A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Minning Memories

I'm vacationing with my family (if you can call going anywhere with four kids a vacation), so blogging will be spotty. Once I get back, I'm working on a "Teens Doing Great Things" post about an amazing 14-teen-year-old. Stay tuned for that, I will be worth it. And I promise my contest winners will be announced, contacted, and prized soon. (That means they will receive their prize.)

For today, I want to talk about Mining Memories. This is a concept I just read about today in Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. It means going back to a specific place or time in your memory and seeing what you can glean for your writing. Since I'm visiting the town I grew up in, I thought this would be a perfect time for some memory mining.

I had a few minutes to myself today, so I decided to take a little detour down memory lane.

I went by my old grade school and saw the big rock fire place on the playground. I remembered third grade after my best friend moved away. I was so lonely. One day I took a branch and swept the leaves into a little path up to the fireplace. Then I made circles of leaves and pretended the rock fireplace was a castle with a beautiful garden all around it. In the middle of my pretending, two girls asked me what I was doing. After I told them the three of us played with the magic fireplace castle every recess until the leaves all blew away and the snow started to fall.

Then I drove by our rival high school to remember my first kiss. It was late at night, and we'd spent the evening dragging main in the back of a pick-up with a guy I had a crush on. (Small town, lots of pick-up trucks, liberal seat-belt laws.) Dragging main basically means you drive up and down main street, wasting a lot of gas, hanging out with your friends, and meeting new ones. (This was before texting or Facebook.) Anyway, we traded cars in the parking lot of his school, our rival high school. I had to leave fast because I was late for my curfew. He walked me to my car. After I got in, he leaned in the window and kissed me. As soon as he turned around my friends were squealing, "Did he kiss you? Did he kiss you?" I was stunned and trying to drive, and trying to act nonchalant, like it wasn't my first kiss. I couldn't answer them until we were half-way home.

I drove around the farms near my mom's house and remembered floating the canals, swimming at the swimming hole, and bridge jumping in the summer. I remembered long horse rides and bike rides on the dirt trails in the fields.

I drove by the farm that used to be my grandpa's and saw that the field where we once kept the milk cows is now a housing development. I remember all the hours I spent working beside my dad and my grandpa, and thought about how those fields had eventually claimed both of them.

Then I went to the little cemetery where my dad and my grandpa, and even my great-great-grandpa are buried. A place where so many of the last names are familiar.

All of these bits and pieces of my life are the sum of my experience and the basis for my imagination. I sometimes get scared when I hear the phrase "write what you know," because as a small-town Idaho farm girl, what do I know that would be of any interest to anyone?

Orson Scott Card says the process of mining memories isn't about taking the same exact situation and telling it the same exact way. It's putting new characters into the situation, or twisting the situation into something totally new. It's all about playing the "what if?"game.

So maybe one of my characters will get her first kiss in the parking lot of a rival high school, or maybe a lonely little girl will create her own world out of leaves in the playground. Or maybe one of my characters will witness a murder in the parking lot of a rival high school, and maybe a lonely little girl will discover a porthole to another world in an old fireplace that's shaped like a castle.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was sitting next to the old Royal typewriter that I hammered out stories on when I was eight or ten. As I type away on my laptop, I can't help but think of how far I've come since then. A part of me will always be that lonely little girl on the playground, or the girl a hurried first kiss in the parking lot, or the even the girl who just realized the most gorgeous guy at school is standing by the barn and she's wearing her milking clothes, (that's an entirely different story).

And even if I will never be the girl who lives in the big city, or if I never go to a fantasy world, I still have me and all of my experiences. I know a piece of myself will go into every character I create. And thanks to Orson Scott Card, now I know that will be okay.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What I Learned from an Author Visit by Brandon Mull

Last Thursday I got to meet one of my hero authors, Brandon Mull, who wrote the FABLEHAVEN series. Brandon isn't one of my hero authors just because he's on the New York Time's Bestseller list, but because he's one of the authors whose stories got my kids into reading. I think my sons have read just about every book Brandon Mull has written.

