Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Making Lists.

SF and I are both on a roll, loving our WIPs. But such love produces lists...

I have lists on my iphone, lists on gum wrappers, grocery lists, the backs of invitations. Lists on blank envelopes, in 2-3 journals, and a zillion other places.

Although I am loving the collecting of phrases, foods, colors, sounds, smells, places, and names, I have become panicked I will forget to include them all in my book.

So, this week I bought ONE new spiral notebook and titled each page with something different like Food, Plants, Phrases, and Names. My plan is to cross each item off the list as I write and include them ALL in the new super-epic novel.

In addition, NSEN (new super-epic novel) is set at a very peculiar Mississipppi event that happens only once a year. I really want to capture the feel of this thing so I have scheduled a research field trip to get a feel for the area before the big event. I can't wait!

Hmmm... what else?
Damn, I love this job!

UPDATE: I wrote this post about a week ago and saved it in drafts and today burst into tears because NSEN feels so epic that I am having trouble writing it at all. It just feels bigger than me. I'll get through it but I'm all about telling my truth, so there ya have it. If I ever do get this sucker down the right way, it WILL be epic. It's just that great of a premise. But now I'm braggin so I'll shut up.

I hope your Wednesday is tear free :-) Hugs!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Irene Latham visits!

This past week, SF and I got to have dinner with our buddy Irene Latham after her signing at Square Books, Jr.

I'm telling you what, it's always a pleasure to have our writer friends come through Oxford but to get to eat with them and spend time talking about writing is just the\ cherry on top! Thanks Irene for delaying your drive a couple of hours to visit with us.

Although we haven't read it, we have been counting the days until we could get our hands on Irene's new MG historical fiction, LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

"Mama always said every quilt tells a story. Every piece of cloth, every stitch and every bit of cotton
stuffed between the seams tells a secret about the one who made the quilt."
- Ludelphia Bennett
Ludelphia Bennett may be blind in one eye, but that doesn't mean she can't put in a good stitch. In fact, Ludelphia sews all the time, especially when things are going wrong. But when Mama gets deathly ill, it doesn't seem like even quilting will help. Mama needs medicine badly - medicine that can only be found in Camden, over forty miles away. That's when Ludelphia decides to do something drastic - leave Gee's Bend.

Beyond the log cabins, orange dirt, and cotton fields of her small sharecropping community, Ludelphia discovers a world she could never have imagined. Fancy houses, cars, and even soda pop! But there's also danger lurking for a young girl on her own, and Ludelphia begins to wonder if she'll ever see Gee's Bend or her Mama again. Despite the twists and turns, Ludelphia weathers each challenge in a way that would make her mama proud, and may even save the day not just for Mama, but her entire town.

Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee's bend, Alabama, LEAVING GEE'S BEND is a heart-touching tale of a young girl's unexpected adventure.

This sounds like an amazing book, and it's gotten incredible reviews. We can't wait to read it! And, if you truly want to be inspired (and humbled), go check out Irene's wonderful blog. Scroll through and read some of the stories of her school, bookstore, and quilting group visits. Um, Irene? Do you ever get to, you know, sleep??

Thanks for being such an inspiration!

katie and sf

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parallel Universe

I just finished reading Libba Bray's Going Bovine which is an INCREDIBLE book. I'm a little bummed that I got my copy at the library because this is a book that I will want to reread again and again . . . I'll just have to go and buy it when I get the urge.

One of the things that comes up in Going Bovine is the idea of parallel universes--that there are places where the consequences of different decisions that you could make are being played out. I've been thinking about this as I'm revising--really trying to open up some new avenues and trick-out my plot. I've been going through and asking myself questions like "What if her mother slams on her brakes as she's leaning down in the car to tie her shoe? What if she slammed on her brakes because of a pack of runaway clowns?" Okay, not clowns. "What if it was a group of environmentalist protesters and her mother's car was a Hummer? And, she accidentally hit one of them? What if it was a crazy neighbor running through the neighborhood wearing a batman costume with beer cans tied around his waist and clanking behind him? What would change????"

The movie Sliding Doors explores this idea:

In this movie, the main character makes the subway train on time . . . and then she doesn't. Two different stories are played out based on that one tiny decision.

As writers, we get to actually create parallel universes and CHOOSE which story we want to exploit. It's hard to remember this--especially when you've been working on a manuscript for a long time. We tend to get stuck in the plot as is instead of as what might be.

