Blogiversary Contest!


My inaugural post for this blog was on May 4, 2010 so to celebrate my first Blogiversary, I'm holding a contest! With three different prizes!

I love it when I win books (if you're reading this, you're probably a writer and also love books) and I thought it would be fun to give copies of books I've read and enjoyed this past year.

So first up is Fat Vampire: A Never-Coming-of-Age Story by Adam Rex

I loved his book, The True Meaning of Smekday, and enjoyed this one too. If you like Christopher Moore, you'll like this teen vampire book too. This one's in hardcover or ebook, because the paperback doesn't come out until July 26.

Next is the first book in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, just to prove I don't read YA exclusively. My review of it for a Road Trip Wednesday is here. Okay, so this one could almost be considered a crossover book . . .

And in the middle grade category, I have The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. It's Jane Eyre meet The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, with a dash of Lemony Snicket.

So, what do you need to do to win one of these fine tomes?

1. Be a follower of this blog (old or new) or a Facebook friend

2. Leave a comment on this post, and please let me know which book you would like if you win, and whether you want a paperback or a Kindle edition.

3. Make sure to leave your email (if it's not included in your Blogger profile) so that I can get your mailing address if you win.

4. Tweets, blog posts, links, and facebook shares are encouraged, but personally I'm tired of the contests where you get points for each hoop you jump through, and then are expected to calculate your own points. So no requirement for sharing!

5. Contest open internationally for the Kindle editions, but not the paperbacks, sorry!

Contest opens today, April 27, and will close May 2 at 9 PM Pacific. Winners will be announced May 4.


Top 5 Kindle Tips

We got our Kindle 3G last fall, and recently some friends and family members have gotten Kindles too. They asked me for some tips on navigating the features, and I decided to post them here:

1. Your Kindle has a Web Browser

The number of people that didn't realize their Kindle has a Web Browser feature surprised me. Under Menu>Experimental>Web Browser, the Kindle does indeed include a rudimentary web browser. I say rudimentary because it's clunky and slow (especially if you're used to a good smartphone, tablet, or netbook), but it is considered experimental so I wasn't expecting a lot.

However, on several car trips it's come in very handy when I needed an address, a map, to search for a store or restaurant, things like that where a smart phone comes in handy. But, alas, I don't have a smartphone, and was glad to at least have access to the internet through my Kindle. My Yahoo! Mail seems to have compatibility issues, so I don't see myself using this regularly for email unless I'm really desperate for a fix.

Also, turn off the wireless (via the Menu button) when you're not using it, and your power will last longer.

2. You Can Upload Your Own Documents to Your Kindle

What's more, you can do so for free, by USB or email. For USB, just drag and drop, and for email you'll need to send them as an attachment to your "name" address (check your account settings to find yours, but it's usually the same name as the email you use on If it's a PDF file, you can also type "convert" (without the quotes) as the subject line, and it will convert your PDF to an AZW format (for better formatting on your device, and to access features like font size).

There are some occasions that the free kindle upload doesn't work, and Amazon may try to send it by 3G instead. For that contingency, it's a good idea to set a charge limit for documents so you're not caught by surprise. You can set the limit through the "Manage Your Kindle Page".

3. A Kindle Can Read to You

This is also an experimental feature on the Kindle, though more people are aware of text-to-speech because there was some speculation on whether or not this feature infringes on audio rights. The experience of using the text-to-speech that comes with the Kindle does not compare to a well-done audio book, so no contest in my mind.

The Kindle's "voice" is pretty robotic, but that can mean some unintentionally funny readings. What it's truly valuable for, is using it in conjunction with uploading your documents.

When we read our own writing, whether on the page or out loud, we impose a certain rhythm on the words. Someone else doing a cold read (and what's colder than an experimental robot's voice?) may not have the same take. So words that are repeated jump out at you more, as well as places where you might need a comma, period, or new paragraph.

4. There Are Lots of Free Kindle Books Out There

When you go to the Kindle Store, there is a link on the left that will take you to Free Ebook Collections and there are some marvelous classic works listed, but what if you're in the mood for something more contemporary? Especially if you're wanting to try out a new author?

