Saturday, March 28, 2009

Love of Libraries

Last week was Literacy Week here in Bermuda, and I was invited to speak to high school students at Cedarbridge Academy. It was an eventful seven days--just two days before my visit, Cedarbridge hosted Bermudian author Nadia Aguiar (of The Lost Island of Tamarind wonderfulness). The week was capped off with a well-attended book fair in the island's capital. Very cool!

Here I am with two of Cedarbridge’s educators on the day of my talk. Check out the background. I was really impressed with the size of their school library. There were enough tall rows of bookshelves to fill the expansive, modernized space.

And there I go trying not to act as nervous as I truly was. (You’d think the fact that it was my birthday would've psyched me into giving those insecurities a strong karate chop! I blame it on the official-looking mic and podium.)

Truly, the awesome setting of my talk gave me flashbacks of my grammar and high school libraries. My schools’ libraries weren’t nearly as large (barely a quarter of the size of Cedarbridge’s), but just visiting a school library again took me back. In grammar school, I just remember feeling so pleased that all the bookshelves and book selections were tailor made for my height and my taste, respectively. It made me feel special. I know this sounds super hokey, but that’s the way it was for me.
And a few years later, when I didn’t feel like being “in the mix” of all the comings and goings in my high school hallways, I escaped to the library. Being around books always seemed to chillax me. As I got older, I substituted those library getaways with visits to local bookstores.
So, tell me. What do you remember about your school library?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Social butterfly

That's what I've felt like lately--that is, busy in the good way. But I shall take a breather to hit you with just a few updates and also (I hope), some fun reminders:

For starters, in Bradford news, yesterday was the Biggest Teen Author Signing Ever at Books of Wonder in NYC. Not only did I get to sign copies of GoldenGirl, but I also got to meet Bradford friendlies Sharon Anne, and Khyrinthia! I am pleased to report that both are every bit as awesome in person as online.

You may recall that Sharon Anne was our grand prize winner from the Bradford Blog Bash! Here's a pic of her humbly accepting her prize package (above). (Please to disregard my slouching! I can hear my mother in my ear with the: "stand up straight!" And she would be correct. But oh, well.)

Other things Bradford: Spencer's birthday contest continues! Today, she announced on her blog that she'll be giving away as her present to YOU a signed copy of The Season by authoress extraordinaire Sarah MacLean. Rumor has it that Sarah will even be doing a short Q&A with Spencer on Wednesday in honor of the close of the contest. Swing by Spencer's blog between now and midnight Wednesday and post your own six word memoir, and you'll be entered for a chance to win the book. (And believe you me, it's a good book. Worth the pain of the creative process.)

Social butterfly, busy bee...however you want to slice it, I'm tired! But I wouldn't have it any other way...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting Ready for Spring

Yesterday I spotted a patch of grass in my backyard, and this morning it's only about fifty percent snow-covered. When my family and I went skiing/boarding on Sunday, the bottom of Snowbasin was the consistency of a Slurpee. The big topic of conversation around here has been whether or not we can squeeze in another day or two of our beloved winter sports, or if we should just store our gear in the closet and call it good. Then again, if our weather man is to be believed, we have a couple of 70 degree days coming, followed by a snowstorm. So who knows?

I have some pretty fun things scheduled for spring. My husband, boys and I are road-tripping it to Las Vegas later this month. My husband has a meeting and a triathlon and the boys and I have a lot of swimming to catch up on. Then, for spring break, we're all heading to Denver to visit friends and family and my home town. While there, I get to do a couple of school visits--my very favorite authorly pasttime. Then we'll open up our family cabin in Idaho, where we spend many a weekend come summer.

What do you do to get ready for the warmer seasons?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Divine Ms. Amy

Book reviewer Persnickety Snark and I have a mutual love-fest going on. But if you can read between the lines, she has conducted a fascinating interview with the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies' one and only cover artist, Amy Saidens. If you've ever wondered how anybody gets a job that cool, check out the interview here.

Celebrate Teen Authors!

Hey all:

Just a quick reminder that today kicks off the first-ever TEEN AUTHOR FEST here in New York City! Throughout the week, you'll be able to attend readings, signings, and panel discussions featuring tons of amazing young adult authors.

I'll be reading in Staten Island on Thursday, and signing with about 40 other authors at Books of Wonder on Sunday.
You can find a link to all of the Teen Author Fest events here!

Hope to see you!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

We are huge in Ohio!

Ms. Yingling the Very Awesome Middle School Librarian sent me this pic of her Simon Pulse Ro-Com display.

She says some of these students read one of our books every two days. Congratulations on your excellent taste, students! We will write faster.

And many thanks to Ms. Yingling for the pic! You can read her book review blog at

Friday, March 13, 2009

Work Life and Cupcakes

Hey everyone,
Erin Downing here. I just got back from an amazing trip to New York, which ended with a trip to the glorious Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes. Because I am hungry, I will torture you all - my cupcake(s) looked like this:

I was in New York for my "other" job at Nickelodeon, but I found time to squeeze in a delicious dinner with my editor and a surprisingly warm stroll around Tribeca and Soho on Wednesday night. It's nights like this that make me miss New York very much. I miss the smells and the energy and the walkability and the weirdos.

