On The Go With Joy Preble + Book Giveaway!

One of my favorite author friends, Joy Preble, visited Utah last week, so I took her on a short adventure to Antelope Island. Where else in the world can you see bison roaming on an island in the middle of a huge, salty prehistoric lake? 

I also attended Joy’s book signings to celebrate the release of Haunted, the sequel to Dreaming Anastasia. Joy was also kind enough to kick off my new On The Go questions. 

Leave a comment and you can win your own signed copies! 

1. You have been given your Dream Vacation. Where are you going & what are you doing?

I am actually planning for one of my dream vacations – probably year after next if we can save enough money. We will be going to Australia and New Zealand to see everything we can see – including Sydney, koala bears, and the gorgeous scenery where they shot Lord of the Rings. I can hardly wait!!

2. What if you could travel to a different time period?

I’d like to travel to turn of the 20th century NYC and have tea at the Plaza Hotel. Because seriously, who doesn’t want to do that? I could do that every afternoon, actually. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

3. Are you a planner or a seat-of-the pants traveler?

I’m a ridiculously OCD-type over-planner. Just ask my husband. He referred to one New York trip as “The Bataan Death March of Vacations.”  I read travel guides. I search on line. I map quest like a mad woman. I ponder. I make lists. My lists make lists. I have plans for vacations we might never get to. It’s scary.

4. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on vacation?

One time – on a spur of the moment trip to San Antonio and Sea World, we got to the hotel and the clerk said, “Your room isn’t ready.” What she meant was that this hotel was still being built and our room (which we’d booked from a central reservation line, not the individual hotel) wasn’t actually built yet! But as it was late and every other hotel in the area was booked, they put us up in what had been the hotel night club. We were awake all night with the neon flashing in the windows. I guess that’s more funny than awful, though.

Find out more about Joy Preble at http://www.joypreble.com/

Now it’s your chance to escape into adventure & romance based on Russian folklore. Leave a comment to win a copies of Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted

Contest ends on Tuesday, April 19, 2011.

Stories That Inspire Travel…

I‘m itching to escape cold short February days and find some adventure! And I blame books. Books that bring settings or history alive in a way that makes me really, really want to see it for myself.

Wouldn’t a trip to Paris be wonderful? I found myself wanting to explore the catacombs and drink my own bowl of coffee after reading Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Croissants. Lots of croissants. A blister-inducing day at The Louvre. I could see Degas work–the sculptures that inspired Marie, Dancer by Carolyn Meyer.

Or maybe I should visit China–I really, really want to visit China–to see the landscape that inspires mystical tales like Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin and Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. Oh, how I craved Chinese takeout after reading that one!

One vacation, much closer to home, that I’m determined to take this year: Yellowstone National Park. I want to see the geysers again through the eyes of Maggie from Janet Fox’s novel Faithful. Or maybe I’d spot wolves like the characters in Wolves, Boys, And Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler.

Sigh. I’m not going anywhere soon. But I’ll keep reading about far-off adventures. Which books made you want to book a plane ticket?

NCTE, Magic & Many Mickey Mouses

Today I’m shoveling snow, but last weekend I played in the sunshine with many of my favorite author friends in Orlando, Florida at NCTE. My roomie, Lauren Bjorkman, and I also snuck away from conference duties for a little Magic Kingdom fun. Mickey Mouse, here we come!

I started spotting Mickey Mouse everywhere–starting with my breakfast waffle! 

I decided to find other unusual Mickey Mouse products. Hungry?

Enjoy some Mickey Mouse butter on your Mickey Mouse waffle.

I found Mickey Mouse lollipops, chocolates, and pasta. Oh, and lots of kitchen items. 

Pizza cutters, spoons, measuring cups, pot holders… Done eating? Time to play!

Toss your Mickey Mouse baseball around. Or scratch your back. I seriously started thinking that I could replace every item in my house with something Mickey. 

We had a great day–we even rode Space Mountain twice. Zoom!!! Before heading back to the hotel, we treated ourselves to some ice cream–shaped like Mickey Mouse, of course! 

