Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Library Blog Challenge! I got a total of 101 comments (2 were from me) which is astounding! I'm going to round the amount up and donate $125 to the San Leandro Public Library (I never said I was good at math).

With so many school districts closing their libraries and public libraries struggling, your support in any way is more valuable than ever!

Thanks for coming by and helping us all out!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Library Blog Challenge

This is a library-loving blog challenge thought up by the fabulous Jennifer Hubbard whose book The Secret Year has gotten lots of great buzz!

For every commenter on this post between now and midnight on March 26th, I will donate $1 to the San Leandro Public Library, up to an amount of $200. You don't even have to say anything profound in the comments - 'librarians rock' will do.

Note that my pledge is “per commenter”—so if a single person leaves 50 comments, that still only counts once! But you can do more by spreading the word ... please link to this post, tweet about it, and send your friends here so they can comment and raise more money.

If you’re moved to make a flat-fee donation to your library, or to start your own challenge, you are quite welcome, and please leave that information in the comments.

For a complete list of participating bloggers (and to visit other sites where you can help libraries just by leaving a comment!) visit the writerjenn blog at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The End

Last night at 12:04 (okay, technically this morning) I wrote the two sweetest words in the writer's lexicon: The End. And yes, we really do write them at the end of a manuscript. They are extraordinarily important because they mean that the story has come to a satisfactory conclusion, the characters are happy where they are, and the low, steady hum of anxiety that his been living in the center of your chest for months is miraculously gone.

A lot of people comment that many books start out strong and then sort of fall apart toward the middle. If the writer is anything like me, that is because by the time they've gotten to the end, they've gone over the beginning about a gajillion times. It is impossible for me to continue with the manuscript if I've added something to the story arc or a character has changed. I have to go back and fix it before I move on.

Yesterday was an awesome day. All afternoon, I knew I had only one more scene to write. One. I knew what it was, I'd already seen the movie in my head. The only thing left to do was get it down in the laptop and I'd get to type The End. And then a funny thing happened on the way to those magic words. Can you say procrastination? All evening I messed around on Twitter. I joined a chat. I checked my Amazon ranking. I even went to Target. All to avoid sitting down and getting to the point where I could write The End.

And then I figured out why. Because I didn't want it to end. I think you have to really love your characters (and be in love with some of them) and I realized that I was going to miss hanging out with them. Finally, after all the Tweeps and all the people in my house went to bed, I sat down and finished it in less than an hour.

But of course, it's not really the end. Anne Lamott in her awesome writing book Bird by Bird has a great chapter on finishing a book.
I think my students believe that when a published writer finishes something, she crosses the last t, pushes back from the desk, yawns, stretches, and smiles. I do not know anyone who has ever done this, not even once.

What happens with this The End is that it is now in the hands of brutally honest but kind critique partners who will read it and tell me all of the places where it stinks. Then I will fix it some more and send it to my teen beta readers (hi Devon, Portia and Liesel) who will hopefully tell me where it stinks. Then I will fix it some more. And then it will go to the fabulous Agent E who will read it and tell me where it stinks. And I will fix it some more. That last part might happen more than once. And then hopefully, there will be an editor out there who reads it, sees something great inside the mess that is the story and buys it. And then they will read it again and tell me where it stinks. See a pattern yet?

The good news in all of this is that I get to spend more time with my characters and see them grow even more in the hands of people who aren't as close to them as I am. I may get to write another snogging scene, which is probably the most fun you can legally have on paper. And then, some day many many months from now, there will be a real The End for this story.

Unless, of course, I get to write book 2...

Stats on the (sadly, still untitled) new book:
Start date: November 17th, 2009
End date: March 17th, 2010 - (I just noticed that they're both the 17th!)
Total word count: 78,542
Nights up writing past 1am: 63 (approximate)
Cups of coffee: 304 (actual)

On this date: In 1932, John Updike is born.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Author Appreciation Week - Karen English

I wouldn't even have a writing career if it weren't for the kindness of one of my favorite authors - Karen English.

If you're not familiar with her work, you should be. She has written some of my kid's favorite books including NADIA'S HANDS, HOT DAY ON ABBOT AVENUE the MG novel FRANCIE.

Back in 2004, I decided that I wanted to write a children's book. I typed up a couple of stories and joined SCBWI. One of their publications listed local authors, and not having a clue about critique groups, I emailed some of the authors on the list. Karen was the only one who wrote me back.

Despite being very well published and a busy teacher, she agreed to meet little old me at a coffee shop in Oakland. I brought her my typed-up stories and she was extremely kind and gracious to a new writer who frankly did everything wrong. As she looked at my work, she pointed out what was good and gently pointed me toward what could be better. After (and the highlight of my day) we went to a nearby bookstore and spent an hour looking at kid's books.

