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I'm cartwheeling around over the news that THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY has been named as one of the finalists for the prestigious Amelia Walden Award. Looks like SWEETHEART is going to have a shiny silver sticker on her cover! SWEETHEART bling. I'm loving it.

I'm also humbled by the honor especially when I read the award criteria. A distinguished committee from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)selects young adult novels which demonstrate "a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit."

Many thanks to the committee, and congrats to all the finalists. I've listed all below, but here's the link to the official ALAN announcement.

The winner of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:

Fire by Kristin Cashore

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
(Arthur A. Levine)

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
(Simon and Schuster)

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
(Little, Brown and Company)

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander
(Feiwel and Friends)
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I'm back from LA where my agent and I presented at the 2010 SCBWI Conference. Thanks to all who came to our workshop, and welcome to the Wonkytonk.

As promised to the conference attendees, here are some frequently asked author questions. These questions are more insightful than you'd think. I hope these lead to some exciting eureka about your work and maybe even yourself. Enjoy!

1. Briefly tell us about your book.
2. What was the inspiration for your book?
3. How long did it take you to write it?
4. What characters were based on real life/real people?
5. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
6. Which of your characters is most like you?
7. What other books/authors have inspired you and why?
8. Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
9. What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
10. What do you want readers to remember about your book/books?
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We are two short weeks away from the SCBWI conference in LA. I love listening to advice from authors, agents, and editors. I've got a journal full of notes on the right and even proper things to do as an author in any stage of career. Folks are very generous with encouragement. However, sometimes I think we hold back on the bloopers. Maybe I'm just the lone goofball, but truthfully I've not always been right and I'm rarely proper. I've made some missteps. No, I've made some bonehead decisions. As promised, here's another "What NOT to do" as a debut author.

How not to treat your book launch like a baby shower:

1. No formal invitations -- Yes, I did that. In my mind, it was a party and parties have invitations. To point out the obvious, invitations are a waste of money. Everyone you have an address for and would invite is going to be there anyway. Instead, use email and word of mouth in addition to the publicity generated by the bookseller. We had a great turnout for my book launch, largely due to word simply getting out.

2. No snacks -- Those 10 pounds of personalized (Be your own icon), periwinkle colored M&M's seemed like a good idea at the time. And they were a hit. But in my case, the B&N Customer Relations Manager -- the fabulous Patti -- planned snacks from the cafe. My M&M's weren't necessary. Besides, people are in the bookstore to find great new reads -- not to celebrate the birth of your book. Be sure to encourage the reading not the eating.

3. Don't forget to mingle -- You'll probably have great representation from your family and friends at your book launch. These people love you and know all about your book. However, I had to remind myself that the launch is for the public, and the bookstore is a public place. Scout the folks you don't know and stretch your reading audience. Hand-sell your book. There's no better time.

Finally, I did do one thing right. T-shirts. My people (family, store staff, friends) wore special T-shirts personalized with the book cover. I even handed out some as swag. If you were in the book store on that day, you couldn't miss the hype about a great new book, THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY.

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The SCBWI National conference is just ahead (July 30-August 2). If you're a children's book writer or illustrator, this is the mondo-beyondo of conferences. There's something for everyone. You'll see me there with my trusty Clairfontaine spiral soaking up words of wisdom from speakers such as M.T. Anderson and Carolyn Mackler.

Also, my agent and I will be presenting a session, "So your manuscript is ready, but are you?" We'll be pulling back the curtain on the debut year of an author and what aspiring authors can do to best be prepared. Hope to see you there!

Since we'll be covering the most important details at the conference, I thought I'd share in the next couple of blog posts some outtakes, if you will, of "What not to do's" that didn't exactly make the formal presentation cut. So...

How Not To Go All Pageant-Girl on a Panel:

As a debut author I was blessed with the opportunity to be on the mother of all panels. SWEETHEART was one of six books chosen for Book Expo America's 2009 Young Adult Buzz Novels. New York. Big Stage. And I'm fearless when it comes to speaking in front of folks. What could go wrong? Let's just say the former Miss Teen South Carolina who became infamous for saying phrases like "the Iraq" and "everywhere like such" has my deepest sympathy.

I've had a year to think about my first panel experience, and I've had some outstanding panels since then. For those of you looking forward to presenting your book on a panel on a really big stage, here's my best advice to avoid the dreaded pageant-girl freeze.

