Monday, December 21, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

This is what Grab-A-Line Monday is.

Last week, not only did I get some excellent quotes, I also received a most appreciated validation from fellow writers. What would I do without my author-community?

Tricia grabbed some lines from THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle:

Then the Lady Amalthea smiled at him for the first time since she had come to stay in King Haggard's castle. It was a small smile, like the new moon, a slender bend of brightness on the edge of the unseen, but Prince Lir leaned toward it to be warm. He would have cupped his hands around her smile and breathed it brighter, if he had dared.

And MG Higgins grabbed her lines from the YA novel WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED by Judy Blundell:

Why did the air here smell like a pocketful of promises? It was the flowers and the ocean and the sky all mixed in together.

This week I was taken by this passage, which describes in such vivid details the noise in a city I almost felt I was there. It is from the 2009 National Book Award winner LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann

The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled up against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pot hole. A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the dankest reaches of the alleyways. Sneakers found their sweet spots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouserlegs. A few umbrella tips clunked against the pavement. Revolving doors pushed quarters of conversation out in to the street.

What caught you this week?

Grab-A-Line Monday

Grab-A-Line Monday will be on tomorrow. Hope you'll come back!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Here comes the next strain: W26T3*

MG Higgins tagged me just when I was tired but hyper and couldn't sleep. Not responsible for the randomness of the answers.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
A new chapter in my current WIP, a YA novel. First thing I wrote I still have? Uh...

2) Write poetry?
Too intimidated.

3) Angsty poetry?
Angsty other things but not poetry.

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Contemporary; middle grade, YA, short story. Okay I don't know.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?
A whiny violinist boy who has no problems taking the best for himself and then complained about it.

6) Best plot you've ever created?

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
The one where the tall guy who has the bag is not the tall guy with the bag.

8) How often do you get writer's block?
What's that? Darn, what just happened to my perfect idea? Why can't I think of words that are meaningful; no, appropriate; no, profound. Everything I've just written is terrible. What should I write now? Doodle, doodle, noodle, poodle...wonder what's in the pantry.

9) Write fan fiction?

10) Do you type or write by hand?

11) Do you save everything you write?

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Yes. Because who knows what lies just under all the possibilities that I've tried to squeeze out of them but didn't succeed? Who is to say the next one won't reveal gold? Who dares call me a pessimist?

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
How about asking which of my children you want me to sell to the slave traders?

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?
Maybe the one with the pot. The cooking kind, you! What were you thinking?

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
My current WIP is teen. Has drama. And angst. Will it be an angsty teen drama? Who knows?

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?
The kitchen. Or cafeteria. Hmm, does that reveal my fascination with food?

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Writing new scenes for a YA novel; tweaking a MG novel, and three short stories. Ooh I just got a new idea: chimps in space! Must start research for that. Or, I know, a, I guess not. But chimps are good. They're fun and smart, right? They can be rocket scientists, who also know kung-fu.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
A couple of second places for the MG novel, and a 1st place for a short story.

19) What are your five favorite words?

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
The goofy 12-year old percussionist who falls down a lot? Or maybe the secret culinary chef who is suffocating in her current good-girl role?

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
People I know and characteristics I see in random people

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
No. I don't know why though, because they always made perfect sense when I am dreaming.

23) Do you favor happy endings?
Depends. When I am grumpy, every one in my story suffers. (Did you think I was joking?)

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Yes. It's a great procrastination tool.

25) Does music help you write?
No. My ears wander over and I can't think in words.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.

I am tagging

*MG compared this tagging thing to the spreading of the H1N1 virus, so I've named this one the Write 26 things and Tag 3 people strain.

Sozzled by sanguineous suppurations

The following are words from a book I read recently. I'd never come across these words and jotted them down. Any guess as to which book these words populate? It's a book I've referred to a couple of times.



*by this time I am wondering if the author is just making words up"


*this last one has
got to be a made up word!*

How many of these words do you know? And how many do you plan to use three times in a sentence today?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


[Ring of life by forgetfulio]

Another ring on the bark,
another year of living out "I do",
another year of receiving and giving grace.

It's my wedding anniversary today. Here is a poem that I've posted on Poetry Friday before, but it is so perfect, I'll post it again:

Superbly Situated

by Robert Hershon

you politely ask me not to die and i promise not to
right from the beginning—a relationship based on
good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

i would like to be loved for such simple attainments
as breathing regularly and not falling down too often
or because my eyes are brown or my father left-handed

and to be on the safe side i wouldn’t mind if somehow
i became entangled in your perception of admirable objects
so you might say to yourself: i have recently noticed

how superbly situated the empire state building is

The rest of the poem is here.

