Wednesday, February 18, 2015

50 Books to 50 States Giveaway and Game!

So yesterday I mentioned I have something fun in the works . . . 

I'm excited to share the new website for the Book Scavenger series, designed by the awesome Jenny Medford of Websy Daisy. To celebrate the launch of this website, I'm giving away FIFTY advance copies of Book Scavenger--one to a winner in each state. It's my hope that the recipients of the advance copies will help launch a book hunting game in the spirit of the one in my novel. 

You can enter up to five times--read this post to find out all the details! (And if you're interested, you can also read the first chapter on the About the Book page!)

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Would Garrison Griswold Do?

BookScavenger3d(Cross-posted from EMU's Debuts)

I've been in the midst of making promotional plans for Book Scavenger. I've sought out advice from other authors on what they recommend and don't recommend for your debut book, and the only bit of advice that everyone seems to agree on is this: The best thing you can do to promote your first book is write your next book.

Okay, cool, I'm doing that! I have two more books scheduled to come out in 2016 and 2017, and I'm currently working on both simultaneously. One is in the outline/first draft stage, and the other is nearing the end of its second revision. (I feel like those last two sentences make me sound very organized in my writing process. I am not. I wrote "working on two books simultaneously" but really it feels more like spinning in circles while juggling cats.)

But still, even if everyone agrees the best thing you can do is write the next book, I can't do nothing for my debut. If for no other reason than I'm excited about it! I want people to hear about it. So many people have had a hand in shaping the book--early readers and critique partners, teachers, my agent, my editor, the art director, production editor, copyeditor . . . And the illustrations! Sarah Watt's work is so freakin' cool and takes the book to a whole other level. The book that will be in bookstores and libraries has been a team effort, and I'm proud of it. Even if readers hate it, I want Book Scavenger to have a fighting chance of surviving in the retail world, and that won't happen if readers don't hear about it in the first place.

So I wanted to do something fun to celebrate Book Scavenger and spread the word about its existence. What to do, what to do? That's where Garrison Griswold comes in.

Illustration by Sarah Watts
Garrison Griswold is a central character in Book Scavenger. He's this larger than life, eccentric book publisher who's a huge game and puzzle fanatic. He thrives on thinking up elaborate games and making them happen--something that has earned him the reputation of being "the Willy Wonka of book publishing." A reputation, by the way, that he loves to play up. Book Scavenger is one of his game creations. It's a website and a real world book hunting game where players hide used books in public places and then upload clues to the website for other book scavengers to solve in order to seek out the books. (Kind of a mashup of Book CrossingGeocaching, and Little Free Libraries, with a dash of influence from video games I played as a kid.)

I wanted to do something in the spirit of Garrison Griswold, but I couldn't go all out Garrison Griswold because that guy has resources that I do not. (He rented out the San Francisco Giants stadium in order to break the Guinness World Record for largest group Bingo game, for example. I can't do that.)

But I did come up with something that's big, by my standards at least, and fortunately my publisher was on board. I hope it will be fun and will make Mr. Griswold proud. I'll be putting this plan into action on Wednesday and will update here with the info, but for now here's a teaser video (which offers a clue--something I know Mr. G would approve of):

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Dan Gemeinhart

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is Dan Gemeinhart. Dan's debut middle grade novel, The Honest Truth, publishes today from Scholastic Press. The Honest Truth is a moving, fast-paced story about a boy, his dog, and the adventure of a lifetime:

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day.
But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. 
So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.
To learn more about Dan Gemeinhart, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is a big, brown couch. It's a ratty couch, scuffed and threadbare in places, but it's soft and and comfortable and it reclines with a footrest and it never complains when I spill things on it (which is often). It's in our living room, facing a big picture window that looks out on the street. There's an end table within reach and our computer (which serves as our stereo) within remote range, so I can turn the music on, off, up or down as my feverish brain requires. There are no overhead lights but there are numerous lamps around the room's perimeter, so I can adjust the lighting anywhere from sunlit meadow to burial cave, depending on mood (I write almost exclusively at night).

