Sunday, June 30, 2013

Permission to Celebrate My Books (June Theme) by Christine Brodien-Jones

Cool poster from my publicist Paul Samuelson at Random House
This summer I'm celebrating my three middle-grade fantasy novels published by Random House: "The Owl Keeper" (2010) "The Scorpions of Zahir" (2012) and "The Glass Puzzle" coming out July 9th!  What a wild ride it's been with my brilliant agent Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; two fantastic editors Krista Vitola and Krista Marino of Delacorte Books for Young Readers; publicists Paul Samuelson and Blue Slip Media. Thanks to my husband Peter, the members of my writers group and all my young readers!  And a big hooray for Smack Dab!   

"The Glass Puzzle" will be released July 9th 2013!

      "The Glass Puzzle" book trailer from Bookmark Book Trailers

"The Scorpions of Zahir" comes out in paperback July 9th 2013
Check out my author page on Facebook


MONDAY JULY 8th: Read Now Sleep Later

TUESDAY JULY 9th: Sharpread

WEDNESDAY JULY 10th: Once Upon a Story

THURSDAY JULY 11th: The Book Monsters

FRIDAY JULY 12TH: I Read Banned Books

MONDAY JULY 15th: The Children's Book Review

TUESDAY JULY 16th: The Book Smugglers

WEDNESDAY JULY 17th: Cracking the Cover

THURSDAY JULY 18th - Book Review: Mother Daughter Book Club

THURSDAY JULY 18th - Interview: Mother Daughter Book Club

FRIDAY JULY 19th: Hobbitsies

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Permission to Celebrate (June theme)

As all you writers know, the road to publication is filled with huge pot holes, oncoming thunder storms, and even long quiet periods with no rest stops. So when the sun is shining and rainbows are abound, we need to take these moments and enjoy them to their fullest.

So I want to celebrate some good news with all of you. After I was told that TORTILLA SUN would probably not be published in paperback, I got the nod last week that it indeed is in Spring 2014 with a BRAND NEW cover! This wonderful news is coming on the heels of a fantastic writing week. So lift your glasses with me and let's toast to all our moments of joy, lovely words, and good writing friends!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Permission to be a Pantser*

I love outlining.  I really do.  Give me a nice bit of outlining software or a stack of notecards, and I can happily spend hours and hours beautiful and detailed outlines of the stories I want to  work on. 

The problem comes when I actually start writing.  For some reason, as soon as I start putting words on the page, the story immediately veers away from the outline.  Characters I’ve never met before suddenly pop in.  Events that were supposed to unfold stay stubbornly folded.  It’s like I’m staging a play and none of the actors are doing what they are supposed to, the sets are for a different play, and the stagehands keep going on strike. 

I used to make myself miserable trying to get my ideas to behave themselves.  The day I quit was the day I realized that it was better if I didn’t.  That was when I was better if I let the story have a life of its own.  The characters seemed to have more and better ideas about what they wanted for themselves than I did.  My storylines became more fun to write.  And my writing itself just got better. 

In writing, this is what’s known as being a “pantser” (meaning one who writes by the seat of one’s pants), as opposed to a “plotter” (meaning one who carefully plots out ever bit of the story before writing it.) 

In my real life, I am an utter plotter.  I make strict plans, I have lists, I research everything—from the food my dogs eat to the sunscreen my family uses—within an inch of its life before committing to it.  I react very poorly to surprises.  My spontaneous impulses have usually all been carefully thought out ahead of time.  I am all about control. 

So giving myself permission to write as a pantser has been one of the strangest, least-plotty things I have ever done.  And letting go of control has let me to some places in my work I simply never would have gotten to otherwise. 

Now I suppose it might be reasonable to assume that letting go of the control of other aspects of my life might also lead me to places I would never get to otherwise—but  um, well, lets not get too crazy here.  Maybe I can put on my schedule for next week….**

*just to be clear, you don’t have permission to “pants” anyone and I never said you did. 

**I'm lying.  This is not going to happen.  #controlrules!  #planningisjoy!  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Permission To Be Bookish

So much of the time, I put books aside to read "for a treat when I'm done with this draft/revision/big ole mess."  I make TBR piles that could rival the world's tallest buildings. I wolf down a few pages with a meal. I wish for the subway to get stuck so that I get a few extra minutes of reading time without feeling guilty. I study Madeleine L'Engle and Brian Greene for tips on effectively manipulating time, space, and plot.

But I am a writer because I am a reader because I am a writer because I am a get the point.
Reading feeds my soul, and it fuels my work.
 It makes me a better writer.
And a better person.