So have fun out there. Ask yourself some crazy questions. Let your character trip over a fallen street sign, take a left instead of a right, miss her bus, wander onto someone's porch, have lunch with a street musician . . .

And, read Going Bovine. NOW.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Slow Down...

During my interview with Stephanie Perkins, she mentioned a book that really helped her write her second book called Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers.

I am loving it and thought I'd share some of it's wisdom.


Heather poses the question, "When you are afraid, what do you do? Run?"

She says if you are nervous about the amount of time and sacrifice a book project takes, your first impulse is to rush.

She says it actually takes loads of courage to slow down.

"In sex, in parenting, in listening to a friend, in caring for an aged person, in gardening, on the freeway - slowing down is really, really good. We live in a world where it's become a talent, a lost art, something we have to relearn: slow down.

Book authors regularly use speed like a drug. Because we are terrified - of failing, of wrecking up the first draft, of telling the truth, of sucking, of pretty much everything that has anything to do with writing a book - we rush."

She goes on to talk about fear and flight which was interesting but then she talked about how she came to this realization. And, like all good things, it was food...

"Then,"she says, "I read about Slow Food. Food I understand. Food and body = I am there.
So there is this movement, started in Italy (where else), devoted to all things that take an enormous amount of time. A reaction to McDonald's, Burger King, hyper-this and super-speedy-that, the Slow Food Movement embraces artisanal bread, old vine wines, meals that take hours to consume because each bite is savored, and the conversation is the most valuable dish served.

The Slow Food people like bicycles, beaches, books, and face-to-face meetings. They do not believe in gyms, cell phones, or cities in particular. The Slow Foodies like walking, talking, cooking... You get the idea.

Writing, just like the Slow Food movement, is counter cultural to our speedy way of life.
Writing is slow. Always has been.
Writing books is, and should be, really slow.

Slow is good. Slow is great.
Slow is the new fast.

Time soaked writing is good writing. Your books should be steeped."

This is one of the best books I have ever read on writing and I might share more later. But do you do this? Do you rush? Do you panic and think you'll never get there? Do you freak out when other people sell their books fast? Take heart, Dear Bloggers. Be cool. Take a load off and slow down. Your books will thank you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I have a super-cool, super-creative niece who is a sophomore in college. Okay, picture this: A gorgeous, artsy redhead with her own set of power tools--it just doesn't get any better. She gave our girls the greatest belated Christmas gift a couple of weeks ago.

Hand-made picture frames, painted white so that we could paint them ourselves. How great is that? Check out the back:

I love the pop tops used as picture hangers.

We're still in spring break mode over here even though it's snowing (!) this morning. Yes. This is Mississippi. And, it's March. Go figure.

But, there's nothing like a great art project when you've got nothing but free time.

I promised a playroom update a while back. Check out some before and durin
g pictures here. For the last few months we've been redoing our toddler playroom (before it was a playroom it was a kitchen way back when our house was chopped up into apartments), and we turned it into an older girl homework/art/game/puzzle room. We didn't do a humongous transformation, but we did move the computer downstairs and raise our pottery barn train table. And, we purged some toys. Big time.

The mystery of how to raise the table was solved pretty simply with these beauties. My poor husband spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to add new legs and rework the table . . . and then my neighbor walked in and said, "Oh, all you need are bedrisers. They sell them everywhere." Perfecto! Except, I'm thinking I need to get my girls to paint them so they don't look so white and clunky.

Spring break ends today. All in all, it's been a good stay-cation, but I'm looking forward to being back on schedule tomorrow.

Happy spring, y'all,


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Break

Soooo . . . it's our spring break this week, and aside from a few day trips, we're hanging right here in good ol' Oxford. IF the weather had cooperated and been, you know, "springish", it would be a really fun week. Oxford is great when the college kids are gone and the town shifts down into low gear. But, the skies here are gray and it's chilly. So much for biking through the empty streets.

It's definitely not all doom and gloom, however. Here's a taste of what we have been doing:

Beignets for dinner (yes, that's bacon you see in the background).

Reading, reading, reading.

Catching up on hulu and youtube. Since I am such a Judy Blume fangirl (check out my post about seeing her in person here), I thought you should all see comedian Will Arnett (best known to me as Gob Bluth) reading from Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.

