Characters as Friends

Well, I didn’t know it until just now, but today is World Read Aloud Day! If you didn’t know about this, click on this link for LitWorld and you can read all about it.

I read aloud to my boys (ages 8 and 11) pretty much every day. Yes, yes, I know they’re plenty old to read to themselves, but that’s not the point. The point is, I’m not a Monopoly Mom, and the lure of Battleship waned long ago. But reading? That’s something we can all do together that never gets old. Recently, we’ve been working our way through (on different nights) Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Search for Wondla, and the final book of the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins. (We’re all a little worried about what that horrible author might do to our beloved Temp, or Gregor, or Boots, or their MOM for crying out loud! Ms. Collins has a nasty tendency to kill off characters we’ve grown fond of. My 8 y.o. will stop sometimes and very gravely announce that if “Temp dies, I’m going to pay a visit to that stinking author.” Brrr.)

Last night, Younger Son asked me very seriously “why Gregor was poor.” We had a long talk about it, but I ended up with a question for him. “You do know this is a story, right? That Gregor isn’t a real person, walking around, riding on bats. Right?” He said of course not, but the look in his eyes… it was plain he thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Honestly, I probably don’t. Gregor and his friends are more real to my son than many of his relatives, I would imagine. He’s spent more time with Gregor than with some of his school friends, he’s cried for him, and laughed at his mischief. I know Gregor will stay alive in my son’s mind until he’s my age or older.

And why not? I still remember racing my way through Pippi’s adventures, then trying to get even closer to her by sleeping upside down in my bed. I remember dreaming about breadfruit, and — strangely, all these years later — I find myself writing about a character named Annika, and thinking about that other Annika who was my very proper friend when I was 8. Pippi is still more real to me than the kids I went to elementary school with, those interchangeable faces on the fading class photograph. Were they real? I can’t remember. Not like I remember Pippi.

So, this week, read aloud. Read to your kids, or your husband, or volunteer at a children’s shelter and read to those kiddos. Or read aloud to yourself — maybe a favorite childhood book?

Unexpected Reading Jag

Uh, oh, Friends. I finished the draft of The Dark House, threw the confetti, edited it once, sent it off to a couple of Lovely Writer Friends to read… and completely forgot about the Post-Draft Reading Jag.

Oh, man. I’ve been reading at least a book a day this week. My eyes sort of hurt from it. But it’s a good hurt.

Also, my stomach hurts – but that’s from laughing. If you’ve never heard of it*, RUN right over to Chuck Wendig’s blog and read ANYTHING he’s written. I’ve decided to completely give up dispensing any sort of writing advice, and just refer people to him now. For one thing, his advice is great, and hilariously well-written. For another thing, I’ll scare off any Writer Friends who don’t have their big-girl panties on. Speaking of knickers, I particularly like this post on Pantsers vs. Plotters, and this one on How Not to Starve and Die as a Writer. Could not stop laughing on that one.

Disclaimer: I didn’t find Chuck Wendig by calling Madame Chloe. I found his blog by way of the Friday YA Highway Round-up, the VERY first website I check out on Fridays when I’m supposed to be, um, writing. Oh, yeah.

News: The children’s short story I wrote is up on Literature4Kids this month!

More News: Run over to Jo Whittemore’s blog and congratulate her on selling D in Drama. Time for champagne, Jo!

Even More News: I’m going to new York next Thursday! More on that trip later…

Have a great weekend, Writer Friends!

* And if you are NOT easily offended by seriously soap/mouth language and slightly-too-frequent-for-comfort references to cannibalism.

The Final Chapter

Hiya, Peeps! I’m writing the final chapter on the WIP today (is that why this song keeps playing in my head?) and it’s a tricky one. I feel like I used to when I was a kid and my mom was forcing me to learn horrific handicrafts teaching me to crochet/knit/quilt, and the project looked so awesome… except for all those threads hanging out. For her, it was obvious how you would tuck all those threads in – “just weave them under, Nikki, it’s not hard” etc., – but for me it just looked like a project that would never get finished. In fact, a lot of my crafty projects never did make it all the way to the end, because of that – I didn’t really know how to finish them off.

