Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books Read in 2009

It’s time to close the excel spreadsheet on my computer titled ‘Books Read in 2009’. Yes, I am one of those geeky writers who keeps a list of every book I read with author’s name and sub-genre/target age group. Reading over the list at the end of the year makes me smile when I see the name of a favorite.

Just a few of my favorite reads this year:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (all four books in the series) by Jeff Kinney
Swindle by Gordon Korman
The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

Teen Fiction:
Hope was Here by Joan Bauer
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Books for grown-ups:
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Favorite Re-read:
Holes by Louis Sachar

As a writer and reader, I am always looking for new books by new authors to try. Care to share your favorite books of the year? Book recommendations are welcome in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Setting the Scene's Season

When you start writing (or reading) a new book, do you know what season it is set in right away? If it is a holiday story, the obvious answer is yes. If not, this may not be important to you at first. What if the story is set in a place where temperatures vary only slightly year-round? Will a reader notice which season the characters are in if only subtle hints are added? If a story is set in a place where there are four distinct seasons, weather is a detail that will probably make its way into the story.

I started thinking about this when the topic of seasons came up in my critique group recently. Last week I took a drive on the Natchez Trace to see the colors of the fall leaves. It was raining that day, which made some of the paths slippery. A rainy fall setting might provide a few changes from the spring road trip setting where my Natchez Trace novel is set. Take a look at the photos below. Do you see any differences?

Spring Photos

Fall Photos

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Top 10 Best Things about the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference by Hannah Dills

The Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature sponsors the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference each year to help aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators. My friend, Hannah Dills, attended the conference this year. I am pleased to have her share about the experience.

Welcome to the blog, Hannah! What is the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference?

Thanks! It’s great to be here!

The Rutgers Conference provides authors with a unique opportunity to receive individual feedback on their work directly from one of nearly eighty industry professionals. The list of the 2009 Rutgers mentors, including editors, agents, and published authors, may be found at: Authors start the day with an individual one-on-one session. I was extremely lucky – my session was with Bloomsbury editor Caroline Abbey and she was fabulous! Caroline reviewed the first few pages of my manuscript, a synopsis and query letter. Her suggestions helped me enhance the materials that are key to catching the attention of an agent or editor.

Authors also get to participate in a five-on-five session with their mentor and four other publishing experts. I was excited to meet and hear advice from Shauna Fay (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), Annette Pollert (Simon Pulse), Alison Weiss (Egmont), and Becca Stumpf (Prospect Agency).

The day also includes a panel about trends in the publishing world and author guest speakers. Lunch provides yet another opportunity to personally meet and learn more about publishing professionals. The conference is held at Rutgers University in New Jersey and makes a fun fall trip.

How can someone sign up for the conference?

Information about the registration process for the Rutgers conference may be found online at Interested authors should complete the application and mail a three page sample of their work to the appropriate contact for one of the three categories: Picture Books, Middle Grade, or Young Adult. The application deadline was in early July this year and notifications were made for successful applicants in early August. The conference was held October 17th.

What was the best thing about the conference?

The best thing? That’s a tough question! How about the top ten best things : - ) ?

1. I really appreciated the individual feedback on my work; Caroline Abbey provided some fabulous input that helped enhance my query, synopsis and first pages of THE GUARDIANS: DESTINIES REVEALED that I hope will someday turn me into a Rutgers success story…
2. I loved the Success Story author, Karen Rostoker-Gruber, who inspired all of us at breakfast with her account of how she became a published author as a result of the Rutgers Conference…
3. I was happy to meet several of the wonderful Rutgers Council members who devote countless hours to making this event possible every year, including Marcie Aboff, Caroline Abbey, Courtney Bongiolatti, and Samantha McFerrin…
4. My five-on-five session (mentioned above) was entertaining and informative…
5. Little Brown editor Alvina Ling introduced me to one of my favorite middle grade authors, Wendy Mass in person (big fan!)...
6. I met authors from across the country and shared their hopes…
7. I traveled with a great group of writers from Nashville’s Mid-South SCBWI chapter – Sharon Cameron, Jessica Young, and Howard Shirley (or should I say the Charlie’s Angels : - )?)...
8. The trip to New Jersey was fabulous – we got a fall leaf tour of the northeast included in our conference trip thanks to Sharon’s navigation skills…
9. I was excited to see Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair (a fabulous critiquer) and Nancy Gallt agent Marietta Zacker again only three weeks after meeting them in Nashville…
10. And, the dream that Rutgers makes seem possible…that someday I may get my book published!

