Monthly Archives: July 2014

in which a giveaway winner is selected, and my book appears on goodreads

So first and foremost, THE GIVEAWAY! We had one last week, and I didn’t get a chance to pick the winner on Friday like I promised because I was on an uninhabited island seven miles off the coast of Maine1 where wifi was a fallacy. And when I did have wifi at the lighthouse2, I used it up staring dreamily at Goodreads.

Why was I staring dreamily at Goodreads, you might ask? That’s because in a few seconds of spotty wifi on Thursday, I got a Tweet from my friend McKelle:

WHAT!?

Race to Goodreads. Wait five minutes for it to load. Get error message. Run to other part of the island and thrust phone in air searching for bars. Find tiny amount of service. Type title into the Goodreads search bar with trembling fingers. Wait. Wait. Wait. Curse slow wifi with everything in me.

And then…what’s that?

goodreads 2  Is it?! It sort of looks like it is….

goodreads 3IT IS! My book is on Goodreads!

GoodreadsYou might be surprised to hear that after signing a book deal, almost nothing feels different. You still struggle through revision and self doubt and anxiety and plot quagmires and feel like throwing your laptop across the room most days. You still don’t feel like a Real Writer, let alone one with a Real Book Deal. But every once in a while, you get a few glorious moments of feeling like you’ve made it. Like this is actually happening, and your writing is more than just you and your keyboard and the voices in your head. Someone else is going to read this thing you wrote.

Seeing the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement was the first of these moments for me. The Goodreads page was the second. And man was it exciting to see3.

So all of my wifi this week was used up by me petting the Goodreads page for my book.

But here we are now, and so the giveaway!

The winner of Something Strange and Deadly and Heir of Fire is….

ARIEL T!

Congratulations! I hope you love them both, and I will be contacting you soon with more information.

More Project: Bookshelf is coming at you on Friday, as well as another giveaway. Stay tuned.

  1. All of these things are true.
  2. Yes, really, lighthouse. We stayed in a lighthouse.
  3. Slash also terrified because I am terrified of Goodreads. Once actual copies of my book are in the world, I am never again going anywhere near it. I’m going to have to hire someone (probably 14) to manage my Goodreads. And by manage, I mean copy and paste all the positive reviews into an email and send it to me.
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Project: Bookshelf with R.W. Keys

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, middle grade author and grilled cheese enthusiast R.W. Keys, who has written a lovely ode to her bookshelves. 

But first, thank you to everyone who entered the Something Strange and Deadly/Heir of Fire giveaway! Winners will be announced on Monday, so check back then! 

And now, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

 NOTHING! BECAUSE I AM A BIG LOSER.

…okay, this is actually a lie. I didn’t read any books from my shelf this week because I ended up getting a few ARCs I needed to read for various reasons, plus some library books I ended up moving up my TBR list, so Project: Bookshelf got put on hold this week. Next week I will do better, I swear to it! 

And now, a love poem from R.W. to her bookshelves…

A Love Poem
By R.W. Keys
 
Fluttering pages, leather binding,
Dusted letters, fingers finding,
Sheets cut, words bound,
Wonder lost, stories found,
Giants of wood, standing tall,
Curious cases by the wall,
Shelves of oak, back to back,
Book to book, stack to stack,
Chapters beckon, dare not hide,
Dive-in, deep breath, jump inside…
 
Tickle a dragon,
Brew a potion,
Hoist a wagon,
Sail an ocean,
Cuddle a daemon,
Sing with a siren,
Duel with a mouse
Roar like a lion,
Chase a rabbit,
Sip some tea,
Uncover a body,
Solve a mystery,
Frolic in a secret garden,
Escape the king,
Secure a pardon,
Study with monks,
Tend fields of stone,
Dance with drunks,
Build a clone,
Train a prince,
Chase the undead,
Fall down rabbit holes,
Start a voyage,
Fight a ninja,
Travel through time,
Surf a volcano,
Commit a crime,
Trudge through deserts,
Hike snowy peaks,
Wear hooped skirts,
Dine with freaks,
Study the stars,
Discover the past,
Zoom past Mars,
Hold on fast,
Sizzle, zing, boom, pop,
Like summer fireworks,
Never stop…
 
To live,
To love,
To breathe,
To read,
Open a book
And the
Mind is freed.
 
