Thursday, November 25, 2010


This time last year, I hadn't signed with my agent, and I wasn't sure if any book I ever wrote would ever be published.

This time two years ago, Across the Universe was just an idea I'd not started writing.

This time three years ago, I was just realizing that the project I'd been working on...wasn't working. It was the tenth novel I'd written, without one single sale.

Recently, people have been asking me, "How did you know Across the Universe was the One?"

I didn't.

I always thought whatever I was working on at the time would be the One.

In the past, whenever I looked at those ten unpublished novels, I'd feel ashamed.

I'd feel like a failure.


I feel thankful.

I couldn't have written the eleventh novel without writing the first ten. I couldn't be here, without being there.

I'm thankful for Across the Universe and all the dreams that have come true with it.

But I'm also thankful for the toil and rejection that came before it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Online Networking Part 2

So, yesterday I posted about how you don't have to blog (or whatever else online) if you don't want to. But if you DO want to, here's my own personal do's and don'ts:

  • Use proper grammar
    • This is especially true if you want to be an or already are an author. Your profession is in words. Show it.
      • Does this mean you can't have your own voice and/or slang? Of course not. I mean, make an effort for correct punctuation, spelling, etc.
      • Also: please be aware that I'm a former English teacher and a stickler for grammar. So, obviously, I'm probably biased.
      • Also also: I've probably made a gazillion grammatical errors on this blog. Sorry. 
  • When in doubt: be professional
    • Professional layout and design
      • There is nothing wrong with the simplest blog design--but there is often much wrong with the more complicated ones. More graphics/colors/bling does not a better blog make.
      • Please please don't make me listen to your music
    • Professional tone of writing
    • Professional subject of posts
  • But don't be so professional that you don't show your own personality
  • Book covers & info
    • If you are a published author, please make your cover and ordering information easy to find
    • If you are not a published author, be very very very wary of making a mock-up cover of your unpublished book. You tend to either (a) look like an amateur or (b) look like you're trying to trick people into thinking you're published. You just can't win this way.


  • Lose sight of your goal
    • If you're writing an author blog, think about your content and limit yourself. Post about topics your audience will want to know about. This doesn't mean you can't talk about your dog--but don't let it overwhelm your blog.
  • Be combative, rude, or belligerent
    • There's a difference between a negative review and a slam
    • There's a difference between a debate and an attack
    • There's a difference between sharing your opinion and trolling
  • Make it hard to find basic information
    • There are a few things that should just be easy and obvious to find:
      • Contact info
      • Feed subscription links
      • Comment links
      • Permalinks

In the end, I thought about what I want people to think of me based on my online presence. Does that make me pompous or fake? I hope not. But I decided what I wanted people to think of me was that I was professional, but real. To that end, I made an effort to have a professional design to my website, and keep most of my posts in a professional vein. But not all--I wanted to also be real--so I'll have posts about my real life, or tweet about my dog, or show you pictures of me on vacation on Facebook. But not too much. There have been books I've read and not liked--but you won't see a negative review on here (or not any more--I did do some before I got my book deal, but decided to take them down). I won't lie--if you ask my opinion on a book I didn't like, I'll tell you--but I'm not going to post it publicly. There have been reviews of my own book that I've not liked...but I won't comment on them. There have been online opinions that I disagreed with, and while I'll give my personal views, I won't argue. 

But this is all me. Maybe the you that you want to represent is different. Maybe you want to be known for being fun and funny. Or maybe you'd rather be known for being an expert on something. Maybe you'd rather be wise than witty--or vice versa.

Think about who you want to be--and be it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Aspiring Author? Here's What You HAVE To Do.

Perhaps it's just me, but it seems that the most common question I hear from aspiring authors is "what do I need to do to market myself?" This question comes out in many forms: "Do I have to blog?" "Do I have to Tweet?" "Should I have a Facebook Profile or a Facebook Page?" "How can I get more blog followers?" "Why the eff can't I just write my effing book and ignore all this effing marketing crap?"

Here's my simple answer:


You don't have to do any of that. The only thing you have to do, if you want to make a profession of writing?

Write a kick-ass book.

That's it.

But, of course, we've all heard that, and even if we know that all we have to do is write a kick-ass book, there's also the fact that we hear about the author who turned mediocre sales into best-seller-status through an online promotion, the self-publisher who went trade because of a Twitter campaign, the blogger who got a book deal because she had 10,000 followers on Google Friends.

