Monday, March 10, 2014

SCBWI Winter Conference Wrap-up #1 2014

Every few years, I'm able to find both the time and the funds to get to one of the SCBWI National conferences. The NY Winter Conference rolls around each February, and the LA Summer Conference is in August. Each time I've gone, I've lucked out, because I seem to hit on the Best Conference Ever. (Or is it possible that all the SCBWI national conferences are phenomenal?)

This year, I was lucky to be able to attend the NY Conference on some of the few days that New York has actually had fair weather this winter. I took that as a good omen! That, and the giant head with the Cat in the Hat topper greeting us in the hotel lobby. And my roomie (and Dublin critique partner) Nancy Roe Pimm, who is always smiling, laughing, having a good time. The tone was set! Fun conference ahead.

We started out Saturday morning pre-session sipping tea with a group of ultra cool ladies, including Edith Pattou, Colleen Moidu, and Jill Bixel, and Elizabeth Wein. You'll read more about Elizabeth in the wrap-up, but this illustrates what I adore about the writing community:  Before the conference, I had contacted the British Isles SCBWI chapter to see if anyone might be attending the conference. My current WIP features a Scottish setting and I wanted to make sure I was getting sensory details correct. Elizabeth emailed me and offered to meet up. So gracious. Absolutely love her.

There was so much goodness packed into those two days, it will be hard to fit it all in just a few blog posts, but here are some of the highlights:

In the Welcome, Lin Oliver opened up the conference for the "tribe" by giving the attendance stats. I love when these are announced each conference because it shows how huge, widespread, and yet connected the children's literature community is. There were 1,085 people in attendance, hailing from 47 states and 20 countries.

She introduced Kristen Fulton, an attendee of this years conference who shared her experience of getting an agent and getting published. Karen had been a veterinarian, but discovered she had stage 3 breast cancer just about the time her youngest was moving out of the house. She was unable to continue her career, so she asked herself, What next? She had always wanted to write for kids, so she switched gears, found SCBWI, attended numerous conferences to learn the business and the craft, and wrote, wrote, wrote. She now has a two book deal with Scholastic. Hooray, Kristen!

Jack Gantos's keynote had the entire ballroom in stitches. Awesome, awesome speaker.  Some of the takeaways:

*  "A great character will carry a weak plot, but a great plot will not carry a lousy character."

*  "A reader has to feel what the character feels... without empathy you don't have a good book."

*  "The reason we read books is to change. As writers, we have to infuse change into our writing so that the reader feels it."

*  A great book should have two good endings - the external ending and the emotional one. "At the end of the story you have to solve the problem and bring in empathy."

*  "To be a great writer, you have to be a great reader." (Yes! Yes! Yes!)

Next came the keynote panel: The Future of Authorship. Panelists included Paul Aiken of the Author's Guild, Jean Feiwel, SVP Publishing Director at MacMillan Children's Books; Jane Friedman, web guru and editor, Virginia Quarterly Review; author Abby Gaines; and Timothy Travalini, Director of Children's Acquisitions at Open Road Media.

They discussed the changes in the industry with the growth of e-books, social media, self-publishing, etc.  We have lost 60-70% of our shelf space, Mr. Aiken said. "The opportunity (to succeed) is still there, but we need to adapt."

Ms. Gaines seconded that. She began by building her author platform online and publishing e-books. She made mistakes (says her first book was truly bad) but has learned and adapted and is now a top selling author, with both e-pub and traditional publishing credits.  Ms. Friedman agreed that this was a smart strategy. She says that building author platforms should be organic, slow, and about connecting to readers.

Elizabeth Wein spoke on Bearing Witness, Authorial Responsibility. If you have read her books, CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE, you know the kind of authenticity Elizabeth brings to her books. (If you have not yet read these books, what are you waiting for?)

I assumed the keynote would be about getting our
research correct - and she did speak a bit about that - but she also spoke a lot about our responsibility as authors to be gracious and positive. She noted the jealousy and self-consciousness that can sneak up on us as writers and artists, but says to approach every aspect of our careers with appreciation.

"The tide comes and goes and comes again," she said, and reminded us how important it is to "maintain grace" in the face of both adversity and success. (I.e., send thank you notes, be happy for others' successes, don't post negative comments about anyone in any forum, etc.)

Elizabeth says her message to young readers, all the way from her first book THE WINTER PRINCE, is "Take responsibility for your own actions." Authors should do the same.

The next keynote panel, Banning Books- Where Do We Stand featured Joan Bertin of the National Coalition Against Censorship, author Ellen Hopkins, and Chair of the Pen American Center Children's and Young Adult Book Committee, Susanna Reich.

