Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Life's little surprises

Yesterday, as I drove down our street, I noticed a huge stack of firewood in one of the driveways. Firewood! We need some. I hadn't met these neighbors yet, but their garage door was open. I thought if I saw someone outside, I'd stop and ask where they got it.


A few hours later (I still hadn't seen them), someone rang our bell. It was a couple--neighbors from down the street who wanted to introduce themselves and extend a last-minute invitation to their annual Christmas party.

The neighbors? The ones with the firewood (weird coincidence, isn't it?). He's the principal of a local school, she's a teacher in the school, and I met one of their colleagues, who teaches sixth grade language arts. When I told her I write for children, she wanted to hear every part of my story--what brought me to writing, what I like writing most. She told me she'll tell some of my story to her students after the holidays.

And as we got ready to leave, the principal and language arts teacher asked if I do school presentations. Not yet. But they're on my list of things to start doing.

I think a door just opened.

Has life delivered any little surprises to you lately?

Sunday, December 18, 2011


First, I want to make it clear that I am against copyright infringement. It's a serious problem in need of a solution.

If you've heard of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act; note that links to a pdf of the actual bill), you'll know that the bill is, in theory, designed to do just that. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't do much to actually stop online piracy (find out why not). But it would have profound implications for how we use the internet. In many ways, it would provide a broad blanket to censor social media sites.

Find out for yourself; make up your mind about it, but do so quickly. If you're against it, the time to act is now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Please Vote!

I don't normally post on Tuesdays, but time is of the essence. One of my wonderful critique partners, Julie Hedlund, has entered one of her picture books in the MeeGenius contest, and she needs your help.


A Troop is a Group of Monkeys is a fun look at animals, words, and the world around us. (Three things that are dear to my heart.)  Not only will you enjoy the rollicking rhyme, you'll learn new vocabulary. Does it get any better?

Please take a moment, go here to read her story (it's short!) and click "like" (if you like it, of course, although I can't imagine anyone NOT liking it).

Oh, and did I mention Julie is holding a contest? Check it out and spread the word. I've read several of this woman's stories, people, and she's going to be big. So let's help her get there with an eBook contract from MeeGenius!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Over the weekend, my boys and I made Christmas cookies. It's a tradition from my childhood, when my sister and I would head over to Grandma's house (along the river creek, near the woods) to bake at least half a dozen different kinds of cookies.

I always looked forward to the day we measured, mixed, pressed, rolled, cut out, decorated, and baked. And I always ended the day with a tummyache.


It was a particularly poignant way to spend the weekend, because Grandma died this fall. And it struck me how powerful traditions can be.

They keep us connected to the past.

They give us a thread that connects us to the future.

They can be as simple or elaborate as we want them to be.

We can create new traditions as our lives change.

In many ways, they define us.

What are your favorite traditions?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time Warp

Wow time flies! November's gone and we're already a week into December. It's been a busy few weeks.

I wrote over 50,000 words of Spirit for NaNoWriMo, earning myself this lively little badge:

Thanks for all the words of encouragement while I was doing it!

And we enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving weekend with my parents, sister, and her family. It was the first time we've all been together for Thanksgiving in over - well over! - a decade. Also the first time I've hosted. I am so thankful to be close enough to join them again. I'm also thankful that my first attempt at a turkey turned out like this:

Post-NaNo has been a scramble to catch up on other things, namely articles and a non-fiction PB that I'm really behind on. But one article is ready to submit, another has a solid first draft, and the PB is... next on my list. 

Oh, and I had the distinct pleasure of signing another contract with Highlights!

Am I focusing on the good? Yes, yes I am. Is Spirit a wonderfully formed first draft that will require little work? No. I will, in fact, have to completely rewrite it. Did I get rejections? Yep. But I am focusing on the happy moments. I want to savor them.

How have you been?

Monday, October 31, 2011

On your mark, get set...

NaNoWriMo doesn't start until midnight tonight (although that's already here for some folks!), but I realized there is no way I will be able to interrupt my regularly-scheduled novel-writing to blog over the next month. Nope. Just isn't going to happen. Not if I want to hit 50,000 words, that is.

My goal is to finish Spirit (a multicultural MG adventure) by midnight November 30. Please stop by to track my progress and leave words of encouragement!

If you're NaNoing, too, please buddy me (I'm Alison Stevens). We can keep each other going!

And now, a word about those who have made this venture possible:
  • Beloved Husband, for never once questioning whether I can do it.
  • My oldest son, for teaching me the mind-jogging exercises they do at his school.
  • My youngest son, for his hugs.
  • My writing friends, virtual and IRL, who are attempting this with me.
  • My critique partners, who won't get my November critique until December.
  • My 8th-grade typing teacher, without whom I would not be able to type at lightning speed.

The countdown continues. Let the games begin!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


These days, my mind is completely focused on either kid-related stuff (Halloween parties, costumes, conferences with teachers, costumes, book orders, costumes, fund-raisers, costumes, and pumpkin-carving; did I mention costumes?) or writing-related stuff (queries for magazine articles, tightening Thunderstruck, planning for NaNo).

Maybe focused isn't the right word. Scattered, perhaps.

To give you an idea, I was outside during the incredible northern lights display Monday night but so focused on sorting the recycling that I completely missed this:


So today's post is short and sweet, with a bit of fun to get you ready for the weekend.

And I'm off to finish some last-minute projects before November 1!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Commitment and a great way to pay it forward

Last year, I planned to participate in NaNoWriMo, but it didn't happen. This year, when two writer friends asked if I was going to join them in the month of insanity, I waffled. And then I decided to commit.

Why share this with you? Largely because it means I will have even less time available for blogging than I've had over the past few months. As a result, my schedule is going to change to twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) for the foreseeable future.

Now for a bit of news. If you weren't aware, Authoress at Miss Snark's First Victim is holding another Baker's Dozen auction. The adult entries are now closed, but MG/YA entries can be submitted on Nov. 1 and 3. In the mean time, check out Write Escape and help my delightful new CP, Linda (Escape Artist) provide some feedback to help writers polish their first 250 words.

Have a wonderful start to your week!

Friday, October 21, 2011


We've been out enjoying the gorgeous fall weather lately, with lots of walks around a nearby park. We keep coming across caterpillars that are making their way to a safe place to pupate for the winter. Naturally, my boys have to carefully move them off of the path and out of harm's way. There are enough squished ones, already.

Many of the caterpillars are covered in stiff hairs. They practically sprint across the path. But another is slow, confused, trying to dig a hole.  It has a smooth, velvety-looking body. No hair. But each and everyone of this kind has something else.

