Monthly Archives: March 2011

Book Reviews and Other News

Since starting my preschool in September, I’ve not read a single novel.  Sad, but true.  At least it was until last weekend when I devoured three books. 


By Kody Keplinger

This is a tough book for me to review, as I read it through the eyes of a mom with a fourteen-year-old daughter.  The amount of swearing and sex was disturbing to say the least.  Not that children aren’t faced with this kind of thing in the halls at school, but to me, literature has always been an escape from the nastiness of real life. 

Yet I suppose I should have suspected a bit of hubbub from a book written about the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. 

However, when I put my child advocate hat on, I could appreciate the honesty of the main character and the addictive nature she fights with as she struggles through her parents’ divorce.  Instead of using alcohol to ease the depression and confusion, she turns to sex to numb her from the pain. 

In the end, Ms. Keplinger did a wonderful job of portraying low self-esteem and the fight for self-respect.  The characters were believable and the message was subtle.  Maybe a bit too subtle for my taste, as I picture some kids not quite getting that casual sex is a bad thing since the MC ends up with her bed partner.  Spoiler.  Sorry. 

Definitely worth the read if you can get past the language and into the meat of the story.  Definitely not something I will pass on to my Dear Daughter until she adds a few years to her age—though that’s likely just my over-protectiveness coming out.


By Scott Westerfeld 

These are two books I would let DD read right now.  I tested the first in the series (UGLIES) this past summer and just now had the time to enjoy the last two.  And enjoy, I did.  In fact, I read the page-turning SPECIALS in five hours. 

At the heart of these stories, Mr. Westerfeld addresses human nature and the ability to triumph or succumb to outside pressures based on our inherent personalities.  I know, sounds dry and psychological, but they’re not.  Trust me.

They are action-packed, character-driven adventures set in a dystopian future. 

The thing I loved most about these books was the depth of the characters.  The protags were flawed and the antags had redeeming qualities.  My second favorite thing: the wide range of emotions and desires Mr. Westerfeld captured throughout the series.  This grass-is-always-greener approach led the MC through many thought-provoking scenarios where the fate of others rested in her hands. 

My only complaint—comes from the mother in me—was the cutting in the second book.  This form of pain relief is so prominent amongst youngsters these days and I hated to see it so up-front.  However, the handling of it was honest enough that it worked.

 One thing Mr. Westerfeld does is gets kids.

Now, for the News 

  1. I’m attending the Iowa Region’s SCBWI conference this weekend.  It proves to be amazing, and I am open to any questions you may have.  Please leave a comment or shoot me an email letting me know what you want to know and I’ll try to find the answer during my amazing three days with industry professionals.
  2. I have officially finished my MG novel revision.  Now it needs a once over and it’s ready to send to my agent.  Yay!  This book has been long in the making (six years) and I hope I did it justice with my latest epiphany.  It’s amazing how much we grow as we write, edit, commiserate with peers and polish our prose.  I love it.  The whole process is a journey worth taking, whether publication is the end product or not. 
  3. I have a secret.  A very big secret that will go viral tomorrow, Friday, April 1st.  It’s not an April Fools joke, but rather, a great tool for any writer of any level regardless of genre or age group you write for.

Please, please, please check back here tomorrow for the details.  And once the cat is out of the bag, I urge you to pass along the info to anyone you know, love or respect who ever hopes to someday see their name in print.

So, as a reader, what’s your latest read?  Anything I can download on my Kindle for the quiet evenings in my hotel room this weekend?  I’d love to get your suggestions.

As a writer, what do you most want to know about the writing industry?  Are you currently craft-centered or are you looking for publishing tips that can lead you to your dream agent and subsequent publication?  Does the e-revolution tickle your fancy or is traditional publishing your ideal?

 Inquiring minds want to know!


Mob Mentality

It’s been a crazy day.  A simple link leading to a knock-down, drag-out war popped up everywhere I turned today.

A self-pubbed author received a mildly bad review and majorly blew it out of proportion.  It was simultaneously hideous and humorous.  Yet after seeing the same fight replayed over and over again got to be wearing. 

Even more troubling were the reactions of the readers and commentors to the numerous blog posts, tweets and forum threads.  In no time at all, people hopped on the attack wagon themselves. 

Exhausting to say the least.

Then a writer friend of mine PMed me about the psychology of critiques in a thread.  And I paraphrase: Doesn’t it seem like the tone of the first comment sets the outcome for all comments that follow?

Absolutely.  100%.  Without a doubt.

Yes, yes and yes.  People feel empowered when they have the seeming support of others.  We forget to think for ourselves and let the ideas and opinions of others influence how we react.  Especially if we were wishy-washy to begin with.

People used to get hanged by mobs.  Innocent people had nooses slipped around their necks and the rumps of horses slapped out from under them simply because the mob mentality is so strong.  Going against the grain of popular opinion can almost be a death sentence in and of itself.  So bystanders either shut their mouths and allow atrocities to occur around them, or they jump on the back of the mob and shout their support regardless of how right or wrong a situation is.

