On Knowing When to Start Again

August 15, 2012
Summer, where did you go? We had a good time, didn’t we? Spontaneity, lake trips, quick weekend getaways, a book release, sleeping in, eating whatever and whenever we wanted. In short, this summer will go down in the books as one of the best the Leavitt family has seen perhaps since Mr. Leavitt and I fell in love in the glory days of ’97.
But this summer was also interesting for me as it was the first summer in quite a few years that I didn’t have an intense, end-of-summer deadline. I have a contemporary book due this fall, hopefully to be released in 2014. I have a mid-grade book I’ve been fiddling with that isn’t contracted. So I thought, writing-wise, this summer would be a breeze. In some ways, it was. I had a sitter for just a couple hours a week, a day or two to daydream, outline, get a couple of chapters in when I felt inspired. But the problem was, I didn’t feel very inspired, especially on this contemporary I was working on.
Oh, I certainly liked the story. There were some characters and dynamics that I could discuss for hours (and did with some poor, unfortunate writing friend). There were characters I wanted to meet, themes I wanted to explore, and a romantic dynamic that I’d been thinking about for years. Notice there is no mention of a plot. A hook. A POINT. And because of this, because there were no high stakes or drive in the story, I would often sit down and write these fun descriptions and back story without any idea why the scene mattered or where I was going next.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I knew I was doing something wrong. But I didn’t know how to fix it, how to suddenly infuse conflict into all these other elements. This was something that had never happened to me before, something I hope doesn’t happen again. Finally, I finished the first couple of chapters and sent it to my editor. We scheduled a phone call and she very nicely pointed out THERE WAS NO PLOT.
Sometimes you don’t know the plot when you start a story. Sometimes you follow a character along until you realize the rest. Plot is even a dirty word in some literary circles. But you still need conflict, an inciting incident. There has to be a reason to root for that character. At this point, this story was lacking in all those areas.
During this phone call, my editor made a comment about another story I’d sent her years ago set in Las Vegas with a paranormal twist. She mentioned how much she liked the Vegas setting in that story and I said, yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll dig that up after I finish this book I’ve been working on for three months. But once I got over those three months–three months paying a sitter, three months away from my kids–I realized the Las Vegas story I should have been working on all along. I went to LA for SCBWI conference and to sign with Lisa Schroeder, and Lisa said exactly what I’d been feeling, “Maybe you should shelf that hard novel and work on the one your editor mentioned.” Boom. I told her about the idea. She asked some questions, I got going, and within thirty minutes I’d ditched the paranormal element, made the story a straight contemporary, found my conflict, my character, my love interest, my story timeline.
Sometimes you have to flounder through the wrong book before you find the right one.
I’m not giving up on the first story, but that one still needs to marinate for awhile. Sometimes you can’t force it, deadline or not. A story doesn’t need to come fast for it to work, but I have found that once I get that A-HA moment where that one line hook happens, then I can move on with a story at a solid pace. So now, end of summer*, I start again, with a nice tan and fresh story idea. Bring it on, fall.
*Meanwhile, to celebrate the end of this crazy summer, I’m giving away a copy of GOING VINTAGE on goodreads. You can enter here! 

ALA & Release week recap

July 2, 2012
As mentioned roughly 29498 times, A FAREWELL TO CHARMS released last week, and as such I was temporarily released from the writing cave and allowed to enter society. And some of the very best folks in society are librarians, which is why I was so excited to attend ALA aka American Library Association last weekend.
My daughter bathed my I-phone a few weeks ago, and as such it randomly refuses to take pictures, especially during important moments like when I’m stalking, run into Sharon Creech. So these pictures are yanked from unsuspecting sources.

