Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Back to School Giveaway--Because I HEART School Librarians!

I know librarians figure prominently in many writers' lives, but when I was a child it was the school librarians who influenced me the most. In fact, I don't have any memories of going to the public library, but I have many fond memories of school librarians and teachers who placed the perfect book in my hands, planting me firmly on my path to becoming an avid reader and, later, a writer.

So, in honor of schools across the country starting back up, I'd like to do another book giveaway, this time for school librarians, many of whom are operating on severely reduced budgets.

Now, I realize this blog is not exactly School Librarian Central, nor even a well-known hangout of said school librarians. However, I am betting that some of the readers of this blog have school librarians in their lives, either through their own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or other close family or friends, so here's the giveaway.

I am giving away FIVE paperback sets of my Lowthar’s Blade Trilogy (The Forging of the Blade, The Secrets of Grim Wood, and The True Blade of Power). However, this giveaway is for your school library, meaning if you win, you agree to take the books to your local elementary school library and donate them to their collection (although you or your kids can read them first, of course!)

Also, I will be giving away TWO hardcover copies of Werewolf Rising to be given to a middle school or junior high library, so if you have a kid in your life that attends a middle school or junior high school, that might be a more attractive option.

That's SEVEN chances to win!

(And yeah, you could lie, but I trust the people reading this blog--and if by chance someone does lie? Well, if it's important enough for them to lie about, so be it. There's not a verification process involved.)

I did something like this a couple of years ago with my first book and it was a really fun way to get my books into the hands of readers I would never have come into contact with otherwise.

So if you’re game, post in the comments and let me know the name of the school, whether it's an elementary, middle, or junior high school, and the state where the school library/librarian resides. Again, there is no verification process, it's just fun to see the geographical spread. At the end of next week (Saturday morning, September 2nd) I'll do a random drawing and notify the winners on the blog.

If you have any questions, post those, too!

Friday, August 18, 2006

An Author Interview

For anyone who's interested, there's an interview with moi posted over at Cynthia Leitch Smith's blog. Cynthia is an amazing advocate of children's books and children's authors, as well as a terrific author of kid's books. Her new one coming out next year is called TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007) and is a gothic YA and I can't wait to read it.

If you have time, poke around her website because as I say, it's an amazing resource for anyone who likes kids' books or has young readers in their lives. Lots of book recommendations and reviews, author interviews, etc.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

And on Another Note...

Dee and Charity over on deeceeonbooks are having a contest this week and are giving away a signed copy of WEREWOLF RISING. With a big fat doh! I realize I should have mentioned the contest earlier, but for some reason it didn’t cross my mind. Probably because I have a bad case of FOSP (fear of self promotion) Anywho, they have the contest entries up and are looking for judges. If you’re interested, pop on over there and vote for your favorite entry in the comments.

Reading Recommendation: RANGER’S APPRENTICE

On another note…

Trying to find books we think our kids will love, and that will consequently turn them on to reading, can be really hard. After all, there are so many books out there. One of the advantages for my boys was that I was steeped in children's publishing and following the market closely while they were young readers, so I often had a bird's eye view of books they might be interested in.

Even though they are well past the kid books stage, I am not and still read many, many books. It occured to me it might be helpful to post short reviews of those books that really worked for me and that I would put into a child's hand, thus Reading Recommendations was born.

However, just a cautionary note: These are books I would be comfortable putting into a kid's hands, but your mileage may vary. I realize caregivers have all sorts of different ideas of what's appropriate for kids. For my own kids, I tend never to censor anything they want to read as I think it can be a great catalyst for really important discussions AND I think often when kids read about things they are able to experience them vicariously and therefore don't feel the need to experience them first hand.

So grain of salt, that's all I'm saying. However, I WILL try to make a note if I think there might be anything parents might object to in any given book, just be aware that what blips on your radar might not blip on mine.

So without further a-do...

I just finished a terrific book that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy. It’s called RANGER’S APPRENTICE by John Flanagan. It was an older MG fantasy and it really worked for me. In fact, I’d give it five stars. I would especially recommend it for boy readers 10-13. While it resonated faintly of Tolkein’s rangers, the book did a great job of really developing the idea into it’s own story. There was great characterization—a wonderful arc between two boys that had a contentious relationship and were able to solve it, and a hugely satisfying twist at the end. Just loved it. Sat down and read the whole thing in a day, which I RARELY do. So if you or your kids are looking for a great read, I’d highly recommend this.

