Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday and Breathing on Sisters Saturday!

Happy Black Friday to my American friends. Nothing says happy like a good deal, so I must admit to a little bit of jealousy of all the shopping going on across the border right now. Of course, the line-ups I can do without!

Tune in for Sisters Saturday this week with Cheryl Renee Herbsman, author of one of my fave books in 2009, Breathing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sisters Saturday on um Monday. Sydney Salter on being Sisterless-ish

(My entire weekend was spent in another city at a swimming pool (no lie) so Sisters Saturday is running a little late. But trust-- this blog is worth the wait!)

I have with me guest blogger, the wonderful author, Sydney Salter. Sydney has already released two YA novels,  MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS and SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK and  a middle grade novel, JUNGLE CROSSING.

SYDNEY:   Growing up, I liked not having a sister. No one pillaged my closet. I didn’t have to worry about guys liking my sister better. Or endure crazy sister fights—like the twins I knew who crashed their car while arguing on the way to school.

I had a little brother. He never wanted to wear my clothes, but I did steal several pairs of his perfectly faded 501 jeans (I just had to snatch them before they got grass stains). He didn’t want to play dolls, but we had hours of fun with legos and matchbox cars. As I got older, I did sometimes wish for an older brother with gorgeous friends… but I liked that my little brother put up with hours of analysis about my limited communication with various crushes.

In college I had sorority sisters: girls who borrowed my clothes without asking, coveted my boyfriend, spread rumors, acted bossy, and adored drama. More than ever I appreciated my nice little brother. When I got married, I even asked him to be my man of honor.

And then I had a daughter.

While she was enough for me, I knew that I wouldn’t be enough for her. I wanted her to have the opportunity to create matchbox car racecourses, build lego spaceships, and snag perfectly worn-in jeans from her little brother’s laundry.

I had another daughter.

Our lives turned pink and plush. Armies of Littlest Pet Shop figures roamed our floors. Barbie clothes regularly turned up in the laundry. We collected enough stuffed animals to open our own gift shop (I won’t ever admit how much money we’ve spent on Webkinz).

And I started to realize that I’ve missed out by not having a sister. My daughters share a close bond of secrets, inside jokes, shared dreams, and a strong girly friendship. Sometimes I feel left out, other times I resort to begging, “please tell me—I used to tell my mom everything. Just tell me. Pleeeze?” I do have good relationships with both my daughters, but I’ll never quite be part of their sisterly closeness. All those whispers, giggles, and eye rolls—well, often they’re directed at me. I love their relationship and do my best to nurture their friendship…

But now I really wish I had a sister, too.

Anyone want to borrow my new blue sweater?


Thanks, Sydney for a insightful look at being sisterless and happy and then having daughters and being converted! I agree that brothers do have a wonderful purpose too, but they aren't sisters. (And they won't wear your blue sweaters)

Now-- go out and read Sydney's books! You must! Not only is she prolific, she's as warm and delightful in person as her books are to read. Humorous and uplifting, Sydney's books are about self discovery and acceptance with a delicious amount of romance sprinkled in.

Vist Sydney at her website.
Sydney's Website

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Truth about Titles - Thinking on Thursday.

Coming up with a title for a book can be hard. Well. Sometimes. Other times a title falls into place. There may have been times (Weight of Bones cough, cough) when the title came before the book was even written. Other times I started with one title and changed it ten or so times before the book was finished. Yes. Another truth in publishing. Nothing is ever black and white. Or even the same from one book to another. For the same author.

I used to think I was really bad at titles when I first started writing books. And you  know, in the whole scheme of things, I was probably right. Then I made the mistake of thinking I was getting really good at titles. I was probably wrong. Very very wrong.

The thing for me is I have a hard time writing a book until I give it a title. Even though I know now that it will probably change. Maybe a few times. As a matter of a fact, in the end,  I might not even be the one to change it. But until I give it a name, it doesn't really feel like my baby. I guess I'm weird like that. I  named my son in utero, too. It wasn't the name he has today. Or was even intended to have. I called him Rusty because I KNEW he was going to have red hair (which he did and does). I didn't plan on calling him that when he was born, but while he was baking, that was his name. Too much information? I agree. And...moving on...

