Monday, July 5, 2010

Never Too Late

Let me start this post by pointing out today's date (July 5) and the date I am supposed to post (July 3).
Thus begins my message.
Since the beginning of summer, I have been having dreams with a theme:
Trying to get back home despite impossible odds.
The setting is always different: we are on vacation, we have moved away and are moving back, we are in an airport, we are in a hotel, we are in a rented flat. But the problem is always the same: too much to do and not enough time to do it - I haven't started packing, I've lost the room key, I have only minutes before our flight and all my kids are still off saying good bye to friends or at the pool or wandering around, not rushing in the least. Even in the dream, I know I will never make it.
But I still try, panicked and discombobulated, not knowing what to do first.
I've had enough of these dreams to get me seriously curious. So I googled Dream Interpretations and found a dream dictionary at They had this to say under the heading of 'home:'

...To dream that you cannot find your way home, indicates that you have lost faith and belief in yourself. It may also signify a major transition in your life...

And they said this about 'late:'. ...You may feel unready, unworthy, or unsupported in your current circumstances. Additionally, you may be overwhelmed or conflicted with decisions about your future. Time is running out and you no longer have time to accomplish all the things you want. Alternatively, being late in your dream could be telling you that it is better late than never.

Now, in an effort to show my father that all the cash he spent on my college Psych degree wasn't in vain, I will now attempt to interpret my dream:
Because my four kids and teacher hubby are all home for the summer, and because I usually have the house to myself while they're all at school, and because I am trying to revise a novel by the end of July and because summertime family life is not conducive to that, I am feeling overwhelmed, doubting (lost faith) that I will get the job done, time is running out. I am trying to get back to that familiar, homey, secure writing schedule to help me accomplish all that I want.
Whaddya think?
Maybe a lot of hogwash, I dunno. But thinking this through has reminded me yet again that this busy, crazy time of our lives will be gone some day and at that point I will have more time and quiet than I will know what to do with. So, as you all as my witnesses, I renew my pledge to embrace these crazy summer days and every single wonderful interruption that comes with them.

Wishing you peace in your own crazy days of summer,

Bev Patt

(photo credit goes to my daughter, who took this silly picture of my son, on the Cliffs of Dover;)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Ever want to know how writers you admire do their thing? I've been collecting interviews on craft with newly published YA authors and posting them here. This series is entitled Writer-Writer Chit Chat. Here is my conversation with Cheryl Renee Herbsman, author of the young adult novel Breathing.

Breathing is entering the world in paperback this month. Hurray! What has this first year of publication been like? I know Breathing was nominated for a couple of different honors. Can you tell us about them?

Yes, thank you! Breathing has just hit stores in paperback, another exciting milestone. This first year has been a whirlwind. The ups and downs can really spin a person around. It’s been a good learning experience in so many ways, not the least of which have been learning to thicken my skin and to really savor the up moments. I feel very fortunate that Breathing received some really fabulous industry reviews. VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates) gave it a starred review. They are the only review journal to rate books based both on literary quality and teen appeal. And they gave Breathing a perfect score on both counts, giving it their prestigious Perfect 10. Only eighteen books out of the thousands reviewed in 2009 received the Perfect 10, so it felt like quite an honor (not to mention it was pretty cool being on a list with JK Rowling J.) Breathing also made the Bank Street College List of Best Books, was a finalist for the Northern California Independent Booksellers’ Teen Book of the Year, and was recently nominated for the 2011 Texas Tayshas High School Reading List.

Wow! So exciting! Breathing has had a busy year. Savannah is such a likeable, relatable girl. How did she come to be? Did her voice, her personality, or her situation evolve first in your imagination? Is she like someone you remember or knew?

Savannah came into existence during a writing exercise at my writing group. That night a woman came to the group who’d never been there before. She had a very thick Carolinian accent. I grew up in North Carolina, but hadn’t been back in a while, and something about hearing this woman’s accent fed my soul like a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s night. Savannah came to life. And once she opened her mouth, she really never stopped. I had no idea what her story would be about. But that was okay, because she did, and mostly I just took dictation. Interestingly, the Carolinian woman never did come back to the writing group. I’m so glad she showed up that one night!