Would you recommend it to other writers and illustrators?

I would highly recommend the Rutgers Conference to my fellow writers. It is one of the best conferences I’ve ever had the opportunity to attend! I am very fortunate that one of my favorite fellow writers recommended this conference to me…thanks Rae Ann!!!

Thank you Hannah!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inspiration (and fun) at the Southern Festival of Books

The Southern Festival of Books was held this month in Nashville. The highlight of the festival for me was hearing Kate DiCamillo speak. She is the Newbery award winning author of Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and other fabulous books. The path to publication must have been easy for her, right? Wrong. She received 470 rejection letters before her first book sold. Four HUNDRED seventy. She talked about the importance of learning to write by reading good books. She also emphasized the importance of persistence in writing. To summarize in my own words: Keep writing and don’t quit.

I also attended the Sisters in Crime panel discussion, Researching the Mystery, talked to writer friends, and bought books. Since this book festival is held in Nashville, there is also music. I enjoyed some music at the Café Stage by Will Kimbrough and author/musician Tommy Womack.

For more info on the festival, click here.

[photo by John Parker]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meriwether Lewis Commemoration Ceremony

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Meriwether Lewis, co-captain of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meriwether Lewis died at Grinder’s Stand on the Natchez Trace on October 11, 1809. He died without family and friends at his side. Some say he was buried where he fell. Lewis never had a funeral. Last week, that changed.

The Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation and guests gathered on October 7 to honor Meriwether Lewis in a ceremony “Undaunted Courage: The Final Journey”. It was a beautiful ceremony with music from the 101st Airborne Infantry Band, dedication of a bust of Lewis that will be displayed at the Parkway headquarters, and words from descendants of Lewis and William Clark. There was a reenactment of Meriwether Lewis’s arrival at Grinder’s Stand followed by a procession to his gravesite with flag bearers carrying state flags of every state Lewis & Clark traveled through on the Corps of Discovery. Cub Scouts assisted in a wreath laying ceremony and also presented plants that Lewis discovered on the expedition.
For more information on the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and the Lewis & Clark Expedition, click here. To see the photos on the Foundation’s Flickr page of the commemoration ceremony, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blogging Live at the SCBWI-Midsouth Conference

The SCBWI-Midsouth conference takes place in Nashville this weekend. If you can’t make it but want to know what’s happening, follow along on the official conference blog. Amanda Morgan, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, and I will be posting interviews and updates from the workshops.

Guest speakers for the conference are:
Kaylan Adair, Associate Editor, Candlewick Press
Patrick Collins, Creative Director, Henry Holt
Caroline B. Cooney, Award-winning Author
Shelli Johannes-Wells, Marketing Expert
Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic imprint)
Chris Richman, Agent, Upstart Crow Literary

You can find us at the Official Midsouth Fall Conference 2009 blog here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dragon*Con Report by Lara Hansen

My friend, Lara Hansen, attended Dragon*Con 2009 in Atlanta recently. She graciously agreed to share her experience by answering a few questions for my blog.

1. What is Dragon*Con?

The exact definition from the Dragon*Con website is: The largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music and film in the US. My definition opportunity to meet like-minded individuals (people who love the same crazy stuff as me), see some amazing (and frightening) costumes, listen to music, see spectacular art & comic book artists in action and STAND (or sit, lounge or shuffle) IN LINE. Hours and hours and hours and miles and miles and miles of lines! Our saying for the weekend..."It's not Dragon*Con without lines." or better yet, "Hey, what's this line for?" (Normally this statement was made after standing in line for a while.) I heard later fans started lining up to see Patrick Stewart from Star Trek 7 hours before his panel.