 I met up with two of my favorite authors/people, Lisa Schroeder (The Day Before) and Jessi Kirby (In Honor) for lunch and catch up, after which I waited in line at their signings and told all the librarians what they already knew–these girls can write. Just read Lisa’s upcoming book, FALLING FOR YOU, and it was surprising and beautiful. Jessi’s MOONGLASS was also one of my favorite contemporary books last year, so much so that my family spent a morning looking for sea glass at the beach from the book, Crystal Cove in CA
We also ran into Corey Whaley, Mr. Printz Award himself. He is such a great guy, so happy for all his success. I took my shoes off out of respect in this picture, because otherwise he just looked like my teenage son.
Great signing at the Disney booth and chance to catch up with publishing peeps there. Also met some online friends and the librarian who nominated SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD for the Utah Beehive book award, which was so surprising and cool. You never know who is reading your book, and it’s so amazing when someone connects with it enough to take the time and nominate it.
Afterwards, I met up with some authors and librarians for a little meet and great, put together with Librarian extraodinaire, Sarah Thompson, who I met at ALA two years ago and ended up sitting by her on a plane. She’s so smart, passionate and with her pink hair, would make a great agent for the FACADE agency from Princess for Hire! 

Here we are an the Newbery banquet. The speeches were as inspiring as ever, and I got to mingle with the team at Bloomsbury, who are just some of the nicest publishing people around. We discussed GOING VINTAGE, and I’m very excited to do some creative marketing for the release, starting with giving away ARCS very soon. LIke, I have them in my clutches. Just need to figure out how to share.

I didn’t pick up that many ARCs, but two I did get that I’m very excited about are…

THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab. This is one of my most anticipated books of 2013. Can’t wait to read. From goodreads: 
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. 
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
I loved A TALE DARK AND GRIM by Adam Gidwitz, and was bummed that he was signing his upcoming book, IN A GLASS GRIMMLY, at the same time as me. I mentioned to this to sweet blogger, who surprised me by getting an ARC signed for me! And after she told him what kind of books I write, I got the best inscription ever:

ALA happened to fall during our family vacation, so release day was spent at Knott’s Berry Farms. My stomach is not a fan of rides, so I was happy touring Ghost Town musuem and the old Iowa Schoolhouse. My children’s enthusiasm did not quite match my own.

Friday was release party day, which began with flowers from my charming husband. Crystal Perkins at my local Barnes and Noble puts on the BEST events, and she totally outdid herself this time. I almost cried when I walked into the store. Not only did she have a fabulous wall display, but she added pictures of various princesses to the balloons aka bubbles. Best of all, she made a huge charm bracelet with pictures from my Facebook of previous events. It’s in my office now, because nothing says professional writer like a giant charm bracelet. Was really fun to have family and friends come together for this last book and see those books on the wall disappear. Thanks for everyone who came, really was a magical night.

With the fabulous Crstyal. Why yes, that is the same dress I wore to the Newberys.  I splurged and got it at Anthropolgie, so I  have to get my money’s worth out of that frock

Me with my fifth grade teacher, Miss Dean, who is also my favorite teacher and a huge reason I’m a writer. She had the best reading curriculum, and fifth grade was the year I discovered Roald Dahl and Katherine Patterson and all sorts of books. Love her!

