Friday, December 31, 2010

Faves of 2010: The Year In Reading

First off,


But secondly, I have a confession: I made an Excel spreadsheet of all the books I read this year.

(I debated admitting it, you know. I don't want to seem totally weird - like a neat freak, who organizes obsessively. I didn't always make a list of the books I'd read. Definitely not when I was in school. Or even when I started working in the publishing industry. But sometime last year, I started listing what I read in the back of my journal. And this year, I up'ed the OCD-ness with Excel: noting the title, the author, the date I finished, the intended age group, whether or not it was part of a series, whether or not I'd read it before, whether I read the book for fun or for a specific project, and also, just for kicks, fiction or non-fiction.

See why I was hesitant to mention it? Now, the depths of my weirdness have been revealed. My good friend Angela would say that I did it because I am a Virgo. Sigh. I always thought Virgos were the most boring sign ever. This may prove it.)

But because of Excel, I have some stats to share with you:

In 2010, I read a total of 104 books. Muahahahahaha. (Yes, I proud of myself. I reached my 100 book goal). :-D

But another confession: Yes, I snuck in 29 books I'd read before. Many people can't stand to re-read books or re-watch movies. I am definitely not one of those people. I have lost count of how many times I've read certain favorites, such as Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, and the Harry Potter series (both of which I did indeed read again this year).

I read 47 middle-grade books, well more than any other age group. Since it's my fav, I'm totally not shocked by this. I was surprised that the age group in second place was actually Adult books (37), and I actually read fewest books in the YA category (20).

But 17 books were nonfiction! FYI, that's ridiculously high for me.

Last but not least, I have some awards to give out. These are not necessarily the best of the year, because I'm really way too particular to judge that. But these are definitely, without further ado, my....


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

You know when you read a book, and it's like taking a much-needed vacation with some of your favorite people? For me, this book was like taking that vacation again - with the added comfort of familiarity.

The DUFF, by Kody Keplinger

I know. I told you all about this book already here. But seriously, it's completely fantastic. The main character feels like someone you've known your whole life...and somebody you want to keep around for the rest of it too. :-)

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother & Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

No description necessary here, because the memoir's subtitle really says it all. :-P It's a very good book in its own right, but I love this one for entirely personal reasons: a) I was in a traveling mood when I bought it, and b) after I read it, I passed it onto my mother, who enjoyed it too.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

This one came from my ex-roomie Angela - a birthday present. I put it off for months (we usually have very different tastes in books), but she kept asking if I'd read it yet. So, I did. Wonderful! Totally worth the first hundred or so pages of slow "good manners" Britishness.

"It reminds you that love really can conquer all," Angela told me when she handed it over, and the book also shows you how love can transform you and your entire life - even if you're a widower passing your retirement in a tiny, conservative English village.

Honorable Mentions: Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain and Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz

Jo kindly gave it to me this galley, because she knew it was totally my cup of tea. And OMG, I loved it. It has old school fairy tales (which means blood, gore, and very brave kids), but the narrator's voice makes it fresh and new. Gidwitz brings the old stories to life so well goosebumps sprout on your arms - as only the best storytellers can do.

Honorable Mentions: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me and Neil Gaiman's Coraline

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta

I left this one for last, because I don't know how to describe it...besides just saying, awesome, Awesome, AWESOME! That's generally what happens when I want to talk about any of Marchetta's novels: every page packs a punch, the plot carries a million different subplots, and her characters are so layered, so complex, and so real that the book hits you at your core.

I read this somewhere: a great book is the one that alters you and your perception of the book's subject forever. I can't think about a young monarch assuming a throne - one of my favorite fantasy plots, btw - without thinking of Finnikin of the Rock and all its themes.

Go read it.

Actually, go read them all. :-)

Okay, I think I'm gonna go be a geek, grab a book, and read until 2011 rolls in.

In case I don't get around to it tomorrow,

Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tales of Christmas 2010

Our tree on Christmas Eve

-My twenty-year-old brother shoved me while I was taking the picture. Then he made me forward him the photo, because it looked "artistic." *gives bro stern elder sister glare* Actually, my sister - who looked over my shoulder just now - agrees with him.

Our tree after I told my brother what a punk he was

-So cute, right? It's roughly five feet tall. We needed one that would fit inside the car. (The other option was strapping a tree on top of the car for a hour-long winding drive through the mountain highway during a snowstorm.) My brother and my father weren't here yet, so I sawed off the end of the trunk and screwed it into the tree stand myself. *proudly flexes handy-woman muscles*

-I knitted my sister a quilt for Christmas. I knitted three pieces of it in front of her, and she was STILL surprised when she opened it. (Yes, I'm v. v. v. proud of myself.)

My great-grandma and another quilt I knitted her for Christmas.
My grandmother took this pic and sent it to me this morning.

-I debated on whether or not to mention it in this post, but after last night's shoving, the debate was over - embarrassing stories can be told. My brother and I made my great-grandma's infamous eggnog. (Yes, the same great-grandmother pictured above. Her eggnog is infamous, because of how much whiskey she puts in it.) Because I beat the egg whites, I let Clint beat the cream. I thought it was cute, so I stood back and took a few pics. BIG mistake. 'Cause he whipped the cream into butter. Luckily, we had extra cream on hand, so nobody was too unhappy about it. Then the eggnog turned out great, so that made us pretty cheerful too. :-)

-Last night, after the rest of my family went to bed, I stayed up late reading my most recent B&N purchase, Isabel Wolff's A VINTAGE AFFAIR (yeah, I'm sure you're completely shocked - it's totally out of character). On page 75, I read "it's lucky to find a nail, to eat an apple on Christmas Eve, and to accidentally put a garment on inside out." I paused (mainly because it was warm under my covers and NOT warm out of bed) before deciding that it was too much of a coincidence. Besides, with my own book(s) coming out soon, I could really use all the luck I could get. So, I climbed out of bed, snuck into the kitchen, and groped around in the dark until I found the fruit bowl. I must say that green apples make fantastic late night snacks, even on Christmas Eve, but I'm not totally sure it gave me any luck: I woke up with a cold this morning...but then again, I'm sure staying up late didn't help my immune system much. :-P

