Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tears of Joy, Gratitude, and Goodness

I got online today and found a surprise that made tears come to my eyes. GOOD tears. JOY tears. GRATITUDE tears.

Elana Johnson, author of POSSESSION, blogger of awesome, is doing a blog tour for me--out of the kindness of her heart! (sniffle sniffle)

So if you want the chance to read and blog about an advanced copy of my book, SHIFTING, go here and check it out!

Thanks Elana!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Tea and Crumpets and Skeletons in the Cupboard Type of Book

CHIME: Since her stepmother's recent death, 17-year-old Briony Larkin knows that if she can keep two secrets--that she is a witch and that she is responsible for the accident that left Rose, her identical twin, mentally compromised--and remember to hate herself always, no other harm will befall her family in their Swampsea parsonage at the beginning of the twentieth century. The arrival of Mr. Clayborne, a city engineer, and his university-dropout son, Eldric, makes Briony's task difficult. Clayborne's plan to drain the swamp has made the Old Ones unhappy, particularly the Boggy Mun, who has plagued the village's children with swamp cough in retaliation. When Rose's lingering illness turns into a cough, Briony knows that she must do whatever it takes, even revealing her secrets, to save her sister. While thwarting the advances of an arsenic-addicted suitor, Briony must also deny her feelings for Eldric, even as he helps her solve the puzzle that has become her life. Exploring the powers of guilt and redemption, Billingsley (The Folk Keeper, 1999) has crafted a dark, chilling yet stunning world. Briony's many mysteries and occasional sardonic wit make her a force to be reckoned with. Exquisite to the final word. (Blurb taken from Amazon)

This book is as exquisitely mysterious (or mysteriously exquisite if you prefer) as its cover. I ate up the words, one by one, like I hadn't eaten in a decade.

What I liked about this book: The writing! Franny Billingsley can take an ordinary situation and write it in a brand new, tea-and-crumpets-and-skeletons-in-the-cupboard sort of way.

What I liked about the main character: Briony always underestimates herself, which made me her biggest cheer-leader. Also, she's full of wit minus the snark, which was refreshing. Don't get me wrong! I love snark. But the voice in this book is so unique, I am STILL thinking about it, a week after reading it.

So, if you want something fresh and dark and abstract to read, READ CHIME!

We are a group of writers in various stages of the publishing process who have banded together to recommend/review the special books of our peers.

Combined, we reach over 10,000 followers. (Crazy right?)

We recommend and review all kinds of children's books, but focus mainly on YA, middle grade and now, picture books. (yes picture books too! Shocker!). As fellow writers, we have decided to only recommend books we absolutely LOVE, therefore, we do not post anything negative!

Yes, that's right! We give nothing but love! There's enough negativity in the world.

We post every Thursday covering a variety various book topics– upcoming ARCs, books we love, diamonds in the rough, classics, and even dish out some cover love from time to time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming."

". . . What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become. . ."

In my desire to become a published writer I have given up a lot of things. Like Television. I own a TV, but it doesn't get any reception--no TV shows at all. And movies? I watch the occasional movie with my husband. (TRON anyone?)

How about sleep? Do you give up sleep? (I am yawning as I type this, waiting for my three-month-old baby to wake up for a late night feeding.) And why is it easier to give up sleep at night instead of waking up really early in the morning???

How about friends? I have friends. We only do stuff during the day because once I have my kids in bed, I am glued to the computer chair.

Sanity? That one comes and goes for me actually.

But you wanna know what I won't give up? Family time. Because I desire more than anything to be the best mom to my kids that I can be. I vowed that if I ever "made it" I would never put my writing ahead of my husband and children. And I don't. I do not write during the day. Period. I would rather give up sleep than give up time spent with my kids.

So what do you give up in your desire to become a writer? And what things will you never give up? (And yes, those second biggest feet in the photo are actually mine!)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Glimpse Into the Brain of Matt Blackstone

Before we start the interview with the author of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE, here are just a couple of random things about Matt Blackstone.

He lives in New York. He teaches school. His wife makes quilts. And of course he's a writer.

Anyway, on with the fun . . .

What is A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE about, in 40 words or less?

It’s about a teenager with OCD who can’t tell the difference between his obsessional thinking (which seems as real and frightening as scary scenes in scary movies) and his lonely reality as a high school outcast.


