Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Annoy a Writer This Holiday Season

Hi everyone!

Here's a little video I made for the Class of 2k12 blog recently, so I'm reposting here for your amusement. It has just a few of the funny questions writers often get, plus a message about what we're thankful for.

Writers, what other questions do you dread answering? And aren't you done with that book yet?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

9 Writing Lessons From Jaws

I already miss Shark Week. Seven days of sharks just isn't enough. So, I re-watched Jaws recently, and found that besides the entertainment value, it offers some good tips for writers.

There's plenty of wisdom in the movie, but here are nine lessons I found that apply to the writing life:

1. You're gonna need a bigger boat.
Writing can be a lonely journey. We do work in isolation most of the time, but it's much easier and much more pleasant with a support system. Find a group of local writers and/or online groups to network with. It's no fun to celebrate your good news or weather a storm all alone in your little boat. Have a community of writers to help you along the voyage.

Shark hunter Quint insisted his small boat was just
fine, and even wanted to shun any help and go
completely alone. And how did that work out, Quint? Oh, right, you can't answer that. You know, since the shark wrecked your boat and ate you. And great idea, smashing the radio to isolate yourself even more when you needed help.

Remember too that being in a writers' community is a reciprocal relationship; help out your friends when they need you. Don’t lie there drunk on the beach when they're getting mauled by a shark, you big jerk.

2. Sometimes subtle is better.
This bit of wisdom could also be called "Sometimes mistakes work out for the best." During the making of the movie, Bruce the mechanical shark wasn't cooperating. Steven Spielberg decided to use the ominous music to indicate the shark was nearby. That anticipation, the knowing what was coming without seeing it, turned out to be much more compelling than showing the actual shark approaching and attacking. Weaving in some foreshadowing or a hint that something's wrong lets that sense of foreboding creep in, and gives your story more suspense. Much more so than punching the reader in the face with horror. Or biting them in the face, as the case may be.

3. Have a plan, even if it's a rough one.
If you're like me, you prefer to see your story's plot unfold as you write it, rather than plotting it all out first. But it helps to have some idea where it's going. You can think about a few turning points in your story and where your character will end up and how they'll change, yet still have the freedom to figure out the details as you write.

Remember the guys who tried to catch the shark by tossing a roast into the water and chaining it to the dock? The dock they were standing on? Having no plan at all and no structure to hold on to can lead to everything falling apart beneath you. Chief Brody's team didn't know exactly how they'd catch the shark, but they had a boat, some weapons, and piano wire fishing line.

4. Chum the waters.
It seems obvious, but tell a good story that grab the readers’s attention. When Quint told the guys about his war experience in the torpedoed submarine, they hardly blinked, they were so fascinated. The details and the way the narrative unfolded pulled the listeners in, gave them some good suspense while they waited for what would happen, and didn’t let go till the end. Keep your readers intrigued and wanting more, so they can't help but turn the page to find out what will happen next.

5. Don't bite off more than you can chew, or anything that will explode in your face.
Be careful about overcommitting yourself. To make writing a priority, other things might have to slide. Only you can figure out what to take on and what to turn down, but it'll be up to you to schedule your writing time, or it'll end up being last on your list after you take care of everything and everyone else. Some people are good at taking advantage of small chunks of time throughout the day, while others need a larger block of time all at once.

And a note about explodey things. We know the shark met its (un)timely death via pressurized SCUBA tank. As long as we have the Internet, there will be people who enjoy annoying people. And they'll try to reel you in. Maybe they hated your book so much they feel compelled to email you and tell you about it. Or send you tweets about it. Or maybe they just enjoy arguing with anyone who will listen. So don't. Don't take the bait, don't bite down on the pressurized tank. 'Cause that just gets messy. Save yourself. Swim away.

When things are especially bad, lay low and emerge when the biting's done

6. Know when to call Richard Dreyfuss.
Chief Brody started reading a lot about sharks after those first attacks on the beach, but he knew that wasn't enough. After doing his own research, he called in a shark expert.