Describe a typical workday.

A typical writing workday (I also have a day job) begins at about 9:30 pm. The kids are in bed, as is my wife. I've made a hot cup of tea which sits on the end table beside me. There's a decent chance I've also got a glass of red wine and a chunk of really dark chocolate. I'm sitting on the couch, my laptop sitting on a pillow that's sitting on my lap. When I've got everything situated just right and everything I need within reach (an up-and-down, oops-I-forgot-something process that can take 15 minutes), I start writing. Depending on how the story is flowing and how early I have to get up the next day, my end time can vary from 10:30 to 2:00 am.

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

Since I don't have a dedicated “office workspace” and have to use a shared family space, I don't really have personal, meaningful objects around me when I write. My objects are functional, but they're important:

1.      The couch. I've got to be comfortable to write. I can't do it sitting upright in some stiff  chair. I sink into that couch with my feet up and get everything set just right and I can just go.

2.      The desktop computer over in the corner, which gives me the exact music I need (see below).

3.      The end table. Sounds silly, but it's like a little workstation. I keep my drink and snacks there, right within reach, and sometimes also notes, books, notebooks, outlines, etc. I'm always reaching over there for something and would be lost without it.

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

For me it's just the tea and the couch arrangement. I put one pillow behind my head to stave off a sore neck, put another under my laptop to bring it closer to eye level, prop my feet up to the perfect elevation, and cover my legs with a blanket if it's chilly. My little nest has to be just right – it's kind of pathetic, I suppose. I'm like a little old lady watching her shows, with my warm tea and blanket thrown over my legs. But, hey, it works. My brain is very easily distracted and looks for any excuse to get off-task, so getting that environment just right matters. I'm a cozy worker.

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends. Sometimes I need silence, sometimes I need just the right mood music. I've got several different playlists for different vibes . . . a pensive, gloomy list, a fast-paced tension list, etc. Sometimes the right music absolutely helps me get into a scene and capture the right kind of energy and mood. It has to be instrumental, though. . . music with words will definitely not work for me. So it's mostly classical or kind of dark, acoustic instrumental Americana. For the last book I wrote I found one song that completely embodied the tone, mood, and identity of the story I was writing; it was “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and many a night I sat there writing with that song on repeat.

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

Tea! Green tea mostly, black tea occasionally in the morning, herbal tea later at night. I use it as a motivator, too . . . as I finish off one cup of tea I'll set a word count mark, and I don't get to make another cup of tea until I hit it. I don't snack too much, but if I do it's probably gonna be dark chocolate.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I totally struggle with focus, so it's really just a matter of self-discipline. I've got to stay on myself and be mindful of when I'm just sitting there, daydreaming.  Keeping an eye on measurable productivity really helps, too (“how many words have I written so far this hour?”). This is one reason I cannot--really, truly cannot--write in coffee shops. Way too many distractions. If I spend an hour in a coffee shop I'll be lucky to get five minutes of writing in.

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

Computer. I like the romantic image of scratching away at a paper notepad with a trusty pen, but rough draft writing for me has to be a computer. The story comes in quick, urgent bursts, and when I get on a tear there's no way I could keep up with a pen. Editing and revising I always do on a hardcopy, though, with a pen. I've got to be able to physically circle, cross out, underline.

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

A bit of both! When I start writing a book I tend to know most of the first third of the story, and most of the last third. There are holes here and there, and the entire middle is kind of a mystery, but as I write through that first third it starts to kind of gel and develop some gravity and momentum and then it fills in as I go. There are surprises every time, though. As much as I'd like to and as hard as I try, I just really struggle to do much pre-outlining. I just stare at the paper and my brain says, “How the hell should I know what happens next? I haven't started writing the story yet!”  I wish I could outline, because I think it's better practice; I think I'd have to do less revising if I could do more planning ahead on the rough draft.

