Thursday, January 28, 2010

The BONESHAKER buzz starts HERE..Boneshaker ARC contest

So I might be a little biased.

I have had the unbelievable pleasure and good fortune to know Kate Milford as both a friend, and critique-mate for almost three years. And, yep, I knew right away this lady was something special. Special NICE, special SMART, special creative..and a teensy-weensy bit of strange (just the right formula for me).


Her new book, the middle grade steam-punk fantasy, The Boneshaker is due out May 24 from Clarion. It's *drumroll* illustrated by Andrea Offermann, which for me, as an illustrator and designer, sends me swooning.

Kate is a Cuda (the online critique group I moderate), and like our beloved Lindsay Eland, one of two Cudas with book contracts. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Kate.

In the next few months I'll also be interviewing two more fabulous ladies from my other critique group—debut author Christine Johnson (YA paranormal Claire de Lune) AND the award-winning Heidi Ayarbe with her second book, Compromised.

So there's going to be a lot going on here as I jump up and down (possibly making a fool of myself, but what else is new?) and cheer-lead for my talented writer pals.

Anyway, back to Kate. You heard it hear FIRST. Kate is so original, she'll blast your socks off.

Have I led you wrong yet? Have I? (Anne Spollen, remember? Also..Neesha Meminger, Lindsay Eland and Becca Fitzpatrick)...I know..shameless, aren't I?

Kate is holding a contest on her Boneshaker Facebook group.

The more peeps you get to sign on to her group, the bigger your chances of winning a Boneshaker ARC. So if you DO join, remember to mention I sent you there!

So good luck, and remember. This blog is where you heard the name Kate Milford FIRST, and don't you forget it!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

OMG IPAD!!! Apple..I love you

SCBWI conference this weekend in NYC. Who's going?

I am a NY resident, so I will be commuting. I am signed up for the Friday intensive.

Anyone else going?

Oh, in other news: I finished the second draft of my clunkazoid WIP, thanks to the Plot Whisperer. Now I have to clean up, edit and get a query going. I'm going to be getting my first 500 read on Friday, so I hope that goes well. Then it's back into the the querying jungle. Thank goodness I have this blog to distract me and I am going to LEAP into the next book without even stopping for air.

It'll be my fifth. Yeesh. It's been five full years that I've been at this writer's game. I'm so glad I love my day job! I hope something good happens this year. Either way, I'll trudge on. I have the thick scarred hide of a tyrannosaurus rex.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Plot Map by the "Girl with One Eye"

Hey folks! One of my blog-pals on here has posted her very own plot map inspired by mine (which was inspired by the Plot Whisperer). Run over there and check it out. It's awesome!

Thanks for sharing, Girl!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview with Anne Spollen, author of The Shape of Water

Anne Spollen, author of last year's The Shape of Water and the forthcoming Light Beneath Ferns, has been kind enough to visit here. I guess she could tell how wildly obsessed I've become with her writing and wanted to speak for herself! I hope my enthusiasm rubs off on some of you. And PS...Anne snuck in a little question for me at the end.

I am almost done reading Light Beneath Ferns and I am loving it. As Anne herself states, it is quite different from "Water". She says it is less lyrical, but I have to say—Anne's incredible poetry comes right through. I told Anne that readers of her book might also enjoy a book by Laura Whitcomb, entitled A Certain Slant of Light, a ghost story with a lyrical twist.

Now I will step aside, and let Anne take it from here...

Tell us a bit about your background and what you've been up to lately.

I was born in Staten Island, NY, and went away to New Paltz, NY to attend college. After I met my husband there, I stayed and became a high school English teacher. I also taught in the English department at SUNY, New Paltz while completing my Masters in English literature. I stopped teaching when my first son, Christopher, was born. I had always written, so I began writing poetry while he napped. By the time his brother came along 26 months after him, I stayed home full time and worked on poetry from time to time. I had very little time as I had had two kids in two years and my husband and I didn't have anyone nearby to help. So writing time was pretty scarce. When I did have time, I wrote and published poetry regularly. Then I moved on to longer poems that became short stories. I felt pretty happy when I began publishing short stories on a regular basis. Eventually, one story wouldn't stop. By that time, Christopher was in the fourth grade and that story eventually became the Shape of Water.

Lately, I've been teaching online Spanish classes and English classes at a college. I am, of course, working on a YA book and a new middle grade book. An "adult" book is in the distant future.

Your first book, The Shape of Water has a strong connection to place, a seaside community in Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York City. Can you tell us how you came to set your story there?

Well, I grew up in Staten Island right on that beach that Magda inhabits. The setting was already in my mind; I imagined nothing to create that setting. One day I got the image of a girl standing on the beach, looking out at the water. I recognized the beach, but not the girl. The image kept recurring, and when I sat down to write about what I saw, I saw fire behind the girl. Magda just sort of told the story to me. Writing that book, not to get too Shirley MacClaine-like, but it was a lot like channeling.

