Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This month at my MG authors' blog, Smack Dab in the Middle, we’ve all been blogging about what we love most about what we do. I completely agree with the other Smack Dabbers who have already said that one of the coolest things about the writing gig is the fact that it’s so incredibly hard for a writer to whittle what they love most about writing down to a single favorite. No—not just hard. Impossible.

For me, it’s all incredible: That initial, thrilling spark of inspiration. Outlining the entirety of a new book. The first few rounds of exploratory writing that introduce me to my characters.

While I’ve often said that a first draft—especially the middle—isn’t necessarily one of my favorite parts, I can’t say that I completely dislike drafting, either. There’s just something about getting through the first draft that feels—well—triumphant.

And, as I’ve often said—I adore revising. Revision is when my book inevitably becomes three-dimensional.

I even love the letter that comes from an editor, and the excitement of looking at the book from another’s eyes—brainstorming how to make my current work come together, using that editor’s suggestions.

As geeky as it sounds, I really do love the entire process—and beyond. I anticipate release dates, and treasure the relationships I’ve forged with my readers through the blogosphere.

To the outsider, writing probably looks like a dull occupation—one that pits a face and a computer screen against each other for hours on end. Inside, though, it becomes a grand adventure. And I can’t imagine doing anything else.

But beyond the process itself, one of the most rewarding parts of my journey has been sticking with a dream long enough to see the dream begin to pay off. I don’t care what the dream is—to become a singer, actor, writer, artist…There’s going to be a time, in the pursuit of that fantasy, when it feels like the dream is kicking your butt, a little. I’ve talked often about my long and winding road to publication—how it took seven and a half years of full-time effort to get the first book deal. Nothing could have been sweeter than inking that first deal…and then seeing that first book hit the shelves a year and a half later.

Whatever your dream may be, there will be a point at which you’ll look at yourself and wonder what you’re doing. There will be giant obstacles—a class that feels impossible, or a time commitment, or a monetary commitment…life’s obligations will try to block you from your ultimate goal. But trust me—there’s just nothing like seeing the sweat of hard work begin to pay off…

Below: my dog "advertising" my two published books
Be sure to keep checking in on Smack Dab—we regularly run interviews and guest posts, and are also now hosting giveaways. Currently, we’re hosting a giveaway of M.E. Castle’s POPULAR CLONE. Enter to win!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


My pup, Jake, with his face against the window, planning all the adventures he'll have, just as soon as the snow clears out:

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My hometown of Springfield was recently named one of Amazon's most romantic cities! In honor of both this distinction and the upcoming holiday, a vlog post:

Instead of giving out chocolate hearts to my followers, I'm offering another treat: I'm rerunning a guest post, which recently appeared on Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. The post, which details my long road to publication (and how, in the course of two hours in one day, I suddenly had both an agent and book deal), got quite a bit of attention online. I'm running it here in the hopes that it will continue to offer sweet bursts of inspiration, to those still chasing their first publication:

When I got my master’s in ’01, my mom invited me to stay home and devote full-time effort to getting a writing career off the ground (my lifelong dream). I figured it’d take a year or so to write a novel, then it’d sell (I was lucky enough to have placed poetry, short fiction, and literary critique in journals when I was in college, and was under the grand delusion that selling a manuscript would be a breeze for me), and in oh, two years or so, I’d have money in the bank, and I’d be off and running.

Okay, seriously. You can stop laughing now.

The truth is that I spent the next seven and a half years writing and submitting manuscript after manuscript…after manuscript. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it. And rejection slips. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of them—more than a thousand in all.

Enter the holiday season of ’08. That’s when my YA, A BLUE SO DARK, was under submission at Flux. I spoke to Brian (Farrey, acquisitions editor at Flux) for the first time just before Thanksgiving, and though I tried to play it cool, I spent Christmas on pins and needles, tied up in knots, hoping that finally the acceptance I’d been working toward for so long would appear.

Appear it did, just a few days after the new year. And literally two hours—I swear it’s true—two hours after I accepted the offer from Flux, the phone rang. On the other end of the line was an agent who was raving about a middle grade book I’d sent earlier that fall. With an offer of representation.

I accepted (Deborah Warren later sold my debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, to Dial, and is still my agent). After that initial phone call, though, in the winter of ’09, I just stood in my kitchen, dazed, wondering how it could have happened. Seven and a half years I’d been seeking a book deal, seeking representation. And in the course of two hours in one day, I had both.

