Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where do you write?

Wendy Toliver

I split my writing between two places, the living room (as pictured with me on the floor holding my baby) and in my home office (shown with me on the couch.) My office is painted a bright, cheery shade of cranberry and there's a coordinating oriental rug on the floor. My favorite decoration is a painting of a redheaded angel that I bought from an artist (D. Finley) on Ebay. She's cute and sassy and keeps me in line. I also have a bookshelf that's practically toppling over with books, folders, Bratz dolls, and voodoo dolls, awards, etc. The quote on one of the shelves reads: One shoe can change your life ... Cinderella. I've tried to bring the world into my office, with art from all over the world, foreign signs, and paintings of girls touring places I dream of going. I have a terribly non-ergonomic desk, a cozy loveseat, three funky lamps, a bulletin board covered in photos and cards people have sent me, and a framed photo collage showcasing my favorite family photos. Somewhere in there is a phone and if I'm really lucky I can find a pen.

Aimee Friedman

I'm attaching a photograph of me in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn. Though I typically write at either a) my desk or b) Starbucks, those aren't that fun, and I LOVE writing outdoors when I can.

Basically, I take my laptop, a blanket, an iced coffee, maybe a baguette with some cheese, and spread out on a shady section of the grass, and just go to work. My laptop battery lasts for a good three hours or so, and I love feeling the buzz of activity around me as people go about their daily business and soak up the fresh air (well, as fresh as city air can be...).

Kelly McClymer

This is my office, after six solid months of writing where I didn't take a good cleaning break. I'm still in the throes of revising a book, but I tried to clean up in order to take a picture to show on the blog. Hah. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot: a copy of one of my witch trilogy books under some filing (came from my publisher from a third printing run and was dumped in the file pile); two boxes of holiday cards (very three months) the watch that goes with my exercise monitor (fell off the desk two months ago and has yet to be picked up); notes to myself; receipts; a toothbrush from my visit to the dentist a month ago; an Amazon box that is *not* empty but contains a friend's book that I ordered two months ago and have yet to unpack and read. The stack of file folders is my teaching work -- and that *will* be taken care of tomorrow...only to be replaced by a fresh stack of work, of course.

The desk is no cleaner, but I do have a cool new cork board wall (see next pic).

Ah, what I can stick to these cork panels -- when they finally stick to the wall (the push pins are meant to encourage the sticky stuff on the back to, you know, actually *stick*. I have to buy one more pack, for a truly awesome wall. I'm going to do my storyboarding there. Can't wait to finish my revisions and get on to the next project.

If you think the desk is bad, you should see the two bookshelves and the mini-desk on the other wall. One day, my office will be a paean to organization. I'll take another picture then, to prove it is possible to turn chaos into order.

Jennifer Echols

Office. I painted the walls pink to prevent my husband and my son from coming in and talking to me while I'm trying to write. It didn't work. The chick on the bulletin board is Zoey, the heroine from the novel I'm writing now, No Parking. No, you're not mistaken, the front has fallen off my computer tower. I can still use the buttons if I am very careful. Only the highest quality tools are used to write Jennifer Echols' novels, let me tell you.

Porch. I think the plant might have been dead for three years and I can't tell because it's a cactus. It petrifies instead of withering.


Micol Ostow

Here is a set of pics of Miss Bridget Jones' contribution to my writing process (ie: "portrait of the writer returning home from a coffee shop," or "why I now work from my apartment").

Niki Burnham

I'll let everyone in on a deep, dark secret. I thrive on the unexpected when I'm away from home. I prefer the chaotic beauty of an English garden to the formal structure of a Versailles hedge, wandering streets to make my own discoveries over following a tour guide whose route and spiel hit a town's highlights in perfect order. I like the hum of people chatting in a restaurant, the noise of a stadium full of sports fans, and the chance to park myself on a bench or wall in the middle of a big city to people-watch. But at home, I crave structure and quiet. I'm an everything-in-its-place kind of person, which is why my office looks like this....

Here's what would really scare my friends (the ones with whom I travel, who are used to seeing the inside-out clothes strewn across my suitcase and/or hotel room floor four days into a weeklong trip): I didn't clean this room before I took the picture. This is really how I work. (If I'd have cleaned up for the picture, I would've taken the paper towel out from under the bonsai and filed the stack of papers on the shelf in the left-hand corner of the photo. I might've even put my glasses back in their case.)

Yep. I, Niki Burnham, am secretly a neat freak.

While I often do work in coffee shops or airports--happily, even--this is my favorite spot to write. Notebooks with research for my current project are close at hand; my computer screen is large and clear. There's plenty of sunlight, files are within reach but hidden away behind doors, and there are enough shelves to hold my books and pictures. I don't play music or have a television in the room. The silence and lack of clutter helps me think. So even though my characters are frequently knee-deep in mayhem, I'm not. At least not in this 9' x 11' corner of the world.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Leaving the Magic Behind

Hey all!