I don't know how many books and online resources I read about India, elephants, and Burma while writing CHAINED, but the best research I did was talking to people who've lived in those countries and to elephant experts. I learned things from their personal experiences that I never would have picked up from books or a website. Learn all you can about whatever you need to know for your book, but contact experts when you need to know more, or to check your facts. Reading on your own will help you figure out what questions to ask, but you can learn more from people who’ve lived in the world you’re writing about than you will by only reading. People are generally more than happy to talk about their passions, and if someone's writing about them, they want it to be authentic.

7. You'll get there faster if you don't hurry.
Quint, who was stubborn enough to insist his boat was adequate for catching the shark, also ran the engine too hard when the other men were warning him to slow down. It wasn't enough just to ignore their advice; he ran the boat even faster, until it finally broke down. His obsession with achieving his goal made him blind to common sense and good advice.

Writing a good book takes time. Getting published takes more time. Rushing into the publishing world, sending a manuscript too early, querying agents as soon as your first draft is fresh off the printer, will just leave you in a cloud of black smoke, adrift in your broken-down little boat. Take the time you need to write the awesomest book you can, then have it critiqued by writers you trust to give you honest feedback. Then revise it, and revise it again. And again, until you're at the point where you can't think of anything else to do to make the story better. Before you send it out, do your research to find reputable agents or editors who are interested in acquiring the kind of book you've written.

8. Have something to cling to when your boat sinks.
Most authors don't rely only on writing as their only income. Don't quit your "day job" because you want to stay home and work on your novel. I mentioned that a great book takes time to write, and once that's finished, the query and manuscript submission process can take anywhere from a couple of months to forever-ish. Hopefully your book is fabulous and will sell to a publisher for a hefty advance, but even if that does happen, it'll be a while before you see any of the money. Some of your advance will come few months after the sale, more after your edits are done, and maybe the last of it when the book is released, generally 18 months to two years after the sale. Not many people can survive that long between paychecks. (My idea-to-publication journey took six years, and that's not at all unusual).

When the Orca was in tatters at the end of the movie, our heroes didn't drown. They each grabbed on to a yellow barrel and stayed afloat.

9. Celebrate with maniacal laughter after a success.
...Or whatever else you'd like to do to celebrate. Of course you'll celebrate the book deal, but remember the smaller steps along the way too. Finishing a new draft, getting a request from an agent, catching an editor's interest--all of that gets you closer to your blowing-up-the-shark moment. Enjoy a nice dinner out, take a break to read a book, or buy a little gift to reward yourself.

I'm sure there are more writing lessons and/or life lessons in the movie, so let me know what others you think of.

So this tides you over till the next Shark Week, right?

I know, nothing comes close to Shark Week. But you didn't do much writing that week, did you?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Because a Tiled Car Would Be Ridiculous

Usually when I leave work I'm ready to hurry home to all the fun I'm missing on the Internet get back to writing a new novel, but I saw something the other day that made me turn around and re-park. 

Never mind the hubcaps, just make sure it's well carpeted

Here's a view from the front.

You'd never believe it without the pictures, right? And you'd never get away with writing such a spectacle into a story. Imagine the conversation that would go on if you were getting a critique of a novel about a character who had such a car.

"Wait a minute, so...he got the car carpeted?"

"That's right."

" Why?"

"The carpet store would do it, I guess. Or maybe an auto shop. Maybe there's a guy at the auto shop who's a carpet installer. And he got it done because it looks awesome and it was cheaper than a paint job."

"Is it outdoor carpet?"

"Nope. Just regular carpet, like you'd get in your living room."

"I guess it would save money on car washes."

"Sure, he wouldn't go to the car wash. Well, except to use the vacuum."

"So what does he do when it rains? Cover it with a giant shower cap?"

"I don't know. Stays home, maybe."

