Monday, December 17, 2012

THOUGHTS


I’m not a parent, but you don’t have to be in order to feel utterly crushed by what happened at Sandy Hook last week—the loss of twenty bright lights who will never get to become their adult selves.  Musicians, maybe.  Doctors.  Teachers.  Innovators.  Artists.  Twenty lives that never got to see the world through adult eyes.  Even the adults in the massacre were painfully young; twenty-seven, I think, is barely enough time to really even take a deep breath.
I’m not a fan of guns; if I’m to be honest, I hate guns.  I have always respected the right of my more outdoorsy friends to hunt.  But I have never fired a gun myself.  I hate the look of guns.  I literally feel my stomach turn over and goose bumps break out when I have to pass by the guns in Walmart to get to the exercise equipment.  I do not understand why, in Missouri, I may soon be unable to buy pseudoephedrine over the counter at that same neighborhood Walmart (in an effort to curb criminal activity), but I can buy a gun.  I still respect my outdoorsy friends’ right to hunt.  But I also respect the right of all the bright lights in this world to grow big enough to see the world through adult eyes.  And I’m sorry, but I think one of those rights trumps the other.

I also can’t ignore the fact that even the perpetrators of mass shootings were once potential bright lights themselves.  We really know so little about the mind.  And as a society, we are still failing the mentally ill in so many ways, as this heart-wrenching firsthand account explains.
The past few days, I’ve caught myself staring at the sparkling Christmas decorations that hang in my neighborhood, getting absolutely lost in thoughts about all the bright lights in the world that need to be protected, honored, allowed to become their very best selves. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

WHEN SONGS TELL YOUR STORY

This girl is brilliant.  Seriously.

I'm in complete awe of people who can cram an entire book into a three-minute pop song.  And Kacey Musgraves does that beautifully here.

As a single girl in the Ozarks, I also have to say I relate to this one on a personal level.  I adore my area of the country, but I'd be lying if I said that certain area events (remember Sarah Ockler?) and attitudes didn't just embarrass me down to my toes. 


 

...How about you?  What songs have you sworn told your own story?

Monday, December 3, 2012

CHRISTMAS LOVE

I dig Christmas.  I love the smell of pine and little white lights and decorating the house and wrapping gifts.  I love carols and stockings and made-for-TV holiday flicks and carving the roast beast.
Jake and I both also love absurdly dorky Christmas sweaters...This year, I have to admit, our sweaters are awesome in their badness...
 

If Thanksgiving is the holiday to pause and let yourself truly feel all that you have to be grateful for, then Christmas, I’ve always figured, is the holiday to do something to show the people in your life how important they are to you—and it never has to involve spending a ton of money.  It’s a card filled with well-wishes; it’s an unexpected plate of homemade cookies; it’s taking a moment to share a cup of cocoa and a long talk at a kitchen table; it’s making plans for a new year together, while tingling with excitement.

…Since 2010, when A BLUE SO DARK released, I've always included my readers on my gratitude list.  And they're right at the top of my list again this year; they've been so incredible as I made my announcements regarding my forthcoming books (a YA, FERAL, and a middle grade, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY).  In all honesty, connecting with and getting to know my readers has become every bit as enjoyable to me as actually writing my books.

As I wrap up the year, my thoughts keep turning back toward my readers, and about how I can do more to show my gratitude, especially as my two books in development near publication—how I can connect with them even more in the future.  For those of you who haven’t yet, please do sign up for my mailing list, to keep in touch with all these new ideas.


 
Here’s wishing all of you a pleasant end to ’12, and here’s hoping that ’13 brings growth, comfort, pleasant surprises, and the kind of exciting developments that make your heart feel like it’s about to bust right out of your chest!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

THANKSGIVING BEST

My absolute favorite part of the Thanksgiving weekend is putting up the Christmas tree.  Every year, I get hit with the tingly anticipation of what's soon to come as I decorate the interior of the ol' Schindler abode. 

...Of course, there are no presents quite yet under our tree, but I feel it's safe to say that will be remedied soon enough...

 
Anybody else have their tree up?  I'd love to see pics!  Put your links in the comment box below.

Monday, November 19, 2012

HOLIDAY SPIRIT

I can't help it...I'm already in the holiday spirit.  It's infecting me earlier and earlier each year.  Which means I've already decorated the outside of the house, and I spent most of the day on Sunday driving across town to grab a present for my brother.

Another thing that's making my holiday spirit explode is discovering lovely posts online about my already-released books.  They're honestly like little pre-Christmas gifts.


 
 
For example, I keep bumping into a quote from A BLUE SO DARK...It's the most-lifted quote from the entire book.  Just yesterday, I discovered it yet again in a post on Facebook:

"Sanity is a sonnet with a strict meter and rhyme schemeand my mind is free verse."
I also found a lovely new review of PLAYING HURT, courtesy of Forever 17 Books

...I'm firmly convinced that having incredible readers is the best Christmas present a gal could ever ask for.  Thanks for making my pre-Christmas the best, guys!

Monday, November 12, 2012

SUBTLE

Without a doubt, fall in the Ozarks can be strikingly beautiful.  Some autumns, the colors are so vibrant, it seems an absolute sin to spend any time indoors at all.

This autumn?  The colors aren't quite so bright.  Muted is more like it.  Subtle.  Earthy.  Instead of bright reds and oranges, we've got mustards.  Rusts.  Lingering greens mixed in. 

But as I was out and about, filming these clips, I was struck by how really beautiful subtlety can be...