2. What is the craziest costume/person/thing you saw at the convention?

There is all kinds of craziness going on all 4 days. You never knew what you're going to see when you round a corner, step off an escalator or walk through a door. I saw a man dressed like Elasti-Girl from The Incredibles - platform boots, body suit, bobbed wig and boobs! He actually looked pretty far as costuming was concerned. There were some people who stretched the Georgia state laws on nudity to its limit. Hundreds of stormtroopers, several women dressed in Princess Leia's slave girl outfit, tons of members of Star Fleet and a great group of Spartan Warriors from the movie 300. Whew! They were hot! *fans self*(And a set of Spartan Warriors that had no business letting their hairy beer bellies hang over their leather underpants.) My favorite costumes by far were the Steampunk fans. They were amazing. Each costume looked professionally custom made and so incredibly intricate. I wish I had been bold enough to ask to take their picture. But by the time I was so bold they seemed to have disappeared. I later found out they had a Steampunk Ball Friday evening and they had all wore their costumes that night.

3. What was your favorite thing/event?

Jason Momoa! I must preface this by saying I went to Dragon*Con solely for the Stargate Multiverse Panels/Events...and those events gave me the opportunity to get my photo taken with Stargate Atlantis actor Jason Momoa. His character, Ronon Dex, is my favorite from the series. For those who don't know, a Panel is the opportunity for the fans of a TV show or Movie to ask questions of the Stars. The actors sit at a table at the front of a large ballroom and participate in an hour long Q&A. I attended all of the Panels with members of the Stargate Atlantis cast. To get the best seats in the house, it is necessary to get in line at least two hours early. In those lines, I met a group of fellow SGA fans who quickly became close friends. We helped each other get that elusive 'best picture' of our favorite stars and relived the best moments after each panel was finished. (Oh and I attended a couple of writer workshops as least I sort of tried to learn something while I was there!)
Jason Momoa & Lara
4. This was your first trip to Dragon*Con. Was it your last?

Yes, this was my first trip to Dragon*Con. Is it my last? NO WAY! I've already booked for next year. I'm going to stay in one of the host hotels so I'm in the middle of all the action. I never dreamed I would have as much fun as I did. Dragon*Con is something - if you’re a SciFi or fantasy fan - you have to experience. As my new Dragon*Con friends say, "Post-Con letdown bites." The excitement and sensory overload keeps you going over the 4 days of bad hotel food and lack of sleep but reentry into reality is a serious letdown.

Thanks so much, Lara!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for the Internet (& Conference Blogs)

I can’t imagine my life without the internet. It’s hard to believe that I made it through college, and yes even graduate school, without the internet and a laptop computer. I’m not sure that I could write a book without these lifelines.

I was thinking about a lot of What If questions on writing yesterday. What If: I had to live in New York City to be a writer striving for the goal of publication? Could I still write? Thankfully, the internet makes that question obsolete. Through my laptop, I can connect to publishing houses, literary agents, writers, and conferences worldwide.

The 38th annual summer conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was held earlier this month in Los Angeles. I wasn’t able to attend, but through the blogging efforts of a team led by Alice Pope, editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, anyone can get that almost-there feeling of attending the conference.
Click here to read The Official SCBWI Conference Blog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Killer Nashville 2009

I attended my first mystery writers’ conference this weekend. Killer Nashville is a great place to be for writers of any genre who want to study the craft of writing or for anyone who wants a beginner’s insight into the science of forensics.

In some ways, it was very different from a romance writers’ conference or a kid lit conference. I attended panels on surveillance, the legal system, and investigators’ interview techniques. There was a mock crime scene in the hotel boiler room. The conference opened with a presentation of a retelling of a real murder investigation by Lee Lofland, author of the Writer’s Digest book, Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide For Writers (which I purchased).

Some things were familiar, pitch appointments (with the usual jitters) and workshops by agents, editors, and authors. Two of my favorite panel discussions were on using backstory and setting in your novel. Guest of Honor author, J.A. Jance’s speech was inspiring.