Do you have a favorite poem or passage about love and marriage and commitment? Would love to read it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No author is an island

[Mackworth Island by InAweofGod'sCreation at Flikr Creative Commons]

And this one is so very grateful for the encouragement and support she receives from her author-friends. (So grateful that she has to resort to using the third person to refer to herself.)


[Thank You by Iain Farrell at Flikr Creative Commons]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Last week brought Nims' Island, Grinch, and a passage from The Changling Sea:

from Wendy Orr's Nim's Island:

"A whistle shrilled--and there was the strangest, most wonderful thing she'd ever seen: a wild-haired girl blowing a shell and riding a sea lion across the waves."

from Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch stole Christmas:

"Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing, without any presents at all. He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other, it came, just the same."

Intriguing and complex sentences from Patricia McKillip's The Changling Sea:

The dark horseman from the sea gazed up at her, mounted at the foot of the cliff. She caught her breath, chilled, as if the sea itself had crept noiselessly across the beach to spill into her circle. Then she blinked, recognizing him. It was only the young prince out for a ride in the bright afternoon. The dark horseman was Kir. Kir was the dark horseman. The phrases turned backward and forward in her mind as she stared at him. A wave boomed and broke behind him, flowing across half the beach, seeking, seeking, then dragged back slowly, powerfully, and, caught in the dark gaze of the rider, his eyes all the twilight colors of the sea, Peri felt as if the undertow had caught her.

Thanks, Tricia, Nandini, and Shelley!

Mine this week is the opening line to Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville, and I don't know any middle-schooler can resist reading more: (okay, I couldn't.)

If Jennifer Murdley hadn't been forced to wear her brother's underpants to schooo, the whole thing might never have happened.

What caught you this week?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wait up, bandwagon!

Have you managed not to get caught up with the gift-buying frenzy so far? I hope this process is a meaningful one for you, one that reminds you of your connection with the recipient of your gifts.

Like all the other book-lover bloggers, I am going to put in a plug for buying books as gifts.

For suggestions, you can go to lists such as the Publisher Weekly's list of Best Children's Books in 2009, or the New York Times list of the 100 Notable Books of 2009, and the one-stop List of Lists.

You can also get ideas from the comments section at Nathan Bransford's blog asking for his readers' top book in 2009, or find out how Davin at The Literary Lab chooses books as gifts, or read through the many wonderful reviews of YA novels at Finding Wonderland.

Here are my suggestions of books that feature a boy as the protagonist. (I hesitate to use the term "boy books" because I wouldn't be able to defend how I know if a book will appeal to a boy and not a girl, or a teacher, or a librarian, or a mom, or a dad.)

The Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look
I love these early middle grade books because of their breezy style, humor, and the underlying--completely unpreachy and unnoticeable--message of acceptance for every child.

Here is a review I wrote of the first Alvin Ho book.

Another wonderful early middle grade (this level is so very difficult to pull off) novel about a young boy not quite sure where he stands in the world, but finds people (and in his case, a Dodo Bird) he can trust and ends up having to do something that proves his own courage to himself. I am so glad this is a series.

Summer Ball by Mike Lupica
This book is aimed at the older end of the middle grade reader spectrum. Mike Lupica is obviously writing for the basketball fan and although I am not one, I enjoyed the book tremendously. He writes friendship so convincingly that I can handle passages of play-by-play without glazing over because I wanted to follow the boys' stories. Lupica has written books on other sports so if the kid you're buying this book for loves baseball or football instead, you're in luck.

If you're not buying for a sports-lover, here is a book about a boy and his beetle, Masterpiece by Elise Broach. James has to deal with a distracted mother, a talking beetle, a love of drawing, and solving a mystery involving a masterpiece.

For the older reader, I offer the three following books. Each writer has a different style, yet each one gets to the heart of things. None of these authors shy away from dealing with difficult issues, each deals with it honestly.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Grab-a-line Monday is a weekly occurrence here at my blog, where I post a line--or two or however many it takes to capture a thought--that I've read that has stayed with me. I invite my readers to do the same. There are so many books that we'll never get to read everything that interests us. Such a shame. This is my small attempt to find writing that we shouldn't, but may otherwise, miss.

These quotes don't have to all be profound. Simple and light-hearted are great as well. I hope you find some passages that made you think and feel, or intrigue you enough that you'd want to read the book from which the passages originate.

My selection this week is rather long, and sad. It's taken from Stephanie Kallos's BROKEN FOR YOU:

Loved ones, whose presence once filled us move into the distance; our eyes follow them as long as possible as they recede from view. Maybe we chase them...Maybe we stay put, left behind, and look for them in our dreams. But we never stop looking, not even after those we love become part of the unreachable horizon. We can never stop carrying the heavy weight of love on this pilgrimage; we can only transfigure what we carry. We can only shatter it and send it whirling into the world so that it can take shape in some new way.