And I love it.

So, this summer I'm giving myself permission to enjoy days of reading for all of those reasons.

Got any recommendations?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Here I am on the day I got my master's back in '01:

I’d already decided, on this day, to devote myself full-time to my writing.  And I honestly, honestly, had no idea what I was going to be up against.  None.  All I knew was that I’d already had some short pieces (fiction, poetry, literary critique) accepted in journals.  I’d gotten praise for my stories since I was a little girl.  I thought I’d spend a year or so writing a novel, it’d sell, and I’d have money in the bank and my career off the ground.

Yeah.  I know.  It makes me laugh, too, to think about it now.

Looking back, the girl in this picture was completely unprepared to be a full-time professional writer.  My degree did nothing to teach me about writing fiction professionally (I don’t mean anything against my university—I don’t honestly believe any degree really prepares anyone for their profession, not like the trenches do).  I had written one long piece, and revised very little.  I had yet to figure out who I was on the page.

I stayed home, let Mom feed me while I worked on novel after novel.  After novel.  Most of the time, I felt as though the music lessons I taught in the afternoons paid for very little other than the massive amounts of postage I was racking up from submitting manuscripts. 

And the worst part of the whole thing was that I had this marker that rang out a gong: graduation day.  I knew exactly when my pursuit of a book-length publication started.  May 19, 2001.  The day after this picture was taken.  Every year, when graduation day rolled back around, caps and gowns would parade across my TV screen, and I would feel—well—like a total dipstick.  Each year, I felt a little worse.  (Year four was particularly harsh—it was a make-or-break moment, when I had to ask myself, “Am I really going to keep doing this?”  And for a girl who never wanted to do anything but write, that was pretty darn bad.)

But I wound up pressing forward.  In all, I would have to watch seven graduation days (and eight additional months) go by before I finally got my first yes.  And I’m so, so, so, so glad I stuck with it.  I cannot honestly imagine a life not writing.  It fulfills me like nothing else. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the worst thing you can ever do in life is watch the clock (or calendar).  Life happens on your schedule—not anyone else’s.  And no matter how long you imagine it will take to reach your goals, it will take longer.  Forget self-imposed It must happen by the time I turn [enter age here] kind of deadlines.  Give yourself permission to take the time you need to get where you want to be.  Strap yourself in for a long haul, dig your nails in, and for God’s sake, don’t let go.

Monday, June 24, 2013

June Theme: "I don't need your stinking permission. . ."

by Stephanie J. Blake

There comes a time in every writer's life where she doesn't need permission...

1. to play 16 games of Bingo Bash before opening the WIP, only to leave it in the background to play Farkle online with strangers from Brazil.

2. to eat a whole bag of Red Vines while watching three hours of YouTube videos of 1970's commercials, all in the name of "research."

3. to throw the outline away and work off of the dream from last night or the idea had while picking weeds in the backyard.

4. to abandon a manuscript that is already at 17,000 words for a shiny new idea.

5. to cry for three days over a rejection.

6. to be jealous of another writer's deal, review, award, or agent.

7. to check Author Central obsessively, even though the numbers aren't an exact science.

8. to take days and weeks off from writing and call it "writer's block," when it's really laziness or fear.

9. to be super proud of the "too quiet" "character driven" rough draft.

10.  to clean out the refrigerator instead of face the four pages of edits, due Friday.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Permission to Play Hard in the Writing Process by Dia Calhoun. June Theme

Every writer must give herself permission to play—creatively. Many  of us don’t, because play isn’t necessarily directed toward a specific outcome—producing something. The writing process involves chaos and uncertainty. Those can be uncomfortable emotions to hold. “I’m not getting anywhere,” you might say to yourself. The error in thinking is that you always need to be “getting somewhere.”

Play doesn’t get you anywhere. Play is about trying things—that’s what kids do. Pretend you’re a pirate, an elf, a monster. Let’s play that we’re on a ship, on a desert island, on an alien spacecraft. Play frees you. Approaching writing as play, not only makes it easier to experiment, it also removes anxiety. There’s no risk. So the weight of uncertainty and chaos lifts.

So when you write, tell yourself, I’m going to play with this idea for an hour. I’m going to play with this paragraph. I’m going to play with this idea for a story. And see what happens.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Permission to be a Luddite

Talk to any published writer today and the topic of conversation eventually turns to online promotion. In the age of social media, some novelists I know spent up to three hours a day online—updating their websites, blogging, connecting with friends and fans on Facebook and with colleagues on LinkedIn. They tweet, post pictures on Instagram, and create bulletin boards on Pinterest. They create book trailers and YouTube channels. And then of course there’s Goodreads and those awful, horrible, no good, very bad reviews many of us can’t stay away from. A writer could literally spend so much time on social media that there’s no time left over to write.