"Well that's convenient. And what's with the skulls?"

"It's decorated with a few animal skulls. Other animal bones, too. Like legs, maybe. Oh, and overturned salad bowls."

"Oh, come ON!" 

I know, it's completely unrealistic, yet here we are. Carpeted and beskulled and bebowled.

And in case you couldn't see the hood ornament well enough:

I did go on home after gawking and getting the pictures, although I was tempted to just hang out by the car until the owner returned so I could ask how this all happened. And really, I think we can safely assume the owner isn't a criminal or anything. Wouldn't make the best getaway car, would it? "Sorry, ma'am, we lost the assailant after a brief chase, when he blended in with all the other cars covered with home flooring...".

Come to think of it, my car did look really boring parked next to this one. Thankfully the cobblestones have really livened it up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Isn't This My Job?

I'm sure we all have a few dream jobs in mind--chocolate tester, fireman calendar photographer, stay-at-home reader of bestselling novels--but I have a new one.

I'm talking of course about Entertainment Coordinator for Baby Pandas.

You people know how much I love elephants, but really. Until someone invents a slide that baby elephants can play on, this is my new dream job.

I can't imagine a better career than leading pandas down a slide, but please share if you know of one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy World Elephant Day!

Yes, it's World Elephant Day, the day where all good little elephants wake up to find presents under their trees and apples in their baskets. Or something like that.

However they celebrate, we can stop by The World Elephant Day website and watch the new documentary, Return to the Forest, about efforts in Thailand to re-introduce elephants to the wild after captivity. Here's the trailer:

And if that wasn't enough to entice you, it's narrated by William Shatner.

To continue the party, here are a few more of my favorite elephant stories found online:

Rajan the elephant retires after thirty years of working as a water taxi. He's been replaced by motorboats, which wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

Speaking of swimming elephants, Ricky Gervais talks about elephants "caught swimming" in the ocean:

A hotel was built on this elephant herd's migration path, but that doesn't stop them:

The article "A Mother's Determination: Elephant Rescues Baby Trapped in Mud" has amazing photos of an elephant freeing her calf from a mud hole.

And here's an article with pictures of an elephant funeral procession, not for another elephant but for the human known as "The Elephant Whisperer."

Enjoy your Elephant Day, but don't overdo the peanuts!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Le Squeee!

It's the first foreign sale for CHAINED!

Yes, Nandita the little elephant is packing her trunk and heading to France, where she'll be enjoying lots of wine and cheese and looking adorable in a beret.

I celebrated the news with a traditional French dinner, like this one:

I'm kidding, of course. Here's last night's dinner, for real:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What the Higgs Boson Particle Will Be Doing Now That It's a Celebrity

This morning the CERN in Switzerland announced the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, which is really important and which you can learn more about from people who are super-smart in science, like here and here.

Nicknamed "The God particle," the Higgs boson has also been called "The Celebrity Particle," which means of course that I now picture it strutting around wearing giant sunglasses while avoiding paparazzi.

So now that it's famous, here are a few more things we can expect from Higgs boson in the coming years:

1. Hospitalized for "exhaustion" after behaving erratically and showing up late to work.

2. Insists being called by its Kabbalah name, "Esther."

3. Adopts lone pairs of electrons and gives them all weird names like Pomegranate, Paprika, and Suri.

4. Uploads series of rambling videos, exclaiming, "I'm tired of pretending I'm not a frickin' rock star from Mars," and "Higging!"

5. Punches a TMZ camera after bar fight with Lindsay Lohan.

6. "Forgets" to wear underpants when leaving home.

7. Never mind that it never drives, it's totally buying a Ferrari in every color.

8. Interrupts every Nobel Prize Award acceptance speech by grabbing the microphone and saying, "I'ma let you finish, but Peter Higgs had the best discovery of all time!"

