Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Day Jobs for Writers


Do you ever find yourself sounding like your parents? It’s scary, man.
A year or so ago I did a bookstore appearance in Frisco, Tx. An aspiring writer who’d friended me online was there with her mother. During the Q&A, the mom raised her hand and said, “Don’t you think that someone who wants to be a writer should also get a degree in a field where they can actually make a living? To fall back on, I mean?” During this, her daughter glared at her mother in a way that said, My life is over, and it’s your fault.
“Great,” I said. “There’s no way I can answer this without getting into trouble.”
Last week, a boy emailed me to say, “I’m in middle school, and I would like to be a writer when I grow up. Can you tell me, on average, how much writers make in a year?” The boy was planning ahead for poverty.
And then, recently, at a writing workshop, a mother told me that her eleven-year-old daughter was a talented writer. She asked for my advice.
“Well,” I said, “it’s great that she’s already writing. She should keep that up, and read as much as possible, too. And she should choose a career that will support her while still allowing her time and energy to write.”
The mother looked taken aback, like I was in the business of killing dreams and kittens. “Don’t you think that would be very difficult?” she said. “To try to write while working a day job?”
Well, yes, I thought. It is difficult. And exhausting. I speak from experience.
“I want her to be able to focus on writing,” the mother went on. “We’re more than willing to support her until she gets established.”
As if that wouldn’t be a high pressure situation.
I’m not exactly a model of career planning and efficiency. I mean, really—my first degree is in philosophy. Finding it difficult to secure employment as a philosopher, I took a post-bacc and master’s in nutrition and practiced as a dietitian for years.
I began to write, yes, as a second job, although in the beginning I could have worked retail and made more reliable money.
I recommend that beginning writers plan for a day job for several reasons. Firstly, of course, to buy food, shelter, Internet access, books, and subscriptions to writing magazines. Secondly, day jobs provide an alternative place to achieve those small successes that keep us going. Maybe you’ve just received your twenty-fifth rejection for a novel that took three years to write. But maybe you’ve also completed a fabulous project at work or seen understanding kindle in a student’s eyes.
Planning ahead may mean you can choose a career that doesn’t suck up your time and wring out your soul, leaving you in no condition to write. Professionals are better able to request flexible schedules and can make more money doing part time work. Some writers choose to work in a field aligned with writing—teaching English, say, or business writing. Others prefer the perspective of doing something completely different. For some, the day job is raising children when someone else in the household brings in an income.
Don’t overlook the fact that other careers can provide you with grist for the writing mill. Lawyers and doctors often turn to writing fiction and nonfiction related to their areas of expertise.
But the most important reason for having a day job as a writer is that it prevents the quest for money from killing your love of the craft. It allows you to enjoy your writing, to follow the muse wherever it takes you. It gives you the freedom to become the best writer you can be without feeling like you constantly have to hustle for a buck.
It’s bad enough to have your work rejected without facing eviction as a result. And it’s easy to devalue your writing when you are desperate for a sale and it’s not happening. There’s so much we don’t control about success as a writer. Talent and hard work are necessary but not sufficient for success. Desperation can squeeze the joy right out of your art.
That said, if you want to transition into writing full time, do your homework, set up a plan and work it. It also helps to marry someone with insurance.
I used to do a lot of freelancing, which brought in some money. I made a conscious decision to turn away from that and focus on novels, even though I knew there was a chance I would never make a dime. But I knew that freelancing would always be a part time gig. I could never make enough freelancing to leave my day job.
That was in 2002. My first novel was published in 2006. My fourth book is coming out this week.
I left my day job in May, 2008.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dangerous Australia


            There are no poisonous snakes in New Zealand, nor scorpions nor deadly spiders, either. That’s a plus, in my eyes.
            Australia is different—it is home to more poisonous snakes, frogs, spiders, lizards, stingrays, jellyfish, vertebrate fish, and other dangerous creatures than anywhere else on earth.
It’s become politically incorrect in the U.S. to demonize animals—even dangerous predators—as vicious killers. We even tend to romanticize businesslike kill-or-be-killed lifestyles. Nothing personal, but I’m above you on the food chain.
Australians, on the other hand, seem to embrace the dangers of life in the bush with relish.
It reminds me of the old Crocodile Hunter show—“These are the most DANGEROUS animals in the world!” And it was true in his case—he died of a stingray sting in the chest.
While in Sydney, I stopped in at Galaxy Bookstore, a specialty sci-fi and fantasy bookstore. I was chatting with one of the clerks, and said I was just beginning a tour of Australia.
“Watch yourself out there,” she advised me. “There’s lots of snakes.” Meaning, don’t let down your guard, even though right now you’re in the middle of a major metropolitan area.
Turned out she knows what she’s talking about. She’s specializing in reptile studies at university. Seems like a good field to go into down under.

            We visited Sydney Wildlife World, which was teeming with deadly creatures—dangerous birds, snakes, lizards, insects—you name it. In case you missed anything, lurid warning signs highlighted the most dangerous creatures on display.
Not enough worries? Across the way was the Sydney Aquarium, displaying deadly denizens of the deep.
Whatever the topic, it seemed to stray onto deadly subject matter. The guide at the seemingly low-risk koala breakfast explained to us the difference between poison and venom. “Venom works through the bloodstream,” she said. “It’s injected. Poison, on the other hand, can be ingested in different ways. We can touch a poison frog, eat a poison mushroom, breath in poisonous gases or brush a poison plant. Got that?”

