I met Karen Cushman briefly last summer at the Golden Kite Luncheon at the SCBWI Summer Conference in L.A. I knew everyone at our table apart from Karen and her nephew. She introduced herself, just as congenial as can be, and I think I said something smooth and charming and not all all flustered.

Something like, “Oh! Wow!”

I recovered, and we went on to have a lovely luncheon. Karen was awesome, and I’m honored to offer a little glimpse into her newest book, Alchemy and Meggy Swann, as well as her writing process. Thank you, Karen!

KB:  Tell us about Alchemy and Meggy Swann.

KC:  Feisty Meggy, sent from her mother’s village to live in London with the father she has never known, struggles with his evident disappointment when they meet. Not only is she is not the son he had expected, she walks with a halting gait–wabbling she calls it, aided by two sticks.  Meggy finds the city a horrible place and is angry and frightened.  Slowly she explores her new world, makes friends, and begins to help her father, an alchemist.  Along the way she learns much about friendship, loyalty, and transformation.

KB:  How did writing Alchemy and Meggy Swann differ from your other books?

KC: Differ?  I don’t think it did.  There were the usual panics and the usual hair-tearing-out when editorial letters came.  The most different thing about the book is that Meggy struggles with a physical disability.

KB:  What kind of writer are you (e.g. What time of day do you typically write)?

KC: I write better in the morning, but first I have to read the newspaper, check emails and writers’ blogs, eat breakfast, shower, do a load of laundry, think about dinner. Then I answer emails, play computer solitaire, and talk baby talk to my cat.  Finally I am impatient enough with myself to sit down and work.  By that time it is usually not morning anymore so in reality I write in the afternoon.

KB: Do you give yourself a daily word count? Are you an outliner?

KC: I don’t outline or make 3×5 cards or storyboards, but I do have a story pretty well developed in my head before I start to write it.  I hate facing the blank page and find writing the first draft by far the hardest part of the job, pulling words out of me like, Katherine Paterson says, a spider spinning a web out of her own guts.  I don’t have a word or page count but work as long as I feel productive.

KB:  Do you revise as you go, or just get the first draft down?

As I write my first draft, I go back and polish those pages and chapters that came before.  Over and over.  This is how I start working each day–reading over and polishing what I have already written.  It gives me a running start on the day’s work.  It’s those early chapters that establish mood and voice and I like to know these as I write on.  Is the voice humorous and ironic, like Birdy?  Naive but wise like Alyce?  Sad and angry like Rodzina?  Complaining and confrontational as are Lucy and Matilda?

KB:  Do you believe in writer’s block?

KC: I believe there are some times when a writer doesn’t want to write, doesn’t know what comes next, doubts she can do it, thinks she has nothing more to say.  But as a diagnosis?  Nope.  I don’t believe in writers’ block.  Or most attempts to turn a process into a thing, for that matter.

KB:  How do you stay in touch with the writing community?

KC: I read blogs, email friends, huddle with other writers at conferences, read what’s newly published.

KB: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

KC:  Sleep.  Read.  Putter in the garden.  See friends.  Watch Inspector Morse.

KB: Any writing and/or revision tips you’d like to share?

Revision is much easier for me than writing a first draft.  So with my work in progress, Will Sparrow’s Road, I tried something different.  I set up a vague outline of chapters, typed notes and ideas in each chapter, added a few sentences, a character description, an action, some dialogue, whatever occurred to me, until the book was laid out on the computer.  Then when I went back, writing that first draft was more like editing and revising, not writing.  Much easier.

KB:  What have you enjoyed reading recently?

KC:  Besides many, many, MANY books as research for one book or another, I enjoyed The Calligrapher’s Daughter, Eugenia Kim; Ice by Sarah Beth Durst; A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick; The Wet-Nurse’s Tale, Erica Eisdorfer.

Thanks, Karen!

Don’t forget that Karen will be speaking at our last SCBWI Western Washington meeting of the season on May 11th.

If you would like a chance to win a signed copy of Alchemy and Meggy Swann, just share a writing or revision tip in the comments. I’ll pick a winner on Thursday!