The setting for Breathing is gorgeous. What are your thoughts about setting in novels. Does is ever seem like an overlooked fictional element. What would you tell writers who want to make their setting as vivid?

Thank you. I love the setting in Breathing. It’s a place of my childhood, although it is partly real and partly fictional. I do think setting can be overlooked at times, which is a shame, because I think it can add a lot of richness to a story. At the same time, I think it’s crucial that the setting come through as part of the action, not in long descriptive chunks. The way I bring setting into a novel is to try to immerse myself in the character, use my senses to take in what the character might be experiencing. So in a given scene I might ask myself, what is she hearing, smelling, seeing, etc. The more vividly you can imagine it, the more vividly you can convey it. When we do this, we bring the readers into the story that much more. Then, hopefully, they’re not just reading the story from outside of it, but are actually immersed and sensing it themselves.

The act of breathing has such resonance in Savannah's story. How much research did you have to do into asthma. Can you describe how the metaphoric properties of breathing emerged when you were first drafting?

In the early drafts of the book, the precognitive visions Savannah has played a much larger role than they do in the final draft. When I was writing them, I thought they would be more believable if they occurred when Savannah was in some kind of altered state of consciousness. So I came up with the idea that she would have asthma, and the lack of oxygen would cause this other part of her brain to become alert. As the visions got downplayed in later drafts, I found that the asthma had become an integral part of the character and the story. So the asthma stayed. As for the research, my husband is a pediatrician and has done some special work on asthma. Also, when I was in college, I worked in Child Life at the medical center, where I interacted with kids facing all kinds of illnesses, asthma and other breathing difficulties among them. My husband and my daughter both have mild forms of asthma. So I had a fair bit of knowledge and experience going in. But still, I researched both online and in person to make sure I understood what it actually feels like to struggle with one’s breath and to experience some of the hospital procedures Savannah goes through.

Jackson Channing is an interesting romantic hero--very real in so many ways. What are your thoughts about him as he relates to the prince charming ideal? Has he swooped in to save Savannah from her troubles? (Answer this one only if you think it won't give too much away about the ending.)

That’s an interesting question. I think of Jackson as a good guy. I believe in good guys. For me, I guess, Prince Charming isn’t the hero who swoops in and slays the dragon for you. He’s the guy who swoops in and believes in you. He’s the guy who maybe hands the princess the sword and calls out encouragement from the sidelines.

I LOVE that description because it pins Jackson's appeal down exactly. What is next for you as an author? Are you working on a new book? Can we get a sneak peek?

I have a manuscript out on submission now. It’s a story that has really captured my heart. And I hope to be able to share it soon!

Oooh, I'm intrigued. Here is my last question. Has the publisher changed your very beautiful cover for the paperback version? Where can we find out more about you and Breathing?

The cover art has remained the same, which I’m very happy about it. They’ve added some lovely pull-quotes from reviews and a nice tagline on the front cover: “Can Your First Love Become The Love of Your Life?” Sweet, isn’t it?

If you’d like to see me read from Breathing (yes, in a Southern accent!) or read the first chapter yourself, stop by my website. It’s at Hop over to the Books page. There’s also a fun romance quiz and lots of other cool stuff. From there you can also find links to my blog, facebook, twitter, etc.

Thank you so much for this lovely interview!

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk to you and learn a bit more about your fabulous first novel.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Year In the Life

It's June 10th! Where has the year gone? I seem to ask this every year, but this year in particular seemed to speed by at an alarming rate. Another school year passed by. Over a year that my book has been out in the world. And today is the day Breathing hits stores in paperback, a new milestone for my book baby! I've learned so much in my first year as an author and I feel like there is still so very much to learn.

Authors tend to refer to the whole business of authorship as a roller coaster. I definitely agree. One minute you're flying past the stars because you accepted a book deal or received a starred review and the next you're plummeting to the center of the earth because of an unkind blog review or because your Amazon number has gone too high. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. The ups and downs in this business can be nauseating at times.

But I wouldn't give it up for anything. My work time is spent connecting with characters, getting to know them and sharing their stories, tinkering with words and crafting story arcs. Research takes me to all sorts of unexpected and exciting places (usually only virtually, but still!) My down time is spent reading amazing novels, enjoying them and learning from them. And I've met so many wonderful authors, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishing professionals, and most importantly, readers. It's a gift like no other.

