Go Greek with Mythology High Anthology

I’ve been a little slow with the blog updates recently, but hopefully that’s going to change soon. I’m in the process of updating my website, and transitioning to Tumblr—so stay tune for a whole new look. And I have even BIGGER news to report! I inked a new book deal!

Whoo hoo!

I have a short story trilogy coming out in Fall 2013 that turns the Narcissus myth on its head. Imagine a paranormal secret agent infiltrating high schools to rid the world of shallow people.

Sounds awesome, right? Well, let me tell you a little more.

First, let’s start with the Narcissus myth. For those who don’t know, Narcissus was a beautiful and proud hunter incapable of loving anyone but himself. He was so vain, in fact, that the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, attracted him to a pool of water where he fell in love with his own reflection and died gazing at his image.

My new stories feature Emmy and Nara.

Eighteen-year-old Emmy is in the family business—trapping vapid narcissistic souls into her silver compact mirror for all eternity. It’s what the Rhamnusia family has been doing for thousands of years, all under the direction of Great Grandmother. Only Emmy’s latest assignment, Nara, is about to prove more challenging than she ever expected.

Gorgeous and self-absorbed, Nara is unflinchingly cruel to her classmates. Even her boyfriend, Luke, can no longer tolerate her actions—much to Emmy’s relief since she finds Luke a little more than intriguing. But when Emmy tricks Nara into gazing into her mystical mirror, what she finds there is not what she’s expecting.

The first story in the trilogy, Sucked Into The Looking Glass (working title), will debut in Fall 2013 through Buzz Books!

Even more exciting—each short story will be released as an individual ebook, then later compiled with the short stories from two other fantastic YA authors to form the MythologyHigh anthology. The full anthology of all nine stories will be released as an ebook and a print book at the end of this year! I’ll keep you posted!

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Forget Everything With GCC Member Jessica Brody

What could be worse than having your plane crash? Forgetting everything you ever knew. That’s the premise of GCC member Jessica Brody’s latest novel, UNREMEMBERED, out this month through Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.


As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

The only thing worse than forgetting her past…is remembering it.

When Freedom Airlines flight 121 went down over the Pacific Ocean, no one ever expected to find a single survivor; which is why the sixteen-year-old girl discovered floating amid the wreckage—alive—is making headlines across the globe. She has no memories of boarding the plane. She has no memories of her life before the crash. She has no memories…period. As she struggles to piece together her forgotten past and discover who she really is, every clue raises more questions. Her only hope is a strangely alluring boy who claims to know her. Who claims they were in love. But can she really trust him? And will he be able to protect her from the people who have been making her forget?

Set in a world where science knows no boundaries and memories are manipulated UNREMEMBERED by Jessica Brody is the first novel in a compelling, romantic, and suspenseful new sci-fi trilogy for teens.

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?

Jessica: Thankfully I have NEVER been a bridesmaid! It’s something I take pride in! But I’m attending an Indian wedding for the first time this weekend and I’m so excited because I get to wear a Sari!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Jessica: In this book there aren’t many characters who are based on real people. However, I did base a lot of Seraphina’s “abilities” on things I wish I could do. Like the fact that she can speak pretty much every language on the planet? Yep, that’s a skill I definitely wish I had!

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Jessica: Definitely finding an agent. I queried over 100 agents before finding mine (and even she rejected me the first time around! But I rewrote the book based on her feedback and she signed me with the next draft.) Once I found an agent, she actually sold the book quite quickly, which was a huge relief!

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Jessica: A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a teen girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash. I was instantly fascinated by the story. Namely because they had no idea why she survived when no else did. I started brainstorming reasons as to why she was so lucky. One particular reason (a rather intricate, science-fiction-inspired one) stuck in my mind and refused to leave. It continued to grow and blossom until I had an idea for an entire trilogy. A trilogy that starts with a mysterious plane crash and a single survivor.

Thank you, Jessica! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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I’ve Joined Facebook….Yup, Welcome to 2006!

So you may not believe this, but I just joined Facebook. Like just joined—as in, last week. My dad has been on Facebook for about a year now. (Of course, my parents also went to Mardi Gras this year, so I might not want to compare coolness.)
It wasn’t that I was anti-Facebook or anything. I just didn’t want to have another social media site to keep up with. I’ve got Blogger, Twitter, Pinterist, now Facebook. (Technically, I think I also still have a defunct MySpace account that I never closed, and I still have a GoodReads account that I never check.) I’m also thinking of joining Tumblr.

The world can basically contact me in any media it likes—picture, video, 140-character quips. I’m just waiting for the Morse code and smoke signals to come in (though there’s probably an app for that).

So if you would like to “friend” me or “like” me or “poke” me (yeah, that sounds dirty), here’s my page: https://www.facebook.com/diana.rodriguezwallach

I’m still trying to tread the line as to whether the page is for real-life Diana (ie. the mom, wife, friend, sister) or for author-Diana. Right now, it’s both. So if you don’t know me in real life, here’s your peek behind the curtain. Enjoy!

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Meet Some SMALL TOWN SINNERS by GCC Member Melissa Walker

Don’t you just love it when you get a second chance to discover an awesome book? For those who didn’t get the opportunity to read it in hardback, Melissa Walker’s fantastic YA novel, SMALL TOWN SINNERS, just came out in paperback. And it’s got an amazing review from The New York Times!

“Walker has written a credible and tender evocation of the moment when a young person’s beliefs begin to emerge and potentially diverge from the teachings of a family’s religion… Near the end, Lacey contemplates a verse from the prophet Isaiah: ‘Come now and let us reason together.’ It’s a good summation of what Walker asks of her characters and, by extension, of her readers.” —The New York Times Book Review

Congrats, Melissa!

And as always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Does falling in love mean falling out of faith?

Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver’s license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church’s annual haunted house of sin, Lacey’s junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her.

Ty Davis doesn’t know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.

Here’s what Melissa had to say:

Melissa: Before I write a book, I do little interviews with some characters. That information almost never makes it into the manuscript, but I like having it.

Here’s a tiny bit from Dean, one of the best friends of her main character Lacey Anne:

What’s your ideal college? 
Dean: I don’t like school. I do okay without trying though, so maybe I’ll get into a good college. I’ll worry about that next year.

Future career? 
Dean: No idea. Do I really have to think about that right now?

Who’s your best friend? 
Dean: Starla Joy and Lacey. Lacey is just good. She lives by the rules and they actually seem to work for her. I don’t know if that’s by sheer will or good genes or what, but it’s true. And it’s not just a “follow the crowd” impulse either—she likes me, doesn’t she? That’s not a popular thing to do. Starla Joy is sarcastic and funny. She makes me laugh all the time when she gets worked up about something. She knows who her friends are and she’ll defend us to the death. It’s a good quality to have in a BFF.

Thank you, Melissa! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Look FANGTABULOUS With GCC Member Lucienne Diver

What’s better than a supernatural vampire story set in Salem, Mass. with a murder mystery mixed in? I don’t know about you, but I’m sold. I can’t wait to read GCC member Lucienne Diver’s latest installment in her Vamped series, FANGTABULOUS, out this month through Flux.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

Gina Covello and her band of federal fugitives are on the run after taking down a secret (and sinister) government facility. Strapped without cash or credit cards—a fate worse than death for Gina—the rebels must find a place to lay low. They roll into Salem, Massachusetts, the most haunted town in America and the only place they have friends flying under the radar. But within a day, Gina and her gang are embroiled in a murder mystery of the supernatural kind.

Someone—or something—is strangling young women, and it’s rumored to be the ghost of Sheriff Corwin, late of the Salem Witch trials. Is it the ghostly Sheriff or is someone on this side of the veil using the famous story as a cover up? Gina is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, and she needs to do it before a paranormal reporter on the scene exposes them for what they are…fanged federal fugitives.

Here’s what Lucienne had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?
Lucienne: I’ve been a bridesmaid three times, and while none of the dresses was hideous, I’ve only reworn one of them—from my sister’s hippy wedding. You know it’s a hippy wedding when a) the band is the Deadbeats, a Grateful Dead cover group, b) people drink sangria out of great big Igloo coolers, c) guests run around barefoot, and d) have the best time ever!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Lucienne: Whew, thank goodness the real-life people know that I took liberties with them, otherwise this question might get me into some trouble! I loosely model a lot of characters. For example, my hero Bobby reminds me a lot of my husband…mixed with a young Zac Efron! Another real-world character: Donato in Fangtabulous started with a friend of mine (Don “Vlad” Deich) who showed me around Salem and runs a gothic magic show there.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Lucienne: I didn’t go looking for an editor, my agent did that for me, so in that sense finding an agent was harder.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?
Lucienne: Fangtabulous is set in Salem, Massachusetts, which I think has to be the most haunted town in America. Certainly it’s the first place I’ve ever been to that almost had me believing in ghosts. (Okay, true confession: on the ghost tour I took, when we hit the house where Old Sheriff Corwin’s remains had been secreted away when his body was snatched, I was so creeped out by the sensation that something/someone was behind me that I had to put my back to a brick wall.) Anyway, I knew I wanted my fanged fugitives to hide out in Salem, where they might potentially blend in. When I visited the town to begin my research I didn’t have a clue yet as to actual plot. But digging deeper into the history and letting the sense of the place wash over me, a storyline began to form, one full of unsettled spirits and a few girls who weren’t so lucky, like I was, to escape with their lives.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.
Lucienne: It was so far back that I don’t even remember, because Flux contracted me for books three and four in the Vamped series at the same time (and Fangtabulous is the fourth). Very likely it was in an airport. I seem to get all the good news for my work when I’m about to take off and there’s no time to share the good news with anyone except my seatmates, who tend to look at me funny when I squee suddenly.

Thank you, Lucienne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Starting the Year With Some Good Books!

Hope everyone had a Happy New Year and a great holiday season! My little one is a year-and-a-half now (can’t believe it!), so while she still doesn’t really grasp the whole Santa-thing, she did catch on to the present-thing really quick. And of course, there were a lot of books under her tree.

Now, Juliet didn’t receive all of the books above. Some were gifts for friends (and there were even more books given that aren’t pictured). But as you can see, books were a big hit in our house this year. And to prove it, here’s a picture of Juliet opening a Sesame Street book (one of those not pictured above). She was so happy, she even made Super Grover dance on it.

I predict another author in the family. 

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My Christmas Wish List: Latest YA from Laurie Faria Stolarz

If you’re looking for a great last-minute gift for a teen in your life, look no further than the latest amazing YA title from LaurieFaria Stolarz. Her books are fabulous and I can’t wait to read her latest installment, Deadly Little Lessons!

Here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Camelia Hammond’s trying junior year of high school is finally over…but her troubles aren’t. After she discovers a painful truth about her family, she escapes to a summer arts program in Rhode Island. Determined to put family – and boyfriend – drama behind her, she throws herself into her artwork.

At the arts school, she gets caught up in the case of Sasha Beckerman, a local girl who is missing. Even though all signs suggest that the teen ran away, Camelia senses otherwise. Eager to help the girl, she launches her own investigation. Meanwhile, Camelia realizes how much she misses Ben, despite being committed to Adam.

But time is running out for Sasha, and Camelia will have to trust her powers if she’s to save her. Will the lessons Camelia has learned in the past give her the strength to do so?

Sounds intriguing, Laurie! And I love your covers! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!


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Have A Holly Jolly Chrismukkah!

So the house is decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah, and as I look around I can’t help but reflect on Chrismukkahs past. Yeah, I’m sappy like that. But it’s more that I remember where each of our decorations went in each of our old houses.

 For example, I have a few Christmas decorations that my mom gave me that have been in our family since I was little. I remember putting them on the end tables in our living room in our old twin house in Folsom, PA when I had to have been no older than first or second grade.

 Then there are the ceramic Christmas tree ornaments I painted when I was a freshman in high school. Our family was living in our house in Swarthmore at the time, and I remember I used to have to hang them from the thick branches at the top of the tree because they were so heavy. I also remember my brother used to try to sneak the first ornament onto the tree before anyone was looking.

 And then there were the Christmas cookies my now husband and I made when we were living in our first apartment in New York City right out of college. Or the time we bought our Christmas tree from a grocery store in Lower Manhattan that offered “free delivery,” which meant some poor employee would put the tree in a shopping cart and walk it home with you.

After that we got married and bought our first home in Philly. Our Christmas cards at this point consisted of pictures of the cat in a Santa hat. Also, we’d spent so many years in apartments that the idea of having a house to decorate kind of made us go a bit overboard with lights outside.

 Now we’re living in our new home and getting ready to celebrate our toddler’s second Christmas. We have all the “Juliet’s First Christmas” decorations to put out that we bought last year.

And, while it may sound naïve, it just struck me that this house will be a part of Juliet’s first Christmas memories. One day when she’s older, she’ll probably remember this house and these decorations as the most special Christmas memories of her life. Well, until she has a family and kids of her own.

Yeah, I know, it’s a cheesy thought—cue the Lion King “Circle of Life” music—but it’s true. Motherhood makes you sappy.

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Learn to Spot a Long-Con With GCC Member Eileen Cook

Some teenage girls work at the mall to earn extra cash, others learn to run a con. But if you choose the latter, make sure you don’t fall for your own lies. At least, that’s the case in GCC member Eileen Cook’s new YA novel, THE ALMOST TRUTH. It sounds like a great read and is out this month through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

From the author of Unraveling Isobel and The Education of Hailey Kendrick, a smart, romantic novel about a teenage con artist who might be in over her head.

Sadie can’t wait to get away from her backwards small town, her delusional mom, her jailbird dad, and the tiny trailer where she was raised…even though leaving those things behind also means leaving Brendan. Sadie wants a better life, and she has been working steadily toward it, one con at a time.

But when Sadie’s mother wipes out Sadie’s savings, her escape plan is suddenly gone. She needs to come up with a lot of cash—and fast—or she’ll be stuck in this town forever.

With Brendan’s help, she devises a plan—the ultimate con—to get the money. But the more lies Sadie spins, the more she starts falling for her own hoax…and perhaps for the wrong boy. Sadie wanted to change her life, but she wasn’t prepared to have it flipped upside down by her own deception. With her future at stake and her heart on the line, suddenly it seems like she has a lot more than just money to lose….

Here’s what Eileen had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?

Eileen: I am one of those people who other people like to have in their wedding. I think this is because I can be counted on to have a safety pin or other emergency item in my purse and can usually make someone laugh. I’ve been a bridesmaid over a dozen times. I wore one dress that was a super bright shade of green. I looked like the Jolly Green Giant’s girlfriend.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Eileen: I don’t have any characters that are based on real people (including myself), but I steal shamelessly from overheard conversations. There are also a lot of traits, such as Brendan’s snarky sense of humor that I take from friends and family.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Eileen: Is there any part of publishing that’s easy? I did a lot of research into agents and had a bit of luck too, so connecting with my agent, Rachel Coyne, wasn’t too difficult. She did a great job selling the book, but it felt like it took forever.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Eileen: Most often book ideas come to me as a collection of unrelated things. A bit of an idea here, another piece there, until it sticks together as one idea. This process can take months or years. This is one of the few books where I can remember the exact second I had the idea. I was on the ferry and saw a missing child poster. At the bottom there was an age-enhanced photo so you could see what the person might look like now. I had the thought “How weird would it be if I looked like the age enhanced photo?” In that instant the idea of the book dropped into my head. I ran back to my seat and wrote it down as fast as I could. I spent another week thinking over some different details, but I started writing almost right away.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Eileen: I was driving to meet a group of fellow authors who live in Vancouver. My agent called and told me she had news and that I should pull over. As soon as I parked she told me that my editor was making a two-book offer deal. It was perfect because I was able to go into the restaurant and celebrate.

Thank you, Eileen! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Fifty Shades of An American Psycho

Not long ago, Bret Easton Ellis, the author of AMERICAN PSYCHO, had publicly stated his desire to write the screen adaptation of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. As someone who just recently finished reading all three FIFTY novels (oh, yes, I read all three of them) can I say that Ellis would have been a perfect choice. Seriously, I can’t be the only woman who read these books and kept wondering when Christian Grey was going to hack Ana to pieces while listening to Huey Lewis?

 

I even repeatedly told my husband that if this book were told from Christian’s point of view, it would read like AMERICAN PSYCHO. I guess Ellis thought the same thing. Too bad it went to someone else, because he could have done great things with this archetype. Though it may have come across a little darker than a shade of grey, considering the book is about a man who asks a recent college grad to sign a legal document giving him total control over her life and allowing him to beat the crap out of her any time he wants for his own sadistic sexual pleasure.

I’m not joking. That’s the entire plot of the first book.

SPOILER ALERT—I’m gonna delve into plot points here.

Now, I’m not a prude. I knew these books were about a dominant-submissive sexual relationship. But the way the country, and women in particular, reacted to them, I expected more silk blindfolds and strawberries, a la NINE 1/2 WEEKS, than a sweeps episode of CRIMINAL MINDS.

It’s one thing to fantasize about a guy who’s confident and takes control, it quite another to dream of a man who wants to “punish” you with canes, whips and belts in his “red room of pain” for anything he perceives a disobedience. In one scene, he beats Ana just for rolling her eyes. You could practically hear the “dun dun” of LAW & ORDER as the SVU detectives arrived at Christian’s apartment to find Ana’s lifeless body chained to a cross in his “playroom.”

And don’t get me started on the plagiarism. For those who don’t know, FIFTY SHADES started at TWILIGHT fan fiction. You can read all about it here. Personally, I think fanfic is a great creative outlet for aspiring writers and enthusiastic fans, and I completely support it as a hobby. However, as an author, I find it very disturbing for someone to profit from of another author’s characters, plot, and prose. As has been reported by many, Ana and Christian are mirror images of Bella and Edward. The books even have a Jacob, Alice, Victoria and James. Bella’s parents are just like Ana’s parents, Edward’s siblings are adopted just like Christian’s. In fact, I don’t think there’s an original character in the book, aside from Christian’s maid and security guard.

Plus, as a woman, I couldn’t help but notice that TWILIGHT isn’t the only source material E.L. James borrowed from. There are the lines almost directly quoted from PRETTY WOMAN. Like when Ana wakes up in Christian’s hotel room and he says, “I didn’t know what you liked, so I ordered a selection from the breakfast menu.” And then there’s dining room table full of food. Or the time when Ana asks, “Do people always do what you tell them?” And then they have sex on a grand piano.

The list goes on and on. So I’m curious how the movie adaption will be (and disappointed Ellis won’t be penning the script). And maybe some day we’ll see a FUNNY OR DIE version of the awesome parody Fanny Merkin (a.k.a. Andrew Shaffer) wrote called FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY. From Ana having an “inner guidette” as part of her inner monologue to lines like “Holy Mother Effing Sparkly Vampires Is He Hot,” the book is worth a really good laugh. I even have a blurb on the back cover.

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When It’s Time for a Writer to Look for Mary Poppins

My daughter, Juliet, turned one in April. I thought I had been working during the first year of her life. I mean, I tried. I sat in front of my laptop during all of her naps, neversleeping when she was sleeping, instead dedicating one eye to my manuscript while the other was locked on the baby monitor. Guess how productive I was?
While I’m sure there are people who can work like this (God, bless all of you), I found that I was merely putting words on a page. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t thinking. Heck, one time I didn’t even remember that I had already introduced a character I was about to accidentally introduce for a second time.

So I came to the proverbial fork in the road. I could either admit defeat and give up the writing gig until my daughter was old enough for preschool (of course by then, she could have a future sibling moving into the crib) or I could double-down, bet on my career, and hire a nanny.

I’d like to say the decision was obvious. I’m sure you want to read, “Of course, I immediately starting searching for child care. I’m a career woman, after all!” But that wasn’t what happened.

Honestly, my first instinct was to give it up. I even told a few friends and family members that I was ready for a break. It was just too hard to be split in two—feeling guilty that I wanted to work on my book instead of playing with my daughter, and feeling unfocused on my writing when I did have time to work.

Then an interesting thing happened. I tried being a stay-at-home mom. I spent Monday-through-Friday caring for Juliet, taking her to playdates, singing along at music class, going to the park, doing tons of laundry, and meeting moms for coffee. I did no writing. And you know what happened? I turned into a crazy person.

Now, this isn’t me knocking stay-at-home moms. I have the deepest respect for any woman who can care for her kids full-time and feel self-fulfilled. That is what makes motherhood the hardest job in the world, in my opinion.

But for me, focusing my days on solely caring for Juliet had me feeling like I was in Tahiti any time I had more than an hour to myself. I don’t mean this in a good way. So many weeks passed where I couldn’t remember a single moment when I was without my daughter that it made walking to the drugstore alone feel like a holiday. A trip the hairdresser was a vacation. And don’t get me started on what a luxury it was to use the bathroom, or shower, by myself.

I was never alone, and I needed a break so desperately I was almost in tears when our family vacation ended.

That was when we hired a nanny.

I told myself I was going to wait to hire a caregiver until after I sold my next book. That was the plan. But then I found I couldn’t produce a next book if I didn’t have help—regular help, not just the occasional “sure, I’ll babysit” help.

So my husband graciously agreed. We hired a part-time nanny, just 8-12 hours per week, to see what I could produce. The end result? Three months after hiring a nanny on that limited basis, I have a completed manuscript.

Don’t get me wrong, it still has to find the right editor, but I can tell you it’s light-years better than what I was attempting to produce the first year of Juliet’s life. And it’s amazing how productive you can be when you know you’ve only got four hours to work. I won’t even check my email when the nanny’s on the scene. I’m completely focused on my writing.

And this carries over into my time with Juliet. When I’m with her now, I’m more present. I’m no longer wishing I could be writing, or wishing she’d nap longer. Instead, we’re happily playing and I’m not distracted. I’m a happier mom. And I have to think a happier mom makes for a happier kid.

So as I wrap up my Work-In-Progress and get ready for submission, I’ve got my fingers crossed that my second year as a working mother will be different from the first. At the very least, I’ll continue the illusive quest for balance. Maybe by the time she’s eighteen, I’ll finally figure it out.

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SOMETHING WICKED Is Headed This Way With GCC Member Kelly Parra

Just in time for Halloween “something wicked this way comes,” or so said Shakespeare in MacBeth. You know who else is talking about SOMETHING WICKED? The authors of this spooky new YA anthology featuring GCC member Kelly Parra. So if you’re looking for something to give you goose bumps this season, check out SOMETHING WICKED through Buzz Books USA.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

They’re baaaack.

More nightmares brought to you by the authors of the young adult anthology Prom Dates to Die For…

Beware the Midnight Troll on your late-night stroll by Mari Hestekin. Swim at your own risk Under Loch and Cay by Jenny Peterson. A curse of spiders on campus means Arach War by Lena Brown. Through a Glass Darkly one could lose a soul by Heather Dearly. Supernatural Hunters turn to the sea in Mermania by Kelly Parra. Social media goes to the ghouls in Spectral Media by Aaron Smith.

Don’t miss this paranormal fun for tween, teens and adults!

Kelly Parra’s short story “Mermania” continues Teen Supernatural Hunters Jaz and Blake’s paranormal adventures. The duo debuted in “Darkness Becomes Him” in the young adult anthology PROM DATES TO DIE FOR as they battled a soul hungry dark angel. In SOMETHING WICKED a merman entrances Jaz and it’s up to her and Blake to rush against time before Jaz grows her own tail by the full moon!

Here’s what Kelly had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?

Kelly: Hi Diana, thanks for having me on your blog! I’ve only been a bridesmaid once. I was about 15 years old and it was a floral dress I never could wear again. But I will tell you I was hit on by the bride’s brother, which made it really awkward!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Kelly: For this story, I haven’t. When I write contemporary YA, I do tend to take snippets from my life and add it to my storytelling. However, my story “Mermania” in SOMETHING WICKED is about Jaz and Blake, orphaned teen supernatural hunters who hunt mythical monsters. So basically I could run wild with my imagination on this one!

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Kelly: I have to say, about 6 years ago when I’d finished my first book, I did not submit to publishers, only agents. And I had a string of rejections before an agent took my book on. Then I had a string of editor rejections before I finally found a publisher. Believe me, I think it is equally difficult to find the right match!

Thank you, Kelly! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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You Can LIVE THROUGH THIS With GCC Member Mindi Scott

What teenage girl doesn’t put on a façade for the world? Try to convince everyone, including herself, that her life is perfect? Well, that’s the case in the emotionally-charged new YA novel by GCC member Mindi Scott. Learn how far the girl-next-door will go to protect the truth about her life in Live Through This, an amazing book out this month through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy.

But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted façade. That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling.

In this unforgettable powerhouse of a novel, Mindi Scott offers an absorbing, layered glimpse into the life of an everygirl living a nightmare that no one would suspect.

Here’s what Mindi had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?

Mindi: Let’s see. I think I’ve only been a bridesmaid once. (I’ve also been a bride, maid of honor, candle lighter, and flower girl.) The worst dress was for a wedding that ended up being called off actually It was this peachy-pink color that looked awful with my skin tone.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Mindi: I take SO MANY snippets from my real life or from things that people tell me about their lives. My sister read my newest book and started rattling off all these small details that she recognized. I don’t really base characters off real people, but there is an occasional character who I can say is loosely inspired by someone real.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Mindi: An agent! It took me two years and a total of around 150 rejections on two manuscripts to sign with my agent. But my editor (who was my former instructor in an online writing class), acquired my first novel in my agent’s first round of submissions.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?
Mindi: I’ve actually written a letter for readers and posted it on my website explaining this in detail. The basic gist, though, is that I put off writing this book for years because I thought someone with more distance from the subject could do it better. One day, I realized that that wasn’t the case and that I needed to write this book.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Mindi: I remember that I was upstairs in my home office when my agent called with the offer. I honestly don’t remember much about it, except that I quickly promised that I could meet a crazy (for me) deadline because I was so excited to have received an offer for my second book.

Thank you, Mindi! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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You Might Not Want To Get Caught on an Island With GCC Member Gretchen McNeil

It’s all fun and games until someone gets dead, right? Just in time for Halloween is a spooky new YA Horror by GCC member Gretchen McNeil. Take your coolest high school party, set it on an island, and toss in a murderer and you’ve got the start of TEN, an amazing new book out this month through Balzer + Bray. Plus, the fan girl in me has to note that the book’s got a blurb from Christopher Pike!

“TEN is a real page turner! Gretchen McNeil knows how to plot a thriller: Her setup is flawless and the suspense kept me on the edge of my seat.” – Christopher Pike, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the THIRST series and REMEMBER ME 

 Oh, swoon! Remember Me, Fall Into Darkness, Chain Letter, I grew up on Christopher Pike. He’s one of the reasons I write for YA now. Go, Gretchen!

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

And their doom comes swiftly.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives – three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, both of which involve Kamiak High’s most eligible bachelor, T.J. Fletcher. But what starts out as a fun-filled weekend turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly, people are dying and the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Here’s what Gretchen had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?

Gretchen: Four times. The worst dress was when I was thirteen in my cousin’s wedding. It was royal blue tee length satin with puffy ¾ sleeves. Yeah…

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Gretchen: Lori is a singer, and one of my favorite songs from my opera singing days – “Sure On This Shining Night” by Samuel Barber – plays a significant role in the plot. I even recorded the song for the book trailer. Yes, that’s me singing…

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Gretchen: Hmm. It was similar, actually. My first book failed to land me an agent, but with my second book, I had several offers. However, that book didn’t land me an editor, and then my third book did. Apparently, I’m all about trial and error.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Gretchen: My publisher wanted another horror/suspense novel from me after POSSESS and I wanted to do a throwback to the old Christopher Pike and Agatha Christie novels I loved as a teen. Voila!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Gretchen: I was at work. It’s one the weird dichotomies of my writing life that I still work a full time day job. And since I’m on the west coast, all of my publishing news comes while I’m at my day job. It’s kind of hard, actually, to deal with the two. I frequently have to put my agent or editor on hold while I take a work call!

Thank you, Gretchen! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Scale The Social Ladder With GCC Member Elise Allen

What teenage girl hasn’t wondered what it would be like to be someone else? To be more popular? Now imagine you’ve figured out the secret to actually do it, to change your life. That’s the concept behind GCC member Elise Allen’s new book, Populazzi, published this month through Harcourt.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you had the chance to erase your past and reinvent yourself as the person you’ve always wanted to be? Would you grab it? Would you stick with it, no matter what the consequences?

Cara Leonard always wished she could be one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and never at a loss for the perfect thing to say. One of the Populazzi. It always seemed impossible… but now could be her chance.

When Cara moves to a new school just before junior year, her best friend urges her to seize the opportunity and change her life… with the help of The Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and if Cara transforms herself into the perfect girlfriend for guys higher and higher on the Popularity Tower, she can reach the ultimate goal: Supreme Populazzi, the most popular girl in school.

The Ladder seems like a lighthearted social experiment — a straight climb up — but it quickly becomes gnarled and twisted. And when everything goes wrong, only the most audacious act Cara can think of has a chance of setting things even a little bit right.

Here’s what Elise had to say: 

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Elise: I’ve been a bridesmaid twice (if you count maid of honor), and both my sister and my sister-in-law were very good to me in the dress department.  I don’t have a single complaint.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Elise: Oh sure, there are definite snippets from my real life, but they’re very different in the context of the book. For example, when I was younger I had a tough time feeling like I fit in with my Dad and his second family… with the exception of one Christmas, when his then-wife pulled out all the stops to give my sister and I this magical holiday, which was even more magical since we’re Jewish and don’t celebrate it, so the trappings of Christmas were exotic and wonderful. Cara recalls a similar experience in her past, though it plays out a little differently than mine did. As for basing characters on real people… I sometimes start from a real person for inspiration, but eventually the character grows and morphs into someone much more unique.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Elise: Definitely harder finding an editor, since my agent sought me out. I had a unique path to publication; my agent started out as a TV exec, and I met her when I pitched her a TV movie. We went back and forth developing the idea, but before we could get it off the ground, she left the company. A year or so later she switched to agenting, and called to see if I had any book ideas. As for finding an editor, I developed Populazzi as a pitch with sample chapters, then went to New York on a whirlwind trip with my agent and pitched to what felt like an endless parade of editors. A few of them were interested in the book, but Samantha McFerrin was clearly the perfect match, and I loved working with her. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Elise: Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country. Her version of the very stratified society of turn-of-the-last-century Manhattan reminded me a lot of the very stratified society of high school. Populazzi is a very different kind of book than Custom of the Country, which is a biting satire with a very unlikable protagonist, but that was the initial inspiration.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Elise: DISNEYLAND!!!! I was waiting for the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island (whatever – I don’t care how much pirate stuff is there, I refuse to call it Pirate Island – it’s Tom Sawyer Island) when I got the call from my agent that we had some offers. At that point I knew it would be published somewhere. When I learned the deal was cemented with Harcourt, I was in my car driving to dinner with my dad and his family. They were visiting L.A. and we’d planned a meal at some fancy-schmancy Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills… so we made it a book celebration!

Thank you, Elise! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Fly Far, Far Away With GCC Member Jennifer Echols

Ever wish you could just fly off and leave everything behind? Now imagine you’re a teen who actually can fly her own plane, only she’s stuck doing the bidding of two teen brothers who may not have the best intentions. That’s the intriguing concept behind GCC member Jennifer Echols’s fun new book, SUCH A RUSH, published this month through MTV Books.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

High school senior Leah Jones loves nothing more than flying. While she’s in the air, it’s easy to forget life with her absentee mother at the low-rent end of a South Carolina beach town. When her flight instructor, Mr. Hall, hires her to fly for his banner advertising business, she sees it as her ticket out of the trailer park. And when he dies suddenly, she’s afraid her flying career is gone forever.

But Mr. Hall’s teenage sons, golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson, are determined to keep the banner planes flying. Though Leah has crushed on Grayson for years, she’s leery of getting involved in what now seems like a doomed business–until Grayson betrays her by digging up her most damning secret. Holding it over her head, he forces her to fly for secret reasons of his own, reasons involving Alec. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers–and the consequences could be deadly.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Jennifer: None of the characters are based on real people, but I have a lot of experience with pilots and small-town airports. My father is a private pilot who got his license when I was five years old, so I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out in a corrugated metal hangar and flying over the countryside.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?
Jennifer: We were on a family vacation at the beach when my dad decided to go to the airport and watch planes take off and land, which is something he does regularly when the family vacation gets to be too much! My son and I went with him, and we sat in rocking chairs on the front porch of the airport office, watching the advertising banner planes take off, snag their banners, drop their banners, and land again. The whole process looks alarming and dangerous, and when my dad told me these pilots tend to be very young because they’re amassing hours to become airline pilots someday, I knew that was my next YA novel.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.
Jennifer: This is my fourth novel in this genre with the same publisher, so we were just going back to contract. The negotiations went on and on over lots of phone conversations. In the end, we were able to sign a hardcover deal. I think the book is beautiful and I couldn’t be more pleased with how the images turned out.

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Tick Off Your Sister With GCC Member Denise Jaden

Can you crush on your sister’s boyfriend and not piss her off? It seems like it would be long road back to sibling bliss, and that’s exactly what you’re going to find out in GCC member Denise Jaden’s new book, NEVER ENOUGH, published this month through Simon Pulse.


As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

Loann’s always wanted to be popular and pretty like her sister, Claire. So when Claire’s ex-boyfriend starts flirting with her, Loann is willing to do whatever it takes to feel special…even if that means betraying her sister.

But as Loann slips inside Claire’s world, she discovers that everything is not as it seems. Claire’s quest for perfection is all-consuming, and comes at a dangerous price. And Loann is frightened she could lose the sister she’s always idolized.

As Claire increasingly withdraws from friends and family, Loann struggles to understand her and make amends. Can she heal their relationship—and her sister—before it’s too late?

