Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“The Curse of the Untouched Swag” and Other Spooky Stories for Writers

Poltergeists are scary. So are howling zombies and ghosts of dead children and skeletons that hide in closets. We writers—debut novelists in particular—have our own set of scary spectres, things that send us burrowing under our Snuggies.

Here are five heart-stopping ghost tales that lurk in the cobwebbed corners of writers’ minds.

“The Legend of the One-Hit Wonder”
Whispered over pumpkin spice lattes, this is the harrowing tale of a once-published writer who never sold a second book.

“The Story of the Empty Chairs”
Related to oneself in the wee morning hours, this is the grisly account of a highly publicized reading that no one attended, except the writer’s maiden aunt and one bookstore employee who was on the clock and texted the whole time.

“The Tale of the Replacement Editor”
Told between gulps of red wine, this is the spine-chilling story of a writer whose acquiring editor changed jobs and was replaced by someone who didn’t get the book at all.

“The Curse of the Untouched Swag”
Choked down between bites of dark chocolate, this is the true tale of unused promotional merchandise. About 6,500 bookmarks were ordered, but only 1,000 were taken off tables at signings, and half of those were spotted in nearby trash cans later.

“The Legend of the One-Star Reviewer”
Posted on writers’ chat boards around the world, this is the bleak story of an anonymous reviewer who never gives a book more than one star.

What about you? What writer-specific ghost tales haunt you?


Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, in April 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. Elisabeth lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her family in a house that is, depending on the day, either wonderful and full of promise or haunted by these writerly spectres. You can find Elisabeth at her website, on her Facebook author page, and on Twitter (@ElisabethDahl).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Characters, Ourselves

I almost didn’t do this week’s suggested blog topic. The topic this week is our main character, and what trait they have that we would want.

Well, my main character, Wren, is kind of a sociopath. Don’t get me wrong, she has a lot of great qualities, and she’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, but trying to pick out a trait of a hardcore trained killer that I’d like for myself is a little tough.

And then I thought something that had run through my mind about a hundred times since finishing REBOOT – I hope people don’t think I’m like Wren.

I think people assuming our characters are a version of ourselves is something a lot of writers worry about, especially debut authors. We’ve run into plenty of people who want to know how we come up with our ideas, who in our life we modeled our characters after. As a teenager I wrote dark, edgy contemporary YA (before it was popular) and when I explained my plot I would often get horrified looks, like I was writing about my own experiences.

I never was, because my life is (and was) kind of boring. That’s not to say that my experiences haven’t shaped some of the events and characters in my books. They have. But only to an extent.

So after admitting to myself that I was worried people would think I was secretly a sociopath with no feelings I realized something – Wren would never worry about this. For the most part, she doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s busy and focused and she has too much to do to worry that people might get the wrong impression of her.

And then I thought about how this applied to what I call “early debut author panic,” which is coming on strong for me right now. I’ve picked apart every part of REBOOT in my head, second-guessed every plot decision I made, and I’m constantly worried about what people will take away from the book.

I don’t think Wren would worry about any of that either. She’s not one for dwelling on the past. She made a decision, there were consequences, she moves on.

I think that’s a good lesson for me right now. There’s nothing I can do about the decisions I made in REBOOT – the ARCs have been printed and I’ve sent in my final changes. I’m not even sure I would make changes if I could.

So I take it back. Maybe I do want to be a little like Wren.

I also wouldn’t mind a few of her butt-kicking skills. 

Amy Tintera is a full-time writer living in Los Angeles, CA. HarperTeen will publish her debut novel, REBOOT, May 7, 2013. Visit her website and blog: or follow her on Twitter: @amytintera


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rocking a Writer Crush

When I was younger I had a major and I do mean MAJOR crush on a singer from this group, A-ha. Okay, if you're under the age of say, thirty-five and/or not living anywhere near Norway, you probably won't know who I'm talking about. So here's a picture.

You can thank me later for this little bit of eighties beefcake! Check that hair. Wow, just WOW. I was crushing on a guy with hair higher than mine was. And that bolo tie...strange times those eighties...

