Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Katie McGarry, Author of PUSHING THE LIMITS

Happy Book Birthday to Katie McGarry, whose contemporary YA romance, PUSHING THE LIMITS, hits bookstores today, and has been chosen as a Summer 2012 Kids' Indie Next List title. This novel has it all: deeply compelling characters, a fully realized love story, and a missing memory that kept me turning pages.

From YA Fusion: "In PUSHING THE LIMITS, two teens, brought together by their court ordered therapist, work together to learn the secrets of their case files, but neither foresaw the shattering consequences of learning the truth regarding their families or of falling in love."

I'm very excited to share my interview with Katie, so let's get to it!

"Bad boy falls for good girl" is a common trope in romance novels, but Noah and Echo rise above this concept from the first page. Both are three-dimensional, original characters whose histories and personalities are rich and compelling. How did you go about brainstorming and creating their backstories?

By writing. When starting a story, I will free write the first couple of chapters in order to discover my characters' voices. After that, I'll spend time plotting. My characters' backstories are developed when I resume writing again and combine their voices with the plot. By allowing my characters room to play as I write, they will often "tell" me things about them that I was never aware of before.

For instance, Echo had a typical, everyday name when I began the story, but after I met her mother, I knew my heroine was destined to be named after a character in Greek mythology.

I fully believed Echo and Noah's love story. I rooted for them to be together, and to help one another let go of the past. Did you know much about trauma, therapy, and recovered memories? What about the foster care system? How did you research the components you were unfamiliar with?

While I have never experienced anything as traumatic as Echo, I have experienced a memory loss. I was bitten by a dog in second grade and repressed the memory. It is a very odd experience to know that something has happened to you and to have no memory of the event.

I chose to write about a character in foster care because of a conversation I once had with someone when I was still in school. They had talked about how they were becoming attached to their current home and didn’t want to leave. Whether or not they stayed was never in their control. That story always stuck with me.

Yes, I did research the components I was unfamiliar with. I never thought of myself as someone who would enjoy research, but Pushing the Limits, and the following stories I have written since then, have sparked the excitement within me to learn about new things. Everyone I have met while seeking answers has been very kind and generous. My advice to fellow writers is to not let their fear of the unknown stop them from telling a story: ask questions—research!

The book's cover is probably the most accurate I've seen in terms of fitting the character descriptions. It's exactly how I pictured them, and sets the perfect tone! Can you tell us how the cover came to be? Did you have any input?

I absolutely adore my cover! I have to give major credit to the Art Department at Harlequin. This cover was their baby and I'm thrilled with the results.

As for my input, I was asked to submit what my characters looked like and what type of clothes they wore. One joyous day, my editor sent me an e-mail with this gorgeous cover!

It was refreshing to see Noah's pot smoking and Echo's occasional beer drinking portrayed realistically instead of simply being demonized; the behavior is considered less than ideal but not the end of the world. How did you find that balance? Were you consciously aware of a responsibility to your teen audience when referencing those aspects of your characters, or did that not factor in?

I wanted Pushing the Limits to feel realistic to readers, and that meant creating characters that teens could empathize with. Echo and Noah might not always make the best decisions, but they do face the kind of choices I think teens deal with all the time. And then they have to deal with the consequences of those choices, just like in real life. Yes, I was very much aware of my responsibility to my teen audience. Because of that, when my characters make the occasional choice to drink or smoke pot, they make sure they don’t get behind the wheel of a car.

Most chapters alternate between Noah and Echo's POV. (Being privy to character intention makes a big difference to the reader's opinion of each person's actions.) How did you decide which scenes should be told from which point of view?

I always asked myself who had the most at risk emotionally within the scene. There are times that I flipped POV during a scene so the reader could be fully immersed in whoever was feeling more at the time.

To continue that thought, did you ever write a scene from Noah's POV and realize it worked better from Echo's, or vice versa?

Yes. I first wrote the pool hall scene from Echo's POV, but soon discovered that Noah had more emotionally at risk than Echo did. This was the first time she was letting Noah in on her secrets and he felt punched in the gut at her revelations.

Echo's mother is rarely seen, but looms large over the narrative because of the huge affect her behavior has on Echo. By the time we meet her it's pretty terrifying. Did you write the story in order, and build up to that scene, or did you write it out of order and insert it when the time came? Was it nerve-wracking to finally show Echo's mother in the flesh?

I write in order. As I said above, I will free write, then plot my story. Plotting for me can mean that I have a general idea of where the story will go, but I may not know specifics. Because of that, I'm uncomfortable writing out of order. My characters will "tell" me things as I write and I'm terrified I’ll miss out on those huge moments if I write future scenes first.

For instance, when I first envisioned the scene between Echo and her mother, I thought it would take place in her mother's apartment. Thanks to the revelations during the story, I realized that the scene would take place at a cemetery.

I was worried about finally bringing Echo’s mother to the stage. She plays such an important role in the story and I knew that the meeting between these two characters was going to be very emotionally charged. I was worried whether or not I would be able to pull the scene out. And this is where I give a shout out to my editor for helping me create such a heart-wrenching moment between Echo and her mother.

Your upcoming companion novel, DARE YOU TO, features Beth, Noah's tough female friend from PUSHING THE LIMITS. What made you decide to focus on her for your next book? Has it been fun revisiting the location and setting from LIMITS?

I fell in love with Beth and Isaiah while writing Pushing the Limits and knew they had stories they were dying to tell. The moment Noah saw Beth bleeding in the kitchen, I found her story. Because of that, she demanded that her story be told next.