I think Magda taught me exactly how important setting is to a story. I couldn't imagine her (or her mother, even though you never formally meet her) anywhere but on that beach.

Are there any specific biographical elements in The Shape of Water, or are they more abstract? Although I never suffered such loss as Magda, I also experienced feelings of isolation growing up in suburban Long Island. I thought perhaps it was your intention to express those feelings and how a person can work their way out of them.

My mother still lives near that very beach on Staten Island. I did lose my dad less than a month after I turned 13, so I probably drew on some of those feelings. I don't think when we write we are entirely in control of what goes on the page. Or maybe that's only my experience.

I do believe that every teenager has feelings of isolation as s/he goes through adolescence. Or every thinking teen (I don't know anything about those outgoing, super athletic kind of teens --) The teens who write to me say, "You got it right; this is how I feel right now."

I think the loss of the parent serves as a metaphor for that loss of navigation we all feel as we realize that life will not continue the way it has through our childhood, that very soon, we will have to do things that are difficult and confusing - and we will have to do them alone.

Are there any other insights you'd like to add about this book? (Can you tell I'm kind of obsessed with this book?)

Lol, I'm obsessed with books pretty often, too. I think you pretty much got them all in your review, Lisa. Probably the strangest element to this book is that I felt, as I said, that I wasn't in control of the writing; the characters were. Mrs. Fish, in particular, was not supposed to play as large a role as she did. In fact, I edited out quite a bit of her conversation before sending it out, and she still would easily be considered a character.

Your latest book, Light Beneath Ferns is quite a departure from The Shape of Water. Can you discuss this with us?

I deliberately wanted Light Beneath Ferns to be different from The Shape of Water. I didn't want anything to do with the ocean, or fish, or a dreamy kind of girl. Elizah is a stronger girl than Magda; she is fine with being alone, and Magda clearly was not (she may not have wanted peers either, but she clearly suffered the absence of her mother). I also wanted to be less lyrical. It's difficult for me because I started out as a poet, and I admit to loving language over plot (there is not, on the whole, too much plot development in poetry). I do love creating images and evoking atmosphere; it's not unlike casting a spell. But you don't want to end up writing the same book in a different setting.

Second books have it tough. People are expecting the first book in a new cover. I think writers should have range. And Light Beneath Ferns is meant for a younger audience than Shape of Water.

I was criticized fairly frequently in Shape of Water for being too lyrically dense, having inaccessible passages, and creating language that was too lyrical for teens. (I should add that I got a lot of praise for Shape of Water, too, but that was pretty common criticism) LBF does not have these characteristics; I wanted to create a stronger voice, a stronger female character and not worry so much about the language. I think each book teaches the writer something new. From LBF I learned more about voice.

What was your road to publication?

I wrote for tiny publications with pictures of draft animals on the cover out in the Midwest when I began. Editors would force me to work on maybe the two last lines of an eighteen line poem seven times. I think that's paying your dues. I never got paid; but a wonderful thing happens: editors solicit you. I was enormously flattered by this in my twenties, even though non-writer friends would look at me like I had just grown an anterior head. "You mean, they asked for a poem, and they aren't going to pay you? Why are you so excited?" Well, because someone had read and LIKED my other poems enough to contact me. I started getting well-known in the literary journals and by the 90's, I was getting a little bit better known for fiction. Of course, having a new baby in 1998 sort of put the brakes on. Then I was home with three kids all under six, so things slowed down. I wrote maybe a page or two a week. When Emma was about two, and napped, and both her brothers were in elementary school, I began trying to write at least every other day. I went back to short fiction, but they kept growing longer and longer. Becoming a novelist surprised me, but it's one of those lovely surprises in life.

Any advice to striving authors out there?
Yes, don't take advice. Sit down and write what feels and is true. Nothing else matters.

Tell us something about Anne Spollen we might not expect.
Even though now I'm the mom who always has a year's supply of children's vitamins in the kitchen cabinet, and carries Neosporin, clean socks, cough drops, juice boxes and healthy snacks, I used to do incredibly risky things as a teenager. Not the kind of things you might be thinking, but more like taking a rowboat under the choppy waters of a New York City bridge, driving a car across an icy pond, and seeing if you really DID get detention for flipping off a substitute teacher (you do). I think it's because I did those things and I had so little fear of consequences at that age, that I stalk my kids. I KNOW what's in their genes; unfortunately, it has become apparent to me that nature, at least in our household, is overriding nurture. But I don't think people expect that a bookish mom who writes careful novels would have had such a wild spirit as a teenager.
And that's a good segue way to close this: people almost never ask me why I chose to write YA as opposed to say mysteries or romance novels. I hold a not-so-secret conviction that somewhere, inside all of us, we are still recovering from middle school. That's why we, as adults, can connect so instantly to teen fiction. I also secretly believe that YA writers (and possibly their editors) suffer from this malady more than the average person. Just saying...

