Instead of Blogging…

I’ve spent the past week and a half:

  • wrapping and unwrapping gifts.
  • baking and eating cookies.
  • playing Monopoly, Apples to Apples, CatchPhrase, and a strangely addictive Nerf target shooting game.
  • ice skating.
  • visiting with my parents, who made our whole Christmas by coming to visit.
  • getting ready for my husband’s family, a great number of whom will arrive to ring in the New Year with us in festive, noisy fashion tomorrow.
  • reading grownup books (I just got an ARC of Jamie Ford’s HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, and it’s delicious so far.)
  • reading kids’ books (E and I are in the middle of THE MAGIC HALF by Annie Barrows and loving it.)
  • hanging out on the sun porch, which is a treat because we don’t always keep it heated in the winter time and because it has this view on winter mornings before anyone else is awake.

  • And writing!  The sun porch has been my office this week. I finally finished my new MG novel, SUGAR ON SNOW.  Those of you who took part in JoNoWriMo might remember that I meant to have the draft done by November 30th.  Then I meant to have it done by December 23rd.  Instead, I wrote the last chapter just after midnight on December 27th.  But it’s done before 2009, and that makes me very happy.  Anyone want to join me in a January Revision Club?

I hope your holiday season has been wonderful and fun and restful.   Happy New Year!  And may 2009 be the year all of your wishes come true.

Saturday Surprises

  1. Earlier this week, I gave a newspaper interview about my second Lake Champlain historical novel for young readers, Champlain and the Silent One.  I had forgotten that it was running in today’s newspaper and just about spit out my coffee when I saw a frighteningly large photograph of myself on the Family Page of the Press Republican. It’s accompanied by a very nice article by Robin Caudell, a writer whose reviews I always enjoy.  The article is online here (It’s okay to click if you’d like to read it…the online image isn’t quite as big and scary.)
  2. It snowed more than expected yesterday, so it looks like we have enough for cross country skiing this weekend!
  3. This book is wonderful. 

I didn’t plan on reading it this week.  I bought it as a gift but set it aside while I was wrapping and found myself "pre-reading" it…you know…the way you taste the fudge to make sure it’s okay?   Now I have to go out and buy a bunch more.  It is the absolutely perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the power of the written word to bring people together.  Read it!

Five Smiley, Thankful Things on Thursday

I was just about to post a Thankful Thursday blog entry when my writer friend marivee  tagged me for an LJ meme making the rounds this week, where you’re asked to post the last five things that made you smile.  I’m also thankful for those things, as it turns out, so here are my smiley, thankful things.

1. My middle school ice skating club has ice after school at a local rink every day this week.  Yesterday, we had a fantastic group that included two kids who had never skated before as well as a young man who came in 20th in the nation at last week’s Junior Nationals in Lake Placid.  They were all so appreciative and supportive of one another that it made me smile lots.  I am also thankful (if somewhat amazed) that they allow me to be the adviser for this group, even though I don’t skate particularly well.  I guess enthusiasm makes up for a lot.

2. One of my students is a HUGE Nancy Werlin fan and has been waiting and waiting for me to finish IMPOSSIBLE so she can borrow it.  Yesterday, I couldn’t find it, and she said, "I’m coming back every day and reminding you to keep looking. I have to have that book for vacation!"  I’m smiling today because I found it and because I smile any time a kid is so excited about a book.

3. I’m making great strides on my middle grade novel-in-progress this week – currently titled SUGAR ON SNOW.  It’s at 41,000 words and counting.  I’m thinking that I’ll be done at 50K, and then I can revise!   Yay!!  (I am actually not being sarcastic there. Revising is my favorite part!)

4. I’ve been working on a crafty sort of holiday project that is turning out well.  This is smiley and significant because I am not particularly crafty, and so often, my crafty endeavors end up looking like something the dog chewed up.

5. It’s been SNOWING here!  Yay!!

What’s making you smiley and thankful today?

