Saturday, February 28, 2009

Write on the River: Meet Me in Wenatchee

It doesn't have the panache of 'meet me in St. Louis,' but it'll have to do. If you're somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, consider attending the Write on the River Conference. It's small, focused, and full of verve and spice.

Calling all writers, aspiring writers, and groupies of said writers: the annual Write on the River writers' conference has opened registration.

Things to Know:

More Important Things to Know:

I had the privilege of attending a Brian McDonald workshop last year. I learned more from him in the space of two hours than I did in five years of college. (Okay, that's not saying much, granted, but work with me here!) Although I've little desire to become a script writer and although McDonald is an award-winning filmmaker (if you've never watched his short film White Face, you're missing out), he held my attention in the cup of his hand like so much granulated sugar. And then he proceded to spin it into a fairy-land work of wonder. I walked away from that workshop once again at peace with the fact that I know absolutely nothing but feeling like I had all the keys to begin unlocking my own writing. And that, my friends, is a special gift.

Two agents will be in attendance at the Write on the River conference and a limited number of 10-minute appointments will be available. Register early for your opportunity to meet with either of them! The good news? They're both well-known in the publishing world. Kudos to the conference coordinators for bringing in the big dogs.

Both Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York City and Catherine Fowler, founder of the Redwood Agency in San Fransisco, will be there to listen to your pitch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interview with new YA fantasy author Cindy Pon

Note: Don't forget to leave a comment or question for Cindy after the interview. Not only will she be super-duper glad to hear from you, but she'll also be stopping by to give away an ARC of Silver Phoenix!

Interview with Cindy Pon

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? How long did it take to finally commit to the dream?

i started writing in elementary school. this continued through my teens. i wrote mostly poetry and short stories and won in our school district wide contests. i was a writer like i was a girl. i didn't think about it, it was just a part of me.

i stopped writing for over a decade in my twenties through early thirties. there was too much real life stuff going on, like getting my first job, getting married, going to graduate school, etc. i sort of tucked that writing part of me away. i never took it seriously.

i picked it up again in my early thirties, after i had my two little bubs. i was staying at home full time and really needed something that was mine. so i thought i'd challenge myself and write a novel. i took several classes on the craft and novel-writing, and wrote SILVER PHOENIX after the bubs went to bed at night.

i didn't commit until i was finished -- nearly two years later and after a year of revising the manuscript. i really loved the novel and thought, hey, maybe i can get an agent and get it published. i thought that the novel (and me) deserved this. that i had to try at least.

What was the first tickling inspiration for Silver Phoenix?

fantasy is my first love as a genre. and i love myth and folklore. at the time, i had just begun as a student of chinese brush painting, and was enjoying learning about my heritage and culture. i thought i could combine my two loves and write a fantasy based on a chinese kingdom. my first written notes in my journal date back to 2003 or 2004? i didn'tbegin writing until january 2006.

What aspect of Silver Phoenix are you the proudest of?

probably my climax scene. it is definitely the culmination of the entire journey and story--everything that has happened brought my heroine to this point. and would she be able to win? and what would she have to sacrifice to do it?

the climax scene was one of the first that came to mind when i began writing the novel. i had no idea how i would get there or how it would make sense and tie into the story. but it all worked in the end. i love it when a story falls into place!

What do you feel is your strength as a writer?

tough question. and i'm not a modest sort of person either. ha! i think probably that it comes to me pretty intuitively. i can't say i'm right all the time or that i know exactly what i'm doing in an analytical way, but the story seems to unravel despite all that.

i don't do chapter outlines. i have a document simply filled with ideas, notes, snippets of dialogue, phrases, whole paragraphs, etc. but neither can i just leap in knowing nothing. i'm not brave enough for that!

What writing quirk of yours makes your family laugh?

well, my family has yet to read my novel! but my writing friends probably chuckle at all the food descriptions in my novel. they said i should write a cook book to accompany SILVER PHOENIX! ha! too bad i just eat, i don't cook. =X

You write a lot about your mother on your blog. How has she inspired your work?

she's not a writer. she actually thinks i'm rather very alien-like that i can sit down and make up all sorts of things and weave them into a coherent story. she doesn't understand that i enjoy it -- or that getting published is very hard to do and is an incredible blessing!

despite that, she has always encouraged me. she went to every writing award ceremony to cheer me on in high school. she's taught me to go for what i want. she's taught me to be independent. she's a strong, loving and kind woman. and funny. so i learned from her through example.