Now, let's all do a spring dance to summon the warm weather. It's time . . .


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stephanie Perkins, Paris, and Banana Crepes.

Ever since the day I stumbled upon Stephanie Perkin's adorable blog, I knew I wanted to get to know her. I knew I'd read whatever she wrote, and I knew she was destined for great things.

And then it happened. She sold her debut novel at auction.

I'm sure she was surprised, but I wasn't. I knew this girl had something. Something like that "X-factor" thingy Simon Cowell is always talking about on American Idol.

Here is the PM announcement about Stephanie's book:

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, in which American Anna Oliphant spends a year in a Parisian boarding school and falls for her multi-national classmate, plus a companion novel, LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR, to Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton Children’s Books, in a very nice deal at auction, for publication in Fall 2010, by Kate Schafer Testerman at kt literary (World English).

In short, it's about a girl. It's about a boy. It's about Parisian boarding school, almond-scented macarons, famous cemeteries, and cinemaphiles. It's about heartache. And it's about true love.

So, this whole "set in Paris" thing intrigued me especially since I was under the impression from her blog that she had never been there. Heck, I'm having a hard enough time writing about Mississippi, I can't even imagine trying to write about Paris! And then, a few months ago I read that she was finally going to go to her romantic destination - for a MONTH!

I remember tearing up about this random writer, who I don't know from Adam, getting to visit the setting of her book FOR THE FIRST TIME! I just couldn't imagine what it would feel like to walk in her MC's shoes.

Could. Not. Imagine.

So, I asked her if I could interview her and she did not disappoint! Her interview is so good that it reads like a novel itself.

Bloggers, I am thrilled to give you Stephanie Perkins and our Parisian interview :)

"Why did you choose to write about Paris if you had never been there?"

Ha! Technically, I HAD been to Paris. But I was twelve years old and a Pizzatarian at the time (someone who only eats pizza, of course), so my memories weren’t the most reliable.

I wrote about Paris for the reason I do just about everything. Boys. I had a dream in which I saw a beautiful boy sitting on the steps of the Panthéon. He was reading a book. And I knew I was in love with him. Throughout the course of the dream, I learned his name, that there was something unusual about his accent, and that we attended an American boarding school together. When I woke up, I knew it was special. The boy arrived fully formed, and the story grew organically from what I knew about him.

I am very motivated by cute guys.

"What was the hardest thing about doing this?”

I was terrified of the French! I’d never studied their language, and there are so many stereotypes that immediately spring to mind — they’re beautiful, they’re better dressed, they have better food, they’re rude, they hate Americans. Intimidating, right? I hadn’t nursed Parisian fantasies since I was a little girl. I was scared that I’d get everything wrong. That I would misrepresent the French, that I would offend them, and that I’d reinforce the idea of the Stupid American all at once.

Naturally, I was wrong. While it’s true they are better groomed and their food is most certainly tastier, they don’t hate Americans. At all! And the rudeness thing is a misinterpretation of cultural manners. Everyone in Paris was very, very friendly and patient with me.

"Tell me a bit about the research you did."

Well, nearly all of the research occurred outside of France. I wrote about my research process here but it was, in short, exhaustive.

(let me interrupt this killer interview to say that you might wanna check out the above link even if you don't plan to write about a far away locale. Stephanie's blog posts are always adorable, and usually contain one or more HBMs - hot British males. Just sayin'.)

It wasn’t until a month before my trip — which was actually for the purpose of researching Book Three — that I learned I still had time to fix Anna and the French Kiss. My edits were originally scheduled to be completed before I left, but my editor pushed them back a few months. Which was awesome news for me! It meant I got to fact-check Anna in person. Amazing.

While I was there, the research for Book Three involved visiting as many new, peculiar locations I could think of. If someone asked if I wanted to see or do something, I had a rule. I HAD to say: “Oui.” Because you never know when something might come in handy! I took notes on everything from the color of garbage bags to the smell inside a Métro train, and I took thousands of pictures. I also attended a special Mystery Festival south of Paris, which I cannot possibly tell you more about. Ha!

“What was it like when you first stepped out of the airport?"

I was nauseous about spending a month there — What if I’d gotten everything wrong? What if they hate me? What if I don’t understand anything? — but as soon as I stepped off the plane, it hit me. Paris is just a place. The airport looked like any other, and it was easy to navigate through customs, baggage claim, to get a taxi. It was an incredible sense of relief. And when the taxi pulled out of the airport and headed into the city . . . profound happiness. I WAS THERE.

