Thursday, March 19, 2015

De-LAAAAAAYS

You may have noticed that March 17th came and went with no fanfare from me. Which would be normal for most days, except that March 17th was supposed to be the day that my book, BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS, came out.

Yeah.

My co-author Kari-Lynn Winters and I worked really hard on that book. Like, REALLY hard. I lost sleep more times than I care to admit. So did our editors, and the book designer, and everyone else. But unfortunately, things just didn't quite work out. There were layout things and cover things and all kinds of other things, and all the THINGS just took too long.

Sometimes, this happens.

Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, things just don’t go to plan. It's nobody's fault. It's just the way things go.

It’s disappointing, but it’s okay.

I would rather have my name on a great book than a rushed book. I think this is important to remember, for creators everywhere. Producing stuff you're proud of is important.

SO, I’ve been told by my publisher that our new release date will be sometime in JUNE. Just in time to try out the fun activities in the book in the warm summer months! YAAAY! Mark your calendars!

And in the meantime, you can order BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS on Amazon by clicking HERE.


Thanks for your support, and thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When You Wish Upon a Star...

I want to talk with you guys about wishes.

I’m not a particularly superstitious person. I don’t believe that the Universe is out to get anyone, or that the Universe is tilted in anyone’s favor. I do believe that we reap what we sow, but that’s more of an “if you put forward your best self and keep your goals in sight and don’t let the crappy things that happen to you stop you from trying, things will eventually work out in the positive” thing than a Karma or Juju thing.

(Notice that I acknowledge that crappy things happen. They happen to everybody. Nobody’s life is just magically free of crapitude.)

But I totally believe in making wishes.

I wish on everything: falling stars, the first star of the evening, fallen eyelashes, clementine rinds when you peel them off all in one piece, snowflakes



I don’t make wishes because I think that making a wish alone is enough to make something happen. There’s no magic fairy dust that falls on you and changes your reality just because you wished for something. Wishing can’t change the lottery numbers as the machine is popping them out. It can’t make the rain stop, or the temperature go up by ten degrees.

But what wishing CAN do - what it DOES do - is keep you focused. It keeps you moving forward. It reminds you of what you want, so that when the opportunities come, you can take them. And it reminds yo to create opportunities when you can.

Also, it reminds you to keep working for what you want. Emphasis on WORKING. Because working is hard. The discipline is hard to maintain. You need to remind yourself what you’re giving up all this free time for.

Me? I wished for a long healthy life for my kids, which is partly in my (and their) control, and partly up to chance. And I wished to work with an agent. (For about 5 years - yeah. This wishing thing takes TIME.)

Right now, I'm wishing to make a book that is so awesome, people won't be able to help but read it. It might take a while, but I'm gonna keep working on it and wishing for it.

So: wishes. I make them.


What do you wish for?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Announcing...

A while ago, I hinted that I hoped to have some good news to share soon. And then a few posts ago, I mentioned that my trip to New York City for the SCBWI Winter Conference had even more awesome than I was able to include in the post. There's no way you could have known, but those things were connected.

Hee-hee. I know. I'm such a tease.

ANYWAY. You probably want to know what my news is, right?

I bet you do.

Yup.

Have I drawn this out long enough?

How about now?

Okay, NOW. I have.

Okay, already!

I wanted to wait until all the paperwork was finalized, buuuuut, now that the contract has been signed, I am THRILLED to announce that…

I am now represented by the AMAZING Laura Biagi, of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency!

I queried Laura last September and she requested my full in November. After she read my manuscript, we made an appointment to chat in New York on the day that I arrived for the conference. Chatting with her was fantastic - I could see that she had really thought about my manuscript, and I could also see that she really "got it". She is smart and on-the ball, she's a great communicator, she gets and loves what I'm working on, and I am so, so excited to have her by my side as we plan my career together!

So. Laura Biagi, Agent Awesome. MY AGENT. I can't believe I get to type that.

What is this crazy life?

To celebrate, I'm giving away a free query critique. Comment with your email address for one entry, share (and link to your shares in the comments) for more entries. The winner will be randomly drawn at midnight on Friday, March 13th/Saturday, March 14th.

