Monday, April 30, 2012

The Part About Renewal

So…here’s a Spring thing: all of a sudden I have a garden.

Not to harp on the fact that I very recently lost my mother, but those of you who have been through losing a beloved parent know it’s a life-changing event. More so perhaps for me, because she lived here. (Not trying to one-up anybody on loss. It’s just that the more your life was entwined with somebody else’s, the weirder the day-to-day adjustment. Then again, what do I know? I only know what it’s like for me, not for anybody else. Scratch that whole thought.)

Initially this was her house. She inherited it from a friend who died with three houses and no remaining blood relatives. I came up to Cambria from LA to live with her, because she inherited the house with a mortgage. (Twenty-seven years ago! How on earth did I get to be so old?) Between the two of us, we were able to keep up with the bills. This is probably my #1 secret to success as a writer: a cheap roof over my head. Years before she died, she put the house in my name, because I’d been paying the bills with my writing for as long as either of us could remember. So I’m used to the house feeling like mine. But the garden always felt like hers.

Oh, I had a mint patch that I on-and-off tended. It still bears mint despite my occasional neglect. And I did take some interest in the dwarf Meyer lemon tree she presented me for a recent birthday. Still, she watered it when it was new.

You might be glad to know I have a guy who comes in twice a month to weed, water, cut back, etc. I’m not sure I’m all that garden needs. Then again, the same was true of my mom in her late 80s. It’s fairly low maintenance, and I trust it to survive.

The garden has a new addition. It’s a Ginko tree. It was a gift from three good friends, and it arrived on my porch (carried by one of said friends, who didn’t know my small dog, Ella, well enough to realize that stealth is not possible) a few days after my mom died. I planted it right in the center of the yard, despite the fact that it will eventually get very large. I figure it can be cut back as needed. I figure I have a guy to rake up leaves twice a month. I figure it’s my decision now. The garden can be whatever I want or need it to be. Which is a surprisingly weird feeling. But not altogether unpleasant.

When the Ginko tree arrived, it was a collection of small, nearly-bare branches. Just tight little buds to break up the wintery look. Despite a notation in the instructions warning that the Ginko is slow to adjust to transplantation, it burst into foliage immediately. It was so sudden and sure that I took to posting “before and after” pictures on Facebook.

So, for whatever it’s worth, my thoughts on Spring are simply that life goes on, and there’s comfort in that fact. When I was caring for my mom in those final Hospice days, I remember waking up each morning, stepping out into the back yard, and noting, with some odd surprise, that the sun was coming up anyway. It seemed more remarkable somehow. Like no matter what happens, or what changes, we can always rely on certain things. The sun will come up in the morning, and leaves will burst out on the trees in the Spring.

Life goes on.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Springtime is on my mind...

"All the world seems in tune on a spring afternoon as we're poisoning pigeons in the park..." --Tom Lehrer, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

"Spring time is on my mind! Flowers bloomin' all the time! Smell the roses, smell the grass! Old Man Winter can kiss my a$$!" --Spinal Tap, Springtime

"Goodbye my friend its hard to die, with all the birds singing in the sky, now that spring is in the air..." --Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun

"And now every April I sit on my porch/ And I watch the parade pass before me/ And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march/ Reliving old dreams of past glory." --Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (In order to keep with the spring theme, I had to leave out the more powerful line where the young soldier loses his legs during the First World War)

Ah, spring. Not just a pleasant time of year for me. As a public school teacher in real life, I get two blessed months off (no, not three, what with meetings and the breaking down and putting together of the classroom). And, thanks to writing, I can guiltlessly not sign up to teach summer school.

I am blessed. Not only do I get unlimited time with my wife, daughter, and unmanageable yard, but I can write! I need little sleep, so I have unnumbered hours in which to create my next book. And if I can't make something for the ages, well, it's my own damn fault.

After all, in this economy, only the creme de la creme can hope to be published, be it a book:

  A screenplay:

Or a televisions script:

If I fail, I have no one to blame but myself (though rest assured, I will blame someone else). Watch this space. I've got a great idea for a book. You see there's this girl, and she realizes her boyfriend is actually a vampire! Damn, this is going to be like printing money...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This time last spring

I'm writing this at about 6 o'clock p.m. Friday. One year ago today, just about to the minute, friends were phoning me from across town, and my husband was phoning me from a business trip in Texas, to tell me that I was about to get hit by a tornado. I had asked them to phone me because my power had been out for 12 hours and I couldn't watch the weather on TV. I had already secured my 9-year-old child in a small, windowless room in the basement. We had a flashlight. We had shoes. We had a radio. I just didn't have the cat. The cat does not come when we call him. This is pretty annoying during tornadoes. What I learned from this experience was that when you know for 12 hours that you're probably going to get hit by a tornado but you're just not sure exactly when, no matter how prepared you think you are, it will always come sooner and travel much faster than you thought, and you will not have time then to save both yourself and the cat.

Flash back to 2007. Enterprise High School in south Alabama was destroyed by a tornado right when school was about to let out, killing nine people, eight of them students. Apparently there was some question about whether it was better to let the students out, so they would be driving around town when the storm hit, or keep them in the school until the storm blew over. There was not a good answer to this question.

As a result, all the schools around Birmingham became, quite naturally, completely freaked out. In the following school year, my son's school started late, let out early, held students over, or canceled the day entirely five times because of tornadoes. We have terrific meteorologists and weather warning systems around here, so we knew three days ahead of time that April 27, 2011, was going to be a problem. They told us the first wave of weather would hit Birmingham before dawn.

