Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writing in the Desert

When Greg first showed me the information about the American Intellectual Property Association Mid-Winter Institute scheduled to take place Jan. 23 to Jan. 26 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, my first thought was writing retreat.

Okay, that's a lie. My first thoughts were: pretty! spa! But writing retreat was a very close third.

While he spent his days in classes, I worked on the Tantalize graphic novel adaptation and a brand new YA Gothic fantasy manuscript.

Getting out of one's daily setting can be extremely inspirational. I don't remember when I've ever had a more productive few days of first-draft writing.

On the graphic novel, I basically started a chart of with each scene, Kieren's involvement in it (as he's the POV character), the timeline, and descriptive details/fantasy elements to keep in mind. On the new prose novel manuscript, it's more of a standard summary. I've never outlined a novel before writing it. I'm by no means married to the plan, but it's worth a try.

I tend to write with noise in the background, so I also watched (or at least had playing) "Groundhog Day," which is an excellent character-arc study; "The Nanny Diaries," which is a much-softened retelling of the book that inspired it; and "Nancy Drew," which mostly served to remind me how much I once enjoyed the books and how annoyed I still am at myself for selling them at that long-ago garage sale. The movie is cute and campy and bigger on revisiting the Nancy phenomenon/tradition than the mystery. I wasn't playing close attention, but I think it might have been better if they'd gone with a more realistic approach.

More globally, I greatly enjoyed the scenery, the hotel and all it had to offer. We attended two of the AIPLA receptions and were thrilled to run into our friend Chen, with whom Greg clerked during law school and who also played the violin at our wedding as her gift to us. We had dinner together on our third night.

The grounds, especially the gardens, are otherworldly--"39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Considered one of the most spectacular resorts in the world, the Biltmore features 738 guest accommodations, including 78 one- and two-bedroom villas, eight swimming pools, seven tennis courts, an 18-hole putting course, and a full-service European spa, salon, and fitness center." The place is a must-visit from fans of arts-and-crafts architecture.

I pre-booked a spa appointment on our second day, electing to have the eighty-minute hot stone massage. It was fairly fantastic, especially when the little river stones were put between my usually squished toes. For the next several days, my body felt great--Gumby flexible and Krypton powered.

For the most part, we dined at The Biltmore Grill, which is fairly casual, and Wright's at The Biltmore, which is their highest-end restaurant (see dining room above).

At the Grill, I recommend (for breakfast) the smoked Virginia ham and cheddar cheese omelet, (for lunch) the turkey club, and (for dinner) the Baja shrimp Cesar salad.

Wright's is open for dinner only, and reservations are recommended. For dinner, my appetizer choices would be the ahi tasting, featuring spicy, sweet, and smoky ahi tuna tartare with purple Tolleson chips, and blue crab and heirloom tomatoes with surfing goat feta cheese and a Chardonnay vinaigrette. For the main course, I very much enjoyed the prawns with broccoli and risotto.

Several activities were made available to spouses and guests of conference attendees, including a river raft tour and a shopping day trip. For the most part, I elected to write instead, but I did enjoy the glass-making class on the last day. I'm the proud creator of a wine stopper (actually, of an ornamental piece of glass on the wine stopper).

I also read of course--mostly on the plane--finishing The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hilestad Butler (Albert Whitman, 2008), which is making me wonder a lot more about cyber-bullying, and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2008), which is one of the best apocalypse stories ever (and I have a particular affection for the genre). I'm ordering the previous companion book, Life As We Knew It (Harcourt, 2006).

I leave you with Greg's report on the trip (do click, if nothing else for the hysterical photo) and one last memory--cool desert nights, warm glowing fire pits! I'm adding at least one of those to my landscaping wish list!


