Tuesday, October 31, 2017

And the winner is....


If you've been following our contest for long, you probably know the sad truth that I almost always win, even though Mahon's technical skills are often (though not always) better than mine. Every year, I say I'm sure he's going to win... and almost every year, I'm proved wrong. In our ten years of contests, he's only one twice.

Until now.

Yes, my friends, Mahon is the carver of the fantastically awesome Te Ka Pumpkin B! And with a final tally of 56-13, he takes it in a LANDSLIDE. (...Lavaslide?)


Guys, I can't even be a tiny bit resentful. Even if his pumpkin hadn't been clearly better than mine this year (my vision definitely did not translate as well as I'd hoped), the poor man seriously deserves a victory.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cast Your Vote In The Eleventh Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest!


Picture this, my friends: The year is 2007. Our heroine, a young college sophomore, has been invited to dinner and pumpkin carving with the family of the boy that she's definitely not dating. And, because the awkwardness of their deeply ambiguous relationship is best masked by rivalry, he issues the invitation thusly:

"I bet I can carve a better pumpkin than you."

Little do our young definitely-not-lovers know, but this will be the start not just of an annual pumpkin carving contest tradition—but of a relationship that will produce one marriage certificate, a string of moves across the American West, and one outsized-personality daughter.

In fact, the night of this very first pumpkin carving contest, as it happens, will be the very first night that our heroine will turn and look at our hero and think: Maybe I could fall in love with him.

The rest, as they say, is history.

.   .   .   .   .

Ten years later, we still celebrate Halloween with a carving contest; these days, we have a theme that we both have to carve to. And each year, we allow all and sundry to cast their votes via my blog. (Previous years can be found under this label, and at my old blog, here!)

This year's theme? Well, we let Kate pick, and it really shouldn't shock you that she immediately shouted "MOANA!" 

So Moana it is.

As always, all descriptions are written by me, and all photos are a joint effort between us both. (And actually, uh, this year I conceptualized both pumpkins, too, though Mahon came up with the design for his entirely.) This years rules, as in previous years, are:

1. Just ONE vote per person... no cheating! If you don't have a Google or OpenID account and so you're voting anonymously, make sure to sign your vote. Unsigned anonymous votes may be deleted. I'll tally votes here, on Facebook, and on Instagram, but please only vote in one place!

2. DO NOT reveal who carved which pumpkin! If you suspect that you may know which pumpkin was carved by whom, DO NOT share that information in the comments. Any comment that tries to spill the carver's identities will be quickly deleted. (Also, we really DON'T recommend attempting to guess whose pumpkin is whose. In the past, guessers have tried to swing the vote for one person or another, and guessed wrong, with disastrous [but hilarious] results. So really, just vote for which pumpkin you actually like better and leave it at that, okay???)

3. Get all your friends and family to cast their votes too! Share on social media! Bug your co-workers!

And now, for the pumpkins.

There's a line where the sky meets the sea, and it calls you—right to Pumpkin AThis year's Carver A decided to depict the quintessential scene: Moana herself, fearlessly wayfinding through the wildest of seas, never deterred from her quest to restore peace to her island. Her hair (which, can we just say, #hairgoals!) blows in the wind as she navigates her craft with its distinctive sail, not for one second scared by the looming wave curling over her boat's bow. Note Carver A's playful attention to textures, as well as the swirling symbol adorning the sail—which, Carver A is not ashamed to say, nearly broke his or her brain in two.



Unfortunately for our young princess—sorry, "daughter of the chief"—on the other side of her horizon awaits this fearsome demon of fire and rock, this year's Pumpkin B. Ever defeat a lava monster? Yeah, me neither. With careful wielding of tools and laborious time and effort, this year's Carver B has brought the fearsome Te Ka to pyroclastic life, complete with both her fiery aura and her desperately angry demeanor. Make special note of Carver B's exquisite attention to detail, particularly in the depiction of Te Ka's charcoal-esque stone skin, through which you can see her molten rage threatening to break free at any moment. Here, our fell foe prepares any second to launch a flaming lava ball towards Moana's boat... and none may know who will triumph!



And only you, my friends, may know who will triumph in this year's pumpkin carving contest! 
Voting will close by 9pm PDT on Halloween night.

You're a long ways past the reef—might as well go vote!

