Friday, July 30, 2010

Go On, Bake a Cake!

In honor of SF's big announcement, I suggest you bake a cake. Why? Well, not only is her sale totally cake-worthy, but I have discovered two insanely fun, TWO INGREDIENT cakes!

Cake number one: Mix any boxed cake mix with 10 ounces of any diet soda. You have to take a few sips of the standard 12 ounce can first, BUT, I am told this makes one helluva a cake. Cool, huh? My neighbor told me about it yesterday after mixing a chocolate cake mix with a diet strawberry soda. That was the only soda she had but it was still a Win-ner! She recommends a yellow cake with a diet sprite.

Cake number two: Mix any boxed cake with one 15 ounce can of pumpkin. I've heard this one is awesome too! And best made with a chocolate cake. SF actually told me about it.

Both recipes are intended for cupcakes, and I think you cook both at like 375 for maybe 20 minutes? You might have to experiment. But still. Awesome, huh?

Go on, bake a cake!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm . . . legit!!

Hi all!

My Publisher's Weekly Announcement ran this week. I feel (as Holly Hunter said in O Brother Where Art Thou?) BONA FIDE!!

Picture book
Sarah Frances Hardy's debut PUZZLED BY PINK, about two sisters who couldn't be more different and how they work together to save the day, pitched as Wednesday Adams meets Fancy Nancy, to Regina Hayes at Viking Children's, by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation.

And, be sure to check out my agency's new website and blog!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art is Art, No Matter What Your Medium

We are still on our family vacation in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We're absolutely loving being out here. The weather is gorgeous (polar fleece at night), and we are having such a great time doing things that we all like to do--hiking, biking, inner-tubing, wading in creeks, eating great food . . .

And, yesterday! We went to the Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp for their open house (Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Beil, and many other famous performers were students). It was like being on the set of Fame except that the dance studios were glass or open air pavilions that looked out over the mountains and sat on the banks of streams. A doe was walking right outside of the window during one of the rehearsals.

What struck me as I was watching the dancers and actors perform and take direction from their teachers was how all art is the same. We are all striving for the same level of expression, no matter what the medium.

The first rehearsal that we watched was a group of younger girls performing a gorgeous modern dance. During part of the dance, some of the girls were suspended from canvas strips that were attached to the ceiling and they were performing beautiful acrobatic moves. After the first attempt, the teacher called the girls over and started talking to them about a certain movement and the curve of their arm. She used the term "phrasing" and showed how a different arm position gave the pose a different feel. She wanted the dancers to show a closing in rather than a reaching up and a subtle twist of the arm gave the pose a completely different mood. Phrasing.

Next, we watched a group of pre-professional dancers. A flamboyant instructor kept us all entertained as he walked the dancers through a group of steps--steps that looked incredibly complicated to me! I was amazed at how quickly the dancers learned the steps as he took them through the moves. When they had finished learning the sequence, the instructor spoke to us and said, "Now, they have learned the moves. We have blocked them in. Later in the week the choreographer will color the movements--add the little nuances . . . make it art." Coloring.

Finally, we watched the cast of the school's upcoming production of Pippin as they rehearsed the opening scene. It was fascinating to watch the instructors giving direction to the cast members and to watch the cast take that direction. I noticed how the lingering of a syllable in a word made such a difference in the feeling of a scene. At one point, the director told the lead actress to hold back or let it swell. She said, "You're too good to put it all out there the minute you get out on stage. Give the audience little hints at the beginning, but wait and let it swell." She also talked to the other actors about setting their intention the minute they entered the stage. Swelling. Setting an intention.

Phrasing. Coloring. Swelling. Setting an intention. Sounds like great writing advice.

I was reminded yesterday that all art is essentially the same. We are all striving for the same level of honest expression and artistry. But, I was especially reminded of how much WORK it takes to achieve that level of artistry. And, I was reminded of the value of a great teacher, critique partner, writer's conference . . . anything that helps us along the way.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Katie Anderson, Master Baker

This morning I decided to clean my house. And by "clean" I mean, DEEP CLEAN.

As I was taking every last item out of my pantry, I found, way high up on a top shelf, a plethora of cookie making hardware. I'm not sure if hardware is the right word, but I found loads of fancy copper cookie cutters in tremendous shapes, as well as expensive icing dye in colors like poppy-red glitter, iridescent gold, and glistening evergreen.

It made me laugh because there was a time when I aspired to be a master cookie chef, rivaled only by Martha Stewart herself.

I went as far as to order my supplies from high-end New York suppliers and remote specialty shops. I have strange bottles of something called Lemon Emulsion (?) and weird gloves and icing tips.

What the heck?

It must have been right after I finished my short-lived career selling make-up and stationary, and right before I tried to get a black belt in Karate.

Lawsy.... thank God I found my true calling in this wonderful world of writing.

Anyone want some cookie stuff?

Because I sucked at it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greetings from Steamboat Springs

Hi everyone!!

This is gonna be a cop-out post (where I totally quote other people's writing tips!) because I'm on our annual family vacation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado--where there is zero humidity and cool mountain air. Bliss.