I’m going to start an experiment tomorrow.

I’ll wake up at 5 a.m. to write.  I’m not a morning person. At all. I’m a night owl. I write in the afternoon while my daughter naps, and I write at night once everyone else is in bed. I like the quiet in the afternoon while the other house inhabitants are off at work and school. And I like writing at night because I can just write until I get tired, without the clock ticking down that my shift is almost up.

But, sometimes my kid doesn’t nap. Like today. She sat in bed singing at the top of her lungs just on the other side of the wall, and for some reason it made my revisions more difficult. Sometimes I go out at night, or get tired, or what have you and I don’t write for the day.

Then I get cranky.

So, I need a new system. I’ve tried writing in the morning before. I’ve tried to sneak downstairs and out the back door to my office/shed without waking anyone, but I have creaky stairs.  One or both of the kids will wake up, and in the house I will stay.

Now summer is right around the corner, and those guys will be home all day. I love summer. I like to garden, hike, kayak, and laze around in the park. We go for ferry rides and camp on the beach. Summer is my season. If I can trick my brain into some early bird creativity then I can have that feeling of accomplishment to carry through the day, which is so much yummier than that mild frustration of not having done the work. Right? So, I’m going to try and reprogram myself now.

I’m not the only one.  Jolie and Ben came up with the idea, and I’m just tagging along. They’re going to try it, too. Some of my other favorite creative folk like Martha and Jaime already get up early. So, I’ll be in pleasant, groggy company. I may need to pick up a coffeemaker for the shed.

Wish me luck.

When do you write? Why?

This doesn’t have anything to do with publishing or kid lit, but I’m going to blog about it anyway because people have been asking me about it this week. I apologize for the length, and I’m guessing it will be the most personal thing I ever post, but you know. Feel free to skip it.

My youngest kid was adopted from Guatemala about two and a half years ago. When we decided on adoption we knew that we wanted to adopt internationally, and from a Latin country. I have a Hispanic background that I identify strongly with, and I wanted to have that connection. Unfortunately, Mexico (where my mother’s family came from) is not open to international adoption. So, we chose Guatemala. We researched agencies to find one with good ethics and communication, and we started the process.

It took a couple of years. We were matched with a lovely baby girl, but lost the placement when it was revealed through DNA testing that the woman claiming to be her mother was not. I was grief stricken. We hadn’t met her, but something happens when you’re a parent waiting for your child, biological or not. I’ve done it both ways. I know.

We were matched again with our daughter, and we started all over again. We visited while the media was shining a bright light on a few sensational cases of trafficking under the guise of adoption. When we went down for our pick up trip, they advised us to stay in the hotel because of the rising tension (we didn’t). Anderson Cooper was there “reporting,” and I’ve taken anything he’s said with a rock of salt since. The state department warned that adoptions would stop suddenly, without warning. The Guatemalan government granted permission for us to leave after everything had been checked and rechecked, with our daughter. I’ve never been so relieved in my whole life. Guatemala closed their adoption program just a couple of months later, and many friends we’d been going through the process with were thrown into limbo.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but parenthood never really is. She was world weary, wondering why these strange people had taken her from her loving foster family. She wasn’t crazy about me for a long time. Her big brother, warned for years that the day would eventually be coming when he would have a little sister, was gobsmacked. She warmed to her dad and brother first, and then eventually me. When you adopt, any agency worth it’s weight in feathers warns and educates  you that it probably won’t be sunshine and rainbows at first. It’s a tough transition. But still, something clicks before you ever even see them and you’re family.

So, last week some idiot woman in Tennessee decided she was unhappy with the child she adopted from Russia and sent him back. Alone. With a note.

Russia is pissed, and rightfully so. So today, they’ve suspended all adoptions. Anyone in the middle of their adoption process is thrown into the unknown. Just thinking about it makes my pulse speed up. It was my worst fear.

