Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Tis the Season... For a Contest Giveaway!

Yesterday (with family help) I decorated the Christmas tree, an act of fabulosity that floods me with Christmas Spirit. And always puts me in a "giving" mood.

Lucky you.

Soooo I'm hosting a contest giveaway and here's what's up for grabs, peeps...





because JP is my writing he-ro. If you've never read his books, this paperback version is a good place to start.












Since I nick-named my third project "Taylor Swift" (the one currently on submission), you could win













Or perhaps you'd like one of the most amazing YA books on the shelves right now...


Need a review? Click here.










And since my new WIP has elements of The Blindside, I'm offering up the DVD...





And just for a little variety...



a paperback version of the best-selling book.

Soooo, want to win any of those?!

CONTEST RULES:

1) Comment below and tell me what's atop your Christmas list - you know - what's the number one thing you're asking of Santa.

2) Make sure you leave your full name (I have a lot of friends named Karen!)


See—easy peasy.

And for extra entries…


+1 if you become a new follower of my blog
+2 if you're already a loyal follower of my blog
+1 new followers on Twitter
+2 if you already follow me on Twitter
+1 linking to my contest on your blog, Twitter (provide a link please)
+3 for posting about my contest on your blog (a link for that too)
+2 if you add me to your blog roll


And bonus for my loyal Facebook friends

+2 for sharing my link on your wall

If you have any extra entries, tally them (I know I'm a math teacher - but your tally would be a gigundo time-saver) and post that in your comment. Winners will be selected at random and the contest will end Tuesday December 7 at 11:59 EST.

PS - the contest is international (so my writing friends in Australia, Chile, Canada... can participate!)

On December 8, I'll announce the winners and they can email me their top choices from the faboo prize list.

Fun!

I probably won't blog much until the contest is over (okay - not at all). I'm concentrating all efforts on my latest WIP... oh, and I need to prepare lessons, grade papers, finish Griswolding the house... But I will check back in from time to time. SO if you begin to suffer Alison withdrawls, feel free to get a pick-me-up from this or this. Or maybe this. They're some of my faves.

And definitely click the comment button. NOW. One of five fabulous prizes could be yours.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

My children are making their Thankful Turkeys today. We trace our feet for the body, our hands for the feathers. We glue it all together, attach some googlies for the eyes, make a funny face—totally fun and adorable.

And on each feather, we write what we are thankful for. And it will look something like this…




Or this...




Soooo I thought I'd make one too. And share what I've been thankful for - you know - through my funky adventures in writing...

1) GOD – for the gifts He’s given me. Seriously could do no-thing without the Big Guy.

2) My husband – who reads EVERYTHING I write – even the crap. He must really love me.

3) My kids – who deal with mommy disappearing for a few hours (to write). And they’re just so stinkin’ cute! I'm so blessed.

4) My “day job” – so that I can somewhat afford to go to writers conferences. And the "job" perpetually feeds me goodies for my novels.

5) My friends and family – I have never experienced such tremendo support - especially from the most unexpected places.

6) My beta readers – seriously don’t know what I’d do without the Rickis, Annies, and Pollys of the world. And the Tevins. And Ambers. And… okay there’s a LOT of you.

7) My students – the good, the bad, the indifferent. The athletes, the brains, the princesses, the criminals, the basket cases – YOU are my muse – it is my personal goal to write stories based on every single one of you - all 1800 hundred of you. Oy.

8) Vacation time – so I can write (duh).

9) The ability to only need five hours of sleep a night (thank you, coffee).

10) My faithful blog readers – I heart you – and a contest for you is imminent – tune in Sunday.

There's a lot more, but, well, I only have ten feathers (ahem... fingers).

Hee. I feel like I just wrote an Acknowledgments section. One I’m going to revisit every time I’m in one of my “the world’s conspiring against me” moods.

So, fab blog readers, what are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blog Award

Last week two (yes two!) of my new writer friends bestowed an award on me - one for my "Got Balls?" blog and the other because I was mucho fun at SCWW!

Thanks Margo and Melissa! I love my new friends!