Here’s what Denise had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Denise: I think I’ve only been in one wedding, and that was for my best friend in high school. The dress wasn’t bad—for the eighties!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Denise: I first started writing Never Enough because a good friend of mine was struggling with a severe eating disorder, and I wanted to understand her better. The older sister in the book is not based off of this girl, but there are definitely a few personality traits of hers that are similar. The love interest, Marcus, was loosely modeled after my best guy friend from high school, though our relationship was always completely platonic.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Denise: Finding an agent was much harder for me. I queried three different manuscripts over several years. When Losing Faith was finally ready, the agent search went much quicker (about three months, I think) and finding an editor for Losing Faith was even quicker than that.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Denise: As I mentioned, I had a friend with a severe eating disorder. The novel started out as more of an exploration of emotional stress than a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but I guess I’m a storyteller at heart, because it quickly developed into one.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Denise: To be honest, I don’t remember much of the process of this latest book, mostly because the email came in during the flux of my debut novel releasing. My editor wanted to speak with me about some in-depth changes before making a deal, so it was a bit of a long process before I could actually say that the book was on its way to publication. The first time I announced it was at my launch party for Losing Faith, but even then, I think I had to tell people not to announce it online yet.

Thank you, Denise! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books! And be sure to check Denise’s awesome book trailer:


   

 Also, leave a comment on my blog for a chance to win four boxes of books from Denise! Anyone who comments here will automatically be eligible to win. Here is the link to Denise’s blog post, which will tell you more about it.
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Skip Through Time with GCC Member Myra McEntire

The second book in GCC member Myra McEntire’s Hourglass series is out this month, and I have to say, it has one of the prettiest covers I’ve ever seen. Love it! (The wallpaper in the background almost looks like the stencil on my bedroom wall.) So if you’re looking for a book with a great twist on time travel, check out TIMEPIECE, out this month through Egmont USA.

As always, here’s a little bit about the book to get you hooked:

Kaleb Ballard was never supposed to be able to see ripples—cracks in time. Are Kaleb’s powers expanding, or is something very wrong? Before Kaleb can find out, Jonathan Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, reappears. Why is he back, and what, or whom, does he want?

In the wake of Landers’s return, the Hourglass organization is offered an ultimatum by a mysterious man. Either they find Landers and the research he has stolen on people who might carry the time gene, or time will be altered—with devastating results for the people Kaleb loves most.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their extraordinary powers to find Landers. But where do they even start? And when? Even if they succeed, just finding him may not be enough. . . . 

Here’s what Myra had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Myra: I’ve only been a bridesmaid once, and my dress was pretty sweet!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Myra: I’ve based one character on two girls I know, and I’m actually getting ready to put two more into my third book, Infinityglass.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Myra: They were both equal, actually. I was agented in about a month, and then once I went on sub, sold in about a month. In both cases, I am wildly blessed.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Myra: One book I’m working on came from a place I used to play when I was a kid. I’ve tried to work it into so many stories, and I finally just found the right one!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Myra: It’s a third book in the series, and I hoped it would sell, but nothing is certain. It took a long time from offer to signed contract, but I just signed it last week.

Thank you, Myra! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Two Books Are Better Than One With The GCC’s Amanda Ashby

GCC member Amanda Ashby has two books debuting this summer, and both sound absolutely adorable. I mean, what preteen wouldn’t love the power to grant wishes? Check out WISHFUL THINKING and UNDER A SPELL, two books in her new series published by Puffin.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:
Book One: Wishful Thinking
Be careful what you wish for…
After eleven year old Sophie accidentally gets herself turned into a djinn, she starts to think that it might not be so bad after all. (Of course, that’s after she gets the whole orange skin problem sorted out.) Who wouldn’t enjoy having the power to grant wishes! But when Sophie develops RWD (Random Wish Disorder) and can’t STOP granting wishes, things get more than a little mixed-up!

Book Two: Under a Spell
And that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E…
As Sophie gets used to her magic, her relationship with the adorable Jonathan Tait is blossoming. There’s only one problem: Jonathan’s twin sister, Melissa. She’s a total mean girl who seems intent on making Sophie’s life miserable. On top of that, Melissa somehow seems to sense that Sophie has powers–and manages to bind Sophie to her in a totally self-serving way. Can Sophie figure out a way out of this–without ruining her chances with Jonathan?

Here’s what Amanda had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Amanda: I’ve never been a bridesmaid! I’m from a small family so there were no weddings growing up and not that many of my friends have had traditional marriages (not to mention the fact that I move countries a lot). However, now I feel like I’ve missed out on a rite of passage and I feel like I should invent a game called Bridesmaid Party and make everyone wear really bad dresses!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Amanda: I’ve never based characters on real people but I definitely take snippets of myself and put them into books (Malik, who is Sophie’s ghostly djinn guide is addicted to Cheetos and American Idol and let’s just say that this in this case the literary creation didn’t fall far from the tree!).

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Amanda: An agent, definitely! I never really tried to go directly to an editor so I spent a long time writing books and trying to get an agent. Of course what I didn’t know at the time was that it wasn’t my writing that they were rejecting, it was my story and when I finally wrote the “right” story, that’s when I got an agent.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Amanda: This one was a slow build. I have always loved old TV shows like Bewitched, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and I Dream of Jeannie and then when I was looking for an interesting mythology to explore I got hooked on djinns. From there I just started to explore what it would be like for a regular girl to have a secret world and a secret power that she had to hide from everyone!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Amanda: My publishing sales always seem so unexciting because I live so far away from America where my agent and publisher are so we do everything by email! Anyway, my agent had told my editor that I was doing a middle grade book and would she would be interested in seeing it. She was and while she loved the idea, she asked for some revisions on the first few chapters and also asked if I had considered making it a series. So I went back and revised it and then wrote a very brief summary for two more books and we sent it back to her. A few weeks later I got an email from my agent with an offer for a three book deal.

Thank you, Amanda! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Relax And SURRENDER With GCC Member Elana Johnson

Looking for a summer book with love, intrigue, and super powers? Look no further than SURRENDER by GCC member Elana Johnson, which just debuted through Simon and Schuster.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked: Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi.

All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn.

Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque….

Here’s what Elana had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Elana: I have never been a bridesmaid. I got married at 19, so maybe that had something to do with it…

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Elana: Absolutely! A lot of the relationships my characters have with each other is based on experiences in my own life, or things I’ve witnessed in life around me. I can’t say that I’ve based entire people on someone I know, but little snippets of their personality, sure.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Elana: Finding an agent. I queried two books. For the second one—POSSESSION, which was published—I sent 189 letters to agents. I had a phone call with 3 different agents before someone actually offered representation. It took 8 months and was a very hard time, what with so many rejections.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Elana: I just started a new contemporary novel, and the idea came from a conversation I had with my husband about one of his students. I can’t wait to write it!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Elana: I was at home, sitting in the writing cave, when the email came in. A few minutes later, I called my agent, and rejoiced that Simon & Schuster was going to publish SURRENDER.

Thank you, Elana! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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GCC Member Melissa Walker Will Help UNBREAK YOUR HEART

Summer lovin’ had me a blast… Unless your love is your best friend’s boyfriend and you’re spending your summer desperately trying to forget he exists. UNBREAK MY HEART is the latest by GCC member Melissa Walker and it’s the perfect mix of romantic drama, sailboats, and beaches. It just debuted this month through Bloomsbury and everyone should add it to their list of summer beach reads.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked: Usually Clem would dread the idea of spending an entire summer sailing with her family—two parents, one annoying little sister, and no internet, all on one tiny boat; however, right now escaping her life on land sounds pretty good. Clem did something bad during her sophomore year, even though she didn’t mean to. She fell for her best friend’s boyfriend and thought that he was falling for her too. Now the school year is over, the truth is out and he’s been excused while she’s been exiled, leaving her with no friends and zero social life. When she and her family set sail the last thing Clem is looking for is another romance, but perhaps it found her anyway. His name is James. He’s cute, funny, and best of all, doesn’t know anything about her past. He and his dad are sailing the same route as Clem and her family for the summer and he’s just the distraction Clem needs. Can he break down Clem’s walls and unbreak her broken heart?

Here’s what Melissa had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 
Melissa: I’ve been a bridesmaid 6 times! Worst dress: One I had to have made based on fabric the bride wanted. That sounds like a cool idea, but I ended up in a matronly mess. (My fault!)

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Melissa: Yes! I had an awful friend breakup and I mined a lot of those emotions for UNBREAK MY HEART.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Melissa: Finding an editor was harder–I had no clue about who I could work well with or how each publishing house worked… my agent I really liked instantly.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?
Melissa: The aforementioned friend breakup had a lot to do with it… and I also spent a lot of time sailing with my parents as a teen.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.
Melissa: I was actually on a trip with three of my best friends from high school when I heard that Bloomsbury liked the synopsis I’d written for this book and wanted to go ahead with the idea. It was great! We were on the central coast of California–in Morro Bay, to be exact–and we had mimosas to celebrate!

Thank you, Melissa! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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How to Save the Arts In Philadelphia

How many of you played an instrument in elementary school? Performed in your school choir? Won an art competition? Climbed a rope in gym class? Well, consider yourselves lucky, because if Pennsylvania legislatures have their way, not too many students in our state will be able to say the same.

A few weeks ago, the Upper Darby School District, which is on the border of Philadelphia serving 12,000 students speaking more than 60 languages, unveiled its new budget. In it, the administration announced it plan to cut “art, music, library and gym into the elementary classrooms and eliminate foreign language and technology in middle schools and reduce the teaching staff by 60-plus members at a budget savings of $4 million,” according to the Delaware County Times.
Wow.
It boggles the mind, really. The first lady of the United States has made childhood obesity her main cause, and yet school districts still have no qualms cutting gym. Entertainment is probably one of our country’s greatest exports, yet we’re going to cut art, music, and pretty much all creative thinking out of our curriculum.
And cutting the library? Seriously? It’s as if schools aren’t even trying to pretend that there is more to research than Wikipedia. Who needs books? Who needs reading for pleasure? Buy a laptop, that’s all a kid needs.
Thankfully, the Upper Darby community does not share the views of its school board. Parents, teachers, residents, and even Tina Fey (an Upper Darby alum) have spoken out asking for support and signatures to show the district, and the state, how important they feel the arts are to their students.
And so have many young adult authors.
I grew up down the road from Upper Darby in Ridley Township, PA. We played the Royals in sports. And I have a friend who teaches in one of the elementary schools that’s being hit with these cuts. This is a cause that’s close to my heart, and thankfully some of my author friends have joined in the fight.
Please watch our video. And if you support the arts in Upper Darby and you want to stop the snowball effect before these cuts become commonplace and reach a school near you, please sign the online petition  before the June 6th school board meeting. Thanks for your help! And thank you to all of the authors who tweeted and who submitted videos, especially: 

Elise Allen, Jessica Brody, Eileen Cook, Jenny O’Connell, Debbie Rigaud, and Melissa Walker.

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This YA Book Is Not Yet Rated

Feels like every time you turn around someone is trying to censor YA novels. If they’re not banning them from school libraries, they’re protesting them for being too edgy, or now they’re trying to slap them with arbitrary ratings.

US News and World Report recently ran article detailing a study that looked at a couple dozen YA novels and determined that a ratings system is needed.
Now, at first thought, you may think, how bad could a ratings system be? Maybe a little tag on the back cover stating that a book has “profanity” or “violence” or “drugs” could be useful. And I can understand why some parents might think that; after all, movies and TV shows are rated.

However, think long and hard about who’s doing the ratings.
Wait. You can’t think hard about them because you don’t know who these people are, which means you don’t know what words they consider “profane” or what acts they consider “violence.”
For example, the study in question mentions profanity as including the numerous f-bombs dropped in Gossip Girl. Fine, that’s a no brainer. F-word = curse word. But then they also include, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid’soccasional reference of bodily functions.” Seriously. So when doing this study, educated researchers decided to include words like fart, poop, burb, pee, etc.? To them, those are profane words. Well, what about penis? Is that a bad word? How about stupid, or boobs, or ugly, or homosexual?
Who gets to make these decisions?
This also applies to violence, which could include anything from machine gun fight to a slap in the cafeteria.
The point is, these decisions are arbitrary, they’re subjective, and they reflect the views of a morality board (and think of the type of people who would want to work on a morality board) without including any context. What if the machine gun fight depicted has to do with Pearl Harbor, does that change your view of the violence in the novel? Will it change the morality board’s?
The biggest danger, though, is not just a ratings system that would usurp the entire back cover just to include all the details necessary in making it in any way useful, it’s the idea that in order to get a “better” rating a writer might be asked to censor their work.
Imagine an author writing a book for middle graders who gets slapped with an R-rating because their adolescent character is comically obsessed with his penis. That writer might be asked to water down their work in order to get a PG-13 rating that would lead to more book sales. And does that really mean that their initial vision isn’t funny or appropriate for 13 year olds? Because most 13-year-old boys have quite a healthy fascination with what’s going on down below, but a parent who sees a big red “R” on the cover isn’t going to understand how it got there. They could be misled to believe that the book must include a crack-deal during a gunfight where the assailants are having graphic sex while simultaneously screaming the F-word. Because the ratings for those two books could be the same if the penis is called a “cock” or a “prick” or anything else the board considers inappropriate.
Ultimately, a ratings system would force authors to bend to the will of mysterious censors in order to make their publishers happy, earn money, and keep writing. I know that’s not how I want to write. And I doubt that’s what teens want to read.

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Get Patriotic With GCC Member Jessi Kirby’s New Book

For all those who lost someone in Iraq and all those who don’t even know someone who fought it in, get a glimpse inside military family with GCC Member Jessi Kirby’s new book, IN HONOR, out this month through Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq three days after learning that he died, and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star and Finn’s celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her.

 Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn’s last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn. . . and ruggedly good looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t.

Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn–but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

Here’s what Jessi had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore? 

Jessi: I’ve only been a bridesmaid twice, and both dresses were cute! I lucked out, I guess!

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Jessi: In IN HONOR, I based a minor character named Bru on an actual jeep tour guide I had on my research trip to Sedona, Arizona.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? 

Jessi: Finding an agent was harder. I queried many agents and got many rejections, but once I had representation, things went very smoothly.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Jessi: I wanted to write a story about the relationship between a brother and sister, and I wanted it to include a road trip. The idea of the letter and Honor’s ensuing trip evolved from there.

Thank you, Jessi! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Authors Sounding Off On 1-Star Reviews

So I’m a little behind on my Publishers Weekly newsletters—like say four months or so. Oops. But because I really do enjoy reading the Children’s Bookshelf emails, I’ve been perusing my backlist the past few days and I came across a YA hullabaloo I’d missed. I love a good hullabaloo.

Turns out, a couple months ago, a YA author—well, really her agent—got ticked off that someone on GoodReads gave a 1-star review to the author’s novel, THE SELECTION. For some very misguided reason, the author and agent had a public conversation about this review on Twitter where the reviewer, Wendy Darling, was a compared to a female dog. Ouch.
You can read the review here. Then read all the craziness that occurs in the comments, including a transcript of the author and agent’s infamous Twitter conversation here
Just to prepare you, the Twitter transcript is in comment #268, and the comments go up to more than 1,500. Wow. People were MAD.
Anyway, the controversy got me thinking. As an author, it’s so tempting to want to defend your work, and the Internet now (unfortunately) gives you the avenue to do so. Someone trashed your book? Just hit ‘reply.’ It’s that simple. There’s no Letter to the Editor, no stamps, no post office, no days to cool-off. It’s immediate.

Same thing applies to the reviewer. Anyone with a book and an Internet connection is now a reviewer read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. That book didn’t hold your interest when you half paid attention while watching you kids fight at the pool? Give it one-star. You didn’t enjoy that fantasy novel, the first one you ever read because you usually prefer historical romances? Well, you give that book one star as well.
I think sometimes reviewers forget that authors are just people, with feelings, who spent years working on a manuscript, were beyond THRILLED to finally get it published after even more years of struggling, and then were heartbroken to see someone say, “I didn’t find a single aspect of this story that I enjoyed.”
But, authors, you know how you solve this problem? Don’t read your GoodReads reviews! Or your Amazon reviews! Ever. Not even the good ones. It will only drive you insane, and it will only make your fingers itch to hit that ‘reply’ button. Nothing can be done about your book now. It is out in the word. Printed. Bound. Distributed. You can’t change a word. Literally. 
Let. It. Go.
However, I will say that in this instance, I give the reviewer a lot of credit for writing a very in-depth analysis explaining why she gave the book 1-star. She didn’t just slap up a rating up and call it a day. You can tell she spent time thinking about it.
This is more than I can say for the person who gave one of my books a 1-star review. After reading the controversy, I gave in and checked my own GoodReads status—I know, ignoring my own advice. And I saw that two people had given Amor and Summer Secrets a 1-star rating, neither offered an actual review or explanation.
Being curious, I decided to click-through to one reader’s profile and see what her other ratings looked like. You know what I found? She gave DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank 2-stars. Seriously. Two stars to one of the most respected books in the history of the world.
And that, my friends, is why you don’t get upset by online reviewers.

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How Do You Measure A Year In The Life?

My little one is ONE! The big numero uno. No longer a baby. A walking, talking (well, babbling), toddler. And since this is a gigantic milestone for both of us, I thought I’d share some photos of the big event.

It was really a whole weekend affair with a fun party on Saturday and then a private celebration with just us on the actual Big Day. Of course, in preparation of the festivities, Juliet cut a tooth, drooled like a Saint Bernard, broke into a teething rash, and fell on a box of Legos giving her a bruised cheek. Perfect.

So here goes, Juliet’s first birthday celebration. And yes, I’m a crazy person who actually makes my own birthday banners and cooks my own birthday cake and cupcakes—with perfectly cut-out baby heads on top of them. There were also two smash cakes, one for each event. Like I said, I’m nuts.

And for the book lovers among you, you’d be happy to know she received some lovely books for her birthday including: Baby Giggles, Jamberry, Tickle Time, and Little Miss Austen Pride & Prejudice. Happy Birthday Little One!
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You Can’t Write a Book for Your Baby’s Eyes Only

I was recently a speaker at the State of Maryland International Reading Council Conference (SoMIRAC), and while there I happened to mention that I had a baby. (The girl just sneaks into conversations these days.) Anyway, being as though many of the teachers attending looked as though they had some very adorable grandchildren at home, I was asked whether my writing has changed since I became a mother. Specifically, they wanted to know whether the topics I cover in my novels would be different because I knew my daughter would read my books one day.

Interesting thought.

To be honest, I haven’t worried about this much. My baby’s still a baby (she turns 1 in a week!), so the idea of her reading her own books seems as far away as her manning a space shuttle to Mars.

But still, would I feel uncomfortable sitting down and explaining to her that she should do as I say, not as I write?

Now, don’t get me wrong, within the grand scheme of the Young Adult genre, my books are practically Pixar movies. There’s no sex, no guns, no F words. But there is some drinking, and lying, and mean girls, and (for shame!) parental disobedience. She might take it as a free pass to do these things herself and blame it on my books. (I can hear it now. “I learned it from reading YOU!”)

But, if I’m being completely real, she’s probably going to do these things anyway. Because that’s what teenagers do. Writing about, or not writing about these realities, is not going to make her any less of a teenager.

So Juliet, if you’re reading this thirteen years from now, don’t even try the “you put it in your book” excuse. By then, I will have had more than a decade to craft a really awesome response. I’m ready for you.

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Should We Judge a Book By Its Movie?

So the Hunger Games movie it out! My tweenage niece and nephew were at the midnight showing and I still haven’t see it! Oh, the horror of having a baby and having to work around a sitter’s schedule.

But in preparation for my viewing next weekend, I’ve reread the book. Embarrassingly, I still cried at the Rue scene even though I knew it was coming—but that’s how awesome the novel is. I can only pray the movie stacks up, which brings me to this question: what are your thoughts on watching a movie before reading the book?

I’ve done this a few times. Most notably, I saw In Her Shoes in the theater before reading the book—primarily because the movie was filmed in Philly and I’m a sucker for all things Philadelphia. The movie was cute, but I found that when I finally read the novel, predictably, it was like slugging through a rerun. I already knew what was going to happen, and when the novel differed from the movie, I found it irritating—when it should be other way around.

However, recently, I found watching the movie first useful. I’ve been reading Jane Austen’s Emma, and for some reason, I’m just not that into it. The book is very much about social standing, and the main character often gets exasperated with her conversations with others, especially those of lower standing. Well, I’ve been finding myself just as exasperated with her conversations—some go on for pages and pages and are about nothing more than a piano or a trip to the post office.

So I watched the movie this weekend (the Gwyneth version) and it helped renew my interest—the conversations were much less annoying when condensed to movie lengthy and even though I found the casting odd (Toni Colette playing a character who’s supposed to be much younger than Gwyneth?), I found their interpretations of the characters helpful in getting me to better enjoy the book.

Anyway, here’s hoping that the actors in the Hunger Games deliver performances that do the book justice! Happy Viewing Parties, everyone! And “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

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Midnight In Philly, And Other Oscar Movies

In preparation for last night’s Oscars, I decided to watch a couple of the best picture nominees available on OnDemand. (I have a baby, unless the movie is from the TWILIGHT or HUNGER GAMES franchises, it’s hard to get me to the theater.) Anyway, the DH and I watched MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and TREE OF LIFE. One was totally awesome and left me contemplating moving to Europe, the other made me wonder how someone can turn an ‘80s Calvin Klein Obsession ad into a 2.5 hour feature film.

Can you guess which one was which?

If you haven’t seen TREE OF LIFE, don’t. Please. This is a Public Service Announcement.

Do not subject yourself to this weird, self-indulgent glimpse into some crazy director’s mind where it seems logical to tell the story of a 1950s family by starting with a 20-minute silent montage of the big bang mixed with dinosaurs. Seriously. The movie actually cuts away from Brad Pitt and goes to CGI Jurassic Park dinosaurs for no discernable reason.

Actual still from the movie.

I watched most of this film on fast forward and given that there’s hardly any dialogue aside from weird whispered voiceovers, I’m very confident I missed nothing.

Now, on to the awesome flick. If you haven’t seen MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, do.

It’s worth the $6 on OnDemand. Owen Wilson is still Owen Wilson, he could have easily broken into a bit from THE WEDDING CRASHERS and not skipped a beat, but the screenplay was insanely clever (obviously, it’s Woody Allen).

And you know a film is good when afterward, you’re sitting on the couch and your husband turns to you and says, “We’re not moving to Paris. I know you’re thinking that.” I was.

The Paris Tourism Board really should pay Woody some cash for that 2-hour ad, because the idea of buying a loft by the Eiffel Tower and writing in a coffee shop with the greatest literary minds in the world is incredibly seductive. (Baby could learn French and eat croissants.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Hemingway and Fitzgerald won’t actually be there. But still. Maybe the modern Hemingway is smoking a cigarette by the Seine right now. Wouldn’t you want to meet him or her? Trade manuscripts? Go to parties with artists like Picasso?

And for some reason wondering around the streets of Philadelphia at midnight doesn’t seem like it would replicate the same experience. MIDNIGHT IN PHILLY is more the start of cop drama, or the next season of LAW & ORDER.

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Being a Mom and Maintaining Sanity = Hard Work

So last week, I finished the latest rounds of edits on my never-ending White Whale. Sometimes, I swear that manuscript will be tossed into my casket as the ongoing, never-finished, constantly-tweaked, work-in-progress. But regardless, this latest bout of round-the-clock revisions is behind me, so I thought I’d celebrate by giving myself the week off from writing. I’d just read a few books, hang out with the baby, watch a movie, clean out my inbox.

It’s been seven days, and I’m going crazy.

Truly, I’m amazed by how different my mental state is when I don’t write. I’m not sure if I felt this before, but since becoming a mother, I find I need this release—like chocolate or Starbucks. Not just because I enjoy writing, but because I enjoy thinking. I enjoy having something substantial that’s just mine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that my beautiful bundle of joy isn’t rewarding in and of herself. She’s adorable and a lot of fun to hang out with these days. But I find that, personally, when I spend my days entirely focused on her—just playing, doing laundry, cooking baby food, cleaning the house—dinnertime comes and I’m antsy, snippy, and a little bit grumpy. (DH is probably happy I’m admitting this publicly.)

That’s why I think people say that being a stay-at-home mother is the hardest job in the world. Not just because raising a child who grows up to be a kind and intelligent member of society isn’t difficult, but also because for a mom do all that and still remain personally fulfilled is hard work. Being a kickass mom and not feeling like you’re going insane at the end of the day is hard work.

In my opinion, in order to achieve this, I think women need to claim something for themselves—whether it’s writing, or work, or jogging, or cooking like Martha Stewart. A woman needs something that will make her happy first so she can make her children happy second.

I have writing. And I think I’m going to make sure I incorporate into every one of my days now. I’m sure Juliet will appreciate the happier mom she gets as a result. And I’m sure I’ll appreciate the day I can say my White Whale is officially complete (and published).

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Sink Your Teeth Into Something FANGTASTIC With GCC Member Lucienne Diver

If you miss Buffy (and who doesn’t?), then I have the perfect replacement to fill the void in your heart—the Vamped Series by GCC Member Lucienne Diver. Her latest installment, FANGASTIC, just came out this month through Flux, and it sounds amazing!

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

What do you wear to face down a cadre of killer kids?

Gina Covello would rather be working on her manicure than missions for the Feds’ paranormal unit to which she’s been recruited. That changes when a group of killer kids takes out a family in the sunshine state and disappearances begin to plague the lifestylers who only play at the kind of existence our fanged fashionista leads. She and her crew are sent undercover into the vampire clubs…which turn out to be run by real vampires. While Gina’s BFF Marcy hangs with the steampunk-styled Burgess Brigade that spawned the killer kids, Gina herself is supposed to get in good with the fanged fiends behind the scenes, even to the point of playing double-agent, offering to hand over her powerful boyfriend Bobby. Her playacting threatens to become a bit too real when she discovers things about her spy handlers that make her wonder whether she’s truly on the right side of the battle between Feds and fangs.

Here’s what Lucienne had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?
Lucienne: I’ve been a bridesmaid three times, and I have to say that none of the brides made me wear anything truly hideous! My sister had a hippy style outdoor wedding, and I’ve even worn that dress again, although it’s hand wash and I have an aversion to clothes that are more high maintenance than me. I’m pretty sure that couldn’t be said for my heroine in the Vamped series. I refer to her as the fashionista of the fanged. You don’t know high maintenance until you take away a glam girl’s reflection and compromise her ability to do her hair and make-up.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Lucienne: My hero and heroine draw a little from people I know, but they’re not a direct correlation. For example, Bobby might get his killer blue eyes and shaggy dark hair from my husband, who’s also, come to think of it, a geek boy just like him. Hmm. Aside from that, part of Fangtastic is set in a club where the vampire lifestylers like to hang out, which turns out to be run by actual vamps. There’s a place something like this in Tampa (where Fangtastic is set), and one or two of the characters might be drawn, at least physically, from some of the colorful characters I saw there when I went to research.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Lucienne: It wasn’t harder for me to find an agent. (She’s the one who in turn found me an editor.) However, I’ve had a few snarky comments from people who think I’ve gotten published because I have some sort of in. Oh, if only it worked that way! Publishing is a business, and no matter who you know, editors have to get second and third reads, run it past marketing, run profit and loss statements (P&Ls), and take it through an acquisitions meeting. The editorial director has to green light any offer made and the amount. I can’t just take a novel to my good friend down the street and expect him/her to buy the book because we’ve had a few laughs over drinks. If the acquisition doesn’t make financial sense, if the publisher doesn’t think it will sell in sufficient quantities to earn back their investment with interest, it doesn’t get bought.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Lucienne: I’m a forensic show junkie. (Actually, when I first graduated college, I applied to graduate schools for forensic anthropology and to agencies and publishers for entry level positions. Publishing got back to me first.) I saw a segment years ago about the vampire killings in Florida. A teenager who thought (or at least said he thought) that he was a 500 year-old vampire recruited others and led them to murder the parents of an ex-girlfriend. Luckily, they were caught. This made an impression on me, and when it came time to set a vampire novel in the sunshine state (I like the irony), that story rose to the forefront of my mind. Of course, there’s a lot more going on in Fangtastic, as my heroine, Gina Covello, discovers some things about her spy club handlers that make her wonder if she’s on the right side in the war of Fed vs. fang.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Lucienne: I almost always seem to be in an airport when offers are made for my work. If I’m remembering right, though, this time I was shopping in New York at a store called Mango Mango. One thing my heroine and I have in common, we love to shop!

Thank you, Lucienne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Go A Little Goth With UNRAVELING ISOBEL By GCC Member Eileen Cook

Why do all gothic mansions have to be haunted? Because they’re just creepy, that’s why—especially if you’re forced to live there with some creepy step-father. That is why you must read GCC Member Eileen Cook’s new book, UNRAVELING ISOBEL, out this month through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the Internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.

But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong
reasons.

Here’s what Eileen had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?
Eileen: I happen to be one of those people that other people like to have in their wedding. I think they’re counting on me to provide the comic relief. I’ve been a bridesmaid around a dozen times. Most of the dresses were pretty decent (how’s that for lucky?) but one of them was a shamrock green color that made me look like I was getting over a raging case of malaria.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Eileen: I don’t tend to base my characters on any real people, but I do steal little details here and there, the way someone dresses or a quirky habit. One of the best things about being a writer is the chance to people watch all the time and daydream and get to call it work. I have to go to the coffee shop and listen in on other conversations- it’s research!

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Eileen: The hardest thing for me was finding my agent. The biggest reason was that when I first started looking, I wasn’t actually ready. I thought I was ready. I was sure the book I had written was genius! It was only after every living soul who worked in publishing shot me down that I realized that maybe the book wasn’t as good as I thought. I went back to work and wrote another book, Unpredictable, and that became my first published book.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Eileen: I work as a counselor and am interested in mental health issues. I think one of the most difficult things about having mental illnesses is that you can’t trust your own perception of reality. How do you cope when you aren’t sure what you see and hear is real? I decided I wanted to write about Isobel who struggles with trying to figure out if she’s seeing a ghost, if she’s going crazy, or if her step dad is trying to make everyone think she’s crazy so he can get rid of her.

Plus, I’ve always loved gothic novels. I love creepy old houses, buried family secrets and the potential for a ghost or two. Not to mention a cute boy in the picture.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

I’m very lucky in that I work with a great team at Simon Pulse. I had recently finished my book, The Education of Hailey Kendrick. I was having lunch with friends and my agent called to tell me that my editor was offering me a two-book deal for whatever I wanted to write next. I didn’t even have a story idea yet. I was thrilled. I convinced my friends to join me for a celebration!

Thank you, Eileen! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Don’t TOUCH GCC Member Laurie Faria Stolarz

Seeing the future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be according to the latest installment in GCC Member Laurie Faria Stolarz’s YA series, DEADLY LITTLE VOICES, out this month through Disney/Hyperion Books for Children. I must say that the covers for this series are gorgeous! Love them, love them!

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Camelia Hammond thought her powers of psychometry gave her only the ability to sense the future through touch. But now she’s started to hear voices. Cruel voices. Berating her, telling her how ugly she is, that she has no talent, and that she’d be better off dead. Camelia is terrified for her mental stability, especially since her deranged aunt with a suicidal history, has just moved into the house. As if all of that weren’t torturing enough, Camelia’s ex-boyfriend, Ben, for whom she still harbors feelings and who has similar psychometric abilities, has started seeing someone else. Even her closest friends, Kimmie and Wes, are unsure how to handle her erratic behavior.

With the line between reality and dream consistently blurred, Camelia turns to pottery to get a grip on her emotions. She begins sculpting a figure skater, only to receive frightening premonitions that someone’s in danger. But who is the intended victim? And how can Camelia help that person when she’s on the brink of losing her own sanity?

Here’s what Laurie had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?
Laurie: I’ve been a bridesmaid twice. The first time I wore a dress that was too big, the fabric of which (grayish-purple and super thick) reminded me of couch material. The second time, the dress was this horrible bright red, skin-tight, low-cut glossy-taffeta sheath that I could barely sit in.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Laurie: I don’t base anything directly on my own personal background. Though, I do steal character quirks from others (or sometimes myself). For example, in the Blue is for Nightmares series, Amber carries around a pair of chopsticks for whenever she’s eating out. I once knew someone who did that. In the Touch series, Camelia’s mom is a vegan- raw-foods health nut and a touch of that comes from me. I’m nowhere near as crazed as Camelia’s mom, but I am vegan 98% of the time.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Laurie: Finding an editor, for sure. I think it’s hard to find an agent when you haven’t been published before. So, I found an editor on my own. Once I had a couple deals behind me, it was much easier to find an agent.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Laurie: I wanted to write a story where the main character has to struggle with the idea of falling in love with someone who could potentially be dangerous. I tinkered with this concept in the first three books of my Blue is for Nightmares Series [(Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn 2003), White is for Magic(Llewellyn 2004), and Silver is for Secrets (Llewellyn 2005), as well as in Bleed (Hyperion 2006)]. InBleed, in particular, there’s a young male character who was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend. His next relationship consists of pen pal letters he exchanges with a young girl while he’s in prison. Without giving too much away, the relationship is briefly pursued once he is released, but I wanted to bring this concept to another level.

Additionally, I wanted to continue experimenting with the supernatural (which I also use in my Blue is for Nightmares Series as well as in Project 17), showing how we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger. I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power of psychometry (the ability to sense things through touch). The concept fascinated me, and so I wanted to bring it out in a character, showing how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

Lastly, I wanted to apply these concepts to be part of a series. I love the idea of growing main character over the course of several books.

Thank you, Laurie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Screw the Scented Candle, Read My Holiday Book List

So it’s that time of year again when the coupons to Yankee Candle start pouring in and it suddenly seems like a good idea to buy your boss/friend/neighbor a giant glass jug that smells like cinnamon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (I’m talking to you, mom.) But in case you’re looking for alternatives, here’s a list of books I’ve read in the past year that I think are gift worthy.

FOR THE NEWBIES
By this, of course, I mean newborns. I’ve got a seven-month-old, so expect Santa to be loading up her bookshelves. Personally, I prefer large format books with bright awesome pictures and/or rhyming patterns. So here goes:
1. Puff, the Magic Dragon- illustrations by Eric Puybaret. I recently discovered Eric Puybaret and I LOVE LOVE LOVE his artwork. Hence my next pick…
2. The Night Before Christmas – also illustrated by Eric Puybaret. Sooooo pretty.
3. Llama Llama Red Pajama- Anna Dewdney. At this point, I can recite this book from memory. And whenever my baby cries, if I say, “Little llama don’t you know, mamma llama loves you so…” she stops fussing. Can’t beat that.
4. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale- Mo Willems. This is the answer to Llama Llama, which is all about the mamma. Knuffle gives it up to daddy. Mo Willems is also a DEAR BULLY contributor, very cool.

