Thursday, September 3, 2015

In the Mail!

FIRST: I've been having some problems with the internet at my house. Something caused a short in the phone wires, so the landline and internet went *poof* for a week. But we had a VERY nice man named Scott from Expenet Communications* in to fix it this morning, and he did an amazing job, so the blog is back in business.
I answered a knock at the door the week before last, and GUESS WHAT THE POSTMAN HAD FOR ME!
A box from your publisher can only mean one thing...
Of course, I had to spend some time playing with different ways to stack them up.
Swirly spiral style...
All stacked up!
My publisher told me that BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS will be available in September. That’s THIS MONTH!! Aaaaaaah!
To celebrate the release of my FIRST BOOK (!!), I’ll be holding a fun contest and giveaway, so watch this space!

Meanwhile, I’m going to go back to stroking that gorgeous** cover
Me and My Book!
Photo taken by Kristi Penny
How is your week going?
*Scott Hinchcliffe is a miracle worker who is very nice, very fair, and who likes to talk politics. In other words, he is my kind of telephone repair person. If you live in the GTA and you have phone issues, you should call him.
**Gorgeous is relative. I have argued on this blog that mosquitoes are gross, and even that the very photo of a mosquito that graces this cover is gross. But at this point, any cover with my name on it is a gorgeous cover.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weighing In on the NEW New York Times Bestseller Lists

It probably isn’t news to anyone reading this that the NYT Children’s Bestseller Lists are changing again, but in case it IS news, you can read the original announcement here, and then come back once you’re done.
Now that we’re all caught up: what does this mean?
Honestly, I don’t know if it means anything. That is, it doesn’t mean anything to ME, except that maybe one day my book will have a better chance of making it onto the list than it did under the old system, which means my future publishers and I have marginally better odds of being able to put New York Times Bestseller across the top of the cover. (We’re talking TINY margins of improvement. Like, really, not much. Like, out of the 5,700-and-some-odd books published and the many thousands of books continuing to be sold every week, only ten will make it onto that list, so SMALL SMALL ODDS.)
But I honestly don’t know if it means anything beyond that.
Some people are excited about the changes because having a list for (usually new) hardcover titles and a separate list for (usually backlisted) paperbacks means more discoverability for newer titles... But we’re talking about a list of ten titles. The range for discoverability is still pretty small. As discoverability tools go, the NYT Bestselling Children's Books List has always been, and always will be, an inadequate tool. Additionally, I don’t see very much time passing before publishing catches on to the fact that re-issuing backlisted titles  with strong sales as “special edition hardcovers” can get that same title listed on TWO NYT lists, which just puts us back where we are now with one or two names dominating both lists instead of just the one list.
And if we’re talking about the NYT list as merely a status report - as a reporting of facts, specifically the facts about which books are currently selling the most copies in any given week - then what this does is give us an idea of which new books are doing really well in their first few weeks after release. Which is nice to know, I guess, if you want to write to trends, which we all know is a bad idea.* It’s also nice to know which books have staying power. If publishers are marketing the bejeezus out of their new hardcover titles and someone’s paperbacks from five years ago are still outselling them, that says something about the quality of those old books, and maybe also about the public temperature in terms of the willingness of the general public to explore new and untested waters vs clinging to the familiar and comfortable. And there is something to be learned from that. (This is something we lose with the new switch - the ability to compare sales of new books with sales of older titles.)
The NYT List is also good for marketing purposes, in a “let’s examine this after the fact” kind of way. If there are more than ten awesome books coming out that week,** but only ten make it onto the list, it can be helpful to look at those ten and then look at what their authors and publishers and PR people did to market those books that the authors and publishers and PR people maybe didn’t do for the awesome books out there that DIDN’T make it onto the list. There are ALL KINDS of factors in what makes a book a blowout success, from cover design to advertising to book tours to blurbs to ALL THE OTHER THINGS. There is the factor of the author’s authorial history - did their debut win a big award? Did an earlier title come out this weekend as a film adaptation? Is this the third in an already best-selling series? 
This stuff makes a difference. It sucks a little that it makes a difference, because a) none of it has anything to do with the actual words inside the actual book, and b) apart from author-initiated marketing, pretty much all of it is outside the author’s control. But nevertheless, for better or worse, it makes a difference. Having a book on the NYT Bestseller List is an incredible achievement, and all the books on that list deserve to be there - but so do some books that never get there, and that’s just math. There are ten slots each week. There are a lot more than ten books coming out each week. You can’t control that.
And that’s the thing. There is only one thing that you, the author, can control. One. You can write an awesome book. You can write a book that is so awesome, people will press it into the hands of everyone they know. You can write a book that is so awesome, people will write fan fiction about it, because they can’t let go of those characters. You can write a book that is so awesome, people will wait in line overnight to be the first to read the next one.
So forget about the New York Times Bestseller List. Just write your book. Make it amazingly good. Pick the right words, and put them in the right order, and make it irresistible. If your book is irresistible, you won’t have to worry about the NYT Bestseller List, because people will buy your irresistible book.
And that’s what it’s about.

