Know A Kid Who Needs Encouragement?

THE LAST MONSTER, a new novel for young adults, is available for preorder from any book seller. Published by Delacorte Press/Random House, the novel is getting some great reviews…most importantly, the reviews are helping booksellers and librarians get the book into the right hands. Here’s a sample of what the media is saying:

“ An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.” Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.” School Library Journal

“poignant and sophisticated…punctuated with wry humor”
Kirkus Reviews

I’m thrilled that the reviews will help the right readers find the book. Preorder now- the book releases in early April!

SCBWI SpringMingle

Just got home from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SpringMingle conference, hosted by my region (Southern Breeze).
If you want to write or illustrate for children or young adults, you really must join us at SCBWI:
http://www.scbwi.org/

It’s a wonderful organization and has been enormously helpful to me in my career.
That’s it for now: I have to get back to working on my synopsis for another book. Or two. :)

The Last Monster Is In The Can!

I’m so excited (and relieved) that the edits for THE LAST MONSTER (Delacort/Random House) are officially done. We’re moving on to copyediting now, and I am busy outlining new material.Meanwhile, check out the new book THE MIDDLE SCHOOL RULES OF BRIAN URLACHER (BroadStreet Publishing. This is a book I had a hand in shaping, and was thrilled to get to work with Sean Jensen from Thrive Sports.

It’s a great read for middle school kids who love sports stories.

The Last Monster

I’m so thrilled to announce that THE LAST MONSTER, my middle-grade novel, has been acquired by Delacorte/Random House. I’m deep in edits right now, which means drinking lots of tea and getting red ink all over my fingers every day. The novel is scheduled for release in Spring 2016, and I’ll be updating the site as we get closer.

The book is about a thirteen-year-old cancer survivor, Sofia, who discovers a Bestiary written by Aristotle’s last student. Sofia learns that the world is filled with monsters in hiding, and the ancient conspiracy that once doomed Aristotle’s student  is now threatening her. Sofia must save them all by becoming the Guardian. She learns that some things are worth fighting for…most especially, our right to be different.

There’s more to come but for now…go enjoy a beautiful fall season!

Why I Love Stingrays and Hate Goats

Summer is in full swing here at Casa Garrett, which means I am probably at the beach right now, getting sunburned. But the upside of that is seeing all the stingrays at my favorite beach, and they are such ethereal creepshows that I don’t even mind when they swim around me. (That’s actually a lie. I yelp.) My favorite beach has had a ton of them this year, and I’m not really sure why, but I love watching them in the water.

While I wait for news on the middle-grade series that my fabulous agent is pitching, I’m also hard at work on a new series. I’ll be editing a sports biography series for middle grade boys. Part of the work involves interviewing sports celebrities. I bought a lovely new sweater set for a recent interview, one carefully chosen to make me look both editorial and intelligent. (Sweater sets do that.)

One thing that no one bothered to tell me was that the celebrity lived on an estate with over 70 animals, including about twenty goats. I don’t trust goats. I never have. Plus, they are completely impervious to my charms. A witty anecdote has zero effect. On the estate, one goat seemed to sense my attachment to the sweater set and went on the offensive.

As I walked around the place, this goat followed me and ate a new section of the sweater each time he caught me standing still. Apparently, vanity is the new delicious in the farmyard world. Sigh. Leave it to a goat to quickly dismantle all my attempts to look important.

I’ll post more when there’s actual news. Until then, enjoy your summer!

Green Tea As a Writer’s Secret Weapon

Every morning, before I write, I make a fresh pot of tea, and usually it’s green tea. Here’s why.

First, rituals are powerful. They condition us to expect a certain chain of events. In my case, when I make a pot of tea, I am preparing myself to focus on my work for the next few hours. The work becomes my priority. Since I have kids at home who leave laundry on the floor and dogs who shed and dishes in the sink and bills peeking out from underneath old magazines and smudges on the stainless steel appliances…well, you can see that distraction is my number one enemy. And I have a lot of noble distractions.

Ritual is how I tune out those distractions, and focus instead on my work.

Next, I choose green tea most often because of its well documents effects on the brain. For starters, green tea may boost dopamine in the brain, which helps create positive mood. Green tea also helps the keep the brain supplied with its primary source of fuel, glucose, because green tea helps our bodies use insulin more efficiently.

In addition, a study from Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that components in green tea help the brain create new cells that are responsible for short and long term memory. This means we may be able to work smarter, not harder, since we are retaining information more easily.  Artists, in particular, must be able to hold a long-term vision in their minds as they work on daily, short-term tasks. Green tea might just help strengthen an artist’ ability to bounce back and forth between these tasks. Maybe. I’m hoping.

One other major benefit for artists is the ability of green tea to influence the brain’s production of theta waves. Those are the brain waves created when we’re in a relaxed and positive mood, such as during meditation. For many artists, this is an ideal starting place to create their best work.

So, every day, I rely on the power of ritual and the science of tea to get me ready to write. If it works for you, steal the idea!