FOR TEENS
1. Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins. If you know anyone who hasn’t read this yet, buy it. Once the movie comes out in March, it’ll be the next Harry Potter and you can say you introduced them to it.
2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children- Ransom Riggs. Just to warn you, there’s time travel in this. I didn’t realize that when I started the book, and it sort of felt like aliens landed in Chapter 6. But putting that aside, teens (particularly boys) will love this. And how awesome is the name “Ransom Riggs?”
3. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President- Josh Lieb. Very funny book from a writer who brings you the Daily Show. Great for boys, but girls will definitely laugh too.

FOR WOMEN
1. Firefly Lane- Kristin Hannah. For the sappy ladies among us. I read this while I was pregnant and probably shed a few more tears than was necessary, but in a good way.
2. Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen. I know I’m late to the party, but this was hands-down my favorite book of the year. I also read it to my baby while she was teeny tiny and couldn’t understand anything, so it holds a special place in my heart.
3. The Help- Kathryn Stockett. I’m recommending both the book and the movie here, because they’re both amazing. Rarely does a movie do a book like this justice, but this one really did.

FOR MEN

I’ve got nothing here. My husband doesn’t read for pleasure (I know, and he married an author) and my father reads novels in Spanish, so if anyone wants to recommend something, I’m open to suggestions.

Merry Christmahanakwanzika, everyone! And a happy New Year with bright new beginnings.

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Behind the Magic Curtain of A NY Editorial Room

How does a book get sold? I wish I knew, and I think most authors would agree. The acquisitions department at a publishing house is like a magical room draped with velvet curtains.

You write a book. You get an agent. The agent sends the books to editors.

Then. You. Wait.

Everything is communicated via email. No one is picking up the phone to discuss concerns or questions about a project. No one dares to speak to the author directly. If editors are the magic wizards behind the curtain, authors are the umpa lumpas.

Let me tell you, it’s tortuous being cut out. Imagine applying for a job and all you’re permitted to do is send your resume. You get no interview. The entire hiring process is decided by that piece of paper. You don’t get to defend yourself or your project. You don’t get to show how willing you are to work on revisions. You don’t get prove how marketable you can be.

You just wait.

Communication is one-way, very slow, and very final.

And yes, I’m on submission if you haven’t guessed. Tick tock, tick tock. You would think having a baby would have improved my level of patience, but I’m starting to think that is a virtue that can not be acquired later in life. Good luck, Juliet! I hope my impatience is not hereditary (though she does get mad if her milk doesn’t come fast enough).

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Next Cage Match on Pay-Per-View: Working Moms –Vs- Stay At Homes

I noticed something interesting recently. I live in a let’s-be-friends urban community that throws barbeques on Labor Day and has hayrides for Halloween. Everyone comes out, brings the kids, eats burgers, and meets the neighbors. Yet I find that when you’re toting a baby and go up to another mom toting a baby, inevitably one of the first questions asked is, “Do you work?” And paradoxically, both sides cringe in response.

It’s like the stay-at-home moms are afraid of being judged for not working outside the home and delaying their careers, while simultaneously the working moms brace themselves to defend their choice to earn some money and provide for the little ones. No one wins, yet you still see fear and judgment in everyone’s eyes.

Maybe I notice this more because I work from home. I straddle the line. So when I give my answer, I see the stay-at-home moms sigh with relief that I’m home all day and I see the working moms relax knowing I spend time chained to a computer too.

You know what the men do while we’re having this conversation? Drink beer. They discuss who has the longest commute and “do you know this guy who works at a company sort of connected to your company?”

Why do women do this to themselves? Why do we feel guilty if we go back to work, earn money, and leave our kids in the care professionals who teach them the ABCs and Spanish numerals? Why do we feel guilty if we stay home, record every milestone, make organic baby food, and read books to them on a blanket in the park?

Motherhood 101: Kids = Guilt. No matter what you do.

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GCC Member Kristina Springer Spices Up the Pumpkin Patch

As someone who just spent the weekend enjoying autumn in NY, I gotta say, who doesn’t love a good novel about changing leaf colors and rustic pumpkin patches? If either of these things makes you want to curl up with a steaming pumpkin spice latte, then check out GCC Member Kristina Springer’s new novel, JUST YOUR AVERAGE PRINCESS out this week through FSG. Isn’t the cover adorable?

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Jamie Edwards has loved everything about growing up on a pumpkin patch, but ever since her cousin Milan Woods arrived, things have really stunk. Jamie can’t imagine it was easy for Milan to leave her life back in Los Angeles and move to Average, Illinois, population one thousand. But it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for her since (a) Milan’s drop-dead gorgeous; (b) she’s the daughter of two of Hollywood’s hottest film stars; (c) she’s captured the attention of everyone in town, including Danny, Jamie’s crush since forever; and (d) she’s about to steal the title of Pumpkin Princess right out from underneath Jamie!

Here’s what Kristina had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Kristina: Well, it wasn’t funny, ha ha, but it was my funnest trip anyway—when I was 18 two girlfriends and I drove to Michigan for the weekend and made many pit stops along the way to pose with any and everything (plastic cows, Paul Bunyan etc.) and dance in the middle of streets.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Kristina: Not at all. I didn’t figure it out until my late twenties. When I was little I wanted to be a rock star. In college I wanted to be a nurse and then switched to English Education with the intent to teach high school English.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Kristina: I had a big slumber party. My mom let me invite like a dozen girls over. It was a lot of fun.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Kristina: Same here. My first book was organic and then after that I outlined and wrote synopsis to show my editor before diving into the writing.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Kristina: It’s my third book so not too big of a story. ☺ I was checking e-mail and I got a note from my agent that my editor was buying the new book.

Thank you, Kristina! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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You Can’t Worry Whether Your Parents Will Read This

Did you ever wonder what the parents of erotic romance authors think? Do they read their child’s graphic bondage scenes or do they politely chose not to purchase their sultry books? How about the parents of horror writers? Do they wonder how they raised a child who could so graphically kill a character in their novel?

Well, I had a situation similar to this—okay, not that similar. I write YA, not sex scenes. But still, I recently published an essay in the anthology DEAR BULLY about my experience in middle school.

My mom read the essay. It was the first time she heard of me ever being bullied.

One of my friends recently described me as a “private person,” and I guess that’s one way of putting it. I don’t know exactly how I became that way, but apparently even at the age of 12, I could be tortured by my classmates and keep it to myself. I never told my parents. I never told my sister. I never told the school administrators.

And I have to say I was little nervous when this essay came out, because I knew my family was going to read it. And I knew there were going to be questions. And I did pause a few times and think, “do I really want to put this in?”

But you can’t write an essay, or a book, or a scene, solely for your parents. Otherwise, all our novels would read like after-school specials.

The best writing is the most honest writing. So if you have to break the news to your family that your so-called friends chased you down the hallways screaming obscenities in sixth grade, why not do it in a published book thousands will read?

In other news, I must give a little shout out to BU here, because when DEAR BULLY published, I submitted a “class note” to my alumni magazine. (Yes, I read my alumni magazine.) And yesterday, I got a letter from the dean of COM (College of Communication) congratulating me on the essay with a handwritten note at the end saying, “This publication can make a positive change in many young lives. –Tom.”

You know, because the dean and I are on a first-name basis. Seriously, though, how nice is that? I went to school with 16,000 undergrads and the dean took the time to acknowledge my little essay. Gotta love it.

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GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready Is A “Smart Chick” With A Short Story

YA writers are smart chicks. We all knew that, but now a group have gotten together to create an anthology to build upon the “Smart Chicks Kick It” tour. GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready has one of the more notable short stories in this paranormal anthology, titled ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSION, out this week through HarperCollins.

As always, here’s a little bit about the book to get you hooked:

ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSION is a collection of original paranormal YA short stories edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. It grew out of the 2010 Smart Chicks Kick It Tour, a multi-author, multicity, author-organized tour of the US and Canada. Now, these 16 authors hope to bring a little taste of the Smart Chicks experience to readers everywhere.

Jeri Smith-Ready, a member of the tour, contributed the short story, “BRIDGE.” “Bridge” is a story, told in free verse, of how two brothers, with the help of a stranger, forge the chasm between them to find a lasting peace.

In the story, exists the world of the SHADE novels, where everyone seventeen and under can see and hear ghosts, but no one else can. So when Logan Keeley dies and his eighteen-year-old brother Mickey blames himself, they can’t ease each other’s pain or reconcile their rage. Over the course of SHADE and SHIFT, Mickey sinks into a near-suicidal depression over Logan’s death.

Here’s what Jeri had to say:

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Jeri: No, thank goodness! It was hard enough to wait five years from the time I started writing seriously until I was published. I can’t imagine waiting and wanting something so bad my entire life. When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Q: What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Jeri: Oh, I…really shouldn’t say how I spent my sixteenth birthday. That’s one for the vaults.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Jeri: Each book is different, but I usually have a rough outline/synopsis before I start. Then I never look at the outline while I write the first draft. It’s when I rewrite that I get super analytical, using spreadsheets and index cards and programs like Scrivener. But first drafts are usually organic, especially if it’s the first book in the series.

Q: Where were you when you found out that ENTHRALLED was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jeri: I don’t remember where I was when I found out there was going to be an anthology of authors on the Smart Chicks Tour, but I remember I was in my office when I got the email from Melissa Marr asking me to take part in the tour. I think they could hear me scream clear across the Mason-Dixon line. After I (calmly and professionally) accepted, I emailed my agent, who wrote back a very happy sentence in all caps, a sentence that cannot be printed on a family-friendly blog.

Thank you, Jeri! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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GCC Member Megan Kelley Hall’s DEAR BULLY Letters

So, if you’ve found your way to this blog, by now you know that I have an essay in the amazing anthology put together by GCC Members Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall. Corralling 70 authors to put together a book of this nature is no easy task, and Megan Kelley Hall tells us exactly what inspired her to edit DEAR BULLY out this month through Harper Teen.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:
You are not alone.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.

Here’s what Megan had to say:

Q: What inspired you and Carrie to put together DEAR BULLY?

Megan: We formed the group YAAAB (Young Adult Authors Against Bullying) in April 2010 when we both coincidentally blogged about the Phoebe Prince case on the same day. I reached out to Carrie expressing my frustration with this case and the fact that bullying seemed to be growing at a ridiculously fast rate. As a Massachusetts resident and having already spoken about bullying in schools, I was horrified after hearing about the bullying that took place in the Phoebe Prince case. While writing SISTERS OF MISERY and THE LOST SISTER, I had to dig deep to make “mean girls as evil as I possibly could.”

So when I heard about all the bullying and bullycide stories in the news, I felt like the bullies had jumped off the pages of my book and into real life. I was also disheartened by the numerous times I’d done book signings and would say to readers, “I hope you never meet girls as mean as the ones in my book.” Shockingly, they almost always said, “We already have.” Carrie Jones was also moved to do something, as she was the target of bullying as a young child due to a speech impediment. Together, we felt that we owed it to teen readers to discourage bullying — to make it “uncool.”

I started by creating a Facebook page that kicked off an entire “movement” to end bullying. This was the day that Carrie and I, along with other authors decided to use our platform as Young Adult authors to actually facilitate change and to be a voice for those kids who cannot speak out or are too afraid to be heard.

Q: How did you go about putting together an anthology with 70 authors? That’s a lot of essays…

Megan: Right away, a large number of authors jumped on board with this cause — wanting to be involved in any way possible. The Facebook group grew from 5 to 1500 members in one weekend and is now closing in on nearly 5,000 members. Carrie and I were thrilled when HarperTeen offered to put all of the stories into an anthology. The thought of having 70 authors – well-known, highly successful writers – sharing their personal bullying stories with their fans was something beyond what they had ever hoped for.

Q: What are most of the essays about?

Megan: The stories come from all angles: from the point of view of the victim, the mother, the friend, the sibling, the classmate – even a few from the actual bully. Some of the stories are light-hearted, while others are raw and emotional. All of them drive home the point that bullying is something that almost everyone has experienced. And while that is a sad fact, they want to prove that it’s not a rite of passage. It doesn’t make you stronger, wiser, or better. But it is something that can be overcome, something that can be changed, something that is relatable, and something that one should never be ashamed of.

Through these stories, the authors want to show that they understand what teens are going through today. It is important to encourage bystanders to speak up and make bullying unacceptable. Parents and adults must get involved. Bullying is something that people no longer have to endure—at least, not by themselves.

Though quite a lofty mission, the goal of DEAR BULLY is to help just one person get through a difficult time, and hopefully make bullying a thing of the past.

Q: How can readers get involved in the DEAR BULLY movement?

Megan: Join the Facebook page, visit the website, or follow DEAR BULLY on Twitter.

Thank you, Megan! DEAR BULLY has been getting a lot of press, you can read more about it in Better Homes & Gardens, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Glamour Magazine, Seventeen.com and more. Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Dear Bully: Why Do You Pick On YA Authors?

So I’m about halfway through DEAR BULLY (the awesome anthology I contributed an essay to and that went on sale last week), and I commented to the DH about how many other authors have stories similar to my own. He says, “So you’re saying kids like to pick on future authors?” Huh.

I’m not saying that it’s only future authors who get picked on, but it is an interesting theory. Whether we were cheerleaders, tuba players, funny guys, or music aficionados in our younger years, we all were bullied. And we all had it within us to one day write a novel. I wonder if despite our varying upbringings, we all gave off a similar vibe.

For example, a good chuck of the essays (so far) note that the author was picked on for being “different.” Now, this means different things in different decades, but still it seems to be a common thread. I know I felt “different” attending high school in the ‘90s when everyone was into grudge and wearing flannel. Don’t get me wrong, I wore the Chuck Taylors and baggy jeans, but I knew it wasn’t me. I knew I felt differently about the fad and went with it anyway just to fit in.

But maybe it showed. Maybe classmates could sense I was “different.”

Another trend is authors noting that they performed well in school. Not that they were picked for their grades per say, but they did think it made them a target. I’m sure a lot of bullied kids can agree with that. I wonder if we surveyed the bullies, whether many of them would say they did well academically? (Somehow, I doubt it.)

It’s a shame we didn’t all know each other when we were younger, we could have all banded together. But I guess we did as adults. As one author, Sara Bennett Wealer, said, “the girl you make fun of? She’s the cool one at cocktail parties.”

Amen, to that.

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DEAR BULLY: My Hopes for My Daughter

So as many of you know, I have an essay in the soon-to-be released anthology, Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories (available for pre-order now!). In it I discuss my bullying experience from the sixth grade.

As we gear up for the launch of this awesome book, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, I got to thinking about what it will be like to one day share these stories with my daughter—who’s currently 4 months old, and thankfully far from dealing with this. But still, I couldn’t help but say a silent prayer that she never, ever, experiences the taunts and friendship betrayals that I endured.

So in an effort to get on top of things (I’m nothing if not efficient), I’ve decided to create a list of things I wish I knew when I was in middle school.

Without further ado…

To Juliet, May You Learn From My Adolescent Mistakes:

1. The cool girl with the awesome hair who’s allowed to wear makeup before everyone else and who all your classmates worship is 9 times out of 10 not a nice person. Don’t waste your time trying to please her. Find a real friend instead—it will save you a lot of stomach cramps.

2. Likewise, the cool guy who’s great at sports and who snaps girls’ bras and calls them names that make everyone laugh, is 10 times out of 10 a loser. When you go to your 10-year high school reunion, he will be fat and bald.

3. Someone willing to chase you around, call you names, and berate you in public (or these days, online), has a fundamentally flawed character. They’re weak and pathetic. You can’t change them, but you can stop what’s happening. Tell someone.

4. Don’t let anyone talk you into doing something you know is wrong. Enough said.

5. Your best friend is not always a friend. She should not make you feel bad about yourself and she should not be willing to “drop you” just because a cooler model comes along. Find a friendship that’s real and don’t base it on popularity, it will save you a lot of tears in the long run.

Truly, I could go on like this forever, but the bottom line is almost every woman in America has been bullied at some point in her life. So know that we’ve all been through it, hopefully we’ve all gotten past it, but we’ve never forgotten it. Middle school is some of the hardest years of a girl’s life, so don’t let any adult belittle what you’re going through. It’s trench warfare out there. But it does get better. I promise.

On a side note, DEAR BULLY made it into the NY Times Book Review this weekend. Check it out!

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My Ongoing Search for Work-From-Home Mommyhood Status Continues

In three months, I’ve become an expert on nap analysis. For example, I’ve found that the little one’s morning nap is her longest and soundest of the day, so I’m now trying to cram in everything from showering to blogging to writing into a single nap. It’s amazing how productive you can be in an hour and half if you have to be. Consequently, her 3pm nap leaves much to be desired.

Anyway, since deciding I’m going to work in between baby’s bouts of playmat and bouncy seat, I’ve actually become quite busy. One of my very good friends read my blog and quickly sent some consulting work my way. (If you any of you don’t know, in my former life I was rather awesome at Quark. I can design a brochure in no time flat.)

So last week, I hustled to make some very official looking collateral materials for a very big financial institution leading me to wonder—what does my friend do for a living, anyway? It sort of felt like that episode of FRIENDS where they’re playing a trivia game to determine who knows each other best, and they all get stumped on the question, “What is Chandler’s job?” That was me. (Love ya, Tara!)

On the mommy front, I went to a family wedding over the weekend and took the little one to the rehearsal dinner, meaning we got to use one of the millions of infant formal wear gowns I received at my shower. How cute is she?

Everyone ooohed and ahhhed. Then we got to attend the wedding babyless as my parents were in town. Oh yeah, I drank more than one glass of wine–wild woman.

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Dusting the Cobwebs Off My Crazy Mommy Brain

So the baby is napping right now, which means I probably have another half-hour to work on the computer uninterrupted. (Dear Sleeping Gods, thank you for sending me a baby that is borderline narcoleptic.) I’ve decided to use this napping block to write a blog. Next nap, I’m gonna work on the book. The evening nap, I’m going to work on consulting projects.

This is how I’ve decided to structure my day.

When I started this whole mommy thing, you know a whopping three months ago, I assumed that an hour was not enough time to accomplish anything work-related. So I used these naps to shower, eat lunch, drink coffee, do laundry, yadda yadda. And I basically waited for the baby to wake up so we could play again.

Now, I’ve decided I’ve been doing this all wrong. I can eat while she’s in a swing and not consider it neglect. I can fold laundry while she sits under a mobile. I can blow-dry my hair while she stares at a ceiling fan. Not cooing and playing and reading with her ever second her eyes are open does not make me a bad mother.

And by accepting this, I’ve now freed up my naptimes for actual brain activity. Sure, you might not be able to write a whole book in an hour, but you can edit one chapter. And that’s something.

Plus it keeps my brain from rotting. And what could would a mommy with a rotten brain be? Yucky, yucky.

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Motherhood, Stress, and Writing: The Wisdom of Uma Thurman

So I saw this movie the other night and it was like watching my life on film, only my life five years from now—an almost an Ebenezer Scrooge moment where I was being shown what would become of me if I continued on the path I was on. The movie is called MOTHERHOOD and stars Uma Thurman. (It’s on cable right now if you want to DVR it.)

Basically, Uma plays a writer whose life has been taken over by motherhood and as such hasn’t had time to write in years. To say I could relate is an understatement. I’ve hardly had time to work lately, and not because of lack of desire. You just can’t concentrate much when you only have a one-hour naptime to work with. And even if you have someone else in the house to help—like my husband in the evenings—you still can’t accomplish much when you have to nurse a baby every couple of hours. So I found I was forgoing writing in order to do things like shower and eat breakfast.

But the more I don’t write, the more I miss it and the more I stop feeling like myself. Or like my old self. And then I watched Uma say this:

“It’s just that every day from the second I wake up till the second I pass out cold, my day, like the day of almost every other mother I know, is made up of a series of concrete, specific actions. And they’re actions that kind of wear away at passion, if you know what I mean. The actions are petty and small like… Like refilling coffee cups or folding underwear. But they accumulate in this really debilitating way that diminishes my ability to focus on almost anything else.”

My husband turned to me at this point in the movie and said, “This is depressing.”

Uh, yeah.

So I’ve decided I’m going to make a concerted effort to write again. I need it, it makes me happy, and I think in the end it’ll make me a better mother. Because a happy mom is a good mom, right?

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Pen Your Own Romantic LOVE STORY With GCC Member Jennifer Echols

If you’re looking for a good LOVE STORY to curl up with before Labor Day, then you have to try GCC Member Jennifer Echols’ new novel, LOVE STORY, out this month through MTV Books.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions – it’s her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family’s racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin’s college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a local coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter… so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?

Then, on the day she’s sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He’s joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin’s heart with longing. Now she’s not just imagining what might have been. She’s writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter… except this story could come true.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: In ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA, Mariana is a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. How many times have you been a bridesmaid and what’s the worst dress you ever wore?
Jennifer: I have been a bridesmaid three times. Two of the dresses are tied for worst place: one was shiny teal with poofy shoulders and an asymmetrical hem, and the other was a bright purple suit. Predictably, my best dress was my own! The last time I was a bridesmaid, at a beautiful rooftop wedding in Manhattan in September, my friend asked everyone to wear a pretty dress in a fall color.

Q: I’ve used some of my personal background in each of my novels. Did you take any snippets from your real life when writing your latest book? Base any characters on real people?

Jennifer: The characters aren’t based on real people, but I definitely based Erin’s struggle to become an author and work in the publishing industry on my own struggle. Her frustrations are my own.

Q: Let’s talk publishing. What was harder for you, finding an agent or an editor? Why?

Jennifer: Finding an agent was not easy, but I did it first at age 22. Since I wasn’t published until age 35, I’d say finding an editor was harder for me! However, back in the day, I was doing things the hard way, without the internet! Publishing a novel is still a long shot, and it takes a lot of hard work and commitment. But with the information available online, at least it’s easier nowadays to look up more accurate information about agents and editors, and get your manuscript to someone who will enjoy it.

Q: Where did the idea for you latest novel come from?

Jennifer: I have taken every creative writing class available to me in school, and I taught writing at three major state universities. It has always struck me how sensitive writers (especially unpublished writers) are about their stories, and how volatile these classes can become. I thought this would make a terrific, dramatic background for a romance novel.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your latest novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jennifer: Because this was the second book on a contract with MTV Books, it wasn’t as dramatic as some of my other sales! I came up with the idea a long time ago, and it had been percolating. When the time came to propose a new novel to my editor, I discussed the idea with my critique partner and got really excited about it, because she loved it. (I wish everyone had critique partners as helpful and supportive as mine!) My editor liked the idea, too, but she thought it was too sweet, and she asked me to make it “a little less Saved by the Bell.” So I did.

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Losing Your Religion With GCC Member Melissa Walker’s Hell Houses

So you know those fanatical religious sects always profiled on 20/20? Ever wonder what it would be like to grow up in one? Well, GCC Member Melissa Walker did and you can read all about it in her new novel, SMALL TOWN SINNERS, out this month through Bloomsbury.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Lacey Anne, daughter of the pastor and perennial good girl, is eligible for a lead role in the season’s Hell House production—a role she’s been coveting for years. But when Ty moves to town as casting begins, a new perspective is added to Lacey Anne’s world and she starts to see her tight-knit, Evangelical community in a different light. With the help of her two best friends Starla Joy and Dean, and her potential first love Ty, Lacey Anne begins exploring her own thoughts and feelings about her religion, her community, and her place within both. While this novel deals with provocative issues like religion, teen pregnancy and underage drinking, it is not an “issue” book; the topics are masterfully interwoven into this story of friendship and family.

Here’s what Melissa had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Melissa: I drove cross-country with my friend Ruthie, and we stopped in Memphis to go to Graceland. I figured we’d tour it for two hours and then move on, but we got OBSESSED and stayed the whole day, throwing off the rest of our NC to Cali schedule. But: Worth it! That place is FASCINATING!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Melissa: I think I always knew I wanted to write, I just wasn’t sure that “writer” was a real career path. Good thing I had super encouraging parents — they never told me that writing wasn’t a “real job.” Phew!

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Melissa: I had a party at my house when I turned 16, but I remember being like, “What should we do?” Too young to drink, too old for party games. I think it was pretty boring.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Melissa: I do outline, chapter by chapter. Just a sentence for each one but it really helps me to see where I’m going!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Melissa: I was at home eating reheated Chinese food when my agent called to talk offers! I love that phone call — it’s so full of excitement and possibility! I don’t let Chinese food sit for much, but I put the bowl down and listened hard on that call.

Thank you, Melissa! And if you’d like to know even more about Melissa’s new book, check out this awesome article from the New York Times (Wow!). Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Forgotten Angels And More With GCC Member Suzanne Young

Who doesn’t love a rogue angel tempting fate? Because that’s exactly what you get in GCC Member Suzanne Young’s new novel, A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL out this month through Balzer&Bray/HarperCollins.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

We all want to be remembered. Charlotte’s destiny is to be Forgotten…

Charlotte’s best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she’s cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what’s really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend’s arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become—her mark on this earth, her very existence—is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny—no matter how dark the consequences?

Here’s what Suzanne had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Suzanne: Oh, gosh. Most of my college years were spent on road trips. How can I pick one?? Hm, maybe the time we took a trip up to Geneseo College and attended a party, only to have my car nearly explode on the way back to the dorms. It was actually kind of hilarious.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Suzanne: It really depends on the story. Lately my stories have become more complicated, so I’ve had to jot down a sequence of events—not a real outline. Especially since I write them on the backs of restaurant napkins.

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Suzanne: I was parking in my garage when my agent called me. When he first told me, my response was, “Seriously?” As if my agent has time to prank call me at 8am. I sat and cried in my car for a little while after, but it was all celebration that rest of the week.

Thank you, Suzanne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Get All Brainwashed With GCC Member Elana Johnson

To think for yourself or not think for yourself, that is the question in GCC Member Elana Johnson’s new novel, POSSESSION out this month through Simon Pulse. Because really, who needs to pick their own husband anyway?

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them….starting by brainwashed Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous: everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

Here’s what Elana had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Elana: Well, I don’t know about funny ha-ha, but we took a road trip one Christmas from Utah—which gets a lot of snow in December—to Arizona, that doesn’t. Our car started making a funny sound, and it turned out that we had to replace all our tires in Kingston, Arizona.

Not fun. But we did it. About six weeks later, while I drove to school in 8 inches of snow, I slid right off the road. Turns out that Kingston doesn’t sell snow tires, so I had to replace them again!

So not funny ha-ha, but funny nonetheless.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Elana: Absolutely not! I actually took the AP English test as a junior in high school so I could skip English as a senior. I majored in Chemistry Education. I switched to Elementary Education with a Math minor, and that’s actually what I earned. So no creative stuff in sight.

I wanted to be a teacher when I was a child—and I am!

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Elana: Nothing. We didn’t really celebrate things like this. Lame, I know.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Elana: I’m a complete discovery writer. I don’t like to outline; it steals all the fun from writing. There’s nothing better than drafting with nothing but a wing and a prayer.

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Elana: I was at home, and I got the email and just about died. Ten minutes later, my agent called. It was a bit premature; we just had interest, but it was serious interest and we had a date the editor was taking the MS to acquisitions. It was our first response, and it was an almost-yes!

I was thrilled when it became a real yes—and I hadn’t been rejected by any other editors yet! (Of course, I’d been rejected by hundreds of literary agents, so I’ve been told no plenty of times.)

With the real yes phone call, I was on the phone when my husband got home from work. So I scrawled on a post-it note “Simon Pulse bought my book!” and held it up for him to see. He whisper-screamed. It was awesome.

Thank you, Elana! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Kick Some Evil Fairy Butt With GCC Member Amanda Ashby

Forget Tinkerbelle, the fairies in GCC Member Amanda Ashby’s new novel are evil and need to be slain. To make it worse, they’re sarcastic hipsters. Now tell me that isn’t a reason to read FAIRY BAD DAY out this month through Puffin/Speak.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

It’s going to be a fairy bad day.

First, my rightful designation of dragon slayer is STOLEN right out from under me by Curtis Green. Sure, he’s really cute, but that doesn’t give him an excuse.

On top of that, I am assigned to slay fairies. I know what you’re thinking—how hard could it be, right? Wrong! These menacing beasts with their tiny hipster clothes and mocking sarcasm love taunting me. And they won’t STOP!

But the thing that tops my list of stuff to ruin my day? That would be the GIANT KILLER FAIRY that I have to hunt down and slay because I am the only one who can see it. There is someone who can help me. Unfortunately…it’s Curtis.

Here’s what Amanda had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Amanda: I met my husband in England and we were over in France working at a camping ground in Brittany, but we decided to hitchhike to Paris (kids, don’t try this at home). Anyway, we were totally standing in the wrong part of the freeway and were just thinking that we were idiots because even if someone had wanted to pick us up, there was no way they could pull over because they would have to cross a merging lane. The minute we had that thought this huge semi-trailer comes tearing toward us like something out of Mad Max and just cuts all the traffic off to stop and pick us up. The guy even looked like some crazy French cowboy, but he ended up being really nice and he just wanted passengers so that he could stay awake (we really wanted him to stay awake as well so we talked to him a lot even though he didn’t speak English and while my husband had school-yard French the only thing I could do was buy beer!!). The rest of the week in Paris was amazing as well, but one of my favorite parts was getting that lift!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Amanda: Snap! I didn’t know either! I knew that I loved reading books and that I was really good at creative writing, but being the slow learner that I am, I never managed to link the dots until I was in my mid-twenties. Weird thing is that I was recently talking to a friend from college and telling her this and she was really surprised, since she always seemed to know this was what I was going to do! As for what I was going to do, I really didn’t have a clue. I studied journalism but I knew pretty quickly that I wouldn’t be doing that because it was like the antithesis of everything I loved about writing. Still, it ended up being a great training ground!

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Amanda: Nothing special. In Australia the big thing we all celebrated was turning 21, which is pretty weird when you think about it, since our legal drinking age is 18 so there is nothing ‘special’ that happens at 21 but for some reason everyone had the most parties! For mine we hired out a quirky vegetarian restaurant and all my friends and family were there—though I nearly didn’t make it after having spent the afternoon blowing up balloon. Why are they so hard to do?

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Amanda: I’m not a natural outliner but I’ve been trying to get better at it because when I fly by the seat of my pants, I do a LOT of rewriting and I get quite frustrated at how hard it is to find the ‘real’ story. So basically I’m looking for a shortcut!!!!!

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Amanda: Fairy Bad Day is the second book in a contract so instead of being exciting it was sort of nerve racking because while I knew that my publisher like the first book I really didn’t have any idea if they would want this one until I got my acceptance payment on the revisions! In fact all of my call stories are very unexciting because I don’t live in the US so due to the time difference, my agent and I do nearly everything by email!

Thank you, Amanda! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Question Every Decision You’ve Ever Made With GCC Member Jessica Brody’s New Book

So can you remember that really horrible decision you made in high school? Yeah, so can Brooklyn Pierce, the main character in GCC Member Jessica Brody’s new novel, MY LIFE UNDECIDED out this month through FSG. But would you ever let the blogosphere decide your life for you? She did. And I can’t wait to see what happens.

As always, here’s a little bit about the book to get you hooked:

PLEASE READ THIS! MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!

Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit melodramatic at the moment.

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else be the one to decide which book I read for English. Or whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich Maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: Chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

But don’t take my word for it, read the book and decide for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration. Or maybe that’s just me. After all, it’s my life.

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Jessica: Well, I’m not sure how funny it is. At the time it was actually kind of scary. My mom and I were driving from Colorado to California and we ran out of gas in the middle of Utah…in the middle of the night. It was totally dark and there was no cell phone reception so we couldn’t call AAA. We had to wait for a trucker to pull over. He offered to drive to the next town, buy us some gas, and drive back with it. Thank goodness he did, otherwise, who knows how long we’d be stuck out there!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Jessica: The short answer is yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Although it took me a long time to figure that out. In second grade I turned in a four page book report (the assignment was to write one paragraph) and the teacher made such a huge deal about it. I really couldn’t understand why. Writing just came naturally to me. At that moment I remember wanting to be a writer. But somewhere along the way I convinced myself that I needed to get a “serious” job…you know, one that comes with dental insurance. So I majored in Economics in college (very serious!) and went on to be a financial analyst for MGM Studios. It wasn’t until later that I realized “serious” wasn’t for me. So I quit to pick up where I left off at age seven.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Jessica: I drove. Seriously. I was so excited to finally get my license I think the first thing I did was hop in the car and speed off into the wind.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Jessica: Outline! Outline! Outline! LOL. It’s true though. I never start writing until I have a concrete outline done. And I use a very special “tool” for my outlines. It’s called the Save the Cat Beat Sheet and it was invented by the amazing Blake Snyder, author of the Save the Cat screenwriting books. He’s a genius! The beat sheet was actually created for screenwriters but I found it works just as well for novels (or any story, actually!) and so now I never write another book without it!

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jessica: I was in my home office (which at the time was in the dining room of my tiny apartment) when I got the call from my agent. I remember it feeling very surreal. I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. To this day, four books later, it still doesn’t feel real. I wonder if it ever will!

Thank you, Jessica! And if you’d like a visual peek inside the world of Brooklyn, check out Jessica’s fantastic new book trailer. Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Please Help Me Welcome Baby Juliet!

So a few weeks ago I warned that the blog might go silent when the little bundle I was carrying decided to make her appearance, and now I’m happy to report that Juliet Wallach is officially here!

She arrived healthy, happy, and just in time for Easter weighing in at 7lbs 11oz. She’s already tall at 21 inches long and she has a full head of hair.

Isn’t she cute? We call that her diva shot because it looks like her arms are dancing.

And to further prove she’s mine, here’s a picture of the two of us together. (Doesn’t it look like she’s thinking, “Oh, be still my heart…” in this photo?)

