New England SCBWI Conference Recap

Last weekend, I went to the New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, MA, with my writer-buddy Ghenet Myrthil, and on Monday I promised you a quick recap…so here it is! I had a blast.

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…okay, I'll tell you a little more than that. The weekend was a great mix of networking, listening to industry experts share their wisdom, and honing my craft. On the networking side, I made a bunch of new writer friends. They crossed the spectrum from aspiring authors to those with relatively new book deals to veterans with one or more books on shelves already. We talked about our processes, our current projects, and our paths to publication. We compared notes from the different sessions we attended and talked about our lives outside of writing. And of course, I added quite a few books to my TBR (to be read) pile. The best part? Since we pretty much all followed each other on Twitter right away, I can easily keep in touch with all of them going forward.

As far as the sessions themselves, I truly lucked out in my choices. I attended some great workshops. I learned how to craft my brand as an author—without putting myself in a box. I got tips on refining my characters and on adding suspense to my narratives. I took a close look at the first page of my new work in progress, to make it the best it can be. I learned ways to draw on my personal history in my fiction without getting bogged down in "what really happened." Nova Ren Suma gave a fabulous talk on crafting a memorable first-person voice—and then signed my copy of her novel 17 & GONE. Julie Berry (who blurbed my book, something I still can't stop smiling about) and her editor Kendra Levin gave advice—and a ton of writing exercises—for getting outside of the writing comfort zone. All of that…on top of the various publishing panels that everyone attended! Is it any wonder I came home with my head spinning?

NESCBWI publishing panel—Alexandra is second from left

I also got the chance to spend a little time with my editor, Alexandra Cooper, who was on faculty at the conference. She was part of a general publishing panel, as well as doing critiques for conference participants. For me, it was great to catch up with her in kind of an informal setting, since for the time being, all of my work on THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND is done. (Though of course, I begged her for details about what's next in the process for my book…which you'll have to wait just a little longer for me to be able to share online!)

So would I go to this conference again? Definitely! It's smaller-scale and more intimate than the Los Angeles one I attended last August, while still having an array of amazing resources and workshops available for attendees. I met some awesome people and learned a lot. And it was only a short trip away from NYC!

Writers, writers everywhere...

Now… I have to start packing to go out of town again tomorrow. I'm headed home to see my family, including my brand-new nephew who was born yesterday. And I promise I'll try to get some writing done while there!


YAB Bootcamp Check-In: OMG, it's May!

How are we in month three of Bootcamp already? I truly don't know where the spring has gone. That said, the weather keeps getting nicer and nicer, so I definitely don't want to go back in time (or temperature). Plus, I'm still making great forward progress on my first draft of EVERYTHING'S BEAUTIFUL, and I don't want to lose momentum in the slightest! YAB-Spring-Writing-Challenge-2014

So what's the current status?

Last week I moved forward another three chapters. The manuscript total is now 58,500 words! I have another four to six chapters to go (one of which is written but needs revision), so I think I will end up with a 65-70K final word count. Right on target! Beyond that, I'm excited to be on track to finish my draft this month, as I'd hoped. Woohoo!

This past weekend, I was at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Springfield, MA. I'll cover the amazing conference in a separate post later this week, but I did want to say that it was fun to go to a conference while in the throes of a first draft. I was able to apply a lot of the in-session writing exercises we did to EVERYTHING'S BEAUTIFUL. I figured out some key character details I want to add during revisions. Plus, remember last week, when I mentioned my ongoing struggle to find a balance between my personal experiences as a teen in the ballet world and my character's separate journey? I attended a great workshop yesterday on how to draw from your real life experiences and personal history in your fiction, and I can't wait to put the tips Karen Day shared with us into practice in my manuscript.

This week I am going to write, write, write—before I head out of town on Friday for all of my family travels. Wish me luck!

Oh, and don't forget to send good vibes to the rest of Team Mazama as we head into the Bootcamp home stretch. The YA Bucklers are: Kate Scott, Emma L. Adams, Winter Bayne, Angel Leigh, Riley Darkes, and Tonette de la Luna.


YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp: Week Six Check-In

It's the YAB Bootcamp halfway point! If I'd had one big goal for the three months, I'd be excited to see if I was halfway there. Since I didn't start with one overarching goal, all I have to report is that I met last week's goal: to finish my WIP synopsis and send it to my agent. I have also started changing the rest of the existing draft from 3rd to 1st person. So what's next? I checked my stats in Scrivener this morning and discovered that I have approximately 49,000 words of this rough first draft. That's actually about three-quarters of a manuscript! However, since most of it was written in 3rd person, and before I changed the role of a major character, I have to do some serious revising before I have a draft that's even remotely ready to show to beta readers. What I would LOVE to be able to do is finish the rough draft by the end of the Bootcamp—i.e. by the end of May. Given that that's six weeks away, and I have a mix of revising and new-drafting on my plate, I think it's doable...

Except for the tiny issue of how crazy the month of May will be for me. The first weekend in May, I'm going to the New England SCBWI conference with my friend Ghenet. Then I'll be back in NYC for a few days, only to fly to Nashville the following weekend. I'll be in Nashville for a week, and while I want to work (actually, I'll need to work at least a little) while there, I'll also be getting in some much-needed family time. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their second child, and I'm hoping to be there when he arrives! And of course, I want to spend as much time as possible with my adorable nephew Turner, who is about to become a big brother. But back to travels: from Nashville, I'm flying to the DC area for a weekend with my husband's family. We'll be attending birthday parties for both of our nephews on his side—the seven-year-old's on Saturday and the four-year-old's on Sunday. Then it's good old Amtrak back up to NYC for a week at home in Brooklyn, followed by a road trip to Massachusetts over Memorial Day weekend for a dear friend's wedding.

Basically, by the time June 1 rolls around, I'm going to be ready to collapse. So much revelry! So many trips, and different modes of transportation! Will I have time to crank out the rest of a first draft? That remains to be seen.

I'm not going to be too hard on myself if I don't make it. All of these trips are for good reasons, and they all involve activities and people and events that are just as important as word count—especially since Justin and I don't get to see our families as often as we'd like. That said, I'm going to work toward a May 31 goal! Each week, I'll share my progress toward the finish line, whether that's word count or chapters revised.

How's everyone else doing with writing goals and such? Go Team Mazama!

team mazama finalThe fabulous YA Bucklers are: Kate Scott, Emma L. Adams, Winter Bayne, Riley Darkes, Angel Leigh, and Tonette de la Luna! Visit their blogs or follow them on Twitter to see other writers in action. And if you're new to this bootcamp business, learn more at the YA Buccaneers' website!



It's Fearless Friday!

So guess what? Tonight I get to meet a group of my fellow 2015 debut authors face-to-face for the first time! This weekend is the NY Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, and while I'm not attending the conference itself, many writers I've gotten to know online over the past few months will be there. And, because I'm lucky enough to live in NYC, it's the perfect excuse to meet authors who live elsewhere but who are sharing this crazy debut publishing experience with me! There seem to be about 15 of us meeting up tonight, so it should be a good time. Lots of talking about books, books, books, I'm sure—the perfect evening for a writer. I'll try to grab some group photos, so that when everyone's books come out in a year, I can point at the pictures and say, see, I know him/her!

But this meetup isn't the only fun writing-related event that I've gotten to attend recently. Last night, my Write Night friend Rebecca Behrens held a launch party for her debut, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE, at Books of Wonder in Manhattan. (I wrote about Rebecca's book HERE.) It was so fun to hear Rebecca read from the book, to get her to sign my shiny new beautiful hardback copy, and to envision doing something similar for my own book in a year or so. It was also awesome to see my Write Night crew out of our usual Panera/Cosi context, and to catch up with a few other authors I know, and to meet ones I hadn't met yet. An all-around great evening!

Rebecca's beautiful book, and the personalized title page!

So what's next for me and my book and such? I've just about finished my copyedits on THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, which means the text will go into design pretty soon! Meanwhile, my agent has the opening chapters of my potential next project, and I'm waiting with bated breath for her response.

What the past few weeks of wonderful writer community (I'm including last week's reading under this umbrella) have reminded me is that while writing can feel pretty solitary sometimes, when you do get out into the world, there is a great group of people out there who are in the boat with you. Waiting for feedback, pushing through a first draft, battling tough revisions, anxiously waiting for the publisher's side of the process (cover designs, release dates, etc.)—we've all been there, or will be there, or are currently living in it, and the fact that we aren't alone makes the good parts better and the frustrating parts not quite as bad. That's a remarkable thing.


