Friday, February 27, 2009


When I was a kid we went camping, alot. It was the only sort of vacation my mom could afford--and I loved it. We were lucky to live close enough to Big Sur that we went often. It was like a home away from home.

Us kids became Junior Rangers every summer through the state park's program, and my mom made a great production out of making stone soup. Other than that the kids pretty much had free reign. We played in the river, climbed trees, and hiked on the trails making up whatever games suited us.

Another thing we liked to do was go crawdad fishing. My mom would give us a string, a piece of bacon, and a pot, and we were good for hours. We knew the good crawdad holes. You could sometimes see the crawdads crawling around on the riverbed through the crystal clear water, their little pinchers reminding us to wear our tennis shoes in the water lest they find us tasty.

Our favorite fishing spot was a deep, sandy pool where the water slowed and swirled. We had to walking across a big metal retainer that kept the hillside from sliding into the river. At its end was a small landing where my sister and I could settle ourselves in for catching crawdads.

We tied our bacon tightly to the ends of our strings and sent them to the river bottom. Then we would wait, watching through the ripples, looking for the teeny, prehistoric looking creatures that were the closest we'd ever seen to lobsters. It could take a while, for the crawdads to notice our bacon. We'd let it float and drift, trying to tempt them with its deliciousness. Yet we tried to be still and patient so as not to scare them away. They were ever wary of our over zealousness; seemed to sense our every move and hear our whispers. So we sat, quietly, patiently, waiting for a crawdad to notice our offering.

Sometimes they didn't notice, and we would come back to camp emptyhanded, with nothing to show for our efforts. We would always try again because the fun was in the doing. The trying. And that's how it is with writing. Of course we want the reward, we want that book in our hands, but if we don't find the joy in the writing we will never get the bucket full of crawdads. It takes alot of time, patience, and thought. It takes work. Sometimes there is a reward, but more often there isn't.

And yes, sometimes we would catch crawdads. Once one crawdad took notice of our bacon another usually would, and then another and another until they were climbing over each other to see what we had(Is that what a book auction is like? Hee hee.) When one had a firm grasp, we'd pull, slowly, bringing the crawdad to the surface where we could plop him into our bucket. And then we'd take them back to camp to show that yes, we actually did accomplish something that day, as much as we looked like we were enjoying doing nothing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Prophecy of the Sisters

I just received an advance reading copy of PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS by Michelle Zink. I know, it's Sunday, but it had to travel to get here, through the mail to a friend's house, she dropped it off at the library, my husband picked it up and snowmobiled it home. So, I've been waiting. And it's so worth it!

My first impression when I pulled it out of the envelope was wow, look at the way they made the cover look old and worn. So cool. I love that. The raised purple font used for the title and author's name is beautiful. The jeweled snake is interesting. It reminds me of broaches my mom used to wear when I was a teenager. I hated it when she wore those! After studying the cover for a while I noticed that the snake's shadow has a forked tounge while the jeweled snake does not. Intriguing. Another thing, I'm a sucker for decorated pages. I love the flower detail surrounding each page number. The books cover on Amazon is different than the one I have, by the way.

The story itself sounds intruguing. Here's what it says about the book on Sixteen year-old Lia Milthorpe and her twin sister Alice have just become orphans and, as Lia discovers, they have also become enemies. The twins are part of an ancient prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other. To escape from a dark fate and to remain in the arms of her beloved boyfriend James, Lia must end the prophecy before her sister does. Only then will she understand the mysterious circumstances of her parents' deaths, the true meaning of the strange mark branded on her wrist, and the lengths to which her sister will go to defeat her.

Debut novelist Michelle Zink takes readers on an unforgettable journey where one sister's fateful decision could have an impact of Biblical proportion.

I was pulled in immediately when I read the first few pages. There is beautiful prose, tension, and intriguing situations right from the start. I can't wait to be able to sit down and really read it. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading Journal

My daughter reads tons of books. She has to read alot for school where the Accelerated Reader tests are part of the curriculum, but she reads alot for herself too. She doesn't read books just once either, she reads them over and over. This year I decided it was time for her to keep a reading journal.

I gave her a beautiful little notebook to get her excited. She devised her own rating system. Hers is a four flower system consisting of four different flowers she drew, one each for poor, okay, good, and awesome. The awesome flower has lines of brightness coming off of it to pronounce it's awesomeness. She's also added MNIS and DA to her contents as she is reading the entire MY NAME IS AMERICA and DEAR AMERICA series. Books get a checkmark every time she rereads them.