While I’d like to claim credit for the awesome pictures, they were actually taken by the hospital photographer. She was about a day and half here and I hadn’t showered since my delivery (which you should consider more impressive since I went natural to 9 cm through no desire of my own–anesthesiologist was busy with a c-section somewhere).

We’re both taking a well-deserved rest now as we get to know each other, but I should be back to regular blogging soon. Stay tuned!

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Writing The Dreaded Evil Synopsis

So I was recently asked to write a synopsis for my WIP. My reaction? Oh, God, not that. Anything but that.

It’s hard enough for writers to condense the plots of their 300-plus page novels into two paragraphs when they’re querying, but at least then, you know your goal—get in, get out, whet their appetites. Leave them wanting more.

This is not the case with the synopsis.

You must now condense the entire plot of your book, including the ending, plus all the important characters and any interesting subplots (love triangles, backstories, feuds) into three-to-five pages. Then, you have to write this wonderful synopsis in the same “voice” as your novel and hope that it was done in such a compelling way that the editor/agent/whomever wants to pick up your 300-page novel and keep reading.

Fun, right?

Well, I got through it. So I thought I’d share a few tips I learned about writing a synopsis this time around:

1. Avoid the words, “And then.” For example, “Angie went to the mall. And then she met the guy of her dreams. And then they went to the movies. At the movies, they ran into her ex-boyfriend. And then a fight ensued.” You get the picture.

2. Stick with only the main characters. Don’t waste time mentioning the name of any character who will only be referenced once in your synopsis. It just gets confusing. So if your heroine kisses a random football player at a party, don’t mention that the football player’s name is BOB unless he ends up being central to the rest of the story.

3. Make sure to focus on character development.
Fight the instinct to make the synopsis entirely about plot. You need to show how your character will change from the beginning to the end of the novel. Delve into her emotional conflicts. For example, “When Angie’s friends turn their backs on her, she’s sent reeling into depression. Refusing to leave her house for days, her thoughts grow increasingly dark.”

4. A few well-placed questions can help when summing up how the plot moves forward.
I know that questions are often avoided in a query, but when writing the synopsis of my current WIP—which is a mystery—I found this device useful. For example, “Angie’s left wondering why her father refuses to discuss his childhood and why there isn’t a single family photo from his youth. Did he really grow up in Ohio? If so, why is he receiving a high school reunion announcement from Hawaii?”

Okay, I hope this helps! And I hope you don’t find yourself having to write a dreaded synopsis anytime soon. But if you do, try to fight the urge to scream at the email requesting it, “Just read the book! Then you’ll know what happens!” Trust me, that won’t get you anywhere.

POP CULTURE RANT: Soap Operas

That gentle sound of taps you hear playing in the background is the end of not only an era, but a genre. Last week, ABC announced it was cancelling ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. This means come 2012, only 4 soaps will be left on the air. In 1970, there were nineteen. As a soap fan—a tradition passed down to me by my grandmother (as is the case with many soap fans)—I find this depressing. Not only were a lot of people put out of work—from actors to crew members—but it also shows the network’s lack of respect for fans. For years, I feel that the writers of soaps have switched focus from “love in the afternoon” to gun violence and baby killing. And while a good dramatic plot is fantastic once in awhile (BJ’s heart on GH), I personally don’t think it’s what the average soap fan is looking for at 2pm. But rather than listen to their wants, network execs cancelled the shows to replace them with cheaper reality programming and talk shows. Because we all need another VIEW, right? Let’s hope us remaining soap fans can band together to keep Y&R, GH, Days and B&B going strong long enough for the networks to reconsider killing the genre. Otherwise, what are my future grandkids gonna watch when I come over to babysit?

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Coming Out of the Closet, Or Should I Say Diaper Genie

So there’s something I’ve been keeping under wraps for, oh say about nine months now. I just wasn’t ready to announce it to the blogosphere, but I’ve hit the point where there’s a part of my brain constantly thinking about it, so I have to say something or I’m going to explode (which I’m scheduled to do in about 3 weeks anyway). Yup, I’m preggers.

I’m officially due at the end of the month. This is my first. And it’s a girl.

So while I searched for a new agent, revised two books, and prepared for a new submission, I also had a little one kicking me and a nursery to decorate and clothes to wash in special detergent and bottles to sterilize and baby books to read.

I think I’ve taken nesting to a new level. Ever since we took that labor and delivery class at the hospital (yes, the one where they show that video), I’ve been on super pregnant mode. To quote my husband, “This sh!t just got real.”

We’ve done everything from put up bead board to paint the bathroom. Even the diapers are unpacked and the hospital bag is ready.

All the while, I’m trying to complete the edits to my WIP in time to send out a submission before anyone even thinks of contracting. It’s like a game of beat the clock, only the clock kicks you every time you think you’re onto a great revision idea. And it’s getting more uncomfortable to sit in my desk chair.

So if I suddenly disappear in a few weeks and you don’t hear from me, you know where I’ll be—knee deep in a Diaper Genie. But don’t worry I’ll post a picture of the little one, and I’m sure she’ll be decked out in pink.

POP CULTURE RANT: Grey’s Anatomy
You know what you shouldn’t watch when you’re nine months pregnant? A show where a pregnant lady goes through a windshield and they all sing about it. Then they deliver her 24-week-old baby while she’s in a coma. Yeah, that episode was a mistake. I’m still emotionally recovering. What was I thinking? I knew the minute Cali took off her seatbelt that something was going to go wrong, but I just couldn’t turn away. Glutton for punishment.

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Chinese Water Torture, Or What It Feels Like To Cut 10,000 Words

So one of the problems with writing in the YA genre is that you have to keep your books succinct. This is a good and bad thing. On one hand, you won’t find a bunch of purple prose. (“Her flaxen hair flowed like dried wheat in Kansas on a sultry summer day with the sweet smell of honeysuckle dripping luxuriously…” Yadda yadda.) On the other hand, you don’t have an unlimited amount of words to get your plot across. No matter how complex, you gotta keep your books short (or shortish).

Yeah, I can struggle with this.

It’s not that I’m naturally long-winded. At least, I don’t think so. It’s that I tend to over-plot. I’ve always got side-stories running. If you’ve read the Amor series, you’re familiar with Mariana’s best friend, Emily, who has an extensive subplot going on through the books. By the end, she could have her own spinoff series.

And if you’ve read my current WIP, you’d know I’ve got subplots to my subplots to my subplots. Personally, I like to think of my books as “multilayered.” However, those in the publishing business may just think of them as about 10,000 words too long.

So now, once again, I’m facing the daunting task of axing about 7 – 10,000 words from a manuscript. Oh, the horror.

And I know I’m not the only one suffering. When I mentioned my plight on Twitter, one fabulous Tweeter, @KatieAlender, said:

Once, I actually figured out that by cutting 14 words per page, I could lose 5000 words. So I tried it….. It’s easy… like emptying a bucket one grain of sand at a time, LOL.

Seriously, all you playing at home, give this a shot. We’re talking Chinese Water Torture. One word snipped: drip. Another word cut: drip, drip. Another: drip, drip, drip.

Now you see why YA doesn’t have purple prose.

So off again I go with my machete ready slice this manuscript. If I make it to my word count, I should earn a medal, or at least a certificate or a ribbon like you got in 4H. There has to be a website out there that does this.

POP CULTURE RANT: Hunger Games

Did you hear they cast Jennifer Lawrence to play Katniss in the Hunger Games trilogy? Personally, I have mixed feeling on this. When I saw her at the Oscars in the hot red dress, I was like, “Wow, who’s this chick?” One dress may have seriously changed that girls’ life, because I couldn’t have been the only one who wasn’t aware of her existence until then. (And you know, she was nominated for Best Actress.) On the down side, she’s 20, and while by real-life standards, she’s just a baby, in YA standards, she’s over the hill. By the time she films the third movie in the trilogy, she could be married with children. And she’s also a little too sexy for Katniss, in my opinion. But maybe I just can’t get that dress out of my head. It was really awesome.

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It’s National Grammar Day, And Me Speak Pretty

Happy National Grammar Day! What? You didn’t know? It’s not on your calendar? Hallmark doesn’t have an aisle of cards? Well, grammar’s not all that exciting, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

So in honor of this little known holiday (is it really a holiday? or just a day of recognition? a made up spoof?), I’ve decided to put together a list of my most common grammar mistakes as well as a list of the grammar rules I love to break.

My Biggest Grammar Mistakes:

1. Lay/Lie, or Drunk/Drank, or Hung/Hanged—
I swear there are words in the English language that are not meant to make sense when conjugated, so I will just admit defeat when it comes “people lie” and “things lay.”

2. Missing Words—
I don’t know if this is a true grammar issue, but when copyediting, my most common typo is simply forgetting to include those little words like “to” and “in” and “on.” No matter how many times I reread the sentence, my brain inserts the word I forgot to type.

3. Using “were” after “if”—If a person were to read my unedited manuscripts, they would find I often want to put “was” after if.

4. Adding all the necessary apostrophes to show possession—I most often have this problem when used in the plural, such as, “I went through my parents’ things.” That little apostrophe at the end of “parents” always eludes me.

And now for the fun part…

My Favorite Grammar Rules to Break

1. Fragments—
I love fragments! I love one-word sentences. Awesome. Without intentionally trying, fragments became a part of my writing style, my “voice” so to speak. I think they can speed up the flow of a scene.

2. Starting Sentences with But or And—
I do this all the time. But I know it’s wrong. And it’s probably someone else’s pet peeve. But I just love breaking this rule, every time I do I feel like there’s an elementary school teacher shaking her ruler at me.

3. Parentheses—
I know these are supposed to be used sparingly. They’re known to break up the flow of thought, and many people feel they can skip over what’s contained within them because it’s obviously not important otherwise it wouldn’t be in parentheses. But I use them to hold internal monologue, especially when I’m writing in the first person. (Like, really, anyone would ever say these things directly to the reader.) It’s just a fun quirk I developed over the years that I’m probably gonna stick with.

So enjoy your Grammar Day, and when you pound out your next email without thinking, imagine there’s a grammarista on the other side—she may be judging you today.

POP CULTURE RANT: The Oscars
Poor Anne Hathaway. She tried her best. And I think with a better cohost—my vote is for Justin Timberlake—she would have done an amazing job. She can sing, she can crack a joke, she’s perky, and she can obviously quick change into a dress like nobody’s business. But alas, she got James Franco, and no matter how much I love General Hospital, I can’t say anything positive about this soap star/Oscar-nominated/college student. He was a dud. His pasted-on smile was creepy, his shoulders were stiff, and he wasn’t even funny when he walked out in a dress. Why did the Oscar people pick him? He may be “young and hip,” but he’s also rather odd. If I know that, how come they didn’t know that?

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Insider’s Guide To Finding a New Agent

So this is something I’ve been keeping under wraps for awhile. Around the holidays, I decided to end my five-year working relationship with my former agent. It was a difficult decision and something I had been considering for a long time now. (Hint: That’s your first clue. If you start repeatedly thinking you might need a new agent, you probably do.)

I won’t go into all the details, because I still consider my former agent a friend, but ultimately it just wasn’t working out and we both knew it. So I decided to make the scary leap into the query pool—write a book unagented and go out and find myself a new Jerry Maguire.

Thankfully, I already had complete drafts of two full manuscripts that I was hoping to publish. So I shined them up and took a gamble as to which book might be better to go out into the great beyond. (I’m actually still debating this decision, because I love them both. It’s like Sophie’s Choice.)

Here’s what I found, once you’ve been published, querying is a whole different world. It’s kinda like this Cuba Gooding Jr. quote from Jerry Maguire—no, not “Show me the money!” But his quote about single mother’s, “They have been to the circus, you know what I’m saying? They have been to the puppet show and they have seen the strings.”

That’s how I felt about finding an agent this time around. I had already been behind the scenes at the circus, and I knew what I was looking for. Exactly. So I made a whopping list of five agents to query. Yup, five.

How did I choose these five, you ask? Simple.

First, I looked to authors who I already had relationships with (mostly via blogs and Twitter) and whose published works I thought had a voice similar to my own. Then I looked at their agents—all of them were very well respected. I contacted these author friends and, as politely as I could, asked for referrals. Trust me, I phrased this email in the most non-committal, no-pressure, you-don’t-have-to-do-this-if-you-don’t-want-to-way I could. Thankfully, because YA authors are awesome, everyone agreed.

I should add that by “referral,” I don’t mean I asked them to read my book and make some grand plea on my behalf. I merely asked if they would mention to their agent that they knew me and that I would be sending over an e-query soon, this way I wouldn’t end up in slush. There were no promises in blood. And all of these authors were very sweet to agree to do this. (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!)

I also looked to agents who I had previous working relationships with. One, I knew as an author (she’s an agent-author-blogger-tweeter extraordinaire). Another had previously worked with my former agent. And one worked at the agency I used to be represented by before my former agent struck out on her own. (Though I still sought out an author referral to this agent too, just for an added edge).

I also queried one agent cold.

Out of the five agents I contacted, I received five requests for full manuscripts (even from the cold query). Yay! The system worked.

After that, I received one rejection pretty quick. Boo. Then, I received an email from one agent saying she liked my writing a lot, was on the fence about the manuscript I submitted, and wanted to know if I had anything else I could send over. I did. Off went manuscript No. 2. A third agent said she read the entire manuscript (which was rare for her these days), but was still not 100% sold so she passed, but welcomed me to submit another book at some point in the future.

Then, I received an email from an agent saying she was on the fence about the manuscript, but liked my writing enough to pass my book along to another agent in her firm. That second agent said almost the same thing—liked my writing, wasn’t sure on the book, so she passed it on to a THIRD agent in her firm.

The “third” agent said she LOVE IT and made an offer. YAY!

I contacted the agents who still had my material and had not yet responded. A couple offered to work with me on Book No. 2, which they liked better than Book No. 1. But ultimately, I decided to go with the firm who had taken the time to have three agents read my book and who loved both books equally. My goal is to publish both, so it seemed like a natural decision.

Plus, the “third” agent and I really hit it off on the phone. I liked her personality, her quick responses to communications, and her notes on my manuscripts. She really seemed to “get” my work in a way I felt some of the other agents didn’t. And regardless of which book we submit first, I feel confident she’d passionately represent both.

So who is the “third” agent, you ask? Drum roll please…… dahdahdahdahdahdahdahdahdahdahdahdah ……

Melissa Jeglinski of the Knight Agency! I’m so thrilled to be working with her! I just officially accepted her offer today and I’m beyond excited to start my weekend off with such great news. I can’t wait to dive into things with her next week.

Now, if you’re keeping score at home, all-in-all, I queried five agents (which ended up being seven when you count the two referrals) and I started the process around Thanksgiving—initially contacting my author friends—and ended up with an offer around Valentine’s day. I seem to be having good luck with major holidays, so here’s hoping I get some more good news by Memorial Day!

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Thank goodness it’s sweeps, because if this Balkan storyline doesn’t end soon I’m going to end up ripping my hair out and looking like Theo Hoffman. Explain to me how the writers of this soap could manage to drag this out so long, yet Sonny and Brenda go from “we’re toxic for each other” to “let’s get married” within a day. I think somebody over there needs to take a creative writing class on pacing. And don’t even get me started on the fact that they fired Rebecca Herbst (Liz). I’m a Sam fan, and even I find this shocking and offensive given the 15 years the actress has put into the show. I hope she gets an awesome new gig soon!

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B!tch, Please! The Feminist List Heard Through the Blogosphere

So a few days ago, a very popular feminist magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, put together a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader on its website. It’s got everything from Judy Blume to Laurie Halse Anderson and was originally heralded by many commenters as a tremendous resource for teens. Then, the crapstorm hit.

I won’t get into all the details, because it’s a lengthy debate involving nearly 200 comments. In a nutshell, after a couple of people (and by that I mean one or two loud folks) complained about the inclusion of certain books they didn’t believe deserved to be on the list, Bitch Media caved and pulled three titles from the list. (Here are some great CliffsNotes versions of the controversy, if you’d like a better explanation: Chasing Ray and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.)

What really struck me about this entire debate is that one of the books, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, was yanked because of a single passage in the book that looked like it couldn’t have been more than a page long.

Full disclosure: I have not read this book.
What I’m responding to here is the idea that an entire book can be judged based on a couple of paragraphs. As an author, I find this appalling.

Now, I did read the passage in question. It’s a whopping 500 words. (You can read it here on Glen Akin’s blog.)

Given all the hype, I expected these excerpts to be pretty damning. An entire book was deemed unfit for feminist consumption because of 500 words, so those must be some soul-cringing, close-your-eyes, OMG!, she-said-what???, 500 words.

My reaction? I don’t get it.

I actually had to read the offended blogger’s entire explanation to understand what was so abhorrent in their interpretation. And there in lies the rub. People were offended by one possible interpretation of what was written—in this case, claiming that the passage encourages “rape culture” by “blaming the victim” for wearing revealing clothes that attract negative attention and therefore violence.

Here’s the thing: Sisters Red is not about rape. The selected passage is not about rape. The book is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where two sisters in red capes are hunting werewolves; and in this mythology, werewolves are attracted to pretty girls in pretty clothes. One of the Red-Riding-Werewolf-Hunting-Sisters is permanently disfigured from a previous werewolf attack, thus clouding her view of the world and pretty girls in general.

I read the objectionable passage cold, without knowing much about the book or its character, and came to this interpretation: Wow, this werewolf hunter girl is really bitter. Talk about a jealous streak. Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong, some of this character’s internal monologue is dark, but even she backtracks from her initial thought of, “I should let the Fenris [werewolf] have you,” to thinking in the next sentence, “No, I didn’t mean that.”

But even if she did—characters think bad things in books all the time. That’s what makes them characters we love to hate, or characters we’re dying to understand, or characters we want to see redeemed. It’s the nature of storytelling.

But to take a character’s one-page worth of negative thoughts about werewolf hunting and interpret them to be about rape, then use those 500 words as a reason to deem an entire book as unworthy of feminist readers is just plain wrong. I could only imagine how some of my characters’ thoughts would be interpreted if picked apart sentence-by-sentence out of context. I doubt many books would stand up to such scrutiny.

And I’m sure this type of scrutiny goes on in public libraries and school districts across the country when books are brought up to be banned. But I would never expect to see such a debate, or such a quick yanking of a title, from a website that calls itself Bitch Media.

Bitch, please.

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Mailing That Letter You Wrote To Your Bully…Or Publishing It

So you may remember last spring when I first told you about Young Adult Authors Against Bullying (YAAAB), the ingenious organization starting by authors Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. Well, these authors have taken it one-step further and put together an anthology that’s been garnering quite a bit of buzz.



DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories
, edited by Hall and Jones, let’s us share our personal bullying accounts with teens, and I’m excited and proud that I’ll have an essay in the mix with some incredible authors.

Check out the full line-up below:

Introduction by Ellen Hopkins

Dear Bully

Dear Bully by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Love Letter to My Bully by Tonya Hurley
Dear Audrey by Courtney Sheinmel
Slammed by Marlene Perez
My Apology by Marina Cohen
Dear Samantha by Kieran Scott

Just Kidding
Stench by Jon Scieszka
What I Wanted to Tell You by Melissa Schorr
Subtle Bullying by Rachel Vail
Hiding Me by R. A. Nelson
Midsummer’s Nightmare by Holly Cupala
BFFBOTT.COM by Lisa McMann
The Innocent Bully by Linda Gerber
The Secret by Heather Brewer
The Funny Guy by R. L. Stine

Survival
A List by Micol Ostow 00
There’s a Light by Saundra Mitchell
The Soundtrack to My Survival by Stephanie Kuehnert
If Mean Froze by Carrie Jones
Abuse by Lucienne Diver
The Boy Who Won’t Leave Me Alone by A. S. King
That Deep Alone by Lise Haines
break my heart by Megan Kelley Hall
End of the World by Jessica Brody
Girl Wars by Crissa-Jean Chappell
The Curtain by Deborah Kerbel

Regret
The Eulogy of Ivy O’Conner by Sophie Jordan
Regret by Lisa Yee
Karen by Nancy Werlin
Surviving Alfalfa by Teri Brown
When I Was a Bully, Too by Melissa Walker
Carol by Amy Koss
Never Shut Up by Kiersten White
The Day I Followed by Eric Luper

Thank You, Friends
The Alphabet by Laura Kasischke
They Made Me Do It and I’m Sorry by Cecil Castellucci
Simplehero by Debbie Rigaud
Isolation by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Luz by Melodye Shore
Dear Caroline from Canada by Carrie Ryan
The Blue-Eyed Girl by Jocelyn Maeve Kelley
Frenemies Are Not Friends by Michelle Zink

Insight
The Other Side by Nancy Holder
Can We Make This Letter Disappear? by Sara Bennett Wealer
Bully on the Ledge by Kurtis Scaletta
Informed Consent by Lara Zeises
Silent All These Years by Alyson Noël
Now and Then by Aprilynne Pike
STRANGERS ON A STREET by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Look! That’s me!)
Objects in Mirror are More Complex Than They Appear by Lauren Oliver

Speak
Levels by Tanya Lee Stone
Slivers of Purple Paper by Cyn Balog
The Sound of Silence by Claudia Gabel
Starship Suburbia by Maryrose Wood
Kicking Stones at the Sun by Jo Knowles
Memory Videos by Nancy Garden
Finding Light in the Darkness by Lisa Schroeder

Write It
The Sandwich Fight by Steven Wedel
Fearless by Jeannine Garsee
Without Armor by Daniel Waters
The Seed by Lauren Kate

It Gets Better
Now by Amy Reed
Standing Tall by Dawn Metcalf
The Superdork of the Fifth-Grade Class of 1989 by Kristen Harmel
“Who Gives the Popular People Power? Who???” by Megan McCafferty
“That Kid” by Janni Lee Simner
This Is Me by Erin Dionne
Bullies for Me by Mo Willems
To Carolyn Mackler, From Elizabeth in IL
Dear Elizabeth by Carolyn Mackler

The anthology debuts this fall and has already been featured in Publisher’s Weekly and now February’s issue of Glamour magazine!

Check that out! It’s not just a little blurb in Glamour, it’s a two-page spread with a full-page photo. Don’t Megan and Carrie look great?! You can click on the photos to read the entire article. (Thanks, Melissa Walker for the links!)

Let’s hope this book brings more light to the bullying epidemic in this country. I know Megan and Carrie are already getting emails from teens about how YAAAB has had a huge impact on their lives. They’re using the Facebook page as an outlet, and many plan to contribute essays (along with other young adult authors) to the new YAAAB website that is coming soon.

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GCC Member Laurie Faria Stolarz Gives A Touching Glimpse of the Future

Who hasn’t wished they could see the future? But if you really got your wish and every time you touched someone crazy images flashed in your brain, would you still consider it a gift? I’m not so sure, but I’d like to find out when I read GCC Member Laurie Faria Stolarz’s new novel, DEADLY LITTLE GAMES, which just debuted through Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

High school juniors Camelia and Ben have discovered a powerful bond: they both possess the power of psychometry, the ability to see the future through touch. For Ben, the gift is a frightening liability. When he senses a strong threat or betrayal, he risks losing control. Camelia’s gift is more mysterious. When she works with clay, her hands sculpt messages her mind doesn’t yet comprehend. Before either one has a chance to fully grasp their abilities, a new danger surfaces, but this time, Camelia is not the target. Adam, a familiar face from Ben’s past, is drawn into a puzzle he can’t solve. . . and his life is on the line. As the clues pile up, Camelia must decide whether to help him and risk losing Ben or do nothing and suffer the consequences. But in these games, who can be trusted?

Here’s what Laurie had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Laurie: Traveling cross country Spain, not having train fare, and having to hide out in the bathroom until the conductors were completely done stamping tickets.

I’ve road-tripped in Spain myself! But I never managed to sneak out of train fare. Kudos!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Laurie: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Since before I could even write, I was creating stories and plotlines for my dolls and having them act out plays. Then, when I actually could write, I’d write out the scripts and make edits and adjustments I went along.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Laurie: My friends surprised me by renting a limo which we took out on the town.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Laurie: I’m definitely an outliner. I like knowing ahead of time what my main character wants and why and what he or she needs to learn in order to get it. My outlines do typically change as I discover things along the way, but I like the safety of an outline before I begin.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Laurie: I actually got the contract in the mail before I even got a phone call. I thought that was a little odd, so I wasn’t really sure it was real.

Thank you, Laurie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Good Girls Go Bad With GCC Member Eileen Cook

Isn’t it every over-achiever’s dream to just not over achieve for once? To do the wrong the thing? To be the bad girl? Well, that’s exactly what GCC Member Eileen Cook explores in her new novel, THE EDUCATION OF HAILEY KENDRICK out this week through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Hailey Kendrick always does exactly what’s expected of her. She has the right friends, dates the perfect boy, gets good grades, and follows all the rules. But one night, Hailey risks everything by breaking a very big rule in a very public way…and with a very unexpected partner in crime. Hailey gets caught, but her accomplice does not, and Hailey takes the fall for both of them.

Suddenly, Hailey’s perfect life–and her reputation–are blowing up in her face. Her friends are all avoiding her. Her teachers don’t trust her. Her boyfriend won’t even speak to her for long enough to tell her that she’s been dumped.

They say honesty is the best policy–but some secrets are worth keeping, no matter the cost. Or are they?

Here’s what Eileen had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Eileen: I somehow got involved in taking a road trip to Memphis Tennessee to see Graceland. It was completely spontaneous. You meet a lot of really interesting people at Graceland. Trust me when I tell you there are people who take their Elvis VERY seriously. I would encourage you not to laugh. Not even at the giant purple poodle wall paper in the bathroom (it was his mom’s favorite) or the collection of sparkly jumpsuits.

Now Graceland is a roadtrip. In fact, that might be the ultimate road trip destination, up there with the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (Darwin, MN).

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Eileen: I grew up loving books and always wanted to be a writer. However, I was also open to careers as a gold winning Olympic figure skater, famous actress, singer or royalty. It’s a good thing the writing panned out.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Eileen: I can’t remember! That means I either had such a wild and crazy time that I blocked out the memory, or more likely that I did something small like have some friends over for a slumber party. I do remember that I went the very next day to get my drivers’ license and I couldn’t wait to borrow the car. (This despite the fact that I lived in a small town and there really wasn’t anyplace exciting to go.)

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Eileen: I am also an organic writer who now uses an outline. There’s nothing like deadlines and editors wanting to know what you are doing to motivate you to come up with an outline. I’m a firm believer that you have to put the work in somewhere. Either you write it organically and spend more time in revision, or you spend more time in the beginning in the outlining stage- either way- it’s work.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Eileen: I was walking the dogs when my agent called my cell phone to tell me the news. I had worked with my editor in the past on two other books so I was fairly confident she would publish this book, but it was still this HUGE relief and excitement. The dogs got extra cookies and I bought champagne for myself. (Not being a big fan of liver jerky like they are.)

Thank you, Eileen! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Have A Very Apple New Year

So Santa hooked me up this year! Well, to be more specific, my husband did. Yes, folks, I am typing this blog on my brand new MacBook Pro laptop! Jealous? I even got loaded up with all the software a girl could want—from Microsoft Office to the entire line of Adobe products (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) to Scrivener’s novel-formatting program (still working on learning this one). It’s a very apple new year!

Now, let me start off by saying we had a $100 limit on gifts this year. Yeah. That would be ten dollars times ten. That’s it. You see, we bought a new house, lots of new furniture, have plenty of new expenses on the way, so we thought we’d be conservative. Save a little cash, you know. Clearly, that didn’t happen.

But don’t think I didn’t confirm this before I shopped. Me: “We’re just spending $100, right?” Husband: “Yeah, totally.” I believed him! Well, I expected he’d go over a little bit, maybe even double it, but I didn’t expect the limit to be increased by multiples of ten.

So while I go out and buy my dear hubby a very nice Dewalt cordless drill with an LED light (don’t ask me, he wanted it), and a fun DVD, and a cool T-shirt, thinking I’m being all sneaky by “going over the limit,” he’s at the Apple store spending our limit on just the One-to-One training alone.

But I’m not going to complain, because I have a fancy silver new laptop. (It’s so pretty!) And now I have to learn how to use it. You see, dear readers, up until this point, I’ve been a PC girl. Of course, the PC laptop I was using prior to this was older than most of my nephews, but hey, it worked. I knew all the key commands, all the right clicking features, all the navigation tricks. Now, I’m starting over.

I do have some history with the Apple brand, though. Back when I was a reporter, I had a teal green iMac at work (not meant for office use, the thing crashed 3 times a day). And in college, BU’s computer labs had pretty orange and blue iMacs. But that is where my Apple knowledge stops—circa the year 2000. This thing is like a space shuttle in comparison. So thank goodness my husband did spend the money on the One-to-One training, because I’m gonna need it. I hope the poor Apple guy who tutors me this Friday is very patient.

Did you ever notice how all the Apple store employees sort of look alike, as if they’re related or something? It’s like Apple cut and pasted them into the stores from stock imagery.

So bear with me if the blogging is slow because I will be trying to figure out things like: Why do all the fonts on this computer look so darn small? Because I swear Times New Roman 12 pt isn’t this tiny on my PC. And why does the screen dim when I’m not in front of a lamp? Shouldn’t it get brighter when it’s darker? And what’s with this Safari Internet browser? Should I stick with it or go back to Mozilla?

I suspect 2011 is going to have a steep learning curve. It’s like I’m back in school again.

POP CULTURE RANT: The Eagles
Okay, so after they play the fourth quarter of their lives, creating a game so iconic it will probably be remembered for decades to come (“The New Miracle at the New Meadowlands”), they go and stink up the field last night. This comes after the game gets canceled because of snow. Ahhh, poor babies. Didn’t want to get their noses chilly. Even our own governor called us a nation of “wusses” for canceling that one. (Though in all fairness it was the NFL who canceled it, not the Eagles.) But still, with a couple extra days of rest and a first round bye on the line, you’d expect a better showing than what we got. I guess since we clinched the division already, maybe the Eagles should use next week as their “bye” and sit the starters. Vick looked like he could use it as he limped off the field last night.

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How To Work Soap Operas Into Your ESOL Conference Keynote

So I was invited to speak at the Maryland TESOL (Teachers of English as a Second Language) conference over the weekend, presumably because my Amor and Summer Secrets series features a multicultural heroine who spends the summer with her Spanish-speaking relatives. They also wanted me to encourage the teachers attending to take their students to the library to promote reading for pleasure as a way to improve their language skills. I did all of this, of course, but I still managed to throw in a little side-note on how soap operas changed my grandma’s life.

You see, my dad moved to the states from Puerto Rico when he was eight years old. He didn’t speak any English and neither did his parents. So when I was asked to speak at an ESOL conference, the most applicable personal experiences I had to draw from were that of my father and my grandparents. But unlike my father (who did learn English in school and ultimately went on to get a master’s degree), my grandmother learned English by watching CBS soap operas. Like the entire line up.

I know this to be true, because she babysat me growing up. So at five years old, I knew the entire plot of The Young and the Restless. (Do you think that might factor in to why I still love soap operas today?) And while my grandmother eventually learned to understand English fluently—particularly conversations involving forged paternity tests and evil twins—she never really felt comfortable speaking it much. Actually, the older she got, the less English she spoke.

So while I may have been invited to this Maryland TESOL conference based solely on my novels, I did have something personal to add to my little keynote. And the crowd seemed to enjoy it. They listened, they laughed, they cried (okay, maybe not cried) and they asked awesome questions. I was at the podium for 45 minutes and was asked everything from how to publish a novel to whether I’ve visited my mom’s family in Poland (not yet).

Thanks for inviting me! I had a great time.

*The photos were taken with a cell phone. But if you look past the graininess, I swear that’s me!

POP CULTURE RANT: Cliff Lee!
So at around 7:30 yesterday morning I started getting text messages. Usually this sends me into a panic because I think the only time anyone calls me that early is when someone has died (paranoid, I know). But it turns out we have a lot of Phillies fans in my family who were up bright and early to hear the good news that pitcher Cliff Lee signed with the Phils, forgoing extra cash he would have received in a deal with the NY Yankees. You know what my first thought was when I heard he gave up millions to play here? “Gee, I guess his wife must really want to live in Philly.” Turns out, I was right! Yet somehow this seems to be surprising to people in the sports world, as if his wife stating publicly that she hates New York wouldn’t be a factor to her husband? I dare those reporters to go home to say that to their own wives. Not to mention that sadly Cliff Lee’s son previously had leukemia and is currently in remission; Philadelphia has the No. 1 Children’s Hospital in the country. Is there any father in the world who doesn’t think that played a factor?

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Just In Time With Chrismukkah: Haiku Reviews

I haven’t poetically opined on my reading lately, so I figured just in time for the Chrismukkah shopping season I’d give you a few fresh haiku reviews. Now, just to warn you, a few of these are from my summer reading and thus include a lot of blood sucking and child murderers. (What? Isn’t that what you read on the beach?)

My Chrismukkah Haiku Reviews

VAMPIRE DIARIES, THE AWAKENING, L.J. Smith
Wow, lots of scifi
Takes cheesy to new level
Show is way better

THE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE NOVELS (TRUE BLOOD), DEAD UNTIL DARK, Charlaine Harris

Actually, quite good
HBO did the books proud
Best vampire concept

CATCHING FIRE (Final book in HUNGER GAMES Trilogy), Suzanne Collins

Bit too much romance
Still, good action and great deaths
Sad to see it go

EMMA, Jane Austen

Bored girl sets up friends
Match-making at its finest
Kept thinking CLUELESS

FIREFLY LANE, Kristin Hannah
Best friends forever
Like a new spin on BEACHES
Pass me the tissues

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Okay, exactly how long are they going to drag out this Balkan storyline? I know soaps are known for not wrapping things up too quickly, but this is getting ridiculous. And while I was psyched for the return of Brenda (notice the ‘was’ there), does every plotline need to revolve around this woman? Excuse me, revolve around her and Dante. Seriously, I think the only storyline they’re not involved in is Crazy Lisa’s Fatal Attraction remake (and don’t get me started on how that didn’t end with her Shady Brook hospitalization). Really, GH has some good plot ideas (I liked the Fatal Attraction thing when it started), they just seem incapable of knowing when to call it quits. It’s like they need a good editor or something.

