My husband and I just got back from a wonderful trip to Paris, and while I brought several books with me, I actually didn't end up reading as much as I usually do while traveling! It was a combination of trying to sleep on the plane (instead of reading), running around the city all day (instead of reading), and using our limited time at the flat we were renting to check in on email and social media (instead of reading). 

Luckily, one of the books I brought was perfect for that fragmented reading schedule: My True Love Gave to Me, an anthology of holiday YA short stories edited by Stephanie Perkins. The book features twelve holiday-themed stories by some of the Young Adult book world's biggest names. As with any anthology, it's a bit of a mixed-bag. My favorite stories were those by Rainbow Rowell (a series of New Year's Eve snapshots as two friends realize they're meant for each other), Stephanie Perkins (girl meets boy at a Christmas tree farm), and Laini Taylor (an otherworldly tale where the Dreamer, an ancient god, rescues a young woman from an awful future). That said, one of the coolest things about this anthology was how diverse it was: male and female narrators from various backgrounds, contemporary as well as fantastic settings, and diverse writing styles. If I wasn't totally feeling one story, I didn't have long to wait for something completely different. I would definitely recommend this book if you're a sap around the holidays, and if you like any or all of the talented authors involved. It's worth a read.

You didn't think I'd mention Paris without sharing a photo, did you? On the holiday theme, here's the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Christmas tree:

Happy Friday to all, and to all a good weekend! ;)


YAB Bootcamp Update — Awesome Things Edition

I'm home in Brooklyn after my week with family, and it feels great to be back in my routine today. I slept in my own bed, sat at my own desk with coffee brewed in my own coffeepot and drunk out of my own mug, took a lunchtime dance class, and now am at my new favorite post-dance-class cafe. Life is good! And being back to my normal life isn't the only reason life is good. Things have been pretty awesome since I checked in last week.

Awesome thing #1:

I finished my first draft of EVERYTHING'S BEAUTIFUL! I think that means I officially WON Bootcamp. :D I wrote the last chapter on Wednesday morning, at which point I did a happy dance in my sister's apartment. (Her cat was not amused at my antics…) I haven't looked at the manuscript since, and that's on purpose. I'm taking a break from this book for a few weeks so that when I am ready to revise, I'll be approaching it with fresh eyes. But it's perfect timing for me to be on a writing break because of...

Awesome thing #2:


I received my galley pages for THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND! I can't express how amazing it is to see my book laid out like a *real book,* with a font and chapter headings and section divisions and, you know, all the things actual books have. It looks so different than the Times New Roman MS Word doc I've been staring at for so long! Anyway, I have the next week and a half to scan the pages for errors, and knowing me I'll need to do more than one thorough read to feel at ease about sending the book to the printer, so… as I said, good thing I finished the new book's first draft last week.

Awesome thing #3:

Clockwise from top left: Newborn, 16 months old, 7 years old, 4 years old.

Or, if I'm being honest, awesome things #3, 4, 5, and 6: my fabulous nephews. As happy as I am to be home now, it was wonderful spending the week with all of my boys. (Plus the rest of my family: my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my sister, my husband's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and even brother-in-law's parents! Whew.) Here's just a little taste of what I was up to over the past week: snuggles, block towers, baby pools, baths, runny noses, dirty diapers, pajamas, picture books, storytime at the library, train sets, Legos, Spongebob Squarepants, Nintendo, laser tag, chicken fingers, sticky fruit bits (and sticky fingers!), cheese pizza, birthday cake, and the list goes on and on. I'll take my award for Super Aunt now, thanks. :)

So as Bootcamp winds down, I'm pretty much done with my writing goals. These three months have been a kick in the pants and a great morale booster. I've gotten so much done! Thanks to all of the YA Buccaneers—and everyone who participated in the Bootcamp—for giving me the encouragement I needed to push through. And here's one more shout-out to my splendiferous teammates: Winter Bayne, Riley Darkes, Emma L. Adams, Kate Scott, Angel Leigh, and Tonette de la Luna! I look forward to seeing what all of you accomplish in the future! Go Team Mazama!

team mazama final


YAB Bootcamp Check-In, Tennessee Edition

Hello, fellow Bootcampers! Just a quick note from Nashville, where I am going to spend the week doing a little writing and a little freelance work, and much more of this: kat and benton

Last week I hammered out some serious words on my WIP, and as of today I am approximately 2 1/2 chapters from the end! So… depending on the nephews' naptimes, I might even make it there this week. We shall see. Regardless, I am racing toward the finish line of this first draft. I passed 60K last week, and I know what the last two chapters need to be, so it's just a matter of writing them. Then I can officially say I have written THREE books, which is pretty darn cool!

