Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Art of Staying Focused

When you finally (or for some of our amazing Luckies, immediately) achieve your dream of selling a novel, you are insanely excited. There is suddenly so much you don't know about the publishing process, and so much that you want to know. You feel nervous asking your editor fifty-seven million questions, and if you're working with an agent who just recently signed you, you don't want to annoy him/her either. Much.

So what do you do? You think "ah ha! I'll work on the next book!"

Or, well, more likely... you sign up for a Twitter account, you get on Facebooks, you start exploring GoodReads, you stumble across Tumblr, you start thinking about websites... or about redoing your website, and you pretty much do whatever you can to avoid working on the next book. Because writing is not always easy. And if your next book is supposed to be a sequel, then it's natural to convince yourself that you can't get started on book TWO until all of the edits on book ONE are returned to you.

But it doesn't stop there. Six months out from publication date, you are grappling with copy edits and ARCs and cover reveals and it's very easy not to work on either your second book OR that new WIP that you really want to finish because you want to be a full-time writer. Three months out from publication date and you're starting to sweat blurbs and reviews and set up blog tours and take care of promotional ideas and... well, focus gets to be a challenge.

So how can you keep your focus, when all the world is clamoring for your attention? Whether you're a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur or a busy anyone, these are my 3 favorite tips:

1. Do the important stuff first. 

By important, I don't mean, necessarily, urgent. And I understand "urgency", especially if you have a day job or clients who will not wait. But even if you have a looming deadline, take ten minutes to do whatever is most important to you -- in many cases, that means working on your creative project. Start your day doing the work for which you want to be known. If you are an author... then write. A painter... then paint. Even if it's just a snippet, it will help set the tone for the whole day.

2. Make it a game.

We all respond to different cues, but each of us have that 'thing' that makes work more like a game. For me, it's tracking. I like to see a spreadsheet where I record my word count for the day--day after day, k after k. It keeps me motivated AND it keeps me on track. I feel guilty when I don't hit my word count, and I work to catch up.

For others, setting timers adds that element of "gametime". Or doing sprints with friends. Or blogging about your results. Or doing a vision board -- whatever it is that makes hard work seem like fun (even if only a little bit), I urge you to do. It will help make sitting down to do the work that much easier.

3. Make sure your dream is powerful enough - to YOU.

Let's face it--we have many distractions in a day. We may be spouses or parents or star performers at work, we may have volunteer or sporting or career commitments that take up our every spare moment. In order for you to really ensure you stay focused, you have to want to achieve your dream badly enough to be able to say no. Even if it's only for twenty minutes at a time. Even if it's in the wee dark hours of the morning. But you have to say "no" to those other things (I'm looking at you, social media) in order to say "yes" to your dream... so your dream better be worth it.

And it better be YOUR dream. Not your mom's, not your fifth grade teacher's. Yours. Because you're the one who has to do the work, you're the one who has to make the decisions about your career, and you're the one who will look back at the end and say "Yes. I did that."

Here's wishing you the moment when you say those words, and you are so overwhelmed with joy that all you can do is smile.

What about you? What are your tips for staying focused??

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. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Release Day for HOOKED!

HOOKED Book Cover for sitesHappy Book Birthday to Hooked! Today Hooked gets released into the big, wide crazy world!

*throws confetti*
Virtual sugar cookies with hot pink sprinkles for everyone!
When Native American Fredricka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.
But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.
But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...
Kirkus Reviews says, "Not just a Romeo and Juliet story, the book examines the conflicts of white versus Indian and rich versus poor, giving it far more heft than the average romance. Bravo."
(Starred Review)
Publishers Weekly says, "Fichera shows strong storytelling chops as she weaves together plot lines involving class struggles, violence, bullying, and--of course--romance."
Available in bookstores everywhere!
When you see Hooked in the wild--bookstores, airports, big box stores, the mall, even in your own hands, be sure to email or link your photo to Liz Fichera from any of your social media properties (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+), indicate where you snapped your photo and automatically be entered to win a $25 Visa Gift Card! Anyone (US/International) can participate! Winner will be announced on Liz's blog on February 28.
Happy Book Birthday to Hooked, Liz Fichera, and HarlequinTEEN!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Inspiration & Imagination: The Story Behind EVERY DAY AFTER