Remember the Foolhardy Family? They wouldn’t last a minute in Australia. Get past the fauna, and the flora and the terrain is dangerous, too—blistering deserts, unpredictable seas and shipwreck coasts, bottomless crevasses, unstable cliffs, and poisonous plants. Of all the rogue introduced plants, it seems the only ones that have caught on are the noxious ones.
I’m a writer. My fertile imagination tells me there’s danger everywhere.  I hiked through Alaska, singing at the top of my lungs, to drive off the bears. I walked through Florida wetlands scanning the underbrush for wolf spiders and alligators. I hiked through the “national forest” – ha! – desert in New Mexico, my eyes darting to either side, searching for rattlesnakes.Never thought I'd have to watch out for the lizard in the laundry room!
My advice: Watch yourself out there—it’s a dangerous world. 




Monday, December 7, 2009

I'll be at Barnes & Noble Woodmere December 14!!


I'll be signing books at the Barnes & Noble at Eton Collection for the Shaker Heights Middle School Bookfair on Monday, December 14, from 7 to 9 p.m. Other local authors will be there. Come hang out!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Good News Headlines!


The Demon King Releases in the UK February 4 and Australia March 1!
The Demon King is named to the Indie Next Winter 2010 List!
The Demon King is named to the Lone Star Book List 2010!

I’ve been gone a while, so time to catch up on some news. The Demon King is pubbing in the UK from Harper-Collins Voyager with this cover



Which is the same art as the Dutch version.

This is my second book to make the Lone Star list (The Warrior Heir was on it) and my first book to be named to the Indie Next list. Here’s a shout out and thank you to independent booksellers and librarians in Texas!



Friday, November 27, 2009

A Winter in Fiji


OK, so I went to Fiji, and it was frickin’ freezing It wouldn’t be so bad except that my expectations were so very different. We planned to launch our journey to Australia and New Zealand with two days baking in the Fijian sun, recovering from jet lag. Instead, we departed the airport in a fine rain that continued all day, off and on. Gamely, I plastered on sunscreen and headed out to the beach in my shorts and tee shirt. Gale force winds blew in from the sea, sending surf crashing up over the reef a short distance out. Gray clouds boiled over the horizon as resort staffers nailed up storm shutters. Before long, I had layered on a hoodie and eventually gave up and put on long pants again. It was more Lake Superior than the South Pacific.
Apparently the sun shines here sometimes. I have travel brochures to prove it.
Mind, this is nothing new for me. I’m used to traveling places and having people say, “Sheesh! This is unusual. I’ve never seen it snow this time of year!” Or, “Thank God the drought has broken.” I once went tent camping in the Painted Desert—a places that gets only 7 inches of rain a year. Two inches came down the night we camped—causing a massive hatching of Mormon crickets. As they scratched against the tent, trying to get in, I was sure we were being invaded by an army of half-drowned scorpions.
Looking for unusual weather? Tired of the same old same old? Invite me to come visit.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Uninvited Guests


Our hotel at Yulara Resort in outback Australia is beautiful—definitely a three-wastebasket facility. But I noticed an interesting information card in the bathroom. It was titled “Uninvited Guests.”             
You may notice one or two uninvited guests. Please do not be alarmed, they are native to the area and it is quite normal for them to appear throughout the resort. If, however, you are disturbed by their presence, please contact reception.           
It was unusually circumspect, like they didn’t want to frighten you by actually naming some of the uninvited guests you might encounter. However, its lack of specificity invited worrisome speculation as to what kinds of uninvited guests to expect. Sneak thieves? Freeloading relatives? Late night partiers?
Or maybe they meant intruders from the natural world. Dingoes or wallabies? Rose-breasted cockatoos, who flew in colorful and gossipy flocks from tree to tree, but which our tour guide described as pests. Cockroaches or cane toads? Deadly poisonous snakes or scorpions or spiders (we are in the Australian desert, after all.) Maybe the notice referred to the little clouds of flies we take with us everywhere?

            Or possibly they meant the three-foot long goanna lizard I encountered in the laundry room. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sheepish in New Zealand

We get an introduction to all things sheep at the Agrodrome, an agricultural demonstration show in Rotorua.


A mulleted host in a wifebeater comes out on stage, telling jokes as his comely assistant leads out nineteen different breeds of sheep, from Merinos to Lincolns to Romneys. I remember some of the names from my spinning and weaving days.
A sheep shearing demonstration follows. A wary ewe emerges from a doorway on stage right. After a few moments struggle, the host deftly flips her onto her back, where she sits, legs dangling foolishly in front of her. Perhaps closing her eyes and thinking of England, she allows the shearer to have his way with her. In less time than it takes me to get a haircut, the fleece is razored off and the sheep looks about half its original size.


When he asks for volunteers for milking, I impulsively raise my hand and join the other two victims on the stage. After all, I’m scheduled for a farmstay the next day, and I might need me some skills. Last time I volunteered and was called up on stage, it was for a wine-tasting. And that worked out all right.
Happily, we are milking a cow instead of a sheep. Somewhere, I’ve read tips for successful milking. Or maybe it was those lactation pamphlets I read after my sons were born.
This cow’s udder has been liberally greased up with some unknown farm substance. I don’t know if this is intended to make it harder or easier. Trying to remember the particulars, I grasp the udder firmly at the top and strip my hand downward, using my best empty toothpaste tube technique. Success! A thin stream of blueish milk splashes into the pail. The host looks mildly surprised and a little disappointed. I receive a certificate of “udderance.”
There follows sheepdog demonstrations in which one of the dogs herds several ducks back and forth across the stage and other dogs race across the backs of the mildly interested sheep in a technique called, understandably, backing. It’s kind of like a sheep mosh pit. It’s unclear whether this has any practical purpose but it makes for interesting and difficult to interpret photos.


