Austin SCBWI Conference Pictures!

When I was a brand-new writer, I went to writing conferences hoping to gain knowledge (both craft and industry-related), rub elbows with editors and agents, and — possibly last on the list — meet other writers.

These days? It is ALL about the other writers. Just think of it- spending DAYS with other people who care passionately about the same things you do, who can talk about them, who speak the language of writing and publishing, who write sweet picture books but swear worse than any sailor… you get the idea.

And that’s what I got to do last weekend!I know, lucky me. Wait until you hear the rest.

The Austin SCBWI Annual Conference was by all accounts a resounding success, thanks to our capable and dedicated leadership, including Austin’s Debbie Gonzales.

Debbie is the BEST!

But we also had all SORTS of awesome SCBWI folks, from all over, in town! Like fellow Apocalypsie Lynne Kelly, the author of the Middle Grade soon-to-be-a-classic Chained. This book is so gorgeous, a love story about a deeply compassionate little boy and his… elephant. Touching, hopeful, and painfully real. It’s going to be one of those books that lasts.

Her shirt says "Peace, Love, and Elephants."

Also from Houston, the amazing Vonna Carter, writer and blogger extraordinaire.

Vonna looks great! I look like I have on All The Makeup in Texas. Thanks, makeup counter lady at Nordstrom's.

And, of course, we had the Extremely Famous and Talented People, including keynote speaker Lisa Yee, who was hilarious and heart-breaking and amazing in every way a keynote speaker can be.

Author Lisa Yee and Peepy in a UT cheerleader uniform. Perfect!

Some of us were lucky enough to go to a full-day intensive on Sunday with Lisa Yee, where we learned to write Better Bad Guys. This much fun, and a tax-deduction? I love this job.

Writer Lindsey Schiebe makes villainous magic on her laptop!

And then there was the raffle. I won!! For the, like, the first time ever, I actually won things! Like, gift certificates to Bookpeople, and books, and wine! It was my lucky day.

We're ALL Winners! But only I won wine. *fist pump*

Lucky me, for sure. I hope you strike it rich this year, too — and I hope your riches are the kind that last… and the kind that listen to you blab on about writing stuff without complaint!

Of course, to find those “riches” you might have to register for a conference or two. 🙂

 

The Balancing Act of Life and Writing

One of the things non-writers ask writers (after the inevitable “where do your ideas come from?” to which I invariably answer “my brain, I think, but it could be the devil since I write deeply disturbing stories for small children.”), is how we manage to balance it all.

By “all,” I think they mean writing, book publicity/marketing, day job, housework, kids, family concerns, volunteering, and social life.

The short answer is this: we don’t. Or at least I don’t. If you plan to add something substantially time-consuming like writing a freaking BOOK into your life, you’re going to have to pick something to let go. (I chose housework, television, some of my volunteering, and most of my personal hygiene regimen. The kids are still being taken care of, marginally, but that may change when edits come back for the next novel. Then I may just hand them bows and arrows, sleeping bags, shove them out the door, and tell them it’s time for them to become men. Is nine years old too young for that?)

What they don’t remember to put into that equation is one of the things a writer cannot give up. (And no, I’m not talking about showers: those are optional, and the resulting smell keeps people away, freeing up even more writing time.)

I mean reading. I don’t think a writer can sustain a career unless s/he is reading, constantly, in and out of the genre s/he’s writing.

Me, I’ve been reading a lot recently. I’ve read some amazing middle grade books – truly amazing, as in “I’m going to dedicate some blog posts soon to these books” amazing. (Which books? Okay, I’ll give titles here: Remarkable  by Lizzie Foley, The Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, and We’ve Got a Job, by Cynthia Levinson. These three books blew me away, all for different reasons, but all in the same week. LOVE them. More later.)

I could go on and on about balance for writers, and I will… this Thursday night, with the Writer’s League of Texas at Bookpeople in Austin.

Please join me and the other panelists (here are the bios), at 7 p.m. for a funny and honest look at how an author balances his/her life. I’ll be on the panel, but folks? I’ll probably be taking notes, too!

Here are the details! See you there!

Sinister Sweetness has a Cover!!!

Oh, friends, I’ve been waiting a LONG time to share this one with you!

There aren’t enough words for how much I love this cover. It’s… just look at it.

Sinister Sweetness Cover

It’s by the amazing artist, Alexander Jansson. You should check out his website!

Now I have to go finish another book, that someday also will have a cover… but probably not one this gorgeous, since this is the Most Amazing Cover in the World.

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.

Yes.

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

Yes.

“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. 🙂