Thursday, April 19, 2018

Writers' Conferences!

Conference season is upon us! In fact, it already started. Last week I had the privilege of attending Kweli, The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in New York City. I was thrilled to attend a master class by THE Angela Johnson, and multiple workshops, panels, and presentations that renewed my creative energy.
I’m getting ready to attend three of my favorite author gatherings in the next few weeks and throughout the summer months (Storymakersin May,WIFYRin June, and the SCBWI National conferencein LA in August). I’ll be part of the faculty at two of them and a participant in the third one, and I wanted to share the things that have helped me in the past to make my time at conferences the most productive, enjoyable, and inspiring experience to keep me going through the rest of the year as I work by myself. 
I belong to vibrant writing communities, but there’s nothing like the energy of attending an event just for MY people. A bunch of people obsessed with reading, writing, and illustrating books for children that truly change the world. People that are usually (not always) a bunch of introverts who’ve only met online and try not to act awkwardly meeting in person for the first time (or after a long time of digital conversations). 
These are the things I can prepare ahead of time to help me cope with the amazingness of conferences:
·     Business cards or another form of sharing my info: Right before I left for Kweli, I dug out my author business cards that I’ve been using for a couple of years now. My contact information hasn’t changed, but my agent switched agencies, and to my horror of horrors, I realized that I’ve been giving out a card with the wrong email address for the last two years. Thankfully I had included several ways people could get in touch with me. Besides email, I included my website info, and my social media handles. For the rest of the summer, and because it’s the first time I’ll attend a conference after signing a book deal, I’ll have postcards with my book info so people can know it’s coming out soon (ish… 2019). Business cards aren’t a must, but they’re great ways to gather contact info of the people we click with when we sit together for lunch, at classes, or outside in a green area taking a break. I’ve met a lot of my friends at writerly events!
·     Getting submission materials ready on time. If I’m part of a workshop (either as faculty or attendee), I like to read my workshop materials ahead of time so that I may be the best help to my fellow workshop attendants. Talking about submissions, make sure you format your materials properly. By this I mean, make sure there’s identifying information such as name, title, page numbers on a cover letter, and every page. Also, when you save your piece, make sure you labeled it in an appropriate way. Remember every person will be able to see the file name and root. Go simple. Your last name and title will suffice (Name.Title.doc) instead of something generic or inappropriate like: firstchapter.doc, workshop.doc, thefreakinglastdraftb*tches.doc. 
·     Going over the schedule and giving myself time to recharge: I love planning my classes, and most times my plans change. Sometimes if I’m meeting friends, I’ll change my mind on what class I’m attending. Sometimes I take longer to arrive to my first choice and when I finally arrive I realize the class is full. Sometimes I need a break. But I like being prepared and knowing ahead of time what my options are. 
·     Remembering to be yourself and keeping in mind why you attend these kind of events: dress comfortably but professionally. Wear comfortable foot-ware. Enjoy the moment. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember this time is for you to improve your craft, to make connections that will invigorate your writing and your personal life. If you have a pitch session with an agent or editor, remember that they’ve been looking forward to meeting a project to fall in love with, but most of all, they want to help you improve yourcraft. However, meeting and agent or editor shouldn’t be the main purpose of conference attendance. Save every moment, so when you’re at your desk, pounding words on your latest WIP or that tenth revision, you’ll be able to draw from the magical energy of being surrounded by wordsmiths and storytellers. 

What conferences or events will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for newbies and old-timers? Please share in the comments, and if you attend any of the same events I’ll be at, seek me out and say hi! 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: RIDERS OF THE REALM by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Guys, this is so exciting. We're on the red carpet, with Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, author of the amazing GUARDIAN HERD quartet. Jennifer is one of the most gracious and professional authors I know, and so I'm fanboying and pretty much swooning that she chose Project Mayhem to be the space for the book trailer premiere of her new RIDERS OF THE REALM  trilogy. The first book in the series, Across the Dark Water, releases on May 1st, 2018. (Swoon again!)

Even more exciting, Jennifer will be giving away a signed copy of the finished book for ONE lucky reader chosen from comments on this post. (US readers only.)

Without further ado, let's settle in our seats, grab the popcorn, and turn down the lights. I present to you the book trailer for RIDERS OF THE REALM:


I love the illustrations, the music, the drama: basically everything about this! (For future consumption: I'll be reviewing Across the Dark Water on Project Mayhem in a couple of weeks!!!)

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
Thank you, Jennifer, for honoring Project Mayhem with this premiere. We're big fans of yours!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Cover Reveal: THE LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN THE WORLDS by Melanie Crowder

In the fall of 2016, Melanie Crowder and I met for the first time. We'd known each other on line (I reviewed her first novel, PARCHED, right here on Project Mayhem!) and finally got to meet in person on our way to the Virginia Library Association's annual meeting (where our books were both awarded the Jefferson Cup for Historical Fiction).

On that drive, we talked about the work we were doing. Melanie mentioned a new project that involved a lighthouse.

Now that book, The Lighthouse Between the Worlds, will meet the world this fall.