Killer Nashville is a great conference for writers starting their first novel who are primarily interested in learning the craft of writing and for writers with complete manuscripts looking for a home.

For more information on this conference, go to the website for testimonial videos and to sign up for conference news.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Favorite Summer Reads from the Family

Summer draws to a close this week with the Parker children returning to school. Since I started the summer with a blog on Summer Reading Lists, I thought it would be good to close with favorite summer reads.

I polled the family with 3 questions:
1. What was your favorite read of the summer?
2. Why did you choose to read it?
3. Why was it your favorite?

Here are my scientific results.

DH’s answers:
1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2. I was looking for an audiobook at the library and the title just caught my eye.
3. The book turned out to be completely different than I thought it would be. I thought it was a life story, but it was the story of a teenager who was in a shipwreck and lost at sea for 9 months. The end of the story gives you two interpretations of what happened when he was floating on the sea with animals. I liked the theme of looking for the better story of life. It was a captivating, entertaining survival story. That’s why I enjoyed it.

My answers:
1. Perfect Chemistry, a YA romance for older teens by Simone Elkeles.
2. I bought the book because of the fun book trailer you can see on the author’s website here.
3. This was my favorite read because I was completely drawn into the character’s story from the beginning. The alternating chapters told in first person from the point of view of the two main characters made this a fast paced read. The author didn’t gloss over the characters’ problems, so this felt like a realistic story. I love a book where I can root for characters who face adversity and triumph in the end.

Due to uncooperative interview subjects, I will summarize the rest. The teen & tween in my house both chose series books as their favorites. My teen daughter chose Extras, the fourth book in Scott Westerfeld’s YA series, Uglies because she liked the characters and the technology in the story. My tween son chose Eragon, the first book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series (read for the 3rd time this summer) because “It’s actiony.”

Do you have any favorite summer reads? Feel free to post your answers to my 3 questions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reference Photos (A New Orleans Visit)

My current Work In Progress is set in my former home of New Orleans. I was recently writing a scene set in the French Quarter. My character walked through Dutch Alley on his way to the Canal Street Ferry. He passed the charming statues of people who lived and worked in the Quarter when the French Market was new. But I couldn’t remember if he would pass the woman seated on the bench or the butcher displaying a fine cut of meat first. Not to worry. I knew I would be in New Orleans in a few days for an end-of-summer visit. I would take some reference photos.

I’m not sure what the official term is, but I call these pictures reference photos. Reference photos are rarely displayed in frames or photo albums. These snapshots are usually of places, not people. They are a writer’s reference to make sure details are correct when a story is set in a real place.

I must have a thing for National Parks, because in the new version of my story, the guy character plays at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. He walks through Dutch Alley past Café du Monde towards the ferry.

Now I can rewrite my scene with a little help from my reference photos.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

RWA 2009 – Washington, D.C.

The 29th annual Romance Writers of America conference was held in Washington, D.C. last week. It was a whirlwind of workshops, booksignings, and social events. Some of the highlights for me were:

The Readers for Literacy Booksigning Wednesday night raised over $60,000 for literacy.

Janet Evanovich opened up the conference with an inspiring speech. She wrote for over 10 years before she was published.

The PRO retreat (for unpublished members who have completed manuscripts, like me) featured information on publishing from authors, agents, and an editor.

The Elements of RWA breakfast where I saw my online chapter mates in person.

The biggest thrill was the RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony on Saturday night where my friend and conference roommate, Kim Law, won the first Golden Heart of the evening in the Best Contemporary Romance Series Manuscript category! Click here for a complete list of the winners.

photo of MCRW members celebrating after the ceremony: Betsy Gray, Lara Hansen, Kim Law (wearing the Golden Heart necklace), Rae Ann Parker, Haley Elizabeth Garwood

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Preparing for RWA Nationals

There are several things romance writers do each year to prepare for the national conference. Here are a few:

* Register for the conference and make travel plans.

* Prepare the professional writer wardrobe, including shoes and purse(s).

