Thanks to the nice folks at Inkpop, I'm their featured author this week and am doing a live chat on the site today from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. EST. I'll be interacting with aspiring teen authors in the forum, answering their questions about publishing and the creative process. If you're interested in such things, come along and check it out, either during the chat or afterward:

Creating a New World: Live Chat with Fantasy and Science Fiction Author R.J. Anderson

I wish sites like Inkpop had been available when I was a teen author, is all I can say. What a great resource for sharing works in process, getting critiques, and finding out all the nuts and bolts of publishing.
Today I'm happy to host fellow author Saundra Mitchell a.k.a. [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond, whose debut novel Shadowed Summer was nominated for the YA category in this year's Edgar Awards -- quite an achievement for a first novel!

Shadowed Summer is a haunting and poignant tale of a teenage girl in a small Louisiana town, who struggles to solve the mystery of a young man's death and unravel its connection to her family. Not only is Iris's story compelling in its own right, but Saundra is a beautiful writer with a talent for immersing the reader in the atmosphere of her stories and making you feel as though you are right there.

Welcome, Saundra!

***

ALL IS MYSTERY
by Saundra Mitchell, author of Shadowed Summer (Delacorte Press, 2010)

Though not every book is a mystery, I believe each one should contain some. We could write stories where the character wakes up and the end of the day is a foregone conclusion -- but it wouldn't be very interesting.

People say that books need conflict, and I'll argue that conflict comes from mystery. There's the push and pull of a character with answers refusing to give them. Or, when a character thinks she knows how to solve a problem, but is unaware of the poison pot she'll unleash with her solution -- conflict!

The tingle and excitement of a romance comes from mystery, too. There's a reason most romances tell the story of how the couple got together -- all the mystery of finding out who someone is and who you are with them is what drives the conflict and the chemistry.

Mystery certainly worked for R.J. in Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter a.k.a. Knife -- their magic was gone, and faeries were going mad -- and they certainly didn't know why. And now in the sequel, Wayfarer, Linden's going to find out that getting the Oakenfolk's magic back is more than a matter of heading off to the local Enchanteria and borrowing a cup of ensorcelldust.

Everything is mystery -- the world, the way our bodies work, science and faith work every day, chipping at it. And I think the best books are the ones that explore their world the way we do our own: solving one mystery at a time.

Shadowed Summer
by Saundra Mitchell
Available now in paperback
www.shadowedsummer.com

You can buy Saundra's book through Indiebound, Book Depository, Powell's, or Amazon.
I'm over at [livejournal.com profile] newport2newport's journal today, talking about The Intersection of Faith and Fantasy along with my good friend and fellow 2009 Deb Saundra Mitchell a.k.a. [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond.

If you're interested in how two YA authors choose to approach matters of faith and spirituality in their novels, or have some thoughts of your own to contribute about the subject, come on over and join us!
Last year when my debut Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter came out, my fellow author Amy Brecount White gave me a lovely interview, and now that her debut novel is in stores I'm returning the favor!

Amy's book is called Forget-Her-Nots, and it's the story of a teenaged girl named Laurel who discovers that she has a special, subtle gift of magic which expresses itself through flowers. When Laurel makes a bouquet for herself or one of her friends, she must choose carefully, because the flowers she chooses influence the recipient's perceptions and emotions. Laurel's magic can bring joy and romance into the hearts of those she loves, but she can also create havoc if she does not choose her flowers wisely and carefully!

When I first heard about this premise for a book, I loved it -- it's so fresh and original. I was familiar with the Victorian idea that flowers are their own "language" and that each plant or herb sends its own particular message to the receiver, because I'd referred to that language myself when choosing plant names for the female faeries in Spell Hunter and sequels. I knew, for instance, that white bryony (Bryony being Knife's original faery name) is poisonous, an irritating purgative, and that the herbalist Culpepper described it as a "furious martial plant" -- how fitting for my fierce faery heroine! But in Forget-Her-Nots the language of flowers is a kind of magic in itself, which Laurel must discover and learn to use.

Forget-Her-Nots is a sweet, thoughtful book ideal for older tweens or young teens who are just beginning to be interested in romance but don't want anything too heavy yet; who like the idea of magic operating subtly in the midst of ordinary, everyday life; who appreciate the beauty of the natural world in general and flowers in particular. It also touches upon Laurel's strained relationship with her father after her beloved mother's death, and the grieving process they must both go through -- but it's gently and thoughtfully handled, rather than oppressive.