*NEWSFLASH: In case you’re new to the writing-for-publication scene and you haven’t come across this information yet, writing to trends is a very bad idea. By the time you recognize a trend, it’s too late for your book to ride that wave, because by the time you draft it and revise it and revise it and the publisher gets a cover designed and all the rest, the trend will be over. Just write the book that you need to write, and write it now.
**There are ALWAYS more than ten awesome books coming out in any given week. There isn't enough money in the world to buy all the awesome books every week. Unless you're Donald Trump, in which case you're too busy spending money on Other things. Which is a shame, if you ask me, but nobody is asking me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#LA15SCBWI Conference Round-Up, Part I: The Nitty Gritty

I came home from the #LA15SCBWI Summer Conference last Tuesday morning, and I slept basically all day, all night, and for part of the next day. I was essentially a walking bag of skin and bone and muscle with a jumble of sluggish goo for brains for a few days. That’s what “processing” looks like, I guess.
The conference was amazing. It was inspiring and exhausting and wonderful. There is nothing like being surrounded by people who write, and having a solid chunk of five days to think and talk about nothing other than the craft of story. It crystallized my understanding that what I need right now is to create for myself the space to write - both a physical space, and mental space from my everyday responsibilities, where I can focus on nothing but story.
There were too many key moments to share them all, but here are a few highlights:
Mem Fox read her books to us, and it was awesome. You are NEVER too old to be read to. On writing, she said, “It is the emotion generated from an original felt event that drives a book to be born. The readers will feel a certain emotion because the author felt it first.”
Also from Mem Fox: cadence and rhythm are vital. She said this in reference to picture books, but really, I think they’re equally important in novels. Cadence and rhythm are what make the story’s voice distinct; they’re what make a book beautiful.
Speaking of voice: VOICE. Voice, voice, voice, voice, voice. Voice is more important than basically everything, because it’s the hardest thing for an editor to fix. (Although a strong voice with no story to tell is still going to get a “no” from most editors.)
Dan Santat had a wonderful thing to say for those of us still struggling to find our “voice”, which is this: “Be aware of your tastes and interests. This will become your voice.” I had never thought of it this way, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Because who are we, apart from our tastes and interests? Those are the means through which other people come to know us.
Meg Wolitzer gave an excellent keynote that held more one-liners and tweetable quotes than I’ve ever heard contained in one keynote. Among them was this thought that I think holds within it the reason that so many publishers say that they want a book that sits at the intersection between literary and commercial fiction: “The thing you love about a book isn’t plot; it’s character.” And if you think about it, it’s true. A book with a rollicking plot is a fun read, but the books that grab you and hold onto you and worm their way into your soul are the ones with great characters.
Varian Johnson talked at length about the importance of placing a higher priority on our work, on dedicating time to the pursuit of the creative life. It was a good reminder for me, that the people who get things done are the people who prioritize getting these things done.
Molly Idle reminded us that creativity can only happen in a safe space.
Dan Yaccarino reminded us that “Good work is never perfect.”
Stephen Fraser reminded us to let joy spill out into our work, because, as he put it, “Joy is the soil in which books are grown.”
Kwame Alexander - KWAME ALEXANDER, who is one of the great orators of our time and who you all need to go hear speak - reminded us that “A loss is inevitable, like rain in spring. True champions learn to dance in the storm.”
And everywhere, everywhere, I heard two themes:
One, that diversity is vital, and that representing all characters as complicated and deep and imperfect human beings who don’t easily slot into stereotypes is essential to writing not only diverse books, but all books.
And Two, that teamwork is key: not only between an author and an editor, but between an agent and an editor and an author and an agent. Communication among everyone, from the outset of the project, is an important part of what determines whether a book will sink or swim. Someone once told me that an author has to have the guts to stick up for what they think their book should be, even when the editor disagrees. But I think it’s actually more important to find an editor who won’t disagree to begin with, who truly shares your vision for the book, and then to trust that person when they say that your book isn’t achieving that vision yet and this subplot or character point might be the reason for that.
There was so much more than this. SO MUCH MORE. The conference was amazing, and I kinda-sorta-almost want to only go to this conference every year for the rest of forever. (Except I love my SCBWI CanadaEast friends, and they run good conferences too, and going to NYC to see my agent and go to a conference at the same time is probably a good idea, so I’m probably NOT going to only go to the LA conference every year forever...)
Of course, I was able to see many friends at this conference. Like my brilliant and amazing critique-partner-for-life, Lindsey Carmichael.
Lindsey at the Awards Banquet on Sunday.
Even geniuses have to eat.

But I’m going to have to save the “friends” portion for another post. I have a novel to write.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I woke up yesterday morning to a Google alert about a company that claimed to be offering a PDF of my book, BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS.
You know, the book that isn’t out yet? The book that no-one except my publisher, my co-author, the printer, and myself should have a PDF of?
There’s nothing like a little e-piracy to jump-start your week, you know? UGH.
So, I forwarded the email to my publisher, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, so that they can look into it and send whatever legal letters they need to send. If you ever find yourself in this situation, ALWAYS LET YOUR PUBLISHER KNOW. Also let your AGENT know, if you have an agent. They can tell you if you need to do anything and what that “anything” should be, and also, it’s just good for everyone involved to know about all the things going on with your book.
ANYWAY. My publisher is looking into it.
They said that my author copies are on their way to me! And THEY SENT PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE!
Photo by Winston Stilwell @winstonstilwell

My book is real! And it is book-shaped!