Not the best photo, I'm afraid.

See those little white things behind the head? Know what they are? They're wasp eggs. This caterpillar was parasitized by a parasitoid wasp. What, you ask, is that? A wasp laid its eggs on the caterpillar. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae will consume the caterpillar, eventually killing it.

The crazy thing is, the wasp eggs seem to have changed the caterpillar's behavior. Every other caterpillar was headed for high ground to spend the winter. All of the parasitized ones were trying to dig into the rocky path. Very un-caterpillar-like behavior.

Wasps often dig burrows where they stash a caterpillar with eggs on it. Parasitoid wasps don't disable their kids' future meal; they let the larvae take care of that. But something about the eggs must mess with the caterpillar's brain, changing its behavior in a way that will help the wasps, not the caterpillar.

It's been zombified.

Are there other zombies in nature? You bet. Entomogenous fungi do it, too. When the fungus takes up residence inside an insect's body, it eventually consumes the body tissues. In the process, it alters the insect's behavior.

All that white stuff is the fungus. (source)
The zombified critter climbs up to an exposed perch. Not the best place for an insect (too easy to spot by things that want to eat it), but the perfect place for the fungus, which releases spores on the wind.

Even rabies zombifies animals by putting them in attack mode. What better way to spread to new hosts than by hiding out in saliva and driving the current host into a frenzied, froth-mouthed state of attack?

Watch out for zombies this Halloween. You never know where they might turn up.

What is your favorite spooky critter?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Contests and prizes and wishes, oh my!

Hi and welcome to my new followers! Friday's blogfest was a lot of fun!

Due to nightmares and scary shadows (in my children's rooms, not mine), I didn't get much sleep last night, which is why I'm late posting today. In fact, I wasn't going to post at all, but then I came across these awesome contests. They're both so great, I had to share!

Dear Editor is giving away a Free first 20 pages critique. All you have to do is go here, check out her awesome book trailer, and enter!

And Shannon Whitney Messenger, who announced an incredible three-book deal last week is celebrating with the contest of all contests. She's going to grant wishes! So just in case you missed it, go check it out!

And enjoy the fun start to the week!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward blogfest

This blogfest is the brainchild of Matthew MacNish at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. The purpose is to highlight three blogs that we think are worth following.
Julie Hedlund at Write Up My Life. Julie's blog always brightens my day. Her posts are insightful and fun to read. Every Sunday, she posts about gratitude. It's fun to see what she's grateful for, and a terrific reminder to stop and give thanks for the wonderful things in my life, as well.

Christie Wright Wild at Write Wild. Christie is the picture book pro, and her blog is a terrific place to find posts about anything having to do with picture books, PB authors, and the writing process.

Mercedes M. Yardley at A Broken Laptop. Mercedes is the most extraordinary of people: kind, supportive, strong, and talented. She provides windows into her personal life on her blog, and I am constantly amazed by her tenacity. And her writing rocks!

I'm looking forward to seeing the other must-read blogs. You can find the rest of the blogfest participants at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment or at Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Alex asked if I'd be willing to share my ideas for NaNo... well, no. not really. (Sorry Alex.)

But a funny thing happened after I'd figured out the gist of the story. I knew (generally) where it would take place and what the conflict will be, although I'm still figuring out who the characters are. I was tossing around ideas, and then I picked up the August edition of National Geographic. This was on the cover:

Taken by Paul Nicklen at National Geographic

A white black bear, also known as a Kermode (Ker-MODE-ee) bear or spirit bear. And I knew. This bear is a part of the story, too. Can't wait to see where she takes me.

If you're looking for inspiration (or just beautiful photos), check out the National Geographic photo gallery.

What inspires you?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Carving out time

I have too many projects and not enough time! (Does anyone else have this problem?) Several ideas for magazine articles, three new picture books to work on, and over the weekend, a fabulous idea for a novel popped into my head, which leaves me three weeks to do research before I dive into NaNoWriMo. 

That's the plan, at any rate. Last year, I planned to do NaNo but spent November revising an ms after a request for a partial by an agent. End of October is the time frame for me to hear back from the two agents who have requested partials of my latest novel, so the whole NaNo experience may be postponed once again, depending on what they say.

But that voice! It spoke to me, as though this new character were standing just behind me, talking into my ear. I've got to do something with it. It wants its story told.

Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not?

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's in a name?

My writing tends to go in stages. I'll work for two months on a novel, then my mental pendulum swings back over to the non-fiction side and I'll crank out several magazine articles and a picture book or two. Then it swings back to the fiction side for edits... back to non-fiction... You see where this is going.

Lately, I've been in a non-fiction phase. I think this is probably because I'm querying my novel, and I have an editor waiting for a rewrite on a non-fiction story (my critique group has it right now). So I'm filling the time with fun stuff for magazines.

One of the things I love about writing for kids' mags is that they're often looking for fun stories about animals. One of the critters I've written about recently is this guy:


Pretty cute, isn't it? It goes by many names, including fat dormouse, edible dormouse, and Siebenschläfer (seven sleeper).

Now, without googling it, why do you think it has those names?

Monday, October 3, 2011


About a year ago, I told my husband that I wanted to write a book about bones. One that highlights their homology across species. Or in more kid-friendly terms, one that shows how the same bones are in the same places and do very similar jobs in lots of different kind of animals.

For example, A bat's wings are membranes stretched between their incredibly long finger bones. A whale's flipper has the same bones but much shorter, stouter, and crowded together. They have the same single upper-arm bone, two forearm bones, set of rock-like wrist bones, and elongated hand/finger bones that we do. They have simply been modified through time to suit their particular use.

Then one morning, my husband said, "Hey, look at this!" He pointed to a Science book view: BONES. "Looks like you had a good idea."


Yep. Good idea, too late. It was beautifully done by Steve Jenkins. So beautifully done, it won a Caldecott Honor Award. I have been wanting to get my hands on this book ever since, and we finally got a copy last week.

BONES is truly stunning. The illustrations are cut paper but are so realistic they look like photographs. (After teaching general zoology for several years, I've seen my share of animal skeletons up close and personal, and these are extraordinarily life-like.)  Some pages show different hands and feet. Others have different animals shown to scale, so it's easy to compare the femur (thigh bone) of an elephant, a human, and a cat. Or the ribs of a human, sloth, turtle and python (all 200 of them).

The text explains, in clear language, the various jobs of bones, from support and movement (via joints) to making blood cells.