I am convinced that nobody loves his work like a sheepdog. If they were any more alert and eager they would explode. They ought to show videos of sheepdogs at employee meetings instead of hiring motivational speakers.
The show closes with a mock fleece auction in which a reluctant Korean woman ends up owning an armload of unwashed wool redolent of lanolin. Then everyone repairs outside for a sheepdog demonstration with actual sheep.
All in all, I had a great time, but I think I have more of a future in wine-tasting.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In the Land of Second Breakfasts

Having just come off a ten-day book tour in the U.S. and Canada, I’ve learned that the wise traveler seizes any opportunity to eat, no matter how marginal the provender. When food is on offer, we furtively stuff our pockets, too, preparing against a lean future. Flying U.S. airlines these days is like visiting those inhospitable relatives who, even if you appear at mealtime, have always just eaten or make it clear they have no intention of breaking out the food and drink until you leave.
So it’s quite the shock to be traveling in the South Pacific and discovering that, around here, airline meals is one corner that’s not yet cut. Or maybe places are just so far apart they have to bring provisions.
Remember that scene in Fellowship of the Ring when hobbits Merri and Pippin are traveling with Aragorn the Ranger and realize that mealtimes are going to be few and far between. “What about second breakfast?” Pippin says plaintively. “Elevenses? High tea?”
We’ve had a spate of second breakfasts. Following experience, we eat before we get on the plane. And then they feed us on the plane. Or we eat on the plane, and then they feed us at the hotel on arrival.
The breakfasts on Air Pacific have been hearty but peculiar. Both have consisted of lamb sausage, omelet, corn, hash brown potatoes, fruit cup, and juice.
What’s the deal with the corn? My ingrained nutrition training and Yank sensibiities say, no way there should be hash browns and corn at breakfast. No corn at all unless it’s grits or muffins. I try to tie it to British heritage, but corn is a New World vegetable.
There’s also a dearth of sugar free and diet foods. Perhaps people around here move around more than we do in the States. And the diet soda vends under different names. At our hotel, Pepsi Light and Pepsi Max were both on offer. I had to read the label carefully to determine that they were both sugar-free.
On the upside, the yogurt tastes much more like yogurt than what I’ve been getting at home. More like milk and less like carageenan. And I’m loving the exotic fruit—papaya and mango each morning at breakfast.
And they have this delicious rich ice cream in New Zealand called hokey-pokey. It tastes like homemade.
Note to self: move around more.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hanging with the Presidents


If you want to go to Australia, you pretty much have to go through LA. So we flew into Los Angeles this morning, arriving about 10:30 a.m. Unfortunately, our plane to Fiji didn’t leave until 11:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. by my home town clock).  Fortunately, our travel agent gave us passes to the Continental President’s Club.
I’d always gazed longingly at those fancy wood-paneled doors, wondering what delights lay within. So I was practically giddy with anticipation as we pressed the little doorbell and were admitted.
OK, I’m a writer—my imagination always surpasses reality. But it was still very nice—much better than huddling in a cracked vinyl chair in the boarding area or wandering the concourses, looking for a place to plug in my power-depleted laptop.  There were work carrels with power outlets, lights, and telephones. There was wireless Internet access throughout the club. There were comfortable chair groupings with more power outlets. There was a pantry area with tea, coffee, water, and snacks including crackers and cheese and fruit.
            Did I mention there were power outlets?
            I did a last quick-edit of The Exiled Queen before sending it off to my editor using the handy wireless access. My husband updated my website with photos from the Demon King tour. I looked around at the other patrons, wondering if they were really presidents or if they’d got in on a pass like us.
            I couldn’t help thinking that it would be nice if such a lounge was made available to airline passengers if, say, their flights were cancelled or delayed through no fault of their own. Recalling my night spent sleeping on a baggage cart in Laguardia Airport (it was raining), and my night spent sleeping under a chair in Heathrow Airport (air traffic controllers strike) it would have been much more pleasant to have spent them hanging with the Presidents.
            My husband and I took photos of each other sitting in the President’s Club, because who knew if we would ever get there again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ecstasy

I’ve said it before. Author tours are The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Monday night was The Ecstasy.

When language arts teacher Beth Duncan of Vista Academy is on a mission, it is impossible to say no. I had corresponded with Beth several times over the past year and arranged to send ARC’s of The Dragon Heir to her middle school students for their review. When Beth found out I was touring for The Demon King, she emailed me and said, “How can I get you to come to San Diego?” I put her in touch with my publicist, who wisely made it happen.

So Monday I arrived at Vista Academy in Vista, Ca to find that Beth had mobilized the entire school (it seemed) to make me welcome. I presented to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. (where's the author?)


Her videography students filmed an interview. I toured their annual haunted house, which this year was loosely planned around an Heir Series theme, with forests and castles and a dungeon. The students paint all the sets and play scary roles during the haunting. Here I am with Vista students in the dungeon!


That evening, Beth and her co-conspirator, Lisa Haynes, the Community Relations Manager of the Oceanside Barnes & Noble, had put together an awesome event—an author signing/masquerade/Halloween party.


I signed with author Alyson Noel, whose Immortals series is OWNING the bestseller list. (I felt like I was opening for the Rolling Stones.)

Here are me, Beth, and Alyson at the signing table.


There was a special Demon King menu in the café, featuring the Seven Realms Seven Layer Bar and Dancer’s Dare Hot Apple Spice Cider and Raisa ana’Marianna’s White Chocolate Mocha. Yum!

Lisa was dressed as a Clan Matriarch in a gown and feathered headdress. The rest of the staff and many of the attendees dressed up, too. Me? I was dressed as a YA author at the end of a long tour. Thanks to Beth, Lisa, and everyone for making this happen!!