Hee. I'm a Versatile Blogger.

Soooo now I have to tell you five things I love and pay the award forward to five other bloggers...

1) I love, love, love my family!
2) I love reading, writing, and 'rithmetic (NERD!)
3) I love York Peppermint Patties and Miller Lite - but not together
4) I love vacations - because then I have more time for family and writing
5) I love doing the stats at Friday night football games

And now I'm paying it forward to...

1) Ricki Schultz - because she's simply the best - read her blog - she's amazeballs.

2) Emma Michaels - very informative post on querying publishers

3) Adrienne Trent - for some awesome book reviews and well, I just love the name of her blog.

4)Candace Ganger - because she's got the sweetest frickin' contest to help change the frickin' world.

5) Sara McClung - crazeballs giveaway on her blog right now!

Congrats, peeps!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dating - Again

I was hanging with one of my besties the other night, listening to her recant—for the fiftieth time—the story of her first date with this guy she’s been seeing for a little over a month. Not a single detail was missed. The dreamy sparkle was still in her eyes. Yeah... she's pretty much smitten.

And while I practically have that story memorized and you’d think I hate hearing it by now… I don’t. In fact, I love seeing my friend bubble with anticipation of the next date or text. I help her overanalyze every conversation. I’m happy for her dating highs and cry with her during the loser lows.

Yes - I live vicariously through the dating lives of my twenty-something friends.

You'd think I want to experience it myself.

Yeaaaaahhhh... no.

I was mucho happy when I met my husband and knew I would never have to play the whole dating game ever again.

Or so I thought.

When I started the whole query process over a year ago, I at once felt like I was back in the dating world. The butterflies nested in my stomach every time I sent off another query. I checked my email, like, a hundred times a day for responses. When I first exposed my heart and asked someone to represent my novel, the rejection stung. That first full request - I read and re-read the email so many times I could repeat it verbatim. And when the rejection came from that request, it was like losing my first love. I sucked down a bottle of wine and cried for two days.

After thirty rejections and a new batch of thick skin, I fixed my novel and queried again, doing a little more research into the agents I targeted. And boy, was that ever like The Dating Game

Contestant Agent 1 is a new agent at Super Wonderful Agency, represents YA fiction, and loves working with debut authors. Originally from Chapel Hill….

Wait. I’m a debut author. I write YA. I have UNC in my book. Maybe, maybe…

Rejection

Contestant Agent 2 represents YA and middle-grade fiction and leans towards strong female protagonists with a quirky voice.

Oooh! I have that. Pick me! Pick me!

Rejection

Contestant Agent 3 is one of my dream agents. And she remembers me from a conference! She wants to see my first fifty pages. She…

Rejection

Ugh. Freaking hate this.

Just like dating, querying has been exhilarating and heart-wrenching. At times I want to give up and think there’s no agent out there who’ll want me. Other times I wonder how they can possibly not love me. So I keep putting myself out there, cracking open my ribs and exposing my vulnerable little heart.

Dating. What fun.

But I also know that true love comes when you least expect it. I was not expecting to meet the man of my dreams at a Kinston Indians baseball game, but sixteen years and two fabulous children later, I’m still with the love of my life (where’s that collective “awwww”?)

And when I went to a writer’s conference a month ago, I expected for agents I pitched to request pages (fairly standard), but I wasn’t expecting someone to request the whole thing after reading two pages and I certainly didn’t anticipate anyone telling me “I totally want this book.”

PS – still tingly from that squee story.

And whether or not that potential agent relationship works out or not, I’ve also learned this through my years of failed relationships and broken hearts:

Mr. or Mrs. Right is out there… somewhere.

I attended a query workshop with the fabulous Roseanne Wells of Marianne Strong Literary Agency. She discussed the process of querying, what to include, what not to say—very informative. She advised checking out agency websites to see what particular agents are looking for and what they represent and how different agents want different things. Again-informative.

But what was most informative (and memorable)—the audacious writer lady from row four who had the nerve to ask

“Why can’t you guys just agree on what you (insert choice expletive) want so we can know what we have to do to get our #*@# books on the shelves?”