It is exactly the book I wanted to write, illustrated in a manner I could never have done. And I am thrilled to add it to our collection. If your kids get Scholastic book club orders, look for it there in paperback. You'll learn a lot and love the illustrations, too!

Have you ever had an idea only to discover it had already been done?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Instant Gratification

Instant gratification doesn't happen very often. Not in science or writing. The best scientific experiments raise more questions than answers, and I don't think I've ever written anything that I didn't revise at least three times. And then there's the process of submitting: waiting... w a i t i n g . . .  w  a  i  t  i  n  g. 

I've been doing a lot of that lately. Waiting. By the end of last week, I was trying to make myself write something, anything, just to take my mind off of the seven different submissions I've got out there.

Over the weekend, October peeked its head around the corner and waved. Hmm. One week left in September. If I wanted all those plants I'd bought to survive the winter, I needed to get them in soon. Time to put my weeks of landscape planning into action.

So we did. Beloved Husband and I (with the help of the kids) dug up the grass between our fence line and the sidewalk. Then we hand-tilled the (extremely hard, clay) soil underneath. We removed the soil, put the grass back in upside-down and covered it up with the soil that had been under it. (Following all this? There will be a quiz later.) It took two three-hour sessions to prepare ⅔ of the fence line.* (If you're wondering why we put the grass in upside-down and buried it, it will decompose and become compost. It also saved us having to figure out what to do with it once it was out.)

Have I mentioned that we're the crazy new neighbors in our conservative, midwestern neighborhood? We're the weird people from Germany who mow with an electric lawn mower. (Two months ago, when Beloved Husband first used it, our normally polite neighbors actually stopped and stared). But last week, one of our neighbors bought an electric mower, which meant we'd gone from crazy to trend-setting. Until we started digging, that is.

The next day, I set out my plants and started putting them in the newly tilled strip. Among comments from passersby about how much work I had cut out for me, I planted several kinds of native grasses and perennials - plants that, once established, will be drought tolerant and need less care than the grass did. They will attract beneficial insects like bees, lacewings, ladybugs, and butterflies. The grasses (when fully grown) will provide cover for birds that eat the pesty insects. And there will be flowers blooming in all different colors throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Unlike my daily activities, I got to experience the (almost) instant gratification of seeing a project reach completion. it was hard work, but well worth it. And it provided the added benefit of taking my mind off of all those things I'm waiting on.

Oh, and the neighbors love it. Several asked what the different kinds of plants were. I wonder how long it will be before we go from crazy to trend-setting yet again?

* To do the rest of this strip and convert several other bits of lawn to garden areas, we're going to do it the easy way. Power landscaping tool rental, here we come.

What gratifying events have you experienced lately?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Multicultural perspectives - Bamboo People

Mitali Perkins writes across culture. Her stories bring to life the struggles kids from different races, cultures, and backgrounds experience when they are immersed in a world dominated by people who are different.

Bamboo People is a powerful example. The first half is told from the perspective of a Burmese boy who is recruited, against his will, into the Burmese army. The second half is told from the perspective of a Karenni boy, one of the tribal people the Burmese are persecuting, living in a refugee camp in Thailand. Just imagine what happens when their worlds collide.

One of the extraordinary things about Bamboo People is how easily the reader can identify with both boys. You get inside their heads, see the conflict from both sides, come to understand why the Burmese and Karenni behave the way they do. This book not only opens a reader's eyes and mind to current world events, it also provides a window of insight into why events unfold as they do. 

And yet this is a middle grade book. The characters are dealing with war, yes, but they are also dealing with issues of friendship, budding romance, and finding their place in the world. It's a remarkable book, hard to put down, and one I highly recommend reading.

What books with multicultural perspectives have you enjoyed? Do we need more books like these?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Doing it right

On Monday, I wrote about Livia Blackburne's thoughts about blogging to reach your audience. Her post dovetailed with a brief social media session Mitali Perkins held at Chautauqua. Mitali's had me thinking ever since. Specifically, I've been wondering about this:

How can you contribute to children's writing in a way that sets you apart? 

Lots of writers blog about writing. It helps us to connect with other writers, and perhaps to the intended audience. But if someone has the option to follow what a well-known, established author writes versus someone just starting out, which would they choose? As writers, we need to create our niche in the blogosphere.

Mitali suggests brainstorming (free write in a journal) what you want to contribute. Ideally, you do this before you even begin your blog, but you can always modify your content as you go.

Blog about things that serve kids and parents. What are you passionate about? Are there topics that come up again and again in your writing? Themes that weave through your work? Blog about those kinds of topics. Discuss related children's books or activities; provide them with resources.

Mitali does this at Mitali's Fire Escape: a safe place to chat about books between cultures. She blogs about writing, but she also writes posts about the issues that appear in her books. She provides resources for readers, so they can find out more about a topic or even find a way to help. These posts are for kids, parents, and teachers - the audience.

Me? I'm passionate about science, nature, and grappling with complex problems that don't have a black and white solution. It's important to me that everyone see both sides of an issue (which happens all too seldom these days). All of those things come up in my writing. To reach my intended audience, Mitali said I should blog about other nonfiction books, fiction books that cover similar kinds of topics, and science-y activities that kids and parents can do together; things they can do to make a difference.

How do you let your intended audience know about your posts? Send out provocative twitter posts that link to the blog post, and reach out to the audience you want to reach. Mitali has lists of people involved in the issues she writes about. Find your audience. Let them know you're there. Give them a reason to stop by.

For me, that means you will be seeing new kinds of posts. Posts about terrific books, posts about important subjects, posts about things kids (and teachers and parents) can do to get involved. I will also write a bit about writing (there's still lots to share from Chautauqua), but that won't be all I blog about.

How will you change the way you blog?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Embracing Failure

This is a couple of years old, but the messages are so important, I thought I'd share them. J.K. Rowling on the fringe benefits of failure.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." -Plutarch.

How will your imagination inspire change?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Last week, Livia Blackburne (who is also a scientist by day), wrote this insightful post about why bloggers blog. It struck a chord with me, because I've thought about this since I began blogging.

Isn't the point of blogging to help you reach your audience? As Livia points out, platform logically applies to people who write non-fiction; people who are experts in a subject area and can easily reach their intended audience through a more personalized venue like a blog. And when they write a book? Their audience is already there. Chris Guillebeau at the Art of Non-Conformity is a terrific example.

But what about writers of fiction? Many of us seem to follow other writers. This is a terrific way to network and gain support from other writers, but are these the people who will buy your novels? To some extent, probably, since we need to read in the genre, but it's only a small portion of the intended audience.

