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Me! Kissing the Earth!

Today I had the honor and pleasure of being featured on the blog Kissing the Earth, run by Sharry Phelan Wright and my agency sister Tamara Ellis Smith.  A sense of place is so important to a book, and I think it's wonderful that Sharry and Tam specifically highlight this on their blog.

If you would like to read my interview and check out their marvelous site, you can find it here: 

A "Cyn"-sational Opportunity!

I’m very excited to be co-presenting this Saturday, June 18, alongside my good friend and one of my favorite authors, Miss Cynthia Leitich Smith!  Our talk will take place at 2 pm at the Bee Cave Library (4000 Galleria Parkway, 78738).


Our program is for YA readers of all ages and is called “From Classics to Contemporary” – a discussion of how classic literature inspired our modern teen novels.  There will be something for everyone.  Readings … A little gore … A little romance … Plus, free pizza!



Dracula is not dead.  Jane Austen is still making people swoon.  And some themes are eternal.


For more information on the Bee Cave event, click here.


Also, if you are a librarian, educator, or festival/conference organizer and would like more information on our two-for-one presentation, please contact Dayton Bookings. 


We hope to see you there!


The Sass & Serendipity Countdown Begins!

What is Sass & Serendipity? 


It is many things.  First of all, it is a book – a YA book, to be exact – that will be available for purchase on July 12, 2011.  It is also a shout-out to two important women in my life: Jane Austen and my sister, Amanda.  In addition, it is an exploration of sisterhood, a peek into modern-day, small-town Texas life, an examination of the various definitions of love, and a romance – or two.


And it is very near and dear to my heart.


Because it is all these things, I can’t come up with one clear phrase to explain it.  Therefore, I will be tweeting thirty different taglines – one a day for the 30 days leading up to its debut – to help get the word out … and maybe spread some fun.


Please join the discussion!  Feel free to retweet and forward the taglines, share funny or touching stories about your own siblings, or even come up with a tagline of your own that you think fits the theme or tone of the book.  (I’ll be honest – I already have 30 written, but if yours are better I will use them!  And, of course, I’ll give you credit.)


To suggest a tagline or share a tale about your own sister, feel free to comment below.  Or you can message me at


To read more about Sass & Serendipity, click here.


Thank you for participating!  Keep on reading, tweeting, and book talking!

All my best,




How fun was the WLT Agents' Conference?

The answer is very.


It’s always fun to hang out with other writers and talk shop, share ideas, and get a little silly -- and this event didn’t disappoint.  I met writers of all ages, from college students to people in their 80s.  I listened to agents, authors, editors, media experts, and publishers share their expert advice and experiences.  I noshed on sliders and sipped wine.  I was reunited with good friends and made new ones.

On Saturday I sat on a panel with Shana Burg and Kathleen Ortiz to discuss "YA or Not? How to Tell if Your Book Is for Adults or Teens or Both."  Bethany Hegedus was our esteemed moderator.  It was a lively discussion wherein we referenced the much ballyhooed Wall Street Journal article on YA literature, discussed our experiences writing for the genre, and explained how one book can be YA and another adult lit, even if they both have teenaged protagonists.


Here are some other conference highlights:


n      Got a glimpse of the cover art for Shana Burg’s lovely new novel

n      Heard hair-raising tales of Comic Con from PJ Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson

n      Met up with author and new neighbor Jenny Moss who came with her beautiful daughter

n      Spontaneously broke into song with Nikki Loftin in the hotel parking lot

Here’s a pic of us at the Hyatt.  From L to R – Jenny Moss, me, Nikki Loftin, PJ Hoover, and Jenny’s daughter, Christine Suffredini. 

Kudos to the Writers League of Texas for a wonderful event!  See you next year!

We Have a Winner!