Yes! I have loved revisiting the location and setting from Pushing the Limits. It has been a guilty pleasure to drop Noah and Echo in as secondary characters!

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your book release?

While writing this interview, my plans are still in the works. I'm hoping to have a book signing at a local bookstore.

Because we're the Lucky 13s, we have to ask: Do you have any lucky charms or superstitions?

When I was in high school, I always wore the same (washed) pair of socks for my tennis games. But now? Not really. I do feel weird though if I go out of the house without my rings and bracelets.

After her youngest of three children officially slept through the night, Katie McGarry, a stay at home mom, decided to pursue her passion for writing. The news was a shock to most since she graduated from college with a BA in Political Science. She never told anyone, besides her best friend from childhood, that she wrote anything beyond her own name.

Katie was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. Writing, as Katie often told her best friend, is cheaper than therapy.

Barnes & Noble

Where to find Katie:

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Sarah Skilton, whose Contemporary YA novel BRUISED will be released Spring 2013 from Abrams/Amulet Books. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cooking and Writing: A Love Story

A few years ago, at my bridal shower, I received many great gifts -- but the greatest gift was a handwritten notebook from my mother filled with some of my favorite family recipes. In loving food and literature as much as I did, Mom also write famous quotes about food in and around the recipes. It was a beautiful, useful gift.

While I was super-excited to try out Mom's chocolate cake, peach pie, and macaroni salad, I was most stoked about her beef stew with dumplings recipe. Beef stew is one of those dishes that varies by family, by region, by season, etc. Everyone who cooks it has their own version. My mom's was rich and almost creamy, topped with light and fluffy biscuit-like dumplings that floated over the stew and cooked half-submerged in broth while the tops steamed in the pot.

Writing and cooking are inextricably linked. It just so happens that I was learning to cook my mom's recipes for my new husband around the same time that I was beginning to write young adult literature. In my experience, they are far more alike than you might realize and they require similar care, similar attention, and similar love.

1. Make sure you have what you need.

In cooking: My first attempt at stew was thymeless, as in lacking thyme. It was only a 1/4 teaspoon so I figured it wouldn't matter. What I didn't understand then is that dried herbs are more potent than fresh, that their flavor and essence imbeds itself in the meat and vegetables and the broth. Without it, the stew felt sort of shallow. That one little detail, that one little ingredient, was far more important to the overall flavor than what type of potatoes or carrots or onions I chose.

In writing: Beginning writers sometimes get tripped up on details -- particularly which details are important. Your reader needs to know what your character looks like, but they don't need a Crayola play-by-play (i.e. Her hunter green eyes flitted over the mauve carpet until she found the missing turquoise dangly hoop earring. Afte sliding into indigo jeans and a magenta top with silver shoes, she swipes blue glitter over her eyes and heads for her yellow bug convertible.) Okay, this girl is a little flashy, but the point is that it's just not necessary to verbalize all that. Focus on one or two specifics to flesh things out, but don't forget what's really important -- likeable characters and a plot that sucks you in.

2. Take the time to piece situations together and to take them apart.

In cooking: There's a reason why recipes specify words like "dice" or "julienne" -- it's because those shapes/cuts/forms are the best for what you're creating. You can "chunk" instead of "dice" but your stew will take longer to cook. You can "slice" instead of "julienne" but your end result might not have the same pleasant mouth-feel. Cooking is about all five senses -- even the shapes of the individual parts are an intregal part of of the whole.

In writing: The two most over-used and absolutely accurate pieces of writing advice are "show, don't tell" and "write the senses." Another early drafting mistake? Trying to fit all those senses into one sentence (i.e. The buttery popcorn smell in the air and the soft fabric on the movie theater seats gave me a real taste for my Sour Patch kids, which were melting like a river in my mouth and creating the colors of the rainbow in my saliva.) I know, gross. But you see what I'm saying?

3. Cook it once. Cook it again. And again. And again. And....yes, again.

In cooking: Is this the only dish you'll cook? Is it the only time you'll ever eat (insert food here)? Cooking is about trial and error. It's about DRAFTING (see what I did there?) It's about trying different versions and amounts and spices and meats and making any recipe yours. I love my mom's recipes, but I don't put minced onion in my macaroni and cheese the way she does. And I don't put celery in anything, because I hate it, even in her chicken noodle soup recipe. You make it your own. It's what you do. It's called cooking.

In writing: Look above. Take out the word "cook"; add in the word "write". Honestly, you must write, you must draft, you must make it work (Thanks, Tim Gunn.) You need to get better, you need to erase. You need to mess up. Mostly, you need to make it yours.

Cooking and writing, for me, are almost one in the same. When I can't do one, I do the other. That's just how I'm built. Everyone has their own creative processes. I bet if you think about it, they're more similar to each other than you realize. But the only requirement - the only required step -- is to foster them.


Kelly Fiore's debut, TASTE TEST, is forthcoming from Walker Books for Young Readers in Spring 2013. Kelly lives in Maryland, where she teaches, cooks, writes, and watches a lot of Vh1 Classic. You can find her at www.kellyfiorewrites.blogspot.com, www.kellyfiorewrites.com or www.twitter.com/kellyannfiore

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Susan Dennard, author of Something Strange and Deadly

Congratulations to Susan Dennard, whose thrilling tale of spirit-hunters, society and the Dead, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, came out from Harper Teen this week! Publishers Weekly says "Dennard creates a roaring--and addictive--gothic world" and Kirkus says: Mystery, romance, humor, action, a sure-fire setting: Dennard delivers."