Road Warrior


OK, so I’m nearly at the end of my official Demon King author tour, and I’m realizing that all my good intentions of blogging every day, posting photos, etc., and basically immortalizing every fantastic moment were as optimistic as the Official Author itinerary:           
2 p.m: Visit six bookstores in the Greater Toronto area, sign stock, return to hotel and relax, have early dinner, and leave for seventh bookstore for evening event at 6:15 pm.                                   
Ha!

Tips for Other Authors
1.     Never leave for the airport in flip-flops without checking the weather report.
2.     Never approve an itinerary that includes the phrase “check out of hotel at 5 a.m.”
3.     Never wear the same jacket at every event because your spouse will post up event photos on the website and you will be so busted.
4.     Never iron clothing in the hotel room because I don’t want to have to do it.
5.     Never present to high schoolers at eight a.m. If you do, don’t wake them up.
6.     Plan an answer to the question, “How much do authors make?” Practice keeping a straight face.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shadowslayer Symphony Wins Salvner Music Award

This is just so cool, I have to share it.

The Warrior Heir was one of the featured books at the 2009 Youngstown State University English Festival. Ursuline High School students John Vitullo and Dan Catello wrote the Shadowslayer Symphony, a composition based on The Warrior Heir. It depicts the events in the graveyard after Jack digs up the sword, Shadowslayer. The symphony won the festival's annual Jeremy Salvner Memorial Music Award. This award is given to junior and senior high school students participating in the English Festival who create the best original music compositions inspired by one or more of the books on the festival's reading list.
Click here to hear their stellar work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Report from the Wastelands

So I’m in Houston for a series of school visits. But don’t think the title of my piece has anything to do with that: I am having an awesome time—everyone has been gracious and these kids are whipsmart.
I’m staying at a business class hotel. My room is spacious and there’s even a refrigerator I can put things into! All that is good.
But not perfect. They have those Styrofoam cups that I despise, and there’s powdered creamer in the little packets that come with the coffee maker. I am resourceful, though. I bring up some real cream from breakfast and put it in the refrigerator. As for the Styrofoam, I can deal. All part of life on the road.
But I have no wastebaskets. None at all. I search the room twice. You don’t realize how often you use a wastebasket until you don’t have one. Well, I think, surely when Housekeeping makes up the room, they will notice there are no wastebaskets to empty, and they will remedy it. Meanwhile, I strew trash around, which is not the way I was raised.
When I return from the school visit, Housekeeping has been there, they have taken the trash, but there are still no wastebaskets.
Maybe, I think, in their efforts to go green, the hotel has resorted to the “pack in, pack out” policy. Whatever trash you generate, you have to take with you.
I call down to the desk.
“Are you sure?” the desk clerk says.
“Well, yes,” I say. “I’ve looked three times.”
“We have a couple down here,” she says.
“Great,” I say. “I’ll come get them.”
But when I get there, the clerk looks apologetic. “Sorry,” she said. “I thought there were some, wastebaskets here but Housekeeping must have taken them.”
I envision that somewhere there is a hoard of wastebaskets guarded by the Dragon of Housekeeping.
“I’ll tell them to bring you some, though,” the clerk offers.
Some time later, a Housekeeper comes to the door clutching two wastebaskets. “Are you sure? No wastebasket?” She stalks around the room, checking under the desk and in the bathroom, and finally leaves two wastebaskets in my custody. I try to use them a lot after that.
The day isn’t over yet. I go out to dinner with some librarians—we have a great time. When I return, I get on the elevator. I look down and see that someone has apparently defecated on the floor.
I sniff, and there is no apparently about it.
I call down to the desk.
“Um, you may want to alert Housekeeping that there are feces on the floor of the elevator.”
“What?” the clerk says.
“There’s poop in the elevator. On the floor,” I say.
“Are you sure?” the desk clerk says.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m sure.”
“Oh!” the clerk says. “Sorry. I’ll take care of it right away.”
Since then, I’ve huddled up here in my room, afraid to chance the elevator again. And that’s the way it is, out here in the wastelands.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Author Tour: The Agony and the Ecstasy




Today I went to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Cleveland Public Library’s Writers and Readers series. We arrived a half hour early, to find the police directing traffic and every seat taken. Latecomers were shuffled to an “overflow room” where we could view the proceedings on a large TV. Mr. Gaiman did stop in to the overflow room before his presentation to visit with us in the cheap seats. He was totally witty and charming. I was sitting on the floor, so I took a photo of the underneath of his chin.
Back in the auditorium, he read from his two most recent books, and then took questions and answers. He told one story of signing a woman’s arm, and she went next door to the tattoo parlor and had it tattooed on permanently.
After the presentation, the book signing line stretched out of the auditorium and out the door. Fans were limited to one item signed apiece: book, poster, or body part.
As my husband and I were leaving, I said, “Well, that was kind of like one of my signings.”
Or maybe a hundred of them put together.
When your first book is released, you have an event in your hometown, and you notify everyone on your contact list—even the spammers and the hair stylist you used to go to before you quit your day job.
Your relatives and friends all turn out, just to see if it’s really true or if it’s just one of those stories you’re always making up.  Some of them even buy your book, so they can leaf through and see if they’re in it.
But the prurient curiosity of friends and relatives will only get you through that first release party.  Believe it or not, they have a limited appetite for literary events. At best, they’ll attend one per book. At worst, they’ll change their email addresses and disconnect their landlines. If you manage to reach them, they say, “Another book? Didn’t you just write one?” “Well, yes, a year ago.”
            So you need fresh meat, er, a fresh audience. That’s the time to go on tour.
Every newbie author wants/expects/dreams that her publisher will send her on a national book tour. We imagine ourselves being squired about by limousine and private plane, being met by legions of adoring fans, chatting with Oprah about our difficult childhoods and how we ran over policemen, and otherwise basking in the glare of media attention.
In reality, attendance at author events can be unpredictable at best. Unless, of course, you are Neil Gaiman. If you are Neil Gaiman, you could plan an event at a crossroads in the dead of night and make every effort to keep it a secret and still hundreds would show up, each carrying a copy of Sandman.
I’ve spoken to audiences ranging from the librarian and her sister up to hundreds. The hundreds are usually in schools, which the law says you have to go to. And as long as you’re sitting there, here’s an author.
I did an event in Oberlin when The Warrior Heir was released. The Heirstone series is set in a small town, Trinity, Ohio, which is modeled after Oberlin. As it happened, my weaving guild was meeting in Oberlin that Saturday, so they all came over for the signing. A few other people trickled in, too.
Afterwards, the bookseller said, “Well, that was a good turnout.”
“Why?” I said. “How many usually come for an author event?”
“None,” she said.
I must admit, I have had some wonderful events, at schools, libraries, book festivals, and bookstores, where some combination of literary karma and the power of determined librarians and booksellers resulted in a wonderful audience of readers. I love meeting readers—even one. I feel so in context.
So.  For the first time, my publisher is sending me on an official book tour beginning next week. You can also find out where I’ll be at my website. I am really excited and nervous and eager to meet you all. Even the librarian’s sister.