But “not finishing” isn’t a luxury we novelists have, is it? Not if we want to pursue, you know, actual publication. So, I’m grabbing all those loose threads today, bundling them together as best I can (noticing in the process how I forgot a couple of subplots that I’d intended to weave through this novel UGH!), and crafting some sort of ending. And, given my middle-grade writing gig, it’ll be a happy one, with series potential. LOL (By the way, have I told you all how excited I am to have finally written a middle-grade novel that references the Apocalypse? I was starting to feel like I’d never get my stakes high enough.)

The whole ending process has taken a lot longer than I’d planned, given the illness that’s been sweeping through the house – we’ve had flu for weeks, and colds now. Ick. I hope you’re all staying well, Writer Friends.

Now, back to work. One more chapter, a Lady Gaga song to choreograph for tomorrow’s Zumba class, and a few dozen more cups of hot tea with honey to knock this cold out. And then, as a reward, a read-through of a manuscript one of my dear Writer Friends sent me that is turning out to be very, very good indeed. Magic and mixed-up love, and mind-reading teenagers… I’m pretty much falling in love with this one. Adore that feeling.

News: I got into the AROHO conference for August! *confetti all around* AND I placed a couple of short pieces – one will be out tomorrow in the March issue of Literature4Kids here. Another one will come out in their July issue. Also, I sold an essay to eChook digital publishing. Yay!

Interesting Stuff: Check out Shelli Cornelison’s blog for great recaps of the Austin SCBWI conference. I’ll post more about that later, but I’m still in awe of all the groovy, delightful, utterly cool famous people I spoke with. Arther Levine, Carolyn Coman, Kimberly Willis Holt, Stephen Roxburgh… I could go on all day long. Seriously,Writer Friends – Austin is THE place to be a children’s book writer!

Also: You know how I go on and on about my agent, Suzie? Well, you can ask her your very own questions tonight at writeoncon! Check it out! Now!!

Dear Teen Nikki Today!

Well, Writer Friends, if you’ve been waiting for Nikki Overshare 2011 (re: my life as a hideously socially deformed teenager), your big day is here! Go and check out my post on the Dear Teen me blog, the uber-cool e-lovechild of Authors Miranda Kenneally and E. Kristin Anderson. I’m simultaneously horrified at having my history and middle school yearbook pictures exposed for all to see, and pleased at having been invited to participate.

Believe it or not, earlier drafts of this letter were much, much more explicit. I named even more names, and delved deeper into my teen-age angst at my lack of boobs.

I think I have to go eat an embarrassing amount of chocolate now.

What Do You Love?

Happy Valentine’s Day, Writer Friends!

I spent the morning surrounded by the boys I love most in the world, boys who gave me Lindt chocolate bars (thus proving their love for me), and now I’m spending the rest of it doing that thing I most love to do: Writing.

While eating chocolate, of course.

Just like I hope all of you will find someone who loves you like my sweet Valentine husband loves me – I hope you love your work as much as I do. Even on those frustrating, unproductive writing days, the work I have to do thrills me way down deep.

Does your writing give you a sense of purpose? Of connection? Of pride? Does it fill your dreams and your daydreams? Do you love it, truly, deeply?

I hope so, Friends. This Valentine’s Day, my wish for you is this: Do what you love. Love what you do. And eat as much chocolate as you need to to see you through the rough patches! xoxox

Interesting Link Re: Loving a Writer. Check it out!

Agent Love: Get Some

Hiya, Peeps!

Y’all know how much I love my Suzie T., right? I’ve kind of gone on about her to most of my Writer Friends to the point where they long to shake me and yell “SHUT UP!” in my beaming face.

But they don’t, because they’re Writer FRIENDS.

I don’t just love her because she signed me, though. I have real, definable reasons* for loving her. I’m about to list some of them, and I want to say this: if you don’t think the agent you’re about to sign with – or the agent you just signed with – has these qualities? You might want to polish up that old query letter.

