Sunday, April 26, 2009

And the Winner of the Find Beauty Challengeis...

The judges of the North of Beautiful: Find Beauty Challenge have spoken. Based on the criteria posted on my website, countless viewings of the video essays on YouTube, the winners are:

Grand prize winner of the iPod Touch is... Miss Erin for her Truly Beautiful, professional, and profound testament to Beauty.

1st prize winner of books is... Too Beautiful for Words.

2nd prize winner of books is... Grace Lin.

3rd prize winner of books is... Beauty Is...

Today I am thankful for each and every one of you who have taken your time to tell the world what you think True and Real Beauty means.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Best Friends in the World

Call me lucky. I have the best friends on the planet. On my birthday--Income Tax Day--I received quite possibly the meanest email of my entire life, and no, it wasn't from the IRS. A few days later, my girlfriends threw me a surprise party at Frenchy's: pedicures for all.

I walked into the spa, filled with my friends...and--duh!--it didn't occur to me that every single one of my StrataGem group was there...for ME I'm sure it was comical how stunned I was that my girls were all in one place, a miracle of champagne! And strawberries! And chocolates! And treats! And so, so, so much love.

Above are Cindy--little miss FBI. And Miss Molly, finance guru.

And Niki (TV producer!) and Julie (anchorwoman!) and Kim (graphic designer!). And there's me (stupefied!).

And then, on a very hard day, Martha Brockenbrough met me for a writing date, bought me tea and a little cakey birthday treat. And then let me write my heart out next to her until I felt better. Now, that's a friend.

Today, I feel grateful for women who are there when a friend needs them to be.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hometown Heroes: Rwanda Girls Initiative

Two of my friends, Soozi McGill and Shal Foster, are building a ground-breaking girls' secondary boarding school in Rwanda. How amazing is that? I've just been so impressed with how they conceived the idea and are making Rwanda Girls Initiative come true--30 acres of gorgeous land, architects who are donating time to draw the plans, partnerships with universities, doctors, experts to ensure that the school serves the whole girl.

Today, I had the privilege of working with them on their presentation. Not that they needed my help. These women are rock stars.

Aren't we all grateful for people in the world who see the Big Picture, who see challenge as exciting, who see the YES in other people's NO? I am!

Nikki Grimes: A Hurricane of Change

Meet one of my writer-mentors, Nikki Grimes, a NY Times bestselling author and Coretta Scott King award winner. She is brilliant and fierce and 100% heart.

She called me last night to check in on me, shored me up with some solid advice, and then told me her chilling story. Just nine days after speaking at a school in Arkansas, the entire town was leveled by a hurricane. "Cherish every day," she told me. "Every day."

Nikki is a woman after my own heart. She is singlehandedly spearheading her own Operation Teen Book Drop by trying to replenish that school's devastated collection of young adult titles. So if you didn't rock the readergirlz drop and still have YA books lying around that are in need of a good home, consider sending a few of them here:

Jimma Holder
Literacy Specialist
Mena Public Schools
501 Hickory
Mena, AR 71953
Today, I am grateful to be surrounded by friends who are changemakers. Who are forces of nature. Who live by their words and actions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shout Outs & Book Acknowledgments

I have been teased for my rather lengthy acknowledgments. As my editor said, "There will be other books, you know." Which is true. Acknowledgments aren't necessarily tied to a single book. I think of mine--all three of them--as a linked continuum of love. Anyway, since I listen to everything Alvina says, I made a decision with North of Beautiful to attempt to thank people who had not been included in my previous books aside from my family, publisher (that alone was a tome), agent, and mentors (Janet Carey, Janet Wong, and Nicole Ueland).

So at a birthday luncheon for my 90-year-old neighbor--who is as sharp and witty as they come--I gave her a copy of NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL and told her to skim the last paragraphs of the acknowledgments. She started to cry when she saw her name. My Lydia, a woman who keeps more than my keys.

And then there are my buddy, Linda Myrhvold. She was noted in GIRL OVERBOARD, but really, could have been included in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL since she is Truly Gorgeous and Generous.