What does your fall look like?

Friday, November 2, 2012

'WEEN SCENES

Scenes from this year's Halloween:

Jake went as a "cowdog," and I piled on the green...


...But the real creepiness settled in after dark...

 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

FALL BLOG PIC, SO FAR AWAY...

There's something about the arrival of a new season that makes me want to update the ol' "About Me" pic here at the blog...A gal can't keep displaying a picture of herself in a short-sleeved T, surrounded by greenery, when everything green is starting to disappear, after all.

I've heard some authors say they really dread having their pictures taken.  I've never minded it, though.  Actually, truth be told, I like it.  Sitting down for a new book jacket photo always feels like a celebration.  And I know how much I personally enjoy seeing new candid shots on my fave authors' blogs (many of my favorite authors are long-distance friends these days, and I know that a candid pic on a blog can feel like the next-best-thing to seeing someone in person).  Besides, I didn't start blogging or online networking until I'd sold my first book.  If I'm providing a publisher a picture for a jacket or simply updating an online profile, I always feel like new shots are being taken because I'm an author with books in the works.  The thrill of that, of being a professional writer, never wears off.

I have learned over the past few years that any picture, whether it's a promo photo or a less formal blog shot like the one I recently had taken, dramatically improves when you happen to be looking at someone you really dig.  My most recent "About Me" photo is proof enough of that:



Also, my PLAYING HURT celebration giveaway closed, and I was thrilled to send the winning copy off...to South Korea.  I don't think I'll ever not be surprised by the idea of someone so far away reading my work. Makes me get all those excited tingles just thinking about it, actually...

I say it all the time, but I mean it: I love my readers.  Seriously.  Love.

Monday, October 8, 2012

CELEBRATING THE NUMBERS (A PLAYING HURT GIVEAWAY)

I have to admit, I've been focusing my attention for the past few months on the two books I currently have in development.  I've had the nose to the old grindstone, whipping up revisions of both my next YA, FERAL, and my forthcoming debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.  And besides that, I've also been thinking ahead to that whirlwind that always accompanies a book's release: I've had trailers on the brain.  And Skype visits.  Blog tours.  Ustream chats.  Print ads.

...But I've been pleasantly reminded lately that activity is still buzzing regarding both of my previously-released books (my debut first appeared on store shelves in '10, the other in early '11).

I bumped into this lovely picture / quote from A BLUE SO DARK on Tumblr recently:


I also found A BLUE SO DARK's cover being discussed at Born Bookish, and a lovely review of the book recently popped up at My Words Ate Me.

New numbers in from my publisher also indicate that book buyers are still snapping up my second YA (and first romance), PLAYING HURT.  In fact, the numbers pleased me so much, I'm holding a giveaway!  I'm giving one signed copy of the book and two signed bookplates; the giveaway runs through October 15.  (If you have any trouble with the Rafflecopter form below, feel free to enter by commenting on the post.)

I also want to take a moment to thank my incredible readers for their support.  And yet another thanks goes out to my bloggers, for helping to spread word of my work online.  If I've said it once, I've said it 1,487,690 times: I don't know where I'd be without you guys.  You're the absolute best...


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 1, 2012

WHO-KNOWS-WHAT



I’ve long insisted that Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday.  “The wax lips!” I always say.  “The candy corn!  The plastic hatchets!”
           
But my Halloween love is actually about far more than that.  Just as my love of ghost / scary stories is about far more than the fake blood.  (While we’re at it, when I say I love horror stories, I’m actually more of a fan of a psychological thriller than a complete slash-and-dash bloodbath…)

It’s recently occurred to me, though, that the real reason I love Halloween is a pretty writerly one: it gives me chance to make stuff up.

Catherine Ryan Hyde smartly commented on a post at my MG blog, Smack Dab in the Middle, that one of the biggest misconceptions about novelists is that they consistently write thinly-veiled autobiographies.  Like our own Catherine, I also write completely fictitious, invented works—none of the situations or characters featured in my books are ripped from my own life.  I get a serious kick out of making stuff up.  Creating a whole world completely of my own invention.

Yep—grape-flavored bloodshot eyeballs will always have an incredible amount of charm.  But even when I was little, the costumes were always what I loved most about Halloween.  I loved figuring out—usually by mid-summer—how I was going to dress up.  And I don’t really mean that I looked forward to being someone other than me.  I mean I loved figuring out how to create a mummy or hobo or bobby-soxer.  (Only one year in all of the—ahem—fourteen that I trick-or-treated did I have a store-bought costume.  Looking back, it was by far my least favorite.)  I loved the getting-to-make-it-up.

But that’s what we get to do every day as writers.  On the page, we get to dress up and become a fictional “I.”  We get to look at the world through someone else’s eyes.  We get to invent. 

Ditto for the horror flicks.  I’m a complete sucker for the tension-filled scenes you know so well: the protagonist is standing on one side of the door; a strange noise has just erupted on the other.  The protagonist begins to breathe hard, slowly reaching for the doorknob.  At this point, my mind always goes into overdrive as I imagine what is on the opposite side of that door. 

Again, as is the case with Halloween, I get to make it all up.  Until the opposite-side-of-the-door is revealed, of course.  But I love those who-know-what’ll-happen-next moments.

…I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to be yet this year, what I’m going to wear to greet the trick-or-treaters who will ring my bell.  Right now, I’m having too much fun imagining the possibilities, making up a hundred different scenarios, imagining this year’s who-knows-what.

