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Tucson Festival of Books [Mar. 14th, 2014|02:39 pm]
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If you love books, you need to come to the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend at the University of Arizona campus. Now in its sixth year, it’s the fourth largest in the country, and the weather’s going to be perfect.

Tomorrow I’m moderating a writing workshop called “Crafting a Conversation” with teen novelists Erin Jade Lange and Tom Leveen at 10:00 a.m. Later in the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m., I’m moderating the panel “Other People, Other Times, Other Places” with Ann Hood, Kathleen Krull, and Lenore Look. But in between there are lots more workshops and presentations.

You want to be there.
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Hit the road [Feb. 27th, 2014|10:21 am]
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You want to feel like a rock star?

Visit schools and get up in front of children and speak into that microphone. Today I’m preparing for the Arizona Young Authors Conference (AYAC) in Casa Grande on Saturday, a school in Oro Valley on Monday, and another school in Chandler on Thursday.

I hadn’t planned on teaching writing workshops at AYAC this year, but another presenter had to drop out, and since I am a nice person and I love this event—I’ve gone multiple times—I’m filling in for her. The children who come are hand-picked by their schools. They like writing, and they want to spend their Saturday sharing their stories with each other and writing new ones.

I’m all over that.

I could recycle a writing workshop I’ve given in the past, given that there isn’t much time, but I think I’ll pick highlights from a few, and try to come up with at least one new exercise or prompt to try.

Wish me luck! And when I’m all through next Thursday afternoon, I’m going to hit IKEA. It is curated so nicely, so that I can almost picture my imaginary people living there, besides being a nice place to chill and have a meal and a bit of caffeine before getting on I-10 and driving back to Tucson. Without having to talk to anyone but the cashier, if I don't want to.

I take off my rock star attire and I'm back to being a writing hermit. Until the next time.
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Method acting [Feb. 24th, 2014|02:28 pm]
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Friends, family, and local Tucson indie Antigone Books came together to help author-illustrator Adam Rex make a book trailer for his funny fantasy series, the Cold Cereal Saga. The third and final volume of the trilogy—Champions of Breakfast—has just been released by HarperCollins. The first two books in the series are Cold Cereal and Unlucky Charms, respectively.

You can watch the trailer here. I’m the woman in sunglasses who takes everything that Adam says a little too literally (it's pretty easy for me to play clueless). If you think the trailer's funny, you should read the books...
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Guarding your time [Feb. 18th, 2014|09:26 am]
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Writing takes time, nobody questions that. But it takes more time than you might expect. There’s thinking time, there’s mulling things over time, there’s waking up in the middle of the night time (hate that), besides the sitting in front of your computer time typing words that might someday become a book.

And it’s easy for a writer—okay for this writer—to lose sight of that, and to over commit. But, but, but they are all good causes. And they are. I give of my time most notably to MAKE WAY FOR BOOKS and to my church (St John on the Desert Presbyterian). But I get easily sucked into other good causes, too, and that’s when the problem begins.

The to do list gets longer and longer (I use Teux Deux, and I start waking up feeling anxious in the small hours of the morning, because I don’t think I can get it all done. And really, I can’t.

Not without ignoring the one thing that means the most to me. The one thing that will make me wake up even more early mornings if I ignore it. What I figure I was put on earth to do.

To write.

I think writers—writers like me—need to get good at saying no. It’s not always easy. I like to help aspiring writers, but I can’t read their manuscripts anymore. I need to concentrate on those that my critique partners write, and only those.

When a friend asked if I would look at a picture book manuscript for a friend of hers, I took a deep breath, and five minutes later said no. Without saying I was sorry.

Because time is finite, and I can’t stuff more of it into a day. It felt good. I slept well, too.
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Bookishly yours [Feb. 11th, 2014|03:23 pm]
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My nightstand overflows with ALA Youth Media Award winners and honor books, so I have been working steadily through my pile. I also have five authors whose books I need to be familiar with, as I’ll be moderating them when they present on panels at the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books. Two write gritty teen fiction, and the others write middle grade fiction and nonfiction. It will be fun for me to read something out of my usual modus operandi.

