Where Do Ideas Come From?

I know, right? It’s the question every writer gets, and every writer I know has come up with some pat answer to fend off further questions. (One of my writer friends says he gets his ideas at a little shop in Marfa, Texas. I SO want to visit that shop. His ideas are really good.)

I had the amazing opportunity to present a workshop at the Dripping Springs Community Library today to a group of twenty-three 8-10 year olds about that very question. (No pictures, sorry! It’s not cool to post photographs of kids without those pesky permission forms. 🙂

I called the workshop “Finding a Fantastic What If.” We began with a quick overview of the parts of a story, and then I spoke to them about my book’s initial what if: What if Hansel and Gretel found a gingerbread house… but it wasn’t a house, it was a modern-day school. And what if the teacher was the witch?”

Then we collaborated to make up a new character (Snowflake the Delicious Unicorn, in this case), and give him character traits. (Poor Snowflake was lonely, scared, and prone to being snacked on by everyone since he had a mane and tail made of cotton candy and a horn made of fruit tarts. Whoa, fruit tart horn? I would totally eat that unicorn.)

Then I had the kids tell me what Snowflake’s problem was, and his goal. We talked about some good ways – and repetitious ways, using fairy tales and the lovely Rule of Three as a starting point- to write the attempts at solving the problem, etc.

Then the kids made up their own characters, made them out of modeling clay, drew them, danced the Cha Cha Slide, and ate chocolate.

Cha Cha Slide. Come on, you know you want to click this link.

Oh, and then I raffled off twenty-some books and other prizes. And then we wrote some more.

I think it was a success! I’m going back in next week for a different presentation with older kids. I’ll keep you all posted. 🙂

The most interesting part for me was figuring out where ideas come from. Seems they come from thinking about where ideas come from, because I TOTALLY got my next novel idea from doing this talk. WOOT!

News: My contributor’s copies for Pockets and Texas Poetry Calendar are here. They’re so purdy. Also, I’m heading off on a writer’s retreat Friday. I know what I’ll be working on now!

This Week’s Awesomeness: Middle Grade Mania

Hi, friends!

I want to direct your attention away from my little blog today, and over to the new brainchild of debut author Laurisa White Reyes (The Rock of Ivanore, 2012).

After realizing how easy it was to find YA lit blogs, and how not-quite-so-easy to locate the MG ones, Laurisa spent a lot of time compiling a list of over 100 middle-grade-related blogs. Then she very generously created this new site so no one else would have to do that work again!

I am in love with this site.* Check out Middle Grade Mania – and make sure to mention any other MG blogs that may not be on the list. She’s still compiling.

* And, FYI, my 12 y.o. son is in love with Laurisa’s book! He and his friends have read it, and love it. It’s on my TBR pile – higher up now, I’ll admit, with his hearty recommendation. Check it out!

Also Awesome: I have been invited to present at the Houston Writer’s Guild Fall conference! I’ll be doing a three-hour workshop on Building Your Writer’s Toolkit. Sign up, and I’ll give you chocolate.

Are We Famous Yet? A Writer’s Dream

So, I may have mentioned that when I signed my book deal with Razorbill, my youngest son asked for a pony.

I explained that I wasn’t actually J.K. Rowling, and that ponies are expensive,  take a lot of care,* blah blah blah. When pressed (oh, yes, the kid kept at it), I said when I made a million dollars at this writing thing, we could get a pony. (I figured he’d be about forty if it ever happened, and past the pony-wanting years. I’m sneaky like that.)

But there’s no harm in dreaming – I mean, that’s what gets us through this whole writing life some days years. The thought of someday, seeing your name next to your heroes, seeing your book at the book fair, buying that pony and pony butler’s services with your ginormous royalty checks. *sigh*

I had a tiny part of that dream come true today, friends. I was sitting at breakfast, reading the Austin American-Statesman paper. I turned to the Books section (as one does), and there was a great article about YA fantasy, and why it is so freaking awesome, and why everyone should buy their kids fantasy books every day of their lives, isn’t the REALITY of middle school enough to merit the escape into fantasy, people… sorry, got on my soapbox. Cynthia Leitich Smith spoke extremely well about the topic, and I was waving my pom poms. Yay, Cynthia! Yay, YA fantasy books!