When thinking of a title, I try to think of something catchy and different.  Try is the key word. EZ LIKE SUNDAY MORNING was a title of a book I wrote under a pseudonym, because the boy main character's name was EZ.  Yeah. Surprisingly that one didn't stick. :)  It became Waiting To Score.

I've played around with character's names and changed a popular phrase for titles- All That Jaz is the working title of my second book that sold to Sourcebooks. I say working, because I KNOW that one won't stay stick

So what is a title of a published book INTENDED to do?? Well. My agent, Jill Corcoran wrote a great post on titles. So I won't rehash. You can read Jill's post here.

But for the writer a title is often a kind of personal connection to the book, which is probably why author's titles get changed so often! Because as writers we're so close to our books, since after all --we wrote them, and we may not see the same things that marketing people,  sales people, book sellers do when they read and ultimately try to market the book to the public. After all, the reader is the person we really want to really. But the truth is there probably isn't a secret ingredient or formula to the perfect title.

But EZ is a great name, I said to myself and EZ's dad sang that song to his mom all the time before he died. Great, Janet. But what did the name say about the book? Would it make a reader want to pick it up? Can they relate to the genre of the book when they hear it or see it in a store? Um. Maybe not. And it became Waiting To Score. 

And that's a pretty common thing. Titles change from acquisition to publication. I have lots of pre-published friends who worry and worry about titles (as published writers do as well) and I tell them it will probably change when it gets published and to try not to worry too much.  Which like many things, is easy to say and not so easy to do. Getting your title changed, doesn't mean that the title was bad. Maybe it just didn't do the job the publisher wants it to do. Maybe there's another book coming out with the same title around the same time. Etc.

And of course, like most things publishing, remember that black and white thing. Sometimes a title does stick from submission to publication. But it might be safe not to get too attached to your title. Because changes happen. And I should know. So far I've zero for two on picking my own titles.  Probably zero for three. ;)  Good thing I'm not playing baseball.

And so, in this post there just might be a hint that a change is coming for Weight of Bones.
I think it's going to be great. And soon, I'll let you know why.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

SISTERS SATURDAY with wonderful Bethany Hegedus

This is one of my favorite people, someone I consider a good friend, even though we haven't met in person! She's a talented writer and wonderfully warm hearted, and I bet she's a great sister... Bethany Hegedus!!

Bethany signing a book for her sister!

Bethany Hegedus has spent time above and below the Mason-Dixon Line. She cares deeply about kids, having once been a high school teacher and also a youth advocate. She serves as a mentor in the PEN Prison Writing Program and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Bethany is Co-Editor of the Young Adult’s and Children’s section of the literary magazine, Hunger Mountain and is Austin Host of the popular website Her second novel, Truth, With a Capital T. (Delacorte/Random House) releases Oct. 12, 2010. Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books, 2009) is her first novel and forthcoming is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-written with Arun Gandhi (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, TBA).

So Bethany, where do you fit into the birth order in your family?

BETHANY: I am the dreaded—yep, you guessed it—middle child. Middle children make for good writers. We tend to over-dramatize, whine about the angst of being the forgotten middle one, and make up good stories to entertain the younger sibling, which usually turn the older sibling into the bad guy monster—though we really envy their role as Head-Kid-In-Charge.

Middle child here. But I totally didn't envy the responsible role. :) Forgotten one I can relate to. I mean, there are NO pictures of me as a child. Not that I'm bitter. But I never let my mom forget it. Oops. There I go again. Me me me. Back to you. So what is the age difference between you and your sister?

BETHANY: My sister and I are nine years apart. Enough of an age difference that as kids we didn’t fight over the same toys or the same boys and that now as we get older feels like no age difference at all.

