Monday, October 31, 2011

Spooktacular Posts!

Happy Halloween! In the spirit of Halloween, I've lurked some pretty awesome blogs this weekend and thought I'd share a few. So if you're on the haunt for some Halloween-ish posts today, lurk away!

Need a costume? Want to be Katniss, Bella, or even Claudia Kishi? Check out Sarah Enni's ensembles here, here, and here. Oooh! Here too!

And if you're thinking Luna Lovegood? Check out Jessica Love's costume. AWESOME!!!

Haven't carved the pumpkin yet?! Check out YA Highway's templates and their pumpkin carving contest too!

Spook yourself with some freakish zombie pics at Slice of the Blog Pie! YA Audiobook Addict shares her favorite pumpkin-flavored treats. Or share your scary stories with Rebecca Behrens!

Writing suspenseful scenes?! Check out Katherine Owens advice.

If you're in the mood for spooktacular chocolate chip pumpkin bread, check out Katy Upperman's recipe here.

And you should totally check out the epic Halloween chain story at YA Confidential! And add a line or two yourself!

Enjoy! I'll be sure to share pics this week of the Zombie Prom Queen and Luigi (aka my children). Mama may even break out the Winnie the Pooh Costume. Hope you have a super spooky and funtastic Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Book Club: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Around the beginning of September, Tracey Neithercott suggested a most brilliant idea: a virtual Fall Book Club. A group of writers and readers propose a book to read, return a month later and post a review, and then hop around to all the other fabulous book thoughts.

This month's book?

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?


• The animated back-and-forth between Karou and her best friend Zazuna. The dialogue between them flowed beautifully and just felt so real, real enough I felt like I was eating goulash at a table with them in Poison Kitchen. I loved Zazuna’s loyalty to her friend. I love that she gave Karou crap about certain things, but then let her have her space and her secrets too. Okay, I guess I just loved Zazuna.

• The writing—the flowery prose, the perfectly placed metaphors, the dialogue, the battle sequences, Karou’s inner dialogue—okay, there was a lot to love about the writing.

• The setting—specifically Prague. The Charles Bridge, the Poison Kitchen, the maze of streets that seem haunting yet beautiful—Laini Taylor made me feel like I was there. My brother’s been to Prague twice and I’ve always been jealous of his Czech travels. Now I really want to start saving for my own trip.

• Karou’s sketches, her strength, her VOICE. That despite how much the right choice hurts, she STILL makes it.

Case in point: (starring Karou and ex-boyfriend Kaz(aka super bad boy))

“Get Svetla to be your vampire vixen,” she said. “She’s got the vixen part down.”

He looked pained. “I don’t want Svetla. I want you.”

“Alas. I am not an option.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, reaching for her hand.

She pulled back, a pang of heartache surging in spite of all her efforts at aloofness. Not worth it, she told herself. Not even close.

• Brimstone—he’s Karou’s father figure, the one who sends her on her teeth-gathering errands. Stern, yet soft. Aloof, yet concerned. He reminded me of Henry Jones Senior (Indiana Jones’ dad), you know, until he dealt out love advice to Karou:

"I don’t know many rules to live by,” he’d (Brimstone) said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles—drug or tattoo—and…no inessential penises, either.”

Inessential penises.

Love. Easily one of my favorite characters.

PS—Karou’s response was classic. But I’ll let you read the book for that one.

• Quotes like this:

Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.

HOPE—it’s the heart of the novel. And I love me a good story about hope.

What I enjoyed:

• The magic—Karou “collects” languages and makes scuppy wishes for blue hair. Love.

• Kaz—the manipulative ex-boyfriend. I know. I shouldn’t like him, but I’m a sucker for a good bad boy.

• The premise. I am not an angel/demon/otherworldly creatures kind of girl, but this story had an incredibly unique twist to it. And I very much enjoyed the mystery behind the teeth. And the otherworldly war. And creatures I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to root for.

And now for what I didn't love:

• The writing. I KNOW. I just said I LOVED the writing. But sometimes, Taylor was a little too descriptive or overly metaphorical. Or the pace slowed too much where I disengaged from the story—mid-chapter. At times, yes, the writing pulled me out of the story.

• The last one hundred pages. Without trying to spoil it—necessary back story and realizations conveyed in a way that, at first, confused me—for several chapters. I was so busy trying to figure out what was going on and was consequently taken out of the story. And I didn't like that.