           
           

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welcome Back, Greta Garmin

Greta stopped speaking to me.
Was it something I said? Did she disapprove of my infrequent trips to the mall? Was I spending too much time in parking garages, while she searched for me in vain? Was I spending too much time with Google Maps?
Did I ignore her once too often?
I’ve blogged before about my love affair with my GPS, Greta Garmin. It’s easy to develop a relationship with any machine that talks to you.
Whenever I miss a turn, or choose not to follow Greta’s directions, she says, “recalculating” in an exasperated, eye-rolling tone of voice. It’s like she’s thinking, You asked me for directions, or How hard can it be to turn when I say turn? But she never gives up on me. She has endless patience, not like SOME PEOPLE. She’ll recalculate till the cows come home. Or I do.
So you can imagine my concern recently when Greta’s voice began to falter, dwindling to a strangled, truncated croak. The screen directions were still there, but that requires me to take my eyes off the road and try to focus on that little screen. I might as well try and read a map.
Desperately, I tried the British voice, the male voice—none Greta, Ready to Helpof them spoke to me, either.
My son has the same model Garmin. His has also begun to fail—in his case, the voice is fine, but the screen has dimmed until it’s nearly unreadable. He feels comfortable reading and wrangling electronic devices in the car. He’d rather have the screen than the voice.
Put the two together and you have one fully-functional Garmin.
It used to be when I headed out on a car trip, I would consult a map, plan my route, and carry multiple maps in the car in case I lost my way (as I often did).
With Greta aboard, I just launched, confident I could find my way there and back. School visit in a small town? Piece of cake. Find my conference hotel in a city filled with one-way streets? No problemo. Take back roads to the airport in a strange town? She has my back.
Without her, I feel cut loose, orphaned, like Hansel and Gretel without the breadcrumbs.
I contacted Garmin, only to find that Greta was eight months out of warranty. But they agreed to send a refurbished unit as a good will gesture.
And now she’s back—good as new, though just a little put out at being sent away. I’ll make it up to her. We’ll take some long road trips together—just the two of us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Demon King Book Tour

Well, here's the tour so far. We are supposed to add dates in San Francisco. I posted the events on Google Maps and will update as needed. You can view details here or here.


Hope to see some of you at these events!!


View

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NOH SCBWI Conference

This past weekend I participated in the Northern Ohio Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, planned by co-chairs Laurie Knowlton and Vicki Selvaggio, with their committee of volunteers. They had a record turnout of over 155 attendees (they had to cut off registration.)
Editors attending were Margaret Miller from Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Harold Underdown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, and Elizabeth Bewley from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Tim Gillner, Art Director from Boyds Mills Press handled the illustrator track. Authors included Andrea Cheng, Kathianne Kowalski, Bonnie Pryor, and me!
I presented a workshop called “Ensnaring the Wary: Engaging the Middle Grade and Young Adult Reader.” The two hours flew by (for me, anyway, and hopefully for the participants).

I always seem to have too much information to present. My university students used to accuse me of vomiting information on them. I shared that story with the workshop. Afterward, someone wrote that she was never so happy to be vomited on! (!) I don’t know that I can quote that on my website!
I showed off my sample copy of The Demon King. Gorgeous!

Between the workshop and manuscript critiques, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the other breakouts, which looked awesome. Harold presented a great, upside/downside overview of the current state of the publishing business, and Elizabeth Bewley spoke in general session on writing for teens. Margaret Miller’s presentation on working with an editor made us all want to work with her!
Conference attendees ranged from newbies exploring the world of children’s lit for the first time to multi-published experts. Laurie asked attendees to group by geographic area so critique groups could be formed to carry on the journey.
I had a great time reconnecting with friends. I’m still smiling!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Major Surgery