So today I just wanted to share my gratitude, as Breathing comes out into the world in a new way. It's been a long road, sometimes bumpy and sometimes exhilarating. Today, I'm just so grateful to be here.

To celebrate, I've teamed up with Saundra Mitchell, author of Shadowed Summer, which came out in paperback on Tuesday, for a Hot Southern Nights summer giveaway. Come check out the prize packs here

And wherever you may be on your ride, remember, the next shooting-past-the-stars moment may be just around the corner!

posted by Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Day In The Life Of A Working Writer

6:30 Woke up and started to mentally organize my writing day. I need to make progress on the new novel. Some other little odds and ends, but really, I need to get back on track and write 1,000 words a day on this thing or I’ll never finish it. I was stuck completely a week and a half ago, so I picked up a picture book and got a critique on it from Suz Blackaby who has a sharp eye and a ton of experience writing for beginning readers. She showed me how the story would work better as an easy chapter book. She was right on the money, and I blazed through half of it in a week. So now I’m wondering if it’s crazy to try and write a chapter book and a novel at the same time. What if chapter books are even harder to sell than picture books? Send an email to my agent about where I should be spending my energy.

7:00 Teenager off to school. Get dressed. Check email. Sign field trip forms. Braid hair. Walk to the bus stop. Chat with the neighbor about whether or not to cut down a tree that shades both our driveways. Vote for keeping the tree.

8:15 Quiet house at last! Appalling chaos in the kitchen. Devote an hour to breakfast, newspaper, laundry and the messy kitchen. I should really be writing first thing because I know that if I don’t get 500 words in before lunch, I’ll never get to 1,000. But you know Sudoku is a lot of fun and I’m fast at those.

9:00 Okay, now that my kitchen is not quite so frightening, I really need to get down to business. 5 minutes of book keeping, 10 minutes of coordinating the family schedule for the week over the phone with my husband. The usual run around with dance, music and scouts, but only one really tricky day in which I have to get myself across the river to give a lecture at Washington State University when I really should be bringing my kids home from dance. 15 more minutes in which I realize that the bathroom is even messier than the kitchen, and do a little something about that. This could go on all day….so

9:40 Pack up computer and go to the library where they have quiet rooms! Thank you Multnomah County!

12:00 Resurface in a complete daze as someone is tapping on the quiet room door. Unfortunately, they have a 2 hour limit. Fortunately, I worked through and rewrote entirely the first two chapters of the novel. What had seemed kind of iffy a week and a half ago is actually going to work just fine.

12:15 Stop at Baker & Spice for tea and a lunch tart with spinach, tomato and cheese. Yum. Check email. Lovely message from my agent. Of course I can write an easy chapter book. Flexible is good! He sold an easy chapter series a week ago! No problem. This is why a good agent is golden. No way do I have time to figure out the chapter book market, and since Steve has done that already, I don’t have to.

12:30 Back to working on the novel in the warm and wonderful smelling Baker & Spice. About 250 words into new work for the day, a different solution to the plot arc occurs to me. Stop writing and chart out that story line. This could work. It’s better by far than what I was thinking of before. This plot arc has a tall fir tree in it just like the one that my neighbor and I were talking about this morning. It ties in perfectly with that raven who showed up on the page for no reason two weeks ago. Funny how often story making works out this way. Email a person I know who worked with wild birds about some questions I’d need answered if I pursue this story line.

2:30 Save the afternoon’s work and head home.

3:00 Catch up on email. Fix a snack. Make Dinner. Begin writing this post. Check mailbox. Let the chickens out into the yard. Laundry.

4:00 Take the kids up to the local library to volunteer at the summer reading kick-off carnival. Send care package to my college girl for finals week.

4:45 Feel the exhaustion. Weigh the nap/caffeine option. Take a 10 minute nap and then play violin for 20 minutes. Ah, so much better!

5:45 Pick kids up from volunteering and drop them off at dance. How did it get to be 6:00 and I haven’t gotten any exercise yet? Weigh the eat chocolate/take a hike option. Choose both.