- (See if you can follow the family tree in this one.) My grandmother - ie. my father's mother - gave MY mother a cookbook for Christmas. Not just any cookbook, but a local one from Louisiana. (Both sides of my extended family live in or near Texas, so this isn't as random as it sounds.) Leafing through the cookbook this afternoon, my mom discovered a long lost recipe for "Condensed Milk Pie," submitted to the cookbook by Mom's father's brother's wife. BUT, Mom says, this recipe was actually invented by her grandmother, ie. Mom's father's mother. Scandal! (P.S. If you followed all that, you deserve so many point. Also, believe it or not, the story could've been a lot more complicated: my mother has four siblings, which gives me eight cousins on one side. But my mother's FATHER had TEN siblings, which means she would have to sit down with pen and paper and a family tree to figure how many siblings SHE has.)

- We had turkey for our big Christmas meal, which means that everyone was too sleepy to reach for their computers right away. Which meant that I had enough time to sneak onto the internet and throw a blog post together.

I hope everyone's holidays have been as fun, silly, and random as mine!!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Case You're Curious...

During my last post, I actually didn't mention what I've actually been up to in the past three months.

So, in case you're curious, and without further ado, I...
  • Got my author photo (Actually, it was a bunch of photos, and I haven't picked one yet. Wanna see one? Wanna? Look right! Honour Hiers took them. She's absolutely awesome.)

  • Replaced all the software on my poor crashed comp. (I actually like the new Microsoft for Mac. I even set up Outlook, because I missed its calendar. Yes, I am a dork.)

  • Started walking again (although less now since it got so freaking cold)

  • I found Sarabeth’s jam at Sur La Table and have used up almost the entire jar. (If you are wondering why this is worth mentioning, you probably haven't ever had Sarabeth's jam. Go get some! Totally worth it!)

  • I knitted and embroidered four Christmas gifts. I would be more specific, or maybe even post pictures as evidence, but some of my family members read this blog. - I don't want to spoil the surprise.

  • Watched ALL of Avatar: The Last Airbender (so CUTE! I know everyone says this, but the series is much much better than the movie. Even if you've seen the movie, don't give up on the cartoon without watching a few episodes. )

  • Reread EAS#1 and made a TON of revision notes

  • Wrote a more detailed synopsis for EAS#2 for Jo (yaaaaaay! I actually don’t mind synopses so much. It’s more the timelines I set for myself.)

  • Was sick – like SICK IN BED and totally out of it – for two weeks straight

  • Sickly, I watched a ridiculous and random amount of films on my laptop, including all of the Harry Potter movies (I, uh, bought the box set at Target *whistles awkwardly in her fandom*) and Anne of Green Gables (Does anyone else remember this one? I loved it so much as a kid. It's the only time I ever had a crush on a dude named Gilbert.)

  • Wrote and rewrote the beginning of EAS#2 at least six times. Sigh. Still not totally happy with it.

  • Filed ALL of my receipts from the past 18 months (I think I also caught some sort of organizing bug right after my flu phase.)

  • We did Thanksgiving, and I ate a ton of Turkey and took a four hour nap.

  • Saw Harry Potter 7: Part I with Angela over Thanksgiving (OMG!! Did they really have to end it there????)

  • Reread HP7 (Yes, after the movie. The order is important. I enjoy the movies so much more if I don’t read the book beforehand.)

  • Actually, I only read 18 books.

  • But I finally finished the FABLEHAVEN series, and OMG, they just kept getting more and more awesome.

  • Visited my sister in Charleston for her birthday. (Actually, this was my first trip driving on the highway by MYSELF – at least outside of Montana.)

  • Snuck in a half-hour trip to the beach on the way back from Charleston, where I had lots of epic EAS#2 thoughts.

  • Did the dreaded Christmas shopping. (I even braved the mall...)

  • Went to my high school and told my advisor (ie. homeroom teacher) that I’m gonna be published. *grins* He was excited. (And now you know what I looked like the day I graduated from high school....about the same, actually. I wonder if Waps minds that I put his picture on this blog. Hmmmm. I will have to ask him when I see him in January.)

  • Wrote some Christmas cards. (Before Christmas even!)

  • Sent some Christmas packages with the cards. (Also before Christmas! I'm totally on a roll this year.)

  • Helped my mom and dad put on a company party for 30+ people (Except for the meat plates, Mom and I made all the food. I swear, my arms are STILL sore from mashing those potatoes. In fact, we may still have some of those mashed potatoes.)

  • Relocated to Montana for Christmas and New Year's, which is where I am now. I am aiming to write as much as possible (Hmmmmmm. So far it's working pretty well, I'd say) AND to reach my goal of reading 100 books this year (two more to go!).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After the Race

I know. I've been completely MIA for - *pops out to check archive* - over a month and a half.

(I haven't even been tweeting regularly. Seriously, how hard can 130 characters be?)

A part of me is ashamed of my bad blogging self. But a bigger part of me acknowledges that stepping away was completely necessary.

In the fall, I hit a major milestone: my first deal. This was a dream that was nineteen years in the making. (I would say twenty-four years in the making, but that would be cheating. Before the age of five, I technically didn't know what a writer was.) I had every expectation - every inclination - to jump in the blogging pool and swim some victory laps...ahem, I mean, write inspirational, moving posts.

But I didn't.

Instead, it really felt like finishing a race. Not a nineteen-year race, because that's just silly. But a fourteen-month race, one that started July 2009 when I first had the idea for EAS and realized that this was the story that begged me to try to get it published. (Previously, I had only written for myself and writer workshops and maybe a small circle of trusted, book-loving friends.)