So, my week is pretty much made. How is your week going?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paper Towns Challenge

I’m in LA!
I’m here for the #LA15SCBWI Summer Conference, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here! There are SO MANY sessions... I’m focusing on craft, and WOW. Meg Wolitzer... Varian Johnson... Jordan Brown... Julie Strauss-Gabel...
I got here Thursday night, and since I’m here for a kidlit and YA writer’s conference,  I thought the best way to spend the evening would be by watching an adaptation of a YA novel with my someone who really knows her YA.
So my critique partner, Lindsey Carmichael, and I went to see Paper Towns together.
I have to say straight out that I loved the book, and I thought the movie was an excellent adaptation of the book. Also, seeing the movie with all its elements laid out on screen - the sidekick (who happens to be black), the binge drinking, the misogyny, the Confederate Flag on a t-shirt, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that people are arguing about (did John Green dismantle the trope, or perpetuate it?) - made me realize two things.*
One: One book cannot address All The Things, nor should it.
and Two: I don’t think it’s possible to dismantle a trope as deeply ingrained as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
I want to discuss Point Two at greater length with you guys, but first, you have to see the movie.
So that’s your challenge.
Some time in the next two weeks, go and see the delightful hilarity that is Paper Towns. (Seriously, it’s a GREAT adaptation.) Let me know in the comments to this post that you’ve seen it. And then we’ll talk about the mystique of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

*Okay, more than two things. But I’m writing this at 1:40 in the morning and two things are all I can think of right now. And two things are enough for one blog post, anyway.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Forward: Books in the Wild!

It's Friday!

TGIF, guys. This has been a really heavy week - both for me personally, because TREE PLANTING/rewriting/landscaping/kids/GAAAH, and for humans in North America. I'm compiling my thoughts on the heinous acts of a white supremacist who opened fire on nine people in Charleston, and those thoughts will follow at some point (probably on my tumblr), but for now, I think my blog post on how racism is woven throughout America's narrative will suffice.

And now for some fun!

I took The Kidlets to the bookstore on Monday, and I found some awesome books that I've been wanting to sink my claws into. So, of course, I did what anyone would do.

Where are my books? IN THE BOOKSTORE!
I took a selfie! Because, CRAZYWRITERLADY.

I was really excited to see my friend Debbie Ohi's book on the top shelf at the bookstore. This is her first solo picture book, and I am SO excited for her! (And, it's an awesome book. It's about a boy who loves books, and one day he notices that… DUN DUN DUNNNNNN… is books are disappearing! The culprit and the solution have to be some of the cutest plot twists ever. You guys need to go out and buy it, because, seriously. It's adorable.)

And look, look what else I found?

See that book on the far right? The whimsical-looking one? I have been waiting for Maggie Stiefvater's latest addition to her MG titles for aaaaaaaages. I love it when my favorite YA authors write books that I can share with The Kidlets.

And then I got to the bus stop and pulled out the IndigoKids Summer Reading Guide that one of the store people put in my bag, and look what I saw on the cover?

See that book there? The one on the bottom right-hand corner? The one that is awesome? I bought Kevin Sylvester's book, Neil Flambe and the Bard's Banquet, as soon as it came out, and Kidlet Number Two (who will henceforth be referred to as "Love Nugget") read it in an afternoon and then asked me if he could try the recipes.

THAT'S RIGHT. RECIPES. I might be even more in love with this series than I was already, and I'm thrilled that Kevin's book is on the cover of the reading guide. It totally deserves to be there, because it is amazing. Go buy it.

So, that's what I'm reading this week. How about you? What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday Writing Wisdom: Plotting Multiple Character Arcs

So, I think Wednesdays will be a good day for writing posts. Alliteration and all that, amirite? Plus, writing is the reason I have this blog, so I should probably talk about it once in a while.

These days, I’m revising my novel, which is told from the point of view of three characters. I don’t want to get into how to do all the POV switching successfully, partly because I’m still figuring that out (although I can talk about the figuring-out process), and partly because that’s a much longer blog post than I have time for right now. Maybe we can get into it after I finish this draft and pass it on to my Beta readers.

I want to talk abut plotting all those character arcs, because if plotting one is hard, plotting three is HOLY MELTING BRAIN, WHAT HAVE I DONE?! It’s a lot. Like, A LOT, a lot. It’s a lot to juggle around inside one brain.

So I take it out of my brain, and I put it down on paper. I like to do this after I’ve finished one draft, because then I have something I can really work with. (And my rough drafts are rough and messy and all-over-the-place awful, and they have my permission to be this way. So I expect to need to do this at this stage.)

So, I have my first (ROUGH) draft in front of me. I've printed it out, because that's how my brain works, but that isn't necessarily a must. I get a stack of index cards, and I go through the draft and make one index card for each scene - whose POV it’s from, the central conflict of that scene, and the progression that character makes in that scene - then I lay them all out in order. (The floor is a good place for this.) Then I pull out three highlighters - one for each of my three main characters - and I put a stripe across each card in the color of the person whose POV that scene is told from. If the main part of the action centers around a character other than the narrator for that scene, I put an additional stripe in that character’s color, but that doesn’t happen that often in this book (so far; this may change. Actually, I think I want to play with that idea... *makes note to self and files it away for later*).

ANYWAY, now I’ve got the whole novel spread out in front of me, and I’ve got nice bright highlighted sections to let me know when stuff is happening for each character. It’s really obvious if I’m ignoring a character for too long, or if one character’s climax comes at the wrong time within the novel’s progression. It’s a good way to pull back and get a big-picture look at what’s going on for each character as the novel progresses.

So, that’s one of my strategies. I hope some of you find it useful.

How about you? How do you plot multiple character arcs? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cover Reveal! Goodies! HUZZAH!