We drove out this year so that we could bring our bikes and other equipment. Plus, we're going to be out here for two weeks. So, we're talking TWENTY-TWO hours in the car with no DVDs and three little girls! Believe it or not, the trip was fine. We listened to one of the Harry Potter books, and I spent some time reading through some really great writing sites that I had downloaded for the trip. Here are a couple of things that I found:

Neil Gaiman: 8 Good Writing Practices

(I found these on the Paper Wait but check out Neil Gaiman's journal if you want to enter his fabulously eccentric world for a bit)

Neil Gaiman has become so popular he is often considered the “rock star” of the literary world. He trades mostly in science fiction and fantasy in a variety of forms—novels, children’s books, graphic novels, comic books, and film. Among his trend-setting works: Coraline, The Graveyard Book and The Sandman series. He takes readers, of all ages, to the very edge of imagination.

8 Good Writing Practices
1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

10 Writing Tips That Can Help Almost Anyone

from Janet Fitch's blog (you should go and visit--she's amazing!)

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is
inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us
where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue

This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next.
Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

So . . . I'm not getting much writing done while I'm out here, but I'm doing a lot of reading about writing (as well as working my way through my to-be- read stack). I'm gonna be rarin' to go when we get home and my kiddos go back to school (school starts August 6th in Mississippi--can you believe it????).



Monday, July 19, 2010

What kind of writer do you want to be?

Recently I got an email from our dear writer friend, Shelley Thomas. She said that sometimes when she's stuck, she asks herself this question and her answer generally gets her unstuck. What kind of writer do you want to be?

I have thought about that idea many times since then, and sure enough, it does help you refocus when you're stuck. Do you want to be a funny YA novelist? Or a snarky one? A romantic? Or Poetic? Do you want your picture books to rhyme? Even when the pros say not to? Do you want to win awards? Or hit the bestseller's list? What kind of writer do you want to be?
I think it's almost like asking yourself over and over again, "what is the core message in my novel?" Or "What is the core theme?" And then making sure you adhere to that.

So, I followed Shelley's advice and asked myself, "What kind of writer do I want to be?"

And the answer was this:

I want to write memorable characters like Kathryn Stockett. Characters you can feel and might think of later when you're at the grocery store, like an old friend. I want to use metaphors like Jandy Nelson, in that way she nails what everyone is thinking in one, short sentence. I want my romance to feel like Simone Elkeles. *swoon* I want to be as creative as Laini Taylor, thinking out of the box and drawing on those things that interest me. I want to create a world like J.K. Rowling that my readers want to climb inside and visit. I want my book to make people laugh, and cry, and eat it up like their favorite candy. I want readers to really feel my setting. I want to speak to schools and writer's groups about how I didn't grow up a writer. How I had to learn the craft. How it was hard. And then harder. But how the passion never leaves. How it worked its way inside my being like an infectious disease that affects every cell in my body. I want to continue to be a writer who loves being critiqued and listens to other's advice. I want to be so creative and different that people notice. I want to make a difference.

Piece o' cake, huh?


What kind of writer do YOU want to be?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Okay, it's Thursday and time to be a Bookanista!

Check out what the other Bookanistas are reviewing today:

I have the privilege of reviewing The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. Here's what, ahem, Richard Peck had to say about this book:

“An incantational tale of Cajun magic and gators on the bayou and of the love and silence between mother and daughter.” RICHARD PECK, Newbery Medalist

Yeah. Not too shabby to have Richard Peck blurb your book, huh.

I tend to be overly critical when I read books or watch movies about the South because so many actors and writers completely botch up our dialect and use syrupy, mangled Southern vernacular. Frankly, it drives me crazy--throwing pillows at the TV crazy.

Therefore, when I began to read The Healing Spell written by Kimberley Griffiths Little (who lives in New Mexico!!), I did so with more than a little prejudice. But, I have to say that she nailed it. I felt like I was part of this Louisiana bayou family with their spot on names (T-Boy, Cricket. . .) and slow, easy manners. I fell in love with the setting and felt Livie's struggle with guilt and responsibility and helplessness as she is faced with her mother's incapacity.

But, the best part of this book for me was the scene where Livie went to visit a voodoo healer or trateur. Livie poled her pirogue through the Louisiana bayou and "drifted through a graveyard of ancient cypress stumps" to make her way to "Miz Mirage Allemond" who gives her a charm and an ancient healing spell that Livie hopes will miraculously revive her mother from a coma.

I won't spoil the end for you, but this book has one of the best endings that I have ever read.

Check out the book's awesome trailer. And, for the record . . . I LOVE the girl's accent in the trailer and I could sit on my porch and listen to those blues all day (with a mint julep, of course).

This is a book that I cannot wait for my daughter to read. And, one that I will be rereading. Thanks for such a gorgeous book, Kimberley!


Monday, July 12, 2010


So today we wanted to get lit on plot. And what better place to do it than over at Kimberly Derting's blog!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Books are the New Black!

Today is the first launch day of the new book review bloggers - The Bookanistas: Books are the New Black. We are a group of writers - in various stages of the publishing process – who have decided to band together and review the special books of our peers. We – as fellow writers – have decided to only post positive reviews, therefore, only reviewing the books we LOVE. No negative reviews here!

