July 18, 2014

Need a Little Inspiration?

I'm a visual person. I doodle on everything, and I get lost in pictures. I also get lost when I drive somewhere at night because the journey looks so different than in the daytime. My kids will tell you within five minutes of riding in our car that "Mommy gets lost a lot."

But you know what? Sometimes getting lost is exactly what you need to find your way.

Here are some of the places I go to lose myself on purpose.

Nasa satellite pictures! You can visit any place on earth by going to their website. And the images are rights free!


The streets. Whether you live in the city or the country, LOOK as you go.
The human imagination is all around you.

The news. I collect interesting links in a folder by "printing" the articles to PDFs.
When in need of inspiration, I browse!


The garden. If you don't have a nice outdoor space, borrow someone else's. Pull weeds. Tidy things up. Gardening for even a short amount of time clears the mind, and the plants fill you with color and form.


Memories. It's easy to think we remember, but a quick look through old photos will being details to life in vibrant, heart-squeezing emotion. (This is my Mom, sister, and me, with one of many stylish snowmen from my childhood)


June 01, 2014

The Truth About BEA & BookCon

I just got back from this year's BEA event in NYC, and I want to summarize a few things for those of you who wonder what happens there, or what this BookCon thing is, or what's going to happen to BEA in the future...which is a big question, for sure.

BEA is short for Book Expo America.

It's a trade show held at the Javits convention center in NYC each year (until 2015, that is). If you've never been to a trade show, imagine an enormous building the scale of a concert hall, lined with booths and banners. What's in all of those booths? Publishers, but also companies that are related to publishing (including printing services, toy companies, app groups, etc).

For most people, the only parts of the BEA floor that hold interest are the publisher's booths. During the show, you can get ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of books from these booths, as well as line up to get books signed by certain authors (there's also a large Autographing Area for this specific purpose). What this means overall is that you end up walking around a crowded convention hall, trying to decide which book to line up for, if the line is too long, or if there might be a book drop (an unscheduled release of ARCs) at any of the big booths.

Yes, you can get a bunch of books for FREE at BEA...but that's changing.

While this year's event is fresh in my mind, here's what I think is coming: BEA as a trade show has lost some of it's past functionality. Meaning, there aren't a TON of publishing deals going down at the show compared to the past. Publishers are seeing less incentive to spend a lot of money on the event (and that means fewer free books for attendees).

Plus, the books they are giving away aren't intended as awesome presents from heaven--they're intended to help market the upcoming books and build buzz. That's why the event is traditionally limited to publishing professionals, including bloggers. Bloggers and avid readers will promote a book and build buzz, and therefore are worth the investment. The general public isn't considered as great of an investment when it comes to ARCs.

This year, I also noticed that the ARCs were even more tightly controlled than last year. Many book drops were scheduled, instead of being randomly set out. Some of the book drops even required lines, which meant that over all, you weren't going to grab as many books (because there is only so much time, and you can only wait in so many lines).

So, professional or public, BEA is changing.

It's not so much about the books anymore.

Instead, BEA is evolving into a more consumer-centric event with the advent of BookCon.

Now, BookCon came about in a way that was uber confusing for a lot of attendees. Last year, BEA offered Power Reader passes, which were one-day passes for the public to attend the show on Saturday. This was the only opportunity for "non-publishing" people to attend this show. Usually, you have to be an author, blogger, or publishing professional of some sort to attend (again, that whole "investment" concept).

But back to BookCon. This year, after Power Reader passes were sold, attendees were informed that a new event was taking place--BookCon--and that their Power Reader passes were being reassigned to this event. Most people crossed their fingers and hoped for the best: that BookCon would be the same as Power Reader day last year.

Well, it wasn't.

And it's not going to be in the future, either.

BookCon is run by the same entity that runs ComicCon. They are focused on consumers, celebrity, and drawing large amounts of revenue by bringing those two entities together. Like ComicCon, BookCon was focused on panels. Panels are basically presentations/Q&As with important people of some sort--in BookCon's case, the panels were mainly focused on authors and celebrities with tie-ins to publishing or book-to-film projects (like TFioS, Stan Lee & Marvel books, Dystopian panel including Veronica Roth). Yes, there were panels on other topics like diversity, but by and large, the panels were focused on presenters with some clout behind their names, culminating in the TFioS panel with John Green.

So, what happened at BookCon?