Monday, September 24, 2012

PLOWING UP MY CORN



As other bloggers have discussed at my MG blog, Smack Dab in the Middle, creative work is really tough to measure.  Sure, when you finish a book—or better yet, when a book is on the shelves of a library or B&N—and you’ve got something physical to point to as you say, “This is what I’ve been doing for the past two [or four or—ahem—ten] years,” people respond positively.  They’re impressed.  During that decade when you’re sitting in a pair of ripped jeans, ponytail hanging crookedly from the top of your head as you stare for hours into a computer screen, people who don’t know better tend to treat you as though you’re not doing much.  Or—as often happens when you’ve nixed the idea of any kind of employment in order to pursue writing full-time—they tend to look at you the same way Kevin Costner’s neighbors did in FIELD OF DREAMS when he plowed up his corn.  Like they can’t believe you’ve just thrown away something so incredibly valuable.



I’ve heard it all in the eleven years since I became a full-time writer—all sorts of unthinking reactions to what I do with my days, especially during periods when I didn’t have something physical to point to as I said, “This is what I’ve been working on.”

The thing is, though, some of the harshest words a writer can hear about how hard they’re working can often come from his (or her) self.  I’ve certainly gone through periods when I put myself through the wringer, especially when my rejections were piling up, or when I didn’t quite meet my own self-imposed deadlines or word count goals.

Not too long ago—maybe a year or so—I freed myself from my own internal nagger.  And I did it by counting everything.

For example: It’s so easy for me to get tied up in my daily word count (especially when drafting).  But I no longer count simply the number of new words I put in my manuscript.  I count everything.  Notes to self down margins.  Post-it scribbles.  Emails to my editors or agent. 

Ditto for time limits: After eleven years of full-time writing, I’ve got a pretty high endurance level.  I can work for eight to as many as twelve hours a day on my current project.  But when I say that, am I only pounding out chapter after chapter on my computer?  No.  I’m writing outlines in longhand.  I’m researching.  I’m bouncing new ideas off on my mom—who has always been my first reader on any new project.  And, when a book is nearing release, I count time spent on my promo work—whether that’s putting together a new print ad, scheduling a video chat, or writing up a new guest post for a blog tour. 

It’s become my new mantra: It all counts.

The thing is, there are always going to be people who fail to recognize just how much work goes into a creative job.  (And creative jobs really are some of the toughest around…I always say that writing a novel is every bit as exhausting as building a house.)  But I’ve learned that you can’t go looking for happiness outside of yourself.  Happiness is internal.  And if I take the time to recognize and respect the strides I’m making (even if those strides are internal and not measurable by a word counter or an impressive new advance), if I’m taking the time to be satisfied with and proud of my own progress, the voices of those who might try to talk about how I “plowed up my corn” always tend to fade right into the background.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY BLOG TOUR + GIVEAWAY

I'm thrilled to host a tour stop for Rachel Harris's debut YA, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY.  Rachel has been a fantastic supporter of mine; she wrote a incredibly flattering post about my second YA, PLAYING HURT, when it released in 2011.  So when she approached me, asking if I'd consider blurbing her own debut, I eagerly agreed.  I figured if she connected so strongly with something I'd written, I'd more than enjoy her own work; I was right, and sent a blurb straight to Rachel:

“Fresh and funny, Harris’s detail-rich writing makes for a truly charming debut novel.”
—Holly Schindler, author of Playing Hurt


I also love the passion that drips from Rachel's words as she speaks of her own work:


Congrats on your debut, Rachel! 

Thank you so much! This certainly feels surreal =)

Please tell us about MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY:

Sure! My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century is about a young daughter of Hollywood who unfortunately hates the spotlight and is being roped into a huge televised birthday gala by her well-meaning dad and future-step-mother. They bribe her with a trip to Florence, a city she’s been fascinated with forever because of the ties to her birth mother (the one good thing about the woman), and while Cat’s there she discovers a gypsy tent. Needing to do something very un-Cat-like for once, she decides to be wild and steps through the open flap…and soon after exits in Renaissance Firenze.

With nothing but a backpack stuffed with contraband future items, Cat soon befriends her ancestors and gorgeous artist Lorenzo. Her many cultural missteps aside, Cat’s enjoying her Renaissance vacay (as she calls it) until an older man filled with creeptastic amore starts sniffing around. As she struggles to find a way back home, and her own century, she realizes that perhaps an unwanted birthday party might not be the worst thing in life.

What was the inspiration behind MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY?

Once I decided I wanted to write a story where a modern-day girl gets sent to a historical setting, I got stuck choosing an era. I love Regency novels but I also love research, and I’ve learned a lot about the Regency period already, thanks to my book reading obsessions. So after talking it out with my husband, the sixteenth century leapt to mind due to my fascination with the Renaissance and Romeo and Juliet as a teen, not to mention it would then lead to it being set in Italy, a beautiful country filled with history. (The delicious boys and sexy accents didn’t hurt, either.)

But even once I had the setting and the era, I still needed inspiration. I always start with my characters, interviewing them extensively, choosing pictures for them, and making a collage. Then I create a story soundtrack that follows the internal arc of the main character and the major plot lines, so that while I'm drafting, I have a song or two that speaks to the chapter I'm working on. I often turn to the song lyrics to help me add imagery or an internal thought that drives my point home in new ways. It was at this stage that I found the song Love Story by Taylor Swift, and shortly after the video, which is filled with such rich visual inspiration. The song itself ends up playing a key role in the soundtrack.