That's all for now. More updates (and baby/toddler pictures?) to follow...


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.

photo 1

…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!



Welcome to 2014!

Happy Monday, and (belatedly) Happy 2014! Justin and I got back from Israel a few days ago, and I'm starting to get over the jet lag and get back in the swing of real life. This week, I'm officially diving back in—to my regular workload, to dance classes, and to writing. Yup—now that I've finished my revisions on THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND and the book has gone to copyedit, it's time to jump back into my next manuscript! I'm a little nervous, like I am each time I haven't first-drafted in a while, but I'm also excited. I woke up yesterday morning thinking about an important scene and wanting to jot down notes to myself. I can't wait until I hit that point where it's all I can do to get the words down fast enough! (I hope I get to that point soon!) So here goes…with updates to come, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of our photos from Israel! We took SO MANY, so this is just a sampling, but I think it captures many of the amazing things we saw. We spent one night in Caesarea, where we saw the ruins of Herod the Great's seaside palace and city; three nights in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, where during the daytime we toured all over northern Israel—Megiddo, Zippori, Capernaum, Dan, Beit She'an, and many more; one night at the Dead Sea, with stops at Qumran, Ein Gedi, and Masada; and four nights in Jerusalem, where we toured all over the city as well as crossing the border into Bethlehem, in the West Bank. We saw so many Canaanite and Israelite and Greek and Roman and Byzantine and Crusader ruins with so much historical significance that it was hard to process how amazing it all was after a while. We climbed rolling green hills and drove through harsh deserts and floated in one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth. We ate so much hummus and falafel and shawarma and shaksuka (a new favorite: eggs poached in a rich tomato sauce). We ate so much delicious dessert—guilt-free, because of all the walking up and down hills. And we were introduced to Turkish coffee, which is wonderful and strong, basically French press without the press.

All in all, it was a pretty fantastic trip, and we hope to get to go back at some point in the future! Click past the jump to see the highlights (and if you're not a "look at other people's travel photos" person, feel free to come back later in the week when I blog about something else!).

At Herod's theater at Caesarea

Herod the Great's swimming pool (and the Mediterranean Sea)

Mosaic floor from the 5th century depicting the zodiac wheel, in an ancient synagogue at Tzippori

The "Mona Lisa of Tzippori," a 3rd century mosaic floor

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, at Tiberias

Preparing to set sail on the Sea of Galilee

On the trail at Tel Dan National Park in the north of Israel

View of an ancient fortress in Syria, from Tel Dan

Justin kneeling by the Sea of Galilee on New Year's Day

Angel mosaic in the Church of the Transfiguration at the top of Mount Tabor

The excavations of the Roman city at Beit She'an

Standing on the actual ancient Roman mosaic road at Beit She'an

Driving south through the Jordan Valley

The Jordan River - and that's actually Jordan on the other side!

At Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered

Hiking at Ein Gedi

At Ein Gedi - that's our intrepid Israeli guide, Ami leading the way.

View from the cable car up to Masada

Looking down at a Roman encampment from Masada

View from our hotel room at the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea!

Back where it's green - Tel Lachish

In the Bell Caves at Bet-Guvrin/Maresha

The view from Khirbet Qeiyafa, a recently discovered fortress overlooking the Valley of Elah, where David killed Goliath

We reach Jerusalem! First glimpse of the wall around the Old City.

Looking toward Jerusalem (see the Dome of the Rock behind us?) from the Mount of Olives.

Inside the Church of All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives.

Heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Me on the ramparts of the Old City walls

Justin on the ramparts.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem - with my prayer tucked in between the stones.