And even if we know that the most important thing is the book, we also know that we can probably help with online marketing. The thing is--unless you're rude, pompous, or otherwise unseemly, online marketing can probably only help and more than likely won't hurt. There are exceptions, of course, but I would think being a decent human being (or at least portraying yourself as one online) is really the safe zone to be in.

So, let's say you're a decent human being who has a book (or is working on one) and has decided that, while you know that writing the book is the most important thing, you also feel the need (or want) to do online promotion, social networking, whatever.

Recently, I was chatting with the Elevensies and the Tenners dropped by. Leah Cypress, author of MISTWOOD, had this advice for us:

“The thing about promotion: all of it MAY help. But nothing helps enough that it’s worth doing if you hate it.”

So: if you are convinced that you HAVE to market yourself, my best advice is to echo Leah--do only what you want to do.

I blog because I like to blog. Not to sell you a book. If you happen to buy a book, GREAT. But I'd blog anyway. I think my three years of archives before I sold my book should be evidence of that. I tweet because I like to tweet. I think it's fun. I've found out lots of cool information from links, met a few new friends, and love the drop-in-drop-out ability of Twitter. I use to sometimes advertise contests and such, but I try not to be a commercial because I'd much rather be a part of the conversation. I Facebook...sometimes. It's not my favorite. I have a page for people who like to Facebook so they can find info easily, but I'm honestly not on Facebook much (btw, the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE page on Facebook is run by my publisher, not me).

Do what you want to do.

And if you don't want to do any of it?

That's totally OK.

Have you seen Suzanne Collin's blog? No, you haven't. Because she doesn't blog. Neither do a lot of writers. Twitter's even more bereft of literary figures. For every Maureen Johnson, Neil Gaiman, and Meg Cabot who's tweeting and blogging, there's a hundred other writers who simply don't.

Are there advantages? Absolutely. I know of two writers who attribute their publication success to their blogs--although I think it's debatable. In my own personal experience, there are four books on my shelves that I bought solely because I "knew" the author online--I liked their blogs, so I sought out their books. But guys? I have hundreds of books. And only four purchases made based on an author's online presence.

So, while there MAY be a help to an online presence, don't forget what Leah says: "Nothing helps enough that it's worth doing if you hate it." If you enjoy it, by all means--go for it. But if you hate it? It's not worth putting up with.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Secret Password Revealed!

If you'd like to check out the page behind the telescope, the password is:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winner of Across the World Blog Tour Prize Pack!

Well, I hope you all enjoyed the Across the World Blog Tour we had running the week before last! But I know what you're really asking...who won??

I'll just say that for one of you, 16 is a lucky number:

Lucky Number 16 wins  an Across the Universe prize pack including:

A signed and doodled ARC
A bag of star swag
A super-rare AtU watch

And that winner is...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kidlit Critterpalooza!

For over a year now, CRITTER, the creation of artist Ian Sands, has been travelling the world, meeting many talented writers and authors and exploring where they live. At each stop he learns more and more about KIDLIT and the importance of literacy and creativity. This journey was the brainchild of Christy Evers, who got her hands on Critter after an interactive art project of Ian’s, where 500 Critters were hidden all over her city for people to find.

Critter has visited PJ Hoover (and the Texas Sweethearts!) in Texas, Beth Revis in North Carolina, Christina Farley in Korea, New England with Nandini Bajpai, Illinois with Kelly Polark, MG Higgins in California, Rena Jones in Montana, Cynthia Leitich Smith in Texas, Bish Denham in the Virgin Islands, Jacqui Robbins in Michigan, Tina Ferraro in California, Cynthia Chapman Willis in New Jersey, Jill S. Alexander in Texas, Ellen Oh in Virginia and finally, Alberta Canada with Angela Ackerman.

Critter has been to college, rock concerts, national landmarks, a palace, attended his first SCBWI conference, walked among giant redwoods, and met the world famous artist, Robert Bateman. Now that his journey is coming to a close, it’s CRITTER’S hope that you will help him celebrate over at The Bookshelf Muse. His new hosts, together with old hosts, have teamed up to create the Kidlit-inspired event, Critterpalooza! and you’re invited!

There are many AMAZING prizes to be won, all in the spirit of helping Critter celebrate the wonderful creativity & support within out KIDLIT community, and to also raise awareness for his charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

If you would like to donate a few dollars to Critter’s charity, just click on the I Love St. Jude button. Children’s lives are saved every day thanks to the support of people like you!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Answer is No Longer 42

The new answer is: JETPACK.