Looking Back at 2013...

As you're reading this (if all goes well with the scheduled autoposting on Wordpress…), my husband and I are touring around Israel! This amazing trip, which I'm sure you'll hear all about on the blog in a few weeks, was my parents' wedding gift to us, and we're finally able to go (we just had our two-year anniversary in November). An adventure like this feels like a fitting way to end what turned out to be a pretty great year! 2013 had its ups and downs, for sure, but the ups were, well, very up. :)

  • I started this blog! I'd been wanting to blog for years, and hadn't gotten around to it. Now, with almost a full year of blogging under my belt, I'm so glad I took the plunge.
  • My newest nephew was born! He's almost a year old now, and he is a delight. You can see some pictures of him HERE and HERE.
  • I signed with a fabulous literary agent! This was the culmination of several years of blood, sweat, and tears, and when it finally happened, I was over the moon. Of course, that was only the first step along a journey that included...
  • Selling my debut novel to HarperCollins! And I thought signing with an agent felt good. 2015, when my book is slated to be released, can't get here soon enough.
  • I attended my first writer's conference, SCBWI LA! It was fabulous to meet more kidlit writers, as well as to hear some true legends in our field speak. Also, my husband and I took a fun vacation in California when the conference was done.
  • I revised my book. And revised it. And revised it again. That might sound frustrating, and at times it was! But my editor pushed me to make the book the best it can be, and it has become something I'm so proud to send out into the world.
  • I had a dance performance that was fun and challenging and really well received by our audience—all you can ask for, really!
  • I joined the Fearless Fifteeners and the YA Buccaneers!

My word for 2013 was PATIENCE, and I couldn't have chosen a better one—because even as I'm working to be more patient with myself, I've seen my patience pay off in some big ways. And I'm not just talking about the book deal, though that's the obvious one. I've also, in the past few weeks, finally hit some of those yoga milestones I've been chasing. Remember when I posted about trying to be patient as I worked toward arm balances? I now have Crow Pose and Headstand in my bag of tricks! Am I perfectly stable in those poses every single time I attempt them? No. But after spending a year building toward being able to do them consistently, I know that with patience, I'll get there. Oh, and here's the photo evidence of a year's work:

I have titled this photo: "Headstand in the Hallway." :)

A few other random blog-related stats from 2013:

  • My most popular post ever is, to the surprise of probably no one, the post in which I announced my book deal (see link above)!
  • My second most popular post, to my great surprise, is… *drumroll* THIS ONE: my thoughts on Lauren Oliver's Delirium series. This is the Energizer Bunny of blog posts! Just in the past week, it surpassed my agent announcement post, my "About Me" page, and a few other key pages in number of views. So, Lauren Oliver fans who keep finding their way to me: Welcome! Look around. Stay awhile.
  • I reviewed about 50 books on the blog this year, and you can scroll through those posts using the Friday Reads tag. You can see my top 10 out of all of the books I read this year HERE. I'm going to continue reviewing books on the blog in 2014, though I probably won't be as formal with my Friday Reads posts… so keep an eye out!
  • I have 83 blog followers—not too shabby for my first year! I'm happy so many of you are interested in what I have to say.

So I guess all that's left to say is, thanks for a great 2013, and here's hoping that 2014 brings even more good times and good news! Happy New Year, everyone!!


SCBWI LA Recap — Sharing the Inspiration!

In looking back over my notes from the Los Angeles Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference, I started getting inspired all over again. Not only is that a good mindset for writing a recap blog post, I think it's a sign of an excellent conference! I had such a blast over the conference's three days of speeches, workshops, networking, and parties. I met a lot of wonderful people, both aspiring authors and published ones, and I left feeling more excited about writing than ever. Yay! I got into LA in the late afternoon and immediately headed to dinner with a fabulous group of writers—some of my Write Night buddies from NYC, and a group of super-cool west coasters I am glad to know now. After an early bedtime (after all, to my east coast body, 10pm was 1am!), I was ready to get up Friday morning and absorb everything the conference had to offer. And I knew from Laurie Halse Anderson's inspiring opening keynote speech, in which she gathered us around her "fire circle" to talk about being storytellers and pushed us to "be brave today," that I was in the right place. I was surrounded by my people: writers (and visual artists, though I am not one of those!) who can't help but create, and who truly love our audience of kids, tweens, and teens (and the grownups who love books for kids, tweens, and teens).