We see this in schools, at parks, during rallies and on the internet.  Everywhere a group of people meets and intermingles, the potential for us to lose our independence and fall in favor of the mob is there.

Have you ever been a part of mobbing?  Wrote about it?  Read it?  What is an effective way to curb this behavior, if any?  If not, how can we protect ourselves from getting sucked into this very explosive game?

What does this mentality mean to you as a writer and the way you handle yourself in the public view?

Ever Wonder about Library Books?

And how they got on the shelves?

Check out Books and Such Literary Agency’s blog for a low-down on how it all works and how this motivated agency is making inroads in the marketing world.

Some writers I know have shied away from the library market, pooh-poohing it as an unnecessary avenue in which to sell their books.  After all, library books are free, no?

Well yes, to the public.  But not really. 

Every book in a library has been purchased with real money.  With over 2,500 on the Library Locator–the nifty thing Books and Such is part of–this “free” market could help an author sell-through and earn back an advance.

 Not to mention, if a library is connected to the public education system like ours is, certain types of books can quickly make their way onto purchase orders–in multiple copies.  

So, is the library market an untapped avenue for you as a writer, or does this free service seem a bit too trifling to pursue?   Which shelves would you like to see you work on and why?

Personally, the library is my target.  It’s the quickest way for my books to find themselves in the hands of my intended audience.  Books are expensive and many households don’t have/use expendable cash for literature.  Yet every week, kids file down the hallway and make their way into the vastness of the library where they are encouraged to check out something–anything–just to get them to read.

And that, my friends, is where I want to be.  I want my unlucky pirate family to be waiting on the shelf, beautifully illustrated and just waiting to stow-away in the back pack of some elementary student. 

Not to say that the end cap at any bookstore would make me pout, but I do have fond childhood memories of libraries and virtually no bookstore moments beyond shaking hands with Louis L’Amour. 


Tried & True and Technological Changes

DH and I started playing co-ed volleyball the first year we got married.  At the time, I bought a brand-new pair of snow-white knee pads.  In a few months, DH and I will celebrate nineteen years of wedded bliss.  Guess who still owns the same pair of knee pads?

Yep, me.  They are holey and coming apart at the seams.  In addition, the elastic is stretched out and they slip around when I dive for a ball, offering less protection than those spankin’ new pads from almost two decades ago.

I have two choices.  Quit volleyball or buy new pads.

I’ve tried the second and just can’t find any I like.  They’re not my tried and true ones.  They haven’t saved me from bruises.  They are not my friends and I’m just not sure I want to waste my time breaking them in.

New technology is like that for writers.  We get in our comfort zones and often resist changes.  It took me forever to switch from notebook to netbook for rough drafts.  In fact, I still print out a copy for my first edit.  Old dogs and all…

But technology can be our friend.  If we are savvy and willing, we can manage our own marketing with relative ease.  It will still take work and time and effort, but socializing in this day and age is easier with Twitter and blogging than it was twenty years ago.  Virtual critique groups and emails have made connecting with others in the biz tons easier.

Yet it can also be scary.  The e-book business has the writing world in a near-state of panic.  Our beloved knee pads are worn out, and for the life of us, we just can’t bear the thought of replacing them. 

Will this mindset be our undoing?  If we fail to move on the e-trend, will we be left holding yesterday’s worthless treasures?

How active must we be, as aspiring writers, to succeed in this new climate?  Which methods and practices will become extinct?  Is there room for a good balance, and if so, what is that?

It’s time for a good hard look at our journeys and goals.  With technological advances occurring everyday, the options are nearly limitless and require much more from writers than simply penning a manuscript.

Best luck as you navigate the new trends.

Thank You, Ted Dekker!

Last week, Eldest was restless and looking for something to do.  I handed him a copy of Chosen, the first in The Lost Books Series.  He read it over the course of a few days.  Then begged for a trip to the book store to buy the second one.

I got home from work today to find him lounging on the couch fully engrossed in the second book–with only four chapters left to go.

Eldest is severely dyslexic and hates reading.  Because it takes him three times longer than the average 11th grader to read a page, he avoids reading at all costs. 

He’s also begging for me to buy the next book and the next and the next. 

In my eyes, there is no greater accomplishment, no greater reward, than touching the life of a child.  When I grow up, I want to be just like Ted.  I want to help kids learn to read for pleasure.  I want children who otherwise shy away from the written word to hang on every word I write. 

Kudos, Mr. Dekker, from the bottom of my heart.  I am your number one fan at this moment in time. 

What do you want to accomplish as a writer?  Is getting published your end goal, or do you have a deeper purpose to your writing journey?

Conference Questions and a Shout Out!

A trip through the frozen corn fields of Minnesota and Iowa are in my future.  On April Fool’s Day, I will journey to the Quad Cities to attend a writer’s conference of epic proportion.

Not only does the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have a great line-up, but one of the speakers is my very own agent.

Be still my heart!

In any case, I will keep my juvenile lit fans posted about trends and news that I gather from this illustrious event.  I will also pass along any and all info on the publishing business as a whole.  One of the speakers is presenting on marketing and self-promotion.  You can bet I’ll be scribbling notes for that one.

