Welcome

This is the blog of children's book author and third grade teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Interview With YA and Middle Grade Author Lisa Schroeder


Lisa Schroeder is a native Oregonian, which means her childhood summers were spent camping, fishing, reading books (of course!), and playing in the sun, when it finally came out. These days, Lisa spends her summers, and every other part of the year, sharing all the wonderful things Oregon has to offer with her husband and two sons. She is the author of three verse novels for young adults published by Simon Pulse - I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Far From You, and Chasing Brooklyn. Her middle grade debut, It's Raining Cupcakes, will be published by Aladdin in March, 2010. This interview was conducted by email on Dec. 30, five days before Chasing Brooklyn's release date.


How did you come up the idea for Chasing Brooklyn?

Chasing Brooklyn came about because I desperately wanted to write a book for the fans of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. So many teens write to me, asking if there’s going to be a sequel, and when I approached my editor about the idea, he said he thought we left Ava in a good, hopeful place. But he tossed out the idea of having Ava make an appearance in a book. So, I thought around that, and decided I could write another book about loss, and perhaps have Ava offer help to one of the characters.


In Chasing Brooklyn you tell the story in first person from two main characters. Why did you decided to use more than one character’s point of view?

As I was playing around with it, in the beginning, I tried a couple of pages, alternating between Brooklyn and Nico, because I knew they would both be integral to the story I was playing around with in my head. It was SO fun to write from a male POV for a change. And I really love books that have multiple points of view, when they’re done well. The problem I later discovered is that doing it that way is not exactly easy. Instead of writing one story, in a way, you’re writing two. But, I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I hope readers are as well.


Let's talk about how you plan and write your books. Do you have specific prewriting techniques?

If I get a story idea that I’m really excited about, I’ll take some notes and try to get the “hook” into a one sentence blurb. If I can do that, and I’m excited by what that one sentence says about the story, I dive in and see where the characters take me.

Sometimes, though, it’s more of a seed or two of an idea that sprouts, and so I’ll take notes in a notebook or on note cards, and just keep taking notes until I have a good sense of what’s going to happen. Again, I’ll try to describe the book in one sentence, and if I like how it all sounds, I begin.

I didn’t used to worry about summarizing the plot, but now I understand that with the market as competitive as it is, you need to have a book that sounds good from the get go. Of course the writing needs to be good and all of that, but the premise is really important, and I want to make sure I’ve nailed that before I begin.


Here is a question for the writers reading this interview. How did you go from aspiring writer to published author? Was it luck or hard work?

I think most authors would agree with me that it’s usually a lot of hard work and a little or a lot of luck thrown in there too. I had been writing for a long time, manuscript after manuscript, and when I finally got an agent, after querying agents on and off for two years on various manuscripts, I think right place, right time did have a lot to do with it.

Still, you have to have a good manuscript to begin with, and that only comes through working hard on craft. I had written a few mid-grade novels and half of a young adult novel when I had the idea for my first novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. I started writing it and it flowed out of me like nothing I’d written before. I got critiques on it, revised, and then started querying on it. I received many nos from lots of well known agents, but one wonderful agent asked to see the whole manuscript, and a couple of weeks later, she was offering me representation.


What do you feel you do best as a writer? And on the other side, what do you still need to work on?

Well, the teens who enjoy my books say I’m really good at writing the emotional scenes. It’s something I work hard at, so it makes me happy to hear that. As for what I still need to work on, I’d have to say all of it. I don’t think it ever gets easier. There’s always so much to learn, and with each book, I want to get better at character development, sensory details, showing instead of telling, writing a gripping plot, etc. etc. With each book, I want to stretch myself, and make myself dig deeper and try harder to do the very best I’m capable of.


What are you working on now?

I’m playing around with some ideas for a mid-grade novel, trying to decide what I’d like to write next. I took most of November and December off, working on promotional stuff for the release of CHASING BROOKLYN. But I’m ready to dive into something new, and I’d love to have another book to follow my first mid-grade novel, IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, which comes out in March. But first I have to write it!!


Lisa, thank you so much for answering these questions. Good luck with your release on Tuesday. I am looking forward to reading Chasing Brooklyn.

Thanks so much for having me here, it was a pleasure.

Make sure to check out Chasing Brooklyn. You can purchase the book at Indie Bound or use their links to find your local Indie Bookseller.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favorite Books Read in 2009

This year I have met or connected with amazing kidlit people with great book recommendations. Here's a list of the best books I read in 2009 (in no particular order)

Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction
1. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2009) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
2. HUNGER GAMES (2008) and CATCHING FIRE (2009) by Suzanne Collins
3. GRACELING (2008) and FIRE (2009) by Kristin Cashore
4. THE MAZE RUNNER (2009) by James Dashner
5. GRAVEYARD BOOK (2008) by Neil Gaiman
6. SHIVER (2009) by Maggie Stiefvater
7. SILVER PHOENIX (2009) by Cindy Pon
8. ENDERS GAME (8th Printing 1994) by Orson Scott Card