Aside from wanting to crawl under the table(PS—agent lady handled the situation and the response fabulously), I just really wanted to scream

“NOOOOOOO!”

I mean really. What if the only thing that would seal the deal in a relationship was a sense of humor? Or what if every guy’s number one-priority was ginormo ta-tas (okay—it might be)?

Well, then the not so witty, A-cup Alisons of the world would be screwed.

What if the answer to that perfect woman is a girl who can cook. Yep—screwed again.

Or what if every girl's dream man looked, acted, and spoke like Han Solo?

Can you imagine if the only thing that turned agents on was poetry? Or horror novels? What if every book-reader only preferred gushy romances?

My point (yes—I do have one): I don’t want all agents to want the same thing. I don’t want all readers to want the same thing.

The writing biz is mucho subjective (thank God). What one person balks at, another might love, love, love. And with every failed relationship I grow thicker skin and learn all about the kind of agent I want and the kind I don't.

Yeah, I want an agent. But I want the one that’s going to love my books as much as I do. The one that’s going to support and nurture me in my growth as a published author. The one that will be with me in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer... till death do us part. Hee.

I do enjoy reliving the dating game through the hearts of my friends, but I will be totally okie-dokie when my agent-courting days come to an end.

You know - when I say “Do you want to represent me?”

And Mr. or Mrs. Right responds, “I do.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Got Balls?

Thanks to my friend Tabitha, I have new adds to my daily speech like amazeballs and crazeballs. And while the new wordage is definitely faboo, those “balls” are not the balls I’m blogging about today.

Nope. Today my writing journey takes me to a man’s world. Today I’m talking about cajones, testes, nads, huevos,…

And how I need to strap some on to write my latest novel.

The starring role in my most recent WIP belongs to an eighteen-year-old high school football player who is pretty much your typical, eighteen-year-old football player with some, er… special talents. He’s into sports, beer, and his friends. And he’s definitely into the opposite sex.

And writing from his POV has been quite the exhilarating challenge. After all, I’m a woman and I definitely don’t want my manly man to come off sounding all girl-i-fied.

So just how do I get inside a guy’s head (no pun intended)?

Well, for starters, I watch a lot of Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans. I put on The Program for entertaining insight. I read books with male protags and analyze characters similar to the ones I’ve created.

I’ve got guys who read my stuff. My fabulous husband (who PS – coaches boys soccer), my editor (also of the male persuasion), and a couple other token males inform me whether or not I nailed it in terms of dialogue.

I run up and down the sidelines at football games (and they thought I was just taking stats). And I let Facebook statuses be my muse. Or my former students’ walls. You can call it creepin’. I call it research, baby.

But what really helps validate whether or not I’m spot on with my voice: one of my math classes.

Yep. My testosterone-injected math class.

While they’re pouncing into my room and boasting about the latest score (football, right?) or when they’re conjuring up every conversation except the “math” one they should be having over the homework they should be doing, I slip into observation mode. They might think I’m merely helping someone with that one problem (whatever) or catching up on grades, but dude—I’m all ears.

And while sometimes it's a little TMI, often their convos prove rather insightful. And validating.

I’ve had a few writing moments in the past three months in which I’ve crafted scenes between my MC and his three burly football buddies and I second guess the realism of that scene. And then I laugh a week later as my football players pretty much re-enact the same scenario.

And anytime I feel my “dude,” “bro,” or “man” count gets too high, I just listen to the daily speech of my “boys” and realize I could probably triple that count.

Yeah—it’s not easy talking with balls, but it can be very fun. And the things I learn from my observations and from my own writing…

Hoo boy.

Definitely makes me appreciate my feminine side.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Contest Much?

November must be the month for contests because in the past week I've stumbled over a lot of them. And some really cool ones hosted by some fabulous agents and writers!

Check them out!

Joanna Stampfel Volpe offers a chance to win a copy of The DUFF (you know that awesome book I just reviewed... PS - best book out there, IMHO). She also offers advice on writing effective teen dialogue in her article on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Click here to read more about it.