I've been to school author visits before, but this time I was watching not just as a fan or as a mother, but as a to-be-published author. I was watching to learn what makes a great author visit. I was impressed, Brandon kept a whole gym full of 3rd-6th graders interested and engaged while he talked for over a half hour. (I sometimes struggle to keep my church kids engaged for ten minutes.)

Here are some of the things I learned watching Brandon Mull's presentation:

1) Be real. Brandon Mull engaged the students by telling them things about himself, even a "most embarrassing moment" from his childhood. He showed them pictures of his family. He was himself, and the kids could see that he was a real person. He said later that one of the reasons he does author visits is so kids can see that authors are normal people and that writing is something they can do.

2) Make it a two-way communication. Instead of just talking for the full time, he asked the kids questions and encouraged them to participate. He brought a few kids to the front and they worked together to come up with a magical world:

How do you get there? (A secret door at a hospital.) What kind of creature do you see? (Cyclops.) What does the world feel like? (Bouncy.) What does it smell like? (Pancakes.)

3) Be funny. I'm not sure this is something that can be taught, but one thing the kids I talked to remembered was that he said the witch on the German cover of FABLEHAVEN made him think it was Yoda's awkward cousin. (Maybe I can practice telling jokes with my kids.)

3) Visuals are Important. Just about everything Brandon talked about had a slide to go with it, from a map where arrows crisscrossed the country, to his book covers, to a picture of himself with a dog sled team. He ended with a fantastic book trailer for his new book and new series, THE BEYONDERS, and I know that left an impression on everyone who was watching.

4) Teach something. Don't just try to sell books. One of my favorite slides was his comparison between what he had originally written and what his editor said about it. (I can relate to that.) He talked to the kids about how a teacher making corrections on a paper was like an editor helping you to tell the best story possible. His core message was for the kids to stretching their imagination and be creative in whatever they liked to do.

5) Build a connection with each kid/reader that you meet. This was my favorite thing that Brandon Mull did and the thing that impressed me the most. Every kid that came through for an autograph got his complete attention. (Even the adults had to wait their turn.) He asked the kids about what they were interested in. He looked them in the eye. He took a few minutes to answer their questions. I don't think any kid felt rushed or slighted when they came to have their book signed. He got down on their level and showed them that he cared.

I enjoyed listening to Brandon Mull's presentation and I know the kids at South Bay did too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

COVER REVEAL (And the Outside Story)

YAY for today!

I'm so excited because FINALLY I get to show you the cover for BREAKING BEAUTIFUL.

First I'd like to say thank you to Kari at A GOOD ADDICTION for helping me with my reveal.

AND NOW (with absolutely as much ado as possible) HERE IT IS...

TA DA!!!

Isn't it beautiful!

Besides being the very first cover for my very first book, (and in so many ways my dream come true), let me tell you why this cover is so near and dear to me...


Didn't he do a great job? Isn't he awesome? Check out more of his beautiful work at David Wolf Photography.

I was very fortunate to have so much say in what went on the front of my book. If you aren't in publishing, maybe you don't realize that an author doesn't get to pick their cover. They can give some input, but ultimately it's the publisher's/art department's/marketing people's call. I was lucky, my editor and the art department at Walker/Bloomsbury was willing to let me (us) take a shot at coming up with my cover image.

This is how it happened...


In the beginning, my editor, Mary Kate Castellani, sent me some pictures that were beautiful, but didn't exactly work with the book's setting. She said, "This is the basic idea that we're looking at, but we have to find a photo that will fit."

My answer was, "We don't have to look for a photo that will fit, just tell David, (my amazing photographer husband), what you want and he can do it."

Her answer was, "YES!"

So... We got marching orders from the art department, I borrowed a fabulous pair of red shoes from my friend Susan, we packed up the photography equipment and some really big umbrellas, and went for a drive along the coast--searching for the perfect spot. (We have the advantage of living near the area where BREAKING BEAUTIFUL is set.)