And then I turned the page, and saw the list of twelve “highly recommended fantasy” reads for this summer.

Rick Riordan? Check.

Cynthia Leitich Smith? Check.

Marissa Meyer, James Dashner, Veronica Roth? Checkity check check.

Nikki Loftin? Wait… who?

Oh. My. Heavens.

My book was there. Right next to (as my son pointed out) the photos from the Hunger Games and Harry Potter movies.

It took some explaining that, no, we still weren’t getting the pony yet.But ice cream? Oh. yes. Time to celebrate!

Isn’t this the coolest thing? I’m so happy today.

* When I explained to him that he’d have to clean a barn, he amended his wish for just a pony. He also wants a “pony butler” to clean up the poo. I’m going to have to write some seriously bestselling books, people.

Author Visit Advice?

Hi, there!

I have no business blog posting, since I am in the final stretch of a MONSTER deadline-fueled drafting process… but I need to post a question.

I am about to put together my “author visit” page, and I wondered, for those of you dear readers who are teachers and/or librarians, what exactly makes for the most successful author visit?

I taught for years, and spent a decade doing weekly public speaking in my work at both churches and schools. I LOVE interacting with groups of kids, and the chance to do this again is a part of the publication/marketing/writing process that is a super huge bonus cherry-on-top for me.But author visits are new territory.
I would welcome any and all advice, tips, hints, or horror stories you might want to share!

Oh, and if you’re a teacher or librarian (or know one) I’ll send you bookmarks AND stickers for your kids —  if you send me a tip AND use the blog contact form to send me an address to mail them! So, how’s THAT for incentive?


Lovely Friday: Reviews

Oh, friends, I am a VERY busy little bee down here in Texas. I have a super tight deadline for a new project, and I may be away from the blog more than usual for the next two months. (For an idea of how tight the deadline is, my word quota to hit for TODAY alone was 4,000. Not quite there yet…) Still, I have my Wonder Woman Underoos, an enormous stash of chocolate, and a family grown accustomed to cereal for dinner. I will prevail!

Still, I had to share the two lovely pieces of news I had this week, and one from last week as well.

Last week’s news: I had a poem accepted by the Texas Poetry Calendar, an anthology of poets from Texas, or who write about Texas. The calendar comes out in 2013 – but you can always pre-order a copy! 🙂 Or pick one up at Bookpeople when the time comes.

This week: My day started with a Facebook message from a writer/teacher I met in Houston a year ago. She teaches 6th grade Pre-AP English, and had assigned a book report. One of her students asked if she could report on a book that isn’t out yet – her mom had snagged an ARC of it at a conference, and the girl had read it and loved it.

Of course, the book was mine, and my teacher friend and I both squealed with delight. I will TOTALLY be sending the autographed bookmarks to that class! I can’t even tell you what a rush it was to think some kid who I am NOT genetically related to read my book, and loved it enough to do a report on it. So. Freaking. Cool.

Then, at the end of the day, my friend and fellow writer/blogger Samantha Clark posted her incredibly thoughtful review of Sinister Sweetness. I’m overwhelmed. Samantha is so smart, and reads so closely – with an eye to the construction of the novel, as well as the overall result. Thank you, Sam.

Now, it’s back to the page for me. And then off to New York next week, where I will do writerly things with my agent and editor, birthday celebration things with my mom and sisters, and shopping things… well, not so much of that. But still — New York!!!

PS – If you want something fun and fresh to read by a local author who is diving bravely into the non-fiction self-publishing waters, check out my funny, lovely friend Pamela Hutchins. I think How To Screw Up Your Kids sounds like fun… wait. Did that come out right? Good luck, Pamela!