Karen did this several times over the next couple of years. Every time I thought I had something viable, we would meet and she would go over it with me. Then we would go to a bookstore. She showed me what was popular and how the business worked. When I finally had a story that wasn't completely cringe-worthy, she suggested I send it to her editor at Clarion. That editor ended up buying that story, which became my first picture book WHEN IT'S SIX O'CLOCK in SAN FRANCISCO.

All along the way, she kept telling me that I was going to succeed. In my copy of her heartbreakingly wonderful book SPEAK TO ME, she wrote to my kids: Thank you for liking my books and thanks for having an extremely talented mother who will one day be a famous writer. Well, I don't know about famous, but I can call myself a writer. And it's all due to Karen. She was embarrassed when I included her in the acknowledgments page of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, and I don't think to this day she realizes the impact a little time and kindness had on this writer.

I'd like to think that I'd act the same way. That in my busy life, if a new writer approached me I'd take time out of my day to meet and encourage them. If Karen taught me anything, it is that our obligation as human beings is to pay it forward.

On this date: In 1958, Tequila was the number one song.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Author Appreciation Week - Ellen Hopkins

YA debut author Heidi Kling thought up Author Appreciation Week last Friday. She's always coming up with new stuff like this and her boundless energy and enthusiasm always astound me.

At first, I wasn't going to participate because there were so many authors whose work I really like that it would be hard to narrow it down. Then I thought about the authors who had personally had a hand in my fledgling career and decided that I had to do it. The people I'm going to talk about this week (in no particular order) have all played a key role in shaping me as a writer.

First up is award-winning writer Ellen Hopkins.

I got to meet Ellen at the Asilomar writer's conference in 2009. Asilomar is awesome.

It is set right on the beach in Northern California and is a weekend conference/retreat that always has great writers, editors and agents. The best part is that every building has a living room with a fireplace where people gather at the end of the day, warm up and talk.

The first night that year, I found myself building a fire with Ellen (who is much better at it than I am) as we all sat around talking about the business of writing.

Now Ellen is a big, superstar writer. I am not. She didn't know anything about me, but I was in awe of her. As the night wore on, she was incredibly generous with advice about writing, about promotion (she is the queen of promotion) and was really honest about how her career began. It was really inspiring to have someone who was so successful in her career reassure me that things were going according to plan as far as my book went.

The next day, Ellen gave a seminar about promotion. It included really specific things you can do to promote your book before it comes out, as it debuts and several months after. It is the one handout of all of the conferences I've attended that is dog-eared from looking at it so much.

Any time on this journey where I doubt what I'm doing or how my career is going, I think back to that rainy night at the beach in Monterey and go over what Ellen said. She came from humble beginnings and even though she's a household name in the YA world, Ellen will always take time to give a new writer encouragement. And that is why she is an author that I really appreciate.

And the Winners Are....

Rachel R and Inked Books! Congratulations!!! I have both of your email addys, so I'll send along a note later today. Don't forget to give one copy away. I'm going to check. I have my sources.

There were so many great entries and stories I just wish I had more to give away - thanks so much! You can still pick up a copy of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS at your local bookseller, Indie Bound, Borders, Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Want it signed? My local bookseller Laurel Bookstore (510) 531-2073 has copies that I can pop over and personalize. I also have bookplate that I can sign and then you can stick it in your own copy - just send me an email at cyn(at) with the personalization you want and your snail mail address and I'll send it right out.

Congratulations you two and I hope you enjoy the book!

On this date: In 1972, The Godfather opens.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In Which I Give Away Four Signed Copies

DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS is now 6 weeks old! I can hardly believe it - seems like just yesterday it was a file on my laptop and now it's up and walking on it's little wobbly legs. My publisher is pleased with sales, the reviews have been great, and we have dipped down into the four figures on Amazon rankings more than a few times (not that I check these things).

DLS is not a "big book". It was never expected to be a bestseller. It wasn't sold for the awards it would get, flashy reviews in the New York Times or appearances on Oprah. I'm not doing a book tour. It was bought because my editor loved the story and thought that a few thousand people would love it too.

I've said that I don't really care how many people buy the book, I care about how many people read it. You may laugh, but it's true. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS is to me like a little snowball, a lot like the very first snoball I rolled up in Lake Tahoe last month.

It started with a couple of flakes, I rolled it into a baseball, and then rolled and rolled until it became an actual, 6 foot tall snowman.

For those of you who live in snow, that's not a big deal, but for a California girl who never really believed the whole "snowball" theory, it was thrilling.

Yes, yes, you say. What about the giveaway? Well, I think the best way to get the word out about DLS is through people who read it and love it. It would be amazing if everyone who read it told two friends, and they told two friends and so on - just like this old shampoo commercial that some of us might remember:

To that end, I'm going to give away two signed copies to two different people. The only requirement is that you give one away. It can be to anyone - your best friend, the neighbor whose great aunt is a hoarder, your school or public library. I don't care.