Now Anne turns the tables on me:

And Lisa, one question for you: You are a YA writer. Can you tell your blog readers just the tiniest bit about your writing? (Can I guess that it's lyrical?)

Ah! Well, I do strive for lyrical. As a trained artist, I guess my writing springs from the visual. I struggle to describe the scenes I see in my head. I'm still trying! I guess, Anne's skill with language is the ideal I aspire to. My writing is a LOT wackier and I live in a crazy magical place where angels pop out from behind trees. I'm trying to ground myself a bit more.

I have now adopted Anne Spollen as an official Lisa Amowitz muse. And to think, if not for a random comment on a blog, I might have missed this literary gem.

Thank you, Anne! See you on the best-seller list! Be sure to visit and catch up on our Shape of Water discussions.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Shape of Water, by Anne Spollen— review

While I'm waiting to interview Anne Spollen, I decided to post my review of her first book, THE SHAPE OF WATER. I thought her latest book, LIGHT BENEATH FERNS, came out on February 1, but I just got it delivered from Barnes and Noble! (shh!). I've already ripped it opne and probably won't be able to stop. This one appears to be a paranormal, *sigh*. Well, heres' my Shape OF WATER REVIEW.

I read this book because my critique mate, Dhonielle Clayton. told me it had changed her life. Knowing D's taste and her own magical gift of language, I was intrigued. After reading the first page, I was swept away by the beauty and lyricism of the language. The Shape of Water is rich with elemental metaphors that connect to the underlying themes of loss, grief and recovery.

Magda is cast adrift after her mother's death, floating dreamily in a neglected beachy community in the outreaches of Staten Island, NY she thinks of as the Drift. The Drift is the wild place she and her mother co- existed in a dreamy world of their, with little to connect her to The Standard, the controlled “safe” area of her community. The Standard is a place she feels she can never gain acceptance to, that her mother gave her no "tools" with which to enter there. The book is filled with metaphors of water that underscore Magda's sense of alienation and grief. In her numb state, she imagines a campy family of talking fish that gradually reveal the truth behind her parent's marriage. Eventually, Magda believes that she has discovered the “shape” of the water that holds her and that she can, at last, swim out. The shape of water is a metaphor for the shape of Magda's grief. While submerged, it seems boundless, but as she continues to paddle for shore, she can discern its shape, and her release from it. This is a hopeful book, a story of one girl's journey toward self awareness, healing and self-acceptance.

Hope some of you will read this book, so we can discuss!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Update on the update. And Anne Spollen

My friend is fine. Her parents spoke to her. Both her home and business are intact and she is providing food her workers who lost their homes.

Big sigh of relief and time to move onto more writerly things.

I have a big treat on the way. I am going to be posting an interview with the author Anne Spollen. Her book THE SHAPE OF WATER is a lyrical masterpiece.

So stay tuned.

And keep Haiti and Lil in your thoughts.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Earthquake Update

Just got some good news. My friend and her husband are okay, and apparently their house has sustained very little damage. I am relieved, but still heartbroken about what is going on there. I have to believe that Lil has been spared to help. Hi Lil, if you're out there.

Please give what you can to help this broken nation recover and maybe remake itself in the aftermath of this catastrophe.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


There's been a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti this evening. There are reports that hundreds of thousands of people may have died. Please give to reputable organizations to help the desperate people there.

I'm sending out a prayer for my friend Lillian Deslandes, who's lived in Haiti for the past 33 years and for everyone else in this devstated country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Totally Awesome Plot Mess, (I mean map)

Martha, the Totally Awesome Plot Whisperer, asked me to post my map. So here it is! Pretty, huh? On each of those post-its is a "scene" that follows a plot line. The plot is divided into the beginning, middle and end. Plot Whisperer has you do the END FIRST! Then the middle.

The post-it colors are not that systematic. A person with a functioning left brain, might have a color-coded system. The green floating post-its are little things I need to foreshadow, reinforce, etc.

I'm not sure I did it right, but the process helped me incredibly. I've got a road map! Yay!

Let me know what you all think and if you have any cool tips to add, or questions to ask. I strongly suggest you visit Martha's website. (see sidebar. There's a link to her blog and also to the December day by day plot month that lifted me out of the doldrums.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

First of Firsts

It's the first post in the first month in the first year of a new decade.

It's a great time to talk about first chapters!

Working with our blog contest winners, Steena and AmyKated (who are unbelievably great sports!) got me to thinking—what makes a great first chapter? What elements do you think it needs?

I'm still pretty nervous about the first chapter of my WIP. I don't know if I'll ever be truly satisfied, but these days I'm too busy trying to complete the endless revision (or re-envisioning to be precise, since it's pretty much a total re-write) to focus. But once I begin polishing, I'm sure I'll be right back to obsessing over my first chapter.

So what about you? What elements do you think will hook a reader? I write YA, so my genre has its own unique conventions. I'm interesting in your opinions.

Oh, and Happy New Year!