2013-10-21 08.35.04R.W. Keys writes middle grade fantasy and science fiction novels. You can follow her escapades on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rwkeys.
 
Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

in which history is amazing

Unless you’re new here, it will come as no surprise that one of my three great loves is history. I have a BA in history. I write historical fiction. My first job was as a blacksmith’s apprentice at an 1850s reenacenment park. My first boyfriend took me to a pioneer ball1.

However, it has come to my attention that some people out there think history is boring.

To which I say, BORING!? What is wrong with you!?

Oh, you’re probably thinking about all those dates your teacher made you memorize in high school. On this day, this bill was signed. On this day, so and so was elected president. This was the year a war was won.

And you would be right—that crap is boring. But history is not!

So here’s a PSA to remind you that history is not boring. It is, in fact, the single most interesting thing you can study, because people are fascinating and the things they do and the stories they live are sometimes so much better and crazier and stranger than fiction.

So if you ever think history is boring, just remember…

  • Lord Byron kept a trained bear in his college dorm room.
  • Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer in the 1600s, had a gold nose (after he lost his actual nose in a duel) and a pet moose.
  • The English government exhumed Oliver Cromwell three years after his death, put him on trial, and executed his body.
  • Isadora Duncan was killed when her scarf got tangled in the wheel of the sports car she was driving and snapped her neck.
  • Josephine Baker, exotic dancer most famous for wearing nothing but bananas, was a French spy during WWII. And had an affair with Frida Kahlo.
  • So was Roald Dahl (the spy part, not the affair with Frida Kahlo). He served with Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.
  • The Theremin exists.
  • Andrew Jackson was so vulgar that his parrot, who learned every word he knew from his presidential owner, was ejected from his funeral for cussing.
  • William Walker, a private US citizen in the antebellum south, once took over Nicaragua with an army he mustered by himself, and was president there for a year before he was overthrown
  • Percy Shelley had a disease that caused calcium to build up in his heart, so when he died and was cremated, his heart was so bone-like it did not burn. It was pulled from the ashes of his funeral pyre and given to his wife Mary Shelley, who kept it in a drawer, wrapped in poetry, until she died and it was buried with her.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine rose from relative obscurity to become queen of both France and England at different points in her life. She went on Crusade with one king, and led her sons in a revolution against the other.
  • The Dutch were once selling single tulip bulbs for the price of a house.
  • Daniel Sickels, a southern general in the Civil War, lost his leg in the battle of Gettysburg, then donated that severed leg to the Museum of Health and for the rest of his life would visit his leg each year on the anniversary of its amputation.
  • Pope Pius II had a career as an erotic novelist before becoming pope.
  • So did Louisa May Alcott. Though she wasn’t a pope.
  • One man died during the Boston Tea Party when he got whacked over the head very sharply by a rogue crate of tea. Rather than bury him, because they were sort of in a hurry, he was tossed into a barn and decided they’d come back for him later. When they returned the next day, he was gone. They found him drinking at the pub. LOL, JK, not dead, just knocked out.
  • Teddy Roosevelt was shot just before giving a speech, but the pages of his extremely large speech folded up inside his breast pocket slowed the bullet enough to keep it from doing major damage. He was still bleeding pretty seriously, but before consenting to receive any medical attention, he finished the damn speech.
  • Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends, both obsessed with spiritualism (though had a falling out when Doyle faked a séance to impress Houdini).
  • In 1788, the Austrian army attacked itself and lost ten thousand men.

And that’s just the stuff I could think of off the top of my  head.

Do you have a favorite unbelievable historical fact? Leave it in comments—I eat this stuff up!

 

  1. And then left me behind when he went to fight the Yankees in the War of Northern Aggression

 

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Project: Bookshelf with Susan Dennard

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week I am SO EXCITED to have one of my favorite authors, Susan Dennard, here to talk about the ongoing conundrum of what to do with books when you move. Susan writes amazing steampunk zombie novels, the newest of which, Strange and Ever Aftercomes out July 22 from HarperTeen! 