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tiffany Trent's By Venom's Sweet Sting and "Angel: After the Fall"

Congratulations to Tiffany Trent on the release of By Venom's Sweet Sting (Hallowmere Book 2)(Mirrorstone, 2007)! From the promotional copy: "Are Corrine and her friends strong enough to take on the Fey? Following the destruction of Falston, Corrine and her schoolmates embark for Scotland to chase Rory and the stolen rathstone. On the moors of Kenmore, tensions mount between the friends as a new love interest comes into Corrine's life. In the layers of lies and secrets, who can she trust? In this exciting sequel to In the Serpent's Coils, Tiffany Trent delivers a larger-then-life battle between the Fey that readers will never forget." Visit Tiffany at MySpace, read her LJ, and learn more about Hallowmere. Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

I've tardy posting a cheer for "Angel: After the Fall," a new comic series from IDW Publishing that offers "season six," picking up where the TV show left off. I honestly found myself confused by the first couple of installments, but of course that's how I was supposed to feel. Issue #3 leaves me hooked and wondering whether our much-adored Fred is truly and forever gone. And while I appreciated Texan Amy Acker's impressive range as an actor, I'm not especially an Illyria enthusiast.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eternal: the Cut-and-Paste Report

I'm pleased to report that I'm working on final line edits for Eternal, which will be the second book in the Tantalize universe and will be likewise published by Candlewick Press.

I'd turned in the second big revision just after Thanksgiving and had been awaiting my editor's reaction.

She'd asked me, among other things, to further develop one of the main characters, to push back the start point, and to give the alternating point-of-view characters more of a unifying mission early in the story.

The upshot was a lot of new scenes, a lot of deleting, a lot of moving text around. It was fascinating because the process of revision began like it normally does. I panicked at my perception of the magnitude of the task, set a heavy object on the letter, and backed away slowly.

Then, only a couple of days later, I found myself in a frenzy. Normally, revision epiphanies come to me in a slow series of sparks. This was more like standing in the middle of an inferno.

I had so many ideas that the word processing itself got in the way. It was too distant, too slippery, when I knew--just knew--what to do with these flesh-and-bone fictional people.

So I abandoned my typical writing spots--the sleeping porch and sun porch--for the dining room table where I could spread out with scissors and tape and literally cut, literally pasted, which slowed me down just enough to think. Something about physically holding onto the pieces of the story grounded me and provided a certain reassurance that I could do it, that it was all there. Or, at least, that it eventually would be.

So what's was the result? My editor's reaction included words like "bloody," "astonishing," "wonderful," "amazing" and "gulp," which are certainly encouraging. But I'm still smoothing!

Spooky News & Links

Lisa Schroeder, author of I Heart You, You Haunt Me, "a novel-in-verse that gives new meaning to the words 'undying love,'" answers interview questions and reader questions at the YA Authors Cafe. Surf by with questions and/or confetti!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Congratulations VCFA Scholarship Winners and Graduates

Congratulations to the recent winners of scholarships and awards at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults! Here's a special cheer for my former advisees--Rebecca Van Slyke, winner of the Candlewick scholarship in picture book writing, and Marianna Baer, winner of the Houghton Mifflin scholarship in novel writing!

Congratulations also to the "dedications" graduating class! And again, here's a special cheer for my former advisees--Frances Lee Hall and Julianna Berry!

See the Jan. 12 to Jan. 19 online journal entry of winter writer-in-residence Jane Yolen.

More News

A conversation with Austin YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler from the Austin American Statesman.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Libba Bray Sparkles at BookPeople

Last night, I joined hundreds of adoring fans at Libba Bray's signing at BookPeople in Austin.

Libba was funny, saucy, wise, and wonderful in brief introductory remarks, her reading, and a substantive Q & A.

I was struck that she'd finished her latest in the bestselling Gemma Doyle Trilogy, The Sweet Far Thing (Delacorte, 2007), at the Random House offices and by her obvious affection for the NYC YA writing community. Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

Local authors in attendance included April Lurie, Anne Bustard, Shana Burg, and Greg Leitich Smith. After the event, we saw Brian Anderson.

A handful of autographed copies of Libba's books are still available at BookPeople!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BCCB--2007 Blue Ribbons

Spooky blue ribbon books from The Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books include Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) and Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte, 2007). See the whole list! Note: Prom Dates from Hell is the January giveaway at the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pura Belpre Author Marisa Montes and Illustrator Yuyi Morales on Los Gatos Black on Halloween

Congratulations to Pura Belpre honor author Marisa Montes and winning illustrator Yuyi Morales, both celebrated for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt, 2006)!