Suffice it to say that the lead singer of that band was my own personal Justin Bieber. I LOVED him. Like plastered every inch of my bedroom's wall space (closets included) with his pictures kind of loved him. I even had a few pictures on the side of my dresser beside my bed so that when I woke up everyday his picture would be the first thing that I saw. (Sssssh, don't say it, I know, I had it BAD) I would tape every interview he did, read every Teen Beat article about him, listen to his songs over and know all the typical over the top borderline stalkery type stuff you do when you're totally bananas for someone famous. (I mean hopefully this sounds familiar because I think most teens do this....right? Anyone? Okaaaay, just agree with me here people even if you didn't...a girls' gotta convince herself she's sane somehow <g>).

Anyway, as a writer/reader I tend to do a variation of the above every time I discover another writer whose work just sends me. I buy all of their books. I google them and start reading their blogs. I watch any Youtube videos of interviews or book talks that they've done. I hope for them to visit a book store somewhere remotely close to me and then giddily stand in line to get my book signed---which is usually the exact moment that I do a bizarre variation of a verbal muppet flail and they give me that smiling, nodding, slightly alarmed look before sending me on my way.Good times. Sigh.

I tell you all of this not to completely embarrass myself (although I'm doing a pretty good job so far, I think), but to illustrate just how influential writers can be to other writers. Every writer I've crushed on has had a hand in helping me to develop my own writing. Every time I've mooned over their tightly paced plots and lyrical prose I've learned something about honing my craft. Their work has inspired me to push myself harder, to write in ways I might not have on my own because I wasn't even aware that those ways existed. When I first started out I would try to imitate what they'd done and even that was good because it helped me practice and gave me an idea of what in their bag of tricks could work for me and what just absolutely wouldn't. They are my teachers, my mentors--even if we never meet. They leave their lessons in the pages of their books, in the humorous but wise answers that they give on panels and interviews, and even in the moments when they are utterly human and do something embarrassing or just flat out wrong. If I never achieve what they do, if I'm only a one or two book wonder, because of them I BELIEVE that it's possible to get where they are, because heck, they're them, somebody has to do it, right?

So I guess what I'm actually trying to say is that writer crushes are good, especially for other writers. Good for learning craft and good for inspiration. AND I'm not afraid to shout out my undying writerly love for Stephen King.

Although I'll be the first to say that as much as I love that guy, I haven't put his picture on the side of my dresser cause my husband might think that's taking it a bit too far...especially since I've already got this guy there...
Okay, not really, the hubs would NEVER be cool with that either, but ya know, in my head that's where this pic would be!

Amy Christine Parker's book, THE SILO, realeases with Random House Children's Fall of 2013 and follows a teenage girl named Lyla who has been living in a religious cult after the disappearance of her sister. While her parents are hopelessly under the sway of the group’s leader, Pioneer, Lyla is drawn into a dangerous situation when she begins to question Pioneer’s prophecy about the impending apocalypse. You can find her on her website, on her blog, and/or follow her on Twitter. She would absolutely love it if you added THE SILO on your to read list on Goodreads here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An interview with GEEKS, GIRLS AND SECRET IDENTITIES author Mike Jung

Hi Mike, and thanks for chatting with us today! 
You seem to have found a perfect match in your editor. Can you talk
for a moment about working with Arthur A. Levine and the team at

Oh geez, I think it's probably impossible to overstate my happiness about working with Arthur. I knew about his peerless credentials and titanic stature in the publishing world before he acquired my book, of course, so my expectations for working with him were ridiculously high, but he managed to exceed them with room to spare. His obvious editorial brilliance improved my story in all the ways I hoped it would. However, it's been equally important and meaningful to discover that Arthur's a kind, funny, generous, and warm human being - my awe of his professional accomplishments is matched by my affection for him as a person.  It's been everything I ever wanted in an author/editor relationship.

Scholastic has been great to me on the whole. Of course Arthur's staff have been wonderful (Emily Clement's on the fast track to editorial greatness) and I feel very supported by the event coordinators, marketing team, and sales force. Roz Hilden, my region's Scholastic sales rep, is a flipping force of nature. I now know why authors are so eager to be published by Scholastic - when those Scholastic rocket boosters are turned on, the acceleration just flattens you against the back of your seat.

I've only seen preliminary sketches, but the illustrations seem like a great fit for your story and characters. How much input did you have in the illustrations?