Don’t get me wrong—I love the revision process. When I teach writing workshops, I always tell students, if you can’t deal with revision, don’t be a writer, because you’ll be doing it all your life.
There’s the revision you do yourself, before you let anyone see your heart’s work; the revision you do after your trusted readers give you feedback. Sometimes it’s even hard to stop revising and send your work out.
And, of course, if you send it out, and you’re lucky enough to be published, you will be revising in response to your editor’s feedback. Ideally, that partnership results in a better book. But that doesn’t make it any easier when you get that editorial letter and the work you thought was basically done isn’t.
So I’m in the middle of this major revision. I’m wrestling with this 500+ page manuscript. I wrote 150 new pages, revised everything else, then cut 100 pages. Today I decided to move this one scene. But one thing led to another, and now everything is scrambled. This is the kind of situation that results in mistakes. And heavy drinking.
When I was in junior high school, I was a volunteer at a VA hospital. They didn’t allow visitors under 15 on the floor, but I was there, at 14, volunteering. One thing that struck me was that the patients always looked worse when they came back from surgery—pale and wounded, sick, and confused. On life support. And I remember thinking—this is a good thing?
Depending on the seriousness of the surgery—er—revision, your book can look worse before it looks better. Sometimes you’re afraid it will never recover. You hope that once you’ve repaired the plot holes and cut away the dead tissue, your book will be healthier for it.
Not enough metaphors for you? I’m a professional writer, after all.
My husband works in stained glass. He was making a lamp recently—had it almost finished, and set it aside on the floor to clear his work table so he could work on something else. Somehow, he stepped on it, shattering several panels. He had to cut out the unsalvageable, replace it with new, and somehow make it fit back together.
He came upstairs and said, “I think I finally understand what revising a novel is like.”
I said, “Welcome to my world.”
I was secretly glad I didn’t have to solder anything. Words, I can do.



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cover Story

In my last post, I discussed the controversy regarding misleading book covers.

I’ve been so lucky with my covers. All of them have been designed by the genius Elizabeth Clark at Disney-Hyperion; the cover art for the last three were done by illustrator Larry Rostant .

I’ve been to bookfairs where I’ve seen teens walk by, spot my books on display, and make that sharp turn we all hope for (toward me, not away). You can’t ask for more than that.

With The Warrior Heir, there was a huge controversy about roses on the cover (which I like to refer to as The War of the Roses). The question: Would boys buy a book with roses on the cover?? Even one with a big sword in the middle?

If so, what kind of roses were the most macho? These?

Or these?

In the end, the book designer made the decision to leave the roses off.

With The Wizard Heir, my editor came to me and asked, What ‘s an object we can put on the cover, you know, like the sword? And I couldn’t think of any. The wizards were using amulets, but they were mostly nondescript stones with runes on them.

Well, my editor said, could you put in a wizard staff or something? I couldn’t picture Seph McCauley walking around with a wizard staff. So I gave one to Gregory Leicester.

Did you know these things went on?

By the time I wrote The Dragon Heir, I knew enough to be thinking ahead. Dragons, I thought. Dragons were always good on a cover. So I put the Dragonheart on a cool dragon stand.

With The Demon King, the book design was tricky. As the first book in a new series, we wanted a design that would tell my current readers to pick it up, that it was a book by an author they knew. But we wanted it to be different enough that people would realize it was a new series. I want to attract new readers without disappointing fans of the Heir Chronicles.

We thought a landscape background would set it apart.

That didn't seem atmospheric enough, so

They revised the layout to be more similar to the Heir Chronicles, and added the text, A Seven Realms Novel, to let readers know they were onto a different series. I just received the proof of the final cover, all foiled and spot varnished. It’s gorgeous.

The important thing is—when a book cover makes a promise, the book must deliver. Or nobody’s happy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Misleading Book Covers

Recently there was a hot controversy about the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s new release, Liar, because the image of the person on the cover didn’t match the way the viewpoint character was described in the book.
Her U.S. publisher, Bloomsbury, ended up changing the cover, delaying the release of the book.
How important are book covers to the success of a book?
I would say, very important, for teen books especially. When I speak at schools and libraries, I talk about the process of cover selection and design and show various versions of my book covers. When I ask teens, “Do you judge a book by the cover?” the answer is um, yes.
Watch a teen browsing in a bookstore some time. The book cover is what persuades—or dissuades—a teen to pick it up. Then they’ll look at the flap copy, maybe read the first page, and flip through to see how dense it is.
Because covers are very important at the point of sale, this has sometimes lead to misleading covers. For example, you don’t want a cover that says “pompous, boring and wordy” or “totally incoherent” even if the book inside matches that description.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book that doesn’t keep the promise that the cover made? Here’s a possible example. BTW, this book was not written by Dan Brown.

John Green makes a strong argument that misleading covers are a bad long-term sales strategy. The idea is not just to sell to the largest audience, but to sell to the right audience that will like the book and sell it through word of mouth.
The Demon King is out in the Netherlands. The Dutch cover is very cool—but it doesn’t really match the book.

The book contains no dragons, no sailing ships, no cool wizard staff like this. The cover does promise fantasy. Oh, yeah—the title is different, too. The Dutch title means, “Black Magic.” I’ve been getting fan mail from the Netherlands, and nobody’s complained about it, though somebody did write and ask why the title is “Black Magic” in the Netherlands, and “The Demon King” in the U.S. Answer: I don’t know.
Next post: more on covers

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The War of the Flowers


Recently, I blogged on the topic of my new, laid-back approach to dealing with garden pests.

There is one major exception to this tolerant view—the Japanese beetle.

My feud with this voracious plant assassin goes back to the year I first planted roses. My roses looked beautiful until about the Fourth of July, when the mature beetles erupted out of the ground. I’d walk out to the garden to find my flowers covered in beetles. They seemed to have a knack for picking out the most beautiful buds, the loveliest flowers in full-blown glory—and ruining them.

Not only that, those beetles were copulating on my roses, they were coupling up and having sex while they chomped my flowers to bits. They emitted pheromones, calling their comrades to join the fun. Talk about your multi-tasking. Meanwhile, their devilspawn offspring lurked under the turf, grazing on the roots of my grass.