To get the right shot, we had to deal with our crazy, unpredictable, (and by unpredictable I mean totally predictable, because it rains all the time,) Northwest weather. Of course, we got rain when we didn't want it, but we also got sun (amazingly enough), when we didn't want it. And then there was this HIDEOUS recreational vehicle that was parked in the exact spot we wanted to shoot from. (Seriously, this thing gave new meaning to the phrase "big rolling turd" from the movie RV.)

Two trips later we had a whole bunch of photos for the art department at Walker/Bloomsbury to look at. Luckily, they liked what they saw. YAY!

They picked a photo, worked their magic with cropping and adding titles and voila! I have a cover that is gorgeous and represents the story inside beautifully.

Thank you thank you thank you to my amazing editor Mary Kate and my publisher, Walker/Bloomsbury, for trusting us enough to do this.

It means the world to me that my husband; the love of my life, my soul mate, and my biggest supporter through all of this, gets to put his mark on my book as well.

AND THANK YOU to the my husband, David Wolf for his patience and support and for being such a talented photographer!

And now for the giveaway! Drum roll please... (I did say "with as much ado as possible")

Simple, simple, simple, leave a comment on this post and you will be put into a random drawing to receive: 1st place, a 11x14 poster print of any photo from the "Artistic" section of the David Wolf Photography website, and 2nd place a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Thank you for helping me celebrate!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exciting News and Contest Winners!

Every once in a while I need to deviate from my usual blog format to talk about me! (C'mon, it is my blog.) So instead of a book review I'm going to spend today's post announcing some


This Friday I will be revealing the long awaited (at least for me,) cover for BREAKING BEAUTIFUL.

In Friday's post, I'll give you the inside or "outside story" on how my cover came to be and let you know a little about the photographer who worked so hard to please me, my editor, and the art department at Walker/Bloomsbury. AND I may even have a GIVEAWAY!

Book blogger Kari at A GOOD ADDICTION will be helping me with my reveal. The cover will be posted here and on her blog at 8:00 am CST. In the meantime, check out her blog for some fabulous book reviews and contests.

Next, a bit of housekeeping. A while back (I won't say how long ago,) I held a blurb contest. I would FINALLY like to congratulate the winners.

Sarvenez (She wins Kirby Larsen's THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL)

Her Blurb:

Matilda's parents -- like the adults in most of Roald Dahl's books -- are nasty, villainous and altogether dastardly. Which, of course, makes them a joy to read.

Taffy (She wins a signed copy of Angela Morrison's CAYMAN SUMMER)

Her Blurb:

The governess falls for her eccentric and rich employer, who has a dark secret which threatens not only their love but their lives as well


And Katrina (She wins a signed copy of Janette Rallison's MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER)

Her Blurb:

Anne Riley's THE CLEARING left me daydreaming about powerful Druids from throughout the loops of time, and had me weeping over the personal tragedies of family death and schoolroom bullying. From life-and-death to daily trials, Riley's new world feels real and sometimes all too close to home. You'll cheer at the end and clamor for a sequel.

Thank you ladies! I will be contacting you so I know where to send your prize.

Everyone else come back and visit me on Friday!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Firefighters Doing Great Things

I'm standing in the school parking lot and I hear sirens, I see flashing lights, and then a fire truck pulls in. My heart beats faster and I get a lump in my throat. I don't know about you, but one of my nightmares is some kind of disaster at my kids' school, so every time I see an emergency vehicle heading towards the school, I panic a little bit.

But in this case, my heart was beating faster out of pride, not out of fear. Thanks to the South Bay Fire Department, my son, and several other kids from South Bay Elementary got to ride to school in a fire truck as a reward for READING.

The program is called Blazing a Trail for Reading. For two weeks the students kept track of their reading minutes. The results were tallied, and winners from every grade got the chance to ride to school on a firetruck. Because my son was the second highest reader in the 4th grade (YAHOOO) he was one of the kids who had a red flashing lights, sirens wailing, trip to school. He also got a certificate of commendation from the firefighters and a signed poster from the band Glorianna.