* Make a list of the workshops that will be the most fun/beneficial at this stage of writing path (either on paper or by excel spreadsheet).

* Practice, practice, practice the story pitch.

The pitch is divided into several parts:
The one line story pitch for casual conversation in the elevator and other quick meetings.

The three line story pitch for casual conversation with industry professionals who want to hear more when the one line intrigues them.

The full 10-minute pitch, which includes information about the hero/heroine, their goals, motivations, and conflicts used for editor/agent appointments.

Click here for an article on crafting your pitch by author, Winnie Griggs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Can CSI Techniques Solve a 200 year-old Mystery?

Was Meriwether Lewis, the great explorer and co-captain of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a victim of murder or did he die by his own hand at an inn for travelers on October 11, 1809? The answer to this unsolved historical mystery may lie in a grave in Hohenwald, Tennessee along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

There are many opinions on whether the body should be removed and whether it will actually provide any answers. With the support of Lewis’s relatives, researchers have filed a petition with the National Park Service to exhume the body.

For more information on the Lewis family’s quest, visit their website, Solve The Mystery.

In my recent research on the Parkway, I became interested in the question that has fascinated historians for almost two centuries now. When I started my research, I had no idea the great explorer died on the Trace under mysterious circumstances. When I typed The End on my manuscript, the mystery of Meriwether Lewis’s death played a pivotal role in my novel.

To learn more about this fascinating piece of history, plan a visit to the Meriwether Lewis site at milepost 385.9 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Click here for a list of Ranger-led activities and talks to learn more about the explorer.

[Photo: Meriwether Lewis's gravesite.]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Revise or Rewrite?

I am revisiting an old manuscript I wrote a few years ago, my Hurricane Katrina YA novel. Hopefully I have learned a thing or two (or three) about writing since I finished the first draft 3 ½ years ago.

I dug the story out a few weeks ago, along with tons of hurricane info. I was trying to find information on birds trapped inside the eye of a hurricane for my critique partner, Jennifer Lambe, because she’s working on this great non-fiction book about weird weather. I read a few pages of the manuscript, the end specifically, and had the ‘I love this story’ moment. Now I want to revise the manuscript, for myself at the very least, to see if I can make the story stronger.

I started with the synopsis (still under construction) and made some plot notes. Now I’m thinking, Is an entire rewrite in order?

Have you ever opened a blank document and rewritten the same story over again two or three years later? I did it once and the story came out so much better. I’m hoping the same thing could happen here. Only one way to find out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Road Trip Research

I took another trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway this week with my research assistant/photographer (my daughter). There were a few stops on the 444-mile trek that I needed to revisit to clear up some setting details for my book.
One of the highest points in the state of Mississippi is at the Jeff Busby site. I thought we would have to take the hiking trail up to the overlook summit, but the park service has made it easy for everyone to see the beautiful view. You can drive right up to the area and park your car. For the more adventurous, there is a hiking trail down from the summit to the campground area. We hiked part of the way down the trail. I think my daughter would have happily hiked the whole way, but my failure to pack bug spray and knowing that the hike down was the easy part, made us turn back about halfway down the trail.

This is a photo of another hiker we saw at the top of the trail.

I am glad that I made it to the Jeff Busby site again. The convenience store and gas station previously located there is now closed. The pay telephone that was of great interest to my character in the first draft of my story has been removed from the site. There is good cell phone reception at the overlook point, something I would not have known without a visit.

For readers: Do you enjoy reading books set in real locations more than stories set in fictional towns?

For writers: Do you find it easier to write about real places or made-up locales?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis

For non-writer readers of this blog, a synopsis is a summary of a manuscript required by editors and agents. This means that a writer has to reduce an entire story to a few pages. If we were good at this, we would be songwriters, not novelists.

Here are a few links that have helped me in synopsis writing:

Writing the Tight Synopsis by Author Beth Anderson

Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis by Author Lisa Gardner

How to Write a Synopsis by Agent Nathan Bransford

I am fine-tuning the synopsis for my current Work In Progress. I changed my writing process to create the synopsis before starting a new manuscript a couple of projects ago. Writing the synopsis first and adjusting it as the story unfolds means that I don’t have this huge dreaded task waiting for me when I figuratively type The End.

