Thursday, September 29, 2011

SCBWI Carolinas Conference--Filling the Blank Page

It's been almost ten years since I attended a regional SCBWI conference. Ten years, two changes of writing genre, three changes of writing category, four novels, a handful of abandoned picture books, and endless short stories. Plus a history degree, a black belt, and three moves. But for all those changes in me, the conference rush for writing and the deep-down satisfaction from rubbing elbows with my peers hasn't changed. I'm so grateful to Teresa Fannin and her marvelous group of cohorts who made the conference happen. I've never put on a conference, but I've done things similar and I'm always grateful to the known and unknown folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes making this kind of thing happen. Woot, woot!

Now, on to a few highlights, since I know that's why you're reading. :)

The highest highlight was Marietta Zacker's keynote on writing with passion. She didn't pace, but she gave the impression of pacing while standing still. Sharing with us memories of the special bond she had with her grandpa, a writer, she talked about writing from the deepest parts of who we are, and making sure that what we send out into the world is our best work. She reminded me that even though we all come from different backgrounds, we all share certain core emotions. Also, that there's power in ritual, and in traditions. It was a wonderful insight into Marrietta herself, but also the child readers out there that we hope to touch with our writing.

Another high was Mallory Kass's workshop on writing emotional mysteries and intertwining them with plot mysteries. I loved her insights, and we as the audience had fun coming up with ways to supplement one mystery style with its other half. She also had some nice material on voice, and why it's so important to write characters which the reader will want to spend time with. We looked at snippets pulled out of books and analyzed them for character traits. An all-around great workshop.

Mary Kate Castellani challenged us to come up with a snappy handle for our books, and guided us through the tip sheet (title information page) using examples from books she's worked on. I've seen the tip sheet before, but never seen it filled out for a middle grade. It's always interesting to look at how a book gets sold. If a writer is tossing around different projects of equal interest, working up a personal tip sheet could help decide which comes first.

We also had a great agent's panel, and I really enjoyed the first pages/first impressions feedback. We writers can suppose this, and suppose that, but a little feedback from the editors and agents themselves can really shed light on our suppositions. One thing I was a little surprised to hear was how often the editors preferred a story that didn't start too fast. An immediate conflict or hook went over well, but if the reader was thrown straight into the core of the action, the editors usually asked that a little character development be added.

My weekend was trimmed on both ends, leaving me mostly just Saturday to attend workshops, but I still enjoyed a brain-full of great material. My favorite part of the conference may have been how small and intimate it was. The agents and editors mingled with writers and illustrators, rubbing shoulders with us and chatting over life, the universe and everything. When I met people in one workshop, I often bumped into them at lunch, or at a schmooz. It was really nice to feel I was making real connections with people that are local enough I stand a chance of seeing them again. The last few conferences I've attended were national or world in scope, and I've loved the energy of the big conference. So it was great to find myself a fan of the smaller, regional conference, and discover the joys of that more personalized setting. I'm looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Curious Interview: Caleb Warnock

We're excited to bring you words of wisdom and whimsy from Caleb Warnock, author of bestselling nonfiction title The Forgotten Skills of Self Sufficiency used by the Mormon Pioneers (Cedar Fort, 2011). Caleb has been writing since he was old enough to string letters together and has been teaching the craft nearly as long. In fact, his online classes brought all five of us cabinet members together. We are ever grateful for this and happy to call him a teacher, colleague and friend. (Some may or may not be grateful to call him a cousin).

CabinetYour book,  is a bestseller--congratulations!

Warnock: Thanks! That the book has sold this fast was unexpected for both me and my publisher. Happy days!
Cabinet: Tell us preparedness newbies what first small step can anyone take to move them toward self reliance? 

Warnock: Buy the book, of course! Knowing what to do is most of the battle. If you don't grow any of your own food, start. If you don't grow any of your own vegetable seed, my book will tell you the five easiest vegetables to get started with. 

Cabinet: Have you had any surprising moments during your popular garden tours? 

Warnock: Many. My chickens were video-interviewed without my knowledge (I didn't find out until the video was blogged.) My FM100 interview has brought me fan mail from all over the world, and seriously spiked the interest in touring my garden. People are taking my advice, and sending me photos of what they've done to their gardens, and their pioneer yeast baking.

Cabinet: Do you have any marketing tips for would-be bestsellers? What works? What flops? 