Susan was kind enough to sit down with Lucky 13er Amie Kaufman for a chat about —among other topics—her debut, time travel and her trusty sidekick.


The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

1. Now, I seem to recall hearing that you were lazing about in the south of France when you signed with your agent -- sounds like the life! Tell us a little about your journey to publication. Was it all champagne and sunshine?

Ha! I wish! There was lots of sunshine and a surprising amount of escargot (not joking--my husbands family loves it! Me? Not so much.), but no champagne...

As you mentioned, it all began while I was on vacation and barely had access to the internet. I had just started querying. I figured I wouldn’t hear from anyone for a while, you know? So I sent out my queries and then went off to the south of France for a week…only to get requests for fulls the same day! Then a few days later, I got my first offer of representation.

Once I decided to sign with my agent, we went through a quick round of revisions, and two weeks later, I went on subs. I was pretty nervous, obsessively checking my email, trying to do ANYTHING but think of my book in editors’ hands.
Fortunately, I didn’t have too stress out too long. Harper made an offer six days later, and after a day of negotiations, I was an official HarperTeen gal!! 

But--in all honesty--I really feel like my luck with Something Strange and Deadly all boils down to two things: how much I revised the book before I even began querying (I totally over-revised! But maybe my perfectionism paid off…er right?) and timing. The premise for Something Strange and Deadly was exactly what my editor was looking for at that exact moment, so it was all very “stars aligning”, you know?  And I thank those lucky stars every single day!

2. One of my favourite things about Something Strange and Deadly was the use of detail to create a gorgeously vivid setting! You used a thousand little details to bring the story to life, from dress to dialogue and everyday habits. How did you get it all so right? Do you have a time machine?

Boy, a time machine sure would've made things easy...But alas, I relied heavily on primary sources. Because I wasn't living in the US, I couldn't just pop over to a library to research the era. However, there is a FABULOUS (seriously, I could sing its praises until I die) resource online called archive.org. It has thousands upon thousands of primary documents scanned in, and its growing everyday.

I read a lot of guides to 1876 Philadelphia, so that I would know my way around the city and the Centennial Exhibition. I read original guide after original guide to that first American World's Fair, and I red a lot of people's journals or accounts of their own visits. On top of that, I read actual guides to etiquette from the time and had old copies of fashion magazines to guide what my character's wore. And almost all of it came on archive.org.

3. Something Strange and Deadly defies description, but I'm going to call it a gothic historical paranormal -- it's not every day you see the dead rising in the middle of a society tale! Was there a spark of an idea that started it all? How did you end up telling this particular story?

Oh, it's such a silly answer...but...the idea for Something Strange and Deadly actually from a dream! You know how you have those dreams that, when you wake up, leave you feeling changed? They sit with  you the rest of the day(or week), and something about those emotions just needs to be tapped into ?

Well, in this dream, I had an older brother who was missing, and I knew I would do anything to find him--even join that weird team of outcasts (yes! This really was in my dream!). So then I took that initial idea and "fleshed it out".  I found a setting I thought would be interesting and provide a great source of conflict: 1876 Philadelphia, when the first American World's Fair took place, and when women were restricted by claustrophobic etiquette and patriarchy. It was all very scientific of me (not inspired at all--I really just thought 1876 Philly would be "very cool"). From there, I added characters that could both help and hinder my heroine, and because I love being scared, I thought I'd throw in a paranormal twist.

I literally scanned my bookshelves for something that scared me, and when my eyes settled on Garth Nix's Abhorsen series, I knew I'd found it: walking corpses, murderous ghosts, and necromancy. His books always give me the shivers! Ultimately, my take on necromancy is very different from Nix's amazing and mind-bogglingly clever approach, but the initial idea was taken from how his creepy stories!!

4. Your keep a fantastic blog and you're a founder of Pub(lishing) Crawl, so you're always full of great advice. What's the one most practical suggestion you'd offer to aspiring writers?

Dream big and NEVER give up. I spout these words a lot, but only because I truly believe them! If you set your sights high, work hard, and don't let the tough times get you down, you'll get there eventually! I PROMISE! Patience and elbow grease are the keys to success every time.

5. Here at the Lucky 13s we love to ask about writing superstitions and lucky charms! Do you have one?

My dog, Asimov, was definitely in my office with me for every step of the Something Strange & Deadly journey--books 1, 2, and 3! He's possibly more moral support than luck, but hey--moral support is something you can never have too much of!

Susan is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels–and not novels about fish, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, or facebook

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Amie Kaufman, whose YA sci-fi novel THESE BROKEN STARS will be released Fall 2013 from Disney*Hyperion. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Must Love Books

I'm gonna start today's blog post with a little sing-along. Come on, you know you want to join in.

It seems no one can help me now / I'm in too deep there's no way out/ This time I have really led myself astray/

Runaway train never going back/ Wrong way on a one way track/ Seems like I should be getting somewhere/ Somehow I'm neither here nor there

If you were, like me, a teenager in the 90's then surely you must at this point be - if not singing, then at least humming along - to Soul Asylum's hit song "Runaway Train". To say that I loved this song (actually the whole cassette - yes, I was slow to jump on the whole CD bandwagon - was in constant rotation along with Stone Temple Pilots and 4 Non Blondes) would be a misstating the case entirely. To say that this song expressed all of my teen angst in a sing-alongable format would be much more accurate and to the point.