I’m just back from a whirlwind weekend at the SCBWI Canada East conference The Art of Story in Montreal - and what a conference! I saw so many people, and learned SO MUCH, and have so much to share...

But not yet, because I need to decompress and gather photos together and collect my thoughts a bit first. My post-conference post (har har, SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) will come later this week.

In the meantime, guess whose book has a final cover!

It's coming...

This girl's book!

I don't know how covers have gone for you guys, but this cover went through a LOT of changes. A LOT. But boy, do I love this version. Just look at that proboscis! Just look at the hairs on that mosquito! Just look at that blood-filled abdomen!


But I love it. I am giddy with cover love.

And look what the UPS man brought me? GOODIES!

Witness my two-tone gorgeousness!

I ordered this awesome tote bag and hat to promote my book! In case you don't know yet, BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS is the non-fiction book for 7-11 year-olds that I wrote with Kari-Lynn Winters. I got the bag and hat from Vistaprint, and I just LOVE them! Aren’t they gorgeous? (Well, okay - the mosquito isn’t gorgeous. But the MATERIAL is gorgeous! I love the two-tone look.) The tote bag is made of sturdy canvas, and it’s big enough to hold ALL THE THINGS. It’s going to be perfect to bring to school visits! And the hat is just perfect for summer weather!

I am going to be carrying this bag and wearing this hat EVERYWHERE!

To find out more about BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS (my first book!), which is coming SOON, and to pre-order a copy, check it out online at Amazon, Chapters, and Books-A-Million. (You guys! BOOKS-A-MILLION!!!)

Thanks for your support, and thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 19, 2015


You may have noticed that March 17th came and went with no fanfare from me. Which would be normal for most days, except that March 17th was supposed to be the day that my book, BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS, came out.


My co-author Kari-Lynn Winters and I worked really hard on that book. Like, REALLY hard. I lost sleep more times than I care to admit. So did our editors, and the book designer, and everyone else. But unfortunately, things just didn't quite work out. There were layout things and cover things and all kinds of other things, and all the THINGS just took too long.

Sometimes, this happens.

Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, things just don’t go to plan. It's nobody's fault. It's just the way things go.

It’s disappointing, but it’s okay.

I would rather have my name on a great book than a rushed book. I think this is important to remember, for creators everywhere. Producing stuff you're proud of is important.

SO, I’ve been told by my publisher that our new release date will be sometime in JUNE. Just in time to try out the fun activities in the book in the warm summer months! YAAAY! Mark your calendars!

And in the meantime, you can order BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS on Amazon by clicking HERE.

Thanks for your support, and thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When You Wish Upon a Star...

I want to talk with you guys about wishes.

I’m not a particularly superstitious person. I don’t believe that the Universe is out to get anyone, or that the Universe is tilted in anyone’s favor. I do believe that we reap what we sow, but that’s more of an “if you put forward your best self and keep your goals in sight and don’t let the crappy things that happen to you stop you from trying, things will eventually work out in the positive” thing than a Karma or Juju thing.

(Notice that I acknowledge that crappy things happen. They happen to everybody. Nobody’s life is just magically free of crapitude.)

But I totally believe in making wishes.

I wish on everything: falling stars, the first star of the evening, fallen eyelashes, clementine rinds when you peel them off all in one piece, snowflakes

I don’t make wishes because I think that making a wish alone is enough to make something happen. There’s no magic fairy dust that falls on you and changes your reality just because you wished for something. Wishing can’t change the lottery numbers as the machine is popping them out. It can’t make the rain stop, or the temperature go up by ten degrees.

But what wishing CAN do - what it DOES do - is keep you focused. It keeps you moving forward. It reminds you of what you want, so that when the opportunities come, you can take them. And it reminds yo to create opportunities when you can.

Also, it reminds you to keep working for what you want. Emphasis on WORKING. Because working is hard. The discipline is hard to maintain. You need to remind yourself what you’re giving up all this free time for.

Me? I wished for a long healthy life for my kids, which is partly in my (and their) control, and partly up to chance. And I wished to work with an agent. (For about 5 years - yeah. This wishing thing takes TIME.)

Right now, I'm wishing to make a book that is so awesome, people won't be able to help but read it. It might take a while, but I'm gonna keep working on it and wishing for it.

So: wishes. I make them.

What do you wish for?

Monday, March 9, 2015


A while ago, I hinted that I hoped to have some good news to share soon. And then a few posts ago, I mentioned that my trip to New York City for the SCBWI Winter Conference had even more awesome than I was able to include in the post. There's no way you could have known, but those things were connected.

Hee-hee. I know. I'm such a tease.

ANYWAY. You probably want to know what my news is, right?

I bet you do.


Have I drawn this out long enough?

How about now?

Okay, NOW. I have.

Okay, already!

I wanted to wait until all the paperwork was finalized, buuuuut, now that the contract has been signed, I am THRILLED to announce that…

I am now represented by the AMAZING Laura Biagi, of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency!

I queried Laura last September and she requested my full in November. After she read my manuscript, we made an appointment to chat in New York on the day that I arrived for the conference. Chatting with her was fantastic - I could see that she had really thought about my manuscript, and I could also see that she really "got it". She is smart and on-the ball, she's a great communicator, she gets and loves what I'm working on, and I am so, so excited to have her by my side as we plan my career together!

So. Laura Biagi, Agent Awesome. MY AGENT. I can't believe I get to type that.

What is this crazy life?