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Go Ahead, Hum the Aria from Carmen With GCC Member Caridad Ferrer’s New Book

Just when schools are trying to cut funding for the arts, it seems it might be the hottest way for a teen to find herself in a love triangle. At least that’s the case in GCC Member Caridad Ferrer’s new novel, WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, out this month through Thomas Dunne Books.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

A dancer driven to succeed.

A musical prodigy attempting to escape his past.

The summer they share.

And the moment it all goes wrong.

Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in a dance studio, saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of fellow student Jonathan Crandall who has what sounds like an outrageous proposition: Forget teaching. Why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has before.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor for Soledad’s affections appears: Taz, a member of an all-star Spanish soccer team. One explosive encounter later Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened, but her entire future as a professional dancer.

Here’s what Caridad had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Caridad: Well, given that I was in drum and bugle corps when I was a teenager, where the entire summer consisted of an extended road trip, there was plenty of opportunity for mishap. There was the time when one of our extremely ancient buses broke down literally, in the middle of nowhere. Smoke pouring from the engine, whole nine yards. And it was really hot and humid and utterly gross and we had to wait for our instructors who were in the van to go get help.

My other favorite corps tour story had to do with when we were staying at a huge regional junior/senior high school in Kentucky– the area was remote enough that it was the only high school serving a fairly large geographical area, so all four corps competing had to share the facilities (Normally, there were enough area schools where each corps had their own school to stay at). Anyhow, the morning after the show, we were pulling out of the parking lot when the driver’s CB started going and we heard over the speakers, “Does anyone on your bus have one of the bathroom sinks?” No, I’m not kidding. We had to pull over and let the school officials check our buses out, stem to stern and ascertain that we had not, in fact, absconded with one of the bathroom sinks, because one had been ripped from the wall and taken.

Turned out it was another corps, The Bayonne Bridgemen, who were well-known for being serious pranksters. They had left much earlier than we had, but we found out it was them after we got to our next show and heard them crowing about their trophy. Personally, I would have rather had the trophy for winning the show, but okay… *g*

Stealing a sink? Now that’s original!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Caridad: I always knew I was a storyteller, but I had no clue I wanted to be a writer or was meant to be a writer. I always thought I’d be a musician. Actually, I wanted to be Barbra Streisand, but without the diva ‘tude. Music has always been such a huge part of my life and I love the ability that theatre gives you to sink into someone else’s world for a little while. I wanted to be a triple threat—singing, dancing, acting. Unfortunately, a raging case of audition anxiety put an end to that particular dream, but what I found, to my surprise, was that writing allowed me that dream, just in a different manner. I’ve always been a storyteller and writing a story allows me to sink into someone else’s life, into another world, much in the way that performing did. I get to be those people and live their lives, for just a while. So in a why, I did achieve my dream. Just goes to show, you never know exactly how it’s going to happen!

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Caridad: Absolutely nothing, other than take some formal portraits for my quinceañera at my mother’s behest. And even then, I refused to do the poofy meringue dress. To this day, I still hate those pictures, but for years, my mother had the one I hated the most hanging in her dining room, in a hideously elaborate gold frame, in all its 20×24 glory. When I first brought my (then boyfriend, now husband) to the house for the first time, he made the mistake of admiring that photo. I think he was trying to be nice, although he swears he really loves the portrait. My mother, much to my mortification, said, “Well, when you get married, I’ll give it to you.” WHEN you get married. We’d been dating for less than four months at that point. I wanted the ground to open up beneath my feet and swallow me whole. Despite that inauspicious beginning, we did get married and true to her word, my mother gave us the portrait. Much to my delight, the hideous frame was broken in transit, leaving me to gloat, “Well, now we won’t have to hang it up,” but not such luck. My husband made me pick out a new frame for it, threatening to let my mother choose if I didn’t. So I did, and that damned picture has followed me from house to house, haunting me. My one stipulation is that I make my husband hang it somewhere I don’t have to see it every day.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Caridad: I’m a hybrid. I’m a very linear writer– I start at the beginning and go to the end. I’m also a hybrid pantser/plotter, pantsing my way through the first several chapters, then, once I have a decent grasp of the story and characters, I’ll stop and write a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the novel.

Q: Where were you when you found out that WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Caridad: Which time? Here’s a not-so-secret about this book. It actually sold twice. The first time it sold, I was actually attending the Backspace conference in New York and I was sitting in my hotel with my agent when she received the call. Unfortunately, that publisher didn’t work out, so a few years later, the book went back out on submission. I found out about the second sale while sitting at home. My agent called and told me St. Martin’s wanted it and I may have bounced like a little kid in my chair, because that’s exactly the publisher I wanted it to go to.

Thank you, Caridad! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books! And if you’re trying to remember how the aria from Carmen goes, here’s a little taste from the Muppets to remind you.

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NaNoWriMo Fail… I Regret That I Must Admit Defeat

So it is with heaviness in my heart that I confess to you that I have let down the NaNoWriMo Gods. I will not have a new 50,000-word manuscript completed by the end of the month. I tried, believe me! But circumstances got in the way. No really! I swear!

I don’t want to get all excusey on you, but I really have had a tough go of it in the last couple weeks. There was a sudden death in the family, a funeral, and then a whopping throat virus that made it nearly impossible to swallow anything other than broth for days. Seriously, I think my virus is keeping Campbell’s in business.

And while I’m getting better now, I think I missed too much NaNoWriMo time to hit the 50K goal. But that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the book! I’m still working on it, but at less of a psychotic pace. My mysterious new character, Robyn, and her three morally-questionable sisters will see their day in print! I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

For those of you who are still in the thick of NaNoWriMo madness, I tip my hat. You guys rock! It’s takes some Herculean dedication to complete a manuscript in one month and I commend all of you for keeping your butts in those chairs. Congrats!

POP CULTURE RANT: George W. Bush
Anyone else find the press tour for his memoir a little odd? First, he seemed more articulate and likeable during his Matt Lauer and Oprah interviews than he ever did during his 8 years in office. I may finally be starting to see why people want to have a beer with this fellow. (Because when he was drinking, he was awesome.) Second, I think he passed blame onto everyone from the Governor of Louisiana to Kayne West for his administration’s failures. The whole “whoa is me” victim-card doesn’t really work on a president.

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Join A Secret Society With GCC Member Daisy Whitney

Haven’t we all wanted to be in a secret society? Now imagine instead of that society seeking power and money, it seeks to right the wrongs of others. Cool, huh? That’s the premise in GCC member Daisy Whitney’s new YA novel, MOCKINGBIRDS, which debuted this week through Little, Brown.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way–the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds–a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl’s struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone–especially yourself–you fight for it.

Here’s what Daisy had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Daisy: I don’t like being in the car more than an hour, so I avoid road trips!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Daisy: When I was younger I wanted to be a Broadway actor. That I couldn’t sing, dance or act seemed to have little bearing on my desire!

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Daisy: I’m pretty sure it was my night to stock candy and pop popcorn at the movie theater where I worked!

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Daisy: I used to be a pantser but then I had to write an outline for my editor’s approval for book 2 so I’ve become more of an outliner. I still prefer to wing the first few chapters though and then write a rough outline.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Daisy: I was driving to my daughter’s preschool to pick her up! There’s no cell service at her school so I missed the first call. The second call from my agent came when I was driving home so I pulled into a nearby realtor’s office and cried happy tears!

Thank you, Daisy! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Call Me Crazy, But I’m Doing NaNoWriMo

So for those who might think I’ve turned into Dr. Seuss and am going around making up imaginary words (btw, my eggs have never been green), let me explain the madness that is NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writing Month (didn’t know that, did you?). And in honor of this obscure holiday, writers across the country set out to “celebrate” by writing a 50,000-word novel in ONE MONTH.

As you may have guessed, one of the requirements for celebrating this “holiday” is to have some sort of mental illness. Obviously, nobody in her right mind would try to write an entire novel in a 30-day period. Yet, every year, thousands of lunatic writers shut themselves into their houses, stop showering, eat only takeout, and attempt to type 50K as fast as their cramped little fingers will let them. What do you get at the end of this self-imposed sickness? Nothing.

Okay that’s not true. You get a first draft. And any writer will tell you that’s the hardest part. Sitting down and banging out a book without “writer’s block,” without excuses, without cleaning out your coat closet. Just you and the computer—writing. After you have the first draft you can edit until your heart’s content. Heck, I have a book I’ve been editing/revising/polishing for five years now. But it all has to start with a rough draft.

And that’s what NaNoWriMo gives you.

The goal is not perfection. Now THAT would be crazy. The goal is to just write, and to give yourself permission to write organically. Because, let’s face it, when you’re writing that quickly you can’t get caught up on the perfect sentence, or the tiniest plot point, or littlest metaphor.

To paraphrase a line from Dori in Finding Nemo the goal of NaNoWriMo is to, “Just keeping writing, just keep writing, just keep writing.”

So I’m gonna do it. This is my first ever attempt and I have a plot idea, I have an outline so loose it only has 10 lines on it, I have some background research, and come Monday, Nov. 1st, I’m going to chain myself to my desk.

Wish me luck! Hopefully, I’ll still have some fingernails left when this is done, if the carpal tunnel doesn’t get me first.

Go NaNoWriMi!

POP CULTURE RANT: Rally to Restore Sanity
This isn’t so much of a rant as it is an encouragement. I will be at the Daily Show’s Rally to Restore Sanity this Saturday, hoping to show America that there are rational people who vote regularly. And just because we don’t scream the loudest, doesn’t mean we don’t exist. And just because we don’t agree with you, doesn’t mean we think you’re Hitler (or a witch in DE’s case). Hope you’ll come out and support the cause too! See you on the news!

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Become An Avenger With GCC Member Denise Jaden

I love a good mystery novel, especially when the stakes are high—like, say, avenging your sister’s death. That’s why I’m very excited for GCC member Denise Jaden’s new YA novel, LOSING FAITH, which debuted this week through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

When Brie’s sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie’s world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.
As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don’t line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night…a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Here’s what Denise had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Denise: My husband and I used to drive from Vancouver to L.A. every year to go to Disneyland. We were young and dumb and usually did the 22-hour drive straight through, taking turns napping. I don’t know what the funniest time would have been, but the most memorable was the time it was 108 degrees through Redding and we were in a car without A/C.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Denise: I’m also one of those rare authors who didn’t always “know”. For me it was about seven years ago when I sat down to write a journal, which quickly turned fictional. I had so much fun writing that I couldn’t stop. Within the year, I knew I wanted to be a real writer, writing things that others would want to read.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Denise: I don’t remember my sweet 16 being particularly different from any other birthday. I probably hung out with friends and went to a movie. I would have definitely had ice cream. :-)

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Denise: I think we must have been separated at birth, Diana! I have the exact same story – started my early manuscripts just following my muse for the stories. With my more recent novels, I’ve used extensive outlines – one of them 38,000 words, just for the outline!

Now THAT is an outline!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Denise: I had houseguests at the time and was checking my email around six a.m. Because I’m on the West Coast, the publishing world of New York was already open and I had an email sitting in my inbox with the subject line reading, “Good News.” My agent had forwarded me a message from my now-editor that read, “I love it. I want it. Denise is super-talented.” Yes, I have that memorized. LOL. I tried to suppress my scream, but I guess I wasn’t quiet enough. The house guests were soon up and brought back champagne later that day.

Thank you, Denise! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Become Entranced with GCC Member Linda Gerber

Who hasn’t wished at some point that you could see the future? Well, would you still want that wish to come true if all you saw were the bad things in your future? That’s the issue tackled in GCC Member Linda Gerber’s new YA novel, TRANCE, which debuted this week through Penguin Speak.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Ashlyn Greenfield has always known when bad things are going to happen. Each time that familiar tingling at the back of her neck begins, she knows what’s to come—a trance. She’s pulled in, blindsided, an unwilling witness to a horrible upcoming event. But she’s never been able to stop the event from actually occurring—not even when the vision was of her mother’s fatal car accident. When soulful Jake enters Ashlyn’s life, she begins having trances about another car accident. And as her trances escalate, one thing becomes clear: it’s up to her to save Jake from a near-certain death.

Here’s what Linda had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Linda: I don’t know about funniest, but the most adventurous was probably the time I flew out to Georgia to help my college roommate drive her car across country. The thing had a bad radiator and a dying alternator and it kept breaking down… like when it overheated in the middle of the desert on an empty stretch of road and we had to warm the ice water from the cooler by lining plastic water bottles along the asphalt (so we wouldn’t crack the radiator when we filled it up)… or when the alternator finally gave up in the wee hours of the morning and the only other people on the road were two drunk guys who really wanted to get us in their truck with them, but weren’t overly concerned about help for the car… Yeah. It was memorable.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Linda: I always loved writing, but I never dreamed I’d be a writer. When I was little, I thought I’d like to draw, or paint, or dance, or something creative. I guess I was close.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Linda: I didn’t have a big sweet sixteen party or anything, but in my family, we weren’t allowed to date until we were sixteen, and sixteen meant I could get my driver’s license, so my sixteenth birthday was a big deal – at least to me.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Linda: I’m a pantser by nature, but I learned to outline by necessity since most of my books are a. mysteries, and b. sold on proposal. But I think of my outlines like the navi in my car; I set a destination, but if I need to change the route along the way, I can always renavigate.

Great, next time I deviate off course in my novel, I’m going to hear that navigation lady’s voice, “Recalculating…”

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Linda: TRANCE is the first book I sold with my current agent so it was pretty exciting, even if I was too tired to notice at the time. The first book in my Death By Bikini Mystery series had just come out a couple months before and I was finishing up copy edits for book number two. It was summer break, and by then, the kids had been out of school long enough to be bored. So I was struggling to keep them entertained, waiting for the news, and juggling book promo and book edits and… I’m afraid (or glad, depending on how you look at it) that there’s no photographic evidence, but I was thrilled to get the news. Overwhelmed, but thrilled.

Thank you, Linda! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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GCC Member Lauren Strasnick Introduces The "Other Parent"

I’m sure there are a lot of teens out there who know first hand how hard divorce can be, especially if they have to move to a new town with the “other” parent. That’s the exactly the issue facing the introspective main character of Lauren Strasnick’s new YA novel, HER AND ME AND YOU, which debuted through Simon Pulse this week.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

First love, broken friendships, and heartache all play a part in this evocative, voice-driven novel about Alex, a girl whose world is ripped apart when her father’s affair splits her family in two.
Alex moves with her mess of a mother to a new town, where she is befriended by hot, enigmatic Fred–and alternately flirted with and cold-shouldered by Fred’s twin sister, Adina. Others warn Alex to steer clear of the twins, whose sibling relationship is considered abnormal at best, but there’s just something about Fred–and something about Adina–that draws Alex to them and makes her want to be part of their crazy world, no matter the consequences.

Here’s what Lauren had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Lauren: I’m not great on freeways, so I don’t have many road trip stories. Last summer my friend Jenna and I drove up to San Fransisco for a friend’s wedding, and I made her drive my car – stick – the entire way there and back. Funny! Or not. :)

I feel your pain. I suck at highways too! I once made my friend drive my stick car all the way to OCMD (3 hours) right after she got off a plane.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Lauren: I’ve always written/wanted to write. But I also wanted to dance professionally when I was a kid (wasn’t good enough!). I like taking pictures too. And I was a film major as an undergrad, so there was a moment in time when I wanted to make movies.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceañera?

Lauren: No Sweet Sixteen, but my parents threw me a surprise party for my fifteenth b-day. Shocking and terrific. Strangely, I’m attending a “Double Quinceañera” tonight. No joke! My friend is turning thirty.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Lauren: I am an outliner. I wasn’t always this way! But I rewrote H&M&Y three times from scratch. So after that misery, I’ve committed myself to outlining thoroughly.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Lauren: Well, this book was the second book in a two-book deal, so there’s no exciting story to tell. But w/ the first book, I was at home, waiting, because I’d heard from my agent that an offer was imminent. I got the call, flipped out, then called my family and closest friends. One of my best friends came over to congratulate me in person. She gave me a vintage charm bracelet to mark the moment.

Thank you, Lauren! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Curl Up With A Nice Banned Book

It’s that time of year again—Banned Books Week. And what better way to celebrate the narrow-mindedness of others than by picking up one of the most banned books of the year and giving a read. Call it our book nerd way of sticking it to the man.

So, what are were the most banned books of 2009? Glad you asked, here’s the list according to the American Library Association.

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality
3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

I have to say, of this list, my favorite is banning Twilight for being “sexually explicit.” Seriously? I would love that book banner to send me the page I must have missed where Bella and Edward got down and dirty. ‘Cause I’d love to read it. All my books have is a bunch of “dazzling” images of Edward’s face and some dizzying kisses. Oooooo, kinky.

And of course, there’s the infamous gay penguin controversy of And Tango Makes Three, which I think couldn’t possibly be summed up better than by the author himself:

“We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

—co-author Justin Richardson,
New York Times (2005)

So as an author who can only hope to one day have her books banned with such prestigious company, I encourage you all to head to local library and check out one of the 2009’s Most Taboo. You can even read it under the covers with a flashflight just to feel extra sneaky.

POP CULTURE RANT: Thursday Nights
Why does every network insist on putting all its best shows on Thursdays? Is this some misguided effort to reclaim the good ‘ole days of the Seinfeld-fueled line up of Must See TV? Because it seems whether it’s Project Runway, Vampire Diaries, Big Bang Theory, or The Office, it’s all on Thursday night. My DVR can only do so much. Spread it around, networks, will you?

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A Few Things I Learned in Disney World

So I was off on a post-Labor Day vacation in Florida and now that I’m back I thought I’d compile a list of the wisdoms I gathered during my travels. Because let’s face it, it takes a brave person to visit the Sunshine State during hurricane season, and an even braver one to spend early September in the heat-ridden oven that is Orlando.

Here’s goes:

What I Learned on My Disney Vacation

1. The parks are EMPTY post Labor Day. We only waited in one line, and that was for the new Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios. The rest we either had Fast Passes for or the wait was no more than 10 minutes. You could ride everything twice (including Soaring! Best ride ever!)

2. You can’t buy a breeze in these parks. And somehow it is hotter in the Mexico-themed country of Epcot than any other country there. Freaky.

3. Do not fall for the Chronicles of Narnia ride at Hollywood Studios. Actually, the DH and I have nicknamed it the “Commercials of Narnia,” because the entire “ride” is you standing in a room watching a 15-minute movie trailer. That’s it. Then you leave. It was insulting.

4. See the Fantasmic fireworks show. It is so awesome, the DH spent the rest of the trip practicing his wand-waving in case his dying wish of being cast as Mickey during this show is ever fulfilled.

5. The “American Adventure” video in the Boston-themed part of Epcot takes itself very seriously. And it’s like 40 minutes long. By the time we got to the very dramatic ending, I had to work hard not to laugh (especially when the image of Tiger Woods came up).

6. Go to the interactive “Turtle Talk with Crush” experience at Epcot. The guy playing the Nemo turtle is “totally” hysterical, and I still have no idea how that animated character on screen was able to respond to the crowd. Righteous.

7. If you volunteer to be on stage during the Backlot Tour, they will dump a few tons of water on you. Seriously. And that raincoat they give you doesn’t really stop your jeans from being wet the rest of the day.

8. Full grown men can go down the waterslide at the gigantic pool in the Beach Club resort. They don’t get stuck.

9. I think the same woman sings all the “dramatic montage” songs in every country. And you will find yourself begrudgingly humming “Canada! Oh, Canada!!!” for days afterward.

10. Dress socks with little Mickey heads make an excellent gift for your cat sitter.

POP CULTURE RANT: Vick -vs- Kolb
So Andy Reid has recently named Michael “I Kill Dogs for Fun” Vick as the starting quarterback for the Eagles for the rest of the season, benching Kevin “The Future of the Team” Kolb until further notice. Kinda harsh. Kolb only played one half of one game before his concussion, and granted, it wasn’t a very good half, but still. I thought they would at least give him another try. I’ll admit Vick played some awesome football these past couple weeks, but Detroit is a sucky team. He might as well have been playing against my old high school. And as much as I think Vick is the better quarterback, I find it hard to support anyone who is capable of torturing dogs for kicks—though I am looking forward to all the headlines the Philly Daily News will dream up. This one is pretty classic.


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Vampires Wear The Best Clothes in GCC Member Lucienne Diver’s REVAMPED

Gotta love a vampire series where a fashion diva is cursed without a reflection for all eternity. How will she know which shoes go with this outfit? It’s an intriguing, and witty, twist on the vampire genre tackled by Lucienne Diver in the second book in her YA series, REVAMPED. It recently debuted through Flux.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

In VAMPED, Gina and her minions defeated a vampire vixen, a psycho-psychic and the vampire council of Mozulla, Ohio. Gina was all ready to expose vampires to the world in all their fanged fabulosity…until the Feds arrived to sweep everything under the rug and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

In REVAMPED, Gina and her boyfriend Bobby are sent undercover to infiltrate a New York high school where some seriously weird stuff is going down. Worse than that, Gina’s new super-secret identity is as goth-girl Geneva Belfry. No color palette to speak of. More chains than a bike rack. And don’t even get her started on the shoes. At least she won’t be too worried about blood spatter when kicking the butt of her newest nemesis, who’s decided that the high school makes a perfect playground.

Here’s what Lucienne had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Lucienne: When I was about seven years old, we took our first family trip up to Lake George, NY. It was a hideously hot day, and I don’t remember whether our car didn’t have air conditioning or if it just wasn’t up to the task, but we stopped frequently on the drive to cool down at the rest stops and rehydrate.

On one of our stops, I picked up a passenger, although I didn’t know it yet. Now, keep in mind that I have an insect phobia…

We’re riding along and I can feel something crawling up my leg beneath my jeans. I’m starting to panic, and my father (with his voice like Lurch from The Addams’ Family) is trying to convince me that it’s just sweat running down my body and getting irritated with me when I don’t take his word for it. Finally, he finds another rest stop, pulls into the parking lot and right there has me take down my jeans (I was only 7). Sure enough, there’s a walking stick the size of my thigh staring at us.

I scream and he tries to give my sister and I a nature lesson…A NATURE LESSON! While holding the insect that has terrorized me for the past ten miles or so!

I finally convince him through reasoned logic and no small amount of screaming that I’m not going to retain any of the fascinating information he’s relaying while I’m jumping out of my skin, and he releases it into the wild, very gently placing the clearly demonic insect on a tree branch while orating on how well he blends in. Sigh.

We get back in the car, by which point the crayons my sister and I had been using to color in our books have melted all over the back dashboard of the car. My father is oh-so-thrilled. By the time we reach our cabin in the woods, we’re hot and cranky and can think of nothing more than taking a dip in the pool of our cabin complex…

Um, I can go on, but I think the full story takes up a guest blog all by itself. Let’s just say that after that there were encounters with squirrels sharing our cabin, blood, stitches, a trip to the hospital, swimmer’s ear, a drop-sided toaster and… what am I forgetting?

As a fellow Entomophobic, I share in the horror of finding that bug on your leg. In fact, now I feel itchy.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Lucienne: From the time I was eleven, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Before then it was a nurse (my father informed me YOU WILL BE A DOCTOR), an anthropologist (GEOLOGIST, my father insisted, that’s where the money is), a cryptozoologist (which shut him right up), an actress, Princess Leia….

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Lucienne: We had my birthday party at my parent’s “yacht club,” which sounds all high-brow, until you realize that we called it “the tub club”…if you or your vehicle stayed afloat, you were in. We had a blast. Two of my friends, with whom I had a gag war going, presented me with a Butthole Surfers album, and we danced the night away.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Lucienne: Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. Generally, I only “outline” a few chapters ahead, because by the time I get to the last chapter outlined, my characters have thrown me a curveball or things have veered off in a more natural direction or…. Plotting a whole novel from the start would be, for me, an exercise in futility.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Lucienne: The call…a dramatic recreation:

Actually, I was at the airport when I got the news, but for some reason, they wouldn’t let me through security for the recreation, even after I explained!

Seriously, how cute is that slide show? Love her!

Thank you, Lucienne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Learn To Love Your Fake Boyfriend in GCC Member Kristina Springer’s New Novel

A lot of kids have imaginary friends, but not all of them have imaginary boyfriends. Well, unless they live in Canada. Come on, all summer flings claimed to have taken place in Canada are fictitious, aren’t they? And apparently that isn’t the only land where fake boyfriends live, at least according to GCC member Kristina Springer’s new novel, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, which debuted through FSG this week.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Seventh grade was supposed to be fun, but Tori is having major drama with her BFF, Sienna. Sienna changed a lot over the summer—on the first day of school she’s tan, confident, and full of stories about her new dreamy boyfriend. Tori knows that she’s totally making this guy up. So Tori invents her own fake boyfriend, who is better than Sienna’s in every way. Things are going great—unless you count the whole lying-to-your-best-friend thing—until everyone insists Tori and Sienna bring their boyfriends to the back-to-school dance.

Here’s what Kristina had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Kristina: The first road trip I took to Michigan with two of my best friends when we were 18. We were very silly and it was a ton of fun! We pulled over constantly to take pictures in front of funny statues, signs and dance in the streets.

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Kristina: A rock star. Stage name=Tina Rockafina

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Kristina: I had a big slumber party at my house. I seem to recall a Ouija board and bra freezing.

Ahhh, Ouija boards…I was raised Catholic, so I wasn’t allowed to have one. Something about the Exorcist.

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Kristina: Same here. I wrote THE ESPRESSOLOGIST (my first book) that way [as AMOR] but the second book I wrote a proposal for so I did plot out chapter by chapter beforehand.

Q: Where were you when you found out your novel was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Kristina: My editor e-mailed me that it was a go so I was sitting in front of my laptop at the time. I had sold this book when I sold my first and at that time it was just “untitled book” so after we finished work on the first book I wrote a few proposals for a second book and sent them to my editor and she liked MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS.

Thank you, Kristina! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Okay Kids, the Moral Of This Novel Is…

So YA author Shannon Hale posted a blog questioning whether authors who write for teens are expected to lace their stories with a bunch of moral lessons. A few other YA authors weighed in on the subject, and I’m taking the opportunity now to say that I think the idea of expecting an after-school special from a teen novel is absolutely bogus. But that doesn’t mean the morals aren’t there.

You see, when you write, you’re writing from your own view of the world. And even if you try to bust out of your zone and write about a super spy who kicks butt and takes names (I have a WIP like that), it doesn’t mean that spy still isn’t inadvertently given some of the author’s own morals and values.

For example, back when everyone was dissecting the Twilight books (not the movies), one of the debates that reigned supreme was whether Stephenie Meyer was pushing her Mormon values onto her characters (no sex before marriage, etc.) and thus onto her readers. And the truth is, she probably was, but she probably didn’t mean it.

She was raised Mormon, she’s still practicing, it’s a big part of her life, and how she sees the world. So I’d imagine some of the morals she feels strongly about are going to leak onto the page.

I can’t blame her for that because it happened to me too.

After I first read the Twilight debate, I looked back on my own work and realized that Mariana, the main character of my Amor and Summer Secrets series, comes from a church-going Catholic family. There’s a Quinceanera in a church, and there’s controversy over a wedding not being in a church.

My work-in-progress, Four Days Left of Normal, has a main character, Deirdre, who lost her mom when she was sixth grade, and since then her father has stopped going to church while her grandmother still forces her to go on Easter. In a spy-oriented WIP, Anastasia Phoenix, there are (sadly) several funerals, one specifically held in a Catholic church, while there’s another critical scene held later on during a Catholic mass in a cathedral in Rome.

My point is, I was raised Catholic. And while my characters aren’t going around spewing gospels or adhering to the Ten Commandments, they did inadvertently get a little of my upbringing rubbed off on them.

But they didn’t get a bunch of moral lessons. In fact, I gave a workshop at a Catholic school that complained about Mariana drinking alcohol in the first novel. (Really?) So even with all those references to churches, I still couldn’t make the Catholics happy. I guess my morals only go so far.

So in the end, teen novels are going to have drinking, and sex, and drugs, and lots of other things that many parents probably forget they did at that age, but that authors thankfully haven’t. It doesn’t mean we’re amoral, it just means we’re writing about the teen experience the way we see it. So you’re gonna have to take the good morals with the bad.

POP CULTURE RANT: Borders.com
Okay, Borders, I used your coupon, I pre-ordered my copy of Mockingjay using your massive website, and you don’t have the courtesy to send it to me the day it’s released? What, you’re too busy trying to avoid bankruptcy and losing top personnel to remember to mail the books out? See, this is why brick-and-mortar stores are going survive. Mockingjay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, has been out for two days now and still, I wait for the mailman. #internetshoppingfail

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AStupidCensorSaysWhat? What?

One of the great things about being a YA author is that we’re kind of a close-knit bunch. We don’t see each other as competition for readers/reviews/sales, because at the end of the day we’re all after the same mission: getting teens to love reading. This is why we blog about each other’s books, we send tweets about other authors’ book launches, and we rally around one of us when undo controversy rears its ugly head.

This week, a very popular (NYT best-selling) YA author, Ellen Hopkins, was disinvited to a Teen Lit Festival in Humble, TX (a suburb of Houston). One middle school librarian and couple of parents learned that Hopkins would be speaking and decided to complain to the Superintendant that her books were inappropriate for teens. (Her YA novels, written in poetic verse, deal with drug abuse, rape, teen pregnancy. You know, all those things that couldn’t possibly happen to our teens!)

So the Superintendant had another librarian renege her invitation. As a result, four other YA authors (Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Tera Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena), who were scheduled to attend the event, pulled out in a show of solidarity and a stand against censorship.

Since then, the debate has been: Is what happened to Hopkins censorship?

After all, she was only disinvited from a festival. No one has the “right” to be paid to speak. That’s not in the First Amendment, so this can’t be censorship. The festival people can do what they please.

Um, you would be right, if the festival organizers had simply elected not to invite Hopkins in the first place. That is their right. They get to pick their speakers and they could have chosen a less controversial YA author, there are plenty out there. But all the district librarians, teachers, and everyone else involved with the planning chose this award-winning author (whose books are considered the modern day Go Ask Alice!) because they thought her themes were appropriate for their audience, they thought her discussions would bring something valuable to their teens, and so they invited her. She accepted.

However, a few parents and one librarian do not have the right, after the fact, to disinvite her due to their personal morality issues. That small group decided that they knew what was best for everyone’s children. And that’s when this became a censorship issue.

Did they consult other parents before disinviting her? Did they send a letter home discussing all of the books that would be presented to better inform parents to make their own decisions? Did the superintendent even read the books in question before making a decision? No.

This small group unilaterally censored Hopkins and her books from the festival AFTER they were already deemed appropriate by the festival organizers (and the YA community in general). No one has the right to determine for you or your family what’s appropriate. That’s up to individual parents and the teens themselves, and it’s a shame they were denied that opportunity.

I feel for the teens who won’t get to hear these authors speak, but I commend my colleagues for taking a stand. You go after one of us, you go after all of us. Censorship is wrong.

POP CULTURE RANT: Magazines
Anyone else getting random magazine subscriptions sent to them lately? At some point last year, Town & Country just started sending me issues. I have no idea how they got my address, and I’m not paying for the subscription. And this would be cool if the content of this magazine were hitting its intended audience, but I don’t believe I’m it. They had an entire issue this summer that was a giant advertorial for various nonprofits, name dropping all the celeb’s involved with each charity. And as someone who used to work at a magazine (and a nonprofit), I understand the “themed” issue. But this read like a paid advertisement (not to mention, snoozefest). Why can’t someone send me free People instead?

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Soap Operas and YA Novels: Why They’re Besties

So anyone who reads the blog knows that I’m a big soap fan. I grew up on them like other kids grew up on Sesame Street. (Thanks, Grandmom!) Young & the Restless, ATWT, Days, AMC—at one point I’ve dabbled in them all, but lately I’m exclusively a GH fan. And anyone who’s been following the happenings in Port Chuck knows that…Brenda is back! So I’ve decided to take this opportunity to examine the similarities between soaps and YA to uncover why they’re both awesome. And trust me, they have more in common than you think.

Now, first off, most of you assume that all soap fans are stay-at-home moms or bored lonely women. Believe me, such is not the case. Maybe at one time the genre was limited to those home in the afternoons, but that is why God gave us DVRs. You might also assume that soap fans are old (like my grandma), but hey, she started babysitting me when I was in kindergarten—not the stereotypical age of a soap fan, but the five-year-old demo is definitely out there.

This means that I was watching soaps while I was reading young adult (mostly Christopher Pike and Sweet Valley), and I know I can’t be the only one with this story. There are correlations here, which is why I’ve compiled the following list:

Soap Operas & YA: Why They’re BFF

1. Romance.
The heart of any good story is a little lovin’. This is obvious for soaps, but even look at some of the most action-oriented YA novels (Hunger Games, anyone?). A doomed romance keeps you turning the page.

2. Unusual age progression. In the soap world, there is a far-too-common condition known as SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). This is when a six-year-old character comes back from summer break as a 17-year-old in high school student with an abusive boyfriend. They have to move the story along, folks. In YA, the problem is in reverse. Seriously, how long were those Sweet Valley twins in high school? And Nancy Drew, shouldn’t she own her own detective agency by this point?

3. Tent Poles. Soaps tend to revolve around one or two core characters (Sonny Corinthos? Gag me now). YA does as well. You’re not going to find many young adult novels told in the omniscient point of view. You’ve got your main first-person narrative holding up the rest of the tent.

4. Crazy Storylines. So Bella might not have gotten caught in a collapsed cave, was presumed dead, and slept with her best friend’s boyfriend while trapped, but that doesn’t make her story any more realistic. You’ll find teenage spy cheerleaders, cursed 18th Century mystical sisters, revolution-leading teen warriors, etc. in YA. Now is that really much different than 17-year-old boy waking up from a coma after a year without brain damage only to land in prison a few months later for killing his step mother?