Basically, thousands of people showed up and lined up for different panels or a few select book giveaways on the BEA floor. By noon, publishers on the BEA floor started packing up. Their trade show was over, which was utterly confusing to many of the BookCon attendees hoping for free books. There weren't a lot of those on Saturday, because BookCon attendees are perceived as the general public, and remember, they aren't the intended audience for ARCs. But there were a lot of opportunities to line up and see celebrities, as well as a greater emphasis on poster, sticker, and button giveaways.

So, if you're considering attending BEA next year, while it's still in NYC, here are a few important details to keep in mind:

  • BEA is evolving toward a pop culture event for consumers centered around books and authors, as quoted from this PW article.
  • BookCon organizers have announced the intention to hold MULTIPLE BookCon days in 2015, with an increased focus on consumer attendance and revenue generation, as described here.
  • BEA is moving to Chicago in 2016, and the word I heard is that many publishing pros will not be able to justify attending, and so the event is likely to evolve even further toward the ComicCon approach. Meaning, there will be a focus on books and authors, but in the celebrity-viewing sense, with fewer free books.
  • Many authors attend BEA because it's in NYC, and they get a chance to meet with their editors, agents, and publishing friends while in town. Many of us are only at the show itself for smaller periods of time, so a lot of the fun stuff you see on Twitter and the like is not even at BEA itself.

So, consider all of this before you invest in attending--what will you get out of BEA? Or BookCon? They are fun events,  but also events with a very specific purposes, and those purposes are changing. In the future, I think BEA will have less and less emphasis on books, and more on cultural tie-ins that tend to be more lucrative, as evidenced with the shift toward BookCon. It's something to keep in mind.

May 21, 2014

The Why

My younger son and I, reading MY TRUCK IS STUCK to his class

It can be easy to forget why we do this work, what with deadlines and doubts and all of the things we do in our own little writerly vacuums. The good news: All it takes is reading a book to a class of eager young readers to remember the why.

May 08, 2014

Short Story: My Brief Flirtation with the Devil

I've been getting a certain question quite a bit lately, especially since I attended #NESCBWI14 (which was fab! you should go!). That question is: When did you start writing?

Typically, I answer that while I did study literature in college (along with product design), I didn't really start writing with the aim of producing a novel until about three years ago. But the more I think about that, the more I realize it's a total lie. I've been creating fiction all my life. I just forgot about those moments somehow--or maybe, I didn't recognize what I was trying to do at the time.

Take second grade, for example.

In second grade, I had a rather uptight teacher whose name I can't recall, so let's just call her Mrs. Prim N. Proper. *snort-laugh*

Anywho, Mrs. Proper gave us a pretty great assignment at one point during the year: we were to create a poetry collection. Meaning, not just one poem, but SEVERAL. I recall scribbling in my spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebook for ages that week. Every day brought a new idea, a new subject to explore. I wrote about flowers (I think it was spring outside, and in NC, that means thousands of daffodils). I wrote about my dog. Horses. The typical subjects.

But then one day, I had this crazy idea.

What if (see! I should have KNOWN)...what if there was a man whose face was painted on? What if he was like, made of fabric like a doll? I thought about how horrible that would be. I imagined him with a smooth, shiny face as pale as paper, yet made of cloth. A fabric a lot like satin, which I'd read about so often in Vanity Fair (Yes, I read it in second grade. Major nerd alert).

I rattled off a couple of different versions of this man's story, but the short of it is that his face gets wet, and tragedy ensues. I thought it very touching and sad. I think I even cried as I illustrated the final page, which I placed at the very back of my poetry collection. This poem was my shining star. My great achievement. I thought for sure it would knock Mrs. Proper's socks right off.

When it came time to present our poetry collections, I of course chose to read this particular poem to the class. I handed the book to my teacher, who glanced at the page to make sure it didn't contain any kind of blasphemy. As her eyes hit the page, she sucked in a breath. Her cheeks reddened. And I thought to myself, "Wow! My poem is so good, she's going to cry!"

But of course, that's not what happened.

Instead, Mrs. Proper adjusted her narrow, frameless glasses and stared at me with a look that could only be described as disappointed.

"Why would you write this?" she demanded.

As you can imagine, I had no answer.

She stubbed her finger at the paper, jabbing at the title, which I'd lettered so neatly across the page. "Tell me why you would write this, Melanie."

I looked at the words. I said them aloud. And her face miraculously softened.

"Oh," she said. "I see."