7:00 Poured down rain on my hike. Feeling damp and grubby. But the forest was full of wild roses so I’m also feeling pretty chipper. Bet I could still get my 1,000 words if I work at it. Only 762 left to go. How hard can that be?

7:55 Pretty hard. 574 words to go.

8:00 Pick kids up from dance. Supper. Homework. Chores. Piano and violin duets (my favorite thing!) Showers. Reading out loud-- Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett—so funny.

10:00 Really should get back to work. Would much rather browse my friends’ blogs. And I should really update my own website. And we’re out of milk AGAIN. Grrr. On the other hand, my high schooler finished all his homework and folded everybody’s laundry! I completely forgive him for drinking a whole gallon of milk in one day. Maybe I’ll just finish the scene I was in the middle of when I had to pick up the kids.

10:50 Got sidetracked with lesson plans for a school visit in June but that was pretty important, too, so I’m glad I got it sorted out. Now back to that scene I was working on earlier.

12:20 Only 827 words today and that scene isn’t really going anywhere. Rats. I fail at this with alarming regularity and the only thing that actually convinces me that I am a writer is that I’m eager to get back to work tomorrow.

Posted by Rosanne Parry

Monday, May 31, 2010

Post BEA / Pre Summer Book Challenge

I'm fresh from the BEA, which was a terrific experience. I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted to in NYC - I'm sure that calls for another trip back. And here I am, late for my blog post again.

I was ga-ga at the size of the Book Expo (and I'm told this was a scaled down year)and I came back with a suitcase full of books to read and a cherished copy of Mo Willem's new book, signed for my nephew. The story makes me want to gather a group of preschoolers for storytime - right now.

So, I'm going to include all these books on my list for the "48 Hour Book Challenge", the wonderful beginning of summer reading and blogging challenge posted by Mother Reader. When I stumbled across this, I thought, what a great way to start summer reading! Then I looked at the dates, first weekend in June, my household will be down to one child – husband and two other children will be otherwise engaged. The luscious possibility of spending an entire weekend reading has given me goosebumps. I’m in, definitely. It doesn’t matter how much I actually get done, just devoting the whole weekend to reading will make me feel like a winner.

Thanks, Mother Reader, for coming up with this. It might be the fifth year but it’s new to me – and I’m pumped! Click HERE for all the details. Anybody else going to play?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Sydney Salter

I recently finished reading my 2K9 buddy Sydney Salter's latest novel SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK. It was a delicious experience. Even though it rained for five straight days in Ohio and the kids were running through house pulling down the curtains, I felt like I was on a lawn chair beside a crystal clear ocean all by myself. Polly Martin's humor and emotional confusion kept the pages turning and her lightheartedness drew the summer into my early summer reading.

Polly has to navigate difficult family territory in order to make a choice about how she wants to see herself.

Sydney and I sat down to discuss how SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK came together.

Here is our conversation:

I laughed out loud almost every page, Sydney. Do you have tips for writing comedy, suggestions you'd like to pass on? (I'm taking notes!)

Thank you! I’ve tried for years to figure out what makes something funny, and I guess it comes down to giving readers an unexpected twist. I think humor also comes through when a character doesn’t take herself too seriously—maybe the ability to laugh at one’s own foibles gives the reader permission to laugh as well.

How important do you think humor is to telling a serious story, because it soon becomes apparent that Polly's life is not all fun and games. Did you feel like you have to balance the light with the heavy?

In my own personal experience, life is much easier when I laugh through the tough times, and I guess that carries through to my writing. I think combining humor with serious topics often makes a book easier to swallow; I have some wonderful books on my shelves that I’m mentally preparing myself to read—just because I know they’ll break my heart. Adding humor eases overwhelming emotions—in life and fiction. I think that’s why I tend to watch funny movies again and again; whereas, some of those amazing, but hard-hitting, films get one tearful viewing.

Where did Polly come from? Do you think she emerged from a small piece of your psyche, or was she inspired by someone you know. Or, did it feel like she popped into your head out of thin air?

I’ve watched more than a few female friends morph their interests to match the guys in their lives—to the point where they lose themselves in a string of relationships. Most of my characters come from observing human behavior, but all of them contain bits of me as well.

Swoon includes three generations of women living under one roof, which is becoming a more typical family dynamic but not one I've often seen in novels. What inspired your choice to tell the story this way? Do you think this feminine connection is important? Part of our times?