I loved chatting with so many wonderful, innovative teachers during our roundtable discussion. Much thanks to my co-presenters Lauren Bjorkman (My Invented Life), Jen Dutton (Stranded), Janet Fox (Faithful), Cheryl Herbsman (Breathing), Edie Hemingway (Road To Tater Hill), Danielle Joseph (Indigo Blues), Rosanne Parry (Heart Of A Shepherd), and Joy Preble (Dreaming Anastasia). We discussed all aspects of girl characters’ fictional journeys & ways to help readers connect with literature. 

I did come home with a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt… And lots of Advance Reader Copies of books I can’t wait to read.

On my last day, I spotted soap bubble Mickey on the hotel towel carts…

I kind of miss the guy! 

Leave a comment to win one my favorite girl characters with you–Roz from My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman. 
Entries accepted until midnight, December 1, 2010.

Adventures In Author Visits!

Last week I traveled to the Northwest for a series of author (and family) visits. I had a wonderfully fun, wonderfully exhausting week–and it only rained every time I happened to be driving 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Yikes! Here are some other highlights:

Powell’s–one of my favorite bookstores ever! I taught a workshop for teens and tweens who like to write with author Anne Osterlund. This is a monthly event–authors mentoring students. Check the schedule!

We had a small, but enthusiastic group. And I got to fulfill my dream of signing my books at Powell’s. Plus, I had lots of fun visiting with my Portland family members and the next day I went bookstore hopping with author friend Rosanne Parry. We visited the big Powell’s and Annie Bloom’s (they have a bookstore cat–I LOVE bookstore cats!). I also added a few more books to my already heavy suitcase.

After a night in Olympia, Washington hanging out with my mom & brother-in-law, I rode the ferry to Lopez Island to do school visits at Lopez High and Lopez Middle School. Much thanks to the lovely folks at Lopez Island Library.

I had so much fun getting to know the fabulous teens of Lopez Island–lots of creative, funny, and nice people! (*waves* to MacKenzie & Kevin.) I showed them how I’ve added real life experiences from my diaries to my novels. And I made fun of one of their favorite teachers–my brother! (My sister-in-law is an amazing teacher too!)

Other Lopez highlights. Eating. Mmm. Galley hamburgers. Vortex burritos. Collecting rocks on Agate Beach, watching the seals at Shark’s Reef. And a post-school visit first: my brother convinced me to allow him to winch me 30 feet up a sailboat mast so that I could string a rope for him. Let’s just say that the thigh master has nothing on a sailboat mast as the wind picks up…

In other adventures, I spent the day with my five-year-old nephew, Quinn, at preschool. We were driving to school, rocking out to Taylor Swift, when I noticed flashing lights behind me. Oops! 35 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. As I’m trying to talk my way out of a ticket, apologizing, explaining, apologizing, my nephew calls out, “My dad got stopped by the cops too!” I started laughing, but I still weaseled out of the ticket. Phew! (My brother hadn’t been so lucky.)

A half hour later I got busted at preschool for suggesting that my stuffed squirrel karate chop Quinn’s stuffed squirrel. Oops! Karate stays at The Dojo, even for stuffed animals, on Lopez Island. But Quinn now thinks his Aunt Syd has some serious street cred!

Next I headed to Seattle–and lunch with my high school friend Amy. After spending a week reading my high school diaries, full of serious boy craziness, I thanked her for putting up with my seventeen-year-old self! We had a great Greek lunch near her office in the shadow of the Space Needle. How cool is that?

The next day I spoke at the WLMA (Washington Library Media Association). Just before my talk, I ran up to my room to brush my teeth, comb my hair, and look over my PowerPoint one last time–only to discover that my computer claimed that my presentation was corrupted (my HS diary isn’t that edgy!). The only presentation accessible was one geared toward 4th grade Girl Scouts. Quickly I scrambled to add a few slides. And the presentation went fine, but not exactly as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll remember to actually use that flash drive I carry with me!

I also had a great time visiting with old Whitman College friends: Margy and Roz are librarians, and Royce Buckingham writes great boy books (we took the same English classes in college–and never imagined this day!). I also loved hearing Sherman Alexie read the first chapter of his sequel to The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part Time Indian (it’s SO good) and listening to Alyson Noel’s publishing journey (she’s so charming!).