Yeah I get that. And btw- with nine years, that might have been creepy if you fought over the same boys. So, what do you think is the best part about having your sister?

BETHANY: My sister, Katie, is my greatest champion—and me hers. (Aside from her husband and kids, that is—that girl has a major cheering section.) I adore her with every bone in my body and we lead such very different lives—she with three wonderful kids and me—with the kids I create on the page. She is my exact opposite—dark hair and dark eyes—but is my heart’s other half. And, before I get too mushy and begin to cry while writing this (which when she reads this she will know I truly am tearing up), she also gives the best reality checks. I can hear her now, “Seriously, Bethany, I love you sis, but you sound like a Hallmark card.”

And she made you an Auntie. That is the world`s best job, and deserves some Hallmark card stuff. How about the other end of it. What is the most challenging thing about being sisters?

BETHANY: That we live states away from one another; she in the Atlanta area and me here in Austin. It makes it difficult to lean on each other for help and comfort with the daily life stuff: babysitting, borrowing milk, fashion advice. I am glad Katie has our sister-in-law, who lives in her area and that she sees often, to pitch in with the older sister role. Katie and I talk though, when my writing schedule allows and her mom schedule allows. I always know she is a phone call away.

Yeah. It`s tough when you live in different cities. But the thing with sisters is that they`re always there if you really need them right. Here`s a quote I like..

"Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other." ~Carol Saline

So what are your roles in the family?

BETHANY: I am the truth teller, unable to stop myself from talking about any elephant in the room. And, Katie, is the light of the family. She brings out everyone’s joy and when we are together at family functions—look out. We do our sister “shtick” and are the family’s comedians and clowns—but with high heels instead of big ugly rubber shoes.

That`s one thing I love about you, the way you say it like it is! I love that in people. I'd like to see you with your sister but I won't wear high heels with you. Hate them on my feet. But I do envy people who can pull them off. Now, can you share a favorite childhood memory of your sister?

BETHANY: Not from childhood, but whenever we get together and are in a car we can’t help but sing The Indigo Girls version of Romeo & Juliet and a thousand other songs, windows rolled down, hair do’s be-damned, as we drive down the highway.

Love! Except I don't know the Indigo Girls song, but do remember that you're a big fan. Must check them out. Nothing like singing loud in the car, even better with a partner. So. Does your sister know secrets about you? Can you share one? How about one of her secrets?

BETHANY: My sister knows me inside and out. She knows many a secret—but she would never share any. And, as lots of folks know, I am a not so great secret keeper—which may be why I have no dirt on my sister to share. (No, the real reason I have no dirt is because my sister is an open book. What you see is what you get—and the main thing people see is her kindness.)

Well. I bet your sister is nice and all but um. I suspect that's a diplomatic way of saying you won`t share a juicy secret. Isn`t it??? Okay. Enough of me wanting sister secrets. NOTE FROM JANET- I WILL be talking to sister's of authors, and maybe they will spill--Okay. Last quesion. What is something you never tell your sister, but you should?

BETHANY: That if I had a super power, it would be to blink my eyes and when I opened them—there she’d be or there I’d be—transported to a comfy couch in her home or mine.
Awwww. That is so sweet. I wish I was half as nice as you. My sister gets sarcasm and dumb jokes and I`d probably use my super power to wish for cold hard cash or invisibility or something self serving and you use yours to share your comfy couch with your sister. Now I feel kind of mean. But I do like the sounds of your sister and you!

Thank you so much for popping in to share yourself and your sister relationship!

Truth With A Capital T is an important Middle Grade book with lots of heart, like what Bethany shared with us today!
Lots of families have secrets. Little-Known Fact: My family has an antebellum house with a locked wing—and I’ve got a secret of my own.

I thought getting kicked out of the Gifted & Talented program—or not being “pegged,” as Mama said—­was the worst thing that could happen to me. W-r-o-n-g, wrong.