And PS—just so you know, I almost didn’t review this book. I typically review books that I’m in LOVE with and want others to fall in love with too. And I felt like there was something seriously WRONG with me because I just didn’t love Smoke and Bone as much as everyone else did. And I didn’t want to make someone (who might LOVE it) shy away from it based on my review.

Because I did love the myriad of characters. The premise. Karou. Okay, there was a lot to love about this book!

But I just didn’t completely connect. Maybe it’s my love hate relationship with angel/demon books. Maybe it was the last hundred pages.

Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

Would I recommend it? Yes. For all the LOVE and enjoyed reasons above. And because there are some books I’m not super crazy about that others may fall completely in love with.

So, did you ever read a book that everyone else LOVED and you didn’t? (Or am I the only weird one?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RTW: October Love

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:

What was the best book you read in October?

Off the October TBR list:

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

First Draft in Thirty Days by Karen Wiesner

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff (currently reading)

I think you’ll agree I read some pretty awesome books this month: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (more on that Friday), Invincible Summer (only one that merited five Good Reads stars from me), Imaginary Girls... Yep. My October reading list rocked.

But the best book I read this month?

In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.


Uh-huh. Yoda.

Beat out Chase, Chloe, even Karou, Yoda did. LOL funny, it is. Depicts perfectly that awkward stage called middle school, it does.

October is always a month where my life is not my own, I play fifty different roles to fifty hundred people, over-impose on babysitters, and don't sleep a whole lot. In a month where sometimes things get so crazytown, I literally struggle to breathe, this quirky wad of fun uplifted me, made me laugh snort with every Tommy "case file," and was just so simple and fun tonight, I will.

And it's Yoda, people. I can STILL recite every Star Wars movie verbatim. Han Solo's Never Tell Me the Odds is my daily mantra. I buy Star Wars Legos for my son myself and made my son dress up as Obi Wan for Halloween last year. Dude. Of course it's going to be my favorite book this month.

So, how about YOU? What's your fave October read?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I Always Go Back to the Beach

Sorry I missed my normal Friday blogging. I left at oh-dark thirty Friday morning for the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach and am STILL on such a high from it. I’ve attended this conference for the past three years, met some of the most amazing people there, and always have a super awesome time.

While there, I attended inspiring sessions with super amazing agents and editors like Sarah LaPolla, Chuck Sambuchino, Molly O’Neill, Alyssa Henkin, Mollie Glick, and so many more. In-depth highlights forthcoming, but here's just a bit of the awesomeness:

1) James Frankel discussed narrative strategies and inserts gems like “Follow your bliss” and talked about reading in an entranced state and “You don’t want to wake up the reader.” And there were so many other GREAT pieces of advice—I’ll be doing a follow up post on that session.

2) I was inspired by Molly O’Neill’s passion for the industry and the creative editing side of the business. I knew I wanted the whole editing part of the process if I ever sign with a publisher. Now I KNOW I want it.

And, uh…without going all crazy fangirl, let’s just say she’s the woman behind Divergent. And I ate dinner with her one night and she is super nice and intelligent and well, I’m really glad I got to meet her.

3) I have some major WIP issues and I know what I need to do to fix them. Attending sessions and talking it out with agents validated that.

4) Eating dinner with author Andrew Gross. Extremely down-to-earth and funny. He’s co-written six books with James Patterson. The Women’s Murder Club. With James Patterson.

James Patterson.

5) That query I was working on? Well, with the help of one of my fabulous CPs, Alexandra Shostak, I cleaned that baby up and had a query critique with an agent. He couldn’t find anything wrong with it. And he requested a partial. Oops. Guess I better hurry up on those revisions.

6) Meeting other writers and talking about writing and what you write and the sessions we all attended and celebrating with one another when pages were requested and who we’re going to sit with at dinner and…STILL on a high from those conversations. And I know from previous experience that some of those same people will become lasting friends. Sometimes critique partners or beta readers. And the people I met were just super wonderful and just really, really nice.

7) The conference hotel was at the beach. No, really. My room had a balcony overlooking the beach and I sat outside and tried to do work while staring at the ocean. I think that’s reason enough to go back, don’t you?

8) The food. Ahhh…the FOOD. Where do I start? All kinds of mouth-watering, yet all kinds of healthy.

9) Oh, and I attended a slush fest in which super brave writers offer up their first two pages for critique. Molly O’Neill and Alyssa Henkin ran the session, but needed someone to read the pages. Yeah, I volunteered. It was cool. Except when I had to read my own. FIRST. And the shake in my voice reminded me of when I’d do cold read auditions for community theatre. But, I enjoyed that. Bonus—they said they’d read more pages. And unless my voice shakes gave me away, they didn’t know it was mine.