Justin in the excavated tunnels underneath the Western Wall.

The Israel Museum has a cool scale replica of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple.

The cool dome inside the chapel at Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem.

The view from the Herodium - Herod the Great's final resting place.

Walking through the Old City at night.

Looking out over Jerusalem's Old City from the Tower of David Museum, which is in an ancient Citadel.

Still with me? Not feeling like I'm that family member who always wants to show you a slideshow of old vacation photos on an actual slide projector? Good! Because I honestly didn't mean for this post to get this long, but I wanted to share some of the adventures we had. I promise, next week, I'll talk lots about writing, writing, writing. Or something.

So Happy New Year, again! Here's to a 2014 full of excitement, adventure, momentum, and joy.


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!!


Slideshow Time! (Or, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation")

Putting this out there up front: If you're not the "look at pictures other people took of their travels" type, you might want to skip today's post. But I wanted to share some pictures from the second half of my California trip—the vacation part! So here goes.

At the end of the SCBWI Los Angeles conference (recap HERE), my husband flew out to join me. He grabbed a rental car, picked me up at the Hyatt, and we set out on the road. After a stop for dinner in Santa Barbara, we spent the night in San Luis Obispo. The next morning, we drove up to the magnificent Hearst Castle, which is in San Simeon. It was so cool to see how one of the richest men in the country in his time, William Randolph Hearst, created this amazing home—even more amazing considering that Hearst thought of this space as his casual getaway. He actually called it "The Ranch," because it was built on land he used to camp on with his family when it was completely undeveloped coastal mountain country. One of the coolest things about the whole complex is how he worked with the architect to bring together so many different historical styles and artifacts. The place is a museum, filled with centuries-old art and architectural features from all over the world.


Close-up of the front door

The antique ceiling in the main dining room

Check out that view!

Detail of the roof on one of the smaller "cottages"

Garden path leading to Casa Grande

Neptune Pool—how badly did I want to jump in? (Very.)

Seriously, can you imagine swimming here?!

Two priceless works of art

On our way back to San Luis Obispo, we stopped in the town of Harmony—we were intrigued by the sign that proudly proclaimed "Population: 18." We also stopped to walk around a few different beach areas. Depending on where we were, the day went from sunny to overcast pretty quickly, but we had to get our feet in the Pacific despite the chill!

Population 18...and none of the people we met there were residents!

View from the pier in Cayucos

Rocks (and cool barnacle things!) on Moonstone Beach

Driftwood on Moonstone Beach

Waves coming in on Morro Beach

Tuesday was road trip day. We wanted to drive Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Luis Obispo all the way to San Francisco. We'd heard that Highway 1 is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and we didn't want to miss it—especially since we had the luxury of having an entire day to do the drive. We saw elephant seals lounging on the beach at San Simeon. We slowed for hairpin turns where the edge of the road was a cliff dropping down to the waves crashing against the rocks in Big Sur. We mingled with (fellow) tourists and ate fried calamari on the boardwalk in Monterey. We drove past farmland and vegetable stands around Monterey Bay, cut through Santa Cruz, and hit Half Moon Bay just as we were starting to get hungry for dinner. We dropped our car off at San Francisco International Airport, hopped a shared van into the city (one of the trip's few frustrating moments), checked into our hotel, and met my friend Caitlin for dinner. All in all, a pretty fabulous day.

When the sign said "Elephant Seal Viewing Area," we thought we'd maybe see one, in the distance. We did not expect this!

View of the cliffs near Big Sur

Long way down...

More epic views...

Seriously, something like this was around every curve!

Wednesday was our first full day in San Francisco, and we made the most of it! We were the ultimate tourists, renting a GoCar (thanks for the recommendation, Ghenet!) to putter around the city streets. Our GoCar (basically a tiny go-kart-like vehicle that had GPS and gave us a guided tour as Justin drove) took us through the Marina district, up to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio, down Lombard Street, which is known for being one of the most crooked streets in the country, through Chinatown, and into the bustling Union Square district. We went back to Chinatown for lunch, then went to Market Street and rode one of the famed San Francisco Cable Cars to Ghirardelli Square for some well-earned chocolate milkshakes. Finally, we had dinner with Caitlin and her awesome boyfriend, Brendan.

