Saturday, March 20, 2010

Take this Quiz!

Are You a Successful Writer?

A whacky quiz in three parts

Caution: Any attempt to measure success may drive a mildly insane writer over the edge

Part I

1. Are you published?

2. Have I heard of your book?

3. Are you on the NY Times Bestseller’s list?

4. Has Oprah called?

If you answered no to any of the questions 1-4, you stay up nights contemplating your failure.

Part II

5. Is there a member of your family, critique group, or circle of friends that admires your writing?

6. Have ever you gotten fan mail? (Even letters/emails calling you Stephanie Meyers by mistake count.)

7. Is your book in a library? Has it ever been checked out?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve experienced happiness. For at least a minute.

Part III - Bonus Question

8. Despite all the ups and downs, do you still love writing?

If the answer is yes, than you are both happy and a success!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Love of Jazz, Cowboy Songs, and Great Stories

I come from a long line of artists and musicians and teachers. My grandparents had a vaudeville act in the 1920s--"Haywood's Hawaiian Players". My mother was a teacher and a beautiful painter. My dad played the saxophone and has the best jazz collection of anyone I know. He also has a really good singing voice, but he won't do any solos unless he's belting out one of his cowboy songs. As a teenager, I lived in fear that he would do that around one of my friends, but now I actually look forward to it. My brother, Tom, plays guitar and bass, and my brother, Tim plays brass, a little bit of percussion, and is a talented graphic designer. All I'm going to say is, it's a good thing I can put a sentence together, because I can clear a room pretty quickly with my singing voice.

My family treasures books and good stories, but I am the first in the family to be a writer. When ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER became a reality, my brother and sister-in-law had a party at their house in Seattle. Before I got on the plane, my cousin called.

"I have something for you," my cousin, Lynn said. "I think it belongs to you."

Lynn is a special kind of relative. The kind who you love not just because you have a family obligation, but the kind you would choose for a friend, even if you didn't share a DNA pool. And the fact that we are separated by about 3,000 miles means I just don't get to see her very often. So I couldn't wait to see what she was talking about.

She arrived at my brother's with a thick brown box, the size that would fit a tall stack of manuscript pages. It was tied up with a thick white string, kind of like those wonderful bakery boxes in the Bronx, and Lynn sat down with me to watch me take the lid off. But what was inside was even better than a pastry from Arthur Avenue. It was our great-grandmother's stories. She had been a writer! My family is not quiet by any means, and I was pretty sure I would have heard about this before. My father had known his grandmother, but had not known that she was a writer.

The stories are in all of the drafting stages, from the notes she'd scribbled on the back of scraps of paper ( just like I do!), all the way through her handwritten drafts on old newsprint tablets, and to the final draft that she'd typed.

One page of notes is written on the back of an old milk receipt from the dairy farm that she owned. It was dated November, 1933, which meant she was already a grandmother at that point. Did she wait for her kids to grow up to start writing? And when in her busy day as a dairy farmer, did she find time to get out her pen and paper? And since nobody knew she was a writer, did she write in secret? Her stories are full of action and adventure and great dialogue. I picture her standing at the counter in the kitchen, dreaming about places seemingly out of the reach of her farm, and scribbling as fast as she could.

I wish I could sit with her and talk about writing. Had she ever sent a story off to a publisher? Did she dream of seeing her work on the shelves of a library? Would she love the same books that I love? Would she think Dorothy Parker and Flannery O'Connor were brilliant and ahead of their time? Was my great-grandmother ahead of her time?

But my biggest question was this: would she have ever imagined that her great-granddaughter would be reading and cherishing her stories almost 80 years later?

"I wish she could tell her about my book," I said to my critique group.

"Oh, she knows," they said. "She knows."

--Ann Haywood Leal

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Books I Wish I'd Read Aloud

One of my favorite parts of the day is the time I spend snuggled up with my 10-year-old daughter reading before bedtime. Unfortunately, not all books are created equal when it comes to reading them out loud. I won't mention any names, but I have stopped mid-book to say, "Why don't you finish this one on your own because I just can't keep reading these clunky sentences to you."

Other books I cherish. Right now we're reading Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins. I'm not sure that I'd fully appreciate the characters' wonderfully unique voices if I weren't reading the book aloud. I also loved reading Shannon Hale's Book Of A Thousand Days to my daughter. And I wouldn't have wanted to miss hearing the sound of each well-crafted sentence in East by Edith Pattou (okay, so some of the Norse was a little tongue-twisting).

Sometimes I wish I'd read a book aloud. I bet The Underneath by Kathi Appelt would be wonderful read that way. I kind of wish I'd gotten to really bring alive the characters in Jenny Moss' novel Winnie's War. And Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor would've been a good one too. My daughter's teacher has read several Class of 2k9 books to the class too--and I envy her that reading experience.