How has your cultural heritage flavored Silver Phoenix?

again, food. like with so many cultures, it means celebration and brings people together. my chinese brush art, which i was so fortunate to stumble on. i by no means considered myself an artist, and it frustrated me that i couldn't paint everything i wanted to paint RIGHT AWAY. but i kept at it, and now i'm lucky enough to be working on my own children's picture book featuring my art. it's been a dream of mine!

What advice do you have for authors seeking representation?

it's a fine balance between having enough ego and belief in yourself to move forward and attain your dream, but at the same time being humble enough to know that no matter how perfect and wonderful your writing is, you can learn more, you can improve it. if agents are having issues with the same thing in your prose, it's time to regroup and revise!

i abide by the query widely rule. i sent out 121 queries myself. and it was probably the most ego-crushing, heartwrenching, knife in gut process. it truly takes a lot of belief in yourself and your work. (the only thing more nerve-wracking was going on submission to editors!)

i was fortunate enough to sell my first novel. i know many writers who went on to sell their second or third. you have to decide if you have what it takes to keep going and keep trying.
every time i felt like it was a pipe dream, i'd ask myself if i had done enough for novel (and me). and inevitably, i'd decide i could give just a little more.

That wraps up our interview, Cindy. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by the blog and answer some questions. Best of luck with Silver Phoenix!

thanks so much for having me, alex! i really enjoyed our interview!

Cindy Pon: Up Next!

I must say that this journey has provided more than a few surprises. If you've been reading this blog for long, you know that back in December I had several bad reading experiences all in a row. I won't belabor the point now, but suffice it to say that instead of moping about, powerless, I determined to do something about it. In proper fete-ish style, I held a Book Give-Away (Dogtrax, Diane, and OtherLisa being the lucky winners) and determined to find three new authors to support.

One of these was Cindy Pon. Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed wandering about her blog and website, but it has been a pleasure getting to know the real Cindy Pon. She is truly a woman of many talents. I am delighted to say that her interview is coming up next.

Make sure you leave a comment or a question after the interview. Cindy will be dropping by, saying hi, and giving away an Advanced Reading Copy of Silver Phoenix to one of you lucky duckies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Writerly Friends

Head on over to D. M. McReynold's site and wish him all the best. Borders Bookstore has selected an excerpt from his book Alliance for their Tacoma The Word is Out reading event! Show up and support him, if you're in the area. If not, drop him a line and give him the kudos he deserves. Also, sneak over to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's site where McReynold's bio is posted with other TWIO authors!

Also, if you haven't heard, you can pick up Douglas L. Perry's new book, Lost in the Sky. I haven't received my copy yet, but I'm ordering it through Amazon. Should be here any day, and I'm looking forward to reading it!

And finally, make sure you stop by tomorrow for the long-awaited interview with Cindy Pon. I am so excited I can barely wait myself! And the bestest news?! She'll be dropping by, reading your comments and questions, and choosing one of you to award an ARC to! Awww, ain't you the lucky ones?!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Do You Write?

There are many reasons to write, and so many of us do it without thinking. The cards, recipes, emails, IMs, twitters, and shopping lists are but a few of the scribbles or button punches we make throughout the day. But that's not the kind of writing I'm talking about. You knew that.

Why do I write? Why do I world build and character mold and plot thicken? What draws me back, time and time again, to the screen and keyboard?

Could it be the life style? I can picture myself now, dapper sweater layered over turtleneck and lean velvet skirt, hair fanned out down my back like mahogany jewelry. A svelte laptop slung on a battle-worn table, the coffee rings scored deep into the wooden grain. A world-weary gaze settled oh-so-importantly on my brow...

Um no. Not me. I need privacy and silence to write.

Could it be the money? I won't even bother. Nathan did it for us already. I excerpted the bit below, but check out the post yourself.