I arrived in Tweedle, Georgia, to spend the summer with Granny and Gramps, only to find no sign of them. When they finally showed up, Cousin Isaac was there too, with his trumpet in hand, and I found myself having to pretend to be thrilled about watching my musical family rehearse for the town's Anniversary Spectacular. It was h-a-r-d, hard. Meanwhile, I, Maebelle T.-for-No-Talent Earl, set out to win a blue ribbon with an old family recipe.

But what was harder and even more wrong than any of that was breaking into the locked wing of my grandparents’ house, trying to learn the Truth with a capital T about Josiah T. Eberlee, my long-gone-but-not-forgotten relation. To succeed, I couldn't be a solo act. I’d need my new friends, a basset hound named Cotton, the strength of my entire family, and a little help from a secret code.

With grace and humor and a heaping helping of little-known facts, Bethany Hegedus incorporates the passions of the North and the South and bridges the past and the present in this story about one summer in the life of a sassy Southern girl and her trumpet-playing adopted Northern cousin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thinking on Thursday- On Wanting and Writing

I remember the taste of want lingering on my tongue and burning holes in my belly when I was unpublished as an author. After I wrote my first book, I joined a tiny little group called RWA, and heard about all the published members and was filled with a little bit of awe and a lot of envy.  I even got to meet real live published authors. Some that lived in the same city as I do. A Canadian city at that! I remember thinking that they belonged to a wonderful yet elusive secret club that I wanted to join so badly. But worried deep down I never, ever would. But the want kept me going. Writing. Learning. Persisting when I wanted to quit.  Patience has never been one of my virtues, but I had to learn it. Practice it. Tolerate it. Eat it.

Years later when I finally joined the ranks of the published there were some pretty amazing moments.  The call from my agent telling me I had an offer on my book. There may have been dancing. There may have been singing. My son may have looked at me with twinkling eyes and said, "Mommy, I've never seen you look this happy."   I felt so lucky and happy and then funny enough, life went on. I was still the same old me. Older actually. And yet the wanting did not stop.

Of course there was also much to learn about the publishing business. There was unexpected heart ache. Sometimes there were tears. There was the realization that nothing really had changed, despite the fact that everything had. And yet there were also more great moments. Receiving my ARCS. Getting good reviews. But I learned no book can please everyone. And sometimes that hurts. And of course, I learned that there will always, always be others with  more. Bigger houses. Better sales. More promotions. Amazing advances. And so the wanting continued. I broke up with an agent. And wanted a new one. When I got a new agent, I wanted a new book deal. And so. The want kept me going.

When I started writing this blog I wanted to write about how much I do remember being unpublished and how I thought that being published would change everything. And discovering that it changed many things, but it didn't change me. I don't feel like anyone is in awe of me. I don't WANT them to be in awe of me. I want them to know, I am just like them.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the want that keeps me going. Perhaps it would be better described as persistence. Drive. A stubborn refusal to give up.  Combined with a crazy uncontrollable need. To keep writing. To keep wanting.  To publish a new book. A better book. A bigger book. Books that I can be truly proud of. 

I don't necessarily want huge fame. I certainly didn't start writing to make a fortune. But I guess what I want is what I've always wanted from everything in life. I want to be proud, and oh no, here's a  JG truism. I want people to like me. It's my darn inferiority complex. I want people to tell me I've done a good job. And I've had to learn that when you publish a book, you have to accept criticism gracefully. And not take it personally.

I want to get keep getting better. Most of all, when I write. I want to tell the truth. I want the books I write to matter to someone.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Have you ever done anything kind of embarrassing. Something that makes it look like your brain is made of jello and it's been sitting in the sun all day? Well I HAVE.

And I did it again!!!!! I took C.  Lee McKenzie's interview and mixed it up with another author's answers and ended up giving C. Lee a whole new set of siblings she doesn't even have.  Can you see how red my face is from where you're sitting. Because it is.

My apologies to the still ultra gorgeous (inside and out) author of two Young Adult books from Westside Books, C. Lee McKenzie.

Now. Here`s the real interview with C. LEE about her real sister!