So, I ask, my dear readers, are there any burning questions you would like me to keep my ears open for?  I will happily compile a list of questions or concerns and see if I can ferret out the answers over three amazing days with agents, editors, authors and illustrators.

Likewise, any tips on meeting one’s agent face to face would be appreciated.  I already have things like eat no lettuce, wipe sweaty palms off before shaking hands and don’t vomit on Agent Awesome, but would be open to any other words of wisdom you’d like to pass along.

Oh yeah, and speaking of agents, I’d love to share the good news.  Another one of my rockin’ AQ writer friends has landed an agent to rep her incredible young adult novel.  Mindy is amazingly sweet, absolutely hilarious and has more talent than I have dust bunnies.  If you’d like to get in on the ground floor of her writing journey, please pop on over to her very new blog: Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire.

Know any other great writers, good news or industry info?  Inquiring minds want to know!

The Power of Words: sight over sound

Dear Daughter is enduring a bout of bullying at school.  Kids can be cruel.  Girls can be nasty.  Teens…well…they’re teens.

Long story short, she’s been the punchline of a few not-so-funny jokes.  Whispered words in the halls, naughty words scratched in her day planner and one extremely derogatory remark scribbled on a teacher’s white board.

Words can hurt.

As writers and story-tellers, we know first hand the power behind them.  They can make us laugh and cry, shout, scream or moan.  They shock us, terrify us, amuse us and frustrate us.  Words are magical. 

But which is more so?  The written word or the spoken word?

Is hearing a story more potent than reading one?  Is that why voice is so important in a great piece of fiction, because the characters themselves leap off the page and into our imaginations?

It’s likely why picture books are so beloved to both children and adults alike.  Not only can we read the words, but we can see the story come to life while feeling the lyrical cadence deep in our soul.

I wonder if that’s why whispered words cut us so deeply?  They cannot be ripped up, erased or thrown in the trash.  Once spoken, they are a living memory not easily ignored.

Which would you choose: to read and not hear or to hear and not be able to read?

A Note To Parents

Hug your babies each and every day.  No matter how old they get, no matter how much milk they spill or how many toys they forget to pick up, children are the single most precious gifts we have been given.

Never let your last words be angry or hurtful.

Never forget to praise their accomplishments.

Never let a day go by that you don’t show them just how much you care.

And never take them for granted, because one day, when you least expect it, they might be gone.

If you’re the kind to pray, please do so now for this unfortunate family.

My your day be filled with blessings.

Free does not mean without a price.

So we got a new dog.  We didn’t pay for her because she was free.  Kind of.  DH was the middle man between his dad and the breeder.  You see, DH and his dad are hunters.  Pheasants are popular in our frying pan.

A few years back, Father-In-Law’s hunting dog passed away.  He’s not done hunting, so he borrows our lab for his trips to the South Dakota corn fields.

Sadly, our geriatric canine made her last trip in November.  So, my ever-generous and not-quite-done-hunting FIL offered to buy our next dog.  Alas, Dear Hubby took him up on it so they may continue the annual hunts. 

But she wasn’t really free.  We’ve bought a kennel, a pillow, chew toys, new socks, peroxide to vomit up the old socks, vet bills, worm medicine and special dog food.  We’ve cleaned carpets, chased her around fences, vacuumed daily and put our home into lock-down mode.  We spend hours taking her potty when she doesn’t have to go and even more time watching her roam the house in case she actually does.  Free, is an illusion.

Especially in the writing world.

Your education is not free.  Whether you earned an MFA or barely eked out your GED, the price of learning to write is time and effort.

There is not short cut.  No magic wand.  No miracle pill.  Rather, getting published is hard work.  

Nothing is free.  Not in life and not in writing. 

What does writing cost you?  Is it worth the price?  Do you have a set cap on how much you’re willing to spend before you hang up the hunting gear?

Me?  It costs sleep, time away from my kids, hours in the car to attend conferences, fewer lazy evenings with DH and less time to housebreak the new pooch. 

You know what I’ve learned?  Guilt is damn expensive.

And the winner is…

khaula mazhar!

Thanks Khaula for your entry.  Middle loved it.  Please include your mailing address in an email at catwoods (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com.  We will get your chocolates to you ASAP!

And the science fair winner was…

  • Not Water.  In its pure form, it froze the hardest and took longer to melt by almost an hour.
  • Not Coffee.  With no fat or sugar, coffee was still fairly pure.
  • Not Milk.  This was my pick due to the fat and sugar, but nope, it was only the fourth fastest to melt.
  • Not Hot Chocolate or Orange Juice.  Both of these melted at almost exactly the same rate.  Oj came out on top during one melt, while Swiss Miss ran a bit hotter the second time around.
  • Mello Yello.

Which made us curious, so we actually did a bit more testing.  It was the only carbonated drink and it had the highest sugar content.  A second set of tests “proved” that carbonation is the top contributor to quick melt times with sugar a close second.  In fact, sugar-water melted almost twice as fast as pure water.

So, science fair project complete and a newer appreciation for the things that we drink.

Thanks for playing and may the melt be with you!