But! I have finally finished my attic office space in my Minneapolis house, and, as promised, I am putting up two pictures of the place where I will write all of my novels from here on out (except when I need an excuse for sugar, and I go to a coffee shop or bakery to eat-while-writing...that happens a lot). My attic is sunny and bright and has a lovely view over my neighbor's slumping roof. I like to call it a "Paris-esque Rooftop View". That's stretching things a bit. The guy in the sweatshirt on the left is my husband, Greg - he has crashed "my" office and likes to call it "ours". I guess he can stay.

My editor is reviewing the first chapters for a new book I'm working on now - this would be my first project born out of the new attic. Fingers crossed!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ex Games: a time line and weather report

May 2008. Where I live in Alabama, it is sunny and 90 degrees. My editor asks me to write a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy about snowboarding.

I learned to water ski when I was 5 years old, and I’ve also snow skied quite a few times. So the physical act of snowboarding doesn’t seem foreign to me. But when you do most of your writing outside in the gorgeous summer weather, barefoot, it IS a little hard to picture.

October 2008. It is sunny and 75 degrees. I turn in the snowboarding book to my editor.

January 2009. It is rainy and 55 degrees. My editor asks me to revise the snowboarding book. Luckily The X-Games are on TV for inspiration. So THAT’S what snow looks like! I had forgotten. And Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” is on the radio, the perfect theme song for the stars of this book, Hayden and Nick.

February 27, 2009. It is sunny and 65 degrees. My editor asks me for a bio to print in the back of the snowboarding book. I say, “Jennifer Echols lives in Birmingham with her family, no snow, and a vivid imagination.” I crack myself up.

March 1, 2009. It snows.

Snow on magnolias! At 5 inches, it is the biggest snow Birmingham has seen since “The Blizzard of ’93.”

Personally, I am an old hand at the snow. I have taken the aforementioned ski trips to Vail and Beaver Creek and Winter Park. I also spent several years in graduate school in Kentucky, where it snowed two feet every Martin Luther King Day. Unfortunately, when it snowed, it also tended to be 20 below, not very inviting for outdoor frolic. Somehow I moved away from Kentucky without learning to build a snowman. So when my family and I spent the morning outdoors in our glorious 5 inches of snow, this is what we ended up with:

I’m glad I took pictures. Everything melted by the afternoon.

March 3, 2009. It is sunny and 75 degrees. I take my kid to the playground and compare snowman-building notes with another chick.

Chick: No, you’re not supposed to fill buckets and garbage can lids with snow and dump them out on the snowman, packing it into a stalagmite. You’re supposed to ROLL the snowman, ROLL a big bottom ball and then put smaller balls on top.

Me: I thought that only worked in cartoons.

Chick: No, that’s really how you build a snowman.

Me: How do you know this? Are you from Up North?

Chick: I grew up here. [She lifts her chin, obviously proud of her worldliness and vast experience.] I was here during The Blizzard of ’93, you know.

Perhaps wisely, there are no snowmen in my book. I stuck with what I know: ski slopes, and adorable ski resort towns, and trudging through two feet of snow when the university refuses to cancel class.

March 10, 2009. It is sunny and 82 degrees. The Ex Games won’t be published until October 6, but it’s already available for pre-sale on Amazon!

Or, if you’re interested in something a bit more seasonal, you can order my spring break book Going Too Far right now from Amazon or Barnes and Look for it in stores on March 17, then sign my guestbook and tell me what you think!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Stupid Writer Tricks

I'm not really fond of those real life funny bits about people who roll off the roof or go over the handlebars of bike/skateboard. Even when I know in advance that no one really got hurt. In other words, I'm a complete wimp, even in the TV watching or reading departments (Stephen King? Not at night, if I want to sleep!).

I do enjoy some truly funny and harmless things people do, like juggle, contort into impossible pretzel shapes, etc. I always found it fascinating when double jointed kids would show off their skills in between classes (or sometimes when the teacher wasn't looking). I did draw the line at the guy who could turn his eyelids inside out. Once was enough for me to view that trick. Ugh. The insides of our eyelids are freaky ugly! (is it any surprise I have never harbored ambitions to be a doctor or nurse?).

To get the point -- writers have stupid little tricks we can do, too. The most usual one is to find one word and overuse it in a manuscript. We don't always do this on purpose, and some of us do try to edit out the excess in revisions (I think in my The Salem Witch Tryouts, the word "kewl" might actually be eligible for a stupid writer trick nomination.

The latest stupid writer trick I tried was one passed along to me by a writer who had been in class with another writer who challenged his students to look around, pick a random object, and then write it into their work. Yeah, sounds kind of lame, doesn't it?

But I tried it, worked! We've been doing some spring cleaning (even though spring is not visible under the foot of snow outside!), and my eye was caught by a single child's red mitten lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. It had fallen out of a box of random items destined for the trash (yes, the trash, it was a single mitten, for a child, the last child to wear it is now halfway through her master's degree).

I thought about how I could use it in my current work A scene was born from that mitten that will put my protagonist face to face with her past and her biggest fear for the future. Pretty cool.

So, some stupid writer tricks are useful. Like some stupid pet tricks (cats that can flush...I wish mine was not almost 20 and way too creaky to learn that one). And stupid skateboard tricks -- like riding down the stair long as you don't fall off.