Novels in verse, discovery drafts, writing music, & Skype

A few weeks ago in the advanced creative writing class that and I co-teach, one of our 7th grade girls had a question about writing novels in verse that stumped us. "Is it better for me to just write these poems as they come to me, do you think? Or should I have an outline first?" Having never written a novel in verse, I wasn’t sure how most people approach the process, but never fear… a talented author and Skype came to the rescue!

Lisa Schroeder, the author of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, FAR FROM YOU, and the soon-to-be-released CHASING BROOKLYN, woke up bright and early on the West Coast to join us for a 9AM class in Northern New York.

Since Skype is already installed on my desktop computer, we didn’t need to do anything special to prepare. When Lisa called us at the appointed time, we projected her onto the big screen, and the kids came up to the computer one at a time to ask their questions.

Lisa chatted about her writing with my 7th grade writers with a genuine thoughtfulness and warmth that stayed with the kids long after their Q and A session was over. (In fact, I saw the girl from this photo in the library later on. "That Skype chat was awesome!" she said. "I was thinking about it all through math class.")

Some highlights? Lisa shared her process for writing novels in verse, including the fact that music plays a role. She mentioned bands like Lifehouse and Evanescence that help to inspire her words. She encouraged our young writers to read and read and read some more and shared some of her favorite authors, too — like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Sarah Dessen. I saw a couple of our kids smile great big smiles when Lisa admitted that she doesn’t always know all the answers when she starts writing a book. It felt like she was giving them permission to do that "discovery draft" as well, to figure things out along the way and then go back to revise.

After our Skype session, our students tweeted what they felt were some of the key points on our class Twitter account (@MessnerEnglish), so that schools that haven’t tried Skype chats could get a sense of how valuable (and fun!) they can be. Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing your time and talent with our kids!

If you’re a teacher, librarian, or author looking for more resources on how all this works, here are a few links to check out:

Lisa Schroeder’s Skype an Author page (And she’s fantastic with kids!)
The Skype an Author Network
School Library Journal technology feature on Skyping authors: "Met Any Good Authors Lately?"
An updated list of authors who Skype with Book Clubs

GIANNA Z. Event at Books of Wonder in NY Sunday Dec. 6th!

This coming Sunday, December 6th, I’ll be in New York City signing copies of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. with a whole group of 2009 debut authors from 1-3 at Books of Wonder. Here’s the official Facebook invitation in case you’d like to RSVP there…and by all means, feel free to pass along the invitation to any FB friends who might be interested.

The event will feature an eclectic mix of middle grade and YA folks, including Deva Fagan, Sarah Cross, Neesha Meminger, Michelle Zink, Megan Crewe, Shani Petroff, Jon Skovron, and me. We’ll be having a Q and A session with door prizes and bookmarks and other goodies, and we’d love it if you could join us. I’ll be bringing my rough draft of GIANNA Z. complete with the editorial letter and notes for those interested in the writing process. And if you’re a teacher or librarian, please pass the invitation along to your students, too!

If you can’t make it but would like to order signed copies of any of these books, just give Books of Wonder a call at 212-989-3270. But if you live in the NYC area, we’d really love to see you there!

Thankful for Books, Kids, and a pumpkin named Gianna Z.

Since I got home from NCTE Saturday night, I’ve been devouring books. This happens to me when I’ve just finished a big project (I turned in the final revision for SUGAR ON SNOW after an afternoon of work in a Philly coffee shop!) – I have a sudden need to go on a reading binge before I move on to something else, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve finished Cynthia Omololu’s fast-paced, compelling YA debut, DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, which comes out from Walker in February. Then it was Bonnie Shimko’s upcoming MG novel, THE PRIVATE THOUGHTS OF AMELIA E. RYE, which releases from FSG this spring and has a main character with one of the greatest voices of all time. Really. And finally, Elizabeth Partridge’s MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, an amazing narrative nonfiction account of the children and young people involved in the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. All of these books are wonderful in wildly different ways, and I’ll be blogging about them all soon in more detail. For now, I’m just thankful to have read them.

I’m also thankful for these kids…

…who joined me for an author presentation at Dodge Memorial Library in Rouses Point, NY on their day off today. One boy, who was already waiting on the carpet when I arrived to set up my projector, looked up and asked, "So you write books?" I nodded and handed him copies of my two regional historical novels as well as THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. He started flipping through one of the books, and his eyes got huge. "You wrote ALL THIS?" Sometimes as authors, published or unpublished, we forget what an accomplishment that really is.