And as always: you guys have been with me since my earliest days, and your support has kept me going through both light and dark moments. I love and appreciate every last one of you. Thanks for stopping by!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

It's a Party!

This is my second blog post in as many days.

I know. Crazy, right?

It’s a little ridiculous. But sometimes, life is just ridiculous.

I’m posting here to direct you to a party! What kind of party? A Facebook party! Which is the best kind, because PAJAMAS, amirite?

ANYWAY.

Some friends and I have teamed up to put together an event to celebrate our books. Come join me, LE Carmichael, Helaine Becker, and Joan Marie Galat while we SPRING into Science! We’ll have cool links, some science chat, a bit of origami, and, best of all, PRIZES! Including four GRAND PRIZES - one from each of us - for four lucky (randomly drawn) people who email us at the designated Spring Into Science email address posted on the event page.

My prize is this awesome collection of Bloodsucker-inspired cookie cutters. 

These will make the BEST COOKIES!

There’s a horse to represent the horsefly, lips to represent the kissing bug, a butterfly (Did you know there is a blood drinking butterfly? Have I given you nightmares now?), a chick to represent the vampire finch, a fish to represent the candiru, and a vampire bat. Awesome, right? I kind of wish I could keep these for myself. Think of all the possibilities!


The party is all online, so click THIS LINK between 1pm and 5pm TODAY, March 7th.

See you there!

Friday, March 6, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Opposite of Geek, by Ria Voros

It's Friday!

You know what that means: a full work-day of scrambling to get all those things done that you still haven't managed to wrap up before the weekend starts and no-one else will be at the office to take your calls!

Also, it's Book Review Day.

(Okay, Book Review Day is the real reason for Friday. That, and staying up late watching movies and making nomming popcorn.)

I've been participating in Ontario's Forest of Reading Program, which is basically a Readers' Choice award program for Canadian books. This means a Lot of Reading. A LOT. There are seventy books on my TBR list before voting starts in April! I've read a few real gems, so I'll be sharing some of those with you guys on Fridays for the next few weeks.

Most recently, I was delighted to discover The Opposite of Geek, by Ria Voros. Here's the blurb:

A piercing novel about the unnerving process of growing up, and a girl finding her feet.
Gretchen Meyers doesn't know exactly what went wrong, but life in the eleventh grade is beginning to suck. As if having a semi-nudist, food-obsessed family wasn't awkward enough, she has lost her best friend to the fanatical school swim team, and her chemistry grade is so close to negative digits that only emergency tutoring can save it. So far, so high school. Then James/Dean rolls into her life — also known as her zit-faced chemistry tutor James and his slightly less zit-faced cousin Dean. Kind-hearted rebels without a cause, they draw Gretchen out of classroom hell, and briefly the world seems full of possibility.
But everything changes over the course of one awful night.
Bewildered by harsh new emotions of grief and love, Gretchen realizes she must now decide who she wants to be and what it means to be loyal. Written partly in verse, as self-confessed poetry geek Gretchen finds new ways of expressing herself, The Opposite of Geek is a tale of haiku, high school, and heartache. Rich with humour, it explores all the anguished details of teenage life through the words of one girl who is finding her way.

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I mean, I can tell you - I enjoyed it a LOT!! - but that's pretty inadequate. After thinking about it, I can break it down into a few key elements:

Characterization: I love the details with which the author imbues the minor characters. Gretchen's dad is German and her mom is Scottish, which plays out in all kinds of interesting little ways throughout the text. There are cliques, whose walls break down as we get to know the characters within them better. There is a guy who is totally hot on the outside, but totally not on the inside. When we talk about a world that is fully fleshed out, a big part of that is having three-dimensional characters living in it, and that is really well-done in this novel.

Playful and Interesting Storytelling Choices: There are moments in which this novel feels like it's been written in free verse, and other moments when it's written in haiku. There are moments wen it's straight-up prose. This could have been garbled and awful and jarring, but in this book, it just all flows and it WORKS. The changes to haiku happen at key emotional beats, when really, who thinks in whole sentences anyway? I felt that I was in good hands the whole time I was reading. I was in the hands of a person who knew how best to tell this story.