Not me.

I update my website a few times a year, answer all the e-mails I receive from kids and teachers, and I blog here once a month. And that’s pretty much it. I’ve signed up for most social media sites at one time or another, but after a few days I generally come to the conclusion that they’re just a big time  suck. Facebook has been a great vehicle for getting in touch with childhood friends, but if you friend me you’ll discover that I almost never post. And when I’m deep into a project or have a deadline looming, I take months off Facebook at a time.

It’s not that I don’t want to do everything I can to make sure my books stay in print and on the shelves, but as far as I can tell, none of those things are proven to sell books—not middle grade books, anyway.

In those discussions with other writers—the ones who tweet and link and pin things—I often feel a twinge of, “Oh no, I should be doing that, too. I’m not doing my job as a writer.”  And then I remind myself that I am doing my job—I’m writing. So I’ve given myself permission to be a social media Luddite, and it’s working for me. I just celebrated my tenth anniversary as a full-time writer.

So, I’m writing this blog this morning and then I’m getting back to work. Right after I dash over to Facebook and post a link….;-).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Do I Have to Write in Cursive?

Years back when I began working as a poet-in-the-schools, I had this dream of kids embracing the blank page, intoxicated by the freedom of writing what they wanted.  I’d present a lesson, some fabulous poem rich with inspiration; then I’d set them loose to write their own.  “No rules,” I’d say.  “Just write it from you heart.” 

Within seconds a host of hands would rise up in the room, and one by one the students would bombard me with their questions:  Do I have to write in cursive?  What if there’s a word that I can’t spell?  How long does it need to be?  How many lines exactly?  Does it have to rhyme?  Can it rhyme?  Can it be about my dog?  Can it be a fantasy?  Can I write about Colorado?  Baseball?  My dog that died?  Can I write about my dog if he’s not dead?  Can I get a drink?  Can I sharpen my pencil?  Can I go to the bathroom? 

“Just write,” I’d say, trying to hide the irritation in my voice, but it wasn’t the use of “can” or “may” that bothered me so much.  What bothered me was the children’s inability to trust themselves to write.  Early, I blamed teacher-dependence—a kind of encouraged helpless that came from the constant need to seek approval, but later I came to see another more important truth:  The kids were stalling.  They were afraid of the blank page.  They wanted someone else to ease their fears, to tell them what to write so the fear would go away.  But writing past the fear was work they had to do alone. 

I cured the chronic case of cursivitis (my scientific name for this phenomenon) by making my own rule:  Don’t ask me any questions you can answer.  You’re the writer, I trust you to write the work.  I enforced it by writing at the same time they were writing, quiet in a corner, moving my pen across the paper, so busy with my own work they didn’t want to interrupt.  And pretty soon something truly magical began to happen: the kids wrote eagerly with confidence, day after day, and their poems were the stunning works of art I knew that they would be. 

Whether I’m teaching third graders or grad students, the fears remain the same:  Fear of the blank page.  Fear of making a mistake.  Fear of failure.  Fear of truth-telling.  Fear of wasted days, writing that won’t work.  Sometimes older students start to beg for rules—just tell me how to do it; I don’t want to have to figure out this novel on my own.  But I can’t tell anyone how to write their work, and even more, I don’t think that I should. 

In the end, I believe there’s something truly sacred about art.  Real art work is soul work; it holds the voice and vision of the creator, their dreams and aspirations, their wholly unique way of looking at the world.  It’s original and real which is exactly why we like it.  It’s also true—it’s the artist’s truth, and that matters most of all.

The wisdom that I’ve gained during decades of working with young writers, is the hard-won understanding that my writer-problems are just the same as theirs.  I’m scared.  I don’t want to waste my time or fail. I don’t want my story rejected by the world.  But now I let those cursive kids serve as my example:  I turn to my blank page with growing confidence and courage; I don’t ask for permission.  I don’t ask another person to tell me what to write.  I release the editor and critic, the teacher and the parent, every imagined critical authority that could prohibit me from trusting my true self, from making art that is my own.  Like all those kids I coached, I know enough to sit still in my seat.  To answer my own questions.  To write my way through fear.   