9. Fires everyone who doesn't support its new career as hip-hop artist Higgy G.

10. Gets a book deal for a young adult novel, even after bragging "I've never been much of a reader."

I'm sure there are more antics and adventures I haven't thought of--let me know what else you think the suddenly famous particle will be up to!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When You've Been Pregnant For Six Years & The Baby Turns Out Really Cute

It's here! It's here!

Yes, it's the CHAINED release day!

Here's the short version of the road to publication:

Spring 2006: Got the idea to write a story about a captive elephant and started writing
Spring 2009: Started submitting the manuscript to agents
February 2010: Signed with agent Joanna Volpe
May 2010: Sold manuscript to editor Margaret Ferguson at Macmillan/FSG
May 8, 2012: Publication day!

May 2012 seemed like so far away when the book sold, but now I can't believe it's really here. I'm kind of at a loss for words, except for the many thank yous to everyone who helped me and supported me along the way.

So I'll turn things over to Navin Johnson:

And, of course, to Spongebob Squarepants:

Have the best day ever, everyone!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Club Kit Giveaway Winner: Why I Need a Blanket Fort That Fits 300 People

The CHAINED book club kit contest is now over!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered. I cried while looking through all the entries, because I wanted to give the book club kit to everyone. (As soon as I win the lottery, books for all!)

Here are some of the comments shared by the teachers and book club coordinators who entered:

"My students...have very tender hearts. They love to read to each other and to be read to as well."

"I'm the leader in name only, since the kids pick the reads and pretty much run the discussions."

"We have never had the money or opportunity to all read the same book at the same time."

"Our small city has just been identified as having the largest poverty rating in the state..."

"Any time I can put a book into the hands of a reader who struggles, I know this book may be the one to 'hook' this reader. When that happens, I know the child has taken the first step to becoming a lifelong reader, and this keeps me coming to school every day."

"With huge budget cuts again this year, the money to purchase new texts is not a possibility."

"The kids that come [to our lunchtime reading group] are great and have wonderful insights into the books we've discussed..."

"Even the most hardened ones want to believe they are capable of compassion."

"...we're often limited by the books we can study because we don't have multiple copies of titles."

"By the middle of this year, these 'reluctant readers' were saying very intelligent things about the books they were reading."

I want to build a giant blanket fort where I can sit and read with all of you.

But the winner of the Chained Book Club Kit Giveaway is...*drumroll*

Mr. Prokop's after school reading club at Nathan Hale Middle School in Crestwood, Illinois!

Here's a reminder of what will be in the package that's heading your way soon:

- Ten hardcover copies of CHAINED

- A CHAINED tote bag

- Bookmarks and signed bookplates for each member of your class or group

- Up to an hour-long Skype visit

And everyone who entered will be getting CHAINED bookmarks and bookplates for all of your students.

Congratulations to Mr Prokop's reading group, and thank you again to all of you teachers and reading group coordinators for all the work you do for the readers in your schools and communities. I know you don't do the work because it's an easy job, or because of the awesome paychecks, but because you love seeing your kids fall in love with a book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Online Goodness: Giveaways and Excerpt

Hi everyone!

Just a quick post to point you to a couple of cool things about CHAINED online.

This one I discovered accidentally, so it may have been up there for a while. You can read the first chapter of CHAINED on Macmillan's website! Also discovered my tweets show up on my page over there. That could be interesting.

Then, hop on over to this Goodreads giveaway where three copies of the novel are up for grabs.

If you're a teacher or reading group coordinator, do you know about the Book Club Kit contest? That's where I'm giving away ten copies of the book, a Skype visit, and some other goodies to one classroom or reading group. Everyone who enters will get signed bookmarks for all of your readers.

And look, I have a few book events now, enough to update my Events page! I'll be signing in two different cities, so I call it a multi-city tour, right?

Hope to see you if you're in the Houston or Austin areas on those dates, and good luck to you if you're entering one of the giveaways!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Introducing agent Kathleen Ortiz: a reenactment by Newt

Saturday at the Houston SCBWI conference, I had the pleasure of introducing agent Kathleen Ortiz of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representatives.