The results are in and the crossed feet have officially been named "sassy" feet.  Results can be read here: 

Huge thanks to Shelf Consumed for allowing me to commandeer their site!  And speaking of winners ... Shelf Consumed has been nominated for a Salem Press blog award!  This is well-deserved.  Leigh Ann does so much for book lovers everywhere.

To get more information and vote, go HERE.  And please spread the word!

Happy reading!

May. 2nd, 2011

Take the poll!  Please help me decide who is who on the cover of my upcoming book.

Possibly the Very Best Thing about My Job

There are so many wonderful rewards in this line of work – nailing a scene, finishing a draft, getting positive feedback from readers and educators.  However, I think the one that makes me feel proud enough to burst is when a book of mine inspires someone to create something of his/her own.


At the recent Texas Library Association Conference, I found out about two very special tributes.  First, while walking the exhibit floor, I ran into a librarian friend.  As we were chatting and getting caught up, she showed me via a pic on her cell phone a beautiful painting of my How Not to Be Popular book cover done by a student in her district.  I was so blown away, I couldn’t speak for a moment (those of you who’ve met me will know that is quite a phenomenon).


She kindly forwarded a photo to me (thank you, Leigh Ann!).  So for your viewing pleasure, I present the amazing talents of Tamara P from Frisco, Texas.  As you can see, there are many fantastic covers.  Tamara's is on the far right at the top:


I heard from Tamara recently via my website, and she explained how the painting came to be.  “The art project was to assign each student a book cover to paint on a canvas, and I chose yours!” she wrote.  “How Not To Be Popular is honestly my favorite book.” 


Tamara, if my book moved you to create that painting, then I am truly honored. 


She went on to explain that she hopes to pursue a career in art, so I’m certain we’ll see more of her work in the years to come.


The next happy surprise at TLA occurred when I co-hosted the Texas Teens for Libraries' "Booktalk 4 All" with my fellow Delacorte Dame April Lurie.  It was so much fun to see how books inspired these young people to speak passionately or write poems or create video trailers.  At one point I introduced two book talkers and the gals who stood up were dressed in costume.  “How cool,” I thought. “This should be really good.”  Suddenly April nudged me in the ribs and pointed at the display screen … and there was my book cover.  They had written a hilarious sketch based on How Not to Be Popular.


So there I was, all worked up again.  Only this time, instead of getting sniffly with a small group of friends, I was all verklempt in front of a huge conference room full of people.  I laughed at their routine as tears seeped out of my eyes.  When they finished their performance, the two gals noticed that I was weepy.  “I’m sorry!” one of them whispered to me.  Because my throat was all clamped with emotion, I tried to pantomime back that I was fine – that I loved it.  That I’m just a big softie.


Afterward, I had the pleasure of meeting them.  Sonia played “Maggie” and absolutely nailed it!  She portrayed the entire character arc in just a matter of minutes.  And Callie played Rosie, Maggie’s mom, completely decked out in hippie wear.  She was so into the part and had such expert comic timing, I couldn’t stop laughing through my tears!


Their teacher extraordinaire, Karen Webb, snapped this happy pic of the three of us after the show – when I’d regained my composure.  Callie (Rosie) is on the left, Sonia (Maggie) to the right.



Thank you so much, Tamara, Sonia and Callie, for sharing your gifts with us.


Keep creating.  Keep tapping into that joy of self expression.  Keep on being a true you.


Making the Most of Writers’ Conferences

I was recently asked an excellent question via this blog:


“... I’m a newbie writer to long-form fiction, about halfway through a first draft. I did sign up for a 30-minute critique session (at the upcoming YA author conference in Austin).  Do you have any advice for how to get the most out this event in general, (as well as) the critique session specifically?”


This is an issue for all writers, whether one has a polished manuscript, a great idea for a story, or is somewhere in between in the drafting process. Before posting a reply, I decided to ask some pals in the writing world to share their advice – in order to get a variety of viewpoints from writers, agents, editors, organizers, and veteran conference attendees.