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Permission to Write Badly (June Theme) by Kristin Levine

When I was in elementary school, I hated writing.  Hated hated hated it.  Sure, I loved reading, but every time a teacher announced a book report, or worst yet, a creative writing assignment, I cringed a little.  I was a bad writer.  It took me hours to complete the shortest assignment, my ideas were never as creative as everyone else's and on top of all that, I was a terrible speller, so bad, sometimes I couldn't even find the word I was looking for in the dictionary. 
I continued to dislike writing until the summer after 7th grade, when I had the opportunity to attend a summer program at CTY.  This is a program run by John Hopkins University where 7-9th graders get to go to a college campus and basically pretend to be a college student for three weeks.  I was planning to take a math class, math was always what I was good at, but at the last minute, I decided to take a writing class.  Maybe, I thought, I'd learn something so I wouldn't dread all those writing assignments quite so much.
The writing class at CTY turned out to be mainly a workshopping class, where we sat around and read each others stories and offered suggestions.  And there, I discovered that I was right.  I was a bad writer.  But I was a really good rewriter.  I was really good at taking constructive criticism.  And I was really good at revising my work.
Suddenly, I had permission to write a bad first draft.  If writing was about revising, I could make things better as I went along.  The first draft didn't have to be great, in fact trying to make it perfect was counterproductive, since all it seemed to lead to was agonizing over every word and writer's block.  Suddenly, by giving myself permission to write badly at first, I found that I loved writing.  And I have ever since.
PS. I'm still a terrible speller, so bad, sometimes spell check doesn't even help me.  But I've got a pretty good vocabulary and can usually just think up another word to use instead. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June Theme (Permissions): Coming Full Circle by Claudia Mills

When I was a child growing up in New Jersey several decades ago, middle-class families didn’t have heaps of books lying around everywhere in their houses. Instead my younger sister and I carried home huge stacks of library books, often checking out the same book over and over and over again (I can still close my eyes and see the shelves where certain favorites stood). Finally, when we were nine and ten, we each chose one most-loved-of-all book to buy with our own money. She, an aspiring astronomer, chose The Stars, by H. A. Rey. I, an aspiring writer, chose Someday You’ll Write, by Elizabeth Yates.

I loved every sentence of Yates’s book, the only book on writing at that time (as far as I know) addressed directly to children. From the first sentence, Yates was writing just to me, to someone who was definitely going to be a writer: “So you want to be a writer someday, you even dream of being one; but you know as well as I do, that we cannot dream ourselves into being anything. We can, however, through work and acceptance of the discipline, shape ourselves into being what we want to be.” Yes!
Fast forward twenty years, and now I am a writer, a children’s book writer, with my seventh book about to come out: The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton. In the book, Cynthia wants to be a writer, and she and her younger sister, Lucy, each buy a precious book with their own money. Lucy buys The Stars by H. A. Rey. Cynthia buys Someday You’ll Write, by Elizabeth Yates. Cynthia opens her beloved brand-new book to the first page and reads those wonderful first lines.

My editor told me we needed to get permission to quote from the book. The rights to the book had reverted to Elizabeth Yates, and she suggested that I write to Miss Yates directly. So I had the beautiful opportunity to write to an author I had loved so much as a child, the author of a book designed to inspire children to grow up to be writers, to tell her that I had indeed grown up to be a writer and had written a book about a child who wanted to be a writer and was READING HER BOOK! Elizabeth Yates wrote back to grant me permission to quote her words; she was so warm, so gracious, and enormously pleased to have her book live on.

There are few things more satisfying than to have the chance to pay public homage to someone in this way. With my brand-new chapter book, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, I’ve been given another chance to do this, because Kelsey is reading voraciously for a school-wide reading contest, and I had the fun of picking what books Kelsey gets to read. How sweet that was, to have the character I created reading some of the books that helped me become the author who created her. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Permission (June Theme) by Bob Krech

When I was in fourth grade I had Mrs. Walker for Language Arts. She taught us both reading and writing. Mrs. Walker had been a librarian before becoming a clasroom teacher and was pretty awesome. I remember her introducing our first writing lesson together by saying, "You can write about whatever you want to." My friend Danny Hammer and I quickly peppered her with possiblities, "Could it be about spies? Ghosts? Monsters? War? Aliens? Mad Scientists? Blood?" We received a big yes to all of the above and we were on our merry way in writing. We had received her permission.

Now when I sit down to write I find often enough I have to give myself permission to write what I feel like writing. Danny and I knew that things like war and aliens were charged topics back there in fourth grade and that a lot of teachers would have said no even if Mrs. Walker was okay with it and even if it was what we really wanted to do. Now when I begin to write about something I sometimes hear the "no" in my head as I write. Sometimes it's the anticipated "no" of an edito or agent. Sometimes the "no" I think librarians or parents might have in store.