To be more specific, getting published is like one of those long distance races - the endurance events where your time almost doesn't matter: only getting to the finish line is important.

Those of you who have been in races - both the running and the publishing kind - can see while the analogy comes in handy. You have this goal (to finish/get published), but if you're like me, the big goal is was too overwhelming to approach head-on. You have to break it down into smaller goals. In other words, while you're running and running, your vision tunnels to one thing - the next mile-marker, and a voice chants in your head, Come on. Keep going. If you can get to that sign post, the one where people are cheering, you'll be a quarter of the way. There won't that be awesome? (And then, if you're me, you also promise yourself that you can stop, take a short break, and catch your breath. But maybe that's just me. I'm a terrible runner. I have to lie to myself to trick my body into not stopping.)

These were my "mile-markers:"
Now, I don't know how it is for other people, but for me, the last fourth of the race is always, always complete hell. My entire mind is reduced to the thud of my feet against the asphalt, the stitch in my side, my ragged breathing, and the effort of forcing one leg to move, then the next, and the next, and the next...

My eyes may be on the finish line, but despite my determination to get there, I am fully aware that my body - or in the case of this extended metaphor, my manuscript - may give out. For some races, it's simply not your day to reach the finish line. You'll have to stop, cut your losses, regroup, and start the race all over again on another day (usually with a completely different manuscript).

I don't know any of these girls,
but I wish I could run like them.

I lucked out. With the hard work of the amazing Jo, my manuscript made it to the finish line...and took me along with it.

The finish line feeling is pretty cool: the people closest to you are patting your shoulder telling you what a good job you did, but your body still feels like you're running. You kind of can't believe that the race is actually over; your blood is thumping in your ears; and you have to take a few moments to get air back in your lungs and slow your breathing before you can actually talk to people.

I barely remember the day the deal happened; the strongest memory is a sense of disbelief and breathlessness.

But the really, really awesome feeling is a few minutes after the finish line/days after the deal: the endorphin hits you like a ton of deliriously happy bricks. You feel relief. You feel triumph! You made it! You accomplished your goal. You have so much energy - more than you expected to have after a long race. The world is at your feet, and nothing is your life is impossible. This is when most of the best celebrating happens.

(And I'm sorry, dear blog reader. I didn't post anything in the celebratory phase besides the announcement post. A lot of the elation was spent dancing around in random places and treating myself to way more Pinkberry than is healthy.)

And then, something else happened. It happened to me the same way that it happens after finishing a race, but I haven't heard about it happening to others. (Maybe I was in the unique position: I had the book deal, but since I didn't need to start revising right away, I had some free time.) ((Or maybe I just haven't been in the blogosphere for a while.))

After running a race, after the elated period, the endorphins wear off, and all you can think about is bed. Maybe you also debate about how necessary it is for you to take a shower and rinse off the race sweat before climbing under the covers, but bottom line: you need sleep, and you need it ASAP.

Actually, this is me. I think.
Probably before the age of 2.
(I don't have many pics of myself sleeping - go figure. :-P)

Readers, a week or so after the book deal, I crashed - completely exhausted.

I have workaholic tendencies. (I'm not sure if I mentioned this or not - I hesitate to mention it now. I have a no complaining policy on this blog, and writing this comes pretty darn close.)

For a long time this summer, I didn't even pay attention to to how much time I spent working. I took breaks only to visit the gym, or to take pictures of the bear, to watch SYTYCD, or to call my parents and tell them that I didn't get eaten by the bear. Realizing something is wrong, I started to keep track of my hours in July, and I sincerely hope that it was the height of my unhealthy pace: I spent 10-14 hours a day working at my revising desk. I didn't take weekends. I actually only took three days off that month, and two of them, I spend driving to and around town for supplies.

(This was the last fourth of the race, the difficult part.)

Anyway, after the deal, early in October, I was so worn-out that I actually told Jo that was going to take a month off, because I didn't know when I would get another opportunity to take a break. I did, and it was enormously helpful.

But my body was greedy and wanted more rest. When I jumped right back into work early in November, I quickly got a virus. Which turned into a sinus infection, and I spent two solid weeks in bed. Feverish. Reduced to a diet of soup, Motrin, and as many movies and TV-via-internet shows as my computer would allow.

Now that I've recovered and have moved past the crashed stage, a completely new feeling has taken over. You know, like the day after the race - when you put Band-Aids on all your blisters, put up your running shoes, and start tackling all the errands and the homework you made an executive decision to ignore until you passed that finish line (or not). You still feel good - ahem, just a wee step down from giddy - about what you've accomplished, but the tunnel vision has disappeared. You have other things to do.

Let's call it the Okay, now what? feeling.

Part of the answer is obvious. I was extraordinarily lucky: I have a two-book deal, which means I have one ms to revise and another to write (and then revise). That part is well underway. (Woot!) I'm confident that I can handle that.

Another part of the answer is just as obvious: after the past year, I can see that the work isn't the problem. It's the way I work. I can't spend the rest of my life working at the pace I did in 2010. So, I'm trying to strike a healthy balance between working and living. (I was happy to see some awesome posts, where other industry peeps encourage others to do this: Veronica Roth, Molly O'Neill, and Meredith Barnes.)

Here's where we get to the murky part.

I have finished the race. I have accomplished my dream - a dream, you remember, has been nineteen years in the making. I won't lie. This dream has defined most of my life - at least the parts I had control over. I can be shockingly single-minded like that.

Even though I still feel incredibly lucky and blessed, the question I keep asking myself is "Okay, now what?"

I don't have the answer.