Postscript: On no account may you cast a vote for this pumpkin (all votes for this one will be rejected, so don't even try it!), but we figured we'd show you the cuteness anyway. (Face carved by Daddy, design thought up and spots painted by Kate.)


Monday, September 25, 2017

Interview with Akemi Dawn Bowman, author of STARFISH



Today I have the immense privilege of participating in the blog tour for Akemi Dawn Bowman's luminously incredible debut novel, Starfish. Ever since I saw the cover reveal for this book, I've wanted to read it—it's truly one of the most beautifully captivating covers I've ever seen. And the book itself didn't disappoint; Bowman's language is so lyrical and rich, and her story so gripping and lovely, that I absolutely couldn't put it down and read it cover to cover in twenty-four hours (which happens much less than it did before I had a kid!). Starfish is hands-down one of my favorite reads of the year, and I am so excited to recommend this book right and left!

If you're a fan of contemporary young adult, you must add this.  (And make sure you read to the bottom—there's a giveaway involved!)

What's it about?

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

Interview with Akemi

1. What was your journey to publication like? Was Starfish the first book you tried to sell?

My journey was definitely long—it was years of consistent hard work, and refusing to give up. It took me four manuscripts to get an agent, and the fifth book I wrote (Starfish) was the one that got me a book deal. I’ve always been very stubborn, so when the agent rejections piled in with the first few manuscripts, I didn’t want to accept defeat. I just told myself I’d write a new book and try again. I did a lot of writing and re-writing, and coming up with new ideas when the old ones weren’t working. And eventually, it worked!

2. What was the seed of inspiration for Starfish? Did it start with a character, a plot, a scene, or something else completely?

Starfish is the book I needed most as a teen. It’s the book that would’ve helped me to feel “seen,” which is something I really struggled with when I was younger. It was very difficult to find books with characters that were experiencing similar things to me, particularly when it came to being biracial and living with social anxiety. And so I wrote this book hoping it would act as a mirror for the people who need it most today.

3. One of my favorite things about Starfish were the gorgeously lyrical descriptions of the artwork, and the way the pictures themselves tell a story throughout the book. Do you have a background in visual art?

Thank you so much! I’ve loved drawing for as long as I can remember, though I’m nowhere near as talented as Kiko. I took two years of ceramics in high school, and a year of painting too. I have a big set of Copic markers, and I occasionally like to get them out and draw a Pok√©mon or two. There’s something about Bulbasaur’s cute little face that relaxes me!

4. What Hogwarts houses would your characters belong in?

Kiko – Ravenclaw

Jamie – Gryffindor

Hiroshi – Hufflepuff

Kiko’s mom – Slytherin

Though, I’ve heard some readers think Jamie should be in Hufflepuff, so my guess isn’t set in stone. I could see him in either!

5. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Keep writing, and don’t give up. And toughen your heart a little bit because rejections don’t stop once you find an agent. You’ll get editor rejections. Your agent might reject your next manuscript. You’ll get negative reviews. Your book might not get promoted as much as others do. The list goes on and on. There can be a lot of heartbreak ahead, but also so much joy and excitement too. Just remember to celebrate every single win that comes your way—even if it’s as simple as finishing your revisions! Remember to be proud of your accomplishments, and don’t let outside noise keep you from writing your stories. You can’t control everything about your writing journey, but you can control when your next book gets finished. So stay focused, and write!

Giveaway!

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

overwhelming abundance

I had an experience this afternoon that shook me, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind.

My family spent the day here working incredibly hard (er, harder than anyone anticipated thanks to our rock solid clay soil) to help us start a deck. I went to Panda Express to get lunch for everyone. The nearby shopping center where the Panda is is a frequent panhandler haunt; it's pretty well trafficked and so especially in summer, people fly signs on the street corners there. I've never seen as many as today—from the man with a purloined shopping cart filled with belongings sleeping, exhausted, in the shade on a hill, to a life-worn woman with curly hair and a dusty vest.

But the people that really caught me off guard was the little family sitting on the median: a blue-eyed mom, two beautiful little girls, a six-week old baby in a stroller, and the dad, who held a sign saying that they had no job and needed to make their rent. I couldn't stop looking at them. Even if this was some kind of scam, I thought, you'd have to be pretty desperate to haul your whole family to a median and sit at cars drove past, drivers studiously averting their eyes.