The book festival is now the fourth largest in the nation, and the way I see it a must attend event for anyone who is interested in writing for children and teens. All the events in this genre take place in the University College of Education Building on March 15-16. Usually there is a special afternoon event the Thursday before the festival as well.
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Something you don't think about too often [Dec. 23rd, 2013|07:26 am]
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Periodically, when I’m bored, I think about the coming zombie apocalypse. If you read too much young adult literature, you probably do, too.

But really, ever since Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and masses of Jules Verne read during my childhood, I figure I might not be the first to be voted off the island. Especially if I’m allowed to take one thing.

You would think that would be my husband, and yes, given the choice, he would be it, because he is very handy to have around and he can fix almost anything.

But I might not have the choice. What if it’s me, all on my lonesome, and the gibbering hordes are coming?

I like to think that with advance notice, I could avoid the zombies and find someplace remote to hide with lots of canned food cached away with me. What you don’t think about much is how many can openers to bring. Because when your only can opener decides not to function, it seems like you are pretty much screwed.

Which is how I found myself making soup the other day, with a lot of not very creative swearing, and now I sport a band-aid on my finger.

Take more than one can opener. You'll thank me.
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Books, books, and more books [Dec. 17th, 2013|11:20 am]
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My holiday shopping is done, and no surprise probably to anyone, I bought books. I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t buy books. Like, I had fallen into a coma and was in a persistent vegetative state.

So as not to spoil any surprises, I’m not going to reveal which books they were, but I’ve been reading many fine books lately, and I’ll mention a few of the stand-outs.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—I love books set in foreign places, and while most of this hefty novel is set in the United States, it’s seen through the eyes of a Nigerian expatriate. It does make you think about race and the consequences of privilege.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham—This is a picture book biography about a boy who grew up to become a famous and influential mathematician. I am glad there are books like this one in the world.

Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley—Like the next book on this list, this fun novel has voice in spades. Truly original and oh, so funny! What if your superpower was the ability to talk to cats?

Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith—Time travel and dinosaurs, what’s not to like? What takes this book over the top is the laugh out loud humor. Consider this passage:
They only leave two toe marks, because they hold the one off the ground.

The switchblade one. The one that could disembowel you and leave your intestines on the outside so they could eat you at their convenience while you watched.

I didn’t say this aloud, though, because sometimes you don’t have to tell everyone everything.

I sure hope there’s a sequel.

Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz—Yes, it’s a cookbook, by the author of the classic Veganomicon. I am vegetarian, my eldest daughter is vegan, and a couple small and medium sized relatives have severe food allergies, cutting out whole categories of foods. This cookbook is easy enough for even me to follow (I’m easily distracted), and the recipes are indeed as yummy as promised.

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George—I listened to this one at the gym and while doing housework, which insured that I did both, otherwise, I would neglect everything. If you read mysteries, you should read Elizabeth George.

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Coming (eventually) to a bookstore near you [Dec. 13th, 2013|02:42 pm]
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I don’t think I’ve announced this before, but a profile I wrote of Navajo musician Vince Redhouse will appear in an anthology out from Fulcrum Publishing, Inc., in Spring, 2015. The focus of the book is on contemporary Native American athletes and performers. I must say, it’s a stellar line-up, although I don’t think it’s my place to reveal who else will be included. I’m very happy with my piece, and feel privileged to be a part of this project.

Author Nancy Bo Flood is the editor.
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Running for the hills [Nov. 24th, 2013|05:44 pm]
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Last weekend a friend and invited me along on an adventure. She is getting a Master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Arizona and had an assignment to do a multimedia project. She asked me if I would be interested in helping her film video. She would do the set-up, and then I would babysit the camera while she took still photos. I figured this was something I could handle.

