Thursday, May 31, 2007

A little help from up above?

Here's a picture of my front
porch taken one week ago today
(I'm not kidding). My kids were building snowmen in the front yard and I had to dig out their winter clothes all over again. I was also listening to Christmas music as I wrote (see earlier post from last week) so the weather conveniently matched my mood.

Here's a photo taken today at the river where I walk our dog. It was so hot I had our A/C on full blast all day. Interestingly enough, I was writing a chapter where my main character's car breaks down in 85 degree heat and she has to change a tire with sweat running down her back. I guess I'd better stay away from floods and tornadoes, huh?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Looking at the big picture...

Yesterday, a writer friend (who will remain unnamed) phoned to vent a bit. "This business is like a slithering, mindless snake that eats you up," she complained. "No one tells you how your book is doing. No one communicates with you unless it hits a list!" On and on she went, making me smile. She's published four novels and is doing well with her career, but she was having a crappy day (which is certainly allowed) I was.

She's right about how tough this business is, though. You can't just write a good story, throw it out there, and expect millions of readers to gleefully buy it. It just doesn't happen that way. You have to write that good story, but you must also be willing to plot and plan and network and self-promote.

Oh, and you have to love writing. Did I mention that?

As fiction writers, we get to invent people and places as we leap and fly and fall. We get to make it up as we go, sending shivers down reader's spines, making goose bumps pebble on their arms, making them laugh or reach for Kleenex as they cry. How great is that?! But here's my favorite part: when we lose ourselves writing a story that won't let go, we don't have time to worry about how we're doing in the big picture, and sometimes that's okay.

P.S. Note to friend - you're doing fine! You're making a living, you've hit a few lists, and you've had your novels published in eight foreign countries. Shake it off and get back to writing that story you told me about :)

Monday, May 28, 2007

A writer can never have enough of these...

Yesterday my sons came down to my office and asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I immediately said, "Band-Aids."

They frowned and asked why.

I turned around in my chair, taking a long look at my normally neat office. Every piece of furniture and every corner of the carpet is covered with chapter printouts. Every printout has something weighing it down in case my cats decide to have a wrestling match in the middle of the night. Every paper weight has a few post-it notes slapped underneath it. Every chapter needs...something. More dialogue here. Less description there. The need to crank up dramatic tension. The desire to ensure less is more in every scene.

If you're a writer, this never really ends, the quest for perfection in your story - no matter what draft you're working on. When you read your work, raising the bar as high as you can, you inevitably see the need for Band-Aids everywhere. It's just part of what we do, but when I tried to explain this to my boys, I got blank stares followed by polite nods.

This morning, though, I found two boxes on the kitchen table wrapped in tissue. One said These are strong. Use on bad days. The other said, These are xtra strong. Save for big riting problims. The first package was a box of cloth Band-Aids. The second was a package of neon orange SpongeBob Band-Aids.

A writer couldn't be better equipped.

A mom couldn't ask for two nicer birthday gifts.

P.S. The birthday card they bought for me said, In dog years, you'd be dead. Sensitive little guys, huh?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Two big books on the horizon...

I’ve been listening to Christmas music all week. Eartha Kitt cooing Santa Baby, Bony M singing Feliz Navidad, Dolly Parton doing her version of I’ll be Home for Christmas. You see, I’m writing, and that means everything (and everyone) takes a back seat to the creative side of my brain. I’m currently working on a chapter with an 80 year old man who listens to Christmas music all year long and it helps when I actually listen to Christmas music, as does the space heater at my feet, because this chapter is set during the month of August.

It sometimes worries me, though, this tendency to lean towards eccentricity when I'm writing (see above) and being reclusive (I haven’t left the house in days) and asking my family to deal with my *cough* mildly temperamental nature (do NOT touch the chapters spread out across the floor, or the charts pinned to the wall, or the notes littering my desk outlining my characters and which one should get sick and/or possibly die to give the story the best possible impact).