Oh, and if you haven’t sang karaoke with eleven librarians at midnight in an airport hotel lounge, well, I’m just saying, all that hush-hush stuff about librarians? Rumors, all rumors. Librarians are a blast!

Hanging On Versus Letting Go

For the last three weeks, my family has been debating “hanging on” versus “letting go.” Here’s the situation:
During our spring vacation, I flipped out of a river raft in a Class IV rapid. I held on to the thin safety cord attached to the raft with a grasp so intense that my pinkie finger was numb for the next ten days. And I injured my shoulder. It all happened so fast; I didn’t know whether I’d smashed my shoulder against a rock, or tore it up by hanging on. Thus, our family debate.
I held on because I didn’t want to go down this rapid like these people (this is NOT me):
And I didn’t fall out of the raft again, not even when we got stuck between boulders with water rushing over us. I held on like crazy, painful shoulder and all. But I’ve been thinking about hanging on ever since. If I had let go, maybe I wouldn’t have hurt my shoulder…
Over the years, I’ve hung on to a lot of things when I should’ve let go: not-so-good relationships, dead-end jobs, unrealistic goals…and a cute skirt that never quite fit.
The thing is: deep down I knew I needed to let go of the relationships, the jobs, the goals, and even that skirt. But I didn’t trust my intuition–you know that feeling that pricks your gut, whispers in your mind? Eventually, things reached the point that I absolutely had to let go–of the relationships and jobs and goals that simply didn’t work. I also–finally–gave the skirt to a friend, and it looks great on her.
So back to the river raft: I did trust my intuition. I knew I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to escape a Class IV rapid, so I held on. And I didn’t regret my decision–even if it meant surgery. Last week, I was happy to learn that I broke my acromion bone (the very top of my shoulder) by smashing against a rock when I flipped out of the raft. No torn muscle, no surgery!
Holding on didn’t hurt me this time, but I still think it takes more courage to let go.

Clever or Cruel?

I got really excited–and my heart rate picked up a bit–when I spotted this abandoned near the airport luggage carousel on my spring vacation (I love finding pennies, so this was a real coup!):

Looking around to see if anyone had accidentally dropped it–nope–I eagerly picked it up. And discovered that it was, well, not exactly what I imagined:

Yup. It was a business card. Soon we spotted those $100 teasers everywhere: sitting atop suitcases chugging around the luggage carousel, underneath men’s loafers, casually lounging on nearby chairs. My daughters gathered several, and I kept mine. So all throughout our vacation, we looked like the kind of people who use $100 bills as bookmarks. And I’m sure we made more than one hotel employee feel incredibly honest as a casually left bill on the nightstand was moved to a more “secure” location.

But I’m still trying to decide if this is a really clever business card–or a cruel hoax. What do you think?

Best of Kansas City Contest

Best of Kansas City (IMHO) Contest! Leave a comment here to enter.
Every year I meet up with my high school girlfriends for a weekend getaway. Last year we decided that we’d like to visit each other’s cities. So last week I headed off to Kansas City which is in Missouri, but kind of in Kansas too–let’s just say I was relieved when I landed at the right airport.
I came a few days early so I could do some author visits. First stop: the fabulous fourth graders at Indian Valley Elementary. What a bunch of cuties! Not only were they a polite group, they asked wonderful questions.
Later I talked about writing at the Leawood Library. How fun to see signs made just for me:
The next day I helped Girl Scouts earn their book badges. First I gave a presentation about being an author and then we had fun writing silly round-robin stories. I seriously want to read more about the President forbidding everyone from wearing pink!
Other highlights from my trip:
I met one of my favorite authors–Jennifer Brown who wrote Hate List--for coffee. She’s written an amazing book about a serious topic, but she’s incredibly funny in person (and writes a humor column for the Kansas City Star). I could’ve laughed and chatted with her for hours!
I joined my friend’s weekly Rock Band jam session–and once again proved that I lack hand-eye coordination. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs won’t be inviting me on tour.

