Thursday, September 29, 2016

Speculative Literature Foundation

Crossing fingers!

I just submitted a travel proposal to the Speculative Literature Foundation, which supports writers and publishers of sci-fi, fantasy, slipstream, magical realism, and so on...any lit that has a fabulist element.


I'm hoping to win their Gulliver Travel Grant, which would allow me to travel to Mexico City to research my next book.

The organization offers a bunch of grants, articles, links, and other resources, so be sure to check them out!

UPDATE 5/2/17: Well, I didn't get that grant, but I did receive a nice note from the judges with suggestions on how to improve my book. Will definitely take them into consideration and try again!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

One step forward...

...and a couple backwards. The thing about rejection is that sometimes they're right.

Which doesn't make it suck any less.


I recently submitted a manuscript I was really proud of to a writing professional I respect. Her response was quick, brief, and a little painful to hear.

I rearranged deck chairs on my little Titanic and sent it back, asking for clarity.

She had the grace and patience to tell me what was missing, to ask me questions I hadn't asked of my own text:
  • Who is this character?
  • Why should a reader care?
  • What is the universal aspect to this isolated incident?
It dawned on me that she was right. I needed to hit the drawing board. Again.

Of course, the emotional journey between "I've created something amazing" and "Oh crap it's not enough" is fraught. I'm usually good at sussing out when (and where) a piece needs more work. But this experience shook my confidence. Do I really know what I'm doing?

Feeling that the answer was, uh, no, I decided to get some help. 
  1. I contacted an editor I know for a professional critique
  2. I signed up for an online class
  3. I read a million how-to blog posts and signed up for a couple of newsletters
  4. I unraveled my carefully wrought story and started over
  5. I bought a new purse. With tassels!
I'll blog with updates about my critique and class experiences. I'm looking forward to them both. Investing in my education as a writer can only make my writing stronger. Right?

Either way, my new purse will look really cute all season.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

BoucherCon Kids Day 2016

Today I attended an all-star panel of kidlit authors at the New Orleans Public Library as part of BoucherCon Kids Day 2016.

As part of Blood on the Bayou: BoucherCon 2016, the world Mystery convention, authors Harlan Coben, Chris Grabenstein, Kelley Armstrong, Lissa Price, and Ridley Pearson were in town, and they spoke about writing kidlit, with R.L. Stine moderating.


For an entertaining hour, the authors answered questions from R.L. Stine about bests and worsts:

Best and worst public reading

  • R.L. Stine once sat on a panel next to a writer who brought a live chicken to pass around the audience!
  • Ridley Pearson did a reading at Disneyland, complete with a cannon and characters dressed as Peter Pan and Captain Hook

Best and worst things about writing for kids

  • Kelley Armstrong appreciates kids' brutal honesty--if they love it, they really love it; and if they don't they'll let you know!
  • Chris Grabenstein likes writing for short attention spans like his own, which helps reluctant readers like he was
  • Lissa Price: Learning to balance writing with promotion

Best and worst advice

  • R.L. Stine: Don't sit here writing all day, go outside and play! 
  • Harlan Coben: You bring your own weather to the picnic, and mistakes are part of life--don't be afraid to make them (or to ignore advice)

I think what I love about listening to writers riff is feeling like these are members of my tribe. Senior members, sure, but I still know what they mean when they are excited about the existence of waterproof paper and pencils you can stick in your shower for when ideas pop in your head. Or how impressed everyone was that Isaac Asminov used the same post office as R.L. Stine to mail his manuscripts--all 550 of them.

It's also heartening to hear that each writer up there had two or three novels in their drawer before one got published. 

I'm intrigued by something Ridley Pearson mentioned about how he wrote the last book of his Kingdom Keepers series. He posted a website where kids could vote on which direction each chapter would take, and then he'd write it accordingly and publish it the following week. What a cool collaborative idea! He said it was an amazing experience. Something worth investigating!

And their advice to the kids (and other writers) in the audience about process is just good advice and so helpful to hear: outline or don't, start from the ending or the beginning, begin with short stories and work up to novels, but whatever you do, keep writing. 

A not-very-good photo from my view in the back of a good-sized crowd:

Pretty sweet way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Inspiring visit from R.L. Stine!

Our little Waldorf School of New Orleans won a citywide contest hosted by the New Orleans Public Library for the most pages read per student. The prize? A visit from R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps! books!

Representatives from the library and Channel 6 news, students, parents, faculty, and staff gathered outside--until the rain started! Everyone gamely pulled out umbrellas and dashed into the Sun Room, spirits undampened, where Mr. Stine engaged the kids in creating a ghost story and told a real ghost story from his childhood. When Mr. Stine asked "Who here has seen a real ghost?" most of the hands went up. This is New Orleans, after all.