Also, there might just be a giveaway attached to the end of this post, because Susan’s books are so great I want to share them with everyone. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

  • Genre: Gothic Classic
  • Where I got it: So maybe this one technically isn’t a Project: Bookshelf book, because a friend lent me her copy…but it was still on my bookshelf, and I hadn’t read it. So….counts?
  • What I thought: I’m really into Romantic/Gothic monster books right now, so this was perfect for my mood. Dark, creepy, atmospheric, and so much better than the play!

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: I unintentionally read this series out of order. Whoops. But even backwards, they are outstanding. If you’re looking for smart British humor with a fantasy twist, this is that book.

Historical Heartthrobs by Kelly Murphy

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Where I got it: Gifted
  • What I thought: This book is awesome. Very tongue-in-cheek biographies of historical figures that are tight and interesting. Also I appreciated that they didn’t just feature the good guys (because let’s face it, John Wilkes Booth was crazy, but also a stud) and highlighted some lesser known historical hotties (hey there, Ada Lovelace).

Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden

  • Genre: YA contemporary
  • Where I got it: The Great Simmons Book Grab of 2014
  • What I thought: So I was prepared to not like this book. Way outside my comfort zone subject-wise, abrasive narrator, voice that hits you in the face and it hurts. But then about seven pages in, there was a Lion in Winter reference. Lion in Winter is one of my great loves, and I will follow any book that references it to the end of the earth. So I stuck it out. And while this was not totally my cup of tea, I liked it.

And now, meet Susan and her bookshelf! 

So, I wish I had some super cool bookshelf to share with you all. Or even better, I wish I had a library worthy of Belle and the Beast, but the truth is, I’m super disorganized and super lazy. How does that equate to my bookshelf? Well, I’ll explain.

In the last 2 years, I’ve moved 4 times. Books make up (no joke) the bulk of my moving boxes. For the first 3 moves, I actually went to all the trouble of unpacking all those books, arranging them nicely (by genre!)…only to then have to frantically re-pack said books and move to another new house*. (See the carefully arranged books in our tiny condo? Even my dog, Asimov, was impressed.)

Reading nook

My husband and I finally bought a house one year ago, and in that time, we’ve renovated the crap out of it. SO much work and SO many weekend trips to Home Depot. One of the many, bright-eyed ideas we originally had was to do an Ikea hack of Billys (built-in shelves are, obviously, every reader’s DREAM). We bought the Billys, we set them up…

And then a year passed. No “building them in” ever actually happened (and in our defense, there were much higher house priorities–like building a freaking kitchen). My books stayed packed in our basement, and my shelves became the perfect cubbies for receipts, dust, and cats who insist on climbing things they can’t get down from.

Well, about a month ago, I decided I really wanted at least a few of my books out for perusing. So after 3 back-and-forth basement trips, I had 3 (out of 7) boxes in my office. I unloaded the books…and then ran out of space before I was even through box 1.

Crap. Okay, I thought, back in the condo I had books vertically. So I, yet again, turned all the books vertically. This got me through 2.5  boxes. The other half-box got returned to the basement (where it is now a favorite place for cats who insist on shredding boxes).

As for the books actually on the shelf…well, look for yourself. There is no rhyme or reason–I’ve just got stuff squeezed wherever I can fit it. The only slightly organized spot is the middle shelf with my special Star Wars, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys collection (half of which are–you guessed it!–still in a box).

Bookshelf3

So that, my friends, is why my bookshelves look like a disaster and why most of my books remain in the basement. Funnily enough, we’re now considering moving again, so hey! Maybe I just saved myself a few hours by never unloading those boxes. And double hey! Maybe in our next house, I can finally get those Billy built-ins. ;)

*This makes me sound like I’m being evicted or doing something nefarious that forces me to flee. Nope, sorry. Alas, I just keep picking homes that the owners decide sell, so then I’m forced to move out. Again.

SusanDennardSusan is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels–and not novels about fish, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, facebook, or newlsetter. Her Something Strange and Deadly series is now available from HarperTeen, and look for her new Truthwitch series from Tor in 2015.

And now, to celebrate the release of the release of Susan’s third book, Strange and Ever After, I’m giving away a copy of the first book, Something Strange and Deadly, as well as an ARC of Heir of Fire, the new book in the Throne of Glass series by Susan’s critique partner and bestie, Sarah Maas.

strange 2heir
Want these beauties to be yours? Just click the link below and fill out the Rafflecopter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends 7/25.