Now there will be a slew of articles and experts gabbing about whether parental bonds are as strong for adopted kids as biological kids. It’s sensational. It’s Sneetch-ish. It’s going to be “news” for a bit. I’ve got one of each, so I’m going to go ahead and say I’m a reliable source on this subject.

The bonds are the same. I love each of my kids with ferocity, and I think I can speak on their dad’s behalf, too. That woman who sent her child across the world alone is an asshat. She should be prosecuted for child abuse and abandonment. She’s not a parent. Every headline and news snip that refers to her as an adoptive mother makes me bare my teeth a little bit. My son is the same age, and that poor guy can’t even walk home from the bus stop alone. She is an asshat with poor judgement, not a victim of the adoptive system.

I know people wonder about how much people love their adopted kids. People ask, and they ask around it, and they don’t ask in that way that tells you that they’re trying very hard not to ask. People from each side of the fence wonder at the mysteries of familial bonds. Strangers in the store ask. Friends ask. Families with only adopted children ask, wondering if they’re perhaps missing out on some essential ingredient that gets thrown in when you have a baby the old fashioned way. There’s still such a stigma around adoption. We watched a movie a couple of weeks ago where the younger brother was insulted and traumatized when his older sister claimed he was adopted. Oh, the horror!

I’ve been rambling on, so I’ll keep the answer simple and concise. The process is different, but the results are the same in millions and millions of cases. Like ours.

Family. A big, crazy, loving family.

And sometimes, zombies.

A friend asked me for a music recommendation recently, and I suggested a band I find myself listening to a lot. While I drive, while I cook, but mostly while I write. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.

There was this guy in Raleigh who got mono, got dumped, and broke up with his band. He went to his dad’s cabin in the backwoods of Wisconsin alone for the winter to recuperate. He took some instruments and recording equipment with him when he moved, but just wanted to lay low and have some r & r. But, there’s only so much you can do trapped in a cabin in the winter so he started fiddling around, writing songs, and recording them for a possible demo.

The result was For Emma, Forever Ago. It’s a great, melodic album that I find myself listening to frequently (especially when I’m writing), and I like the whole phoenix aspect of his creative process. Inspiring, I tell you!

You can hear it here:
http://www.ilike.com/artist/Bon+Iver

Do you ever listen to music while you work? What do you find yourself listening to?

Sorry for taking such a long blogging break. I needed it. By way of an apology, please enjoy this new Muppet video (via Neatorama), to go with our musical theme.

Look, I’m back. I can stick with it, I can!

The truth is, the one time I put a water bottle in my computer bag- it leaked. My computer spent some time in a box of rice over the heater (per instructions my husband found on the internet) and then it went to a guru. Everybody kept saying it would be fine as long as I took the battery out- but the new Macbook Pros have nonremovable batteries. Gah! We got it back tonight, and it has a couple of permanent water spots on the screen and needs a new airport card- but everything else is superduper. Yeehah! I will never bag a beverage again.

The Onion examines an authors exploitation of innocent, interspecific friendship.

The Longstockings are calling for a new manuscript to critique.

If you just ventured out from your cave, there were some book awards this week. I did pretty well with predictions. How about you?

Congratulations all around! Great Kid Books has the list broken down by reading level.

The BBC has produced a video about the real toy story of what happens when a teddy bear is home alone. Some people might not appreciate the audio at the end, but I am a different sort of people. Thanks to Minor Details for the link.

If you’re going to New York next week for the SCBWI Winter Conference (or if you’re there already), there are a few extra events happening around town you might be interested in.

Books of Wonder is hosting a fantastic panel of middle grade and YA authors like Sydney Salter and Ann Haywood Leal this Thursday.

Once again Betsy Bird is throwing a Kidlit Drink Night to go along with the conference. I went last year and had tons of fun. Her partner in revelry, Cheryl Klein, will sadly be out of town. But, we’ll live it up in her honor on Friday.

And then back at Books of Wonder on Saturday from 12-2 you can catch the opening of illustrator  John Rocco‘s exhibition of Percy Jackson art. His editor will be there as well talking about the process of developing the art for the series.