I was shown the entire batch of sketches all at once and asked for feedback on them, and in all honesty I was too googly-eyed and delighted to say much more than Dude, theyre AWESOME! So yeah, I suppose I could have been more analytical about the whole thing, but nothing problematic jumped out at me, and one thing I learned is that the whole Scholastic editorial team, from Arthur all the way down to the copyeditors, looked at the artwork with a much more critical eye than I did. So I did have a couple of detailed conversations about a handful of the sketches, mostly continuity-related things. I honestly didnt know how much involvement I should expect to have, but I felt good about the amount I did, and my trust in the editorial team at AALB is unshakable.

GEEKS, GIRLS & SECRET IDENTITIES is mostly just plain fun, but it also deals with issues like bullying and self-image, divorce and the uncharted territory when parents start dating. How did you manage to treat those serious themes in the context of a humorous adventure story, and why was it important to you to do so?

I suppose Ive developed a bit of a reputation as a humor writer, which is gratifying since I love humorous books, but from the very beginning Ive also wanted to write books with real psychological resonance. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to work with Arthur Levine is because he has such a stellar track record of editing and publishing books that are fun, humorous, exciting, and entertaining, but also sweet, moving, and emotionally powerful. Arthurs collaboration really helped me define and deepen the emotional lives of my characters by exploring the complexities of their lives, which I think also enhances the humor and action in the story by strengthening the bond between reader and character.

In a post for our Ello's What Diversity Means to Me series, you said,

"My own children will always be able to look at my book and find characters with an ancestry similar to theirs, and Im grateful that Arthur A. Levine Books put that half-Korean boy right there on the cover for everyone to see. GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES wonchange the world for anyone, but it might introduce a hint of needed complexity for someone." 

I can't wait to get this book into my students' hands for that exact reason. Is there a specific reader you hope will find their way GEEKS?

I love Ellen and I really want her daughters to read the book theyre the co-presidents of MY fan club, you know. I dont know that I want any one specific kind of reader to find my book, because I have the possibly delusional hope that all kinds of readers will enjoy it. But if I had to pick one specific reader, it would be a reader who fits the overarching theme of the book, which my editor clarified for me in his usual brilliant way. GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES is the story of Vincent Wu, a boy who feels unneeded, incapable, and unlovable, but ultimately realizes that hes badly needed, fully capable, and very lovable. Id be astonished and moved if my silly little book could spark a moment of pleasure or hope in a reader who struggles with those same issues of self-perception.

You seem to have left yourself plenty of room for a second book. Can we hope for another Captain Stupendous adventure?

I hope so! The manuscript Im currently working on is an entirely new, unrelated story, but at some point in the future I hope to revisit Copperplate City and spend some more time with Vincent, Polly, Max, and George.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Mike! 
One last question: Is the Captain Stupendous fan club accepting new members?

Thanks so much to you and all the Lucky Thirteens for hosting me, Melanie, and yes, the Captain Stupendous Fan Club is absolutely open to new members!

You can purchase a copy of GEEKS, GIRLS AND SECRET IDENTITIES here:

...and visit Mike online here:

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Melanie Crowder, author of the middle grade novel PARCHED coming in June 2013 from Harcourt Children's Books. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Nasty Feeling of Not Being Quite That Awesome

I'm a lifelong reader. My mom broke her back slipping on a pile of little Golden books that I had been reading the night before and tossed to the ground as I finished each one.

OK, that's actually a lie - but you're listening now, right?

Because I do have some guilt associated with reading, but it's got nothing to do with my mom. As a reader who decided over 15 years ago to jump into the deep end of the pool and become a writer, I figured out pretty early that the reading experience isn't the same anymore.

It's kind of sad, really. Pre-publication, whenever I read anything that I thought sucked I got angry. Really angry. This person wrote something that (in my opinion) sucked, and yet they had a book deal? Seriously? I could pee a better book. Note - this was before I had actually re-read any of my self-proclaimed glorious and gutsy WIP. I've since read it, and with the benefit of hindsight can assure that I actually sucked worse than the people I was berating at the time.