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

Someone incredibly dull and quiet. Not my wife or my friends, because I'd always want to talk to them. As hard as I would find it to work with someone else in the room, though, there's no doubt that break time would be fun if I was sharing my space with another writer. It would be awesome to commiserate, bounce ideas off each other, feed off each other's energy. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, it'd be nice to have someone there in the trenches with you.

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

It's the simplest, the most often repeated, the most basic, and the most important: write. That's it. You've got to get your butt in that chair (or ratty old couch) and write. Write, write, write. Then revise, revise, revise (I learned much more about writing from revising my first book than I did from writing it). You should read tons, yes; and you should elicit (and listen to) honest feedback, yes; I'm a big believer in attending writing conferences, absolutely; but at the end of the day the single most important thing is to sit down and do it. Write.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Maggie Hall

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA author Maggie Hall. Her debut novel The Conspiracy of Us was published this month from Putnam/Penguin:
To fight her destiny as the missing heir to a powerful and dangerous secret society, sixteen-year-old Avery West must solve an ancient puzzle in a deadly race across Europe. Forbidden love and code-breaking, masked balls and explosions, destiny and dark secrets collide in this romantic thriller, in the vein of a YA DaVinci Code. 
Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada at the Champs-Elysees when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war.
They are part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle of Twelve, and Avery is their missing heir. If they discover who she is, some of them will want to use her as a pawn. Some will want her dead.  
To thwart their plans, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the landmarks of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul and through a web of ancient legends and lies. And unless she can stay one step ahead of beautiful, volatile Stellan, who knows she’s more than she seems, and can decide whether to trust mysterious, magnetic Jack, she may be doomed after all.

Maggie is a world traveler and has worked as a bookstore events coordinator and marketing manager. You can learn more about her at her website, follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or join her at YA Misfits where she blogs about young adult literature.

Describe your workspace.
I literally work in a closet! I love really small spaces—I feel like I can block the world out more easily. When I was traveling and didn’t have my office, I would sometimes throw a blanket over my head to get that same enclosed feeling.
I occasionally do want a little light and space, though, and then I’ll settle in my living room, in this big comfy chair with a big comfy blanket . . . though it kind of makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it . . .

Describe a typical workday.
I like to write really early, before I can get distracted. I usually drag myself out of bed at 5:30 or 6am, grab a cup of coffee, and write as much as I can before the day officially starts. And then I kind of try to write the rest of the day, but usually don’t end up getting anything more done on actual writing until the evening.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I got the Eiffel Tower picture at a thrift store, and Paris is important in CONSPIRACY (plus, it’s pretty)!
You can’t see it very well, but on the right are bookmarks and postcards from some of my friends’ books—I love having them nearby!
And, of course, my cover. This is the first dust jacket I saw, and the first time I saw how the whole thing was really going to look! I freaked out a little.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I’ve traveled so much and learned to write so many weird places that I don’t have much of a ritual—when you’re writing on your phone on the floor of the Shanghai airport or on a train through Thailand, it’s hard to follow writing rituals too closely. I do like to listen to music while I work—that always gets me in the mood!
What do you listen to while you work?
All kinds of stuff. I have a playlist I’ve been using for the whole life of this book, and those songs can always get me in the mood to write! Here’s a link to it from forever ago, when the book had a different name!
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Sour gummy worms. I have no idea why, but they taste like this book to me.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Deadlines! I swear, otherwise I would never be able to focus! Is there something that works for other people, because I’d like to know about it!
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
On the computer, always. I take a lot of notes in lots of notebook (and lots of random post-its, as you can see on the desk photo!), but I never actually write longhand.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m working on CONSPIRACY book 2 right now, and I’m definitely outlining. My favorite outlining tool is actually the Save the Cat Beat Sheet—it lets me put my ideas in a logical framework without having to be too precise about it. And of course, once I actually start writing, the story tends to take on a life of its own, but I do find that having an idea of where I’m going with it is really helpful.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Anyone I was sharing with would literally have to sit on my lap, so . . . hm. Can I say Chris Hemsworth, and I’ll sit on his lap? I think that would give me some good writing inspiration. ;)
Really, though, I’d say my writing friends. I would love having the smart, awesome people I’m lucky enough to call critique partners around to bounce ideas off of and to make me get back to work when I’m checking twitter for the millionth time. . .
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 

