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Monday, July 21, 2014

Odyssey Bookshop Odyssey

This past weekend I had a fun road trip out to one of my favorite independent bookstores: The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA!

On the two-hour drive from Boston--I purposely took the longer, scenic route--I started to contemplate how despite my penchant for writing about far-flung travel, this trip to the Odyssey represented a kind of homecoming for me.

My alma mater, Hampshire College
In the 1990s I went to college at nearby Hampshire College, in Amherst. I lived in South Hadley one summer when I had a job that kept me in town between semesters. And the Pioneer Valley--home to the five-college consortium of Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke--was where I spent much of my time learning to be a writer. I was an English Major, not a Creative Writing Major, but I wrote countless stories in college; while some kids hit the gym or the hiking trails for stress relief, I holed up in my dorm room and pounded out story after story. And I was a voracious reader in college, even outside of work for my classes. I haunted all the local bookstores and libraries, and spent hours discussing books with some of the smartest readers I've ever met -- friends I have to this day, with whom I bonded over books.

I hadn't been to the Pioneer Valley for about ten years, when I went there once for a bike ride and whizzed past my old life at high speeds. I really haven't spent any significant time there since I graduated college. So as the winding roads and lush rolling hills led me into Amherst this weekend, I felt a swell of mixed emotions. In college, I'd been filled with uncertainty. I'd had a tenuous financial aid package and a hefty part-time work schedule that made my existence there semester to semester quite precarious. I'd had a huge course workload; I doubled up on classes and graduated in 3.5 semesters to save money. I'd had fierce ambitions to write but crippling anxiety about how to realize those ambitions. I was too scared to take creative writing workshops and share my work with teachers and mentors who could have helped me along. I imagined I was taking the safe route, majoring in English and starting a path to grad school and to becoming an academic, but in fact I'd been embarking on a dead-end road for me: a path to unhappiness in grad school and highly uncertain job prospects in academia. I'm sure my fear and my impulse to play it safe set my writing goals back a decade, at least.

I arrived early for my event and spent some time walking around my old campus, remembering what it was like to be there at various stages of my college career. If I had to do it all again, I would have taken those creative writing workshops and availed myself of the abundance of talent in the five-college area. I would have been open about my writing ambition and made more connections. I would have turned my dreams into concrete goals much sooner. But I have more peace of mind than regret. I think the learning environment at Hampshire, and the culture of the five-college area, did help to form me as a writer. And I remembered, powerfully, how by the time I graduated, I had the goal to return some day to one of the area bookstores (now not in such abundance, sadly) as a published author.

So when I walked into the Odyssey Bookshop, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. It's wonderful when life gives us chances to loop back into time and reconnect with a goal. It really has been an Odyssey for me to get back into that store after all these years.

I had such a marvelous time talking about YA fiction with my fellow panelists, talented authors Terra Elan McVoy (IN DEEP) and Gillian Murray Kendall (THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS). Thank you, Odyssey--and the wonderful audience who came out on a warm July night--for making me feel at home!
Terra Elan McVoy, Me, & Gillian Murray Kendall

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Launch Week(s) Recap

Cake for the launch party Racing bib design by Renee Combs
It's been a fun couple of weeks launching LATITUDE ZERO! The kickoff was July 3, publication day. I celebrated with a party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. I admit, I had some misgivings about throwing a launch party the day before a national holiday, prime vacation time. Misgivings swelled when the threat of violent thunderstorms caused the city of Boston to move its scheduled July 4 celebration to July 3! Now I had to compete with fireworks, the Boston Pops, and the Beach Boys, the headline act of the city's celebration! Who would choose to spend a warm summer evening at a bookstore when they could be out by the Charles River?

Lots of people, it turns out! Though I couldn't deliver fireworks or even hum the national anthem, we had great turnout!

I talked about how writing this book was so different from writing TOKYO HEIST, and what inspired it. I read for a bit, and answered some really excellent audience questions. Then I got to sign copies and eat some of that fabulous cake pictured above!

Here are some other pictures from the party:

With my street team: authors A.C. Gaughen, Erin Cashman, Kerri Majors, and Gina Rosati!
Me, with the fun racing bib designed by Renee Combs--finally 070314 is a reality!
Local cycling celebs: a former pro cyclist (on left) and the founder of VeloVelo (right)

So I have to tell you about the guy in the third picture, above. That's Carlos Vivas, a former professional cyclist from Ecuador. (Also a former Mr. Universe winner; he went into bodybuilding after retiring from cycling). I met Carlos after I'd written the entire book, when someone alerted me to the fact that he worked as a mechanic at my local bike shop. I'd been shopping there for years and never knew it! Carlos and his wife Carol both read late-stage draft of LATITUDE ZERO and vetted it for Ecuadorian references, Spanish usage particular to the region, and cycling mechanics. They were incredibly helpful. It was great to hear Carlos's real-life story of how he came into cycling, and the similarities to my main character, Juan Carlos, were eerie!