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

 

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in which my blog turns two

For the second year in a row, I totally missed my blog’s birthday. For shame.

But in the wake of that missed anniversary, I started thinking about what this blog is, exactly.

Lots of people start blogs, post twice, and then abandon them because, let’s be real, blogging is a lot of work. Lots of people think blogging will be easy, but it’s not. I hear a lot of writers express how much they don’t like blogging and so they don’t do it. I also hear people say that blogging is a waste of time because every word on your blog is a word not written in your novel. I also hear people say your blog has to be something. It has to have a brand. You have to be a book review blog, or a writer blog, or a personal blog, or a DIY blog, or a photography blog. You have to be a thing, or people get confused and don’t know what you are and go somewhere else where lines are more clearly drawn.

I admit—this blog is sort of confusing. It began as a chronicle of my days as an NPR intern, then transitioned into me as grad student, and now is sort of a chronicle of a writer’s life. I don’t totally know what it is. I might never know, and recently I’ve been trying to figure out what I want it to be.

“You should post more about writing,” I think sometimes. But then I think, “But everyone posts about writing, and I don’t really like writing about writing. It’s too meta.”

“You should post book reviews,” I sometimes think. But then I think, “But my opinions about books usually apply to me and no one else.”

“You shouldn’t post weird stories about your life,” I think sometimes. But then I think, “But I like posting weird stories about my life. They’re fun and different and sometimes too hilarious not to share.”

“You shouldn’t write such pseudo-intellectual posts, because they make you sound pretentious and insufferable,” I sometimes think. But then I think, “But sometimes I have to talk issues out with myself before I can figure out my own opinions, and a blog is a good place to do that.”

“You should be consistent and only write about one thing,” I sometimes think.

“You should make this blog a marketing tool,” I sometimes think.

“You should drink more water because all that Diet Coke is rotting your insides,” I sometimes think.

But then I think, “But I like Diet Coke so much better.”

What am I saying? I’m saying that I might be the last person on earth who sincerely loves blogging. I feel like I can be sort of unfiltered and unbridledly myself on this blog. This is my voice, a voice I don’t get to use in my fiction, and it’s very different than other things I write, in structure and tone and topic. I talk about what’s on my mind here. Sometimes that’s writing. Sometimes that’s anxiety. Sometimes that’s my family. Sometimes that’s traveling. Sometimes that’s getting my violin fixed by a Bond villain.

Maybe that will someday make me a PR nightmare. But for now, my blog will remain a really awesome mess. Thank you for being here with me, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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Project: Bookshelf with Rebecca Podos

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week I am hosting none other than my fabulous agent, Rebecca Podos, who is not only an agent to the stars but an author with her debut novel, The Mystery of Hollow Places, coming out in 2016. What’s so awesome about her library? Let’s just say it’s a little Gorey…

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself, since this is published by the imprint that will publish my novel and I am trying to familiarize myself with their list
  • What I thought: This book was outside my usual genre, but I really loved it. It was complicated and messy and sort of riveting. Also I loved the exploration of both online ethics and young women coming into their sexuality.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

  • Genre: YA….adventure? Spy novel? Thriller?
  • Where I got it: Snagged off the free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: This book had a little bit of Chuck, a little bit of Taken, a little bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and I loved every page of it.

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan

  • Genre: YA magical realism
  • Where I got it: ARC from the bookstore
  • What I thought: This is the YA brothers book I have been searching for! Not a YA sibling story that actually ends up being about a love interest. Not a sibling story that really doesn’t have anything to do with siblings other than two of the characters happen to be them. This book was really truly about these two twin boys, and I adored it for that alone. Plus it was so creepy and gut-wrenching and heartfelt. The plotting could have been a little tighter, but the two boys at its core and their relationship are just outstanding.

And now, meet Rebecca and her bookshelves!