Of course, having just turned 33, my teen angst years are pretty far behind me and it's been well over a decade since I've even seen that Soul Asylum cassette. However, a while back I was listening to one of those "the best of the 80's, 90s, and today" radio stations (the first time I heard that "best of the 90s" thing really gave me a jolt. I was like, "best of the 90s?!?! how dare they, that was just a few years... or... huh." That's when I stopped, counted, and realized holy crap we were well into the 2000s and the music of my high school and college years was no longer current and it was not an insult but just plain fact that they now belonged in the yesteryear's category.) and guess what song they started playing?

Thank goodness my children are not yet old enough to understand that their mother is a terribly painfully horribly embarrassing person, because I sang along with that song and every word came right back to me from where ever they had been hiding out in the far recesses of my brain for all of these years.

So what does this have to do books, book love, or anything at all?

I'm getting there.

You see, ever since I became seriously addicted to books (which was somewhere during first grade, I think) I also became a big fan of the library. At least once a week I was at the library (my parents "you want to go the library AGAIN!? but we just took you there"), returning one giant stack of books in exchange for another. And because of how fast I went through books, and because the books were returned instead of placed on a bookshelf in my house as a physical reminder, and because I just have a sort of crappy memory - well, I'd often forget the name of the book, or forget the name of the author, or forget the character's names, or forget the minor plot details, or forget the major plot details.

Usually I recall something though - my brain isn't entirely made of mush - and some essential detail would stick with me.

Like the book where the girl joined a band and she had this tense relationship with the main guy in the group and he made her shave her head and then she destroyed his toy train while on stage and and and... Well that's pretty much all that I remember. Except that it was wonderful. And I loved it. I wish I could read it again. For years I looked for it at the same library that I'd borrowed it from, but never found it again.

I have tons of half-remembered books like this. It's not exactly a tragedy, but sometimes thinking about all these books that I would love to re-read if I could only remember them, makes me a little sad.

And then there are all the series books I read - Sweet Valley High, Babysitter's Club, RL Stine. Or the authors like Beverly Cleary. Judy Blume, Cynthia Voigt and LM Montgomery whose books I ripped through one after another until I'd read every single thing they'd written. And then I got older and tore through every Mary Higgins Clark, Judith Krantz, and Sidney Sheldon book on my Grandma's shelves. Then there was the required reading in high school and college and all the books I've read as an adult.

If you took all those books together it would kind of be like that picture at the top of this post. Endless piles of books. And I am still a read-a-holic (mostly on my Kindle these days. Oh the endless temptation of the 'buy now' button) and am continuously adding more books to that towering stack.

Obviously, it's easiest for me to remember the books that I've read most recently, or the ones that have become such favorites that I've reread them 2 or three times. But the books that I read long ago and have mostly forgotten are still there in my head somewhere and have gone into informing who I am as a writer.

And I like to believe that if a book - like the one with the girl who joined the band - somehow found its way back into my hands, I'd recognize and remember it like an old friend. Or like a song I hadn't heard in a long time, suddenly coming through the radio and me effortlessly singing along.

 Kate Karyus Quinn is the author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, coming in 2013 from HarperTeen. You can find out more about her book on Goodreads, and read more about Kate on her blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Books I Wish I'd Written (Because I Love Them So Much!) by Elsie Chapman

As a reader, sometimes you come across a book that you just end up loving. You read it over and over again. The spine will crack, the pages might fall loose, but you still keep it around because you know you’ll be reading it again before long.

As a writer, sometimes I come across a book that makes me put actually put my laptop away and fully stop writing. Not only because I’m falling in love with it, but because I’m also in awe at what every writer wants to achieve.

It’s a gift to be able to create something so special that it makes an impact on a reader’s life. For someone to take the time to read my book, I’m immensely grateful; for them to also enjoy it makes me happy and excited. And while I can only hope that DUALED might one day do this for a reader, for a book to find a permanent home on a shelf is something that doesn’t happen too often.

Some books I wish I wrote because they are simply, truly awesome (in no particular order):

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. The prose is poetic and lyrical and just absolutely gorgeous. Killer water horses, an isolated island, and two strong protagonists who can electrify a scene by barely touching? Magic.

The Body by Stephen King. This short story is so much more than its pages. It perfectly captures that strange, mystical feel of childhood summers, how they’re fleeting and unforgettable and heartbreaking all at once.

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I love Harry, but Lyra and Will are the ones who kept me up reading until 5 am.  And though I recently told fellow Luckies Cat Winters and Alison Cherry that no book has ever made me cry, I just realized I was wrong. This series made me cry. 

What are some books you wish you’d written, if only because you love them so much?

Elsie grew up in Prince George, BC, before graduating from the University of British Columbia with a BA in English Literature. She currently lives in Vancouver with her husband and two kids, where she writes to either movies on a loop or music turned up way too loud (and sometimes both at the same time). She's repped by The Chudney Agency, and her debut novel, DUALED, will be published by Random House in February, 2013. A sequel, DIVIDED, will be published February, 2014. Find her online at elsiechapman.com or on Twitter.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peggy Rathmann's Interlocking Fictions

As many parents will attest, caring for a young child is rewarding, but even the warmest, sweetest bedtime hours can drag. A great, all-consuming picture book can be worth its weight in Weetabix.

Peggy Rathmann has written and illustrated not just one great picture book but many. Even better, they’re interrelated, with subtle interlocking aspects an astute reader will hunt for. Good Night, Gorilla; Officer Buckle and Gloria; 10 Minutes till Bedtime; and The Day the Babies Crawled Away (not all her books, but the ones we owned) are so beloved in our house, I’ve kept them, even if our son (now 13 years old) has long since crawled away.

The books were fun even without their clever intertextuality. But it was a real bonus.

