If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that I love office supplies. Like a dog loves walkies. Like a hummingbird loves that red sticky stuff in the feeders. Yeah.
Well, it’s that time of year again. Better than Christmas. The time when the department stores put their office supplies on sale. They think it’s for kids going back to school. Actually it’s for me.
Since perhaps I went a little overboard last year, this year’s haul of office supplies was a bit more modest. I’m especially excited about having a new planner. My current one ends this weekend, and I feel what’s probably an undue amount of panic at the idea of not having any white squares in which to write my life schedule. I’m also quite excited about a new pack of Flair pens. Besides being great for book signing, they carry a weight of nostalgia for me. My grandmother loved these pens. I remember reading a birthday card written in that thick, bold Flair script every year as I was growing up. Oh! And a 750-sheet pack of printer paper. Because, you know, printouts of my new novel…
But I dare you to figure out how a hole punch and a pack of binder rings helps me teach vocabulary.
This sign was my unexpected happy find. Now it’s hanging on my wall. It was probably intended for teachers setting up their classrooms. But I think it’s just a good guide to using words in general. And I like words.
I am finally sitting down to review the Bay Area Book Festival! Sometimes life just rolls in like a bulldozer…
This event was the first of its kind in the East Bay, with an estimated 50-60,000 people in attendance. Two days of nonstop immersion in books and readers. So. Much. Fun.
For starters, I learned that my little 5-seater car can tote 250 books, 3 carts, a box of art prints, and all sorts of other necessary festival paraphernalia. And still leave room to see out the back.
On June 6-7, whole city blocks of Berkeley were closed to traffic and lined with tables and booths. My illustrator, Amalia Hillmann, and I had a table in the Children’s Area. We had copies of The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test, a coloring book, art prints of the illustrations (now online here), stickers, bookmarks, and all sorts of fun. There was a little of everything in the space around us: independent author displays, publishing houses, educational foundations, a guy twisting balloon dolphins and swords, and some amazing food trucks.
I didn’t get away from the table much, but I did check out the art installation at the center of the festival. Lacuna was an interactive sculpture designed to feel like an outdoor library. It was stocked with 50,000 donated books that were free for people to take home. And did they ever! By the end of the weekend, the shelves were almost bare.
Book jackets fluttered overhead, like the winged ideas enclosed within books.
Our blue-draped Illuminator table saw a lot of action over the weekend. The Children’s Area was busy almost constantly. It was fun to chat with readers both young and young at heart (I was surprised at how many young readers preferred paperbacks to e-books). I even met a girl named Ellie. She was excited to find a book with a heroine who shared her name.
On Saturday we had my amazing mom in residence, painting Vestigian designs on kids’ hands in shimmery metallic colors.
We also had coloring pages and a box of crayons available. I liked this neon-pink version of Aletheia. The young artist explained that he was helping the islands with their advertising.
Authors and illustrators gave presentations on a nearby stage throughout the weekend. After her presentation, I got to meet LeUyen Pham, who illustrated Shannon Hale’s latest book, The Princess in Black. She is just as nice as she is talented. She even bought a copy of The Illuminator’s Gift.My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture with her.
By the end of the weekend, I was exhausted, but satisfied. Though I’m not really a big-crowds person, I enjoyed meeting such a diverse assortment of people who all shared my favorite interest: reading. The organizers say they’re already planning next year’s festival for the first weekend in June.
I asked one young boy what he liked to read. He answered, “Books!”
On this lovely April day, I’m pleased to say I’ve committed the first several thousand words of the third book of The Voyages of the Legend to paper! After several months of collecting images, building a writing playlist, and preparing my outline, I’ve at last begun to write words down.
And it’s been a bumpy couple of weeks. Finishing The Illuminator’s Test last December was like cresting a steep mountain trail, full of exhaustion and accomplishment. Starting the third book was like finding myself back at the bottom again. It’s intimidating to try to compete with your past work. I’d gotten rusty. And sequels are hard: it’s a challenge to work with the same world and characters, but pit them against new challenges and even higher stakes.
My first attempt at an opening paragraph was so bad I was discouraged for two days. The second attempt was better, but still extremely lackluster. Now, on my third go-around, I’m finally striking a pace and tone that I enjoy. And already the characters are beginning to spring surprises on me.
Getting back into the rhythms of writing has me thinking about what writing is made of, what it is. Pick up almost any how-to book on writing, and you’d think writing is a checklist that just takes practice and willpower. But I also think there’s something more. Writing is both a craft and an art.