If writing a book was like enjoying a multi-course meal, would the synopsis be your appetizer or the dessert?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Reading Lists

Some of my favorite summer memories from childhood include the public library. I still enjoy perusing summer reading lists, which I consider to be a gold mine of new books and authors for me to try.

The 2009 summer reading lists are out. Click here to see the Top 10 Summer reading Lists for Kids and Teens.

If kid lit is not your thing, Romance Writers of America’s website lists the current romance novels released each month.

How do you choose which books you’re going to read?
A. Reading Lists/Bestseller Lists
B. Friend recommendations
C. Bookstore/Library browsing
D. All of the Above

Friday, May 15, 2009

Late To The Party

Have you ever read a book people have been raving about for months or even years to find you absolutely love it? If so, you probably were thrilled to find one, two, three or more books in the series ready for immediate reading.

I joined the legions of Harry Potter fans when the first movie was released. I try to follow the book-before-movie rule so I read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone before seeing the movie. I was hooked.

I had the same experience recently after reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The main character, middle schooler Greg Heffley is now on my list of favorite characters. After reading the first book in the series, I had to read books two and three. Now I am looking forward to the release of book four this fall.

Is it better to find a series at book one and enjoy them as they are released? Or is it just as fun to finally cave to peer pressure to read a book you immediately fall in love with and get the benefit of a series already underway?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Free Resources for Writers

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You get what you pay for.

There are many oneliners that link skepticism with the word free. But how about free information for pre-published/newly-published/multi-published writers? There are several e-mail newsletters just waiting to make their way to your inbox on a weekly or monthly basis free of charge. Here are a few you might want to try:

Guide to Literary Agents newsletter: great information on new agents, where agents are speaking, etc.

PW Daily: news snippets on changes in publishing and a weekly newsletter with sales for the week.

PW Children’s Bookshelf: news on the latest releases in children’s books along with author interviews and publisher info. My favorite part of this newsletter is the comic strip at the bottom titled “Tales from the Slush Pile”. Click here to subscribe to these and other PW newsletters.

The Horn Book: a monthly newsletter with author/illustrator interviews and info on upcoming children’s books.

School Library Journal e-newsletters on books for children & SLJTeen for info on YA books.

Are you a sucker for a GWP (Gift with Purchase)? This can be anything ranging from an umbrella to cosmetics available at no additional charge with a purchase. If so, don’t forget to sign up for newsletters and discussion loops in your professional writing organizations, like RWA & SCBWI.

Do you have any resources to add to the list?

Friday, April 24, 2009

What Genre Am I In?

When you walk into your favorite bookstore, do you roam about looking at all the books in all the sections? Probably not. I’ll bet you head for the area labeled with your favorite reads: romance, mystery, teen fiction, etc. Genre labels were created so that bookstores would know where to shelve the books to enable readers to find the books we love the most.

With the popularity of cross-genre books today, have you ever been confused about what label you should put on the book you are reading or writing? Literary agent Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency gives a great detailed explanation of genres and sub-genres in this blog post.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Luck of the Draw

The Nashville Film Festival is celebrating 40 years of independent films. The festival is the fourth oldest film festival in the United States. 258 films are being shown over the next week. Click here for more info.

Last night at the festival, I won a deluxe box set of the movie, Casablanca, from the Nashville Scene. Maybe my luck has turned! Can a publishing contract be next?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reality TV in Music City

Tuesday night, DH and I attended the taping of Season Two’s first episode of Country Music Television’s show, Can You Duet? Think American Idol, but with duos. We were free for the evening in Nashville. We had to go out and hear some live music, so why not take the opportunity to be part of a TV audience? You never know when this experience might be called on for research purposes.