At least, I don't have a complete one. Not yet. But I do know this: dreams change and grow, same as people do. Yes, I have accomplished the dream of becoming a published writer. But the dreaming has not stopped. Now that goal has been reached, I'm uncovering a whole bunch of dreams that were less pressing. I'm starting to realize, Now that I am an author (*grins*), I have to discover what kind of writer I am...and what kind I want to become.

That's no small feat. Especially when you're only twenty-four and you're just now beginning to understand who you are as a person - let alone what you have to offer as a writer.

I will be honest. It scares the heck out of me. But so did leaving New York, and querying, and going on submission.

It's just another race, really. But this one is even longer. Maybe as long as a lifetime.

Wish me luck.

Because I have ever intention of taking all of you with a blogging way, of course. :-P

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photo-Exploration No. 3 - All Hallow's Eve!

Happy Halloween!

This might count as my first vlog. (Emphases on might, though. :-P)

Disclaimer: I don't own the music. It's Peer Gynt: "In the Hall of the Mountain King," composed by Edvard Grieg, performed by BBC Scottish Symphony & Jerzy Maksymiuk.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Five - Adventures in Babysitting*

(*Wasn't that a movie, or am I making that up?)

Disclaimer: Blogging via phone here. Please disregard any typos.

1. I have just reached my tenth straight hour of babysitting my cousins. The baby is napping (2nd nap of the day - victory!). The 2.5 year old is watching the Baby Noah DVD (of the Baby Einstein collection) for the third time in a row. Oh, wait - no, she just left the TV and went to go play house.

I have lost count of how many diapers I've changed today. And how many bottles I feed the baby. Hopefully, their parents won't ask...

2. It took me a few days, but I re-read EVER AFTER SCHOOL this week!! Yes, I know that I'm not supposed to get the editorial letter until early next month. Of course, the last time I read it was back in JULY. I want to have it fresh in my mind, and I, uh, also took pages and pages of revision possibilities. **geek alert**

3. I have been in major plotting mode. My cute little plot notes notebook is filling up, and during an hour long walk on Tuesday, the first few chapters clicked into place in my head. Muahahahahahaha (ie. evil laughter). Exciting things are in store for Rory.

4. Yesterday, Mom and I drove up to Hendersonville in the North Carolina mountains. GORGEOUS!! Even the highway traffic was pretty (see above). We had a top secret *cough - Christmas shopping - cough* purpose to our trip. I was so tempted to buy this early edition of Charlotte's web, but then I couldn't think of anyone who would want it for Xmas. If you do, or know someone who does, it's at Jane Asher Antiques & Fine Traditions - they said that they ship!!

5. I think the baby's awake... Must run!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The JOURNEY, or Photo-Exploration No. 2

Let's pretend for a moment that you're me, and you're in a really bad mood.

It happens sometimes, even when things are going stupendously well.

Sometimes, the weather is just crummy. Sometimes, you get stuck doing tax-related stuff on a day when you planned to devour a sumptuous book. Sometimes, you're sitting at your writing desk, pen in one hand, notebook under the other, waiting impatiently for brilliant solutions to plot problems to land in your brain. Sometimes, you start thinking that if you have to stare at the page for just one more second, you'll pick it up and tear it into a million little pieces.

(I'll let you guess which one was going on today.)

You decide that there's only one way to cheer yourself up. You put on your sneakers, track down your iPod, and go for a walk.

You plan to go to this really pretty - ahem, soothing - place, where you've been before.

But because it's maybe five minutes away from your front door, you decide to go the long way.

Turns out that the long way turns into the longer way, because you forgot that you don't have sidewalk on your side of the highway. You cross the highway.

It's a nice one (a.k.a. Providence Road), but there are so many cars. They're so loud. Almost louder than your iPod blasting through your earphones.

You turn away from the cars, and...

Is that a dirt road in the middle of the city? Like fifty meters away from KinderCare? Really?

And what is that glimmer in the distance?

Obviously, you only have one choice.

Maybe you've even got Robert Frost beating out a rhythm in your mind: "Two roads diverged in a wood, but I--/I took the one less traveled by..." (Maybe there's even an English major voice telling your mind how cliché that is, and your mind tells that English major voice to mind its own business.)

Oooo, it's pretty back here.

Really pretty.

Of course, it might be a good idea to get back to the road before you get lost...

...but oops, the guys who are building back here (and probably opened the gate) are off their lunch break. They've gotten back to work. Maybe it's better to keep walking and not interfere with construction progress (ahem, and not walk by a supervisor who might tell me off for trespassing).

Carry on, then. Wow, there's a huge field back here. A little muddy though. And look! a creek!

Uh, how do you get over the creek? There's no bridge...

You cross the creek the old fashioned way - kicking the roads to scare away potential snakes and clambering down. You smear your sneakers with mud in the dry(ish) creek bed, and you start climbing back up.

And is that a random chimney on the bank? Well, that's not surreal at all.

Okay, you cross another field. You can see another road through the trees. You walk a little closer, and you realize you've arrived in someone's backyard. You can't figure out how to reach that road without walking down this house's driveway. sneak past the house and down the driveway, breaking into a trot in case anyone is home.

You have no idea where you are. Well, the name of the street seems a little familiar, but less than a mile from your house, you're kinda lost.

How fantastic!

This is the best walk ever!!!

And check it out - What pretty trees! :-)

This is a really nice street too.

Hey, that house looks just like a castle.

OMG, no one needs to tell [your MC] how to get there! [Your MC] just needs to find a castle during her quest and sneak inside!


The events of this post are based on a true story. I really did get a little bit of writer's block and go for a walk, which helped me get unstuck. I recommend taking a break for anyone who feels like they're (metaphorically) ramming their head against a wall. (Well, literally too.)

In case you were worried, I found myself in front of Queens University, which is a couple miles from my house, and I knew exactly how to get home.

I took the scenic route, happily plotting all the way...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

GUESS WHAT?!? (Hint: It's totally SQUEE-worthy.)