Writing is rewriting. I have to remind myself over and over that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and that the magic comes from editing. Otherwise, I’d worry too much and never get anything done!

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Shallee McArthur

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA author Shallee McArthur. Shallee's debut novel, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, was published last fall by Sky Pony Press: 

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically-enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next.

Which is why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims that they’ve not only met, but that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things—or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast.

Because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.

Kirkus Reviews said, "It’s the sensitive handling of emotional details and the trauma of too much connection that make this a story of interest. . . . For anyone fascinated with thoughts of omniscience and total social connection—and who isn’t?—McArthur’s debut suggests fascinating and chilling possibilities." 

To learn more about Shallee, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @ShalleeMcArthur.


I have a whole office to myself, which is a recent development I'm VERY grateful for. I've got my desk, bookshelf, and rocking chair for reading and relaxing. I have pictures and knick-knacks that inspire me, including things I've brought back from traveling and all my "nerd cred," like a Tardis and an R2D2 on my desk. I also have a pair of zebra finch birds who keep me happy!


I've got two young kids, so it varies! Some days, I can get work done in the morning while they play, and sometimes I play with them or (gasp!) do housework. One thing that stays consistent, though, is that when the toddler naps and the preschooler goes to school, I write. That time is SACRED. After that, I may or may not haul my laptop into the kitchen in the evenings to write near my husband.


1. My birds! Fred and George are zebra finches, and I LOVE those little guys. They actually are doctor-recommended therapy birds. I struggle with anxiety, but I also have multiple sclerosis, and side effects from anxiety meds don't work well for me with my MS. So my birds are there to help me through panic attacks and keep my general anxiety low. They actually help a lot more than I expected-- they are low-maintenance so they don't add to my anxiety, and their cheerful chirps and energy help reset my brain when it's anxious.

2. A painting of a cabin on a lake done by my great-grandmother. It used to hang in my grandpa's cabin, where my entire extended family would gather every Fourth of July. It keeps me near to beauty and to my wonderful and supportive family-- it hangs right next to my desk.

3. My "praying woman" carving. I bought it from a craftsman in Ghana, West Africa, so it means a lot for that reason alone (part of my heart still lives in Ghana!). I'm also a very religious person, and it reminds me to pray-- not just to ask for help, but to offer thanks to the God I feel has given me so much! 

DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS IN YOUR WORK HABITS?, actually, now that I think about it! I just open my laptop and get to work. :)


I don't like to listen while I work, but sometimes I listen to specific songs that fit the book I'm working on before I work.


None! It distracts me too much.


I have to get in "the zone." If I force myself to not jump around on tasks and just focus on one at a time, I get so zoned in on what I'm doing that hours pass before I even realize it!


Computer. I have TERRIBLE handwriting, so writing long-hand isn't a good idea for me!


Usually I get an idea, play around with it and toss a bunch of ideas in a document, and then start a plot outline.


My friend Chersti, who's one of my crit partners. We tend to work really well together, and when we distract each other, it's fun and often even productive!


My freshman creative writing teacher in college told us there are only two things that matter in writing-- have a take, and don't suck. It reminds me that as long as I'm writing a story that's got my unique take on the world, and as long as I'm writing something that doesn't suck (which takes practice and a crit group!), that's all that matters. The millions of other "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" about writing don't matter as long as I have a take and don't suck!