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Writer Resources

The online writing community can be phenomenal, but it can also be overwhelming. Some great resources have been shared on the Pitch Wars hashtag over the past week to help navigate the rules and language of publishing. Here are my favorites:

What is a WC, you ask? (Hint: It’s not a potty in France.) The publishing biz loves abbreviations. A few years ago Dahlia Adler shared a fantastic glossary to help you wade through the alphabet soup of MSs, LIs, and CPs.
Literary agent Janet Reid hosts this must-read resource for querying writers. Though new-comers should read the entire website, in the post linked above, the shark herself boils down the answer to the essential question: What is a query letter?
Literary agent Jennifer Laughran keeps her former blog open for references like these, and Wordcount Dracula is one of the most popular posts. In it she explains the accepted norms for word counts (WC) in children’s books.
Literary agent John Cusick addresses taking measure of yourself as a writer. He also recently posted here about effective queries.

Pre-order of the Week – My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights

Last year, my friend Angelica R. Jackson wrote great post on what pre-orders mean for authors. (You can read the full post here.) Today I wanted to share some of that information, along an awesome middle grades book available for pre-order now!

 

Ordering ahead rocks for readers. You get the book delivered to your door on or sometimes even before release day, and you don’t have to worry about a brick-and-mortar not having the title you’ve anxiously awaited. Pre-orders can also be a great boost for the author. These numbers can increase the size of the initial print run and/or the promotional budget.

 

For all of those reasons, I was thrilled to pre-order My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin last week! Check out the gorgeous cover and all the info:

 

 

Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.



At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?  
Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin. 

 

I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations, Brooks!

 

Music for today: Mercy by Muse

Book Review: How We Fall

Today I’m reviewing How We Fall by Kate Brauning. This book has been on my TBR list since its release, and I was lucky enough to win a copy at the SCBWI mid-year workshops in Orlando this month.



Buy it here

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus. Their friendship has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie. Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away.
 
The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus. Then Marcus pays the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance becomes horribly clear. Can Jackie leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
 
The review:
I really enjoyed How We Fall. The relationship between two cousins, Jackie and Marcus, is steamy, intriguing, and uncomfortable in a way that amps up the tension from the opening chapter. The family dynamics, including both sets of parents and many siblings, also give the story depth and authenticity. I was skeptical at first to see how the mystery of Ellie’s disappearance would play out with the complexity of the love story, and while I would’ve liked a bit more of that plot line developed in the first half of the book, Brauning did pull it all together in the end. My favorite secondary character was Will, a fantastic alternative love interest. I would recommend this book to fans of YA contemporary romance and suspense.
5 out of 5 stars.

 

Music for today: 15 Step by Radiohead

Cover Reveal: Library Jumpers

Brenda Drake has done more to support other authors than just about anyone I know on the Internet. Thank you so much, Brenda, for all the time, love, and support for the YA community and beyond. I am so thrilled today to be able to share in the cover reveal for her book Library Jumpers! Isn’t it gorgeous?

Library Jumpers
Release Date: January 2016
Entangled Teen
Summary from Goodreads:
Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum, suddenly disappears. While examining the book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.

Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed.

Pre-Order Links:

 

 

About the Author
 
Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up is of hereccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical.
 

When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

For the Love of Reading

Imagine if I told you, an adult who reads for entertainment, that you’ll now be required to answer a question with a written response every time you put down a book or an article. The articles will have more questions, with both multiple choice and long written responses. They’ll ask you questions like this: 
 
What is the purpose of this sentence? They had a tiny yard. 
Is it A.) To tell you the size of their yard or B.) To explain why they built a tree house (That’s an actual question from my son’s homework last night. The correct answer is B.)

 

And books…well, to make sure you understand what you’ve read, you’ll have to write short responses every time you read, as well as a longer summary and review when you finish the book.

 

I’m a writer, and that doesn’t sound like “reading for pleasure” to me.  The thing is, I’m also a teacher. I know that you need kids to read, and you need them to get better at reading as fast as possible, because your paycheck depends on it. Even the ones who didn’t eat breakfast this morning or any morning. Even the ones who speak English as a second language. Even the ones who hate reading because it’s hard and boring and just doesn’t make sense.

 

No child left behind, right?