Like clockwork, at 5 a.m. the tornado sirens woke me and the power went out. My son and the cat and I huddled in the basement. But soon the clouds parted, and the morning as cool and beautiful. The radio was saying that several places around the state had sustained heavy damage, but they weren't saying much about my own area. I didn't quite understand why the power was out. So, grumbly, I took my son to school. The school was closed because it didn't have power either. Son in tow, I went in search of coffee. There was no coffee. Starbucks did not have power. Chick-fil-A was packed with people wanting coffee. They ran out of coffee. I realized then that the power outage was widespread. Yes, there was an eighteen-wheeler blown off the interstate and onto its side, but I thought that was an isolated incident. It would be a few more days before I traveled to the other side of my suburb and saw all the homes and businesses destroyed.

As the day wore on, my son and I went to the grocery store to stock up on food that didn't have to be refrigerated or cooked. The folks on that side of the mountain all had power and kept telling me another wave of weather was coming at 3-ish and another at 6-ish. We went home and waited throughout this gorgeous sunny day. The 3 p.m. storm veered north of us and destroyed Hackleburg. Around 5 the radio said a tornado had destroyed a big part of Tuscaloosa and was headed straight for me--as verified by the folks calling me. 6 p.m. found me grabbing up a damn cat and scampering for the basement.

If that tornado really was going to hit me, it would have killed me, because it was already past us when I made it to the basement. It had veered north of us too, by about 10 miles. Here it is, viewed from the mountain just south of downtown Birmingham, looking north.

The weather wasn't over, either. We didn't get another big storm in Birmingham, but later that night, one hit the lake where I grew up. Two of my distant relatives were killed, but my lovely cousin Edie survived. Apparently she had cat problems also. This is her story:

A few days later, I went up with my dad in his airplane and took these pictures of the lake. When I was writing The Boys Next Door in 2006 and Endless Summer in 2009, I had a couple of bridges and marinas in mind, but part of my model for the setting was the Kowaliga bridge and marina in the center of this photo. The path of the tornado is on the left.

Here's a slightly different angle. You can see the path of the tornado coming toward you.

Now I've shifted to the opposite side of the plane to take a photo out the other window, with the path of the tornado moving away.

This is where it killed my relatives, brushed against the gazebo at the edge of my dad's business partner's yard, and headed off to destroy Edie's house on another part of the lake.

All told, there were 62 tornados in Alabama that day, and they killed 255 people. Here are some of them:

The red one that came closest to me is pointed out for you. A little green one under that is the one that knocked out my power and destroyed buildings in my suburb, and the red one at the bottom right is the one that crossed the lake.

Maybe you are sick of seeing pictures and videos like this. They make my heart race even today, but I never get tired of them. I didn't get my power back for another four days, and my phone wasn't much help for surfing the internet because so many cell towers were down. All that time I couldn't see the storms or the damage, only hear about them on the radio. When the power finally came back, I stayed online looking at this stuff for probably six hours. There is definitely a tornado-chasing book in me.

In fact, Such a Rush, which is coming out on July 10, has a tornado in it. I was writing it while this was going on, and you might think the tornado is a result of my experience. It isn't. I'd already planned on that tornado when this happened. It had been a very active spring and we'd had maybe five tornado warnings already, so I had tornadoes on the brain.

But the tornado in the book did change character because of this experience. A lot of people from elsewhere in the country tell me they would be terrified of living here because of the tornadoes. To me, they're a lot less scary than earthquakes or hurricanes or avalanches or volcanoes, because they are my natural distaster. As you can see from the map, they are only going in one direction. If the warning siren goes off, that means a tornado has crossed the county line. You just turn on the TV and see where it is. If it is going to hit you, you will know. If it's way north or south of you in the county, you keep the TV on in case something else pops up, but for now you know you're safe.

This only works when you have a TV. Being without power, and therefore without the knowledge I'd always counted on to feel safe, was a terrible feeling. Sometimes as authors we can't directly experience what our characters are going through, so we transfer our feelings from one event onto another. In the book, my heroine has grown up in devastating poverty and has been all but abandoned by her mother. When the tornado sirens go off, she doesn't have a TV to show her she's safe. She doesn't have a car to drive to a shelter. If a tornado hits her mobile home, she is going to die. The helplessness and utter hopelessness she feels in the moment of that realization become a reflection of her whole life, with so little power and so few choices. I've never experienced that exactly, but I know how she feels.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Spring, romantic (or not)

As a lover of warm weather, I’ve always welcomed spring. Where I’ve lived, spring is often more about the promise of warmth than actual warmth, but a promise is good enough for me: The trees will not always be bare! I will not have to huddle stoically under suffocating layers of clothes forever! The blood will circulate all the way out to the tips of my fingers once again!

And then there are the flowers. They start with brave and hardy witch hazel, crocuses and snowdrops poking their heads up through leaf litter or snow, but by April everything is blooming everywhere. The breeze carries the rich scent of hyacinths and, later, lilacs. Light returns! I no longer have to get up in the dark and come home in the dark.

Light returns! And it can't get here fast enough, if you ask me.
When I was a teen, I always thought spring was the perfect time to fall in love. Spring seems like the beginning of something important: full of beauty, full of promise. As it happened, no magical knight ever swept into my life bedecked in spring flowers. Back then, I had no cinematic romances to match spring’s perfect backdrop, and that seemed like such a waste! Like sitting alone in a honeymoon suite.