Sorry for being a dorky dork....So....where do you fit into the birth order in your family? What is the age difference between you and your sister?

C.LEE :  I'm the oldest, and my sister is nine years younger than I am, so I got to be Big Sister and do lots of Big Sister things to her. Actually, I don't think I treated too badly, and, when we were older, we even lived together for a while when she needed a place to stay while she found work. It was really nice because I was trying to finish my B.A. and I'd just returned from overseas in time to have a baby. Things were a bit confusing and she helped me a lot. We had fun.

Now that sounds like good sister bonding. What is the best part about having your sister?

C. LEE: I think the best part is that she has two great kids, my niece and and nephew. I really love them, and I really love that she's added some wonderful people to our family. Also she likes the outdoors like I do, so we've shared a lot of bike trips together and some hiking. We used to try a hike up some challenging mountain at least once a year for our birthday celebrations, but we've both been off doing other things so much that we haven't been able to hike together for a while.

That does sound like a sister I'd imagine you with! Climbing mountains together. How cool!So what is the most challenging thing about being sisters?

C.LEE :  I suppose it' s that we're so different and we do such different things that at times we can't communicate well. She's really into clinical trials at a major hospital and at this time is doing a lot of work on Hunter Syndrome, among other diseases that I've never heard of. I'm off in the YA/MG book world and know very little about health issues beyond the occasional headache I get from staring at a computer screen too long while I write.

Hee hee. Oops. But that was funny about the headaches.  I'm sure though when you really need to communicate about important personal stuff, the differences aren't as important. So. What are your roles in the family?

C. LEE:  I take care of Mom. That's a big role right now. My sister is really busy, so she has pretty much turned over that responsibility to me. But maybe that's not fair. I guess I took it on because I wanted to. I want my mother's final years to be as good as I can make them. I don't want to look back and wish I'd done more. I did the same for my dad and I've never regretted the time I spent with him.

I know in talking to you that you have been very very busy looking after your Mom. It's a big responsibility - oh how the roles they do reverse when we get older, right.  I guess you got that role for a reason. Your Mom and your sister are lucky to have you there for her!  So. What is your fave childhood memory of your sister?

C.LEE:  One Easter Sunday I snipped that little black elastic band on her Easter hat. Well, she wouldn't listen to her Big Sister and wear that stupid elastic under her hair like I told her. No. She insisted on putting it under her chin! How could I go to church with my sister looking like a dork? Dork was the teen word at the time for Geek. Man, did she scream! I thought it was funny, but nobody else saw the humor. I don't know if she even remembers. Guess I should ask.

Well. Compared to some of the things I've heard and seen, that's not so bad!!! I think she will forgive you! What is something you never tell your sister, but you should?

C. LEE:  Wow. That's hard. I've told her how proud I am of her accomplishments. She returned to college after several years as an office manager for a doctor and earned an MA at UC Berkeley. That was awesome. Then she worked her way into the hospital and a great career in something she really loves. I've told her how much I admire her for what she's done, but maybe I should do that more often. Maybe it's a case of more would be better.

Or, maybe she knows. Sometimes we don`t have to say it over and over, for it to be known, but how nice that you have such respect for her! How does your sister feel about having an "author sister?"

C. LEE:   She's probably wondering what in the world I'm thinking, but she doesn't say so. She's been supportive by coming to my first book launch and has given thoughtful book gifts that I've enjoyed and that have been helpful in this journey I'm on.