 

You need them to read, and you have to hold them accountable, and you have to prove that you tried, even if you can’t show growth.

 

My fifth grade son starts two full weeks of standardized testing Monday. My third grader already completed his. I expected the homework to decrease at this point. Silly, I know. Instead, my older son’s online lessons increased from two to five. That means five online lessons in addition to his hour+ of old fashioned paper and pencil homework.

 

But the real kicker is for my third grader. The one who already finished his tests. Instead of nine online lessons per week, in addition to regular homework, he now has sixteen. Sixteen online lessons per week. Plus homework. Plus projects. Plus “pleasure” reading and responses every night. Except, when is he supposed to do this reading for fun?

 

I know, I know. I could homeschool them. I could pull them from their accelerated/advanced magnet school. But it’s not just their school. This pervasive sickness is invading education culture in our country. I’m not venting to complain, but to lament.

 

They’re killing the love of reading.

 

If you want kids with higher lexile levels, make them fall in love. Hook them with whatever hooks them so they can’t put the words down. Make them hunger for it. Comic book superheroes, wimpy kids, princesses, elephants, or wizards away at boarding school. Feed whatever stokes that fire. Read aloud and silently, outside or on bean bags or stretched out on the floor. Open up their imaginations and pour stuff in until something sticks. Celebrate the day they’re late to class because they couldn’t stop reading. Let them draw their book reports, or just stand up and talk about what was awesome or what was cheesy, or write their own fan fiction with a new ending.
Because once they fall in love, they won’t be able to stop. They’ll read that longer, more complicated book because everyone’s talking about it at lunch, and it has a zombie and an evil alien warlord. Or they’ll learn what the word obsequiously means because that’s how that freshman acted around the student body president in that one contemporary romance.  

 

See, my son should be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with joy and anticipation and maybe even a little disappointment that the beginning is so long. He shouldn’t have to worry that if he doesn’t read the right number of pages each night, he won’t make his goal of 1,050 pages for the quarter, or that he might have to stop and read some easier, short books in between to complete the right number of reports.

 

There are some things you just can’t measure on standardized tests or additions to the portfolio. Every kid is different. If you teach a kid to love reading, maybe you won’t see the results right now. But you will change the world. You’ll change his or her world. And isn’t that what really matters? 
 
Music for today: Everything Is Wrong by Interpol. 

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

I’ve read plenty of books since my last book review. But none of them struck me with enough force to put fingers to keyboard to sing praises. I haven’t really fallen in love with a book for a while. I want to thank Jacqueline Woodson for reminding me what that feels like.

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson gives an autobiography of her childhood in captivating verse. She explores issues of geographical identity, race, religion, and personal dreams in a way that keeps the pages turning and leaves the reader hungry for more.

You may notice the seals on the picture above; Brown Girl Dreaming has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Medal, an NAACP Image Award, and the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. I’m sure even more will follow. When reading this book, you know in just a few pages that you’ve discovered a modern day classic, timeless and stunning, that children and adults alike will be reading for generations to come.

If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go read this book!

5 out of 5 stars.

Crow’s Rest

I have followed the publication journey of the YA urban fantasy Crow’s Rest for a while now. I am so excited to share the book trailer today!

The summary:

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam’s, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers–and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone–or something–has taken his place.


Her quest to find the real Daniel–and get him back–plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.



Written by the fabulous Angelica R. Jackson, Crow’s Rest will be available in May of 2015. Angelica made the trailer herself on a tight budget. You can learn more about the author on her website here. And for more information on how she put this awesome trailer together, click here.

Crow’s Rest is up on Goodreads and available for pre-order here and here.

Book Review: Chronicles from Chateau Moines

Today I’m reviewing Chronicles from Chateau Moines by Evelyne Holingue. It is available here on Amazon and here at Barnes and Noble. 

 

Summary:
Twelve-year-old Scott is still reeling from his mother’s death. Why is his father dragging the family from their home in California to the small French town of Chateau Moines? With his dad keeping secrets and his sister fitting in right away, Scott struggles to adjust to his new life. Enter Sylvie, a music-loving classmate who won’t admit how fascinated she is by this American boy. If she can overcome her resistance, and her best friend’s crush, Sylvie may be the perfect friend to help Scott find his place in France. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War protest era, Chronicles from Chateau Moines is about loss and friendship, music and peace, and overcoming family secrets.