I tried those Japanese beetle traps, and my neighbors thanked me, because they drew all the beetles to MY yard. I crawled around my yard with a teaspoon, seeding it with milky spore to kill the grubs. With no apparent effect. Apparently you have to also convince all your less-obsessive neighbors to crawl around on their lawns, too. Or offer to do the crawling for them.

I tried systemic insect controls, even though I don’t like using pesticides in my garden. The beetles treated it like a condiment. I looked up “Japanese beetle controls” online. Nematodes were described as providing “marginal” control, and the extension service bulletin noted that milky spore “may not be effective in Ohio and Kentucky.” Nobody promised me a beetle-free future.

Anyway, it was fun looking at the pictures of nematodes invading the bodies of Japanese beetle grubs and parasitic fly maggots boring their way into the thoraxes of the adults.

Or consider our friend, the Japanese wasp tiphia vernalis. “The female wasp digs into the soil, paralyzes a beetle grub by stinging, and then deposits an egg on the grub. When the egg hatches, the emerging wasp larva consumes the grub.” HAHAHAHAHA!

I’m not usually like this.

Now that I work at home, I’ve resorted to a marginally effective but completely organic and simple approach. When I take writing breaks, I walk out to the garden, pick off the beetles, and drop them into a jar of soapy water. I don’t know what it is about soapy water that kills them, but it’s fast-acting, whereas a beetle can swim around in a jar of plain water for a couple of days. (Trust me on this.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

KEWL


HEIR CHRONICLES BOX SET
The Heir Chronicles Box Set will be released September 1. It’s all three Heir books in paperback in a nifty box. I just like looking at it.

DEMON KING TOUR

Events are being finalized for my first ever author tour to promote The Demon King. Here are a few preliminary plans:

-October 2: Great Lakes Independent Booksellers: Authors Feast, Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, Cleveland, OH
-October 11: 2pm Hudson Library and Historical Center, Hudson, OH
-October 12: 7pm Joseph Beth Booksellers, Legacy Village, Lyndhurst, OH
-October 13: 7 p.m., Westlake Porter Library’s Westfest program, Westlake, OH and school visit, Burnesan Middle School
-October 17-18: Denver, CO events to come
-October 19: 7pm Chapters.Indigo, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto, Canada
-October 20: event to come
-October 21: events with University Bookstore, Seattle, WA
-October 22: events with Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155
-October 23: 7pm Powells Books, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton, OR
-October 24: Event to come
-October 26: school visit, Vista Academy, Oceanside, CA & 6pm Barnes & Noble, El Camino North Shopping Center, 2615 Vista Way, Oceanside, CA 92054

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Notes from the Garden: Suburban Menagerie


My Garden in Happier Days
I used to engage in a series of ongoing skirmishes with the animal pests that inhabited my yard.
The trouble began with the rabbits. One summer it seemed like there were rabbits everywhere. I had planted some Icelandic poppies and was eagerly waiting for the buds to open (a one-a-year event). One morning I looked and all the buds had been neatly nipped off.
My husband and I started a rabbit resettlement program (ok, we were young and naïve.) We put a live trap out in the garden and would drive the captured rabbits out to the industrial park and release them. We did this several times.
And then we caught a skunk instead. We retired the live trap and got out of the rabbit relocation business.
My neighbor took a more direct approach when a rabbit ate their newly planted pansies. He went out with an air rifle and shot it. I came home to a dead rabbit in my driveway and his wife and daughter crying, “Murderer!” as he shoveled it into a garbage bag.
I used to use nets to try to keep the birds from eating all our blueberries. Finally, I yanked the bushes and planted roses instead.
I’ve come to view the wildlife that share our yard as a kind of informal, fluid zoo. I realize that I’ve planted my house and garden where animals used to live. Small wonder if they burrow under my deck and raid my bird-feeder.
We have a lively population of chipmunks and squirrels. The chipmunks and moles have a network of tunnels throughout the flowerbeds. Now I sit in the garden and watch as they chase each other around the deck.
There’s a bird feeder outside the window where I write. It’s on a flexible metal pole. I find it entertaining when this big fat squirrel sets it to bouncing and goes flying off . HAHAHA. (It doesn’t take much to distract me when I’m on deadline).


One of the chipmunks took a more direct approach. He found the bag of birdseed in the garage and nipped the corner off, scattering birdseed all over the floor of the garage. No climbing necessary.
Recently, I noticed that the rabbits had nipped all the leaves off my lilies. Hmmm, I thought. Wonder if they’ll survive. The lilies, not the rabbits.
Ducks will lay their eggs anywhere. They are all like, Who you looking at? Earlier this summer, a pair of mallards laid their eggs in the flowerbed next door. The one belonging to Deadeye the bunny killer.
So I’m more laid back as a gardener than I used to be. Or maybe I’ve given up. I’ve accepted the fact that my yard is never going to be a showplace. There are some things that are just not meant to be.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Report from the Stacks (ALA 2009)

Unlike some people, I find it difficult to blog AT a convention. Let alone tweet. I mean, there’s too much conventioning to do. Plus my spouse was along, and he took up those snippets of time usually devoted to blogging. (Notice how I deflect blame?)
So now I’m home and blogging instead of tackling the BIG REVISION.
Chicago is a great city. My visit was a combination of business, pleasure, and pain. We got the pain over with early. That was the five-hour flight delay that cost us our first day in Chicago. Seems Continental forgot that they’d need a crew to fly the plane.
Our hotel was great, though—the Trump Tower Hotel.