Over the course of the weekend, I giggled through speeches by Jon Scieszka (author of The Stinky Cheese Man and many, many other hilarious and subversive books) and Mac Barnett (a McSweeney's alum who writes hysterical and inventive kids' books). I pondered putting fantasy/sci-fi elements into contemporary worlds in a workshop with Mike Jung (author of Geeks, Girls & Secret Identities—and a talented ukelele player!) and listened to Matt De La Peña (author of Mexican WhiteBoyWe Were Here, and other amazing YA novels) talk about writing with patience and restraint and trusting your readers. I heard Middle Grade author Kirby Larson speak about books as palimpsests, each carrying the whispers and pencil tracks of the authors and books that came before. I dug deeper into the plot mechanics of my current work-in-progress in a workshop with editor Krista Marino and I laughed along with SCBWI founder Lin Oliver and her writing partner Henry Winkler in a session on writing humor. (Yes, that Henry Winkler—and yes, he did the Fonzie voice!)

Every speech or session I attended was relevant to me in some way. It didn't matter that I don't write picture books, that I'm not a visual artist, that I already have an agent and an editor and am about to start my revisions on my debut novel. Everyone said something that stuck with me, and I want nothing more than to carry this momentum on through the next phase of my writing life!

And now, a few photos from the weekend:

Me with the acclaimed author Richard Peck, who led a fabulous session on first lines and gave the keynote at the Golden Kite luncheon. I've been lucky to  get to do some work for Richard, and it was fun to see him at the conference!

Write Night crew in LA!

Getting some writing done—with a view!

One of the best sunsets I've ever seen—and it happened during a "guerrilla" breakout session outside the hotel, in which published authors dished about what really happens after publication!

Me, Ghenet, and Jodi in the photo booth at the Black & White Ball

Now that I'm back, I'm kicking myself a little that I didn't take more photos in the various sessions—or grab pics with more amazing authors! But at the same time, I was busy soaking it all in and enjoying myself, and not worrying about photo documentation. You'll just have to take my word for it that I met and/or sat in a room with all of the above-mentioned people. :)

I'm so glad I made time and budget room to attend this year, and I'm already thinking about and looking forward to next year's conference. I hope I can make it! I know I'll have a whole new perspective (and a host of new things to learn) as I get closer to the publication of my own book. At the same time, no matter how many books you've written, there's always room to grow and there's always the need to be inspired and renewed. So thanks, SCBWI, for an absolutely wonderful experience!


California, Here We Come!

On Thursday, I'm hopping on a plane to Los Angeles to attend the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators summer conference! And I can't wait. It's not only my first SCBWI LA conference, it's my first conference of this sort PERIOD. I am excited to meet lots of other aspiring and soon-to-be-published writers, to learn from and be inspired by the roster of amazing speakers, and to come back to NYC energized and ready to tackle my own book revisions. I'm also expecting to be a little overwhelmed, which is why I am thrilled to be going to LA with most of my Write Night crew. Several are conference veterans, but a few are relative newbies, like me, so we can figure everything out together.

After I've absorbed every bit of knowledge the conference has to offer and have networked my buns off, I'll be heading up the coast for a little R&R. Justin is flying over to meet me and we'll be driving from LA to San Francisco, with a couple stops in between. I'm more than ready for a vacation, and I know we'll have so much fun. Not only will Justin and I get to spend some time exploring the West Coast, I also have a close friend from college, Caitlin, who lives in San Francisco, and who I don't see nearly often enough. So I am over the moon to get to spend time with her.

What does all this mean for my dear blog? I most likely won't be posting from the conference or while on vacation (though if you know me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you'll probably see your share of updates). But I WILL be writing up a most excellent recap of this California trip when I'm back! Probably two recaps, actually — one for the conference and one for the vacation part. Full of photos and other good stuff. Check back two weeks from today for my next update.

And thanks, as always, for stopping by my blog. This is my 51st post, which is another milestone (like the blog's six-month birthday) that I am so happy to have hit. While it's nice to have a place to jot down my thoughts, it's even nicer to know that there are a few people reading!

Happy Tuesday, and see you in two weeks,