Start with a $24.95 hardcover:
$12.48 to the bookseller (50%)
$9.98 to the publisher (50% minus author/agent share)
$2.12 to the author (10% of retail minus 15%)
$0.38 to the agent (15% of 10%)

Not a huge motivator in my world. Or any world.

Could it be the prestige? "You're an author? Really? Have you written anything I would have read? Oh. Guess not. Hey, would you speak to my daughter's class? You'd be an awesome show-and-tell."

You guessed it. Probably not.

I write because I must. Because when I'm not writing, it's what I think about. Even when I'm walking or driving or talking to people, I'm dissecting and planning and revising. It's second nature. It's in the blood. But not in a bad way. I don't foam at the mouth or sink into monosyllabic utterances when denied writing time. I don't pout or throw temper tantrums. It's simply what I prefer to do with my time and energy...and it's what makes me feel the most fulfilled. I've never known anything quite like it.

And you? Why do you write? It's for the money, I bet. Or not :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Writer's Retreat in the Grand Southwest

A Room of Her Own Foundation is sponsoring a writer's retreat for women this coming August 10-16, 2009. The deadline is fast approaching, so if you're interested, get you're on-line application in by midnight, March 5th.

IF the idea of wandering the grounds of Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico isn't enough to inspire you, maybe the fact that you'll be discussing the craft of writing with professionals in the publishing field will. Joining the retreat this year will be Rita Dove, Pulitzer-prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, so get your applications in!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meet the Silver Phoenix

If this little tease doesn't entice you, I don't know what will. I'm already intrigued, already thankful I've pre-ordered the book, already itching to find out what happens next. It's true, gang: we are going to love The Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. Read on for a snippet of the Pon magic and tell me that you're not a little curious about so much.


"I should go," Ai Ling said. She owed him thanks. He had saved herlife, after all.

He remained silent, looking down at her—his face never betraying histhoughts. His golden eyes were tinged with green. She dropped hergaze, hating herself for noticing.

What was he thinking? Without conscious effort, she cast herself toward him, threw an invisible cord from her spirit to his. She felt it waver like a drunken serpent, fumble, and then latch. The sudden pulling and tautness within her navel surprised her.

She remembered watching her father fish once. He'd offered her the bamboo rod when a fish took the bait, tugging so hard against the line she was afraid the rod would snap. It felt like that.

She felt an irresistible draw toward her hooked target, followed by a strange snap sensation. She was within Chen Yong's being.

Ai Ling noticed his higher vantage point immediately. She had always been told she was tall for a girl, but she didn't look so from his eyes. His body was more rested than hers. There were no knots of anxiety in his shoulders, no soreness in his neck. A power and strength unfamiliar to her coursed through his limbs, a litheness coiled within him.

She stared at herself. She stood in a stance of defiance, arms folded across her chest. Did she always look so childish, so stubborn?

Was that Chen Yong's thought or her own? She quieted her spirit, eavesdropped within his mind. Feisty. She plucked the one word which flitted to her from his thoughts. It emerged with a sense of amusement and surprised admiration. Suddenly, she felt ashamed that she was intruding. She was curious but it felt wrong. She drew herself back reluctantly, felt the snap as she returned to her ownbeing.

The world tilted for a brief moment, and she tried to cover her unsteadiness by fussing with her knapsack. She blinked away the black spots which floated across her vision. What was happening to her?Had he felt her trespass? She glanced up at him. His expression had not changed. She straightened, and drew a deep breath.

"I can never repay your kindness. Thank you." She spoke from the heart, he deserved that much.

Chen Yong nodded. "And to you, Ai Ling. Take good care."

She blushed, turned so he would not see, and walked away. She looked back once, to find him still standing in the same spot, and waved. He lifted one hand in farewell. Ai Ling hoped he would follow. She quickly cast the thought aside as if the desire had never existed.

My love:
1. Great simile: drunken serpent
2. I like the tidbit about fishing with her father
3. I actually felt the muscles in my shoulders relax when I read that Chen Yong's body was more rested than hers

My curiosity:
1. How long has she had this ability?
2. Was this the first person she's 'hooked'?
3. Does it always feel the same way?

