Friday, May 17, 2013

"LUCY" Winners and Going Dark until June

I'm happy to announce the winners of last week's contest....Kimberly and Anne (Anne replied off list). Congratulations, ladies!

Next week at this time, I will be in midtown Manhattan at the Backspace Writers' Conference. So I'm going to keep the blog dark until at least the beginning of June so I can work on writerly things.

Have a great rest of May, everyone!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


If you're into realistic YA, Sara Zarr's new book, THE LUCY VARIATIONS, is a must. Sara is a National Book Award Finalist, and her other books include STORY OF A GIRL, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, and SWEETHEARTS. When I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop with her last year, I not only learned ways to improve my craft, but I also found out what being a writer really means.

Sara provides excellent insight into her characters--and fleshes them out brilliantly. The protagonist in THE LUCY VARIATIONS is also near to my heart; I played piano for many years, and while I enjoyed it at times, it always felt like something that was chosen for me, like eating broccoli.

Not only does the book release today, you'll have a chance to win your own copy by leaving a comment (don't forget to include contact information, so we have a way to get a hold of you if you win).

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.

Here are Sara's answers to some of my questions:

I love the premise of THE LUCY VARIATIONS. Where did the idea come from and what do you want readers to take away from the story when they're finished?

The idea has been stewing for a long time. As far back as the late 90s (well before any of my books were published), I had this girl in my mind who eventually became Lucy. In one version, she was an athlete in a family of musicians and spending Christmas on her uncle's farm, suffering from insomnia, and befriending a cranky boy with a broken leg. Now, I know it's difficult to see how this relates in any way to the eventual outcome! But trust me when I say they're related. That's the mystery of writing. Sometimes our stories take long and winding roads; sometimes they present themselves almost whole cloth. So there was that, then thirteen or fourteen years later here I am having a kind of creative crisis and midlife crisis and wanting to explore that, as well as the idea of mentorship, and I'd found the right story for this girl. As for what readers take away: I always say that my primary hope is that readers have a great reading experience. Beyond that, I think there's some good stuff in this book about the importance of occupying your life and paying attention and giving yourself to what you love.

Such a good lesson; characters and stories will come out when they're meant to--and sometimes those answers won't come until the proper time. As a Bay Area native, I was excited to learn the book takes place in San Francisco. Does the setting impact the characters and/or the plot? If so, how?

Setting is always important. In this particular story, Lucy is from a wealthy family with recent European roots. I knew she should live in a city that has a thriving culture, where she could fully live her life as a professional musician and child of privilege. Since I grew up in San Francisco, it made sense to me to put her there. My own experience of SF was much less glamorous, but I knew some people who lived in that world and the amount of money floating around always boggled me. Most of my stories have been about characters not from privilege, so it was a new interesting challenge to write from a different worldview. Lucy feels quite a bit more entitled than most of my previous characters, but I still wanted to feel sympathetic to her particular challenges and make sure the reader does, too.

Always a challenge in shaping characters: making them flawed, but also heroic. On your blog, you conduct a regular podcast, "This Creative Life," in which you interview authors. What have you learned and/or enjoyed in these sessions?

Those conversations with other creative people are always so encouraging to me. Other people's experiences remind me that I'm not alone, I'm not nuts, and give me a chance to focus on the non-business aspects of this vocation and career. I also hope, with the podcast, to give those same reminders to whoever needs to hear them.

It's great when something that encourages you also helps others! There will be a book tour for THE LUCY VARIATIONS from May 8-17. What tips, if any, do you have regarding the balance and organization of travel and promotion efforts?

It's hard! I always feel like I should be doing more, promotionally, and I also always think I should be writing more. I do notice that I'm better off making sure I get in at least 90 minutes of creative/writing time just for me, especially when it gets busy. Otherwise I start to feel sad and restless and disconnected from myself. At the same time, you always want to do everything in your power to help your book find readers. When I'm actually on tour and doing the traveling, I don't even attempt the 90 minutes of writing. I try to make good sleep and good eating and stress management the "big rocks" during that time, and just obey my schedule the rest of the time. When my first book came out, I did notice I was getting really stressed and over-preparing for speaking and whatnot. I finally realized: I'm an expert on me and my books. I don't need to get all stressed about this way in advance and make index cards or anything. Now I basically make a deal with myself that unless it's some big conference talk, I'm not allowed to even think about it until the day before.

It's wonderful you were able to find a process that works for you--and it sounds like you've found a good rhythm! I also saw that you will be at this year's ALA (American Library Association) conference in June. What role do you envision librarians having in the future of books and publishing?

Well, without libraries and the people who work in them, we're screwed. That's really how I feel. The public library system is one the major things that makes possible the tenets our country was founded on. As more and more channels of information are commercialized and sponsored and corporatized and monetized, and as the gap between the rich and the poor increases, free and open access to information and literature will be more important than ever.

I couldn't agree more! Thanks, Sara, for an excellent interview!

To snag one of Sara's books, click the links below. To enter to win a free copy of THE LUCY VARIATIONS, leave a comment below!