Source: Cabanon Press (found for me by one of my awesome former students).

I've emailed the artists, asking for a print and if I can use the picture on my permanent website. If I hear back from them, I'm also going to ask if there's anyway I can buy the original. I'm thinking this would be the perfect piece for my office.

It is also the only thing keeping me cheerful today, other than a few awesome friends.

Bookanista Feature: Rachel Hawkins's DEMONGLASS

The Bookanistas are a group of writers - in various stages of the publishing process – who have decided to band together and review the special books of our peers.  No negative reviews here! We post every Thursday and cover various topics– upcoming ARCs, books we love, special diamonds in the rough, classics, and even cover reviews.

DEMONGLASS by Rachel Hawkins

This is the kind of book I wish I could write. Y'all, funny is the hardest style to write, and Rachel nails it.

DEMONGLASS is the sequel to HEX HALL, and because I begged no, begged Shelli (who got a signed ARC) to share, she passed it along the Bookanista line. 

*sigh of bliss*

Here's the good things:
  • The sequel is better than the first: so if you read and liked HEX HALL, you will LOVE DEMONGLASS
  • Sophie, the main character, has the perfect combination of sarcasm and vulnerability
  • Cal, the third wheel of the love triangle (<<--is that even a phrase?) is perfectly painted. What a realistic way to create a love triangle--his love for her is built on friendship and admiration, and seems very real, even though Cal's a silent, stoic character.
  • Sophie is aware of the presence of the love triangle, and she doesn't lead him on, and that's so refreshing. I'm not saying there's nothing there--I'm saying Sophie doesn't take advantage or use either boy she's attracted to.
  • The plot is so tightly woven. And while I guessed the twist about her mom, I did not at all guess the other twist like at all. I gasped aloud on the airplane and woke up the person sleeping next to me.
  • It's set in England. Loff <3 loff <3 loff.
Here's the bad thing:
  • I'm working on my sequel for Across the Universe right now. And she makes me worried that my Book 2 will never be as good as her Book 2!!! *dies of anguish* ARGH ARGH ARGH


Other Bookanista Features Today:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Clean All the Things

This was me yesterday.
So, first things first: if you've not read the brilliant comic from Hyperbole and a Half that the above picture is swiped from: DO SO NOW.

Second things second: yesterday I cleaned the house.

I mean: I cleaned the house.

I scrubbed the bathroom sinks. The toilet. Washed every dish and every article of clothing. I even broke out the scented candles and Febreeze.

This place is spotless, y'all.

And I need to finish Book 2 by Monday. (Actually, Friday.)

So why clean all the things?

Because I need to finish Book 2 by Monday. (Actually, Friday.)

I don't know why it is, but whenever I have a big project nearing completion and deadline...I need to clean the house. I don't usually clean the house--it usually stays in a state somewhere between Frat Boy and Seven Year Olds Alone In the House for Too Long. But around the time when I should be working on writing, that's around the time when I suddenly blink, look up, and decide to

Yesterday, I collapsed after a full day of cleaning around 11pm. But today I woke up early, ready to go. I'm thinking that I might actually finish by Friday (or Monday).

What about you? What do you do when you should be finishing a big project?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Genre Doesn't Have an Age Suggestion

I have a HUGE pet peeve.

The Young Adult (YA) genre.

Ha! Didn't see that one coming, did you?

But here's the thing: YA isn't YA. Seriously. YA suggests an age limit--that these are books written for, designed for, and appropriate for young adults...only.

And that's not the way of it.

Jack Martin once said that "Teen books are like adult books without all the bullshit," and truer words have not been spoken. My point is: YA is a genre, not an age suggestion, and as such YA is a misnomer.

So--what is YA if it's not an age suggestion? It's a genre. Genre, by definition is a literary style.

So, what makes YA...YA?

It's not a matter of the characters being a certain age. I'd argue that the characters being a certain age has the least to do with the style. It's not a matter of "dumbing down" language (or censoring it) for an appropriate age group--after all, we're not talking about an age group, we're talking about a style. And besides, people who think they have to dumb down for teens are typically jackholes who shouldn't be writing anyway.