Closer to home- SCBWI WWA’s 19th Annual Conference registration is OPEN! I’m so excited! Peter Brown! Jay Asher! Laini Taylor! Mitali Perkins! and LOADS of other great people.  Look! I’m even on there. Under “Distinguished Faculty.” Ha! I’m giving a talk on the very basics of social media for writers and illustrators. People come to the conference from all over, so don’t be shy if you’re not local. Registration is already almost half full- so don’t delay.

Did you register yet??

I had an unplanned blog hiatus there for a while. I don’t know how it is for you, but if I haven’t blogged for a few days I feel like I should post something big, and so I wait for an idea/news/etc. A few more days pass and then it’s been even longer and I get out of the habit. Throw in the holidays, visitors, kittens, flu season- and a month goes by. I’m a girl in a bubble. Or a jello mold. Yes, I’m a pineapple tidbit encased in lime jello.

So, that’s where I’ve been. I’m still overwhelmed and I STILL don’t have anything too important to say, but I want to get back into the habit.

So…

I’m reading the Cybils finalists. So many great stories! I’m a judge for the middle grade fiction category, but I’ve been reading books from the other lists as well. So many awesome stories to be read- like Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest! I just read the ARC for the sequel, The Timekeeper’s Moon. Great stuff!

Congratulations to all the finalists for middle grade fiction:

Captain Nobody
by Dean Pitchford
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Dawn Mooney

Even though he’s smart and capable, Newt is the neglected younger brother of a high school football star, mostly content with sliding through the cracks of life.  Then a couple of events–his older brother ends up in a coma the night of the Big Game and Newt is forced to improvise a Halloween costume–coincide to spur the creation of a new superhero: Captain Nobody. Newt finds that he feels different when in his costume: stronger, more outgoing, more able to handle…well, everything (within reason, of course) that’s thrown his way. Hilarious, fun, and completely charming, this is one superhero that the world can’t do without.
Melissa Fox

Chains
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: melissa

Anderson has taken the historical facts of the American Revolution and given us a new perspective. Chains is told through the eyes of Isabel, a slave girl. Sold after her master dies, Isabel is thrust into the middle of the war where both sides claim they want what is best for her. She passes along messages to the Loyalists only to learn that the only one she can trust to help her gain her freedom is herself. Anderson has presented a story that with the proper foundation can be read, enjoyed and understood by the youngest to the oldest middle-grade student. War is always a tough topic but the details were intricately woven into Isabel’s life.  It can be read as a stand-alone book and yet Anderson has left it open enough for a sequel.
–Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict

Anything But Typical
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Pam W Coughlan

There is much to love in Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Anything But Typical. The writing–in particular the narrative voice–feels so genuine: vulnerable and heartfelt; simple yet beautiful. Almost poetic. The book stars Jason Blake, an autistic hero, who loves to write stories and participate in online forums.  When his parents surprise him with a trip to the Storyboard writing convention, you might think he’d be happy instead of terrified.  But for Jason the thought of meeting his online friend, PhoenixBird, in real life causes nothing but anxiety.  Everyone has moments of insecurity and doubt, and to see these reflected so honestly in Jason feels more than right.
Becky Laney

Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
Random House Children’s Books
Nominated by: jone

Twelve-year-old Ignatius Alderman discovers the “heart of a shepherd” as he helps his grandparents take care of the family ranch when his father is deployed to Iraq. Nicknamed “Brother,” Ignatius is the youngest of five brothers, named for St. Ignatius, and searching for his own gifts, talents and career path. He’s not sure that ranching or military service, the two traditions that dominate his family, are truly his gifts.  And although he learns to live up to his responsibilities, it will take a major crisis for Brother to find his own right road to maturity.