I was always a listener. As a child I would sit quietly among grown-ups as they wove narrative yarns of times past. I have vivid memories of Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters, barbeques (I live in the South after all), and birthdays where family folk gathered around and began, as usual, to reminisce. This was admittedly my favorite part of any get-together, and I suspect it was the favorite of the adults as well.
All that listening has proved invaluable. You see, when I go digging for ideas, I don’t have to look much further than my own family. The files in my brain are stuffed with stories. When I’m developing characters, I draw from accounts of family members who are long gone, many of whom I never knew, but most of whom I feel I did. And so, when I began brainstorming ideas for a middle grade novel, I didn’t head straight to the library or scour the internet (that came later). Nope. I simply sat back and let the family stories resurface.
This is my paternal grandmother, my Nana:

Circa 1936

She was my inspiration for Lizzie Hawkins, the strong and determined main character in Every Day After. As Nana once did, Lizzie must overcome the trials of the Great Depression, she must come to terms with the high expectations her father has of her, and she must be a responsible caretaker. Lizzie also prefers to hang out with boys rather than girls, likes being the center of attention, and has no problem telling you what she thinks. There is no doubt that Lizzie is like Nana.
But Lizzie’s life is not Nana’s. As I wrote, Lizzie took over and slowly developed a story of her own. She transformed into a unique person living inside the world of my book. Nana never had to bear the burden of scrounging up enough money to pay the mortgage, or wake up to discover her father had left as Lizzie does. And that’s okay. In writing Every Day After I hoped to pay tribute to the life experiences of my grandmother, but the novel wouldn’t have worked as a retelling of her life verbatim. And after all, I didn’t want to write a biography, I wanted to write a middle grade novel. So I took Nana’s life and I lied about it.
I think author Wally Lamb best expresses what I’m trying to say in this quote taken from Mary Murphy’s documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD:
You start with who you know and what you know. You take a survey of the lay of the land that formed you and shaped you, and then you begin to lie about it. You tell one lie that turns into a different lie, and after a while those models sort of lift off and become their own people rather than the people you originally thought of. And when you weave an entire network of lies, what you’re really doing, if you’re aiming to write literary fiction, is by telling lies, you’re trying to arrive at a deeper truth.
I love that. And I believe it. By giving myself permission to lie, by freeing myself from the obligation to get every detail of Nana’s life exact, I have uncovered a more meaningful truth. Isn’t that any author’s goal when they sit down in front of the keyboard to write—to develop characters and a story possessing depth and significance? To create a story with value?
In writing Every Day After, I found that the ideas and inspirations that set one’s story on a course toward existence are simply the beginning. You don’t stop there. You press onward. You ask hard questions; you force yourself to search beyond what you know; you teach yourself to cull from life the things your story needs to reach its highest potential. And then you leave everything else behind. Ideas and inspirations are merely sparks. The lies you tell are the fuel you need to make fire. A writer should always listen…then lie.
My Nana is gone now, but a part of her lives on in a fictional twelve-year-old named Lizzie Hawkins. That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. About a year before she passed away a family member asked Nana why she had no interest in taking part in something-or-other. I honestly don’t recall what the something-or-other was, but I do recall her reply: “I’ve lived my life,” she said. “My story has already been written.”
And so it has. Twice. Once in life, once in a book—both in different ways true.

Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression. It is set to release from Delacorte Press/RHCB on June 11, 2013. You can find out more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and Facebook. Also, feel free to add EVERY DAY AFTER to your Goodreads reading list.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Good fiction holds on like a group hug

In 2009-2011, I did the low-residency MFA program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and right now as I draft this post, a new class of students is on campus. They’re listening to lectures on the craft of writing, hearing faculty and grad readings, participating in critique groups—they’re engaged and invested in a community focused on the creative process. And what am I doing? Sitting alone beside a space-heater at a Formica-topped desk with stark metal legs that are oh-so-cold to the touch. Ah, to be with them right now!

While I don’t think an MFA program is necessary, and while it’s certainly not the right path for everyone, in my case—at the time—it was what I needed. We called the campus our own little Narnia, our Brigadoon, our escape from the real world. We understood each other, supported and encouraged each other, challenged and listened to each other. The people there became my people. Now as I free-write my way into my next novel, five hundred miles away, I’m with them in spirit.

And I wonder: who is with you in spirit? Who are your people? Who supports and encourages you in the singular and often lonely quest to write a novel? And if you’re a reader more than a writer, with whom do you talk about books? Do you spend time at Goodreads, or attend a monthly book group? Do you pour over book reviews and blogs and put your name on bookstore and library waiting lists for new releases?