10) Silent auctions. Baskets of books being auctioned off. I always seem to get outbid on all my book offers, but I’ve left the past two years with amazing artwork.

And while going to this particular conference had a gazillion highs, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the lows.

1) My daughter got sick (my children ALWAYS seem to get sick or hurt while I’m away. Boo.)

2) I missed my son's soccer game. And my husband's. And a Halloween party.

3) I used downtime to catch up on school work. And consequently, had no time to write.

4) Now that I’m back at school, I have to play catch-up. Hello, paperwork overload.

5) I missed Homecoming on Friday. It’s an easy day to miss in terms of classroom responsibilities, but I *sniff* missed all the fun.

Notice how ALL of those are non-conference related. Yeah. It was a pretty freaking awesome conference. There were a few teensy lows. Like that one session I attended that was misleading and mis-informative. I snuck out early. And now know what agent I won’t be querying. So I pretty much considered that a plus.

Overall, I learned a lot and had a wonderful time. I’m not going to lie. It’s costly to go to a writers conference. But so, so worth it.

So, have YOU been to any writers conferences lately? What’s YOUR best experience with them? Or your worst?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RTW: In the Name of Love

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:

What's your numero-uno reason for writing?

Easiest question EVER.

I write because I LOVE it.

There is nothing like the feeling of being in the zone, totally immersed in a different world, completely attached to my babies, my loves. And there are so many times when I’m writing when I don’t. Want. To stop. There is nothing like having images and ideas and dialogue and SO MUCH AWESOMENESS zap you at any minute, hour, second of the day. Characters that are STILL with me even when I haven’t “talked” to them in months. Stories and ideas sticking in my head twenty-four/seven. The rush that comes after a productive writing session.

The thrill of reading back over something I’ve written.

The high that lingers for days.

I’m not going to lie to you. Writing is hard work. There are days I stare at a blank screen, maybe typing two sentences in an hour. Days where I revise the same chapter fifty times and have to break from it. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing, into revisions—killing off characters I’ve grown attached to, cutting scenes I fell in love with, losing that killer line because it just doesn’t work anymore.

But I even love all that. It can be excruciating and heart-breaking. And the scary possibility is that despite all my efforts, I may never find an agent or a traditional publisher. But I will continue to write. It’s the passion that sustains me, that drives me. That keeps me sane in my crazy hectic world.

I won’t give that up. I’d be breaking my own heart. About a katrillion times over.

So, how about YOU? What’s your primo reason for writing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Query Minded

I spent the past week roughing out a query for Franken-novel*, and I needed some focus, sooo today I’m blogging about queries: why I’m writing one NOW and my “offensive” mindset with it. Enjoy the rant, my inner repartee. Scattered side benefits.

If You've Never Written a Query...

Some Dos and Don’ts, courtesy of the Write Brained Network conference, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, and Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary.

General Things to Include:

1) Word Count

2) Genre

3) Personalization (DO THIS!!! TRUST ME!!!)—Personalizing your query says you’ve done your homework (researched the agency, know what kinds of books the queried agent represents,…) and just might be the extra edge in getting a request. Plus, it’s just nice. Agents get a kazillion queries a week—make yours stand out.

4) Short Bio—any previous publications, writing credits, professional writing organizations,…

5) Pitch (Hook)

6) Mini-synopsis (2 to 3 paragraphs) to include the Four Cs

a) Character
b) Care
c) Conflict
d) Consequences

7) Voice

8) And all of this should happen in 250 words

250 words.

It’s possible. And it’s a great exercise in answering the question What’s my book really about?

Here’s what the lovely wonderful agents said you should NOT include:

1) “This is what my cover should look like!”

2) Opinions

3) Age (yours)

4) How long you wanted to be a writer

5) Crazy fonts

6) Your picture

7) Not more than one project at a time

All super sound advice coming from two fabulous agents. And as I sat down to rough out my own query, I also turned to some truly spectacular advice I received last year through Writeoncon from Author Jodi Meadows.

Jodi enjoys queries, and her post gets you focused on your own query writing with four essential questions

1. Who is the protagonist and what is their goal? (Motivation.)

2. What is keeping the protag from achieving that goal? (Conflict.)

3. How will the protagonist overcome this problem? (Plot.)

4. What happens if the protagonist fails/what choice does the protagonist have to make? (Stakes, and why the reader should care.)

