Friday, March 26, 2010

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing: Friends and Reviews

The good thing/thankfulness thing seems to be making it's way around the blogosphere today, and how cool is that? It's been a while since I've done one, I think, so I'm back with a special edition today.

What's a good thing?

Having someone you don't know read your book.

Having that person email you to say how much they like the book.

Finding out that person has a blog and becoming buddies.

Flying to a book launch of another author and actually getting to meet new blogging buddy!!

Finding out that person is even better in person than on the computer!!

THAT is the best!! But to top it off, she wrote a fantastic review that made me cry. Here's a peak:

And she leads us to discover that the story isn't about diabetes at all, or about controversial research, or really even about faith. It's about the love a mother has for her children, and the strength we find within ourselves to get up every morning and hope again, when we're certain there's no hope left.

In moments of panic and desperation, Babs will make you laugh out loud with her honesty and absolute simplicity. But don't be fooled by her candid humor; you're going to need the Kleenex, too.

But to read the rest, go visit her blog. All I can say is WOW!!

Hey Tam - You're my good thing this week! I love writing, just so I get to meet people like you!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting a Little Perspective

It's that time of year again in Washington D.C., where the snow melts and the rains come in and the weather starts to get just warm enough that you think you might have survived the winter after all; and all along the National Mall, the cherry blossoms start to bloom.

There's something special about the cherry blossoms. People come from all over the world to see them. When they are in full bloom, you can't hardly walk; the tourists and photographers as thick as ants. Some people say this is because they're so beautiful, but I think the truth lies somewhere closer to this: in a year of 365 days, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom only about five of them.

That picture above? I took it last year on the only day the blooms were at their peak and the rain wasn't beating down on them.

One day. One chance to get the perfect picture. And really, you don't even know if you got it until you get home and download or print them. And if you didn't? It's too late.

Last year I took that one day off from my regular routine and strolled around the tidal basin with the millions of others looking for that perfect photo. I knew exactly what I wanted. I took about 300 pictures in a few hours, and some of them were truly spectacular.

But none of them was the one I wanted so badly.

On the metro ride home I tried to figure out how I missed it. Of the hundreds of photos, how could I not get a single shot in which both the cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial were in focus?

See what I mean?

I've seen this picture a thousand times by other people. How come I couldn't get it right? No matter how much I fiddled with the shutter and the aperture, no matter how I framed it, one of the two turned out blurry.

And then I realized what was wrong.

I was too close.

I was so close to the cherry blossoms that the camera couldn't open wide enough to focus on both something that near, and a subject that far away.

I needed distance.

This coming week the cherry blossoms are back, and most likely, I will trudge back into the city to get that one elusive shot. All I needed was a little time to figure it out, and a little distance.

Writing is like this. When we are in the midst of our masterpiece it's easy to feel like time is running out. Others all around us are hitting the jackpot, but it seems just out of reach to us.

Sometimes what our writing needs is a little distance. A little time to ponder and wallow in, to figure out not just what we want but how to get it, to finagle a bit to get all the parts to come together.

And a little perspective to remember that while it can seem that the opportunity is fleeting, it's not. It comes again. And again. And again.

Doris Lessing was 88 when she won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Now there's a little distance, time and perspective.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A (Pictorial) Anatomy: The Book Launch of The Body Finder

As many of you probably know, I flew from my home in D.C. to Seattle last week to be there for Kimberly Derting's book launch of her debut YA, The Body Finder.

This was my first book launch to be present for (my own aside, of course), so it was so much fun getting to participate in such a huge celebration!

I have to say, I think having a large base of friends and family was totally key for Kim. That, and a great book that the publisher clearly loves! :)

I wanted to get to the book signing early because I'd heard they were expecting somewhere between 200-300 people. They weren't completely wrong.

The event started with a quick introduction of Kim, and then she got to talk about how she started writing and read the prologue to The Body Finder and answer questions. My favorite questions were about her film agent (shhh!!) and who she saw playing the main characters if it got picked up as a movie.