Author Michelle Hodkin hosts a chance to win Delirium by Lauren Oliver on her blog The Michelle Show.

One of my Twitter friends, Catherine Johnson, sponsors a contest giveaway in celebration of her blogiversary. Titles include The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl, Bear Feels Scared, and others.

My writer friend from the Write-Brained Network is giving away a copy of Past Midnight by Mara Purnhagen. Check out the details on Brittany Roshelle's blog The Write Stuff

And finally, for my writer peeps, five up and coming YA authors are Paying it Forward with Partials. Elana Johnson, Sarah Wylie, Lisa and Laura Roecker, P.J. Hoover, and Shannon Messenger are offering the chance to win a 25-page critique. PS - does not have to be YA! Awesome opportunity!

Hmmmm... lots of contests... I'm inspired. I think I feel a contest giveaway coming on... stay tuned!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The DUFF


I purposely waited three days to review The DUFF by Kody Keplinger.

Why? Because I was afraid my post would read like this:

Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh oh my…


Yes—it was that freaking good. Like The Hangover good.





People that know me know I love, love, love to read and there are a lot of awesome books out there. But my friends also know I’m not a “leftover” girl—meaning I do NOT read books twice. Not Twilight. Not even Harry Potter. Books just aren’t as “fresh” to me the second time I read them. There are only a few good ones out there that I’ll give a second read and usually not for months after I’ve read it the first time—you know—when it might feel fresh again.

Um… I read The DUFF two times already this weekend… and am seriously about to pick it up for round three.

Why?

First, let’s start with the title, shall we? The DUFF. In case you didn’t know what a DUFF is (I, the clueless wonder, did not), DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend.

Designated Ugly Fat Friend

Yep—pretty much had me at hello.

Second, there’s the premise. Allow me to share the inside cover…

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.


I started to read it and couldn’t put it down. I was immediately vested in Bianca, in her snarkiness and her humor. And then I meet Wesley Freaking Rush and decided life could do without me for a few hours. And while I knew what would happen to the two of them, I had to find out HOW.

And the HOW… Oh my freaking gosh.

Oh, just take my word for it… you need to read this book.

Third—the whole DUFF thing got under my skin from the moment Wesley explains the degrading nickname at The Nest, the local teen dance club.

“ No offense," Wesley clarified. "It’s not like you’re an ogre or anything, but in comparison… Think about it. Why do they bring you here if you don’t dance?... Look, you have hot friends… really hot friends.” He paused, watching the action on the dance floor for a moment before facing me again. “The point is, scientists have proven that every group of friends has a weak link, a Duff.”

And it made me think? Was I ever the DUFF? I mean, I wasn’t overweight or unattractive in high school but did you need to be fat and ugly to be the DUFF? And did I have my own DUFFs? People I subconsciously included in my circle of friends that would make me look good?

Every teen, heck everybody, is insecure about something. Usually—a lot of things. I don’t think we go out of our way to surround ourselves with people who make us feel better about our own insecurities, but it happens.

Throughout the gripping tale, the concept plagues Bianca too. She wonders if she really is the DUFF. Or are her friends DUFFs? She looks at her classmates with new perspective and eventually comes to a most settling conclusion: that we're all DUFFs. And that's okay. Because every DUFF has a friend.

Finally, this book is REAL. It’s about REAL teens with REAL teen issues. It explores body image, sex, and family dysfunction. And it addresses what can happen when you try to run from your problems instead of facing them head-on.

Kody Keplinger is an exceptional writer. She moved me in every way I was supposed to. I cried. I laughed. I exploded into a ball of fire whenever Bianca did. Heck, I wanted to throw my Diet Coke at Wesley through the pages of the book. And Bianca and her friends emote, walk, and talk in true seventeen-year-old fashion.

Kody Keplinger GETS teens. And she should — she is one. Kody Keplinger wrote this phenom novel when she was a senior in high school - not even two years ago.

And just in case that didn't immediately cause you to apparate to the nearest Barnes and Nobles, here's another add to the Kody fabulosity - she was born legally blind.