Young Adult Realistic Fiction
1. PURGE (2009) by Sarah Darer Littman
2. HATE LIST (2009) by Jennifer Brown
3. ONCE WAS LOST (2009) by Sara Zarr
4. IF I STAY (2009) by Gayle Forman
5. LOOKING FOR ALASKA (2005) by John Green
6. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (2007) by Jay Asher
7. EVERY SOUL A STAR (2008) by Wendy Mass

Middle Grade Favorites
1. PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE (2009) by Cynthea Liu
2. THE DOG DAYS OF CHARLOTTE HAYES (2009) by Marlane Kennedy
3. YEAR OF THE DOG (2007) and YEAR OF THE RAT (2008) by Grace Lin
4. THE UNUSUAL MIND OF VINCENT SHADOW (2009) by Tim Kehoe
5. THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY (2009) by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

What books are on your list?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Day at BEA (Book Expo America)

This was my first year at Book Expo America, an event I recommend highly to all teachers, librarians, writers, and publishing people. Thanks to my friend Jody, I had the opportunity to attend in a unique way. This is what BEA looked like when I arrived:




Notice the lack of people. BEA opened at 9:00. My day started at 7:00am.

As a volunteer in the autographing area, I was in charge of signs. At 7:30 I placed the hanging signs on the poles. Then, starting at 10:30, each half hour I switched them to make sure the right book hung from all 30 autograph lines. It was a tough job (only because the signs hung at about 5'9" and I am 5'2"), but someone had to do it.

Other than the sign turning, I spent the day visiting booths, meeting friends, talking to authors, editors, agents, and librarians. I also spent a lot of time in the Green Room, welcoming authors and their entourage, as they prepared for their signing time.

Here are some highlights of my day:


1. Being fifth online for Kate DiCamillo as she signed hard copy editions of the Tales of Despereaux at the First Book booth. My only disappointment of the day was missing the chance to get the ARC of her new book, The Magicians Elephant.



2. Meeting the Tiffanys in the real world. Here are twitter friends Tiffany Schmidt (in purple) and Tiffany E (in pink).

3. Talking with editors/publishers Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben, Andrea Spooner and Jennifer Hunt from Little, Brown, Evelyn Fazio from WestSide Books, Andrea Davis Pinkney from Scholastic, and literary agent Michael Bourret.

4. Being surrounded by writers, publishing companies, and LOTS of books.

5. Taking home 20!!! free books/ARCs, 5 of them signed. Here is Tiffany Schmidt getting a book signed by Sara Zarr.











In the end, I left BEA tired and worn with lots to read and remember. (BEA at 6:15 pm).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What I Am Reading: Purge

Purge Purge by Sarah Littman


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sarah Darer Littman's new book Purge is the story of Janie, a girl who is in a hospital for people with eating disorders. Using a combination of group sessions, diary entries, and relationships with other people in the hospital, Sarah opens a window into the all to real world of people with eating issues. A definite "must read" for adults and teens.


View all my reviews.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Twitch

Nice Mommy/Evil Editor, Anglea James, has a great post this week called, "What can Twitter do for your pitch?"

In a nutshell, she recommends practicing your pitch (or twitch) on twitter to take advantage of the 140 character limit. By limiting the number of characters you can use, you have to get rid of the garbage and get down to what really matters.

She says, "But what I’m getting at is that it’s important to be able for authors to refine your book to its purest hook. The conflict, the angst, the info that’s going to make a reader, editor or agent want to pick it up to read, go find an excerpt, request a full or keep reading your query letter."

(One side note: She clearly states that one should never actually send this twitch TO an agent of editor directly. Too tacky.)

So, my twitch: 10yo Zoey would do ANYTHING to save her parent's marriage. But can a carsick mosquito-phobe survive a cross country camping trip?

How'd I do? Would you read it?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Results of Critique

In my last post I wrote about handling critique. Now I have to face reality... My WIP is a quiet story about two sisters who go on a camping trip, not an epic journey across America.

Positives:
* Great dialogue
* Well developed family relationships
* Beautiful setting description
* Interesting supporting characters
* Well-written small moments

Negatives:
* Main character isn't distinct
* It's an adventure story without much adventure

How did this happen?
Well, the story is based on a camping trip I took with my own family in 1982. While I changed some characters, introduced new characters, and changed the motivation behind the trip, I had so much fun researching the real trip that I forced the story line into the setting instead of allowing the story to take its own path. My story map was an actual map made on mapquest.

What to do now?
Take to re-plot, rethink, and get to know my character a bit better. Why is she on this trip?

And then?
And then I can decide if this is a story I need to tell or if the book is just a memory best written for my own family.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Handling Critique

How do you handle critique? Do you go back and change everything based on the advice? Do you give up on the project or completely rip your work apart? Or do you take it with a grain of salt and realize that everyone has different tastes?

I tend fall someplace in between. When I am critiqued, I listen carefully to both what the critiquer is saying, and to what they aren't saying. Sometimes facial expressions and tone give you better feedback then the actual words. After listening, I ask questions. Some questions are based on their feedback. Others may be things I want to know about the manuscript that weren't said.