Even More Conference Notes

One of the speakers was agent Jodi Reamer from Writer’s House. I’ve heard a lot about her as she was the agent that brokered the first $1,000,000 YA deal (TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyers). And I was very impressed. She had some wonderful, concrete advice for the conference attendees.

1. Be careful in applying information about other authors to your own situation. Every author is different, and every author’s path to a successful career is different.

2. It really is ALL about the writing. The good news is that writing is a craft and you can always improve your craft.

Jodi Reamer’s Editorial Tips
1. Three most important things about the writing: engaging characters, strong voice, uniqueness
2. SHOW don’t tell
3. Character’s voice MUST ring true
4. Writing must be sophisticated
5. Don’t over simplify historical fiction
6. Don’t copy styles of another book
7. When considering literary vs. commercial, write to your own personal strength

On the Market (Jodi had some great guidelines for the different categories of children’s books which I’lll post here because they can be confusing.)

YA – Ages 12 and up (although some at the conference felt that most YA was read by 11-14 year olds)
40-60M words; 240 mss pages
Characters 18 and younger
Can’t be in college
Character drives book
(Caroline Cooney, another speaker at the conference, had this to say about YA: The most terrifying plot in this category is being without friends.)

Middle Grade
Ages 8-12 or 10-12 for older middle grade books
30-50M words, 180 mss pages
Flawed characters, complex, sophisticated writing, series making a comeback, but with limited arcs
Most editors looking for standalone titles
Publishers looking for one book a year from author

Chapter Books
Agegs 7-10
15-20M words, 110 pages
character driven, simple stories

Picture books
Must be evocative
Must be illustrateable
Can be no longer than 750 words

Saturday, August 12, 2006


A friend just informed me that my book, THE FORGING OF THE BLADE, has been nominated for the Children's Literataure Association of Utah's 2007 Beehive list.

What's especially cool is that these books are nominated by kids, so needless to say I'm sending out BIG LOVE to my young readers in Utah!

The really cool thing is that until last November, this book was very close to being written off as going nowhere fast. It had been out for over a year and had less than impressive sales. Then the Texas Librarians nominated it to TLA's 2006-2007 Bluebonnet list and now this Utah list.

I'm beginning to think of this book as "The Little Chapter Book That Could."

Friday, August 11, 2006

More Notes From the Conference

Another speaker at this year's conference who said some things that really resonated for me was Mo Willems, a picture book author and illustrator (Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus, Hyperion Books).

He said that if readers notice the work, then the work is ruined. It should be invisible to the reading experience and nothing should get between the reader and the story. Books should leave open spaces for the reader to participate. In order for the characters to truly come alive, the creator must disappear.

I just love that and think it is so true.

Another thing that he does (and can I just say that I love him for this?) is that he always makes sure that his artwork in his books is simple enough that kids can draw the characters themselves.

I cannot even begin to say how impressed I am by this. Talk about subjugating one's ego for the work! But it's absolutely brilliant and SO giving of him, because of COURSE kids love to try drawing the characters they see in books. And how often is the lovely, breath-taking artwork far beyond the capabilities of their young fingers??

I can vividly remember sitting down with my own kids when they were (much!) younger and drawing with them. It took about 90 seconds before they looked at my drawing and started to get discouraged. Needless to say, I began drawing very messily--not hard since drawing is not my forte.

But here is Mo Willems making sure they have something in a professionally produced book that they are capable of emulating. He gives them hope that they have it within themselves to do what he does.

What a generous gift!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Notes From the Conference

I was recently at the annual SCBWI National Conference and had a chance to hear some amazing speakers. Every year, it seems as if there is one speaker who just really wows me with the power of their words or vision or writing. This year it was Jacqueline Woodson. She read from her amazing Newberry Honor book SHOW WAY, which simply blew me away. It is an autobiographical picture book that tells of her African-American heritage as passed down through the slave women who preceded her. Gave me goosebumps.

She also had some things to say about writing that really resounded with me, so I’m going to share them here.

You must trust the stories without doubt. Never open yourself up to doubt, it will kill the story.

When she was young, she was eager to put the pieces of people together so that they would form a whole story. I thought this was such a terrific way to describe how we writers try to make sense of the world around us.

She reminded us that the energy of devastation serves a purpose, and to use that to fuel our work.

Also, that when we write, try to remember the reader we were as a child and how fully immersed we were in that reading experience, then try to write to that ideal of fiction so that our readers will be as fully immersed in our books.