Last week, Tricia and Nandini--thanks for supporting my little venture week after week, guys!--came over with their passages:

From Patricia Wrede's DEALING WITH DRAGONS:

"Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable."

From Kristin Cashore's FIRE:

The Queen's House--for Fire reminded herself that this was Roen's house, not Brigan's--seemed a good place to soothe an unhappy soul. The rooms were small and cozy, painted soft greens and blues and full of soft furniture, the fireplaces huge, the January fires in them roaring. It was obvious a child lived here, for her school papers and balls and mittens and playthings, and Blotchy's nondescript chewed-up belongings, had found their way into every corner.
What caught you this week?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A heartening sign

Amidst the continued hand-wringing by many on the state of publishing today, I see a sign that says things are looking up. What is this sign? A number of agents are publicizing their needs:

Several agents from the Dystel and Goderich Agency are putting their wish lists on their blog, joining agents
Sarah Davies and Julia Churchill from the Greenhouse Literary Agency, Jill Corcoran, and Elana Roth, who have done the same. You may have come across some others.

I find this trend (I am going to call this a trend, indulge me) heartening. For a long time, rightly or wrongly, I had the impression that agents were getting so many queries they were this close *index finger and thumb almost touching each other, eye squinting* to changing their status on AgentQuery to "This agent is no longer accepting unsolicited queries" and before we knew it, there would be no more agents left to query, and we, the unagented, would have to rely on our hairdresser's boyfriend's dry-cleaner who knew the doorman to the building where an editor lived.

When agents, independently from one another, put their wishes out there where they know hungry authors are sure to pounce on, I mean pay heed, and risking their in-boxes--or maybe just the in-boxes of their assistants--overflowing with queries, it tells me they think the market is viable, editors are acquiring, and publishers are, well, publishing. That calls for a jubilant woo-hoo. Care to join me?

Woo-hoo from Flikr Creative Commons by Jeremy 白杰瑞

One other reason this trend brings such warmth to my heart is that it presupposes that this manner of dispensing information works. It speaks to a certain trust between the agents and the authors; it says that we're all in it together. That makes me glad.

It is a business about communications after all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Last week we had selections from several YA novels:
Tricia shared from Maggie Stiefvater's Ballad

When I woke up, my mouth was stuffed with golden music. It was like having a song stuck in my head, but with taste and color and sensation attached to it. It was all wood smoke and beads of rain on oak leaves and shining gold strands choking me.

Sherrie had this from Beautiful Creatures
The truth was killing me. Maybe Lena was going to be Claimed on her sixteenth birthday, but I had been claimed since birth. I had no more control over my fate than she did. Maybe none of us did.

Nandini quoted from the City of Ember:
The sky arched over them, higher than they could have imagined, a pale, clear blue. Lina felt as though a lid that had been on her all her life had been lifted off. Light and air rushed through her, making a song, like the songs of Ember, only it was a song of joy. She looked at Doon and saw that he was smiling and crying at the same time, and she realized that she was, too.
And a passage from Shakespeare:
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind:
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil'd.

- A Mid-Summer Night's Dream
My line this week is a lot more light-hearted than my usual offering. It is from Brue Covile's middle grade novel, Juliet Dove, Queen of Love, a magic shop book. The dad, a professor of poetry, is lamenting the current sorry state of education and threatens to run for the school board:
Do you suppose I could get elected on the motto 'Less self-esteem, more poetry?'
What caught you this week?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mortar and Pestle, Sore Muscles, and Dimpled Hands are what I am grateful for

CKHB exhorts us to share our thankfulness by showing, not telling: a solid writerly advice. My post yesterday is a bit of a downer, but today's will hopefully be more uplifting.

Sharing the ea
rthy, old-fashioned task of pounding aromatics in a stone mortar and pestle with my budding 9-year old cook, and enjoying the bursts of fragrance released from the ginger, scallions and garlic, mixed in with the air that is already perfumed with freshly ground star anise, clove, coriander and fennel.

[mortar and pestle from rosefirerising from Flikr Creative Commons]

My 7-year old's dimpled hands coaxing a surprisingly resonant Bach Minute from his tiny viola, the same dimpled hands he used to pat my hand gently to say good night.

Sore abdominal muscles reminding me that the torturous core-strengthening exercises in Tae Kwon Do class are not in vain.

Thermometer readings that no longer hover around 101 and the resumption of white blood cells production.

Sleep; restorative, healing sleep.

May you have many moments of thankfulness to choose from, every day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


sucking it up, rolling with the punches, making lemonade

disappointed, discouraged, dejected

unfairness, brokenness, falling short

grit teeth, pound fists, give up

pain, sorrow, hopelessness

Who hasn't?


soothes, warms, girds

gives perspective

grants hope

feeds perseverance

reveals grace, generosity, joys taken for granted

filling, filling till overflowing

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Tricia showed up last week with this quote from Pearl North's Libyrinth:

The wind howled and the flames roared, but the books, as they died, merely fell silent.