I was having a hard moment recently, and she told me to haul on over to her hotel to celebrate Easter together. Can I tell you how much I love this fiercely protective woman? And talk about witty. Linda is the female David Sedaris, only not at all dysfunctional. I just need her to sit still long enough to get her hilarious riffs into Word for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

North of Beautiful: Reviews

Awww...I'm just so touched by all the reviews North of Beautiful has been receiving. Thanks to everyone for reading my work--and spending your precious money in this economy on my book. Honestly! It's amazing.

Here are the two most recent reviews, including Story Siren who gave the book a Luminous Pearl Award. So sweet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Operation TBD: Rocking the Drop!

Welcome to the Second Annual Operation Teen Book Drop, brought to teen patients in Children's Hospitals all around the country by readergirlz,

GuysLitWire, YALSA, and amazing publishers, including my own (Little, Brown Books!).

The morning started with an interview on KING 5 News. Egads, I hate TV and radio interviews. Anchorwoman, Joyce Taylor, wanted to do a short segment on me for her Hometown Heroes show. While flattering, it was also very awkward since while I am glad to be back in my Hometown, I am not feeling very heroic. I asked if she might want to shoot the Seattle-area divas dropping books off at our Children's Hospital. Thankfully, Joyce was interested. So I was flanked by my girls: Lorie Ann Grover, Holly Cupala, and Dia Calhoun. And we all very much missed our Melissa Walker.

Deep breath. Bright lipstick. And then Lorenzo the camera man started shooting every breath, um, and er as Joyce and I chatted about my books, community service (including the Find Beauty Challenge), and readergirlz.

Since I hate watching myself on TV, chances are I won't catch the feature story when it airs in 2-3 weeks. But for now, here's the crew:

Kira Haller (Children's Hospital), Holly Cupala, Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, me, Joyce Taylor.

Photographs all captured beautifully by S.Y. Headley.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Birthday Thoughts

Today's my birthday! I used to consider it a bummer to share my big day with Income Tax Day. But now I know the twinning of those events is really a blessing in disguise because the people who truly love me can never forget April 15.

As those same peeps know, this has not been the best year of my life. I am grateful for my children, family, friends, readers, and the team or professionals who've become my surrogate family, assembling around me to guide me through these last 6 tumultuous months.

So as I blow out the many candles on my cake tonight, I won't be wishing or regretting, but thanking:

Thanks for being patient and gentle with me.
Thanks for emailing me when you've read my books and letting me know that my humble words have touched you.
Thanks for helping me see the beauty in everyday blessings.

We only have to look to find beauty. And sometimes, as I learned with the sea turtles on the Big Island this last week, we have to look behind us, too.

But today, I am looking forward, not behind, to a wonderful year of healing and adventures. And quite possibly both.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ben Boos: My New Hero!

One of my favorite parts of writing is doing the research. I love finding out about things I have no knowledge whatsoever about. So imagine my joy when I found the exact book I was looking for by none other than a legend in the gaming industry, Ben Boos (formerly of Blizzard).

There were a few swords in his fabulously rendered artist's devotion that intrigued me. So I emailed Ben...and he responded back with a ton of research notes. He actually sifted through his own research materials to find the answers for me. I still cannot believe how generous he was with his time and knowledge.

Swords is a Candlewick book. So you know it's beautiful. Check it out!

Today, I am just thankful for Ben. For people who help just because.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

TLA: More Thoughts

A few more pictures from my publicist, Rachel Wasdyke, from last week's TLA conference. One of my faves: Rachel and me after our dinner.

And here are the other authors at the Little, Brown dinner: Justin Somper (VAMPIRATES) and Sara Zarr (SWEETHEARTS).

Today and always, I am thankful for Rachel.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Remember the Alamo + the Kindness of Strangers

The Big Island of Hawaii is known to be the Healing Island, so it's apropos that I felt called to visit.