News that'll make you do the Happy Dance:
I'm not supposed to let the cat out of the bag quite yet, but (shhhh) Cindy will be stopping in sometime within the next week to do an interview!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Write Ingredients

Every high school freshman knows the criteria for a story by heart. Without characters, setting, and plot, you have nothing. "Without conflict," I always add, "you have nothing." But that's because they're freshmen; you already know that.

Gavin of Mechanical Hamster writes, "Every scene - every scene - needs to contribute something to all three of these story elements." This started me to thinking. And reflecting. And researching.

Let's look at Poe, master of horror, and his short story "The Tell-Tale Heart." The story is no doubt familiar to you: the narrator murders an old man because of his 'vulture eye' and then confesses the murder to the police because he imagines hearing the dead man's beating heart. I've chosen the second and fourth paragraphs of the story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

To say that this scene furthers characterization is to put it mildly. Never have I been more completely convinced that a narrator is obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, or insane. The scene also furthers plot. Plainly. He's going to kill the old man. Now we know where the story is going.

A paragraph in a later scene reads: I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back --but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

Characterization-wise, we know that the narrator is not only insane but giddy with his evil, his own daring. He not only worries about what others think, but he's intent upon proving how courageous he is. He is also aware of the old man's fear of 'robbers'. As for setting, not only are we in a bedroom with fastened shutters, but we are in a thick, black as pitch darkness.

There is something to this layering of each scene with character, plot, and/or setting. I'm not certain I agree that every scene needs to include all three pillars, but it's true that every scene should further the cause of at least two of them.

My research is not ending here with Poe. I shall continue combing through stories and books I love. But what do you do in your own writing? Do you consciously seek to include all three of these elements in every scene? Or do you leave that for revising? Or do you just write what comes to mind?

Vacation from Writing or Cop-Out?

I've noticed a trend in my own writing and blogging, and I'm making brave. I'm going to base my hypothesis on nothing more than a simple observation. Maybe it's valid. Maybe it's a cop-out. But here's what I'm picking up: when I'm grading a lot of essays or reading other people's writing, I don't write. Sometimes I pretend I do, but the truth is pretty harsh. I produce next to nothing.

Anyone see anything wrong with this picture? I'm an English teacher. I assign essays. I read a lot of papers. Grading, it's what I do.

Okay, it's not that bad. Usually, I only have several hours a week of evening grading. It just so happens that I had extra grading in the month of January. And February. Portfolios were due, and those require hours and hours of grading. Entire weekends chock full of nothing but grading. Evenings spent surrounded by piles of binders, up to my elbows in abstraction poems and auto-biographical narratives and prose analysis essays.

Something happens when I read for work. Instead of finding inspiration, my inner writer encases herself in a shell and hides. It's not that she's shy or overworked or distracted --> I think she's just being petty. She wants to be the center of my universe; she doesn't want to share the stage. If she cannot have my undivided attention, then she wants none of it. And, for better or worse, I lose all desire to string sentences together beyond this vague, moody "i wanna be a writer" feeling I have in the back of my head -- that is, you must admit, a bloody poor excuse for writing.
So what about you? Do certain jobs or activities distract you from writing? I'm not talking about something that actually prevents you from writing but rather something that steals your desire or your muse or your secret rock that you keep hidden on the window sill...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pre-Order New Books

Have you had a chance to check out the three new young adult titles I've listed as must-buy? Why not? What have you been waiting for? Oh, I know: January tumbled by and now February is seducing us with glimmerings of sunlight and the occasional tweetering robin admist the chill winds and sudden flurries. I totally understand. But do consider slipping over to the authors' sites and seeing what they have to offer. You'll be pleased.

And, today, after my long hiatus involving delightful smoochings and rompings with my little nephew who's visiting from New Mexico (my apologies for being AWOL with no previous explanation), I jumped onto Amazon and pre-ordered all three books.

I challenge you to do the same!

1. Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon
2. Wings by Aprilynne Pike
3. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson

Too, if you pre-order, you pay less! And in this uncertain economic time, that's certainly a silver lining... Well, go on, then. :)