As solitary as writing and reading might be, they are community activities. Writers write so that others will read. And what do readers get from reading? Most of all, good fiction makes me feel alive. Worthwhile. Human. Invested in life. Validated. It grabs me and holds on like a group hug. I love the sense of vicarious excitement, of adventure, of learning about new worlds and ideas, of daring to imagine myself somewhere other than my Formica-topped desk with its cold metal legs. I read for the adrenaline rush of life, itself, and look forward to book group meetings so we can discuss what we’ve read. I want to know how friends experienced the book. What parts made them angry? Or frightened? Or in love? What parts made them laugh?

How about you? What is it in the process of reading or writing that grabs you? Keeps you up at night? Validates you? Makes you laugh? Or maybe you’re still looking for the story that just won’t let you go. Maybe you need to write that story. Maybe it’s your story. Ah… group hug… group hug!

A. B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin, fall 2013), the story of 14-year old Shadrach Weaver and his friendship with Rachel, a freed slave who runs a school for African-American children in Richmond, Virginia, in 1867. When Shad joins the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan in order to grow up and get tough like his older brother, he has no idea what he’s getting into. Read more about the book and author at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What I Learned While Writing My First Sequel

I've got to be honest, here. I'm a stand alone kind of girl when it comes to writing books. That's not to say that I don't like reading sequels or have something against them in general. It's just that for me there's nothing cooler than a new idea and a clean piece of paper. I can go in any direction I want and my main character isn't someone I've gotten to know so well that I'm privvy to her every thought, feeling, and hang up.

It's uncharted waters.

It's an adventure without no known destination.

There's all of the fun and none of the long-term commitment. 

But sequels...they're linked to what's come before, limited by things that I've already set in motion. I can't change directions on a whim. AND I HATE THAT.

So imagine the kind of awful sweat I broke into when I realized that my book, GATED, had to have a sequel in order to tell my character's story fully. And I was write to sweat because this book, this sequel that I have only just now turned in? It just about killed me dead.However now that it's over and I manged to survive (barely), I realize that writing a sequel has taught me a few valuable writerly things.  Here's what I learned:

1. You gotta have game to do them right. Hats off to you sequel pros, seriously. Trying to weave backstory from book one into book two without making it ridiculously obvious and distracting? SO HARD. I rewrote my first chapter at least ten times.

2. Decisions I made for book one limited what could do for book 2. I would say that I'm an organized panster. I TRY to outline and then basically veer from it right out of the gate and never look back. I wan't thinking about book 2 until I got there. Looking back I wish I had brainstormed some possibilities for it while I was writing book 1.

3. You need a memory like an elephant or a Book Bible or you'll go crazy. I have the memory of a stick bug. I forget just about all my characters' names...yes, even the main characters...not their first names, but definitely sometimes their last. This book was a adventure in trying to remember who said what, who did what, who was with my main character in certain scenes from book 1 that she's recalling in book 2 and I wasn't very good at it.

So you're probably wondering if I'm ever gonna write another one. My answer? Yes, but I hope not for a little while. I'm ready to go back to my beautiful stand alones for now!

Blog Post Disclaimer: I am writing this on the very eve of finishing said sequel. Any and all mistakes, misspellings and rambling are entirely due to a severe sleep deficit and the kind of brain death that only comes from finally finishing a book after almost a year of writing and revisions.

Amy Christine Parker's book, GATED (formerly 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 GATED on your to read list on Goodreads here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Meanwhile...Middle Grade: Kick Starting Your Middle Grade Writing Year

Happy New Year from the Luckies Middle Grade group! The long holiday period over, with days off work—and, in many cases, writing—we thought we’d talk about how it is to climb back into Author Mode. Has the tendency to over-indulge made mush of our brains, making the first words of a new year hard to squeeze out? Or are we raring to shake off winter inertia and dive back in? Or…have some of us not stopped at all?

As it turns out, we MG Luckies have quite a variety of ways to approach our New Writing Year – with a few tricks up our post-holiday sleeves. So here’s the Kick-Start smorgasbord from 12 of us whose books debut this year.

Happy Middle Grade reading in 2013, everyone!