But I wanted to give the audience a little more than the official bio. Kathleen's clients Dawn Rae Miller, Sarah Fine, and Jaime Reed helped make it more interesting by telling me some of their favorite anecdotes about her, and my agent Joanna Volpe told me a little more about what Kathleen's co-workers love about her.

So it turned out to be a really fun intro, and I thought the authors who helped me out with it would enjoy seeing it. Of course I didn't think until later, "Hey, maybe I should've asked someone to record that."

Kathleen offered to scan my notes to email to her clients, but a reenactment would be more fun than having everyone decipher my serial-killer-like handwriting. Recording myself re-reading the introduction alone in the kitchen on my laptop seemed awkward, though, so I decided to use a stand-in.

Take it away, Cartoon Newt Gingrich At a Press Conference:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This isn't what I had in mind, Sleep Machine

Now and then when I'm just waking up from a dream, I'm thinking, "This is brilliant. I'll have to get up and write a novel about this." Then by the time I'm awake I've either forgotten the dream or I realize how completely ridiculous and/or a novel based on it would be. (Now if someone writes a bestseller after having the same dream about a society in which everyone drives an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, I'll feel really stupid).

I've been using the Sleep Machine app on my phone at night because I like the sound of rain while I'm sleeping, but just recently I noticed the other features it offers:

...and I can play one of those tracks along with the rainstorm.

So, in case I'm missing out on something really good, I thought I might as well try that "Lucid Dreaming" setting. No telling if it would work or not, but Stephenie Meyer dreamed up the plot for Twilight, so you never know, right? It could happen.

And it seems to have worked. I've been having really vivid dreams that I'm remembering long after I wake up. Here's a sampling of what I've dreamed about so far:

- Buying potholders. I only needed a couple, but sets of twelve were on sale! Like a really good sale! What ever should I do, people?

- I bought a container of olives at the store, but then I couldn't find them. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OLIVES?

- Friends warned me that I'd get a terrible sunburn if I rode a donkey into the Grand Canyon while topless. They knew this from experience.

There you go. My next three novel plots. Move over, The Hunger Games.

Anyone else try an app like this to help you focus, be more creative, or remember your insipid dreams? Or, have you ever been lucky enough to have a dream that you turned into a book?

Can't wait to find out what I dream tonight. Maybe I'll find that jar of olives.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Trailer-Makin' Post

Last week the nice people at Project Mayhem posted the CHAINED trailer release, and I wanted to write a longer post today about how I made the trailer, for those who are interested, and there's also a version of the trailer here that's a bit longer. Like a director's cut.
Here's the trailer on YouTube if you haven't seen it yet, or if you want to see those adorable frolicking elephants again:

I love book trailers and knew all along I'd want one for CHAINED, but since the book is about an elephant keeper in India, a live-action trailer wasn't really feasible. You can hire someone to do your trailer for you, but after finding out what that costs I slinked back to stock photo sites. (And I don't mean that the professionals are overcharging; it just was out of my price range).

So here's how I made my book trailer, and how you can make your own. It was a bit time-consuming but not as difficult as I thought it'd be, and certainly cost-effective.

Images and video gathering:
Even before I knew what I was doing or what the trailer would look like, I saved some photos and videos on sites like istockphoto, Bigstock, and Dreamstime. There are many stock photo sites, where you pay a small fee for the rights to use the image or video, so if you don't find what you want on one, search on another. A Google search for "stock photos" plus your topic will bring up a lot of options. If you're not ready to buy images yet but want to save them for later, you can save them into a personal "lightbox" on the site so they'll be there when you go back. Many sites allow you to download a comp so you can try it out before deciding you want to purchase the image for real. (Or just take a screenshot of the photo you want to use; it'll have the website's logo on it, but it's a good way to try it out to see if it works with your trailer). You'll notice different sizes of photos when you're ready to purchase; select 400x600 pixels or larger so it'll look clear on the screen.