But that's all the things YA isn't. Here's what YA is, as a definition of the style that is the genre:

  • Fast-paced plot
    • Remember the whole YA-is-adult-books-without-bullshit thing? There's a definite lack of wasted space in YA, because YA authors aren't going to blow smoke around. Let's just say Proust would not have cut it as a YA author.
  • Interesting characters
    • YA readers won't put up with characters that aren't interesting--and they place particular value on characters that are interesting. Consider how many "ships" you can have in YA--that's proof that even the side characters tend to be interesting (interesting enough so that people will fan fic them).
  • Evocative emotions
    • YA must make you feel. To paraphrase Shepherd Book talking to Captain Mal in SERENITY: I don't care what you feel as long as you feel something. It can be funny, it can be romance, it can be tragedy--but a YA book will make you become emotionally involved in some way.
  • Story above tradition
    • YA doesn't care about the rules. The YA genre is one of the few genres where you can have a contemporary romance beside an action-based sci fi and no one bats an eye. YA books care about telling a good story, and the rest of the rules don't have to apply. In adult books, you have someone like Nicholas Sparks, who always writes one type of book. In YA books, you have someone like Laurie Halse Anderson who can write a contemporary novel about rape and a historical fiction about the American Revolution and they can sit side-by-side on the shelf. Adult authors who genre bed are rare (Neil Gaiman, I'm looking at you), but since YA is, by definition, genre-bending, authors get to place the story over the genre tropes (since there are no genre tropes).
It used to really bother me that YA is labeled with a name that implies an age suggestion. But then I realized that writing YA was similar to when I was teaching--when I was a teacher, I was 100% happy when the principal would just leave me alone and let me do what I want. So, I don't care any more that my writing has a YA stamp on it, even if the stamp's not an accurate label--as long as I get to do what I want and write the cool books, I'm happy.

From your point of view, what’s the difference between writing for children and writing for adults?
This is actually a hot button for me. I don't differentiate in the way that the genre creators want differentiation to be made. I feel that I have never written children's or YA stories particularly. What I write, if you have to label it, is crossover, and I think that much of the stuff that is called children's or YA is in fact crossover and is equally valid for anyone who likes to read fantasy. Is Huckleberry Finn a YA novel? I don't think so. I understand that some form of genre labeling is necessary for people who are in a hurry or people who don't themselves like fantasy and want to give a gift to a twelve-year-old niece or nephew. But as a label to stick on a book, I'm inclined to think that it does more harm than good, because people take it too literally.  ...

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Greatest Adventure

So I was going to post about my greatest adventure since we're all into adventures these past few weeks. I thought about the first time I went abroad and wandered away from the group I was with to explore the beaches of Malta by myself. Or my second time abroad, when I found the courage to travel the British Railways entirely by myself. Should I pick an adventure closer to home--moving away from home, my marriage, adopting a eat-anything demon disguised as a dog for a pet?

But none of that seemed good enough.

Because you know what? This is my greatest adventure. Each day after the next.

If this is too sugary-sweet for ya, then check out my League post today where I attempt to make Turkish Delight. Y'all, I think I might have to throw out that pan, too.

And if you've not yet, make sure you break the code and figure out the password to the secret page! All the clues are out, and almost 100 of you have figured it out! You have one week left to figure it out and enter for the contest.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Word Scrambly Clue(s)

If you suck at word scrambles (like me) maybe this will help:

The middle word of the three word phrase is: "the."

(And if you need them, here's the other clues:)

  • The password is made up of a three word phrase (no spaces)
  • It is a very simple phrase (nothing foreign or outlandish or random)
  • The phrase is made up of real words--no numbers or anything tricky
  • The password is relevant, but not directly related to, Across the Universe
  • Two letters are repeated three times
  • If you DO figure out the password, don't tell! That gives YOU a greater chance to win!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Across the World Tour: Come on back home!

WHEW! Talk about a wild adventure! If you've been following along with me all this week and last, then you've got to Africa, both Americas, Europe, Australia, and Asia (I *tried* to get some Arctic adventures, but the polar bears don't have opposable thumbs or, um, blogs).

Have you been collecting letters? You have one last letter to get...and it's below. But before we get there, here's links to the other letters scattered across the blogosphere!

If you're missing any of the letters, the links below will take you 
directly to the post with the letter on each blog.

In reverse order:

I hope you had fun on the tour! I know I did--I loved learned all about everyone else's cool experiences. And I hope you enjoyed looking for all the clues and piecing together the password. 

But you're missing one last letter...

And that letter is...


That's it! You now have all the letters in the password. Rearrange them to make a simple, three word phrase (no spaces in the password, though), and you'll get access to the super-secret page (click on the telescope to find it) AND the entry form for the contest.

You must enter the contest by November 20th to be entered into the drawing!