"What was amazingly similar to what you wrote? And what was glaringly different?"

This is a tough question, because I enjoy keeping the contents of my novel a secret! But I will say I was happy to discover that I’d gotten most things right. The intense research paid off. The most glaringly different thing was the positioning of two buildings — I knew where they were on the map, of course, but I hadn’t realized which direction they pointed in! Not a big deal, it makes for some tricky editing.

I also realized that the French were even more wonderful than my research had shown. So in my last major edit, I’m working on making sure that’s clear. I’m grateful to everyone I met there — how helpful and kind they were — and I want to do them justice.

“Was there anything you really wanted to do but didn't get to?"

A month is a long time. I was thrilled to see nearly everything on my list, most items more than once. But I’m bummed I never saw the medical museum (I like weird stuff), and I’d love to go back in the springtime so I could see the gardens in full bloom.

"What do you miss the most about Paris?"

Banana Nutella crêpes, from this one street vendor in the Latin Quarter. Or maybe the yogurt. Or raclette! Raclette is a cheese AND it’s a machine that heats the cheese. You pour it over potatoes and meat, and it’s really simple. But heavenly.

Yeah. Sigh. The food.

But I miss everything else, too. I’d expected to be homesick, but it never happened. The last three days in Paris were heartbreaking. I spent an entire month eating sinful food, staring at beautiful things, and hanging out with friends. It’s hard to imagine a better life.

Whew, Stephanie, Thanks so much for such a fun interview. We can not WAIT to read your books!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bursting at the Seams

Um, so here I am this morning . . .

I had a very scary thing happen yesterday. I had decided to visit one of my novels that I hadn't looked at since last fall. It is a middle grade novel that stars a main character who is similar to the main character in my picture book.

She's full of sass and mischief, and she has a bit of the devil in her.

So, I did some new writing on my book and hit "save". I got a message saying that I couldn't save my work because my computer was full. FULL!!!! After a few moments of panic, I saved my wip to a memory stick and got online to look for a way to backup my files off-site. I do have a hard drive that I use to backup my laptop, but if I delete files from my laptop, and they're only on my hard drive and then my hard drive crashes . . . . okay, sf, calm down.

I found a great site that would allow me to download unlimited amounts of data for a flat fee, and I set it to download the entire contents of my computer.

This was yesterday at noon.

When I checked the status bar this morning, I had backed up a whopping 3% of my files. At this rate, I'll be downloading for a month . . . meanwhile panicking that my computer will crash, dealing with slow emails and internet--and, here's the kicker, I can't turn the thing off while it's downloading. Soooo . . . I can't close my laptop and walk out the door or else the whole thing will have to start over again.

Proceed to Plan B. Now, I am going through my computer and looking for specific files that I can live without. I am backing those up and then deleting them. Everyone say a little prayer or have a moment of silence to help ensure that I can free up enough space on my computer so the evil message doesn't appear again.

At least this didn't appear:

Any of you who have been using a Mac forever will surely recognize this talisman of doom.

Right after the bomb appeared, your screen would shatter into a million little pieces. I'm speaking virtually, of course. That would really be something if your computer actually exploded! The last time I saw this evil little sucker, I lost a 30 page research paper (it was in college).

All righty, I'm going to check my status. Let's hope my new method has gotten me beyond 3%.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Watt Key

Who says that there are no books for boys out there?? If you are looking for a really, really great "boy" book, read Watt Key's award winning book Alabama Moon.

As part of our book conference, several wonderful groups within our community also brought in an author to speak to the ninth graders (see our previous post about the fifth grade author Ingrid Law).

Watt Key started his speech with a completely gross story about trying to go out into the woods and live off the land . . . he ate a cottonmouth snake. And, it was
still squirming around after he had cooked it. And, while he was eating it. Yeah . . .gross. Naturally, he had those ninth graders' attention from the get-go!

Alabama Moon tells the story of a boy who is the son of an anti-government Vietnam vet. His mother had died when he was two-years-old, and the boy had been living with his father in the woods in Alabama his whole life. When the boy's father dies, Moon has to survive on his own, eventually returning to the society he has feared his whole life. But, he does so, as (in Watt's words) "a total badass".