To celebrate, I'm giving away a free query critique. Comment with your email address for one entry, share (and link to your shares in the comments) for more entries. The winner will be randomly drawn at midnight on Friday, March 13th/Saturday, March 14th.

And as always: you guys have been with me since my earliest days, and your support has kept me going through both light and dark moments. I love and appreciate every last one of you. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

It's a Party!

This is my second blog post in as many days.

I know. Crazy, right?

It’s a little ridiculous. But sometimes, life is just ridiculous.

I’m posting here to direct you to a party! What kind of party? A Facebook party! Which is the best kind, because PAJAMAS, amirite?


Some friends and I have teamed up to put together an event to celebrate our books. Come join me, LE Carmichael, Helaine Becker, and Joan Marie Galat while we SPRING into Science! We’ll have cool links, some science chat, a bit of origami, and, best of all, PRIZES! Including four GRAND PRIZES - one from each of us - for four lucky (randomly drawn) people who email us at the designated Spring Into Science email address posted on the event page.

My prize is this awesome collection of Bloodsucker-inspired cookie cutters. 

These will make the BEST COOKIES!

There’s a horse to represent the horsefly, lips to represent the kissing bug, a butterfly (Did you know there is a blood drinking butterfly? Have I given you nightmares now?), a chick to represent the vampire finch, a fish to represent the candiru, and a vampire bat. Awesome, right? I kind of wish I could keep these for myself. Think of all the possibilities!

The party is all online, so click THIS LINK between 1pm and 5pm TODAY, March 7th.

See you there!

Friday, March 6, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Opposite of Geek, by Ria Voros

It's Friday!

You know what that means: a full work-day of scrambling to get all those things done that you still haven't managed to wrap up before the weekend starts and no-one else will be at the office to take your calls!

Also, it's Book Review Day.

(Okay, Book Review Day is the real reason for Friday. That, and staying up late watching movies and making nomming popcorn.)

I've been participating in Ontario's Forest of Reading Program, which is basically a Readers' Choice award program for Canadian books. This means a Lot of Reading. A LOT. There are seventy books on my TBR list before voting starts in April! I've read a few real gems, so I'll be sharing some of those with you guys on Fridays for the next few weeks.

Most recently, I was delighted to discover The Opposite of Geek, by Ria Voros. Here's the blurb:

A piercing novel about the unnerving process of growing up, and a girl finding her feet.
Gretchen Meyers doesn't know exactly what went wrong, but life in the eleventh grade is beginning to suck. As if having a semi-nudist, food-obsessed family wasn't awkward enough, she has lost her best friend to the fanatical school swim team, and her chemistry grade is so close to negative digits that only emergency tutoring can save it. So far, so high school. Then James/Dean rolls into her life — also known as her zit-faced chemistry tutor James and his slightly less zit-faced cousin Dean. Kind-hearted rebels without a cause, they draw Gretchen out of classroom hell, and briefly the world seems full of possibility.
But everything changes over the course of one awful night.
Bewildered by harsh new emotions of grief and love, Gretchen realizes she must now decide who she wants to be and what it means to be loyal. Written partly in verse, as self-confessed poetry geek Gretchen finds new ways of expressing herself, The Opposite of Geek is a tale of haiku, high school, and heartache. Rich with humour, it explores all the anguished details of teenage life through the words of one girl who is finding her way.

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I mean, I can tell you - I enjoyed it a LOT!! - but that's pretty inadequate. After thinking about it, I can break it down into a few key elements:

Characterization: I love the details with which the author imbues the minor characters. Gretchen's dad is German and her mom is Scottish, which plays out in all kinds of interesting little ways throughout the text. There are cliques, whose walls break down as we get to know the characters within them better. There is a guy who is totally hot on the outside, but totally not on the inside. When we talk about a world that is fully fleshed out, a big part of that is having three-dimensional characters living in it, and that is really well-done in this novel.

Playful and Interesting Storytelling Choices: There are moments in which this novel feels like it's been written in free verse, and other moments when it's written in haiku. There are moments wen it's straight-up prose. This could have been garbled and awful and jarring, but in this book, it just all flows and it WORKS. The changes to haiku happen at key emotional beats, when really, who thinks in whole sentences anyway? I felt that I was in good hands the whole time I was reading. I was in the hands of a person who knew how best to tell this story.

Language and Voice: Gretchen is a poet, and she uses phrases like "word sugar". Her voice matches the description we are given of her. That is so much rarer than it should be, and it's a delight when I find a novel in which there is a true synthesis of voice and character.

It all boils down to:

Honesty: The growth that Gretchen goes through in this novel makes sense given the circumstances of the story; the emotions and how the characters express them feel true; the world feels real.

This is a really, really good book, guys. You're missing out if you haven't read it.

Get The Opposite of Geek at your local independent bookstore, or from these online spaces:

IndieBound: CLICK HERE
Chapters: CLICK HERE

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

SCBWI NYC '15 Redux: The Answer is Always YES


The last two weeks have been amazing, guys. A-MAY-ZING. I can't even get into how amazing they have been right now. But I want to share a few of the amazing moments from the SCBWI Winter Conference, because spreading the amazing is something I want to do more of. Since the theme of this conference was Seven Things, I'm going to share seven amazing moments.