After the launch party, my family and I went to Seattle, my hometown, where I did two events: one at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, my favorite mystery-themed bookstore EVER. I spent some time hanging out with Amber, the amazing children's bookbuyer there, who made sure I left with an armload of reading material for my vacation! (Seriously, Amber is one of the most well-read people I've ever met, and you absolutely must check out her Agatha Christie blog, My 52 Weeks with Christie--she's reading one Christie novel a week!) The other event was at Third Place Books, and my parents were in attendance! I had a lot of fun meeting mystery fans and cycling fans at both stores!
Me with Amber, children's bookbuyer extraordinaire!
From there, it was on to an actual VACATION. We took the train from Seattle to Portland, which felt so adventurous even though it was only a four-hour trip; I really miss traveling, which can be tough with a small kid, and this whetted my appetite for serious travel again. We then drove to Cannon Beach, on the Oregon Coast.
Cannon Beach, Oregon. Paradise!
I spent a few days relaxing there with family, and I finally found time to do a little cycling myself -- beach cycling, that is, on the sand!
I had never tried this before. It's a fun low-tide activity to do on Cannon Beach. It was easy enough to learn, but a bit more of a workout than I'd anticipated. Let's just say I don't see racing this way in my future! (Nor do I see beach biking as the subject of my next book!)

While on vacation, two rather amazing things happened, proving my theory that if you want good things to happen, get out of town -- ideally to somewhere with weak wifi! (And then when you get good news, it will be EXTRA exciting!) First, an essay of mine got published on the Huffington Post. It's one I'm particularly proud of, about gun violence in YA fiction. You can read it here.

Then I learned that LATITUDE ZERO is a Junior Library Guild Selection!!! This is astounding news, worthy of even more exclamation points than I just gave it. I've seen the Junior Library Guild distinction printed on many covers of books I admire, but didn't fully understand what it meant until I looked at their website. Basically, a committee chooses a select number of children's titles two seasons each year and licenses hardcover rights for their book club. These titles are then available to thousands of libraries nationwide. It's a big honor, and I'm so thrilled and so grateful that this book may find a wider audience of young readers as a result.

A big thank-you to everyone who has supported the LATITUDE ZERO journey thus far, whether it's by attending an event, buying the book, getting it from the library (or requesting it), spreading the word, following my online blog tour, or expressing interest in the book in any way! Everything that readers do helps nudge the book a little farther out into the world!

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Bike Friday Recap

Boston City Hall Plaza, Bike Friday breakfast
I had so much fun meeting cyclists at Boston City Hall last Friday! Bike Friday is an awesome event to encourage bicycle commuting. Convoys came from Boston neighborhoods around surrounding towns and streamed into City Hall Plaza starting around 7:30 AM.

Cyclist with LATITUDE ZERO swag!
Our LATITUDE ZERO booth was right by the bike shop and bike gear booths. I felt a little out of place at first, the only one promoting a book. But Boston's a big book city, so it was no surprise that many bike commuters also happen to be readers, who enthusiastically gravitated toward our tent. They picked up LATITUDE ZERO swag and free sports drinks, and chatted about bikes and books. It was lots of fun learning about where people had biked in from and why they were motivated to participate in Bike Friday. I met recreational riders, fierce competitors. charity riders, retirees, commuting businesspeople, and teens. There are so many ways people can connect to this sport, which is something I love about cycling. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars (though you can) or have the nicest bike and gear, and you don't have to ride hundreds of miles to feel the joy and sense of accomplishment that go along with a bike adventure.

Young cyclists at Bike Friday
I was really in awe of the people who biked into the city, some with guide-led convoys and some on their own, some from pretty far away. I'm not a big urban rider myself; like the main character in my novel, Tessa, I prefer the open road, or roomy suburban and rural roads. I don't like feeling the heat of passing cars on my legs, or navigating congested traffic. But that's why advocacy for bike commuting is so important; we need more cyclists in cities and more awareness of them and resources for them, to make everyone safer. I did feel a bit hypocritical parking my Subaru at City Hall Plaza, though. In the picture below, yep, that's my gas guzzling car sitting right behind me. I really wanted to bike in with the participants, but I had an unwieldy metal tent structure, a table, two chairs, coolers of Gatorade, and a box of books and swag to transport. No way could I get all that to City Hall on a bike. My street team and I didn't qualify for the free Boloco breakfast, either, since we didn't come by bike. Fair enough! I'll be back for the July Bike Friday, sans booth, and next time I'll come on two wheels!

I realize my car doesn't really support the mission!

(special thanks to my awesome street team at bpcp Consulting, for putting this fun event together!)

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Books, Bikes, Boston!