Gah, I can't believe that I get to write this post.

(I can't believe I get to write this post so quickly.)

But look what Jo did! Ahem, I mean, what Publisher's Marketplace posted at some point while we were all sleeping:

Children's: Fantasy
Shelby Bach's EVER AFTER SCHOOL series, about how an eleven-year-old discovers her destiny in a world of magic and fairy tales, pitched as Percy Jackson meets The Sisters Grimm, to Courtney Bongiolatti at Simon & Schuster Children's, in a two-book deal, by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation (World English).

I kind of still can't believe it!!! My first book-baby! Jo found EVER AFTER SCHOOL a home!!

In case you were wondering...

The offer came a week and a day ago - on my great-grandmother's ninety-sixth birthday.

Morin (that's my great-grandmother) and I were just hanging out at the time, waiting to go to her b-day dinner party, and then Jo called.

I really wish I could tell you more about the call, but I actually don't remember much. My brain stopped processing. Actually, a lot of things stopped processing. All I remember is Jo talking really fast and me trying to take notes, which really didn't work, because my mind was screaming, "OMG! OMG! OMG!"

It was all surreal like whoa. I was sure that I would wake up and discover I had dreamed it all.

Then I started dancing around after I hung up the phone and told Morin (who sweetly said, "What great news! Now my birthday's really special"). I started tearing up when I told my mom and she said she was crying. Then Morin started telling everybody who called to wish her a happy birthday before I got the chance.

And every day since then, I've been freaking out more and MORE as it gets more REAL.

I mean, I've got an editor. Named Courtney. She's real - I know, because I got to talk to her on the phone. And she really loves my book. She said so. And she said that I should know that it's not an empty compliment, because she bought that book (plus the sequel!).

And that publishing house - Simon and Schuster? I know it's real. I used to walk by it all the time when I lived in New York (it's right beside Magnolia Bakery).

And deadlines! That will go in a contract! (Actually, the deadlines are what makes this feel the most real. Because I probably wouldn't imagine deadlines if I was dreaming. :-P)

Also, I've got this pretty new announcement that makes the news public. Ready to see it again? Ready? (Because I don't think that I'll ever get tired of looking at it.)

Children's: Fantasy
Shelby Bach's EVER AFTER SCHOOL series, about how an eleven-year-old discovers her destiny in a world of magic and fairy tales, pitched as Percy Jackson meets The Sisters Grimm, to Courtney Bongiolatti at Simon & Schuster Children's, in a two-book deal, by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation (World English).


But seriously, y'all - the more it sinks in, the more I realize how incredibly lucky I am, and how many people I have to thank.

Like my parents, who - when I told them that I wanted to quit my steady job in New York and write for real - told me to "go for broke," as Mom says. And definitely, Joanna at NC Lit, my lovely sweet talented agent, who pulled EVER AFTER SCHOOL out of the e-slush pile and loved it like whoa, who believed in it and me, who helped me polish it to submission-worthy shape with the patience of a sage. And Courtney at S&S, who loved it too and worked hard to get it to the right meetings, despite having lots of other things going on last month. And Maria, who let me brainstorm in her office last year and then laughed in all the right places, who read it this summer and still loved it. And Colby and Clint (my siblings), who never made fun of their big sister, even though I made it easy plenty of times. And Team JoSVolpe for just being a wonderful, warm, supportive bunch of writers.
And a great group of friends, some fellow writers and some not, who read either this manuscript or past ones, and asked, Cool, can I read another one you wrote? (Always always a great compliment.)

I am truly lucky and truly blessed.

And so SO excited!!!! :-D

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Blog Has Two Lives

Hello, my dear readers!

You might have noticed that a ton of posts have either changed or disappeared overnight. Well, there's a reason for that. I've divided my lives, developed a new pen name, created a new blog, and relocated lots of content to the new (web)site.

Don't worry. I plan to blog a lot to make up for it.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy DUFF day!!!

I can't deny it. I love books.

But it's very very rare that I read a book where I think, OMG, I SO wish I could travel back in time and give this to my teenage self.

That's exactly how I feel about Kody Keplinger's The DUFF. I feel lucky that I got a chance to read it at age 24. But I feel like I needed to read it circa age 15 - back when I completely hated my body.

In your middle teens, you're absolutely sure that your friends are at least ten times as hot as your plumpish/pimply/frizzy-haired self. But what if the hot guy at your school tells you that you're the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to your face? What if you - for instance - respond by throwing Cherry Coke in his face? What if - maybe a couple weeks later - you start hooking up with him? And then - gasp! - FALLING FOR HIM?

Well, that's exactly what happens to The DUFF's main character, Bianca Piper.

(I know. Kody Keplinger had me at the hook, too. But it's so much more than that.)

What makes this novel shine is Bianca's voice.

Bianca's the kind of character that invades your head and never leaves - when you think about her later, you kind of forget that she's not actually a real person. I would've LOVED to have her as a best friend. She tells her story with the kind of brutal honesty and hidden vulnerability that defined my teen years.

It was the kind of book that when you had to put it down - to go run to the next gate in the airport, to go pick up your two-year-old cousin from daycare like I did - your mind circles back to it again and again. You want to find out what Bianca is going to say/do next, and if Wesley (the jerk) can get any hotter, and if she's really going to pick drippy Toby (the crush) over Wesley.

And the scene where Bianca talks to Vikki in the bathroom and realizes a few things about DUFFdom - Well, that made me want to run to the phone, call up my bffs from high school, and read them all of Chapter 26.

Then when you finish, you want MORE, and are very very sad it's a debut novel and you have to wait a whole year for the next Kody Keplinger novel. Sigh.

So, people - go out, find The Duff, and meet Bianca.