And one last thankful moment…that came in my email from a teacher in Kansas. Her school library did a great project where kids got to create pumpkins that looked like their favorite book characters. Guess who this is:

Yep…it’s my main character from THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. See the resemblance?

I love the way this reader/pumpkin artist captured Gianna’s crazy red curls and her creative spirit, and mostly, I’m honored that she connected with the character enough to turn her into a pumpkin. Moments like this, so wonderfully quirky and unexpected, have been the very best part of this book journey. Much to be thankful for, indeed.

I hope your Thanksgiving is full of wonderful people, good food, and great books!

Holiday Book Recommendation: The Espressologist

I am a writer who is mighty attached to my mocha lattes…so when I heard about Kristina Springer’s YA debut, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST (FSG, 2009), I couldn’t wait to read it. The premise? A teenaged barista does some match-making with her customers, based on their favorite coffee drinks and ultimately, finds love of her own.

This book made me want to be sixteen again (just for a minute, because most of sixteen was traumatic) so that I could get all my friends together to read THE ESPRESSOLOGIST and then meet them at the local coffee shop to talk about it. Then, of course, we’d start our OWN notebooks to match people up based on their favorite coffee drinks, just like the main character, Jane.

This YA novel is romantic fun at its finest – with great teen characters, a delightful budding romance, and enough humor to make it a sweet, sweet read.

Looking for a great holiday gift for a coffee-lover? Pair this with a gift certificate to the local coffee shop, and maybe slip in a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans. Click on the book cover to order through IndieBound!

Stories and Standards: Pairing Fiction & Nonfiction (from NCTE)

On Friday afternoon, I was part of an author panel at NCTE on the topic "Stories and Standards: Pairing Fiction & Nonfiction" along with Loree Griffin Burns, Jenny Moss, and Tanya Lee Stone. We spoke about curriculum connections for our books and suggested other titles that would pair well with them in the classroom. Here’s the presentation, via SlideShare.

Our facilitator for this session was the Goddess of YA Literature herself, Teri Lesesne, (she’s here on LJ) who generously posted all of her NCTE presentations to slideshare as well. Check out her SlideShare site for a ton of great book suggestions!

A Post-NCTE Photo Wrap-Up

Saturday was my busy day at NCTE, starting with a morning book signing, then an interview about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. for the ReadWriteThink podcast, lunch, and the Middle Level Mosaic, a highlight of the trip for me because I got to hear presentations from English teacher rock stars like Jeff Wilhelm, Nancie Atwell, & Teri Lesesne. I’m back to school this morning to finish our unit on dystopian literature and let my students fight over the ARCs I brought home. Since they’re publisher review copies, I’ve decided I’ll be loaning them out with strings attached…so in the next few weeks, you’ll get to read some 7th grade guest reviewers’ thoughts on new titles coming out in 2010.

I’ll post more about NCTE — all the workshops and speeches — when I’ve had a little more time to process everything in my notes. In a word, it was overwhelming. But in the very best way possible. For now, here’s a Monday morning photo wrap-up.

Here I am with Emily Manning from the International Reading Association. Emily hosts a children’s book podcast on the IRA’s ReadWriteThink website (thus all the fancy recording equipment). We talked about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. for an upcoming episode.

From left to right, that’s me, G. Neri, Jo Knowles (at her book signing!) and Lisa Yee.

Maggie Stiefvater signs copies of SHIVER and its sequel, LINGER, at Scholastic.

Maureen Johnson was signing her Scarlett books right next to Maggie. Over her shoulder, that’s author David Levithan, wearing his Scholastic editor hat and supervising the event. He’d been signing copies of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, his new book with John Green earlier in the day.

Here’s Rebecca Stead, signing FIRST LIGHT and WHEN YOU REACH ME at Random House.

It’s always fun spotting friends’ books at these events. Kay Cassidy’s THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY was on display at the Egmont Booth, along with Lindsay Eland’s SCONES AND SENSIBILITY (below).

Scott Westerfeld signs copies of LEVIATHAN and shows off the art from that book.

The funny & charming Kevin O’Malley signed a copy of his new Miss Malarkey book for my daughter.

On my way to grab a quick lunch Saturday, I spotted Jeff Kinney signing DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books.

