Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Shout-Outs - Rejection Letters of Awesome

My amazing CP Kristen Hilty, whose blogs over HERE at The Monkey Patch, is running a "Rejection Letter Tally" contest over at her blog. It got me thinking:

Rejection letters really aren't that bad.

Sure, they represent another name to cross off your list, another place where your book won't find a home - at least, not this draft of it.

But they also represent a growing network of people who understand who you are and what you do. They mean that you're getting your name, and your work, out there. They represent names to add to the growing list of people who you can send your work to in the future, when you are a stronger writer and your manuscripts are even better than they are now.

So, here's to sending out your work. Here's to opening yourself to the possibility of another rejection letter: because you're also opening yourself to the possibility that some day down the line, something wonderful is going to happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Read a Banned Book Today

So I read on Lisa Asanuma's blog yesterday that the last week of September is Banned Books Week. If you're like me, then the first thing that comes to mind when you read that is the recent censorship of Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, in which the "N-word" was replaced with the word "slaves" in a misgiuded attempt to protect the innocent eyes and minds of the current generation from the horrors of racism. Because, you know, that's waaaay better than talking to them about racism and educating them about healthy attitudes towards our fellow human beings and what lessons we can learn from the past, especially since we're sooo far beyond that now. It's not like anybody ever talks openly about hating Muslims or anything. *ahem* (In case you weren't sure, that was some pretty heavy sarcasm there.)

But to get back to the point, I expected to find HUCKLEBERRY FINN in the list.

HOWEVER, there were, for me anyway, some real shockers on the list of banned books. Like Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, banned because of its accounts of his having a child out of wedlock and making advances towards younger women. Neither of which I knew about before now, but that doesn't change the fact that he contributed enormously to America. I can't believe his autobiography was actually banned at one point.

Or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, banned at one time for its racist attitude towards Native Americans. (See my comments about HUCKLEBERRY FINN above.)

But most shocking to me is the news that the HARRY POTTER series has been banned from some schools in the US for advocating wizardry and witchcraft.

Umm... Yeah. I think you know where I'm going with this one.

Suffice to say that while I respect every parent's right to guide their children's reading choices, I do not in any way, shape, or form support the idea that a book should be banned wholesale from any school, library, bookstore, city, country, hillock, or any other place. I believe in the free and peaceful exchange of ideas through conversation and printed matter. In other words, banning books = seriously bad.

So in honor of Banned Books Week, I'm reading a few banned books. On my TBR pile for this week are Lois Lowry's THE GIVER, John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and if I have time, George Orwell's 1984 (which I've already read, but it's a book that bears re-reading). I'm already reading HARRY POTTER, so let's throw that one on the pile, too. (I know. I'm a little behind. But I was waiting until they were all out to save myself from the anguish of having to wait a year between books to find out what would happen next. That's my line, and I'm sticking to it.)

Check out the list on Lisa's blog HERE (because I don't want to steal for my blog a list that she clearly worked hard to find or compile), and tell me:

Are there any surprises on this list? More importantly, what banned book will you be reading?

Monday, September 26, 2011


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger, because she wants to give Middle Grade fiction the attention it deserves out here in the blogosphere. And I agree!

So this week, I'm spotlighting a real favorite of mine: THE CITY OF EMBER, by Jeanne DuPrau.

Here's the back copy: Citizens of Ember shall be assigned work at twelve years of age...

Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworks laborer, which means she'll be working in damp tunnels deep underground.

Doom Harrow draws messenger - and asks Lina to trade! Doon wants to be underground. That's where the generator is, and Doon has ideas about how to fix it. For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness at bay. But now the lights are beginning to flicker...

I loved so much about this book. I love the way the characters come to life. Lina and Doon are both so well thought out and fleshed out and consistent that I was rooting for them the whole way.

Additionally, there's a mystery element to this, and it's pitched just right: not so easy that my son felt insulted when he was reading it, and not so hard that my he couldn't figure it out. It was just enough for him to think about and he was able to make the discoveries either with Lina and Doon, or just barely ahead of them enough to root for them. Finding a book that does this well for this age group is tough, so I really appreciate it when I do.