Warnock: Lucky for me, I have a team of marketers behind me courtesy of my publisher. I have two publicists (working with them is a whole story by itself). Bookbuyers from around the world came to the LDS Booksellers Association conference, and speaking to them (twice) was nerve-wracking. But apparently it went well because they started buying the book! 

I have learned in book signings that you are wasting your time if you sit there and stare at the floor. I speak to every single person that comes by. If I can get them to pick up a book and leaf through it, I have a 50 percent chance of them buying it -- this is because they listen to my explanation of the book while they look at it. One of these days I'll do a whole blog about what I've learned about making a book-signing a success. 

Cabinet: If you could be any nutritious plant, which kind would you be and why? 

Warnock: Hard question. This year my favorite in my garden has been my fresh figs -- yum. I'm very partial to my Noir des Carmes cantaloupes. My stevia is the thing that most people find the most surprising about my garden -- well, that and the Egyptian Walking Onions and the mangels and all the winter vegetables. 

When I die, I want to be reborn as my cat -- then I can just wander my garden all day. And I won't have to weed!

Cabinet: What is your next project? We hear rumors of fiction... 

Warnock: Ah, yes, the fiction. My editor has asked for rewrites on "The Given Son" which is a good sign. Now if I only had time to do those rewrites.... Apparently my kissing scene needs to be drawn out, says my editor. 

I have a natural yeast cookbook finished with a co-writer that there is a lot of interest in, so we are trying to see if that is going to be regional or national. 

And I'm working on a book that will teach people how to save seed vegetable by vegetable, and how to do a winter garden, since those topics seem to be what people are most fascinated by. I've had to practically open my garden to the public because people don't believe that you can grow fresh food 12 months of the year. But you can, and people have for centuries. 
Cabinet: Do you feel branding is necessary to market today's authors and books? 

Warnock: Who knows? This is my first book, so I don't know that I had any "brand" but people have loved the book. I think more important than branding is to actually know what you're talking about, and to be useful.  People appreciate people who are useful.

Cabinet: Do you still teach writing classes? We hear you hold like...five jobs? 

Warnock: I am one of the very few lucky people in the country who is over-employed. 

I have owned for 12 years, and it is still going strong (where we teach online writing classes) and I teach every Wednesday for the American Fork Arts Council, and I teach corporate writing for Utah Valley University, and I sell vegetables, eggs, and pure open-pollinated seed out of my garden. I work full-time as a journalist for the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, and I write books and go to book signings. 

I have a privileged life. Very few people spend their life doing what they love every day, and that is what I do. I'm also a step-father and grandfather and husband. Those are my favorite jobs. 

Some people invest in the stock market. I've invested in education and family and my return on my money is enviable. :)

Cabinet: How can our readers find you? 

Warnock: Great question! Glad you asked. :) My book is available at and everywhere books are sold in the West. My blog is, and I try to answer all emails at Thanks for the interview! 

Cabinet: Our pleasure! Thank YOU.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Any Excuse Will Do (YA Reads)

Sometimes I can be such a task master. I mean, it's one thing to assign myself research books on the history of the outer banks and how the ecosystem of the islands have changed. That makes sense, when I'm setting a book on the NC islands. But making myself read a whole stack of YA novels? That's just cruel.


I must have checked out a dozen YA books this summer, and devoured them all in the month of August while we ran from place to place. I even taught myself to read on the road, something I've never been able to do before. And it was so much fun! Here are a few of the highlights, with my writerly insights thrown in for good measure.

Vampire Academy, Book 1, by Richelle Mead.

I know I'm years behind the curve on this one, but I'm so glad I didn't let that stop me from picking it up. This was so intense! I loved it! The heroine is
a tough girl, which I like, but has a soft side and is fiercly loyal. The stakes
are super high and feel genuine--nothing superimposed or put there for plotting purposes here! My takeaway was that dark, intense novels with relatable but hard core girls can sell--which is a yay for me, since that's what my YA is shaping up to be! Also, the reader can really tell when the situation deserves extreme measures and the character's fears are justified...kind of like the potential fate of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Part of the book's lasting appeal is we know that despite the charming and peaceful veneer, society has no use for washed up old maids without an inheritance. In each case, the characters are going to have to find a way through their problems, 'cause going around them simply isn't an option.