So what should we blog about? Livia's follow-up post gives excellent insight into how to tailor your blog and your posts to your intended audience.

What do you think about blogging? Are you reaching the right audience?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hooking teachers and librarians

One of the terrific things about Chautauqua was having a chance to meet with lots of teachers and librarians (on the faculty and among the attendees) and hear what they look for when they select trade books for the classroom and library.

Guess what? It's not just about content. (Obviously that's important, but content alone won't do it.)


Most teachers at the elementary level choose books that complement their curriculum. Fiction or non, the books need to dovetail in some way with the concepts that are being taught. And if the books connect different areas? Even better. (Think multicultural issues and geography, for example.)

How do you know whether your book will complement the curriculum? Do a google search for "state curriculum standards." Start with your state, then check out others. How do they compare? Can you make a case in your query/cover letter that your book could be used by schools in a number of states?

How books are written is also important: books that assume background knowledge kids don't have will NOT be used in the classroom. Background needs to be built into the text, so the readers can understand without having to fetch a dictionary.

Illustrations? They're terrific! But they need to appear on the same page spread as the relevant text. If the reader has to flip a page (or two) to find the illustrations, teachers will skip the book. Make the information easily accessible to your readers. Ask to see page proofs and make it clear that you want a layout that enhances readability and retention of information.

Teachers and librarians also need to teach study skills. How? By choosing books that have a table of contents, a glossary, an index, and a list of additional resources. List of possible discussion questions? Bring 'em on! Anything to make a teacher's life easier will be greatly appreciated.

If your book would work well in the classroom, be sure to mention how it addresses these kinds of things in your query letter. Many schools use the SQ3R reading method. Describe how your book can be used in this way. Not only will you impress the editor reading your submission, you vastly increase the chances of getting your books into schools and libraries.

What is your favorite book that was/is used in the classroom? Why?

Monday, September 12, 2011


Have you ever finished a book and felt that the end somehow wrapped up the entire story in a way you couldn't quite put your finger on? Something subtle? Chances are, the author created an ending that resonated with the beginning.

The same is true of magazine stories (fiction) and articles (non-fiction); in fact, the resonance is often more noticeable in a thousand words or less. It's that clever ending that returns to the premise from the opening paragraph. Pick up an issue of Highlights magazine, and you'll see what I mean.

It turns out, that resonance is intentional. It is one of the things editors look for in the articles and stories they evaluate. If you write for Highlights or other children's magazines, check for this before you submit.

Resonance isn't just for short pieces of work. Sara Grant, author of the recently released Dark Parties, incorporated resonance into her novel and recommends that other authors do the same. This isn't the answer to the big question posed on page one, rather something quiet... something that provides emotional satisfaction for the reader. It brings the work full circle.

What examples of resonance have you seen lately?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writing engaging nonfiction or historical fiction

I attended sessions for both fiction and nonfiction writing at the Chautauqua workshop, and over the coming weeks, I'll share some of what I learned from those workshops here.

The biggest point to come up in the nonfiction sessions? Nonfiction can—and should—be presented as a story. No boring facts, no encyclopedic recitation, and for heaven's sake, no passive voice! When you present information in an engaging fashion, the audience will continue to read and be more likely to retain the information.

Fact or fiction? Born 1596, died 1722? (source)

Ever take a class that you hated? Science or history, perhaps? There's a good chance you didn't like it because you were forced to memorize facts. But if that information had been given to you as part of a story—part of a bigger picture—I suspect you would have felt differently about it.

For most of my life, I hated anything having to do with history. Why? Because every history class I took focused on names and dates. It was mind-numbing. There was nothing about it to make me care. So when I started reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and got interested in the history of Scotland, my mom (who loved history) was shocked. She thought I hated history. Well... I did. But not when it was part of an interesting storyline. Funny how that works.

Now the Outlander series isn't nonfiction. It's historical fiction. And that's probably the greatest draw for historical fiction. It's factually correct regarding events that took place in the time period, but with the flexibility of a fictional story to string those events together. Thorough research and accurate portrayal is just as important in a piece of historical fiction as it is in nonfiction.

With nonfiction, you have to be careful. You can't make up quotations; you must have references to back up everything you say (although this is true for historical fiction as well: Carolyn Yoder at Calkins Creek requires documentation for every factual event included in the story). It's easy to get carried away by your efforts to paint a picture and accidentally overstep the bounds. A good editor will call you on it.

With care, writing as a story works for any kind of nonfiction. (biography, nature, history, science). Make it engaging. Make it active. And watch your audience grow.

What are your thoughts about writing (or reading) nonfiction? Does the format matter?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chautauqua notes

I'm back! My apologies for the longer-than-expected hiatus. The move took much more out of me than I'd anticipated, but yesterday the movers took the boxes away, and I promised myself I'd get back to blogging. So here I am.

First, thanks to Christie Wright Wild for the Pot-o-gold award! I am honored that you find this blog full of interesting and helpful content. :)

And I know you're all dying to hear about the writers workshop... Chautauqua was fantastic! If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend it. The faculty were fully engaged with the attendees, and the staff maximized the number of opportunities we had available to speak with them. I'm delighted to say that I've made real friends with some of the faculty members (and many attendees), and I'm not sure you can say that about many other conferences.

Most of the week had workshops; three concurrent sessions at a time. There's something for everyone, from writers of picture books and early readers to MG and YA; from fiction to non. If, like me, you write in more than one genre, it was nearly impossible to decide which sessions to attend, and they were all incredibly informative.

In addition to the scheduled sessions, faculty held "lunch and learns" - informal meet-ups during the lunch break during which the faculty would talk about a particular topic. Use of social media? Spend the lunch hour with Mitali Perkins. Classroom presentations? Hang out with Sneed B. Collard, III.  What does a 9 3/4 year-old want in a book, anyway? Harold Underdown and his daughter are there to give you some insight. I learned just as much from these lunches as I did from the official curriculum.

But probably the best part of the Chautauqua experience is the one-on-one mentorship. Each attendee submits a piece of work (first ten pages of a novel, PB manuscript, or magazine article), and they are paired with a faculty reader/mentor to work on it. You get two meetings with your mentor, so you have time to make changes and look at revisions. I was paired with Andy Boyles for one of my nonfiction PB manuscripts, and he offered some terrific advice for improving it.