“Oh my gosh,” you might say proudly, pointing to a stuffed animal on one page of 10 Minutes to Bedtime, “isn’t that the gorilla from Good Night, Gorilla?” On a later page of that same book, you’d be congratulating yourself for noticing small stuffed versions of Officer Buckle and Gloria perched atop that same bedtime boy’s computer monitor.

You were a reading pirate; you’d found the buried treasure. Arrrrr!

Reading The Day the Babies Crawled Away, you’d thrill at another sighting: Officer Buckle and Gloria, silhouetted on a hillside. On the next page, you’d spot portly Officer Buckle buying cotton candy (as you’d imagine he might).

I’d love to create a subtly interwoven fictional network like Rathmann’s someday, but not tonight. It’s 10 minutes till bedtime, and the hamsters are heading toward my front door, megaphones at the ready.


Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books, in April 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. (And yes--there is at least one minor point of overlap between the two.) You can find Elisabeth at her website and on Twitter (@ElisabethDahl). She is represented by Marissa Walsh of FinePrint Literary Management.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing firsts – the big moments

This week the Luckies are talking about writing firsts. But the thing about being a debut author is every step of this process is a "first". So here are my big moments - so far . . .

First offer from an agent for representation – I got a heads-up when the subject line of the email read: “A chat?” Holy moly – all I ever heard was if an agent wants to talk to you on the phone - they will probably offer representation. We planned a time to chat, at my suggestion, later that afternoon. I needed time to calm down and not sound like a blubbering idiot prepare for the call. Since I had three kids at home and it sounded like I was in the middle of an amusement park, I got a sitter, drove to a convenience store and bought a Coke Icee and banana Laffy Taffy and waited for the call. Yes, I took the call in the parking lot of a gas station while eating junk food. (This call was from Sarah Davies and yes, she offered! And yes, she’s my agent!!)

First book deal – When I got the call from Sarah that Disney Hyperion made me an offer – I was sitting in the parking lot at my kid’s school waiting for the bell to ring. It was pouring outside and the block the school sits in (and just that block!) is notorious for being the black hole of cell phone reception. All I could think was - Please don’t let this call drop! As soon as I got the word, I sprinted to the front doors of the school, grabbed the kids and told them on the way to the car. We jumped around – all of us so ridiculously excited – and got completely soaked. No telling what we looked like to everyone else huddled under their umbrellas!

First publishing contract – Yes, I made sure my hair and make-up was okay and posed while my oldest son took a picture of me signing it. I want to frame this and put it beside my bed, right next to the pictures of my kids and husband but I'm trying to resist the temptation.

I look calm but inside I was break-dancing.

First editorial letter – I begged for this. Probably drove Sarah crazy asking when I would get it. So many Luckies were discussing this and the little green monster inside of me was dying to do the same. And then I got it. It was 6 pages – single spaced. 26 big-picture issues needed fixin’. My biggest concern was where to start. You can read about the most convoluted way I handled my revisions here.
There was a method behind the madness. I think.

Other firsts I'm looking forward to: cover reveal (this one is killing me - can't wait to see my cover!), ARCs (Okay, I really want this one, too!), book signings (this one I'm equal parts excited/terrified), . . . the list goes on and on.

Will I be as excited (or act as ridiculous) if I’m fortunate enough to sell another book to a publisher? Or when I get my editorial letter for book two? Well, of course I will but I’ll know what to expect since I'll be an old pro by then.

Ashley Elston is the author of THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING which will be published by Disney Hyperion on May 14, 2013 and the sequel will be published in 2014. She lives in North Louisiana with her husband and three sons. She can be found lurking here:
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ashley_elston
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ashleyelstonbooks
And sometimes on her blog: www.ashleyelston.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 19, 2012

WRITING FIRSTS (Or, how I accidentally became a children’s writer)

by Karen Harrington

Okay, this is just between you and me. I'm an accidental children's author. I didn't set out to write for children.

In fact, my debut novel was inspired by a true Texas crime. The story asked the question: are we more a product of nature or nurture? 

So naturally, you’d assume my next book would be for children, right? Switch abruptly from the adult thriller audience to one in which you cannot use the word “tongue” in a description of a French kiss? 

Well, not exactly. I stumbled into this arena by doing what most writers do when they write: I set out to write a story or character that captured my attention without really thinking about an audience.

I’m not the only person who has ever written a story without knowing how it’ll be perceived and marketed. 

 "I didn't write with a target audience in mind. What excited me was how much I would enjoy writing about Harry. I never thought about writing for children -- children's books chose me. I think if it is a good book anyone will read it."
~ J. K. Rowling
Good company to be in, right? Don't you love Rowling's sentiment about children's books choosing her? About being excited about writing the character? 

Looking back, I now see that I’ve stumbled into a variety of genres and audiences quite by accident, creating a whole string of writing firsts for myself. In fact, my first try at a novel featured a Viet Nam soldier who, after faking his death to remain in Viet Nam for love, returns to the US and finds his family in ruins. (Mercifully, this horrible first attempt is stranded on one of those odd square things we used to call floppy disks and is now a handy coaster.)

But back then, my husband constantly pecked at me, “Why is a 28 year-old writing about a Viet Nam vet?”

“Because I find the soldier’s choice fascinating and I’m going through a Tim O’Brien phase,” I told him

Next, I began drafting a story about a man wondering if he could have prevented his wife from snapping and killing their young son.

Husband: Oh my gosh, Amazon just delivered a box with the books about Susan Smith and Andrea Yates and WHERE’S BABY’S BELLY BUTTON! Why are you writing about that when you just had a baby?