I ate BBQ–a Kansas City specialty.
I visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
I saw a Martha Graham dance performance–so cool!
Oh, and I discovered an amazing new made-in-Kansas City chocolate. Christopher Elbow’s No. 6: Dark Rocks. Chocolate combined with pop rocks. Sounds weird, but it’s like having a party in your mouth. Probably the most fun chocolate I’ve ever eaten.
Mostly I enjoyed talking and talking and talking with old friends. Okay, and maybe I got a little too excited about all the cute rabbit statues downtown. Let’s just say this isn’t the only photo of me with a life-size bunny…

So I can’t resist sharing the best of Kansas with you..
Leave a comment to enter to win a bar of Dark Rocks chocolate, a copy of Hate List by Jennifer Brown, and a box of Girl Scout cookies (your favorite kind).
Contest ends at midnight on Tuesday, March 22, 2010.

SCBWI New York Part Three: A Taping of ABCs The View

Since the main character in my work-in-progress ends up on a couple of TV shows, I couldn’t resist a fellow SCBWI Regional Advisor’s invitation to join her for a taping of The View. Research, right? Okay, so I do watch Hot Topics during my lunch break–how else would I keep up on celebrity divorces?

We had to arrive two hours before the taping where we waited in line with about two hundred others. I’ve never seen so many people with great hair and makeup crammed into one place. Plus, we were all wearing our bright colors and uncomfortable shoes (no one ever saw my feet, but oh, well…)

See how shiny and clean everyone looks? I was a little surprised that ABC couldn’t spring for a bigger TV in their waiting area.
Around 10:30 a.m. the perky staff began taking us in small groups to the elevator. When we arrived in the studio they handed us each a package of cookies and a cold bottle of apple juice as if we were about to have preschool circle time or something. But then I realized that they wanted to give us a quick sugar rush. And then we met this guy:

His job was to whip us into a happy, clappy frenzy. He relied heavily on butt jokes. I half expected him to start in on some my mom’s Uranus jokes, but we were spared stooping quite that low. And then there was dancing! Bring on the Beyonce!

The striking woman in green is a stage actress (we struck up a conversation in line and later sat near each other). And could she dance! Her friend did a totally Glee-worthy Single Ladies routine. Very fun to watch. Barbara Walters also came out to tell us how special we were as an audience. Aw! (I’m sure she says that to all the audiences, but it was still kinda cool).

Here I am just before the show started. My pink sweater made me easy to spot when I later watched the show. My daughters enjoyed pausing me with funny expressions–and then laughing hysterically.
And here are the Hot Topics–a whole day of ’em! I have to admit I was a little surprised at how shabby the set looked in person. But I guess since ABC hasn’t bought a new waiting area TV since the early 90s…
I loved watching what happened during the commercial breaks. Hair people came out to fluff Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Whoopie joked about her butt, Joy joked about her butt, Sherri joked about her butt… Elisabeth talked about her butt. The jokey-clapping guy joked about his butt. Again.

We all agreed that we received The Worst Giveaway Ever! (A book no one in the audience particularly wanted). But I did get some nice tidbits for my work-in-progress–and a package of cookies from Barbara Walters to take home to my daughters (they’re not fans–they think she wears too much leather. I brought the cookies as a peace offering of sorts).

Now I’m home and back to real life–revising that novel!

SCBWI New York: Conference Wisdom

Libba Bray opened the New York conference & she’s just as funny in person as she is on the page (Going Bovine has many funny scenes). She told us to “strive for small, unexpected moments that surprise you.”

She also told us to find the gritty bits that allow readers to connect with characters. I loved that because I hate reading about perfect characters, being so far from perfect myself.

Libba warned us that trying to please other people with your story is “madness.” I also think that you can’t worry about what others (like family members) will think about your story either.

Writers should take risks. “If it’s not scary to you, there are no stakes,” Libba says. “Aim high, trust in the work, and wait for the wind to let you soar.” Yes!

Next I heard Ben Schrank, the publisher of Razorbill. The thing that he said that will stick with me the most is about treating people well. He talked about authors who yell at their editors, sometimes making them cry which upsets him, as the publisher. When opportunities arise to give books a little extra something, he often will ignore books by authors who act like divas or treat publishing professionals poorly. It was comforting to hear that being a nice person still matters.