And Nandini, who has since moved one step closer to this dream (congrats, Nandini!), quotes from Little Women:

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap

Here is my line this week:
...that at some unspecified future moment the continuous rehearsal which is my life, with its so many misreadings, its slips and fluffs, will be done with...what I am looking forward to is a moment of earthly expression...I shall be expressed, totally. I shall be delivered, like a noble closing speech. I shall be, in a word, said.

The Sea, by Joh Banville
What caught you this week?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Thank you, my blog friends, for all your good wishes while I've been cocooning. I have been reading your blogs on and off. Nandini said she would check in on Mondays, so I wanted to peek out once a week, in case any of you have lines and passages you want to share.

From Garbiel's Gift by Hanif Kureishi, I wanted to share this line:

Now Dad had gone and was living somewhere else. If the world hadn't quite been turned upside down, it was at an unusual and perilous angle, and certainly not still.

Drop a line.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with a contest director, part II

Today, I have the second part of the interview with Dawn Smit Miller, contest director of the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest. Check out the judges for the finalists.

You have scored some high profile VIP judges: how do you do that year after year?

Just like the writers we serve, we too have to network. Fortunately, the contest and the conference have been around since 1993, so we've met a lot of people in the industry. The conference has a reputation for being friendly to both attendees and faculty--and what a view of Pikes Peak! This positive impression allows us to humbly approach and ask for this favor that will mean so much our entrants.

This year we have not one but two agents from the Donald Maass Literary Agency, including The Man himself! How cool is that? Not to mention editors from Tor and Scholastic and Harlequin. I'm so excited, I have to mention the whole list.

Jennifer Rees

Historical Fiction
Rachelle Gardner
WordServe Literary Group

Donald Maass
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Kathleen Gilligan
Thomas Dunne (St. Martins) Books

Brenda Chin

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
Jennifer Jackson
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Short Story
Denise Little

Young Adult
Stefanie Von Borstel
Full Circle Literary Agency

Similarly, how do you persuade your preliminary judges, most of whom are authors who carve time away from their own writing to read the entries?

Many of our judges see this as a way to give back to the writing community, especially if they've won in the past. It also helps that our judges can earn a credit toward the conference each year. It's not a lot, but the judges appreciate it. Several judges don't even use the credit for themselves and instead give it to a needy writer friend or to the scholarship fund. As I said, we have a great bunch of judges. On the admin side of the contest, we try to make the process as smooth for the judges as possible so they don't have a bad experience.

Welcome to Chris: did Dawn tell you that you're merely assisting and doing a bit of paperwork and that there is nothing to it?

Actually, she was really up front with me 1) with how much work I'd be doing and 2) that I'd be taking over the contest next year. (Dawn's addition: And he still accepted!)

I read a comment in a blog sometime ago by an editor who said she looked up the Paul Gilette Contest and found that it was a contest you could win only if you attended the conference. How do you plan to squash these prejudices?

Through word of mouth, our PPW website, and blogs like yours.

Favorite anecdotes?

Hmm, how much room do you have on that blog of yours? No, I'll be good.
Having eight volunteers crammed around a long table my first year as coordinator, and only then realizing that we needed a bigger space to organize everything....
Inviting volunteers to my home, and watching five bankers boxes of entries turn into 40 ready-to-mail judges packets....
Corresponding with one entrant nine times over the course of two weeks as the entrant made absolutely sure that his entry was perfect, and then having to email him again when he forgot to include the check....
Watching my winners walk around the conference with their specially colored name badges, and seeing the moment they realize that their badge is different....
Calling up one writer who won or placed in four different categories in one year.

Plea, I mean advice, to entrants?

Submit soon, before November 15. We are more helpful to entrants who submit, say, more than a week before the deadline. If we see an issue with your entry, we're more likely to email you for a fix rather than making a note to the judge about how many points to deduct for not following the rules.

Other than that? Check that your entry is saved as a .rtf (Rich Text Format) file. Make sure the length of your entry fits within the word count for your category. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't get a response within a day or two, feel free to nag politely. And if you have any unpleasant experience, let us know so that Chris can fix it for next year if possible.

The writing contest director and coordinator toil behind the scenes organizing, reading, diffusing tension, persuading, being calm, and generally playing the role of an unsung hero. That needs to be remedied; you will be sung to. At the next Pikes Peaks Conference, everyone you meet, or at least everyone who's entered the Pikes Peaks Writers Fiction Contest will sing of your virtues and hard work.

How sweet. Thank you.