The book is rather quiet, the pacing slow and deliberate, like Brother himself. Even when the crisis comes, it sneaks up on the reader rather than announcing itself with trumpets.  In addition to its coming-of-age theme, Heart of a Shepherd also has lots of little details about ranching life and rural Oregon and the life of a soldier in Iraq and even about chess.  These will capture the young reader who’s interested in any of those subjects and make him pay attention to the larger themes in the book.  This debut novel by author Roseanne Parry is a treat to be savored.
Sherry Early

All The Broken Pieces
by Ann Burg
Scholastic
Nominated by: Laurie Schneider

Matt Pin is haunted by his memories of Vietnam. He was born a bui doi, the dust of life — son of an American GI and Vietnamese mother during the Vietnam War.  He was airlifted out of Vietnam at ten years old, leaving behind his mother and brother.  Through the course of this verse novel, Matt is forced to come to terms with his with his horrifying past and his American present.

The spare, poetic format of the story allows the reader to feel like they have entered Matt’s head and heart. All the Broken Piecesis a gorgeous novel that captures the emotional and physical rubble left in the aftermath of a war. The free verse is incredibly well-written and not a single word is used when it isn’t necessary.  This powerful novel will satisfy even the most anti-poetry readers but many of the verses will remain in the heart and mind of the reader for days afterward.
Sarah Mulhern

Operation Yes
by Sara Lewis Holmes
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Laura Purdie Salas

Operation Yes is a story that revolves around cousins Bo and Gari. Bo’s father is in charge of a military base in the south and Gariâ’s mother is deployed to Afghanistan; so Gari must relocate from Seattle to live with her cousin.  They are both in the same sixth grade class and their teacher teaches in a box about the importance of life outside the box.  What makes this story a standout is how kids can overcome tough times and show adults what they are capable of when they work together.
Kyle Kimmal

Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, The
by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: Augusta Scattergood

Popeye is dreading the boring summer that stretches out before him…until Elvis arrives in a broken-down motor home and the two boys start exploring the back woods, investigating the mysterious Yoo-Hoo boats that come floating down the creek.  Barbara O’Connor’s book manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and still deal with more serious subject matter without veering into Depressing.  This is a rather quiet book for anyone who’s been bored and dreams of having small adventures.
Abby Johnson

*****

Speaking of great middle grade fiction- do you remember a few months ago when Fuse #8 accumulated that massive list of everyone’s favorite picture books? She’s doing it again- with chapter books! Send her your votes for the best chapter books.  I had fun making my favorite picture books list, so I’m going to have to give this some thought.

We are a week away from launching registration for SCBWI Western Washington‘s conference on April 10-11. We just got the poster from the printer yesterday, so I’ll share it with you in a few days, along with more details. It’s going to be a very cool conference.

Did you make any resolutions? I’ve been chewing a few around, but they’re not set in stone yet. Who says you have to start on the 1st? I’m resolving to blog more regularly, and have my primary focus be on middle grade books with author interviews and such. I’m going to give morning writing another shot. I prefer to write at night when I can just go until I’m sleepy, but then I start the next day tired. Maybe if I can get into the groove, it will make me more efficient knowing that I need to wrap things up before the kids need to get ready for their days.

Then I can leave the nights to reading, leisure, and crafty activities. I might “Stay up and make something” as recommended by this poster that glows in the dark and smells like coffee.

I’m getting excited about the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York at the end of the month. Yay!

Last but not least, my sweet husband bought me an iPhone for Christmas. Great googily moogily, I love this thing. Any apps you recommend? Lemme know!

What better way to get back into blogging than Lee Wind & MotherReader‘s 2010 Comment Challenge?

Happy 2010! Bring it on!

I started reading a book with my 6&1/2 year old son a couple of weeks ago. The characters were supposed to be around his age, but it didn’t ring true for me. They were just really snarky and sarcastic in a way that isn’t typical for that age group. I didn’t say anything about it because we like him to develop his own opinions about books, but after a couple chapters he didn’t want to read anymore either. He said the kids were mean. Maybe he and his friends will develop the ability for cutting remarks in short time, but we’re reprieved for now. Right now he still tries to (mostly) be sweet and gets taken aback when people are rude. I know the tide is likely to shift soon, so I’m trying to soak it all in while I can.