Kim was, of course, coy about that, and there were no shortage of volunteers! In fact, Kim used many of her family and friends as names in the books, and so a group went out and commissioned t-shirts for the occasion with the book cover on the front, and the name of the character named after them on the back.

I loved this one:

I'm not sure how I would have felt, though, if the character named after me was one of the murder victims. Or the vapid high school cheerleader. I saw her. She looked really sweet in person.

There were some who opted for cuter shirt titles, like "paparazzi" (aptly named as he was constantly snapping photos) and "unpaid intern" (her husband).

This was such a cute idea I'm considering changing a bunch of names in my current book so we can do that when it sells, too.  And doesn't it make a striking statement when the Barnes and Noble looks like this?

Is that totally awesome or what??

After the talking and reading and answering of questions, we lined up for signings. I have no idea how Kim did it. My wrist hurt just looking at the line. It wrapped clear around the top floor. Still, I stood in it, even though I could have walked down the street two hours later to have her sign it because, heck, this is what an author signing is for, right? To drive your author in carpal tunnel purgatory?

I look all geeky and fan-girl like, but it was so fun I couldn't stop smiling.

See that yellow post-it in the book behind me? B&N was so organized, they had someone walking through the line asking who you wanted to book made out to, and then writing it on that sticky so that Kim would have the spelling right there, and it marked the page so she could turn to it quickly. This was a thought-out, perfected process!!

I left before the autographing was finished. That was seriously a long line!! There were cookies (yum!!) and bottled water (in case we had to be locked in all night, because not one of those fans was leaving with an autograph) and a HUGE and AWESOME gift basket with one of those great shirts, a sweatshirt from the high school the main character goes to, a mug from the fire department she works with, a hardback AND an ARC!!! And an ipod nano. Let me tell you, when Kim does something, she does it right!!

A few hours later I got to go to her launch party, in which I met even more really cool people, like fellow author (of Prada and Prejudice!!) and agent, Mandy Hubbard.

The party was so much fun, and I was having such a blast, I nearly missed my plane. Here's a tip for all you travelers: If you are in a hurry to get through security, knee-high boots are NOT your friend!!

I think I was one of the last on the plane, but I made it. I fully intended on reading Kim's book the entire way back, but since the plane took off at nearly eleven at night, I was too tired to even open it.

But I did sleep with it on my lap, front up, so that I could flash it to everyone passing by. It was the least I could do. :)

I was totally inspired to get cracking on my own new book now. If I could just stop dreaming about what the book signing will look like...

Friday, March 19, 2010

2 authors, new friends, a pizza and a whole lot of champagne...

Dinner last night was fabulous!! I "met" bloggers Kim (author of The Body Finder) and Tam, and it was as if I actually already knew them!! Like old friends getting together to talk and laugh and eat some pizza... and celebrate a book launch. You know... every day activities.

I'm sure Shawn wouldn't love this photo because she's laughing so hard, but I love it because we all looked like that all night. I laughed so hard my entire face hurt by the time I went to bed.

Today I'm cruising around downtown Seattle (I love this place!). The weather is gorgeous, the skies blue, Mount Rainier a sight to behold. Tomorrow is the official book signing and party for Kim, and then I fly back home. I miss my family like crazy, but what fun this has been!

I'll post photos of the book signing on Monday. For now, this picture of what I'm looking at right now will have to do.

Happy Friday, and have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Author Has Landed

I'm now in Seattle for the book launch of Kimberly Derting's Body Finder. What a trip! (and by that, I mean both the literal and figurative meaning!)

It's crazy how I got here. Figuratively. Literally, I came on an airplane. That's not too crazy. Except the flight was nine hours and NO FOOD was available. Coke, yes. Food, no. THAT is crazy!

But I digress.

The point of this is, why in the world did I travel across the entire distance of the continental US to be here for a book signing of someone I don't even know??

Good question. One for which I only have a hazy answer, which goes back to how I "met" Kim, which was surpisingly not how I've met any other blogger.