So, you heard Dawn: enter! And don't think that she put that bit about her testing for her TKD black belt just for kicks. (I'll join you in groaning.) She is serious, she wants you to enter, and you'd better!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An interview with a contest director

Fall of 2007, I had been working on my middle grade novel for a number of years, and had gone through numerous versions (my poor critique group.) I had lost all objectivity and decided it was time to get some professional feedback. I entered the Paul Gillette Memorial Contest and paid for extra critiques. When the envelope arrived a few months later, I reminded myself that the critiques were the reason I entered and braced myself for the inevitable disappointment. It took multiple readings and many minutes before "Congratulations, you're a finalist!" made sense to me.

That 2nd place gave me the necessary confidence to take some important actions with regards to my writing.

A year later, I started wondering about my works that live quietly in my "short stories" folder. I love short stories but I also find myself confused often. Sometimes I would love the writing but have no clue what I've just read. Other times, certain phrases or scenes that don't really make sense, would haunt me long after I've finished reading. And then there are those subliminal moments when I would finish a story and thank God for the gift of words. I am not an English major nor an MFA student and don't often get the more literary devises. But I believe I have stories to tell that don't require an entire novel. Once again, to get some objectivity, I entered the same contest, now known as the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest, in the short story category.

Surprised and comforted by my first place win, I have resurrected quite a few of my stories and written a few new ones.

Many writers don't need the pat in the back that contests provide, but I am one of those who benefited from the exposure and encouragement.

Here is an interview with Dawn Smit Miller, the contest director of the Pikes Peak Writers

Fiction Contest.

Dawn, I can only imagine how much work it takes to coordinate a writing contest yet you've done it for many years. Is it like giving birth, you think, that you forget all the pain as soon as the baby is born?

Well, not quite as soon as the baby is born. I'd lie around at least until May, swearing that the next year would be my last. Then June would come along, and I'd be back into the contest groove again. This year, my last, has been really challenging, since my husband and I were also training for our black belt test in Taekwondo, which conveniently began at the same time as the contest and continued for the next month. Thank goodness for my new contest coordinator Chris Scena.

Tell us more about the contest. And by the way, why the two names?

The PPW Fiction Contest was created to give writers a safe environment in which to submit their work. Sometimes, our judges are the first strangers to read a writer's story, and we try to do no irreparable damage to skins that have not yet been toughened by rejection. Some of our entrants (and winners!) have been teenagers. Knowing that we will occasionally fail, we aim for the high goal of tactful and constructive criticism. We also want to be the first to find those gems out there and give them our praise before they get published. That kind of recognition can be the difference between a writer submitting one more time and dropping the manuscript in the file-n-forget drawer. It was for me when I submitted in 2001.

Beginning this year, the PPWFC is an all-electronic contest, so no more hardcopies! We may have a few bumps in the virtual road, so please bear with us while we learn to streamline the process. Contestants complete an online entry form, pay either online or through snail mail, and email us their entries as an attachment. For more information, including a nifty checklist, go to our online brochure at:

Once the entry comes to us, we assign it to two judges, who judges according to a four-page scoresheet. One or both of them will also type up a one-page critique if the entrant orders one (or two). If the judges just don't agree, we send the entry to a third judge. The most skewed score is dropped, and we add the other two scores together. The three entries in each category with the highest total score move on to our VIP judges, editors and agents who choose who gets first, second, and third place. We honor the winners each year during the awards banquet at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

As for the two names, well, "Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest - The Paul Gillette Awards" is quite a mouthful, isn't it? We just couldn't drop our homage to author and screenwriter Paul Gillette, who was an early supporter of the conference. However, we did want to add "PPW" to link the contest and the organization more directly in peoples' minds. Being writers, we sat around, talked about it, voted . . . and chose the longest, most complete name on the list.

But don't worry. We still answer to "Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest," "PPW Contest," "That contest in Colorado," and "Hey, You."

As the coordinator, you publicize the contest, handle money, collect and send manuscripts , train new judges, field the same three questions asked by 107 different people, call the finalist who's in third place, etc. Which ones cause the most sleepless nights / induce the loudest screams / bring you to your knees, pounding the ground?

My primal screams tend to come after interactions with those who have not read the instructions. Now don't get me wrong, many entrants go through the instructions with a fine-toothed comb and may still miss a detail here or there. No, I'm talking about, for example, the entrant who one year submitted one copy of a nonfiction story, stapled three times on the left to simulate a bound book, with no entry form, no check, and no contact information. This year, I've made some subvocal mutterings about people who email their entries as .doc files or who have 6000 words in their 4000-word sample manuscript, but those people sent in early enough that I could contact them, and they've been great about making the necessary changes. So no primal screams yet this year.

My sleepless nights tends to come from situations beyond my (or anyone else's control). Like dealing with the Post Office. If there ever was a reason to take the contest all-electronic, the Post Office is it. Every single year, at least one entry has been lost in the mail, and one year it was a judge's handwritten packet.

And which is the reason for your pouring your time and effort into it?