Note: Who knew all Suzie’s clients were writing their own individual love letters on their blogs this week? Lisa DesRochers, author of the amazing and sexy-hot PERSONAL DEMONS weighed in on her blog. Check it out. Nice post, Lisa!

Why Suzie Is So Awesome

1. Communication. Suzie returns emails and phone calls very, very quickly. Even the pathetic, needy ones from writers who can’t bear the thought of yet another revision. She shares all the submission information when you go out on sub, and makes sure to pass on editor comments and feedback as you go. Oftentimes on Friday, so you can more easily drown your sorrows in Chocovine.

2. Encouragement. Seriously, like your mom if your mom knew anything about the publishing world. Which mine doesn’t. Even when Suzie sends back a manuscript hemorrhaging track changes in all its tender margins, she make sure to include all the gushy, positive stuff. And she make sure you know what’s hot and what’s not, so you can write — oh, I don’t know, something an editor might possibly want to publish? Not to chase trends, but if you’ve got a bunch of manuscript ideas you can work on, why not make the next one something (NOT a dirty word) commercial? A good agent can guide you. Gently.

3. Honesty. Yeah, you know all that positive stuff? Sometimes you need to hear the other stuff, too. The “not ready yet” on a manuscript, when it’s (you know) not ready. She does the agently equivalent of telling you when you have toilet paper stuck to your literary shoe. Never underestimate the kindness of the gentle “no.”

4. Editorial Skill. As you can tell from the above comments, Suzie is what they call an “editorial agent.” Some writers say they don’t want one of these. I say that’s like saying you don’t want a unicorn pony that poops chocolate truffles. You can say it, but you don’t mean it. You can’t possibly mean it.

5. Knowledge and Connections. Your agents should be Twitter followers/tennis buddies/Facebook friends of other agents and editors. How will they know to whom to send your Gorgeous New Masterpiece if they don’t have sushi with those people every once in a while? And once they make the sale of your G.N.M., your agent should know all that other agent-y stuff about contracts and percentages and stuff.The stuff that makes me go like this.

6. Love. Your agent should love your work. She should (like Suzie does for me <3) write things like LOVE LOVE LOVE on your editing letters. Or she should at the very least sign those letters (if your work isn’t inspiring love this time around) with something sweet at the end.

Yeah, sweet. Because as you know, Writer Friends, this business has plenty of bitter.

So, now that you’ve read my love letter/list about MY agent, make the list of attributes you want in your own agent, and start looking. Good luck!

* the least important of which is she’s cute as a bunny. But she is!! Even if her agently powers make her resemble this bunny during negotiations.

Austin: You Want to Live Here

Hi, y’all! Most of you know I’m a native Texan – but you may not know I’ve lived my whole life right around Austin. (I would say “in Austin,” but I’ve been a resident of Manchaca, Austin, Round Rock, San Marcos, Wimberley, and kinda sorta Dripping Springs. But close enough.) So I know a lot about this town.
Like where to go country dancing: the Broken Spoke and/or Gruene Hall.

Where to eat barbecue: The Salt Lick.

Where to eat sushi: Uchi.

And where, hands down, to shop for books?

That would be Bookpeople, the indie bookstore where I met my husband. The very same bookstore that hosted Cynthia Leitich Smith and Mari Mancusi’s book launches this weekend, that hosts the monthly SCBWI meetings, that has the most amazing staff… I could go on. Indie bookstores rock.

But the trick is, they don’t rock for long, if we don’t support them with our money. So, doing my part to show my indie love, I bought a few nice new titles at Bookpeople* this weekend. (BLESSED by Cyn, naturally, and — I tried but OMG I could not believe  it they didn’t have it so I ordered one! — Allison Pang’s A BRUSH OF DARKNESS which looks oh-so-juicy and good.)

I have a manuscript to finish, however, and another to critique, and children who insist on being fed, etc. So I will resist the temptation to read all these lovelies. I will resist…

What are you reading, Friends? And do you have a lovely indie bookstore that you support? Tell me which one!