Her story won't let you go any time soon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Agent + Friend + Me + Sugar High = Awesome Like Whoa

So it's Labor Day night, and my (editor) friend Maria and I just waved Jo - my lovely agent extraordinaire - off as she drove away towards Long Island.

Every time we hang out, I realize that she's even MORE awesome than I thought before. (And I always thought she was SUPER awesome.)

The sugar crash has just kicked in like whoa, but here are a few highlights:
  • She brought me a galley!!!!! So excited to start reading it!

  • We had an awesome conversation about survival strategies for the apocalypse and thriller movies.

  • Dinner was manicotti with garlic bread....and then apple pie. This was where the sugar high kicked in. (Very important to the evening's adventures.)

  • After talking about monkey bars during dinner, we all took a walk in the park in Maria's backyard - with the sole intention of finding monkey bars and seeing if we still had our old playground skills.

  • We didn't. But we blame the new monkey bars. They weren't like this, which is what we grew up with:
    But more like this, except curved:

  • But Jo was determined anyway. She was so determined to not cheat by using her legs that she did a major faceplant into the weird cushy stuff below the bars. Then she GOT UP and didn't stop trying until she managed it. (I must add that I never managed it without cheating and using my legs.)

  • We found the pull up bar and did pull ups. So, maybe they were assisted pull ups, and maybe the dudes working out looked at us like we were totally lame, but we did them.

  • Back at the apartment, we found karaoke clips online and sang Lady Gaga and Queen - at the top of our lungs.

  • Then we had a spontaneous dance party, where she taught me an awesome new dance move called Psycho. Two people: one in the shower and one with the (imaginary) knife. It took me and Maria a few times to master the steps, but it was totally worth it.
(There were a couple more highlights, but I was sworn to secrecy. Shhhh.)

Maria and I can be insanely silly together, so I thought we would be frightening in our ridiculousness.

But no, Jo joined in, which made for a night of epic awesome.

Thank you, Jo, for letting me cook for you and for being so fun to hang out with. :-D!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's a Stop-The-Pity Party.

This is definitely not my cake, or my design, or my photo.
All came from Pink Cake Box, but this one reminded me of Dr. Seuss, which I <3>

My lovely blog turns one year old today!!!

My dear agent-sister, Linda Benson, is holding a contest for her blog's first birthday, which I think is an awesome idea.

But I'm not going to do that, not for this anniversary.

In my six-month-anniversary post, I chatted about all the things I've accomplished since leaving NY. And at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, I'm going to do that again.

I encourage you to do the same. Especially if you've been hard on yourself lately, like I have.

I mean, I'll be the first to admit that I add items on my to-do list just to make myself feel more productive - e.g. 3) eat lunch, 11) load the dishwasher, and 21) take a shower. (This totally works by the way. Seeing things, even small things, get crossed off your to-do list is a very satisfying feeling.)

But I also have to admit that I'm totally Type A. (Or rather Type C - which is Type A, who works really hard to convince peeps that she's Type B.) It's an advanced case - I have a voice in my head that talks a lot like Hermione Granger. It's always concerned about the things that I haven't done or that I could've done better.

That voice is particularly noisy this week - for two reasons:

a) I'm getting over being sick, and I'm working about half as quickly as I normally do.

b) I just realized that one of my projects will be late - despite the best efforts of the people involved, including me. :-(

(Of course, I won't repeat all the things I've already talked about in this post, because that would just be bragging. So, this is just a list from February 19 onward.)
  1. I went to New York to meet my lovely, talented, sweet agent, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe.
  2. I completed two revisions for my agent (plus a pass she never saw).
  3. I lived alone for roughly 21 weeks of this year, which was one of my life goals. (Not the week-count, obviously - the living alone part.)
  4. I embroidered a cute little something for my little sister.
  5. I read 45 books since February 19, which makes 125 over the course of the past year. (But only 78 were book I had never read before. The rest were re-reads.)
  6. I also went on submission.
And, of course, I also took showers on a regular basis. So there's another item to cross off the list. :-P

So, I definitely did stuff. And I bet you did too.

What I've noticed about people (including myself) that if you're Type A or just stressed out, most of your thoughts are concerned with the things that you still need to get done. Sometimes, you can remember what you spent the last month accomplishing. In a few rare cases, you might recall what you did two whole months ago.

Think back six months. Where were you then? What were you doing? What were you worried about? What were you thinking would never get done? ('Cause I bet it got done.)

Now think back twelve months. Ask yourself the same questions.

You probably racked up quite a list of accomplishments. Give yourself credit.

No matter how long your to-do list is at this moment, you've already done - and forgotten - some of the things on your list (and a few things that probably weren't). Put it all in perspective. You'll probably forget about all these things that you're currently worrying about within the space of two years. Try to limit your worry as much as possible.

When I moved out of New York last August, I couldn't have predicted everything that happened to me. Or everything that I would make happen.

It's been a heck of a year.

And though I'm going to try to limit the freakout as much as possible, it's only going to get more hectic from here.

(Hahahahahaha. Okay, I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. :-P)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Does It Ever Get Any Easier?

My friends have been asking me this question a lot lately. Now that I have a wonderful, enthusiastic agent (ie. now that I've hit a career milestone), is it any easier?

It's always a blanket question, but I know what they mean. Is it easier to write? To revise? To sit down at your writing desk when so many distractions abound? To have faith in your ability to tell the story you set out to tell?

The answer is no.

(Actually, what I told one friend was, absolutely not, because technically, I'm on submission right now. Knowing that my manuscript is in the hands of complete strangers with the power to publish isn't the most comfortable feeling in the world.)

I wrote about writing demons yesterday (here), those little voices in our heads that try to throw wrench in the creative process.

If you have writing demons, as many of us do, they'll stick with you. Every step of the way. (Of course, it's entirely possible that your internal editor will start to seem like your actual editor - ie. the one at the publishing house - with her face, her voice, and all of her pet peeves.)

