Friday, September 28, 2012

Guest Post: How I Became a Writer (Erin Cashman)

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I sat on my perch high up in our maple tree (much to my mother’s displeasure!) and wrote stories and poems. It has always been my dream to be a published author. I majored in English at Bates College, where I read and read and read, and wrote and wrote and wrote. My favorite class was Creative Writing.

Following graduation, my father encouraged me to go to law school, so that I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years, always knowing I’d go back to writing one day. When my kids were little, I took a couple of creative writing classes at night. And then one night I had the strangest dream about a family of vampires. I just had to write it down. I finished it a year later, and sent it off to agents and publishers, certain I would realize my dream and become an author.

Boy was I wrong.

After Twilight, romance vampire stories were in demand, not middle-grade adventure ones.

But several editors asked for the full manuscript after reading a sample, and were very encouraging. I asked one what I could do to improve the novel, and she told me to re-read a book that I loved (so as not to be swept up in the story!) and really pay attention to the voice, the descriptions, the story arc, and the characters. I did. I underlined the book, wrote notes in the margin, and folded down pages.

I wrote another book, and suffered through many more rejections. And then I had the idea for The Exceptionals. It’s about a teenage girl who must use her ability to communicate with animals to unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of the most talented students at Cambial Academy, a school for teens with special abilities. Since much of my book takes place in the woods, I went outside with my pen and notebook, and like my protagonist, Claire, sat down on a rock and observed what I saw, heard and smelled. The colors and sounds were different than what I had thought. In the morning I jotted down what the sunrise looked like (my children get up much too early for school!). I was surprised to discover that in winter months I often saw vibrant bands of violet at the horizon -- rarely did I see the pinks and oranges I saw in my mind’s eye. I paid attention to storms and the way the clouds moved. Every observation went in a 3 ring notebook I dedicated just to writing.

As I wrote, I worked on avoiding the same old tired expressions. Once I did that, I started to notice how other authors described things. As I came across a phrase or description that was beautiful or interesting, I stopped and tried to come up with my own unique way to express it – which I scribbled down in the notebook.

After a few months I had a first draft of The Exceptionals. As I labored through the edits, I kept my notebook next to my laptop. I referenced it often. Every time I used a word too often, or I relied on clichés, I turned to my notebook. And when I thought I was finished, I read the entire manuscript out loud. It’s amazing how many mistakes I caught! And it really helped with dialogue. I want all my characters to speak beautiful, proper English. Unfortunately, people don’t speak like that!

I sent The Exceptionals out to about ten agents and editors, but this time I had no expectation that it would be published. A couple of weeks later I got a call from an agent, Erica Silverman from the great literary agency, Trident, offering to represent me, and the very next day Pam Glauber, a very talented editor at Holiday House, called and made an offer to buy the novel! Two years later, I was a published author.

Even now, when I read a book, I keep my green notebook handy, and a pen to scribble in the pages. When I write, it is next to my laptop (along with an ample supply of chocolate!). It is the single most important thing I did to improve my writing.

About Erin:

Erin grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Bates College in Maine and from Boston College Law School. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, three children, and their dog.
Follow Erin:
About The Exceptionals:

Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, 15-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it's high time she transferred to Cambial Academy--the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blog Tour: This or That with Ming from Live Through This

From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy.

But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted façade. That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling.

In this unforgettable powerhouse of a novel, Mindi Scott offers an absorbing, layered glimpse into the life of an everygirl living a nightmare that no one would suspect.

Today Ming, Coley's friend in Live Through This, is here to tell us some of her preferences...

Pepsi or Coke? 

Pepsi. I think it’s sweeter.

Vampires or werewolves? 

I’ve actually put tons of thought into this and I can’t decide. Vampires are guys that are dead. And werewolves are guys that are wolves. So, do I like dead-guys or wolf-guys? I think wolf-guys because I’m yicked out at the thought of cold flesh all up on me. But wolf-guys are animals, so there’s that to consider.

City or country? 

City. I like having places to go and things to do.

Chocolate or vanilla? 

Chocolatey goodness. Milk chocolate, of course.

Light or dark? 

Dark. I’m such a night owl.

Indoors or outdoors? 

I’m up for either, really.

Top or bottom? 

Um . . . top? We’re talking about bunk beds, right?

Television or books? 

TV. Well, movies, really. Love movies!

Looks or personality? 

Both, but personality goes a long way . . .

Warm or cold weather? 


Friends or family? 

Probably friends. Is that bad?

Diamonds or pearls? 

I like sparkle, so diamonds. Plus, my grandma has pearls, so me wearing pearls would make me feel old.

Facebook or Twitter? 

FB, I guess. Any weirdo can talk to you on Twitter.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught


When Jason Milwaukee's best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it's Sunshine's own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness. By turns brilliantly witty and searingly honest, Susan Vaught's newest novel is a laugh-out-loud, tear-jerking, coming-of-age story.


Publication date: September 4th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens 

The Elliott Review:

This book is a thoughtful, easy to read glimpse into the mind of a teen with schizophrenia. Jason (aka Freak) thinks differently than the average kid, and through his unique way of viewing the world, the reader comes to deeply feel his emotions. As Freak copes with his best friend/crush being missing, we are able to see fragments of something that Freak had vowed to forget as they come back to him in the midst of a frenzied search for Sunshine.

This book is gripping and intense, filled with Freak's narration that is sometimes fractured by his schizophrenia, what he calls his "alphabet." Freak must deal with those who mistrust him while trying to figure out where his friend might be - law enforcement, his father, and even himself. Someone was hurting Sunshine, Freak remembers, but who was that person?

This book is a quick, meaningful read that will give readers an insight into the mind of someone who is mentally ill yet still powerfully self aware and proactive.

Young Adult Note:

 Allusion to rape/sexual abuse, mild violence.

Source: Thanks to Bloomsbury for making this title available at Netgalley.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tot Tuesday Review: Change the World Before Bedtime by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good


Written in simple, engaging rhyme, this story takes an inspirational look into how the little things in life a smile, a kind word, a simple deed can help change the world in a big way. Through 18 stunning illustrations, children will read about eating right, cleaning up the Earth by recycling and conserving, helping the sick and those less fortunate, and working in a group to make bigger miracles. Even an ordinary kid can be a superhero before bedtime! Grades Pre-K to 2.


Publication date: August 31, 2012 by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.

The Elliott Review:

This book combines completely cute, whimsical illustrations that draw children's eyes with a rhyming text that is sure to entertain as well as encourage altruistic thinking. The focus of the book is to help kids think about small acts of kindness and goodness that they can do. Kids might not think of these things as changing the world, but the book shows kids doing small things like donating money, volunteering, being kind to others - things that actually would change the world if everyone did them.

This book would be a great classroom resource, fostering a discussion or being the anchor text for some kind of service project. It could also help parents talk about these issues with their children.

Source: Thanks to Schiffer Publishing for making this title available at Netgalley.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Winners of the Mickey Tussler Series!

And the winners of The Mickey Tussler series are:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to everyone who participated! Don't forget to check out my current giveaways!