Amazing Moment Number One: KWAME!!! Kwame Alexander, who is so nice and generous and wonderful as a human being and as a crafter of words. I attended Kwame's session on writing diverse characters, where he showed us how much work we all have to do to overcome our own biases and preconceptions, and to overcome the stereotypes that we still cling to. (Yes, even the most enlightened of us still cling to stereotypes.) He gave a keynote in which he emphasized the importance of saying "yes" even when everyone around you seems to be saying "no". But also, he remembered me from his session, and he thanked me for coming, and he gave me a hug.

Me and Kwame. Holy Cowpies.
photo courtesy of Hilary Leung

By being who he is, he reinforced the overarching lesson from this conference and from so many other conferences: that we are all in this together, and that by supporting each other and by treating each other as equals, we all rise.

Amazing Moment Number Two: Meeting Jennifer Laughran, who is one of my agent heroes because she is so awesome and so generous online with her advice and her personality and everything, and having a moment to tell her how much I appreciate her blog, and then a split second later seeing her almost cry with happiness when she met Kwame Alexander. Pure awesome. These are my people.

Amazing Moment Number Three: Matisse before dawn.


The words "The MoMA is open all night and I have tickets to see Matisse at 5:30AM!" were nowhere on my list of "Things I Expect My Friends to Say at a Conference," but they rank pretty high on the list of "Things I Am Likely to Say Yes To." I'm just glad to have friends who are as crazy as I am.

Amazing Moment Number Four: Grand Central Station during the non-rush-hour hours. The feeling of sheer SPACE - like being outside, but inside. There was even a pigeon flying around in there.

A picture of my friends taking a picture of my friends...

Amazing Moment Number Five: Hearing James Dashner talk about his first book and how it sold dozens of copies, and realizing that even though we make such a big deal of debuts, those debuts very rarely define an author's career. As someone whose projects range from bug-based non-fiction to quirky science-y superpower chapter books to edgy YA, I really needed that.

Amazing Moment Number Six: Turning to the writer next to me after Herve Tullet's talk and daring each other to re-invent the levelled reader system. To quote Kwame: IT'S ON!

Amazing Moment Number Seven: Hearing Kami Garcia talk about how she and Margie basically wrote the anti-paranormal, and thinking, I can do that. Not the anti-paranormal, because I don't really want to do that right now, but the anti-(insert genre here). I can look at all the books in a genre and say, "Okay, generally speaking: the girl is always like this; the guy is always like this; the problem always centres around this; the setting is always this…" And I can write something that is the opposite of that.

And so can you guys. So, Go Forth! Write the Amazing Things. I can't wait to read them.

(There was another amazing thing, but I said I'd stop at seven, so that will have to wait for another post.

Heh heh heh.)

Happy writing, and thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's Conference Season! Or: How to Make Friends and Influence Professionals

It's that time of year again, guys! That time of year when we break open the piggy banks, count our pennies quarters, and figure out how many conferences we can squeeze out of our meagre writers' savings earnings!

(Seriously - we all wish we could go to all the conferences. ALA midwinter, SCBWI Winter Conference, the SCBWI Florida regional conference that just happened, but that I still wanted to attend… Right? Wouldn't it be great if we could go to ALL the conferences? But then we wouldn't have time to write anything, so I guess it works out.)

ANYWAY, since we're all planning our conference schedules - and maybe even gearing up for a conference right now? - I thought I'd post some quick "Do"s and "Don't"s for those of you who are getting ready to go to your first big conference, or who have been to a big conference before but just want something to read in the meantime. (I see you procrastinating out there. *wags finger*)

So, here we go: the "Do"s and "Don't"s of Conferencing!

DO: Research the faculty. Seriously, research them. Taking part in the Writers' Critique Roundtable Intensive at SCBWI's Winter Conference in NYC? An editor or agent is going to be sitting at your table and reading your work and listening to you give feedback to other writers. You have no say about whose table will have your name on it. Research the crap out of all of them. Get the whole list of faculty off the website, and go through it. Go to Goodreads and Amazon and check out the books they repped or edited. Figure out what you have in your Drawer of Undiscovered Treasure that might appeal to them, and bring it for your critique session. If you've been writing and polishing for a while, you might have three or four different projects that you could bring. Print 18 copies of each of them, and know which ones you plan to pull out for each faculty member's critique table. If you haven't been writing and polishing for a while, and you have but one shining gem to bring, don't sweat it. If the writing is polished, and you are generous with your feedback, and you listen, you'll get more than your money's worth out of the experience.

(I know the SCBWI website says that each faculty member can speak to all genres, but to that, I respectfully say: horsepuckies. I have been to conferences where a faculty member said something along the lines of, "Well, picture books really aren't my thing and I never read them, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but..." Also, everyone has preferences, and they are generally pretty open and obvious about what those preferences are, because when it comes to submissions, nobody wants you to waste their time. If you look at someone's bio and all three authors they mention working with are authors of YA or MG Fantasy, that tells you something. Again, if you get placed at a table with an editor who edits Fantasy and you wrote Contemporary or an agent who reps novels and you wrote a picture book, don't sweat it. These guys are still readers. They still know a good book when they hear one, and they know how to identify what is and isn't working for them. But if you have more than one Really Good Thing, bring them all. Maximize your chances.)

DON'T: Tell them how much you researched them. Look, it's fine to say, "I read your blog. It's really helpful!" or "You edited that? I loved it!" But don't go saying, "I researched you online, and in this interview and that interview you said blah blah blah, and then I saw that you live in Anytown, and you work on Busy Street, and I couldn't help noticing…" No. You sound like a stalker. You don't want to give them that feeling.

