too! With words on it! That I wrote!

It’s a total Pinocchio moment for me — I’m a Real Author now! And I won’t lie, that thought makes me feel all Christmas-y inside.

Merry Christmas, Friends! And I hope Santa brings you exactly what your heart desires.

PS – Very soon I will be able to share the Real Cover Art. It will SO be worth the wait. 🙂



Fighting for Silent Night: Keyboard Struggles

I can’t play the piano. Well, not really. I took a few months of lessons when I was a seven, a semester of class piano during my “voice major” phase of college, and four months of lessons when I was pregnant with my first kid. So I can sit down and plunk out a melody line, sure. And I played enough other instruments in my life to be able to read music well enough. But no one would make the mistake, after hearing me massacre a minuet, of thinking that I could really play piano.

Some of my very favorite memories of childhood, though, were of my mom playing piano music with us kids, all of us singing along. We had dozens of songs memorized, harmonies and descants included. Whenever a day had really gotten to one of us, the sound of those songs trickling in from the living room would pull us out of our funk and onto the piano bench, right next to Mom, and the day improved in an instant.

I wanted to give that to my kids. I wanted to play those songs, and more. But I was a Very Difficult Child, and broke my mom like a dry twig when she tried to force me to keep up the practicing as a child. And the time, patience, and will to learn to play as an adult eluded me.

So I settled for the Most Important Songs: Christmas Carols. Even if I couldn’t sit down and play some gorgeous classical piece, by gum I was going to nail Joy to the World and Jingle Bells. You know what? I did it. I mostly have those, even if they are pretty easy versions. Even though I have to struggle and sweat through every new song I want to add to my repertoire (Silver and Gold? O Come, O Come Emanuel? You are mine!), I am adamant I will succeed.

I think all of our Big Dreams are like that. There are things we want, and things we’re willing to work for, and things we’re willing to accept. Too often, we’re willing to accept less than we are capable of, and far less than we’d dreamed.  I accepted far less in my dream of playing the piano with my kids — but I’ve made my peace with what I can do and have done.

Whether it’s in writing or music, there comes a point when you must draw a line in the sand and say: this is what I want, and am willing to work for. Fight for. Even if it means sitting down to the keyboard and coming face-to-face with your current state of mediocrity, even if it’s embarrassing and your kids/critique partners don’t seem all that enthused.

Even if it means the dogs howl and the neighbors post anonymous complaints about the noise, even if the agents and editors send form rejections and nothing else, keep working toward your goal. At the end of your journey, you will have earned the right to be proud of yourself. So what if your work only ever appears in a local magazine, or a church newsletter? So what if all you can play is Silent Night?

Personally, I’ve always loved Silent Night. And the most meaningful thing I’ve had published was in a church magazine.

So, Writer Friends… what are you willing to work for? What are you willing to accept?

The Perfect Writing Day

On the best writing days, it rains.

It’s cold outside, just a little, so I’m not tempted to venture out. My favorite pajamas are clean, and I keep them on until at least noon.

I have my special tea – the cinnamon/orange/clove stuff, along with my insulated infuser tea pot, and one of my fancy schmancy, Jane Austen-y, bone china tea cups.

My dogs sit quietly at my feet. My big dog only smells faintly of skunk.

The phone doesn’t ring.The Internet is boring and holds no magic for me.

I know what I’m planning to write about. Not every word, but the next chapter or two.

When I get to a place in the manuscript that needs a little research, I can find the information I need in seconds. I get to research old fairy tales and witchcraft and call it working.

The writing goes fast. I produce thousands of words without it feeling forced or tiresome. I re-read what I’ve written, and it sounds… if not good, at least like something I can work with.

I think about my story all through lunch, which happens to be the very best of leftovers from a home-cooked meal.

I have enough chocolate (Lindt Intense Orange Dark bars, to be precise) to help me get over that afternoon slump.

The perfect writing day. That’s what it’s been like today, Writer Friends. Go ahead, be jealous.

But you don’t have to feel too jealous. I’ve never actually had two of these in a row.


So, what’s the perfect writing day for you?


Will Write for Food (and Love)

News flash! You have two (count them: TWO!) opportunities to buy anthologies with my work in them this month.

If you’re a lover of personal essays, chock full of humor and (gasp!) recipes, check out the newest Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love edition.

Why not buy a dozen?


Or, if you’re more of a black turtleneck and beret type (and don’t we all have those days? Come on, admit it.), you might be interested in Improbable Worlds: an anthology of Texas and Louisiana Poets.

This cover gives me great joy.


Actually, I had a fainting spell when I saw the names of the other poets in this anthology. I’m still a little overcome by the whole thing.

Now, I don’t have time to mess around. I have a whole lotta words to churn out to meet my next deadline. So, answer me this: if Santa were planning on bringing you a recently-published book (in addition to these lovely anthologies), what book would you ask for?

Did Santa ever bring you a book when you were small? Or was that considered socks-and-underwear-ish?

Write well, Friends!