Monday, February 24, 2014


     I've been a member of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators since 1995.  I've been to a lot of conferences since then, and I know the etiquette.  Don't go in expecting instant gratification. Don't push yourself on agents and editors, demanding their recognition of your brilliance.  For the past three years I've attended the national SCBWI winter conference expecting nothing at all, except... to be one of the winners of the annual joke contest.  And each year, I have suffered deep, crushing disappointment.
     Here's how the contest works.  The founders of SCBWI, Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, come up with a theme, which Lin announces soon after the conference opens.  A box is set up for submissions, and blank forms are provided nearby for contestants.  Then, two or three times during the course of the two-day conference, a couple of winners are announced and awarded prizes.  Simple, right?  HA!  That's what they want you to believe.
     This year's theme was: create a headline for a famous children's book character's involvement in the Winter Olympics.  I dashed off a couple of jokes right away, but then, each time winners were announced, I listened.  I paid attention.  What kind of jokes were being selected?  What seemed to be the criteria?  And when I thought I had the formula figured out, I submitted a few more jokes.  As far as I could tell, I couldn't lose.
     Oh, but lose I did.  And what made it worse was the quality of some of the jokes that won.  One of them didn't even involve any children's book characters: "Does a Russian bear Putin in the woods?"  Some of the other winning submissions conformed to the rules and were also clever, but, as we shall discuss below by comparing and contrasting, mine were cleverer.

     1.  HUMPTY DUMPTY.  I submitted: "Humpty Dumpty's Dreams Crushed in Giant Slalom When he Becomes Giant Slalomelette."  I did not win.  Someone else, on the other hand, won with: "Humpty Dumpty Arrested for Possession of Crack."  Let's compare these two submissions, shall we?  Both involve puns (which, through my research and analysis, I had determined increased the odds of winning).  But only ONE of the two had anything to do with the Winter Olympics.  Which one was that?  Oh!  MINE!

     2.  ARRESTS.  I submitted: "Harriet the Spy Detained by Russian Secret Police."  I did not win.  In contrast, I return to the winning entry discussed in #1.  Yeah, I get it.  The egg is cracked.  But possessing crack is illegal no matter what country you do it in, right?  Not Russia in particular, right?  My entry, on the other hand, while it did not specifically refer to the Sochi Olympics, directly related to the history of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, two countries that  practically made a fetish of unmasking and arresting each other's spies.  AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO REMEMBERS BORIS AND NATASHA?  I rest my case.

     3.  INDIVIDUAL EVENTS.  I submitted: "Disappointment as Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin Fail to Medal in Ice Dancing Competition."  I did not win.  Someone else submitted: "Lunch Lady Wins Luge; Loses Lunch."  That person won.  Okay, it was clever.  I admit it.  But, seriously.  Which is the better visual?  A lunch lady vomiting over the side of her luge, or a tiny, hideous, enraged man on ice skates trying to dance with a full-sized, comatose, skate-clad princess?  COME ON, PEOPLE.  Lifts?  Throws?  Triple axels?  I'm sorry.  To me, there is absolutely no contest here.

     4.  I submitted one more, although I can't think of any winning entries to compare it to.  It was: "Cinderella Fires Fairy Godmother; Hires Johnny Weir's Costume Designer."  Get it?  Because Johnny's outfits are so much more inspired than the tired old ball gown the Godmother dreamed up?  Get it????  Reader: I did not win.

     Although my spirit has been crushed, I would settle for a belated consolation prize.  Like, maybe, some comments assuring me that my jokes really should have won?  I would be grateful for any crumbs you could throw my way.  And so would Humpty, Harriet, Cinderella, and Rumplestiltskin.  I can't speak for Sleeping Beauty.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


     Here I am at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, attending the SCBWI National Conference, which for me involves more direct human interaction over the course of two and a half days than I normally engage in during an entire week.  Which is why today, the busiest day, I've been escaping on-and-off to my hotel room every chance I've gotten, to decompress and snatch a few minutes of alone time.  Like now, for example.  But I also wanted to do a quick post about something that just happened.  At about 3:00 p.m., I was standing at the hotel elevators at the mezzanine level, waiting to ride to the ballroom level to try to get a good seat for Elizabeth Wein's (CODE NAME VERITY; ROSE UNDER FIRE) keynote address at 3:15.  As I waited, a woman in her 60's appeared before the bank of elevators, loudly asking for someone to help her find the right one to get her to the 24th floor.  I wasn't impressed with the woman's imperious tone, or by her apparent expectation that someone else was responsible for finding the correct elevator for her while she stood by, or by her explanation that if she didn't find the correct elevator, her husband would kill her.  Nonetheless, I was semi-inclined to make some sort of effort for her, but before I or anyone else could do anything, who should appear on the scene but Elizabeth Wein (whom I recognized from having met her at a reading), darting in and out of elevators until she found the one the woman needed and then shepherding her onto it.  And then Wein and I and some other people got on a different elevator to proceed to the ballroom level, and then once we arrived, Wein went into the room while everyone else was told to briefly wait outside until the current session had ended.  While I was waiting, a woman using a walker started to try to navigate the heavy doors to the ballroom, so I hurried over to open the door for her, and who happened to be on the other side of that door and to seize it and hold it open for the woman with the walker?  You guessed it.  Elizabeth Wein.
     Eventually, everyone entered the room, and Wein proceeded to speak about responsibility - both the legal kind and the moral kind.  The gist of it was that writers for young people assume grave responsibility because they are conveying information to readers who are at impressionable stages of their lives. 