Says agent extraordinaire Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency:  “The main thing I’d say about critique sessions is that the best thing a writer can do is be prepared to really listen – and to ask questions for clarification so she really understands what the critiquer is saying. And don’t argue! A lot of times the first response is to disagree, but you can do that away from the critique and work through it on your own or with your writing buddies. The critiquer is there to offer her best advice based on her experience and expertise—it could be off base, sure, but it’s worth giving all due consideration to. And even if it’s clear that it was a poor match of critiquer and writer, and the critiquer didn’t have the right expertise or tastes to give you strong, helpful feedback, you can find something useful from the session if you ask good questions.


“Occasionally I find that one of the first things I say is exactly the nugget a writer was on the edge of finding on her own, so there’s such an ‘a-ha!’ moment that the writer is practically ready to walk away and start writing down ideas. It’s perfectly fine to talk it out with the critiquer to solidify your ideas, or to ask if you can have a moment to make a clear note to yourself so you don’t lose the train of thought and can go on to make use of all the time in your session.”



Editor Stephanie Elliott (formerly with Random House/Delacorte Press, now with Sparknotes) echoes several of these suggestions.  Says Stephanie:  “My advice would be, first, be ready to be critiqued, which would seem obvious but is harder than it sounds. If it’s possible to get practice with a writing partner or objective reader, it’s a good idea. Second, as an editor, I feel like the most common theme in critiques—especially for newbies—is that the writing might have potential, but the plot is too simple, or too familiar, or just not marketable. All of which can have the effect of stopping the conversation flat. So I’d also advise authors to be ready with lots of questions, in case the critiquer isn’t interested or gets through his or her critique quickly. Is the idea salvageable at all? What would make it more interesting? What YA authors would the critiquer suggest checking out as a point of contrast? Finally, if the author can handle it, advise the critiquer to be frank. It’s hard to critique someone’s work—especially for thirty minutes!—and I think editors can sometimes sugarcoat things so as to avoid an incredibly uncomfortable meeting. But if the author is serious about publishing her stuff, the unvarnished truth is what she needs.”



Says writer, founding member, and former regional advisor of the Austin SCBWI chapter Meredith Davis:  “If the critique is with an editor or agent, I think it’s helpful to think about the time as a chance to see how this person works. Just as important as the feedback on the manuscript is how the person delivers that feedback. Getting a feel for their energy level regarding the premise of your story, whether or not they seem engaged, eye contact, all these things help me decide whether or not this person would be someone I’d want to work with.


“It’s really hard to get good feedback on an entire book based on ten pages, but the other real value in these sorts of critiques is the first impression. The fresh eye is so valuable. You may have worn out your critique group, your friends, and yourself with those first ten pages. You no longer have perspective on whether or not they are working. You have paid for a fresh eye, and it’s valuable! That editor/agent/writer will be able to tell you their first impressions. If they don’t, that’s something you should ask. Basically, did they want to read more? And if not, was it because of my writing, or because the story wasn't being told the right way, yet, or because they’ve just recently published or represented a book about just that thing. If it’s the writing, then I know I need to go back and work on craft. If it’s the story itself, I know I need to revise. If it’s that the story just isn’t right for their house, but they like my writing, I put that person on my list for the next story.


“If you can find someone you’d love to work with, you should be excited, regardless of whether or not that particular story worked with them. It’s embarrassing but true that every time I step in that room, I have this dream that they’ll have a contract waiting on the table. I try to have more realistic expectations, and get excited about the small stuff.”