Healing Moment #1: Girlfriend time. I know, I know. You're not supposed to meet people in person who you find over Facebook and MySpace. However. There's Mia King, my FB and MS friend and writer-buddy. We finally got some real face time over a long, long lunch at Huli-Sue's in Waimea. Coconut curry with rice. Chocolate tart. Ice Tea. YUM. The sweetest part? Mia signed a copy of her last novel for me:

I couldn't sleep, so I finished her book off at 3:00 a.m. It's one of those reads where you say: wow, how did she know about my life?

Healing Moment #2: As I drove off after lunch, my jeep began lurching bumpily. Yup, flat tire. *sigh* This is not the healing moment.

However, I pulled into the first driveway, which happened to be the Keck Observatory--a place I wanted to visit anyway. There, I was taken under the wings of three amazing women (including the librarian!) who made sure I got a ride back to my condo. I'm having dinner with the CFO tonight!

Healing Moment Most Momentous: the Alamo car rental people? Nothing but wonderful and kindness from the moment I got my vehicle and the man gestured around the parking lot: choose whatever you want! Jasmine and Whitney in the Help-Me Department completely took care of everything. Everything. They worried that I was traveling alone. They worried that night was falling. They worried that the tire couldn't be changed. So what did they do? They had a new jeep delivered to me this morning. Free of charge. (Take note: Hertz. When I had a flat tire with that company in Nebraska, I had to pay for the tow truck and the replacement tire. Never to Hertz again.)

Today, I am just so thankful for the kindness of perfect strangers (and I do mean perfect).

Big Island: Hime Sushi

Meet my new obsession: Hime Sushi in Hilo.

Here's the Pink Lady roll. Avocado, crab, sweet gourd, pink tofu skin.

While the spam sushi at the Farmers' Market was surprisingly tasty (in Hawaii, eat what the Hawaiians do), this was more my style.


Today, I am thankful for sushi. I just am.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Big Island: Sea Turtles

According to the locals on the Big Island, Richardson State Park is the place in Hilo to find sea turtles. So guess where I went?

There I was, scanning the shoreline, the horizon. No sea turtles. I settled myself on a large hunk of lava rock and began writing my new novel. A teen girl asked what I was up to and I wailed, "Looking for sea turtles!"

She said: "They're right behind you."

Lo and behold, in the tide pool behind a hill of rocks...there they were...

my sleeping sea turtles disguised as boulders.

Just like beauty. Hidden right under my nose. All I had to do was look behind me.

Big Island: Farmer's Market

A few years ago, I interviewed a woman who led tours of Nepal for a book that has yet to be finished. She told me that you don't have to go farther than your backyard to have an adventure. I love that philosophy... To find the new, to experience the different, right where we live.

At a gallery yesterday, the artist and I struck up a conversation. Ira told me about the Farmers' Market in Hilo, a must-see, so he said. So today I took myself off the volcano and drove to town. The flowers at the market were absolutely, mind-blowingly beautiful. They're about as far from a fussy rose as you can imagine. Primordial in their beauty.

Soursops, bread fruit, watermelon papayas, apple bananas...and the world's largest avocados ever seen.

Today, I am just so thankful for the enomous variety of fruit produced on our planet.

Chilling--Doctor's Orders

You know it's time to take a vacation when five people who don't know you tell you to take one. When your sister (who happens to be studying for her nursing degree) cites one study after another about how stress takes its toll. Its fatal toll. Which implies that I might just keel over any second. (This just goes to show that too much knowledge can be too much knowledge.)

So nurse's orders: Go relax.

The weird thing is, I had a calling--that's exactly what it was--a calling to go to the Big Island in Hawaii. Airfare was cheap! I called up a girlfriend, Mia King (GOOD THINGS, SWEET LIFE), who happens to live on the Big Island. One phone call later, and she set me up with the most outrageously gorgeous place to stay.

Which leads me here. On a volcano:

That's the Kilauea Iki crater where I hiked yesterday morning, still steaming. Yes, you are allowed to walk across the volcanic floor. Traipse across it. Clomp across it. 24/7. I'm not joking.

After devastation, growth. That's how tenacious life is. Flowers thrive atop lava. Gorgeous.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Find Beauty Challenge: Let the Judging Begin!