1

This is what my library looks like from the doorway, with my back smashed up against the hallway light switch so I can photograph as much of it at once as possible. Welcome. Let us begin! Because my bookshelves are tentatively organized by genre, that shelf on the right is a sliver of my Anthologies/ YA section. Unsurprisingly, this section is the biggest – I almost never get rid of a YA book, am always collecting new ones, and spend my pennies on childhood favorites (shout out to the amazing Book Barn in Niantic, CT, where you can find a copy of Number the Stars inside a gutted vegetable stand.)

2

This is our Adult bookshelf. Notable pieces: an extensive Stephen King section (Bachman books too), Lots of undergrad Eggers, the copy of On the Beach I read one million billion times in high school, and my husband’s unlikely Anne Rice collection. He and I actually combined our bank accounts before we combined our libraries; my main objection was that he was going to displace so many of my books with his Anne Rice. So we got a bigger Adult bookshelf. Marriage is a compromise.

3

My library is the tiniest room in the house – and yet it just had to have the litter boxes in it – so there are clumps of books all over to maximize space. This is the favorite-childhood-fantasy-series-and-favorite-grownup-fantasy-series clump. They hang right next to my Bob’s Pit armchair for easy access.

4

Here’s the Literary Journals/ short story collections/ graphic novels section. It’s pretty slender – a weird mix of Bradbury/ King/ Gaiman/ Proulx. That empty bottom shelf is an access tunnel for the cats to get to their litter boxes, and I have to keep it that way, so I must carefully ration the collections I bring on.

5

This is definitely the jewel of the room, accumulated through library sales, book shows and probably e-bay. It’s the Edward Gorey section! Within two seconds of meeting me, it’s pretty obvious that Edward Gorey is my favorite illustrator (I don’t always permanently affix pictures to my skin, but when I do, they’re Edward Gorey drawings.) If I had to pick one out as the treasure among treasures, it would be The Curious Sofa: a pornographic work by Ogdred Weary. It is not pornographic, but it is suggestive:

6

picRebecca Podos is a graduate of the MFA Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, whose debut YA novel THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES will be published by Balzer & Bray in 2016. She’s also a literary agent representing Young Adult and Middle Grade at Rees Literary Agency in Boston, and is thrilled to represent books by talented clients like Mackenzi Lee!
Note from Mackenzi Lee: I did not bully her into writing that last line.
Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

 

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in which I dig in the dirt with a spoon

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself crouched beneath my neighbor’s window, using a kitchen spoon to frantically scoop dirt from their garden into a ceramic mug, all the while poised to bolt if the door opened.

And I thought to myself, “Self, how did we come to be crouched beneath our neighbor’s window, using a kitchen spoon to frantically scoop dirt from their garden into a ceramic mug, all the while poised to bolt?”

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, one of my roommates moved out, and my friend Marx, who you may remember from some of our previous shenanigans1 moved in—huzzah! However, when the first roommate moved out, I discovered that everything that was useful in this apartment was hers, and everything that was a Cat in the Hat pennant and three copies of 500 Days of Summer on DVD was mine. So me, Marx, and our third roommate, who is making her blog debut so I will call Galactica2 have been left to refurnish what a few weeks ago was a completely furnished apartment.

Now something I relearn about myself every time I move is that I don’t like living in a state of flux. There is no gradually buying the things I need, no slow acquirement of necessities and then luxuries, no operating out of boxes until I find the time to unpack. I need a decorated apartment and I need it NOW.

So over the past few weeks, we have furnished our apartment in what can only be called a frenzied manner. The most notable acquisitions include a hundred year old steamer trunk purchased from Craigslist3, a flaming red foot locker, a free TV because Galactica has great friends, a World War II propaganda poster, a slightly incorrectly sized frame for said poster, a blue lantern in the style of Paul Revere, and some sunny yellow paint to cover what was once ghastly pea soup-colored benches.

Also some plants. Those were my idea.

You may remember that last summer I played mother to two lovely office plants, Sherlock and Mycroft. Being back in an office for the first time since then has made me yet again pine for greenery, so I made a snap decision to invest in two hanging baskets, some fern-ish things, and a flowery bush for our back deck. Then I ate a lot of food in jars with the thought I would repot the fern-ish things into these jars and be super Antorhopologie-esque5.

Except it turns out to repot something, you need dirt. Which I failed to consider.