In the journal she numbers each entry then puts the title, author, and rating flower. She also writes a little about the story. Sometimes its her favorite thing about the book; favorite part or favorite character. Other times she writes her opinion of the book, from, "sad and touching" to "one of my favorite books!"

She has some criticisms. One book was, "kind of boring because there's not enough detail." A very good observation I'd say. One of her favorites is THE WESTING GAME. She is actually waiting for it to be made into a movie. Lots of checkmarks by that one. By far, the best entry is for DEAR AMERICA: COLOR ME DARK. "I love this book!!!! You melt into the story and can't stop reading until you reach the end." I love the way she describes reading this one. What writer doesn't want a reader to feel like that. No other book has gotten four exclamation marks either. Guess the awesome flower wasn't enough.

It will be interesting to see, as time goes on, if her analysis will get more in depth or if she'll just keep it to snippets of opinion and sparse observations. I want her to keep her journal up so I'm not making many requirements on it. She seems to be enjoying it. We can talk about the books she's read and she can see a concrete result. It is something she will be able to look back on later, too. It's something any parent can do with their child. It doesn't take alot of time. Wish I had done it when I was a kid.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Interview with Cynthea Liu, author of The Great Call of China

I am very happy to be doing the very first author interview for my blog, and what a great person to be interviewing! Cynthea Liu is the author of Writing for Children and Teens and runs the debut children's author site, Authors Now.

Cynthea’s debut young adult novel, THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA, is about a Chinese-born American adoptee who jumps at the chance to travel to Xi’an, China to learn about anthropology and to explore her roots. The Great Call of China comes out tomorrow, February 19th!

Congratulations on your book, Cynthea! First of all, tell us, what inspired you to write about China? Have you been there? If so, did the places you saw make appearances in your book? What did you do to make the settings in The Great Call of China authentic?

Actually, the idea to write a book set in China came from my agent. The publisher had notified her that they were looking for proposals for a series featuring teens traveling abroad. So I said, "why not?" My brother lives in Xi'an, China, and when I read more about the series, I knew I'd set the book there. Many of the places my brother took me to in Xi'an are in the book!

Though in some cases--Beijing in particular--I had to do a lot of reading and verifying with other people to make sure I got the details right.

What kinds of troubles does your main character, Cece, run into?

As one can imagine, looking for an orphanage in a city you are unfamiliar with, in a country you have never been to, where everyone speaks a language you don't understand poses some huge challenges. On top of that, Cece learns something about her past that makes it difficult for her to want to uncover more. There's also complications in her romantic life, but as you can imagine those issues get worked out. :)

This book is part of the S.A.S.S. series. What does S.A.S.S. stand for? Will you be writing more books for the series?

S.A.S.S. stands for Students Across the Seven Seas. It's a program for students to travel abroad. Main characters apply for the program and get whisked off to a foreign land filled with excitement, adventure, and romance. I don't know if I'll be writing more books for the series. At the moment, I owe Putnam another original MG or YA book, so I'll be busy.

Alot of writers would be interested to know, how many agents did you query before you found 'the one'? How has your writing life changed since you found an agent?

After about a year of submitting on my own, I did a couple of queries at first--to feel out the market. I got some nice responses but no offers. A little after that, I finished PARIS PAN, and editors seemed to be responding positively to it, so I decided I'd do a full round of agent queries. That was about five or six agents. Ironically, the agent who had rejected me the first time I queried (I queried picture book manuscripts initially) offered representation for my novel.

Since I've gotten an agent, I spend WAY less time obssessing over editors. I get to focus on other things, which is kinda nice. In fact, without an agent, I'm not sure I'd be able to further my career by much. A baby underfoot, book deadlines, and two releases this year leave me more than occupied.

How many manuscripts did you write before you sold one? Have you found that your writing style meshes more with one genre than another?

I had written a little bit more than ten manuscripts, I think. I've got three completed novels, two chapter books, several picture books, and some easy readers. I find that I get the most enjoyment from writing younger works because I can get a little wilder with the humor. But young adult books are a great challenge, too!

You run a very prolific and interactive personal website, run the AuthorsNow! debut authors website that features over 100 authors, and are a part of the 2009 Debutantes– plus you're a mom! How on earth do you find the time to write?