 

Review:
As a girl, I dreamed of visiting France one day. As an adult, my visit there holds special memories. Not only did I spend an anniversary with my husband in Paris, but I also started writing seriously when I came home. I may be a little biased, but I absolutely loved the setting of Chateau Moines. From the opening chapters, the author whisked me away to this small town in France. Set in 1970, the characters’ varying stances on the Vietnam War also give a unique international view of the time period.

 

Sylvie and Scott’s distinct voices were also a high point. I related quickly to Scott as a main character—I sympathized with his grief over his mother’s death, and I rooted for him as he stood firm in his beliefs while leading a war protest. Although the characters are younger, I think both the theme and the voice would appeal to upper middle grades readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction and anyone who loves all things French.

 

5 out of 5 stars.

2015!

2015! I am so ready for the flying cars, house cleaning robots, and the slimming, monochromatic body suits we were promised. As we all sky rocket into the future, I have a few bookish goals for the year ahead.

 
1. Review more books.

I really skimped on my book reviewing last year. I hate writing bad reviews. I know they’re helpful to other readers, but as a writer, I really struggle with tearing down someone else’s work. I enjoy critiquing and beta reading, but at that point the work is still in flux. If the writer shares it with me, she is still willing to make changes. That knowledge gives me the freedom to share what doesn’t work for me. But a published work is complete. Just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean someone else will. And unfortunately, I only read a few books that I really loved last year. Here’s hoping goal #2 changes that in 2015.

2.   Read more debuts.
 
Last year I mostly read big name, highly publicized books, partially because I’m entrenched in so many series. I enjoyed the fresh voices in the debuts I did read, and I plan to push myself in that direction this year.

3. Really enjoy the fun parts of writing.

Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s messy and free and private. Things may really take shape in the revising stage, but that part is as much work as it is fun. This year I just want to soak in the joy of creative process, instead of always focusing on the success or failure of the end product.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are off to a great new year!

Music for today: There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths

Remembering Why

I had this great conversation with a teenager a few weeks ago. He was a stranger to me, and circumstances just happened to have us sitting next to each other. He started by asking me what I was reading. (It was Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.) I gave him a quick summary, and he shared with me how he used to enjoy reading so much, but things were just too busy between high school and his job to read for fun anymore.

He was a non-native English speaker, and it was learning to enjoy reading that brought the language alive for him. Any guess what the book that hooked him was? I wasn’t surprised when he said Harry Potter, because I witnessed that same magic with my students in middle school year after year. My first revelation that day was a sense of regret that our education system hasn’t picked up on this trend. In elementary and middle school, we encourage kids to read whatever they enjoy, to foster a love of books. We are dying for kids to read for fun. But in many high schools, the emphasis shifts. I think we’d do better to support reading as a source of entertainment instead of just work.

Next he asked me if I was a teacher. He said I just had that look, though I think it was more my enthusiasm for talking about Harry Potter, and books in general, that gave me away. So, here’s the thing. I told him I was a teacher, but I didn’t tell him I’m a writer. (I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t relish the follow-up questions that come with that.) He could’ve asked more about teaching, or even stopped talking to this mom-aged lady, but next he asked me what I’d wanted to be when I was his age.

I can’t remember anyone asking me that question in my adult life. So I told him. I told him how I’d always loved reading. Though there were many things I’d wanted to be throughout my childhood, when I was eighteen, I wanted to work in publishing as an editor. It was the only way I could see where reading could be my job. I didn’t think I had the creativity to write, but I’d known I wanted to work with books. Teaching did let me do that, but not in the way I’d imagined.

It’s taken a long and winding road, but I am finally following that dream. I’m really glad we crossed paths that day, because he reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I love writing, and I’m proud of the novels I’ve completed. But whatever the outcome of my own writing career, joining this community, through SCBWI and social media, has allowed me to practice exactly what I wanted to do. Supporting writers. Reading books on the front lines of the industry through CPs, betas, and ARCs. And helping, even in some small way, books come to the shelves that bring our language and our world alive for young readers.

Music for today: Five Seconds by Twin Shadow