How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author L.K. Madigan

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…L.K. Madigan, author of FLASH BURNOUT!

When I attended ALA this summer, there were a few advance reader copies I was so, so hoping to find, and FLASH BURNOUT was at the top of that list. L.K. Madigan and I share an agent, and I’d already heard great things about her book.  It lived up to all the talk and more.

I was smitten with the main character’s voice just a few pages into this debut YA novel. It’s really, really funny at the same time it tackles some tough issues about family, teen romance, drug addiction, and friendship.

The book begins with a photography assignment for fifteen-year-old Blake, just experiencing his first real romance. When Blake inadvertently snaps a picture of his friend Marissa’s mother, he launches her into a journey for which she desperately needs some support. That journey causes Blake to question what he thought he knew about love and friendship and takes readers on a wild ride of their own.

The voice in this book is really remarkable, and Madigan’s rich characters with their hysterical dialogue reminded me of John Green at times. FLASH BURNOUT is a fantastic, fantastic debut – one that I highly recommend for high school and maybe some older middle school kids, too.

Congratulations, Lisa – and welcome! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

I’ve been writing since I was a child, so in some ways, I never really questioned my fate. The first “novel” I ever wrote was an 80-page book about mermaids, complete with crayoned illustrations.

What books did you love when you were a kid?

The first book I can remember adoring as an independent reader was NO FLYING IN THE HOUSE, by Betty Brock. Then of course I loved HARRIET THE SPY, and A WRINKLE IN TIME. As I got older, I devoured teen problem novels. Now that I think about it, today’s “edgy” YA novels are no more shocking than some of the books I read back then.

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

Wow … all of them! Every teacher who wrote compliments on my papers, or read my work aloud in class, or handed me an award for a winning story … all of them encouraged me and built up my confidence.

I remember a particular summer program at the Montavilla Library in Portland, for kids interested in writing … at the end of the program, all of our stories were typed up (on a typewriter!) and bound with plastic binding and cardboard covers. That was very, very impressive to me. Who knows? The idea may have been planted right then that I could write REAL BOOKS.

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

I don’t, actually. It’s more a matter of eliminating distractions and inserting my head firmly into the story.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

It takes a long time to find your voice. When you first start writing, you may mimic the writing style of authors you admire … at some point, your own unique way of telling a story will emerge.

What’s special about your debut novel?

It’s a contemporary realistic novel with a teen boy narrator bobbing in a sea of paranormal romances about vampires/werewolves/faeries and the girls who love them.

And as soon as I can stop laughing, I’ll ask  you about the process. What were the best and worst parts of writing FLASH BURNOUT?

The best part was how FUN it was to write.

The worst part was researching the effects of methamphetamine use … not just the physical damage to users, but devastation to the user’s families, especially children.

Any more books planned?

Remember that mermaid story I mentioned? My next book is a young adult novel about a surfer girl and a mermaid. It will be published in 2010.

Yay! Thanks for joining us, Lisa!

Read more about L.K. Madigan at her website.   You can pick up your copy of FLASH BURNOUT at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Bear Pond Books in Montpelier

If you have to go out on a blustery, rainy Saturday, I’m of the opinion that there’s nowhere better to go than a wonderful, cozy bookstore.  I had a GIANNA Z. event at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier Saturday, and it fit the bill just perfectly!

We had a lovely afternoon talking about books and research and writing, and I was especially happy to meet a couple librarians and home school kids who came out for the talk.

Alas, because of the rain and the rough ferry ride and the parking, I was running late and only have two photos.  The second is one that you might not expect – the door to the Bear Pond bathroom, but it made me laugh, so I’m sharing.

The truth is, I didn’t actually see Myrtle, but she does travel and was probably off in the pipes somewhere, perhaps visiting the coffee shop  next door.

Thanks, Jane (and Myrtle, wherever you are!) and everyone at Bear Pond Books, for a delightfully cozy Saturday afternoon!

Authors at the New York State English Council Conference

I spent Thursday at the NYS English Council Conference in Albany and had a great time talking with colleagues in both of my worlds – the English teachers and authors alike. 