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. Last week, amid my Christmas book-buying frenzy, I picked up Nancy Werlin’s Impossible as a gift to myself, and what a gift it was.

Lucy, the 17-year-old main character, is fighting a centuries-old family curse based on the impossible tasks in the folk song "Scarborough Fair."  She has nine months to solve the riddles of the ballad, to save herself and her unborn child.   Unlike her mother and her mother’s mother before her, Lucy has the support of a loving foster family and a devoted childhood friend, but still, she knows she’s fighting a battle that her ancestors have all lost.

It’s been a long time since I’ve rooted quite so hard for characters in a novel, but Lucy won my heart.  I loved her, and I love the story Nancy Werlin wove around her.  Impossible has it all — an impossible task (three, actually), a fantastically alluring villain, a brave heroine, a tension-filled plot, and one of the sweetest romances you’ll ever encounter.  As I write this review, the wind is whipping through the trees outside, transporting me back to that chapter where Lucy and Zach were — wait a minute…that would be a spoiler, and that’s no good.  I better just stop there. Trust me…you’ll want to read every word of this gem yourself.

Kate’s Holiday Book Review Note:  I hope you’re shopping with independent bookstores for the holidays!  After all of my holiday season book reviews, I’ll be posting a short note on how each title might fit into your gift list.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Suggested ages:  12+ (and this is one that older readers of YA will love!)

Buy it for readers who loved:  Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, the Twilight series, Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold. The mix of romance, suspense, folklore,and magic will make Impossible a sure bet with a wide range of readers.

Places to go, people to see…

I was trying to think of a unifying theme for these links I’ve been collecting for you, but there isn’t one.  Let’s just call it the "new-friends-cool-holiday-gifts-picture-book-pagination" edition.

1. My friend and fellow middle school English teacher marjorielight  is blogging on LJ now, with a cool mix of posts about writing, teaching, and her frequent visits to Montreal to eat good food.  She’s working on a post-apocalyptic YA that scares the bejesus out of me and posted today about "active writing."  Go be her friend, okay?  You’ll like her a lot.

2. I hope you’re buying books and supporting small businesses in your holiday shopping!  Along those lines, check out:

3. In the flurry of excitement over finding out that my picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, has an illustrator now, my editor at Chronicle and I talked about dividing the text over 12 spreads.  I played around with the text last night and spent a good amount of time with some other Chronicle picture books we own, like the beautiful A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long, to see how they’re set up.  I also ran across this post from Editorial Anonymous, which is a fantastic primer on how picture books are laid out.  It’s a great resource if you’re working on spreads or just writing a picture book and wondering if it will work in the standard 32-page format.

Happy friending and shopping and writing!

Over and Under the Snow has an Illustrator!

If you were reading my blog back in April, you might remember this post  where I was all over-the-moon about my picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, being acquired by Chronicle Books.  It’s about a girl on a cross country ski trip who discovers the secret kingdom of animals living under the winter snow. Today, that snowy story is another step closer to being a real live book.  My editor emailed to let me know while contracts aren’t quite signed yet, I can go ahead and share the news that we have an illustrator on board!  

You might know him from his artwork on this cover…

It’s Christopher Silas Neal – an artist whose work I absolutely love.  I’ve been bouncing off the walls ever since his name came up in the illustrator discussions.  The sample spread he created for SNOW is stunning, and I’m thrilled that he’s going to illustrate this book.

Consider me all over-the-moon, all over again.

Titanic Artifact Exhibit

We traveled back in time this afternoon, stepping off an elevator in downtown Montreal into a recreation of the R.M.S. Titanic.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition opened in November on the fifth floor of the Eaton Centre.  When you purchase your ticket, you’re handed a boarding pass with the name and background of an actual passenger from the ship’s log.  I was a 19-year-old newlywed traveling first class from England to Washington, DC after my honeymoon, during which I had acquired a new dog (true story!).  It was a fascinating way to experience the artifact exhibit, especially for the kids, because they could walk through the displays and say, "Oh! That’s where I would have slept."  E and I were both first class passengers and would have had staterooms like this…

The exhibit includes a depiction of the night sky in the North Atlantic on the night of April 14, 1912, as well as a very small iceberg model — made of real ice so you can get a sense of just how cold it must have been in the water.