Then (love this), she pretty much sums up what should be in each sentence in each paragraph of your query. Seriously. SO HELPFUL.

And then she gives even more pointers, like Focus. Your story may be filled with lots of subplots and secondary characters with their own agendas, and that’s cool, but focus. Main character, main plot, and tells you what your query should reveal about your story.

Whatever level of experience you have with query writing, you’ll gain A LOT from Jodi’s advice.

So Why Am I Writing A Query?

Yeah. Why AM I writing a query? I am months away from sending one off. Franken-novel is FAR from being done. Actually, it’s in super early revision stage.

Writing my query helps me to focus on my story. I have a lot of subplots weaving throughout my novel, but the query helps me to focus on that main plot thread. And I NEED that. What is the main goal of my protagonist, what is standing in his way, and what the heck will happen if he doesn’t achieve his goals?

I tend to get caught up in all my little storylines, and sometimes I lose focus of what my story’s really about. The query helps me put that in perspective. And then all the teensy little subplots work to align themselves with my protagonists goals.

Offensive Player or an Offensive Player

As seen above, there are certain dos and don’ts with querying. Rules to play by. And you want to play it safe.

But sometimes you want to take some risks too.

That’s where I’m at right now with mine. If you’ve been around my blog long enough, you know my protagonist is an eighteen year old recovering manwhore with a er,…special super awesome supernatural power. He’s a quarterback with a long-standing bromance with his left tackle (football speak for blindside) and has an offensive-laden circle of friends. And when they hit the field, they pretty much have to have an offensive mindset: attack, play aggressively, take some risks to get the job done.

Some of his friends transfer said offensive mode to life, girls, drinking, um...other guy stuff.

And sometimes the offense gets a little offensive—ya know what I mean?

And I felt the exact same way when I planted my butt in a chair, opened a new doc, and started typing THE QUERY.

Here’s the mini-synopsis of the first hour:

Typed first line.

Deleted it.

Wrote the same thing again.

Deleted and rewrote it a few more times.

Why? Because my first line** of my query, my hook, my lead in to my pitch…

It just might be a little offensive. It might piss some people off.


Bu-ut that first line SCREAMS my character, the story, voice,…EVERYTHING. It’s so freaking perfect and I love it and I really don't want to cut it, but I don't know if I should keep it in my query because someone's going to tell me You do not want to go there and...


However - and maybe this is wishful thinking - my first line might just turn some people on too.

My point (and yes, I do have one) is that you’re never going to please everyone. Not everyone is going to like your story and some people might even be “turned off” by it. Gosh, I used to live my life by the try to please EVERYBODY motto. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing. And it does. Not. Work.

Bottom line, peeps—you have to do what’s right for your story. You have to stand by your man (or woman). Play by the rules, but take some chances too. It’s okay to take RISKS. To stand out. As long as you’re true to your story. To your characters. And to yourself.

Be an offensive player.

And sometimes be an offensive player.

As my boys find out in my story, some people like that. And some people don’t.

But the payoffs could be monumental.

* Franken-novel is not the title of my book. If you're curious, click here.

**I kept that first line. And no, I’m not revealing what it is here (I’M SUCH A TEASE). If you absopositively cannot make it through your day without knowing, inbox or email me (alisonmiller20(at)gmail(dot)com). I’ll share.

Are YOU querying? What risks have YOU taken lately?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest! And Some Friday Fun!

Alex Cavenaugh and Matt of the QQQE are hosting a Pay It Forward Blogfest! The idea is to introduce others to three bloggers you find awesome. Here’s how it works: In my post, I’ll list, describe, and link to three blogs that I enjoy reading. Then YOU can visit them! Fun!

PS - just so you know - this was super hard. I can’t just pick three! But I had to and so I did. And here’s why I chose these fabulous blogs.

Katy Upperman: If you want beautiful writing, awesome book reviews and recommendations, inspiring pictures, clever and insightful posts, and just incredible motivation, visit her site. She blogs several days during the week and is just a super fabulous person. I'm so glad I've gotten to know her on my writing journey.

Jennifer Hoffine: Another super awesome writer friend who has MANY insightful words of wisdom about the publishing industry, writing, and really good books. And she hosts these AMAZING once-a-month contests that are super easy to enter. I've already won several ARCs and look forward to participating (and maybe winning!) each month.

And I'd be remiss (and a total FOOL) if I didn't pay it forward to YA Confidential. I may be biased, but the blog is full of awesome. We have teen spies that contribute to posts on a regular basis, we sponsor book giveaways every Thursday, and my writer friends who contribute to the blog rock!. Check out YA Confidential: All things teen, all the time.