Another thing I appreciated about Amy's book is that (to me anyway) the most attractive boy in the book, the one that I instantly liked and was hoping would get together with Laurel in the end, is Asian. And it's not made into some big deal that takes over the plot, he just is, and he's a real, believable character and not a stereotype, which I loved.

So please say hello to Amy Brecount White!

Q&A with Amy )

If you're interested in learning more about Forget-Her-Nots, you can Browse Inside the front cover, flap copy and first few chapters at the HarperTeen site. You can also visit Amy's personal website, friend her at [livejournal.com profile] amybre_white, or check out some of her many other interviews.
*steps very cautiously outside into the Big Wide World*

*sniffs*

*blinks*

Oh, look, there's a big shiny yellow thing up in the sky! *squints at it* I think it's called the sub, or something of that sort?

Well, maybe I haven't been quite that dramatically isolated in my First Draft Cave since mid-January, but it feels like it. All my usual activities went out the window when I set myself the challenge of finishing Arrow by the end of March, and then somewhere in the middle of my frenzied typing I came down with Baby's First Sinus Infection, which was a lot of No Fun At All.

However. I am here now, poking my head out of my burrow and sniffing the virtual wind, and by that you might rightly conclude that I have, in fact, succeeded. To wit, I wrote the last sentence of Arrow this past Saturday. Yay!

Of course, my work is not quite done yet; I have the month of April to revise the really rocky bits of the manuscript and give it a last polish before I turn it into The Lovely Sarah (my UK editor). But for me, the first draft is by far the hardest part of writing any book, and revision is much less stressful. So I'm giving myself a few days to relax and breathe and catch up on all the things that have gone by the wayside in the past three months (like certain household chores, and my shockingly neglected e-mail inbox), and then I'll print the whole ms. with a new font and double-column layout so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and start marking it up like crazy.

In any case, some interesting things have happened since my last post, and I look forward to telling you all about them. You may expect to hear from me a little more often in the next few days...

But in the meantime, you might check out this (now slightly outdated) video I made for Adele over at the book blog Persnickety Snark, giving a little update on what I've been doing and what's coming up in future.

First, to all my lovely readers in the UK who have finished reading Knife and Rebel and are now e-mailing me to ask when Arrow will be published and whether I can make it happen any sooner -- I am afraid that January 2011 is the very soonest the book can possibly come out, because I have still not finished writing it yet! But I am working on the story just as fast as I can. Believe me, I want to know what happens next, too!

***
City of Barrie

City of Barrie, Ontario  |  Image via Wikipedia


Second, I'm delighted to report that I will be one of the guest speakers at the SCBWI Canada East "Spring Thing" conference, to be held at the Kempenfelt Conference Center in Barrie, ON (1 hr. north of Toronto) from April 23-25, 2010.

Over the weekend I'll be giving a seminar on "Revision: The Magic Key to Successful Writing", as well as participating in a couple of panels and doing some manuscript critiques. I'm very excited about it, as I love SCBWI events and this is the first time I've been able to attend one as a speaker. If you're within driving distance and are interested in writing for children and teens, you might want to check this conference out...
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2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) - 31

Image by Nic's events via Flickr

The good news: Since I started work on Arrow in the second week of January, I have written over 41,000 words.

The bad news: I still have to write at least another 35K, if not more, before this book is finished. And then I need to revise it at least a bit before I can send it to my editor... and all that has to be done by the end of April.

So if you've been wondering why I'm not around much in any of my usual online haunts, that would be the reason, yes.

But I leave you with a teaser! Because I am either nice that way or mean that way, depending on what you think of such things:

He was even taller than she remembered, his skin more tanned, his eyes greener. There was a smear of blood high on his forehead where something had cut him, and he was wearing the fireplace poker like a sword stuck through his belt.


See you on the other side!
It's been a long weekend, but I am determined to get at least SOME words written in the midst of it, and I discovered this week that having other people writing at the same time and checking in together on a regular basis is quite motivational and helpful.

So although it may be a long shot on a Sunday evening, I'm opening up a call for writing partners this evening. I myself won't be able to start until 8:45 p.m. EST, but you're welcome to start any time you like, and I'll check in on the hour to see how everybody's doing.

All you have to do to join is leave a comment, with as few or as many details as you like about what you're working on, how much you've written so far, and how many hours/scenes/words you plan to get done this evening.