The exhibit ends with a listing of passengers and their fates.  We found the names on our boarding passes on the list of survivors,  but it was chilling to see the long, long list of names — particularly those of third class passengers — who didn’t make it.

I didn’t do this on purpose, but one of my photographs, with my camera propped on a glass display case, left some ghostly images amid the list of passenger names.

I love this picture because it captures what I love most about museums and special historical exhibits like this one — they are ghost stories of the finest order.  Seeing pictures of the real men, women, and children who spent their last days on the Titanic, seeing their engagement rings and suit coats and eyeglasses, makes it almost possible to hear them whispering their stories one more time.

NEED by Carrie Jones

NEED by Carrie Jones is one of those books that sneaks up on you.  It starts off firmly grounded in the real world, with teens so real you can almost smell them sweating after cross-country practice, a setting so vivid you can feel the winter wind blow, and the very real teen drama that defines every high school in America.  But this isn’t just any town; it’s a town with a high concentration of pixies – magical beings with terrible, evil needs.  By the time you realize the danger the main character, Zara, is in, you’ve already accepted this book as real, which makes the scary parts even scarier.

After the death of Zara’s father, her mother sends her to live in snowy Maine, where she’s thrown off balance by icy roads and people who aren’t what they appear to be. But even worse than the blustery snow is the mysterious man who shows up.  He’s been following her everywhere, he leaves a trail of gold dust behind him, and Zara’s convinced he’s connected to the disappearance of some missing boys in town.  When Zara discovers that the mystery man is a pixie, she’s forced to fight her fears and question some of her own ideas about nonviolence.

I love Zara. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Carrie Jones created her in response to some of the issues I have with TWILIGHT’s Bella.  While I read TWILIGHT, loved the exciting plot, and completely understand the appeal to teen girls, I always wonder how they view Bella, who isn’t as strong a heroine as I like to see in books for girls.  Zara, by contrast, is a girl with ideals and gumption.  She has her own sizzling love interest in NEED, but it’s on her terms.  She’s a heroine I can feel good about introducing to my 7th grade girls. NEED is a great book for paranormal romance fans – and a fantastic “next book” for kids looking for something to read after TWILIGHT. 

Kate’s Holiday Book Review Note:
  I hope you’re shopping with independent bookstores for the holidays!  After all of my holiday season book reviews, I’ll be posting a short note on how each title might fit into your gift list.

Need by Carrie Jones

Note:  This title has a December 23 release date from Bloomsbury.  If that’s cutting it too close, you might want to pre-order it as a holiday gift and just leave a little note with a picture of the cover under the tree. It’s that good.  Or just pick up a gift certificate for your favorite indie and wrap it up with a copy of this review!

Suggested ages:  12+

Buy it for kids who loved:  Twilight, Wicked Lovely, Lament, other paranormal romance novels.  They’ll love this one, too!


My seven-year-old daughter had been waiting and waiting and WAITING to read the draft of my second MARTY MCGUIRE chapter book, so a few weeks ago, I printed it out for her.  She settled in next to the fireplace with the big folder of papers, and I started making dinner. Pretty soon, she appeared in the kitchen.

"Do you have a pen I can use?"

"For what?" I asked her.

"I just want to make some notes on here for you, okay?"

I gave her the pen…and the next day got back a manuscript that looked like this.

And the best part?   When I asked her what the E was for, she said, "You know, so you know those corrections are from me and not the person at Scholastic."  

I don’t save all the printed drafts of my books. But this is one I’ll be holding onto for a long, long time.