The internet is saturated with books, webinars, articles, etc. on the craft of writing a book: the nuts and bolts of what goes into a story. Some of them are quite good. I’ve been to a number of classes, conferences, and critique groups that have helped push my writing to a higher level. It’s important to learn the nuts and bolts of wrangling good sentences out of the English language (or at least asking her respectfully for them). And it’s very helpful to study the works of other writers and learn by imitation. I work intensively with my students as they learn the craft of writing: paragraphs, similes, research, punctuation, character profiles. This part is work, and it can and must be learned by instruction and labor-intensive practice. With enough practice, it is possible to achieve a level of excellence in the craft of writing.
But writing is also an art, like painting, like music. And art is a gift. To write well is not only to work and create; it is also to receive. For me, starting to write again is learning again to be open to that gift: taking time to slow down, to be still, to listen, to be in the dance with God. For writing to be anything more than an underpaid day job, a meaningless clacking of fingers on keys, it must be sourced from something greater. That means that being a healthy person is part of good writing. That means that taking time to absorb and appreciate beauty is part of good writing. None of the small moments of life are wasted if seen with eyes of attention. It’s an attitude of cultivating readiness to meet inspiration. In short, living is writing, and writing is living.
I’ve created a new writing space in my office that, I think, reflects this pairing of practicing and paying attention. It’s businesslike enough for all-day scribbling sprints, yet it’s also right next to a window that looks out on the reflective world.
Some people think all writers do is sit in dimly lit rooms in their pajamas and commune with the muse. And that’s some of what we do, some of the time.
But when we’re not working our day jobs, making marketing plans, lifting boxes of books, talking to classrooms of kids, crunching numbers, or creating charming social media profiles…
…we might be out doing research.
Sometimes research looks like a Google search. (Heaven knows I have enough weird sites bookmarked to make the government very suspicious.) Sometimes research looks like interviewing a knowledgeable person.
But sometimes it looks like getting on a boat.
Both The Illuminator’s Gift and its upcoming sequel, The Illuminator’s Test, feature the Legend, a flying ship in the fantasy world of Aletheia. But flying ship though it may be, it still needs to imitate some behaviors of a water ship. Between my history of seasickness and a lack of physical coordination, I had almost no experience with sailing. But when one of my excellent test readers pointed out some major holes in my sailing scenes, I knew it was time to get some.
Enter the Hawaiian Chieftain, Tall Ship and companion to the Lady Washington (better known as the Interceptor from Pirates of the Caribbean). This ship travels up and down the West Coast every year, doing educational tours and teaching landlubbers like me a thing or two about sailing. So my trusty sales manager/photographer/mom and I set out to see the sea (or at least the San Joaquin River).
Captain Eamon was incredibly patient in teaching me the ropes–er, lines. In two jam-packed hours, I learned the difference between a ketch and a schooner, a mainmast and a mizzenmast, a jib and a topsail, and of course, a rope and a line. (A rope is a line without a job.)
More importantly, I learned things the Internet could never have taught me–for example, how much a line weighs. (Answer: a lot.) I got a chance to help trim the sails alongside the crew. Thank you to Bailey and Jamie for giving me a chance to get some rope burns and personal experience.
I also got to watch some crewmembers climb the shrouds to trim the topsails. It looked fun, but also precarious on this windy day. Unfortunately, passengers were not allowed up (liability issues). Even the working crew clipped themselves on with climbing hooks to keep from falling/flying off.
Best of all, I got to steer the boat for about twenty seconds. The Hawaiian Chieftain has very sophisticated navigation equipment (what my characters wouldn’t give for a GPS!) but it still has a beautifully old-fashioned helm.
After a fun and exhausting day of research, I learned two valuable lessons:
1) I would make a terrible sailor.
2) Writing is much improved by hands-on experience.
Keep a weather eye out for the influence of the Hawaiian Chieftain in The Illuminator’s Test, coming December 1st!
About 11 years ago, a hopeful teenager bought a red sign that said “Future Award-Winning Author At Work.”
She hung it on the doorknob of her cave during writing sessions. It motivated her, kept her optimistic. (It also warned the family not to disturb her unless the house was burning down.) She wondered if someday she’d be able to cross out the word “Future.” As she prepared to release her first novel about a year ago, she even blogged about that dream.
Well, yesterday it came true.
At about 11 AM, I received The Call, informing me that The Illuminator’s Gift had won a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards! I entered this award back in July and was just coming to the conclusion that nothing was going to come of it (as many of my contest entries have over the years). But some dreams do come true, even on Tuesdays!