In a similar vein,

DO: Bring Business Cards and Promotional Postcards! and Hand Them Out! Writing and illustrating are basically sitting-alone-in-your-living-room-typing-for-hours kinds of things. This is the biggest opportunity you will have in the history of ever to meet other humans who do the same thing that you do. Even if you're usually shy, handing out a business card is easy. "You're a writer? Me, too. Here's my card with all the stuff on it that I'm too shy or embarrassed to say out loud."

Publishing is a rough game. When those rejections pile up, when you've hit a wall with the mushy middle of your WiP, when you've started seeing double and speaking in tongues because the sleep deprivation has you going crazy, you will need other writers. Writers are your tribe. Find them and find ways to keep in touch with them. This starts with a business card. If the thought of making up business cards makes you break out in cold sweats, try Moo - their templates are all simple and professional and will all look amazing.

DON'T: Hand them out to the faculty. Unless they ask. Trust me, if they want to get in touch with you, they will ask. But there will be upwards of 1,000 of you and only about 25 or so of them, and can you imagine if every single person tried to give every faculty member a business card? They'd need a separate carry-on just for all that card stock.


DO: Bring something you're working on, and look for opportunities to work on it. My first year at SCBWI NYC, my roommate and I held an impromptu critique session in our room after the roundtable intensive. I've done that kind of thing every time I go to a conference since. Exchange notes; exchange ideas. This is why you're going to a conference, so take advantage of the opportunity.

DON'T: Bring your WiP and try to hand it to a faculty member. Seriously, that is just tacky. That's right up there with calling your relatives to tell them what to give you for Christmas before they've asked. Also, see above in "Business Cards" but replace "carry-on" with "checked bag". Can you imagine having to lug 400 manuscripts home with you? More importantly: let's say the positions were reversed. You just gave a breakout session to 100 people, and then they all rush to the front to give you their printed and bound 300-page documents. Would you even like those people? You'd probably think they were clueless, and that they're so pushy they'll all be hard to work with. Don't be the person that an editor thinks is clueless and pushy and hard to work with.

And speaking of your WiP:

DO: Be prepared to talk about it. Not forever, but have your pitches ready: one sentence, one paragraph, it's X meets Y, etc. People will ask you what you're working on, so pick the one thing that is your Best, Most Shiniest Thing (or just your Most Current Thing) and be prepared to answer their question when they ask.

DON'T: Actively pitch your project to any agents or editors, except at a formal pitch session. Again: tacky. And pushy. Going to conferences is exhausting for everyone, but it's more exhausting when everyone you come across is trying to sell you something. I remember one awards gala I attended: I was chatting with an editor (whom I had just met! See? Editors are nice!) about our childhood aspirations, when someone who was obviously someone she knew came bounding up to her and said, "I have a book idea for you." Her eyes glazed over. Don't be the person who makes their eyes glaze over.


DO: Strike up conversations with everyone, including faculty. Editors and agents are humans, too. They like good conversation as much as the next guy. And you already have one thing in common: a love of books! Comment on how good (or awful) the coffee is, offer or ask for advice on the best breakfast danish to try, and ask them what they're reading these days. And if they ask you what you're working on, now you can tell them. But even if they don't, you have just had a nice conversation with another human being who likes some of the same stuff you like, and they've had a nice conversation with you. Win-win. BUT:

DON'T: Tailgate the faculty. Seriously, don't follow them around. If you happen to be waiting for the same elevator, awesome. Chat about how slow the elevator is! (NOTE: The Hyatt elevators are S-L-O-W.) But don't follow them around like eager little puppy dogs. That's stressful and 360 degrees of uncomfortable. Don't whisper about them with the other people in line for the bathroom as soon as they've gone into their stall: "I think that's SuperAgent So-and-So." They can still hear you, and it's creepy. (Yes, someone actually said that to me once while I was washing my hands in the bathroom at a conference. AWK-WARD.) Don't try to strike up a conversation with them every. Single. Time. You. See. Them. Give them a friendly nod and smile to let them know you remember speaking with them earlier, and go talk to someone else so that another writer can talk to them. Keep the room moving. (Unless they seem to want to engage with you, in which case, don't run away!)

DO: Be generous. With your thoughts, your opinions, your desire to make great books and to help other people do the same. (Also, Be generous with your stuff. Bring a supply of gum, breath mints, whatever is your breath freshening item of choice. And share it. Free coffee all day, a bunch of nervous writers and illustrators who probably haven't had time to eat enough… You'll thank me later, I promise.)

DON'T: Forget to listen. This is probably the best advice in this whole post. (Well, except for the breath mint thing…)

Honestly: listen. Getting to know people means listening to what they have to say. Especially listen to any faculty you happen to meet, because whatever they offer you, they offer in the spirit of making amazing books. You might not really hear them for a few years, but listen and store it away for when you're ready to process it.

So. That's my great advice for 2015's winter conference season. Have I missed anything? What advice do you have to give? Leave your tips in the comments, and have a great conference! ALSO: I will be at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC from Feb 6-8. If you're going to be there too, give me a shout about that in the comments, too! Who knows? Maybe we'll end up at the same critique table.

And as always, thanks for stopping by.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Flash Fiction: Jurassic Park meets Indiana Jones

I decided to take part in Chuck Wendig's flash fiction writing exercise this week, just for fun. The assignment was to randomly pick a topic from column one and a topic from column two, and mash them together to make a story. Be sure to visit his blog, where everyone else who participated linked to their creations, and read some of the other entries.