Nancy Krulik, author of the Katie Kazoo series, was at the table next to me.  She’s written FORTY BOOKS in that series.  40!!  I find that amazing and love that she still gets excited talking about new ideas for Katie. 

From left to right, Tim Tocher, Joseph Bruchac, & Ann Burg

I met Tim Tocher, whose historical baseball novels look like just perfect for some of my boys at school.  It was also great to see Joe Bruchac, whose work I always love, and Ann Burg, whose YA novel in verse ALL THE BROKEN PIECES is one of my favorite new books of 2009. 

And here’s Michael Buckley, of SISTERS GRIMM fame, with his new NERDS book.  Michael captured all of our end-of-the-day silliness with his spirited hat. I’m not positive, but I think it’s actually a hot dog in a bun.  With mustard on top, too.

Many thanks to Scott and Alison of Merritt Books for hosting us at NYSEC!

Thankful Almost-Thursday

Lots of thankfulness to go around this week…

1, I’m plugging away at my revision for SUGAR ON SNOW, stealing bits of time wherever I can.  I used to feel like I needed big chunks of time to get anything done, but that idea has sort of faded away for me, and I’m thankful for that. It makes it so much easier to find writing time when I’m not holding out for the two-hour block.

2,  My brother Tom just finished his last training run for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for autism research.  I don’t get to see him much because he lives out in Colorado, and traveling with a teenager who has autism is a challenge, to say the least. But I’m so, so proud of his dedication to his family and his work with autism research, and I’m thankful I could help out with his efforts this year.  Here’s a link to his fund raising page in case you’d like to pitch in, too – I know he’d appreciate it.

3.  Tomorrow, I’ll be spending the day at the NYS English Conference in Albany, signing books and generally making merry with the folks at the wonderful Merritt Books, the official conference bookstore. I’m looking forward to chatting with teachers and touching base with some writer friends, too!

4. On Saturday, I’ll be at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, which makes me happy because it’s a fantastic indie bookstore with a great kids’ section.  The event is at 2pm if you’re in the area and would like to come by . I’m making Nonna’s funeral cookies.  Come on…you know you want to taste them…

5. Ever notice how little things can make a big difference in your day?  It was almost four this afternoon and I was wrapping up work in my classroom when one of my students came running into the room.  "My friend made cookies for the swim party today. They’re chocolate chip and we thought you’d like one!"  She put it on my desk on a napkin with a huge smile that brightened my day even more than the cookie.

What about you? Who made one of your days brighter this week?

Book Club Contest, Skyping into Wisconsin, and “Instructions”

A few quick updates tonight…before I get back to SUGAR ON SNOW revisions. 

1. Thanks to all those who entered THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. book club giveaway.  The winner, drawn at random from those who entered, is Jeni from the Glenwood Schools for Boys and Girls in Glenwood, Illinois.  Congratulations, Jeni!  And for everyone else… please let me know if your book club chooses GIANNA Z. as a selection.  I’d be happy to send along some signed bookmarks and find a time to have a Skype chat with your group after you read.

2. Speaking of  Skype, I had a great visit with 6th graders in Mequon, Wisconsin this afternoon.  We talked all about the research and writing process, and they had some fantastic questions.  The author-tech-geek in me was pleased to discover that I can actually Skype and scroll through PowerPoint slides on my laptop at the same time.  That allowed me to page through the slides and talk about them on one computer in my office while the teacher in Wisconsin projected the PowerPoint onto a screen in her classroom next to the Skype screen.  Cool stuff, I tell you…and I was able to make it to my son’s cross country meet afterwards, too.  That would have been tricky with an in-person visit.

3. I read in Publishers Marketplace recently that Neil Gaiman’s poem "Instructions" is going to be a picture book.  This makes me happy – I love that poem, particularly when he reads it here (

just shared the link and reminded me how much I like it – thanks!).  It makes me want to find a magical garden gate, too.  Enjoy!