You can also find photos on Flickr and Google Images, but to make sure they're okay to use, select "Advanced Search," then "Creative Commons" on Flickr, and "Free to use or share" on Google.

Video clips cost more than still photos, of course, but they add a nice touch to a trailer and make them more movie-ish, so it was worth it for me. The clips of the elephants playing and of the elephant trying to pull away from its chain seemed perfect for my trailer, so I bought those and used a few seconds of each one.

Photo editing
I left most of the photos as-is, but for the very first image, I needed the child to pass for a girl, and the clothes looked too boyish.

If you have Photoshop skills you can modify an image after buying it, but if you have no such skills, ask a smarter friend to help, or send out a plea on Twitter and hope someone answers. In my case it was Jeff Sampson to the rescue, strategically throwing a blanket over the boy clothes:

There, that's better

The music
Much like searching for images and video clips, you can browse through stock music sites and click on samples of royalty-free music. I found mine on Shockwave Sound, but there are many other similar sites, and it's worth the time to look around till you find the right song. Before purchasing, download a trial clip to make sure you the music is a good fit for your trailer.

The script
Here's the part I had the most trouble with. I could picture in my head how I wanted the trailer to look, but what in the world do I say? The elephants are so adorable, maybe I could get by with just stringing together some clips of baby elephants playing in the water, but I figured I should probably make it follow the book a little more and then add some text. To get some help, I signed up for this great online course about making book trailers. Working from our book blurbs, we came up with 20-25 phrases to use as a script.

In writing your own script, mention something about your book's setting, including the time period if it's historical fiction. Trailers are short, so make sure every phrase is strong enough to let viewers know who your characters are, what they want, and what's standing in their way. The last frame should have the information about your book and direct people to your website or blog.

Once I had the script written, I looked through the photos I'd saved and found a good image or video clip to go with each one. It helped to write down on paper a frame-by-frame plan for how the text and images would come together.

Putting it all together
After I had the music, the pictures and video clips, and wrote the script, I was ready to make the trailer. You'll need some kind of software for this part, but there are a few options that are free or inexpensive. I used iMovie, which comes on Mac computers and is similar to Windows MovieMaker. After opening the new project, I just dragged the saved photos and videos into the window, then added a text box to each frame to type in the text from the script. Lastly, I dragged the music file to the window. After previewing the trailer, I decided I wanted the music to start a few seconds into the song instead of at the beginning, so I used iMovie's Clip Trimmer to adjust.

Another option is to create your trailer as a PowerPoint presentation, then download Powerpoint to video conversion software to turn it into a trailer. An online user-friendly program for creating videos is One True Media; sign up for free to try it out, then upgrade to a premium membership for about $40 if you like it.

The final product, sort of
Since most of us have the attention span of a crackhouse gnat, it's best if book trailers are about one minute long or less. So the new challenge was making the trailer short enough while leaving the text up long enough to be read. After many tweaks and previews, getting some feedback and tweaking a little more, here's how the trailer looked:

The painful cutting and the final product for real
So I was pretty happy with how it turned out. Before releasing it, I wanted to show my agent and editor, so I sent it to them for feedback. Joanna and Kathleen from Nancy Coffey killed the crying elephant helped me find places to cut the video to get the length closer to a minute. Other than cutting out a couple of the pictures, there were a few frames where I could display two phrases on the screen at the same time, instead of delaying them by a couple of seconds, so it wasn't necessary to keep the pictures up as long. After making those edits, I ended up with the trailer you see at the top of the post.

Sharing with the world
When the trailer was ready to share, I uploaded the saved file from my computer onto YouTube, then passed along the link to the trailer release on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, and wherever else I'm running around the Internet so the friends who live in my computer could share the trailer with others. I've also uploaded it to TeacherTube, since YouTube is blocked in many schools.