Me, I'll be working on Arrow, of which I have so far written one chapter (~4,000 words), and this evening I hope to get at least 500 words written on the first scene of Chapter Two, more if possible. I'll be checking in at 8:45 p.m. and out around 10:30 - 10:45 p.m.

Are we ready? Comment -- and go!

ETA: Signing out for the evening -- 580 words, with which I am quite well pleased. Thanks to everybody who joined me, and feel free to carry on as long as you like!
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2009 has been a really tough year, and I think many of us are glad to see the end of it. However, I will always hold a warm spot in my heart for 2009 nonetheless, because it's the year I Finally Got Published.

When I wrote the first draft of Knife back in 1993 I had no idea if it would ever amount to anything. I only knew that I loved the characters, and that the kernel of the story was sound and strong even if I wasn't quite sure how to get to it yet. Over the years of submissions and rejections and revisions that followed, I never lost the conviction that there was something in that manuscript, and that I shouldn't give up on it. And ultimately, my faith in Knife and Paul's story was justified -- not only did it see print this year, but it's become a UK bestseller. I could never have foreseen that, and I am tremendously grateful to my publishers and my readers for making it happen.

Another reason I feel kindly about 2009 is that at the end of the year, I finally completed a working draft of another book I feel passionately about, Touching Indigo. It took me nearly three years of research and writing, during which I foolishly unmade my own creative process and had to cobble it back together again. But in the end I was proud of what I'd done, and so was my agent, and we both look forward to seeing what 2010 brings for the manuscript.

***

As for 2010, my current resolutions are as follows:

1. Follow a regular, disciplined schedule for no less than 30 days (I already have this plotted out on a chart, a PDF of which now serves as my desktop so I can't ignore it)

2. Get a complete draft of my current WIP done by April.


The second is dependent on the achievement of the first, I believe -- I'm going to have to hold myself very firmly to a routine if I'm going to get the time I need to write, and still spend the necessary time on family and other commitments.

I'll let you know how it goes.

***

Finally, in the spirit of writing and resolutions, I'd like to share with you this great video from YA author Jackson Pearce, in which myself and a slew of other authors were happy to participate. The advice is simple, but sound, and I hope it encourages those of my friends who are trying to write and publish their work in the coming year.



Happy New Year, everyone!
I have been waiting and waiting for the opportunity to share this good news, and today I finally got the go-ahead from my agent to tell the world about it --

I have sold two more faery books to Orchard, my wonderful publisher in the UK!

Like Knife and Rebel, these next two novels will be more or less complete stories in themselves, but (like Rebel) they are also sequels to the earlier books, so we'll be seeing some familiar characters and plot threads cropping up as well.

If all goes well, then Arrow, the third book, will hit bookstores in the UK and Commonwealth in 2011 and Swift, the fourth volume, in 2012.

My delighted thanks to the good folks at Orchard Books UK, and to all the enthusiastic and loyal young readers, librarians, teachers and booksellers overseas who have helped to make my faery books a success!
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Nearly all my good news these days seems to be coming from the other side of the pond -- which is not a bad thing by any means! But in any case, I found out this week courtesy of some schoolchildren who e-mailed me from the UK that Knife has been nominated for the Hillingdon Secondary School Book of the Year for 2010. The nominees are selected by a team of librarians, copies of the nominated books are read by students at all participating schools and then the final award winner is voted on by the students themselves, so I'm really delighted to be part of this!

And also related to the UK editions of my books, I just completed a short "Meet the Author" video where I talk about the inspirations behind Knife and Rebel, for Orchard Books to use on their website:



I have already been mocked* for the Scarf That Ate Rebecca's Head, so you can hold off on that one. :) Next time I shall know better.

--
* Not by my publisher, I hasten to add. And it was all in good fun anyway.
I'm featured on Cynsations today (which is a really fantastic newsletter/roundup for those interested in YA lit -- if you're not subscribed to it yet, you should be), talking about the technical aspects of writing Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter.

If you'd like to know why I chose third rather than first-person point of view, or find out more about the research and the worldbuilding that went into the book, check it out!
I am happy to announce that in just a couple of weeks (well, three to be exact), I will be flying down to the AASL Conference in Charlotte, NC to do a signing for many lovely school librarians, and while I am visiting I will also be doing this:

Meet the Debs!

Where:
Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC

When:
Friday November 6, 2009 at 5 p.m.