Me: Because the question of why a mother would do that keeps me up at night and I’m going through a Sally Field you-can’t-take-my-child phase.

It was only after I sold that novel, Janeology, that I was told it was a legal thriller. Did I set out to write a legal thriller? Nope.

This brings us to last year when my brilliant agent sold my latest novel.  It’s about a girl growing up in the shadow of her mother’s mental illness. Just to set the stage, I thought and dreamed about writing women’s fiction in the voice of an eleven-year-old. Something along the lines of the very fabulous Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons or Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock.

Now hold onto your pencil sharpener, but it turns out I didn’t write a heart-tugging piece of women’s fiction at all. 

Agent: “If you slice off the first and last chapters, which include the protagonist in present day, what you have in the middle is a great young adult story.”
Me: “Oh, really? That sounds good.”

Editor: “We like your coming-of-age story. Just delete the words hell, tongue, and virgin, and we’ve got a middle-grade tale.” (Of course, there were a great deal more edits, but you get the idea.)
Me: “Oh, wow, middle-grade, huh? That's awesome.”

Husband: Are there any vampires in this novel because, you know, those are big right now and I think that TWILIGHT author supports her husband?
Me: (chases husband through house with frying pan!)

Now, I’m writing a new middle-grade novel. This will be the first time I’ve ever written intentionally with children in mind.   

I have to wonder: Will this knowledge impact my writing process?  Will the fact that my oldest daughter is the target age group for middle-grade literature influence my choices? Will I feel empowered? Will I just unleash my free-range writing habit and enjoy the process? Will my husband ever get out of the doghouse or trust me with a frying pan again?

I suspect the answer to all of these questions is yes. No doubt, this new journey will include its own series of surprising firsts. And just between you and me, I can’t wait to begin.  


FIRST time in Italy!
Karen Harrington is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade novel SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY (Little, Brown 2013). Visit her on Twitter or at her blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Maid of... Deadlines

As a freelance writer by trade, I'm used to deadlines. A client swoops in out of nowhere, with a do-or-die project -- you just get it done. A website blows up for no discernible reason, a project goes south, a speaking opportunity comes up -- you do what you have to do to keep on track. Life is not measured in days and weeks, but in hours and minutes ticking on the clock.

Fiction, however, is an animal of an entirely different stripe. Put most simply, you could continue writing on the same book for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE and it still might never be perfect. You could polish, revise, tweak, reword, rethink, replot, restructure, re-everything... and by the time you're finished, you might still not be sure that the book is the best you could possibly make it, and if ONLY you had a few more days/weeks/months/years, it would be perfect.

But none of us actually have those days/weeks/months/years. Life intrudes, the day job (or clientwork) rears its head, family obligations must be met. And still we have our deadlines to face. How can we get it all done?

That's a trick question - we can't get it ALL done. The key to mastering deadlines is learning not only how to say "no" to certain activities and time-drains, but also learning how to say "I'll do just this much" for the things you really do need or want to do... but which can't consume your life the way perhaps they have in the past. Whether that's Twitter, TV, hanging out with friends, or vegging out on the couch... (or, in my case: laundry, housework, paying bills... eating...) when deadlines loom, hard decisions have to be made.

I've heard lots of different ways authors meet their deadlines:
  • Unplug! For however many hours or days, some authors disconnect from the Internet to get their work done. There are even apps that can virtually "unplug" you. 
  • Time Buckets. "From 8 a.m. to noon every day... all I do is write." This doesn't work in my world, but in some lands of fairies and bunny rabbits, I believe this can work well.
  • KidSwapping. Sort of a "you watch my kids, I'll watch yours" trade-off, this method of recruiting a friend to take on your children so you can get work done (with the promise that you'll do the same) can create an oasis of time in a busy mom's world. (Or so I hear. Fortunately, my cat is generally very respectful of my deadlines.)
  • Checkboxes. Yes, I'm really a first grader at heart, but identifying how many hours (or words) I have to complete in a given day or week on a given project, and then translating that to "check boxes" that I actually check off as I complete each segment of the day's or week's goals has been my A+ Number 1 Lifesaver when it comes to meeting deadlines. I don't have to do it ALL... I just have to get this next box checked.
  • Accountability Partners. As writers, we sometimes live in a lonely world. So having a Writing Partner who keeps you on track with your goals is not unlike that friend you have who forces you to show up at the gym every morning at 5:30 a.m. even when it's raining out and the roads are beginning to ice over because the mother of all snow storms is bearing down on the city but unlike the rest of the sane people who are just turning off their alarms and snuggling back under the covers, you're up and dressed in spandex and running shoes, ready to work out. You know, that friend. Last seen stuffed into a gym locker. (Seriously, though, if you can find an  accountability partner who keeps you on track--do so!)
  • Pain. Okay, this isn't pretty, but it's true: sometimes, the best motivator is that you simply don't have a choice. It's too painful for you personally NOT to do the work. The need to achieve sometimes can come at you like that, feeling less like a gentle voice in your mind than a baseball bat beating you about the head and shoulders. Trust me, you'll feel worse putting off your dreams than just buckling down and working to achieve them... so sometimes you have to Just Do It.

What about you? I LIVE for ways to improve productivity and meet deadlines, and not just because I've received the most awesome (and exhaustively detailed) editorial revision letter in the History of the World, Part I.  So I welcome ANY suggestions or ideas in the comments below!