From the "Bestselling Kindle eBooks in Featured Categories" page, click on a genre and it takes you to a page displaying the Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free in that category.

Another trick is to browse the genre you want, and then sort them using "Price: Low to High". You should get a few pages of free and nearly-free books before the prices start climbing.

5. You Don't Need to Buy a $50 Leather Case to Protect Your Kindle

Unless you want to, of course. My Kindle travels in my purse inside a low-tech sleeve: a bubble wrap pocket. Somebody shipped me a few music CDs inside one, and it fits perfectly without adding a lot of bulk. If I want another layer over that, I have an old-school zip up fabric book cover.

And then there's the Speck Dustjacket that I bought with a Target gift card, so technically it didn't cost me anything at all. I love that it has a stand (I have a bad habit of reading while I'm eating) and the "covers" have a weight/thickness to them that makes it easier to hold in my hands for longer periods.

You can also protect the most important part, the screen, with a film you apply over it, but I've heard mixed reviews on those. Since there isn't any sensitive touch-screen technology in the Kindle, it's probably not necessary.

So those are my Top 5 Kindle Tips! Hope they were helpful. Also, there is one more experimental feature that allows you to listen to MP3-formatted music, but I haven't successfully gotten any files on my Kindle yet so I don't know how good they sound. Anybody else have any tips they want to share?

Addendum: Hilarious blooper while composing this post. I had to tweet it: Mistyping fingers faster than brain. Just typed "dongjunction" instead of "conjunction". That's a whole nother Schoolhouse Rock

Fellowships, scholarships, and grants (oh my!)

Writer's conferences and workshops may have fellowships, scholarships, or grants available, but they don't seem to advertise them widely. This makes sense, of course, because they would have people who might otherwise register choose to wait and see if they got some funds to pay their way.

I try to pay for conferences out of my writing income instead of household funds, but this year my account is pretty low. So I decided to look for other ways to attend writer's events, such as volunteering (like I did at our SCBWI Regional Conference recently), fellowships, and grants. I wanted to share some of the opportunities in my neck of the woods, to give some ideas of places to check in your area.

Our SCBWI regional chapter has a grant available for members to attend the Summer Conference in Los Angeles this August. They'll pay up to $1,000 dollars to cover your lodging, conference fees, and a paid critique (oddly, you must be logged in to the site to view the details and application instructions). Incidentally, SCBWI offers a number of other grants for members.

UC Davis, through their extension courses on creative writing and nonfiction writing, holds the Tomales Bay Workshops in October this year. You may apply for an Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation Fellowship, which will be awarded in each genre: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction/personal essay. Or just become the student editor-in-chief of the American River Review (the literary journal of American River College) and you can automatically get a fellowship.

That last suggestion may be a little more time intensive than you want (and may require you to relocate), but most of the other fellowships, grants, and scholarships require little more than your time and writing effort. There are usually no fees to apply, but you may have to submit an essay or CV along with your writing samples. It didn't take me very long to get my packets together to apply for each of these, and if I get the grant or fellowship it will be time well spent.

Also, I've posted about it before, but it's worth a reminder that Poets & Writers has a searchable database for grants and awards.

Does anyone else want to share any links, or creative low-cost ways to get access to conferences and workshops?

Interview at Pitch University

If you haven't been following Pitch University, with its lessons on pitching from industry experts and opportunities to pitch to agents from the comfort of your home, then you've been missing out on some real gems.

I've been participating with comments and pitches from day one, so Diane asked me to do a short interview on what I've learned in the process.

At the time of the interview, I couldn't think of an answer for the "personal theme music" question, so I used the answer my husband gave me when I asked him, "What music do you hear when you think of me?"

But afterwards, I thought of the Chumbawumba song "I Get Knocked Down" and how that's what the early stages of querying and pitching felt like back in my naive days, when I thought just completing a book would have agents and editors knocking down my door. When that didn't happen (much to my utter shock), I started researching dream agents and sent off my queries. Only to discover that the "dreamy" feeling wasn't mutual--they just weren't that into my book. Or at least not that early draft.