So, check out these awesome blogs. You won't be disappointed. Trust me.

And it’s Friday Fives over at Paper Hangover! This week they’re looking for my five favorite childhood books. Well, far be it from me to follow the rules. I can’t remember many books I read during my childhood, so I’m choosing five I love now!

Knuffle Bunny. Seriously the best children’s book EVER.

Are You My Mother? I’ve read this to both my children SO many times in various voices and I never tire of it.

Anything Junie B. Jones. She’s a hilarious little whipper snapper. So, so funny. And my son has a friend who is so much like Junie B. She walks in a room and I laugh!

No, David! (and anything by David Shannon). These books were written for my husband. I SWEAR.

Little Critter (Mercer Mayer). Short, sweet, and totally adorable. I could read those over and over again.

And finally I leave you with a new discovery in the Miller household: Cleverbot

Try it. Type in a question. Or a statement.

You’ll be on that site for hours.

So, any blogs YOU frequent that I should know about? What are YOUR favorite children's books?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

RTW: It's All About the Climb

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


This week's topic:

What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic Jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Three years ago, I began what I hope will continue to be an exhilarating roller coaster writing ride. I roughed out a “fun” novel in four months just to see if I could finish something, four months later I banged out a different story, and thought, Hmmm. I might have something here.

And I did. Maybe not something everyone else wanted, but I had the beginnings of a new passion. I had babies I absolutely fell in love with. And a desire to write about them twenty-four/seven.

I learned the fine frustration of querying. I attended my first writer’s conference. I networked with other writers. And met the first of my fabulous CPs.

I got rejected. I cried (publicly) when my work was shot down. I wondered if my babies would ever see a B&N Book Shelf.

I came out of the writer’s closet to my friends.

I wrote another story. I joined and participated in writer’s organizations. I connected with more writer-ly people. And gained a few more awesome CPs.

Gosh, there’s so much out there!

I started a blog. And came out of my writer’s closet to the world.

That was a little exciting. And a whole lot scary.

I queried another novel. Requested! Rejected. I entered writing contests. And I won some! But, I lost some too.

Fears of never signing cloud my head with self-doubt. I keep writing anyway.

I met some fabulous new friends at SCBWI. I joined platform-building crusades. I met the awesome RTWers I now connect with more than once a week. I’m learning SO MUCH.

I finished the rough draft of another novel. I started blogging at YA Confidential. And joined two book clubs. Busy, busy, busy.

I continue to revise, stay hopeful, and, more importantly, love everything I do. And I try to maintain a healthy balance amongst family, work, and passions.

There have been a lot of tears and frustrations, but so much LOVE. I can’t imagine my life without writing, the incredible rush of creating, crying and laughing at stuff I write, feeling the joys and heartbreaks of my characters. The feeling of finishing something and reading back over it. The scary, torturous yet invigorating thing called revisions.

The learning. The highs and lows of querying. The SUPPORT. The new friends.
EVERYTHING is hard. And frightening. And yet so, so AMAZING.

That’s been my writing journey so far. There’ve been mountains and straight-aways. Times I’ve veered off the path. But I always find my way back.

How about YOU? Where are you at on your writing journey?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reading for Pleasure?

I try to read two books a week. In recent conversation, I casually mentioned this fact to a few friends of mine and they looked at me like I’d grown a third ear—on my eyelid. They said, “I don’t know how you do that.” And I thought to myself, “How can I not do that?”

Look, I’m as busy as the next person, but reading is a priority to me. Often it takes precedence over exercise. Sometimes *gasp* it takes precedence over writing. It’s relaxing, it’s fun, and it’s a gihugic learning experience. Here are just a few of the reasons why I read as much as possible.

1) There are so many good ones (on my bedside table) waiting to be read. (Invincible Summer, Personal Demons, Going Bovine…) And publishers and authors keep putting out new ones. (Lola, Mara, Daughter of Smoke and Bone,…)

And I really want to read them all RIGHT NOW.

But since I can’t *sigh*, I read a little bit here and there.

2) Inspiration. I’m inspired by beautiful writing (The Sky is Everywhere, Before I Fall, The Forest of Hands and Teeth), by phenomenal voice (Hourglass, Maximum Ride), by just super awesome stories (Hunger Games, Divergent) and it makes me want to be a better writer. Sometimes, reading really good stuff rejuvenates me. And I want to open a new doc and write for hours. (and hours and hours and hours and...)