In a September 2006 interview at Cynsations, Marisa said, "In the late 1990s, my mentor, Barbara Steiner, sent me a Halloween postcard that had a fun, spooky four-line poem on the front. I pinned it up on my "inspiration" bulletin broad that hangs on the wall to the left of my computer in my office. I pin a lot of things to that board: favorite souvenirs from our travels around the world, meaningful fortune cookie fortunes, motivational blurbs on bookmarks, comics, postcards, special photos. I'd had the Halloween postcard up for a couple of years, and I'd reread the poem periodically. I really like the meter, the bu-bump, bu-bump, bu-bump rhythm of it. And it spoke of pumpkins and witches and black cats--all the Halloween things I'm so fond of.

"One day, when I was sniffing around for inspiration, I reread the poem."

In a September 2006 interview at Cynsations, Yuyi said, "...I did quite some research for clothing, because I wanted to bring to my work a taste of colonial Mexico. Many of the dead in the book come out their graves after hundreds of years and still wearing the clothes that distinguished such a controversial period."

Printz Honor Winner A. M. Jenkins on Repossessed

Congratulations to fellow Texas and Gothic fantasy author A. M. Jenkins, winner of an ALA Printz honor for Repossessed (HarperCollins, 2007)!

In an August 2007 interview at Cynsations, she said: "I spend quite a bit of time in the car because my kids have to be dropped off at different schools, so I think a lot about things like whether there's really a Satan, and what's the point of having a hell, and whether I should stop and get a Milky Way at the Texaco."

Note: please feel free to share the above link to the A. M. Jenkins interview with others interested in the ALA awards and/or young adult literature.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Prom Dates from Hell

The January giveaway at the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace is two copies of Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Random House, 2007)(excerpt).

From the promotional copy: "Maggie Quinn knew high school was hell, but even she thinks the smell of brimstone was a little out of the ordinary. When she's the only one to see that something supernatural is stalking the school's ruling clique, it's up to Maggie to channel her inner Nancy Drew and ferret out the origin of the ancient evil, before all Hell breaks loose at the Senior Prom."

The companion book, Hell Week, will be published in August 2008.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Roaring for Blogs: Lion Award

Thank you to author Jo Knowles for presenting Cynsations with a Lion Award. According to the Shameless Lions Writing Circle, the award highlights "those people who have blogs we love, can't live without, where we think the writing is good and powerful." Award recipients then give the award to five other bloggers.

In the spirit of the program, my award-winners are: Anneographies (highlighting picture book biographies, day by day on the subjects' birthdays); readergirlz ("celebrating gutsy girlz in life and lit"); The Planet Esme Plan (a book a day anyone?); Poetry for Children (from uber expert Sylvia Vardell); and The Brown Bookshelf Blog (new on the scene and "showcasing the best and brightest voices in African-American Children’s Literature, with a special emphasis on new authors and books that are 'flying under the radar.'")

Read Cynsations interviews with Jo, Anne, Esme, and Sylvia!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year

"What is a vampire's favorite food?"
"Nectarines!"
--joke inside my "popper" at Christmas dinner

Many blessings to you and yours in 2008! Ah, this is not at all spooky season, yet I adore it. I'm feeling especially retrospective as my birthday was on New Year's Eve, and it was a landmark birthday at that.

Beyond that, our tree shimmers and a wreath hangs on our front door. We'll keep it up until after Twelfth Night.

Toward the end of my busiest travel-writing-teaching year ever, I've had just a few opportunities to get together with pals. GLS and I dined with GB & M at Gumbo's, with FH and BY at Chez Nous, and AB joined us for Christmas dinner. We lunched with LL at Green Pastures and JZ at Hyde Park Bar & Grill. We also enjoyed a happy hour at HH's downtown condo with FH, BY, and VJ.

At home, GLS has been having great fun with the Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. He served ham and his famous shrimp potato salad for Christmas Eve dinner, followed by bacon-fried rice on Christmas day. For my birthday, the menu was steamed lobster tails and claws, broccoli with mushrooms, and mushroom rice pilaf.

Spooky Link

Ghost Photographs from the Ghost Research Society. Source: author Suzanne Harper.

Not-So-Spooky Link

Leaving Santa behind: A child's belief in St. Nick is an essential ecstasy. So is the moment the truth comes by Kerry Madden from The L.A. Times. Read a Cynsations interview with Kerry.