And did I mention the food? Or the enormous bag of books that you bring home with you? The delightful attendees? The superheroic ability of Jo Lloyd, coordinator for the Highlights Foundation, to leap tall buildings and not get flustered in the face of things like two-day power outages? The gorgeous setting in the Chautauqua Institution?  It was truly an extraordinary experience.

Want to attend? I know you do. :)  Yes, it's a pricey venture, but the Highlights Foundation offers scholarships that make it reasonable. I hope to see you there in future years!

And if you're too impatient to wait until next year, check out the Founders Workshops.  (Some of these are next on my list.)

So... that's what I've been doing. What have you all been up to while I've been away?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Marketing Monday - Katie Davis (part 2)

Katie Davis, author/illustrator of nine picture books, including Kindergarten Rocks!, I Hate to Go to Bed!, and Who Hops? uses podcasts and video to promote her books. Podcasts? Video? But that sounds so... hard!  Katie wrote up a terrific, two-part blog post about how to use YouTube to help promote your books. Read through her how-to post from last week, and check out her webinars for more great information.

The following post was inspired and partly excerpted from her upcoming eBook, How to Promote Your Children's Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller, available August 4 at

Why You Need to Create your Own YouTube Channel

I did a lot of research about YouTube and then I interviewed Darcy Pattison, author of the Book Trailer Manual. Using my research and the interview with Darcy Pattison, I deleted my old YouTube channel and created a new one. The downside to doing that is that all the views and my followers were zeroed out too. The upside made that worth it.
Tip: keep in mind when you are creating your user name when creating your channel that that name will be the name of the channel, which is one reason I wanted to get rid of my previous channel.

Here is what Darcy, the book trailer maven, says about creating your own channel:

“Katie is right, you need your own YouTube channel. Take a look at her channel, here and mine, here.

“In April, 2010, Anthony Bruno reported that “fans are more engaged with videos posted to individual artists’ Web sites.” Of course, they are talking mostly about music videos, but we can probably generalize this to book videos. They report that “29% of the videos streamed on artist and label sites are watched in their entirety, compared to only 12% from aggregation services.” Warner Music Group, then, doesn’t license content to places like The company, instead, drives fans to artists’ sites through custom-branded channels on YouTube.  A third-quarter study in 2010 confirmed the importance of individual artists’ channels.

Creating your own channel

“If you need another reason that you should create your own YouTube channel, listen to this.... You want your book trailer uploaded on your account, so you can control the settings. If you had help from a book trailer company, ask them to send you the video and let you upload it yourself. Otherwise, you’ve got to return to them for any revisions to the descriptions. For example, if you get a fantastic review that you want to add to the description, you can’t do it if you don’t have control. Upload it to your own channel. “Take the time to customize the look of your channel to match your website or the book cover, your choice. Notice that both Katie’s and my channel have the same color schemes as our websites.

“Another advantage of creating your own channel is that it allows you to monitor viewer statistics. YouTube Insight is YouTube's external facing analytics and reporting product that enables everyone with a YouTube account to view detailed statistics about the videos that they upload to the site. Just log on, then click Account >My Videos>Insight.

“As of the last quarter of 2010, Facebook and Twitter generate the most engaged viewing audiences for online video. So, once you get your video up–Tweet! Facebook it! (Which, of course, means you need a following on Facebook and Twitter too!)”

Tip: You don’t have to only do videos that are book trailers. I started my Video FAQs to both help people who come to my site as well as create some search engine juice. I made this kindergarten video that helps incoming students who might be a tad nervous about the big step. It also, of course, has images and phrases from my book, Kindergarten Rocks!, but isn’t about the book.

Thanks for all the terrific, thought-provoking information Katie. And see everyone else on YouTube!

* * *

Children’s author/illustrator Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Katie has volunteered in a maximum security prison teaching Writing for Children and over the last dozen years has presented and keynoted at schools, writing, and educational conferences. This year she served as a Cybils judge and has also judged the Golden Kite,, and Frontiers in Writing awards. Recently Katie was selected to be on the Advisory Board for the Brooke Jackman Foundation, a literacy-based charity.

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marketing Monday - Katie Davis (part 1)

Katie Davis, author/illustrator of nine picture books, including Kindergarten Rocks!, I Hate to Go to Bed!, and Who Hops? uses podcasts and video to promote her books. Podcasts? Video? But that sounds so... hard!  Katie wrote up a terrific, two-part blog post about how to use YouTube to help promote your books. So check out her advice below, check out her webinars, and come back next week for more great information on this underused method of book marketing.

The following post was inspired and partly excerpted from her upcoming eBook, How to Promote Your Children's Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller, available soon at

There are so many things we can do to market our books, and in the 15 years I’ve been in this business, I’ve learned a lot, but the thing that has been intriguing me most lately is using video. YouTube is yet another social media site, and let’s not forget, the second largest search engine out there. It’s important, and it can gain you fans and readers.

Why should the cute babies, stupid cat burglers, and people doing things they shouldn’t (back to the stupid cat burglers) get all the attention? You can easily harness the power of this incredible social media site for the benefit of your business. It’s easy to forget that YouTube is yet another social media site, isn’t it? But that’s exactly what it is, as you can “friend” people and follow them, by subscribing to their channels.

There are a few ways to use YouTube to enhance your business. Remember, too, YouTube isn’t the only video site out there, though sometimes it certainly seems that way! In fact, on Teachertube I’ve had almost 20,000 views of my videos, which is tens of thousands more than on YouTube! But we’ll talk about the behemoth for this instance.

One great thing you can do on YouTube is to link to your other videos in YouTube. This will lead a viewer to your next video, or an update if you need to post that. Here is a video I’ve uploaded to YouTube which I also added “talking bubbles” to, which as anyone who has ever read any of my books knows, I rely on for communicating subtopics and tangential information. What could be better?

Power-invoking step-by-step process to enhance your videos on YouTube:
  1. Log into your channel (read further to find out why you need to create your own channel).
  2. Look at the “Video Owner Options.”
  3. Hit “video annotations.”
  4. See lower left where there is a speech bubble icon and two other icons. You can also add a note or a spotlight.
  5. Type in your message. Select time within movie you want that message to start.
  6. Preview.
  7. Play around with the speech bubble “tail.”

Check out how I utilized the power of this enhancement here, but make sure to watch till the end for the insertion of the link, because that’s the way you can get more people to go to your channel! Here is a video of how I learned to do all this.

Another way to get people to subscribe to your channel is to add a little 5 second video clip to every movie you upload, showing how to subscribe to your channel. It’s like hypnosis – they see it in front of their eyes, and follow suit! Ever since I created mine and added it to just two videos (so far!) I’ve gotten a more steady stream of subscribers. Here is one short video I where I used this method.