3) Reading reminds me that the business is subjective. That there are “not so great” books out there.

PS - notice I didn't put any pics for this one. Why? Because what doesn't work for me, may work for you. And I like to stay positive while making a point. And...that is all.

4) Research. Not intentional most of the time, but I’ve read so many books in the past year that have helped answer WIP questions – are my paranormal origins sound? Is there a market for my book? Can one of my main characters really get away with that thing I can’t tell you or it would spoil the story? (Perfect Chemistry, Shut Out, Boy Toy, Perfect, Jinx, Teach Me, Save the Cat, Moonglass, Swim the Fly, Before I Fall, The Sky is Everywhere, Ripple,...)

5) Reading EXCEPTIONAL work strengthens my own writing. I want to get more in tune with my senses. With my character’s senses. I strive to be more consistent and concise—in EVERYTHING. I aspire to make every scene move the story forward and to make EVERY WORD COUNT. (Hunger Games, Anna and the French Kiss, I am Number Four, Ripple, Freefall, Divergent, Hourglass...)

6) I learn stuff—about others. About myself. (Thirteen Reasons Why, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Heaven is for Real, Speak, The DUFF, Wintergirls, The Perks of Being a Wallflower...)

7) I really do enjoy reading. It’s NEVER a chore. I love losing myself in a book for several hours. I fall in love with characters. I immerse myself in new worlds. I laugh. I cry. And I especially love when a story sticks with me long after I finished reading. (Hunger Games, Perfect, Beauty Queens, Where She Went, Looking for Alaska, Boy Toy, Room, Before I Fall, The Help, Maximum Ride, Sisterhood Everlasting, Will grayson, Will grayson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Burned...)

So, that's why I read. I'm not always successful with my "two a week," and am often difficult to deal with when I'm deprived of my reading time, but it's been a fairly manageable goal for me. And a most enjoyable one too.

PS - speaking of reading, check out YA Confidential and read what Copil Yanez (our guest blogger) has to say about writing like a guy. Hi-larious.

And how about YOU? Read any good books lately? Do YOU have reading goals? What are some of the reasons YOU read?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Fives! Writing Inspiration

It's Friday Fives over at Paper Hangover! This week they want to know

There's definitely more than five, but I'll share a few of the things that get the creative juices flowing...

1) Rereading my work. You know—the occasional good stuff. I reread it and fall in love with my babies all over again and get super inspired to keep writing about them!

2) Visiting different settings from my stories, er...the ones I can get to. Friday nights find me on the football sidelines. I watch the game, I take the stats, I cheer for my school's team. But my mind does drift - to my stories, my characters. My WIP cast includes football players and cheerleaders, and I often scribble extensive "notes to self" in my stats book.

And while part of my current story takes place in or around the football stadium, another setting involves the beach. Sometimes I go to the beach simply to be with my characters. Okay, that’s a total lie – we all know I go to get my tan on, but I do sit and stare at the ocean, get inspired by the crashing waves, the salty air, the texture of sand between my toes. The crazy kids (and adults) playing in the ocean. The adorable little girl collecting in her pail every seashell she finds. Sometimes I just kick back and imagine what my characters might be doing. And then I go home and write about them.

3) Talking about my story with critique partners or writer friends or my husband or my closest betas. I get very juiced and rejuvenated when I gush about my passions.

4) Taking a walk. This not only works my body. It also exercises my mind.

5) My children. My students. So many of them have unknowingly (ha) inspired a character or a quirk or a “look” or a name. They are my perpetual muse. And I heart them completely.

How about YOU? What inspires you to write?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RTW: Side Kick Super Star

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:

What supporting character from a YA book would you most like to see star in their own novel?

Let’s see if you can find the common thread running through my choices.

Hassan: Big, lazy, funny, but extremely loyal. He’s the perfect complement to Colin’s seriousness. And I want to see him get the girl. And be loved as much as I love him. A book about Hassan would be off-the-charts HILARIOUS.

PS – would also bowl over other book-loving moms for a novel about the Colonel (Looking for Alaska) or Tiny Cooper (will grayson, will grayson) or Ben Starling (Paper Towns). Similar reasons.

Peeta (Hunger Games) Would just love to get inside his head – when he allies himself with Cato, when he declares his love for Katniss, when she snubs him. When she doesn’t.

And he deserves a whole book because he’s Peeta. That is all.

Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter): I would love to watch his transformation from skittish Hogwarts nerd to Mr. Valiant.