I took them some lunch and some water bottles. The mother thanked me in heavily accented English. I went back to my car and cried. The car I sat in is our old car—old because we have a new, second car, one we bought because we could afford it and it was convenient. I drove back to our house that is so much space for our little family of three, whose mortgage payment we have never truly struggled to meet.

These moments in life truly pierce me. Sometimes I get caught up in scarcity mentality, worrying about retirement and braces for Kate and other far-off things that are so tangential compared to food and shelter. I feel paralyzed, wishing so desperately that I could somehow make a true difference for the myriad people I know and see who struggle.

There isn't really a point to this post. Nor is there a conclusion—except that life is sweet and life is bitter, and that I wanted to share the portrait of this family with you, because they are burned into my heart.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

on turning twenty-nine for the first, and only, time


Today was my twenty-ninth birthday—for real. We celebrated well at my parents' house, with gorditas, five-layer Chinese bakery rainbow cake, and an impressive Mormon minibar (aka build-your-own Italian sodas). 

My dad teared up talking about how 28.5 years ago, when I was in the process of being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, they found an outdated book in the library that said I wouldn't live past nine. Later, when the doctor gave them an official prognosis, it wasn't much better—nineteen. 

It's amazing to be a full decade past that, on the cusp of thirty. 

I found myself thinking tonight about my dear friend Kristi, whom I still miss daily, who died unexpectedly nearly a year and a half ago. She was a few years older than I am—already on the other side of thirty—but she, like so many of my friends, will not live to have another birthday.

Our culture has been subsumed by the cult of agelessness; adult birthdays are less joyful celebration and more occasions of dread, and millions of women walk around coyly saying they're turning "twenty nine—again." Every time I hear something like this I find myself wanting to grab the speaker by the shoulders and shake them. Don't you know how lucky you are? Don't you know never to take a single birthday for granted?

So here I am: heading into my thirtieth year of life, determined to live in gratitude, without taking these years for granted. I cannot wait to close out my twenties, to head into a new decade, to swim forward toward numbers I never thought I'd reach. 

And ten or twenty years from now, if I should be so lucky to still breathe, when my silver hairs have taken over, when you ask me how old I am, I will not be answering 'twenty-nine.'

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Revision Breakdown Part 2 (Semi-Optional Step): Map Out Your Story

The second thing I do when I'm revising is to map out my story—in other words, I create a scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter reverse outline. Sometimes, if I'm doing a fairly light edit or if my original outline still lines up pretty well with the story's trajectory, I will skip this step. It's not as necessary if the edits I'm going to make aren't substantial ones that make changes to the plot structure. For the last book I edited—the developmental edits for Where the Watermelons Grow with my editor at HarperCollins—I didn't make any massive changes, and so didn't do this step. Right now, though, I'm in the middle of mapping out one of my WIPs so that I can revise it based on feedback from my agent, because some of the changes I'm going to make are larger ones that will impact plotlines and overall plot structure.

Often, though, my outline changes and evolves as I write my first draft, and so I need to update it to have a really clear picture of what exists in the draft I'm about to revise. This is especially helpful if—as I mentioned doing in my last post—I haven't read through the book prior to starting the revision pass; it allows me to hold the story in an easily-visible format while revising.

Reverse-outlining my story also helps me figure out in real-time where I should make changes to the novel once I begin really revising. As I outline, I'll usually make little notes to myself, like "Make sure to add stuff about the theme of visibility here" or "Could Queenie be in this scene somewhere?" (Both real notes taken from the revision that I'm beginning for one of my works in progress!)

This step is fairly straightforward, but can be time-consuming and, honestly, kind of boring. It's so helpful, though, to have the map to guide me as I dive into revision. Between this and my self-written edit letter, I'm easily able to see what I need to change, where I need to change it, and what I've already changed in the past.

I use the notecard function in Scrivener for this. Here's what I have so far on the reverse-outline for my WIP (I'm about halfway through):


I also know people who do this with actual notecards, white boards, notebooks, or Word documents. Whatever you have access to and whatever is easy for you to reference will work well!

In my next post, I'll be talking about how I start my actual revision pass.