Kim is next door neighbors with a very close friend of mine. Two Christmases ago, standing at the White House Christmas tree snapping photos in the bitter cold, my friend casually mentioned to me that she had another friend who had written a book and gotten an agent and a contract. At the time I was just finished with Some Kind of Normal and getting entrenched in the search for an agent. So I meandered my bloggy self over to Kim's blog to read about her getting "the call," and got sucked into her entertaining writing. I wrote her. She wrote back. We became blogging buddies, but with a personal connection.

So when her big day came, I made the rash decision to fly out. There's a book launch book signing at Borders! There's a book launch party at a restaurant for her 70 closest friends! There's a neighborhood dinner tonight with a few people who I've gotten to know over the blogosphere, but haven't met in person.

To say that being among a bunch of people I've never met in person is freaking me out a bit is an understatement. This is way out of my comfort zone. I didn't even bring my husband, who is clearly my socially better half. But here I am, and I can't wait!

I'm sure there will be pictures to come. Because what's a good book launch without the paparrazzi? :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Destination: X-Factor

X is a funny letter... it doesn't really make a sound another letter of the alphabet couldn't make. It gets less dictionary pages than any other letter. It's probably the least used letter.

But it's also powerful in ways that other letters aren't. When other letters stand for a sound and usually need other letters with it mean something, X is bigger than just a sound.

On a map, X is the destination. It's where you want to end up when you're on a journey.

In math, X is the part of the equation you want to solve for: it is what you are seeking.

In ancient Greek, X is the symbol for the word Christ.

This past weekend the youth group at our church had a retreat in which the theme was X. X for Roman numeral ten, as in 2010. X as in what you are seeking in life. X as in the end of your journey. X as in Christ – the destination, the One you are seeking, the place your journey in life will end up.

Which, of course, got me thinking about writing, and my particular path in my own life, and my own journey. Besides the obvious answer of wanting to spend eternity with God, where do I want my life to go? What is it I seek? What is my X-Factor?

 I admit that last week I got a little Amazon-ranking addicted. It was fun seeing my book climb the chart, the number of books that sold more than mine go down. It was a freak out moment seeing my book listed in the same group as Jodi Picoult and Michael Crichton, both of whom I greatly enjoy reading. I want my book to sell well. What writer doesn't?

But as the weekend settled in and the numbers evened out, I got something even better than a notice that I was on the medical fiction bestseller list. I got an email from a reader saying how much my book had meant to them. And then another. And another.

I got six emails and letters this week from people who found a piece of themselves in the book.

Let me tell you, there is nothing better to me than hearing that something I wrote made someone feel less alone, less unheard, less frustrated; made someone think about God in a new way, find miracles in everyday life, understand what someone else is going through.

There are lots of reasons to read, and lots of reasons to write. Not a single one of them is bad. Not even if you as a writer secretly want to write to get rich. Hey - if you can do it, good for you. If you want to entertain, if you want to provide escape, if you want to be heard, if you want to help, if you want to be famous, if you want to just make some money doing something you love. All very valid reasons to take the journey of writing to be published.

For me? The X-factor is making a difference. The destination is having my writing touch someone else's life. It's being faithful to God's call to reach people and tell them he loves them, no matter whether or not they struggle loving him back, or whether they question his goodness or relativeness to their lives. Whether they even believe he exists.

I don't think it's a more noble goal than any of the others, and maybe my publisher would prefer I strove to be famous and wealthy. :)

Still, it makes me more focused when I'm writing to know what I want the end goal to be.

What about you? What is your X-factor? Why do you do what you do?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NewsFlash: Amazon Rankings Beat Out Bad Hair Days for Mood Control

I got a bad hair cut today. One of those where I went in saying, "Just a little trim, please," and walked out with four inches chopped off and layers cut from here to kingdom come. LAYERS!!  I nearly cried. I did. My hair's now short. And poofy.

And then I opened my internet to stalk my amazon page and realized that someone must have bought my book. More than one someone.  Because my amazon ranking for Some Kind of Normal shot up to 29,000.

