Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Book Toast to Three (Ian, Karen, and Me)

Sorry, hee hee. I couldn't pass up the rhyming opportunity! But the good news among the Raleigh writers just keeps pouring in! So, here are three more reasons to celebrate:
First, a toast to the amazing Karen Lee, whose book ABC Safari has just been awarded the Bronze Medal in the category of ABC/counting books by the Independent Publishers Moonbeam Children's Book Awards! Look for the bronze medallion on her covers in bookstores everywhere! And a second big congrats to Karen for having the two newest books she's illustrated, One Odd Day and My Even Day both flying into stores from Silvan Dell. Congrats, Karen! You're on a roll!
And a second Toast, to Ian Sands , for receiving an Illustrators "Award of Excellence" at the SCBWI Carolina's Fall conference for his artwork entitled "Fox Steals a Kite!" Go Ian! Go Ian!
And here's a third toast - erg, to me actually.
I am thrilled to report that the novels I've been working on (Orion's Apprentice, and The Prince of Chains and Letters) have both been awarded Honorable Mentions in the Writer's Digest Annual contest for children's fiction. The award letters tell me that there were 16,000 entries (so firstly I started wondering if that was a typo, since it seems that the sweet judges had to read all of our submissions. God bless them!) But since apparently it wasn't, I'm feeling extremely honored to have had both of my books noticed among such a large crowd of great writers!
(Seriously, I'm still pretty much lying on the floor hypervenalating with joy!)
So THANKS Writer's Digest, for the vote of confidence! It's amazing what a little encouragement like this can do for the soul, the editors, and the muse.
And now I'm off to do NANO in November. And for those whose lives are not already crazy enough, I would highly recommend that you join me. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's a fun experience in which thousands of published and not-yet-published novelists each attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.
And yes, there are "real" writers doing nano. It's a great kick-start to pull you out of writing funks! The cameraderie and weekly deadlines will get you writing that first draft quicker than you ever thought possible. Plus there are fun t-shirts, and comic emails from Nano-leader Chris Baty, that shouldn't be missed! So I'll be nanoing for the third time this year. And, for those who might wonder -- the first two books I started during Nano are the two that were just awarded the Honorable Mentions'. So yes, this is a serious enterprise, as long as you're seriously willing to revise.
So do join me. Come, Nano... And let's get a little book-crazy together.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Bookstore Toast: Powell's Books of Portland

Alrighty now, this is a new feature onWritermorphosis.
Bookstore Toasts.

We already have "book toasts" where writers and illustrators get toasted here when their books are published or they win an award. But now, every 3-4 months, I will also toast a bookstore that has gone above and beyond the norm to make the whole book buying experience a wonderful and glorious thing.

You see, it's the book sellers who do a lot of the marketing that gets our books into the hands of our readers. And some just do it better than others.

So today we will toast Powell's Books of Portland, a bookshop you should definitely stop by if you ever have the chance. Now Powell's has several locations in the Portland, Oregon area but the one that really caught my attention was at the Portland airport, Terminal D.

It was late at night -- around 10pm Oregon time, and quite the middle of the night on my watch still set to Eastern Standard Time -- when I disembarked my plane in Portland prepared for a daunting 2 hour wait. It was the time of night when stores tend to be closed at airports, so I was thrilled to see a bookstore that was still open.
Powell's had ambiance, not just books. Its bright yellow lighting glowed against colorfully mixed up books in the children's/YA section -- not a little section, mind you, but a separate room that was equal in size to the adult section. How refreshing! I could see the pirate hats, horse posters and other kid friendly stuff through the large glass doors before I was anywhere near the shop.
And when I lugged my giant suitcase down one row and then the next, knocking books off a shelf or two, James at the counter - in his cool, Oregonian stocking cap -- did not rush forward to quarentine me!
(Thank you, James!)