What’s been your journey as an author? 

My journey began in the summer of 2010 when I read the Twilight series. I fell back in love with reading for fun, and with the entire YA genre. By the end of the summer, I’d decided to try writing my own book. I quickly found a local writing group, dove straight in, and was querying my first novel by Thanksgiving.
I’d read that you should go straight into your next book, not sit around waiting while you query, so I started writing My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century in early 2011. I came up with the idea toward the beginning of January, spent the rest of the month in research, and wrote Chapter One in February. That book was with agents by mid-April. I signed with my fabulous agent in August, and found my home with Entangled Teen a month later. It’s been like a dream.

What’s been the best part of having a book in development?  The biggest surprise? 

The best part is the friendships I’ve made, hands down. Everyone at Entangled has been amazing. The entire editorial team is made of awesome, especially my own editor, Stacy Abrams. She knows her stuff, isn’t afraid to show you how to make a story better, but she’s a total sweetheart and encourager at the same time. And funny! And the other writers….we say we’re a family at Entangled, and we really are. All the authors have been so supportive, especially my fellow Entangled Teen girls. Those are my peeps!

The biggest surprise….how scary it isn’t. It’s like, I knew that editors were just regular people, but I never really thought I could become friends with them, or that they’d care just as much about my book as I do. They’re totally on your side. Oh, and that they don’t freak if you don’t agree with every suggestion or question they have. They understand it’s your baby, and are just trying to make it the best it can be—and boy do they do that!

Has seeing a book through development changed your writing at all?  If so, how?

Yes! Actually, my writing changes ever so slightly with each book. I mean, it’s still my voice and style, but I grow with each book—I handle certain things better, and other elements come quicker. But working with Stacy taught me where to focus, where my strengths are, and how I can increase tension and conflict. Really, the entire editorial process was educational, but my favorite part was copy edits. It’s so much easier to spot redundancies, repeated words, and overused gestures when it’s not your book, but my tics are my tics for a reason, so they stay invisible to me without the help of other people. Along with those strengths I mentioned, my editor really helped me see where my weaknesses were, too, and I like to think I’ve grown because of it (*grin*)

Every author, it seems, has a favorite writing “trick”—reading work out loud, brainstorming while going for a walk…What’s yours?

My favorite trick is definitely my story soundtrack. I burn CDs and have one in the car and one in my laptop. The laptop one I use occasionally before I write a scene to help get me in the mindset and emotional place I need to be in, but the biggest help is the one in the car. As I drive, I sing along to the lyrics and reflect on how they fit where my character is in their growth, why the words speak to their situation, and I always come back home needing to jot notes down. Sometimes entire scenes are changed just from listening to these lyrics, and they’re almost always made better by helping me dig deeper or add more romance or add a bigger dose of humor….I heart my soundtracks!

Please tell us about future books in the works:

In this series, I have a companion novel, A Tale of Two Centuries, that I just completed and sent to my editor. It comes out in June 2013. This was a fun twist because it’s Cat’s sixteenth-century cousin Alessandra who time travels to present-day Beverly Hills. This one is longer and I think goes a little deeper—not to mention a bit swoonier. I had a lot of fun with the romance in this one. Actually, I had a lot of fun with all of it.

Then next December, six months after Alessandra’s story comes out, I have a third book that is completely unrelated, but also with Entangled Teen. Rearview Mirror is a YA thriller with paranormal elements set in my hometown of New Orleans. I’m really excited about this book—probably because I’m drafting it right now!

After that, I have four YA story ideas and a sweet adult romance in the works….we’ll see what my editor wants me to work on first  =)

What are some common themes in your work? What can we always expect from a Rachel Harris novel?

I adore this question! Before I started writing, I researched the industry a lot, and I came across a blog post from an author who mentioned that all of her books have a similar theme at their heart. That statement really resonated with me. I love the idea of a reader knowing what they are getting at the heart of all of your books, so I sat down and thought, “What would I want a reader strolling through a bookstore and scanning author names to think about when they land on my name?”

I came up with a list of adjectives and words that I wanted my books to represent, regardless of genre. It could be YA or adult, contemporary or paranormal, but I knew I wanted certain things to be at their core—my so-called brand. And the tagline I came up with for my brand is Unmask Your Inner Flirt.
I’ll break down what that means to me.



First, I believe people wear masks of different kinds, and at different times. Some are obvious, such as a makeover to get attention, trying on a new role, or trying to be someone we're not. Others are more subtle, such as a character hiding behind a mask of perfection, afraid to make a mistake, always needing to be in control. All the main characters in my books deal with this in some way.

For Cat, hers is a mask of perfection she wears because her estranged mother is a Hollywood star known for scandal, and she’s always trying to overcompensate by never messing up in public, and never letting people too close. It was by getting her out of her element, out of a scene she can control and into one that she can’t, that she’s forced to deal with these things.

(Fun side note: On my soundtrack, Cat's internal arc starts with Poker Face by Lady Gaga because she always wore that mask, and by the end, it’s Love Story because she’s opening herself more to the possibility of love.)

The second part of the brand comes in with the romance. I’m a sucker for a good love story, a happy ending, and humor along the way. To me, the word flirt represents the fun part of the romance, where you might laugh at your relational missteps or get the butterflies in your tummy from just looking at the guy. Those moments will be in every one of my books, too.

I think we all wear different masks at different times of our life, whether we know it or not, and I believe deep down there is a flirt in each of us….a girl (or boy) who loves falling in love and enjoys being swept away with a new romance. And that’s why at the heart of any book I write, you’ll always find these themes. 