Yep - she's amazeballs amazing. Just like her book.

PS - just like The Hangover, the book does contain its share of sex and language, but trust me - it's soooo worth it. This book is probably one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Move over James Patterson. Take a hike, Nicholas Sparks. I got a new fav author now.

And I can't wait for Kody's next one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Murky Middle

So I’ve hit the 30K marker with my new WIP—which for different people, means different things. If you’re writing Middle Grade, 30,000 words might mean you’re almost done with your book. If you’re writing adult, sci-fi, or fantasy—you may be a quarter, a third… heck, you could just be at the beginning. But for me, "30,000 words in" typically means I’m approaching the murky middle.

Yep—murky. I mean, I’ve got the beginning, I know where it’s going, but all the little twists and turns to get to that phenom ending—not always so clear.

Hmmmm... how to handle the low-lying fog that clouds my brain 24/7 and seems to offer no light at the end of a dark tunnel

Usually I have three options:

1) Quit
2) Take a break—let my subconscious slice through the murky mist (of course, not so good for NaNoWriMo)
3) Plow through the murk

Okay –Option 1 is so not happening. I mean, if I quit, I’d never get to that awesome ending in my head, right?

I know some people who leave a big X in the middle of their story, write the ending, and then go back to the middle. Huh. Might work for them, but for me it feels like skipping to the ending of a really good book just because I want to know what happens—totally kills the motivation to read. Likewise, skipping to the end derails the motivation for my writing journey.

So Option 2: um… I do this from time to time. And it does tend to work, but I HATE not writing every day.

I find Option 3 typically works best for me. I trudge through the muck, jump in and slosh through at a snail’s pace. Because sometimes, I find a rare diamond in the muck—a character who just walks onto the page and explains EVERYTHING or a twist I totally did not see coming.

Yeah, the fog can be frustrating, but it can also be incredibly enlightening.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stop the World - I Need to Edit!!!

Writing a book—easy-peasy; editing, not so much.

When I finished my recent WIP in May, I spent the summer immersed in revisions, probably gave my book a good meticulous twenty read-throughs. But as much as I love, love, love my latest novel, I knew we needed a teensy bit of distance from each other. Soooo in August I sent my manuscript out to my fabulous betas and planned to come back to my book with fresh perspective in November.

Then, as you know, I attended a writers conference (PS—fabulous). I went to learn, get pages of my latest novel critiqued, meet new people, network with literary agents, editors, authors,... An-y-way, after sharing the first two pages and the query letter for my novel, an agent requested my whole manuscript.

Yeah... still trying to get my heart rate back to normal.

Hoo boy.

Considering I was not prepared to send it right then as I was going to take November for a last run-through on revisions, well... that process had to go on "fast forward" mucho pronto. I returned from Myrtle Beach, all set to edit. I opened up documents from my critique partners with the most helpful suggestions, brewed the coffee, sat down at my computer…

And then life freaking happened.

I returned to work Monday morning to pajama days, powder puff football and spirit links. Uh-huh. Homecoming week. Oh—and let’s add to that an imminent grad school project, two sick children, soccer games, my football game, dance and soccer practice, end-of-the-season soccer parties. Three sets of tests.

And progress reports were to go home with my students Friday.

Wait—I almost forgot about Halloween and carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating and—crap… my son STILL needs a costume.

Yeah—those tests my students took last Wednesday. Heh heh. Still on my desk… ungraded.

Nanowrimo… um… that MIGHT happen in December. (just kidding—maybe)

Needless to say—I had to prioritize. I mean, the manuscript request was a gihugic deal and I was NOT messing this one up. Well, not on purpose. So the editing came first (well, after the sick kids….uh, kinda). I’ve gone through two rounds of edits and I think maybe, maybe… I might just be done. Maybe.

And I’m happy to say, I got everything else done in a fairly timely manner. And that’s why I look like these people.



Eh. Sleep is soooo overrated.

I mean, I can sleep next week. Or next month.

Because I seriously would not have traded this opportunity for all the books in the world or all the chocolate in Hershey or well, you get it... it was a pretty huge deal.