View from the top of Lombard Street

Driving down Lombard Street in our GoCar

San Francisco's Chinatown

In line to get on a cable car

Ghirardelli Square


Bored yet? I hope not, because here come the redwoods! On Thursday, we borrowed Caitlin's car to head to Muir Woods, one of the state's redwood forests. These trees were nothing short of breathtaking. We got there at 8:30 in the morning, before the tourist rush hit, and the woods were so quiet and secluded. Aside from worrying about poison oak, Justin and I loved walking those trails. Then we got back in the car to drive up to Sonoma to experience a little bit of wine country. We had a great afternoon, one of the warmest of our entire trip, driving around and enjoying the sunshine. We tasted some wine, ate some delicious food, and made it back to the city before dinnertime. Dinner was In N Out Burgers, which we felt we couldn't head back to the east coast without trying.

Tall, tall trees

Justin in Muir Woods

Cathedral Grove

Goofing off in Sonoma

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge

FINALLY, on Friday, our last day, we took a boat cruise around the San Francisco Bay, including around Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we walked to the Ferry Building (Chelsea Market with more natural light?) for lunch, walked down Market Street, took a vintage trolley car back to Fisherman's Wharf, played with vintage coin-operated games and automatons at the Musée Mechanique, and tried authentic Irish coffees. After delicious Mexican food in The Mission neighborhood with Caitlin and Brendan and a stop in Dolores Park (which I was STOKED to see because of Lola and Cricket from Stephanie Perkins' book LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR), it was off to the airport.

Sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf

Alcatraz Island from our boat cruise

Windblown approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

And...the bridge from underneath!

San Francisco's Ferry Building

Such an awesome trip! We saw a lot, but I still felt rested and ready to tackle the "real world" when we got back. Once we recovered from our red-eye, that is...

Thanks for sticking with this travel/photo-heavy post! Next week, I'll be back to my regular blog shenanigans—some writing on writing, some writing on books, etc.


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,


Happy Six-Month Blog Birthday to Me!

July is here! That means it's really hot outside, and I pretty much start sweating the moment I step outside. But that's not all it means. My blog is officially six months old! It's rolling over. It's grabbing its toes. It eats solid foods sometimes. It's smiling and giggling and ... enough with the baby metaphor. Basically, I feel like I've met my first big blog milestone. I started in January with great intentions, and making it to July feels like I've actually done what I set out to do. Yay me! Ha. :)

I've had a crazy busy few weeks, and I don't really expect things to slow down over the next couple of months. I'll be getting my first editorial letter sometime soon, so I'll be back to revising THE CREATION OF HALLELUJAH CALHOUN. I'm finishing up some freelance projects I was assigned before the book deal fell into place. I'm rehearsing for my performance with Becky Radway Dance Projects in October. It's all good stuff, and I'm excited about all of it, but that doesn't mean I won't cherish every bit of downtime I can find.

Starting with this coming holiday weekend. Justin and I are flying to Nashville tomorrow night to see my family (including my ADORABLE nephew, who is also turning six months old this month!). We plan to relax, soak up some southern sunshine, and eat lots and lots of delicious southern food. We also have a few awesome things to celebrate: my mom's birthday, my brother having completed his first year of medical residency, my sister's teaching contract being renewed, and of course, my book deal. Some things don't feel official until you celebrate them with family and friends, and I can't wait to see everyone.

Because of the long weekend—and thus the short work-week this week—I'm keeping today's post short. But I couldn't let the start of July slip by without mention! Thanks to all of you who've been reading from the beginning, and to those of you I've picked up along the way. It's nice to feel like there are some people out there who are interested in my ramblings! I hope the second half of the year just keeps getting better and better.

