A Year of Unmatched Socks

Socks 2

Simplify.

That is my word for 2016. My overall theme, goal, mantra, and, perhaps, temporary tattoo.

The inspiration came from my daughter, who gave up matching her socks a few years ago. On laundry days I would have to spend extra time hunting down sock mates until finally, after a particularly long and unsuccessful search, I confronted her about it.

Me: “I couldn’t find matches for four of your socks.”

Daughter: “That’s OK. I don’t wear them matched.”

Me: “What? Why?”

She gave me a slightly exasperated look (learned from me). “Why should I?”

I had no answer for this. The reply that popped into my mind, “Because it’s what people do,” sounded ridiculous even within the confines of my head.

So I stopped searching for the matching socks, and soon after she started doing her own laundry. But her reply made me question things on a larger scale. How many tasks do I spend time on simply out of habit – with no real benefit? How many daily or weekly undertakings are based on outdated notions or interests I don’t really have anymore?

Thus, I am making 2016 the year of simplification – the year I jettison unnecessary things and tasks. I will pare down belongings to must-haves and most cherished. I will unsubscribe from things that clutter my in-box. I will stop watching TV shows that no longer interest me. I will reassess personal and professional paths to make sure I’m striving for and headed toward things that still matter to me.

I might even stop matching my socks.

It is my hope that simplifying will free up precious minutes I can spend on the people and endeavors that really matter. I’ll try to provide updates on how I’m doing – if I decide that it’s a worthwhile task.

Happy New Year to all. May 2016 bring you joy, peace, and purpose.

Know What? Tweens Read!

Last weekend I had the honor and pleasure to be a featured author at the annual Tweens Read book festival in Pasadena. Sponsoring it was the magical indie bookstore, Blue Willow Books in Houston.

At the reception before the event, I met or reconnected with fellow authors I admire and adore. There were times when I felt like an excited tween myself, and many in our middle grade posse echoed the sentiment. Perhaps it was because authors got to ride a school bus to the bookstore:

author prison bus

Or perhaps it was because we got to write on the walls! Here I am, adding my signature right below Chris‘s:

graffiti Jenn

Or maybe it’s because we got a little silly.  Jonathan Auxier and Greg Leitich Smith were up for shennanigans:

Jonathan Me Greg

The next day was game day. Look at the crowd! Something like 1500 readers were there. They were the best part of the event.

The Crowd

Also … cupcakes! Cupcakes with our books on them!

cupcake

I had a lot of fun on my panel with Varsha Bajaj, Karen Harrington, Jenni Holm, Varian Johnson, and Natalie Lloyd. The questions asked by the readers in attendance really kept us on our toes. I even got to meet a special tween I’d corresponded with earlier in the year.

Huge thanks go to Blue Willow and all of the educators, volunteers, and parents who made it happen. If you haven’t made it to this festival yet, be sure to attend their next.

There were so many great anecdotes, pieces of advice, and words of wisdom, one could … well … create a book. I shall leave you with this gem from Jacqueline Woodson’s keynote: “Everybody has a story. And everybody has the right to write that story.”

And everybody has a right to read those stories and make them part of their own life experience.

Thanks for reading, tweens!

 

Writing Process Blog Tour – Why and How I Write What I Do

Recently I was tagged by the lovely and talented Melissa Wiley to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Sounded like fun — and only four questions! But I have to say, a couple of them really made me stop and think about the actual steps in my messy, mysterious process.

So here we go…

What are you working on?

Lots of things, and all of them in the early delicate phases, so I shall not speak of them. This is part superstition and part protectiveness, but also prudence. My projects can change a lot from inception to publication, so I don’t want to mislead anyone or set myself up for lengthy explanations later.

Middle Grade Mayhem book covers

Check out the crossed-arm attitude on all three covers!

I’m also working on publicity for my new book REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS. I’m about to have a big bash at our local indie bookstore BookPeople in Austin.  Varian Johnson (THE GREAT GREENE HEIST), Greg Leitich Smith (LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN) and I all have middle grade novels emerging at the same time, so we’re teaming up for a triple threat launch party called ‘Middle Grade Mayhem.” I can’t disclose too many details beyond the necessary (Book People, June 14, 2 pm.), but I will say that I’ve been purchasing items at costume shops and ordering wedding cake — and I’ll point out that each of our books involve capers, mischief, and shenanigans.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I think each author has a comfort zone and my brand of contemporary realistic fiction, according to other people’s descriptions, is quirky and “voice-y,” usually with a romantic subplot.

I love human folly.  I love eccentric characters.  I love the ups and downs that day-to-day life can bring – particularly when you are young.  You don’t usually find deep dramatic issues in my book — being a teen or tween is enough of a hardship in itself, so often there’s no need for added woes.  Instead, I enjoy exploring the tragi-comedy of relationships, be they romantic, friendly, or familial, and the whole search for self that young people go through.

Why do you write what you do?