Thanks, Katie! Lots of great how-to information! Next week: why you need to set up your own YouTube channel.

* * *

Children’s author/illustrator Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Katie has volunteered in a maximum security prison teaching Writing for Children and over the last dozen years has presented and keynoted at schools, writing, and educational conferences. This year she served as a Cybils judge and has also judged the Golden Kite,, and Frontiers in Writing awards. Recently Katie was selected to be on the Advisory Board for the Brooke Jackman Foundation, a literacy-based charity.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Overcoming adversity

The Chautauqua Writer Workshop kicks off this evening with the opening banquet.

My scheduled flight gave me just enough time to change before it starts, so I spent much of last night debating whether to pack my dress in my suitcase or whether to figure out a way to carry it on. I had this horrible, unshakable feeling something would go wrong, most likely that my luggage wouldn't arrive, given a short layover in O'Hare. How important was the dress?

Turns out it doesn't matter, because the thing that went wrong wasn't with the luggage. It's with the flight. It was canceled.

Instead of madly dashing through O'Hare, I'm sitting in Omaha waiting to start my journey. I'll arrive four hours late and miss the banquet completely. But at least I'll be there in time to socialize with the other people staying at my hotel, familiarize myself with my schedule and other orientation materials, and, most importantly, to begin the workshop itself tomorrow morning.

All thanks to the heroic efforts of my husband, who spent an hour on the phone getting me rebooked this morning.

So here's to an amazing week. I'm sure it will be all the better simply because it actually happened.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life in 300 square feet

We (my husband, two children, and I) have spent the past four weeks living in small spaces: the two weeks before the move in a small one-bedroom apartment in Berlin, the last two weeks in an equally small one-room hotel suite. As the woman in Julia Donaldson's A Squash and a Squeeze would put it, it's titchy for four.

So what have we been up to since returning Stateside? Lots o' things...
  • we bought a car (we hadn't planned to)
  • we spent four hours in the ER with our 3-year-old (hadn't planned that, either)
  • we decided against the house we were sure we wanted before we moved and wound up looking at about 25 more
  • we refereed countless numbers of fights between two boys who could use a little more distance from each other
  • we discovered that the Great Plains can be hot and humid and rather miserable at times, and, consequently, came to accept the necessity of air conditioning
  • we went to the Farmer's Market, discovered burpless cucumbers, and sampled real maple syrup by the spoonful
  • we spent time hanging out in the (THE!) indie bookstore in town
  • we had decent margaritas and Mexican food for the first time in years
  • we went for walks in the nearby park and watched the curious fireflies check out our curious children
  • we found a place to call home
And on Saturday, I head to Chautauqua for the Writers Workshop! I can't wait to get my head back into writing. It's been far too long.

Check back on Monday for the first part of a terrific guest post by Katie Davis--Marketing Monday at it's finest!

Friday, June 24, 2011


We're just about to move from Europe to North America, and given how hectic the past six weeks have been, I am incredibly grateful for a number of things.
  • Internet access!! (for the first time in weeks—it's been killing me)
  • My son is napping and the construction workers outside took a break. Peace and quiet for the first time all week.
  • Not having to pay rent for July when we won't even be here. (Long story, but it almost happened.)
  • The housing manager offered to paint our old apartment for us. (For once my lack of skill paid off—he saw how inept my painting was and quickly offered to bring in someone who could do it right.)
  • The movers had mad 3-D Tetris skillz and managed to fit all of our stuff into the shipping container, even though we were sure something would have to stay behind.
  • The washing machine didn't break until our last load of laundry.
  • The people who were buying our washer and dryer (knowingly) took the washing machine anyway.
  • The army of friends who have watched our kids, fed us, and schlepped us (and our stuff) around Berlin.
  • My children's excitement about the move.
  • Discovering a trail at the end of a lake that led into the Grunewald yesterday morning. I spent the morning soaking up the forest, since there's nothing like it on the Plains.
  • Having had the opportunity to live in Europe for five years.
  • Living in a place that inspired my latest novel and prompted me to start writing again.
  • Finally getting an acceptance letter from Highlights.
  • My signed copy of Possum Summer, which I'm saving for the plane ride.
  • Only five more days until I get to read it.

I hope you're all doing well. Sorry for my absence from the blogosphere, but I hope to be back soon!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Marketing Monday - Jen K. Blom

Marketing Monday is back! (There are more in the works, I promise, but all of the wonderful authors who are contributing their experiences seem to be just as busy as I am these days. Lucky for them, they're not about to make an intercontinental move. It's not an experience I recommend.)

Today, I'm thrilled to feature a personal friend, Jen K. Blom, whose contemporary middle grade novel, Possum Summer, is just now coming out.

I've heard reports that people in the U.S. have received their copies. I'm still waiting for mine. *taps fingers* *checks clock* *sighs*

Possum Summer sold out quickly on Amazon, in large part due to Jen's great promotional activities. In fact, her marketing is what gave me the idea for this series. So here's a bit more about how she (and Holiday House) marketed Possum Summer.

What has Holiday House done to promote Possum Summer?

Holiday House has been great! They've promoted Possum Summer everywhere, and recently my little book is at BEA, being shown to all the great Booksellers out there! They also helped with the marketing idea I had (called the Showdown, see below) Holiday House FTW!

What is the Great Oklahoma Animal Showdown? How did you come up with this idea, and how did you manage to coordinate it from another continent? (And how is it going so far?)

The Showdown is going great so far! I wanted to address my readers directly, but I also wanted to have a sort of party for my book that included them. So I thought: why not Oklahoma, where I grew up? Why not the public school system, which left me so many positive (and negative) memories? All my great teachers? They deserve the notice. So I worked it up.

The book is in the schools (as of June 1) and will be featured on here soon. It was a bit of a headache getting everything settled from a continent away. :-) My sister and her kids *waves* did the hard manual labor of sending out the envelopes I sent out, and putting stamps on them. Holiday House was AMAZING on this front, really working with me to fine tune the competition and even the CEO, Mr. John Briggs, had extremely helpful suggestions! They really are amazing.

What role do you see social networking playing in your marketing and promotion efforts?

TBH, not much with the kids. More with reviewers, who could read and review my book, and librarians and parents. I find a huge amount of people I interact with online are other writers, but they're parents too, and they're searching for a book for their kids that excites them, makes them cry, and helps them out. I'm hoping that Possum Summer fits that bill!