Consequently, in my stories, I can approach spring in two ways: with romances fit for the season (that’s the type of spring I found as an adult—and it probably won’t come as a surprise that I chose a spring wedding), or featuring that unrequited longing made sharper by contrast with spring’s romantic setting (more like my actual teen years). I think my first book, The Secret Year, had the first kind of spring; my second book, Try Not to Breathe, had the second (although romance blooms at another time).

These are lupines. They are actually summer flowers, but they are magical, and they are waiting in the wings.
 Hope you’re having a magical spring, no matter what!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Fling!

This Spring has, thus far, been a busy time of hosting guests in our tiny home and remodeling our bathroom. Hence, not much writing (or even blogging) has taken place. But that doesn't mean I'm not excited and inspired by the season - in fact, this morning I was out the door at 5:30 a.m. for a walk in the fresh cool early morning air. I know people get up early to exercise all the time, BUT I DON'T. So I think Spring has already begun to work it's magic.

Speaking of magic, time for a jazzy interlude, courtesy of Katzenjammer, my favorite Norwegian all-girl band.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mud season (Lauren Bjorkman)

A note to spring worshippers: Go ahead and revel in your larks on the wing and dew-pearled hillsides. But take a moment from that heady ecstasy to pity those of us living in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Instead of spring we have high winds and acres upon acres of mud. Where should we look for inspiration?

Rilke writes: Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

I rebut with this: Mud season is upon us. The Earth is like wet cement that you can’t get off your shoes.

Robin Williams said, Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party.”

I say, mud is nature’s way of getting revenge.

Bissonette writes: An optimist is the human personification of spring.

But I feel like throwing the optimist into the wallow.

Lao Tzu said, Sitting quietly, doing nothing. Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Ahhh. I found my inspiration at last. I will sit quietly inside, doing nothing until the grass grows.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring Renewal (aka: Writing Retreat) -- by Emily Whitman

I just had me a major jolt of spring renewal.

I went on a writing retreat.

My first ever.

From April 1 to 14 I had a sweet little cottage, and a sweeter little study space, in the place where my work-in-progress is set. (A little digression: don't you think that term, "work-in-progress," is a bit strange? A distancing, businessy term. As opposed to, "current dream-state," or "the book I'm living with right now and having a love-hate-love relationship with.) There was a lot to justify to myself, taking the time, spending the money, when I have a perfectly good home to work from, and other obligations to heed. But having had my first writing retreat, I now know there will be more. I learned--

Getting away makes a difference. Finding fresh new eyes to see the fresh new world appearing on the page.

Being alone with the work makes a difference. In a way, we're always alone with the work, wonderful writing groups and perceptive friends aside. But this was different. There was a bit of the monastic retreat element here. Very few distractions. The understanding that this was the center of my life for these weeks. I got into the world of the book faster every day.

Making a page commitment makes a difference. Many days at home, if the writing doesn't start working after an hour or so, I'll let the creative aspects go for the day. On the retreat I didn't give myself that option. I set myself a five-page-a-day minimum. It didn't have to be good, or coherent, or even usable. Just that many pages. If it wasn't done by 7 p.m., it happened after 7 p.m. There were days I thought nothing would come, and then three hours of puttering in, something clicked. It was working. Can I stick it out that long at home? Can I work with a page commitment at home? We'll see.

Switching it up makes a difference. Some days I couldn't work in the sweet little study room. I wrote under a madrone tree on a cove. I wrote atop a cliff by the sea. I wrote on a dock at the harbor surrounded by ships. In each of those places, something came to the page, wafting in on the wind, floating up on a wave.

Focus. Time. Commitment. Openness.

New word buds greening on the trees. Thank you, retreat. Hello, spring!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I adore spring. Always have.

I practically puddled for it as a child growing up in Michigan. During my twenty-year stint in Los Angeles, I awaited the springtime explosion of jacarandas, wisterias, and the citrus-bearing trees. And now, six years into our Iowa residence, I greet the vernal equinox with something approaching a religious experience. (No. I’m not Wiccan. Just a big, wintertime whimp.)

But the weather throughout the Midwest this weekend was a reminder that renewal or rebirth isn’t always kind or gentle. Seventy-five tornadoes hit the Great Plains states. Six deaths in Oklahoma were attributed to the storm. There are many in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa who lost everything in the mere minutes it took for the twisters to rip through their community.

It’s a reminder to those of us who seek to represent life via art that change and growth, at times, have their dark sides. And that so quickly everything can be altered. Irrevocably altered. It stands to reason, then, that forces of nature are a pervasive symbol in literature.

Those who have read the first two books in my STORK trilogy know that weather is an important theme in the series. Indeed, Jack Frost, of folk-tale legend, and Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen are borrowed imagery. The final book, FLOCK (releasing September 12th), also uses mythology to personify forces of destruction.

Anyone interested in such themes has much to draw on. There are countless legends that personified or deified the natural world:

The Greeks held that an angry Poseidon would jab the ocean floor with his trident, causing earthquakes and tsunamis.

Many native Hawaiians believed the legend of Pele, the Goddess of Volcanoes. Her fiery temper produced lava flows, and past lovers were trapped in rock pillars of the volcanic fields.

It’s interesting to think that, despite our advances in science, we still assign female names to hurricanes. Winter will always be an old man. And I bet kids still say that God is bowling during a thunderstorm? Or moving the furniture?

I have a personal fascination with lightning strikes. Two books that come to mind with this theme are Alice Hoffman’s THE ICE QUEEN and Meg Cabot’s 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU? books. As well as the movies “Powder” and “Phenomenon” (with John Travolta). Does anyone have a similar interest?