There is no such thing as writer's block--just the body saying that this is not what you're supposed to be writing. It can also be about fear.

Ask yourself: How will this story heal you by telling it?

Write the story with the most honesty you possibly can.

Your stories can have nothing to do with your physical experience, but should have everything to do with your emotional experiences.

Write to the other side of your emotional pain.

The first line of a book should tell you everything that story is going to be about.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Art Contest For Kids

I thought I'd pass this on to any kids out there who are interested in art (or parents who are interested for them!)

IGES 11th Annual Art Contest for Children in Grades 2-4

*    Theme: "Polar Exploration: Going to Extremes!"
*    Entries due: Nov. 10, 2006

If you think the North and South poles are boring, lifeless places that
have no impact on your life, think again.

The planet's northern (Arctic) and southern (Antarctic) polar areas are
teeming with plants, animals and even people. Polar bears and penguins
aside, these icy regions at opposite ends of the globe are important
pieces in Earth's climate system.

An art contest for grades 2-4 challenges students to pick a polar
region, explore it and then draw a picture showing what they learned.
This is the 11th annual art contest held by the Institute for Global
Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Arlington, Va. The contest supports
national science education standards for grades K-4.

The winning artist will receive a $250 savings bond, and his or her
artwork will be printed as the 2006 IGES holiday card. Second- and
third-place winners receive a $100 and $50 savings bond, respectively.
Artwork will be judged by a panel of artists and IGES staff members.

Entries are due Nov. 10, 2006.

This year's theme -- Polar Exploration: Going to Extremes! -- relates to
the upcoming 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY), a coordinated
effort by the international science community to learn more about the
roles of the polar regions in global processes. IPY will also serve as a
mechanism to attract and develop a new generation of scientists and
engineers with the versatility to tackle complex global issues.

For more information, including contest rules and entry form, fun polar
facts, lesson plans, and a listing of recommended books, movies and Web
sites, please visit:

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fact vs. Truth

I’ve always been fascinated by the way facts intersect with truth. It seems as if a fact would be pretty cut and dried. “My big brother hit me.” That’s a fact, and yet it isn’t necessarily the whole truth. The truth might be that the younger brother did something to provoke the older sibling, or perhaps he tripped and fell against the older sibling’s arm so it would look like he got hit because he was bored and wanted to start something.

That’s one of the reasons police and judges like to get so many different witnesses statements on what they say; everyone sees things in a slightly different way, their perspective colored by the way they view the world.

It’s also one of the things I love to write about, that fuzzy gray area surrounding facts, that bit that’s open to interpretation.

And even facts that are indisputable have different truths surrounding them, and that’s one of the most fascinating things for me to explore as an author.

Fact: Your best friend moved away.

That’s pretty simple, cut and dried, indisputable. But that fact also contains a wealth of truth behind it, truth worth exploring. Because you could feel miserable that your best friend moved away, sad and lonely and sure you’ll never have a best friend again.

Or, you could feel relieved. Maybe your best friend had grown too bossy or domineering and was beginning to suffocate you. Her moving away took care of the problem.

So some people might say that it is a fact that werewolves do not exist, but the truth is, most of us have a beast that lurks deep inside us, hidden in the darkest places of our soul. This beast is the part of us that we like the least, that part of us that does or thinks things we know aren’t right or kind or worthwhile in any way. But that beast is still a part of human nature, just as a werewolf’s beast is part of what makes him a werewolf.

And the truth is that throughout history there have been stories of men who could shift between animal shapes and their own; men who could access animal strengths and use them to make themselves even more powerful. Whenever a theme repeats itself through generations and societies and cultures like that, I tend to think there must be a grain of truth in the premise. As a writer, that’s what I love to do—try to search out that premise or, if I can’t find one, make one up that sounds absolutely true.

So here’s a question while I’m gone: What things do you believe might be true, even though the rest of the world believes that it isn’t?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

And the Winner Is!!!

::drum roll, please::


by means of a web based random number generator.

So Gilly, send you snail mail address to me at and I will get the ARC out to you!

And a big fat thank you to everyone who participated by posting. It is hugely fun to read everyone's comments!

On a logistical note, I'm off at O'dark-thirty Friday morning to attend the SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles. I'll probably post again tomorrow, but will then have radio silence until Tuesday when I get back from the conference.

No, I don't have a laptop that travels with me. How sad, huh?