That time I wrote a book series

June 28, 2012
Tuesday saw the release of A FAREWELL TO CHARMS, the last Princess for Hire book. Yes, the last book. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. When I started the first book, the main thing I knew was how I wanted the book to end. But then when Disney offered me a three-book-deal, I tweaked that ending and saved that scene for the third book. I started Princess for Hire in summer of ’05, so really, it’s been a seven year build up. SEVEN YEARS. I can’t believe I even typed that. There is a part of me that feels like these books were an inevitability, that this idea was a gift. Another part still can not, CAN NOT, believe that I wrote these 3 sparkly books and someone wanted to publish them.
This series has been called a romp, a breeze, fluff, fun, silly, sweet. I hope it is all these things. I hope that the readers are entertained, that they are able to relax and let their imaginations go. But as the author, these books were not always a breeze. Far from fun. Sometimes, I wanted to punch these books in the spine because they were HARD.
Each book had its own challenges. Book one was my debut, the first time I’d gone through the editorial processs, the first time my work was reviewed. The Royal Treatment, well, that one I actually wrote then completely rewrote from scratch. No lie. A romp it was not. The challenge with A FAREWELL TO CHARMS was tying everything up and letting go. There were times when writing this final book that I started to think there was no way I could finish. That I would have to write another book, and another, and spend the rest of my life on this series because there was no end in sight. There were other times when I couldn’t possibly get my brain to conjure up a new idea, when I stared at the screen screaming the word princess like it was a swear word. But there was also that moment when I wrote the last scene, the scene I was always writing towards, and the tape snapped as I crossed the victorious finish line. I can’t even express what that moment was like.
This series is always going to be special to me because it launched my career, a career I hope will include many more books, more series even. Thanks for following along with Desi as she grew from a slightly self-absorbed, timid teen to a girl who is able to take on the most powerful organization in the world (it is! Just because you haven’t heard of FACADE, doesn’t mean it’s not real, kids)
Come help me celebrate the release of A FAREWELL TO CHARMS at the following events:
Friday, June 29: Release party! Las Vegas. Rainbow Barnes and Noble. 5-7. Come dressed as your favorite princess. Treats and fun and all books on sale!
Wednesday, July 18: Provo City Library. Reading, signing, questions, mayhem. 7 pm Books for sale
Thursday, July 19: Salt Lake City, UT. The King’s English Bookshop. My favorite bookstore in the world, a charming place for the charms book. 7pm.
Tentative events in August as well. Check events page next month for more information

Ta Ta,

Book Club(s)

June 19, 2012
Time for a post of pictures! I’m in two book clubs, one for adults, one that we just started for mother/kids. I’ll write more about what we’re doing in our mother/kid club once we’ve met a couple of times and we know what we’re doing. My oldest daughter is not a huge reader by choice (another discussion), but she’s really taken to the book club.
Book club means food and talking and sometimes dressing up. AND BOOKS. I could join ten more.
AUSTENLAND by Shannon Hale
Oh, how I love Shannon Hale’s writing. I read THE PRINCESS ACADEMY when it won the Newbery honor. I loved that book (and look forward to the sequel, PALACE OF STONE). But Austenland, Austenland I picked up at the library, not sure how an author who writes such lyrical, deep and convincing fantasy could do a funny adult contemporary.
But she did. Oh she did. 
I first read Austenland whilst prego sick with one of my kids, and it had me laughing and smiling throughout. The story was just as enjoyable the second read, and it was so fun to research the regency era (Hair–from BBC version of Northanger Abbey, because I didn’t want to curly cue my bangs. Dress–seventies prairie from online vintage store. I had to change into jeans and a t-shirt halfway through the night because those puff sleeves cut of my circulation).
Fun night with book club ladies for an English tea/marathon of Jane Austen movies/discussion of men in wet white shirts. BTW, I got to leave with the Mr. Darcy photo. He’s in my office. Waiting for me.
With the hostess, Mrs. Scriber, a lovely woman with a fine eye for detail
The spread
Homemade scones, cucumber sandwiches, fruit tarts and chocolate (in Austenland, there is no chocolate, but in Lindsey Land, ALWAYS)

Quotes. Pictures. Fun

Ignore that man in the background. Rootbeer is the American beverage in Austenland, so we included this with my tea. That lovely lass to the left is my sister. I’ll let you guess who is older.
TALES FROM A VERY PICKY EATER by Josh Schneider
When we started this club this spring, I thought book selection would be tricky. We have soon-to-be second and third graders in the mix at all different reading levels. But the child can read alone, with a parent, or be read to by the parent, so we’re reading everything from beginning chapter books to series to heartier middle grade. For the first month, I wanted a “chapter” book that the child could read and feel accomplished, and I also wanted to get a feel for the group. Easy Reader TALES FROM A VERY PICK EATER was a good starting point–it’s funny, there’s good word play, and there were plenty of activities and creativity inside those pages.
We made all the “picky” foods from the book, and had each reader bring a food they didn’t like.

Used this oatmeal to make oatmeal men. Total mess. Mom’s loved me after this one.