My heart goes out to those impacted by the weekend’s storms. It’s a reminder of the power of such things. And our attempts to impart some kind of order or control by embodying the abstract in an acceptable and identifiable cultural motif. Stay safe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Death of Spring?

Usually I burst with creative spasmic energy this time of year. But now?

I do like spring. I generally go go go in the spring. I’m not going to go against the grain on this one. I live in ice berg Minnesota where the snow can pile up to the tops of stop signs and your Jeep can spin donuts into the intersection where you are killed by a snow plow driven by a furry fellow who’s eaten nothing but deer meat since November and is hallucinating from a lack of vitamins D and C. Winter is tough business up here in the Big Woods (also the place where large, hairy spiders live in your shower drain). The coming of spring means you didn’t freeze to death in a pile of snow, and you probably won’t, at least until October. It’s excellent. Euphoria! I'm alive!

But, this year – I assume due to global warming -- I’ve experienced no euphoria brought on by the sudden presence of sun, soft breeze and the return of the honking geese that live in the pond across from my house. Why? Winter didn’t really happen. There was very little danger. The snowplows were parked. The furry fellows got D producing sunshine. The roadways were clear. The neighbors sat outside and talked about parking tickets instead of ice fishing accidents. Winter was a non-event.

Unless you count this: In February I went jogging in cut off blue jeans.

And so, when those buttery yellow first flowers of spring started poking their tubery heads out of the ground in March (when usually all we see poking from the snow are the frozen hands of freeze dried squirrels), I thought: Big Deal. I thought: I’ve seen it all before. I thought: I feel nothing.

This is a sad state of affairs. One of the reasons I chose to live in the upper Midwest is that seasons are brutal and meaningful. Every year contains the cycle of life in stark terms. Summer is young adulthood with its freedom, vacation, over-spending and disorienting indulgence. Fall brings the calm of age. Beautiful color. The slowing. The aches of November. A realization that the end is near. Winter is finality, complete with life ending everywhere around you and the burying of that which is dead. Piles of snow! Piles that can cover you if you’re not careful. And then… the spring, rebirth! We are all children again and everything is new and amazing! Great stuff for a writer.

But the flowers this year were not new. The grass never quite disappeared. The lake froze for a moment. The geese came back in February. I jogged around in my shortest cut offs. And the buttery little daffodils of March did not move me at all.

My New-Style Winter Jogging Pants

I want brave policy-makers to do something about this situation. I want my winter back. I want those daffodils to make my guts sing spring songs once again.

--Geoff Herbach

Sunday, April 15, 2012

SPRING FEVER! (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

I'm addicted to spring. I love everything about it -- at least in Northern California. Here, it usually heralds the end of the dreary rainy season. Most spring days entail gorgeous blue skies that feel truly limitless, bursting blossoms of all colors and fields and hillsides blanketed with wildflowers, and cool crisp air that makes me feel high. I want to dig my toes into the earth and eat the sky. I want to run and frolic and also lie in the sun and daydream.

You might think this would mean the season isn't conducive to writing, but surprisingly, spring is great for that too -- because the glorious weather and the new growth make me feel like I can conquer the world. Revisions quiver before me! New material floods from my pen! Nothing can stop me! Mwaahaaahaaahaahaaa!

You should have seen me last week when it was still all rainy and grey -- kinda pathetic, deep in the withdrawal phase of the addiction. But my season seems to have arrived and I intend to enjoy every second of it ;)

Happy Spring!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

SCBWI soul - Julie Chibbaro

Spring comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s just in your soul.

When I first started writing seriously, I genuinely, with all my heart wanted to be a mix of James Baldwin and Richard Brautigan (two very different writers, one raw, stark emotionally challenging, the other a damn hippy). I wanted to be Maya Angelou and Barbara Kingsolver. In short, I wanted to be an adult novelist.

I got my agent with my third completed novel that was written in the voice of a 12-year-old girl. Dear Jill told me that my novel could be categorized as something called “young adult,” which I interpreted as ‘children’s.’ That didn’t go over too good with my inner James Baldwin.

That first novel did get published as YA, and I published a second YA novel, and now am writing a third. Until recently, I was still grappling with these labels, YA and adult (maybe I will always resist labels. I don’t think I’m the only one.)

But I had a spring-like revelation recently. I’ve been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( for about 3 years now, and I haven’t much attended any of their events (feeling somewhat resistant to the whole thing). But a couple of weeks ago, I went to a Shoptalk at the Barnes & Noble near me, and it really put the wind back in my sails. I felt like I met folks like me, people who just wanted to put down the stories in their heads, and labels be damned. And I found out that SCBWI is an organization full of brilliant people who are talented and warm and funny. They help you, they care. Shoptalk was the perfect therapy for me, an opening of the petals of my heart. I’m grateful to all the wonderful members for helping me bloom. I hope I can return the favor.

For any aspiring “children’s” book authors out there, I highly recommend joining SCBWI. It’s worth the $80 a year.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Distractions and Motivations (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Winter is my least favorite time of year. I hate the bitter cold, the snow, and since I live in Chicago and am often subjected to a lot of it, I find myself sinking into negativity a lot more easily than usual. Winter is a dark, dark time both physically and emotionally for me.

I got really lucky this year, though. We had a fairly mild winter and spring came early. In fact it was more summer-like than spring-like for a while, which though novel at first, I didn't really appreciate because it felt like we were skipping over my second favorite season. (Fall is my favorite. It has Halloween and smells the best.) Now things are equalizing though. We have some bright and sunny days and some chilly, rainy ones. In other words, it's a genuine, perfect spring. With that comes both distractions and motivations.