How long will those who haven't pre-ordered have to wait before Amazon restocks? ;)

HAHAHAHAH The LATEST you'll have to wait is June 1 (I hope)! I was astounded that it sold out so quickly! It is all a dream. :-D

* * *

Thanks for sharing your experience, Jen, and congrats on the new release!

Jen K. Blom writes about animals, the land, and kids, not necessarily in that order. Her debut, POSSUM SUMMER, is available now.

Just the thing to give to a kid to start their summer of reading off right! (Available from your local indie, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Book Depository!)

Seen the book trailer yet?

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Top Agent

My son's birthday is next week, and he's been asking for a Top Agent. Funny, I want the same thing. Except his looks like this:


And mine will look a bit more... lively. Interactive. Requiring less imagination to become animate. (But just as willing to scale walls.)

I'm participating in Sara Megibow's How to Hook an Agent with Your Query Letter webinar on Thursday (followed by personalized feedback from an agent on my Top Agent list--can't go wrong with that!).

Fingers crossed that my son and I both get our wish!

How's your writing/querying going?

Friday, May 20, 2011

What writing taught me about parenting

You would think that reading parenting books would teach you about parenting, but I've actually learned just as much from my books about writing. A few examples:
  1. Show Don't Tell  Or, in parenting parlance: actions speak louder than words.
  2. Keep it simple  Don't use language that your audience doesn't understand. Use short sentences and clear wording to get the point across (I wish my students would do this).
  3. Everything should happen for a reason  Otherwise known as natural and logical consequences (we need to use these a LOT in our house).
  4. Don't lecture your reader  Or your kids, any more than you have to. They tune out words, which is why #1 and #3 are more effective.
  5. Don't underestimate your audience  Think they won't remember that you promised them a new book if they were good at the store? Think again.
  6. Try not to criticize  The kids, your partner/spouse, or yourself. Focus on the positive.
  7. Let your character's think  Your kids, too. They'll thank you for it.
What else can we learn about parenting from writing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Insanity. And a blog award.

The past ten days have been a blur of sorting, donating, cleaning, painting, and otherwise trying to de-clutter our apartment and get it ready for other people to see. To give you an idea of just how crazy it was, it took me 12 days to read Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid. Normally, it would've taken me two. So during those precious moments when I DID have time to read, I felt like this:

But now the apartment is so clean it sparkles. When I told my five-year-old this, he asked if I'd sprinkled glitter everywhere. At least he didn't ask if it looked like vampire skin.

And in the midst of all that cleaning, I felt anything but stylish, and yet Julie Hedlund, critique partner extraordinaire, gave me the Stylish Blogger Award. Thank you Julie! It came at a time when I needed a little pick-me-up.

Out of curiosity, what are the "rules" about passing on an award you've already passed on? Do you do it all over again?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I anticipated that my kids would have nightmares once we actually moved. Uprooting them from everything they know and moving them thousands of miles away to a location with a very different culture is a highly emotional experience; just the kind of thing to trigger nightmares (source).

What I didn't anticipate was their starting so soon. A good night's sleep has become a thing of the past. At least once a week, one of the boys wakes me with a nightmare. I guess the stress is getting to everyone. I've been fortunate not to have nightmares, but maybe that's because the others wake me, and once I'm awake, I can't shut off my brain and go back to sleep. Hard to have a nightmare if you're awake!

While I'm lying awake at night, I wonder how I might make use of this in a future story. What circumstances lead to nightmares? How can those circumstances lead to bizarre dreams for a character, and how can I make that dream an essential component of the story?

According to the Mayo Clinic, nightmares can result from any of the following.
  • stress Stress may be caused by everyday events (school stress, bullying, work) or bigger events (a divorce, death of a loved one, a move). (This is clearly the issue for us.)
  • a traumatic event Nightmares are one of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Did anything really traumatic happen to your character? If so, there ought to be nightmares afterward.
  • illness When people are sick, particularly if they have a high fever, nightmares can dominate their sleep. One of the best examples of this that I've seen is in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. In one of the later books, the main character, Claire, becomes deathly ill, and we experience the illness through her dreams and altered perceptions. 
  • drugs Both legal (some antidepressants) and illegal (barbiturates and narcotics) drugs can cause nightmares. What is your character going through? Are drugs involved? (Probably not if you're writing for children!) Make the experience real for your audience by incorporating nightmares.
And don't just include nightmares for effect, put them to work. Make your character's brain pull together pieces of what's happening around him/her into a frightening experience that not only illustrates the psychological issues, but also provides the reader with important information about the character or story line.

That's what I'll be thinking about when I'm wide awake at 3am.

Have you incorporated dreams or nightmares into your writing?

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I'm posting less often, these days. The big inter-continental move is next month, and between dealing with that, trying to polish and submit my current middle grade novel, and preparing for the Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, my time is precious.

But, I need to thank two people for three awards that I've received over the past few weeks.  Deirdre at A Storybook World awarded me both the Powerful Woman Writer Award...

and the Creative Blog Award.

Thank you, Deirdre, for the gorgeous awards (she designed them herself). I haven't been able to determine that there are rules for passing these along, but I may do so anyway. But that will be fodder for another post.

Thanks, too, to Elizabeth Mueller, for the zebra:

A to Z was great in terms of discovering new blogs. It also taught me that I just can't blog six days a week. I am in awe of those of you who do.
How do you get anything else done?!?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Marketing Monday - Hilary Wagner

Whew! After an intense A to Z April, Marketing Monday is back!

Today, I am thrilled to feature Hilary Wagner, a middle grade author whose debut novel Nightshade City has already enjoyed terrific success!. If you're a children's writer, chances are, you are familiar with her blog posts or tweets.

Hilary has also been a terrific resource for other authors through SCBWI and in an interview for the CBI Insider.

She's fun, she's incredibly sweet, and she... well, she loves rats. What's not to love? ;) 

What did Holiday House do to help promote Nightshade City?

Holiday House has deep ties in schools and libraries. Even now, more and more libraries get my book every week. It's so exciting. It's even at several libraries in Singapore, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands!

Among other events, Holiday House had me speak at the NCTE ALAN workshops in November at Disney World. That was a big honor and certainly something to mark off the bucket list. I'm happy to say I'll be on the NCTE Holiday House panel this year as well, to speak about my latest book. Anytime Holiday House has me and other authors speak, they always set up a dinner party too, wherein myself and the other authors get to sit down with Educators and professionals in the publishing industry to talk about our books and help spread the word, not to mention have a great time! They've truly been great and not knowing what to expect as a debut author, they surpassed everything I could have hoped for as far as marketing me.