For those of you who don't know what the Amazon ranking is, it's somewhere between science and mystic wand-waving. I think technically it's supposed to mean that that many book sold more books than mine. They say it changes hourly for the best sellers, daily if your book sells ten or more copies a week, and weekly if your book sells less than that. Except mine changes nearly minute by minute, and I'm no John Grisham, so I have no idea what that means.

If you are an Amazon ranking watcher, you'll realize this number means... means I'm no John Grisham. 29,000 is a lot of books beating out mine. But since my number has been as high as 700,000, today was looking pretty good.

But even more than that, under the amazon ranking was a new number...a new rank.

Some Kind of Normal is ranked #51 among medical fiction. #51!!!

I looked it up. You know what that means? It means I'm in the same list as Jodi Picoult and Robin Cook, on the same page as Patricia Cornwell and Michael Crichton; I'm sandwiched between Michael Palmer and Robert Ludlum.

My book was in the top 51 medical-based fiction books sold today.

Is that crazy???

I printed out the list.. all seven pages of it. I don't know if I'll ever get any higher, and knowing Amazon, I'll be back in obscurity tomorrow.

But today... today I rank with the best of the best.

And I decided maybe my hair looks pretty good just the way it is.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Children's Book Series and Book Giveaway

I have two young girls and a son, and if I've discovered anything it's that the girls want to keep up with their older brother something fierce... but they want to do it in tiaras and pink tutus.

This is why, when I first found out about new author Bethany Hegerhorst's new book series, Sports Princesses, I had one of those head slapping moments when I wondered why this hadn't been done before. Girls in football jerseys AND tutus? Glitter face paint? Flouncy skirts and soccer balls?  Priceless!!

Her new series is coming out in June, and she's giving out books on her blog to those that stop by and link her blog on yours. Also, she has a super cute photo contest going on, too. Check them out! Enter! Spread the word!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Stink At Secrets

Not at the real secrets... the secrets I have to keep myself. I'm pretty good at those. In fact, I'm sitting on one right now. A fairly big one - or one that could be fairly big. Lips zipped. In fact, until this moment, I haven't even admitted I have a secret. That's being a pretty good secret-keeper, right?

No, the kind of secret I stink at is the creating secret. Secrets my characters keep. Secrets I keep from my readers.

In my first novel attempt – the novel I keep under the bed – I tried to center the entire book around a secret the main character was keeping. I struggled to make that secret believable, and the way in which it's discovered believable. Which is primarily the reason that novel is still under the bed.

My first agent feedback was that it felt like I was trying to hard to keep the secret a secret. See what I mean?

Now, I'm working another WIP with another secret, and that secret is killing me. Or killing the WIP.

I know the secret. The character knows the secret. Trying to let the reader know there's a secret without telling them what the secret is is quite possibly more complicated than I'm capable of being. It's not a mystery thing. I can write a mystery, with clues sprinkled through out. Well, I think I can. I started one once and didn't finish it only because I moved and the moving company stole the computer it was on and I didn't have the heart to finish; I didn't, however, feel like strangling that book within an inch of it's life.

The secret is different. It's the thing that motivates a character to act a certain way, sometimes when it doesn't make sense for the character to act that way. And along the way you have to have other characters buy into that doesn't-make-sense action, and then have a character discover that secret in a way that's both dramatic and still believable, as a course of the plot.

(and if that last paragraph doesn't make you want to scream, maybe I could actually pull it off!)

I'm thinking about dumping it (the secret as a plot device) altogether, despite the fact that the entire book now revolves around it. If I could pull it off, it would be a total WOW moment in the book - the kind of scene that might suck the breath right out of you; but if I can't pull it off (which is looking quite likely), well... it wouldn't be pretty.

Sigh. And I like pretty.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Ugly Word

My grandmother was something special. Petite, warm, gracious, a southern debutante in her day, and a fiery college English teacher who loved the way language worked.

I remember lots of things about my grandmother, but one of the things that I think of most often, especially as a writer, was her distaste of the word, "got."

It's ugly, she said. It's slang. It's unspecific. You can always find a better, more exact word.