Among 1,300 international, independently published entries, The Illuminator’s Gift was second place in the Best First Book (Chapter Book) category! The full listing of contest winners is here (TIG is in category #38)! I’m over the moon (no pun intended) with excitement. Writing books, while full of passion and purpose, can be a long and lonely road, and validation from the outside is a welcome exhortation not to give up. Especially since there’s a lot left to do on Book #2 before its December release…
After a dizzy day of trying to work in spite of sheer euphoria, texting friends, and celebrating with family, perhaps the sweetest moment was when I took my gold sharpie and did something I’ve dreamed of doing for a very long time. I crossed out a word on my red sign.
I’d like to send this photo back in time to my shy, geeky high school self, the girl with the pimples and the big vocabulary, who wondered so often if her dreams would ever become reality.
Hang in there, girl. Believe in the gift you’ve been given. Someday the future will be the now.
Blogging has been (and will probably continue to be) spotty this month, because I am revising the draft of my NEW NOVEL–a sequel to The Illuminator’s Gift!
So, in one of my brief appearances above ground, I’ll give you a quick, behind-the-scenes tour of my revision process.
It starts with my stellar team of test readers, who critique confidential advance copies of the manuscript. These amazing people are kind of like FBI agents, only with better punctuation.
I pore over their comments for hours.
Then, using all 3 cells from the left side of my brain, I consolidate their comments into a spreadsheet. I look for patterns and common themes.
Using the comments, I map out a revision plan, using color-coded post-it notes for different sections of the book. Yet another reason I love office supplies.
Then it’s back to the drawing board–simultaneously the most rewarding and most grueling part of the revision process. Just when I’ve finished writing a whole book, I have to write some more. But on the other hand, I get to write some more (longhand, of course), which is my favorite thing. It’s like having a play date with my characters.
Then it’s time to type up what I’ve written, editing as I go. I go over the entire manuscript, paying attention to skipped words and long sentences as well as overall structure and flow, trying to make every scene fit seamlessly with the others. (Sneaky writer tip: it’s way easier to write a good beginning when you’ve already written the end.)
Sometimes revision seems like a neverending process, gobbling up hours and hours and hours on end. But just when I think I can’t keep going…
…ice cream makes all sorts of things happen.
If you’re a teacher or homeschool group coordinator located in the SF Bay Area, I talk about things like the revision process in my classroom visits! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit, send me an e-mail!
About two years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It inspired me to start keeping a thankfulness journal.
Thankfulness has long been touted as an important spiritual discipline. But recent psychological research shows its connection to a happier mindset as well. Writing down the good things that happen in a day helps bring the positive things to the top of our minds and overcome our natural human “negativity bias.”
Over the long term, I think my thankfulness journal has really improved my mood and, more importantly, begun to discipline my mind into a habit of focusing on the positive things. Every night, look back over the day and write down the moments that brought me happiness. Sometimes they’re things anyone would consider happy–like getting a call from the Los Gatos Library, inviting me to their literary fair next month (see my note in the sidebar!). But more often, I write down the little things that brought me a smile or a heaven-sent moment of relaxation in the midst of a stressful day. A sunny morning walk. Classical music playing over the gas station speakers. A yummy cup of coffee.
This past spring, I decided to take my one-line thankfulness notes to the next level for an extra boost of happiness. First thing in the morning, I would look back over the last night’s thankfulness notes, pick one, and immerse myself in that memory. Then I used it as the subject for a seventeen-syllable haiku poem (5-7-5). Haiku is short, rewarding, and emphasizes life’s details–a perfect form for this exercise.
A haiku a day
Lupin beside the asphalt
Writing a happiness haiku first thing in the morning had two benefits. First, it started off the day with a focus on something good.
Shopping bag of smiles
Rainbow Skittles, photos, frames,
A little goes far.
Morning haiku also had an unexpected perk. It got the words flowing. When I was done with my seventeen syllables (sometimes counting to seventeen before coffee was harder than it should have been), I wanted to write more. Which was perfect for someone working on a second novel.
From among sharp spines
Pale orange petals shimmer.
Fierce, lovely triumph.
It’s been several months since I wrote my last haiku, but now I have a collection of these short, intensely focused memories of happiness, like tracks showing me the road I walked. At the moment all my words are going into The Book, but maybe when it’s done, I’ll pick back up on this habit of capturing the ephemeral blessings in daily life.