And trust me--the prizes for this are awesome. Because Penguin totally hooked me up. Remember how I said I'd include something super-secret-special-rare if I could get my hands on it? If you're a fan of the Facebook page for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, then you've seen this:

YES. Penguin made a *handful* of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE watches (you can see more pics on the fanpage) and one person who enters the contest is getting one! 

And that's not all they're getting (tell them what else they're getting!):

Pin buttons featuring AtU art!


PS: For those of you who are curious, ten people got the code before the letters were all out! Congrats to you ten--you guys rock!

Across the World Tour: Angela Cerrito--Adventure of a Lifetime

What Is All This?

To celebrate the launch of Across the Universe on 1-11-11, we're going Across the World with guest posts of adventures from all over the world! This is all a part of the Across the World Tour. First, read the world adventure below. Then, click through to the adventurer's blog to find a letter.

Why a letter? Because the letters--when unscrambled--form a password. And the password opens up the secret page (LOOK for it above). And on the secret page is lots of goodies--secret information about the origins of the book, hidden Easter eggs, and...a entry form to win a prize of a signed ARC of Across the Universe, star swag, and MORE.

Today's Adventurer

Angela Cerrito is the author of THE END OF THE LINE, coming out from Holiday House in 2011. She is also the creator of Serious Subjects. Her prose is lyrically beautiful, and I am fascinated with her life and all the places she's lived. I can honestly say, I wasn't sure which of her greatest adventures she'd write about, she's had so many.

Angela's story was one of the first I received--but as soon as I read it, I asked if she'd mind if I posted her story last. It's the perfect end to the two week adventure YOU all have been with me on, and I think you'll agree when you read...

Angela's Adventure of a Lifetime
When Beth asked me to write about an adventure, I immediately thought of living in China and Europe, of driving across the US with my husband (and our infant daughter), and many other adventures. So many, I realized that my greatest adventure began my sophomore year of college, when I was a Resident Advisor (RA).

It’s peaceful at a university the week before classes start. I had just finished hanging up name signs on the empty doors wondering about the freshmen girls who would move in, when I got the news. It was a good year for the university, more freshmen than ever before. There were so many students that the guest wing would be opened up on my floor and filled with freshmen of the male variety. Yes, males. Guys. Dudes. I had the good fortune to be the RA of the first ever co-ed dorm floor at the university.

I made more name tags and wondered about the guys who would move in.

Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR
And that’s when my adventure began. My love was one of those 20 guys. We married before we graduated college and the adventure continued.

Our first home was a job that provided living accommodations. We managed a boarding house for mentally ill men. We stayed there at night in case of emergency, waking early to prepare a 5 course breakfast (and distribute meds, cigarettes, and rationed money) for more than a dozen men before heading off to classes and second jobs.

Other homes –and adventures -have included:

Hot-lanta (Atlanta, GA): This is where both of our beautiful home-birthed babies were born and life-long friendships were made. Atlanta is the city we consider our home when we’re in the US.

China: We spent a year in China learning language, cooking, and how to ride bikes in unbelievable traffic. We also made some great friends, got behind-the-scenes access to temples and the great wall and my love studied under the national pushing-hands competition winner and an 88-year-old tai-chi master.

Great Wall of China with oldest daughter, 11 months
The Italian countryside: From here I was able to take my grandfather to Sicily 80 years after he left –and we reconnected family ties that were almost severed by distance and time. We learned to drive automobiles in unbelievable traffic, more wonderful friendships were formed, and our daughters learned to speak Italian.

The adventure continues: We now live in Germany where we appreciate the orderly traffic, the many fests throughout the year and the opportunities to travel in Europe.

Yet, real life, the real adventure, is every day. Walking to the ice-cream shop on the corner, watching our kids advance a belt in martial arts, or perform their music on stage and struggling for words when a beloved pet dies. This amazing adventure is living through good and bad times and sharing them together.

Neptune's Grotto, Sardinia 2010

Sometimes my love will look up at me and say, “I can’t believe I married my RA.”

And sometimes I can’t believe it either!

Go Across the Blogosphere!
The adventure's not over yet! Go to Angela's site to find the first letter in the password to the secret page. Collect all the letters in the first two weeks of November for a chance to win a signed ARC, star-swag, and pin-buttons!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Across the World Tour: Heather Zundel Meets Thailand

What Is All This?

To celebrate the launch of Across the Universe on 1-11-11, we're going Across the World with guest posts of adventures from all over the world! This is all a part of the Across the World Tour. First, read the world adventure below. Then, click through to the adventurer's blog to find a letter.