Here are the distractions:

That would be part of my garden. As you can see, thanks to our unusual weather, the tulips are in and some of my perennials are coming back.... But so are the weeds and I still haven't found the time to clear out the dead stuff. I need to do that too and begin to plant this years flowers and vegetables.

And on those sunny days the temptation to ditch out on my other responsibilities (ie. writing) and get my hands dirty is huge... or to take a walk to the park or to read outside or to have lunch with a friend at a place with an outdoor patio.....

Oh spring, you bring so many distractions. Just the smell of the air alone makes me antsy! And summer is even worse (until it gets so hot that I don't want to leave my house... just like winter.)

Fortunately there are also motivations:

That is a painting (by Marta Dahlig) of the goddess Persephone reaching toward the light. This represents two things for me.

One, this is how I feel emotionally in the spring. I'm coming out of the dark winter, an often stressful and/or depressing time for me. I'm filled with hope. Both of my books sold in spring and though it has been a while now (a very long, long winter for me in that regard), I have hope that maybe just maybe this spring will be spring for my career. Regardless of whether or not, I do sell, I do feel reinvigorated in spring, by the weather, but also because as you are reading this I have just returned from my favorite place to visit in spring (or anytime really), Seattle, and I am at the RT Conference, surrounding myself with fellow writers and fiction (especially YA!) lovers. So when I sit down to write again on Monday, I am going to be ready to go as wild as my garden.

Secondly, this painting represents the book I am so inspired to work on this spring. I'm about 100 pages into it and finally reaching that point where it is coming into the light for me. I'm hoping that it will grow as productively as my garden over the next few months. The book, which I'm calling the Modern Myth YA (because it is still a Work In Progress so I'm way too superstitious to share the title) actually dabbles with the Persephone myth. That has been my favorite myth since I was a little girl, so it's been fun to play with and reinvent in my own way that involves music (of course!) and the landscape of Los Angeles and spookiness (it also toys with my favorite holiday, Halloween) and dark, dark soul-wrenching moments for my characters (as always). If you want to see other images that are inspiring this book, check out the collection I've put together on Pinterest, which maybe/hopefully I'll keep adding to if the writing, the gardening, and those gorgeous days both sunny and rainy don't distract me too much.

What distracts and/or motivates you in the springtime?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why Are All My Stories Set In Springtime?

As I was thinking about the topic for this month, I realized that almost every single one of the manuscripts I've ever written has been set in the spring.

I know. I couldn't believe it either. I'd never realized before how much of a role spring plays in my stories. So, of course, I had to try to figure out why. Here is what I came up with.

1. Spring is a time of rebirth! The minute that spring smell is in the air, I can't help feeling more motivated and optimistic. Spring is a great time to try out new things and take on new challenges. It's the perfect time for characters to embark on adventures and to really shake things up.

2. Spring means summer vacation is on its way! Whenever I set a story in the real world, my characters are always making plans for summer vacation. I think this goes back to the idea of embarking on new adventures. The characters are looking forward to new chapters in their lives. (Hehe, chapters. Did I mention that spring is also the time for puns?)

3. Spring is the beginning of warm weather! I must admit that I've never been a "weather writer." I rather throw killer unicorns at my characters than killer snowstorms. That's probably why I like setting my stories in relatively mild weather, so my characters can roam around and get into all kinds of mishaps without needing to bundle up or worry about frostbite.

So there you have it, the top three reasons my stories tend to be set in spring. Now the question is, since it is spring and the time for change and adventure, will I step out of my comfort zone with my new project and set the story in a different time of year? We shall see...

How about you? Do you find yourself setting your stories in a specific season? Are there any "weather writers" out there? Anyone know any good puns?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Setbacks (Jan Blazanin)

Spring came early to Iowa this year. Daffodils were blooming in mid-March, lilacs in early April, and my asparagus popped out of the ground weeks before it normally does. The unseasonable warmth was a welcome change from the cold, blustery weather we usually get. But as the trees leafed out and tender plants sprang up before their time, I felt uneasy. Blooming too early can lead to disaster.

The past two nights the temperature dipped to 28 degrees. Although I had covered what I could, protecting all the plants on our 11 acres was impossible. The perennial trees, bushes, and flowers won’t die, but they suffered a major setback they may not recover from until next year.

Setbacks are as familiar to writers as April frosts are to Iowans. The editor who was intrigued by a query letter rejects the manuscript in an eye blink. The publishing house that seemed like the perfect fit for a project—wasn’t. Contracts fall through, pub dates are pushed back months or even years, editors move houses and leave authors stranded while their books are in production. When the book does come out, there are nasty reviews, poorer than expected sales, and book signings where Mom and our best friend are the only people who show up.

It’s a wonder we’re not bald from ripping our hair out in frustration.

To cope with all these setbacks authors need more than the “normal” amount of tenacity or persistence or plain old craziness. Chocolate, wine, and long naps are some ways to deal. Another is to find a support network of authors like my writing group and my YA Outside The Lines pals who’ve been there, done that, and provide a safe haven to whine, vent, and commiserate. When the frost melts away and spring is here for sure, other writers are the ones who truly understand just how long and harsh the winter was.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring Break!

No, I didn't take my manuscript or myself (darn!) to Cancun, even though my WIP totally rocks a bikini:

I did take a spring break--from writing.