Who:
R.J. Anderson (Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter)
Lauren Bjorkman (My Invented Life),
Jennifer Jabaley (Lipstick Apology),
Neesha Meminger (Shine, Coconut Moon),
Shani Petroff (Bedeviled: Daddy's Little Angel),
Cynthea Liu (Paris Pan Takes the Dare), and
Erin Dionne (Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies).


We will be signing copies of our books and chatting to all comers -- if you're in the area, please drop by and say hello!

I am especially excited about this trip because not only do I get to meet a bunch of terrific fellow authors and hang out with my wonderful agent, I will be jaunting up to visit my dear friend [livejournal.com profile] cesario while I am there. Whee!

***

Next, I am exceedingly excited because today -- yes! today! -- I am going to have tea and hang out with the lovely and hilarious Adrienne Kress, author of two of my favorite middle-grade books of the last few years -- Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate. More people need to read these books. Seriously. They are adventurous and fantastical and witty and insightful and just plain fun. And so is Adrienne. So this too is made of WIN.

***

There may also be some very, very good news brewing on the writing front. I cannot say what about, exactly, not yet, as the details are yet to be confirmed. But I will tell you as soon as I can.

***

And finally, something for you lot -- it's Debsness time again!

Find Out What's In The Bag And Win It Today
Yes, you heard right, I have emerged from the depths of the word mines triumphant! Touching Indigo, my paranormal YA novel, is now complete at ~60K words.

I have to say, this was the most challenging book I've ever written. Part of it was my own fault, in trying a completely new approach to writing when I began the book in January 2007. In a foolish attempt to make myself more productive and "professional", I succumbed to the siren call of First Draft in 30 Days, and also to the spreadsheet method of outlining, both of which turned out to be serious mistakes for me and really hindered my writing of the book.

So there's a perfect example of how methods that work wonderfully for authors with certain mindsets/personality types can be disastrously wrong for others. In my case, I got so caught up with trying to make the spreadsheet all balanced and pretty ("Hm, I see that I've had X number of scenes with this character, so obviously I need to insert a scene with this character") that I lost the ability to tell the story in a natural way. It wasn't until I threw out my outline and just told the story as I remembered it, feeling my way intuitively from scene to scene, that it all came together again.

Anyway, I know the book can only get better from here, and I hope to make it better in subsequent revisions, but right now I am very well pleased. And best of all, I made my deadline, so now I can a) read Catching Fire and Dreamdark: Silksinger, among other new releases I've been drooling over; and b) buy myself that new laptop! I'm thinking seriously about going Mac this time, so I can use Scrivener. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that the nearest Apple Store is two hours' drive away, so if I need any service or repairs, I'm pretty much bunned...

I will post again soon about the wonderful new music I discovered over the course of writing the last two-thirds of Indigo, and many other things. Right now, I'm just glad to be back in touch with my online friends again.
I'm up to 30K on Touching Indigo and heading into Part Two, which is where I got bogged down all those times before. This time, though, I feel like I've finally sorted out all the problems with the first section and have a good foundation on which to build. So I am optimistic.

Besides, I've given myself yet another incentive -- in addition to the "you can buy a new laptop ONLY IF you get this book done before mid-October" plan mentioned in my last post, I've also told myself that I am not allowed to purchase any new books, in any form, until I've finished writing my own.

Yes, that includes Catching Fire.

*sob*

Excuse me, I'm going to go work on my book now.
As many of my readers know, I've been struggling with my dearly beloved but also insanely complicated and demanding standalone YA novel, Touching Indigo, for two years now.

A brief history of my attempt to write this book )

Fortunately, an offhand comment by [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond when I was lamenting to her about my research woes gave me the key to the whole problem -- even if it took a few weeks, indeed months, for me to see it clearly. She asked whether I couldn't just set the story earlier in my heroine's personal timeline -- having her committed to psychiatric hospital before being tried for murder, instead of afterward.

At first I resisted the idea, as it seemed like it would be a lot of work. But slowly it grew on me, as I realized that this would make the stakes higher and the tension greater -- so it might be worth the effort after all. But it wasn't until last night that it hit me what a huge mistake I'd really made in those opening chapters.

Let me explain... )

So like I said in the subject line, feeling too stupid to live, but also happier about tackling another revision than I've been in a long, long time.

And thank you, [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond, for giving me the key -- even if you didn't know it, and even if it took me forever and a day to figure out how to use it to unlock the door!
There's been a lot of talk lately about authors behaving badly in response to negative reviews -- in some cases really, really badly. And having had some past experience with less-than-stellar reviews of my work, I can understand the disappointment and frustration that the authors involved were feeling when they allowed their emotions to get the better of their judgment. Nobody likes to be told that the book of their heart, the one they put months or years of effort into creating, has fallen short of excellence -- even if it's only in one critic's opinion.