This is a beautifully written book that is full of all things "Southern boy"--guns, snakes, adventure, jails and trucks. But, I have to confess that this Southern belle absolutely loved it. I was right there with Moon, feeling every bit of his confusion, instinctive reactions, and general "badassness".

Put it in your must read pile, and you should also add the companion book Dirt Road Home which will be coming out in July.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Conference Savvy

The Annual Conference for the Book was held here in Oxford this past weekend. As part of the Conference, each year several groups in our community (namely, the Literacy Council, Square Books, the University of Mississippi, and the Junior Auxiliary) pull together to host two children's authors. In addition to giving every fifth and ninth grader in the city of Oxford and Lafayette County a free copy of the author's book, the students get to hear the author speak in person. That's over 1,000 kids getting free books!!!!

Here's our packed house of fifth graders!!

I have been the chairman of the fifth grade part of the Book Conference for the past three years, and this year, I handed the reins over to someone else. I had such a great time helping with the conference instead of having to worry about whether someone's shuttle showed up or if the powerpoint was set up properly. I missed being intimately involved, but it was blissful to sit back and enjoy everything.

The author for the fifth graders this year was none other than the wonderful Ingrid Law whose first novel Savvy won a Newbery Honor. Her book is an incredible magical tale
of talking tattoos, hurricanes, and special gifts. Katie McKee, a University of Mississippi professor who introduced Ingrid Law, described Savvy as "an extraordinary story of embracing your individuality." Ingrid's "tall tale" (as she described it) is full of crazy words and beautiful language. The fifth grade teachers have had a blast reading her book with the students--my daughter's teacher had them pick out as many fun, kooky words as they could find in each chapter and try to define them on their own. We're talking words like "shilly shally" and "jim jam" and "easy peasy."

Ingrid gave a wonderful talk to a packed house of excited readers. She talked about the process of getting published (including the rejections), her process of writing and her love of rhythmic language. She described how her older sister read aloud to her and how a love of books has shaped her life. She explained the importance of research--and many of the kids were shocked to learn that "looking stuff up on your computer" is the same thing as "research"! She also talked about how important revision, courage and imagination are to the writing process. Ingrid is such an inspiration!

Here we are having a little picnic at Rowan Oak which is Faulkner's home.

Stay tuned for more conference info--including a post about the ninth grade author, Watt Key, who wrote Alabama Moon.


I just looked over at Ingrid's blog, and she's got a great post up about the conference. Check it out--I forgot to tell you about the t-shirts!!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Books and Babies...

After visiting my neighbor's new baby, I was thinking about my WIP (book 2) and how excited I am to get back to it - and then I realized I don't remember feeling this crazy love for my first.

Now, don't get me wrong, I grew to adore Book One but Book Two... it gives me tingles. Not in the writing of it yet - I'm not all that far and I've heard writing the second one is almost harder than the first. But, the idea and the research part has me all giddy.

It made me reflect on my babies and how I learned to mother with my first, making it part grueling, part perfect - kinda like Book Baby One. It was my first. I had a lot of learning to do.

But, with BB2, I know what I'm doing. I know about plot points and what they feel like and how to strengthen my characters etc... It's easier - almost blissful. Dang, I can't wait for you to meet my babies. They are completely adorable :-)

Anyone else feel this way?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Katie vists the ER

Well, I guess it had to happen. My sweet husband gave me new knives for Valentines day (as well as chocolate, of course :), which was just about the most romantic thing ever because I didn't ask for them! He just knows that for anyone who loves to cook (me! me!) getting new knives ROCKS! Until you almost cut your finger off...

Enjoy the gory photos. Only a blogger would pull her camera out and document it. And fear not - I figured out how to type even though my hand is bandaged up. Desperation is the inventor of ... Wait, how does that go? Desperation breeds invention? Eh.. You get the idea.

P.S. Stay tuned for some awesome interviews we have coming up including a fascinating chat with Stephanie Perkins about her incredible trip to Paris! In addition, we are dining with Ingrid Law and Watt Key this week and hope to quiz them about their writing too. Oh! And then there's the little letter I sent to a famous man who's name rhymes with Ron Wisham, asking him about his foray into children's books. Keep your fingers crossed. I'm not sure that one will pan out. But ya never know!
Later Gators. I gotta go rewrap my pinky :-)

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