...Super-sweet Rachel is also including a giveaway with this post.  Two lucky winners will receive signed swag packs.  Each swag pack includes trading cards of Cat and Lorenzo, a Super Sweet tattoo, a bookmark, a signed bookplate, and a 'super sweet' bracelet.  Giveaway winners will be announced September 28th.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check in with Rachel on her website, and follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Monday, September 17, 2012

'TIL SUMMER

It's most definitely the end of summer here in southwest Missouri...as I type this, I'm wearing a flannel shirt over one of last summer's tanks.

I've also been thinking ahead a bit lately, toward possibilities for trailers for both of my forthcoming books (the MG from Dial and the YA from HarperCollins).  Which means that I've been pretty seriously in-tune with what visuals do for a song as I watch CMT.  (The station's been something of a long-time weekend ritual, along with a big breakfast...The older I get, the more I gravitate toward bluegrass; with a semi-professional bluegrass musician in the family, I tend to think of it as a genetic predisposition.)

I was struck this morning by how really perfect the visuals are for this one.  The scenes match the song and are a perfect match for the feeling I've had the past few days, as my own Missouri summer comes to an end.

 Now if I could just somehow channel that when I sit down to put together my next trailer...

Friday, September 7, 2012

BOOK REC: SECOND HAND HEART (BECAUSE YOU REALLY HAVE TO READ IT. SERIOUSLY.)




Okay—I'm a big fan of Catherine Ryan Hyde. Talking huge. Enormous. They don't come any more devoted than me. And SECOND HAND HEART is my favorite of all of Hyde's books.

There's just something about this book. In the first place, it was my introduction to the concept of cellular memory; I have to say that I'm fascinated by the idea that we don't just make memories with our minds but with our entire beings—leave it to Hyde to zero in on such a beautiful idea and build a book around it. But there are also so many poignant passages here...a tree / death analogy early on in the book hit me in an especially powerful way, and I've thought of it many times since.

As an author myself, I'm constantly picking apart a novel as I read it—I'm looking at the parts, figuring out how the thing's "wired," how it works. But this book swept me up and transported me. I was able to just let go and experience it.

SECOND HAND HEART got into my heart and resonated powerfully. This is a novel with a positive impact you'll continue to feel long after you've savored the final page.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

FRINGES

Brainstorming topics for this month’s theme at my YA group author blog (characters on the fringes), I instantly thought of a recent clip from CBS This Morning. In talking about her latest release, WHERE WE BELONG, Emily Giffin mentions returning to her journals to get in the right mindset to write a younger, teenaged character.

The results? She was shocked; her teen years were happy and stable, but as she says in the video below, her journals were still filled with angst:


Which makes me wonder—has there ever been a teen who hasn’t felt on the fringes for one reason or another? Don’t we all, as our own toughest critics, lug around our own lot of insecurities?

The MCs from both of my own published books are also definitely characters who feel on the fringes; in A BLUE SO DRAK, Aura feels outside the boundaries of “normal” life as she cares for her schizophrenic mother. In PLAYING HURT, Chelsea’s accident ends her basketball career, making her suddenly feel on the fringes with her former teammates.

Sure, there’s angst in my books, to use Giffin’s word. But there’s also, I’d argue, a sense of acceptance by the end of both novels. In BLUE, Aura is learning to accept both her family’s history of madness and her own creative impulses. In PLAYING HURT, Chelsea is finally accepting the end of her own playing days, while looking forward to a life returning to the game she loved in another capacity—her new dream, by the novel’s close, is to become a sports psychologist.

Maybe that’s a big part of moving from adolescence to adulthood: acceptance of oneself. Mistakes, flaws, warts and all. It’s being able to sing off-key in traffic and not caring that the windows are down. It’s finding a sense of humor about oneself. It’s that perspective Giffin mentions—it’s knowing I’m not perfect, but neither is everyone else. It’s knowing in some way or another, we’re all on the fringes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

SACRED BOOK TRAILER


As I've said before, I've been eyebrow-deep in revisions this summer.  In the days leading up to sending a revision off to one of my editors, I tend to pull back from my online life a bit, focus only on my pages. 

After hitting "send" this morning, I headed out into the YA blogosphere to discover that Elana K. Arnold's book trailer for her debut YA, SACRED, has just gone live.

I love this one...simple, beautifully filmed, and it manages to accomplish what is so tricky about a trailer: boiling the book down into images that only last a minute, offering just enough info that you're intrigued, but not so much that (unlike movie trailers) you get the feeling you now know everything just by watching the video.

To learn more, visit Elana's website.  Pre-order on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LOST

I've been juggling revisions all summer long, which is like being in heaven for me.  I love revision.  Talking love here.  Love.  It's so easy for me to walk into my office and get lost in the process.  And I mean lost.  I'm talking, "Wait.  What day is it again?" kind of lost.

Every once in a while, I'm reminded (usually by an insistent round of barking) that I need to get outside and knock the cobwebs off.  A few scenes from my latest get-outta-the-house jaunt, at the Finley River in nearby Ozark:

My dog, Jake, is always sooooo glad when the computer screen finally goes black...
...and we walk near the Finley...
...and check out the skies.  I'm telling you, Missouri has the best skies.  