I feel this way because I know from experience this happens. I had a sexual joke in REBOUND that the first editor who was considering the book said would have to go. He said it was funny, but offensive. The female editor who eventually published the book loved it and left it in. REBOUND has been chosen by librarians for discussions and school visits only to be vetoed by administrators who don't want to touch on the subject of racism and reverse-discrimination. I wrote a YA novel within the context of the events of 9-11. I was told "no" from the very first time I pitched the idea. I am still getting "no" on that because of the context.

I would like those folks to say "yes," I really would, but I've found it doesn't matter so much in the big picture. I'm inclined sometimes to try to write to what is popular or will be acceptable, but I've had to tell myself to go ahead and write whatever I want and have fun. I've had to give myself permission to do that, even if there might be a "no" waiting on the other end. At least I've said yes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Tara Sullivan

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Tara Sullivan is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Tara’s debut middle grade novel GOLDEN BOY, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, releases on 06/27/2013! Congratulations, Tara!

Here is Tara’s biography:

Tara Sullivan was born in India and spent her childhood living in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic with her parents, who were international aid workers. She received a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia, and a MA in Latin American studies and a MPA in nonprofit management from Indiana University. To research Golden Boy, Tara traveled to Tanzania, where she interviewed those working to rescue and educate Tanzanian people with albinism. She currently teaches high school Spanish and lives in Massachusetts. Golden Boy is her first novel.

Here’s a description of GOLDEN BOY:

A shocking human rights tragedy brought to light in a story of heartbreak and triumph.

Thirteen-year-old Habo has always been different— light eyes, yellow hair and white skin. Not the good brown skin his family has and not the white skin of tourists. Habo is strange and alone. His father, unable to accept Habo, abandons the family; his mother can scarcely look at him. His brothers are cruel and the other children never invite him to play. Only his sister Asu loves him well. But even Asu can’t take the sting away when the family is forced from their small Tanzanian village, and Habo knows he is to blame.

Seeking refuge in Mwanza, Habo and his family journey across the Serengeti. His aunt is glad to open her home until she sees Habo for the first time, and then she is only afraid. Suddenly, Habo has a new word for himself: Albino. But they hunt Albinos in Mwanza because Albino body parts are thought to bring good luck. And soon Habo is being hunted by a fearsome man with a machete.

To survive, Habo must not only run but find a way to love and accept himself.

Here are the links to Tara online:

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with GOLDEN BOY author Tara Sullivan
1. What does your main character, Habo, want?

More than anything else, Habo wants to be seen as a real person.

2. What is in his way?

Because of his white skin, light eyes, and yellow hair, people have never treated Habo normally. The kids at school make fun of him, his family is awkward around him, and his father left because of him. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when Habo and his family have to leave their small Tanzanian farm and move to Mwanza, Habo discovers that there’s a word for people like him: albino. But they hunt albinos in Mwanza because of a belief that albino body parts bring good luck. Soon Habo is on the run, not knowing whether he will survive or ever find love and acceptance. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

I knew this was going to be my story as soon as I read the small article in a non-profit journal in 2009 that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of African people with albinism for use as good-luck talismans. This article really upset me, and led me to a documentary produced by Al Jazeera English: Africa Uncovered: Murder & Myth. This haunting documentary touched a nerve and sent me down the path of writing Golden Boy.
The grown-up in me, the one that studied Non-Profit Management and International Studies and worked with village micro-finance and refugee resettlement programs, wanted to publicize the human rights tragedy. The kid in me, the one who always had to hide from the sun and could never blend into a crowd as she grew up overseas, wanted to tell the story of what it must feel like to experience these problems in the extreme.

4. Was GOLDEN BOY always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

Absolutely! Middle Grade and YA books are the bulk of my reading: I absolutely love the genre. Also, I felt that a middle grade protagonist would let me explore the issues of identity better than a teenager would because this story was more about Habo’s relationship to his family and society and, most importantly, himself, than it was about romance or other common YA elements.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

The best part about writing for middle grade readers is that they have so much drive and enthusiasm. They want to know about what’s going on in the world and they want to do something about it. I hope that, after reading Golden Boy, many will find a way to get involved

Thank you for joining us at Smack Dab Blog today, Tara, and once again, congratulations on the upcoming release of GOLDEN BOY! We'll look for it on bookshelves soon!