Just got back fom Disneyworld. It was hot, steamy, and a total blast. Gotta love that mouse. Anyone who can smlle as kids sweaty kids hug him andpaw all over him deserves props. And don't try to tell me that it's just a guy in a costume. I'm not gonna believe you!

It is such fun to get away on vacation. Just letting your brain rest is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. And you know I didn't bring my laptop on the Rockin' Roller Coaster or Space Mountain! It was a total battery recharge, and I have come back ready to write.

In fact, I'm working on a new Rocom to be released next summer! It's exciting to be back in the teen brain (a little confusing, too, I admit) as it's been ages since I wrote a new teen novel. Having two series running simultaneously leaves little time for a long novel, but this summer I indulged myself and took on the challenge. I will let you all know more about the book in a bit, but for now I like playing things close to the vest. And besides, I'm in a playful mysterious mood today.

On a different note, I have been interviewed for the new Author's Channel on the 'net. Right now, the interviews that are edited and posted as video blogs are about the Katie Kazoo series, but the teen stuff and the interviews about the How I Survived Middle School series will be posted on the channel shortly. Here's the link to the channel. Just scroll down until you find children's books, and click. Then search for the book/author you want to hear speaking about their craft.

Hope you're all enjoying your own lazy, crazy days of summer. . .



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

swimming lessons

It's a sad but true fact of my life:

I do not know how to swim.

I used to include this in my litany of "Oh, I'm a city girl!" excuses (alongside with "Sure, I never got my license, but I can ride the subway better than you"). And while it's true that I never did the summer camp thing, preferring to hole up in my air-conditioned bedroom with ice cream, my journal, and a pen to scribble stories, there WERE neighborhood pools where I could have taken lessons. Most of my city friends know how to swim -- some not too well, but at least they can stay afloat in the deep end. I guess I blame my parents to some extent as well -- when I was very little and fearless, they didn't take advantage of that time to throw me in the water. By the time I was old enough to be neurotic and worrisome (um, like I am now...) the idea of putting my face in chlorinated water was horrifying.
Fast-forward to this summer, when a crack team comprised of my friends and my boyfriend decided, in the pool of a friend's beautiful country home on the tippy-tip of Long Island, that their mission for the afternoon was: Teach Aimee to Swim.
It was terrifying. Six cheering, encouraging voices urged me to "Let go! Let go!" of the side of the pool, to "Pick up your feet!", to "Keep kicing!" and, most importantly, "JUST RELAX!" as I sputtered and sank and splashed. I defy anyone to "JUST RELAX!" while they are being screamed at, and bobbing in freezing cold water. I gripped people's arms, I announced, rather calmly, that I was "seriously freaking out," and in one life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, I submerged completely, only to come up shocked and shaken. For the rest of the weekend, a favorite game of my friends was "who can best imitate the expression on Aimee's face when she came up after going underwater?"
I swear that, despite all this, my friends are very kind people.
The hardest part for me was learning not to leave one foot on the bottom of the pool for safety, to kick off with both legs up and floating. Once I mastered this, it was surprisingly easy to float across the pool (while hanging for dear life onto my boyfriend's wrists, of course) and I began to, well, have fun.
I'm sure this metaphor has been used before, but writing is a lot like swimming. At least, for me. When I first sit down to write a novel, there is that scary sensation: I CAN'T take my feet off the bottom of the pool. I can't plunge in and begin. There are so many traps, so many pitfalls that lie in wait --what if I cramp up and get stuck? What if I lose myself in a sea of narrative and drown? So much of writing is learning to trust yourself, to trust that you've done it before, that you won't sink and drown, that you have supportive friends on the sidelines to cheer you on and hold your hands when you're at your worst.
I'll be starting a new novel this fall, and though the idea for it is still simmering, I'm pretty sure it will have something to do with water, with swimming. No, I didn't really learn to swim this summer, but my experiences in the water taught me a lot about myself, and the nature of trust and friendship and fear. Maybe I'll be braver when I sit down to write this time. Or at least I'll know that, in the worst of scenarios, I can always summon a life preserver by calling up a friend.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Boyfriend brag

It's been a great day! In addition to having a lovely lunch with a new editor regarding a super-fun project (more news later), Noah just learned that his short piece on his grandfather's work as a medic in WWII was chosen by WGBH Boston to run as an interstitial during the Ken Burns documentary, "War," this September. You can see a rough cut here: ... t#comments

Bridget Jones has chosen to celebrate this news with a hearty pre-bedtime nap!
Good times all around.

Monday, August 20, 2007

School's back in session!

School around here starts this week and the stores are stocked with back-to-school clothes and supplies. It brings me back to when I was in school and all the excitement of the first day. What will my teacher be like? Who will be in my class? Will I make the basketball team? What track events will I do this year? What am I going to wear? How am I going to do my hair? And, most importantly, will there be any totally hot new guys at my school?