And the sunsets aren't bad, either.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

CELEBRATE

Mmmmm.  Dog cake.
This year, my pup's birthday fell just as I was wrapping up my first round of revisions for my forthcoming YA, FERAL, so it seemed a bit like a double celebration.  (Yep, I celebrate my dog's birthday every year, as well as the anniversary of the day he came home with us...How can you not celebrate the creature who brings so much joy into your life???)

It was an evening of dog cake and ice cream new toys...and I'd say, judging by his expression, that Jake was more than pleased:


That's the face of sheer bliss, folks.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SIGNS OF LIFE (FERAL ON GOODREADS!)

Even with the persistent drought in Missouri, we still managed to grow a couple of flowers...Seems so funny that those flowers were glads, since that was exactly how we felt to see them!

Here they are, up close and personal, Georgia O'Keeffe style:


...Speaking of signs of new life, my latest YA, FERAL, recently popped up on Goodreads!  (It just always feels like a book is a living breathing entity when it starts to show up for discussion and / or purchase online...)  Be sure to put it on your TBR list!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CRUNCHY

Thought I'd take you all on a stroll through my lovely backyard...Turn up your volume for this one:



...Ahhh...August in Missouri...

Monday, July 23, 2012

THE BEST FIREWORKS


I didn't write much of a post about the Fourth this year, because I didn't get to enjoy my usual celebration...

I live just south of one of the best fireworks displays in town.  Most years, on the Fourth, I walk a few blocks, pop open a lawn chair, and hang out in a conveniently undeveloped field, watching the incredible professional fireworks from the Twin Oaks Country Club.  They completely fill up the sky, rattle through my chest.

This year?  My tried-and-true empty field was a construction zone.  And the heat was absolutely vicious, keeping me from my usual bird’s eye view.  Though my neighbors and I are residents of the county, and can legally shoot our own firecrackers, our worries about the brittle, dry surroundings during this prolonged drought also kept most of us from lighting much more than a few sparklers. 
  
So there just wasn't much going on, in our skies this year.

But we did spend plenty of time in our backyards, hitting grills or backyard pools. 

Some of my younger neighbors—a couple of elementary-school-aged girls—spent the Fourth on a picnic blanket, under a backyard tree, with assorted cold summer snacks and drinks and a pile of books.  I kept watching those girls, as the day lingered on, engrossed in their reads and laughing and enjoying each other.   

It has since occurred to me that those are perhaps the best fireworks of all—the fireworks of connecting.  To another person.  To the voice in a novel.  There’s nothing like that rattle that echoes through a chest when you find someone—or something—that you can relate to, on a personal level. 

So here’s to all those fireworks of connection—may they be popping and banging all around you, this summer and for many more to come…

Thursday, July 19, 2012

UPDATED MAILING LIST

Here she is: the updated form to join my mailing list!

My previous form listed a blog as a required field; I realize not all fans have blogs, though, and I didn't want anyone to miss out on all the exciting announcements that will surely be forthcoming, with two books in development!  You'll see here that the only required fields are your name and email; if you have a blog and / or participate in social media, please do let me know, but it is absolutely not a prerequisite.  Any and all readers are more than welcome to sign up:


If you have trouble filling out the form above, click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NATURAL BEAUTY

Dolly Parton's character in Steel Magnolias swore there was no such thing.  And I have a tendency to think that's also true of literature.  There is no novel that springs forth out of anybody's head straight onto the page looking fabulous (just as nobody wakes up honestly looking like a magazine spread).  It takes work to look good, as Truvy was wont to say.

It's such a girly comparison, I know...But who among us hasn't sat in a beauty parlor, with bated breath, almost beside ourselves with anticipation as we cooked beneath a dryer?  We just knew we were going to look so fabulous as a brunette / blond / redhead / with sleek, straight hair / short hair / extensions / spiral perm (ah, the 80's—I spent eight hours solid in a beauty parlor back in '88 to get my spiral)...Who has not honestly believed she would be a new woman when she left that parlor?

That's the revision process.  It's putting your much-loved manuscript under the dryer, and just knowing that it's going go walk out looking like a NYT bestseller.

And now, back to my revisions...


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

INDEPENDENCE AND YA LIT


If I’m to define “independence” in the same way that I think many teens view the term—as a word interchangeable with “adulthood”—I’d have to say that I actually thrust independence on the main characters of both my published YAs.

Take Aura, the MC from my debut, A BLUE SO DARK.  Her mother, Grace, suffers from a mental illness.  And as the book opens, her mother’s sinking deeper into the darkness of that illness.  Grace’s condition leaves Aura to become, in many respects, the parent.  The adult.  (So much so, Aura and her best friend, Janny, a teen mom herself, come to a new understanding, toward the end of the novel.)  Aura, in many ways, longs for a “normal” life—to be the girl who gets to chase after her crush on a cute skater boy, whose deepest worry is regarding an upcoming exam.  In short, she wants to worry only about herself—a luxury that often accompanies most teenage yearsInstead, Aura has to care for another human being.  She’s responsible for that human being (her mother), which is a very adult problem. 

Take Chelsea, the MC from my second novel, PLAYING HURT.  Her dilemma isn’t quite as dark as Aura’s, but it’s life-altering just the same.  Chelsea’s a small-town athlete, a hero on the basketball court—until a horrific accident shatters her hip and ends her basketball career all in the same fell swoop.  Again, Chelsea doesn’t ask to be released from the demands of being a teen athlete.  She doesn’t want to be freed from the grueling schedule.  But she gets it, anyway.