Hey, it's biking season AND summer reading season! I'm celebrating both at Boston Bike Friday, this Friday the 27th.

If you're in the Boston area, and you work in the city, Boston Bike Friday should definitely be on your radar. One Friday a month, convoys with leaders will ride into the city from various towns. The whole point is to encourage bike commuting and get people to use bikes more in general. The convoys all lead to City Hall, where there is a big breakfast party outside for cyclists, and a festival with participating local bike-related businesses.

I'm a cyclist, but I'm also a local bike-related business of sorts, since I wrote a mystery involving bikes. So I will be at City Hall this Friday with a LATITUDE ZERO booth and my cool street team!

We'll be handing out Gatorade and water to thirsty riders, plus . . .  LATITUDE ZERO swag-- including racing bibs and bike stickers. Also, we have sneak peaks of the hardcover book! My author copies and ARCs will be on display, and the book is available there for pre-order in advance of the 7/3 release date. PLUS . . . you can take a way your very own Chapter 7, which is all about cycling. And will slip neatly into your messenger bag or even your back pocket if you happen to be coming by bike.

If you're in the area, I'd love to meet you! Come say hi!

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Blog Tour for LATITUDE ZERO!

It's been awhile since I've blogged here; I've been busy writing my third book, BLUE VOYAGE, and gearing up to launch LATITUDE ZERO . . . which comes out July 3! Author copies just arrived, pictured here!

Today I'm kicking off my blog tour, at Itching for Books! I'm writing about my not-so-adventurous summers as a teen, and why I write about much more adventurous teens.

Between now and mid-July, I'll be stopping by seven blogs and guest posting at each. Each post provides a window into LATITUDE ZERO - posts about my writing process, the ideas for the book, issues I wrestled with, and more.

Some of the dates are still being determined, so as soon as I have the full schedule, I will post it here!

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

LATITUDE ZERO book trailer -- and an ARC giveaway!

I'm gearing up for the launch of LATITUDE ZERO -- just about two months away! July 3! It's hard to wrap my mind around it because my head's been in Book #3, which takes place in Turkey. Now I'm mentally zipping around the globe (or getting some kind of global whiplash) as I prepare to send Book #2 out into the world.

And to kick off the countdown . . . I'm thrilled to announce that the LATITUDE ZERO book trailer is here!

I'm really excited about this trailer . . . I worked with a talented guy named Alex Trivilino, who works in TV in Los Angeles and has a really great eye. I think he did an awesome job putting this together and conveying the excitement of bicycle racing and intrigue of an international mystery -- this one taking us to Ecuador.

I'm also excited to feature some photography by my sister -- Darcie Renn -- in the trailer. I lived and worked in Ecuador years ago, back in the days when I took pictures with film (!), so many of the Ecuador pictures you see in the second half of the trailer were taken by my sister on her recent business trip there.

The LATITUDE ZERO trailer is premiering today over at the Mundie Moms blog, so you'll need to go there to check it out! While you're at it, you can enter the giveaway! You can win a signed ARC of LATITUDE ZERO, plus some fun swag like Latitude Zero-themed bike race bibs and bike decals/stickers, and bookmarks.

This link will take you right to Mundie Moms, the trailer and the giveaway! 

More LATITUDE ZERO news and updates coming soon!

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Guest Post: YA author Erin Cashman! (My Writing Process Blog Tour)

So last week I participated in the My Writing Process Blog Tour (you can read my post here if you missed it), and as promised, this week, right here on this blog, I'm hosting the fabulous Erin Cashman as part of the same tour! (And be sure to check out the other stop on the blog tour today, as my YARN co-editor Kerri Majors talks about her writing process too!)

Erin Cashman is the author of THE EXCEPTIONALS (Holiday House, 2012), which was named a Bankstreet College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year. It was one of my favorite books from 2012. I love the way that the main character, Claire, struggles with perceiving herself as average amidst extraordinary family members and peers, and I love how she discovers her powerful gift of understanding the thoughts of animals. (A gift I secretly wish I had!) This book is a paranormal story crossed with a suspenseful mystery, and I definitely love a good mystery! 

Here's a bit more about her enchanting novel:

Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, fifteen-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it's high time she transferred to Cambial Academy--the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities. Despite her attempts to blend in, Claire stands out at Cambial simply because she is normal. But unbeknownst to her new friends, she has a powerful gift she considers too lame to admit. Suddenly, the most talented students in school the Exceptionals begin to disappear. In an attempt to find out what happened to them, Claire comes across a prophecy foretelling a mysterious girl who will use her ability to save Cambial students from a dire fate. Could she be that girl? Claire decides there is only one way to find out: she must embrace her ability once and for all.

Finally, since this is a writing process blog tour we're on, I should mention Erin is a HUGE part of my own writing process! Not only is she a member of my in-person writing group, but also she has been an amazing critique partner at very early stages of my process. Erin and I swap pages almost weekly. We provide encouragement and highlight red flags to watch out for, and talk through plot snafus. I don't think I would have drafted my current project so quickly had it not been for Erin, so THANK YOU ERIN!