Because I don’t want to grow up.  Because I don’t want to lose my sense of wonder or stop asking silly questions or stop laughing at the ridiculousness of things.

It has been said that authors work toward a particular truth with everything they write. If there is a theme that is present in all of my books, it’s the quest to find one’s true voice and lead an authentic life.  But, of course, I present it in a sort of screwball comedy way, so you might have to really look for it.

How does your writing process work?

It’s long and sloppy and tough to describe. I typically start with a … pull.  Most of the time it’s a character in my head. He/she hangs around for a while and eventually tells me his/her story.  Or it’s a question, which then conjures a character who then dictates the plot.

There’s that initial period when ideas cook and then, sooner or later, I attempt to capture the essence on the page. I try to nail down the character voice and tone and pacing. If I get a scene or two pretty close to what’s in my head, then I can start writing the outline.  I always outline.  Have to.  If I don’t, I’ll lose the plot.  Sometimes those early, pre-outline writings end up in the book; other times they aren’t even true “scenes” — just the nebula that spawns the story. Once I have an outline that holds up, I draft. I self-edit a little as I go along, but I save real revisions for when I’m done. I don’t like to be too aware of myself creating as I create, and putting on an editor hat while drafting can prevent me from fully disappearing into the story.  Once I’m done I do a quick clean-up pass but I don’t revise until I’ve walked away from it for a while. I also try to get feedback from my agent, editor, or my writing group. Then comes the major surgery on the manuscript.

Next … 

I now tag one of my favorite people in the industry (and on the planet) — Ruth McNally Barshaw. I can’t wait to read about her creative process. I hope she includes a couple of her amazing, charming, truth-containing sketches. (Hint, Ruth. Hint, hint…)

 

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How to Recognize a Fellow Writer

EMLA gang

The end of last month, Chris and I were lucky enough to attend our literary agency’s annual retreat.  Sixty-some-odd kidlit authors plus the superhuman agents and staff of Erin Murphy Literary Agency took over a historic inn in Brandon, Vermont. It was five days of writing discussions, readings, music, good food, countless laughs, and hugs.


While there, I asked a few questions of the retreat-goers.  Here’s one…

 

 You can recognize a fellow writer by …

“His/her bad posture and neck pain.” – Anna Staniszewski

“The daydreamy, glazed-over expression.” – Jennifer Bertman

“The number of Beatles songs they can sing.” – Conrad Wesselhoeft

“Disheveled hair, messy clothes, and a gleam in their eyes.” – Courtney Pippin Mather

“Inkstains, anxiety, and a wee bit of joy.” – Kirsten Cappy

“Wide open.”- Liz Garton Scanlon

“Their bookshelves.” – Chris Barton

“The coffee stains and the crazed looked in their eyes. Also, the presence of at least two notebooks.”- J. Anderson Coats

“The way they try to steal the royalties on your brilliant Zombie Chicken work.” – Jeannie Mobley

“Pajamas, coffee cup, cat or dog on keyboard.” – Deborah Underwood

“A feral gleam in the eye. Mistrust of the sun.”- Adi Rule

“Their inordinate love of footie pajamas. Oh, wait — is that just me? Well, I love footie pajamas enough for everyone.”
Tara Dairman

“The way they scribble notes while driving.”- Ann Bedichek

“The fact that they’re smiling and nodding while you talk, but they’re really off dreaming about their next great idea or working out a tricky plot point.” – Christine Hayes

“The words they use in conversation and in their notes, and the stories they tell (and how they tell them).”
Ruth McNally Barshaw

“How they mumble and talk to themselves pretty much all the time.” – Lindsey Lane

“I fear the blank page. But I have the love of other writers to lift me up.  What?  Oh.  You can recognize a fellow writer by the inability to follow directions.”
Janet Fox

ROTFG!

RevengeFlowerGirls_REV4 (2)
I’ve been busy and I’ve been traveling and I’ve been “nesting” for the birth of my new middle grade.

Today I had to send a quick note to someone about it and shortened the title — REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS — to ROTFG.  This amused me, because I realized it sorta looks like an acronym for “rolling on the floor guffawing.” And that’s about right.  There was much mirth associated with the making of this book.

I also hope that readers will guffaw, chuckle, laugh, or at least smile a whole bunch as they read this story.  It’s a romp — but (at least to me) a meaningful one.

Another thing I realized … I’ve neglected to reveal the ultimate, final, no-backs, this-is-it cover art for ROTFG.  I didn’t think it possible for me to love it more than the first version, and yet I do. There is more of a hint of shenanigans. More of a mischievous tone.

Tomorrow, May 27, 2014, is the official birthday of the book. I hope it goes out into the world and makes friends, finds its place, and spreads a bit of joy.  If you see it, give me a report, will ya?  Books are like kids.  After hard labor and years of nurturing,  you set them loose … and they never call.  Would love to find out how it’s faring.

Thanks for reading.

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