In all likelihood, Aura and Chelsea would find themselves dealing with these scenarios later on in life: Chelsea would absolutely have to learn to deal with life after basketball, and there’s a strong possibility that someday Aura would find herself responsible for another human being, either as a parent or as a friend (I’m not sure it’s really possible to have meaningful, resonant relationships in life and not find yourself caring for others—in many ways, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of adult life)…

But Aura and Chelsea are thrown into these adult roles, headfirst.  They’re tossed into their adulthood in such a way that it can’t really feel like independence at all.  I think in many respects, that’s the crux of a good story: by making a character’s world change around them, by forcing a character to adapt to and navigate their new world, you can’t help but illustrate how that character grows, changes, learns.  In many respects, I think those curves life tosses often make us who we are—and present a perfect opportunity, in YA literature, for our teen characters to become their best selves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

REVISION HEAVEN

So I'm in the midst of working on rewrites for FERAL, my next YA (forthcoming from HarperCollins).  And all I can say is that I am in absolute heaven (revisions are my absolute favorite part of the process). 

I also figure that being up to my eyebrows in revisions means I'm going to need plenty of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken (such good writing fuel...it's right up there with coffee).  If you're not familiar with Springfield-Style, it's one of our claims to fame here in the Queen City.  It's even got its own Wikipedia Entry!

Photo taken from Lucy's website...It's probably still my fave place to get the dish here in town. 



And I'm back to work (I say with complete and utter joy)...

Friday, June 22, 2012

MILES TRAVELED


This summer, the journey I’m taking doesn’t really have to do much with packed bags and playing Punch Buggy in a backseat.  Instead, this summer, I’ve been doing some genealogical research, tracing the miles my ancestors traveled.

It’s been fascinating, actually—I’m amazed at how much you can learn about a life simply by solidifying two or three major dates (usually birth, marriage, and death, or, as one genealogist recently phrased it as we chatted, “hatched, matched, and dispatched”). 

I’m especially intrigued by the women; right now, I’m trying desperately to trace my matriarchal line, straight through my grandmothers.  I’ve made it back to my great, great, great, great grandmother, who was born in the late 1700s.  This is where the trail gets foggy (I’ve yet to figure out her mother’s name).  I do know, though, that this is the ancestor who officially brought my family to the Midwest; I’ve discovered that while my roots are thick here in Missouri (I’ve got a line, through my maternal grandfather, that runs six-generations deep in Southwest Missouri), I’ve also got equally thick roots in Tennessee, thanks to that four-times great grandmother (I’m pretty sure I’m related to the entire county of Putnam). 

I wish I could get all those women on the family tree in a room, wish I could listen to them tell their own stories.  I’d love to hear just how they felt, what they went through in-between being hatched and dispatched.  I’d love to get the truth: love to hear all about those miles they physically traveled in their own lives. 

But the more I dig, the more blanks my what-if brain wants to fill in.  And it seems that those are miles, too—miles you travel in your own mind, thanks to your imagination…

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

INTERVIEW WITH DEBUT YA AUTHOR, ELANA K. ARNOLD

All writers start out being enormous book nuts.  And once you're bitten with the love of the written word, that love never dies.  I'm always on the lookout for a new author to love...And I'm waiting with bated breath for Elana K. Arnold's debut YA, SACRED, which releases this November! 

Elana's stopped by to tell us more about her forthcoming novel, and to shine some light on her own journey toward publication:

Congrats on your forthcoming debut!  Please tell us about SACRED.
         
Thank you, Holly! I am so proud of SACRED. Here’s the low-down:
         
Growing up on Catalina Island, off the California coast, Scarlett Wenderoth has led a fairly isolated life. After her brother dies, her isolation deepens as she withdraws into herself, shutting out her friends and boyfriend. Her parents, shattered by their own sorrow, fail to notice Scarlett's pain and sudden alarming thinness. Scarlett finds pleasure only on her horse, escaping to the heart of the island on long, solitary rides. One day, as she races around a bend, Scarlett is startled by a boy who raises his hand in warning and says one word: "Stop."
The boy—intense, beautiful—is Will Cohen, a newcomer to the island. For reasons he can't or won't explain, he's drawn to Scarlett and feels compelled to keep her safe. His meddling irritates Scarlett, though she can't deny her attraction to him. As their relationship blossoms into love, Scarlett's body slowly awakens at Will's touch. But just when her grief begins to ebb, she makes a startling discovery about Will, a discovery he's been grappling with himself. A discovery that threatens to force them apart. And if it does, Scarlett fears she will unravel all over again.

As a writer, I love to hear about those exciting ah-ha! moments.  What was the germ of inspiration?  How did the idea come to you?


I can’t take full credit for the creation of SACRED. My good friend Amy Antoine was preparing to move to Colorado, and I was helping her pack up her youngest daughter’s bedroom. Amy and I were sitting together on the floor, folding up little pairs of socks and putting them in a box, when Amy, in her characteristically “I-have-the-answers-to-the-universe” way, said, “I know what you should do. You should write a book about a superhero.” Almost instantly, I had an image—of a girl, on a horse, racing along a trail, and a boy—a stranger—blocking her path. Why was he there? What did he want? What did he know about this girl that I hadn’t yet discovered myself?  I had to know. That was the birth of SACRED.

My books always go through complete overhauls between first draft and published version.  How did SACRED change as you sought representation (and publication)?

