Blog Hoppin’ Around

A huge thank you to Marsha Qualey, one of my Hamline Creative Writing MFA faculty, for inviting me to this blog hop! I enjoyed thinking about these four questions and the opportunity to peek inside the writing process of my author-friends. And speaking of author-friends, don’t miss the three talented authors I’ve featured at the end of this post!

And without further ado, a little Q and A…

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: I’ve just dipped my toes into the water of writing a new novel which is so new that it doesn’t even have a working title yet. I’m revisiting characters from a work I recently completed titled Reflecting Hours. I’m in the stage of writing where I’m not even trying to write scenes in sequential order yet, instead simply accumulating scenes in order to hear the voice of the story. Soon, very soon, I need to take the plunge and dive into the deep water of the book, but for now, I’m giving the creative process space and giving myself room to play. It’s an interesting creative tension, the drive to finish a book and the need to enjoy the journey. One important lesson I learned through the process of writing and publishing the four-book From Sadie’s Sketchbook series is that to be a working author, one needs to take joy in every stage of creation, not just in the moment when one holds a finished book in one’s hands. Those moments do come, but the reality of being an author is that when you finish a book, the process starts over again. The beginnings of a book whispers to you, and you start to scribble it down on whatever paper you can find, until after weeks and possibly months, you have a draft to revise and polish and reshape. One of the most essential tasks of being an author is finding one’s rhythm, and I feel like even more than working on a book right now, I’m working on that even more important task of shaping my life as an author. Im working on finding a workable pace that will allow me to grow and develop with the writing of each new book, while still finishing the process in a reasonable amount of time.

Q: How does it differ from other books in the genre?

A: Reflecting Hours and it’s untitled sequel are what I’m calling “Chem-Punk.” Similar to Steam Punk, the books are set in an alternate reality where science has progressed differently than it has in our world. However instead of relying on steam power, the world of Reflecting Hours is built on advances made through chemical technology with deep roots in alchemy. The line between technology and magic has always been thin, being that one generation’s magic is another generation’s invention. Such is the case in these books. Magic clashes against science and Elixia, who has magical abilities she doesn’t fully understand, is faced with impossible decisions that have no simple answers.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: When I first started writing, I thought I’d only ever write fantasy. My writing heroes are Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis, and my bookshelves are stuffed with Cornelia Funke, Anne Ursu, Edward Eager, and Susan Cooper. However, I also have a full set of the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other books that explore the magic in real life by authors such as Sharon Creech, Shannon Hale, Kate DiCamillo, and E. L. Konigsburg. What I discovered as I learned the craft of being a writer, is that what I really want to do is explore the space between real and magic, those thin places where we ask, “Is it possible that…?” For me, life is fuller, deeper, more adventurous, when the answer to that question is, “Maybe so.”

Q: What is the hardest part about writing?

A: For me, the hardest part about writing is the hardest part about being an artist, or maybe even about being human. It seems like my whole life has conspired to slam me up against the truth: you can’t grow unless you’re willing to fail. Actually, you don’t only have to be willing; you have to truly fail sometimes, too. You don’t aim to fail, of course, but you take risks that put you in a position where you aren’t sure you can succeed. Sometimes you succeed at the new challenge and you grow at a steady, predictable pace. But sometimes you fail, and how you handle the failure is the crucible for exponential growth. For a person like me, a down-to-the-bones perfectionist, even the possibility of failure (particularly public failure) brings with it heart-thumping terror of a kind that should be reserved for giant spiders, tight enclosed spaces and things that go bump in the night. When we write, we put our hearts on the page with as much skill as we can. Despite our efforts, sometimes we don’t communicate what we’d hoped to say. Other times, we say exactly what we meant, and we rile others up. Sometimes the story that we see is on a far-away vista that our current skill can’t help us to reach. Most failures are much smaller, though, the daily moments when I read the words I wrote yesterday and I have to admit: I can do better. These private, small moments are the ones in which I build the muscles I need to become the kind of writer (and person) I long to be. I want to be a person who looks at my efforts and says, “I did my best yesterday, and now, today, I’m going to do even better. It’s okay that I’m not perfect the first or fourth or twentieth time. I’m growing and learning and becoming who I’m meant to be.” This kind of thing is much easier to say than to do, and I’d never want to become the kind of person who gave in to being adequate. It’s not that we shouldn’t dream big or aim high. We should. And because we do dream big and aim  high, we won’t always get it right the first time. The important thing is what we do when we see that we’ve fallen short. Will we get up and try again? Getting up, trying again, that’s the hardest part of writing for me.