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013, assuming she gets her revisions done ;). You can find Jenn online and on twitter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

First Loves and First Books


“In writing, nothing is wasted but the paper.”
—Sid Fleischman

The day before I got married, I went and got a pedicure, as many brides do. The lucky lady working on my ugly feet immediately told me all about her own bridal bliss. She told me she had been married for nearly thirty years to her “lifelong sweetheart.” They had been together since they were fourteen, never even dated another person. “It was just meant to be,” she said as she scraped dead skin off my feet. 

I told her how wonderful I thought that was, but I remember feeling this mixture of annoyance and jealousy, partly wishing I had such a sweet story, and also viciously wishing her marriage would fall apart so she’d know that she wasn’t any better than the rest of us.

Likewise, I tend to feel just a touch of animosity toward those authors whose first books apparently came singing out of their fingertips, as though divinely inspired, and then the book sold in a six-figure deal and went on to be a raging success. Seriously? Shouldn't it have to hurt just a little?

The reality is, sometimes people marry their first love and stay happy forever, and sometimes people publish their first novel and it’s a wild success. It just didn’t work out that way for me—neither with my first love, nor my first novel. Some of us have to trip a few times before we stumble through the right doorway. Not only is this okay, it can be beneficial in many ways.

In junior high I was obsessed with a boy whom I’ll refer to as Johnny. Johnny was the boy of my dreams. Literally. I dreamt about him. Fantasized about him. I wrote L+J=TLA all over my journal, and every journal entry was about him. I was going marry him. My first novel was more or less the same. I got this idea and I obsessed over it. I dreamt about my characters day and night. I was convinced I had been divinely inspired with this idea, and that all I had to do was write it down and the literary gods would sing and land me on the Bestseller list.

I didn’t marry Johnny, in case you were wondering, but I pined away for him for over a year before I woke up and realized he was kind of a jerk* and I had better things to do with my time and energy. As for the book, I certainly wrote it. I wrote its guts out. I revised and revised and polished. I tore it apart and wrote it again. I spent two years on this novel, and even though I was no longer sure if any kind of force had ever inspired me at any point in this project, I refused to give up. I was not a quitter. Quitting was for pathetic losers.

At some point while working on this novel, I attended a conference where Gail Carson Levine was the keynote speaker. I adore Gail Carson Levine and soaked up everything she said, until she told me something I didn’t want to hear. “Sometimes you have to face the fact that something isn’t working and move on.”

Gasp! Surely not! Surely you can always make something work. Giving up is never an option!

I went back to work on my novel with renewed passion and dedication. I would not fail! Conquer or die! But all the while I had the echo of Gail Carson Levine’s sweet little voice in my ear—Move on. Move on. It would be another six months before I heeded Ms. Levine’s advice, and even when I did set aside my manuscript, I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision. I was scared I really was giving up on something wonderful, and what if I never wrote anything better? It felt like a giant leap of faith to leave that story behind and believe that there could be more, but at least I was able to convince myself that I wasn’t giving up, just moving on. They are two different things.

I started on a new book, something completely different, and a year later I signed a contract with Knopf for my first middle-grade novel. Also, years after I forgot about Johnny, I met this amazing guy, and we got married and had three awesome kids and have been extremely happy for over a decade.

In some ways, I still love that first novel and appreciate the experience it gave me in the same way I appreciate the experience my first “love” (obsession) gave me. Neither experience was a waste. I learned to write on that novel. I learned how to pace, develop character and plot, make smooth transitions, or spring on surprise. I learned about my process, how my ideas go from my brain to the page, and I learned to be patient with that process. I learned that not everything comes at once, and it’s okay to not know where you’re going all the time. I learned how to revise. Through all my hard work and struggle, my writing voice developed, so that when I started my next book, it came singing off the page with more ease than anything I had yet written. Not that I didn’t struggle with that book, but I had more confidence in my ability to make it work.

I am happy for those who get it right the first time, but their journey is different from mine, and I wouldn’t trade my path for any other. It’s my path, specific to my own strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, and it’s okay if you have to take a few wrong turns before you figure out where you belong, both with love and writing. They are very similar.  

In short, nothing is wasted but the paper, and these days you might not even have to waste that.

*No offense to Johnny. I’m sure he grew up to be a very nice man, though I never kept track. 

 Liesl Shurtliff is the author of the middle-grade novel RUMP:The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, coming April 2013 from Knopf. You can visit her on Twitter or her blog.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Teen best friends: teen me and my character...

Let me give you and image. Me at fourteen. I have just taken to wearing mascara and eyeliner. I pull my hair back tight into a high ponytail with two 'bits' hanging down. (For the `uninitiated, 'bits' are thick tendrils of hair left out of ponytail to frame face.) I have dyed the front of my hair blonde like Geri Halliwell (pictured) because that is which Spice Girl the popular boys at school said I looked most like.

I later heard that my prematurely 32C bra size was the central cause of comparison. : (

I smoked and wore trainers all the time, P.E. or no P.E., and often tracksuit bottoms too. I was weekly in detention and sent out of classrooms for crimes including flooding the maths block and locking teachers in the art cupboards (sorry Mrs Hudd).

Now let me talk about Iris. Lovely, natural Iris. She is the youngest in her year (her birthday is late summer, so most of her friends are ahead of her in terms of maturity). At 14 she still feels bad about lying to her parents and is only just beginning to climb out of her bedroom window (something I had probably grown out of by that time).

So, at fourteen, Iris and I were pretty different. Would we have been friends? I think yes. At the same time as I was smoking and acting tough on the local parks, I was also climbing trees and floating down the brook in the intube of a tractor tyre. I might not have known the names of as many species of insects and wildflowers as Iris, but I appreciated their brilliance. And although I was cheeky and rebellious at school, I was friendly and nice to most people.