Any and all comments will have a chance to win!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

THE END GAMES by T. Michael Martin--plus interview!

THE END GAMES by T. Michael Martin debuts next week on May 7! Hooray! I've pre-ordered it, and can't wait for a copy. I'm also in the final revisions of a paranormal that has shaped itself into a horror, and I want to study good examples in that genre.

It happened on Halloween.

The world ended.

And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.

Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.

In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.

But The Game is changing.
The Bellows are evolving.

The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.

And the brothers will never be the same.

Here are some questions I asked Mike:

You got your BFA in Filmmaking. How did this lead to writing novels, and can you tell us more about what you learned on the way to publication?

Film is my first love, and I'm totally a child of blockbusters: Movies like E.T., Back to the Future, Jaws, Ghostbusters, and T2 shaped my imagination as much as any novel, and I fell in love with the way those films tell huge stories in a way that still feels emotionally intimate.

I was a Religious Studies major for a year before transferring to film school, and I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts with the intention of becoming a director.  About halfway through my first year, though, I realized that I didn't yet have the kind of social confidence a director needs in order to lead an entire crew through a film production's gauntlet.

I switched to screenwriting, and it was right around that time that John Green's and Sara Zarr's first books were coming out.  I was floored and inspired by their work -- I'd never realized what YA could do -- and I started working on a (blessedly unpublished!) first novel.  Fitting my novel work in alongside my class work was hard, but I had incredible and supportive mentors who encouraged me along the way.

I know it sounds strange, but:  I don't think I ever would have become a novelist if I hadn't gone to film school.  I learned 90% of what I know about story structure in screenwriting classes, and the simple act of watching hundreds of films helped me pick up so much about storytelling.  I learned from my mentors to be a merciless editor of my own work, too, because you're really pushed to cut out every unnecessary word in screenplays.

(Also:  I can't tell you how thrilled I've been so many early readers have called THE END GAMES "cinematic.")

It sounds like you gleaned a lot of valuable lessons along your journey! On your website, it says THE END GAMES was inspired by your brother Patrick and your love of zombie movies. What do you like most about the book, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading it?

Definitely my favorite thing about the book is the relationship between the main characters, two brothers named (wait for it...) Michael and Patrick.  Michael is seventeen and Patrick is five, which was a kind of relationship I'd never quite seen in YA, and I really began the book as a kind of love letter to my own younger brother.

I named the characters after us, because even though the fictional "Michael and Patrick" wound up being very different from me and my brother, I wanted to examine the particular kind of protective love I'd always felt for Patrick.  The book has received some wonderful early notices (including a starred review from Booklist), but the thing I'm proudest of is that early readers have said that they found Michael and Patrick's relationship to be convincing and powerful.  For all its spooky action and mystery, THE END GAMES is fundamentally the story of a love between siblings at the end of the world, and more than anything, I hope readers will come away from the book feeling a connection to those two young brothers.

It's so important to capture realistic relationships and ramped up tensions among characters--especially when writing stories with supernatural elements. You've done that very well!
You do a great vlog series on YouTube. What are the benefits you've found from this medium, and do you have any recommendations to writers wanting to start a vlog?

Thank you!  By far the biggest benefit is the wonderful sense of community I've found on YouTube, not just with my fellow vloggers (who are amazing and generous) but also with my viewers.  85% of my audience is made up of teenagers, and it's been a lovely and unexpected blessing to be able to interact with them on a daily basis.  (It's also fantastic to be able to make a video and share it with the Internet after just a few hours, 'cause it takes me, like, 2-4 years to write a book.)

The best advice I can give is to get involved as much as you can with the YouTube community, especially with people who make work you genuinely admire.  Making videos is a blast, but it's also a lot of work, and you really have to love online video in order to stick with it.  It's worth noting that it almost always takes time to build an audience.  (Even John Green had to make 100 videos before he reached 300 subscribers.)

But if you enjoy the process and get involved with your fellow creators, doing a vlog can be an amazingly rewarding journey. 

Excellent advice! One of the challenges writers face is how to manage their time. What are some techniques you've found helpful?

No exaggeration:  David Allen's book, GETTING THINGS DONE (  My only advice:  READ IT  :]

I'm currently reading it on my Kindle--and you're right, it's definitely a must! What are some of your current projects? Will THE END GAMES have a sequel?

Right now, I'm working on my next book for Balzer + Bray, due out in Autumn 2014.  It's another YA thriller, and I am so excited about it.  (I can't go into any details -- we're keeping the plot a secret at the moment -- but I will say that it's not a sequel to THE END GAMES and won't have any zombie-ish creatures in it.)

I'm also excited to be working on a new screenplay with a filmmaker whose work I really love, and I'm looking forward to growing my YouTube channel (

As for an END GAMES sequel:  I won't say "never," but at least right now, I can't imagine doing another END GAMES book.  Which doesn't mean I don't love it when people ask for one...  :]

Thanks so much for having me, Karen, and for all the awesome questions! And thank you, Mike, for such great answers!

THE END GAMES releases on May 7. You can pre-order it by clicking the button below!

To find out more, go to Mike's website or vlog.