She grabbed an eraser from her desk and instructed me to fix my title. "Satin is spelled with an 'i'," she said, "Not an 'a'."

That's right. I'd turned in a poem titled "Satan-faced Man" to my proper southern baptist teacher. But honestly, even after correcting my paper, I still wasn't sure what I'd done wrong.

It wasn't until more than a decade later, when my mother forced me to purge my old papers from her storage space, that I found the poem and realized the significance of the mistake I'd made. What was just a simple spelling error for me was surely the talk of Mrs. Proper's Sunday table. Which just goes to show, you never know what tiny detail will define you. For a few seconds in the spring of second grade, I was a heathen poet of the highest order.

Short Stories feature my random anecdotes and ramblings, sometimes tied to writing and other times to life at large. If you're an author interested in sharing a short story of your own, please do get in touch!

April 28, 2014

An Illustrated Guide to #MyWritingProcess

Thanks to the lovely Miss Louise Galveston (whose hilarious gross-out book BY THE GRACE OF TODD is not to be missed), I doodled something for you guys. Here's my writing process, in one complicated, annotated, illustrated nutshell:


As you can see, a lot goes on inside my head. If you'd like to read more about my process (which I love to gab about), check out these posts on outlining and revision. You can also find a TON of awesome writing posts from other authors on Le Twitter, under the hashtag #MyWritingProcess.

Right now, I'm working on revisions for my debut novel, Counting Thyme, as well as drafting my second MG book and a YA contemporary about a boy who believes love is a delusion. I'm drawn to all kinds of stories (especially fantasy, which I grew up reading!), but contemporary characters (and families) are the ones who give me all the feels. There's nothing quite like entering another person's world. Which, come to think of it, is I why I both read and write. Books are the bomb!

Now, let me introduce you to three fellow writers, who are each so awesome, it's barely acceptable to tag them all in the same post. They'll share their process next Monday, May 5th!


There are some books you covet so much you can taste it. That's how I feel about Becky. I mean, her book. No, seriously. SIMON sounds like exactly the kind of endearing, unapologetically intelligent story that I love to read!

Becky Albertalli is a child psychologist turned YA writer who lives in the not cool part of Atlanta with her husband, son, dog, and cat. Her debut, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, will be released in March of 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Becky is represented by Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency. Blog | GoodReads | Twitter



When it comes to heart and family, my good friend Ronni Arno is matchless, so I can't wait to read her MG debut about a girl who hides her family's celebrity status from her friends at boarding school.

Ronni’s debut novel, RENEE REINVENTED, publishes with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin in Fall 2015. Ronni stalks her kids and their friends for story ideas, kayaks, and eats chocolate…not usually at the same time. Ronni is rep'd by Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency. Blog | GoodReads | Twitter



When I read MY 7TH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, I couldn't believe how freaking funny it was--laugh out loud lines on every page! I may have wanted to smack Brooks (just a little), but really, I'm very happy for him (ie: unreasonably jealous).

Brooks Benjamin is a MG writer, filmmaker, teacher, husband, SCBWI member, and father to a 75-pound demented German Shepherd mix named LeeLoo. Represented by the fantabulous Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary. Blog | GoodReads | Twitter



April 16, 2014

March 27, 2014

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl (Stargirl, #1)Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl is a timeless story about the battle between individuality and popularity in high school. I found the story well-paced, easy to take in, and relatable. There's nothing more captivating than the mystery of what makes an unusual person tick. I also love explorations about what makes us normal or unusual in the first place, as I think we can all relate to that confounding notion, no matter what stage we're at in life.

It was fascinating to follow Leo's story as he and the rest of his classmates struggle with Stargirl's unfettered individualism. I had to know what would happen--both with Stargirl, and with Leo and his affections for her. While I wished I could have gotten to know Stargirl earlier in the narrative (through dialogue and more fully fleshed scenes), Spinelli's concise prose weaves an undeniable rhythm that stays with you long after you've finished reading.

View all my reviews

March 22, 2014

Short Story: The Day Snuffleupagus Cried

When I was nine, I had a skateboarding accident. I wish I could say my injuries resulted from attempting a super-cool move, like an inverted 360 or something, but unfortunately, I was just pushing a skateboard up my neighbor's driveway on my knees. The board's front wheel caught a rock, and my right cheek caught a face-full of concrete, scraping off a solid stripe of flesh.