Even more, this is a book that stays with you for a while. It raises questions about what it is to be a good citizen, what it is to be a good person, and what it means to wield power over others. It explores how even the best of intentions can, over time, go horribly wrong, and how individuals can make it into something positive again. It gets young minds asking some really good questions.

Finally, I loved the ending. I thought it was perfect. It wrapped up just enough to satisfy the reader, but not so much that anyone's intelligence was going to be insulted. It left things on just the right note, and I love it when I find a book that does that.

In short, this book is awesome. My son and I couldn't read it fast enough.

And for even more MMGM, check out the faboo list-o-links at the bottom of Shannon Whitney Messenger's post HERE.

Also: my amazing PB CP Kristen Hilty is doing a contest and giveaway over at her blog The Monkey Patch. Go HERE to check it out!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Critique Isn't Just for Writers

I had an experience this week wherein I had to give some really negative feedback to a person. It wasn't a writer-person - it was in another arena of my life - and I realized as I prepared for this meeting that if I had had to give this feedback three years ago, I would have done it differently.

More harshly.

There might even have been tears.

But this time, without even thinking about it, I planned what I had to say so that I sandwiched the negative stuff (which was HUGE) between some pretty positive stuff.

It was a really good, really productive meeting. We parted ways with an action plan, and a plan to meet again to follow up.

I have benefited so much from my writing life.

How has what you have learned as a writer bled into your life?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reposting for MMGM: BURN by Alma Fullerton

This is a repost. I originally did this review on a Friday as a Shout-Out, because I know Alma and she is kick-ass awesome But this book really deserves some MMGM attention.

I read a book last night that pretty much took my breath away. It almost made me cry, and books do not make me cry.

BURN, by Alma Fullerton

I have known Alma for a couple of years now. She's the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Canada East, and she was one of the first people to encourage me to keep writing. As a moderator of one of my critique groups, she continues to encourage me, as well as many, many others. And she's a damn fine writer.

Things I loved about this book:

- It includes a, honest portrayal of an autistic sibling, and the relationship between her and the MC (who is the older sister) is bang-on.

- It addresses how having a child with special needs can affect each family member in different ways, both good and bad. In other words, it tells the truth about families like this.

- The decision that the mother makes early on in the book, and the decisions that the father makes throughout the book, are all things that I can identify with and that I have wrestled with in my journey as a mother who made the choice to stay at home.

- It gives hope to children who, for whatever reason, are having to grow up too fast. It lets them know that they are not alone.

It it rare to find a book that resonates simultaneously with both middle-grade readers and their parents, but this one does it.

Go read BURN. And then, go here to visit Alma's website and find out about all her other great books! And then visit Shannon Whitney Messenger's blog for links to more MMGM love!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Fun: Happy Days are Here Again

Well, if you like network TV, they are. *grin*

Next week marks the return of all my Must-See-unplug-the-phone-put-the-kids-to-bed-early shows: The Mentalist (Thursday nights at 10 on CBS), Grey's Anatomy (Thursday nights at 9 on ABC), Castle (Monday nights at 10, also on ABC), and Glee (Tuesday nights at 8 on FOX). (Okay, not so much Glee anymore, but it's still pretty good. If they can get back the quirky humor and get out of the formulaic rut they've fallen into, they'll be back on top. It would also be good to improve the dubbing of all the singing parts. But I digress.)

How about you guys? Do you watch network TV? What are you excited to see the return of?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Writing is Like Exercise

I spent the first couple of years of my writing life just writing whenever I felt like it or had a few hours in the evenings. I'd go for days at a time when I didn't write anything, then go for days at a time when I wrote tons.

But writing is like exercise: if you only do it once in a while, you're not really going to get the same results as if you do it every day. Writing when I felt like it led to a lot of rough or half-written and partially-polished manuscripts.

Recently, I've committed to writing something every day. Not always a lot of something - sometimes just a line or two on an envelope, then crossed out and revised over and over on that same envelope until it's perfect - but every day, I write something, or I revise something, or I do both.