Another resource I found to be super-helpful is Darcy Pattison's The Book Trailer Manual, which goes much more into depth than is feasible to go into in a blog post.

Have you made your own book trailer, or is it something you'd like to do? Share your helpful hints or questions in the comments!

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Have a Book Trailer!

...and here it is:

Hop on over to Project Mayhem today to read more!

And check back here on Tuesday if you're interested in seeing a longer version and reading about how I made the trailer.

Thanks for watching!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Win a CHAINED Book Club Kit!

The release date for CHAINED is just a little over three months away! One thing I'm really looking forward to is talking to kids about the story.

Borrowing a great idea from author Caroline Starr Rose, I'm donating a book club kit to a classroom or reading group.

The kit will include:
- Ten hardcover copies of CHAINED
- A CHAINED tote bag
- Bookmarks and signed bookplates for each member of your class or group
- Up to an hour-long Skype visit

Everyone who enters will receive CHAINED bookmarks for their readers.

So, if you're a teacher, librarian, or reading group coordinator for grades 3-8, fill out the form below to enter the giveaway.

And I realize that since the book releases in May, it might be a difficult time of year for teachers to plan the reading and discussion of a new novel, but I figured I'd go ahead and post it now so it'll be ready for you to use either this school year or next. The Skype visit can be planned for whatever month is best for you and your group.

Contest is open from now until May 1st. Good luck!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The YAmazing Race With MGnificent Prizes!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Race! Hope you all had fun, and I loved reading all the nice comments here and on Facebook. Check The Apocalypsies blog tomorrow for the list of winners, and stop by the individual authors' blogs again for the results of their bonus contests.

Speaking of bonus contests...congratulations to Kathryn Flucht, who won a copy of CHAINED!

I'll leave you with this baby elephant playing with a rock:

You've reached the CHAINED stop on The YAmazing Race with MGnificent prizes, a whirlwind Internet contest featuring over 50 debut authors and prize packs with signed books, gift certificates, swag, and more. Don't worry if you just happened upon this page and are a little confused now. See the Apocalypsies post to start from the beginning and read the complete rules.

But, if you're ready to get going, take a Gatorade break while you read a little about CHAINED:

The touching story of a boy and an elephant who have a friendship stronger than any lock, shackle, or chain.
Ten-year-old Hastin’s sister has fallen ill, and his family must borrow money to pay for her care in the hospital. To work off the debt, Hastin leaves his village in northern India to work in a faraway jungle as an elephant keeper. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and punished until she learns her tricks perfectly. With the help of Ne Min, a wise old man who seems to know all about elephants, Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can. Still he wonders–will they both survive long enough to escape?
“…a story that unwraps the heart and asks it to be brave, loyal, and above all, kind.” ~ Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Underneath and Keeper.

Before you go, here's a bonus contest! Leave a comment about the race on my Facebook page to enter to win a signed hardcover of CHAINED. Plus, there are baby elephants over there.

If you're ready for the next stop on this leg of the race, go visit Katherine Longshore and find out more about her debut novel, GILT.

Thanks for playing!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Favorites (so far) From This Season of Toddlers & Tiaras

You may know how much I enjoy Toddlers & Tiaras, and the new season already has a promising start. Here are some favorites from the past couple of weeks:

From episode 1, "Precious Moments," here's "Dolla Make Me Holla" Alana. Can't imagine how that way of thinking can go wrong. Like having a "special juice" that give you the energy to dance and makes you "laughy."

Her father's dialog had to be captioned too. I think Extreme Couponer Mom has provided my favorite quote of the season so far: "If someone wanted to come up to me and had an opinion to say about my daughter, I'm gonna nut the hell up." Wait, you mean any opinion? What if it's a good one? You have put her in a pageant in front of a panel of judges. Who will be giving their opinions. Never mind, "Nut the hell up" is too good not to use in conversation.