One of the suggested foods for the picky eater in the book is dirty, chewing gum, and a smelly sock. My daughter had the idea to bring this as our food. I found her sniff socks in the dirty clothes
No kid pics, as I don’t have parent permission as of yet. But I’ll update how the club goes once it really gets going. Again, best resource I’ve found online is www.motherdaughterbookclub.com

Hey! It’s summer. Let’s read…

June 14, 2012

Oh, how I love summer. Especially THIS summer, where I don’t have a deadline until fall. And although I still am working on two books at once (because I’m such a super organized person *this is where I would insert picture of my laundry room to illustrate my sarcasm, but it’s bad right now. So bad.*), my writing time is a tad more leisurely than it has been in awhile since only one of those books are contracted. This also means more reading time, reading for pleasure, reading without guilt, reading by the pool, reading during nap/quiet time (1 1/2 hour rule where kids either nap or play quietly. It’s been 4 days of summer. I’m sure it won’t last. But let me dream). And it is my hope you are enjoying similar tranquility. I wish you some relaxation, perhaps a nice carbonated beverage and a good book. I’m not going to ship out diet pepsi to everyone, largely because I get a little grinchey with my drinks, but I can give you book recommendations.

Teen

1. Unbreak my Heart by Melissa Walker
I tweeted a few days back that this book inspired me to buy a boat and that is the honest-to-goodness truth. No matter that we got a wakeboarding boat instead of a sailboat, that’s all, er, logistics. Walker captures SO well that feeling of summer, of the family togetherness that happens (like it or not) in a contained space, as well as the self-reflection that boating creates. Loved the mood of this book.

2. The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
So there is no disguising the fact that Lisa Schroeder is on of my best friends. But the odd thing is, Lisa as person is separate in my mind as Lisa as writer. I love both sides, of course, but even if I didn’t know her personally, I can say I would still love her books. They get me in the gut, surprise me, emotionally challenge me. And I say this every time, but I really think The Day Before is my favorite. Set over the course of one day (on a beach!), this book had me sobbing on my airplane ride. But GOOD sobbing. Beautiful, beautiful book.

3. Something Like Normal by Trish Dollar
So I just started this one, like, two hours ago, but already the voice has me. Plus, I saw on goodreads that educator Paul Hankins said it’s one of the best YAs he’s read in awhile, and that man reads like whoa and always does great reviews. SLN is about a marine returning from Afghanistan to some messed up stuff, not to mention dealing with post-traumatic stress. As you can see from the cover, there is also a girl and… that’s all I know so far. Read it and we’ll find out more together, k?

Tween

4. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
So this book has been around for 7 years now, been read by millions, is a trilogy, apparently there was a movie made and… I never read it. I bought it on my nook because it was on sale for 99 cents. Naturally, I love mid grade stories that start in real world, then something mysterious reveals that the world wasn’t as “real” as the character thought. I’ve already bought the next 2 books though, so the publisher is still making some much-deserved money on me. Well played, Scholastic. Well played.

5. Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis.
These books, along with IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, are my go-to recommendation when a fan of Princess for Hire writes asking what to read next. Regency England mixed with adventure, magic and a spunky heroine. If you have a girl aged 10-14, this should be on your shelf. I’m taking this to book club tonight (Austenland!) as part of the annoying other books you should read speech. Just released in paperback. The sequel, RENEGADE MAGIC , is sitting here on my bedside table waiting to be read very soon.

6. The Classroom by Robin Mellom
So I can read a book by, say, Laurie Halse Anderson and set it down and think, cool, great book. I’m not filled with envy or angst because my writing in no way resembles LHA (okay, perhaps a little green). But when I read The Classroom? I cried when I wasn’t laughing because I want so much to nail a middle school character like Robin did. The details were spot on, the voices hilarious. It’s mockumentary style (pitched as The Office for kids). Brilliantly funny with authentic kids… I really can’t recommend this book enough.

Oh, and less than TWO WEEKS until we can add A Farewell to Charms to that reading list too! Summer yay!