Says author/presenter Dorothy Love:  “As one who conducts paid critiques fairly frequently at writers’ conferences and such, I’d advise attendees to at least have a polished synopsis ready when meeting with a critiquer. It is difficult to evaluate whether or not a story is working based upon a few pages. The critiquer won’t have time to read the synopsis during the short appointment, but it’s helpful to have on hand in case he or she asks a question about how a plot thread is resolved, for instance. It’s better to be able to refer to the synopsis and provide a cogent and well-thought out response, rather than being caught off guard and trying to summarize if off the cuff. As a critiquer, the most important thing for me to know in order to help a writer is to understand the story structure.  Is there a defined beginning, middle, and end? Are there identifiable turning points in the story?  Is the resolution satisfying and believable?  Are the premise and theme firmly established and woven throughout the story?  Other issues such as characterization, use of dialogue, etc, can be fixed more easily than can a wobbly premise or poorly-designed story structure.  A writer who goes to an appointment having a firm grasp on his/her story structure...what the book is ABOUT is, in my opinion, much better positioned to take advantage of the critiquer’s comments.


“As to the event in general: twenty years ago when I started out in this business I got a great piece of advice: Always go to a conference with an agenda. Maybe it’s to meet certain other writers who are attending. Maybe it’s to connect with a specific agent or editor. Maybe it’s to attend the editors’ ‘what I am looking for’ sessions in order to target future submissions. A conference should be considered an investment in your career. Don’t waste your money or your time going to an event without knowing how your attendance there will help you achieve your short-term or long-term goals.”



Cyndi Hughes, executive director of the Writers’ League of Texas and the brainpower behind the YA to Z Conference, also suggests bringing along a synopsis:  “If you’re still working on your first draft, I would include a one-page synopsis (around 250 words) as one of your pages and then ask for feedback on three things: your overall concept for the book, the beginning of your book (assuming you’ll be submitting the beginning), and your writing style. Overall, I’d plan to use the critique as feedback that you can use to improve your writing and your book concept as you complete your draft. Listen carefully to whoever’s critiquing your work—in fact, put the emphasis on LISTENING. Resist the temptation to explain anything about your book, unless you’re asked to do so. But do feel free to ask questions of your critiquer to make sure you understand his or her response to your concept, your writing, and your beginning. That’s what you want to leave with.”


And here are Cyndi’s three rules for how to best take advantage of the conference:

n      “Do your best imitation of a sponge and prepare to soak up every bit of information you possibly can!

n      Talk to as many authors, editors, agents, and fellow attendees as possible throughout the weekend. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the top talent in the business. And you’ll never know what new lifelong friends or writing partners you might make among your fellow attendees.

n      Most of all, celebrate where you are as a writer right now. Don’t compare yourself to others; just take what ideas truly inspire you and apply them when you get back home and start back in on your book. Wherever you are is perfect!

For more tips on how to approach YA A to Z Conference as an attendee, please visit the conference FAQs at



Lastly, I would like to commend those of you who take that step and sign up for conferences.  It can be daunting, I know, but with some preparation and a few realistic goals it can end up being an invaluable and fun experience.  It can contribute to your knowledge not only about the industry, but also about yourself – clarifying the reasons why you are compelled to write.  I know that when I find myself in a group of writers and book lovers, I always come away with a sense of affirmation, hope, connectedness and community.


Thank you, Kathleen, for coming to me with your question!  Here’s hoping you come away with greater insight into your manuscript and/or your writing process, as well as meet some wonderful people. 


Happy writing and conferencing!

Killeen Time

This year, I once again participated in the Take 190-West Art and Literature Festival in the Killeen Civic & Conference Center.  And once again, a rip-roaring time was had.


Because Mark G. Mitchell drives a PT Cruiser, we decided to dress Bonnie and Clyde and pose beside his car.


The evening before we had an author get-together thrown by Pat and Vickie Anderson.  See this huge spread? They made it all. It was yum. Be jealous. I even talked Clare Dunkle into eating an “armadillo egg.”

Here’s award-winner Brian Floca. With dogs. And apparent commotion off to their left. At a quarter to seven.

There were so many great authors and illustrators at the festival the next day. Here’s the lovely Jan Peck talking with a young fan.

Here I am with tablemates Clare Dunkle and Jason Henderson. 