But meanwhile I was taking steps to change that dynamic:

I joined some critique groups

I started reading every book and blog I could find on craft, marketing, and networking (and started my own blog, joined twitter and facebook)

Went to a few conferences

And most importantly, I went back and applied the things I learned to that mess of an early draft of my novel

All these things helped give me the confidence and the writing chops to take that feeling of "I get knocked down" and add the rest of the song lyric: "But I get up again, you're never going to keep me down." And that's what makes me send out the next query or enter the next contest. Or submit a video pitch for that matter.

So, dear readers, what about you--what keeps you sending out that next query? What do you do to further your writing skills?

Pitch Contest over at YAtopia

Writers of young adult fiction seem to love collaborating on blogs (YA Highway and Operation Awesome for example), and another gem called YAtopia started up at the end of 2010. In just a few months, YAtopia has gained over 350 followers!

Today, they are starting a pitch contest with Natalie Fischer. The 8 contributors to YAtopia will narrow the entries down to 20, and then Ms. Fischer will pick her winners from those finalists. She's currently closed to queries (I missed her by about a week when she closed, and I was so mad because an interview with her listed her "wants" as an almost-exact match to my book!) so this is a great opportunity to get to her inbox.

So head on over and enter the contest! It ends April 21 or at 150 entries.

Scar Light, Scar Bright

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What is the story of your best scar?

What an appropro topic, considering I just got back from the dermatologist, where he took 5 spots off my back (that makes like 24 total--skin cancer runs in my family, though mine have all been benign). And BTW, I form keloids, so I can look forward to 5 brand new knots on my back. Hello, sleeveless weather.

But, it's that word "best" that's throwing me off. I have plenty of scars to choose from: my split bottom lip from when I was 5, my gnarly mattress-stitched scar from spinal surgery, the strip on my shin that doesn't grow hair because I scraped it down to the bone, the stutter in my eyebrow hairs. Have I revealed enough to let you know I was a tomboy, with three merciless older brothers?

The scars that have the best stories behind them are animal-related. I have one on the thigh where a vicious rabbit bit me (a la Monty Python). Took seven stitches to close up the dog bite on my hand (but if I had tried to yank my hand away, I would have lost the pinky and ring finger along with that part of my hand, so could be worse).

Also have a few new lines on my palm to throw off the palm readers--these were from when I unwisely tickled the tummy of my sleeping deaf cat. I swear, she had looked right at me and I thought she knew I was there. Most emphatically not the case.

Are there any times you had to learn the hard way to let sleeping cats lie, or did some other animal encounter leave you scarred?

SCBWI North Cal Spring Spirit Conference

Saturday was my first time volunteering at a SCBWI conference, and my second time attending this one. What a long day--a bunch of us were carpooling so I was up at 4:30 a.m. And we got home about 9 p.m.--whew! I really enjoyed volunteering, and would do it again, but maybe not put myself down for the really early duties next time!

The marvelous Bruce Coville was the keynote speaker, and gave insightful advice about how writing for children is all about the details. I popped in for part of his workshop and people were madly taking notes, and any time I ran into him during the day he was surrounded by adoring fans. But the attention hasn't given him a swelled head, he was genuinely one of the most approachable and funny men I've met. We even got to sit with him at dinner, where he (of course) shared some wonderful stories.

The other full sessions I got to attend were Eve Adler's talk on historical fiction (where I came away with some great recommendations for books to track down and read) and Greg Pincus's social media talk (I admit I was fading during that one, but got some useful tips anyhow).

Also caught part one of Nick Catalano's Picture Book Mastery workshop (had to run out during the second part to put out the lunches for everyone) and that was probably my favorite part. He walked us through Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, pointing out design choices and how his style revolutionized the PB market. I haven't been formally "schooled" in PBs, so this was a great way to stimulate new ways of looking at the design and how the writing and pictures complement each other.

All in all, worth the long day. One of my crit partners even got a full request out of her paid agent critique, so yay for her! And BTW, our crit group was formed through SCBWI's "looking for a crit group" organization.