I admit to skipping out on this one to visit with my dear friend from the area, Jen McAndrews (a huge motivation for me to attend NY conferences), but I do have some notes that were shared with me.

Susanna Reich noted that 72 of the top 100 most challenged books in the past years have been children's books. She also said "To create something, you have to face your own fears." (More on writing bravely later.

Ellen Hopkins, whose books have been banned numerous times, had these words of wisdom to share:
*  You make children stronger by giving them the truth.
*  Pull the books out from under the covers and read them with your kids.
*  If a 13-year-old experiences sexual abuse, shouldn't she have the right to read a book about it??
*  Write bravely. Speak the truth. We have a responsibility to our readers - not the censors.

That should about do it for now. Individual workshop recaps and Sunday wrap-up coming. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 03, 2014

FAST FICTION with Denise Jaden

Rather than doing a traditional interview-filled blog tour, Denise Jaden is celebrating the release of her new nonfiction writing book, FAST FICTION, by dropping tips about writing quickly at every stop of her blog tour, and offering some awesome prizes for commenting on any of these posts (including this one!)

The more you drop by and comment, the more chances you have to win these great prizes:

Denise's Fast Fiction Tip: Be kind to other writers.
I would not be where I am in my writing career without the help of other writers. That’s just a fact. When I first started considering trying to get my work published, my main critique partner was the biggest help to me, not only in fixing up my manuscript, but also in figuring out how to navigate the landscape of publishing, from query letters to the variety of different publishers. I have had other writers read an entire full-length manuscript over a weekend, when I’ve needed some specific timely feedback. I believe my book sales are a big reflection of the writer-friends who have cheered me on and promoted my books to their friends. I’m so thankful for these things, and so it is always part of my thinking now that anything I can do for the other writers in my life, any time, it is well worth my effort. I run a yearly March Madness challenge on my blog each year, offering encouragement and great prizes. I try to offer words of advice and encouragement whenever I can. Do what you can for the writers in your life. Treat their manuscripts as if they are your own. Offer networking connections and promotion when you can. I guarantee it will come back to you if it hasn't already!

The Prizes:

  • Compliments of New World Library: They will be giving away A BOX of copies of FAST FICTION by Denise Jaden and GET IT DONE by Sam Bennett (US and Canada only):
  • Compliments of Denise Jaden, TWO BOXES of great fiction (US Only). Details on Denise's blog.
  • Audiobook copies of NEVER ENOUGH by Denise Jaden!
  • A critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise's agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!

All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter for a chance to win (at the bottom of this post, I've included links to all of the other blogs where you can comment for more chances to win).

About Fast Fiction:

Writers flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November because it provides a procrastination-busting deadline. But only a fraction of the participants meet their goal. Denise Jaden was part of that fraction, writing first drafts of her two published young adult novels during NaNoWriMo. In Fast Fiction, she shows other writers how to do what she did, step-by-step, writer to writer. Her process starts with a prep period for thinking through plot, theme, characters, and setting. Then Jaden provides day-by-day coaching for the thirty-day drafting period. Finally, her revision tips help writers turn merely workable drafts into compelling and publishable novels.

A portion of publisher proceeds will be donated to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Praise for Fast Fiction:

“Fast Fiction is filled with stellar advice, solid-gold tips, and doable, practical exercises for all writers who want to draft a complete novel.”
— Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway

“Being a ‘pantser’ I have always resisted outlining, but I have to say that Fast Fiction changed my mind! Denise Jaden takes what I find to be a scary process (outlining) and makes it into an easy and, dare I say, enjoyable one. Fast Fiction is a hands-on book that asks the right questions to get your mind and your story flowing. I know I’ll be using Fast Fiction over and over again. Highly recommended for fiction writers!
— Janet Gurtler, author of RITA Award finalist I’m Not Her

“Fast Fiction is full of strategies and insights that will inspire and motivate writers of every experience level — and best of all, it provides them with a solid plan to quickly complete the first draft of their next novel.”
— Mindi Scott, author of Freefall

“Fast Fiction provides writers with the perfect mix of practical guidance and the kick in the pants they need to finish that draft. This book is a must-have for writers of all levels.”
— Eileen Cook, author of The Almost Truth

Practical and down-to-earth, Denise Jaden’s Fast Fiction makes a one-month draft seem doable, even for beginners, any month of the year.”
— Jennifer Echols, author of Endless Summer and Playing Dirty