Actually, SACRED didn’t change drastically. I had a system as I wrote that worked pretty well for this book: before I began a new chapter, I’d reread and revise the chapter before, and sometimes I’d even have to go further back in the story to make changes and check for consistency. So by the time I finished the draft, every chapter had been tweaked already. Really, the process was different than anything I’d experienced before as a writer; the story came to me almost fully formed. This was true all the way until copy editing, when the amazing people at Random House pointed out to me my writing tics—words I tended to overuse, dialogue tags that didn’t quite work, and this cool thing called “roller coastering” that you don’t really want to do.

Did you always want to write?  How did you come to writing as a career?

I have always been a writer, but I spent many years telling myself that I was a short story writer. Funny, though, when it came to reading, it had always been the novel I reached for—not the collection of stories. Deep down, I wanted to be a novelist, but my fear of taking on a full-length book seemed insurmountable. I don’t know what shifted inside of me, but when I started writing SACRED I just knew that I would complete it, unlike the many other unfinished projects I’d abandoned. Suddenly I was a novelist—I was obsessed with my story, and for the first time I understood what people meant when they said their characters came alive on the page. Until SACRED I always thought people were lying when they said stuff like that. For me, writing had been like moving a couple of Barbie dolls around, forcing them to bend to my will, not really caring about them past the moment I closed my computer. But Scarlett and Will and Lily and Andy and Delilah—I couldn’t get these characters out of my head! I was in love with all of them. The book was written in eleven weeks.

My publishing journey was quite long—it took seven and a half years of full-time effort just to land the first deal!  What was your own journey like?  How many manuscripts, rejections, years, etc. did it take to find your agent and editor?

Even though it only took eleven weeks to write the first draft of SACRED, it took me more than eleven years to get to the place that I could write it. Actually, it seems that it took twice that long. Years ago, I wrote a collection of short stories that I showed to a literary agent. She told me that if I could turn it into a novel, she’d be interested in representing me. Fear stymied me, and I never managed to do it. And I kicked myself for this time after time, sure that I’d blown my one chance at publication. But then I wrote SACRED, and the magic energy that carried me through its creation somehow didn’t dissipate when the manuscript was finished. Finding my agent, Rubin Pfeffer, was magical, too. I had sent queries to about six other agents, several of whom had rejected SACRED, when one night, at about 10 o’clock, I sent a query letter and the first three chapters of SACRED to Rubin, sort of on a whim. When I checked my email then next morning, there was a message from Rubin asking for the full manuscript. Two days later—Sunday night—he wrote again (I’d been checking my email about every two minutes ever since his first message arrived). He told me he wanted to talk.

How did you get the "yes"?  How did you learn your book had been accepted?

This is my favorite part of my story. It was Valentine’s Day. I was hanging out with my husband and my two kids when my phone rang. And there was his name on the screen—Rubin Pfeffer. I looked up at my husband, my heart absolutely still. “It’s Rubin Pfeffer,” I half-whispered, half-choked. “Rubin Pfeffer doesn’t just call.” And I was right. He had news. Random House/Delacorte loved SACRED—and they wanted to publish not only SACRED but its yet-unwritten sequel, SPLENDOR, for which I’d sent a synopsis. My husband, my kids, me—we were all out of our minds excited, jumping up and down, screaming, laughing.

Best. Valentine’s Day. Ever.

What do you now know that you most wish you could tell your unpublished self?

You are a novelist. Somewhere, somehow, there is a book out there with your name on it. You haven’t seen it yet; you haven’t even met the characters. But it’s out there, waiting for you. Don’t freak out. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t feel like a failure because you haven’t written it yet. It’s out there. 

What's been the biggest surprise about having your first book in development?  What's been the most rewarding aspect of the process?


There haven’t really been any surprises yet, probably because I dreamed about this happening for so long and had read so many interviews of other writers. I went to graduate school for creative writing, too, so I understood the process of publication and all the backstage stuff. But the most rewarding part of the process has been watching all these amazing experts—Rubin Pfeffer, Francoise Bui (my editor at Random House/Delacorte), the design team, the copy editors—watching all these people touch SACRED and help me make it better has been so amazing. Usually writing feels like a pretty lonely endeavor, but the editing and production process has felt like I am part of a team.

Probably the most thrilling moment—aside from the day Rubin asked to represent me and that amazing Valentine’s Day phone call—was when I first saw the cover of SACRED. I had had no idea what they were planning for the cover, and I didn’t have any image in my head about what I wanted the book to look like. But when I saw the cover—beautiful, evocative, somehow mystical—I loved it instantly. It was perfect.

What’s next from Elana K. Arnold?

Writing SACRED was a transformative experience in so many ways. Once I wrote it, once I saw myself as a novelist, suddenly stories were everywhere, banging on my door, demanding to be written. So I wrote one of them. And guess what? Random House/Delacorte picked it up, too!

This book—BURNING—will be published in June of 2013, before the publication of SPLENDOR. It’s totally unrelated to the other two books, and I love love love it. Here’s the 411:

Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It’s good timing, since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky; he’s headed to San Diego, where he’s got a track scholarship at the University of California. His best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, aren’t as fortunate; they don’t have college to look forward to. So to make his friends happy during their last days in town, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447.

Lala: She and her Gypsy family make money the way her people have been earning it for centuries—by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash—especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala’s been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben’s cards is the day everything changes for her . . . and for him.

Told from alternating points of view, BURNING brims with the passion of its two protagonists, both at crossroads in their lives, and both forever altered by a moment in time.

Once you put Elana's SACRED on your TBR list (copies can be ordered from Amazon, Powell's, or Random House), be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook; keep up with all the happenings on her new website.


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