Cash Sterling: He is THE typical guy. Okay, maybe not completely, but when he kisses Lissa and then doesn’t call her because he doesn’t think she wants him to? Twice? Grrr.

Kody Keplinger does an amazing job of getting the reader inside character’s heads that aren’t the mc, but I really want to hear HIS story.

Iggy: He can fly. He’s blind. And he can make a mean chicken cordon bleu. And he likes to blow things up. Yeah. He needs his own series.

Notice what they all shared? Yep. A Y-chromosome. But I do have one female I’d love to see featured in her own story.

Jessica Gaither: She’s so na├»ve and bouncy and I just want to protect her from all the mean girls. And sprinkle love potion on her when she’s dancing with Harrison. And I would LOVE to see the transformation from gopher freshman to slightly more confident upperclasswoman.

Oooh! Make that two! I would love to see a book about Queen Josephine and her Drunken Merry Band of Bodacious Pirates. Get on that, Libba Bray! I want a sequel to Beauty Queens!

There are so many more supporting wonderfuls popping into my head. I could go on (and on and on), but I'll be quiet now.

How about you?! What supporting character from a YA book would YOU most like to see star in their own novel?

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Interview with Cambria Dillon! Another ARC contest! And Giveaway Winners!

I had the amazing pleasure of interviewing Cambria Dillon for the Write Brained Network, an online writing community connecting writers at every stage of development. The interview posted Saturday for members of the WB, but I wanted all my faithful blog followers to get to know her too.

Without further blahg rants, here’s the interview!

This month, meet super amazing Cambria Dillon, YA writer represented by Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst and Associates Literary Management. She’s also married, a mother, contributes writing-related posts on THREE different blogs, and these days, she plans her life around her daughter's favorite shows—Dora the Explorer and Diego—and Ravens football.

Today, she shares her thoughts on writing, revising, submissions, and how to stay sane as a working and writing mom.

AM: How did you get into writing?

CD: My parents dragged me on a cross-country road trip when I was around eight or so and forced me to listen to an old guy narrate Huckleberry Finn on audiotape. For eleven hours. No joke. The only salvation I found was with a new notebook and a pen, and I wrote so much my fingers had dents in them for days. My first story was about a ghost/angel named Amy who rode around on a motorcycle and tended a garden. I think there's a market for this!

AM: Ha! Love it. But what a great lesson in using time productively!
I understand you write Contemporary YA. What drew you to this genre? Do you see yourself branching off into other YA genres? Or into adult fiction?

CD: I actually started out writing adult paranormal romance and aside from squirming when it came to the more, ahem, intimate scenes, I quickly realized my voice was better suited for YA. The story that really kept me up at night (the one that got me my agent) just happened to be a contemporary story…however, not all my projects are contemporary. And that's all I'm going to say about that. ;)

AM: Well, I’m intrigued! From where do you draw inspiration for your writing—the settings, the characters, etc…?

CD: I draw inspiration from real life—news stories, a blurb on the side of a bus, a haunting photograph, a couple arguing in the doorframe of a bar bathroom, a teen who wipes away a tear when she thinks no one is looking. So I guess all of the above!

AM: Do you have a method to your writing? A plotter or pantser? A certain time of day you need to write? Or are you more whimsical about the whole process?

CD: CONFESSION: I'm a pantser who secretly aches to be a plotter. I have the Staples reward card and a whole drawerful of unopened index cards and notebooks to prove it! Except recently, I came across Blake Snyder's, Save the Cat, and did something I've never done before – I plotted out a whole book in fifteen beats (and then some). A whole book! I don't think y'all understand the kind of angel-singing miracle this is, but rest assured I think I found my happy medium to pantsing AND plotting.

As far as my writing rituals…I have a hard time writing during the day, so my prime time is usually after my daughter is in bed (usually around 8:30) until 1 a.m. or so. Coffee is a must in the morning, for sure!

AM: Wow! I’m impressed! And I LOVE Save the Cat! Excellent craft book.
Do you have a writing hero? An author or mentor who helped shape who you are as a writer? If so, how did that person have that effect on you?

CD: I have a lot of writing heroes, but lately my writing heroes are children's picture book authors (LOVE Mo Willems!). I read a lot to my daughter and it always amazes me how picture book writers can capture a child's attention with so few words. I strive to be so succinct and purposeful in what I put on the page.

AM: Not only do you maintain your own fabulous website, but you also blog over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing! Wow! Can you tell us a little about your role and how you got involved?