If you think about it, it's true. There is always a better word you can use.

Unless your character wouldn't.

Trying to match the beauty of language and the voice of your book is a tricky thing. When my narrator was an uneducated southern gal, the idea of her saying, "I received the letter in the mail" was preposterous. How uppity! A woman who flings words like "y'all" and "ain't" (oh I think my grandma is rolling in her grave!), would NOT say "received." She'd say "got."

And now, I'm finding the same in my new WIP. That ugly word sits at the top of the paragraph like a zit on a forehead. It's either my grandmother's influence or my genetic make-up that makes me keep going back to it to see if I can't find a better word. A prettier word. A more specific word.

But every time I try, it sounds stuffy and very unlike the voice I'm trying to create.

Are there words you just can't get away from?

Monday, March 1, 2010

What's a blog for if not a little TMI?

I wish I could say my idyllic weekend basking in the glow of a coffee-shop fireplace and writing with my feet propped up on the hearth went swimmingly, but as most things, it was not without its wrench.

I got sick.

Not throwing up sick (that would make for a truly TMI post!!), but on Friday I woke up with a niggling tickle in my throat and the feeling that my brain was working just a little too fuzzily to be considered healthy. And sure enough, by the time I picked my daughter up and headed out of town, I was in the full throws of what I suspect is just a head cold, although quite possibly might be the flu.

You'd think I'd know the difference by now, but I don't. I think I had a fever. Is that what flings the cold into the flu category?

In any case, I felt like my entire head was stuffed with something I shall not mention. I dropped my daughter off at her choir rehearsal, checked into the hotel, and was bothered by the fact that I was only half way thrilled that my room overlooked a Paneras Bakery. I headed over for an early dinner of soup, thinking that I'd read a little while eating and then get to work. After all, why waste four glorious hours of alone time doing something other than writing?

But I nearly fell asleep at the table. Twice. Which is not like me at all. And I ran through my entire stash of kleenex. So I opted for finishing the soup and taking my Nook back to the hotel room where, if I fell asleep, at least I wouldn't be drooling for an audience.

I didn't get any work done that night at all. I did fall asleep, and by the time I went to pick up my daughter and her friends, head back to the hotel for pool time, the night was shot.

Thank goodness for Saturdays.

When I walked into Paneras on Saturday morning with five hours stretching in front of me, I was after one thing: redemption. There was no way I was going to fall asleep again. I obtained a mocha with enough caffeine and sugar to keep me going and scored the good leather chair right in front of the fire, like I'd dreamed. There was a little table for my coffee and notebook, and outlet for my laptop, and a wooden screen that actually semi-secluded me from the busy tables. PERFECTION!

I'm not about word counts anymore, so I can't give you those. Which is probably good because I suspect I'd come out negative, having chopped 8,000 words after not figuring out how to make them work well with my new premise. I did a lot of pen and paper plotting, rethinking motivations especially. Also, I wrangled that baby into an outline - a beautiful road map to where I'm going, and I think that will bode very well over the next month for good writing. Overall, it was massively successful, even if I didn't come away with a mammoth stack of writing.

Things I learned from sitting in a Paneras for five hours:

1. The fire gets exponentially hotter as the hours pass.

2. It's good to wear layers to Paneras. Unless you're fine with working in your skivvies in public.

3. I think there are hidden bun warmers in the leather chairs that employees turn on high if you stay too long. It might have been my fever, but I don't think so.

4. If you sit long enough in a coffee shop, someone will find the need to talk to you about why you are sitting so long in a coffee shop.

5. Headphones do not necessarily deter these people.

6. Saying you are an author to some people is akin to saying you are a celebrity.

7. I LOVE these people!!

My daughter's concert was beautiful, and my husband hitched a ride down with the parents so he could drive home, which was a very good thing for me.

I got home and went to bed immediately. In the past 34 hours, I slept 24 of them.

And I woke today feeling almost like a human.

So now it's back to writing and making up those 8,000 lost words. And maybe sneaking a nap in there somewhere.