I asked Melanie what first drew her to this story. Here's what she had to say:
I grew up in Oregon, and the lighthouse that inspired the book, Heceta Head, is just down the coast highway from where my family went camping for our summer vacations. I go home to Oregon every year—I'm still a west coast girl at heart.  
I thought of the story when I was out in the wilderness, and wondering what it must have been like when the telegraph, or AC currents, or the Fresnel lens came to the West. It must have seemed like magic. And I thought—what if it was? I had no idea at the time that a portal fantasy, with characters jumping between worlds would be the result, but isn’t that the fun of writing—finding those surprises in the process? 
Here's a description of the story:

Griffin and his father tend to their lighthouse on the craggy coast of Oregon with the same careful routine each day. There are hardly ever any visitors, but they like it that way. Which is why, when a group of oddly dressed strangers suddenly appears, Griffin begins to see just how many secrets his father has been keeping. He never imagined that his lighthouse contains a portal to strange and dangerous worlds, or that a Society of Lighthouse Keepers exists to protect the Earth from a fearsome enemy invasion.

But then Griffin’s dad is pulled through the lens of the lighthouse into one of those other worlds. With his father gone, nobody from the Society is giving Griffin any answers, so he’s on his own. Armed only with a book of mysterious notes from his parents, Griffin is determined to find his dad, no matter what dangers lurk on the other side of the portal.

And here's the gorgeous cover!

You can find out more about Melanie and all her books at her website,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Happy Birthday to THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE! by Anne Nesbet

I thought  that to celebrate the birth of my new book, The Orphan Band of Springdale, I would share a special, ILLUSTRATED edition of the Author's Note! 

But first I must thank two people in particular: Josie Portillo, for creating the beautiful, heartfelt cover, and Kaylan Adair, my wonderful editor, for her faith in the story--and in the power of revision.

"Oh, this reminds me of Maine!"
--my mother, in front of any beautiful landscape anywhere

            There are stories that come from the heart, and others that come also from the very bones that give us shape. THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE is one of those bone marrow tales. It is my echo of a story that I wish my mother had been able to finish telling me--the story of her childhood, which was so hardscrabble and tough that she could only bear to give us scraps and pieces of it when we were little.
            We knew that she had to go to a new school in a new town every single year, because they could never afford to pay the rent.
            We knew that her father was mostly not around.
            We knew that during particularly hard times she would be sent to live in the orphan home run by her grandmother up in Maine--an orphan home that had been started in order to keep a family secret.

            And we knew that somehow out of all this trouble, our mother emerged with some enduring and fine things: how to tell a good story, how to bring extended family together around a table, and how to play the French horn.
When summer came, she would take us back to the farming country of southern Maine, and we camped on a hill that had been allowed to go back to woods, and from the top of which all the grown-ups insisted that with a good telescope you might be able to see sails off the Portland coast, maybe.

            This was not the Maine of fishermen and saltwater. Instead of the ocean, we had occasional treks to Square Pond.  The mosquitoes kept us on our toes.
            The cousins would gather at the end of the day, and over long afternoons my mother and grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins would share epic stories in few words, while we kids ran around creating small kingdoms in the woods.
(I'm the awkward one on the right.)
            I would have eavesdropped better if I had known I would lose my mother early. But of course I didn't know.
            But it happened: my mother died too young, and years passed, and all the stories about Maine kept wriggling and whispering inside me, and eventually I realized I was going to have to give some voice to them. I couldn't ever know the whole truth about my mother's childhood, true--but that just meant I would have to write it anyway, as fiction.
            To make that fiction as true as possible, I went back to Maine and spent some time at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, reading through old issues of the excellent local paper, the Sanford Tribune.

The flavor of 1941 comes through those newspaper pages: anxieties about drought and the war in Europe, "alien registration" drives,

Union elections in the local mills, a "7-Point Health Certificate" school campaign waged with vigor against bad eyes, crooked teeth, and malnutrition, all garnished with competing hyperbolic ads from the local dairies . . . .

So the seeds of this story are true, but the resulting crop is fiction. I changed the identities and biographies of my characters and even tweaked the names of the local towns, out of respect for the difference between Gusta's fictional world and the real childhood places of my real mother.
           My mother did love a good story, and I hope she would have been tickled by this one. In the heart-and-marrow of my dreams, sometimes she even looks up from the pages and smiles her wonderful, crooked grin and says, "Oh, Anne, this reminds me of Maine!"

Thursday, April 5, 2018


Have you been having a hard time writing recently?  Don’t worry.  Instead, feel honored.  Your imagination was temporarily removed from your body by aliens. 

The half hour operation was performed while you were fast asleep.  Your imagination is located in the center of your heart.  Western science has yet to discover this obvious fact.  The aliens do not intend to dissect or destroy your imagination.  Far from it.  They revere your creativity and are hoping to harness its awesome power in the name of cosmic love. 

Your imagination has been taken to a planet whose inhabitants have lost the capacity to dream of a better life.  All fun and creativity have come to a grinding halt.  Depression and despair reign.  On this planet there are two hundred wells, from which the inhabitants draw all their drinking water.  Your imagination will be placed in a golden bucket and lowered for five minutes into each well.  Your creativity will seep into every molecule of water.  When the inhabitants take a sip, there imaginations will instantly be reactivated and the great shadow will be lifted from their civilization.  At that point, your imagination will be placed back in your body and your writer’s block will come to an end.  I hope this clears things up.