And now, here's Erin, in her own words!

I’ve been invited by YA mystery author Diana Renn to be part of the My Writing Process blog tour. I loved Diana’s book, TOKYO HEIST (Viking/Penguin, 2012) It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl, Violet, who finds herself and her father involved in a high stakes mystery involving stolen art that puts their very lives at risk. Violet must travel from Seattle to Japan, and the twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat! Fans of manga, art, Japan, and complex mysteries will love it! I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of her new book, LATITUDE ZERO, which comes out this July, and I could not put it down! You can read more about her right here, on her blog! Thanks for hosting me, Diana!

What are you working on?
I’m just finishing a middle grade fantasy novel. It’s a contemporary story rooted in Celtic myth, which also draws from the King Arthur legend. I guess it’s appropriate that I am writing this on St. Patrick’s Day! My mom was born in Galway, Ireland, and I fell in love with Ireland when I visited, especially all of the stories and legends. So much to inspire a fantasy author! After that is finished I am turning back to YA fantasies. I have two story ideas that I am deciding between. Both involve mystery, suspense and romance.

YA author Erin Cashman
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
There are so many excellent middle grade and YA fantasy novels being published today. I love that readers have so many books to choose from! I have not really thought about this before, but as I did I realized that all of my characters have an insider-outsider perspective. They are part of something, but don’t feel like they belong. In THE EXCEPTIONALS (Holiday House, 2012), Claire is from a family of people that have special abilities.  And yet, because her ability (understanding the thoughts of animals) is unique and very difficult to demonstrate, eventually she lies about having it and lives a life away from Cambial Academy, the school her great-grandfather founded to teach other teens with these “specials”. When circumstances force her back to Cambial, she is part of that world, but doesn’t feel like she belongs. In my middle grade fantasy, my main character, a thirteen-year-old boy is part of a secret world, but he doesn’t know it. And yet he doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere.

Why do you write what you do?
I love reading and writing fantasy novels, and I always have. I remember reading Lord of the Rings in ninth grade, and being completely swept up into the world of middle earth. There is magic in leaving your own worries and escaping into the pages of a fantasy novel. I hope that my readers are able to experience that with my books. I also remember clearly feeling like an outsider at times, and not feeling like I belonged as a teen. I think that’s why my protagonists also grapple with that. Of course, they are much stronger and braver than I was!

How does your writing process work?
An idea usually just hits me out of the blue – on a walk or a drive, or while I’m trying to fall asleep at night. And then as I think about it, a character starts to quickly come to me, and usually a scene plays out in my head. As soon as I can, I take notes, and then I write the scene. For THE EXCEPTIONALS it was when Dylan came out from the woods, and the reader doesn’t know if he is bad or good. At that point, Claire and I didn’t either! But I had to just write it down. Even though the scene is in the second half of the book, it’s the first words that I wrote.  After that, I brainstorm.  A LOT. I take walks and long drives. I talk about it to anyone who will listen – fellow authors (thank you Diana!), friends, my family.  I wonder why my main character is angry, or frightened. How did she get to that scene that I imagined?  What does she want?  What happens afterwards?  I take a lot of notes. I also make a huge poster board of characters. I cut out a picture of what I think he or she looks like, and I describe their personality. I also write pages of character sketches in a note book I keep just for that project. I divide it into sections: characters, plot and setting (I draw really bad maps and diagrams for this one!). In between, I write down scenes that come to me, that just sort of pester me in my head until I do – all out of order. As I write the draft I try not to edit myself. I go back and revise as I go, but I don’t edit my ideas. I write things that seem crazy, knowing I can cut it later. Then, when I’m done, I put it away for a few weeks, read it again, and then outline the book. It is not a very efficient way to write, but it’s the only way I can!

If you follow this tour, every Monday you can read about different writers' processes and their current works in progress. (It is so great to read about how others write. I often pick up an idea or two that helps me!) Each participant tags two or three new writers, and we all answer the same set of questions. So next Monday, on March 24, you can read about YA fantasy author Lisa Amowitz. I adored her novel, BREAKING GLASS, and can't wait to read more about her next novel, VISION, coming out this September!

And next Tuesday, March 25, you can read about Martina Boone, whose debut novel, COMPULSION, will be published October 2014. I can't wait to read more about this darkly romantic, southern gothic YA novel! Read all about it in her blog, AdventuresInYAPublishing

Thanks again for hosting me, Diana!


You're welcome, Erin! And be sure to check out another poster on the My Writing Process Blog Tour today: Kerri Majors, ed-in-chief of YARN and author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL (Writer's Digest Books, 2013). You can find Kerri's blog tour post, right now, right here

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