5. Soap characters come back from the dead, YA characters are un-dead. Same difference. Point made.

So you see, they really have a lot in common. So get set your DVR’s for Brenda’s return on GH this week. And pray that after all these years of absence the execs didn’t lure Vanessa Marcil (of Las Vegas fame) back to the soap world only to destroy her character (like they did with Emily’s return or the original-Carly). I’m warning you, writers—make this good, or I will march over to L.A. and write the story myself. Don’t think I won’t…

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Snakes, Snails & Puppy Dogs Tails: That’s What Boy Books Are Made of…

Okay, I’m just joking. I don’t really think boy books are snail-like. (And you know what I never got about that offensive little rhyme? What’s wrong with puppy dog tails?) Anyway, there’s been a lot of debate in the blogosphere this week about boy main characters in young adult fiction.

Specifically, two YA authors made excellent contrasting points: Hannah Moskovitz and Tamora Pierce. And while their blogs don’t directly respond to one another (just a warning, the comments get wonky), the gist is whether female characters are more fully developed, three-dimensional, in YA lit than boy characters? And is that the reason boys often skip the YA genre and go straight from Middle Grade to Adult?

Personally, I agree with Hannah. I do find boy characters are often stereotypical in YA novels, but that may be because I don’t read fantasy/action books (which Tamara writes, and which often cater more to boys).

I do, however, have an idea for an MG novel that features a boy protagonist, and while this concept is not next in line for take-off writing-wise, the whole boy-book debate brought it forward in my mind. I thought that if I was going to write a “boy book” then I’d better flesh out the character, and what better way to do that than to interview my twelve-year-old nephew.

(See, I knew there was a reason I agreed to babysit my brother’s kids this summer!)

So against child-labor laws, I put him (and his 10-year-old sister) to work for me, giving me insight into the tween boy mind.

Here’s what I learned about Seventh Grade Boys:

1. A boy must tell a girl directly (to her face!) that he likes her otherwise he will be called “a chicken.”

2. He must hate all sixth graders (because they’re younger, duh).

3. Boy fights typically include one boy telling the other he can “beat him up,” and the other claiming, “No, you can’t.” Rarely do said arguments actually lead to punches.

4. Boys get detention more than girls, often for “being fresh to the teacher.” Though girls still get detention, but most likely for “talking too much.”

5.
Boys think it’s stupid when girls fight. Girls have “a lot more drama,” and after fights “girls hold grudges” while boys “get over it.”

6.
If a boy had a friend who recently lost a loved one, he would go to the funeral, say “he’s sorry,” and then try to make him laugh the next time he saw him, so he would “feel better and not think about it.”

7. Boys get mad when other boys try to “show off” at sports. Being good at sports, or just mean and scary, tends to lead boys to popularity.

8. The boy who mixes crackers, pudding, hot dogs and yogurt together, then eats it, is considered “brave.”

9. Boys think it’s funny when it’s really quiet and someone farts.

10.
If a boy had a female friend who lived next door, they would hang out together, most likely “on the computer,” playing games. But his boy friends would tease him that “he likes her.”

So, there’s a taste! I asked a bunch more specific questions relating directly the plot of my proposed book, but I’m not ready to reveal those yet. You know how it is, the idea needs to cook a little longer.

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital

So this summer has brought us soap fans the return of James Franco, and once again I’m disappointed. I liked the on-location art show, and I like that they’re even trying to associate the word “art” with soap operas, but other than stunt-casting, there really is no point to this story. Jason isn’t learning from his mistakes, or trying to differentiate himself from Franco by, you know, not killing people. The police aren’t getting any smarter. (Let’s release a mind-bogglingly rich hit man out of maximum-security prison to help us catch some other dude. Sure! He’ll just go right back to Gen Pop when the case is closed!) And the baby kidnapping? Really? Why wouldn’t Franco take Jake if he wanted to provoke Jason? Are you telling me this stalker is the only person in Port Chuck who doesn’t know Jake’s paternity? And while I’m a Sam fan, I have to admit it’s ridiculously bizarre that Jason isn’t more concerned about Liz’s baby. It’s like they won’t even mention the name “Liz” around Jason, to the point I’m not even sure if he realizes it’s her kid. Character growth, writers. Google the term before your next stunt casting. I’m already worried about the return of Brenda…

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My Let’s-Get-Pumped Tunes for Writing

I’ve been asked a couple times in interviews whether I have any pre-writing rituals, like “lighting a candle” or “drinking a glass of tea” or something. I don’t do either of those things (though they do sound very romantic and “writely”). But I do have one tradition I break out whenever the revision/writing process starts to make me a little nutty: I dance.

No joke. I put on some music, sing out loud, and dance in my office. Think of it as a pre-football game, get-psyched, “Go team!” ritual in the locker room that looks a little something like this:

What you might find odd is that my get-psyched music is surprisingly mellow. It’s not Bon Jovi or anything. I rock out to Dido.

Yeah, the English singer-songwriter. Not exactly club music, I know. But for some reason this skinny little Brit inspires me.

Here are two of the classics I dance to most often:

Now other music might work for you. Stephenie Meyer has publicly thanked The Muse in her Twilight novels for being so inspirational to her writing, and well, I don’t like a single one of their songs. So whoever it is that gets you in a writerly mood, I suggest pumping up the volume before you sit down and belting out a few notes (bonus points if your neighbors can see you). Trust me, it really is a nice stress relief when you’re on the edge of typing, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

POP CULTURE RANT: So You Think You Can Dance

What’s up with all the injuries? First, Alex goes down with an injury so bad he needed surgery. That alone, in my opinion, should qualify the whole season for a mulligan. I don’t about you, but he was my favorite to win. So with that star gone, there’s really no one left to care about. Then, the girls get picked off one-by-one with Ashley going down in another injury. And then Billy Bell has the nerve not to dance because of a “soar knee” the doctors cleared him of earlier in the week. I think the rapid-fire season with only ten contestants jumping straight to the two-dances per night round might have been a bit much for the dancers, psychically. Just sayin’. However, on a side note, props to Tabitha & Napolean for giving us the best hip hop routines since “Bleeding Love.” Go Nappytabs! I’d vote for them as the winners if I could.

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Celebrate Christmas in July With Some Haiku Reviews

Just in time of Christmas in July (which I know you all celebrate because decorating a palm tree is awesome), I’ve decided to offer a few haiku reviews in case you’re looking for entertainment during your next vacation. I’m covering all age groups here, all reading levels, and even a movie.

So without further ado…

My Summer Haiku Reviews

THE HELP, Katheryn Stockett
Jackson is racist?
No way! But three maids see all
with great points of view.

CERTAIN GIRLS, Jennifer Weiner
Cannie and Joy fight
mostly about bat mitzvahs.
Let her wear the dress!

DAIRY QUEEN, Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Child laborer plays
linebacker. Hard to believe
but hard to put down

SNEEZY LOUISE, Irene Breznak
Great rhythmic pattern
in this cute bedtime read. Just
cover your nose please…

ECLIPSE, the movie
So much better than
New Moon! Awesome dialogue.
Bella makes more sense.

So enjoy! Now go out and buy books! Lots and lots of books!

POP CULTURE RANT: Eclipse
So I wasn’t kidding about Bella’s thinking making more sense in this movie. She even makes more sense than her character did in the book. Now just to warn you, but….

SPOILER ALERT

My favorite part of the movie was the end where Bella explains to Edward that it was never a choice between him or Jacob, it was choice between her being the “Bella she should be” and the “Bella she is.” The DH turned to me after that scene and said, “I think that speech was the best part of the movie.” I said, “It wasn’t in the book.” And really, it should have been. That one monologue summed up the entire point of the series in a few sentences. So kudos to the screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg! (And kudos to her for taking out those obnoxious crying scenes at the end of the novel.)

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Write A Book, Then Buy A Book–It’s That Simple

So I recently saw an article on Galleycat that solves the publishing crisis in such a simplistic and obvious way that I can only call it genius. Anyone outside the industry may not realize this, but books aren’t doing so hot right now. The industry is sort of facing what the music industry did during that whole Napster thing. (The Internet? What is that? Someone call Metallica!) And while they were trying to figure out how make money off this wacky e-book thing while not killing brick and mortar bookstores with complicated lawsuits and authors guild disputes, one independent publisher found a solution that only required a few lines of text.

You see, for as many books as there are on bookshelves, there are millions sitting on the hard drives of laptops across America. Turns out most people really do think they have a book in them. And each of those writers fire off letters to agents and independent publishers daily (only indie publishers will accept unagented material). Imagine the amount of manuscripts these publishers receive on a regular basis, it’s enough paper to make an environmentalist find a steep cliff.

And one such indie publisher decided to use those wannabe writers to pump air into the life support of your local bookstore. Tin House Books is offering, for a limited time, to accept unsolicited (ie. unagented) manuscripts if, and only if, the writer mails the manuscript with a receipt proving he/she has purchased a book at a bookstore recently.

Think about that: they will read your book if you prove that you read books yourself.

“Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why.

Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.”

I think if every struggling writer out there supported another writer by buying a book, the industry would look like the Silicon Valley in the late ‘90s because that’s how many unpublished authors are out there. And one day, if/when each of these writers makes the leap to published author, he/she is going to hope a future struggling writer returns the favor.

(BTW: the last book I purchased at a bookstore was a Sneezy Louise children’s book by Irene Breznak).

POP CULTURE RANT: Vampire Diaries

Okay, I recently got hooked on this show to the point of unhealthy obsession. You see, I started out just dabbling. I watched a couple of reruns because there’s nothing else to watch on summer TV. New to me, right? Then I found myself looking forward to Thursdays so I could see the next episode. No biggie. Fun new show. Then, last Thursday, the meanies at the CW decided to skip from episode 6 (the last one they aired) to episode 14. I nearly freaked. How did the characters end up in some tomb? Why are Damon and Elena so tight? Wait, did Elenda sleep with Stefan and I missed it? Of course, the CW did not hook me up with the missed back episodes on their website and every other site I found containing them wanted me to pay (yeah, right) or download a bunch of garbage onto my computer. But alas, Twitter came through. I posted my plight via Tweet, and @lafemmereaders connected me with this site. Granted, it’s got some inappropriate banner ads and the resolution of the videos is like 72 dpi, but still, I am now officially caught up! And I hold by my claim that this show has better acting than Twilight. (And Damon is hotter than Edward.)

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It’s Shoobies, Shlocals, and Locals in GCC Member Jenny O’Connell’s New Series

Oh, who doesn’t remember going down the shore and meeting a cute local (year-round resident), shoobie (one-week vacationer), or schlocal (full-summer vacationer)? The sand and surf really give “summer fling” a warmer brighter context. And GCC Member Jenny O’Connell is going to give you plenty of young summer romance in her two Island Summer novels, LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS out now through MTV Books.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:


Bestselling author Jenny O’Connell presents a sizzling series for summer. Her first two Island Summer novels, LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS highlight the lives of the summering visitors, the year-round locals living in the beach towns of Martha’s Vineyard, and the fireworks that explode when they combine for three steamy months.

In LOCAL GIRLS, friendships are in danger of ending with the summer. Kendra and Mona are best friends, local girls who spend their summers catering to rich tourists and the rest of the year chafing against small-town life. Then Mona’s mom marries one of the island’s rich summer visitors, and Mona joins the world of the Boston elite, leaving Kendra and Martha’s Vineyard behind. When Mona returns the following summer, everything is different.

Unlike his sister, Mona’s twin brother Henry hasn’t changed. He’s spending his summer the way he always has: with long, quiet hours fishing. Early mornings before work become special for Kendra as she starts sharing them with Henry, hoping he can help her figure Mona out. Then Kendra hatches a plan to prove she’s Mona’s one true friend: uncover the identity of the twins’ birth father, a question that has always obsessed Mona. And so she begins to unravel the seventeen-year-old mystery of the summer boy who charmed Mona’s mother. But it may prove to be a puzzle better left unsolved–as what she is about to discover will change their lives forever…

In RICH BOYS, Winnie jumps at the chance to babysit for a wealthy summer family and earn some extra money—but soon learns that life in the Barclay’s beautiful vacation home isn’t as perfect as it appears. And what was supposed to be a carefree summer quickly becomes more complicated than she ever thought possible.

Here’s what Jenny had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Jenny: We did a lot of road trips in college (I went to a women’s college, so we often got in the car and headed to schools where we had a better chance of meeting the opposite sex). But the funniest road trip story would have to be the road trip I took right after college with my best friend. I was heading back to school and she was heading to NYC for a job, so we spend 3 weeks driving around the country, just us, a tent, a box of wheat bread and peanut butter and jelly and $200. We were nuts!! I don’t know how our parents let us do it. We spent nights in tents with bisson wandering around us (Yellowstone National Park), woke up in 100 degree heat in a tent that was not well ventilated, which is why my best friend was practically panting for air (Moab, Utah), but when we left Scottsdale, AZ for the Grand Canyon it was pretty funny. We managed to drive for hours until we saw a sign for Las Vegas, which meant that we missed the biggest gaping hole in the whole damn earth. Just drove right around it. We made up for it with a night in Vegas, but we had to circle back the next day and find that freaking Canyon!!!

Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Jenny: Nope. Wasn’t even an English major. Dropped the only English class I ever took in college because I hated reading stuff I didn’t want to read. When I was “little” I: wrote advertising jingles; opened a bank in my closet, complete with credit card machine made out of cardboard; wrote a play; ice skated for hours and made up my own routines; painted rocks and made mobiles that I’d hang from my bedroom ceiling. So while I wasn’t terribly focused, I guess you could say I was imaginative.

My sister and I wrote a play when we were little too. It was called ROCK & ROLL USA. Genius stuff. Very 80s.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Jenny: My parents threw a surprise party for me. I got home on a Saturday afternoon and a bunch of my friends were there. My parents gave me a little jewelry box with a sweet silver keychain with a heart on it. And a key. I got excited. Until I realized it was a key to our family car. (I did end up getting my own car a month later when my parents realized there was no way in hell they wanted me driving their car).

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Jenny: I don’t outline. I don’t write chronologically. I just write what feels easiest to write at the time, which could be a scene, the ending or the beginning.

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jenny: I’d already written and published 8 books when these two were sold. But I was so happy because I love Martha’s Vineyard and couldn’t wait to write about it. Once the publisher bought the books I wrote both of them in five months. Then I was braindead. Which is why I’m just starting to write a new book right now.

Thank you, Jenny! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Will Edward and Bella Round The Bases?

Eclipse releases today! And if you don’t know what I’m talking about you’ve clearly been living in an Amazonian jungle with those strange vampires that show up in Breaking Dawn. But anyway, as the latest chapter of the Bella and Edward saga releases in theaters, it has me wondering about some key plot points and how they might translate into film.

We’ve all seen the commercials, and it appears as though Riley’s newborn vampire army is going to get a little more airtime than in the book—meaning that the movie could take a few deviations from Bella’s first-person perspective. This sort of reminds me of the original Twilight movie where we got to see Edward chasing the deer, James and company attacking the fisherman, etc. Personally, I find this exciting. I found the movie adaption of New Moon to be way too literal for my taste. I’m the type of person who likes to see the essence of a book on screen with a few extras that I know happened but didn’t get the benefit of reading (e.g. James).

Now, basing this entirely on the commercials and having had no advanced screening, I’m going to take the following guesses as to what might happen in this film (which I intend to see by next weekish).

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book, read no further.

My Best Guesses for the Eclipse Film:

1. It’s going to toss in tidbits from THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER. It makes sense. The novella was complete when they were filming this movie, and given the extra Riley moments we’ve seen (them walking out of a lake?), it appears we’re going to get some added newborn vampire perspectives.

2. The Edward and Bella bed scene is going to be different.
You know the one I’m talking about, where he gives her the ring and readers pretty much get the only heavy-petting scene in the entire franchise. First, where would a king-sized bed fit into the representation of Edward’s bedroom in Twilight? And second, and more importantly, I think they’re gonna get past first base. Edward’s shirt is gonna come off. We’re gonna get some barely-controlled passion, and I think even a few of Bella’s buttons are gonna open. My theory is this: the kiss in the Twilight movie, while not in the meadow, was more passionate than the one in the actual book. And since we all know who Bella’s going to choose in the end, I think the movie is going to lead viewers in Edward’s direction with the added smoochies.

3. The Jacob/Bella rape-kiss is going to be underplayed.
In the book, Bella tries to fight him back and then just shuts down, detaching herself from what’s happening to her body. I don’t see the film going there. I think it’s going to be a brief forced kiss with barely there contact before she pushes him away. The movie only has two hours, not six hundred pages, to redeem Jacob and they’re going to want to keep him likable.

4. I think we’re going to see the Cullens and wolves hunt for Victoria. We might even see Emmet get into that little skirmish with one of the wolves rather than having Bella just find out after the fact. Think about it: movies tend to want to stay where the action is, which is not with Bella in Jacksonville; and no one would hire Bryce Dallas Howard for just one fight scene at the end.

5. I think there are going to be some cool flashbacks/montages.
I want to see Rosalie’s story of becoming a vampire and attacking her vicious fiancé, and Jasper’s tales of the Southern Vampire Wars. Personally, I don’t see how the franchise could go forward without these scenes. You need Rosalie’s tale in order for her actions in Breaking Dawn to make sense, and you need Jasper’s tale in order to see him as a military leader. Let’s just hope it’s not them sitting around talking to Bella with no visual flashbacks. Give us something, people.

So enjoy July 4th and let me know if you rush out and see the movie tonight. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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To Prologue or Not to Prologue, That Is The Question

So the first version of the White Whale, which I wrote about five years ago, had a massive prologue. We’re talking a ten-page info-dump. (It was my first book, I didn’t know any better.) And I’m not saying it was bad (okay, it was), but it was no way to start a novel. Yay, page one! Let’s read a bunch of filler information!

Now as I’ve written a bit more, I’ve learned to extract prologues and to spread that information out slowly throughout the first chapters. The AMOR series doesn’t have prologues, my WIP, ANASTASIA, doesn’t have a prologue. But here’s the kicker, the White Whale still does.

You notice how I contradicted myself there?

But I have a reason. I like prologues when they’re short, one page, when they’re italicized (okay, so I’m specific?), and when they’re setting a mood or theme. Not when they’re giving background information.

Think of the prologue to TWILIGHT. It told you that Bella’s life was going to be in danger soon, that she would be willing to sacrifice her life for someone else’s, and that there was some major action ahead. That’s a lot to convey in a couple of paragraphs, but that’s why it worked.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not biting off of Stephenie Meyer with my White Whale prologue. (I guarantee my 13-year-old cheerleaders will not turn into vampires. Though that might be one of the only vampire concepts not yet on the market. Copyright 2010.)

I’m using my prologue to prepare readers for the unusual structure of the book (which is actually titled FOUR DAYS LEFT OF NORMAL). You see I chopped up my old manuscript, deleted half of it, replaced it with new scenes in a new timeline, and then mixed them all together. Confused yet? Really, it’s not as weird as it sounds.

This book is told from four different girls’ points of view, with one of the characters, Deirdre, getting to tell her story from the first person. (The others are in third person.) And I wanted to show how differently each of these girls perceive the events in their lives. So by having two different timelines—Deirdre before “the incident” happens, and the others girls after “the incident”—you can really see how unique their thinking is toward that event (which doesn’t occur until the middle of the book).

But because the story isn’t told in a traditional, linear fashion, I thought it needed a bit of a lead in. So here’s what I came up with for the prologue to FOUR DAYS LEFT OF NORMAL:


The Final Days

I didn’t realize while I was living it, but I only had four days left. Not to live. I would unfortunately keep breathing. I just wouldn’t have much of a life anymore.

I was alone, but in a way that can only be felt in a crowded room when no one will speak to you. It can make you second-guess whether you’re even there. Surely, no one would notice if you left. Or if they did, it would only be because they’d lost the person they were sneaking glances at, whispering about. Because people were definitely talking about me, they just weren’t talking to me. That was too dangerous.

To think, just four days ago, I was going about my life as if everything were normal. I had no idea that the countdown had already begun…

###

Then you go into the first chapter. And I will tell you that I managed to sneak the words “bull semen” into the opening sentences. No joke. Hopefully you’ll all get to read it soon to find out what I mean.

POP CULTURE RANT: MTV Movie Awards

Somehow I completely missed all the announcements that these awards were happening, which only proves how old I’ve gotten that my choice of television programming no longer includes commercials for MTV. But thanks to The Soup, I quickly realized my mistake and rushed to On Demand to watch New Moon win everything. Honestly, I think those kids would have found a way to vote New Moon as best cartoon if the category existed. And here’s the thing, I completely disagree the awards. Best kiss? Really? Bella and Edward were apart for half the movie. Best Actor to RPattz? Okay, I’m going to just say it—I think Robert Pattinson is more appealing giving interviews than he is playing Edward. He’s an over-actor two steps shy of Jim Carrey in The Mask, and his American accent needs work. And now that I’ve been getting into Vampire Diaries, I’ve been wondering why the CW attracted more talent (Boone from Lost is amazing!) than the silver screen. Go Team Damon!

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Go Ahead, Take It In GCC Member Wendy Toliver’s LIFTED

So we all know that girl in high school who got arrested for shoplifting. Now imagine her doing that perp walk in small religious town. That’s the world GCC member Wendy Toliver has created in her new novel LIFTED, which debuted this month through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Being Bad Never Felt So Good.

Poppy Browne had never stolen anything in her life before moving to Pleasant Acres, Texas and meeting Mary Jane and Whitney. But when Poppy walks out of the mall with her two new friends and her first pair of stolen jeans, she’s hooked.

Before long, Poppy is lifting whenever she gets the urge—it’s never about the merchandise, it’s always about the thrill. But when her secret gets out, the girls in Poppy’s clique turn on one another. As she watches her life collapse around her, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie … and how far she’ll go to protect herself.

And to give you an even better idea, watch Wendy’s amazing new book trailer:

Here’s what Wendy had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Wendy: I am an excellent secret keeper, especially when it’s a whopper and always when I’m asked not to tell. For example, one of my friends has a tattoo but only me, another girlfriend, and her husband know about it.

Um, well, not anymore… :)

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Wendy: I loved going to Costa Rica with my husband a couple of years ago. We traveled all over and got to see a wide variety of beautiful scenery and met the nicest people. We stayed in this awesome rainforest full of waterfalls and amazing plants and animals. I loved the tree frogs (so cute) and the tres leches cake (mmm!).

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Wendy: I’d love to visit one someday. I’ve only visited ones at parties that say very generic things that would apply to anyone.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Wendy: Like many Americans, I am a mutt, coming from all sorts of places and people. I am related to Davy Crockett and I think Christy Turlington (the model). I haven’t spent much time researching my family but my dad has. Once my family got to America, a bunch settled in Georgia and Texas. My dad and brother went to Georgia to look at graves, but I’ve only seen those that are in East Texas, namely Kilgore and Longview. This is the general area where LIFTED takes place, though there isn’t really a “Pleasant Acres” in East Texas.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Wendy: When I found out that Lifted would be published, I was at home so I could squeal and take notes and what-not. When I got the news of my first publishing deal (The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren), however, I was driving and had to pull over. My agent was so cute about that: “Pull over right now!” It was a quick conversation, though, because I was running late (as usual) and didn’t want my young son to be getting off the bus and having no one home to let him in. Of course, it’s such an exciting phone call and I’m just so thankful I’ve had three so far!

Thank you, Wendy! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Teaser Thursday: The Soundtrack to My Illusive White Whale

So I finished yet another round of edits to my White Whale, otherwise known as that darn-tween-novel-that-will-never-be-finished. And I got so wrapped up in it, I found myself mentally compiling the soundtrack to the movie that will be based on this novel, which is not yet published. The list has gotten extensive, so I’ve decided to share.

Now, I think the last time I mentioned the White Whale it was titled THE EX-BFF, but these days I’m calling it FOUR DAYS LEFT OF NORMAL. The premise is the same—showing the intense inner-workings of tween friendships through the eyes of four very different girls. It’s the type of story that will resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a best friend and been left wondering where it all went wrong.

To give you a better idea, I’ve decided to share a few songs from each of the girls’ playlists.

DEIRDRE
Daughter of a blue-collar single dad (her mom died of cancer) and sister to a Homecoming Queen, Deirdre feels like a lanky, multicultural mutt—even her friends call her “Gigante.” But still, she’s popular. And maybe she would stay that way if she didn’t have a crush on the boyfriend of the most popular girl in school, and one of her so-called friends.

You Belong with Me,
Taylor Swift
Good Enough, Sarah Maclaughlin
Scars, Allison Iraheta

AMBER
The quiet Asian girl who’s desperate to meet the insanely high expectations of her parents, Amber will do anything to add popularity to her achievements—including betrayal.

Girl Next Door, Saving Jane
Perfect, Alanis Morissette

BECCA
The most popular girl in school dating the coolest guy, Becca was taught to be the best at all costs by her workaholic parents. So why won’t her ex-BFF talk to her anymore? And why does her boyfriend always smile at Deirdre?

Bitch,
Meredith Brooks
Miss World, Hole

ALLIE
Raised to be beautiful, Allie has her sights on landing a high school boyfriend. But when rumors start to swirl, Allie’s single-minded focus is drawn back to her friends, specifically her ex-BFF, Becca.

You’re Beautiful, James Blunt
Poker Face, Glee Cast

POP CULTURE RANT: Eclipse Commercials
So I’m anticipating the debut of the new Twilight movie as much as everyone else, even though I was sorely disappointed with New Moon (wasn’t everyone?). But Eclipse comes with higher expectations. And while I love all the sneak-peek scenes of Riley and the newborn vampires, I have to say I’m still not sold on Robert Pattinson. He’s cute and all, but I think he’s a bit of an over-actor. Every time Edward gets angry, I wanna laugh. So here’s hoping, Robert steps up his game for this movie!

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So You Think You Can Write? (Working Title)

This idea came to me in the shower (where all great ideas strike), the almighty television has given most other industries a shortcut to success. Singers have American Idol, America’s Got Talent, et al. Models have Tyra Banks. Fashion designers have Project Runway. There’s even Top Chef, HGTV’s Designer Star, Shear Genius, So You Think You Can Dance. The list is ridiculously extensive. But what do we have, writers? Nothing. And I propose we change that.

Here’s my thought: our great champion of books, Oprah Winfrey, is going into talk show retirement. But she is not leaving us behind, dear viewers, she’s starting OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. So I’ve got the perfect pitch for our publishing Midas:

So You Think You Can Write? (Working Title)

We get three judges to sit on a panel and judge the work of potential contestants/queriers. Each week, wannabe writers are assigned a new genre. Thriller! YA! Screen play! 18th Century English Literature! They have seven days to research the genre, write a first chapter, film a Pepsi commercial (we need sponsors), and a put together a plucky video package telling viewers “Something we don’t know about them” or “Some tragic family hardship to tug at our heartstrings.”


Then our panel of judges review the work. I’m flexible here (okay, maybe not) but my dream team would be the following: Stephen King, Tina Fey, and Meg Cabot. Think about it. Mr. King could be the “mean” judge (“I’ve seen pig’s blood better than this…”); Ms. Fey could be the “honest yet funny” judge (“You need to work on your voice so your readers will want to go to there…”); and Ms. Cabot could be the “nice” judge (“You get my tiara for this, sweetheart!”).

And now we just need a host. I’d say Ryan Seacrest because I think there are a few hours when he’s sleeping that he could squeeze in another job, but on the off chance he doesn’t want to fly to New York each week (where we’d obviously film), then I say we go British. Every reality show needs a Brit, it’s just the way it is. So I’m gonna go with Ricky Gervais. Anyone who created The Office can understand writers’ desires to quit their day jobs.

Each week, all the first chapters could be downloaded on iTunes (like Glee!). The winner could get a book deal, a promise to be an Oprah Book Club selection, and $100,000 to start their own line (wait, that’s Project Runway, but you get the idea).

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Diana, who in the world is going to watch people write? And you have a point. But if America can watch someone bake a cake, raise their eight kids, buy a wedding dress, or have an drug intervention, then why not write? And really, it’s the Oprah Network. Will it really disrupt their busy schedule of teaching us to live our best lives and love ourselves thin? It’s a natural fit.

So what do you guys think? Should I Google Oprah’s number and giver her a call?

(P.S. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m knee deep in edits and starting to go a little crazy. But hey, it could work…)

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Does it really need to be said that women who watch soap operas aren’t exactly looking to see an 18-year-old boy get raped in prison at three in the afternoon? And here’s the twisted thing, I’m not joking. Sure, these things “happen in real life,” but since when are soap operas about reality? If I wanted that, I’d watch HBO. Honestly, I have no idea what was going on in that writer’s room when this idea was pitched. “Hey, let’s do a love triangle!” “No, let’s do prison rape!” It’s sick, folks. I started watching soaps when I was five years old with my grandma. Imagine what the audience out there could be for this…

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A Big Beach Bag of Questions for GCC Member Jennifer Echols

So I’ve been in the Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit (GCC) for more than a year now, and I think it’s about time I ask some new questions. So Jennifer Echols, the author of the fabulous new book ENDLESS SUMMER which was released this week through Simon Pulse, has agreed to be my guinea pig and test out the new Q&A. And what better book to start with than hot beach read right in time for Memorial Day weekend?

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

The Boys Next Door and the sequel, Endless Summer, in one volume!

Two irresistible boys. One unforgettable summer.

Lori can’t wait for her summer at the lake. She loves wakeboarding and hanging with her friends–including the two hotties next door. With the Vader brothers, she’s always been just one of the guys. Now that she’s turning sixteen, she wants to be seen as one of the girls, especially in the eyes of Sean, the older brother. But that’s not going to happen–not if the younger brother, Adam, can help it.

Lori plans to make Sean jealous by spending time with Adam. Adam has plans of his own for Lori. As the air heats up, so does this love triangle. Will Lori’s romantic summer melt into one hot mess?

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Jennifer: I took a very eye-opening trip out west right after college. I grew up in central Alabama, where the landscape is forested hills and you rarely get a glimpse of the lay of the land. Driving through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado was like visiting another planet. At one point I looked out on the horizon in Arizona and realized I was watching a train. An ENTIRE train, not just one boxcar at a time disappearing into the forest. At another point I was driving toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. I could see the white sand, so I figured we were almost there—because in Alabama, if you can see something behind the trees, you ARE almost there. We drove for another three hours before arriving.

Sounds amazing! I would love to drive cross-country.
Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Jennifer: I knew I wanted a creative job. I thought I might want to be an artist, and my first major in college was actually music, but a career as a novelist was always in the back of my mind.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Jennifer: I was drum major of my high school marching band, and we had a football game that night. So I spent my birthday directing the band, which was my favorite thing to do anyway!

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Jennifer: I do start with an outline. I write about 150 pages organically and not in order! It drives me crazy! Then I go back to my outline, straighten things out, and finish the book.

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jennifer: I was standing in my bedroom, staring at my closet door, pacing the hardwood floor, on the phone with my agent. I’m not sure why I remember this so clearly! I had revised the proposal quite a few times and I had really fallen in love with the first chapter narrated by the hero, Adam, so I guess I remember it along with the feeling of such relief that I would have the chance to write this book.

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Where Are The Polar Bears? My Take on the LOST Finale

I hated to see this “good book” come to an end. I’m sure we all did. But as a writer, I did not envy the LOST creators who faced the monumental task of wrapping this epic phenomenon in a way that would satisfy those who were dedicated the character’s (love) stories and those who were gripped by the island mysteries. But, they done good, folks.

While I am in no way a Ph.D. on the series capable of analyzing every reference and allusion presented (for that please, please read the mind-boggling informative posts of Entertainment Weekly’s Doc Jensen), I would like to give you all my opinion from the writerly perspective.

It goes without saying here, but….SPOILER ALERT. I will be discussing the ending in detail, so stop reading if the show is still sitting in your DVR queue .

That said, this is my theory on what I think happened in the last twenty minutes. I’d like to get this out of the way so I can tell you my impressions of it from a writer’s standpoint:

Everything that happened on the island really happened, in the real world. Jack died on the island after plugging up the evil cork. Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, et. all flew off the island safely and went on to live lives back in the real world. I think Sawyer and Miles must have remained close in their “post island lives” because their “purgatory/sideways” selves were partners in the police force. Same with Kate and Claire—they must have stayed close, raising Aaron together, because their purgatory selves were also bonded. I believe this purgatory was created when Juliet detonated the hydrogen bomb, that is why her ghost said, “It worked.” And as the Losties died—either on the island or post island—they went to this purgatory reality until the entire “crew” was assembled (ie. dead).

I’m guessing Hurley and Ben were the last to “arrive” because they were the new Jacob and Richard, thus immortal. And Hurley said to Ben, “You were a great No. 2,” implying they spent some time together that we didn’t see. Given that Season Six opened with an image of the island under water, I think another battle must have occurred at some later date that did sink the island and kill Hurley. Once he arrived, they could all move on to “heaven” together.
There, that is my interpretation.

Now here is my writerly reaction:

1. The LES MIS ending. Obviously, the creator’s made a brave choice by having a full cast of dead people in the finale. But kudos to them for managing to keep it uplifting. I think it was a wise choice to show them all so happy and smiley in the final church scene.

2. Montages.
Viewers expect to see favorite season moments in a finale, and I think the writers were unbelievably clever by giving us the “Island Enlightenments.” It satisfied that itch, and really provided the heart of the finale, without going into a total montage “Time of My Life” cheese-fest.

3. Cheap shot. Vincent was in Jack’s death scene? As if we weren’t upset enough, they added a yellow lab? Really? Why not a baby polar bear? Or a Dharma bunny? But… at least Jack didn’t die alone.

4. Inconsistencies.
I find it odd that Desmond and Penny were the only non-Oceanic plane crash survivors going to heaven with the group. Not that they weren’t essential characters, but why were they the only ones? It seemed a bit inconsistent. Why not Miles and Faraday too? And what about Walt?

5. Loose Ends. While writers in no way need to answer every question, I was surprised that Widmore and Eloise didn’t play more heavily in the sideways portion of the finale. We never got a true understanding of what motivated these characters (good or evil), how they knew so much, and why Eloise wanted to keep them in purgatory (ie. stop Desmond’s reunion). That’s more than just a dropped Easter Egg, in my opinion.

6. Religion.
As if anyone was unclear as to the show’s Christian roots, they ended it in a church, going to heaven, after their Christ-figure sacrificed himself for the good of mankind. In my opinion, that laid it on pretty thick. They were just shy of beating us over the head with their message like an after school special.