It was a deeply serious presentation, and I could see attendees around me becoming restless because they were being spoken to for an hour, but not necessarily entertained as much as they would have liked. Wein got  respectful, but not overwhelming applause at the end, and I couldn't help but think that if all the people attending had seen Wein doing what I had seen in the hallways before the presentation, they might have better understood what a privilege it was to hear her preaching exactly what she practices in her own life.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


     Very early tomorrow morning, I'm off to the SCBWI national conference in New York.  It'll be busy.  I'll be back by Sunday night, and give a full report then.  Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Sorry, folks, but can I help it if Holly Schindler is one of my favorite MG/YA authors?  And can I help it if she's not sitting around on her laurels after releasing THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, her debut MG, but is instead forging ahead and releasing the cover of her forthcoming YA thriller, FERAL?  No.  I have no control over either of those things, and so I have no choice but to post this teaser:

It’s too late for you. You’re dead.
Those words float through Claire Cain’s head as she lies broken and barely alive after a brutal beating. And the words continue to haunt her months later, in the relentless, terrifying nightmares that plague her sleep. So when her father is offered a teaching sabbatical in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out of Chicago, away from the things that remind her of what she went through, will offer a way to start anew.
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire quickly realizes something is wrong—the town is brimming with hidden dangers and overrun by feral cats. And her fears are confirmed when a popular high school girl, Serena Sims, is suddenly found dead in the icy woods behind the school. While everyone is quick to say Serena died in an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it—for she was the one who found Serena, battered and most certainly dead, surrounded by the town’s feral cats.
Now Claire vows to learn the truth about what happened, but the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to discovering a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley. . . .
With an eerie setting and heart-stopping twists and turns, Holly Schindler weaves a gripping story that will make you question everything you think you know.
       And I am also forced to share this amazing cover:

     FERAL won't actually release until August 26th, and I'm as sad about that as you are, but here's a bit of a silver lining: you can preorder it now, and then rest secure that a copy will be in your own little hands immediately after that!
     And in case you were wondering: no, I am not a paid shill for Holly.  I just think she's awesome, and I want to share her news with as many readers as I can!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


     Okay.  I love to give away good books, and I don't want to stop doing it by way of running blog contests.  But I can't help but notice that even though plenty of people read my contest posts, none (or at most, pitifully few) of them go on to enter the actual contests.  I ask myself why this is so.  Who wouldn't want to win a free book?  And the only answer I can come up with is that people who read my contest posts consider the tasks I set as a condition of winning (leaving me a comment on a specific subject related to the book) to be too onerous.  So am I right?  Is that it?  And if so, how am I supposed to choose winners instead?  Alphabetical order?  Guess what number I'm thinking of?  My own secret algorithm?  Honestly, I'm seeking help here, because contests without contestants are like libraries without books, i.e., pointless and sad.  So if you know a better way to run a giveaway contest than the way I've been doing it, please!  Speak up!  Let me know you're out there!  I may not be  exactly young any more, but I'm still trainable! 
     Thanks.  You're awesome. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014



     According to Jody's official bio:

     Ohio-based Jody Casella has been writing stories since the age of seven. She majored in creative writing at Rhodes College and has an MA in English from the University of Memphis. After many years teaching and raising children, she's thrilled to be making her debut with THIN SPACE (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster), a paranormal YA mystery about a boy coming to terms with his twin brother's death.