If you missed Step 1 in this revision process, find the post here:
Revision Breakdown Part 1: Write Your Own Edit Letter

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Revision Breakdown Part 1: Write Your Own Edit Letter


Revision is not something that comes naturally to me. I had written four manuscripts before I finally cracked what it means to really revise a novel, rather than check for typos and move a few scenes around. It took me years to figure out how to get down to the bones of my story, identify weak spots, incorporate CP feedback, and figure out how to strengthen the parts of my story structure that were failing. For a long time I'd draft a book, mess around with it for awhile, and then hit this point where I knew there was still stuff wrong with it because it wasn't getting agent interest, but I couldn't figure out how to fix it.

If any of the above describes you, dear writer, take heart! Over the next little while, I'm going to do a series of blog posts breaking down how I revise, going in-depth on each point. Every author has their own revision process, and mine may not be yours—but hopefully these posts will provide a jumping-off point to give you a better feel for what a revision process can look like.

Today's post deals with my very first revision step: I write my own edit letter.

For a lot of people, the first step in revision is to print or upload a complete draft of their story and then read it and make notes. I will be up-front and say that while this used to be my first step always, it's not anymore. I've learned that a) I have a finite number of times I can read my book in rapid succession without losing my ability to spot problems, and b) I'm not very good at picking up on the big-picture structural changes my book needs when I'm reading through it. On a read-through, I have a tendency to get hung up on smaller things, and miss the crucial big-picture ones. Therefore, while there are definitely rounds of revision that start with me reading my book through cover to cover, I tend to use them both randomly and judiciously. If I have recently read it, or otherwise feel like I'm doing a decent job of holding the story in my head, or feel like a read-through would be more valuable after I've applied the changes, then I hold off.

My true first step—really a pre-revision step—is that I almost always let my book sit for awhile and send it to CPs before I dive into revision. The exception is when I've made big changes to the plot while drafting and the draft wouldn't even make sense to a CP; for instance, with Where the Watermelons Grow, I was 3/4 through drafting before I decided I was bored of writing a straight contemporary story and wanted to add magic bees. Because the plot changed dramatically at that 3/4 point, I went back through and added the magical element from the beginning before I sent it off to critique partners.

But after I've finished drafting, let the book rest a little, and gotten feedback from CPs, my agent, or my editor (depending on which round of revision I'm on), my first step is always writing myself an edit letter.

Once you have an agent or an editor (often, even once you've got some good CPs), you will start receiving edit letters to help guide your revisions. Most agents and editors don't use Track Changes or other in-text comments to give feedback on big-picture issues that need to be changed; instead, they write an edit letter, a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of the things they feel need to be changed or strengthened as you revise.

I get easily overwhelmed by the revision process and always need to spend a few days making a solid revision plan before I dive in; I'm totally not capable of holding everything in my head. As such, the first thing I do is write myself what essentially amounts to an edit letter—to myself, from myself. It's usually not as in-depth as edit letters I get from my agent, editor, or CPs, because I can use shorthand and still know what I mean later on. But it's essential for me to have a to-do list before I start revising, especially if I'm trying to collate feedback from multiple CPs, or if I've had ideas I want to change in addition to what my agent or editor asked for, or if my agent or editor pointed out a weakness in my story and I then brainstormed a new way to solve it.

I begin by combing through all the feedback I've received so far and writing it down, along with any ideas I've had independently. Sometimes this looks like a checklist; sometimes it looks more like a paragraph-by-paragraph freewrite of my story's problems. Unless it's a very, very light line edit, I usually will organize the revision items by size—big changes (changes that affect whole story threads, whole characters, or the structure of the plot itself) and small changes (things that generally only affect one scene, or require only a line or two of difference throughout the book). If I have a lot of items on my list, I'll even split them into big, medium, and small.

Here's an example of the first edit letter I wrote myself for one of my current works in progress:

This was a fairly light revision pass; sometimes I end up with a lot more points on that list. (Though the font size here is small so that it can all fit into one screenshot, so there really were more items than there might seem to be at first glance.)

Starting like this lets me organize my thoughts, collate feedback from different sources, and keep track of what I've done and what I have yet to do, since I will usually "check off" items on my list (usually by italicizing them) as I go. It also lets me draw attention to thinks I think I might forget, or things that will take a lot of work or finesse; these I usually bold. Mostly, starting like this helps me to work up the courage to dive into the revision pool—something that's always really intimidating to me when I'm preparing to start a big revision!

In my next post, I'll discuss mapping my book to figure out where the weak spots lie!