It’s not all sunshine and fluff, though. Take Halloween, for example. We had a few years there when he wanted to be nothing more vicious than the cutest of cats. This year he wanted to be a stormtrooper, but his school allowed neither blasters nor masks (or anything “scary”). So, he decided he wanted to be a zombie “With lots of leaking blood! Leaking everywhere! Smeared and dripping!” he said. This from the boy who had nightmares about the chickens in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie.

He’s afraid of CGI chickens, but this summer during one weird afternoon in the desert he did this-

tiger

He’s standing on a big box feeding a big tiger while the other one growled and snarled.

He also did this-

import

and this-

snake

His dad was nearby, ready to wrestle any attacking reptiles away from curious fingers while yours truly watched from far, far away and tried to work out  the distance to the closest margarita. Scared of cartoon chickens, not of giant snakes. Check. It’s an age of fascinating contradictions.

The blood-leaking zombie probably qualified as too scary for the delicate nerves of his school administrators, so we compromised with a last minute X-wing flying weapon-less Luke Skywalker costume. Everyone was happy.

Use the force, Luke.

Last year I would not have predicted a request for a zombie ensemble, so maybe next year he’ll be spouting sarcastic retorts like a fourteen year old. I hope not, but who knows? Sometimes it helps to have your very own live-in case study kids, but you have to take it with a grain of salt, too. My kids are pretty typical, I guess, but there’s a big wide gamut, even between the two of them.  His little sister is three years his junior, but she could be requesting a bloody zombie costume next year. It wouldn’t surprise us at all.

My current WIP is early-ish middle grade, so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. My point is that even when you live with kids it can be difficult to write realistic characters that appeal to a broad range of readers, when there’s such a wide spectrum of personalities and development. Wannabe zombies may be polite (for now), but they don’t suffer fools.

How old is your protagonist? Do you ever struggle with age authenticity? How often do you stray from the “typical” X-year-old?

I’m waiting for the rain and wind to let up and my little one to go down for a nap. Then I can go clean up the many chicken feathers that the raccoon left behind  when he decreased our chicken population from 3 to 2 last night. I’m still getting used to the idea of our chickens being pets/food-producers, and now they’re pets/food-producers/food. Gah!

That’s right! All glamour, all the time.

Let’s just focus on the future, ok?

Tomorrow and Sunday I will be on the Children’s Stage at Seattle Bookfest at 3 for wacky Mad Libs. With prizes! It’s a whole weekend of books and local authors and fun. Say hi if you’re there!

While we’re talking about where I’ll be when… I’ll be at the 2010  SCBWI Winter Conference January 29th-31st in New York City.  I was there last year, and had a great time (here’s the recap). Registration starts on October 28th!

If you have a something that is submission-ready, you might want to seriously consider signing up for the intensives on the 29th. I’m not sure how the illustrator intensive works, but for writers it’s like a group critique led by a mystery editor or agent. It’s not cheap, but if you have the scratch, it’s probably worth it. You won’t find out who you’re with until you pick up your badge at the registration table. Last year I was fortunate to have Michael Stearns and Liz Szabla lead my tables (!). They each gave fantastic, useful, different feedback.  There are many, many publishing success stories that sprung from these intensives (Just ask Jill Alexander or Holly Cupala.)

I eventually scrapped that particular manuscript in June, but I started something new in July and I should be wrapping up my rough draft this week (Wheeee!). Just in time for the revision retreat the first weekend of November and maybe the intensive, too.

Did you nominate books for the Cybils? Nominations are closed now, but there are plenty of recommendations.  First round panelists are super busy narrowing the long lists down to short lists. In the middle grade category, that’s where I come in! I’m a second round judge, and in great company. Look!

Panelists (Round I Judges):

Sherry Early, Semicolon
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Abby Johnson, Abby the Librarian
Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader
Becky Laney, Becky’s Book Reviews
Sarah Mulhern, The Reading Zone
Sandra Stiles, Musings of a Book Addict

Round II Judges:

Kimberly Baker, Wagging Tales
Stacy Dillon, Welcome to my Tweendom
Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
David Elzey, Excelsior File
Kerry Millar Shelf Elf

cybilsbling

Any predictions for the short lists? Share ‘em in the comments!