Even when I've got a mountain of dishes to wash.

Even when I don't feel inspired.

Even when I'm so exhausted that one blink lasts for five minutes.

I turn on the computer, or I get some paper, and I write.

And after a few minutes of this, I find that I am no longer tired, or distracted, or uninspired.

I see now why so many authors tell us unpublished writers to treat writing like a job. Because exercising that writing muscle of sitting down every day and focusing your mind on one thing - your story - develops the muscle, until getting into the flow becomes easy and natural. Just like lifting a 5-lb weight for 40 reps every day will develop that muscle until lifting the weight becomes an easy job, writing every day has, for me, made it easier to write.

But I know there are published authors out there who will disagree, so I want to know what you guys are doing, and if it's working.

Do you write every day, or only when you're inspired? What works for you?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Winner, Winner, Bookish Dinner

It's winner announcement time, folks! And I don't have a lot of time, so here it is:

The winner of one signed copy of FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater is:

*throws virtual confetti*

And the winner of one copy of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW by Nathan Bransford is:

*sets off virtual fireworks*

Email me with your addresses ASAP ladies, so I can get your prizes into the mail to you. If I haven't heard from you in TWO WEEKS, I'll have to re-draw, because I just don't have room for this stuff in my house anymore. It's too much amazingness for one office to hold.

See you all tomorrow!


SO. The new school year is in full swing, which means a new schedule for me. It means I have to work in a lot of "more" into my day: more travel time, more time planning and making lunches and snacks, more time ironing school uniforms, more time volunteering in my kids' classrooms.

More, more, more.

Unfortunately, there aren't MORE hours in the day, which  means there has to be less of something. And that something is Internet Time. Basically, in order to make sure I get my book done (because that's what this whole thing is about, right?), I need to devote my evenings to writing and critiquing and submitting and pre-submission research. I just have to get a lot more disciplined about that. It's what needs to be done.

So, I will be BlogPlusGoodreadsTweeting only in the few mornings that I am not helping out at my kids' school. You'll still find my regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday posts, but I won't be able to get around to as many of your blogs as I have in the past. I'm sorry to have to limit my time like this, but it's just what I have to do.

However, I promise you this: I will comment on every single blog of all the people who comment here. I've regretted not being so good about that in the past, so I am committing to being better about it in the future. You come visit me, and I'll visit you. And whomever else I can squeeze in.

In the meantime, if any of you invent a way to live without sleep that doesn't require an equal number of hours of mediation or the ingestion of substances with harmful side-effects, let me know ASAP, okay? 'Cause I could really use something like that.

Also: I know I owe you winner announcements for FOREVER and JACOB WONDERBAR, and I'm sorry I've been slow about that. Look for a special post TOMORROW. Woo-hoo!

And I'll leave you with this, since we all need a little David Bowie in the morning:

What changes have you had to make recently?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday R.A.P.-up!

It's Random Act of Publicity week*, so I'm joining in with some love for a Chapter Book series that I've recently read and loved: IVY + BEAN, by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (Sorry for the lack of pictures and links; my right-click popup menu, which I use to do things like copy URLs, isn't working for some reason right now. I'm hoping this computer breaks for good soon so I can justify the expense of buying a Mac.)

Things I Love: Ivy and Bean aren't girly girls, and their adventures will appeal to boys as much as to girls. Speaking as the mother of two boys, this is a major plus. Also, I could see the punch line coming, but it was in a delicious anticipation kind of way, not a oh-no-this-is-supposed-to-be-a-surprise-and-the-author-didn't-hide-it-well kind of way. I actually giggled while I was reading this. Out loud. In front of other people! I love books like this, and there just aren't enough of them around.

This is not your run-of-the-mill, book-packaged chapter book. It demonstrates attention to detail, dedication to the emotional truth of the seven-year-old mind and heart, and excellent writing. You need to read this book, and then you need to give it to a kid you know.

Find it in your local independent bookstore, or online at in Canada or in the US.

What book have you read lately and loved?