The thing is, though, I can’t attribute that incredible day to luck or holiday magic. That day is the result of hard work. Period. That day happened because I really did read every single one of those thousand-plus rejection letters (more than eighty of them were rejections for A BLUE SO DARK). Painful as it sometimes was, I didn’t just toss those rejections in the trash, insist I was right, and continue to submit the same book over and over. I digested the critique and I dove back in, revising before submitting again.

For the most part, though, I really think that’s what luck is really made of: the ability to recognize your own shortcomings, the willingness to listen to advice, and the sweat of some insanely hard work.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Now, this is the kind of author-reader interaction I just adore...My neighbor, Alex, is an aspiring author. So when her class began work on a job shadowing program, she came over to talk about what it takes to be a full-time writer. And the discussion was just a delight.

Sure, signings and readings are a ton of fun, but in those scenarios, I don't get much of a chance to really interact with my readers. At a signing, we say hello, I scrawl my name, and the reader waves goodbye. But with an interaction like this, I get a real chance to touch base...I've said it before, but that's a big part of the reason why I really can't get enough of the blogosphere. Through social networking, etc., I get a chance to develop ongoing relationships with readers; for me, those relationships are absolutely priceless.

...The vid's a bit longer than most I've posted, but Alex just asked such great questions, and I had such a great time, I couldn't bear to cut out another second of footage...Check it out, as we discuss how long it takes to actually get started, and what a joy it is to stick with a dream through the hardships, long enough to see the dream start to come to fruition:

Thursday, February 2, 2012


This is one of my mom’s favorite pictures of me and my brother:

The background: I loved that dress. I mean—love. It was the first long dress I’d ever had, and I felt so grown-up and beautiful. I just had to get Mom to take my picture (with our ultra-high-tech Polaroid)…and my brother, unable to let such a perfect gonna-get-her-now opportunity just slip him by, protested. He wanted in the picture, too.

“Oh, just let him in,” Mom said. At which point, he raced to his room and got the ugliest hat he could. Mucking up my oh-so-beautiful moment with a ratty old red stocking cap.

Sure, we’re wearing smiles in the pic. But before the Polaroid could even develop the picture, I’m pretty sure the boy got pummeled.

Such is life with a sibling.

I’ve never written a novel based on anything that happened to me—never based any of my characters on any person I’ve ever met. (I have no personal experience with mental illness, as does the protagonist of A BLUE SO DARK, and I’m no athlete, as are the main characters of PLAYING HURT.)

Still, tough—bits of yourself just naturally leak out when you’re writing fiction—your humor, observations, beliefs, they all sneak into every character you do build. (Which, I think, is often why a novel feels so personal to a writer. I really think that letting someone read your book allows that person the kind of access into your head that they’d never have, through just day-to-day, face-to-face interactions.)

All those relationships in life—family or friends—allow us to experience the range of human emotions. I’ve never directly based any of my characters’ relationships on any relationship I’ve ever had in life, either. But I’ve been there—through those exciting meetings, through losses and disappointments, through love and anger and sweet moments of forgiveness. And when I needed to describe the relationship between Chelsea and her younger brother Brandon in PLAYING HURT, I thought back on instances like the ratty red hat. Having been there before means that I can really get into each of my character’s heads as I write a book, and describe what they’re feeling throughout the pages of my novels.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today is the official release date for Ashley Hope PĂ©rez’s THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY!

The synopsis:

Azael Arevalo wishes he could remember how the fight ended. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. He can picture the bats, the bricks, the chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars. Azael knows jails, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.

Lexi Allen would love to forget the fight, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it’s time to testify. Lexi knows that there’s more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. Azael needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.

Because my YA group author blog, YA Outside the Lines, is participating in the blog tour for THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY, I had a chance to read a galley of the book during the holiday season...and what a fabulous Christmas present it turned out to be! The voice is what absolutely sucked me in as I read THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY. I know from personal experience that writing a male voice can be a challenge for a female author, and I found Azael's voice absolutely authentic and believable...so much so, I even wished I was back in his head during the portions of the book that were driven by Lexi's voice. But Lexi proved equally powerful, in the end; actually, at the close of the book, I was grateful to have had the time in her head, as well. Getting to know Lexi made the novel's conclusion have even greater impact.

I love the fact, too, that THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY reads like a mystery (a genre I've been reading more of lately). A lightning-fast read that you'll be sorry to put down, once started...Grab yourselves a copy here.
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