But there's the flip side of that too. Sometimes when I read something absolutely fantastic, something so mind-blowingly good that I want to read it more slowly to make it last... well, I can't just enjoy it anymore. Now I have to get jealous. I have to think, "Wow, I will never, ever be as good of a writer as this person. I should call my editor and tell them to stop the presses because I'm embarrassed to call myself a writer after reading this. I should write an apology letter to the author of this book, just because I suck. I need to make sure they never read anything I write because I'll be mortified."

Yes, I have those moments. After reading books like THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST series by Rick Yancey, JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey, or THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND by Margo Lanagan, I think to myself, "Yeah Mindy, hang it up. You suck."

So I usually eat a snack and take a nap. Then when I come back to the book I go at it from a new angle - what are they doing that makes it so awesome? Is it the dialogue? Is it the characterization? Is it the plot? Is it their unique voice? What IS IT that is making this book so much more rock-on awesome than anything I've ever done?

And how can I emulate that?

Take your green monster and flip it on its head. Learn from the people that are better than you. Rather than having Writer Envy turn it into a Talent Crush.

And then hope someday they'll blurb you :)

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK is set in a world where freshwater is worth killing for and will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs From the Write AngleBook PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Class of 2k13. You can also find her on Twitter Facebook.

Monday, October 22, 2012

MEANWHILE ... MIDDLE GRADE: Our Childhood Faves

Of all the books I've ever read, it's the middle-grade books that stick with me. Maybe it was the age, or the fabulous stories, but these books have a way of tunneling into your psyche and becoming a part of who you grow up to be. Here are some of our middle-grade authors' favorites from their childhood. If you haven't read them yet, they're just waiting for you!

ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume is always the first book I think of when I think of my tween years. Other books might have had more fireworks--everything from poltergeists to magical hobbits--but Margaret had a voice. She could be funny, and serious, and she was going through all the same changes that I was, only in a more public way. I thought of this book so much when writing Genie Wishes.Elisabeth Dahl, Genie Wishes (Amulet Books, April 1, 2013)

It's always hard for me to pick out favorite books from childhood because I pretty much loved everything, but Judy Blume's BLUBBER stands out as one of them, for sure. I remember feeling that Judy Blume really got how hard it was to be eleven (it is!) and make so many mistakes while trying to navigate the fine social line between being accepted and rejected. I still re-read BLUBBER and marvel at how much of it stayed with me. —Kristen Kittscher, The Wig in the Window (Harper Children's, June 18, 2013)

FRIDAY'S TUNNEL by John Verney, a very British mystery thriller, was a great favorite. The narrator, spunky 13-year-old February Callender, was my idol when I was about 10, and everything I wanted to be. The sprawling freedom of the Callender household was also hugely appealing. —Kit Grindstaff, The Flame in the Mist (Delacorte, April 9, 2013)

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis sent me to Narnia, and I never wanted to come home. I loved the world, and I especially loved that Lucy, the youngest of the four siblings, was the strongest. This book had it all: magic, adventure, love, and forgiveness. Claire M. Caterer, The Key & the Flame (Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2, 2013)

PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren was among my favorites when I was young, and remains a favorite now. Pippi is an unforgettable character with unique qualities and circumstances, comical behavior that she often gets away with, and she has an underlying loneliness – Pippi was my very good friend. —Tamera Will Wissinger, Gone Fishing (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, March 5, 2013)

RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8 by Beverly Cleary was such an important book to seven-year-old me. Like Ramona, I was always getting myself into trouble: pulling some bratty girl's hair, bickering with my practically perfect older sister, or rubbing honey all over the wall because static electricity just wasn't keeping my balloon stuck up there. I even shared her unfortunate bowl cut. Sigh. Thank goodness at least Ramona understood me! —Melanie Crowder, Parched (Harcourt Children's Books, June 4, 2013)

WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn never failed to haunt and fascinate me as a child, no matter how many times I read it. The creepiness of living in an old church with a graveyard in the back, and the history of the dead girl Helen and how it so perfectly aligned with Heather's own history, just gave me chills and thrills all the way through. Liesl Shurtliff, RUMP: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf/Random House, April 9, 2013)

Look for more middle-grade memories from our authors in MMGM weeks to come!

Claire M. Caterer writes for readers of all ages, but her favorite audience are those who love middle-grade novels. Her debut novel is The Key & the Flame, coming in April 2013 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. You can connect with Claire on her website, Facebook, or Twitter pages.