What is it about the new guys? Is it the mystery factor, or the fact that they're not already assigned to a certain clique and therefore up for grabs? In my WIP there's an adorable new guy from Texas who wins the heart of the main character. Of course, he's good looking and he has a mesmerizing drawl. But what I think is really cool about him is he's not caught up in appearances and he's willing to hang out with anyone, regardless of cliques or groups.

For those of you going back to school, good luck! And don't forget to be yourself. :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

All work and some play

So, as I'm sure my fellow bloggers will attest, when you tell people that you write YA fiction, they usually respond with a bright smile and a, "that must be so much FUN!"

And it is. It really is. When I'm surfing baby-naming websites for names of characters or conducting "research" by watching reality tv, I have a great time. And the actual writing itself isn't always completely painful, either. But the truth is that no matter how much I love my job, it is *work.* There are deadlines, revisions, and--agh--days when the words refuse to come. Then there's the whole question of boring, grown-up concerns, like knowing when your next gig will be coming along. I am fortunate enough to have a great agent who loves to sit with me and think "big picture," but the big picture can be awfully intimidating, and truthfully, the ro coms are the steadiest work I've got.

I can't say why, for sure. Maybe it's all those years I fancied myself the next Francine Pascal, scribbling ideas for Sweet Valley High novels in my journal. But whatever the reason, I definitely slip into the ro com world as fluidly as if they were a scrunchy pair of Old Navy yoga pants ( pants...).

That's why i was so excited to hear from my editor this week that she's ready to start thinking about a new story together. Frighteningly, I've got two back-to-back deadlines coming up, and have been living and breathing my graphic novel project since June. Freelance: it's always feast or famine.

Luckily, I am just back from a long weekend at the cigarette-studded Jersey shore (see brother Dave's sketch of a local historical building). I am rejuvenated, and ready to dive back into the work.

Here's hoping my motivation lasts at least as long as my tan does....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Little joys

I had to take the dog to the groomer's this week. Thing about owning a poodle is that they need trimming pretty regularly (I've taken to calling Tipper "fluffanutter" for the week or so before she gets clipped.) I go to a place in Natick, MA. There's not much to do in the immediate vicinity of the groomer's, so it's usually a good time to get back in the car and try to run a few other errands. This week, however, I decided to wander down the street from the groomer's to a bakery and grab a coffee to take back to the car before heading out.

If you're ever in Natick, check out Bakery on the Common. Oh, YUM.

Imagine the smell of freshly-baked Challah bread made into French toast and dusted with cinnamon. Kids munching homemade chocolate biscotti. Guys in the kitchen whipping up omelettes with smiles on their faces. The place was sooooo much more than simple coffee. Needless to say, I grabbed a table and stayed. Sitting there soaking in the atmosphere, reading a great book, and enjoying a delicious breakfast made a mundane errand into one of life's little joys.

From now on, dog-clipping day is going to be a real treat. The whole experience got me brainstorming ways to make other errands and chores more fun. Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

“Please do not exit on that side of the taxi, you will get killed”

(Updated when I figured out how to get the photos off my phone)

On Tuesday I went to NYC to visit Catherine, my BFF from high school in Alabama. She’s the artistic director at The Moth. She showed me her office in Manhattan and the beautiful loft space with a rooftop garden where she’s getting married in September. Then we walked around the city in the twilight.

Catherine: And here’s the shop where a friend recommended I get my wedding veil. But I’m not sure a veil will look good with my red wedding dress. I was thinking a tiara.

Jenn: I was just going to suggest that.

Catherine: And have the hairdresser arrange it so I can take the tiara out after the ceremony is over, for the rest of the party.

Jenn: I think, with wedding hair, once the tiara goes in, it’s pretty much there to stay.

Catherine: I need to be able to take it out. It might get in the way when I spin fire on the roof.

Jenn: You talk like you’ve spun fire wearing a tiara before. *chuckle*

Catherine: *dead serious* I ALWAYS wear a tiara when I spin fire.

Jenn: Oh, I beg your-- Hey, a rat, my first New York rat! How adorable! *following rat into alley for a closer look*

Catherine: Watch out, they jump.

Jenn: Ack!

Finally she showed me her apartment.

Jenn: It’s so cuuuuuuuute!

Catherine: It’s tiny. But you have to call it something. Here’s the skylight the girl fell through when the Rockettes threw a party on the roof.

I have to say I would not want to live in NYC myself. I had claustrophobic dreams and woke with a strange need to walk all the way to the edge of the island to make sure the water was still there. (It was.) But Catherine loves the city, and it was wonderful to see her so happy and share her life for a few hours. I can’t wait to go back in September!