As an author running on little sleep,
I’ve been wondering lately if these tendencies will get better or worse
with age, if they lean toward what’s considered ‘normal’ for the creative process, or if I'm genetically predisposed to some sort of mental madness I’m not aware of that runs in my family?

Then, the other day, I read a post on John Elder Robison’s blog titled 'A history of madness in the family' that made me feel much better (just poking a little fun, John).

Look Me in the Eye, John’s debut, will be out in September. Even more interesting, my friend Patricia Wood’s debut Lottery is scheduled for release in August. John’s book is about his life with Asperger’s. Pat’s is a moving story about a cognitively challenged man with an IQ of 76 who wins $14 million in the lottery. John posted a spot-on review for Lottery on his blog titled 'Life at the other end of the IQ range' and Pat did the same for Look Me in the Eye with a post titled 'Look Me in the Eye got me in the heart'.

Better yet, both of these books are creating almost tsunami-like waves in the publishing industry (look out BEA) and have done so from the first day they were respectively purchased. They are being talked about as two of the fall’s 'big books' and I think everyone's right -- they're both going to be huge bestsellers, so if you haven’t already, pre-order a copy of each right now. You won't want to miss either one!

P.S. I have NO IDEA why my links aren't working on this post!! Blogger is making me crazy so I've given up trying to fix them. Here's Pat's URL for her blog - - and here's John's - (Sorry everyone!)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Whistling in the Dark...

I've never met Lesley Kagen, although we share the same publisher and her author photo was inadvertently added to the ARC of my novel, The Penny Tree last summer in error -- something we've laughed about via email.

Whistling in the Dark is Lesley's debut novel (great cover, huh?). It was selected as a Book Sense Pick for May and a Featured Alternate by Double Day Book Club, The Mystery Guild and The Literary Guild. Click here to check out her website.

Below is a brief description of the book, followed by an author blurb that mirrors my opinion and will hopefully sway yours enough that you'll rush out and buy it:

It was the summer on Vliet Street we all started locking our doors... Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said—actions speak louder than words. Sally would have to agree with her. Because during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, who was left strict instructions to take care of the girls, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that her charges are on the loose. And so is a murderer and molester.

Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. If nobody will believe her, she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.

Funny, wise and uplifting, Whistling in the Dark is the story of two tough and endearing little girls...and of a time not so long ago, when life was not as innocent as it appeared.

"Bittersweet and beautifully rendered, Whistling in the Dark is the story of two young sisters and a summer jam-packed with disillusionment and discovery. With the unrelenting optimism that only children could bring to such a situation, these girls triumph. So does Kagen. Whistling in the Dark shines.
Don't miss it." — Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling
author of Water for Elephants

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stumbling across story ideas ...

Meet my pal, Sally, VP and Creative Director for an ad agency. To me, she could be Meg Ryan's twin sister, she's that hilarious and quick witted with spot-on comebacks that'd take me weeks to think up. If I'm ever financially able, I plan to beg her to come work for me, that's how business savvy she is.

Getting to the point, though, over the last six weeks, at every single reading for The Penny Tree, I've been asked where I get my story ideas and how I think up quirky little traits for my characters.

This photo is a good example, because the 1/2 mannequin gave me a creative spark, and from that spark I came up with a way to add some 'oooomph' to a secondary character in The Silver Compass who was otherwise... bland. See? Inspiration is everywhere. You just need to open your mind to it and allow yourself to imagine...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A wonderful reading AND a nice review...

Over twenty people came out to my reading at Chapters in St. Albert last night. I hadn't seen some in decades, although there were others I recognized immediately. Cindy & Theresa, thanks for making the long drive from Edson. And Betty, it was good to see you and your hubby. Not to mention Donna, Krista, Erin, Rae, Marge, Tawni, and everyone else I'm forgetting to list...

The crowd was lucky cuz they met my youngest brother -- the one who 'relocates' all of my books onto the Hot Fiction table in every book store he visits! By the way, next time, I promise we'll set up further away from the clerk at Starbucks who seemed to gleefully grind those beans every time I decided to open my mouth, okay?