“One of the greatest challenges any writer faces is getting a great idea out of one’s brain and onto the page. Fast Fiction breaks that process down into concrete, manageable steps, each accompanied by Denise Jaden’s sage advice and enthusiastic encouragement. And anything that helps streamline the drafting process is a-okay by me! Fast Fiction is a great addition to any writer’s toolbox — I’ve got it in mine!”
— Catherine Knutsson, author of Shadows Cast by Stars

“Forget the fact that this resource is directed at those wanting to complete a fast draft — if you’re out to get your novel done, period, Jaden’s Fast Fiction will be the kick in the butt that gets you there, from story plan to ‘The End’. . . and beyond.”
— Judith Graves, author of the Skinned series for young adults

Where you can find Fast Fiction:

Help an author out:
Can't get a copy of FAST FICTION right now? I wonder if you'd consider helping out in other ways. I'd really appreciate any way that you can help!

  • Ask your library or bookstore to bring in FAST FICTION
  • Leave a review on Amazon (the more books are reviewed on Amazon, the more they will show up as suggestions for readers).
  • Mention FAST FICTION on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or pin a link to Amazon on Pinterest
Blog Tour Stops:
Comment on any of the following blog posts celebrating Fast Fiction's release to be entered to win prizes galore! 
(All Fast Fiction blog posts should be live by March 9th, or sooner. Contest will be open until March 15th. If any links don't work, stop by for updated links.)

GCC Blogs:

Additional Participating Blogs:

Remember, all you have to do is leave comments to get lots of extra entries to win some great prizes. 
Don't know what to comment about? Tell us the name of your favorite writing book!

Share this widget here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Or, if the Rafflecopter Giveaway doesn't seem to be coming up on this blog, access it here:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Women Can (Finally) Fly!

Photo via
On Tuesday, Lindsay Van, Sarah Hendrickson and Jessica Jerome make history. They will compete in the first ever Olympic Women's Ski Jumping event.

Unbelievable as it may seem, Ski Jumping has been a men's-only event since the Winter Olympics began in 1924. Women were not allowed to compete.

I first learned about this gender inequality in 2006 while I was researching for my book, THE FINNISH LINE, about a ski-jumping American exchange student who trains on the hills in Lahti, Finland. It never crossed my mind when I began writing that book that my character would have no hope of competing in the Olympics because of her gender. Who would have thought it possible in this century?

The Olympics in Turino, Italy were in full swing. I tuned in to watch the women's ski jumpers, only to realize that there were none. I contacted the good folks at  Women's Ski Jump USA, who were kind enough to help me not only with my understanding of the sport and training involved, but of their struggles for inclusion in the Olympic Games.  (You can read more about this fight on the wsjusa website.)

I was living in Japan at that time, and had the opportunity to meet Lindsay Van and Jessica Jerome a little bit later when they came to compete in Zao. I was also able to watch them train that summer in Park City, Utah. I was, and continue to be completely in awe not only of their talent, but also of their poise and grace. Even in the face of denial over and over again by the International Olympics Committee.
Finally, in the spring of 2011, the IOC announced that a women's event would be added to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. And last week, Lindsay Van, Sarah Hendrickson and Jessica Jerome walked into the stadium at opening ceremonies as Olympic competitors. 

I'm so happy for them, and proud of women ski jumpers everywhere who fought long and hard for this day to come. I'll be cheering for them extra loud tomorrow! (I should add that another favorite is from Japan, where I find myself once again, so even though my heart belongs to Lindsay, Sarah, and Jessica, I will also be cheering for Sara Takanashi. But in my way of thinking, no matter who medals, everyone has won.)

*The reasons the IOC gave for the exclusion ranged from offensively sexist ("women shouldn't jump because it can damage their ovaries") to blatantly untrue ("the sport lacks universality" - even though women's ski jumping had more competitors from more countries competing at the highest level than several other women's Olympic sports.) They have earned every eye roll you can give them, but we're staying positive this year, yeah? So yay, IOC, for finally seeing the light!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Share the Love!

It's February, the month of love!

Around here, Valentine's Day is not the holiday it is in the States. The marketing people love it, and Valentine's displays pop up in the stores, but it's not really a Japanese thing. 

I'll tell you what's universal, though... kindness. For example, here's a compilation of dash cam videos from Russia showing simple acts of kindness and compassion:

Notice how these acts don't have to be anything big or planned out. They don't have to cost anything besides a little thoughtfulness and a moment of your time. 

