Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spreading Some Indie Bookstore Love: My Love Letter to Blue Willow Bookshop

First – thanks to my fellow Sourcebooks authors, Lisa and Laura Roecker (Liar Society, out now!) for spearheading this love fest for our favorite indies!

That said, let’s talk Blue Willow.

Blue Willow is my favorite Houston indie book store. It is small but mighty. Owner Valerie Koehler and her staff, including the indomitable Cathy Berner, are tireless and fearless champions of books and authors and readers. Houston is an enormous, spread out city. I live about 50 (no joke) miles from this store, so I don’t get there as often as I’d like. If I was closer, I’d hang out every day if I could. It’s just that warm and welcoming.

So here’s my Blue Willow story:

In June of ’09, a fresh ARC of my debut YA, Dreaming Anastasia in my hand, I trekked down to Blue Willow to say hi. I think I’d emailed first to introduce myself to Valerie, but even so, this was essentially one of those terrifying cold calls. You walk in clutching your book and hope that someone will at least take the darn thing from you and smile. Valerie was just in from her annual trip to New York to visit with publishers. She had a terrible head cold. And there I was – school teacher/mom with a dream debut author from a medium-sized publisher whose new YA imprint at that moment consisted of my book.

But I was lucky. DA resonated with Cathy Berner. I was asked to do a small after hours signing in October after the book came out. They let me sign the book wall and didn’t complain when I picked the spot right next to Lauren Conrad – who’d just been there and whose line was a lot longer than mine. A lot.

We stayed in touch. They hand-sold my books and supported me in ways for which I will always be profoundly grateful. As the release of book 2, Haunted, approached, they asked me if I would like to be a featured YA author at Houston Teen Book Con. I was giddy with excitement. Honored. Delighted. The event was beyond awesome!

The Dreaming Anastasia series has done very well – far exceeding everyone’s more modest expectations. I know that part of that success is because of the Blue Willow team.

If you’re reading this, please support Blue Willow this summer (and of course beyond) by stopping by and making a purchase. I know they stock DA and Haunted!

And in honor of them I’ll be giving away two signed books from one of my favorite author signings at that store: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins and Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda.

To be in the running, just comment on this blog about your favorite book store – indie or chain. Contest is open to US and Canada and will run through Monday June 6th.

Want to know more about Blue Willow? Here's their website:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

So Good they called it Illegal: My Interview with Bettina Restrepo and a Signed Copy Contest

Today I’m sitting down to chat with my pal Bettina Restrepo, about her debut YA novel Illegal, out now from Harper Collins. I’ve known Bett for awhile – having wormed my way into her heart by schlepping up to the Huntsville Hastings for a Sunday afternoon book signing she did when her picture book Moose and Magpie came out. Huntsville, for the uninitiated, is a lovely town – truly- but is best known for being the home of the giant statue of Sam Houston, the state prison, and the Prison Museum, where one can visit ‘Old Sparky’ – also known as the electric chair. It’s also a college town. Make what you will of all this. Let’s just say that Bettina was glad to see me. We’ve stayed bonded ever since.
Bettina was glowing a few weeks ago at her book launch party at Blue Willow. And she’s been on the road – both literally and virtually – ever since, promoting Illegal, which is a novel that comes from a deep place in her heart. It’s gorgeously written, emotionally resonant, and a damn fine YA that you need to start reading immediately!

Here’s what Amazon has to say:

A promise.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .
Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father's return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceaÑera.

Bettina Restrepo's gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl's unique yet universal immigrant experience.

And here’s what Bettina herself had to say:

1. One thing that always fascinates me is the writer's journey. I know mine has been rather twisty, turny and tumultuous. How about yours? Can you give us a quick glimpse into the road that led you to the day that Illegal appeared on bookshelves and virtual shelves?

9 years times 365 days = 3285 days, which doesn’t seems so long now. Illegal was the book that taught me to write and re-write a novel. 2 agents, 35 rejections. It was a lesson in patience.

2. What's your writing process?
I wish my writing process was clearly defined so that I could repeat what works, but I seem to be all over the place. Truly, the story comes in a vision where I know the beginning middle and end. Then, I write 50 pages, change everything and then decide to do an outline. Then at page 350, I decide everything is wrong, and rewrite the first 100 pages. Personally, the entire process is convoluted and something I’m trying to improve.

3. Illegal puts faces and personal stories on the topic of illegal immigration. I've heard you speak about what influenced and inspired you to write this book. Can you talk a little about that here?

I worked in an ethnic supermarket as an auditor – so my job was to watch and listen. I noticed how precarious the financial life was of many of the patrons. I translated those moments, traveling through the stores, watching people, and my own personal story into Illegal.

4. Reading Illegal got me thinking about my grandparents, all of whom immigrated from various spots in Europe to America. They didn't know a soul here, just came on faith that things would be better. So although they came through Ellis Island, the emotions are somewhat similar. And I always wonder - would I have been brave enough to basically pack my belongings in a bag and come to a country without even being able to speak the language. How about you? Would you do what Nora and her mother do?