The people I get to meet. My favorite job is calling all of the finalists in late March/early April. Some say, "That's nice," thank me, and hang up, while others are on the line for twenty minutes basking in the glow of their win. It's wonderful. And the judges are great people, many of whom I have gotten to know as friends over the course of my six years running the contest. Writers are a fascinating and diverse bunch, and a hoot to work with. This is one way I can give them support. (If Chris is really, really lucky, I'll let him call some of the winners this year.)

Tomorrow I will post Part II of this interview, in which Dawn talks about how she finds judges and getting the word out to the general writing public about the contest. We'll even hear from her left-hand man, Chris.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A necessary cocooning

I had hoped that I wouldn't need to write this post. But here it is: I will be taking an extended hiatus from blogging.

My husband was diagnosed with cancer in July. The tumor in his femur was most likely caused by the radiation he received for his last cancer fifteen years ago.

When our lives first spun into this crazy orbit, we held onto a few things that hadn't changed,
that we could control. Participating in blogosphere was one of those things for me. Here, I was not just someone whose life was affected by cancer. Here, I've continued to be an aspiring author and book lover. Here, I've stayed sane.

I no longer have the energy to maintain my blog. So much of what's going on in my mind and emotions is pulling me toward somewhere else; somewhere still and private. I need to cocoon myself.

Over the next few months I won't be able to go along with your journeys and listen to your thoughts or discuss issues on writing and publishing. I will miss you and I wish you writing and living that makes you proud.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Indigo Notbook Launch

Celebrating author Laura Resau's third novel,
Indigo Notebook, at the launch party on Friday night.

The party was a festive event, enlivened not only by the Ecuadorian dances (This book takes place in Ecuador) but also by the sounds of children's laughter. Laura's little toddler ran up to her during her reading, just as she was describing her journey in writing this book, which the little guy played a big role. It was a perfect moment, completely spontaneous and heart-warming.

If you haven't yet read Laura's books, I'd highly recommend them. They are written with a big heart and lyrical language.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Which ones would you choose?

Since my evil ploy to get book recommendations worked so well, I've been asking friends for more suggestions. I started with the question, "Which book must I read before I die?" and then tempered it to; "what is your favorite book?" to "Say, read any good books lately?"

Here are some suggestions I've received, in no particular order:
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Brothers Karamazov
  • Herman Melville: Moby Dick
  • Arthur Phillips: Prague
  • Alice Hoffman: Skylight Confessions
  • Willa Cather: any work
  • Wallace Stegner: Angle of Repose
  • Alan Bennett: Uncommon Reader
  • David Lodge: Changing Places
  • Mary Ann Shafer: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Hanif Kureishi: Buddha of Suburbia
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Pilgrims

Which ones have you read? Which ones do you love? What other books do you recommend?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Story of a Girl

The National Book Award finalists are announced. In honor of this event, I'm reviewing a past finalist, Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl.

When a book is a finalist in a prestigious award, recommended by a friend, and endorsed by Chris Crutcher, I read it.

And I can most definitely understand the high praises.

A memorable book has to have all the usual suspects: believable characters, interesting dilemmas, unexpected plot twists, and convincing resolutions. But even when these are in place, a book can still be easily forgotten. Something else has to tie them all together into a satisfying whole. Just what that something is, is where craft leaves off and art takes over.

For me, part of the magic of this book is that it unfolds organically. This is not the first word that comes to mind when I read, but that's the one I keep coming back to. The story and plot twists and conflicts and characters are not separate entities that are just joined, their seams sanded and polished. They grow and develop by influencing and being influenced by one another. There are no events forced onto the story to create a climax. There are no characters thrown in just to produce conflict. Everything grows out of the characters in their particular set of circumstances.

The difference between this book and one written in strict adherence to writing rules is the difference between a conscientious student who lists out five ways to eradicate illiteracy in inner city children and an experienced teacher who live among these children, talking to them and their parents, and looking at the problem from their eyes.

While there may be one single defining moment that incites all of the events that happen in this book, but there isn't one single defining moment when they are all solved. The shifts in their lives and perception are significant but not monumental.

It's not a flashy book. It does not set out to solve the biggest problem among teenage girls. It doesn't provide catchy one-liners to live on. It's a unassuming book, as the title suggests; it's just a story about a girl. Yet it touched my heart without a single manipulative moment. It's a book that made me forget I'm a writer. It's a book that reminded me I am a human being.

[addendum to the original post: Sara Zarr is being interviewed today over at Cynsations. She talks about her new book, Once Was Lost.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but nobody says anything about not admiring it. The cover designer, Christopher Stengel, worked magic. The monochromatic colors are cool and beautiful and mysterious and subtle. The red dot, of course, just pops. Stunning. See it in real life; this picture doesn't do it justice.