THIN SPACE debuted in September 2013, and has garnered some excellent editorial reviews, as I've noted in my previous post.  Jody has graciously agreed to be interviewed here and answer some of my (and, I hope, your) most burning questions.  Here's our interview:
1.         Jody, congratulations on the publication of your debut YA novel, THIN SPACE, and on all the wonderful reviews it’s gotten!  What was your first germ of an idea for this book, and how long ago did it invade your brain?
Thanks for the congrats! Let me tell you, this book was a long time coming. The germ of the idea was really two germs that wormed their way around in my head over many years. First, I came across an article about Celtic "thin places" --places where the wall between our world and the world of the dead is thinner. I thought that would be a cool premise for a story and I tucked it away--literally--I ripped the article out and folded it up and stuffed it in my purse. Around the same time, I was picking my son up from school one afternoon and noticed a teen boy stepping off the bus barefoot. It was winter, so that was disturbing, and my son informed me that this kid walked around everywhere barefoot, including at school. I'm not exactly sure what the alchemy is behind the creation of a story, but those two seemingly unrelated ideas, the Celtic thin places and the Barefoot Boy, mixed together when I began writing the first draft of Thin Space six years ago.
2.         Your protagonist’s circumstances rank pretty high on the extremity scale:  not only did his identical twin brother die a few months earlier in a car accident, but he himself was the one driving.  Were you ever afraid while you were writing this book of the depths of pain you would have to plumb?  What techniques did you use to keep yourself going when you didn’t want to?
When I started writing the book I didn't know what my main character's conflict was. I knew he was walking around barefoot. I knew he was hiding something and acting crazy, but that's about it. By the time I did figure it out, I was sucked too far into the story to pull back, but it was tempting. I heard an editor talk at a conference once about how many writers pull back in their writing just as the story is getting closer to the core of what it is about. In other words, they chicken out. They don't write the climax the story has been surging toward all along. I had the editor's words in my head when I was writing Thin Space, and thought, you know what? THIS time I am going all in. I am letting this book go where it wants to go.
3.         You’re an Italian girl!  How did you first hear of thin spaces?  Do you know a lot about Irish myths and legends (I am a HUGE fan of them), or did you just stumble on this one accidentally?
This question makes me laugh because I don't think of myself as Italian. Okay, I can make a decent spaghetti sauce. If you read my blog, you will know that I have confessed about my lack of what I call the "Italian Cleaning Gene." I am working on making peace with this! As far as Celtic legends go, I mentioned earlier how I had stumbled upon the article about thin places. I did do more research later, but in no way am I an expert. (Now, I am filing away the fact that you are...)
4.         In case there is anyone reading this interview who thinks that “debut novel” is synonymous with “first novel,” would you like to comment on the difference between the two, both generally and specifically with regard to your own experience?  (You’ve done such a great job on your own blog interviewing published authors about their successful “pathways to publication.”  I thought I’d turn the tables on you!)
One of my favorite questions to ask authors is how many books they wrote before getting their first publishing deal. I was sitting next to Jerry Spinelli at a conference and he told me four, which made me feel immensely better. Thin Space, for the record, is my sixth book. Most writers I've asked have similar responses. In fact, I have only met one person who answered that her first published book was the first book she had written. No one wants to hear this when they are starting out, but it may take writing a novel (or writing several novels) to learn how to write a novel.
5.         What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid/teen?  Who are some of your favorite current YA authors?  How have your tastes changed, and how have they stayed the same?
The YA pickings were slim when I was teen. I read Judy Blume, of course. Also, Ellen Conrad and Marilyn Sachs. I devoured the VC Andrews books, like most girls I knew. At age twelve I jumped into adult books--Stephen King, my mother's Sidney Sheldon books. I read anything and everything and was probably the only student in my English class who loved the classics we were assigned. Now my favorite authors are Sara Zarr, John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Meg Rosoff, and Courtney Summers. I'm a little pickier about what I read and I have a harder time shutting my writer/editor voice up and simply falling into a story, which bugs the heck out of me.
6.         You’ve written in your blog about your discomfort with taking long road trips alone, but about how you’ve faced it down in order to travel for school and library visits to publicize your book.  Are there other ways you can think of in which having a book out has helped you on a personal level?  Are there any other ways in which it’s made your life more difficult or more complicated than it was before?
Yes, I think I have finally gotten past my solo driving phobia. I just got back from a 1200 mile+ trip a few weeks ago and the other day I drove 3 hours and thought it was nothing. I was almost annoyed at how little of my audio CD I could listen to in that short period of time.
Having a book out--which was my life long dream--has been a pretty gratifying experience. But now I am realizing that it is only the beginning. I started my blog On the Verge because I wanted to chronicle what it felt like to be on the verge of publication. When my book came out, one of my friends said, "Well, now you're going to have to change the name of your blog." The funny thing is I still feel like I am on the verge. I have a book out, but I want to have MORE books out. I am still learning about my writing process and about the publishing and promotional side of this business. It's hard--the writing, the revising, the promoting--everything. And it doesn't get any easier the longer that I do it.
7.         Can you talk a little bit about what you’re working on now, and how far along you are with it?  How do you divide your time between current projects, marketing of THIN SPACE, and popping up on social media?
I am working on the fourth draft of a novel that I started about five years ago. I'm never good at describing projects while I am in the middle of them, but this one is a fantasy--very different from Thin Space--with multiple POVs. Sort of a mash up between environmental disaster and Greek mythology. It's a big mess that keeps getting messier but something about the story won't let me go.
I still haven't got the hang of how to balance writing time with promoting. So, if anyone has advice, I'd love to hear it!
8.         What’s the best thing a kid you’ve met on your tours has said to you, either about THIN SPACE or about anything else?  And on the flip side, what’s your favorite thing to talk to kids about on your stops?
I've gotten the nicest responses from kids and each class I visit I am blown away by the level of discourse and engagement. These kids--even 10 year olds--are asking me things like: "What happens when you introduce a character in the first few chapters and later realize you've forgotten about her?" Or: "What's your strategy for dealing with writer's block?"
My favorite thing to talk about with beginning writers is revision. I know this sounds like a boring topic, and typically, kids--and most adults too--HATE revision. But I love it and I love sharing revision tips I've picked up along the way. I think some people are under the impression that books just plop out, perfectly. They compare their first drafts to a professional writer's finished copy (which could be a tenth draft!) and the comparison is always going to make them feel bad. They have these complicated, beautiful ideas in their heads, and what ends up on the page doesn't match that, and it's discouraging. I like to tell them that all writers struggle with the process, and each time you go back into your story you are getting closer and closer. It's your story, I say to them, and you are the only one who can tell it. So, don't give up.

