Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank you, 2011!

I'm incredibly grateful for what happened to me in 2011. A few weeks ago I blogged about my long, grueling writing road, so if you read that post you already know this past year marked the end of my seemingly impossible journey to a publishing deal. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads, and it's extremely satisfying to see people already taking an interest in my literary baby.  I'm so excited about all the behind-the-scenes preparations I'll be going through with this book in the coming year, and I can't wait to eventually share my characters with all of you.

To my agent, Barbara Poelle, and my editor, Maggie Lehrman: thank you from the bottom of my heart for making 2011 a year I'll never forget! I'll always remember the morning my daughter called to me out in the garage, "Mom, there's someone named Barbara calling. Isn't that your agent?" And Barbara's words, "Amulet put in an offer," were some of the five most magical words I've heard in my entire life.

I'm also grateful for meeting my fellow Lucky 13s authors, who'll also be debuting in 2013, and my fellow Amulet/Abrams authors. You guys are so talented and amazing, and I can't wait to have your books on my shelf! And, of course, I'm so thankful for all my friends and family who've been standing by me and cheering me on for literally decades.

The past year wasn't without its dark spots. I lost a very dear uncle who battled Alzheimer's for five years, and I witnessed my fourteen-year-old dog get attacked by a dog three times his size (our dog survived, but he took almost two months to recover from the bite wounds). The sweet seems to always come with the bitter.

I hope 2011 treated you well and you experienced more highs than lows. Let's now take a deep breath, gather our courage, and plunge straight into the awaiting adventures of 2012!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sprucing Up the Place with Photos

Balboa Park, San Diego (Photo © Cat Winters)
In my last post I teased readers with a distorted photo of a San Diego landmark that plays a role in my novel. The building is part of the city's beautiful, historic Balboa Park, but that's all I'm going to say about that particular setting for now. How the locale relates to In the Shadow of Blackbirds will need to remain top secret.

I decided to build upon that last post and add a few more of my San Diego photos to the sidebar to spruce up the site. I've aged the pictures to try to make them appear to be straight from my novel, and I'm hoping they do the job of making the website a little more visually interesting. I'll be adding many more goodies once I can reveal more info about the plot, but for now I'll leave you with three aged photos that could have come from one of my characters' personal collections.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Greetings from Winters

My mascot, Winifred, enjoying the holidays.
I'll be taking a break from blogging and the computer in general over the weekend. I hope the holidays find everyone happy, safe, and healthy.

Below is a virtual holiday greeting I created last year. I distorted one of my photographs of a San Diego landmark that appears in In the Shadow of Blackbirds to give the picture a supernatural feel. If you're familiar with that particular region of California, see if you can guess where it is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Scary Ghost Stories at Christmastime

I've always been fascinated with our tendency to be drawn to dark subject matters during the holidays. Think about our most cherished Christmas moviesthe films watched over and over and imitated countless timesand the dark themes they entail:

A Sinister Old Man Who Sees Ghosts
A Christmas Carol

A Sinister Old Man Who Provokes Suicide Attempts
It's a Wonderful Life

A Sinister Old Monster Who Steals Christmas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Why do we frequently veer toward the scary when it comes to our most cherished holiday?

Have you ever heard the Andy Williams song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," which includes the line “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”? Or read Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, which starts with the telling of ghost stories on Christmas Eve?

Victorians in England made a tradition out of sitting around the fire and spinning ghost tales on December 24. In fact, the winter solstice, the lengthiest night of the year, has long been considered one of the best times for paranormal activity. The veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is said to be thinnest when the old sun dies and the new sun waits to be born. Such a belief probably led to the spreading of spine-tingling stories during December's dimmest hours.

So, if you're wondering why you're craving a glimpse of Marley's ghost when winter awakens after midnight tonight, or if Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas wins out over The Santa Clause in your house, keep in mind you're just following a long-standing December tradition of dark, supernatural tales. 

Happy winter!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Long, Grueling Writing Road and the 21 JUMP STREET Writer Who Gave Me Advice

Once upon a time, when I was a teenager and some good-looking guy named Johnny Depp starred in a TV series called 21 Jump Street, I met a writer of that series at my friend's house. The writer knew my friend's parents, and I remember him sitting on their couch and telling me, "The best writing advice I can give you is to never give up." I believe I responded, "I won't," for I knew deep in my gut that I wouldn't and couldn't.

Decades passed, hairstyles dramatically improved, a recession came and went and then returned with a vengeance, people started needing to take off their shoes and half their clothes just to make it through airport security. Yet one thing stayed the same: I remained a struggling writer.

Recently, I got back in touch with my high school friend and asked her, "Didn't your parents know a screenwriter who wrote for shows like 21 Jump Street? Do you remember his name? I'm not totally imagining that incident, am I?" She wrote back, saying, "I am glad you did not give up. His name is Gary Hall."