*You thought I was going to post a vlog of myself rapping, didn't you? Bide your time, my pretties. We'll get to that eventually.

EDITED TO ADD: This is the last day for my US readers to enter to win a copy of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford! I can't paste a link because my computer is having issues, but if you look in my archives in the sidebar, you should find it in the list of August entries. Happy entering, and good luck!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Deconstructing the Deterioration of the USPS

If any of you follow me on Twitter or Google+, you might know that the United States Postal Service is on the verge of default. You can read the details here, but the bottom line is that they've been spending more than they've been earning (mostly on payroll and benefits and keeping tiny, not-often-used offices open) for years and it's built up, so now they need to come up with a cool $5.5 billion. (BILLION! THIS MONTH! I know!) So, they're asking Congress to "take drastic action to stabilize its (the USPS') finances."

In other words, they're asking for a bailout.

(Let's just say, for the record, that I'm not a fan of bailouts. It feels like enabling, in the way than the wife of an alcoholic enables his drinking by buying him more booze.)

How is this possible? I'm not exactly a globe trotter, but I've lived in a few different places, and I've never lived in a place without some sort of national postal service. It's almost synonymous with having a government that can function on its own, in my mind. It's like graduating: you're a grown-up country now, time for your own national postal service. It seems like such a basic thing, like buying your own toothpaste. Why can't America make theirs work anymore?

Of course, this brings up questions of how things got this way, and how it can be fixed. There's the fact that people just don't send good old-fashioned letters anymore. (Well, except for editors at publishing houses. The paper rejection letter is alive and well, and may be the only business the USPS gets these days. Also, children's magazines.) There's the fact that UPS and FedEx compete with the USPS for business. There are all the tiny offices that are visited once a week by Granny Maple and her six cats, but still cost money to keep open and staffed. And of course, there's the "No-Layoffs" clause that was signed recently to placate the Postal Workers' Union, which I think was a mistake. If your employer just doesn't have enough business to employ you, then I don't think you really have any business insisting that you have a right to continue to be employed by them. A good recommendation letter and decent severance package would be more reasonable.

Will the USPS ditch the "No-Layoffs" clause, end Saturday delivery service, close under-used offices, and open counters in Wal-Mart, akin to Canada Post's counters in the 7-Eleven and PharmaPlus? Maybe. All these things are things they implement in Canada, among other places.

But here's the real question: will that even make a difference? Or is this just a sign of things to come in another 5-10 years' time for the rest of the world? Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the concept of the National Post Office? Will this be the thing that finally drives publishing house editors to accept emailed queries? What will happen to my kid's Highlights subscription?

What do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor/Labour Day!

Ah, summer. Glorious, sunny, thunderstormy, carefree, fresh-aired, long days that fill my hours with butterflies and the sound of running feet pounding the grassy plain of my backyard. I love summer. It always makes me sad to see it go, and I like to send it off with a bang.

Tomorrow my kids go back to school, so we've got a day of fun activities planned. Hubbles and I are taking them to the annual Toronto Air Show, and we're going to spend some time with relatives and generally have a good time.

Don't forget that this is the last day to win a signed copy of FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater - if you spread the word, I'll love you forever. (See what I did thar?) And next week, I'll have another MMGM post!

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Shout-Outs!

So, my extraordinary crit buddy Lindsey Carmichael, who blogs at Ten Stories Up, has a short story in the anthology Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, which you can find HERE.

And make sure you go check it out, because the stories will be full of magic and mystery and wonderfulness. If the rest of them are even almost as good as Lindsey's, this anthology will be wicked-good. Plus, the cover rocks, in a wonderfully fantastically twisted (literally) way.

GO, Lindsey! And make sure to go to her blog and congratulate her, guys!

Happy Friday!

Edited to add: Due to migraine complications, I'm not up to promoting my contests in the interwebz today, so I've EXTENDED THE DEADLINE to win a SIGNED copy of Maggie Stiefvater's FOREVER, the brilliantly satisfying conclusion to the SHIVER trilogy, over HERE, until 11:59pm PST on MONDAY, SEPT.5th. So keep spreading the word!