The Bookanistas give nothing but love!

Starting today, we will post reviews every Thursday that cover various topics
– upcoming ARCs, books we love, special diamonds in the rough, classics, and even our new favorite covers. This fashionable badge represents our group (club/gang/posse/secret society/peeps).

Here is a list of the Bookanistas: Christine Fonseca, Jamie Harrington, Michelle Hodkin, Kirsten Hubbard, Shelli Johannes-Wells, Elana Johnson, Myra McEntire, Shannon Messenger, Carolina Valdez Miller, Bethany Wiggins and Suzette Saxton, Beth Revis, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Sarah Frances and Katie (Plot This), and Scott Tracey

The Bookanistas think books are the best accessory. If you would like one of us to review your book or ARC, feel free to contact one of us and we will add it to our list.

Today we are reviewing the following:

Lisa and Laura - STRANDED
Christine Fonesca - NIGHTSHADE CITY
Shannon Messenger - LINGER
Shelli Johannes-Wells - DARK GODDESS
Scott Tracey - OTHER
Kirsten Hubbard - THE DUFF
Beth Revis - PEGASUS
Carolina Valdez Miller - MATCHED
Jamie Harrington - ARCHVILLIAN
Bethany Wiggins and Suzette Saxton - NIGHTSHADE CITY
Okay. Let's get this party started! It is my great privilege to kick things off with a review of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, by Stephanie Perkins!
Now I don't know about you, but I sometimes come across a blog that I become addicted to. And, after a while, I decide that I can't wait to read this blogger's book. Stephanie Perkins was that writer for me. Her blog posts were always so creative and adorable that I just knew her book would be the same. So when my family was headed up to ALA, I begged them to get me a copy of her ARC, and I was not disappointed.

Here is the blurb from PM: 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.

One of my favorite things about Stephanie's book was how real the romance felt - even awkward and frustrating at times. It's one of those books that after reading, I later found myself thinking about the characters, wondering what they were doing, and then having to remind myself they weren't real. Ha!

And more importantly, it's the first book I have ever given to my daughter to read - and I read a lot of books. But like I said, this one seemed to capture a real romance, and in my opinion didn't glamorize sex, drugs and rock and roll to an unrealistic or unhealthy degree. Just a great read.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writers are Inherently Brave.

I was thinking today about the mess that is my epic WIP, and how no one can tell me how to to fix it, but me. It's not broken, really - just out of order. And I have to tell myself everyday that it's okay. That KISS started like this. That it's a work-in-progress and I just happen to process stories in an unusual way.

That got me thinking about everyone's process and how no one does it the same way. We all write differently and no one can tell you exactly how to do it. You have to find your own way - which I assure you is not like any other's.

I was reading Hannah Moskowitz's blog the other day (I'm newly fascinated by her and can't wait to read one of her books), and she said she can write a book in 8 days. 8 days! That's a first draft mind you, but still... Robin one time told me she talks to her characters while running, and Shelli brainstorms on the phone. Then you have your outliners like Lila. And your non-outliners like Elana. And then you have me - a non-linear thinker, who can clearly see my MC's love interest in all of his quirky wonder way before I get to know my actual MC. Weird, right?

Not really.

Because, there's no right way to do it. To write a book, I mean. Which, in my opinion, makes writing a book a very brave endeavor. It's like climbing a mountain without a map. At least that's what it feels like to me. So, I have to trust that I will indeed get to the top. It's a mountain I have climbed once before and thank God I remember all the side routes I took, and how I felt all wonky like this, and how I really did make it. I did.

So, I can do it again. And so can you. You don't need a map. You just need to trust the one person who is strong enough to do it.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doug Dennis and the Flyaway Fib

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of going to hear Darren Farrell author/illustrator of Doug- Dennis and the Flyaway Fib read at my favorite bookstore (if you have a moment click on that link and read about the store's opening).

Doug-Dennis is a sheep who goes to the circus with his best friend, but he gets himself in some trouble (he eats his friend's popcorn) and tells a lie to try and get out of it. His lie inflates and grows and makes poor Doug-Dennis float away up into space where many others are floating around, tethered to their monster fibs.

The illustrations for this book are so much fun--I kind of want Doug-Dennis sheets, and I have laughed so hard at all the silly flyaway fibs floating around through space. This is definitely my birthday present pick of the year--I always keep several copies of one of my favorite books, wrapped in a drawer for those birthday party emergencies . . . and I can give signed copies of this one. Bonus!!!

Later that afternoon, my husband and I were able to entice Darren, his Southern friend Jason, and Jill from Square Books to stop by our house for drinks. Darren is a fellow Penguin-ite, so I got to quiz him about the process of working with Penguin as an author/ illustrator. Well . . . I didn't quiz him too hard--we mostly just laughed and listened to my daughter play guitar. And, Jason came up with a great idea for a book. It involves a toenail kept in a jar of formaldehyde. Watch for it someday. It's gonna be huge.

And, look! We got a mention on the Doug Dennis blog!!! Woo hoo!

Hope everyone's having a great summer!

Our Motto

Our Motto