I think it's ingrained in us to be kind to each other. Sometimes we're just caught up in working our way through our own days so we miss the opportunity to make someone else's. So I love it when we get a nudge to rise to the occasion. Take last week's Atlanta "snowstorm" traffic fiasco, for example. Wasn't it magnificent the number of people who went out of their way to show kindness to complete strangers? People walking the highways to pass out food and water to those stranded with their cars, businesses like Target and Lowe's offering shelter, others like Starbucks and Trussville Grill giving away free coffee and food. All the way over here in Japan I read about the SnowedOutAtlanta facebook groups, and the amazing offers of help, delivering food, even opening up homes to perfect strangers who needed to get out of the elements for the night.

What if we didn't wait for the next nudge to look for ways to be kind to those around us? Imagine if everyone decided to look for at least one opportunity to help someone this month. Or even better... We've got four weeks. I'll bet we could each dream up (and carry out!) at least one random act of kindness each week. Let's do it! Let's celebrate Valentine's Day all month long.

Best way I know to share the love!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

To kick off the New Year, Kristina Springer is joining us on the blog. Welcome, Kristina!
 ***tosses confetti***  

For any of you who don't know her, Kristina is the best-selling author

Here's an experience Kristina had with a small act of kindness that caused a ripple effect:

"I love when people pass on small acts of kindness. I was in the drivethru at Starbucks when the person in front of me paid for my drink. So sweet! I paid for the person behind me to pass on the nice gesture."

Perfect! Kindness is contagious.

And now, here's Kristina passing on more kind gestures. To celebrate the paperback release of her book, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, Kristina is having a contest on her blog, wherein the winner will receive a $20 Amazon gift card and all sorts of swag. That should make someone's day!

If you'd like to find Kristina on line, check out her website, connect on facebook, or follow her on twitter.

You can also order her book (which would make Kristina's day!) on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound, or - if you really want to make some bookseller's day- at your local bricks and mortar bookstore!

Have a great weekend, everyone! And don't forget to share the love!

2014 the Year of Kind Acts

Happy Year of the Horse!  Yeah, we're already more than a week in, but I'm still on the road, so it feels like my New Year hasn't really started yet. I'm just finishing up 2013's final vacation.

What plans do you have for this upcoming year? Have you made resolutions? Do you make resolutions?

I'm actually not sure what I do. Some years I make a list of resolutions. Other years I call them goals. Other years I claim that none of that stuff works/matters/makes sense, and I simply keep on keeping on.

This year, however, I have a very strong sense of what I want to do with my shiny new year. I want to make a difference. So, I have one goal/resolution/mantra for 2014: Make the world a better place to live in. That's it. Yes, I am only one, small person, but I can be the pebble that starts a lot of ripples. Every day, I will look for at least one way that I can do something positive for someone else. Every day, just one small, anonymous act that will brighten the day of at least one person. Even when my own day is rotten. Especially when my own day is rotten.

I'd love for ya'll to join me on the adventure! Throughout the year, I will be inviting author friends to come onto the blog and share ideas and/or experiences of kind acts or service. Anything that upped the good things scale up a notch. Even the smallest of actions can have a huge impact. I'd love for us to be part of that impact. And I'd love to hear from you. What can you do to make your world a better place? What has someone done for you that impacted your mood, your outlook, or your attitude?

Here's to the best, happiest, most positive year ever!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

RIP Michael Palmer

Medical Thriller author Michael Palmer passed away last week. So sad.

I've only met the man twice, but he was so kind both times, I've always had a special place in my author fandom for him. 

The first time I met him was when I was attending the Maui Writers' Conference in 2004. I had been enrolled to take a week-long workshop with the great Paula Danzinger, but she passed away shortly before the conference, so I was re-assigned to Bob Mayer's group. Bob was great and I thoroughly enjoyed the group, but I was going into the week feeling rather displaced. As such, I was mindful of others I thought might be feeling the same way. One afternoon at a larger pep-talk session (a break from the intensive workshops), I noticed this quiet, teddy bear-ish man sitting over in the corner by himself. I had no idea who he was, so I thought maybe he was a shy attendee or something, and I went over to talk to him. He didn't act put out that I didn't recognize him or realize what a big deal he was in the publishing world, but kindly whisper-visited with me throughout the presentation. Imagine my surprise (and embarrassment) when I saw him sitting at his table at the faculty signing the next day. I quickly bought Extreme Measures for him to sign, and nervously approached his table. He graciously took the time to talk with me again, and said he enjoyed our chat the day before. Class act.

I met him again in July at the Thrillerfest Conference in New York. I was in the bar area with my friend Carla Buckley, who knows Mr. Palmer through ITW, so she invited him to join us when she saw him across the room. He was there to meet someone else, but he gamely stopped to talk before moving on. I said hello and reminded him of our meeting in Maui years before. Though he clearly didn't remember me, he was again so kind and just went with it. ("Oh, yes. Nice to see you again." Such a kind heart.)