In years past, attempting to follow that "write every day" advice authors often espouse, I'd haul my laptop along on vacations, writing in cafes, hotels, planes, trains, ferryboats... I've also packed my kids off to the bookstore during their vacations so I could add words to a story. I missed out on stuff.

I think that "write every day" advice stinks.

Sometimes living life is more important. Breaks allow us to gather material for future stories. Over the past week, I've hung out at the mall with my 6th grader (lots of potential characters!), visited a museum exhibit featuring Islamic art (how could I add patterns to my prose?), eavesdropped on delicious conversations during lunch out (couldn't make this stuff up!) and, yeah, we all lounged about in our jammies watching old episodes of Toddlers & Tiara's while practicing our phony pageant smiles (I wish that stuff were made up!). I also canceled plans when my daughters's friends called, but that gave me time to read.

So here's my advice: take days off. I promise your characters will still be living on the page when you get back. And you might return with some ideas that will make their lives more interesting too!

Monday, April 9, 2012

A little Spring Math

We've had a whacky winter here in Boston. Just a few weeks ago, in March, I was wearing shorts and sitting out on my deck. Now things are back to normal, but, boy, that stretch of early Spring sure got me scared. Because I am this-close to finishing my next book. But the weather appears to be out to get me.

See, I can't write when it's nice out. I have zero discipline. I have never written a book during the summer. I may write some notes, type a little, edit a bit, but no really good, head down writing. Which means that every day the sun sets later and the birds wake me with chirping I'm like the writing version of Puxatawny Phil. Only in my case, when I see my shadow, cast by a warm sun, I know I'm lucky if I have a few more weeks of writing in me.

I just can't stand sitting inside if it's nice out. And, unfortunately, I can't read my laptop in the sun. But even if I could see the letters on the screen, you know what kills me? When it's nice out I want to read!! Oh, how I love sitting outside and reading - on the hammock, by the pool, in a deck chair, or lounging on a towel. I just associate warm weather with reading.

In fact, I'm heading on vacation in a week. To Anguilla, a lovely little island in the Caribbean. And, boy, you should see the pile of books traveling with me. Yes, I own a kindle, but I love having a book in my hand on the beach. I've been buying books for a month now in anticipation of my trip and I can't wait to start them!

So, sun and warm weather=no writing.
But, sun=lots of reading.
Only writing=getting paid.
And reading=doing something enjoyable but not getting paid.

You'd think that's pretty easy math to do. I should be writing. Damn Spring!!!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Spring-a-ding-ding I Can't Organize a Thing

Spring cleaning--it happens to me every year. It's a phenomena that I can't actually explain, but as the weather warms and the smell of the air changes, I get the uncontrollable urge to clean and purge. I have the irresistible calling to simplify and organize. Considering that I'm a bit of a procrastinating, unorganized hoarder in training--this is a good thing. 

Every year I look forward to digging myself out of my inevitable cave of clutter--with the hopes of turning over a new leaf. It's not ideal, but it keeps me from going too far in the wrong direction. This year I have a problem--I'm trying to finish the first draft of my second book at the same time. I feel a bit like this...

Should I clean? Should I write? Should I clean? Should I write?

Making it worse, I've had an ongoing construction "issue" in my basement since last summer. Everything is FINALLY done and I can move all the stuff, that I've stock piled in other places, back to where it belongs. I NEED to fix this mess!!!! imaginary world of stories is calling to me too. Okay, the truth is that the book and it's characters are yelling at me like I'm being chased by a zombie!!!! Their faces are red with exertion and they are flailing about in a desperate attempt to get me to safety. "Run for your life!"

I know that if I could just... Nah. The truth is that if I get the book done...nothing will actually get better. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Instead of being torn about drafting and cleaning--I'll be torn about revising and cleaning or catching up on my other projects that I've pushed to the way side. Yup--I'm never going to get to a place where I have all my ducks in a row. I just have to strive for balance. Easy, right? 

So, my spring resolution is to stop looking at what I haven't gotten done and focus on the positive--the bright side. Here I go... Now that I'm ahead of the game and finished with this blog I can spend a little extra time getting ready for Easter. I can't believe how quickly it's coming...wait...what? Today's Easter?? *head thunk*

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April is the Cruelest Month

T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland begins, “April is the cruelest month… mixing memory and desire.”

When I lived in Chicago, where I was born and grew up, I found this to be an accurate assessment of the beginnings of spring. Spring in Chicago is an iffy proposition. Flowers are starting to bloom, but the wind is still often icy and more than once we had a blizzard in April. Not just snow, but inches of the white stuff that sometimes stayed on the ground until May.

Spring was a tease. Spring led you on and then turned its back on you, just when you figured that the icy death of winter was finally over. Let me interject here that you haven’t really experienced winter until you’ve done a Chicago winter, where when I would walk along the lake to my classes at Northwestern, I’d have to wrap a scarf over my mouth so my lips wouldn’t freeze. When I got to the next building, sometimes there’d be tiny icicles where my breath had been. My junior year at NU it was so cold for so long that our sorority house where I lived developed a mouse problem. No small wonder; one escaped its little sticky trap one day and scurried out the door—where it promptly froze to death in the snow before it had moved out of sight.

That’s cold.

Now, here in Houston where people joke that we have four seasons: Summer; still summer; Christmas; almost summer— I find that my memories of Chicago spring are often still metaphors in my writing.