What did you do to market your novel? When did you start getting the word out (and how)?

Well, I'm in an on-line writers group--not a critique group, but a group of writers who support each other through the whole process. So, as a group, anyone with a book coming out gets a blog tour and we are all part of it. We all write for different age levels, but that doesn't matter, spreading the word is spreading the word!

I did work with a book publicist as well. Through my publisher, my book got into Barnes & Noble and other retail stores, but I really wanted a strong Indie presence. I worked with my publicist to design postcards that went out to a huge list of independent booksellers. It worked too! Just the other day, I was at a local Chicago indie bookstore who said the reason they ordered my books was because they received the postcard!

I'm also pretty involved with social networking (twitter, facebook, blogging) and not just to push my book, but to make friends. The on-line writers' community is vast and truly supportive of one another. I've met wonderful writers, who've become good friends and great supporters of my books. It's also been a great way to land speaking engagements. Many of the panels I've spoken on and school visits I've been invited to have all been a result of some form of social networking.

Also, if not involved already, I suggest every children's writer joins the SCBWI. My local chapter (Illinois) is very active. I've made so many friends and I actually get to meet them in person! I was just on an SCBWI panel last month in Chicago, talking about social networking for your book, so your question is quite timely! It's such a wonderful resource for meeting fellow writers, joining critique groups, finding SCBWI meet-ups in your local area. I would be lost without them!

You have a quote from Rick Riordan on the cover. (Wow!) Do you think that helped Nightshade City gain some attention from fans of Percy Jackson?

I sure hope so! I was literally in shock with my agent read the quote to me. She was walking down the street in NYC and I was sitting in my office. I screamed out loud and everyone came running! What an honor! Apparently, Mr. Riordan's children had read the final manuscript and like it so he read it too! It's truly amazing how these things happen in life.

Nightshade City is in its second printing, a CBC Best Book, a Crystal Kite Finalist, and a Goodreads Choice Award Finalist. What do you think led to this success? (aside from the fact that you wrote a terrific novel)

I would think it's all the "terrific novel" part, ha, ha! Honestly though, I think much of it is getting the word spread about your book. It's a very organic process. I suppose you can compare it to how a rumor gets started, but with a bit of luck it's a good rumor in this case! ;)

What advice do you have for other authors who are just starting to think about promoting their books?

Well, when you first start out it's a little overwhelming. You don't need to join every social networking site or have three blogs going, posting every day. You just need to figure out what works best for you. I'm active with my blog, but really only post once a week. That's what works best for me. It's doable, I can manage it, and I don't feel pressure. It took a while to grow my readership--it won't happen overnight, so don't get discouraged. IT WILL HAPPEN! Just keep consistent with your posts, follow others in your field (usually they'll follow back), try and respond to folks who comment on your blog and have fun.

I'm also pretty active on Twitter and Facebook, but I use it more for fun than anything else. About 95% of the people I'm connected to are fellow writers and it's fun to joke and be silly with everyone, talk about our "regular" lives, as well as talk about our writing and publishing. The key is to be yourself! No one wants you to constantly blab about your book and your book alone. Frankly, it's annoying and a good way for people to drop you as a connection. To me, it is perfectly fine to talk about your book, provide links, etc, just don't make that all you are. Let me know you, because I'm sure you're wonderful and then of course, I'll want to support you and buy your book! ;)

Thank you, Hilary!!  The White Assassin, Hilary's sequel to Nightshade City, will be released in October. Don't miss it!

If you are a published author and you would like to share your experiences with marketing and promoting your book(s), I'd love to share your story! Please contact me at anpstevens [at] gmail [dot] com. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zoology

A few fun facts from the zoologist (that's me):

This animal has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as you. (How many might that be?)

This animal can eat up to 600 insects in one hour. (source)

Photo by Merlin Tuttle (source)

This animal everts its stomach (its stomach comes out through its mouth) to release digestive enzymes that pulverize its prey.


What's your favorite animal?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Yes

It finally happened... an editor wants to publish my work. It's not the very first "yes" but it's the first one that will lead to a paycheck (small though it might be).

One of my non-fiction articles is going to be published in Boys' Quest magazine. (In 2012.)

It's amazing how one little "yes" brightens the bio section of a cover/query letter and gives that little push to keep writing. 

What keeps you going?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X marks the spot

Ah, a lovely view. Just the kind of thing my muse enjoys, particularly when she spots that stegosaurus-looking thing on the ground.


What do you think you would find if you had a chance to explore? 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Writers, Wine, and Weather

Last night, we had a writers' night out.

Four hours at La Cocotte, five courses of fabulous French food, each course with a paired wine, while a thunderstorm raged outside.

It was a delightful evening.

And it was the last time the four of us will be able to go out like this. We'll miss you, Amber!

I'm over at The Rapscallion today, go check it out!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Voice

Voice is one of those aspects of writing that plays a big role in getting attention from agents and editors. If you've stopped to look at successful queries, you'll find that both the query letter and the ms have voice. It's the voice that grabs attention and cries out “read me”.


I'm a pretty nice person (or so I like to think; others may call me on this). I believe strongly in helping others, I've signed the charter for compassion, and yet when I write, the characters whose voices come through most clearly are the nasty ones. The selfish ones rule the roost. Is it some hidden part of me that I try to squirrel away? If so, I hope it only comes out on paper. But it makes me stop to think.

Where does voice come from?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Unprepared

The end of the alphabet completely snuck up on me. So I am completely unprepared for the letter U.

But since today is World Malaria Day, here's a little something to consider.
  • Half of the world's population—3.3 billion people—are at risk of contracting malaria. (source)
  • Between 300 and 500 million people contract malaria each year, and one million of those die. (source)
  • 650,000 children under age 5 die of malaria each year; that's 65% of total malaria deaths and the third leading cause of under-five mortality. (source
  • Malaria contributes to the continuing cycle of poverty in developing nations. (source)
Ready for some good news?
  • Malaria is caused by a protozoan parasite transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. (As an interesting tidbit: only female mosquitoes bite; males eat pollen and are an important part of the ecosystem.)  
  • Anopheles mosquitoes are active at night, biting while people sleep. (source)
  • Bed nets can cut incidences of malaria by at least 25%. (source)
  • You can donate a bed net and save a life for as little as $5 through Malaria No More or Nothing But Nets
Think of it as paying it forward. You don't suffer from malaria; help others to achieve the same goal.