It’s very scary to think about packing up what little you have and just showing up somewhere else. Now that I’m older, no, I wouldn’t do it.
But, as I recall my childhood – I was a child of immigrant parents who were also military. We were constantly packing up and moving to a new place. Sometimes I knew the language, sometimes I didn’t. There never seemed to be a support system – and yes, it was always scary.

4. Chocolate or peanut butter?

Yes. Both. Constantly.

5. Where do you write?

I have a faux office in the front of my house facing thte front window so I can spy on people in the neighborhood.

6. How do you balance writing time with the rest of your life?

Precariously. I write from 7-11 with one break to walk the dog and put in laundry. Then, I lunch, take a quick nap or exercise at the gym (I love ZUMBA). Then, at 2 pm, my mommy/carpool hat comes on. After he goes to bed, I walk the dog and collapse into the bed to read. Then, back up at 5. Repeat, Rinse.

7. What's next for Bettina Restrepo? Any projects in the work you can tell us about?

I have another novel in its final stages (or so I hope) of revision. Like I said, it’s a convoluted process, so I never know when it’s done.

CONTEST: Want to win a signed arc of Illegal?

Comment on the following question: Would you cross the border illegally to find your family?

Best answers go into the contest hat and the winner gets the signed arc! Contest is open until 5/31! Good luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday Talk

Need to write, so a few quick updates. Hope to be better with the blogging soon. But end of school, son's imminent wedding, impending book deadline... it's wild around here right now!

  • Interview coming soon with Bettina Restrepo, author of Illegal, writer pal and all around fantabulous human!

  • Until then, check out Bettina's schedule of book events, along with the Class of 2k11 and other folks at BEA:

  • Someday I will make it to BEA. I'm hoping for next year. Am I the only one who's never been? Speak up people. Give me some armchair company!

  • Am writing like crazy to meet my Again and Again deadline in July. I am so excited about book 3 of the Dreaming Anastasia series. You want romance? You want some time travel? You want to find out about Ethan's past? This is your book. I'm very excited about how Anne and Ethan's story is turning out. More on that soon.

  • Cindy Wexler at my local Borders in Houston is an amazing person who supports me and the DA series in huge ways. So yes - some Borders are still alive and well and kicking. And staffed by wonderful book loving souls.

  • Two more weeks until I am no longer teaching full time. Interesting what happens when you tell people you're leaving. Some are happy that you're going to follow your dream. Some immediately treat you like you're invisible. Some ask for your stuff. (equipment, files, you name it; the vultures start to circle). "Will you give me all your files?" "Can I put my name on a sticky note on your document camera?"

  • A reader created this really cool book trailer for Dreaming Anastasia

Friday, May 13, 2011

Contest Winner for I'm Not Her

Wanted to post this for the past two days, but blogger was having issues until just recently! Bad Blogger! But it's back now and so.... drum roll please.....

Amy at Bookgoonie!!! You have won an autographed copy of Janet Gurtler's I'm Not Her, for your excellent explanation of why Ren from Nightshade has your favorite name. Bravo and cheers!!

Please email me at joy at and let me know where Janet should send your prize!

Thanks to all who participated. Stay tuned; I've got a huge multi-book giveaway coming in June just in time for summer reading!

Til then - everyone get a copy of I'm Not Her. Let the reading begin.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Not Her Contest Closed

Winner to be announced soon.

Stay tuned!

And welcome to the world, The Sweetest Thing, by Christina Mandelski! Another fabulous - and sweet with cake - YA.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thoughts on Mother's Day

(this was Mom's favorite hot dog!)

My mother passed away very suddenly of a heart attack, after no specific illness at all, in 1995. It was June 6th, our son’s birthday. One second she’d called to say she wasn’t feeling well and was probably going to go to the doctor. The next she was being pronounced dead in the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. There were a few phone calls in between. I was actually on the phone with the ER doc while they were working on her.

And here’s what I thought when I hung up: I didn’t want to tell anyone. Because if I did, my whole world would change forever. I didn’t want it to. I didn’t want to grieve. I didn’t want her to be gone. For about ten minutes, I stood in my kitchen, phone in hand, having these thoughts.

Of course that’s not what I did. That’s not what people do. But that particular moment has stayed with me. This enormous sense of trying to hold back the inevitable. For those few minutes, I actually believed this was something I could do.

I’m thinking of my mother today – of the things she taught me: to love reading and story telling. That everything would be okay no matter what messes life brought my way. To be independent and have a back up plan. She was, truth be told, not always the happiest of people. She’d had a rough childhood and as I’ve written about widely, an enormously unhappy and very unmotherly mother – my Grandma Lena from Russia. It was probably not the easiest way to grow up. But she kept going, with a smile on her face. She embraced life. Loved Baskin Robbins ice cream cones (two scoops, different flavors), Fluky’s hot dogs (two dogs on one bun so she could justify the fries), going to the movies, tanning at the neighborhood swimming pool, reading, shopping at Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago, trying new restaurants, going to museums.