TLA 2012


We don’t say the whole name. We’re too excited, for one thing, and we’re too breathless. But all the kidlit community knows instantly what we’re talking about: the Texas Library Conference.

This year it was in Houston, and it was… amazing. It was THE PLACE to be to meet famous and not-so-famous authors, librarians, teachers, booksellers, book buyers, publishers, editors, bloggers, and book lovers of all ages.

I think every Texas writer who can go, should. If not to meet and mingle, then to be surrounded by so many people who are deeply passionate about books. It does the heart good.

Here are some of my favorite pictures, with some of my favorite people from this year’s TLA!

Wait! What's that? My ARC??? And candy-covered bookmarks? Hooray!


Yes, this was sort of totally awesome. Now on to other people.


The YaHous! Awesome Houston Authors Lynne Kelly, Mary Lindsey, Jenny Moss, Joy Preble, Christina Mandelski, and Crystal Allen.


Apocalypsie Meet-up! With Megan Miranda (FRACTURE), and Lynne Kelly (CHAINED).

A small corner of the Suzieverse: Agent-sister Lisa DesRochers - with her smexy books. 🙂

Probably not cool to snap iphone pics at the publisher's cocktail party but OMG JOHN GREEN, right? With my friends Salima and Samantha.

The Texas Sweethearts (No Scoundrels here): Jo Whittemore, Jessica Lee Anderson, Kari Anne Holt, and Jeanette Larson. Look at those awesome books!

OMG David Lubar. And, yes, my friend Kari is totally photobombing us.


Austin Authors take TLA by storm! Also by tennis shoes. What NOT to wear to TLA? Pinchy shoes. Ouch!


Seriously, I could post pics all day. But I won’t. I’ll just say, be there next year!

Breadcrumbs and Witches: Got Any More Ideas?

Hi, y’all! I’m getting ready to present a speech (or two) at the Houston Writer’s Guild conference this weekend, and this week I’ve been putting the finishing touches *coughwritingtheentirethingcough* on my “keynote” speech. I’m talking about the journey of the debut writer (because, duh, right?) and I’m comparing it to all sorts of gruesome and macabre fairy tales. Inspired, I know.

What I was hoping YOU could help me with is this: what small piece of advice (let’s call it a breadcrumb) do you wish you’d had when you first started writing? I would love to have a few of these to flash up on the powerpoint (alongside the usual subliminal pictures of chocolate and hot guys) that didn’t all fall out of my own rotting brain.

So, what do you say? Do you have any breadcrumbs for our new writers, to help keep them on the path?

Or any warnings about witches?

Who are the witches in your writing life? My guess is, if you’ve been writing for a while, you won’t name editors and agents… but you might come  up with some ideas I could steal and use this weekend.

Thanks, friends! I love stealing from you all. 🙂

Note: The winner of my ARC giveaway on Cynsations was Jaclyn Dolamore! YES, this Jaclyn Dolamore!!! I’m so excited – I love her writing, and now she’s going to read mine. *faints* Thanks to everyone else for commenting.  I’ll *probably* have a Goodreads giveaway next month… 🙂

Odds and Ends

I’m sweeping up bloggy odds and ends this week as I await an editorial email. (Eep!) A few things I’d like to share with you, dear readers:

1. If you tried to contact me regarding the use of one of my flash fiction pieces in your English class, the answer was YES! But your return email address keeps bouncing the YES back to me. So, Dear English Teacher, I hope you taught it with a clear conscience, and know that I was very flattered to be asked. <3

2. Don’t forget to leave a comment on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog, Cynsations, to win an ARC of my novel, THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY… and chocolate, too! You have until April 9. Not long.