Winter that lasts until almost Memorial Day with spring pushing lightly, mostly impotently to take hold? I see that image in every romance gone sad or bad that I write. Ethan in the DREAMING ANASTASIA series, is I think on some level yearning for a spring of the soul. He’s found it in Anne, but will they end up together? Will they get their Happily Ever After? Or will that blizzard of the heart stop them in their tracks? (You get to find out what happens in ANASTASIA FOREVER, by the way, so just hang on until August 1st!) Hint: I love a good happily ever after!

So yes, Spring influences my writing. I love working with that bittersweet longing for summer.

How about you? How do you feel about Spring?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The four winters - and four springs - of my writing career

by April Henry

Spring is the time of fresh starts. A reminder that things that looked dead only a few months earlier are now putting out new green shoots.
As a writer, I have endured four hard winters where everything seemed frozen and black. But I hung on - stubbornly, maybe even stupidly - and spring eventually came. 
Would I ever get published?
The first time I wondered if spring would ever come was when I had never been published - and was beginning to think I never would be. What I didn’t realize was that many writers don’t publish their first book. Or even their second. For me, it was my fourth.
My first book got rejected by dozens of agents. I wrote another that landed even more rejections - but was eventually taken on by an agent who was sure she could sell it. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead we got more than a dozen turn-downs from editors. What made it even more painful was that the rejections letters were filled with praise until the final, fatal paragraph, which invariably started with “And yet” or “However” or “Despite this....” 
But then my fourth book sold in three days to Harper Collins in a two-book deal. Spring had sprung! I was now a real writer! 
From success to failure
What I didn’t realize was that just because you’ve been published once (or twice or even more) it doesn’t mean you can keep on being published. My first book sold well. My second book sold even more than the first - but not as many as the publisher had expected. (An expectation they didn’t share with me until it was too late. Although I’m not sure I could have done anything about it.) So just as my third book was coming out with Harper Collins - I was actually on a publisher-paid tour - I learned that they were dropping the series. 
That was my second winter. I felt like a failure. There I was, on tour, and at every stop someone in the audience would ask me, “What’s next?” I had a half-written book, but who would buy it?
The phoenix rises - and then crumbles into ash
Eventually, though, St. Martins did. I published that book and another with one of their most famous editors. She was also in her 80s, and perhaps it was starting to show. Although I think everyone loved the idea of an active woman in her 80s so much that everyone tended to gloss over little lapses. Or even not-so-little ones. But eventually, we came to a mutual parting of the ways.
So I was deep in my third winter. I had published five books, but I had no contract. 
A new branch to my career: YA writer
Then I started reading about a chain of overseas bootcamps that seemed to be abusing their charges. And a new story started to grow. What if a girl was sent to one of these bootcamps but she was actually a good kid? Even though the main character was 16, I saw it as an adult book. I had never thought about writing for teens. 
But it sold as teen book to Putnam. I published Shock Point and Torched with Putnam, but when I gave the manuscript of Girl, Stolen to my editor, he turned it down. 
That was my fourth winter. I believed in Girl, Stolen. I knew it was good. 
And eventually my agent found Christy Ottoviano, an editor with her own imprint at Henry Holt. And she loved Girl, Stolen, too.
So then it was spring again, and luckily for me, it’s still spring. Girl, Stolen was a Quick Pick and chosen for the Best Fiction list by YALSA. It’s on five state lists, and has been selected for several other honors. And my new book, The Night She Disappeared, comes out March 13. 
But you know what? I know that winter might come again. I know there could be another time in my career where it feels like I will never, ever be published again. But I will continue to write, continue to try new things, continue to put books out there, knowing that the only one who can take myself out of the game is me. That spring is just out there, waiting. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to write in the Spring? No. Really. How??


My favorite season. As a Canadian who lives in a snowy province with long winters, I LOVE Spring.
I love the way people suddenly appear outside of their houses again. On bikes, in their yards, working, playing. We see neighbours we haven't seen all dark, long winter. Kids have magically gotten bigger.

The air smells better. The days are longer with more light. Things seem more magical. In theory flowers start to blossom. If I actually had a green thumb and could grow things. Me- I'm more of a murderer of plants and flowers though. I think even my mother in law has given up on me ever developing a greenish tinge on my body parts.

Spring. I get happier in the early days of Spring. I really do. I have bursts of energy when I go outside and smell the air and feel the promise of warmth on my bare skin. I sing for no reason. I am inspired to dance.

If only that translated to my writing life.

As a writer, Spring kind of sucks for me. While outside everything is coming back to life and blossoming, my writing brain seems to get distracted. I feel more cooped up than I do in the winter when I want to be inside where it's warm. I am a mole rat in the winter. But I get lots done. I don't want or need to venture out.

But Spring. Spring means that Summer is around the corner and as a stay at home mom/writer that means the boy will be home.  And though I love him more than life itself, it's not easy to meet writing goals without feeling like a failure as a parent. Unless I send him to camp. Which is not a bad idea at all. (mental note. Look up camps for boy for next season)

Also. In Spring, in my world there is a cabin to build.  Have I ever mentioned how my husband's dream was to build his own cabin? Which is great. But did I also mention that somehow, probably because we're married and all,  I have become his co-builder?

Finger puppet version of me and my husband meeting.

Me: Hi. My name is Janet. I want to live in a condo forever because I hate yard work. I hire people to fix things for me.  My brain goes in a coma state when I walk into a Home Depot. You're cute.

Hubby:  Hi. My name is Larry. I am living in a house that I am renovating. It is a mess. But I love to build things and fix things.  I have always wanted to build a cabin. You're cute too.

Me: Giggle. Smooch.