Language and Voice: Gretchen is a poet, and she uses phrases like "word sugar". Her voice matches the description we are given of her. That is so much rarer than it should be, and it's a delight when I find a novel in which there is a true synthesis of voice and character.

It all boils down to:

Honesty: The growth that Gretchen goes through in this novel makes sense given the circumstances of the story; the emotions and how the characters express them feel true; the world feels real.

This is a really, really good book, guys. You're missing out if you haven't read it.

Get The Opposite of Geek at your local independent bookstore, or from these online spaces:

IndieBound: CLICK HERE
Chapters: CLICK HERE
Amazon: CLICK HERE

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

SCBWI NYC '15 Redux: The Answer is Always YES

Whew!

The last two weeks have been amazing, guys. A-MAY-ZING. I can't even get into how amazing they have been right now. But I want to share a few of the amazing moments from the SCBWI Winter Conference, because spreading the amazing is something I want to do more of. Since the theme of this conference was Seven Things, I'm going to share seven amazing moments.

Amazing Moment Number One: KWAME!!! Kwame Alexander, who is so nice and generous and wonderful as a human being and as a crafter of words. I attended Kwame's session on writing diverse characters, where he showed us how much work we all have to do to overcome our own biases and preconceptions, and to overcome the stereotypes that we still cling to. (Yes, even the most enlightened of us still cling to stereotypes.) He gave a keynote in which he emphasized the importance of saying "yes" even when everyone around you seems to be saying "no". But also, he remembered me from his session, and he thanked me for coming, and he gave me a hug.

Me and Kwame. Holy Cowpies.
photo courtesy of Hilary Leung

By being who he is, he reinforced the overarching lesson from this conference and from so many other conferences: that we are all in this together, and that by supporting each other and by treating each other as equals, we all rise.

Amazing Moment Number Two: Meeting Jennifer Laughran, who is one of my agent heroes because she is so awesome and so generous online with her advice and her personality and everything, and having a moment to tell her how much I appreciate her blog, and then a split second later seeing her almost cry with happiness when she met Kwame Alexander. Pure awesome. These are my people.

Amazing Moment Number Three: Matisse before dawn.

Eeeep!

The words "The MoMA is open all night and I have tickets to see Matisse at 5:30AM!" were nowhere on my list of "Things I Expect My Friends to Say at a Conference," but they rank pretty high on the list of "Things I Am Likely to Say Yes To." I'm just glad to have friends who are as crazy as I am.

Amazing Moment Number Four: Grand Central Station during the non-rush-hour hours. The feeling of sheer SPACE - like being outside, but inside. There was even a pigeon flying around in there.

A picture of my friends taking a picture of my friends...

Amazing Moment Number Five: Hearing James Dashner talk about his first book and how it sold dozens of copies, and realizing that even though we make such a big deal of debuts, those debuts very rarely define an author's career. As someone whose projects range from bug-based non-fiction to quirky science-y superpower chapter books to edgy YA, I really needed that.

Amazing Moment Number Six: Turning to the writer next to me after Herve Tullet's talk and daring each other to re-invent the levelled reader system. To quote Kwame: IT'S ON!

Amazing Moment Number Seven: Hearing Kami Garcia talk about how she and Margie basically wrote the anti-paranormal, and thinking, I can do that. Not the anti-paranormal, because I don't really want to do that right now, but the anti-(insert genre here). I can look at all the books in a genre and say, "Okay, generally speaking: the girl is always like this; the guy is always like this; the problem always centres around this; the setting is always this…" And I can write something that is the opposite of that.

And so can you guys. So, Go Forth! Write the Amazing Things. I can't wait to read them.

(There was another amazing thing, but I said I'd stop at seven, so that will have to wait for another post.

Heh heh heh.)