Once I've collected all of the feedback, I take some time to process everything I've heard. Sometimes I have an immediate plan of action. Other times it takes a few days before I decide what to do. In either case, the process helps me make decisions about my manuscript that I am comfortable with.

And, while it usually leads to weeks of careful revision and the loss of many words, the manuscript keeps getting better... which is the whole point, isn't it?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

#Queryfail

If you are still wondering whether or not to get a twitter account, visit #queryfail. Initiated by agent Colleen Lindsay of Fineprint Literary Management, agents from different agencies used twitter to post some of the worst lines from queries they have actually received.

Even if you don't learn anything by reading it (and if you are an unpublished writer looking for an agent, try to learn something), reading through the ridiculous and downright peculiar things people have written should brighten your day and hopefully make your own query look a lot more promising.

For more on the agents who were on twitter today visit Colleen Lindsay's Blog.

For myself, I can't wait until they do it again. Even if it did mean that I opened twitter today to find 202 unread messages.

Monday, March 2, 2009

First Chapter Woes

For me, writing the first chapter is the hardest part. That doesn't mean that my first chapters don't turn out well eventually, but if I had a counter on the amounts of times each part of my manuscript faced revision, I would probably find that my first chapter takes the majority of my revision time.

Here is some I've liked or used:
- Start with the most exciting moment.
- Start with something shocking.
- Write the book then delete chapter one (and sometimes two).

Here are some web links about creating first chapters:
Writing the First Chapter
19 Articles about First Chapters
All Kinds of Writing
Children's Books: Writing Great Beginnings

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What next?

This week I've been struggling with what to write next now that revisions are done (for now) on my NaNoWriMo project. The hardest part, at least for me, is deciding between the old, the very old, and the new. Fortunately so far the decision has been made for me. Not by someone external, but by the story itself screaming at me in my sleep. So, come on characters, wake up and scream at me. Please!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twitter

Having just discovered Twitter at the SCBWI conference in New York (thank you Michael Bourret), I wanted to share some great posts and articles about why writers should use it:

Must reads:
1. Why Michael Bourret Loves Twitter
2. Twitter Tips for Writers +25 Good Follows
3. Book Trade People on Twitter
4. Twitter: It's What You Make of It

And of course, don't forget to follow me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Getting Rid of Words

As I continue the revision and editing process on my latest manuscript, I also continue to think about word choice. Jon Bard from Write4Kids.com pointed out this article called Get Rid of Ugly Wordiness: How to Cut Your Novel Down to Size. It identifies ways to cut out unnecessary words.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Grammar Grumbles

Recently a parent engaged me in a detailed grammar conversation. I am not going to go into detail about the conversation, but it does have me thinking deeply about grammar and mechanics in this day and age. As a writer, I want my character's voice to be "authentic" but how much proper language has to be thrown away to achieve that kind of authenticity? And think about the whole idea of a blog. In many ways it is a stream of thought. My thoughts aren't grammatically correct, does that mean that it is okay for my blog to have some errors?

The current issue of Writers' Journal there are two articles on this topic. One, called "How Does Your Character Sound?" by MaryAnn Duffy, has a large section on Written versus Spoken English. It recommends dropping the -ly from words, using who instead of whom, and using me instead of I. It says, "Once a broken rule becomes the norm in speaking, it nudges its way into acceptability in written English." Interesting, don't you think?

The second article, called "Seven Bad Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Writers" by Scott Nicholson, adds more items to the list of things writers should try to do (and not do).

So, where do we stand? For myself, being part of a critique group has taught me more about grammar usage then any book. Looking at edits from writers more talented then myself in the mechanical area help me to recognize my common errors. Now I just have to hope that their way is the one that is currently accepted.

This is It

Okay, my own blog. Not for the group but about me (and anyone who wants to read about me). Not that I really need something else to spend time doing... but who knows, maybe my own journey will help someone else out there. You too can ramble on aimlessly on the road to publication.

Truthfully, I started this journey three years ago almost as a dare from a group of fantastic third graders who are now in sixth grade. As I hounded them day after day to revise, they told me that there was no way a "real writer" could spend that much time on revision. Not if they had written a whole novel. I took the challenge. Forty-four pages later I had written, what I thought was, a real novel. Ah, if I could only go back and laugh at the writer I was then. If I only knew that true revision didn't take weeks or even months, but years at times. Especially when you've written a forty-four page high fantasy novel for middle-graders.

Completely over-confident, I googled agents and started to send my novel out... to one. I read the submissions guidelines, no multiple submissions. I waited three months to receive my first self-addressed-stamped envelope in the mail. I opened it and found nothing. The envelope appeared to be empty. I opened it a bit wider and there it was, my first rejection, on a small strip of paper cut apart from other rejections. I would like to tell you that I still have that rejection (something to show when it HAPPENS), but, it is hard to keep a piece of paper that small. It disappeared one day, never to be seen again. But don't worry. I have plenty more to share.