You also, it turns out, need nerves of steel to nick this dirt from a garden that might not technically be yours but is on your property, except it’s technically not your property because you just rent the second floor, and the garden on what might or might not actually be your property is mostly cultivated by a downstairs neighbor who for no apparent reason dislikes you. Also the dirt in question just happens to be located directly underneath his office window6.

And that, kids, is the story of my now furnished apartment, my repotted plants, and my crouched spoon digging in the dirt.

 

  1. Such as the Ikea trip from Hell and our iFrankenstein opening night escapade.
  2. Because of our shared affinity for most things nerdy and awesome
  3. And a failed acquisition of a hundred year old piano, because apparently I wasn’t a “serious buyer.” Whatever that means4.
  4. Though I admit, my entire plan of how to get this piano back to our apartment was a set of bungee cords and the roof of Marx’s petite Mazda.
  5. It should be noted that I sincerely meant to take pictures of all these things to accompany this post, because a picture is worth a thousand words, or so I’ve been told, but somehow I forgot to set my alarm this morning, so blog pictures sort of slipped down the priorities list.
  6. And by the way, he has this fantastically cool pop up model of St. Basil’s Cathedral on his desk. Neighbor, you and I would probably be friends if you did not insist on hating me.
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Project: Bookshelf with Anna Staniszewski

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, Anna Staniszewski, queen of the quirky middle grade novel, joins us to celebrate the release of her new book, The Prank List, which is out nowAnna’s is a home with more bookshelves than people, one of which is a shrine to what I think is the greatest movie franchise of all time. Which movie? Read on to find out…

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Lincoln’s Graverobbers by Steve Sheinkin

  • Genre: YA nonfiction
  • Where I got it: Won in a book design contest in one of my classes
  • What I thought: So if you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for stories from history that nobody ever tells. This is one of those stories. So cool, so interesting, and really well written and well presented. Fantastic read.

That’s it. Light reading week for me. So let’s not waste anymore time–here are Anna and her bookshelves! 

I’m generally a pretty organized person, but you would never know it by looking at my bookshelves. There is a bit of a method to the madness, though. This, for example, is my “teaching bookshelf.”

bookshelf 1

These are many of the books I use when teaching courses on writing and children’s literature (with a few titles from grad school thrown into the mix). The top shelf is my particular favorite because it’s full of books on the craft of writing. These are the books I come back to over and over if I find myself stuck with a project or in need of inspiration.
And here we have what I think of as the “owl shelf” (for obvious reasons).

bookshelf 2

It’s currently weighed down with many of the books I’ve picked up at conferences and other recent events. I’m hoping to make some serious progress with these books over the summer, much like Mackenzi’s bookshelf challenge!

Here is what I consider my “overflow shelf” since it’s the newest addition to our shelf family.

bookshelf 3

One section is dedicated entirely to picture books. (It bothers me that picture books are a totally different size from other books, so I like to put them on their own.) And below that is my “Polish shelf” which includes some of the books I grew up with. This one by Jerzy Ficowski (the title translates to A Branch from the Sun Tree) is a collection of Polish Gypsy folk tales that I was obsessed with when I was young.

bookshelf 4

You might have noticed some photos displayed in the middle of the bookcase. Those are collages that my husband and I made for our wedding a few years ago, so we could showcase some cute and embarrassing pictures of ourselves from when we were young. And in between them is one of my prized possessions: the award I received from the PEN New England Discovery Award committee back in 2009–the illustration was done by Lois Lowry!

bookshelf 5

Now we move on to what I’ve dubbed the “public bookshelf.” This one stands in our living room so we actually have to keep it in some kind of order.

bookshelf 6 (1)

It’s full of some of our prettiest books, and it also serves as a temporary dumping ground for library books, recently purchased books, etc. It’s also where I like to keep a stack of my own novels so that I can look at them sometimes and grin like a fool.

bookshelf 7

Finally, we have the messiest (but arguably the coolest) shelves in the whole house. These are full of books from years and years ago that my husband and I don’t read very much anymore, but on top of those shelves is pure gold.

bookshelf 8

Yes, that is a Lego Star Destroyer. It was a wedding present to ourselves, and my husband and I spent hours working on it. Above it is another prized possession–a Polish movie poster for The Empire Strikes Back that we received as a wedding gift.

bookshelf 9

And what Star Wars room would be complete without a Star Wars pop-up book? (And a Transformers one, for added fun.)

bookshelf 10

So to sum up: I’m messy with a purpose, I like to keep embarrassing photos of myself kicking around, and I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. Clearly, bookshelves reveal all!