Like Iris, I would have been intrigued by the Travellers living in her garden, and would have wanted to get to know them better. I would have been reluctant or unable to see the serious aspects of this wonderful turn of events. I would have wanted an adventure.

I would have understood what it's like to live with just your dad and older brother (I lived with my mum Monday to Thursday, my dad Thursday to Monday) and I would have sympathised with her missing her mum. I would have admired her spirit, and the way she didn't care at all about how she looked, and her culinary abilities.

So, yes. If Iris Dancy could see past my sports jacket, tough facade and black eyeliner we would likely have been the best of friends as teens. And knowing Iris as intimately as I do, I have no doubt that she could.

C.J. Flood writes short stories, plays and novels. Her first novel INFINITE SKY comes out with Simon and Schuster in February 2013. Her second book follows in 2014.

Follow her on Twitter or visit her blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Once upon a time before there were e-submissions, before “no unsolicited manuscripts” was the rule of the day, before agents and editors advertised their e mail addresses, there was a girl with a manuscript and a dream. And lots of printer ink and paper and envelopes and stamps.

Back in 2005, when I was learning how to query, the Writer’s Market was the submission Bible. We didn’t have online interviews or webpages with agents expressing their preferences and their “wishlists.” Ordinary people trying to break in couldn’t find out who was represented by whom. Agented authors were even cagey about saying who had signed onto their work.

The Captain’s Kid went out to a decent number of children’s publishers and a science fiction house with a cover letter that today gives me nervous hives. I figured that my best pitch was to say how inadequate the offerings on the shelves were for young teenage boys looking for entry level sci-fi--let’s be frank--to lecture the recipient of my carefully crafted letter on the market. I wonder if anyone read the first chapter. Actually, one small agency did, but after a year of exclusive consideration decided to pass.

Splitting Point went out to editors and agents just as the phrase “we will only contact you if interested” was being invented. The rejection letter was now considered too much trouble for these overworked individuals. However, I did receive a hand-addressed and personal rejection letter from an editor assuring me that the story was great--just something she couldn’t use. That letter hung on my wall for two years, and I am deeply grateful to the editor who found it worth her while to reach out and pat my lagging confidence on the back.

By 2007, it was time to get serious. “No unagented manuscripts” was the new rule in kidlit. Manuscript #3 went out as Sixty Million Best Friends to forty-two agencies. Some of these were e-queries, but still my living room floor was strewn with guideline-driven packets for each target--tailored cover letter, sample pages anywhere from 10-50, 1 or 2 page synopses, brief or detailed outlines. All of these went out in October of 2007, and by mid-November, I had signed with Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. Nancy called me to offer representation exactly a week after I sent out the full at her request. I figured that unusual show of speed and enthusiasm boded well! My querying days were ended.

We’ve had a good five years of working together, though that wasn’t the manuscript that ended up selling. Novel number seven, Pretty Girl-13 sold in 2011.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz Coley writes young adult novels and science fiction/fantasy short stories for anthologies and magazines.
Her novel Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books will be debuting in March, 2013 in the US and abroad. Now available for pre-order on Amazon and Amazon UK.

There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.

For more about Liz and her work, visit lizcoley.com and LCTeen.com or follow her on Twitter at LizColeyBooks and like her Facebook page.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The 13th Day: Super-Awesome-Bomb-Diggity News

Some people may think that the number 13 is unlucky, but not those of us at The Lucky 13s!

In fact, we're celebrating the 13th day of each month by featuring all the fabulous stuff that's been happening to The Lucky 13s.

Please raise a glass to our super-awesome-bomb-diggity news....

Erica Lorraine Scheidt's book USES FOR BOYS got it's launch date (January 22, 2013), and she's been invited to be featured at Wordstock in Portland, Oregon!

You can now pre-order Alex Lidell's book THE CADET OF TILDOR from Amazon!

You can also pre-order Lindsay Ribar's THE ART OF WISHING from Amazon!

Helen Douglas sold the Spanish and Catalan rights to EDEN to Edicions Bromera!

Mindee Arnett has sold her next book:
Mindee Arnett's FINDING EDEN, a spaced-based thrill about Jeth, a teen mercenary who leads a talented crew of thieves, and who finds his life on the line when he takes on a high risk job in order to buy freedom for him and his sister, pitched as Firefly meets White Cat, to Jordan Brown at Balzer + Bray, in a two book deal, in a good deal, but Suzie Townsend at New Lief Literary & Media (NA).  

Megan Shepherd has sold her next trilogy:
THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER trilogy author Megan Shepherd's THE CAGE trilogy, following six teens put in an elaborate human zoo by a powerful and psychic otherworldly race, and one girl's attempts to escape without falling first for her terrifyingly beautiful captor, whose job is to keep her in the Cage forever, to Kristin Daly Rens at Balzer & Bray, in a significant deal, for publication in Summer 2014, by Josh Adams and Quinlan Lee at Adams Literary (NA).

And we've had some incredible cover reveals this month:

Chelsea Pitcher's THE S WORD:

Kristin Halbrook's NOBODY BUT US:

Corey Ann Haydu OCD LOVE STORY:


Ellen Oh's PROPHECY:


Erin Bowman's TAKEN:

Lindsay Ribar's THE ART OF WISHING:

Kacie West's PIVOT POINT:

Debra Driza's MILA 2.0:

Liz Fichera's HOOKED:

Woo-hoo, Lucky 13s!

Rachele Alpine is represented by Dystel and Goderich and her young adult comtemporary novel CANARY will be published in the summer of 2013 by Medallion Press.

She blogs, or you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.