Jen Bailey, a social networking guru, talked about viral marketing. Since I’m not Neil Gaiman or John Green, and I don’t have Cynthia Liu’s energy, some of her examples felt intimidating. But then she said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” And I thought, okay. I’m doing that. Even if that means not being able to find any love for Twitter.

One of my favorite talks was by Little, Brown & Co. editor Alvina Ling. She talked about literary writing and her comments dovetailed nicely with the conversation I’d had with my agent about revising my work-in-progress. She said that commercial fiction is like French fries while literary fiction is like a chocolate truffle. I can always relate to food similes!

Alvina Ling also read examples of literary authors turning a paragraph of commercial fiction into something literary. I plan to try this one myself! Very fun!

Agent Sheldon Fogelman, founder of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency spoke on Sunday morning. I loved this advice: “If you’re going to be a writer, keep writing. Don’t stop with book one, book two, or book three. You never know when you’re going to write something that can be published.” As someone who sold book four, this comment really resonated.

Later he advised us to keep learning, be open to criticism, don’t get distracted (“It’s a business for serious people,” he said). Let your work speak for itself. Sheldon Fogelman finished by saying he’s always impressed when someone has written many stories.

Illustrator Jim Benton, creator of Happy Bunny told us not to be afraid of our stupid ideas. That bunny sure worked out well for him (several snark around my house, I know). He also advised to draw or write for fun every single day. I love that advice too–especially since my first magazine sales came from quick writing exercises that turned into short stories.

Jane Yolen ended the conference with twenty bits of advice. I’ll just list my three favorites:
#4 Have fun writing!
#5 B.I.C. Butt In Chair. H.O.P. Heart On The Page.
#14 Love the process of revision.

She ended her talk by saying that “the working writer, writes.”

So after filling my head with all kinds of advice and inspiration, I headed off for a matinee of the Tony Award winning play God Of Carnage with my husband (very funny). We ended the day with possibly the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten at Five Napkins Burgers in Hell’s Kitchen (just so you know, I only got one napkin, but probably could’ve used two).

Next I’ll tell you about attending a taping of The View.

New York Part One: Non-Conference Fun

I never think about how quiet my neighborhood sounds until I’m in New York, twenty-three stories in the sky and still hearing honking taxis and rumbling garbage trucks (I love watching all the people and zippy yellow cabs). This year my room overlooked Grand Central Station.

Before the conference started, I put on my most comfortable shoes and headed off to The Metropolitan Museum to say hello to some of my favorite Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, and Van Goghs, etc.–plus the mummies and all those medieval knights in armor. I pretty much love it all (except I can’t get into the displays of dishes and furniture). Here I am acting all Gossip Girly on the front steps. XOXO.
The next day I visited the Guggenheim, my absolute favorite place to see art. The show was a really interesting performance art piece that allowed the visitor to participate in a series of deep conversations with actors. So cool! I’m still thinking about it. I also visited some of my favorite Picasso, Miro, and Klee paintings (but most of the museum was left empty–which was absolutely intriguing).

I also had my first New York book signing at Books Of Wonder, a fabulous indie store that even has a cupcake cafe inside. Yes! Here’s a photo of Lisa Greenwald, JT Dutton, me, Ann Haywood Leal, Ellen Hopkins, Albert Borris, and Fran Cannon Slayton reading from our books and answering audience questions.

My other favorite activity is riding the subway (fantastic people watching). On our last afternoon, my husband and I just got off at random stops and walked all over the city. I finally got blisters on my toes, but it was totally worth it. Here’s a picture of my favorite subway musician. He played electronic music while his dolls danced. I couldn’t look away!

We also love eating our way through New York. On our random subway adventure, we found an amazing little cheesecake shop. But we made a special trip to eat Lombardi’s Pizza. Yum!!!

I also went to a couple of nice restaurants (something I rarely do at home). My editor took me out to a lovely three course lunch with my publicist. We had tons of fun chatting about all kinds of things from books to travel to TV. I also met my agent for coffee to talk about my Work-In-Progress novel (I’m super excited to start revising now). And then the conference began…

I’ll share bits of wisdom in my next post.