     THANK YOU, Jody, for being so generous and informative!  I love that Jody is refreshingly open and honest about her journey to publication.  For an embarrassingly long period of my life, I believed that authors sprang fullblown out of adolescence and onto the writing scene.  Only in recent years have I become aware of the often-long, often-arduous process of perfecting one's craft day by day - or, in Ann Lamott's perfect metaphor, "bird by bird."  It helps me so much to be able to get a glimpse of how the whole thing actually works.  I hope it helps you too.

     Jody's social media contacts are as follows:

Website On the Verge:
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                                                 BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST    
And now for Part II of this post!  Jody is sending me an autographed copy of THIN SPACE, which I will be giving away to a lucky contest winner.  Here's the deal:  Leave a comment telling me a little bit about someone you've lost in one way or another, and whom you wish you could contact in order to complete some unfinished business between the two of you.  I'll accept entries any time between now and next Saturday, February 16th, at midnight Eastern time.  I'll then choose my favorite entry and send out the autographed copy of THIN SPACE to said entrant, wherever he or she lives.  Good luck, and may the thin spaces be ever in your favor!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


     Jody Casella's debut YA novel, THIN SPACE (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words), was released in September 2013 and has garnered some stellar reviews.  Kirkus Reviews (not known for excessive gushing) called it "a creepy supernatural chiller [that] sets up a gut-punch of desolation and loss...  Brutal and brilliant."  The School Library Journal deemed it "a spooky story of the highest order."  And Jody, who blogs regularly at On the Verge and periodically at YA Outside the Lines, has kindly agreed to answer some of my interview questions about THIN SPACE, her writing life, and what's next on her drawing board.  Please stay tuned here!  I expect to be able to post the interview within the next few weeks, and I also expect that it'll be a supernaturally good one!

p.s.  To add another dimension (mwooohahahahaha), there will be a book giveaway too....

Sunday, February 2, 2014


     Okay, one more very short post.  I've blogged about how my daughter's been accepted to her first-choice art school for this fall, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, just a short PATH train ride from home in the Jersey burbs.  But I don't think I've mentioned my worries.  My daughter is shy around strangers and has never been one to do transitions well, and even though she won't be far from home, I've been anxious for her all along because she'll be living in a dorm and won't know anyone at school at first.
     Or so I thought until today.
     Today is the day I just happened to ask Amy whether her friend Sy, who is smart, responsible and mature, and who also attended National Portfolio Day, has heard any news about her applications.
     A: [eyeroll] Yeah, she also got into SVA.
     Q: She did? You never even told me she applied there.  Well, does she want to go?
     A: [bigger eyeroll] Yes. 
     Q: She's going? So you're going to have a friend there?
     A: [utter disgust] YES, Mommy.
     Q:  Why didn't you ever tell me about this???

     Parenthood, right?  That is all.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


     I am dying to share some writing-related news here.  The only problem is that it's not actually news.  In fact, if I'm being totally honest, I have to admit that it's not even pre-news.  I'm not sure how many "pre-"s I would need to tack on in front of the word "news" for what I've got to qualify, but it would be a lot.  So, I'm sorry.  I have nothing to share.  But if I DID have something to share, please rest assured that this is the first place I would share it.  The only thing I have to share right now is a little half-smile on my face and a slight spring in my step, and both of those are good and righteous things.  Let's all be calm now and carry on, shall we?