Saying yes resulted in being up before dawn on Saturday, driving to a wildlife refuge about an hour outside Yuma, and being witness to the capture and processing of a small herd of bighorn sheep, which were to be subsequently released in Tucson’s Santa Catalina range. There had been a herd in the mountains once, but it had died out in the mid 1990s. No one knew why—too close to humans, too tasty to mountain lions, some unknown pathogen. So the reintroduction of the sheep is somewhat of an experiment, and not without controversy, to see if the sheep can survive, and not only survive, but thrive.

The sheep probably thought they were being abducted by aliens, complete with anal probes (okay, thermometers, but still). They were captured one by one by nets shot from helicopters, bundled into the choppers by muggers (yes, this is an actual job description), and blind-folded to reduce stimulation, before being given health checks, radio collars, and identifying ear tags by the veterinary staff. They were then loaded into cages on a flatbed truck, up to four sheep per box. I was impressed by how swiftly and carefully the people worked with the sheep.

I, of course, peered into their cages. There is something magical-mystical-mysterious about locking eyes with a wild creature. I felt very privileged.

Then on Monday, I was present as the sheep were released at Catalina State Park. One by one, they leaped out of their cages and ran for the hills.

Godspeed!

P.S. ETA—You can now see my friend's video here. I even show up briefly around the three and a half minute mark.
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Back in print [Sep. 25th, 2013|03:29 pm]
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When your publisher hands you lemons out of print books, after you finish wailing and gnashing your teeth, you figure out what to do with them. And the thing is, you definitely have options.

Two of my novels had gone out of print: The Bean King’s Daughter and Close Encounters of a Third-World Kind. With the assistance of Rhody Cohen Downey, who is smart, savvy, and a #1 NYT bestselling writer to boot, I got them up as e-books, available at Smashwords, for Kindle, and for Nook. If you need help with your e-book formatting, or editorial services, you won’t go wrong calling Rhody.

Then, since I wanted to still be able to sell physical books rather than e-books at school visits, I started investigating getting them reprinted. I thought I could swing a modest paperback print run for each.

I engaged in talks for months with a company that does printing in Tucson (I wanted to go local), but ultimately decided it wouldn’t suit me. It wasn’t because of the storage space issue; it was because of quality. The interior of my books had been formatted so prettily by Holiday House, and although the local company said they could match all the formatting, the examples of books they had done for self-published authors all had ugly blocky formatting. Read, no formatting. I ultimately listened to my gut which said, “Run away!”

Ultimately, I went with print on demand through Createspace. I can order as many books as I want, when I want them. Is it perfect? No, but it will do for now.

For Close Encounters of a Third-World Kind, I purchased the right to reuse the cover art. For The Bean King’s Daughter, I wasn’t sure I wanted the same cover. I think it captured the story’s essence well, and it amused me, because the cartoony girl looks exactly like me when I was twelve-years-old. But every so often, kids would ask me, “What’s wrong with Phoebe’s leg?” As adults, we can infer that the girl’s leg is crooked back behind her as she gets out of a limousine (it’s a poor little rich girl story). But to kids, she looks like she’s an amputee. I think it’s one of those developmental things. Kids can’t imagine the crooked back leg, and adults can’t not imagine it.

After trying a number of designs, I came up with putting my heroine’s photograph inside a million dollar bill. I also decided that while I was giving the book a new cover, I would give it a new title. So it is now The Girl Who Has Everything. I like this title better. I wish I had thought of it earlier.

Close Encounters of a Third-World Kind was nominated for Arizona’s Grand Canyon Reader Award, Connecticut’s Nutmeg Book Award, and Maryland’s Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, and still shows up on recommended reading lists, because it’s quite an unusual book, set in Nepal. And there aren’t many books set in Nepal for children. Like I can count them on one hand, and not use all my fingers.

I am under no illusion that I am going to sell thousands of copies over the internet, but it is nice to have both books back in print (on demand), and at an affordable price, $7.99 each.
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