Here are a few great articles that expand on the science of tea:

(http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200306/green-tea-the-brain)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905083852.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fliving_well+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Living+Well+News%29

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/natasha-turner-nd/green-tea-benefits_b_3685456.html

Prescription for a Tired Muse

I promised a post on why I must brew a pot of tea before I write. But first, I want to backtrack and explain how I revived an exhausted muse last year. I just got some fabulous news this week: my middle grade novel is going to be represented by a seriously wonderful agent. I can’t wait to make the formal announcement! So I am explaining how exactly I got here, and why you might be able to use this same principle the next time you feel creatively stuck.

Three years ago, I was at the end of a multi-book contract in the inspirational market. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write next.  I only knew I wanted to write for kids. That’s what I had always wanted, and I’d be so blessed to have multiple contracts in the adult inspirational market while I learned my craft. But after refusing another contract, and with no particular story burning inside, I didn’t feel lost; I just felt blank. My muse was tired and restless. If I wasn’t going to write another book immediately, I needed a plan.

My dear friend, author and radio host Michelle Phillips, says: “When you don’t know what to do, go serve someone else.” I took her advice, and decided to serve young adults who dreamed of becoming working writers. Working with a public middle school in Atlanta, I founded a Young Authors program. My goal was to teach them everything I knew about writing. (After that first class, I’d have to wing it.)

Walking into middle school for our first meeting, I felt slightly nauseated. Middle school was not a season of my life I wanted to revisit. Yet here I was, about to enter that world again. I feared I still wouldn’t be cool. I feared the kids would dismiss everything I said. Or worse, that I wouldn’t say the right thing at all.

Within five minutes, I realized that they were far less interested in what I had to say, than in my willingness to listen. I ditched my lesson plan and followed their lead.

Now, every week, I listen to their stories. I listen to their dreams and nightmares. I get to be the adult who says, “There is beauty and power and truth in your story. No one can tell it but you. Ignore the critics. Ignore the bullies. Tell the world what you see.” What an incredible privilege. And my muse? She’s never happier than when a kid dares to read a deeply personal tale. Witnessing an act of courage is powerful stuff.

I don’t worry about whether any of these kids will go on to write professionally. I am setting an anchor in their souls so that when life’s storms hit, and they are pushed off course, something deep within will draw them home. They will remember who they are, and they will remember that truth is a powerful ally. Most of all, they will remember that their stories and their dreams, they matter.

To all of us.

Why Exercise is an Artist’s Best Friend

Every morning, before I write, I do two things: I get a good workout in, then make a pot of tea.

I’ll explain the tea next week.

Let’s talk exercise now.

I’ve seen a lot of scientific studies that link exercise to enhanced creativity. Indeed, one of the most prolific, and successful, authors I know routinely runs 6 miles every morning before sitting down to write.

Oh, yeah, and he’s well past seventy years old.

We can do this, people.

Studies confirm two important reasons why exercise matters to an artist. The first study I ever found said that after thirty minutes of aerobic exercise, the areas of the brain thought to influence creativity are lit up like a Christmas tree for the next four hours.  Rice University tested this same theory, and found that aerobic exercise enhances creativity for two hours.

Let’s split the difference.

Get a workout in before you write, and you will experience much greater creativity for the next three hours.

A daily routine of exercise will impact your creative powers as well.  Daily exercise conditions the brain as well as the body:  “Cognitive psychologist Professor Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University in The Netherlands, found that those who exercised for four times a week were able to think more creatively than those with a more sedentary lifestyle.”

See the full article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10491702/Lacking-inspiration-Exercise-found-to-boost-creativity.html

So get moving, and then get to creating. Exercise is one habit that pays unexpected dividends to an artist.

Next week: the pot of tea. Why. How. What.

You might be surprised…

The Art of Helping Others

Want to know what fuels the creative fire of one of the most gifted visual artists I know? Read on…

I’ve been reading an advance copy of THE ART OF HELPING OTHERS by Douglas C. Man, IVP Press, and it’s powerfully good. Mr. Mann believes that art can be a form of social justice, and both can be powerful expressions of faith.

I’ve known Doug for several years, and his art is thought-provoking and stunning…so I was excited to read this “behind the scenes” work on how he creates, and why. He views art as a form of incitement:

“The world is not clean, nice and orderly, tailor made for our own creative expression. It is in a perpetual state of formidable disarray. Yet many of us imagine it to be well and good and fit to suit. And then we wonder why life doesn’t work out, why we suffer. It takes creative people to see the world for what it is, to discern the human condition. To practice creativity is to be more keenly aware of the complexity of the world, to recognize its fragile, fractured soul. It takes creative people to awaken that awareness in others. Creativity can beget creativity.”

I love that idea; that we must keep our creative fires going, in part, because we keep the world’s creative fires alive. Wanting to know more about how Doug creates, I asked Doug what his one tip was for operating at peak creativity. Here’s what he answered:

“I believe it’s pushing myself to move into others lives, even those that aren’t so lovable in order that they enter into the discovery process of my faith.  It’s the art of conversation, the art of helping others, which leads to the art of story. As a writer, it’s also equally important for me to have time to allow for alone time – to dive deep like a swimmer diving down to retrieve a pearl from the ocean floor, and eventually resurfacing with something to say.”

Loving the unlovable leads to the art of story. Wow; as a writer, he’s onto something here. I am loving the book and I recommend you get your own copy here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Helping-Others-Artists/dp/0830837507/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390944323&sr=8-1&keywords=art+of+helping+others