Lake Champlain’s Winter Art

We’ve had crazy weather on Lake Champlain this week. First, it was a snowstorm that dumped about a foot of snow at my house and way more in places like southern Vermont.  And it was a heavy, wet snow that somehow managed to turn the shoreline area of Lake Champlain into a sort of slushy swirl.  This photo doesn’t entirely capture it, but this was something I’d never seen before.  That’s not ice…it’s floating snow-slush.

Last night, it rained, and the wind blew what was left of the lake ice near our house into a sparkly sculpture on the shore.

It’s beautiful in the morning sun, and almost makes up for our missing skating rink…but not quite.

I know the winter weather is continuing for many of you today. I hope wherever you are, you’re warm with a good book!

Thank you, Lake Placid Middle School!

I had a great morning visiting Lake Placid Middle School kids.  We talked a lot about books and writing, and they got a sneak peek at the cover for my upcoming figure skating book, SUGAR AND ICE.  Sharing that secret was extra-fun because the school is quite literally in the shadow of the Olympic Center, where much of SUGAR AND ICE takes place.

Another cool thing about this particular school visit?  The principal and I share a last name.  (No, we’re not related!)

Dr. Dave Messner, Me, and Sara Kelly Johns, awesome Lake Placid librarian who is also running for ALA President!

And the best part?  The kids.  These 6th, 7th, and 8th graders were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and downright fun.

Rachel & Jillian were especially good sports, modeling 18th Century clothing when we talked about historical fiction!

Thanks, Lake Placid Middle School, for a fantastic February morning!

FINALLY by Wendy Mass

So I want to tell you how much I loved this book.  

But first I need to tell you a story.

I didn’t have any author obligations at ALA Midwinter last month, so I took my kids, both avid readers, to ogle the upcoming books in the exhibit hall.  My eight-year-old daughter knows enough about the publishing industry to know that one can sometimes snag advance reader copies of books by one’s favorite authors at such events.  She also knows that ARCs have a job to do, that they actually cost more to produce than final books, and she understands that she shouldn’t take an ARC unless she is quite sure that she will read it, like it, talk about it to her friends, and maybe even write a little review for me to share on my blog.

Which brings me to the Scholastic booth at ALA Midwinter, where E was hoping beyond hope that she might find an ARC of FINALLY by Wendy Mass.  It’s a follow-up to ELEVEN BIRTHDAYS, which is one of my daughter’s all-time favorites.  We found the book on display, but they were out of ARCs. The very nice Scholastic rep really wanted E to leave with a book, though, so she offered her two others that were there.  Here’s what happens when very-kind-publisher-lady clashes with author’s-child-who-does-not-want-ARCs-to-go-to-waste…

Nice Scholastic Lady:  Here, you can take both of these.

E:  *looks at books*  Oh, that’s okay. Thank you, though.

Nice Scholastic Lady:  Really, you can have them. They’re free.

E:  Thanks, but these aren’t really my cup of tea.

Nice Scholastic Lady: That’s okay. If you don’t like them, you can give them to your friend.

E: *looks at books again*  I don’t think they would be her cup of tea either.

Nice Scholastic Lady: It’s really okay. You can take them.

E: No thank you.

I eventually jumped in to end the standoff by explaining our ARC discussion and why my daughter was so steadfastly refusing this poor woman’s efforts to be kind. She understood, and then took a little notepad and asked for our address.  A few weeks later, E got a package in the mail.  She squealed and went running to her favorite reading chair.

Thank you, Nice Scholastic Lady!

After I managed to pry FINALLY out of her hands, I got to read it, too.  And really?  It was worth the wait and then some.   The main character, Rory Swenson, has been waiting forever to turn twelve. That’s when she’ll finally be able to do everything she’s been waiting for. Buy a cell phone…get her ears pierced…go to a boy-girl party. She’s about to have everything she’s ever wanted.

Except that everything she’s ever wanted manages to go horribly, horribly wrong in the funniest ways possible. FINALLY had me laughing out loud over and over again.  It’s written in that fantastic, trademark Mass voice — the one that would make you swear she’s really twelve years old herself — and the characters are real and wonderful.

FINALLY is set in the same world as ELEVEN BIRTHDAYS and has a touch of that same magical realism, but above all else, this is a warm, incredibly funny book about wanting to grow up and learning that it’s also okay to be a kid. Loved, loved, loved it.  Every girl who’s ever been impatient to be a little older will love it, too.  FINALLY is due out from Scholastic on March 1, 2010.

An Author’s Olympic Dreams: February Vacation Edition

I’m on school break this week, so in addition to lots of reading and writing time, we’re on a mission to take part in as many Winter Olympics sorts of activities as possible.  Though we are having fun, I’ve noticed that our endeavors often turn out…well…less than Olympian.  But you be the judge…

On Monday, the boys decided to do some downhill skiing at Whiteface, while E and I opted for cross-country skiing on the groomed trails nearby at Cascade.  It was lovely in the woods, and we saw fox, coyote, and snowshoe hare tracks in abundance.  We loved this little brook, with the water running right under a bridge of snow.

E stopped to poke at the ice with her ski pole, and that’s when things got tricky.

Poles float, it turns out.  And water can run strangely fast in the mountains in February.  Thankfully, there was a log blocking the way, so her pole didn’t get too much farther off the trail, and I was able to take off my skis and creep onto the bank without falling in.  E got her pole back, with a soggy strap, but no worse for wear otherwise.

Tuesday was an ice skating day because Lake Champlain is finally frozen enough for skating in many places.  The ice is beautiful and black and makes eerie thumping sounds as you skate over the cracks.

There are some interesting things frozen into the ice.  Can you tell what this is?

It’s a perch.  Frozen about eight inches down.  Logic tells me that the fish died first, and froze afterward, but still… I can’t help imagining the poor guy swimming along, saying, "Hey, Pete, do you think the water’s getting colder tonight? Because I think it’s getting tougher to swim and ….WHOA!"

See what I mean about the un-Olympian bit? I am guessing that Evan Lysacek wasn’t having thoughts like that during his performance in Vancouver.

“That Skating Novel” finally has title! (and other bookish news)

After much wrangling, brainstorming, arranging of tiny slips of paper, and discussion (and many thanks to all of you who chimed in with ideas!), my December 2010 middle grade figure skating novel with Walker/Bloomsbury has a new title.  The book is about a figure skater from a small-town maple farm who earns a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid and quickly realizes that her sweet dream come true has more sharp edges than she could have imagined.  The title?


I’m delighted that the talented Joe Cepeda is doing the cover art again, and the preliminary sketches I’ve seen are gorgeous. I’ll share the final cover just as soon as it arrives and I get the go-ahead.

More book updates…

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. will be released in paperback in September 2010.  This makes me very happy, since several teachers have asked about the paperback release for class sets of the novel, and I really love the idea of more kids being able to afford the book.  What kind of cool contest or other fun thing do you think we should do to celebrate in the fall?

My chapter book series with Scholastic will launch one year from this month.  MARTY MCGUIRE, FROG PRINCESS will be released in February 2011, with the second Marty book to follow in August or September of the same year.  I hope to have Marty illustrator news to share  soon!

As for works-in-progress, I’m waiting for some feedback so I can do one last revision pass on the middle grade mystery I’ve been working on. I’m also noodling over a couple picture books I’m trying to polish and just starting a fun, new chapter book idea.

What’s new with you?  What are you excited about and working on these days?

“Coolest” thank you notes ever!

A couple weeks ago, I had a Skype author visit with a terrific group of 6th graders in Oelwein, Iowa.  We chatted about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and writing. The kids read GIANNA Z. as a class and did some great activities to go along with their reading, which their teacher Karla Duff (she’s the fabulous @teacher6th on Twitter!) posted on the class blogThey also blogged about our Skype visit!

This particular visit was tough to schedule because of trouble with snow days and winter weather, and when we finally managed to connect, I mentioned how jealous I was of everyone getting snow.  I live way up on Lake Champlain, where we are supposed to have several feet of snow by now, and my cross country ski trails are sadly barren and brown.  So what did I get in the mail this week?

I can honestly say, these are the "coolest" thank you notes I’ve ever received.  Thanks, Mrs. Duff and students! Your snowflakes made my whole day.

The Top 10 Reasons You Should Come to the NESCBWI Conference

10. This year’s theme is "Moments of Change."  The publishing industry is evolving. We can lament that and snivel a bit, or we can be involved in the process and shape it creatively, in a way that values story and writers and readers.

9. This year’s conference chair is Anindita Basu Sempere, one of the most organized human beings I’ve ever met. This will mean good things for the conference, I’m sure.  Anindita has already posted a FAQ hereConference registration begins on Monday, and you’ll be able to register online here.

8. Manuscript critiques. You can sign up in advance to have the first pages of your manuscript critiqued by one of the agents, editors, or authors offering feedback at this year’s conference. If you’ve never done this before, it’s a great opportunity to get a kind-but-very-honest opinion on how your manuscript might be received when you send it out.  If you want a manuscript critique, sign up for one right away; these spots tend to sell out quickly.

7. Orientation session for first-time attendees.  The organizers of this conference know that attending your first one can feel overwhelming, so they’ve set up this how-to-manage-your-weekend session on Friday afternoon.  Smart.

6. Marla Frazee is one of the keynote speakers.  MARLA FRAZEE!!!  A two-time Caldecott Honor winner, and a kind, funny person, too. Marla will be speaking Saturday afternoon, along with her editor, Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books

5. Cynthia Leitich-Smith is another keynote speaker.  You know…from Cynsations?  She’s not only a well-loved kidlit blogger, but also a talented author and faculty member at the Vermont College MFA program.  She’ll be talking Saturday morning.

4. Workshops! Workshops! Workshops!   I’ll be presenting a session on Skype author visits and will also be on a panel with Jo Knowles and Carrie Jones to talk about "Blogging for the Future," how to set up and maintain a blog that will serve you throughout your career as a writer.  And I’ve already started making my list of sessions I’m dying to attend, too.  Matt Phelan is doing a session on Writing the Graphic Novel.  Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan will talk about successful social networking.  Toni Buzzeo and Cynthia Lord team up for a session on school visits, and Kelly Fineman offers a session on free verse.  Kara LaReau, with whom I had the absolute pleasure to work with when she was an editor at Scholastic, is giving a workshop on "Getting Unstuck in Writing and in Life" that you will not want to miss; she is an amazing, amazing editor & writer.  And that’s just a start. You can download the full list of workshops here.

3. The "workshop" after the workshops.  At conferences like this, the workshops are great, but some of the most valuable conversations happen after the hour-long session has ended, in discussions with writer-illustrator colleagues over coffee and lunch.

2. Brownies.  There are usually brownies on Saturday afternoon.  Big, thick, chewy ones.

1. Where else can you spend time with hundreds of other people who will talk seriously, for hours, about made-up people as if they’re real?  I laugh at this one, but it’s important to me. Writing for children is important, but sometimes people in our day-to-day, grocery-store, water-cooler, day-job lives don’t entirely get it.  It’s refreshing and invigorating to spend time with a big group of people who do.

Registration opens on Monday, February 8.

The D.C. Snowstorm: When Life Imitates Art…

So I just have to say…I’m finding the TV news reports of the snowstorm in Washington D.C. this weekend a little eerie.  The book I’ve been working on for the past six months — the scene I was revising Friday night, in particular — focuses on a record snowstorm that shuts down a D.C. airport.

From Chapter 9…

"What you’re suggesting should be impossible.  But…"   He glanced out the window, where a million huge, feathery snowflakes swirled in the runway lights. It looked as if giants were having a pillow fight on the tarmac.  Then he turned back to the terminal, where the only other person awake was a woman giving herself a manicure
in the corner. “If ever there were a time when it might — just might — be possible, I’d say that time is right now.”

If anything else in this book comes true, I’m going to have to be very careful about what I write.  I’ll also be taking orders for subplots (a Twitter friend has already asked that I write her a nice lottery-winning scene).  In the mean time, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be online checking out photos of snowed-in airports. Now I don’t have to settle for just imagining the details any more.

Kindling Words Inspiration

I spent this past weekend at Kindling Words, a retreat for children’s writers, illlustrators, and editors.  It was four blissful days of workshops, group meals, and talking with other people who discuss fictional characters with the same passion as if they were real family members or friends.  And writing.  Lots of writing. 

I didn’t take many photos this year, but I came away from the long weekend with two picture book drafts that are now complete, a chapter one of a new maybe-project, and a middle grade mystery that is many hours closer to ready than it was before I checked into the inn.  Thanks to my KW colleagues, I also came away with some new thoughts on writing goals, the future of the industry, and the vital role that imagination will play in that future. Good things, all.

Me, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kathryn Hulick, and Loree Griffin Burns

The Kindling Words Bonfire, in which rock-solid marshmallows were roasted (it was -3 that night!) and little slips of paper were burned, sending dreams up to the universe in smoke.