Shiver captures the intensity of first love perfectly; the longing, the breathlessness, and the giddiness. Nothing is more essential and no obstacle too great for this love. This powerful current that drives the two characters pulsates on every page.

The opening chapter does everything a first chapter should: sets the tone for the book, introduces the main character, plunges us into action and conflict. It is also dramatic; I mean, a girl describing herself being attacked by wolves? What's there to stop us from reading on?

Of all the characters in the book, I found Isobel the most varied and dynamic. She is introduced briefly at the beginning, and over the course of the book, her role becomes more important and her character more sharply drawn. In contrast to her, Grace seems to possess traits that occasionally don't jive, at least in my mind, When we're in her head, she seems to be serious and sensitive and passionate and introverted. But when she is interacting with others, her witty quips seem out of place. A serious and sensitive and passionate and introverted person can be witty, of course, but she seems to come up with these clever remarks abruptly, in the middle of a quiet rumination. Or maybe these remarks jump out at me because they are so similar to those of Sam.

The story contains multiple threads that eventually intersect. Every once in a while, I feel as if a thread has been dropped too abruptly. For example, the chapters leading up to Sam's meeting with Beck were well done; we get a deeper understanding of their relationship and can empathize with Sam when he finally meets up with Beck again. But right after the meeting and the resulting confusion and heartbreak, Sam doesn't mention or even think about Beck again. Their eventual reunion is tender, although I'm not sure Beck's explanation for why he did the thing that made Sam mad is a very convincing one.

I can easily imagine myself as a teen devouring this book and dreaming of having the relationship between Grace and Sam. The sensitive young man who reads poetry and composes love songs and make scrambled eggs and who brings his girlfriend to the bookstore to read Rilke to her? Where was that young man when I was 17 and in love?

So do you think the success of Shiver will spawn a slew of copycat werewolf love stories?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Come one, come all, folks, grab a line and pull up a seat!

Last week we had two quotes from kidlit favs, and two from the classics/soon to be classics. Oh, and there was one not-quite-quote.

Tanita waited a whole week to post on last weeks GALM:

I debated joining yearbook, too, but decided I didn't want to join a club whose sole purpose was to memorialize the awkwardness of our lives, and joined the Volunteer Society and the French Club instead."

-Sheba Karim, Skunk Girl

Nandini didn't even have to tell us which character said the following:
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. ....... "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses ... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death--if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach"

Lady Glamis asked this question from Crime and Punishment:

"What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind-then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be."

- Fyodor Dostoevsky

And Annie Louden gave us these lines from Gilead

Their grim old crooked-tailed mother found us baptizing away by the creek and began carrying her babies off by the napes of their necks, one and then another. We lost track of which was which, but we were fairly sure that some of the creatures had been borne away still in the darkness of paganism, and that worried us a good deal.

Marilynne Robinson

The not-quite-quote was a great simile about a woman who fell on the floor crying supplied by Davin who insisted that we had to be there.

Mine is more than one line. But the passage describes something that most of us have experienced in such a recognizable way. This scene takes place at a doctor's office when he is about to talk to the patient and her husband about the disease and diagnosis:

At least he put down his pen but still was disinclined to speak, giving the earnest impression of not knowing where to begin or how. There was something studied about this hesitancy, something theartical. Again, I understand. A doctor musit be as good an actor as physicians.

John Banville, THE SEA

What caught you this week?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's Megan Rebekah's fault

She wrote about what to wear when she gets a publishing deal, which got me thinking about what to wear for those special publishing moments:

For an evening affair, An LBD with these shoes:

For day time events, these babies with a chocolate brown and pink outfit:

They're both from Anthropologie, for those of you who like such things as cute shoes and slightly funky outfits that don't really go that much on sale.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Poetry Friday

I haven't participated in a while. Today I want to share this by Emily Dickinson:

They say that "Time Assuages"

Here are two lines from this short poem:

An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with age—

Anastasia Suen is hosting Poetry Friday this week at Picture Book of the Day

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Juggling on their minds

Want to evoke indignation and annoyance? Just say to a random group of people, "Oh my life is so insanely busy." I guarantee that you'll have quite a few people who will either trump your assertion
or roll their eyes, clearly communicating a sulky and maybe haughty you-think-mine-isn't?

So anyway, I don't think my life is busier than most people's but right now I'm feeling the insanity of it and trying very hard to stay on top of things. Interestingly enough, at least three blog posts this week are about this very topic.

Chris Richman, an agent with the new agency Upstart Crow Literary Agency talks about priorities. Sarah Aronson at the Tollbooth focuses on balance in general, and balance between writing and kids.

