Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Scavenger: The Cover!

The cover of my debut novel, Book Scavenger, was previously revealed on Mr. Colby Sharp’s blog along with an interview, but I also wanted to share a bit about it here.
When my editor emailed me with the name of the illustrator she had hired for Book Scavenger, I immediately googled her name: Sarah Watts. I was thrilled with what I found. Sarah is so talented, and her illustration style was exactly the direction I was hoping my publisher would go in. But appreciating someone’s artistic talent is not the same as knowing what your cover will look like. And then one day in November, my editor emailed me the final cover. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I love how the burgundy of the title and the book Emily is holding pop against the blues. I love that you can see a gold bug on the miniature book cover, and that James’s hair is poking up, and that there are two birds hovering in the sky. I love the flying books, and even more so, I love how if I let my vision blur then the books take on the look of fog, which is such a staple of San Francisco. I love the running Emily and James next to my name. I love that this cover says “mystery” to me, but also sets the tone for the type of mystery that it is.
Did I mention I love my cover? Yeah, I do. April Ward designed this beauty, Sarah Watts created the cover art, and I am so thankful to them both.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Peek at the Creative Space of Kerry O'Malley Cerra

Kerry O'Malley Cerra is a former high school history teacher who often incorporated historical fiction along with traditional textbooks to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water, her first middle grade novel, was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. You can read more about that inspiration on her website here. 

A summary of Just a Drop of Water from the publisher:

 Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.
According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

Award-winning author Richard Peck has praised this novel saying, "This is history tensely told for readers too young to remember the moment when this century truly began." And Kirkus Reviews said, "Cerra does a good job of re-creating the combination of fear, confusion, patriotism, prejudice and community spirit the attack engendered, and readers should identify with Jake's plight. A perceptive exploration of an event its audience already sees as history."

Describe your workspace.

Honestly, I change up my workspace quite a bit. My most favorite place to write is at the beach—which, on most Florida days, looks like this.

I’m so lucky, right? I do my best thinking there. But, that’s a luxury I can’t have every single day, so most of the time I get to write in this beautiful office surrounded by wonderful books...and my dogs. (Confession, it’s rarely as clean as it looks in this photo. Three dogs and several kids cause such HUGE messes.)

Describe a typical workday.
Typical is not in my vocabulary. Does that really exist? I truly admire anyone who can set a routine for themself, and I’m sure I’d have a boatload more books in the world if I did have a “typical” daily routine, but, alas, I’m a mom and that comes first. I hate to admit it, but there are times I go weeks (and sometimes a few months) without writing. Shameful! It won’t be much longer before all of my kids are off on their own, so I’m okay with the writing time suffering, for now.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
What a fun question! First, definitely my dogs. They are crazy, obnoxious, bark incessantly at lizards, birds, or whatever else might be outside. See that big window in the photo above. They have lots to look at, so it’s rarely quiet. On the flip side, they don’t bark when I read to them, even when it’s a sucky first draft. They’re so loyal!

Second, I’d have to say this really cool box my daughter made is a favorite object. Back when I was unpublished and still wallpapering my entire downstairs with rejection letters, she gave me this keepsake for Christmas with an awesome note telling me the multitude of reasons why I shouldn’t give up. Love her!

Third—but not last because there’s so much I love about my office—are the books on the shelves next to me. Most are written by friends and fellow SCBWI members, so it’s like writing with big, giant arms wrapped around me, whispering words of encouragement and reminding me what the end result can be. Sometimes we even have wine. J
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I love scented candles and tend to pick a scent to carry me through each book. With Just a Drop of Water, I lit a Japanese Cherry Blossom candle each time I went in my office to work. I’m still looking for the prefect scent as I begin a new book soon.
What do you listen to while you work?
Other than my dogs barking, absolutely nothing. I cannot concentrate with any noise in the background. Unless of course I’m at the beach. Then it would be the sound of waves. Love!
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
*Hangs head in shame* I’m a Starbucks addict. You might as well just inject the vanilla chai latte directly into my veins. And, I simply cannot write without it. But, I’ve promise hubby to break this habit, unless I sell a gazillion copies of my book and can justify continuing down this expensive path. Hey, ya’ll, go buy a copy so I can keep Starbucks in business.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Nothing. Is there a trick to this? Maybe I should go read what other authors responded here so I can find out all the tricks. My mind wanders way too much…
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I jot notes in lots of pretty spirals all the time. Especially when I’m with my critique group or get ideas while at a conference. Before I dive into a story, I try to do a plot clock, so I at least know where the story is going, what my MC wants, and what’s in his or her way. Then I can settle down with the computer for the actual writing.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’ve never admitted this before, but I don’t think I have a muse. I read all the time about how authors have conversations with their characters, or how their main character is taking over the page while the author merely types in carefully dictated words. And every time I hear or read this, I wonder if the author is on something. Does this really happen? Characters speak to you? My books are written slowly. Each word is a struggle for me. Every sentence a chore to make sure I’m keeping in line with how my character would act or speak. I’m museless, but if he/she’s out there floating around, I hope they show up soon. My current revision sure could use it.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
This may sound lame, but I’d actually love to share my space with my critique partners. It would be awesome to be able to bounce ideas off them when things popped in my head without having to wait for an email or text reply. I could do the same for them. But, then again, we might get all goofy and nothing would be accomplished.  (We’re missing one in this photo, but you can see, we tend to mess around a lot.)