Teachers often say that loud, disruptive students are thorns in their sides but most would admit that the truly dangerous ones—dangerous, at least, to themselves—are the quiet, aloof ones who fly under the radar because they nod politely at their teachers. They play the game well, well enough to get promoted, but they are anything but well.

A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE is the result of seeing a growing number of my students isolate themselves. Rene’s rituals and magical thinking exemplify what it means to be mentally ill, or at least socially inept, in a high school setting that demands academic prowess and social fluency. I wrote this book to offer hope to wild card teenagers (what teen isn’t a wild card these days?) or those who begrudge their parents (sometimes deservedly so), question conformity, and feel so desperate and alone that the only safe place is inside their heads. But what if even that place isn’t safe?

How long did you work on this book?

The first draft was surprisingly quick—about six weeks. I started it on a train ride and couldn’t type fast enough. Then next day, I took it with me on a family vacation to Mexico, where I typed at the beach, at the pool, on local sweaty bumpy buses to and from Chichen Itza, on the plane ride home, and then every morning and night until I finished. I spent two months revising it before I sent it off, mumbling a prayer at the mailbox. Editing was slower than I’d imagined, but I enjoyed every step of the process.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?

You get close to a manuscript. It’s your blood and sweat and tears and time—all that time!—and if you’re lucky, you’ll finish a few drafts and become even closer. You’ll become friends. Not friends of friends or Facebook friends or John McCain’s “(my) friends,” but friends. Real friends. Friends as tight as family. Homies—yup, you and your manuscript become homies.

You know deep down, really deep down (if you dug long enough to reach China) that your homie is only a Microsoft Word file, a stack of paper filled with words, words that make a book—not even a book, almost a book, but it’s your baby, your friend, your homie and though you don’t have a history of ascribing love and friendship to inanimate objects, you can’t help but feel sad and scared and apologetic when you mail it out because you’re tossing your homie into the wild all by himself and suddenly you understand why in Cast Away Tom Hanks screamed “I’M SORRY WILSON! I’M SORRY! WILSON I’M SORRY!” when the current carried his volleyball away.

You take back all the times you’ve mocked that scene when punting a basketball out of your little brother’s reach—“I’M SORRY SPALDING, I’M SO SORRY”—because now your homie is alone and you’re alone and all you can do is wait. If you emailed your materials, your only option is to click “refresh.” You realize that refresh is a terrible word, a truly terrible word to describe what you’re going through because you feel a lot of things, but none of them are refreshment.

You hate yourself for throwing your characters into the wild. (Refresh.) You hate that they’re all alone and buried in a pile of slush. (Refresh.) You picture them slashed and bloody and shredded into a million little pieces. (Refresh.) You feel bad for James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, for getting spanked by Oprah on national television but you envy him now. (Refresh.) You hate the word “refresh” and hate that you’ve been a sucker for it all your life: soda, slurpies, Gatorade, frozen lemonade—all them tasty but none of them nearly as refreshing as a glass of water. (Refresh.)

But all you can do is wait.

This happened to me. All of it. I didn’t call my manuscript “Wilson,” but it was my buddy. My homie. My pride and joy. You All in the Kool-Aid But You Don’t Know the Flavor was a memoir about my Teach for America experience, from the boot camp of summer Institute to the streets of West Baltimore; from political corruption ($50 million was stolen from the city budget) to crumbling schools (my principal at Frederick Douglass High School changed students’ grades to improve our graduation rate)—things got so bad that HBO spent a year in our school filming Hard Times at Douglass High).

So I was invested. But after three months of revision and three rounds of submission all I had to show for it was a note from my agent that said there was nothing more to do.

A year later, right before that family trip to Mexico, I decided to give it another shot.

Four months later I had a two-book deal.

Anything else you want to share about your book?

I’m running a Twitter contest from Monday July 4 to Friday July 8 (to win 1 of 10 signed hardcover copies of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE) that encourages people to share their quirks and thus lessen the stigma (and fear) that OCD sufferers feel on a daily basis.




Twitter contest--to win 1 of 10 autographed hardcover copies of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE!!!

So there you have it. A glimpse into the inner workings of Matt Blackstone and his amazing novel.