Happy 4th of July! Hope you have all the fireworks and barbecue (or peace and quiet and rest) you're dreaming of. :)


From Coney Island to the Bronx Zoo—in Pictures

The blog is back, after a week off! I just couldn't bear to move "Announcing...My Book Deal!!!" away from the top slot. But after the weekend I just had, I knew my blog hiatus was over. I have to share pictures from one of the most epic NYC Adventure Weekends my husband and I have had in a while. (Also, one of the first completely work-free weekends I've had in far too long!) So prepare yourself: Pictures Ahead! On Saturday, Justin and I went down to Coney Island to check out the Mermaid Parade. I've wanted to go for years, and this year the timing actually worked out. We were prepared for crazy costumes and crowds, and we weren't disappointed! We got there early to snag a prime spot. I slathered myself in sunscreen. And then we proceeded to have a great time. The pictures below are only a fraction of what I took, and a fraction of the awesomeness we saw! But you'll get a taste:

It's the Mermaid Parade!

This is Miss Coney Island

An octopus up close

A lovely group (school?) of mini-mermaids

A seahorse? Or just a sexy horse?

A clownfish?

Cartwheeling baton twirlers!

And...these guys...

This guy is a giant lobster creature, complete with moving claw arms

Avengers Assemble!

When we were all paraded out, Justin and I rode rides at Luna Park and walked on the beach. This was Justin's first visit to Coney Island, so I wanted to make sure he got the total experience! The only things we missed were the Cyclone (couldn't get there around the parade crowds) and Nathan's Hot Dogs (the line was so long, and we were so hungry...). But since Coney Island is only a subway ride away, I'm sure we'll be back.

View from inside the Wonder Wheel, which has been in operation since 1920

Another view from the Wonder Wheel

We rode the Soarin' Eagle—and it was awesome!

Me, barefoot and windblown, on the beach

Justin catching some waves

Enjoying the beach and the sunshine together

His and hers sandal tans

On Sunday, we joined some friends for a trip to the Bronx Zoo. I didn't take nearly as many pictures—the Mermaid Parade's costumes were, let's face it, a lot more exciting than some of the hot, sleeping animals—but we still had a blast. I love going to the zoo! Here are a few highlights from the day:

This gorilla posed like we were the paparazzi

Seriously, he was working his angles

Yuri the tiger enjoying the shade on a hot day

Ever wonder what it looks like when an elephant gets a pedicure? It looks like this.

Crossing the Bronx River

Subway station stained glass

Stained glass up close

Justin and I will be out of town the next two weekends, so it was great to spend a full weekend enjoying some of the awesome events and attractions NYC has to offer! Meanwhile, as I write this post, I am enjoying the couch and the air conditioning. :)


Family Time and Travels

You may have noticed that I was supposed to post yesterday, and didn't. Or, more likely, you have no idea when I plan to post and simply come here whenever I share a post on Facebook or Twitter. Regardless, this week, Wednesday is the new Tuesday! Justin and I spent the weekend in Tennessee with my family. The main reason we went was to meet our new nephew. He didn't disappoint! I dare you to tell me this isn't the absolute cutest five-week-old you've ever seen:

Turner sleeping

Unlike our last visit to Nashville over Christmas, when we saw a movie and did a few touristy things and ate at every delicious restaurant in the city in just six days, this trip was completely calm and quiet. We mostly got up, watched some TV, got dressed, and went to my brother and sister-in-law's house to hang out with baby Turner. Where he mostly did this:

Turner sleeping 2

We also got to give him a bath, whereupon he made possibly my favorite face ever:

Turner bath

Except for the time he made this face:

Turner squint

In short, it was a lovely weekend, and I got my baby-cuddling fix, and I'm bummed that we can't see Turner (and the rest of my family) more often. One of the few things I dislike about living in Brooklyn is how far away my family is (and how expensive plane tickets are!!). But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we've already video-chatted with Turner a few times. Hopefully he'll eventually start to recognize his Aunt Kat and Uncle Justin, despite our distance.

Yesterday, back at home, it was back to work as usual. Not only do I have some freelance deadlines to meet this week, I'm hoping to finish revising my novel within the next month. I've heard back from all of my brilliant beta readers and they've given me a lot to chew on. Now I just have to implement those changes! I'm really happy with how this book is turning out, and it's a relief to know that other people have enjoyed it, too. I'm confident that if I dig in, I can make it the best it can be.

And maybe by the time Turner is a teenager, it will have been published. :p

Now, back to it. See you on Friday!