7. Love stories.
I think they excelled here. Kate officially “chose” Jack. Sawyer’s true love was Juliet. Jin & Sun were reunited (they even remembered that now parentless daughter who didn’t warrant a mention in the submarine). Hurley got Libby and oddly Sayid was reunited with Shannon (who we all forgot he loved for two seconds in between his Nadia phases). It’s not easy to make such a dense mystery be more character-driven than plot-driven, but this finale showed us how much the writers succeeded in this effort.

8. Arbitrary Non-Heaven-Bound Losties.
Clearly, we saw Ben choose not to go to heaven with the group. This makes sense to me, and I wonder if Faraday, Miles, etc. did the same. But why did the writers choose to have Michael be the only soul condemned as a “whisperer” on the island? Why not Ana Lucia, who got no redemption? Why not Ethan? Or some of the Others we saw in purgatory? I found these character endings arbitrary. If you need redemption to go heaven, shouldn’t they all have been given that chance in purgatory—including Michael? Why was he the only one whisper-screwed?

9. Seemingly pointless plot lines. I’m not just talking about Nikki and Paulo here, but in retrospect what did time travel really have to do with this series? How was the “source” of all good and evil in anyway connected with time travel? It was an exciting plot while it lasted, but I’m unclear as to what it had to do with the end game other than serve as a plot device to separate our characters. Same with the “Temple.” We spent a lot of Season Six at this location, which now seems to have had no real connection to Jacob, the source, the mythology, or anything.

10. Full circle.
If there is one thing the writers did fantastically, it was bring us all full circle. Jack died in the same field with a close up on his eye, Kate delivered Aaron in purgatory, Jack got a wound in his side, Locke stood up and walked into the church, Ben got to be a co-caretaker of the island. It was an impressive big red bow, and I commend the creators for tying it.

So as a pop culture junkie, I must say:

Thank you, LOST, for six great seasons! I can’t wait to see you rake ‘em in at awards’ season.

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Un Pocito Puerto Rico En Philadelphia

I had an event over the weekend at Taller Puertorriqueno, a nonprofit community center and bookstore in north Philadelphia that celebrates Latino artists and authors. Lots of friends, family, and fans showed up and asked some wonderful questions, so I thought I’d give a recap of some of my (paraphrased) answers.

1. What am I working on now?

I am currently working on two books. The first book is my White Whale, otherwise known as my “middle school book.” I’d tell you it’s almost done (because I’m near the end), but given that I’ve thought that numerous times over the past five years, it would probably be a lie. But I am almost done this version. That counts for something, right? The second book is the prequel to the spy novel that I love with all of my heart. “Anastasia” will see the light of day even if it’s published posthumously like Confederacy of Dunces (only without the suicide part).

2. What was my favorite character to write in the Amor series?

Vince, hands down. I love writing the bad or mischievous characters—way more fun. Same is true for my “middle school book;” my favorite character is Allie, a quietly devious girl who’s pulling all the strings.

3. What are my tricks to writing dialogue?

First, it helps that I still speak like a teenager. If I were a serious academic, I doubt I’d find it as easy to write, “Seriously? Shut. Up.” Also, I read all of my dialogue aloud without any of the tags (“…said Tina”) or paragraphs in between. Just read the conversation as it would be spoken and see if you think anyone would respond the way you have your characters responding.

4. How do I find the motivation to finish a novel?

Truth is, it has to be in you, folks. You can’t teach motivation. The only way you’re ever going to finish that novel in your head is if you sit in front of your computer and do it. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Don’t keep going back to the beginning of the manuscript and reading from there before you start writing for the day. Just WRITE. You can edit for months (years) afterward.

5. Did my journalism background provide me with connections to get an agent?

No. It did not. I queried cold just like everyone else. But I do think working for a daily website taught me how to write lots of copy very quickly. And I’m also a firm believer that getting paid to write all day, everyday is only going to improve your writing—whether you’re reporting on hotel rooms or homicides. So don’t snub your nose at that trade magazine job, but don’t expect it to introduce you to the president of HarperCollins either.

POP CULTURE RANT: Flyers
Okay, I’ll admit it, I utterly ignored their entire hockey season. I was actually under the (somewhat correct) assumption that the team was not meeting fans’ expectations. Then, they surprisingly made the playoffs. Then, they made it through the first round. Then, they came back from an 0-3 deficit against the Bruins to win four straight and make it to the Eastern Conference finals. Holy crap. It’s like Rocky on ice. So as a Philadelphian, I have jumped on the zamboni bandwagon and even watched a retrospective of the “Broad Street Bullies” on HBO. Let’s Go Flyers! And don’t worry, the miniature William Penn my sister-in-law got me for Christmas is displayed in the highest point in my house. Anything that helps.

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The Top Ten Things I Learned While Moving… Again

It’s official, “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then” have been relieved of their generous roof-over-my-head responsibilities. The DH and I are now, once again, housing ourselves. This of course means I am back in Philadelphia listening to construction crews and police sirens as we speak. Ah, home…

So in honor of my last two weeks of packing, moving, painting, unpacking, and cleaning, I’ve decided to compile a list of lessons learned during this stressful transitional period.

Top Ten Things I Learned While Moving Twenty Miles

1. When it’s your own stuff you’re hauling, you can somehow find the strength to lift a car off an infant, because that’s how determined you are to get that dining room table into your house.

2. Moving can stress a cat out to the point of acne. And I’m not kidding. I took my feline, Lupi, to the vet because of what looked like a sore on her chin, only to learn she had a giant stress pimple and needs kitty Proactive.

3. When opening boxes that have been sealed for six months, look back and marvel at the fabulous bubble wrap, taping, and packing job you did when the whole “moving” thing was still fresh and exciting.

4. Painting a wall uses more muscles than any gym could possibly strain.

5. Not having curtains when a construction crew is outside your windows can lead to some interesting moments.

6. All those times you’ve helped friends demo a bathroom, move cross-town, or lift heavy furniture really pay off when you look around and realize that eight friends and family members generously showed up on a Saturday to help you out.

7. Furniture delivery men will take their shoes off when asked.

8. When you leave “Those Who Will House You ‘Til Then” don’t forget to look under the bed. All of your Spring clothes might be there, just sayin’.

9. You can go a week without logging onto a computer. I don’t advise this routinely, but it can be done.

10. You’re very lucky to have family who will graciously put a roof over your head, cook you Sunday brunches, and put a Christmas tree in their Jewish living room while you wait for five months to have your house just built already. Thanks for housing us!

Side Note: I will be holding a reading with Taller Puertorriqueno at the Julia de Burgos Book Store in Philadelphia (2721 North 5th Street) this Saturday, May 15th, at 3pm. The event is free and open to the public and will include a reading from Amor and Summer Secrets, a Q&A, book signing, and refreshments.

Hope to see you there!

POP CULTURE RANT: Veronica Mars
Why did I not know this show existed when it was on television? I’ve recently discovered it on OnDemand. (It’s free! Check it out!). And I’m now completely obsessed. I even like the theme song. My only complaint? Why doesn’t Comcast load the episodes faster? I have to wait an entire week for another new show to air on a series that ended years ago. Though I do love out-of-date pop culture references—it’s like a little time capsule. And I imagine that somewhere out there in my perfect TV world, Veronica and Buffy are hanging out at a bar with Angel and Logan punning their heads off.

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Ghosts Stories And More With GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready

Sure, a lot of fictional characters claim to be able to talk to the dead, but how many of them have dated the dead. Adds a whole new twist to the after life, huh? And that’s exactly why I’m so intrigued by GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready’s new novel, SHADE, just released through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Love ties them together.
Death can’t tear them apart.

Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan’s band playing a critical gig and Aura’s plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend’s life. She never thought it would be his last.

Logan’s sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He’s gone.

Well, sort of.

Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.

It doesn’t help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding—and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.

As Aura’s relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura’s heart…and clues to the secret of the Shift.

Here’s what Jeri had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jeri: I’m a secret vault. Last year I took my husband on a surprise trip to Vegas for his birthday, and he never suspected a thing, even though I’d been planning it with our friends for almost two years. The key to not spoiling the surprise, of course, was to not tell anyone who wasn’t directly involved in the covert operation. Well, them and complete strangers.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jeri: This is a tough one, because I love to travel, too, and I’ve been to a lot of cool, out-of-the-way places. But one of the most beautiful moments of my life occurred when I was twenty years old. Two friends and I were staying at a farmhouse/B&B outside of Anstruther, Scotland (a fishing village near St. Andrews). I took a walk alone outside around midnight, but even at that late hour the sky wasn’t completely dark, because it was June. The sky was this gorgeous, otherworldly periwinkle. I walked into a field of heather and crouched down so that my eyes were at the level of the long, swaying flowers. It was totally silent, except for an occasional cow lowing in the distance. Magical.

Okay, I just love the idea that you can walk through a field alone at midnight in Scotland. You can tell I live in cities, right?

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jeri: I’ve been to one psychic who was kind of a letdown—all of her predictions were kind of vague and generic. But about a year ago I had an incredible tarot reading. All three cards in the spread were Major Arcana—the odds of that are pretty small. The reader was stunned at how positive it was. It basically said that if I applied the full force of my creative energy and didn’t let myself be distracted, great things would happen for me. I went home and brought up the descriptions for the first two cards (the Magician and the Chariot) in a web browser. I then kept those browser tabs open to inspire me every day while I worked.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jeri: Sadly, with a name like Smith, it’s hard to delve very deeply into geneaology. The only ancestors I have a halfway decent history for are my maternal grandmother’s family, who came over from Ireland during the potato famine. Pretty boring, sorry.

Did you know there’s a Potato Famine Memorial in Lower Manhattan? Very random.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jeri: The day SHADE went to auction, I was at home, hoping the publishers would actually show up. This was only five days after “Black Wednesday,” December 3, 2008, when a lot of companies (including Simon & Schuster, who ended up winning the auction), had big layoffs and everyone was very doom-and-gloom.

But it all went well, and my husband and one of my friends stayed with me (my friend virtually, my husband in person) through a nail biter of an afternoon. I don’t have pictures, because I was probably in my PJs and glasses, which is how I look most days.

Thank you, Jeri! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Get Some Good Karma with GCC Member Jessica Brody

In the age of the THE SECRET, sometimes the universe is just too busy to send everyone everything they’re thinking of in a timely manner. That’s why GCC author Jessica Brody decided to find out what would happen if girls starting taking Karma into their own hands. Not a bad idea, right? And that’s why I’m so excited about her new book, THE KARMA CLUB, which debuted on April 27 from Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

When you mess with Karma, Karma messes back…

Madison Kasparkova always thought she understood how Karma works. Do good things and you’ll be rewarded, do something bad and Karma will make sure you get what you deserve. But when Maddy’s boyfriend cheats on her, nothing bad comes his way. That’s why Maddy starts the Karma Club, to clean up the messes that the universe has left behind and get back at the people who have wronged them. Sometimes, though, it isn’t wise to meddle with the universe. It turns out Karma often has plans of its own.

Watch the book trailer for even better taste of Karma!

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jessica:I’d like to think of myself as a good secret keeper. I don’t know though. Tell me a secret and we’ll see how long I can keep it. 

Q: I love to travel. What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jessica: I do that too! In my two novels before THE KARMA CLUB, there are a few chapters that take place in Paris because it’s my favorite city in the world and because I lived there for a year in college. I try to go back as often as possible! The coolest thing was when my first book released in France and the French publisher brought me out to promote it. That was seriously unreal! I’m thinking of setting some scenes of my next book in India just so I have an excuse to go there. I’ve always wanted to!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jessica: Ooh, I have a crazy psychic story too! I visited one toward the beginning of 2006, when I was trying to sell my very first novel The Fidelity Files and not having much luck at it. I was in the process of rewriting. I went in and the psychic immediately told me I was a writer (which I had NOT told him) and that I was working on something about cheating spouses (that’s what Fidelity Files is about!) and that I would sell it before the end of 2006. I ended up selling it in November 2006 (with a month to spare!). It was totally creepy but WAY cool!

Now THAT is a psychic story I love! Maybe your psychic knows my psychic?

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jessica: I joined ancestry.com for a little while and had so much fun building and exploring my family tree. All of my relatives came over to the US from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. I was even able to find the passenger manifest from the ship my great grandfather was on! It was pretty cool.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jessica: I was actually sitting in my office when I first found out. But I certainly wasn’t sitting for long! There was a lot of jumping and dancing around the room. I don’t have any pictures of that day, but here’s one of the day I signed the actual contract. That’s one big smile!

Thank you, Jessica! And please visit her website because she’s giving away FOUR Flip Video Cameras (as well as TONS of other cool prizes!). Enter to win!

Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Cinderella Kicks Off Those Glass Slippers for GCC Member Kay Cassidy

You gotta love an empowering twist on an old fairy tale, where instead of Cinderella stumbling upon her destiny, she’s asked to join a secret society and fight for it. Girl power! And that’s exactly why I’m excited for GCC Member Kay Cassidy’s (www.kaycassidy.com) new novel, THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY, which debuts this month through Egmont U.S.A.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

What a girl to do when the glass slipper fits, but she doesn’t want to wear it anymore?

Sixteen year old Jess Parker has always been an outsider. So when she receives an invitation to join The Cinderella Society, a secret society of the most popular girls in school, it’s like something out of a fairy tale. Swept up by the Cindys’ magical world of makeovers, and catching the eye of her Prince Charming, Jess feels like she’s finally found her chance to fit in.

Then the Wickeds–led by Jess’s arch-enemy–begin targeting innocent girls in their war against the Cindys, and Jess discovers there’s more to being a Cindy than reinventing yourself on the outside. She has unknowingly become part of a centuries-old battle of good vs. evil, and now the Cindys in charge need Jess for a mission that could change everything.

Overwhelmed, Jess wonders if The Cinderella Society made a mistake in choosing her. Is it a coincidence her new boyfriend doesn’t want to be seen with her in public? And is this glamorous, secret life even what she wants, or will she risk her own happy ending to live up to the expectations of her new sisters?

Here’s what Kay had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Kay: I’m good at keeping other people’s secrets but I tend to be terrible at keeping my own. LOL! I always swear I’m going to keep it secret and then spring the news on everyone at the same time but I always fold and need to share a squee moment with someone I love. :-)

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Kay: My all-time favorite vacation was when my husband and I spent a week in San Juan. The hotel we stayed at is no longer there but the rooms were in low buildings that were literally steps from a grassy patch with a hammock and the beach. It was heaven. We went to the Arecibo Observatory while we were there which was amazing. It’s the world’s largest radiotelescope, so if there’s life out there beyond Earth, Arecibo is likely the place we would discover it. My husband and I both loved the movie Contact and the observatory is in the movie, so it was neat to see it in person.

I’ve been to that observatory! It’s not that far from Utuado, where my dad (and my character’s dad) is from.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Kay: I have! One of my favorite stores for my angel collection has them and I’ll go in with a friend whenever she’s in town. More often than not, they’ve been right even though I would’ve sworn they were totally off base given how my life was at that point. :-)

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Kay: Yay, Puerto Rico! My dad went through a massive genealogy phase and traced our ancestry back to Josephine, the wife of Napolean. He even has a database where he scanned in only photos to associate with people’s entries… it was probably a decade long project for him. So I’m fortunate that his side of the family is completely done. And honestly, after seeing the painstaking efforts he went through, I gave up after only documenting a few generations of my mom’s side. It’s a daunting task!

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Kay: I was at home when I got a call from my agent. It was the day after an editor who had been championing the book for two months in-house had called to say it was finally passed over at acquisitions. I was crushed and certain the book was never going to sell. So naturally, my agent called the next morning with an offer from another publisher. That’s so like life, isn’t it? ;-)

Thank you, Kay! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Big Shocker: Young Adult Novels Are Not About The Parents

This may come as a surprise to the folks over at the New York Times (I know they have their hands full trying not to become extinct and all), but really, if they’re going to publish essays about a genre of literature, they really should know something about it. And I don’t mean skimming the latest titles on the bestseller list and then using those five or six books to make sweeping generalizations about the thousands of others on the shelf.

I’m referring to the essay, The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit, that recently appeared in the Book Review. The overall thesis seems to be that in the good ‘ole days, parents in children’s books at least had the good sense to be dead, leading to the “triumphant rise” of the orphan. But now, for shame, the “hapless parents” in young adult novels are “afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal, or rushing out the door to a meeting,” which makes them “slightly ridiculous.”

The essayist backed up this conclusion by citing six, count ‘em six, contemporary young adult novels: Once Was Lost; How to Say Goodbye in Robot; Twilight; Wintergirls; Shiver; and The Hunger Games. Out of those six titles, she doesn’t even bother to give a single example from either Shiver or The Hunger Games. So really, the entire essay is based on four books.

I don’t know about you, but I think that qualifies her for an F on most college campuses. You can’t just cherry pick a few titles to back up your thesis while ignoring the dozens (hundreds) of titles that contradict it. She doesn’t give one example of a contemporary YA novel with functioning, engaged parents, as if they don’t exist—a fact I can easily back up with my own young adult series. (Hey, there are three books in the Amor and Summer Secrets series, so that should be enough to prove my point, right?)

But even putting the essayist’s poor research aside, and even accepting that the trend of the “hapless parent” exists in contemporary YA, I still don’t see the problem with this depiction. There are plenty of bad parents out there. There are plenty of teens reading and empathizing with a character whose dad is always working, or whose mother is in rehab, or whose parent can’t cook a decent dinner.

While these characters might seem “ridiculous” to a The New York Times essayist, I doubt they do to thousands of teenagers.

It’s as if the essayist lacks a basic understanding of contemporary teens as well as young adult literature. Because clearly, she doesn’t have much of a grasp on the genre if she’s actually wondering why YA parental characters are “less consequential…the father in Once Was Lost becomes somehow peripheral, his problems more muted and less interesting than his teenage daughter’s.”

Um, wow. You think?

Young adult novels are told through the eyes of a teenager. They’re also most often told in the first person. Of course that teen’s problems seem more “consequential” than the parents. We’re purposely only getting the teenager’s point-of-view—that’s sort of what makes a novel fit the young adult genre. But really, do I need to explain that to a New York Times reporter? Because that’s like explaining why mystery novels are plot driven or why fantasy novels have so many funky names. You would think the folks at the Book Review would kind of get that already.

But you know, whatever. I guess I’ll just go back to writing my WIP about the hapless single dad of two teenager daughters who has the audacity to pull double shifts to put a roof over their head. You know, how ridiculous.

POP CULTURE RANT: Glee & Jessica Simpson
Okay, I love Glee. Fine family fun! But last night, there was one line in particular that had me screaming at the TV. It was when Finn looked up at his basketball coach and said, “He pulled a ‘Jessica Simpson.’ You know, lost his fiancé, gained 40 pounds, and stopped showering. And everyone acts like it’s totally normal.” Say it with me: Jessica Simpson IS NOT FAT. Not even close. Yes, at one point she lost a ton of weight to shrink to a freakish size 0 to play Daisy Duke. But the fact that she chose to return to a more normal size 4, does not make her fat. Yes, there was that unfortunate mom jeans picture. But even then, she probably wasn’t more than a size 6. So, get over it! Stop picking on her weight, Hollywood. Or instead of being one of the world’s fattest nations, our next generation is going to be the most anorexic nation. And historians will trace the epidemic’s roots all the way back to the mom jeans.

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Bullies Are Totally Lame, And We’re Gonna Prove It

I’m sure many of you have been following the tragic Phoebe Prince story, the smart, attractive teen who took her own life in response to, essentially, being bullied to death. Nine classmates have been charged with her death, and I can’t help but wonder how many of them were tormenting Phoebe with no real idea as to even why she’d become their target. Now they’re facing prison, forced to live with the death of their classmate hanging over their souls forever, all because they wanted to be part of the “in” crowd.

You see, that’s how bullying really survives. Out of those nine teens, I’d venture to guess that only one, maybe two, could be described as a real ringleader—a person full of hate who truly took joy out of watching Phoebe suffer. I’d say the other seven or eight teens involved were merely going along, sending hateful text messages and Facebook posts, just to get their own warped sense of attention. They thought it was “cool” to bully Phoebe.

And that’s where our problem lies. Bullying someone, going along with the group, doing something you know down to your bones is wrong, IS NOT COOL.

It’s not cool to be too afraid to think for yourself.

It’s not cool to be too weak to stand up to your friends .

It’s not cool to torment a girl just because you’re afraid that if it’s not Phoebe who’s getting attacked, then it might be you.

Think about that: about seven or eight of those teens are facing orange jumpsuits and being forced to forever live with the fact that they caused another girl’s death all because they wanted to be “cool.”

So in an effort to really lift the stigma of bullying, to show how lame and damaging it is, a group of us young adult authors have joined an important new cause: YAAAB.

Young Adult Authors Against Bullying
(YAAAB) is a new group (friend it on Facebook) founded by YA authors Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall. There are more than 50 authors in the group, myself included, with the goal of making sure every teen out there knows how uncool bullying is.

Because here’s the thing, we’ve all gone through it. All of us. In fact, we have so many personal bullying stories that we’re putting together an anthology to tell our tales. We want teens to know what we went through growing up, how vividly we still remember it, and how it affects us to this day. Because, believe me, it does.

So join YAAAB. Agree to make your classroom, your group of friends, your sports team, a no bullying zone. And promise that the next time you see a kid being teased, you won’t just walk by and ignore it. Think of Phoebe and think of all the classmates who saw what was happening everyday and did nothing. Say something.

Because standing up for someone, and something you believe in, is what really makes you cool.

POP CULTURE RANT: Philadelphia Eagles
I can’t believe they actually did it. I can’t believe they traded McNabb. There have been rumors for years that this could happen. But it was just gossip. I never thought they’d really cut him loose. But they did. And on Easter Sunday no less. Now, let me go on the record saying that I am a McNabb fan. I own his jersey. And even if he does throw a few too many passes in the dirt, I think when the dust settles on the football fields of history, this city will look back and realize he was the best quarterback we’ve ever had. Kolb is going to choke this season (yes, I said it), and we’re all going to spiral back to the sad years reminiscent of Rich Kotite or Koy Detmer and sadly gain the hindsight to appreciate the McNabb and Reid era for how great it really was. Wow, “was.” We’ll miss you, McNabb! See you twice a year with the Redskins!

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In a World… Where Blurbs Rule, And Everyone Needs One

To blurb or not to blurb, that is the question. You’ve probably noticed on the back of many books there are little excerpts from other authors claiming it’s “laugh out loud funny!” or “two tissue box worthy!” or “fun and full of heart!” Authors are usually responsible for asking other authors to write these blurbs on their behalf. So if you don’t know many writers, you often don’t get many blurbs. (Remember the puppy dog eyes you had when you stood at someone’s locker and asked, “Will you sign my yearbook?” It’s like that.)


But thankfully, in the age of Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, GoodReads, etc., authors have more opportunities to “meet” each other in the strictly WiFi sense. This leads to me being asked via Twitter to blurb an awesome new novel by a popular Latina author.

So after reading an ARC of Goodbye to All That by Margo Candela and loving it, I was then forced to ponder the age-old question:

How do I write a blurb?

Do I go with the James Earl Jones version?
In a world… where movie stars rule the planet, one girl must face them all or risk doing temp work…FOREVER.

Do I go with the Siskel & Ebert version?
Two Thumbs Up! Fine, chick-lit fun! A book your girlfriends will love.

Do I go with the Time Magazine “By the Numbers” version?
300 pages
16 chapters
3 dog-eared pages
Countless laughs

Or do I just go with the straight-up version? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. So ultimately, I went with this:

“Bridget Jones meets Entourage in this witty, L.A. story that lets you behind the velvet ropes and inside one of ‘the industry’s’ cut-throat boardrooms. Readers will be rooting for Raquel Azorian, a realistic heroine full of flaws and self-reliance. Plus, she’s funny. Candela spins dialogue so sharp it will have you wishing she were standing nearby with cue cards at your next office meeting. A great, enjoyable read.”

So I hope you guys check it out when it debuts. Good luck with the launch, Margo!

POP CULTURE RANT: American Idol

Okay, it’s official. It’s not just me, this season blows. For the first time ever, I skipped the entire audition round (just wasn’t into it), but I did watch one round of the semi-finals. I wasn’t impressed. When they narrowed it down to the final 12, I thought it was safe to trust that the talent had been limited to only the most watchable. I was wrong. I have watched 2.5 episodes of the finals now and so far, only 2ish people deserve to be there (Crystal, ½ Lee, and ½ Siobhan, depending on the night). The rest are awful, like Season 1 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” awful. Simon, I think when you leave next season, so will the rest of us.

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Work-In-Progress: Channeling My Inner Tarantino

So you know how I’ve been blogging about my Adventures in Prequeldom? Well, I regret to inform you that prequeldom is on hold for the moment. But don’t worry, this is a good thing! (Though it’s not easy to stop when you’re 30,000 words into a novel. Insert sound of tires screeching to a halt.) Essentially, my middle grade WIP is getting a new spark of life. Specifically, I’ve decided to chop the book into pieces and paste it together into a fractured timeline in a manner similar to Reservoir Dogs—only without all the guns and sliced ears.

For those who haven’t seen Quentin Tarantino’s debut flick, it’s not for the faint of heart. (Seriously, it takes cursing and violence to a whole new level—I’m not joking about that ear.) But one of the less disturbing (awesome) things it does amazing well is tell its story in a nonlinear fashion. The film jumps around recapping the events right before and right after a bank robbery, without showing the robbery itself. It sounds kind of crazy, but it’s actually quite awesome.

And while making my latest revisions to my middle grade novel, I came to appreciate Tarantino’s style of thinking. The WIP already featured snippets of timeline jumping. Throughout the book (which is told from four different girls’ points of view), the story would jump to the height of the action and then rewind a bit to tell the reader how we got there.

So, the thread of timeline jumping was there already.

I’ve just deciding to split that thread in two.

Now, instead of finding out what happens to Deirdre, Amber, Allie, and Becca as their friendships slowly (or drastically) shatter, we see what happens right before and right after one of the major “incidents” in the book.

Sound confusing? Try laying it out in notecards.

Now, believe me, I debated giving an excerpt here. I even cut and pasted one in. But I just don’t think I’m ready. These things take time.

But, I will tell you that ultimately, my big writerly intention here is to show how four girls are affected differently by the same social events, because they’re seeing them through an entirely selfish light. (They’re 13, what do you expect?). So by adding the new timeline, it takes their viewpoints out of context, making their different perspectives even more drastic (because the reader hasn’t gotten to experience the “incident” in question). At least not yet.

Think of it like Lost, the answers are coming…

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I have mixed emotions about Kristina’s domestic abuse storyline. A) I like that it ties in lots of different cast members. B) I like that it’s not mob-related. (Don’t we all?) C) I like how all the actors seem to stepping up their game (Alexis, Kristina, and Sonny have been great). BUT, having a teenage girl depicted as lying about who abused her just seems irresponsible to me. It’s like they’re sending a message to families that they shouldn’t trust their daughters when they come forward about being attacked, because they might lie. And that’s a horrible, horrible message to suggest. Now, I know, soap operas aren’t there to teach us behavioral tips. (What, you can’t slap people in the face during boardroom disputes?). But still, it might have worked better if Kristina was in a coma and no one knew who abused her, so they blamed Ethan at first. Then Keiffer. Just sayin’…

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Let’s Be BFF With GCC Member Elizabeth Scott

Ever have a crush on your best friend’s boyfriend? Of course not. Because even if you did, you wouldn’t tell me. It’s a blatant violation of Girl Code. And that is exactly the topic that our newest GCC member Elizabeth Scott tackles in her new young adult novel, THE UNWRITTEN RULE, which debuts today through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Everyone knows the unwritten rule: You don’t like you best friend’s boyfriend. Sarah has had a crush on Ryan for years. He’s easy to talk to, supersmart, and totally gets her. Lately it even seems like he’s paying extra attention to her. Everything would be perfect except for two things: Ryan is Brianna’s boyfriend, and Brianna is Sarah’s best friend. Sarah forces herself to avoid Ryan and tries to convince herself not to like him. She feels so guilty for wanting him, and the last thing she wants is to hurt her best friend. But when she’s thrown together with Ryan one night, something happens. It’s wonderful…and awful.

Sarah is torn apart by guilt, but what she feels is nothing short of addiction, and she can’t stop herself from wanting more…

Here’s what Elizabeth had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Elizabeth: I’m a great secret keeper—if you tell me something and ask me to not tell anyone, I won’t.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Elizabeth: My favorite place in the world is Wales, especially North Wales, and I loved everything about it when I visited.

I think the coolest thing I saw there was the ruins of a castle because you could actually walk through them and you could just sense what it had been like once upon a time.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Elizabeth: I haven’t ever visited a psychic and I don’t think I ever would because I’m pretty skeptical of just about everything. Which isn’t always for the best, but it’s how I am!

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Elizabeth: My family is obsessed with genealogy and I have to be honest, I got bored of hearing about it by the time I was about six.

How obsessed are they? Let’s put it this way: not only do we have a family reunion every year, we have multiple family cemeteries that my family has created funds to maintain. (!)

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Elizabeth: For my first book, Bloom, I was at home. For my latest, The Unwritten Rule, I was also at home. (!) When I made my first sale, I didn’t believe it was real until I talked to my editor for the first time. For The Unwritten Rule–well, the joy never wears off, but the waiting to find out, weirdly enough, gets harder for me with each book!

Thank you, Elizabeth! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Old Lady Rodriguez’ Guide to Proper Email Etiquette

Well, you can thank the DH for the title to this blog because when I went into a rant yesterday on the flurry of rude emails I’d received he told me I was turning into “Old Lady Rodriguez.” Though I prefer to think of myself as Kramer in that Seinfeld episode when he puts in the screen door and starts screaming at those damn kids in his apartment building. Anyway, I have issues with impolite electronic communications.

This includes all forms: text, email, Twitter, MySpace, you name it. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not technology averse. I love these forms of communication and am addicted to some of them. But I’m polite. Emily Post taught me well. And since she’s not alive to teach the younger generation (well, I think there’s actually someone from her estate still writing books in her name, but whatever), I’ve decided to assume the role.

Please take into account that this blog does not apply to fan letters. Fans can send me communications in any tone of voice they want, because fans are awesome and I love them. Send me smoke signals, and I’ll still be thrilled.

But for all others, behold….

Old Lady Rodriguez’ Guide to Email Etiquette

1. Introduce yourself. If I did not go to high school with you, if you are not my old college chum, if we do not share blood, then it is safe to say you are contacting me in a professional capacity. We don’t share pints at the pub. So if you email me, especially if it’s for the first time and I don’t know you, then say hello (not “What up!”), write in complete sentences, and leave a closing (with your name).

2. Say thank you.
If I take the time to proofread your manuscript, give you a referral, edit your query, introduce you to a contact, then the next time you contact me, say thank you. It doesn’t need to be calligraphied on parchment; a simple “Thank you for your help” is just as nice. Think karma.

3. Don’t use odd slang. Now, I’m not a huge stickler here. You can see that throughout all of my blogs and novels, I use plenty of slang. But in a professional email, think about whether “OMG let’s tweet up, yo!” is really appropriate.

4. Be nice. I may be alone in this, but I think one-line emails are rude. No greeting, no closing, just “Let’s meet” or even worse, “Call me.” If you want to talk to me, then pick up the phone. Don’t send a one-liner with no explanation for the conversation.

5. People forward emails.
If you need any more incentive to be a bit more polite, don’t forget that all important “forward” button. Millions of people could see that communication. Don’t believe me? Ask the professor I know who shares every incoherent email he gets from a student with his entire base of friends and family. Take note, college freshmen.

Okay, rant’s over. I’m getting off my soapbox now. And I’m sure in a few hours I’ll get a bunch of one-liners saying “What up spanky?” in a ALL CAPS and comic sans font. But in the meantime…

Thanks again! I appreciate your time.
Best,
Diana

POP CULTURE RANT: Tik Tok by Kesha

I warned the DH I would be doing this since he titled my blog, but yes, Tik Tok has invaded my husband’s brain. He manages to find it on the radio every time we’re in the car (and that song is on a lot). He even has a little dance, and once he walked into a meeting saying, “The party don’t start ‘til I walk in!” Kesha has gone too far. So I must appeal to DJs everywhere to consider reducing its rotation down from every two seconds, or SNL will soon be doing another sketch like this in its honor.

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Great Adventures in Prequeldom: When Outlines Fight Back

I promised that I would blog about the experience of banging my head against my laptop…um, I mean writing my prequel. And since I am a glorious, fantastic, drop-down-on-my-knees-and-give-praise 20,000 words into the prequel, I think I’m ready to dispel with the words of wisdom.


The process of getting from “staring at the blank page before me” to 20K goes a little something like this:

Prequel, How Not To Lose Sanity While Writing

Step 1 – Break book into acts. The first 20,000 words for me represent Act 1. It’s just like a play. I put an initiating incident and mini climax into each act as I build to the ultimate climax and dénouement at the end. For this book, I have three acts planned.

Step 2 – Stare at your pretty outline with three clearly defined, color-coded acts and feel proud. This is particularly important for me because I’m not an outliner, so I expect applause and a standing ovation for this feat.

Step 3
– Place bulletin board with clearly defined, color-coded acts in front of your husband’s dresser so every time he has to open a drawer, he has to move it. Share the pain.

Step 4 – Transfer the clearly defined, color-coded notes for Act 1 into an artist sketchbook in “Mind Map” format and keep sketchbook by laptop while writing. This is where I add additional color-coded notes to the outline to identify things I’ve changed while writing. (I change a lot. Outlines are made to be broken.)

Step 5 – Watch a rerun of Buffy and marvel at the awesome dialogue. “Make with the happy, people.”

Step 6 – Write first chapter. Read first chapter. Rewrite first chapter. Read first chapter. Repeat, repeat, repeat. (I don’t know why but I always spend a lot of time reworking Chapter Numero Uno before I move on. It sets the whole tone of the book—the voice, the characters, the everything. It’s important.)

Step 7
– Force yourself to write between 1,500 to 3,000 words per day while listening to the Adult Alternative channel on Comcast Cable.