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 

Of course we all know this, and you, like me, have probably heard it from a countless other writers, but it’s something I found myself repeating many times during my publishing journey. This business is subjective—from getting an agent, to selling a book, to editing, and even reviews. Your work isn’t going to be for everyone. It won’t be liked by everyone. Find the right editor and the right agent. The ones who fall in love with your words and your story. That’s all it takes. Just one amidst the hundreds! They’re out there.

Thank you for stopping by Creative Spaces! To learn more about Kerry O'Malley Cerra and her writing, visit her website

Thursday, October 9, 2014

In Memory of Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Yesterday I heard the sad news that Zilpha Keatley Snyder passed away. Ms. Snyder was one of my writing heroes and is one of the greats of children's literature. In 2010, I had the privilege and honor of talking to her on the phone for a Creative Spaces interview. I'm reposting that interview today in her memory.

Thank you, Ms. Snyder, for your literary contributions to our world. My childhood and the path I've taken as an adult have both been greatly influenced by you and your words.

*    *   *

Today it is my pleasure to welcome three-time Newbery Honor winner, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, to Creative Spaces. Ms. Snyder is the author of many beloved and award-winning titles including The Egypt GameThe Headless Cupid, Witches of Worm, The Velvet Room, The Unseen, The Great Stanley Kidnapping Case, Libby on Wednesday, The Changeling, The Ghosts of Rathburn Park, and her most recent title published last fall, William S. and the Great Escape.

I discovered Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books around third or fourth grade and became a huge fan, reading every book of hers my library had in its collection. The Egypt Game is an all-time favorite. My childhood best friend and I (and occasionally her younger brother too, because he matched the role of Marshall) played our own version of the Egypt Game, which as I remember it, amounted to sitting in the dirt behind a grove of pine trees in the corner of her yard. This paled in comparison to the exciting things that happen in the book, and I’m not sure that our version of the Egypt Game lasted very long. But the love for the book and Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s stories remained.

Fast forward a dozen or so years, I was working at the Linden Tree children’s bookstore while I was going to grad school and discovered there was a sequel to The Egypt Game called The Gypsy Game. (I was shocked that I could have missed this, but there was a simple explanation: it was published in 1997, 30 years after the original.) Because I was in graduate school for writing, trying to unravel for myself the mysteries of “how do I become a writer,”  I was now not only interested in the books but the writer behind them. So I sought out more information on Ms. Snyder and discovered this essay, which I found thrilling to read both as a fan of her work and because of the informative and practical information she offers about her process.

For this interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Snyder on the phone, so the answers that follow have been transcribed from our conversation. If you’re interested in learning more about Zilpha Keatley Snyder, I highly recommend reading her autobiography posted on her website. You can also connect with Ms. Snyder on Facebook where she occasionally shares photos and recent news. If you'd like a more thorough tour of where Ms. Snyder lives, there is also a 20 minute video interview available through Good Conversations. (You will need to register for a free trial in order to view the entire video. There is an excellent collection of author interviews on this site though, and it looks like a worthwhile subscription for a school or a library.)

Zilpha Keatley Snyder in her office with her dog Joey.

Describe your workspace.

I have a room on the third story of our apartment. It’s a big room that is meant to be a bedroom, but I use it as a study. I have lots of bookcases and bulletin boards where I post different things. I have a bulletin board with pictures that kids have sent me. I used to get a lot of these, but now that most of my fanmail is email, I no longer get kids's pictures so much. I also have a lot of files up there and my desk.