Let me take a side trip to tell you a little about my fourth grader. He's the nicest kid you could meet; sweet, funny, and smart, but because he struggles with fine motor skills his handwriting is very bad and he's had a few tough school years. Then, thanks to authors like Rick Riordan and Brandon Mull, he discovered reading.

(MOMMY BRAGGING MOMENT) During this year he has read more than any other kid in his class. His teacher actually had to add more paper to the reading chart on the wall of his classroom. The line that measures his reading minutes now stretches onto the window. Possibly as a result of his mass amounts of reading, his confidence has grown by bounds, his spelling has improved, and even his writing is much better. (OKAY, MOMENT OVER).

I love that the South Bay firefighters and Gloriana are celebrating reading. I love that the students, parents, and teachers all stopped and cheered each kid as they came off the firetruck. I love that my son was able to be a part of this.

I got a lump in my throat and my heart beat faster every time I heard those sirens coming into the school parking lot. I was proud of every one of the kids who earned the trip, and I'm so proud to belong to a community where heroes like our firefighters take the time to support literacy and make a big deal out of reading.

Thank you South Bay firefighters!

Friday, June 10, 2011

TDGT--A Video to Unite a School (and a Shamless Plug)

How do you bring together 2000 students from various cliques, teams, and clubs?

Lakewood high school in Denver, Colorado did it by pumping Katy Perry's Firework through the school intercom system so they could lip-dub, (or lip-sync), the words into a music video to unite the school.

Having done a lot of video work in my life (I have a degree in Broadcast Communications), I can really appreciate how much work and cooperation it took to put this video together. I love how it came out and I love the way it shows an entire high school united. Awesome job Lakewood High!

Thanks to Mark Megibow from the group FACE for sharing this video with me. (Yes, he is my agent's husband.)

Now for the shameless plug:

Aspire Middle school is doing another fabulous play, YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN.

I got to go last night (June 9th) for opening night and it was fabulous! Aspire has such a talented group of students.

They will be performing again tonight at Timberline high school at 7:30 pm and twice on Saturday, (2:00 matinee) and 7:30 evening performance. They do a wonderful jog of bringing to life the beloved PEANUTS characters, the kids are great, and the "woodstocks" and Snoopy are hilarious. It's a great family event.

I would love to hear what you think of this video and/or the play. And as always if you know of any kids doing great things, please send them my way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review Wednesday--A First Grade Perspective

Today was our school barbecue, so I got to have lunch with my son's 1st grade class.

The first thing I learned while I was there was, the best part of eating school lunch with 1st graders is that when you're having ice cream, you get to eat dessert first so it doesn't melt! What a GREAT idea! When I was in grade school, we had to eat all the icky stuff like mushy peas and carrots and slimy green beans before we could eat desert.

The second thing I learned surprised, impressed, and amazed me almost as much--these kids are really reading!!! While we were eating, I asked them what there favorite books were. I expected to hear a lot of picture books, but what I heard were chapter books. (For first graders!) And when I asked them who was reading them the chapter books, they said, "No one. We read them ourselves."

Yay for great beginning reader books!

Here are some of their favorites:

RAMONA BOOKS by Beverly Cleary. Obviously these have been revitalized with the new movie, BEEZUS and RAMONA. I was excited to hear that a lot of the little girls were reading Ramona books, because they were my absolute favorite books back in the day when veggies came before dessert. I'm thrilled that the legacy of the little girl who gets herself into trouble just by being herself lives on.

MAGIC TREEEHOUSE Books--Full of adventure, fantasy and fact, Mary Pope Osborn's Magic Tree house books are a great combination for kids. My older kids loved them, but I hadn't considered getting them out for my first grader yet, and we have a bunch. (Can anyone say summer reading?) When I looked into the series I realized that it's continued on from a few years ago, when my almost-fifth-grader read them. The latest books in the series look like they venture more into fantasy, but the book my first grade friends said they liked the most was DOLPHINS AT DAYBREAK.