Three of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels: Kari Ann Holt, PJ Hoover, and Jessica Lee Anderson. Yes, people, they are as beautiful as they are talented.


The balloon sculptures were really cool. Wasn’t sure what this was, though. A bunny rabbit on a saguaro? 

Author KA Holt makes a mean balloon motorcycle chick.

There was also a tent outside where people were live-sculpting art from limestone blocks.

I would say we took 190-West. We came, we saw, we signed books, we ate good food, and we had a great time.  I highly recommend you check out this intimate yet inspiring festival next winter.

Big thanks to bookseller extraordinaire Pat Anderson (above) and all my author pals. See you next year!


I’m going to confess something here:  I’m not a big fan of roller coasters.  I don’t have a phobia or anything – I do ride them.  But I don’t see what the big fuss is all about.  Real life is thrilling enough as it is.  It dips and soars and goes by fast.  And you never know what’s around the corner.


Case in point:  Last weekend I was scheduled to speak at the NC/NE Texas SCBWI chapter in Arlington.  I was honored to be invited and knew I would have a great time.  The topic of my talk was “Mass Market Writing: My Book Publishing Boot Camp,” about how I got started in this business, and how work-for-hire writing helped me hone my craft, make connections, gain confidence, and learn about the industry.  I was really looking forward to it.


I arrived the night before and checked into my hotel.  Because the building was next to Six Flags Over Texas, this was the view from my window:


My evening was quite nice.  I had dinner, practiced my speech, read a little and then went to bed early.  The next morning I had more time to rehearse, eat, and get all dressed up in my presenter wear.  (This is typically a dress or a skirt-and-blouse ensemble or maybe my best jeans with a non-stained shirt – not to be confused with my writer wear, which consists of yoga pants and old concert T-shirts.  Or pajamas.)  All in all, things were going well, and I felt great the next morning when I woke up, ate breakfast, got ready, rehearsed some more, and still had plenty of time to meet the organizers for lunch.


And then I got to the car.  And I turned the key.  And instead of the engine starting, it went “click-click-click-click-click …”


That felt just like a roller coaster dive.


I called the chapter R.A, the wonderful George Hellstern who very pleasantly told me not to worry, that he would fetch me.  I then called my husband and told him what was happening, and that I would contact AAA when I returned to the hotel.


George picked me up and we made it to lunch twenty-minutes late, but still in plenty of time to eat and visit before the presentation.  At the restaurant I met Alan Stacy, a very talented illustrator and all-around nice guy.  The three of us had a great time talking swapping stories about the industry, works-in-progress, and Mexican muralists.


Then it was time for the presentation.  What a fabulous group!  They made me feel immediately welcome. 


Here’s a pic of me talking with Betsy Haynes, author of the beloved Bone Chillers series.  Back when I was a teacher, I couldn’t keep those books in my classroom library.

I was also reunited with pals Jan Peck (who, she has informed me, is adopting me as her daughter) and the always entertaining David Davidson, and I finally got to meet my Facebook pal Kathryn Lay in person.


Afterward, I had dinner with Alison Dellenbaugh, good friend, former Austinite, agency sister, and author of my daughter’s favorite middle grade novel (as yet unpublished, but that will change).


It was a fantastic day.  Fun.  Motivational.  Mostly smooth.


Making things even better, when I returned to the hotel I discovered that my sweet father-in-law had driven all the way to my stranded car and replaced the battery.

And so I am reminded that just like on a roller coaster, there will always be loops and turns in life.  But we’re all on this ride together.  Thank you North Texas SCBWI-ers for sharing stories, taking pictures, asking marvelous questions, and making a gal's day.  Thank you, George, for rescuing a lady and laptop in distress.  And thank you Father-in-Law for your roadside assistance.  The weekend went by fast, but the thrills will last forever...



"Keep Austen Weird"
Saturday, July 23, at 2 pm.
BookPeople Austin
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 472-5050


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