All you have to do is tell me in the comments who you are going to give the book to and why. On Monday the 15th I'll pick two winners at random and send the books out to them. This contest is open to anyone over the age of 13 in the US and Canada. (I'm so sorry, but right now, shipping books overseas isn't in the budget - my relatives in London can attest to that. Hopefully, I'll be able to do an international contest soon!)

Thanks for reading and good luck!

On this date: In 1818, Frankenstein was published.

On this date:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Places I'll Be...

Tomorrow (Weds. the 10th) I'll be on a live chat at 8 CST (6 Pacific) on the Good Addiction forums! Register to join (it's easy)!We'll talk about books, writing, hoarding - anything! Bring questions and come along so I won't feel lonely and unloved.

I'll also be doing a live chat with the LateBloomer Online gals on Thursday the 18th at 5:30 Pacific/8:30 EST. Even though DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS isn't paranormal they still want to talk to me, and I'm honored.

There is also a super-secret in-person event coming up on May 5th - can't say just what yet, but if you're near Berkeley that day, put it on your calendar. More info to come...

New book info (still sadly untitled):
Word Count: 69,093 (okay, that's painful. I'll get past 70k before bed tonight.)
Line of the day: His scent on my body was like the pain of a loose tooth that you just couldn't help prodding with your tongue - sharp and severe but addictive.

I can see daylight on this project and it's getting exciting. Just a few more scenes to go, although I don't know if that means two more chapters or five. That's one of the things that you don't really find out until you're in it. Then I get to go back, rip it apart and try to take the suck out of it. Because there's always some in it during a first draft. Hopefully, there won't be any when I'm done.

The only thing I worry about is that this new book is SO very different from DLS that some people might be disappointed. Of course, other people who felt that DLS was too dark and depressing (I don't think of it that way funnily enough) might just like this one better.

On this date: In 1959, Barbie made her debut.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Closing School Libraries is a Really Bad Idea

I found out yesterday that our school district had voted to lay off all library personnel, effectively closing all elementary school libraries indefinitely. As a parent of school-aged children living in California in 2010, I had thought this was impossible. Yes, money is tight and something had to go. I suppose I'd rather see the libraries shut than having the wonderful music program canceled. But the reverberations are going to be massive.

My kids will be fine. Because of what I do, I buy a ridiculous amount of books and we go to our fairly new, very well stocked local library often. My kids had books as toys before they discovered XBox or skateboards and both of them are wonderful readers. It is the other kids that are going to suffer, and if they suffer we all suffer.

We live in an incredibly socially and economically diverse area. Kids whose parents drop them off in a Jag sit next to kids who come to school for their only nutritional meal of the day. It is the kids whose parents didn't grow up surrounded by books, who don't have internet access in their house, whose family doesn't own a car and doesn't feel comfortable going to the town library who are going to lose their access to good books. These are the kids for whom that hour spent at the school library every week gives them an opportunity to choose any book they want from the hundreds of tempting titles that line the walls. Who may discover a person or a place that opens up a whole new world for them. Who may discover a love of reading that will take them to new heights as teens and adults. And now the doors will be locked, the books will go dusty and new titles won't be added.

Okay, that's a little dramatic. Truth be told, my elementary school is lucky to have a really active PTA and I'm hoping they will step up to fill the gap. I've already signed up to volunteer as many hours as I can spare helping in the library. We'll come up with fundraisers to pay the librarian's salary, at least for the next year. But we are the lucky ones. This won't happen in the other seven elementary schools in the district, who don't have the luxury of so much parent participation.

The irony wasn't lost on me as I read a great article about the Botswana Book Project last night.
A woman named Pam Shelton visited Botswana on vacation and realizing that the kids had no access to books, started a decades-long project to bring books to the kids of that country. One passage from the article really struck me:

Shelton offered to volunteer as a primary school librarian, but she discovered there were no primary school libraries. "I was startled. Then I remembered that when Botswana got its independence from Britain 43 years ago, they started from scratch," Shelton says. Mma Seretse had been praying that the country's primary schools would get libraries. The two women vowed to make it happen. "God made us meet, and we jumped with the same zeal!" Mma Seretse says. "For how can children grow up to be informed citizens if they have no libraries and no books?"

How indeed.

On this date: In 1963, the Hula Hoop was patented.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Great New Books!

Every Tuesday there seems to be a slew of amazing books that are released and this week was no exception. There have been some great books that launched this week. Among them are:
Amy Brecount White's wonderful new novel Forget Her Nots:

Rachel Hawkin's Hex Hall:

And Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall:

Kay Cassidy posted a picture of Before I Fall sitting right next to Dirty Little Secrets in a bookstore and I was thrilled to be in such great company:

See them there, looking all cozy? Of course, then I figured out it was because both of our last names begin with O, so her book will probably be seeing a lot of my book in the near future. I hope BIF doesn't think that DLS is following her around like that kid that you always had to sit next to in elementary school because of the whole alphabetization thing.

Still, squashed in between Lauren Oliver and James Patterson isn't such a shabby place to be...

On this date: In 1887, Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan.