2017 in review, and a sneak peek at 2018 goals

2017

If you’ve followed my blog for a long time (or know me at all), you probably know I can be a little obsessive about setting goals and doing annual performance reviews. So, as 2017 comes to a close, I thought I should reflect on what I’ve accomplished the past year and think about what 2018 might bring.
2017
One of my main goals for 2017 was to get more comfortable speaking in public.  It’s a good thing I was able to do that, since (and probably because) I got a lot of practice! Here’s a quick summary:

  • 24 keynotes, assemblies, presentations, or workshops for young people,
  • 17 Skype visits,
  • 7 presentations for adults,
  • 6 bookstore appearances,
  • 2 roundtable critique sessions,
  • 1 radio interview, and
  • an 8-week improv class.

The success I feel here isn’t so much from the quantity, but from the quality. First, it’s gotten MUCH easier for me. I can do these talks in stride now and don’t stress out for a whole day prior and then need a whole day after to decompress. That’s a big win! Also, the improv class was oddly terrifying to think about, but so much fun and such a great experience in practice. So, I’m really glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I also had some success with major writing goals and projects:

  • TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! was released in June, and I put a lot of time put into promotion, including developing promotional materials like curriculum guides and swag, and creating new presentations around it.
  • We’re just now putting the final touches on the second book in the series, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: HISTORIES AND MYSTERIES, which we researched, drafted, revised, copyedited, and sourced photos for all in the past year. This one is so good, I can’t wait to see it out in the world next June!
  • We have the outline for the third TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE book just about wrapped up, too, so 2018 will see a lot of work (and fun!) on that front.
  • I wrote a brand-new picture book from scratch, revised it, and it went out on submission! I’m hopeful this one will find a home in 2018.
  • I revised my MG nonfiction project and sent it back out on submission. Alas, it looks like this one will need yet another fresh approach, which is also on the schedule for 2018. I’m mulling over a couple of ideas about how to proceed.
  • I worked on revising two other picture books, one fiction and one nonfiction, but neither one is quite ready yet. More work to come on both of those in the year ahead, and hopefully they’ll be ready to send out soon.
  • I started researching a new picture book biography. I’m really excited about this one, and the research so far has only fueled my interest further. I hope I can complete a first draft in the coming year.
  • I had a new idea for another nonfiction picture book and have started researching that one as well. This one is still in the idea phase and will take some noodling to get just the right approach, so for now I’ll keep researching and thinking and see what happens.

2018
As you can see from the above, I’ll have my work cut out for me in 2018 with one new book to promote, one under contract to write, (at least) two picture books to finish revising, the MG nonfiction to re-envision, and the two new picture books to research and draft. Phew — that’s a lot of big goals. Wish me luck! =D

Author interview with Tara Dairman and book #giveaway!

The Great Hibernation cover
A very happy book birthday to Tara Dairman and her latest middle-grade novel, The Great Hibernation! This story has mystery, politics, coming of age, science, and a healthy dose of girl power, and it’s available NOW from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Random House. I loved it, and I highly recommend it!
As a special treat, Tara agreed to do an interview for us today. So, without further ado, let’s hear from Tara!
LAT: What kind of reader do you think this book will appeal to?
TD: A wide variety, I hope! Fans of my All Four Stars series should enjoy the humor and the foodie elements that those books share with The Great Hibernation. But I think that Hibernation will also draw in readers who like mystery, zany/madcap adventure, and a bit of political content, too. Plus, I just have to say, my mom really likes it. She pretty much told me it’s her favorite of all my books. 🙂
LAT: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I also really loved this one. How did you first become interested in writing The Great Hibernation? What were your incentives for sticking with it?
TD: I first got the idea in 2013… from a dream! In the dream, two kids were out in freezing open water in a tiny boat, trying to flag down a bigger boat to help them because something had gone terribly wrong back on shore in their town. When I woke up, I knew I had to find out who those kids were and what had gone wrong. (And that dream inspired one of my favorite scenes in the whole book.)
LAT: I remember that scene! There are some great details and observations in that one, as well as others. It seems like a ton of research must have gone into this book to get those details right. Can you tell us about that? How was that different from previous books? Do you think you’ll get to reuse any of that research in future stories?
TD: Working on The Great Hibernation did give me an opportunity to research a lot of fun topics, from sheep farming to Thai cuisine to liver function. I was lucky to have some expert beta and sensitivity readers look at the manuscript and answer my questions at various points to that I could make those details as authentic as possible. As for the small town of St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord (where the book is set), it’s loosely inspired by the northern coast of Iceland. I had the pleasure of traveling through that area a few years ago, so when I was drafting, I did have a sharp picture in my head of what the town and its environs would look like.
TD: I kind of doubt I’ll ever get to reuse any of my research, but if I write another book in which a sheep needs to go down a staircase… well, I know now that he can. (With a little help!)
LAT: Were there any surprises or stumbling blocks along the way to the finished draft? How did you end up dealing with that?
TD: I struggled to get the opening chapter right for this book. There’s a lot of information and backstory to convey, plus a lot of characters to introduce, and of course I didn’t want things to feel info-dumpy. I started over from scratch several times—and then, after I sold the book for publication, I threw the whole first chapter out and rewrote it all over again. Luckily, my beta readers, editors, and I all really loved the final version, so I got there in the end!
LAT: Oh, I can certainly relate to that! Persistence is the key, right? To that point, though, how do you decide when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent?
TD: When I literally cannot fathom looking at it for a single second more. 🙂 (That is usually after I’ve done at least two major revisions on my own based on critique partner feedback, though. My agent never sees my earliest drafts!)
Tara Dairman author photo
LAT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this particular book?
TD: I’ve learned that, just because a book doesn’t pitch well, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good book. My agent and I originally tried to sell this book on proposal, and the feedback we got from editors was that they liked the sample chapters but thought that the proposed plot sounded… well, a little crazy. It turned out I just had to write the whole book for them to see that I could pull the crazy plot off.
LAT: Wow! It sounds like you took quite a leap of faith with this one. (And I’m so glad you did!) Was that your toughest moment on the path to publication or were there others, and how did you make it over that hurdle?
TD: I’d still say that finishing the first draft of my first book (All Four Stars) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d dreamed of being a novelist since childhood, but until I actually finished writing a book, I didn’t know whether I could do it or not! And that one little book took me years upon years. Writing “the end,” though—definitely one of the best moments of my life.
LAT: What tricks have you learned for balancing your writing time with the demands of keeping up with the industry, promoting existing work, taking care of your home and family, personal recreation and self-care, etc.?
TD: Oy vey. I’m still learning! I have bad days and better days. What I have learned over the last few years is that “balance” is going to look different depending on the month, the week, the day. There are going to be stretches when I’m writing almost every day and really in that creative zone. And there are going to be stretches when a book release is looming, or a new baby is getting born, and I don’t do any creative work at all for weeks or months. And that’s okay! I’m not a great multitasker anyway, so I’d rather really focus on whatever is calling to me most in the moment—which is a privilege that I know not every author can afford.
TD: In short, I guess I’d say that balance has become a long game for me, rather than something I’m able to accomplish on a daily basis.
LAT: Excellent advice. I suspect that knowing it’s a long game is the #1 secret to finding that ever-elusive “balance.” So, what are you working on right now?
TD: I do have a middle-grade WIP that I’m hoping to get back to once The Great Hibernation is properly launched into the world. But I’m also having a baby in November, so once he or she arrives, my focus will likely be off writing for at least a few months.
LAT: Congratulations! I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more about that adventure (and seeing pictures)!!
LAT: Before I let you go, what do you wish I would’ve asked you that I didn’t, and why?
TD: I wish you’d asked me “What are some of your other favorite recent middle-grade books?” There are SO many good ones out this year! My answer would be:

  • Contemporary: Saturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger
  • Nonfiction: Poison by Sarah Albee; Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Laurie Ann Thompson and Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Mystery: The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
  • Humor: This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
  • Historical: Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element by Jeannie Mobley; The Last Grand Adventure by Rebecca Behrens (coming 3/18)
  • Fantasy: The Changelings and In a Dark Land by Christina Soontornvat

TD: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
LAT: Thanks for the shout-out for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!Tara. (I swear, I did NOT put her up to that!) And thank you so much for visiting today and answering all of my questions. I’ll be recommending The Great Hibernation far and wide, and I wish you much continuing success in ALL of your endeavors!  
Find out more about The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman hereAnd leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy!


UPDATE: The giveaway winner is JennaO! Congratulations, JennaO!!

Author event: the Stratos Oktoberfest open house

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being the special guest at an incredible event, Stratos Product Development‘s annual company open house. The company is mentioned on page 138 of my book Be a Changemaker, because they were one of the original funders of Edward Jiang’s StudentRND venture, which I profiled in chapter 12.
Stratos Oktoberfest banner
As you can see, this year’s theme was Oktoberfest, and they went all out with decorations, food, beverages, and even a polka band!
polka band
It’s too bad I didn’t get a chance to dance, but I was having too much fun talking with Stratos employees and guests.
photo of author talking with attendee
I was warmly welcomed, and folks seemed pretty excited about Be a Changemaker, too.
attendees with Be a Changemaker
At one point, a storm picked up and we had to (quickly!) move everything inside, but that just made it easier to mingle.
mingling with attendees inside
And as attendees left for the evening, there were piles and piles of books for them to take home, all of which I signed and, if desired, personalized (yes, my hand was tired!).
stacks of Be a Changemaker books
What a wonderful evening! I left feeling thoroughly impressed with everyone I had talked to–and with the company itself for bringing them all together.
I’m ever so grateful to Stratos Product Development for including me. They’re the perfect example of a for-profit business that is committed to doing good in the world, and it was such an honor to participate.
Click here to check out all of the great photos from the event, and here to see what this totally awesome company is all about.

Interview with Mary Cronk Farrell, author of PURE GRIT

PURE GRIT book cover

I have a confession to make. Normally I read every book before I post about it here, but–just this once–I was going to cheat. As much as I’ve been dying to read PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell, my to-do list is huge right now: writing new books (I’m currently working on EIGHT separate manuscripts and/or proposals!), promoting BE A CHANGEMAKER, volunteer projects (SCBWI Western Washington conference anyone? There are still a few spaces!), critiques (three full-length novels await!), family, pets, home… and let’s not forget, TAXES! To top it off, I was still recovering from the flu when I came down with this most recent cold. I’m months behind on a few things, with many other deadlines looming dead ahead. So, I sat down planning to just skim it for the time being, write the post, and come back later when I had time to settle in, read it in more detail, and take it all in.

PURE GRIT book cover
PURE GRIT book cover

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Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls

photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana

A few weeks ago, I posted this review of Kelly Milner Halls’ most recent book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH. Kelly was kind enough to follow up that review with an incredible interview about the book and her writing career. Please help me welcome author Kelly Milner Halls!
photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana
LT:  Hi Kelly, and thank for coming! I guess I have to start with the obvious, though I’m fairly confident I know the answer from reading the book: Do you believe in Sasquatch?
KMH:  I do not believe, 100%, that Sasquatch is real. I tend to be skeptical by nature—the journalist in me. But I believe there are some very convincing bits of evidence that suggest SOMETHING is out there—an animal we haven’t yet defined and don’t really understand. Too many reliable people have witnessed too many amazing things to ignore them.
LT:  What was/were the hardest things about researching and/or writing this book? How did you deal with that?
KMH:  I wanted to be sure my witnesses and experts were serious people, not people who wanted fame or glory. There is nothing wrong with fame or glory, but I wanted people who were fact-centered, so that required some hard work. I think I found good interview subjects to meet that standard. Hope so.
LT:  During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
KMH:  The fact that Scott Nelson believes Sasquatch may have its own language absolutely blew my socks off. His reasoning is so clear and logical, it almost make my head explode. If that’s true, that’s a reason to protect the “maybe” primate.
LT:  Did you do all the photo research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
KMH:  I took a number of the photos, but a wonderful Sasquatch investigator named Paul Graves from Yakima, WA, was extremely generous about sharing his field photographs for the book. He is also a musician who writes Sasquatch songs, and he’s featured in the book. But he was very generous, and I’m grateful.
LT: How do you manage all of your research for a book like this? What’s your organizational system? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
KMH:  I keep elaborate, well-backed up computer files about each subject, each topic, each chapter, so I can find my notes with ease. And there are so many notes. I read a dozen books, did more than two dozen interviews and collected dozens of images for this book. It was hard but amazing work. It’s what I love to do.
LT:  How have your research and writing processes evolved over the course of your career?
KMH:  As my children have grown into adulthood, I have been able to travel more to get my information first-hand, rather than on the telephone. Having both field and phone time really adds richness to the books I write and the presentations I give.
LT: How much time did you spend researching this particular book overall, and how long did it take to write the book? Is that typical?
KMH:  Most of my books take between three and five years to research, then another year to write. I don’t like to rehash material that already exists. I like to present new information whenever possible and that takes time and effort.
LT: How do you know when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent or editor?
KMH:  The book isn’t even close to done when I send it to my editors or agent. It’s a proposal. It maps out how I see the book once it’s complete and gives us all a place to start. But the book evolves considerably as we work together as a time. I’m selling a concept that will change and improve as we all work on it, and that’s the magic of the editorial process.
LT:  Are there any other tips you would like to share with aspiring children’s book writers, especially those writing nonfiction for kids?
KMH:  Watch for the topics that YOU find most engaging and consider offering them up to young readers. Your excitement, your sense of wonder will show through every word you write and the kids will feel the human connection. If you are not excited about your topic, that lack of enthusiasm will be just as clear to the young readers. So write about things the excite you. You’ll give the kids a reason to be excited, too.
LT:  I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book? What surprised you the most during the process?
KMH:  I have learned that we forget our humanity when it comes to animals at times. But we can also renew it. The more you know about even an unknown creature, the harder it is to simply disregard or disrespect it. It’s like my pet chickens. I can eat grilled chicken without a blink of an eye. I love chicken dinner. But I could never even consider eating my pet chickens. You work harder not to hurt the things you understand well. Knowledge, exploration, is the key to more love, less hate. That is confirmed every time I write a book and share it with kids.
LT:  I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one letter from one child saying that something I wrote made a positive difference in his or her life. How do you define success? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
KMH:  I used to yearn for the day when I’d win a major nonfiction book award. Years went by, and it didn’t happen. Then I started meeting kids—many of them boys, but girls too—who loved my books, kids who said I was their favorite author. I started hearing stories about kids who clung to my books like life jackets—kids who drew comfort from MY books, award-winning or not. After that starts to happen regularly, you realize awards are lovely, but the real measure of success are those readers and their ability to feel a little less alone because of something you’ve given them. That’s how I measure success. If I have made your child’s life a little kinder, a little safer, I am the luckiest writer on earth.
LT:  What do you like to do when you’re not researching and/or writing?
KMH:  I am always writing, so that’s a hard question. I do a LOT of school visits, which I love. I paint, I meet with friends, I work for my friend Chris Crutcher, I walk my dog and take care of my lizard. I sleep now and then, when time permits. : ) Life is crazy busy, but good.
LT:  What are you working on now?
KMH:  I’m finishing a book on animal rescues for National Geographic called TIGER IN TROUBLE. I’m putting together another YA anthology for Chronicle Books—just got that news yesterday. I am researching the history of video games for a new book project. And I’m going to write a book on ghosts for Millbrook. I have two other proposals under consideration at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, too, but they aren’t firm yet, so I better not talk about them.
LT:  What would you most like people to know about you?
KMH:  That I don’t have a mean bone in my body, that I live to make life a little easier and kinder for the people I meet. I’d like them to know that I am exactly who I say I am, with no need for deceit or animus. Life is too short for cruelty and anger. Like the Beatles said, all we REALLY need is love. I hope my humanity shows, even in my quirky works of nonfiction for kids. Kids need love, most of all.
LT: Well, Kelly, I have LOVED interviewing you! Thank you so much for so generously sharing your expertise and heart with us, in your books as well as on this blog.
 
Stay tuned for an upcoming review of Kelly’s new book, ALIEN INVESTIGATION, coming from Lerner Publishing on April 1, 2012 (no fooling!).
 

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