A few weeks ago, I was tagged in the #mywritingprocess blog tour by my good friend Angela Wallace, herself an author of thrilling, imaginative fantasy and urban fantasy. So, considering interviews are a theme of this summer’s blogging, I thought I’d take a turn and give you a peek inside my writer brain 🙂 I’ll answer four questions, then pass them on to two other writers.
What am I working on?
I’m currently writing like a freight train to finish the sequel to The Illuminator’s Gift, a book which is scheduled for publication this December! At this point I think I can safely say that it’s quite different from the first book, but is still a continuation of the same story. If you enjoyed the characters in The Illuminator’s Gift, I think you’ll enjoy watching them grow and face new dangers, enemies, and challenges in the sequel.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Illuminator’s Gift is fantasy, but truth be told, I’m not a die-hard fantasy lover. (Did I say that out loud?) Of course I enjoy discovering new worlds and encountering mythical beasties, but those aren’t enough for me to fall in love with a book, either as a reader or a writer. Dragons and swordfighting alone aren’t enough to make me care. So my work combines genres–some fantasy, some theology, a dash of history, a sprinkle of fairy tale, a little travel writing. I love to read cross-genre books, so why not write them?
Why do I write what I do?
Fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Great Divorce have been some of my best friends and truest guides as I have navigated the roughest places in my life. What I really love about fantasy is its ability to grapple with deep truths and teach us how to tackle life’s difficulties and darknesses, all without triggering our defense mechanisms or putting us to sleep. So when I write, I seek not only to spin a good fantasy yarn, but to infuse it with truths I’ve learned along the way, because I think all good stories have truth at their center. Not that I have it all figured out! Often I find myself exploring and growing right alongside my characters, which is part of what makes writing challenging and fun 🙂
How does my writing process work?
Hehe. Today or yesterday? As with many important disciplines, I don’t think writing habits are something you learn once, master, and practice like a machine for the rest of your life. The way I wrote my first book is not the way I’m writing my second. Part of that is because I learned from a few mistakes the first time around! I consider myself a “pantser,” meaning that I tend to write by the seat of my pants, letting the story develop organically rather than planning out a whole book in advance. This time, however, I did start with a sketchy, big-picture outline of the story’s events, leaving big gaps for serendipity to happen. I think the general outline has helped me stay on track (and write faster), but some of my favorite scenes have come from the serendipity gaps 🙂
And the blog tour continues with two other splendid writers, both of whom I hope to introduce to you via interview this summer!
Shelley Adina is the author of over twenty books, from Victorian steampunk to Amish women’s fiction.
Jenn Castro is the author of Mom*Me, a charming picture book for young readers and their moms.
If you’re local to the SF Bay Area, come say hello at Village House of Books next Thursday, 7/10! From 6-8 PM, illustrator Amalia Hillmann and I will be there, signing The Illuminator’s Gift and answering questions.Plus lots of family-friendly activities including face painting, snacks, an art contest, and a drawing for a free book! We’d love to see you there!
With Memorial Day behind us and summer around the corner, it’s time for something new on this blog. Which is why I’m launching a summer series, taking us “Inside Creative Minds.” Interviews with writers, artists, and other creatives will give us a peek inside their lives and creative habits.
Our first guest is novelist A. R. Silverberry. We became book friends after swapping titles at California Bookstore Day.
Welcome, A. R. Silverberry! So tell us–how did you first fall in love with writing?
Well, I’m in love with other people’s writing! I’m pretty hard on my own. What I love is the creative process, discovering things I never planned or anticipated, discovering connections that were completely unconscious on my part. I especially love when a character steps on stage and announces herself, fully born. All I have to do is get out of the way and let her speak! Other characters, I have to really work at to know, and I better pray they aren’t main characters or I’m in for a tough time. I love writing the first draft. I don’t love writing the final draft. By that point, I’m aware of what I call my Waterloo chapters, those spots where I just can’t complete things to my satisfaction. Ironically, it may be a single sentence that’s hanging me up.
Do you hear that scream? It’s my wife after I’ve asked her for six months straight which permutation of a passage she prefers!
What are some of your favorite books to read?
A Tale of Two Cities,To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lacuna, and all things Tolkien. I grew up on fairy tales, myths, and the Oz books. Nowadays, for pure fun, I read Dean Koontz.
You publish both paper books and e-books. As an avid reader yourself, which medium do you prefer and why?
I had the good fortune to go into a Shakespeare museum and got to look at a book written in 1606. Imagine! Shakespeare could have touched the same book! Physical books are an art form. As long as there are people, art won’t die, and neither will physical books. I’ll always prefer them. How do you cozy up to an e-reader? But darn if those e-books aren’t kind on old eyes. I love that I can enlarge the font, look up words I don’t know, and most surprising, my reading speed increased.