When my initial shock twisted into searing pain, I started screaming. My friends, true to middle grade form, ran away, screaming as well, leaving me more utterly alone than I'd ever been in my life. But after a few minutes, my heroic (although slightly built) neighbor ran outside, scooped me up, and wobbled his way to my house with my 50lb frame in his arms.

I remember that there was so much blood on his T-shirt. My blood.

I remember Mom's reassuring calm, even as we drove to the doctor's office just up the road. (In Summerfield, NC, pretty much everything was "just up the road.")

And then the strangest thing happened. Our doctor, who was young enough to seem friendly--although he had a beard that crept halfway down his neck, which was vaguely piratical in nature--asked my mom a question: would she mind if he hypnotized me to give me the two stitches I required?

My mom, being the world's okayest mom, said: Sure!

So then my doctor asked me to look at what may or may not have been a penny, and tell him about the latest episode of Sesame Street. So I did. My eyes drifted shut, and the episode played out as though projected directly onto my eyelids. Big Bird had a party, and he didn't invite Snuffleupagus. Naturally, Snuffleupagus cried. A lot. Then they made up.

Then I woke up.

Amazingly, I had two stitches right below my nose, and I hadn't felt a thing. Even by my mom's standards, this was a little bit crazypants. But honestly, I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. It wasn't unusual to believe in magic at that age.

Just this past week, my four-year-old strained his neck, and I found myself in the chiropractor's office, being asked a question: would I mind if he adjusted my kid's neck? If you've never seen a chiro adjust a neck, you might think this is no biggie, but trust me: adjustments are precise but incredibly dramatic. I was thinking of my mom and Snuffleupagus and magic when I said yes. And wouldn't you know it, the adjustment worked.

Sometimes in life, as in writing, the new stuff is terrifying...but those moments also hold the most potential. I feel this way fairly often when I'm writing. Some ideas are chock full of crazypants.  But sometimes a little crazy unlocks a whole lot of magic--and those are the stories I love to read the most!

Short Stories feature my random anecdotes and ramblings, sometimes tied to writing and other times to life at large. If you're an author interested in sharing a short story of your own, please do get in touch!

March 11, 2014

Counting Thyme to be published by Putnam!

I'm so, so thrilled to announce that Counting Thyme, my middle grade novel about a girl whose family relocates to NYC for her brother's cancer treatment, has sold to the lovely Stacey Barney at Putnam! Here's the PW announcement (!!!!!):


For as long as I can remember, books have been a magical part of my life. I can recall reading The Monster at the End of this Book with my mother before bed, and wondering when a furry blue muppet would come to visit me. By third grade, I stayed up late into the night reading classics like Where the Red Fern Grows and Charlotte's Web by the light of our upstairs hallway, falling prey to the "just one more chapter" syndrome that now rules my life.

An early revision manuscript

I find books miraculous. We have twenty-six letters in the English language, and a limited vocabulary, and yet writers create wonderful, new stories every single day. I'm so proud to become a part of that tradition!

Thank you to my critique partners, family, and friends for being so supportive, and of course my wonderful agent, Pete Knapp. I'm so excited to work with Stacey and Putnam to bring another miraculous collection of words into the world.




March 05, 2014

Shameless Addictions: February Edition

In case you don't have enough things sucking time away from your life, I thought I'd share my latest fixations so that you can join in, too.

Vikings is back. It's on Thursday nights on the History channel. You have never seen the Norse culture/mythology like THIS.

I've hated zombies all my life. Seriously, NIGHT OF THE COMET scarred me. But I can't get enough of this show! What really reels you in is the humanity. Settings may change, but people don't.

I purchased this book at my youngest son's book fair, and I've read it approximately 20 times since. IT IS SPECTACULAR.



And finally, I'm obsessed with this cover of We Can't Stop. It's so incredible. Treat yourself to all of the covers by this group. Warning: there's a clown in the cover of Lorde's song.

What are you obsessed with lately? Time to fess up and spread the love!


February 25, 2014

A Shot of Inspiration

I was reminded of this poem today, when my critique partners and I were discussing words of inspiration. A poem titled "in Defeat" may not sound very inspiring on first glance, but ever since I read this in eighth grade for an English assignment, I've loved every word. It's one of the very few poems I have memorized. I keep a copy of it hanging on my wall. Today, I share it with you:



in Defeat


Defeat may serve as well as victory

To shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind,

The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk

Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief

Can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come

To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.



-- Edwin Markham.







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