Celebrating the National Day on Writing: A Revision Gallery

A couple weeks ago, a school principal & teacher in California asked me where she could find pictures of real manuscripts from real authors going through the revision process to share with her students so they’d be more excited about revising. I didn’t know of such a resource, but as a teacher, I absolutely loved the idea.  As an author, I knew I probably had some writer friends who would be more than willing to help teachers by sharing a photo or two. 

The result is here… a Revision Gallery with a collection of authors’ notes and photos of their marked-up manuscripts.  I thought today, NCTE’s National Day on Writing would be the perfect day to share our stories.

The PowerPoint slides are below (as jpegs) for teachers who would like to save them & use them in the classroom, and the full presentation is also on SlideShare (though the conversion process distorted a couple of the images).

How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Megan Crewe

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…Megan Crewe, author of GIVE UP THE GHOST!

I had the good fortune to read an early copy of Megan’s book, and I loved the mix of modern high school kids with that paranormal twist.  A girl who sees ghosts is compelling enough, but the fact that she can talk to them AND that they feed her gossip?  It adds up to a fantastic read (and just in time for Halloween, too!)

Welcome, Megan! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

When I was in fifth grade, we had an assignment around Halloween to write a suspenseful story. I loved making up stories, so I put a lot of effort into mine, which I believe was about a werewolf. My teacher picked it as an example to read to the class. I remember looking around and seeing all the other kids totally wrapped up in the story, and realizing that maybe writing wasn’t just something I loved, maybe I was good at it, too. Maybe I could be a "real" writer.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  Music?  Food & beverages?

Part of my bedroom is my sort-of office space: my desk, my special writing chair, bookshelves with my YA and reference books. When I have a project I’m working on, I write for a few hours every morning, on my laptop. And I’m not allowed to turn on the desktop computer with the internet connection until I’m done my goal for that day. During the rest of the day, I’m often jotting down ideas or outlining scenes in my notebook, wherever I happen to be.

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

I read over the previous draft and make notes on things that I want to change. If I’ve gotten critiques I consult them and add any ideas from those comments to my list. Then I either make an organized list of things to change/work on in each chapter, or, if I’m making larger changes, re-outline the book scene-by-scene to work in the changes. Finally, I open a new document and start writing the new draft from scratch–though I have the previous draft open beside it so any parts I’m keeping I’m really just re-typing.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

The most important part of becoming a good writer is just to keep trying. Write whenever you can. Read widely so you know what’s out there and how other writers have handled different types of plots and characters. Study your stories and look for ways to make them better. Realize that it’s okay that a story’s not going to be perfect the first time you write it. Writing can be a lot of hard work, but if you love doing it, it’s totally worth it.

What’s special about your debut novel?

Unlike most stories where the main character can see ghosts, Cass embraces her ability and actually feels more comfortable with the dead than the living. Exploring how she got to that point, and how she can move on from it, is something I feel makes the book special. 🙂

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

The best part was getting to know Cass and the other characters better and better as I revised, and being about to show their stories more fully. The worst was struggling with feedback that Cass wasn’t sympathetic enough, even though she was to me and some of my readers–finding a way to soften her up without losing the edge that was so important to her personality. But I think I’ve managed to do that!

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

I found my agent the usual way–no connections, just queried, sent the manuscript when requested, and got an offer of representation. And I found my editor through my agent, of course. 🙂

And here’s the pitch from Megan’s successful query letter:

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don’t lie or judge, and they’re way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students’ deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim’s part of Danielle’s crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don’t know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn’t counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim’s actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.

Thanks for joining us, Megan!

You can read more about Megan at her website. You can pick up your copy of GIVE UP THE GHOST at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Don’t forget to enter the GIANNA Z. contest for book clubs!

One last thing…and then I’m back to my mug of tea and my revision…

Tomorrow is the last day to enter THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. book club contest, where you can win a whole set of books for your reading group or classroom literature circles group.  Click here for the easy details on how to enter!

I’d love to see more entries from mother-daughter book clubs, so if you know someone who runs one, please let them know about the contest!  And if you have blog readers or Twitter pals who might be interested, please feel free to share the news – just one day left to enter.  Thanks!