What are your two novels, Wyndano’s Cloak and The Stream, about? Are they related?
They’re unrelated. Wyndano’s Cloak is a fantasy adventure for children. The Stream is tale for adults, in the same genre as Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
Wyndano’s Cloak in one word: Empowerment. More specifically, girl power, though the message to believe in your inner gifts applies to all, young and old alike.
I asked one of my beta readers what she thought The Stream was about. She replied, “Good heavens, what is it not about?!” Here’s the best I can do:
What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?
After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?
Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.
Wow! Two powerful books, quite different from each other. So who or what inspires your writing?
Ideas tumble into my mind from every conceivable corner. Take The Stream, for instance. The initial impetus was a conversation I was having, where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, popped into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside the novel I was working on (it wasn’t working anyway), and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.
What appeals to you about fantasy stories?
The unique thing about fantasy as a genre is that it’s not limited by the laws of physics. Anything can happen. Magic exists. Unexpected things can and do occur. Conflicts are painted in bold, broad strokes. The hero or heroine is up against unspeakable power, power beyond human ken. If they can triumph over that, I can triumph over the foibles of my life.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Be wary of advice, except mine of course! And here it is: read a lot; write a lot; learn the craft, but don’t be a slave to it; and break the “rules” if it helps the story. Don’t try to write like anyone else. There is only one you. Let the beautiful voice inside you sing.
Do you have another job? How do you balance it with writing?
I’m a psychologist, working primarily with children and adolescents, though I see adults too. I try to write every morning while my mind is clear and closer to the dream world. I wrote Wyndano’s Cloak while commuting on Cal Train! It worked out great. The sound of the train triggered me into writing mode. I wrote three hours a day, five days a week. Between the train and work, I walked for twenty minutes, taking notes about snippets of dialogue or description. The biggest loss to my writing was when we moved away from that train! I have to drive now, but I’m listening to a lot of audio books!
Are you working on a new book now? Can you tell us anything about it?
I never reveal the plot of anything until I’m ready to release it, but I’ll say this: It’s a dystopic young adult sci-fi fantasy trilogy. Say that five times as fast as you can!
Thank you for joining us! It’s been a pleasure!
A. R. Silverberry will be answering questions in the comments today, so ask away! Check out Wyndano’s Cloak and newly released The Streamon Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
About A. R. Silverberry:
A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. THE STREAM is his second novel. Visit his website or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter!
Last Saturday was California Bookstore Day–a statewide day of celebrating books and the independent shops that create warm, welcoming community spaces for them.
Better than Christmas, right?
My friend and cover illustrator, Amalia Hillmann, and I spent the day glorying in the adorable children’s nook at Village House of Books. My book’s original cover art was displayed by a window, where the warm light made the gold paint shimmer and sparkle.One of the other visiting authors said it was like “a window into another world.”
We signed copies for some brilliant young readers and got to chat about the process of writing, illustrating, and publishing a book.
Not going to lie: seeing The Illuminator’s Gift on display beside a wall of books including The Giving Tree and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie was a lifelong dream come true.
One of the highlights of the day for me was getting to meet some amazing local authors. A.R. Silverberry, author of the young adult fantasy Wyndano’s Cloak, and I became book friends as we signed copies for each other.
Laughter about fan comments, incriminating book research, and mundane day jobs was interspersed with tips about contracts, cover art, and professional organizations. Though I was the youngest author there, everyone (including shop owners Steve and Cheryl Hare and author liaison Lloyd Russell) made me feel like part of a literary tribe. We’re all just trying to follow the passion that’s been placed within us (and not end up living in cardboard boxes).
By the end of the day, I was exhausted, but honored to be welcomed into such a smart, quirky, fun book family. I look forward to introducing you to some of these wonderful people via blog interviews this summer!
And of course, a day spent in a bookstore meant I couldn’t come home without books! My dollars ran out before my book cravings did, but I still managed to secure copies of Hannah Jayne’s Under the Gun,Vibrant Words by Erica Goss, Wyndano’s Cloak by A.R. Silverberry, and Mom*Meby Jennifer Castro. All signed, of course. Plus a cheery yellow book bag from Village House of Books.
Now I just need to find more time to read.
I’m THRILLED to announce that I’ll be back at Village House of Books for a TIG-specific book party this summer! More details to come, but mark your calendars for the evening of Thursday, July 10th!