Mr. Gary Hall: Thank you, thank you, thank you for planting that "never give up" advice inside my head. Since that day I met you, I've written countless manuscripts geared toward adult audiences, won several writing awards, received dozens and dozens of rejections, signed with two different agents, married my college sweetheart, given birth to two remarkable children, and pulled at my hair, wondering why, why my books are considered too risky and too unmarketable for publishers. Several times I considered giving up. I didn't understand why my brain was telling me to write when no one wanted to publish my words.

But...I also flew to a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference in January 2010. Over dinner, I told my agent an idea for a young adult novel involving a teenage girl and the dark, bizarre world of early-twentieth-century spiritualism. I saw the excitement in my agent's eyes and dove back into the new manuscript as soon as I returned home. I shared the book with critique partners, revised, showed the book to my agent, revised again, and just this past fall sold that book to Amulet Books/Abrams. I did not give up. As recently as this past September, I cried on the phone while telling one of my best friends I felt like I was wasting my life by chasing this agonizing dream, but I still kept going.

Richard Bach wrote, "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." We writers hear quotes like that all the time and absorb the words of wisdom into our souls, but sometimes we want to shout out, "Wait a minute. I'm not giving up, but I'm still not getting anywhere!" You know what? The advice is true. I'm proof that determination, time, blood, sweat, tears, and the pure, incomparable joy of spinning tales can indeed eventually lead to a deal with an amazing publishing company.

In celebration of Gary Hall and his advice that never left my brain, I'm sharing the 21 Jump Street opening credits below. Thank you again, Mr. Hall! To the other struggling writers out there: if writing feels as essential as breathing, keep plugging away.

Oh, and enjoy the Johnny Depp clips. I wonder whatever happened to that kid. ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Reads of 2011

It's the 13th day of the month, which means there's another 13th-Day Question for us 2013 debuts over at The Lucky 13s. This month's question: "What is your favorite book of 2011?"

I had a hard time picking just one book, and I certainly didn't get a chance to read everything I wanted to read in 2011. You can find my selection over at the Lucky 13s post, but I'm also sharing a quick rundown of my top three favorite YA novels right here.

Myracle has it all in this gripping YA novel: characters you get to know deep down to their bones, a rural North Carolina setting so real you can see and smell it, and a plot that twists and turns until the the lead character solves the mystery behind a heinous act of violence.

I was blown away by the beauty of Mitchell's writing. The love story at the center is just as supernatural as anything you'd find in other paranormal romances, but the characters' otherworldy abilities are highly unique. Mitchell's Victorian world pulsates with life. I can't wait to dive into the sequel, The Springsweet.

Not only has Taylor's boundless imagination conjured up fantastical characters and settings that frighten and entertain, but she has grounded her story with enough reality and honest human emotions to make us believe her unique tale could have actually occurred. Following her lonely, blue-haired, art-student protagonist, Karou, on her teeth-collecting expeditions thought the darkest alleys of the world is a gripping, enjoyable ride.

My top three favorite books from past years 
that I finally discovered in 2011:

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (I majored in English in college; I'm such a phony, as Holden Caulfield would say, for not reading this book sooner.)

What were the best books (YA or otherwise) that you read in 2013?

Monday, December 5, 2011

YA Bliss's Ubercool Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

It's no secret that I strongly believe historical fiction rocks (see some of my previous posts on this subject: Five Reasons Why Historical Fiction Rocks, You Know You're a Historical Fiction-Writing Geek When..., History, Sexypants-Style).

Thankfully, I'm by no means the only person who shares this opinion about the genre. The amazing Sab H. over at YA Bliss runs an annual Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and she's just posted info about the 2012 challenge: 

Her rules are simple:
  • All historical fiction books must be YA or MG.
  • Books don't have to be 2012 releases.
  • Anyone can join. 
  • You can join at anytime. The challenge runs from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.
She offers her own Amazon and Goodreads lists as examples of where to find historical fiction reads, plus you can check out 2012 YA and MG historical debuts over at The Apocalypsies

Thanks so much for celebrating historical fiction, Sab!!!

I'm heading over to sign up for the challenge right now...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Question of the Month: Have You Ever Captured a Ghostly Image?

One of my ghostly Maine photos.
I'm launching a new feature today: The Question of the Month. Unless I'm bogged down with revisions, I'll try to launch a reading, movie, or ghost-related question on the first day of every month.

Here's the December question:

Spirit communication, especially spirit photography, plays a huge role in the plot of In the Shadow of Blackbirds. In the future I'll be sharing some highly entertaining spirit photos from the heyday of the Spiritualist movement, but for now let's talk about YOUR experiences with capturing ghosts. Have you ever come across a misty figure that wasn't noticeable when you first took a picture? Do you tend to get mysterious orbs or weird traces of light when you snap photos in certain locations?

I'm attaching my own spooky photos, which I took in Maine during a vacation in the late nineties. Professional photographers have explained what probably occurred to my film (yes, this was back when I still used film), but I prefer thinking of the images as a running ghost (the photo above) and a phantom couple (the photo below).

If you have a ghost photo of your own you'd like to share, feel free to add a link in the comments section of this post.