CD: Martina Boone is one of the founders of ACP and she's also one of my amazing critique partners. She and Marissa (ACP's other fabulous co-founder) asked me if I wanted to help out since the blog had grown, so I started contributing to some of the Tuesday Craft posts.

I'm also part of a new blog, called YA Confidential, with a group of five other YA writers. Our slant is more on helping writers understand today's teens by really uncovering what it is that makes them tic, what gets them excited, what makes them supremely teen. We even have a group of teen "spies" who are going to help us get the dirt! It's SUPER exciting!!!

Biased interviewer comment: EVERYONE should check out Cambria and her posts at YA Confidential. Fabulous!

AM: You are a wife, a mom, and have a day job. When do you write? How do you balance it all? What does an average day look like for you?

CD: Haha! Who says I'm balancing it all? :) I work about 50-60 hours a week at my day job, so basically everything else I do is pretty much at night…so I balance it all by NOT SLEEPING! I rely on really good undereye concealer, an ultra-supportive husband, and enough caffeine and sour patch watermelons to power a small village.

AM: Not sleeping?! That must be your super power!
And yes! You are represented by Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst and Associates Literary Management! *throws confetti* What has the after-signing life been like for you? Any advice regarding revisions and submissions?

CD: It's been such a whirlwind experience! Vickie's amazing and I still can't believe how much enthusiasm she has for my story and characters. I've never had that kind of unwavering support from someone who wasn't a friend or relative, so it's truly been awesome.

I think Carolina [Valdez Miller] said it best when she said "do something else" while you're on sub. The wait is excruciating! But, I think the other piece of advice I'd give is that even when your work is out there, you shouldn't totally forget about it. Sometimes you need a big, big, BIG step away from that piece in order to come back to it and really see the things that need fixing. So while you're on sub (or querying), keep your mind open to ideas that could make it better. Don't just shut the door on it and assume that just because it's on the desk of agents or editors, that it's completely perfect. It isn't. I spent a lot of time mulling over ways to fix things when I wish I'd have mulled a little earlier.

AM: What was querying like for you? Is there something you wish someone would have told you before you queried?

CD: I have the patience of a squirrel, so for me, querying was akin to that godforsaken cross-country road trip where every five minutes I was asking when we'd get there (minus the Huckleberry Finn book on tape). So I wish someone had told me to just STEP AWAY. Stop hitting refresh on my e-mail. Stop checking Twitter to see if any agents had cryptically talked about my MS. Stop trolling Publisher's Marketplace for every story that seemed like it could be similar to mine. Don't do that. You'll go crazy. Exhibit #1: Me at midnight with bleary eyes and nubby fingernails.

AM: Thanks for the great advice! Any workshops or conferences on the horizon?

CD: I just got back from the Write-Brained Network's inaugural workshop in Harrisonburg, Va., and it was such a great day! Ricki (Schultz) and her team did a fabulous job making sure there were panels for everyone – sessions included everything from writing mechanics to agent query feedback to first page critiques by published authors to freelancing and social media. It was an absolute blast and I can't wait for next year's!

AM: What do you do when you’re not writing? Can you tell us a little bit about your family? Work? What are some of your hobbies? Community service activities? Pets?

CD: I have a three-year-old daughter who keeps me INSANELY busy when I'm not writing. So my hobbies end up being things she likes to do – going to fun places and acting crazy, reading books, coloring, SHOPPING! She's the best shopping buddy, believe it or not! I love to travel and am headed to Paris for 10 days mid-October! CANNOT. WAIT.

I have a cat named Jezebel, who's INSANELY annoying at the most inopportune times, and a skinny dog named Chubs, who's INSANELY adorable. He looks like Owen Wilson minus the crooked nose. (My cat looks like Beelzebub covered in fur, in case you were wondering!) :)

AM: Awesome! Thanks, Cambria for an incredible interview! So glad we could get to know you!

If you’d like to connect with Cambria, visit her at follow her on Twitter.

In the contest realm, my awesome writer friend, Jennifer Hoffine, is giving away ARCs of Shatter Me, Crossed, and more! I have won so many amazing reads from her contests (Perfect, Between...), and they're so easy to enter! Click here for the details!

And finally, a super gihugic THANK YOU to everyone who entered my Banned Books Giveaway! The winners are

Steph Schmidt


Donna at The Happy Booker

Yay! Congrats! I've emailed the winners. Thank you all for participating!

So, how did YOU get into writing? Did you get "inspired" by a road trip? What's YOUR story?