I used a D20, and got Jurassic park meets Indiana Jones. So here it is:


Peter checked his watch. Four more minutes until sunset, but it was still boiling. His shirt was soaked. He was sure he had lost at least a quarter of his body weight. And the tour guide was still talking.

When would they get to the good stuff? He had been excited about their family trip to Egypt, but that was before he had realized that the “exciting trip to see the pyramids” meant literally looking at the pyramids while boring tour guides droned on and on for hours about names and dates that nobody cared about.

Who wanted to look at pyramids? He wanted to go inside one!

He edged away towards the back of the crowd. His parents were so caught up in the lecture and the view of the Sphinx that they didn’t even notice. Within a few seconds, he was bolting across the sand towards the sphinx. His mom could take all the pictures she wanted; he was going to get a REAL souvenir.

Peter ignored the shouts coming from behind him. Twenty more yards... Ten... Yes! He collapsed against the rough stone, panting from the sprint. Maybe his dad was right - he needed to lay off the donuts. He reached up to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and saw a smear of blood across his forearm. He hadn’t even noticed, but he must have grazed himself on the rough surface of the sphinx’s base.

He stepped back and looked up. This thing was huge. It was like a skyscraper, but on its side - it was much wider than it was tall, and it was really tall. He jogged along the base, looking for an entrance. An angry voice was getting closer, and he needed to find a way in quick if he was going to find what he was looking for before they caught up to him and dragged him back to the hotel room.

Finally, he saw it - about fifteen feet up. He threw a glance back over his shoulder - a guard was almost on top of him! - and jammed his foot into a sizeable crack, reaching up with his hands to find finger-sized holds on the weather-pitted surface. Climbing as quickly as he could, he was just out of reach when the guard arrived at the base where he had been standing.

“Come back!” the guard cried. “You don’t know what you’re doing! It’s not safe!”

Peter kept climbing.

“You don’t know what’s in there! Please, come back!”

Peter scoffed. He knew what was in there: dead people and treasure. And he was going to get a piece of it. The kids at school wouldn’t believe their eyes. And he’d be guaranteed a good grade in history.

“PLEASE!” The guard screamed. Peter didn’t know why he seemed so scared. Maybe the guards had a plan to keep all the treasure for themselves. All he knew was, if those guys wanted Peter to come back so bad, they could come up and get him.

Finally, his right hand found empty space, and he reached up over the ledge and hauled himself up. His arms and legs were shaking with the effort, but he had made it. Maybe he could afford to keep eating his daily donuts after all.

He stood up and lumbered into the gloom, and a piercing scream shook the air.

“What the...”

Maybe his ears were playing tricks on him.

He stumbled forward another twenty feet. It was practically pitch black by now - he could just make out some old characters carved into the stone wall. What were those called? Heiro-something or others? He didn’t care. They were cool, but they weren’t treasure. He kept walking, fumbling in his pocket for a flashlight.

He felt something brush against his left shoulder, and he froze. “Hello?”

Moaning came from all around him. He snapped his flashlight on, and a linen-wrapped figure appeared not two inches in front of him, its dirty bandages hanging limply from its limbs.

Peter screamed. The Mummy lurched. Peter turned to run, but his feet caught on a dangling loop of cloth, and as he fell he hit his head on the cold stone wall.

His flashlight skittered away, rolling back towards the tunnel entrance, where it dropped into the security guard’s outstretched hands.


I hope you enjoyed it. It was fun to write.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, January 9, 2015

New year, Same Old Me

Hey! It’s 2015! Happy New Year!

So, I never did the whole “Round-Up” thing - you know, Best Books of the Year, Best Movies of the Year, Best Board Games of the Year, Best Cute Pet Gifs of the Year. So many people do that already, and I don’t know about you, but I find those “Best Of” lists pretty overwhelming. Like I’m now obliged to read/watch/play everything, because those are The Best, but everyone’s list is different, so now I have a hundred books that I Must Read Now instead of ten. I didn’t want to add to an already crowded pool, you know?

But maybe you guys really want to know what my favorite reads and watches of the year were? I don’t know. If you’re interested, I can do one. Let me know in the comments.

As for 2015, I hope to do everything the same, but better. So there will be the same type of content here, but I’d like to do it more often. I’d like to get back to video blogging again, especially when it comes to book reviews and book-to-film reviews and the odd bit of nerdery. You can also look forward to more writing samples appearing here, since Chuck Wendig posts some pretty fun writing prompts and I plan to participate more often in those.

And, of course, more writing off the blog, which will lead to more news! Things are always in the works and moving forward, and I can’t talk about anything yet, but I hope to have good news in the world of writing and publishing soon, so watch this space. (Obviously, I have the launch of my first book to look forward to this year! Kari-Lynn and I are really excited to be bringing BITE INTO BLOODSUCKERS into the world, and you should keep your eyes peeled for GIVEAWAYS in the coming months. March can’t come fast enough! If it can’t come fast enough for you either, you can pre-order a copy of it on Amazon here, from Barnes and Noble here, or from Chapters here. NOTE: The Barnes and Noble site lists me as an illustrator. HAHAHA I wish. Sadly, I do not possess the kind of photographic skill that is required for that job. I am the co-author, though. They totally got that right.)

Overall, my motto for 2015 will be this: Plan for the future, but live in the now. You have this day. Make it a good one.

How about you? What are your plans for 2015?