Why a letter? Because the letters--when unscrambled--form a password. And the password opens up the secret page (LOOK for it above). And on the secret page is lots of goodies--secret information about the origins of the book, hidden Easter eggs, and...a entry form to win a prize of a signed ARC of Across the Universe, star swag, and MORE.

Today's Adventurer

Psst. Heather's a super hero. Whoops, probably shouldn't have told you that! *hands Heather back her Clark Kent glasses*

Heather blogs over at The Secret Adeventures of WriterGirl, is a judge for the Cybils (and has the best opinion on books), and was the genius behind the phenomenal hit, the YA Fantasy Showdown (how about that last battle, huh?!). In addition to being an all around awesome writer, Heather's also a great friend, and a world adventurer herself. Recently, she went to Thailand. Here's her adventure!

Heather Meets Thailand
First of all, awesome adventures are scary to plan for. First there was the shots (which is one of my worst fears, by the way. I am a complete and utter wuss around long, pointy metal objects of hurtiness). My conversation in my head went thusly:

[Me]: No flipping way! I HAD to have had shots since then! Who wrote this?
[Me]: Calm down. You were just traumatized as a child. Do you remember that nurse who had to put the same shot in three times?
[Me]: I know! Wait, where's the tetanus shot? I stepped on a nail in eighth grade, right? Where's that shot!? *looking frantically*
[Me]: That would put it in 2002, like it says on the paper. Calm down.
[Other Me *hyperventilating*]: I can't calm down! I hate shots!
[Me]: Well, too bad. Here it comes.
It felt like there was peanut butter in my deltoid. Although I had to laugh when they said I could actually get dengue fever. I should have been terrified but all I could think about was George of the Jungle.

Then came clothes prep. I don't care how much I looked like a tropical flower, there was no way any mosquito was touching me. For this, I bought a special repellent (at the doctor's office shot place, interestingly enough). It was meant for clothes ONLY. They were very specific on this point. Three lines into the directions and I had rubber gloves on (did you know I was supposed to consult my solid waste management for instructions on how to dispose of the empty bottle?) Yikes. So I figured if a mosquito landed on me, he had serious issues.

Die malaria-infested mosquitoes DIE!

Then there was the 28 hour plane ride, the inability to sleep despite my pure and utter exhaustion, my nausea half-way through the flight for reasons I still don't know why (the food wasn't bad, I promise. And the flight attendants were amazing and I had my own personalized tv where I could watch at least a hundred movies, but still - longest flight of my life). I was shaky by the time we landed. But all of it was worth it - for this.

Here are some interesting tidbits I experienced along the way:

-We were lucky enough to have running water where we were staying, but even that came with a catch. The waste processing plants in Thailand are not able to deal with paper products of any kind. That includes toilet paper. So instead of the toilet, we had to put it in the waste basket. That took some getting used to. :) But at the orphanage, where I spent most of my time, they had no running water for the bathrooms, and you had to use a bucket filled with water next to the toilet to "flush." That was a humbling experience.

-I had a coconut about as fresh as you can possibly have it. A beautiful woman from the jungle invited us to her home. She had a coconut tree growing right next to her house (not a far stretch in the middle of the jungle, and we were, literally, in the middle of the jungle). She pulls out this twenty foot stick with a hook on it and pulled us down a coconut. A butcher knife and four strokes later (she was amazing) we were drinking the freshest coconut milk you can have. We also scraped out the inside and sprinkled it with a very rough sugar. It was slimy, but very good (and you so know, coconuts are ripe green, not brown like we get them).

-I saw a spindly black and neon green spider larger than my face. I almost died right then and there.

-Coconut milk soup is fantastic. Especially with chicken and wild herbs.

-Thai people do love their karaoke. And we grew to love it too. And some of us even became tolerable to listen to, considering the language barrier ;)

And my favorite, purely fun part? I got ride an elephant. On it's neck. It. Was. Awesome.

This is definitely one adventure I would do again, without hesitation. It's great to be WriterGirl, but every once in a while, it is even cooler to be a real hero in someone's life. That was the best part, by far.

Go Across the Blogosphere!
The adventure's not over yet! Go to Heather's site to find the first letter in the password to the secret page. Collect all the letters in the first two weeks of November for a chance to win a signed ARC, star-swag, and pin-buttons!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Across the World Tour: Shannon Messenger, a Bike, & Austria

What Is All This?