Revision Process: Tackling character and balance in SUGAR ON SNOW

I’ll tell you right up front…this is going to be one of those long rambling posts about the writing process, photos included.  If you don’t want to be mired in a tour of my messy revision-mind, you should probably just move on now.  Nothing to see here…

Still  hanging around?  Okay… here’s the revision story.  Last Friday, the UPS guy came with one of those big, thick, daunting envelopes.  My editor at Walker had already emailed to let me know the second round of revisions for my December 2010 middle grade novel SUGAR ON SNOW were on the way.  I love revision, but opening that envelope this time threw me for a bit of a loop at first. This revision feels bigger than the first one, and I have less than a month to turn it around if we’re to make copy edits on time.  But the more I read over the letter and thought about it, the more excited I got.  What editor MK is suggesting is exactly what this book needs to get to the next level…to get ME to where I want to be as a writer.

The revisions fall into two main categories — making relationships between characters deeper and stronger (and there are a lot of characters in this book!) and establishing a better balance between the main character’s home/school life and her ice skating world.  Here’s what my revision process has been looking like so far.

There’s the usual green tea, notebook, laptop, manuscript, & revision letter.  That paper up on the envelope is actual a plot diagram that editor MK created showing the book’s main plot points leading up to the climax.  I’m not showing a closeup because it’s kind of spoilery, but I’ll tell you what it looks like. So I could better understand the balance issue, MK put the plot points that relate to ice skating under the timeline and the home/school stuff over the line.  It’s about an 80/20 division right now, heavy on the skating, and I agree with her that it would be stronger if it were more like 60/40.

This second editorial letter is four pages long, almost all focusing on individual character development and relationships. Good stuff.

I’m doing most of that work off the computer…right here.


This is one of those pricey notebooks with a thick cover that I bought for 80% off at a little paper goods store in SoHo on one of my authory trips to NY.  I saved it for a time when I needed a special notebook that made me extra excited to write, and when I first felt overwhelmed reading that editorial letter,  I knew that it was time to pull it out.  I’ve been doing everything I can to develop the main character, Claire, more as a student and friend.  I just finished character sketches of every one of her 7th and 8th grade teachers.  I’m not sure yet which of those will make it into the new draft, but I know them now.

When I went back to the actual novel to start working on the computer again, the first thing I did was bring it scene by scene into Scrivener, the new writing software I started using after I finished this book. 

See the colored index cards on my virtual bulletin board?  The green ones represent scenes that focus on Claire’s family & home life. The orange ones represent skating scenes in Lake Placid and the lavender ones are competition scenes.  (The red ones are important but are sort of a secret – sorry.) And the turquoise ones are school scenes. But here’s the thing… When I first set this up, there were only two turquoise cards.  The others are blank scenes that I’ve added over the past few days – placeholders for the new school scenes that I’m going to write to help with the balance issue.  I love that Scrivener lets you "see" the whole manuscript in such a conceptual way – it really helps me at times like this.

Interestingly enough, it was in thinking through one of those new school scenes that I came up with a way to build on one aspect of my main character that I’d sort of alluded to but didn’t really develop fully in the earlier drafts.  It’s going to be really, really fun, so I’m saving the work on that thread for after I’ve tackled some of the new scenes that are going to be a little tougher to muddle through.  I’ll do that sometimes – use the fun stuff as a reward for sticking it out through the hard stuff.

I don’t save the easy stuff, though, interestingly enough.  The little line edits and quick fixes? I do those first for a couple reasons.  If I wait too long and have made major changes, it’s harder to find those line edits to make the changes.  And also, accomplishing some small jobs helps me to ease back into a manuscript and feel competent in that world again, so that when I tackle the bigger issues, I’m able to do so with more confidence.

You may not hear a whole lot from me, blog-wise, until this revision is done, so I’ll leave you to continue the conversation.  What works for you when you’re tackling a big revision?  How do you break up the job so it doesn’t feel overwhelming?  Any unusual strategies that have led to breakthroughs?  Go ahead….talk amongst yourselves… I’ll try to stop by with some tea later on.