In last night's "Lollipops and Gumdrops" episode, there was a lot more going on than the Return of Mackenzie that everyone was looking forward to. There was the family from the town of Dubberly, Louisiana, for example. Anything named "Dubberly" has to be awesome.

This family, with two pageant girls, has a "pageant trailer." Since it's enclosed I was never able to confirm whether it's for hauling equipment or the daughters themselves.

There was contestant Hailey, who has perhaps the best pageant coach ever, drag queen Shangela, also her godfather.

Coach/godfather Shangela advised Hailey to push her candy cart "like a homeless woman in New York." I haven't been to New York City, but the homeless women there must be much sassier than I'd imagined.

Finally, a pageant judge tells us how we'll know when we've really made it big:

Stay fierce, everyone, and go enjoy some Pixy Stix the size of a small car.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's Not You, It's Your Book. Wait, Now It's You.

Almost every day this week there was some fight between authors and reviewers. Long story short, a reviewer reads a book they don't like, posts a not-so-flattering review, and the author responds defensively and angrily. Then friends of each side join in, and pretty soon it's looking something like this:

Bad reviews range from the polite "this wasn't for me" variety to the more direct "I hope this author loses her fingers in an industrial accident so she won't be able to write anymore." That's like real life--some people will have a civil conversation about a problem they're having with you, and others will kick you in the face for bumping into their grocery cart. And yes, that's going to hurt. But getting reviews is part of being an author. For so long the book is ours, shared only with the trusted few we choose, but once it's published, it doesn't belong to us anymore. It belongs to the readers now too, and some of those readers will love it, but some won't.

Everyone gets negative reviews, so I'm not naive enough to think I won't get them or that I'm so emotionally evolved I'll brush them off without feeling the sting. Even though publication is a few months away for me, I get why authors are hurt by bad reviews. I started writing CHAINED in 2006, sold it in 2010, and it'll be published in May of this year. Finding out someone hates it will probably feel like being told I've delivered an ugly baby after a six-year pregnancy.

Still, reviews are not about us. Reviewers don't review authors; they review books. We pour so much of our work, time, effort, and lives into the book, so yes, it's hard to separate ourselves from the book, but your book is not you.

Not every person is going to like every book. We know that people have wildly different tastes. Some people cuddle up to dogs that look like this, for example:

...but that may not be your thing.

So what can authors do when they come across bad reviews of their work? Keeping in mind that it's not personal might help, but that's easier said than done. If you must complain about the reviewer or vent about your pain, do so in a place that isn't public. That means NOT ON THE INTERNET, WHICH IS PUBLIC AND DOESN'T GO AWAY. Deleting doesn't help--if you do something embarrassing online, someone will circulate a screenshot of the evidence before you wise up and remove it.

If you can't stay away from the reviews, here are some suggestions for coping with those "I wish I could click on half a star because this author doesn't deserve one whole star" write-ups:

- Call up a trusted friend who will listen to you cry and then tell you how fabulous you are. Better yet, meet in person over a bottle of wine. Another advantage of meeting in person: you can frisk them for recording devices before you say anything incriminating.

- Did I mention wine?

- And don't you own any chocolate?

- Get back to the computer--not to Google yourself, but to write. Turn off the wi-fi and write something new. It can be mean if you feel like it. Just don't turn it into a blog post.

- Most people are not watching nearly enough baby animal videos, even though there's scientific proof that baby animals make everything better. It would be smart to keep a few of them on your desktop, so your next experience in reading a bad review will be something like, "How dare they this is an outrage don't they know I've spent my life writing this and OH MY GOD YOU GUYS IT'S A BABY POLAR BEAR PLAYING IN THE SNOW."

A few bad reviews might turn some people off of your book, but getting into a fight with the reviewer is a good way to guarantee that a lot more people will not buy that book or any others you write. 'Cause now it's not just that one story they don't like, it's you.

Quick, this kitten riding a tortoise will save you!