Judging has begun for the Find Beauty Challenge on YouTube! It'll take my distinguished panel of judges a few days to view and rate all the videos.

Winners will be notified shortly!

Thanks to all who created a video AND those who watched them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fangirl: Gary Schmidt & Wednesday Wars

One of the best parts of attending librarian conferences has got to be meeting beloved authors. For me, this just doesn't get better than going to TLA and meeting Gary Schmidt who wrote two of my all-time favorite middle grade novels: The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Pitch perfect in humor and pathos, these books should be on everyone must-read list.
Pictured with me are Gary, Lorie Ann Grover, Lucy (librarian), Dia Calhoun.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Find Beauty Challenge: Another Beautiful Video!

Judging begins soon for the Find Beauty Challenge where one lucky winner will take home an iPod touch!

Declaring a winner is going to be so tough when all these testimonials on true beauty are so incredibly touching! So get in there and rate your favorite videos at the North of Beautiful YouTube channel here or

In the meantime, check this video essay out by our own readergirlz diva, Holly Cupala:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Texan Librarians Know How to Party!

All I can say is that Texan Librarians sure know how to make an author feel welcome. Yes, ma'am!

After spending 3 days in Houston at the legendary Texas Librarian Association with two of the other readergirlz co-founders (Dia Calhoun and Lorie Ann Grover), let me just say, I looooove Texans as much as I missed our other divas (Holly Cupala and Melissa Walker).

Trip Highlights in no particular order.

1. Toiling late at night with the divas on getting our swag bags ready for our presentation on Making Literacy Hip + Relevant for Teens. (This brought back memories of the early days where I spent hours upon hours hand-cutting and crafting hundreds of goody bags for various readergirlz events...)

2. Kibbitzing with amazing YA authors, including Meg Cabot,

Sara Zarr, Ally Carter, Justine Larbalestier, Margo Rabb, John Green, Scott Westerfeld (ooohhh...confirmed a readergirlz feature month with him!)--it was a veritable readergirlz reunion...LIVE! And then to top it off, I met some of the Brown Bookshelf co-founders! THAT was a thrill. My fleeting glimpse of Cynthia Leitich Smith made me so mad at myself for not snagging some time with her for a coffee. Next time.

3. Meeting the incredible editor-visionary Sharyn November! In person! I literally squealed. Vaguely embarrassing.

4. Oh! Oh! MAJOR highlight: Hanging out with my marvelous Little, Brown peeps--Victoria Stapleton and Zoe Luderitz (amazing library marketing dynamic duo), Kate Sullivan (watch for ASH!), and at last meeting Rachel Wasdyke (I teared up! She's my publicist!!).

I wish I had taken a photo of Victoria's sassy, HIGH patent heels. Oh, my! I had the honor of meeting Justin Somper (VAMPIRATES--also proud wearer of the most rocking pair of men's shoes I've seen. Ever.) and Svetlana (graphic novelist).

5. Meeting every single one of the Texan Professor Nana (my hero and the woman who kicked my behind to get readergirlz off the ground) and what must have been the entire TAYSHAS braintrust. You ladies are truly amazing.

6. All the teens and librarians who stood in line for me to sign my books. Wow, that's all I can say, WOW. Thank you.

7. Meeting with Loreine Roy(past president of ALA) and Beth Yoke (executive director of YALSA).

8. Spending a wonderful evening at the YART dinner with my dining companions. I now have a list of must-read Latina authors, which I am absolutely psyched about!

9. Walking the showroom floor and being absolutely wowed by the number of fantastic books I still have yet to read and showcase on readergirlz!

10. Looking out at a ballroom filled with librarians who rocked with readergirlz at our presentation... WHY, oh WHY, did I start to cry when the video trailers for Operation TBD rolled? Holly has done a spectacular job with them, for sure! But I also think it's because we at readergirlz move so fast from project to project that we don't celebrate enough!

AND that is what Texans know how to do: celebrate. In style.

Any time I get an invite to go to a book event in Texas where there will be librarians? I will so be there. Yes, Ma'am!