Here’s a photo of one of my tables at the Middle Level Mosaic, which was sort of like an author speed-dating event. There were at least a couple dozen tables like this in the Marriott ballroom, each one with a teacher facilitator and an author. Each author spent 8-9 minutes at a table, talking about his or her book, writing, and teacher resources, and then at the end of that time, we got up and moved to the next table. Each author visited three tables, and there were great speeches interspersed during this event, too. (More on those later in the week when I’ve had time to go through my notes.)

Meanwhile, the fun continues in Philadelphia today and tomorrow with the ALAN workshop. Here’s hoping that some of the authors & teachers still in Philly will keep blogging and tweeting all the great things going on. Have a great Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Blogging from NCTE: Day One 1/2

Our NCTE publisher dinner at Philadelphia’s Le Castagne was one of those nights a starry-eyed author never forgets. Friendly, book-loving people from NCTE, the International Reading Association, and Anderson’s Bookshop joined us at a big table behind a curtain, so we had our own little dining room. Since Jenny Moss and I were the guest authors, our school & library publicists broughts copies of our books for everyone that we signed after dinner.

Meet the fabulous Katie Fee (left) and Beth Eller (right), who work tirelessly at events like NCTE to get books into teachers’ hands. They are amazing.

When Beth were telling me about this dinner, she said, "I think we have you sitting next to Linda Rief. She’s an English teacher who –"

"I’m having dinner with Linda Rief?!"

I knew who she was. Linda is a rock star, as far as I am concerned. She writes teacher resource books that have helped to shape my teaching, and she co-founded NCTE’s journal for middle school teachers. She’s been one of my role models since I started teaching 14 years ago. She is also kind and smart and funny, and I loved visiting with her about our teaching/writing experiences.

I also got to sit by Bridget Hilferty from the International Reading Association, who told me about all the work being done on the IRA’s ReadWriteThink website, an amazing teacher resource. Watch for the newly redesigned website in December!

And I sat across from Becky Anderson Wilkins of Anderson’s Bookstore, who is being honored with an Intellectual Freedom award at NCTE this morning for her work promoting First Amendment Rights. She helped defend Sherman Alexie in the midst of a challenge to THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and is one of my new heroes.

It was an amazing evening, talking books with people who love them so much. And the food was beautiful and delicious (I wanted to take pictures but restrained myself because it was a really nice restaurant, and snapping photos of the gnocci and Dover sole probably would have been a no-no.) But trust me, it was lovely.

Today, I’m off to breakfast and then a signing at Bloomsbury/Walker from 9:30-10:30, followed by a full day of author activities before my flight home late tonight. I may have to leave some of my clothes behind to fit all the ARCs I picked up yesterday. A girl has to have priorities, right?

Blogging from NCTE: Day One

This morning started with a walk to the Philadelphia Convention Center under sunny blue skies (Finally – yay!) to see the panel discussion called "Fractured Classics" about using well-known archetypes to create stories for middle grade and young adult readers. It included fellow Bloomsbury/Walker authors Shannon Hale and Suzanne Selfors as well as Malinda Lo and Diane Zahler, all of whom were funny and brilliant. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Diane Zahler, author of THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS (Harper Collins):

"Fairy tale retellings allow heroines to take charge of their lives and break out of the passive princess role."

Suzanne Selfors, author of SAVING JULIET (Walker) about a girl who goes into the story of ROMEO & JULIET to try and save Juliet’s life. (She’s also the new YA COFFEEHOUSE ANGEL, which I got a signed copy of today!):

"Before Edward and Bella…Romeo and Juliet were the world’s most famous teenagers."

Malinda Lo, author of ASH (Little Brown), a retelling of Cinderella in which the main character is gay:

"It’s really a story about grief and love, things we’ve all experienced."

She also reminded us that LBGT stories can be a great comfort to teens.

"When I was a teen, if I’d read ASH, I might have figured things out a little sooner, and it wouldn’t have been so scary."

Shannon Hale, author of GOOSE GIRL, RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, and more (Bloomsbury) talked about how the fairy tales that infuriate her are the ones that inspire her to write. She ranted a bit about the prince who visits Rapunzel repeatedly in her tower in the traditional fairy tale.

"Does he EVER think to bring a ladder?? There’s no excuse for this prince!"

After the panel, I met up with Loree Griffin Burns to talk about our afternoon panel and explore the exhibit hall a bit. My editor Mary Kate took the train in from New York so she could be there for our panel, which made me so, so happy!

The brilliant MK also shared some cover sketches for SUGAR ON SNOW. They are gorgeous, and thinking about a cover makes the book seem that much closer. It’s scheduled for December 2010. We had lunch across the street from the convention center, here…

This is Reading Terminal Market, an enormous indoor market with every kind of food and treat you could imagine. I had a chicken burrito plate that was so big it seemed like the plate was still full no matter how much I ate.

Then it was time for some book-stalking (and author spotting!) in the exhibit hall. How many faces & covers do you recognize?

Mallinda Lo, signing copies of ASH.

Jenny Moss, signing ARCs of SHADOW (Scholastic, 2010). Jenny and I will both be signing at the Bloomsbury/Walker booth from 9:30-10:10 tomorrow morning.

Gene Luen Yang, whose books I love…but I didn’t have a chance to get one signed because it was time for our panel, "Stories & Standards: Pairing Fiction & Nonfiction." Here we are:

From left to right, Jenny Moss, Loree Griffin Burns, Teri Lesesne, Tanya Lee Stone, & me.

If you weren’t there, don’t feel left out… You can click here to see our presentation and download our handouts on the Teachers page of my website. And our facilitator, the wise and bookish Teri Lesesne, aka , also tweeted our workshop while it was happening, so you can click here and scroll down to read her posts.

Here’s my schedule for tomorrow:

9:30-10:30 Signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. in the Walker/Bloomsbury booth. (and they’re offering books at a 50% discount, too!)

11:45-12:15 Being interviewed for the ReadWriteThink podcast for IRA

2:30-3:40 Middle Level Mosaic – which I understand to be sort of an author speed-dating event. It sound like fun!

I have more to blog, but right now it’s time for tonight’s publisher dinner with a bunch of bookstore people and NCTE folks. I actually made a joke about not being able to attend because I needed to stay back in my room to read all my ARCs. No one was particularly amused, so off I go. More tomorrow….

Thursday at NCTE

Somehow, I managed to avoid all of today’s flight delay issues and arrive in Philadelphia safe, sound, and on time for NCTE. I spent the afternoon holed up in a coffee shop finishing up some last-minute revisions for SUGAR ON SNOW, which has officially gone to copy editing now. Woo-hoo!

Just got back from a publisher dinner, where I finally got to meet my online author friend Jenny Moss! We’ve known each other here on LJ for a while and have been collaborating with the other two authors on our panel using Google Docs but hadn’t met in person until a few hours ago.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the convention center all day, doing English teachery things until about three, when it’ll be time to get ready for my presentation, a panel discussion on Stories & Standards: Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction for Interdisciplinary Connections. That’s Session E – at 4pm. Afterwards, I’ll be signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. at the Bloomsbury/Walker booth from 5:30-6 tomorrow and then 9:30-10:30 on Saturday. If you’re at NCTE, please stop by and say hello!

Packing for Philadelphia: My Schedule for NCTE

On Thursday, I’m flying to Philadelphia for NCTE. For my mom and other people who won’t immediately recognize the acronym, that’s the annual conference for the National Council of Teachers of English. It’s hard for me to even type this without bouncing just a little, because even though I’m an English teacher, I’ve never been to this conference before. There will be lots of people there whose work I’ve admired and used in my classroom for a long, long time.

I’m also speaking and signing copies of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and if you’re in Philadelphia, too, I’d love to see you. Here’s where I’ll be:


Stories and Standards
I’m presenting as part of a panel discussion on pairing historical and scientific fiction with nonfiction, along with Loree Griffin Burns, Jenny Moss, and Tanya Lee Stone. The fabulous Teri Lesesne, aka , is facilitating our panel.
Room 107B, Street Level

Friday: 5:30-6:00
Signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. at the Walker/Bloomsbury booth. Jenny will be signing WINNIE’S WAR then, too!

Saturday: 9:30-10:30
Signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. at the Walker/Bloomsbury booth with Jenny and Winnie again!

Saturday: 11:45-12:15
I’m being interviewed for the IRA ReadWriteThink podcast. After that, I will likely be enjoying a convention center sort of salad or wrap if anyone wants to join me.

Saturday: 2:30-3:40
Grand Ballroom Salon E, 5th Floor
Marriott Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown
21 N. Juniper St.
Middle Level Mosaic Workshop: BE the book!
I’ll be one of a whole bunch of authors at this event. Click here for an overview of the Middle Level Mosaic, with a full list of authors.