On the other hand, I've often heard it said by wise and experienced folk that book reviews are written for readers, not for writers -- so in a sense people like Ms. Hoffman and Mr. de Botton are eavesdropping on a conversation that was never intended to include them, and shouldn't be surprised when they don't like everything they hear. I know many authors who deliberately avoid reading any reviews of their work whatsoever (meaning reviews written after the book is published, when it's too late to change it anyway), for this very reason.

Mind you, I am still a publishing n00b myself, and therefore unable to resist reading every review of my book that crosses my path. So if I get a bad review, it's my business to deal with it -- privately that is, without swearing vengeance on the reviewer and their descendants unto the third and fourth generation. (Though it can be tempting.)

Fortunately, I've noticed something about the reviews I've received so far that makes me a lot more relaxed and philosophical about getting the occasional bad one.

"There are too few faeries introduced to us in the book -- it would have been nice to meet some more of them," said one of my early reviewers, and I felt a little sad about all the incidental characters who vanished in revisions. But then, a few days later, I came across another reader lamenting, "There are too many faeries mentioned in the book and I couldn't keep track of them all."

"This book has far much romance for its intended audience!" complained another reviewer on GoodReads. And then, a couple of months down the line, a young reader complained "This book is not a romance AT ALL."

"The antagonist needs more villainy," mused one respectable critic, but then a commenter elsewhere said, "The antagonist's villainy made me so furious I could hardly get through the book."

A review which stated, "The story was muddled and confusing, I couldn't follow it" was followed almost immediately by another saying, "The plot was too plainly spelled out, I would have liked to figure some things out for myself."

Oh, well, okay then.

Of course, there are times when multiple reviewers (or worse, nearly all the reviewers) agree that a particular aspect of the book or story is weak. In which case I think it's the author's duty to swallow their pride, make a note of this particular fault in their writing, and try to do better in future... but in my experience of reading and writing book reviews, this happens a lot less often than one might think.

Anyway, all this has made one thing very clear to me: there is no point in getting upset over one bad review, or even a whole bunch of bad reviews, because every reader brings different tastes and expectations to a book, and it's impossible to please everyone. The best thing I can do when I'm disappointed by a particular review is to remember that I don't love every book I read either, and that some of the books I love best have been heavily criticized by others, and try to move on.
So now that my little faery book is widely available in bookstores, and a good number of you folks out there seem to have read it... are there any questions about the book that you'd like to ask? Leave a comment, and I will do my best to satisfy (unless the answer would totally spoil you for some important aspect of Rebel a.k.a. Wayfarer, that is).

Needless to say there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS in the comments, so people who still plan to read the book for themselves might want to skip this one.
I dashed downtown to my beloved indie children's bookseller to pick up my special order this morning, and am now the proud owner of:


Then I went to the library, because I woke up with all sorts of new ideas scrambling around in my head for Touching Indigo (the aforementioned WiP) and decided it was time to knuckle down and get serious with my research instead of having the vapors over it. I hate research, because I am so inefficient at it and I worry constantly that something I find out will kill my book stone-dead, and yet I also can't bear to just make stuff up when there are legitimate facts to be had. So these are the books currently piled on my desk:

  • The Day the Voices Stopped: A Memoir of Madness and Hope by Ken Steele and Claire Berman
  • Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison
  • Straight Talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Kay Marie Porterfield
  • From Crime to Punishment: 6th Edition by Joel E. Pink and David C. Perrier
  • No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times by Dorothy Rabinowitz
  • Youth Injustice: Canadian Perspectives Edited by Thomas O'Reilly-Fleming and Barry Clark
  • Youth in Conflict with the Law by Paul Maxim and Paul Whitehead

So that will tell you a few more things about the plot of Touching Indigo... and also why this book has been giving me hairy conniptions for over two years. SO MUCH STUFF TO GET WRONG OMG.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go Write Stuff.
It's a good thing I thought to Google my book title today! Otherwise I would never have known about this:

Browse Inside Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

Which gives you an electronic preview of the cover (flaps included), the first 67 pages of the book, and even the Acknowledgments at the end.

I heart my publisher.

ETA 12:00 EST: Server glitch means the preview's down for the moment. Will post again when it's back up.

ETA 3:30 EST: It's working again now!

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