This is one of the most popular questions I've gotten since I started doing interviews! The answer is simple. I have part-time help from a wonderful college student named Julia. Lots of coffee. And I don't sleep very much!

Well, I guess you get that question alot because we are amazed by all that you do! You have another book coming out this summer--PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE (Putnam, June 2009). Could you give us a sneak peak?

Here are the first lines...

Looking back I should have been suspicious from day one, but now I know that if you want something bad, you'll do anything to get it.

You'll lie to your friends.

Steal from your family.

Eat a whole box of orange Creamsicles.

Last but not least, if you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

Oh, dude. I think I like the real world just fine! Seriously, there is too much tragedy in fiction novels. I'd never survive as a character!

Thank you, Cynthea, for frolicking over to answer some questions! Best of luck with THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA.

Please stop by Cynthea’s launch parties tomorrow at and at All day, February 19, 2009. Writers should hop on over to Tara's site to see what Snoop and Cynthea are doing for writers. Nonwriters can join Cynthea at her own website where there will be party favors for everyone and some good ole fashioned fun.

THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA is available online at , Borders, B&, Indiebound, and throughout bookstores across the country.

The Journey

I had to do it. I had to send out paper submissions. As a paper lover myself I understand the desires of agents and editors who prefer paper submissions. After all, you can take a piece of paper anywhere, read it anytime. Yet, as a writer, I do prefer to submit electronically. It’s so much simpler. The fussing over printing pristine sheets, labeling the envelope, making sure everything is in the envelope correctly, and with kids around, making sure that no one dirties my masterpiece, is enough to stress a person out. Then there’s getting the manuscript to the post office, that’s where the real adventure begins…

I have a big army green backpack that I have to put all the supplies I need for town in. My boots, water, chapstick, money, snacks. Thankfully there’s a separate pocket I can use for mail or else things wouldn’t be pretty.

After I bundle up, sling on my backpack, and put on my skis, I slide out into the snowy tundra. My story is outside in the fresh air gliding along. Destination: post office. The woodpecker pecking the tree trunk doesn’t even notice as we glide by, my story and me. He just keeps on peck, peck, pecking. I wonder if woodpeckers get headaches.

I get to the steep hill, ever tempted to ski it. I know better. I’ve broken bones before trying to downhill on cross country skis. I don’t want to injure my manuscript. Reluctantly I take off my skis and walk the steep slopes. Dreaming of shooshing, remembering crashing.

I ski and walk, ski and walk, until I reach my car. I make a grand entrance scraping to a crash on the ice. I hope that my manuscript isn’t injured. I don’t check. There’s nothing I can do about it now.

I drive down the icy hill like a child driving a car on a track at an amusement park, jostled back and forth every time I hit the edge of the deep rut. Then I slurp out onto the muddy road. Sloshing, sliding, back and forth, careful not to got too fast and slide off the road, all the way to town.

At the post office, I open my pack. The package has a long line down the front, a sort of indentation. I sigh. These things and worse could easily happen on it’s journey through the mail system I tell myself.

And so I send it, and I wonder what sorts of journeys other manuscripts make on their way to try to find someone who loves them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A space of their own!

Not too long ago I was talking to my librarian about how bookstores are setting up young adult reading areas. I thought it would be nice if the young readers in our library could have their own area surrounded by books they like with some comfy seating and maybe something hip on the wall. I didn't have much hope it would happen. Our library is extremely small. It's tricky to create spaces. The children's book area butts right up to the computer use area. There just isn't alot of room.

But, my librarian loved the idea and ran with it. She found a way to make a "junior reading area". Collections are being condensed. Shelves are being cleared. It's a big job, shifting books around, but it's going to be worth it.

There's a nice spot in the back corner where people love to gather. It's offset from the rest of the room, tucked behind a long shelf/reference desk. The chairs are comfy. It's warm and cozy in the winter and nice and cool in the summer. This prime spot is being dedicated to our junior readers. The collection of middle grade and young adult novels will surround them on three sides providing all sorts of reading inspiration and will be a nice little nook for the kids to gather. I hope they won't mind if I hang out back there every once in a while.

Monday, February 2, 2009

So You Say You Hate Talking on the Phone...

This is where I do my talking. This chair is in the perfect spot where the phone gets five bars--usually. I bundle up, hike up the hill, and take a seat. I'd like to get one of those awesome red phone booths one day and put it there. Cozy.