Lots of good news:

Martha Brockenbrough sold a picture book (This news is a couple weeks old, but still awesome.)!

Author/Illustrator Kjersten Anna Hayes got an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition for Children’s/Young Adult fiction. Congratulations, Kjersten!

And this morning it was announced that Grace Lin’s wonderful Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was chosen for Al Roker’s Today Show Kid’s Book Club! Yay, Grace! You can see my interview with Grace about her process making Where the Mountain meets the Moon here.

I’ll have more interviews featuring fab middle grade authors soon, when things slow down a little bit.

And in the random news category: Ground Control to Major Tom You? Scientists are looking for a few good people to spend 520 days on a simulated trip to Mars.  You get a real trip to Moscow, and after a few days you won’t know if you’re on a real space ship or not.

Ok, it’s time for me to go outside, but first I’m going to watch one of my favorite videos ever. Happy weekend, everybody!

So, I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. I asked my friend Laini Taylor for an interview last month about her recently released middle grade novel, Dreamdark: Silksinger, and she graciously obliged.  I set the interview aside until her newest book, Lips Touch Three Times was released on October 1st. I’ve had a case of the blogging blahs, due in part to distractions of the  draft finishing and SCBWI variety. Long story short, two weeks pass.

And what happened?

Lips Touch Three Times becomes a finalist for the National Book Award!

Whoop! When I saw the list yesterday you would have thought someone won the lottery by the way I reacted (editor’s note: I can be very animated in real life.). But it’s even better than the lottery, isn’t it? Because lotteries are based on chance, and the National Book Awards are not. They’re based on talent and merit, and Laini and Jim are chock full. They’re sweet, lovely people, too, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

lainijim

So anyway, I wish I had asked her more questions about Lips Touch! I don’t want to bother her now since I have a feeling her email inbox is a little full, and if I call it might wake sweet little two-month-old Clementine up. Oh, well. Silksinger is equally fantastic. Pick them both up, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

WT: Tell us about Dreamdark: Silksinger!

LT: Dreamdark: Silksinger is the sequel to my first novel, Dreamdark: Blackbringer, but it can also be read as a stand-alone (of course I recommend reading both!) Both are fantasy-adventure for upper middle grade (ages 8-12), and are sophisticated enough for teen and adult readers too. They’re about faeries, but not dainty flowery faeries. My faeries are tiny but fierce, warriors and devil-hunters with powerful magic.

WT: Your faeries kick ass. What made you want to create this book?

LT: Thank you! I have five books planned out in the Dreamdark series, and I came up with the basic plot of Silksinger when I was about halfway through writing Blackbringer. It changed a lot in the actual writing, but the character of Whisper has stayed true to that initial inspiration — a faerie who can weave silk by singing, and creates flying carpets that way.

silksinger

WT: How different was your final draft from your first draft? Was the plot consistent? Any surprises?

LT:  Since I’m a compulsive perfectionist, I revise as I go, and I never end up with a true “first draft” — not a quick, messy one, anyway. It takes me a long time to get through a “first draft” and each chapter is generally revised many times before I proceed, and I reconceive the plot as I go, then backtrack and even start over. So by the time I get to “the end,” what I have is a draft that is already fairly polished. I’ve tried writing fast, loose first drafts, and it doesn’t really work for me — so far, anyway! Maybe one day!

WT: Huge congratulations on the birth of your lovely daughter, Clementine! How has parenthood impacted your writing?

LT:  Thank you! Well, we’re still working all that out :-) Jim and I both work at home, so we have a lot of flexibility with our schedules and can take turns with Clementine. I’m trying to adjust my schedule a little to work at night, which has never been my prime creative time (I get sleepy and dippy late at night). I’ve heard that having kids makes one more efficient, and I’m trying to make that true of myself. Fingers crossed!

WT:  You collaborate with your husband, illustrator Jim DiBartolo (recently dubbed Gentle Bad-Ass Bohemian Warrior Daddy by Ben Watson).  At what point in the process do you begin working together?