1. Take a good long look at yourself on the jumbo tron. Yes, it adds ten pounds and no you will not have on enough lipstick. Men will look like they need a shave and an eyebrow trim. Get over whatever you see, and think about your book.

2. Expect to hold a microphone. It's not a magic wand, and you are not Harry Potter. I had never held a microphone before, and it was as if someone had transplanted me from the boondocks into the city and handed me a magic stick that made my voice louder. It was my which-fork-do-I-use moment. I focused on the proper hold technique when I should've been using the magic stick to talk about my book.

3. Always have your book with you. I literally forgot to hold the cover of my book up during the presentation. Author fail. Since that panel, my book and I are one. After a year of presentations, I'm amazed at the number of authors who forget their books.

4. Be yourself. The pageant-girl freeze happens because someone is trying too hard. In my case, I worried about details like enunciating properly while reading and anticipating questions. As a result, I lost the freshness of responding to questions about the two things I know best -- me and my work. I don't do that anymore. If you saw me on a panel this past year or you're planning on being at some of the events this coming fall and spring, you'll see me being me. Cracking jokes. Saying "y'all" with a drawl. Gushing about THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY and my newest book PARADISE.

More next week!
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I love a hot summer day, especially when it's accompanied by an ice cold slab of watermelon and a porch swing. Nothing more refreshing, rejuvenating. And after a wet, dreary winter and spring, I'm officially back from the blog hiatus.

And I'm back to say . . . KAPOW! BOOM! . . . Let's kick this off with some fireworks!

First, I'll be headed to Los Angeles at the end of July to present at the national conference for the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. This is such an honor, especially so since I'm presenting with my fantastic agent Michael Bourret. Hope to see some of you there!

Next, thanks to the great design team at Feiwel & Friends, THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY will have a hot new cover for her paperback debut. *swoons* Pic below. The paperback should be out around September 1. I have several appearances/signings scheduled for the Fall, and I'll be posting those on the website. So, coming soon to a bookstore or school near you!

Also out this Fall will be the 2011 Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Guide in which I have a feature article on creating strong settings.

But I'm really stoked about my next novel. PARADISE (the working title) will be out in Spring 2011. My editor recently described it as "deep and deeply romantic." Um, yeah, heat advisory.

Thanks to everyone for reading and loving SWEETHEART. Thanks for hanging with me on facebook and twitter during my blog break. Stay cool, folks!

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Pulpwood Queens Get Ready!

I'm so looking forward to meeting everyone and getting Girlfriend Weekend kicked off this Thursday at the historic Excelsior Hotel in Jefferson, Texas. Welcome y'all to the Piney Woods!

And check out these brand spanking new cowboy boots that I'll be donating to the Silent Auction benefiting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Literacy Project! This a non-profit program, endorsed by the Pulpwood Queens of East Texas. Folks, the literacy rate in Marion County is around 39%. I grew up here in East Texas. One of my grandfathers was illiterate, so this is a cause I believe in.

Check out these bad boys and bid, Bid, BID. Wing-tip. Snip-toe. Camel and Rockin' Red! Notice all that beautiful space to get your favorite authors' signatures.

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Girlfriend Weekend

I'm so excited to announce that I'll be participating in the one, the only GIRLFRIEND WEEKEND with Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens!
If you've never been to historic Jefferson, Texas, treat yourself and come on over. Think New Orleans except smaller and with a Texas twang. Great town. Great folks. And Kathy is bringing in the motherload of authors. There's something for everyone from kids authors to adult authors. Folks, Pat Conroy is attending. *Pardon me while I pick up that name I just dropped* Yes, the Pat Conroy.

I'll be there for the whole shebang. Happy to visit, mingle, and personalize your copy of THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY. I'd love to see you on Friday at 2:30 for our kidlit author panel. And I can't wait to step out in my costume for the Great Big Ball Of Hair Ball Saturday night! At any time during the weekend, mention "Lafitte Boudreaux would approve" to me, and I'll have an official Sweetheart Crew t-shirt for you.

Tickets are still available for some events. The full details are available here:

Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll! AaaaEEEEE!!
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Lone Star State of Mind

Well, I'm kicking up the heels again and this time giving a big shout out and thank you to Texas Librarians. THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY selected for the 2010 Lone Star Reading List! Whoooop!