*Of course, I’m such a book junkie that I then bought Beth Revis’ ACROSS THE UNIVERSE at Costco. But only because it was the last copy they had. And I JUST could not resist – the cheesecake samples had some sort of mind-control thing in them, I swear.)

Backspace Contest is Back!

Hiya, peeps! I’m taking a short break from the busiest week EVER to point you in the direction of the Backspace Writer’s Conference in NYC. This conference was amazing – possibly the best one I’ve ever attended, and you know I’m a bit of a conference junkie. I was one of the winners of the query/pages contest two years ago, and met my lovely agent Suzie T. that way.

The contest went away for a year, but it’s back this spring! So, go here to see the deets on the contest. Do yourself a favor – try for this one. It’s kind of a game-changer, as I can attest.

Now, back to my overly hectic life. I’m actually breathing into a (metaphorical, but maybe soon-to-be literal) paper bag this week* to keep on my feet, so send up positive thoughts, please.

*Not a writing-related paper bag. More or less just Other Life Stuff.

Now go write something fabulous, Friends. Like an award-winning query. Hint, hint.

What I’m Reading This Week…

Aside from my sweet Writer Friends’ Fabulous Manuscripts, that is…

1. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Um, I think I’m going to have to go with Highly Recommend on this one. What took me so long to get this amazing writer-booty-kicking book? Ah, yes. I had to wait for Xmas. Should have bought it sooner. Like, four manuscripts ago. Maass drew my attention to an aspect of the writing process I needed to consider: risk-taking. My stakes are not usually low in my manuscripts, but he’s got me thinking higher. Much higher.

2. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Wow. Practical, mystical, secular, sacred. This is one of those quietly seductive books that keeps calling you back. Easy to read, and keeps you thinking long after you shut it. Don’t check this one out – buy it. You’re going to want to read it more than once, and over the course of weeks.

3. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Just started this one – I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve heard such amazing things, I had to buy it! Juicy so far.

Yes, I am reading these books simultaneously. I always do that! But you’ll notice none of them are in the same genre. I’m a serial book polygamist. Or whatever. Do you do that? Or does your brain go on overload when you juggle books?

Update on the WIP: I’m halfway through! And doing something I never, ever do: allowing friends to read parts of the MS before the whole is done. I don’t know why,it just felt like the right thing to do. And it’s working – every comment is making my focus tighter, refining the plot… and Donald Maass’ book came just in time to help me think the right thoughts about raising the stakes that itty bitty bit more.

Update on the retreat: I’m sending in my application for A Room of Her Own Writer’s Retreat at Ghost Ranch, N.M.! Thanks for your input. I think a week of writing with just a smidgen of social writerly time will be perfect.

What I Plan To Do With My Summer Vacation

Good morning, Writer Peeps! Just checking in to give you the status update and ask a question: What do you think I should do with my summer vacation? Specifically, I’m talking about the part where I Go Away (and Leave My Kids and Husband) to Write Somewhere All By Myself!

My mom sold the family home at long last, and gave me a bit o’ cash to spend in a very specific way (gotta love moms and those strings-attached gifts!). I am to spend it on a writing retreat or conference. So… where should I go?

No, I can’t go to Chautaqua – I’m booked that week.So, maybe LA SCBWI? Or maybe this retreat at Ghost Ranch? They’re very different – one is a famous conference full of lectures, fun and frivolity and the other a quiet retreat where I might be able to actually work on a project. *ahem*

I have one free airfare, and enough money for ONE of these if I eat cheap. 😉

So, weigh in!

Update: I’m writing at least a thousand words every single day these days, so the New Novel is coming along apace. I have one of three Betas’ MSs returned, and am working hard on those others. Don’t be sad if I haven’t finished yours yet! It’s coming.  *mwah*

This weekend is the local SCBWI meeting, where the incomparably lovely Jessica Lee Anderson will give a talk. I can’t wait! Now, I have to go to the dentist. That should give me lots of suppressed pain and anger to torture my characters with later today… Write Well, Friends!