I try to stay away from my desk during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Once January hits, and the cold settles in, I’m energized and ready to write again! My tip: Make a plan for the next day’s work. Always know what you’ll be doing next.
ClaireM. Caterer, THE KEY & THE FLAME (April 2, Margaret K. McElderry)
Other links for Claire: Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon

I think of writing and other creative endeavors the same way I think of exercising and showering--you can mix it up a little, but basically it's best if you do them daily. If you always keep the writing train moving, even at a slow speed, you'll never lose momentum entirely.
Elisabeth Dahl, GENIE WISHES (April 2, Amulet Books)
Other links for Elisabeth: Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon

Nothing gets my creative juices flowing more than reading. The more I read, the more inspired I become to plant my butt firmly in the chair and write. Middle grade books, young adult books, classic books, books on craft--reading any of these pushes that deeply-imbedded need to write straight to the surface.
Laura Golden, EVERY DAY AFTER (June 11, Delacorte Press)
Other links for Laura: Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon

Kick start your MG writing year by "being" eleven years old. You remember how to do it...hang out with your best friend, laugh at everything, paint your nails badly, eat French fries, watch dumb TV, and talk about cute guys in school that you would never, EVER kiss.  
Other links for Jennifer: Twitter and Facebook

In Colorado, January mornings are dark and chilly. So I've made a plan for writing in the wee hours before work. It involves fuzzy socks, a plush housecoat and a nest of blankets within reach of the coffee pot. 
Melanie Crowder, PARCHED (June 4, Harcourt Children's Books)
Other links for Melanie: Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon

When you’ve had to stop writing for a bit, starting again can feel like you’re trying to roll a gigantic boulder uphill! I think it helps to remember that the boulder is actually only two measly inches from the crest, and although that initial pushing is so hard and seems so impossible, you’re really only a short distance from the thrill of riding that boulder downhill.
Peggy Eddleman, SKY JUMPERS book 1: THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH (Sept. 24, Random House Children's)
Other links for Peggy: Twitter, Facebook and Amazon.

I believe in writing breaks, changes of pace, and reflection; the holidays are a good time for all three. What I’m currently writing is interesting to me, so I enjoyed jumping right back in after returning from a short trip. I’m also organizing my office and updating my calendar (which will include more time off!) 
Tamera Will Wissinger, GONE FISHING: A Novel In Verse (March 5, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) 
Other links for Tamera: Twitter, Facebook and Amazon

I'm starting my writing year with the goal of exploring and playing as much as possible--both in my writing and in the rest of my life. A writing routine is a valuable thing, but this year I want to step a little outside my usual routine by learning some new skills and traveling to new places. With any luck, those new experiences will eventually transform into fuel for future storytelling.
Caroline Carlson MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT (Sept. 9, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

When I’m avoiding my office and find myself doing fascinating things like folding laundry instead of writing, I set myself reachable word count goals. I might tell myself I HAVE to write four hundred words the first day, and six hundred the second, and try to ease back into my routine.
Polly Holyoke THE NEPTUNE PROJECT (May 21, Disney/Hyperion Books and Puffin Books UK)
Other links for Holly: Twitter, Facebook and Amazon

Anne Lamott tells a great story in "Bird by Bird"—one of my favorite books on writing. Lamott's brother was overwhelmed by a school report on birds. His father's advice on how to tackle it: "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." So, after the winter break, when getting back to writing can seem overwhelming, I take it bird by bird! 
Nancy J. Cavanaugh THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET (April 1, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky)
Other links for Nancy: Facebook and Amazon

Yes: I’m totally struggling to get back into writing. I blame it partially on the flu and partially on getting distracted with debut-book marketing. My new mantra: remember you're a WRITER first... not a blogger, not a marketer, not a reader... so WRITE first, then do all those other things!
Tara Sullivan, GOLDEN BOY (June 27, Putnam’s/Penguin)
Other links for Tara: Twitter and Amazon

As for me, after any holiday, I read over pre-breakpoint chapters to re-immerse myself in the story. Best kick-starter? To have left a really enticing thread hanging. Like a question begging to be answered, it pulls at me to dive back in. And in chilly January, spicing my workspace with hot tea and a warm blanket definitely helps too!
Kit Grindstaff, THE FLAME IN THE MIST (April 9, Delacorte Press)

Kit Grindstaff grew up in the rolling countryside of England. After a brief brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain), she moved to New York and embarked on her career as a song writer. Kit now lives with her husband in the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. THE FLAME IN THE MIST is her first novel. You can find her on the web at her Website, Twitter and Facebook, add the book to your Goodreads list, or pre-order at Amazon.