The children's room was great! There were chests on the floor containing princess gowns and pirate garb, dinosaurs, trains, horses, you name it, strewn in orderly choas around and under the bookshelves. On the shelves themselves only one of each book was present -- the kind of set-up that makes you think you might be the last person in the world with the opportunity to buy this book, and therefore you want it even more. (Excellent marketing. And quite fun to peruse.)
But Powell's went above and beyond all of this with my favorite little touch. Beneath many books they had handwritten notes with teasers telling the synopsis of the story, or whether this was an ALA notable or a Newbery winner, or whether someone associated with the store really liked the book and why. Some recommendation notes were signed with the recommenders' names. Very personal and creative!
And it worked. I bought one. (Ok, I bought two -- I couldn't pass up Shakespeare's Secret, one of my favorite middle grade books that everyone should read.) But the book I bought that I had never heard of was "The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp" which the handwritten note in red and black marker (above) described as "a white-knuckle page-turner with a deep and meaningful heart."
And so they convinced me. I bought the book. And they are right. If you know a middle grade or teen boy who likes helicopters and high speed car chases combined with knights with swords from king arthur's court, then this book of hood-cloaked noble warriors striving to save Excaliber from destroying the world in the 21st century might just be the book for them! There's lots of action and a loveable, bumbling, teen main character.
So here's A TOAST to Powell's books at the Airport: For great ambiance, great books, great late night hours, an awesome kids' section, and great reading recommendations! I hope to visit you again (with a slightly smaller suitcase).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The 2007CYBILS awards are coming!

The Cybils, the internet's first Children's literary awards, are coming soon for 2007. And I am so honored to have been chosen as a judge. So, there will be a lot of news about the Cybils, the nominated books, finalists and such, on this blog beginning in December. For now, nominations are being accepted -- and YOU can nominate books in 7 categories (from picture books to graphic novels). Check it out and get involved at

Monday, October 1, 2007

SCBWI Carolinas Fall Writers' Conference 2007

So what happens when a couple of hundred Children's Writers get together for the weekend?


No, seriously, we had a blast at the 15th Annual SCBWI Carolina's Writer's Conference in Durham, NC. The Crystal Ball was a costume-filled success!

In the spirit of the event several members of my critique group dressed up like our own characters. I was thrilled wtih the opportunity to bring my secondary character "Jade" to life.

But there really was more than just revelry going on! There were 4 children/YA editors and quite a few well-credentialed authors on hand to do critiques, lead workshops, and hob-knob with the rest of us about the current trends in children's publishing.

Caldecott Winner, Carole Boston-Weatherford gave the keynote address

Editors from Atheneum, Dutton, Front Street and HarperCollins critiqued first pages aloud, and gave pointers. Big thanks to Caitlyn, Julie, Joy and Molly!

It was a mad dash for coffee in the morning, and then off to our first breakout session. "Illustration tips, writing dialogue, picture book concepts, and getting out of the slush pile," were some of the many topics on the menu throughout the day.

Editor Caitlyn Dlouhy and Author Francis O'Roarke Dowell (who wrote Dovey Coe) spoke about the author/editor relationship and the importance of working together.

There were red-eye critique sessions, a bookstore to peruse, and much discussion of writing techniques and the market, during breaks between sessions.
And once again, my active little critque group padded our free-time discussions with chick-fil-a chicken!

My favorite workshop involved Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel sharing characterization techniques through the eyes of a therapist.

"Figure out what's really going on for your character, and then help them get through it..."

SCBWI Co-Founder Lin Oliver was also an excellent guest at the event, sporting the red turban our chapter gave her (in honor of being the queen of SCBWI,) and giving out awards and sharing tips.

Her advice to "develop a personal cannon" of children's books that you know well, love, and can reference for plot, grammar, characterization and other writing kick-starts, was taken to heart by many. So, it was not unusual to pass small groups of writers sharing their lists of favorite books (their cannon), with each other in the halls.

For my cannon, I'll definitely start with...

1. The Black Stallion Returns

2. Crime and Punishment

3. The Twin Towers

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

5. Alex Rider: Stormbreaker

6. And, I admit it -- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire...)

Anyway, now that the conference is over, it's back to the books, people! Let's strengthen those characters, twist those plots, discuss it all in our local critique groups, and head those manuscripts toward the post office.

And as Lin Oliver suggested "Love your characters. Love your work. And love your vocation."