The idea of mothers – the good, the bad and the crazy of what it means to give birth, to be there for another human being; that feeling that if I just tried hard enough I could hold back the rushing tide of destiny and death – these loom large in both Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted. Anne’s mother, Lily (which was the name of my mom’s twin sister, btw), Baba Yaga – they all struggle with this concept to some extent. And Anne in turn struggles mightily with accepting a destiny she never wanted but has no choice but to embrace.

None of this was conscious on my part. But we write who we are and what we know. Or rather – what we hope to understand at some point down the road.

So here's to mothers! And especially to the woman who taught me the curative powers of grilled cheese and tomato soup, a long walk even when it's freezing outside, and the enormous power of doing it until you get it right.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Talking Names with Author Janet Gurtler and Giving Away an Autographed copy of I'm Not Her

Today I welcome friend and fellow Sourcebooks author, Janet Gurtler, whose YA I'm Not Her released this week. Janet is awesome and smart and I'm ever so glad we bumped into each other at an SCBWI LA conference a few years ago when her novel Waiting to Score (which she published as J.E. MacLeod) had just come out. We've ridden the crazy author journey together (her version of which she details this week on YA Outside the Lines)

Here's the Amazon blurb about I'm Not Her:

"For the first time in my life, I didn't feel envy..."

Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?

Janet Gurtler tests the bonds of sisterhood in this moving debut that readers of Jodi Picoult and Sarah Dessen will savor.

Janet (with whom, btw, I share our delightful and uber talented editor, Leah Hultenschmidt!) is hanging out here today talking about character names. PLUS AT THE END OF HER POST, THERE'S A CONTEST!! to win an autographed copy of I'm Not Her!!!

As a writer, names fascinate me. First names especially. I’ve been known to make perfect strangers spell out their name for me when we’re introduced. Or the name of their kids. Or their grandkids. Sometimes I’ll even make them clarify the name of their dogs.

There are so many characters that need names in the books we write and I must admit to combing through the Facebook friends of my lovely nieces for names. Usually for secondary characters. I want names that sound authentic to the times, and lucky for me, my nieces are currently exactly the same ages as characters in the books I write. So their friends have names that 16 or 17 year old girls in my books might also have! Love Facebook, right?

I also love hearing odd names, or old classics I’d forgotten about or haven’t heard in a long time. I always tuck names away for future use because like most things in my life, it’s all about pulling the information out later for possible inclusion in my books. ;)

Naming characters is something I actually enjoy doing, it’s a fun part of the writing process. Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking of a name that just seems to fit the way I imagine a character. Tess was like that in I’M NOT HER. Tess and Kristina both. Neither are names of anyone I know or knew. Neither were names I’d heard or coveted. They just seemed to represent the way I thought my characters looked in my mind. Tess, conservative and kind of plain in her own mind, and beautiful and blonde Kristina. Nick is the name of a cool boy I knew long ago. Troubled but cool. And Clark Trent was always Superman to me. Kind of an unintentional joke on him from his parents who never put the Clark Kent/Clark Trent thing together. Of course he had to wear glasses and be tall and kind of the last person you’d expect to be a hero in disguise. And that to me is the beauty in his name.

I also just make up names for characters. One of my favourite character names of all time was a boy I named EZ. How cool is that? I really wanted his last name to be Ryder, but instead gave that last name to a secondary character. I love boy names for girls. Like Randy. Alex. Cameron.

Name associations often have to do with people I knew in the past. To me, Troy will always be a big strapping boy with dark curly hair. I kind of crush on the name Troy. Susan will always be a thin dark haired friend with a troubled mother.

I don’t like to use the names of people close to me for character names, unless it’s an intentional nod. I’ve mentioned before that I always have a character named Carly in my books. Sort of a good luck charm. And I use people close to me as characters without speaking parts. But I won’t use my son’s name in a book. At some point in his life that might freak him out. I think when he reaches his teen years; most of the things I write about will freak him out. So I try to spare him that.

Last names aren’t as important to me as first. I admit sometimes I’ll just look around the room for something to inspire a last name. Like picking a name from a map or a newspaper article.

The final secret about character’s names. Sometimes I change them. Sometimes they just don’t work. Or maybe a beta reader or editor points out something about the name and it has to go. One thing I think most writers have done is use the ‘find’ and ‘replace’ button to change a name. This can result in some pretty funny words if you forget to check the ‘replace whole word only’ box! Mindi Scott recently tweeted:
“I use find/replace to change a character's name from Dia to Ming. Which means that "diamonds" also became "Mingmonds."

A name changing truism.
Fun with writers indeed.

Want to win an autographed copy of Janet Gurtler's I'm Not Her? Here's what to do:

1. Follow this blog if you're not already a follower.
2. If you tweet, follow me and Janet on Twitter if you're not already doing so. I'm @joypreble Janet is @janetgurtler
3. Let us know your favorite (or as they say in Canada, favourite) character name and why. (ie - a name that's used for a character in a book you've read) We'll put the answers in the contest hat and the lucky winner will get the autographed copy!
Contest is open until Monday 5/9. (US and Canada)