We lost a good one.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yes, so it has been a long time since I "came back" to my blog. Clearly, consistency has not been my companion this summer. A lot has happened since I last wrote, including our location change - I'm now happily blogging from Hiroo, Japan.

But that's not what we're here to talk about. I'm very happy to celebrate the release of my friend and GCC sister Amanda Ashby's newest book, DEMONOSITY. You may have seen Amanda around online (she can be found messing around on twitter, managing her fandom on facebook, or simply being awesome on her website). If you haven't met her, allow me to make the introductions.

Amanda is the celebrated author of YOU HAD ME AT HALO, ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HALL, FAIRY BAD DAY, and the MG series SOPHIE'S MIXED-UP MAGIC. She hails from the Land Down Under, where she earned a degree in English and Journalism. After bouncing between England and New Zealand for a decade and a half, she settled back in Oz with her husband and two kids, where she watches too much TV (kidding), indulges in plenty of good chocolate (not kidding), and writes.

Here's the skinny on DEMONOSITY:

The Black Rose–a powerful ancient force–has been let loose and has taken up residence in Celeste Gibson, popular girl at Cassidy Carter-Lewis’ high school. Thomas Delacroix is the spirit of a fourteenth-century knight who is devoted to protecting the Black Rose, but he needs a contemporary living being to take on the challenge. That’s where Cassidy comes in.
She’s a quirky high school junior who just wants to dress in her vintage clothes, hang out with her best friend, and take care of her father, who is recovering from surgery. She’s the last person who would ever volunteer for such a task, but no one actually asked her.  Now, like it or not, she finds herself training before dawn and battling demons at parties, the mall, and even at school. But hey, no one ever said high school was going to be easy.

Kirkus Reviews calls DEMONOSITY a "paranormal romp", and School Library Journal says it has "satisfying substance." 

Amanda's Writing Tip: 

"I’ve never written a book with a ‘real’ theme in mind before but with Demonosity I knew that my heroine was going to have to make a choice between a good brother and a bad brother and so I decided to explore that during the book. I’ve also always been fascinated with Pride and Prejudice and how Lizzie discovers that the difference between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingham is that one has all the goodness and one has all the appearance of it. And so I went into this book really focused on letting Cassidy discover her own Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingham.
            By doing this, I was surprised at how much fun I had and ended up using the idea of good and bad in a whole lot of other unexpected ways as she explored her relationship with other people in the book (particularly her mother). Probably the biggest surprise was the ending, because I had been convinced that I knew which was going to be the ‘good’ brother but when I came to making Cassidy choose, I was really torn.

            So I guess my writing tip is to not be afraid to use themes and really see how they can apply to all parts of the story, not just the central story. And fun. Fun is always good!"

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Right Time

Well, I'm back. Thanks to all of you who have been hounding me to update my blog and keep you posted about the huge changes and exciting projects on the horizon.

I've been waiting until I "have the time" to jump back into blogging, but I never do, you know? There's always something to be done, especially now. If I keep waiting for the right time, we'll all be waiting forever.

So here's what's up. My family and I are moving back to Japan. These past several months have been a mad dash to pack our stuff, get the house ready to sell, update passports and visas, find an apartment in Tokyo, get the kids registered in the international school, make the rounds to doctors and dentists, plan and execute the farewell tour to say so long to family, an unexpected load of insurance paperwork after being robbed, etc., etc., etc.  Finding the time to work on my writing has been hard enough, let alone blog about it.

But. I've discovered while I was away that there are things I'd love to share with you. And I know what's coming, so I'll want to share that, too.

The blog is not going to be perfect. It may not be pretty. But it's back.

How about you? Is there anything you've been waiting for the right time to start, to finish, or to learn? Share!

And stop waiting!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Popping in long enough to leave a quick note. My apologies to all those who have been checking the blog looking for the writing links. It's been an insanely busy past couple of months and I haven't been able to keep up with them.

In fact, I will likely switch methods of passing the links along as I have less and less available free time. So, the bad news is that I'm suspending the roundup blog posts for now. The good news is that this has become necessary because I have several projects going that are eating up my time.

I'm still happy to pass along links to great writing posts when I see them, most likely on my twitter feed here: and on the "Writing" board on my pinterest page here

This blog will stay open, but the posts will be infrequent until I have time to start them up again. If you are a subscriber, of course, you'll get an alert when there's a new post. If you're not, please check back, or you can subscribe with the little button to the left.