I do think it’s becoming more and more common, especially in tough economic times. And it’s often a good thing for girls. My own mother lived with me for about six months, inspiring that aspect of the story. While we had more than a few rumbles over household matters, I appreciated the influence she had on my own daughters. Growing up, I also had a very close, dynamic, relationship with my own grandmother— and I’ve always been grateful that I had her perspective in addition to my mother’s. When it comes to raising my own daughters, my mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, give them emotional strength, wisdom, and experiences that I could not provide on my own. A variety of female role models gives girls a chance to figure out their authentic selves.

Xander is incredibly sexy. Were there any challenges to writing a "good" boy? Do you think well behaved boys get less attention?

I believe in nice guys! And I want my readers to know that good guys exist, and while “bad boys” may possess glamour, they’re not necessarily the best ones with whom to form lasting relationships. All girls deserve supportive, loving boyfriends who want them to flourish and succeed. As for writing “good” boys—I look to the many wonderful men I know and give those qualities to my characters.

One of my favorite male characters from Swoon is also Sawyer whose habit of malapropisms cracked me up. Even though he is one of Polly's ex's, he doesn't come across as too bad a guy. I know I'm a little old for him, but do you think he would date me?

I think his vocabulary would definitely improve if he dated you! Sawyer is a nice guy, he just wasn’t the right guy for Polly. That happens! Plus, I wanted to show that a lot of Polly’s relationship problems stemmed from her own fears of intimacy.

I loved how each chapter ended with either one of Sonnet's blog entries, one of Miss Swoon's columns or Xander's poems. In a way, these things added a kind of story within the story. How did you come up with this structure, was it something you included in early drafts, or did it come later?

I included Miss Swoon’s letters in the first draft, wanting to use them to echo the themes in each chapter. My editor suggested that I try writing Sonnet’s blogs—which initially scared me a little, but ended up being quite fun. Having done that, I decided to include Xander’s writing, too. I like the way the letters, blog posts, and journal entries allow me to flesh out secondary characters even though I’m writing from Polly’s point-of-view.

Finally, I happen to know that you are incredibly prolific and that you have published three books this past year. How do you do it all? Are there two of you?

Just one of me! But I do have an incredibly supportive family, and no one really cares if there are dishes in the sink, unfolded laundry, or stacks of books everywhere. I truly love to write and make time for it in my life; plus, I’m pretty sure that I’ll never regret having had a messy house, but I would regret not following my writing dreams.

I don't regret your (or my) messy house either. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. I really look up to you and I loved SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK. I also realized I forgot to ask a very very important question. What is your next project and when can I read it????

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ooops. It’s my day to blog and I forgot. I had something planned a week ago, but then my daughter asked if she could please, please, please have a sleepover party on Saturday to celebrate her 9th birthday. She reminded me that I had asked her to help with the dishes three times and only called her younger brother stupid once. Even though her Dad was going out of town to a conference I said yes. He was coming home that evening. The girls she invited couldn’t have been nicer. I just didn’t realize this one thing—nine year-olds don’t sleep when you pack them into a single room like that.

So Sunday was a blurry mess.

Monday is the day I make all the official phone calls—the ones for doctor’s appointments, car repairs, and other stuff. I spent the morning on hold at about five different places and when I finished I noticed my blood pressure had risen so I walked the dog. I hiked farther than usual.

When I came home, my husband was bouncing around opening and closing doors trying to figure out what he was going to do on his first day of vacation and now that he had finished his big conference presentation. My husband de-stressed is pretty manic. We talked about trying to see Robin Hood and who could babysit and how he wanted to fix the gutter on the side of the house and whether or not I thought it was a good idea to retile the upstairs bathroom.

At the end of the conversation he reminded me that my in-laws were coming to visit at the week which meant we had to worry about unscrubbed and uncleared surfaces and legos on the floor too. While I settled in to vacuum, the bus pulled up and my kids hopped off. My daughter opened her backpack and waved a piece of paper at her Dad. It notified us that head lice had been reported in her classroom.

Oh no, I realized.

I had been hoping to prepare something wonderful about the habits of an efficient author for this blog, but you know, lice got in the way.