Can You Duet? is being taped at the famous Wildhorse Saloon, a three-story warehouse turned restaurant/club/TV studio. The venue has been the host to over 4,000 TV shows. If you are writing a story about reality TV, the music business, Nashville, or anything remotely related, get down to the Wildhorse any Tuesday this month. You might be inspired, but you’ll definitely enjoy the show.

(Lance Smith, host & house band, Sixwire, warming up the crowd.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

First Lines

How important is the first line of a book? What does it take to craft a must-read-the-rest-of-this excellent opening in a novel? I want to learn.

I am currently reading Long Gone Daddy by Helen Hemphill which opens with “The first time I met my grandfather, he was laid up on a porcelain prep table at the Hamilton-Johnson Funeral Home.” There’s no way I can stop reading after that first line!

My all-time favorite first line in a novel is from The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck: “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of the year for it.”

I want to know: Do some writers naturally have the first line talent or can this skill be taught? Does it come easily or does it take weeks of tweaking to refine a novel’s opening line into a fantastic first line?

Do you have any tips on creating first lines? Any favorite first lines to share?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tea at the Hermitage Hotel

I am a big fan of afternoon tea. Last week, DH and I had tea at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. Before our visit, the Hermitage Hotel brought two facts to my mind: #1: the Olsen twins celebrated their birthday at the hotel last year during a trip to the Bonnaroo Music Festival and #2: the hotel has a famous men’s bathroom voted “America’s Best Restroom” in 2008. Women sneak into the Art-Deco themed restroom downstairs when the coast is clear just to see it. And yes, so did I. Now I know the hotel is also known for its afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea at the Hermitage is on the “125 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die” list compiled by the Nashville Scene. The Parker family, being transplants to Nashville for only a year and a half now, are working down the list to get to know our new town. Plus, we really like lists.

A few facts about the Hermitage Hotel:
Named after Andrew Jackson’s estate, the Hermitage.
Nashville’s first million-dollar hotel.
Visitors have included presidents, actors, and gangsters.
Both pro & anti-suffrage activists met here.
They serve a very fine cup of tea!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spellcheck is My Friend

Yesterday I took a spelling challenge on my friend, Kit Wilkinson’s blog. I thought I was an excellent speller. Let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t a real test to see whether I will be allowed to continue to write novels.

It was a test on the 25 most commonly misspelled words, so I guess I’m not alone. Last week on this blog, I mentioned my appreciation of index cards. Now I must add spellcheck. And my dictionary. And my thesaurus.

Are you a good speller? Want to find out? If so, click here. How did you do?

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Poet in the Family

DH (my darling husband) participated in a poetry reading in East Nashville last Friday. He read five of his poems, which were called “slice of life” poems by the head poetry guru. This means that the topic of life in the Parker household makes an occasional appearance, overtly or thinly-veiled. Some of this is flattering and some just plain truth, but since everyone gets a turn to make an appearance on occasion, it’s all good.

I had never attended a poetry reading before, so my first thought was I hope they like DH’s poetry and secondly, I wonder if poets are different from romance writers and children’s book writers. I consider most romance writers to be hard-core networkers, so when we gather at an RWA function, we usually start to work the room to greet our friends and meet new writers. At a gathering of children’s book writers, we talk about what we’re writing and the latest children’s books we have read. The poets were much more laid back, but maybe that’s because they were getting ready to perform.

The poetry reading was accompanied by instrumental guitarist, Charlie Rauh. Check out Charlie’s music here. I’m not sure if musical accompaniment is common at poetry readings, but we are in Music City, where great musicians are everywhere and it was a very nice addition to the evening.

Friday, February 13, 2009

History of the Valentine Card

The first written Valentines were shared in the 1400s.

In 19th century Britain, sending Valentines was popular.

In the 1840s, Esther Howland of Massachusetts (the Mother of the Valentine) sold the first hand-made Valentine cards in the United States. She based hers on British Valentines.

Today approximately 1 billion Valentines are sent each year. This includes cards exchanged in classroom parties.

To read more about the history of greeting cards, click here to view the site of the Greeting Card Association.

Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 ALA Awards Announced

The American Library Association announced the 2009 award-winning books on Monday. Thanks to modern technology, I watched the live webcast from the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver. It was so much fun to hear the book titles announced and hear the response from the crowd of librarians. For a list of winners, click here.

The most famous awards are the Caldecott (illustrator’s award for most outstanding picture book), the Newbery (most outstanding contribution to children’s literature), and the Coretta Scott King Awards (outstanding books by African-American authors and illustrators). By listening to the presentation, I learned more about the other awards presented. A new award this year was the William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award. The winner was A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, a retelling of the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin.

Long and loud applause seemed to erupt after the following awards were announced:

We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (Coretta Scott King Author Award)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written and narrated by Sherman Alexie (Odyssey Award for best audio book for children or YA)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (John Newbery Medal)

After the recent discussions on whether books awarded the Newbery are actually for kids or just to please teachers and librarians, a book about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard is this year’s winner. Do you think the committee was thinking of teachers and librarians with this one or the audience of readers?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Presidential Literature

I am not a fan of conflict (except in books) so you will rarely find me engaged in political debate. However, I do enjoy watching election results unfold on television and especially the pageantry of the presidential inauguration.

One of my favorite things about these events is the opportunity to learn more about our nation’s past presidents from Pulitzer Prize winning author and presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am fascinated by the wealth of presidential facts in her brain. If you read my earlier blog, Mythical Dinner Party, I would definitely invite her to my dinner.

If you enjoy presidential facts, you should read one of my favorite picture books, So You Want to Be President, by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small. Both the text and the illustrations are a treat. Kids (and grownups) can find out which president was the tallest, shortest, largest, oldest, youngest, who had the most siblings, and what jobs they held before becoming president.

This book won the 2001 Caldecott medal. The American Library Association will announce this year’s winners of the best books in children’s literature next week. Stop by next week to discuss.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Arrival of the King Cake

Traditionally the Parker family enjoys our first king cake on January 6th, the first day of the Carnival season. Even though we no longer live in the land of Mardi Gras, we still need the king cake.

I did not plan ahead appropriately, so this year we received our king cake one week late. It arrived in the box with a packet of icing and three little cups of sugar, purple, green, and gold. It was a decorate-it-yourself king cake, which stunned the grownups in our house and delighted the children. We must have done okay with the decorating, because it tasted just as wonderful as usual.

If you’re not familiar with the king cake, here are a few fun facts:

*The king cake is named after the Wise Men who brought gifts to baby Jesus.

*The colors on the cake are the colors of Mardi Gras.
Purple stands for justice
Green stands for faith.
Gold stands for power.

*There is a plastic baby inside each cake. The person who finds the baby in his/her piece of cake should buy the next king cake.

*King cakes are plain dough with icing and colored sugar on top, but they can also be filled with cream cheese, praline or fruit filling.

*The Parker family prefers praline and cream cheese.

Have you ever enjoyed king cake? What is your favorite flavor?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Required Reading

I read a lot of books in 2008. But it’s required right? Writers must read to keep our fingers on the pulse of the current market. A few years ago, I started keeping a log of books read for the year, so I could go back and check a forgotten title of a book I wanted to recommend to a friend or see how long ago I first read a favorite book (Outlander in 2006). Reading through the lists of titles today felt like looking at photos of past holidays, a few bad ones, but most of them are good memories.

I now keep the list in an excel spreadsheet and it grows from year to year. My number one reading category this year was historical romance with middle grade novels coming in second. I love reading historical romance, but do not ever expect to write in this sub-genre. I think that is one of the main reasons I like it so much. It is just a pleasure to read. And I love middle grade novels because they’re wonderful! Hopefully mine will be on your reading lists one day.

Just a few of my favorite books read in 2008 were:

*The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck (middle grade historical)
*The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (middle grade mystery) [This novel deserves its very own blog post. Stay tuned.]
*Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra (young adult)
*Summer at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs (women’s fiction)

Books I look forward to reading in 2009:
The Associate by John Grisham
What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

What were your favorite reads of 2008? Are there any books you look forward to reading this year?