Love is a New Book!

I’m thrilled to share that I’m participating in Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s #MGAuthorsLoveTeachers Giveaway! If you’re not familiar with it, in short Lynda is awesome and has taken the lead on a massive book giveaway to show our appreciation to teachers and librarians and the essential work they do with young readers. Make sure you pop over to Lynda’s blog for your chance to win an INCREDIBLE list of signed middle grade books–including so many of my favorite authors!

Valentine

Focus on the Good Stuff in 2016!

I’m a worrier. If there is anything happening, I have imagined at least a dozen potential negative outcomes for that situation. It’s a curse and a blessing–after all, my overactive imagination is what inspires my stories and enriches my life, but the worries can take over at times.

The main character in my debut, Thyme, is also a worrier. She worries about her brother, and his painful cancer treatments that brought their family to NYC. She worries that their creepy neighbor in their new apartment building has it out for them. She worries that her best friend back home will forget her forever. But Thyme also takes action to feel better, namely by saving time in a jar–time earned for doing chores–time that might be able to solve all of her problems, if she can save enough.

For 2016, I’m taking inspiration from Thyme and starting my own jar. I’m not earning time, but rather acknowledging it. I’m starting an achievement jar, a place to capture all of those little moments of joy in 2016. When the worries set in, I’ll revisit those moments paper by paper and remind myself of what is possible. I’m including the doodle I wrote on the front of the jar below in both black and white and color, in case you’d like to print one out to make your own jar. :)

Here’s to staying focused on the good stuff in 2016!

achievementjarjarondesk achievementjarBW achievementjarCOLOR

I’m on Nerdy Books Today!

One of my favorite kidlit blogs out there is the Nerdy Book Club. This a club for everyone who loves books, young and old. Some of my very favorite authors have been featured on the Nerdy Book Club, and today I join their ranks! I’m so excited to share a post on using Book Talk to make reading a fun social activity at the dinner table or in the classroom. As part of the post, I’ve created a special new doodle. If you’d like to download a print-quality version, you can do so here.

nerdy mel

Uncharted Territory

One of the cool (read: terrifying) things about writing is that you’re always striking out into uncharted territory. You might be on the road to publication and enduring the sinking-swimming sensation of querying or the ulcer-inducing reality of being on submission. Or you might just be writing, which is in itself gut wrenching enough, with the constant push to improve your craft and find your heart.

That bit about finding your heart is perhaps the most challenging.

I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn the craft of writing with enough study and practice. Writing is a skillset. That skillset can be enhanced by what we call talent–a natural propensity for the skillset–but writing is still just a learned skill. We all start out tracing letters and filling in blanks. Where we go from there varies. Some of us discover a passion for story early on, while others take a while to get there. The idea, though, is that at some point, it’s not our minds but our hearts that demand we write.

You hear a lot of writers talk about the “story of their heart.” I think that phrase is a bit misleading, because there’s not just one story of your heart. Just as you can love multiple people, or pets, or flavors of ice cream, you can love different stories. The key, though, is figuring out how to tap into that love in the first place.

When you’re early in the journey of writing craft, many stories call to you. If the puzzle pieces fit together, you’re hooked. They key is understanding that you might just be hooked on the fact that the story works, and not the content itself. That’s okay. That’s how you learn. That’s also how you end up querying a book that doesn’t pan out, or going on sub and coming up short. Your early passion for writing is productive, but it can lack that zing of emotional heart.

How do we tap into our own hearts?

I attended a workshop with Meg Rosoff last fall that keeps bouncing around in my head whenever I think about this topic. She talked about the unconscious mind, and how it holds onto the things that matter to us, the things that resonate in our emotional cores. It follows that tapping into your heart requires tapping into your unconscious mind.

There are lots of different ways to tap into your unconscious mind, the center of you. Some of them are as easy as shutting your eyes and allowing your mind to wander. In yoga, we call this shavasana. You assume a comfortable position and sit still. You shut your eyes, and listen to your breath. In and out, in and out. When the grocery list pops into your mind, you acknowledge it and send it away. You try to only hear your breath, think of your breath, and let your muscles sink into the earth. Your mind will slow down. It will start to wander. And after a while (it’ll feel like ages but only be about 5-7 minutes) little blips of light will pop through. These blips, these random thoughts, are your subconscious talking to you. By actively releasing your conscious mind, the boss who runs all the things, you allow those inner thoughts to come forward. When you reach this state, ask yourself: what matters to me? You’ll likely be overwhelmed by the emotion that surfaces.

For some people, this emotional release occurs when running or walking. For others, when they recount their dreams or listen to music. Give yourself the time and space to tap in. Practice it regularly. You will gain better access to your emotional core, and all of the distractions will fall away. Once those distractions are gone, you’ll know what matters to you. Is it the video of a police beating that went unprosecuted? Is it the memory of your grandmother? Is it the struggle of your oldest child, who cannot sit still, who won’t tell you their secrets any more, and who you fear for in the worst of ways?

There are things that matter, and there are things that MATTER. Find the things that matter to you. Follow them into uncharted territory to find the heart of your stories.

Life of a Writer

It’s International Dot Day!

Today is International Dot Day! Inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s classic children’s book, THE DOT, this is a day to make your mark on the world. I had the good fortune to meet Peter at BEA this year, and he really is an ambassador of creativity. My boys positively lit up when I gave them Peter’s bookmaking kit after the show.

Now, today, I get to reveal my very own Celebri-Dot! As a designer first and an author second, the art of mark-making still captures my heart. Whenever I begin a new drawing, I always warm up by making a series of marks–ellipses, from 10 degree to 90, which is a full circle–and there is nothing like the feel of my pen cutting into the paper.

About my dot: in creative pursuits, it can often feel like you’re stabbing in the dark, again and again, and it’s not until you step back that you can see you have made your mark. That’s what I’ve tried to capture here, with a take on pointillism, which is a technique I frequently employ in my illustrations.

Without further ado, here it is, my mark on the world!

 

Revision Supplies

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

Recipe for a Storm Trooper

Because you need this information, obviously. Happy Wednesday! :)

A Hint of Spring

It’s hard to believe that this is just around the corner. But it is. Right? Hello? *shovels snow*