I spent the night at my brother's and left early this morning to make the 4 hour drive home. And when I finally got here, I found this review of The Penny Tree waiting for me on email. Consider yourself cyber-hugged, Ms. Terri Schlichenmeyer.

Albany Democrat Herald Book Review
‘Penny Tree’ makes cents by Terri Schlichenmeyer

You know how it is. The alarm doesn’t go off, which makes you late. You missed your ride, got a run in your pantyhose, spilled coffee down your front, the boss is peeved and you’re having one of Those Days. Did you ever have a whole lifetime of Those Days? For Annie Hillman, it seems that most of her life has been one big thing-that’s gone wrong. But in the novel “The Penny Tree” by Holly Kennedy, Annie is about to have something go very right.

When she was 12 years old and her sister did some snooping, Annie learned that she and Marina were adopted. While that bothered her, Annie realized that her parents deeply loved her because of a precious gift her father gave her: Her own Penny Tree.As he nailed a one-cent coin to the Douglas fir, Annie’s dad told her that the tree would be hers forever. Whenever she needed comfort, wanted some place to think, craved alone-time, she could come to the tree.The old tree served her well. When Annie’s father died, she sat beneath it and grieved. As her marriage fell apart, she cried below its needles.Now, Annie is back in her hometown, depressed, her life in a shambles, dealing with toppling finances, her younger son’s shaky health and her older son’s adolescence. She spends time beneath her Penny Tree, wondering what went so terribly wrong.

And then the ad appears in the newspaper, right on the front page.“Do You Recognize This Woman?” it said. “She was the first woman I ever loved and I can’t forget her.”As the nation is caught up wondering who the mystery man is, Annie tries to remember the men she loved. Her mind wanders from her childhood friend to an old boyfriend to her almost-ex-husband, Jack, from whom Annie drifted away.The mystery man is surely someone from her past. Could he also be someone for her future?

I usually read four or five books a week; some are okay, some are not-okay, but the ones I’m most delighted with are the ones I look forward to getting back to when I put them down.“The Penny Tree” fits nicely in that last category.

I loved all of the people in this book and I enjoyed the peccadilloes author Holly Kennedy gave them, particularly the quirk that Annie’s mother, Erna, has. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is. Read the book.Another thing to notice is that Kennedy has a knack for mentioning tiny details and making those little items important later on in the story. I liked that, being surprised over and over. If you want a good novel to tuck in your purse or suitcase this spring, grab this one. Reading “The Penny Tree” just makes cents.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Announcing a reading in St. Albert...

The reading at Redwood House on Friday was great. Approx 50 people came out for it and we started at 7
pm and didn't finish up until well after ten. Thanks everyone! By the way, we're going to schedule another one just like it at Redwood House for The Silver Compass next year. And when we do, on top of draws for free books, we'll also be giving away a few silver compasses, so make sure you join us
if you weren't part of this year's crowd.

Note to Northern Albertans...
If you live in or near Edmonton or St. Albert, please join us for a reading this Wednesday, May 16th, at 7:00 pm at the St. Albert Chapters book store located at 445 St. Albert Road.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Time for a reading for Southern Albertans...

If you live near Calgary, Alberta and can make it out, join us for a reading from The Penny Tree, (followed by an open Q&A about writing & publishing) this Friday. Here are the details:

Where -- Redwood House (Wolf Willow Room)
Redwood Meadows, Alberta

When -- Friday, May 11th @ 7:00 pm

Redwood Meadows is approx 15 mins west of Calgary, near the beautiful hamlet of Bragg Creek, known as the Gateway to Kananaskis. Take the 2nd marked entrance into Redwood Meadows off of Highway 22 and you'll find Redwood House on your right, next to the fire hall.

Snacks & refreshments will be served and there will also be a few fun giveaways as well. Those in attendance could win an autographed copy of The Penny Tree, a first edition hardcover of The Tin Box, or a limited edition tin box with the paperback edition of The Tin Box inside.