During question and answer time, the kids had prepped a list of questions, which Ms. Lesley handed to Mr. Stine to choose from. To his credit, Mr. Stine laid down the piece of paper and interacted with eagerly raised hands instead. Double proud moment when my first-grader asked, "How many sentences do you write a day?" and Mr. Stine answered, "Nobody has ever asked that before!" Points for uniqueness!

Fun facts:

  • He writes 2000 words a day
  • His writing room has a human skeleton, lots of eyeballs, horror movie posters, and a 3-foot roach that he likes to say he caught under the sink
  • Each book is plotted and outlined, start to finish, before he gets down to the writing
  • He's written about 350 books
  • He started writing at 9 years old, and his mom always nagged him to go outside and play, but he said, "Outside is boooring!"
  • Slappy is his favorite character
  • He's currently working on "Slappyverse," four new books featuring Slappy; the first one will be "Slappy Birthday to You"

The upside of being rained out was bringing visitors into the school: instruments in corners, choral risers ready for rehearsal, artwork on the walls, and handmade items on the office shelves. Here's hoping that Mr. Stine's lasting impression was memorable both for the weather and the amazing group of kids and adults who comprise WSNO!

Tomorrow, the New Orleans Public Library hosts Boucheron Kids Day as part of BoucherCon, a mystery writing convention in town for the weekend. Mr. Stine is moderating a panel about writing kidlit. I'm so there!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A.C. Thomas speaking at New Orleans kidlit conference

Oh wow! A few months ago, the kidlit industry was ablaze with news about A.C. Thomas's debut YA novel winning a publishing auction. Her story sounds like a fairy tale, and I can't wait to get my hands on her upcoming novel, The Hate U Give.Already there's a movie deal, and the book hasn't even come out yet!

I've been enjoying her website: I mean, what's it like to suddenly have the world's attention on something you wrote?

(Apparently, it's really hard. In a recent Twitter fiasco, trolls did their best to shut down her positive #ISupportDiversity thread. But lots of us support and believe in her efforts.)

The Louisiana/Mississippi chapter of SCBWI will be honored with A.C. Thomas as a guest speaker at our upcoming kidlit conference, JambaLAya, in New Orleans on March 10-11, 2017. Can't wait!!

SCBWI-LA/MS Announces YA author A.C. Thomas will speak at JambaLAya Kidlit Conference.

A.C. Thomas, author of The Hate U + Give (Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins June 2017) will speak at JambaLAya Kidlit Conference 2017.
“I was struck from the very first pages,” Donna Bray told PW. “What an accomplished debut. [Thomas] painted a picture of this girl, this family, and this community in such an authentic way that I rarely see in YA literature.” Publishers Weekly 2/25/16.
Additional faculty to be announced soon!
JambaLAya Kidlit Conference
March 10-11, 2017 at the Academy of Sacred Heart Mater Campus on Historic St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Stinkwaves Magazine accepted my poems!

Woo-hoo! Two of my poems, "American Inferno" and "The Threshold Machine" are going to be published in the Spring 2017 issue of Stinkwaves Magazine!

Stinkwaves is a literary magazine for adults and kids who are fans of the "beautifully bizarre." On its homepage, it invokes writers such as J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, Madelaine L'Engle, and Roald Dahl. My kind of people! It publishes fantasy, folklore, and adventure-themed stories, poems, and illustrations. I bought an ebook issue through Amazon and really enjoyed the mixture of humor and imagination in the writing and artwork. I'm so excited to be part of an upcoming issue. If you haven't yet, go check out Stinkwaves!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: Firebug by Lish McBride

It is so exciting to read books by somebody I know!

Lish and I attended UNO together, graduating in the same year. We never shared a class, but we did hang out with many of the same people and heard each other read around New Orleans. I always admired Lish's ability to create dark, magical worlds filled with unique, funny characters. I loved her first two books, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and Necromancing the Stone.

Firebug is the first in a new YA series, with Pyromantic expected sometime in 2017.

Cool cover, right?

Ava is a teenage firebug, who can create fire with her hands. At 13, she was forced into assassin duty for the Coterie, a magical mafia in the Northeast. Ava hates working for the Coterie, especially for her boss Venus, but she must comply or she and everyone she loves will be destroyed in really unpleasantly creative ways.

Working with her best friends Lock, a dryad, and Ezra, a were-fox, makes life bearable. Her guardian Cade tries to keep life as human-normal as possible. To that end, Ava has been dating Ryan, who knows nothing about her magical side. She soon realizes that building a relationship on lies is dangerous--to everyone.