Anna StaniszewskiBorn in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

Happy book release to Anna and The Prank List and thanks for checking out Project: Bookshelf!

prank list cover 2

Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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in which I participate in #MyWritingProcess

So I have been tagged in a thing that has been circulating around a lot of writer’s blogs recently, fondly known as #MyWritingProcess, in which writers answer a series of questions about their work. Since I got tagged twice by my two critique partners, I felt like I should probably do it.

Here’s a better explanation of what it is that I didn’t write:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

So. Let’s do this.

1)     What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in a period of between. I am just about to jump into edits on THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. Meanwhile, the first draft of a newer manuscript, this one about gender and first love during the Dutch tulipomania, is being mulled over by one of my lovely critique partners. So at this moment, I’m less working and more waiting.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since SHADOW BOYS is pretty understandably on my brain, let’s talk about that!

What makes this book different from all the other young adult historical fantasy books1 coming out next year? Here are five things:

  1. It is a steampunk book that is not set in Victorian England and has no magic
  2. The story centers around a sibling relationship, not a romantic one
  3. There are old-school cyborgs
  4. The main character does not like to read or love books
  5. It includes 100% more gears, Coleridge, dissections, half-human monsters, book throwing, clock towers, unsexy kissing, spiced wine, and Christmas markets than almost any other YA book out there. Guaranteed.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

So I write primarily things set in the past. I was a history major in undergrad, and I first found my love of history through historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction because it feels like fantasy—a time and place too far away from where we are now for me to imagine as someone’s reality—but the times and places are real, and we are connected to those stories by the universalities of the human experience. Sounds corny, but that’s why I love historical fiction. It makes history somehow feel simultaneously impossible and real.

4)     How does your writing process work?

Now this is the question, isn’t it? I’m still trying to figure out if it does actually work.

When I first get an idea, I resist the urge to start writing immediately because that generally results in fifty or so misguided pages that trickle into nothing and abandonment. Instead, I usually spend six months to a year with an idea bouncing around inside me before I ever put pen to paper2. This period of researched-fueled incubation can be best summed up by a quote from Emerson Cod, the private detective in Pushing Daisies: “Well that idea just made a stupid idea feel better about itself.” The year a book spends in my head is my chance to get all the bad ideas out of my system (and let me assure you, these ideas are bad. I just found my original outline for SHADOW BOYS and…let’s just say I spent a lot of time way off base) and give the good ones a chance to fight their way through.

After a year, I still don’t know everything about the story, but I know enough that I can crank out a first draft3. Even though that first draft is barely readable and generally a mess, it is how I figure things out. Terry Pratchett says a first draft is just you telling yourself the story. I learn what my own book is about by writing it. Once that first draft is done, I let it rest for a while. This distance gives me time to get unattached emotionally from what I wrote and be more objective about it. And then…revise! Revise revise revise! Which is fun and hard and there’s no process or rhyme or reason to this, it varies so much between projects.

An unrelated but really important part of every book I write is the creation of two things: the Pinterest board and the playlist. I love finding songs and images4 and poems and lyrics and art that relates to my project in a variety of ways. I’ve found answers to plot questions and character conundrums in songs and art. Sometimes I find images that I like so much I work the image into my project. The Pinterest board and the playlist are both crucial to my process, and provide me with something other than an open word document to stare at when I get stuck.

And that’s my process! Now, the hop continues! I’m tagging:

Rebecca Wells, a Simmons MFA-er, bookseller, and writer whose prose will make you weep with envy.

Jessica Arnold author of the delightfully creepy YA novel The Looking Glass, eBook designer, and magic enthusiast. That last thing is only sort of a lie.

 

  1. All two of them.
  2. Or rather fingers to keyboard.
  3. It should be noted that I do not go back and revise as I draft. It’s the only way I keep my forward momentum.
  4. In spite of being a writer, I’m really visual.
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