To celebrate the launch of Across the Universe on 1-11-11, we're going Across the World with guest posts of adventures from all over the world! This is all a part of the Across the World Tour. First, read the world adventure below. Then, click through to the adventurer's blog to find a letter.

Why a letter? Because the letters--when unscrambled--form a password. And the password opens up the secret page (LOOK for it above). And on the secret page is lots of goodies--secret information about the origins of the book, hidden Easter eggs, and...a entry form to win a prize of a signed ARC of Across the Universe, star swag, and MORE.

Today's Adventurer

You know how I know Shannon's a great writer? Because her voice exudes from the pages of her blog better than almost anyone else I've ever read. She's just the kind of bright, fun, awesome person you wish lived next door so you could drop by her (gorgeous) home, steal her cookies, and chat books.

Shannon's an amazing artist (no, really), and worked in Hollywood before turning to MG writing. She's repped by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and in addition to writing a (often hilarious) blog, she also helped organize WriteOnCon!

Shannon & a Bike in Austria
The summer between my junior and senior years of college my friend and I decided it was high time we experience Europe—immerse ourselves in art and culture and history. And for some reason we decided the best way to do that was to join one of those crazy 3-week see-all-of-Europe-in-one-go tours. Which meant we spent more time watching European scenery whiz past us through the bus window than we did experiencing art or history or culture. But it also meant we got to do a bunch of things I never would have done otherwise.

Case in point: my brief stay in Itter, Austria.

Apparently in the winter Itter is a world-renowned ski resort. But when we were there it was pretty much a ghost town, and it was either participate in the tour’s optional excursion or spend the day in our shoebox-sized hotel room.*

So yeah…we did the excursion. Which was this:

Mountain biking. In Austria. Sounds, awesome, right? I mean, sure, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was twelve, but ‘like riding a bike’ is an old cliché for a reason, right?


Sure, my feet knew how to peddle and my body knew how to steer and stay balanced. But here’s the difference between being 12 and 20: at 20, you are much more aware of the fact that you can DIE!!!

That whole blissful racing-down-a-hill-at-top-speed-without-my-hands-on-the-handlebars-thing I used to do as a kid? Uh—yeah, I was CRAZY back then!

(And we can philosophize on the sadness of losing the innocence and free-spirit of childhood later. For now, all that matters is that I was on a wobbly bike, surrounded by about fifty college kids who’d already been hitting the Schnapps, on a mountain so steep people SKI down it in the winter. And the only advice our tour guides had for us was to avoid ze schmelte.**)

So yeah, for me, mountain biking in Austria pretty much consisted of two things. Wondering OMG-how-out-of-shape-am-I? as I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain. And thinking this-is-it-this-is-how-I’m-going-to-die!!! as I squeezed the brakes with white-knuckled hands the whole way down.***

I don’t remember the breathtaking scenery—though I have pictures of it. I don’t remember bonding with my friend (in fact, I remember cursing her because it was somehow her fault that I was surely about to experience ze schmelte). I don’t remember the lunch they fed us at the ski lodge when we finally made it to the top of the mountain, or the group shot I posed for with the rest of my tour.

But I do remember this: being VERY grateful to be alive when I finally made it safely to the bottom in one, schmelte-free piece. So grateful—in fact—that I willingly channeled my inner Julie Andrews and posed for this picture:

So I went to Europe looking to experience art and history and culture, and ended up finding a new appreciation for life. And Schnapps. (Ohhhhhhhh yeah—you can bet after a day like that I took full advantage of the hotel’s tavern and its spectacular variety of Schnapps flavors. But that’s a whole other story.****)


*Evidently 3-Star hotel in Europe = 1-Star hotel in America. Who knew?

**I actually have no idea if that’s a word. That was what it sounded like through their thick German accent. And according to the sound effects and hand gestures they used to help us understand it…it appeared to mean the major ouchie you feel when your skin hits the pavement after speeding downhill on a bike.

*** Well, okay, there was also a lot of thinking: ouch-my-butt-hurts-whoever-invented-the-bicycle-seat-should-be-shot—but that’s beside the point.

****Which you will have to drag out of me.

Go Across the Blogosphere!
The adventure's not over yet! Go to Shannon's site to find the first letter in the password to the secret page. Collect all the letters in the first two weeks of November for a chance to win a signed ARC, star-swag, and pin-buttons!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Across the World Tour: Angela Ackerman's African Adventure

What Is All This?

To celebrate the launch of Across the Universe on 1-11-11, we're going Across the World with guest posts of adventures from all over the world! This is all a part of the Across the World Tour. First, read the world adventure below. Then, click through to the adventurer's blog to find a letter.