Ava is a fun character, hot-headed (natch), impulsive, funny, and argumentative. At 17, she's trying to control her literally explosive nature and keep her makeshift family safe. Those family members are memorable too, particularly Lock, Ezra, Cade, and grandfatherly golem-builder Duncan, with lots of sarcastic-but-loving interactions. I'd love to see Ava interact as positively with another girl as she does with the guys; many of the female characters are catty and competitive. Here's hoping for more of smart Sylvie, young Olive, and tough Ikka in the next book.

Overall, I loved the variety of unusual magical abilities and clever settings. As the first in a series, this book lays groundwork for the world we're welcomed into and the characters we're learning to love. There's lots of action (and violence) and a satisfying finale that feels complete, yet leaves room for the next book. Can't wait.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I did something bad last night.

I stayed up really late to finish Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yeah, as vices go, reading until the wee hours is probably not so bad. Occupational hazard.

Anyway, here's my more-or-less professional take on this latest installment in the Potterverse.

Over the summer, I finished rereading all seven Harry Potter books and had the excellent seventh one fresh in my mind when I picked up Cursed Child. Although the newest book is an enjoyable read and a welcome dip back into the Potterverse, it stumbles more often than the novels.

First of all, yes, it’s a script, written in dialogue with stage instructions. This has some advantages: Plot moves quickly and characters are developed through speech and action. Disadvantages include the lack of inner dialog and outer description you get when watching a play or reading a novel.

Cursed Child is written well, and is a familiar world and cast, so the disadvantages are minor. When someone says Hogwarts Great Hall, we immediately have a mental image. We can even picture Harry, Hermione, and Ron as 40-year-old adults. Without some of that inner dialogue, however, the Big Lessons can sound overly melodramatic:
Draco: I never realized, though, that by hiding him away from this gossiping, judgmental world, I ensured that my son would emerge shrouded in worse suspicion than I ever endured.
Harry: Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted their present.
The story begins exactly like the final chapter of Book 7, on the platform to board the Hogwarts Express. Harry and Ginny are married with three children, James, Albus, and Lily. Hermione and Ron have daughter Rose. Albus is nervous about his first trip to Hogwarts; he’s worried about being sorted into Slytherin. Harry reminds him that many good people come from Slytherin, including one of Albus Severus’s namesakes, a bit of foreshadowing.

On the train, cousins Rose and Albus meet Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco. Rose turns up her nose and leaves, the first indication that Albus and Scorpius will be challenged as the sons of infamous fathers.

Time speeds up in a montage of scenes of the boys becoming close friends and school pariahs. Albus and Scorpius are well-rounded, dynamic characters expressed through great dialogue:
Scorpius: Look, I am as excited as you are to be a rebel for the first time in my life—yay—train roof—fun—but now—oh.
Albus: The water will be an extremely useful backup if our Cushioning Charm doesn’t work.
By the time they turn 14, Scorpius and Albus decide to commit a heroic act, but end up endangering the entire wizarding world. Time travel rehashes some of Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, which feels a little like cheating. At the same time, the revisits are cleverly done (three versions of adult Hermione and Ron are particularly fun) and make excellent points about the dangers of reliving the past, while also giving opportunities to achieve closure with beloved characters.

Another pervasive theme is the relationship between fathers and sons. The difficult relationship between Harry and Albus propels much of the story’s action and emotional drama, with parallels between Draco and Scorpius and Harry and his father-substitute Dumbledore. Each yearns for the approval of the other while finding his own footing, a theme as old as writing. 

Family beyond fathers and sons is less important here than in other Potter books. Hermione, Ginny, and new character Delphi are the most well-developed female characters, but they reinforce the primariness of the father-son dynamic. Albus’s older brother and younger sister are oddly absent from the bulk of the book. Thinking of the close-knit Weasley family, it feels strange that Harry and Ginny’s other kids are such afterthoughts, especially in situations that affect the whole family. Then again, stage production may limit how many characters can crowd into the story.

To be honest, these blips are pretty minor, and almost welcome (there is some writerly fallibility, even in the Potterverse!). The overall story, with its twists and turns, offers surprises while revisiting older themes in fresh ways.

It’s fascinating to me that Rowling has built an entire world that exists beyond one writer’s creation. Cursed Child is a welcome journey into that world, filled with so many of the things we look for in a Harry Potter book: action, love, and the battle of good vs. evil—without as well as within.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sustainable Arts Foundation awards

Hey parent-artists!

Have you applied for the Sustainable Arts Foundation award yet? The deadline is tomorrow, Sept 2, at 5 pm Pacific time.

Here's the link:

The organization offers one award of $6,000 and five awards of $2,000 each fall and spring to writers and visual artists who are parents.

How cool is that?

Go to their website and check it out. It's a great opportunity! I just submitted my application and portfolio...crossing fingers!