LT:  (Love that title, Ben!) In all three of my novels so far that Jim has illustrated, he’s worked from the finished (or almost finished) manuscripts. With the [secret] project we’re working on now, it’s more of a back-and-forth where the text and images are much more closely interrelated and interdependent. We’re having a lot of fun with it!

WT:  You have a YA novel, Lips Touch Three Times, released this month. Did you work on Silksinger and Lips Touch simultaneously?

lipstouchLT:  No. I wrote Lips Touch first. I had sent the manuscript of Blackbringer to my editor Timothy Travaglini, and while I was waiting to get my first-ever editorial letter back from him, I began writing short pieces for fun. Three of those pieces were the stories in Lips Touch (I realized I kept writing about kissing, and Jim had the idea that those kissing stories could be a book!). I started writing Silksinger after the major revisions on Blackbringer were done.

WT:  You’ve mentioned that you enjoy revising a manuscript. Why?

LT:  Ah, revising. First drafts are the hardest part for me: you’re creating something from nothing. What’s harder than that? I love to mess around with language, and my perfectionist brain finds revising very rewarding: taking something that already exists and making it better.

WT:  What’s made the biggest impact on your relationship with the writing community? Conferences? Blogging? Why?

LT:  Gosh. Both have been hugely important to my writing life. Before I started going to SCBWI conferences and blogging, I felt alone and entirely baffled by the mysteries of publishing. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about writing, and I didn’t know anything about publishing at all. Now, having made so many wonderful friends (not just writers, but also agents, editors, publishers, art directors, etc) both through conferences and online, publishing has been demystified and writing feels like a “real job”. Besides that, the friendships are just so rich, the people are so wonderful, they have made our lives feel larger and more colorful!

WT:  What are you working on now? Any more Faeries of Dreamdark?

LT:  I absolutely plan to continue the Dreamdark series, but right now I’m at work on several other projects: a YA novel, and something secret that Jim and I are doing together. All I’ll say about that is that it’s for younger kids, and is in a very different style than what we’ve done so far.

WT: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

LT:  Well, the answer to this question has completely changed for me. Before I might have said: reading, baking, painting, getting together with writer friends, and traveling. And that’s all still true! But my #1 favorite pastime now is just cuddling Clementine, preferably with Jim too :-)

WT: What have you enjoyed reading recently?

LT: I recently read Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, and found it just as amazing as everyone says. Highly recommended! Also, Hunger Games and Catching Fire are fantastic.

Thanks, Laini! And Congratulations!! nbafinalist

It’s time to nominate your favorite books for the Cybils!

cybilsbling

Then, go pick up a copy of Laini Taylor and Jim DiBartolo‘s Lips Touch Three Times, available today. Why should you pick it up? Because I read the ARC, and it’s wonderful.  Because their editor, Arthur Levine, spontaneously cheered when reading an excerpt at the YA Buzz panel at BEA. Because Laini and Jim are made out of awesome. I’ll post a little interview with Laini in the next few days.

lipstouch

Yay! SCBWI’s own Aaron Hartzler has sold his YA memoir, Rapture Practice, to Little Brown to be published in 2011 (via PW Children’s Bookshelf).

If you’re in Seattle, mark your calendar for October 24-25 for the newly resurrected Bookfest. I’ll be on the Secret Garden KidsStage hosting some crazy MadLibs on Saturday and Sunday, because Penguin is celebrating 50 years of filling in the blanks with silliness. So, stop by- but leave the rotten tomatoes at home. I hear Martha Brockenbrough is hosting a Grammar Bee as well. Fun stuff!

I have a little bet going with that very same Martha B. to finish my rough draft by the end of the month, so I’ll be going now.

I write stories for kids while volunteering as the Assistant Regional Advisor and Conference Coordinator for the western Washington chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

I live in Seattle with my family and a small zoo of animals. I drink copious amounts of coffee and assign complicated life stories to passing strangers. I'm currently working on a middle grade novel.

There's a wee bit more on my website. You can also follow me on twitter.

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