Why a letter? Because the letters--when unscrambled--form a password. And the password opens up the secret page (LOOK for it above). And on the secret page is lots of goodies--secret information about the origins of the book, hidden Easter eggs, and...a entry form to win a prize of a signed ARC of Across the Universe, star swag, and MORE.

Today's Adventurer

If you're a writer, chances are you've visited Angela Ackerman's blog, The Bookshelf Muse, better known for having an extensive collection of Thesuari. There's the Emotion Thesaurus, the Color, Textures, and Shapes Thesaurus, a Symbolism Thesaurus (my personal fave) and now Angela's working on developing the Setting Thesaurus. Every writer should check this hugely wonderful (and free!) resource out.

Angela's represented by rockstar agent Jill Corcoran at the Herman Agency, and (in her brilliant words) "writes on the Dark and Mysterious Side of Chapter Book, Middle Grade, and YA."

Angela's African Adventure
A year ago, my husband and I took stock of our lives, and as we did, a realization struck: our boys, 14 and 12, were growing up! It hit us hard. When did this happen? Where did the years go since the days of pirate-themed birthday parties and tucking teeth under the pillow for the tooth fairy? For the first time, we began to really understand just how precious the next few years would be.

One thing our family has always treasured is travel. But to date, our trips were the usual destinations--Canada, the US, Mexico. I really wanted us to experience something meaningful and life-changing together. So, this August, we embarked on a trip to the most meaningful destination I could think of: Africa.

Between planes and layovers, it took us 27 hours to get to our first destination: Arusha, Tanzania. The land was wide open and beautiful, with Massai tribes herding their cattle, Africans tending fields of maize and beans near their mud-and-stick houses, and of course, some of the most incredible wildlife in the world.

I've written for years, yet I'm at a loss at how to describe Africa. How do I articulate the feeling inside at spotting a giraffe in the distance, puffs of dry soil lifting off his hooves as he searches for the tender leaves of an Acacia tree? Or to come upon two dozen elephants as they root through the grasses and scrub, the babies too young to feed and so they mimic their elders, waving branches around in their trunks?

In Tanzania's unfenced Wildlife Parks, we saw massive herds of Wildebeests and Zebras collectively graze, tails swishing and eyes open for danger. Skittish impalas and gazelles clustered close by, trusting in their fleet legs to escape quickly if needed. As a group, they would make their way down to the water's edge, always alert, always watching for movement in the golden grass. Despite the incredible heat, these animals will only risk drinking once a day. Here at the water's edge where hooves sink in thick, sticky mud, they are vulnerable. It is here that the roaming lions will strike.

And as we watched from the safety of our jeeps, one did. The lioness' lean form emerged from the dry grass in a fluid, deadly leap. The herd bolted, their cries of warning filling the air. And amid the dust and the stampeding bodies came a shrieking cry that cut off short. The lioness was successful, bringing down a wildebeest.

This experience was only one of so many. We saw flamingos in the thousands. Hippos. Baobab trees. Hartebeests. Vultures. Eight-foot high termite mounds. Jackals. Hyenas. Dik-diks. We climbed through the rain forest of Mount Kilimanjaro, ascending to the base camp. We were invited into the dung hut homes of the Massai, and welcomed by a village hanging on the edge of poverty. We had a playful troop of baboons drop half-eaten fruit onto our jeep from their tree. We slept in permanent tents with the sound of the wilds all around us, and played with children who were captivated by their reflections in our mirrored sunglasses and at the sight of themselves displayed on our digital cameras. We visited a school and witnessed the heartbreak of one of Africa's many orphanages.

Life changing? Yes. Unforgettable? Yes. This was an adventure of epic proportion, and such an honor to see it not only through my own eyes, but through the eyes of my sons. This trip was all I had hoped for and more. It's something we'll always have, a shared experience we'll all look back on, even after my boys finish their growing and move into their own lives.

My eldest brought his video camera with him and throughout the post are videos of our trip. Some of it is a little herky-jerky from being bumped inside the jeep, and because the roads were at times a bit rocky. Our guide called it a 'African Massage.' These will give you a small peek into some of the wonders we experienced, so enjoy!
Go Across the Blogosphere!
The adventure's not over yet! Go to Angela's site to find the first letter in the password to the secret page. Collect all the letters in the first two weeks of November for a chance to win a signed ARC, star-swag, and pin-buttons!