Happy writing, and thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's Conference Season! Or: How to Make Friends and Influence Professionals

It's that time of year again, guys! That time of year when we break open the piggy banks, count our pennies quarters, and figure out how many conferences we can squeeze out of our meagre writers' savings earnings!

(Seriously - we all wish we could go to all the conferences. ALA midwinter, SCBWI Winter Conference, the SCBWI Florida regional conference that just happened, but that I still wanted to attend… Right? Wouldn't it be great if we could go to ALL the conferences? But then we wouldn't have time to write anything, so I guess it works out.)

ANYWAY, since we're all planning our conference schedules - and maybe even gearing up for a conference right now? - I thought I'd post some quick "Do"s and "Don't"s for those of you who are getting ready to go to your first big conference, or who have been to a big conference before but just want something to read in the meantime. (I see you procrastinating out there. *wags finger*)

So, here we go: the "Do"s and "Don't"s of Conferencing!

DO: Research the faculty. Seriously, research them. Taking part in the Writers' Critique Roundtable Intensive at SCBWI's Winter Conference in NYC? An editor or agent is going to be sitting at your table and reading your work and listening to you give feedback to other writers. You have no say about whose table will have your name on it. Research the crap out of all of them. Get the whole list of faculty off the website, and go through it. Go to Goodreads and Amazon and check out the books they repped or edited. Figure out what you have in your Drawer of Undiscovered Treasure that might appeal to them, and bring it for your critique session. If you've been writing and polishing for a while, you might have three or four different projects that you could bring. Print 18 copies of each of them, and know which ones you plan to pull out for each faculty member's critique table. If you haven't been writing and polishing for a while, and you have but one shining gem to bring, don't sweat it. If the writing is polished, and you are generous with your feedback, and you listen, you'll get more than your money's worth out of the experience.

(I know the SCBWI website says that each faculty member can speak to all genres, but to that, I respectfully say: horsepuckies. I have been to conferences where a faculty member said something along the lines of, "Well, picture books really aren't my thing and I never read them, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but..." Also, everyone has preferences, and they are generally pretty open and obvious about what those preferences are, because when it comes to submissions, nobody wants you to waste their time. If you look at someone's bio and all three authors they mention working with are authors of YA or MG Fantasy, that tells you something. Again, if you get placed at a table with an editor who edits Fantasy and you wrote Contemporary or an agent who reps novels and you wrote a picture book, don't sweat it. These guys are still readers. They still know a good book when they hear one, and they know how to identify what is and isn't working for them. But if you have more than one Really Good Thing, bring them all. Maximize your chances.)

DON'T: Tell them how much you researched them. Look, it's fine to say, "I read your blog. It's really helpful!" or "You edited that? I loved it!" But don't go saying, "I researched you online, and in this interview and that interview you said blah blah blah, and then I saw that you live in Anytown, and you work on Busy Street, and I couldn't help noticing…" No. You sound like a stalker. You don't want to give them that feeling.

In a similar vein,

DO: Bring Business Cards and Promotional Postcards! and Hand Them Out! Writing and illustrating are basically sitting-alone-in-your-living-room-typing-for-hours kinds of things. This is the biggest opportunity you will have in the history of ever to meet other humans who do the same thing that you do. Even if you're usually shy, handing out a business card is easy. "You're a writer? Me, too. Here's my card with all the stuff on it that I'm too shy or embarrassed to say out loud."

Publishing is a rough game. When those rejections pile up, when you've hit a wall with the mushy middle of your WiP, when you've started seeing double and speaking in tongues because the sleep deprivation has you going crazy, you will need other writers. Writers are your tribe. Find them and find ways to keep in touch with them. This starts with a business card. If the thought of making up business cards makes you break out in cold sweats, try Moo - their templates are all simple and professional and will all look amazing.

DON'T: Hand them out to the faculty. Unless they ask. Trust me, if they want to get in touch with you, they will ask. But there will be upwards of 1,000 of you and only about 25 or so of them, and can you imagine if every single person tried to give every faculty member a business card? They'd need a separate carry-on just for all that card stock.