It's better to stand and face them as soon as you can, because they don't all magically disappear every time you reach a milestone.

In fact, only one takes a hike forever. I call him...

The What-If Demon

This one stalks you in the middle of the night, keeping you awake and giving voice to your wildest dreams: What if you tried to get published? What if you did land an agent? What if you actually sold your book and saw it on the shelf - your story out into the world for anyone to read?

I always thought of him like Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle. A helpful sort of demon. The kind that inspires you to action.

He only becomes scary if he's ignored for months, years, or even decades. Then, he becomes a Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda Demon, full of bitterness and rage.

And he starts looking less like Calcifer and more like the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Once the agent is signed, and the book is sold, the What If demon packs up. You don't wonder what if, because it's done.

But instead of having one less demon at your writing desk, you get another one - a replacement.

The Oh-No Demon

He's invisible - at least, to me. Probably because I can't fight him.

He makes me worry about all the things that I can't control: Is the cover of my book going to be ugly? Or will it be cute, but not the kind of book that kids automatically pick up? Will I get terrible reviews, so that no library in their right mind wants to carry it? What if the chain bookstores don't carry it? And what if the indie booksellers don't like it and refuse to shelf it also? What if it is shelved but gets lost on the shelf?

(Actually, this is starting to seem a lot like the What If Demon. Maybe it evolves, then. Kind of like in video games.)

Let's face it. This is a scary industry. No matter what stage of the game you've reached, there is always something to worry about it.

And it's not just me.

In this post, Myra McEntire blogs about how as the publication date for your debut novel nears, you can start fretting over whether real people - not just industry readers - will like your book. As Veronica Roth explains in this post, even after you sign your contract for your mega-lead trilogy, you can still sit down at your computer and find an audience of writing demons you don't remember inviting. (Both are awesome posts, by the way. If you haven't read them, go do it.)

Back though, to the original question: Does it ever get any easier?

Forget success, or milestones. Let's say you have a career that measures in decades, not years. Do you ever get to the point where you don't have to battle your writing demons every day?

I'm obviously not there yet, but I'll go out on a limb.

I'll say, yes.

I mean, this article says that people grow happier as they grow older. One theory (ie. my fav) says that after a certain point (your fifties?), you stop worrying about the small things. Why can't that be true for writers too?

At some point, I bet it does get easier.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, you'll have a system down for dealing with your writing demons. Eventually, you'll have enough practice so your battles feel less like an obstacle and more like routine.

Someday, too, you'll be more content with what you've already accomplished, rather than fretting about the things that can go wrong.

Someday, it'll be enough. You Came. You Saw. You Wrote.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Know Your Writing Demons.

[I've been reading some awesome, thought-provoking blog posts recently from these lovely ladies, and they've inspired me to throw my own thoughts into the mix. It got long, so this is part 1 of 2. Here we go.]

What are writing demons?

They sit at your desk with you, whispering all of their unhelpful advice. There are multitudes, but personally, one talkative trio bugs me the most.

I'd like to introduce them to you, just in case their brothers and sisters live on your desk.

The Not-Now Demon
(a.k.a. Procrastination)

She's definitely a temptress. You know the one. She tries to turn you away from your writing desk at all costs. She assures you that you're totally going to get a lot of writing/revising work done today. But not now.

Maybe it's a little mean to call Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo a demon.
She's not really, but then I always thought of Procrastination being
an impish, fun-loving creature, who doesn't mean to mess you up.
I don't think I could say no if Ponyo just wanted to play.

First, you've got to check Twitter. And refresh your email at least a thousand times. And you really should take a break to do the dishes. And to watch the latest of episode of So You Think You Can Dance/True Blood/Glee. And when was the last time you called your great-aunt Myrtle?

She's a dangerous little demon. Mainly because she seems so harmless. But then half the day slips by before you even realize you're procrastinating...

The Eww-Not-That Demon
(a.k.a. the Internal Editor)

This one's tricky, because you actually need him. I didn't always have him. I spent many blissfully ignorant years scribbling novel-length stories in notebooks that no one was allowed to touch. Back then, my idea of editing was adding the commas and quotation marks I missed.

Okay, so this is actually a demon from Soul Eater,
the show I've been watching most recently on Hulu.
But this is how I think of that little internal editor.

But something happened when I began attending youth summer workshops in high school and creative writing classes in college. Basically, the more I shared my work with others. I began to notice a little editor demon, sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear: "Would this character really say that?" "Are you sure you need that sentence?" "This scene is getting too long. Speed it up, Shelby!" "Conflict! Where's the conflict?!?"

I'm happy to have this little guy. He improved my writing like whoa. But that's only when I'm revising.

If he's around when I'm working on a first draft, he can be crippling. He can tear a scene to pieces before I even get it on the pages. All he has to do is wince at a word choice, and all my enthusiasm takes a beating.

The You-Are-Not-Worthy Demon
(a.k.a. Self Doubt)

Okay, so this is the Black Horned King from Disney's the Black Cauldron,
based on a book by Lloyd Alexander. But he gets to be Self-Doubt,
he freaked me the heck out when I was a kid. (Actually, he still does.)

My least favorite demon of all. We all have him shadowing us, sometimes even on days when we're not at our writing desk. His catch phrase is, "You[r writing] suck[s]." This demon compares us to our favorite writers, and then gleefully tells us, "You'll never be that good." He tells us to quit now before the whole world starts laughing at us.

I wish I could tell you that he has a redeeming quality, but he really doesn't. He is simply unhelpful. And very, very mean.

Now the real questions is, What can we do with these guys?

Good news: They're part of us, so they're just as likely to be wrong as we are. (I may be weird, but I find that a really reassuring thought.)

Bad news: They're part of us, so they go where we go. Running from them won't help. Even if you avoid them one day, they'll find you soon.