We got a deal on the price, it was in a fabulous location, the room was huge, and it had a stovetop, dishwasher, microwave, and a refrigerator you could actually put things into. With a built-in ice maker. The service was gracious, but not stuffy. Imagine that—a luxury hotel that goes out of its way to make guests comfortable.

We went and saw the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was focused on the movies (one of the guides said they weren’t supposed to talk about the books because it is sponsored by Warner Brothers). It included lots of props and costumes, such as Harry’s wand and Professor Mcgonigal’s dress robes, and recreated settings including Hagrid’s Hut and the Great Hall of Hogwart’s.

We also visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Chicago Art Institute.
My ALA experience began with the Voya/Scarecrow Press reception for Perfect Tens and Top Shelf Fiction. (Voya named The Dragon Heir a “perfect ten.”) And, frankly, that is the only way I’ll ever qualify.
Then we went to a “Newbery banquet alternative dinner” at Aria organized by the awesome Nancy Werlin . Visited with Kindling Words buddies Laura Rubie, Toni Buzzeo, and Frannie Billingsley. Web designer Lisa Firke and authors Delia Sherman and Annette Curtis Klause were also there.
After dinner, we headed over to the Sheraton to hear the awards speeches. All the chairs were filled, so we ended up sitting on a platform at the back of the room.
We arrived just in time for Caldecott winner Beth Krommes’s speech and heard Neil Gaiman (Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book) and Ashley Bryan (winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award). Gaiman’s speech was especially moving. He described himself as a feral child raised amid the stacks by librarians. I congratulated Krommes outside the ladies’ room and she let me hold her Caldecott medal. It was weighty. And I shook Gaiman’s hand in the receiving line and told him his speech was fantastic. “Really?” he said. “I was kind of nervous about it.”
Maybe greatness rubs off.

The next day was my signing. I spent the morning chasing key ARCs and buying a few books (still no Going Bovine, alas). Arrived at the Disney-Hyperion booth to find out they were already out of ARCs of The Demon King. Signed Heir series books and met lots of people I’d only met online before.

Librarians rock! Seriously.

Friday, July 3, 2009

When Stories Bite


As a writer, sometimes I get impatient with people who say, I want to write, but I can’t think of anything. I want to tell them to go home and take up scrapbooking. Or classical guitar.
Writing is more about craft than concept. If you’re a writer, stories are everywhere. You just have to recognize them when they bite you on the…um…toe.
Perhaps they are setting their standards too high.Imperfect stories can be compelling, too.
I like to take walks around my subdivision in the afternoons. It’s not exactly your colorful city neighborhood, peopled with diverse characters, exploding with gritty drama, but it has its moments.
Take yesterday, for example. As I walked between the manicured lawns, I saw two boys crouching on the devil strip, their attention focused on the ground. As I got closer, I saw they were corralling two half-grown chickens.
I said, just to be sure, “What are those?”
“Chickens,” one boy said, looking up over his shoulder and rolling his eyes. “This one’s a hen, that one’s a rooster.”
Chickens in the ‘burbs. “Oh,” I said. “What are they doing here?”
“Well,” the boy said, “Mostly eating, sleeping, and pooping.”
I guess that falls into the ‘ask a silly question’ category. But what I meant, was: What’s the story? Several possibilities had already popped into my head.
Later, I saw a young girl approaching me on a mini bike—a very small, motorized bike. She was gangly—almost too big for it, her long legs nearly dragging on the ground. If I had to guess, I’d say she was about eleven. She wore a camouflage shirt and pants, and what looked like a combat helmet, though maybe it was a stand-in for a bike helmet. Over her shoulder was slung a toy machine gun, the business end pointed at the sky. She buzzed past me and on up the street, a solemn, combat-weary expression on her freckled face.
There’s a story there, I’m sure of it. I just don’t know what it is.
But I can make up a dozen or more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Intergenerational Wisdom


As my sons become adults, I still can’t help offering advice to them, invited or not. I sidle up to them and thrust it out like a slightly wilted bouquet, the remnant of a relationship that has changed forever.
Some of it is well-received, other suggestions are dropped into the dustbin without a second glance.
My older son tends to prickle when I offer up my wisdom. Somehow, it clamors in his ears like criticism. I don’t mean it to be.
My younger son receives advice graciously. Doesn’t mean he’s going to use it, but he smiles and nods as if he’s filing it away.
Recently, he began an internship at his dream employer, a video game design firm. “Do you have the right clothes?” I asked him. “Do we need to go shopping? You want to make a good impression.”
“It’s casual dress,” he said. “That’s what they said.”
“Don’t go in there in shorts and flip-flops on your first day,” I said. “Wear khakis and a collared shirt until you see what everybody else is wearing.”
He rolled his eyes but left the flip-flops at home. That first night, I called him to see how it went. “What were they wearing?” I asked.
“Normal clothes, Mom,” he said patiently.
“What do you mean by normal?” I asked.
“Shorts and flip-flops.”
My sons will likely never wear collared shirts. And maybe that’s fine.
I remember the summer I was married. I’d been living in an apartment with my sister for a year, but moved home with my parents just prior to the ceremony. There I was, lodged in my old room for a month, living out of a suitcase.
I think my father saw it as his last opportunity to prune and shape me in the direction he wanted me to grow. I remember him framed in the doorway of my room , telling me to clean it up.
“You’d better not keep house like this once you’re married,” he warned, shaking his finger at me. “Your husband won’t put up with it.”
This advice was not well received. It was out of date. It did not reflect what I saw as my new peer relationship with my father. It had nothing to do with how my soon-to-be husband and I planned to live our lives.
Looking back, I think it was offered out of love, and his own experience, and the pain of separation. It was all he knew how to give me at the time.