Yesterday I had lunch with my agent and my editor. My next book is BOY IN BLUE, about a 17-year-old who avoids prosecution for a high school stunt by spending spring break on night patrol with the 19-year-old rookie cop who arrested her. It will be published by MTV Books in February 2009. You will be happy to hear I did not spill anything or trip over anything at the meeting, and I did not smear chocolate on my suit until I got back to LaGuardia.

Book learnin'

Hey guys--
I've just learned that I am going to be teaching a YA writing course at Media Bistro in NYC this fall. The course is designed to help you start--and finish--your YA manuscript in 12 weeks. It's going to run from Oct 2 until Dec 18, on Tuesday nights. Check out the MB website: for more details.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I spent a good portion of my growing up years in South Carolina. I knew the beauty and the danger of thunder and lightning (why do people go out into the ocean on blow-up rafts in the middle of thunderstorms?). As a child, I remember sitting near an open window, feeling the wet storm breeze coming in through the screen, a sweet reprieve from oppressive heat.

When I moved to Delaware, the thunderstorms got fewer and less fierce, but I still would park myself in front of a window to watch and catch the breeze when I could.

The move to Maine, twenty years ago, robbed me of my summer storms. Sure, the weatherman might say there was going to be a thunderstorm. Hah! Pretender storm more like it. Perhaps a bolt of lightening, one wimpy round of thunder, a puff of breeze. Granted, the summers are cool here (70s and 80s are more usual than 90s). But still, I missed my storms.

Until this year. This year, we have had several storms a week for the last few weeks. Real storms -- lightning that cracks jaggedly from cloud to ground and thunder that shakes the house. We're predicted to have more this week. Even though it means unplugging my computer (my parents had their modem zapped by -- FL -- lightning once), I welcome the storms. It really feels like August to me (we even got a few days in the 90s last week!).

Here's hoping your summer brings you at least one of the things you love about the season.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Music for your drive

What radio station are you listening to over the noise of the air conditioner while you’re driving to work, play, or band camp?

In high school my station of choice was Y-102 from Montgomery. They played great music. They also had Mark Thompson as a DJ. He liked to make prank phone calls to the White House. When I was in 10th grade, everyone at my school was thrilled that he was the DJ for our prom--which I didn’t attend because I was at a statewide student government retreat at the beach.

Then Mark moved to I-95 from Birmingham, which played even better music. That became my station of choice. He was joined by someone named Brian Phelps, and they continued to make phone calls to the White House. They got so popular that they were offered jobs at a radio station in Los Angeles, and they left us.

A few years later we heard they’d landed a TV show, which turned out to be short-lived. I never saw it. This was during my no-TV/English major/high culture/literary snob phase. But a few weeks ago I finally watched The Princess Diaries, and there are Mark and Brian as Themselves, as if they’re still popular DJs in Los Angeles. Weird! (I was also fascinated by how such a wonderful book could be turned into such an awful movie, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.)

When I was at Auburn University, my station of choice was the ├╝bercool student alternative station WEGL, which you could only receive for about five blocks around Haley Center.

Here in Birmingham, until recently my fave was 100 The X, which played all the latest rock--Incubus, Relient K, Audioslave, Nickelback. Then, without warning or explanation, they suddenly became a Auburn and Alabama football talk show. All football all the time, as if you can’t get this at any break room, gas station, or family reunion around here! LIKE WE NEED MORE DISCUSSION OF AUBURN AND ALABAMA FOOTBALL. I am a football fan but please, the CD player in my car is broken, I need Incubus.

Luckily 105.5 The Vulcan has popped up to fill the void, but it’s not the same. They do play some new rock, but for the most part they’re stuck in the 1990s--Alice in Chains, older Red Hot Chili Peppers, and enough with the Nirvana already. Kurt Cobain is dead, yo. (*shielding head from rotten vegetables*)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Living Large: A Reader/Writer Challenge

I am huge.

I don't mean feeling sort of bloated and post-cupcake-chubby huge, but massive, reminiscent of some sort of whale-esque creature or perhaps an elephant. Yes, this grandeur comes with pregnancy. Even moreso with a twin pregnancy, but boy, I am unenviably large. I will have two new babies sometime around the beginning of September, and in the meantime, I'm stuck at home roasting in the muggy August heat enjoying a small-child's-worth of excess weight.

So this month, I issue a challenge...
Can you entertain me?
I have been stuck in a semi-laying-down position for about a month now, and books and movies and trying to write are just getting old. Even beach-reading fluff has lost its glimmer. I've surfed and re-surfed the internet. All my photo albums are in order. I don't do crafts. I am too impatient to learn a language. But I need something to do....HELP!

Anyone who can successfully entertain me with either an amazing book suggestion, a must-see movie that will keep me from falling asleep, a fabulous website, or some other much-more-creative and clever couch-based endeavor will be my new best friend. Are you up to the challenge?