All-American Girl, by Meg Cabot.

I've read several of the Princess Diaries, and liked them okay but never fell in love with the books. This one I enjoyed more. It's the story of girl who accidentally saves the life of the President, and gets caught up in a bit of political intrigue, high school popularity pushing, and the fascinating young man from art class who happens to be the President's son. It's cute, and a fun read. I liked the interesting background of 'At Home in the White House,' and the well-developed supporting characters. I also liked--and this is going to sound so writerly--how well put together the book was. Everything made sense, the plot threads weren't introduced and then dropped, and the end fit the beginning without being too predictable. I know some people don't care about endings, but I see the ending as the place where all the parts of the book synergistically come together and create something more than we started with or could piece together from the parts. And All-American Girl pulled that off.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares.

I confess, this book made me cry--and coming from me, that actually means something! I don't (normally) cry over books, and I don't choose books in the hopes that they'll make me cry. I read to escape, or work through my emotions. Rarely am I picking up a book so I can wallow in a tear fest. No, Pants made me cry because it touched the core of human loss in a girl I could relate to, especially having just experienced loss myself. And that's part of the beauty of Pants. The girls in the book are so different from one another that there's sure to be someone for everyone. They aren't brought together by any one commonality--like family, money, or hobbies--all that's tying them together is their friendship. In lesser hands, the different girls might have felt like spot holders for one cliche or another. You know, the pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, etc. But instead the girls were each given unique problems, then left to muddle through them like real human beings. It was refreshing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And there you have it! Three 'current classics' that you really don't need a reason to read! Of course I read other books this summer, but most of them either blurred together into forgetable characters set against bland backgrounds or did the same thing as these books, only not as well. One thing I think both my reading side and writing side can agree is that books should stand our crisp and clear in my mind months after reading them, so yay for these books that achieve it!

What about you? Got any good books to recommend?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT by Kersten Hamilton

IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT: The Goblin Wars, Book 2

Official blurb:
The battle against goblinkind continues . . . but which side will Teagan be on?
Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man’s forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends. Tea knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich. And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

TYGER TYGER (the first book in The Goblin Wars series) was one of my favorite novels in 2010. I was terribly excited when I received an ARC of IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT--and a bit worried. Frankly, I’ve read a number of second books this year which were letdowns and I was hoping it wouldn’t be the case with this one.

Though IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT is slightly different than TYGER TYGER, it was definitely not a disappointment.

Rather than being trapped in the doldrums of reiterating book one, like happened in the other second books I read,  IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT dove right into the action—or more correctly into a house crammed with fun characters and their interrelationships. The back story from TYGER TYGER was revealed, but at a rate and manner which didn’t distracted from the ongoing story.  And the writing was as excellent as in the first novel.

Everyone from TYGER TYGER returned in this book, and their dilemmas wove in and out of the main plot. Teagan and Finn’s romance blossomed with realistic sizzle, trepidation and humor. Here and there, I feared I might get lost in the pandemonium and huge cast of characters--but I never did. Kerstin Hamilton’s ability to create individualized characters and juggle a host of subplots is amazing.  

The second half of the story moves way from the larger familiar cast and sends Teagen on a fantastic mission, featuring the same awesome blend of Irish Traveler traditions, Christianity and Celtic myth as TYGER TYGER.  Very cool, fast paced, scary and fun.

Oh, and the end--it was perhaps my favorite part of the whole novel. It was totally exciting and satisfying, and at the same time it opened up the story’s world with an unexpected twist. If I’d had book three, I’d have started reading it as soon as I closed IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT.

Bravo to Kersten for a great continuation of The Goblin Wars series!

IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT comes out November 22, 2011. Order it now at your hometown bookstore. Or here’s a link to Amazon if you want to take the easy route.

 I do recommend ordering and reading TYGER TYGER in preparation for this story.

AND--as if having a wonderful series to read isn’t enough--Kersten Hamilton is hosting a contest for the chance to win $1,000 dollars for your favorite library, live Skytype visits and more!

ALSO, I’ll be posting an interview with Kersten in the near future. Be sure to stop by, check it out and leave questions for Kersten.  By the way, I’m taking a class in crafting sexual tension and I plan on quizzing Kersten about how she achieves such wonderful romantic sizzle in a story packed with characters and action.

AND if you’d like to know more about TYGER TYGER here’s my review