Yay for sister support! Well. Nine years is a pretty big difference when you`re young, but it sounds like you and your sister have worked out a great relationship that works for you.
C.Lee and her sister

Native Californian C. Lee McKenzie has always been a writer. But she's also been a university professor and administrator, and for five years, she wrote and published a newsletter for university professors. She's published articles on linguistics and intercultural communication, as well as on general magazine topics. Her fiction and nonfiction for young readers has been published in the award-winning e-zine, Stories for Children, and Crow Toes Quarterly has published her ghostly tales. Writing for teenagers keeps Lee in touch with young members of her family, and lets her revisit those wonderful teen years when everything is possible. When she isn't writing, Lee hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Los Gatos, California.
Look for C.Lee's new YA  this winter, THE PRINCESS OF LAS PULGAS.
After her father's slow death from cancer, Carlie thought things couldn't get worse. But now, she is forced to confront the fact that her family in dire financial straits. To stay afloat, her mom has had to sell their cherished oceanfront home and move Carlie and her younger brother Keith to the other side of the tracks to dreaded Las Pulgas, or "the fleas" in Spanish. They must now attend a tough urban high school instead of their former elite school, and on Carlie's first day of school, she runs afoul of edgy K.T., the Latina tattoo girl who's always ready for a fight, even on crutches. Carlie fends off the attention of Latino and African American teen boys, and one, a handsome seventeen-year-old named Juan, nicknames her Princess when he detects her aloof attitude towards her new classmates. What they don't know is that Carlie isn't really aloof; she's just in mourning for her father and almost everything else that mattered to her. Mr. Smith, the revered English teacher who engages all his students, suggests she'll like her new classmates if she just gives them a chance; he cajoles her into taking over the role of Desdemona in the junior class production of Othello, opposite Juan, after K.T. gets sidelined. Keith, who becomes angrier and more sullen by the day, spray paints insults all over the gym as he acts out his anger over the family's situation and reduced circumstances. Even their cat Quicken goes missing, sending Carlie and Keith on a search into the orchard next to their seedy garden apartment complex. They're met by a cowboy toting a rifle who ejects them at gunpoint from his property. But when Carlie finds him amiably having coffee with their mom the next day -- when he's returned her cat -- she begins to realize that nothing is what it seems in Las Pulgas.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Mondays-Things we can learn about writing YA through movies.

It's the year before college and James (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to get a job after his dad gets demoted and can no longer pay for his Ivy League school.  The only place where he can get hired is Adventureland where he meets "Em" (Kristin Stewart) a cool carnie, working at the amusement park despite having a rich lawyer father. (the movie never really explains exactly why she's working there, but whatevs)

They begin a sweet romance, though James doesn't realize she's secretly involved with a sleazy "musician" (played with oozing squeeviness by Ryan Reynold) who also works at Adventureland as a mechanic. Rumors of him playing onstage with Lou Reed have all the younger teens in awe of him.

Though the characters in Adventureland were a little older than most YA characters it's definitely a fun coming of age story about figuring out who you are and what you want.

WHAT I LOVED/LEARNED- Character Development - Em's character is flawed and makes incredible mistakes in the movie, yet she is also completely sympathetic and we root for her as James's love interest despite what we know about her. It was so well done the way we are shown reasons for her behavior.  We are never bonked over the head with an explanation about why she does what she does, but we know enough to understand her because it is shown to us. And despite her bad choices, we like her.

James is also a really well developed character. The loveable nerd (a la Micheal Cera) who has many obstacles to overcome and makes mistakes of his own on the way, but is honest and good and it shines through and we cheer for him. He didn't have to be perfect, but he redeemed himself through his actions.

The squeevy musician is also shown by his actions. Again we are never told overtly about him, but discover as the movie progresses.

The secondary characters all have a story of their own. They don't overpower the main storyline, but adds to the charm of the story. Well done!!

WHAT WAS A LITTLE OFF- SETTING- The story is set in the 80's though to me, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart didn't really fit into the setting as well as the other actors did. I thought it stuck out that all the other girls wore the jewellery, hair and loud colorful clothes of the 80's, but Kristin's hair was straight and she didn't seem "80-ized" to me.  As if she was too cool to be so 80's. (The same way Drew Barrymore stayed a little too current in The Wedding Singer, also set in the 80's)

RATING- It's a great, feel good movie! Funny! The music from the 80's rocked. The dialouge was spot on and the character development worth a second watch!

P.S. I developed an inappropriate old lady crush on Jess Eisenberg (my inner teen would love to have met such a great boy)