Hubby:  Hey! I like smooching with you. We should get married.

Me: Okay!

Hubby: Awesome. I need to teach you how to use a lawnmower.  Also I'll show you how to insulate the downstairs after you finish painting.  

Me: Um. Did I mention that I wanted to live in a condo?

So Spring means cottage building season. Which makes it hard to get much writing done. With plaster in my hair and insulation fiber all over my gloved fingers. Yeah, for me the dark and cold winter is when I am most productive. Usually.

This year things are different. I have a summer deadline for my new book (!) for Sourcebooks. So Spring and I will have to learn how to work together better.  I'm busy working on it now. And I have LOTS to do before the deadline. I'll have to bring my laptop along to cottage country and fit in some writing time between jobs at the cabin.

I'll be struggling to be productive as the season changes over.  

And yes, I'll happily take suggestions from people who actually become more productive in the Spring time!

Happy Spring. Make the writing juju be with you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Didn't Write the Next Hunger Games - CJ Omololu

You may not have noticed, but this spring has been all about The Hunger Games. Everywhere you look there's a poster, a logo, or a commercial for this uber-bestselling series and movie. And I totally get it - I loved the books. The Hunger Games is the only book in history my son took hours out of his day to read, squealing 'it's so exciting!' the entire time. I loved the movie so much that I get chills just seeing the previews (no, the book wasn't as good as the movie, but that's not the point of this post). Come on - the moment where Katniss volunteers as tribute? You know you teared up too.

I did not write the next Hunger Games. Most writers did not write the next Hunger Games, and those who say they did should have their writing license taken away (I actually heard a debut author say this at a signing recently and I wanted to throttle this person). The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter are social phenomenons that can't be planned - they occur through love and perfection and a dose of magic. They can be promoted (hello Lionsgate), but without a story that resonates with millions of people, they're going to fall flat. Over 100,000 books are published each year (okay, that's a made up number, but it sounds good) and there will only be a phenomena like the Hunger Games once every few years. Percentage-wise, you have a better chance of hitting the mega millions jackpot than writing the next Hunger Games.

So how do you keep going, knowing that you're not writing the next mega-hit? How do you go on writing your quiet story, the one that's not full of action and suspense? At times like these, it's hard to justify your existence as a writer when every billboard, every tweet and every magazine cover in line at the grocery store mocks you and reminds you that you're not Suzanne Collins.

I wrote a book about hoarders that tens of hundreds of people liked. I'm hoping my next book reaches tens of hundreds of more people and that some of them like it just as much. I'm allowed to let my imagination run away with me when I'm out in the world, but when I sit down at my writing table, I can't write for the 36million people who bought Suzanne Collin's books. I have to write for the one person who needs to read this particular story that I need to write. I need to focus on that one teenager who is looking to hear what my characters have to say and pour all of my effort and soul into that book, because anything less would be a cop-out. All writers are at the mercy of the stories that show up, and I have to believe that there is a reason why a particular story comes to that particular writer at that particular time. I have to tune out the negative voices in my head that say I will never be the next Suzanne Collins. I have to concentrate on being the very best CJ Omololu.

And if that doesn't work, I go on Goodreads and read all of the one star reviews for The Hunger Games. Crazy as it sounds, not everyone loves every book, no matter how awesome it is.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring & My Room (Holly Schindler)

Virginia Woolf once famously insisted that in order to write fiction, a woman needed money and a room of her own.

Eleven years ago this May, that’s exactly what I got: a room of my own.

I’d just completed my master’s, and in the midst of all my fellow classmates making plans to move on to PhD programs or interviewing for full-time employment, I was taking my mom up on her offer. “Let me feed you,” she said, “and you can write.” It was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do, after all—and there was no way I was going to pass up such an incredible opportunity.

A couple cans of paint and a new desk later, I had it—my own office, in the former guest bedroom of my childhood home. It wasn’t incredibly high-tech, in the beginning: I had a dinosaur of a computer, so old it didn’t even have a modem. And I had a phone, and a MailStation where I could send emails (no attachments). And a coffee maker. And that pretty much did it for the electronics.

But what I did have was time. All the time I needed. And that turned out to be a good thing, indeed…

I’d banked on two years. Two years tops to get started. Two years came and went. So did three. And four. Five.

Each spring, as my alma mater’s graduation day made the local news, I’d wind up taking stock of how far I’d come: I’d look back on the year’s submissions. I’d remind myself of all the new work I’d written. I’d show myself the list of books (either partials or complete manuscripts) currently being considered by publishing houses or agents.

Six springs went by. Seven.

Finally, finally, finally, on that eighth spring after my graduation, I had a book in development. A book in development! That eighth spring, as I tuned into the news and watched flashes of MSU’s commencement, I thought about that twenty-four-year-old who’d just gotten her master’s, who’d just written a creative thesis, who’d published a few shorter pieces and was convinced that writing and publishing a novel would be a breeze. I thought about how much she had to grow as a writer before selling her first book.

The thing is, if I hadn’t had the ability to devote full-time, seven-day-a-week attention to my writing, I know it would have taken twenty years or more to get that first acceptance…if ever. (That “if ever” are the two scariest words in the English language…) I had so far to go, and so much to learn…I just don’t think I ever would have gotten there without that room of my own, and the freedom from financial concerns.

This spring—and every spring hereafter—with multiple books on store shelves, I know I’ll take more than just a few moments to be grateful for the most incredible gift I’ve ever (and without a doubt, will ever) receive: the simple gift of time.