And now, drumroll please… here are those three amazing authors I was telling you about. All of these lovely ladies are celebrating upcoming book releases!

First, Erin Dealey, whose book, DECK THE WALLS, A WACKY CHRISTMAS CAROL is coming out this September. This picture book is for the whole family and celebrates the joy of family and tradition and fun.

Second, Sue Fliess, whose picture book ROBOTS, ROBOTS EVERYWHERE (can you guess what it’s about??) has just hit the shelves.

Third, Holly Schindler, whose THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY for middle grade readers is scheduled to launch in February 2014.

I hope you’ll visit their blogs and check out their books! And if you’d like, I’d love to hear from you about what the hardest part of writing is for you. Share away, below.

Discussion Guides

brilliant_huesAre you participating in a book club this summer? Hot off the press, each book in the From Sadie’s Sketchbook series now has a discussion guide to help leaders facilitate conversation and spark reader’s creativity. The guides are below.

Also, check out the Sadie’s Sketchbook blog for discussion on these topics from Naomi!

Shades of Truth Discussion Guide

Flickering Hope Discussion Guide

Waves of Light Discussion Guide

Brilliant Hues Discussion Guide

Happy Reading!

What Kind of Creative Are You?

I had an excellent school visit last week, at Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, CA. During the hour, I chatted with the fourth and fifth graders about creativity, what being blocked feels like, and how they move through those blocks.

My favorite part of the visit was when we discussed four typical creativity personalities. We talked about the architect, who plans everything ahead of time; the gamester, who likes to play with ideas and brainstorm and always look at things through new angles; the hiker, who travels through a project as though they are on a hike, step by step by step; and the dreamer, who follows a creative fancy wherever it leads. We talked about the typical ways these personalities plan, draft, and also the ways each type typically finds themselves stuck. The students were so articulate and had such great insight about what might happen to each type of person. We also discussed how knowing our own creative persona might help us when we do find ourselves blocked.

I shared my own process with the students, using the Sadie books as my example, and then let them discuss their own process. At the end of the session, the entire group was brimming with enthusiastic ideas and thoughts about how to unblock themselves in current and future projects. So much fun! I’m vowing to do more school visits because I feel as though I gain even more creative energy than I give away. Want to help me visit your school? Even if you’re out of the Bay Area, contact me via this page and let me know. We might just be able to work out an unexpected solution!

A Shiny New Year

turleyTo me, the start of a New Year always feels untouched, like a stretch of newly fallen snow. I love the way the days between Christmas and New Years Day seem to hold their breath, allowing even someone like me, who seems constantly in motion, to stop and rest. I feel refreshed and excited about the adventures to come.

Over the break, I visited Bend and went snowshoeing with my husband, Dave, and our dog, Turley. It was so much fun, I can’t tell you. Turley LOVES snow even more than he loves water, and he’s a Portuguese Water Dog, so you can imagine how much he loves water. He galloped around through snowdrifts and reminded me how magnificent it feels to laugh so hard you can hardly catch your breath.

And now, I’m back from the vacation and ready to dig back into creative work. The From Sadie’s Sketchbook Read Along took a little hiatus over Christmas, but we’re back and raring to go with the third book in the series, Waves of Light. Come join us at for lively discussion, creative activities and lots of fun! We want to hear from readers like you.

Award a Friend

Are you getting close to having completed your four challenges? I can’t wait to help you Award-a-Friend. Remember that you can participate no matter your age. It’s an excellent present that could never be bought in a store! That’s my favorite kind of gift.

Sending Christmas love to you all…

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