They must be conquered. Again and again.

Unfortunately, there's no set formula for how to defeat writing demons.The only step we have in common is realizing they're there and they're ultimately unimportant.

No, the more I'm around different writers, I see more and more that everybody has their own method for every step of the process, including quelling writing demons.

Some writers vent to friends and family.

Some writers work out out to use up all their excess energy and let endorphins do lots of their writer-demon slayage.

Some writers send long, angsty emails in the middle of the night to whoever they think can reassure them - maybe a writer friend or a beta reader or an agent. (I don't recommend this. If you do this too often, then you'll become annoying, and then they'll stop opening your emails. That'll take you back to square one.)

A great many writers turned to substance abuse to combat writing demons, which is where we get the cliché of the alcoholic/druggie artist. (Don't recommend that one either.)

My tactic: Vent to my journal, and possibly a few friends or loved ones if I'm really down. And of course, read fabulous blog posts by fellow writers dealing with their own demons. (Read those if you get a chance; they're awesome.) :-D

Who are your writing demons? How do you deal with them? (And has anyone else named theirs, or am I totally weird?)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Five, Or When the Heck Did July Get Here?

  1. Dude, I saw the new KARATE KID movie on Monday, and it was awesome! I'm not saying that it doesn't have its faults - the little kid romance might have been better as a friendship, and it's my personal opinion that the film editor could have shaved 12-20 minutes off the film just by cutting out some extraneous scenes. BUT Jaden Smith is so adorable! He's not a very big kid, so when he takes a beating (and he takes plenty - these kids are brutal to one another), you just want to reach into the screen and carry him away from all the bullies. You can't help but root for him.

    Also, the screenplay is above average. Whoever wrote it was fully aware of the other movie and did a pretty good job of messing with people's expectations.

  2. Cherries are in season somewhere in the world, and I have recently discovered my love for them. I'm talking the fresh kind - not the ones that come out of the jar in a florescent color. I think I've eaten more of them this past month than the last 23 years. Um, and I may or may not have some next to my computer right this second. :-D

  3. I've been way busy recently. (I did try to explain why in my last post.) But I was kind of saddened when I realized that I've only read five books this June: Peter Pan in Scarlet, by Geraldine McCaugheran; The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi; The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls; and Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater. My fav was definitely Charlotte Doyle. Shiver might have beat it except the crazy girl werewolf was named Shelby. It was a little disconcerting.

  4. I had to change the name of the main character for one of my projects (the "E" one - see below). Last week, Some guy that's on the children's NYT bestseller list in three different spots released some sample chapters for his new novel (out in October), and it turns out he named his girl MC the exact same thing. Same spelling and everything. (I won't name names though. Just post links.)

    It was sad, but I think I found a new name that I love just as much. Yay!

  5. Obsessed is probably the wrong word, but every week, I make time for So You Think You Can Dance. (This is a new phenomenon for me. I don't usually watch the season as it airs. I usually wait for other people to tell me which routines to watch and then look them on YouTube.) Kent is actually my favorite contestant, personality-wise, but OMG, did you see Alex Wong and Twitch's Hip Hop routine this week????? Words cannot describe the AWESOME.

    Here's the video, but watch it fast - I'm sure Fox will make YouTube take down the video sometime soon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What It's Like to Be Back in Montana

(I didn't realize that how much traveling I'd been doing in the past few weeks until I looked at some of my past blog post titles. :-o)

1. I had to learn to cook for myself again. (Oh, Mom - how I miss you and your delicious cooking.) It wasn't without mishaps. I tried to grill on the cabin's tiny tabletop grill. But the temperature was hanging around the fifties and I couldn't get it to light properly. (I still haven't figured out if the two are related.) So, I left the chicken on, thinking that even if the grill wasn't hot enough to cook it, the tenderloins would get the nice BBQ flavor.

When I came back, they looked like this.

Namely, kind of blackened on one side. Oooooops.

2. The weather has been insane. I know I promised not to talk about the weather anymore, but I figured out why I do it - I'm completely fascinated. It's not at all what I grew up with in Charlotte, NC. As a writer, it's very helpful as far as developing setting goes.

As for my blog readers, please bear with me. (Hehehehe - okay, that was a pun. You'll see why later.)

First of all, when I arrived a week and a half ago, the snow hadn't completely melted:

I decided to just deal with it. Since the temperatures, in the 50's and 60's, I figured it would melt soon enough.

In Montana's June, it storms often. If you're in the valley, you can see it in the distance...

...and coming in fast.

(I may or may not have taken those pictures while I was driving. Whichever isn't illegal.)

In the mountains, thunderstorms can drop enough hail that it almost looks like it snowed (see below).

Then, last Friday, it DID actually snow. That's right. On June 11, 2010, I saw this view from my writing desk:

By the way, all the snow has melted off the porch, but little patches still dot the landscape.

3. In the middle of mud season, the mountain has less people and more animals. For instance, a bear came up on my porch and sniffed the grill I used to cook the afore-mentioned blackened chicken...

(That's where I left the grill by the way, and yes, that's the bear's back.)

...and then left.

I was a little nervous at the time, but after all, it's not a very big bear. And according to wikipedia, black bears are 85% vegetarian. :-D

Anyway, I've stopped taking walks around the neighborhood, just as a precaution, but I haven't seen the bear since I took this picture last Wednesday.

4. I've been working. I need to get a revision to my editor. I've owed her a revision for several months, and we have a couple more rounds of revision to get through before it goes to copy-editing (!!!) in the beginning of September (!!!!).

I haven't been blogging or tweeting regularly. Sadly, I haven't even been reading or commenting on blogs regularly recently either. I'm so sorry, my dears, but that might not change until after my revisions are under control... (insert embarrassed face here)

I'll try to catch up once I get a better handle on work. <3!!