JUNIE B. JONES--(You knew it was coming,) It may be grammar poor, but JUNIE B. is humor rich, crazy and highly relate-able for young kids. JUNIE B. is in many ways a more modern Ramona. My daughter loved these when she was in first, second grade and third grade and the girls in my son's class said they loved them too. These are also fun books are to read out loud with your kids.

Besides the early reader chapter books, my first grade book critics mentioned a few of their favorite picture books including; the SCAREDY THE SQUIRREL series, (which I love too because the aside comments are hilarious,) SKIPPY JON JONES books, and BEDTIME IN THE SWAMP (which happens to be a book I picked up at the LDStorymakers conference.

My lunch with first graders class taught me two valuable life lessons:

1) Eat dessert first!
2) You're never too young to love reading!

What are your favorite early reader/chapter books?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Write Here, Write Now

Last week, one of my ANWA friends asked the question, "Where do you write?" for a blog post she was doing. (See Black hole. Abductor. And other names I've called my desk). The other people who responded talked about the different desks they've had, or a special room, or a special corner of the house, my answer was this:

"...Because I have four busy kids, I write everywhere I can, like in my car while I wait for piano lessons, soccer practice, or play practice to get over, or at
the dentists office. I wrote a good portion of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL on the way up to the ski hill. I once spent a whole day doing revisions in my car while my son was at an indoor skate park. I even did copy edits between games at a volleyball tournament. Lately, to combat writer's butt I've been writing on a treadmill at my gym."

When I'm into a project I can (and do) write anywhere. I don't have a purse. I have a laptop bag. It goes with me almost whenever I leave the house, because I never know when a practice might go long, and I'll have a few minutes to let my imagination run away. (This might explain why my previous laptop is in the shape it's in--broken hinge, cover coming off).

I can write in the car as long as the road isn't too curvy, I can write when I'm with my kids at the pool or the park, I can even write (though not always successfully), in those few moments while supper simmers away on the stove.

(***An actual dinner burned while I was writing.***)

I'm ashamed to say I even took my laptop with me to a band concert a few days ago, thinking I would sneak out into the hall when my son was done playing and write. (In the end I decided to leave my laptop alone, enjoy the music, and visit with some friends I don't see very often.)

The good thing about my ability to work anywhere is that I can get through a project and still get my children, (most of the time), to their various appointments and activities. The bad thing is that I often have to reorient myself to the real world, "Mom, we just passed the piano lesson house again!"

My point is, you can write anywhere. If you don't have the luxury of a laptop, you can still take a notebook with you, or you can scribble something in crayon on the back of that coloring book at the bottom of your diaper bag, or you can just observe life around you and make notes in your head. Maybe the lady in front of you in line would be the perfect protagonist for your novel. Maybe the kid bagging groceries has a dark secret.

When my kids were little I didn't have time, (or didn't take time), to write down my stories, so I wrote them in my head. I honestly think that was helpful to me when I finally took the time to put something down on paper.

I feel like I'm proof that if you want to be a writer, you just have to do it. If I had waited for the perfect office, or the perfect desk, or the perfect time to start writing, it would have never come.

My advice...

Write here. Write now.

What crazy places have you written in? How do you carve out time for your writing?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things-- Karlee's Prom

Once or maybe a couple of times during their high school career, teenage guys trade their jeans and t-shirts for tuxes and bow ties, and teenage girls get to play dress-up princess for one more night before they enter the realm of adulthood. Prom night--immortalized in in books, TV and movies as the penultimate right of teenage passage, few things are as American as a high school prom.

For a girl battling cancer, prom night seemed like an impossible dream. Then her friends stepped in to make sure she had one night to forget about being sick, one night to feel beautiful, and the memory of one prom to carry with her.

Here's what two teenage boys did to make sure their friend, Karlee had a night to remember, as told by Alana Lerwill, (the photographer who went with them to take pictures), on her blog blog post from June 9, 2009.