Oh, and this last photo?

If you go too far and drive past Redwood Meadows to Elbow Falls, you might stumble across this great little spot. If so, please turn around and come back to the reading. I know it'll be hard to drag yourself away, but you can always flag it as one of your favorite places (as I have) and return another day.

Great writing spot, huh?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

One milestone at a time...

Today my husband finished his second marathon in less than five months. He ran his first in Florida in January, and today he completed his second in California.

His running and my writing make for an interesting balancing act in our household. I watch him run 6 days a week for months to prepare for a marathon, including 10-32 km runs every Sunday morning. It takes time away from our family, but it's important to him. He often watches me write straight through most weekends, late into the night, and almost always taking time away from our family, but it's important to me.

He ran his 1st marathon in 3 hours and 51 minutes. Today, he finished in 3 hours and 41 minutes. Better yet, this time he qualified for the Boston marathon, which he'll now run in 2008. I'm not a runner any more than he's a novelist, but when he phoned today, I was as proud of him as I know he is of me when Fedex delivers a nice shiny book from one of my publishers.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Thanks Winnipeg. It was good to see you...

At McNally Robinson's last night there were a lot of faces I hadn't seen in years and a few new ones too! Fellow writer and blogger Seeley Deborn was one of them. Seeley moved from the west coast to Winnipeg just days before my reading and yet she still managed to make it out. What a sweetheart, huh? Check out her blog at

As I flew home earlier today, a lot of you were still on my mind, mostly because it was such a quick trip and I would have loved to have had more time to talk to everyone individually.

Thanks to Jim ( my father-in-law) for arranging lunch the day of the reading and to Roberta and Tom, for taking me out for dinner that night. Kendra, I sure hope you're feeling better soon. My heart goes out to you, kiddo. Alle, Brianna and Rayan, I'll be pacing my office trying to figure out how to fit you into the next book as walk-on characters. And, yes, Dean, even though I would have ZERO say in casting or anything else relating to it, I'll pass your name along if/when movie rights are ever sold for any of my books. Leave it with me!

A huge hug for Linda Holeman (one of my mentors and all time favorite authors) for making me such a lovely dinner the night I arrived and for introducing me at my reading the next night. Stop by her website at and check out all her work, inc/her internationally acclaimed novel The Linnet Bird (sold in 15 languages) which was was followed by Moonlit Cage, the 2nd in a trilogy set that will be complete in spring of 2008 when Linda's 3rd, titled Chutney Mary, set in 1870s Punjab, will be published.

Two final notes: First, take a few seconds to pop by Mia King's blog at this link Mia's debut novel Good Things has been doing incredibly well and she just announced an interesting contest you might want to jump in on!

Secondly, Romance Junkies gave The Penny Tree a wonderful review I had to share -- The Penny Tree is a touching story of a failed marriage and the family involved. Holly Kennedy has done a wonderful job of illustrating the impact a child’s illness can have on a family, and how love isn’t always enough to save a relationship. The mystery of the ad-taker’s identity gives a note of hope and anticipation for something wonderful, keeping the story from being overly sorrowful. Emotional and thought-provoking, this would be a good choice for a reader’s group discussion.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Look! A real penny tree...

I'm leaving for Winnipeg in a few hours, but when I saw this, I just had to share it. A real penny tree! Can you imagine? Wouldn't it be nice to wrap up a bunch and give them to everyone we love?

On a completely separate note, do any of you ever do this?

I took my boys to a movie the other day (Meet the Robinsons) and was so bored I spent the first 1/2 hour making a mental list of everything that was WRONG with the story -- too many characters, not enough character development, etc. However, half way through, I slipped out to go to the bathroom, and my mind wouldn't let go of two elements that did work for me.

End result? Before returning to the theatre, I sat outside the main doors on the rug for a few mins frantically jotting down notes. I filled five blank recipe cards and tucked them in my purse. To anyone else my scribblings might look like gibberish, but to me they are the possibility of a wonderful story, and a writer can never have enough of those.