Which books do you wish you'd read out loud to someone?

(Posted by Sydney Salter)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharing Time, Sharing Books

One of the things I’ve learned during the past year is to make double use of time. And to share – with readers and with other authors. So this blog is one that I may repost. But for now it’s all yours. The Class of 2k9 is such a supportive group of good friends now and it’s become habit to share other people’s books while I’m presenting mine. Many librarians have asked me for lists of other books – they love the 2k9 postcard with it's yummy menu of all kinds of reading. So here I’m going to share some books I recommend that, like my book, speak to the experience of war.

Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes, Scholastic, 2009. I loved this book because, after reading about life on a military base and moving and a mom deployed to Iraq, I ended up feeling like kids have real power over parts of their lives. That they can, with a good plan and a good attitude, impact the world in glorious ways. After reading Operation Yes I imagined kids all over the world posting little green men. (MG)

Heart of a Shepherd, by our own 2k9 Rosanne Perry, Random House, 2009. A quiet gem about the impact of war on one ranch kid, his family, and his community when almost all the adult men in his small Oregon town are called up to the reserves. It speaks as much to family, faith, and finding one's place in the world as it does to war. But if you imagine the wars in the Middle East are far away and are only reminded of them when you see a clip on the news, you need to read this book.(MG)

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, 2009. A not so quiet step into the life of a nineteen year old serviceman in Iraq. He has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has lost his memory of an encounter with the enemy which may change his life. A page turner that reads honestly and is enhanced with sensitive details. (YA)

Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams, Margaret K. McElderry/Simon and Schuster, 2009. Well this is mine so I’ll be short. It’s about a Nevada ranch kid whose older brother suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses an arm in the Iraq War. It’s the story of the brothers – and how they cope with the changes war brings to their lives. (Tween)

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, 2007. This best seller doesn't need my recommendation but it's a book I give to friends. A look at one man's experience creating and building schools in what was to become a war zone on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. There is a "young readers edition" from Turtleback. (nonfiction, Adult/YA)

On my nightstand that I haven’t finished yet:
Sunrise in Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, Scholastic 2008 (YA)
100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison, Little Brown, 2008 (young middle grade)
Ghosts of War, The True Story of a 19-Year- Old GI by Ryan Smithson, Collins/Harper Collins, 2009 ( nonfiction, YA/adult)
War Is, Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War, edited by Mard Aronson and Patty Campbell, Candlewick Press,2008 (nonfiction, YA/adult)

And Before Iraq and Afghanistan:
Diary of a Young Girl by Ann Frank ( nonfiction YA)
Red Badge of Courage by Stephan Crane (YA/Adult)
The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemmingway (YA/Adult)
Tistou of the Green Thumbs by Maurice Druon (MG)

This is my list. Do you have books to add? I'd love to have a long annotated list to offer librarians. Thanks, Suzanne Morgan Williams

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Ok, peeps, one thing you should know is that things get a little nutty after one's book comes out. Most of us are into, or finishing, or revising our 2nd or third books while still trying to keep the promotion thing happening for our first ones.
THEREFORE, in an effort to streamline our kooky lives, what we decided to do is to post one question at a time and we will all answer in the comments section. That doesn't mean you can't comment! Please do. And then check back to see the new answers.

Ok: This week's question was:

To those of you moving forward unagented, are you seeking an agent, or are you comfortable with self-representation? I don't have an agent and every minute I can pry away from work is devoted to writing my next book and getting my promotion stuff ready for book one. Should I be *making* time to find an agent?

Now, because I'm one of the un-agented ones and I'm posting this, I'll go ahead and put my two cents in here:
This has been an ongoing inner struggle for me! I had sold HAVEN and had an offer for BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: A WWII Scrapbook when I signed with an agent the first time. (So I had 'made' the sales on my own. She negotiated the second contract.) The agent and I were together a year when we decided to part (amicably). However, because this agent negotiated the contract, she will forever get her percentage of my sales, foreign rights, etc. (Something to think about.)
After we parted, I wanted another agent ASAP! But I think that had more to do with my pride than anything else. Plus, I had nothing finished to show an agent! So I waited. Now I am halfway through my next novel and my editor is interested in seeing it when it's finished (no guarantees). I figure if she wants it, I will contact a literary lawyer to help me negotiate the contract. If the editor doesn't want it, I will THEN submit it to a few agents I have my eye on. I haven't lost any agent-looking time, because I'd have to have a finished ms to submit to them anyway, right?
Take from this what you will!
And good luck:)

Comments from anyone else?