A few weeks ago, I had an incredible experience. I got to take pictures for a special Junior Prom. A fantastic young man named Quade asked a sweet girl named Karlee to their Junior Prom. It was to be her first date. She is 16 and is fighting off her 2nd battle with two types of cancer. She has had several tumors removed. As it got closer to prom, she found out she was going to have to be in the hospital undergoing another round of Chemo during the prom. Quade decided he and his friend Chase would go visit Karlee that night in the hospital.

As plans progressed, they decided to take prom to Karlee. They both rented Tuxedos, bought flowers and got their moms to help out with dinner. Karlee's mom got her a wig and a beautiful prom dress. The hospital chipped in and helped out with a nice classroom that they decorated and put a backdrop and the kitchen help even dressed up to serve them dinner.

The doctor gave her a pass so she could leave her hospital room and they were allowed to go across the street to the city park. I came along to take pictures and we were able to do a nice photo shoot both in the hospital and then a bunch of fun pictures at the park. This was an amazing bunch of youth. The boys were so polite and gracious, giving her many compliments and taking such good care of her. They really tried hard to make it a memorable night. Karlee has an amazing strong spirit she is doing all she can to beat this thing. You can really sense what an amazing person she is.

To read the rest of the story and to see more pictures of Karlee's prom go to Photography by Alana.

Thank you to Quade and Chase for doing such a great thing for their friend and than you to Alana Lerwill for her beautiful pictures and for allowing me to share this story.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guest Review: GIRL OVERBOARD by Justina Chen Headley

It's been a busy week (what week isn't) so I turned today's book review over to my daughter.

She had reviewed GIRL OVERBOARD for her literature class, so I asked her if I could use that review here. (Isn't it nice when your kids can do your work for you?) I bought this book for her after a ski accident left her on crutches for four weeks. Ironically, the book is about a girl who snaps her ACL in a snowboarding accident,and my daughter had it with her at the appointment when we got the MRI results and found out she had the same injury.

I appreciate books that my kids can use to relate to experiences that they're going through, especially when its something that I haven't ever been through. I like to read books with my kids, so I started reading GIRL OVERBOARD, but between trips to the ski hill it somehow got lost.

Before it was lost, I was really enjoying the story and I loved Justina Chen Headley's NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, (see my blog post, More Than Skin Deep...,) I hope to find and finish the book for myself, until then, you'll have to take my daughter's word for it that this is a great book.


The book Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley is an empowering novel about a girl named Syrah who snaps her ACL when she gets caught in an avalanche while snowboarding. Everyone thinks that Syrah has everything, after all, her dad is Ethan Cheng, the richest man in the world. But really her life sucks. Her (half ) siblings hate her. The only two people in the world that actually understand her the most are being pushed away from her; Age her best friend since kindergarten who originally got her started in snowboarding, and Bao-mu her nanny. Age’s girlfriend Natalie is jealous of their friendship so she doesn’t allow them to hang out with each other very much. And Bao-mu is moving in with her daughter who just had a baby. On top of all that her new friend Lillian has a little sister who has leukemia and needs a bone marrow match if she’s ever going to beat it.

Any one that is “coming to terms” with anything in their life right now will enjoy this book. I can relate to Syrah, because while skiing this winter, I snapped my ACL. Snapping my ACL was and still is really hard on me. I couldn’t walk, open doors, or even carry my own backpack, but worst of all I couldn’t ski or play any sports for that matter. For a lot of people not being able to play sports for a year doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for me it is.

I was able to make a lot of text to self connections, such as how annoying it is that it’s a wound that no one can see. If you’re just walking down the hallway and someone bumps into you, or you step on that leg wrong you shriek in pain and everyone stares at you like you’re some kind of weakling who can’t take a little bump.

GIRL OVERBOARD is a very empowering story about how to come to terms with anything. It’s really cool to see how Syrah’s respect for herself her parents and her siblings grow throughout the story.