3. It’s hard to fathom. My book has its very own Blog Tour, organized by the amazing Jen Bigheart. I’m flabbergasted at her generosity and overall awesomeness — and I’ve been terribly pleased with the reviews so far! Most of them haven’t been posted yet, but you can read THIS ONE at Still Waiting For Books To Come True. (Thanks, Lexie!) I can’t wait to see what the rest of the bloggers think. I so appreciate the time they are taking to read and write such thoughtful reviews. (If you would like to join the tour, contact me, and I’ll set you up if there’s still space.)

4. The Houston Writer’s Guild conference is just around the corner! I am one of the keynote speakers, and I’m presenting a talk on queries as well, so please come, keep me company, and learn from some truly outstanding agents, writers, and editors. Um, and me. 🙂

5. I have been reading up a storm. I fell in love with two middle grade books this week. The first was Claire LeGrand’s THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS. I cannot express how delightfully wicked and perfectly terrifying I found this book. I have embarrassed myself on Twitter and elsewhere gushing about it, so I’ll stop now. But I WILL start up again closer to its expected arrival in August!

The other book I just finished tonight. I picked up an ARC of The Bad Apple at ALA Midwinters. I wish I hadn’t waited to read it! It was AMAZING. Full of humor and mystery, mischief and heart. Speaking of hearts, I found my own heart actually racing at one point, I was so caught up in the story. Seriously, folks: palpitations.

6. A shiny new idea knocked on the door today. It was completely unexpected, and strange. And frightening — I’m not sure about this one. It’s quite visceral and dark… and funny, but sad? I have a few pages. I don’t know what’s in the plot yet, but this poor character, in his dire situation…? I can’t wait to see if he survives it.

I think he might. 😉

Happy April, Friends! Write well.

Sinister Sweetness ARC Giveaway!

This is an exciting week for me! The Advance Reader Copies of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy are making their way out into the world, and so far the reviews have been lovely. If you would like to win an ARC of my debut novel (don’t you want to? DON’T YOU???), just hop on over to the extremely excellent Cynsations blog. Cynthia Leitich Smith, my friend, mentor, and all-around splendid person, is hosting a giveaway.

Not tempted? Then check out the CHOCOLATE and swag that goes along with it!

Now you want it, don’t you?

ARC Winner, Great News, & Sinister Sweetness ARC Raffle

First off, congratulations to Katie! She won the ARC of The False Prince. Thank to everyone who commented! (If you’re curious, Katie would have stolen “anything from the Dear America” series from her mom. Wow, Katie. You would STEAL from your MOM?! The False Prince has a main character who’s a thief in it, so it’ll be perfect for you. 🙂

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)

Next, I want to say a HUGE (and belated) congratulations to my dear friend and critique bud, Lindsey Scheibe, who had this Publisher’s Marketplace tidbit to share two weeks ago:

Debut author Lindsey Scheibe’s RIPTIDE, pitched as Jennifer Echols/Simone Elkeles meets the movie BLUE CRUSH, in which a seventeen-year-old is training for a big surf competition — her ticket out of an abusive household — and trying desperately to keep from falling in love with her best friend, to Brian Farrey at Flux, in a two-book deal, for publication in 2013, by Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency (World English).

I had the delight of reading and critiquing some of the earliest drafts of this book – and I’m so thankful I did! The world is going to love this book. Wait… did I say book? I meant BOOKS, Ms. Two-Book Deal!  Squee for Lindsey!

And last but NOT least, you have two days to RACE over to the Authors for Henryville website, hosted by the lovely YA author and all-around wonderful human, Julia Karr, to donate to help rebuild the public libraries in Henryville, Indiana devastated by the recent storms… with the chance of winning one of my ARCs!


One last note: The launch party for a new middle grade novel that I heartily recommend is coming up this weekend, on Saturday, at Bookpeople in Austin, 2 p.m. The book is The Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, and it’s amazing. Dinosaurs plus time travel plus a great family dynamic plus bad guys? Total fun. I’d love to see you at the launch, but you should buy the book even if you can’t get to Austin.