Also,

DO: Bring something you're working on, and look for opportunities to work on it. My first year at SCBWI NYC, my roommate and I held an impromptu critique session in our room after the roundtable intensive. I've done that kind of thing every time I go to a conference since. Exchange notes; exchange ideas. This is why you're going to a conference, so take advantage of the opportunity.

DON'T: Bring your WiP and try to hand it to a faculty member. Seriously, that is just tacky. That's right up there with calling your relatives to tell them what to give you for Christmas before they've asked. Also, see above in "Business Cards" but replace "carry-on" with "checked bag". Can you imagine having to lug 400 manuscripts home with you? More importantly: let's say the positions were reversed. You just gave a breakout session to 100 people, and then they all rush to the front to give you their printed and bound 300-page documents. Would you even like those people? You'd probably think they were clueless, and that they're so pushy they'll all be hard to work with. Don't be the person that an editor thinks is clueless and pushy and hard to work with.

And speaking of your WiP:

DO: Be prepared to talk about it. Not forever, but have your pitches ready: one sentence, one paragraph, it's X meets Y, etc. People will ask you what you're working on, so pick the one thing that is your Best, Most Shiniest Thing (or just your Most Current Thing) and be prepared to answer their question when they ask.

DON'T: Actively pitch your project to any agents or editors, except at a formal pitch session. Again: tacky. And pushy. Going to conferences is exhausting for everyone, but it's more exhausting when everyone you come across is trying to sell you something. I remember one awards gala I attended: I was chatting with an editor (whom I had just met! See? Editors are nice!) about our childhood aspirations, when someone who was obviously someone she knew came bounding up to her and said, "I have a book idea for you." Her eyes glazed over. Don't be the person who makes their eyes glaze over.

HOWEVER:

DO: Strike up conversations with everyone, including faculty. Editors and agents are humans, too. They like good conversation as much as the next guy. And you already have one thing in common: a love of books! Comment on how good (or awful) the coffee is, offer or ask for advice on the best breakfast danish to try, and ask them what they're reading these days. And if they ask you what you're working on, now you can tell them. But even if they don't, you have just had a nice conversation with another human being who likes some of the same stuff you like, and they've had a nice conversation with you. Win-win. BUT:

DON'T: Tailgate the faculty. Seriously, don't follow them around. If you happen to be waiting for the same elevator, awesome. Chat about how slow the elevator is! (NOTE: The Hyatt elevators are S-L-O-W.) But don't follow them around like eager little puppy dogs. That's stressful and 360 degrees of uncomfortable. Don't whisper about them with the other people in line for the bathroom as soon as they've gone into their stall: "I think that's SuperAgent So-and-So." They can still hear you, and it's creepy. (Yes, someone actually said that to me once while I was washing my hands in the bathroom at a conference. AWK-WARD.) Don't try to strike up a conversation with them every. Single. Time. You. See. Them. Give them a friendly nod and smile to let them know you remember speaking with them earlier, and go talk to someone else so that another writer can talk to them. Keep the room moving. (Unless they seem to want to engage with you, in which case, don't run away!)

DO: Be generous. With your thoughts, your opinions, your desire to make great books and to help other people do the same. (Also, Be generous with your stuff. Bring a supply of gum, breath mints, whatever is your breath freshening item of choice. And share it. Free coffee all day, a bunch of nervous writers and illustrators who probably haven't had time to eat enough… You'll thank me later, I promise.)

DON'T: Forget to listen. This is probably the best advice in this whole post. (Well, except for the breath mint thing…)

Honestly: listen. Getting to know people means listening to what they have to say. Especially listen to any faculty you happen to meet, because whatever they offer you, they offer in the spirit of making amazing books. You might not really hear them for a few years, but listen and store it away for when you're ready to process it.

So. That's my great advice for 2015's winter conference season. Have I missed anything? What advice do you have to give? Leave your tips in the comments, and have a great conference! ALSO: I will be at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC from Feb 6-8. If you're going to be there too, give me a shout about that in the comments, too! Who knows? Maybe we'll end up at the same critique table.

And as always, thanks for stopping by.