So while you check out their words of wisdom, I will go deal with my currently not very balanced life. But as long as it includes my family, food, books, laughter, and some form of beauty, I'll call it good.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

is my offering this week: fragile I feel....Like a piece of fine glass that has just been thumped, I'm vibrating, waiting for just the right frequency that will shatter me to pieces.

by R. A. Nelson

These are the offerings from last week's Grab-A-Line Monday:

Annie Louden shared this:
"He only loved his love for me and the pictures he was drawing. He loved those two. He loved the feeling he was having. I was a mere accessory to the feeling.

-Charles Baxter, THE FEAST OF LOVE

And Solving Sherrie, being the rock star that she is, offered a line from a song by Gin Blossoms.

"She had nothing left to say, so she said she loved me. And I stood there grateful for the lie."

Tanita remembered the colorful quotes from the week before and offered this saffron-colored line:
Deep down I'm not all that cynical, or hard or mean-- more soft-centered and especially vulnerable (or gullible, if you like) to first impressions; so I was a bit overwhelmed when I stepped into that Air India plane and was immediately transported to another planet. - Indian Summer, Pratima Mitchell

MG Higgins read Umbrella Summer after reading my review (I am glad you liked it!) and liked this line:

"I wished there was a way to keep that in a bottle, that one moment of wonderful perfect, so I could open it up whenever I needed to get a good whiff.

Shelley the story queen probably loves speaking this line to her young audience:
"Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done."


Nandini explained that this line needed context to be funny, which I didn't understand:
"Greetings, Ancient Uncle," he panted, "you have a very fast bullock."


What caught you this week?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Passage to Savor

I picked up The Sea by John Banville, based on Davin's recommendation. Here is the first passage:

They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of a soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no never again.

I read and re-read it a few times, and maybe I'll manage to herd my thoughts into something that resembles coherent ideas sometime next week. In the mean time, enjoy!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fat bullocks, no, what was that again?

Nandini provided a line for this week's Grab-A-Line Monday. She said it was funny if read in context.

I read it and thought, no, the line is funny all on its own. I mean, fast buttocks? C'mon! It don't need no context.


The word was

b u l l o c k s

with the letter "l"

and not "t."

And then I was all that's too funny and you can call me fast buttocks for a week.

But in my haste, I didn't check that I'd typed "fat" instead of "fast."

Don't know if that qualifies as Freudian.

Moral of the story:
  1. all those carefully crossed ts should be read
  2. typing has to be checked
  3. slips should be embraced
You can all call me fast bullocks or fast buttocks, and okay, even the other one. But only for a week.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday on Tuesday, and some catching up

I scheduled yesterday's entry a few days earlier, fully intending to add my quote before it got posted. But I forgot. So here is the quote, again from Olive Kitteridge (I highly recommend this book, BTW):

...had figured something out too late, and that must be the way of life, to get something figured out when it was too late.

The Piano Player, from Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Now to some other business. First, Cybils 2009 is up and running. The panelists are in place and nominations are open. Last year's Cybils introduced me to some books I would otherwise have not read and I look forward to this year's nominees.

You can post this handy dandy button on your blog to help publicize it.

Here's another event worth publicizing: the Genre Wars! It's a writing contest run by the fab three at The Literary Lab. If you have some short stories in your drawers, or if you've never written a short story before, you may consider using this as a starting point. Who knows, you may find out hat you were born to write short stories.

And of course, handy dandy button.

Another event, this one to take place in November. Yes, of course you knew about NaNoWritMo. I haven't ever taken the plunge but the people I know who've done it once keep doing it again. So maybe the act of churning out a novel in a month is worthwhile, or at least addictive.

The ALA reminds us to celebrate the freedom of reading during Banned Books Week. I reckon I should celebrate it every day, but I appreciate the focused efforts to raise awareness. Words that float around in head as I look at the lists of banned books: fear, disbelief, prejudice, responsibility, and of course, freedom.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Here are the quotes from last week's Grab-A-Line Monday:

MG Higgins offered this: (and it's in gold because that's the color of the pen she used to jot this down specifically for this post.)

From When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead:

"Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop feeling mean."

Tanita Davis introduced me to a new sleuth from Georgette Heyer's They Found Him Dead. So this was longer than one line: but who cares? Great quotes, people, that's what I want!

"Well, I wanted to know. Besides, you're wasting your time, anyway. I told you the gat wasn't here, only you wouldn't listen. I looked for it myself, ages ago, because I thought probably the murderer would be pretty likely to hide it amongst the bushes. Well, he didn't, and I don't think it's in the bushes on the other side of the drive either. I haven't actually combed them, but I've got a theory about it. I'll tell you what it is, if you like."

Turns out Georgette Heyer is a fav author of Nandini, who shared this from Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

"The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny, for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?"

Davin Malasarn said he's reading Olive Kitteridge, the book I took my quote from, and I am waiting to hear what he has to say after he finishes.

It seems appropriate to end with another colorful quote, contributed by Coco, this time from Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote

'Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl's complexion.'

So, what caught you this week? (Color references optional.)