However, now that I have a laptop, I very often sit in the living room. My room up at the top of the house tends to be colder in the winter and hotter in summer than the rest of the house. So I very often just sit in the living room on the sofa with my laptop and write there. There’s just the two of us in the house now, my husband and I, so it’s fairly quiet and private.

Describe a typical workday.

Well, that varies. My husband and I go to the gym three mornings a week--Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--to work out. And so I used to write in the mornings but now I write mainly in the early afternoon. I don’t work as many hours as I used to. There was a time I might write five or six hours a day, but now it’s more like two or three.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My room upstairs faces back behind our house which is just a wooded hillside and gives me the feeling that I’m a long way from anything. There's nothing out there but deer trails and redwood trees. So that’s probably my most favorite thing about that room, along with all the pictures on my bulletin board.

Downstairs, I like that I’m close to the kitchen where I can get a cup of tea easily (that’s where I’m sitting right now). It has a nice view out big front windows, so it’s a pleasant place to sit.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I don’t know if you’d call it a ritual, but one thing I have done for years is when I start a new book I start character sketches of the main characters. When I used to do it in a notebook I would leave a whole page for each of them or important characters, and I would add new things as I began to figure them out because I didn’t know the characters that well at first. Now of course I do it on the computer. I just add to them when I think of new information. And it’s very helpful, because I’ve found that in writing the character sketches I very often get plot ideas. A person with a certain type of character, certain view of life, would be apt to have a particular problem that could be worked into part of the plot.

What do you listen to while you work?

Absolutely nothing. I don’t listen to music or anything. Oh, sometimes I have to--my husband is a pianist and if he’s playing the piano . . . But anything that might have words in it would be very distracting.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Tea. I drink several cups of tea a day. As for snack, I try to avoid that. Although I generally try to keep a bowl of what I call snacking fruit available. Very often grapes or cherries or something like that.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Oh, I don’t know. Not being interrupted? Which is hard to come by because there’s the phone and front door and time to do various things during the day. But . . . well, I know--just getting interested in my characters. When I’ve gotten to know them pretty well then I’m curious about them, and as I write I discover more things about them. And that’s one of the greatest interests for me in writing.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

When I first began to write, my first book I wrote all out in pen and ink on a pad. My husband, who types very well, which I think goes along with being a pianist--very fast typist--he typed it for me. Which was very kind of him because I’m sure he didn’t think I was ever going to sell it. After that I started working on a typewriter. I could do action and sometimes narration, but I never could compose very well on the typewriter because if you make a mistake then of course you have to try to erase it or throw the page away and get a new page. So anything the least bit difficult, I would keep a pad and a pen right by the typewriter and write it out. Now, of course, there’s the computer. I love working on the computer.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

In the past I would write the first chapter or so, just getting the feel of the story and the point of view of the main character. But then I would take a lot of time and do plotting. At that time I would write what I thought of as a plot page. When I was teaching I would say it was like writing a book report before the book has been written. Just a very short form of the story, but with a general idea of what the ending is going to be like. I find it very difficult to write without some idea of the ending. I know there are other writers who say they just start writing and see what happens, but I don’t seem to work that way very well. I always seem to get my characters into a mess that I can’t get them out of, a situation that doesn’t mean anything. I try to have a plot page.

Years ago, when writing some very difficult young adult books, I would outline chapter by chapter. I’d have a page for each chapter with a line down the middle. On one side I’d write the action or what is to happen in this chapter. And on the other I’d put information or narration, which would be narration that gives the reader more information about where the story is going. And I would try to work some action in with some narration so it wouldn’t get boring.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Well, my husband of course. But if you mean some figure in history or writer of the past, then maybe one of the Brontes.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

I remember one thing my first editor told me, that was Jean Karl at Atheneum. My first book was fantasy and quite a few of my books have been. She said: If your story is a fantasy, you must let the reader know what the basis is, what the underlining factor is for the fantasy. You can’t have magic happening here and now with no reason for it, no thing it arises from, no cause. The reader begins to feel there’s no need to worry because something magical is going to happen that solves this problem whatever it is. So you have to limit the magic in some way and make it have a basis.

Advice from Ms. Snyder herself:

Get to know your characters well, and keep at it.