You can check the entire list of terrific books here:

Also if you're interested in my take on the FFA, Hood Ornaments, and even blondes like Sundi in THE SWEETHEART OF PROSPER COUNTY, check my guest posts regarding these icons over at the Feiwel & Friends blog. Here's the linky link:

Hope you're having a great holiday season! As I write this, snow is falling in East Texas. We might have a white Christmas for the first time in almost two decades.
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It's that time of year again when Boy Wonder and his uncle pass early Saturday mornings from a deer stand they refer to as the Taj Mahal.  Last year, my son took his first buck with his grandfather and uncle beside him.  The story of the big buck and my son's experience that morning has become as much a part of our family history as the stories of my great uncle's grappling for catfish.

Hunting has been a long standing tradition in my family.  We have our own land -- not a hunting lease -- and my dad, my brother, and my son manage the wildlife.  If you want to see an old country boy mad, let my father find out you've been hunting out of season or killing wildlife for no reason.  My family shoots selectively, and we process the deer for consumption -- including very lean venison chili and chicken fried venison steaks.  My dad even shares the meat with his Mexican-American neighbors who use it make the best tamales EVER. 
I know that the hunting thing isn't for everyone.  Plus One, my hubby, doesn't hunt much either.  He'd much rather shoot the deer with a Canon camera than a Smith and Wesson.  

My author-friend Cynthia Chapman Willis has an amazing book out that resonates in this hunting season.  Whether your family hunts or not, BUCK FEVER is a great read about a struggling family and the tradition of hunting.  It's a sensitive portrayal that does not villanize hunters.  Although I think girls will relate, I must say that BUCK FEVER is perfect for boys.  It was never an issue in my house, but some boys may feel pressure to hunt.  BUCK FEVER would be a great starting point for a discussion with kids on their interest in hunting.   The English teacher in me thinks it would make a great read followed by a persuasive essay on hunting.  I hope that middle school libraries, especially in rural areas where hunting is popular, have the book on hand.

Below is the book trailer, and here's an excerpt from the Booklist review:

". . .The quietness of nature and small-town life is wonderfully reflected in Willis’ patient and artful prose, and every hunting detail feels authentic, from the construction of deer blinds to the skinning of animals. An unusually sensitive and reflective boy-centric book."


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Texas Book Fest Highlights

First, let me say this:  If you can't have a good time in Austin, Texas you may find having a good time elusive.  Your time would be better spent tracking Bigfoot.

The Texas Book Festival exceeded all expectations, and Austin on Halloween should be on everyone's bucket list.  Sixth Street, the costumes, the revelry -- the energy was nothing short of intoxicating.  And a big, BIG thank you to Clay and Blair and the awesome group of Austin authors who made me feel so welcome.  THANK YOU!

I''ve posted a few pics below.  (Just so you all know, I fired Plus One as my photographer.  He's cute.  He's brilliant.  But he sucks at photography.)

Here are some of the weekend's highlights in chronological order:

Children's author party at the stylish home of the Festival's Program Coordinator, Clay Smith
     Details:  Shiner Bock, Tex-Mex served by the "Lunch Ladies" from Jarrett Krosoczka graphic novel series, 
                     insightful conversations with authors Cynthia Leitich Smith (TANTALIZE, ETERNAL), 
                     Jessica Lee Anderson (BORDER CROSSING) and Peter Lerangis (THE 39 CLUES).

Saturday's panel on Small Town girls
     Details:  My most favorite topic EVER, a full room and engaged audience, Jacqueline Kelly  (THE 
                     EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE), Heather Hepler (THE CUPCAKE QUEEN), Diana Lopez       
                     (CONFETTI GIRL), the lovely and quick-witted Sarah Bird moderating.

     Details:  Talking with young readers who had read Sweetheart and brought their friends. *tears up*

Halloween Night in Austin
     Details:  author cocktail party on Congress and chatting with the very sweet Lucy Silag (BEAUTIFUL    
                     AMERICANS), terrific dinner and visit with my new favorite New Yorker, Dick Donahue,
                     dessert on Sixth on the Driskill's patio, the jaw-dropping Halloween costumes on parade

Heading up to the Capitol for the panel on Small Town girls:

Discussing big leather chairs, microphones, and panel anxiety with the very talented Heather Hepler.