Step 8
– Dance. No joke. You pound out 3,000 words that day, you stand up and you dance. Trust me on this.

(Yes, all I could find on Youtube was a video with Asian subtitles.)

POP CULTURE RANT: American Idol
I’m still coming out of my Olympic coma and checking out what’s been on TV since before the days of snowboard cross and men’s free skates. And I just caught my first episode of this season’s American Idol. Yeah, not good. I saw the guy’s Top Ten. Or that’s what they claimed, though the only one worth a mention was the David Cook sound-alike at the end. The rest—in the words of Simon— were either “utterly forgettable” or “self indulgent.” A couple actually tried to take Marvin Gaye and Tina Turner songs and “make them better.” Um, yeah, good luck with that.

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Nancy Drew and The Curious Mystery of the Haiku Reviews

I went antiquing over the weekend. Doesn’t that sound grown up? Like I should be sitting in front of a fire sipping a cup of tea from 18th Century china while resting my feet on an early American leather ottoman. Well, it wasn’t that romantic. Mostly because I was in Maryland.

Not there’s anything wrong with Maryland, it’s just not one of the fancier states in my opinion. Now, if I was antiquing for jewelry in New York or scouring for Civil War artifacts in Georgia, that might be worthy of the Antique Roadshow (sad, that PBS symbolizes the pinnacle of success in this business). But alas, I was looking for lamps and mirrors in Maryland to go in my new house, which is currently buried under snow. (Old Man Winter and I have some issues right now.)

But while immersed in furniture antiquities, I did not forget my day job. Not that I could, those places are swimming in books. And thankfully there are a few Nancy Drew enthusiasts in the area. So I picked up a couple hardbacks to contrast with the more modern versions Simon & Schuster put out after that Emma Roberts movie.

The over-designed paperback Nancy Drews I bought in a box set on clearance at Borders. The others I bought for $2/piece at antique stores, one of which (the blue one in the middle), was published somewhere during 1942-1945 (you can tell by the really poor quality, we-can-barely-afford-tree-pulp-because-we’re-at-War paper). The rest are from the ‘60s and 70s.

I’m not really a book collector (unless you count signed YA novels), put I’m rather pleased with my new Nancy Drew shelf, which corresponds to the other mysteries I’ve been reading as research as of late.

And this of course brings to me to more….

MYSTERIOUS HAIKU REVIEWS


NANCY DREW (multiple novels), Carolyn Keene

Love those ghost writers
They created an icon
who now says “You know..”

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, Arthur Conan Doyle
A coke-snorting sleuth
with super intuition
Mentalist rip off

CASINO ROYALE, A JAMES BOND NOVEL, Ian Fleming

Will shag any girl
but will not notice her brain
Until he’s tortured

VALENTINE’S DAY, the movie
Cute, okay chick flick
If we just had that gay kiss
to rival Brokeback

POP CULTURE RANT: Ice Skating
I hate this new scoring system. It makes it virtually impossible for people at home to understand what a good score is. One skater gets 152, another 172—is that a big difference? An insurmountable difference? What’s a perfect score? Is perfection even possible? I miss the days of the standard 6.0s. And I miss when judges weren’t using a 400-percent zoom on a skate to determine whether a jump was a good. It just doesn’t seem much in the spirit of the Olympics. What’s next? Penalty flags when they don’t finish a rotation?

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What Writers Can Learn From Olympians

During the Summer Olympics (God, I can’t believe I’ve been blogging that long), I wrote a blog comparing my writing style to water polo. It’s oddly, to this day, one of my most read blogs ever, so I’m taking it that I have a lot of Olympic fans out there. And since I’m obsessed with the Games, have watched every minute, and I tear up every time I see a montage about an athlete’s search for “redemption,” I’ve decided to expand upon the topic.

Let’s face it, we’ve got some hardcore sob stories here. The Canadian skier racing in honor of his disabled brother. The American snowboarder famous for a hotdog move gone bad who came seeking respect. The 30-plus-year-old Chinese figure skaters with a Romeo & Juliet love story. Apolo speed skating rather than dancing (wait, he’s not just that guy who tangoed with Julianne Hough?). The Russian male figure skater hoping to squash his “enemies” like an evil secret agent.

So in honor of these athletes (who remind me of USA Network’s “Characters Welcome!”), I’ve decided to extrapolate what we as writers can learn from their personal histories.


Alexandre Bilodeau
If that older brother of his can defy the odds and walk long after people insist it’s impossible, then we can all get the heck out of bed and write 3,000 words per day. Writers have a gift not that dissimilar to athletes. Only we don’t run laps and drink wheat juice to train, we sit ourselves in a chair, alone, with no coach, and force ourselves to pound out those words. It’s hard work and athletes do it for years, every day, before anyone acknowledges their efforts. Sound familiar?


Lindsey Jacobellis
Just because you think you’ve earned respect, and just because you try as hard as you possibly can, you don’t always get what you think you deserve. Hers would have been the ultimate story of redemption, she could have shown the world how much she’d grown these past four years, but still she fell short. Sometimes, you don’t always get what you want when you want it. So anyone out there querying agents, or sitting on submission, think of Lindsey and then watch that Dan Jansen Visa commercial. Because if you work hard enough and don’t give up, your time will come, you just can’t control when.


Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo
Sometimes it’s nice to have someone you love beside you when you fight for your dreams. Whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a parent, or a sibling, having someone tell you repeatedly not to give up can make all the difference.


Apolo Anton Ohno
Even when you’re in fourth place, getting shoved and elbowed farther back, watching person after person pass you by as they soar closer to the goal you’re trying to achieve, sometimes the unforeseen happens. There’s a little bit of luck involved everything, whether it’s winning a short track race or getting a book deal. But you have to be there prepared, well trained, and ready to take advantage of that luck when it comes your way.


Evgeni Plushenko
If you guys do all of the above and do reach the pinnacle of your career, sometimes people just aren’t going to like you. It could be an Olympic competitor or an Amazon reviewer. So you can either take those comments in stride and appreciate that they come with the success you’ve worked so hard for, or you can make a video montage that makes you seem like an evil Bond Villain bent on destroying your “enemies” with a death ray. Either works.

POP CULTURE RANT: Starbucks
Okay mega coffee house, I give you props for finally creating a system to give frequent visitors free Internet access (if you don’t yet have their loyalty card, get it). But for the love of God, when did you start playing a mind-numbing mix of Easy Listening and Golden Oldies? Maybe it’s the switch from the city location to the ‘burbs, or maybe you’re going through an awkward phase, but I can’t tell you how hard it is to work when a loud, unbearably annoying version of the “When Saints Come Marching In” is blaring in a speaker above your head.

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My Very Snowtorious Birthday Festivities

I was born in a blizzard, and I have now come to realize that this was an omen for birthdays to come. I had many an elementary school party canceled because of snow. I was stranded in NYC once when my husband and I went to see Wicked. I got stuck shoveling my sister’s driveway one year when we went to tour D.C. So I am aware that snow and February 10th go hand in hand. But nothing—absolutely nothing—can compare to the “Snowpocalypse,” “Snowmaggedon,” or “Unusually Large Snowstorm” (as The Daily Show said) that occurred yesterday.

All of my sad little birthday messages from friends and family were like, “Hope you’re not shoveling on your birthday!” “Hope you asked for a blizzard for your birthday!” or “Snow My God! It’s your birthday!”

So what do you do when your area is blanketed with 17 inches of snow on top of the 56 inches you’ve already gotten this winter? Well, I’ll show you. But first a moment of silence for the birthday plans that should’ve been…

Here’s What I Had Planned to Do Yesterday For My Birthday:

Eat an awesome brunch in a South Philly restaurant that usually has a 45 minute wait.

Visit my new house, which is still under construction but which might have our bathroom tiles now installed.

Shop for cute antiques to put in said new house by perusing the store’s on Pine Street.

And finally have a romantic dinner at Buddakhan with a charming candle placed in my fancy dessert.

Here’s What I Actually Did on My Birthday:

Made up for a lost day at the gym by shoveling snow that weighed more than I do.

Danced on top of a snowdrift compiled by all the snow we shoveled.

Took time to read the paper.

Attempted to make a snow angel only to realize despite gym efforts my legs could not push that much snow.

So there you have it! This will truly, unmistakably, be a birthday I will never forget. And thanks to “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then” for the special birthday breakfast and the candles in the cranberry bread. We’ll make up for the lost festivities this weekend!

POP CULTURE RANT: The Oscars
Anyone else think it’s beyond silly that there are 10 movies up for Best Picture? The cartoon Up is nominated? And The Blind Side? Really? Now, I’m not doubting these are good movies. But best of the year? It kind of takes the prestige out of the nomination if nine of your closest friends get nominated too. Don’t get me wrong, I typically am not a fan of any of the movies nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture. But I can still appreciate the quality of the film and the style of movie associated with such an honor. We have the Golden Globes to recognize the best comedies, and the MTV Awards to recognize the best blockbusters. Leave the Oscars to the indie films, like ‘em or not they deserve it.

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How to Write a Prequel and Keep Your Sanity

You ever wonder why in the world bizillionare George Lucas would create the mind-numbingly awful character of Jar Jar Binx? I think I know why. Not that I can relate to the mountains of cash Lucas sits on while drumming up these wild ideas, but I’m starting see how writing a prequel can make you cat poop crazy (I don’t like bats).

Here’s why:

You’ve already written the next book.

Seems obvious, even helpful. At first.

Consider all the perks: you know your characters, you know how they speak, how they think, what would do or not do in any given situation. You know exactly where the story is going. These are valuable steps in the writing process.

Here’s the part that makes you long for a padded cell:

You’ve already determined exactly where the story is going.

See how I’m talking in circles here? It’s kind of like the quantum physics lessons in Lost: on one level, your brain is wrapped around them; on the other, your eyes are glazing over.

Because writing a prequel is not that different from jumping around in time with a bloody nose (sometimes I think my laptop and I are on that island). A prequel jumps you forward, so that everything you now write has to get to the end result that you’ve already determined. If your character makes one bad decision, the actions of the next book no longer make sense (nor do those scenes you love so much).

It’s really hard, and for some reason, I’m setting off on the journey anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. My process is not nearly as complicated, or glamorous, as George Lucas’. The novel I’m prequelling (yes, I made that word up) hasn’t been published yet. (If this book has to go out posthumously from my grave, ANASTASIA will see the light of day.)

But to prove that I will never give up on her (yes, I think Anastasia’s a real person) and that I will not rest until her story is told, I am taking my mother’s advice, splitting my book into two, and writing myself one heck of a prequel. I’ve even tackled an outlining process I’ve never attempted before (mostly because I’ve never outlined before, I’m more of an organic writer).

See, mom! There are notecards and everything:

I’m only a few thousand words in, but to keep myself sane until I reach “the end,” and to not make “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then” regret housing me during this process, I’ve decided to blog about my Adventures in Prequeldom (yes, I made that word up too). Stay tuned and hope I don’t ever get to the point where Jar Jar Binx sounds like a really good idea.

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I think all of us GH fans need to send the original Lucky a thank you note, because he’s resurrected this character of the depths of “I don’t give a crap.” Honestly, until he came back, I could’ve cared less if Elizabeth jumped in bed with half the town. Now, miraculously, I do. And tell me you didn’t all hear those wonderful suggestions of Sonny “losing all legitimate assets,” of “Jason becoming a P.I.,” of Franco preventing them from ever killing again, and not think: Hallelujah! Wouldn’t it be awesome if the mob suddenly ended? If the show went into a different direction? If we got something different for once? Not that I mind a little gun fighting, it would just be nice if the fights weren’t simply part of a recycling program drudging up stories we’ve seen a million times. I say, arrest Sonny and hit the reset button on this sucker.

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Smitten Kittens Rule With GCC Member Suzanne Young

“Mashed potatoes and gravy!” I’m so excited to be talking about GCC member Suzanne Young’s new book, The Naughty List. I read an Advanced Reader Copy, so I can tell you it’s “Holy Canoli!” awesome. It’s written with a very cute and very funny YA voice that’s just going to make you love those cheerleading Sex Kittens. (I mean Smitten Kittens).

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

As if being a purrfect cheerleader isn’t enough responsibility! Tessa Crimson’s the sweet and spunky leader of the SOS (Society of Smitten Kittens), a cheer squad–turned–spy society dedicated to bringing dastardly boyfriends to justice, one cheater at a time. Boyfriend-busting wouldn’t be so bad . . . except that so far, every suspect on the Naughty List has been proven 100% guilty!

When Tessa’s own boyfriend shows up on the List, she turns her sleuthing skills on him. Is Aiden just as naughty as all the rest, or will Tessa’s sneaky ways end in catastrophe?

Follow the squad online.

Here’s what Suzanne had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Suzanne: Good gravy, I’m terrible at secrets. If you can’t read it on my face, then I’ll probably tell you in five minutes anyway. Imagine Christmas at my house. I walk around giggling all day, asking my husband, “Are you sure you don’t want to know?”

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Suzanne: I’m still waiting to have that amazing trip abroad. For now, my favorite time was when me, my husband and my kids got in our RV and roadtripped for ten days. We drove down to Disneyland, then Phoenix, then the Grand Canyon and finally Las Vegas. Sure, the last day we almost died in a snowstorm, but the trip was still amazing.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Suzanne: I LOVE psychics!! One time when I had my tea leaves read, the woman told me that I’d soon have something happen to my car. Sure enough, when I got outside, someone had smacked it and left a note. Talk about predictions!! Another time I had a psychic tell me never to get on a motorcycle. Later that night, I sort of did. And I’m still here!!

So you don’t think the psychic whacked your car herself? :)

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Suzanne: I’ve never personally researched my family tree. I know my grandmother was Italian and my grandfather was Polish. So my cooking skills consist of lasagna and kielbasa recipes.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Suzanne: This is humiliating. But I recorded this a few days after I found out: http://lipglosslit.blogspot.com/2008/07/suzs-book-deal.html

Too cute!

Thank you, Suzanne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Bond -vs- Holmes: The Ultimate Fighting Championship

So I’ve been brushing up on my mysteries as research for my WIP. Yeah, I know, tough work. I wanted to go with more of a “method” approach, but I thought committing a felony to determine how the cops would handle the case might be the long way to publishing a novel (though these days, who knows?). Instead, I’ve been reading James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.


It’s my first foray into these classics. I mean, I haven’t even watched an entire Bond movie (unless you count Austin Powers). And I had no idea that Sherlock Holmes was a collection of short stories and not a collection of novels (or that they were told from Watson’s point-of-view— curious). So I went into these books cold, and after about 15 minutes of careful deliberation, I’ve come away with who I think is truly the mystery-solving mastermind.

So here it is, my analysis of Casino Royale and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

Bond -vs- Holmes: Two Sleuths Enter, One Sleuth Leaves

1. Holmes is a coke head. No joke! Page two it says Holmes is “buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition…” Maybe Robert Downey Jr. was a good casting choice.

Bond likes his drink, though it’s not a classic martini. It’s an original concoction he created: three parts Gordon’s, one part vodka, a half part Kina Lillet (no idea what that is), shaken until ice cold and topped with a lemon twist.

Point: Bond. Crack is whack.

2. Bond can handle his torture. He gets tied to a chair and is beaten in a very graphic manner. Let’s just say, “yuck.” Though I was surprised this super spy had be rescued not once, but twice in this book.

Holmes isn’t just some wimpy brainiac. He threatens to whip one bad guy with a hunting crop (or cane) and actually does slug another criminal with it. He will mess you up with that walker.

Point: Holmes. Smart and sassy.

3. Holmes is a collection of short stories because it takes the character no more than one page to solve the mysteries. Man can put some pieces together.

Bond is a few steps behind. Yeah, he doesn’t get dead, but that’s mostly out of luck. He’s too busy drinking and wooing women to consider that the bad guys might try a counter attack.

Point: Holmes. I’d say his IQ score is a few points higher.

4. Bond is incredibly misogynistic. And I don’t mean because he’ll shag you, baby (though he never says that). I mean, he actually calls his female partner “a blithering woman who thought she could do a man’s work.” Sexism = not sexy.

So far, Holmes
hasn’t spent much time looking at the ladies. Now, I’m not going to say that he and Watson have a little something on the side, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you know what I mean.

Point: Holmes. At least he respects the brawds.

5. Bond has shades of inspiration that I could trace in modern day creations such as: Alias, Taken, 24, the great Austin Powers, and pretty much anything spy-related (he perfected the genre).

Holmes’
near psychic powers of intuition make Psych (on USA) and the Mentalist virtual rip offs. He also could be credited as being one of the first criminal profilers given his psychological analysis of perpetrators. So add Criminal Minds and The Profiler to the list.

Point: Tie. They both warrant every literary allusion they’ve generated.

So there you have it, my entirely scientific comparison of two classic mysteries. Holmes could officially whip Bond’s butt. Mostly because Bond isn’t quite smart enough to see it coming. Though if it ever came to blows, Holmes is dead man. You don’t bring a cane to a gun fight.

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Get A Little Pixy with GCC Member Carrie Jones

Well, if you haven’t read Carrie Jones
NY Times best-seller, NEED, rush out and buy it right now so you’re all caught up and ready to read its sequel, CAPTIVATE. It just debuted this month through Bloomsbury USA and it had one of the prettiest covers ever! Check it out!

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

In this NYT-Bestselling sequel to NEED, Zara and her friends knew they hadn’t solved the pixie problem for good. Far from it. The king’s needs grow deeper every day he’s stuck in captivity, while his control over his people gets weaker. It’s made him vulnerable. And now there’s a new king in town.

A turf war is imminent, since the new pixie king, Astley, is moving in quickly. Nick nearly killed him in the woods on day one, but Zara came to his rescue. Astley swears that he and Zara are destined to be together, that he’s one of the good guys. Nick isn’t buying it, though Zara isn’t as sure — despite herself, she wants to trust the new king. But it’s a lot more than her relationship with Nick that is at stake. It’s her life — and his.

Here’s what Carrie had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Carrie: I am. If I let out my family secret…well, let’s just say I’d be in the tabloids. Plus, it’s not really mine to tell, you know? That’s the problem with knowing secrets they start weighing you down.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Carrie: Oh man… I love to travel too, but I am so bad at picking favorites. I think Scotland is my favorite place and the coolest thing that happened there was I was staying in this castle. All night long I kept smelling this really strange perfume. I have a wicked nose and I’d literally follow the scent around the hotel room. Then the concierge person told me the next morning that the room was haunted. A kind of similar thing happened in Austin, Texas.

Although the coolest COOLEST thing was probably when I was swimming off the beach in Naples, Florida and all of a sudden a pod of dolphins were swimming all around me. That was beyond cool. I was the only one swimming because it was January and everyone else on the beach was 123 years old. It was probably THE most amazing thing that’s ever happened in my life.

Okay, I’m officially jealous of that dolphin story.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Carrie: When I was in high school my mom took me to a psychic fair in Salem, Mass and there were all these psychics sitting at tables. You had to sign up for a psychic. Most had long lines, but this one lady had no line at all. I felt so badly for her, so even though she was giving off this super evil vibe I went to her. She looked at me and said, “You will go crazy and be institutionalized before you’re 30.”

This was so not cool.

I basically just sat there for a minute, trying to be calm and then I left, but this really beautiful man with John Gorka brown eyes waved me over to his table and said, “Whatever she just told you is not true.”

And I was like, gulping back sobs and said, “It isn’t?”

“No,” he says. “She does that.”

And then he offered for me to come in his line for free. I liked his line a lot better. I got to be a reincarnated French noble woman who rode horses along the Seine, and all sorts of cool stuff. Sigh.

My infamous psychic was in Salem too. Oh, those wicked witches.
Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Carrie: I have. My family tree goes back forever, past Charlemagne and Viking kings. It’s kind of daunting because seriously? How do you live up to Charlemagne?

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Carrie: Here is the story of my first book, which was TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND. It’s more interesting, I think. The story about CAPTIVATE is on my publishers’ website for me. They have an awesome win-a-computer contest there too. You should totally enter.

It begins as all good things do with an email announcing the creation of Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn. Flux was accepting YA novels. Hhm? I thought to myself. I just wrote a YA novel. Sure, I hadn’t shown it to my advisor at Vermont College’s MFA in Writing Program. Sure, I hadn’t let ANYONE read it. Sure, I only just wrote it in the last month and it was rough, rough, rough. But I sent it in. I chugged out a cover letter. I found some stamps. I mailed it.

Here is what followed, taken from my livejournal entries.

Sweet Editor Man called me within a week of me mailing the manuscript. Seriously. It was wild.

The 30th, 2006

Okay. Here’s the big question of the day: Why am I so stupid?

I will work on the self esteem exercises tomorrow… but today! Today! Today I am allowed to realize the full extent of my idiotness. Here’s why.

I sent out some manuscript queries on Thursday. I get a phone call this morning, from a real live editor who says, “Um, is this C.C. Jones?”

“Yes,” I say while pouring out cat food. He then proceeds to tell me he got my query, wants to see more of my manuscript, but his email requesting it bounced back.

“Really?” I say. “That’s weird.”

“Let me tell you the address,” he says. “cjonese at…”

“Oh,” I say. “Oh. Oh. Oh.”

“What?” he says.

“There’s no e on the end of Jones.”

“I didn’t think so,” he says. I then apologize and berate myself for not even being able to spell my own last name! What an idiot. He gives me an email address. I send him the rest of the manuscript.

Yeah, that baby’s going somewhere. Not.

Although, he was kind and he did say, “It’s the manuscript I care about, not your inability to spell your own name.”

Thank you, Carrie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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"Borrowing" Some Ideas, and Other Things I Noticed in Avatar

Like most people with a pulse, I caught the hype and went out to see Avatar (in 3D Imax!) and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a fantasy person. I only watched half of the first Lord of the Rings movie and hated it. I’ve never read a Harry Potter (and I write YA!). And I don’t even like superhero movies unless they’ve got Hugh Jackman shirtless. So for me to say Avatar was good means something. They converted me. But, it doesn’t mean I was oblivious to the dozen or so movies they ripped off in the process.

Let me explain. All writers steal stuff (subconsciously or consciously) from other works of art: books, movies, tv shows, songs. It’s true. As many an English professor will tell you: every story out there has already been written, you just have to find your own way to write it.

So Avatar ripping off other movies isn’t scandalous. It’s just curious and, at times, obvious. To prove this, my DH and I have compiled a list of all the movies we noticed (striking) similarities to. This is just our opinion, so don’t get in a tizzy if you bow down at the feet of the great James Cameron. This is purely for fun.


SPOILER ALERT!
(Read no further if you haven’t seen the movie. I will ruin it here.)


List of Movies Avatar Ripped Off

1. Return of the Jedi:
I’m not even a Star Wars junkie, and even I noticed that the fight scene at the end was straight-up Ewok. I was just waiting for one of the blue people from Pandora to jump into a robot machine like Chubaka and turn their weapons against them.

2. Braveheart:
There were a lot of similarities during the ground war where the underdog blue people (called Navi) try to outsmart the opponent who outnumbers them. And really, when Sully gave that inspirational speech, I know part of you was expecting to hear they’ll never take “THEIR FREEDOM!”

3. Apocalypse Now:
Come on, military guy gone rogue who’s lost all empathy for others? I was really hoping the crazy marine would just wink at the audience and say, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

4. Last of the Mohicans & Dances With Wolves:
White guy who fights alongside the natives— been done a lot. Actually, I think it would have been interesting if Sully wasn’t white. I mean he’s blue half the movie anyway, so why not mix is up, JC?

5. Independence Day: Michelle Rodriguez sacrificing herself by using her plane to try to blow up, for lack of a better term, the “mother ship.” And though Rodriguez was still typecast as a hard-nosed girl who can fight, it was refreshing to see her on the side of the good guys for once. All we needed to round out this movie homage was Bill Pullman declaring, “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

6. Thank You For Smoking:
When Sigourney Weaver demanded a cigarette after getting out of the Avatar chamber, my first thought was: how much did the smoking lobbyists have to pay to get that in there? Hey, the money for that big budget had to come from somewhere. And I think we all know Philip Morris chipped in a good chunk.

So there you have it. And please take into account that this list is based purely on the movies we’ve actually seen, so it’s incomplete. Feel free to add to it because, really, the possibilities are endless. I mean, blue people = Smurfs, there are a lot of ways to take it.

POP CULTURE RANT: E!’s Fashion Police
Watching Joan Rivers back on the fashion police was like watching Dick Clark on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve— just sad. Please, retire this woman. Again. She not only has no right to be criticizing anyone else’s appearance (her pot’s not only black, but it’s plastic), but she has one of the most painful voices put on this Earth. It’s like Rachel Ray mixed with squawking crow. Get me back Debbie Matenopoulos, at least she’s cute and age appropriate (by several decades).

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White Whale Teaser: A Glimpse Inside “The Ex BFF”

So I’ve been beating my head against this book for so long, I’ve decided to break down and share a peek. It’s a blogging necessity really. When you spend so much time consumed by something, how can you not blog about it?

So below you’ll find two snippets from THE EX BFF (as the book is currently titled, it’s had many). For those who follow my blog, this is the novel I call my White Whale—mostly because it’s the first novel I ever wrote and it’s gone through so many revisions it’s barely recognizable to the first draft.

Now, some background. This is a “tween” novel, the girls are 13 and in the eighth grade. The book is told from four different girls points of view. Yup, count ‘em, FOUR. So below you’ll find a look inside Deirdre’s mind (who for all intents and purposes, is the “main” character). And you’ll find a look inside Allie’s mind (who’s one of Deirdre’s friends).

Both snippets are from the first 30 pages, and they are talking about the same “incident” though they have very different perspectives on it. I hope you like it. Enjoy!

THE EX BFF


DEIRDRE

You’d be surprised how much time a person can spend in bed. Deirdre was growing a newfound understanding for those enormously fat people who shut themselves into their homes, eating nonstop until they’re unable to move. If it weren’t for the constant visits from her father over the weekend, she could’ve easily boarded up the doors and windows. There were worst ways to go than eating oneself to death— think of all the cake she’d enjoy first.

Her bedroom door creaked open.

“Dad sent me to check on you,” her sister said, sounding bored. “You still crying?”

Deirdre wiped her eyes. “No,” she croaked.

Truthfully, she’d cried so much since that phone call on Friday that she was probably suffering from dehydration. The way Amber sounded, what she said, it twisted Deirdre’s heart in a way that kept the tears on a constant flow. It was as if her body ached from the rejection.

Nikki swished her glossy hair over her shoulder as she dropped onto the rickety desk chair. “Why are you fighting with Amber? I thought it was Becca who hated you.”

Deirdre ground her teeth. Everyone loved her sister— boys, girls, mailmen, dentists, stray dogs. Nikki had no idea what it was like to panic that any wrong step, any misspoken word, would give someone not just reason to hate you, but to make everyone else in the universe hate you too. That’s what that phone call really meant. They might as well have mailed a dead fish to her doorstep, because the call was a warning that the drama had just begun.

ALLIE

It wasn’t even eight a.m. and already Allie felt bored with the school’s latest gossip. Of course, given that the rumors had to do with Becca that was to be expected.

“Oh. My. God! I cannot believe Deirdre!” squealed Joanna Goldstein, spit misting from her lips onto the school’s bathroom mirror.

Allie cringed. She hated the sound of her friend’s voice— all lispy and high pitched, like a drunken French poodle.

“She tried to steal Lyle away from Becca! Can you believe it? Like, sheriously, that would ever happen,” Joanna continued, her speech impediment sputtering through. “Amber was so right for dropping her. I heard she wantsh nothing to do with her, and Becca’s obviously pished. What do you think we should do?”

Gee, here’s a thought, Joanna. Maybe you could think for yourself for once. Allie sighed. She had elevated Joanna from the slobbery kid classmates called “rain shower,” to one of the coolest girls in school. At first it was fun, making over the nerd like they do in the movies. And it was nice having someone hang on her every word for a change. But eventually, being expected to tell someone what to do every second of every day gets exhausting.

——————————————-

There you go, the first look inside my latest WIP. I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting happens with it.

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I am now officially going to say that I think James Franco sort of sucked in this soap opera experiment of his. I don’t know what he was hoping to get out of it. But he really over-acted his part. Every line he said came with a cheesy look. And wow, were some of his lines cheesy–to the point I think they may have been going for comedy at some points. “Assume the position, Jason.” Really, GH. Really? They should have just had them make out–with “Mad World” playing in the background.

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A Few Curious Observations About Living in Suburbia

So in the 48 days I’ve been living with “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then,” I’ve noticed some odd things. Not about my hosts, who are lovely, but about the world of picket fences and snow shoveling. You know, I’m a city girl. At least I have been since I moved out of my parents’ house. So I thought I’d compile a list of how different it is to live in a community without police sirens and stores within walking distance.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you all to my:

List of Curious Observations About Living in Suburbia

1. The gym here doesn’t provide towels. Really? You can’t throw some cheap white hand towels in the wash each day?

2. People shop at Target. A lot.

3. When you’re at the grocery store only buying a can of pumpkin, corn bread, and heavy cream, at least three people will stop and ask you what you’re making. Many more cooks in this world.

4. You can’t walk anywhere. Even the end of the driveway seems far.

5. Starbucks not providing free Internet access is much more annoying here because your alternative options are very limited.

6. My cat thinks deer are awesome.

7. There are stores in the local mall (Bakers?) that I was certain went out of business in the late ‘80s.

8. There’s more snow to shovel. Though oddly, the streets seem to get plowed faster than they ever did in Philadelphia (I’m talking to you, Mayor Nutter).

9. It’s much harder to find yoga.

10. There is no need for an alarm clock because woodpeckers will wake you every day at 7 a.m. They are evil little birds.

11. Food prices seem insanely low. I don’t even want to tell you what I was paying for an apple in the city.

12. A girl who once hated to drive has now found herself blowing through town in an enormous flat-bed truck. People change, folks!

So there you have it. My current list of odd observations, which I’m sure will grow in the months ahead while I wait for that construction crew to hurry up and put my drywall in already. Though before I move, I will create a bucket list of “Things I Must Do Before Leaving the Suburbs.” Maybe you all can help me get started. Any suggestions? And before you ask, yes, “Eating at the Olive Garden” is already on it.

POP CULTURE RANT: Comcast & Verizon
This isn’t a rant so much as helpful hint since I’m on the topic of curious observations. Did you know that if you call Comcast to complain about your cable, they’ll give you free stuff? No joke. My DH just finagled 6 months of free HBO and Showtime. Let’s repeat: FREE. And then he called Verizon and got the phone bill of “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then” lowered by more than $20/month. Though I will admit my DH is very patient and lives by the Power of Nice, something I find hard to do when talking to customer service reps.

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Get Revenge On A Mean Girl with GCC Member Eileen Cook

Oh, I love a good mean girl story. Forget making sequels to Karate Kid and Fame, Hollywood should do a remake of Heathers. You can’t go wrong with Christian Slater and Winona Ryder offing the popular girls. Well, unless you’re reading the new YA novel, GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD, by GCC member Eileen Cook. The book’s got a Barbie on the cover! With a knife in her plastic back! How awesome is that? So check it out, it just debuted this week through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Popularity is the best revenge.
In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls–and now, at the start of her senior year, she’s the cheerleading captain, the quarterback’s girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she’s ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she’s moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn’t dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that’s ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Watch out, Lauren Wood. Things are about to get bitchy.

Here’s what Eileen had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Eileen: I want to be a good secret keeper- does that count? I am the world’s worst liar. I could never go into a life of crime. I could keep the secret unless someone started asking too many questions and then the gig would be up.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Eileen: I love to travel too! London is my favorite city to return to, but an all time favorite place to visit was Egypt. We did a ton of cool things including camel rides through the desert and going into the giant pyramid.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Eileen: My first book was called Unpredictable and it is about a woman who pretends to be a psychic in order to give a fake prediction to her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. When I was researching the book I went to over a dozen psychics. There were a few things they predicted that came true- but I’m not sure if it was because they were good psychics or if they would have come true anyway. I think going to a psychic can be fun, but you have to find your own way in life.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Eileen: My parents are both interested in their family histories so I’ve lucked out in getting to see all this neat history without having to do any of the research work myself. I have some pictures of my grandfather in college (he went to Notre Dame in the late 1920’s) that I love. I’ve been to Ireland where my family is from, but the house my grandmother grew up in was torn down to make a gas station. Hard to feel too sentimental about a gas station.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Eileen: When I heard my first book was going to be published I was at home waiting for the car repair place to call and give me the bad news on what my costs were going to be. I had been planning in my mind for so long what it would be like to get the call, down to what I would be wearing and how I would act, that when it finally happened it didn’t even seem real. I’m pretty sure my agent thought I was taking heavy medications. I was very calm, all “yes, I see. Mmm-hmm. That sounds good.” I hung up the phone and kept thinking. “this is it. this is it,” but it took forever to sink in.
Thank you, Eileen! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Just in Time for The Holidays: Haiku Reviews

So it’s Christmas week, and I know each and every one of you has your gifts wrapped in matching themed paper, your dinner menus planned with place cards scripted in Old English calligraphy, your cookies baked and covered in sprinkles, and your cards signed and mailed to everyone who attended your wedding (insert laughter here). But seriously, some of you may still be looking for a last-minute gift, so why not think BOOKS!

Judging by the amount of a coupons I’ve been emailed from Borders lately, we’re on the same page (at this point, I think their stock is 30% off too). And the clever folks at IndieBound would like to remind you that, “A Scented Candle Never Changed Anyone’s Life.” So don’t just buy your milk local, buy your books local too.

And to help you out, I’m dipping into my big Santa bag of tricks to create some Haiku Reviews that might inspire you to pick up a book for that special someone. Because nothing says “Ho! Ho! Ho!” more than kids fighting to the death. Um, Catching Fire…

My Haiku Reviews

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins
Survivor All Stars
revolt and die in the ring
Can’t wait for book three

THE NAUGHTY LIST by Suzanne Young (advanced reader’s copy)
Meg Cabot humor
with some Sex Kittens thrown in
Cutest book ever

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER by Jennifer Weiner

Sweet and nostalgic
A high school reunion meets
Thelma and Louise

PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS by Michelle Zink

End of days is near
Modern day gothic novel
Like the evil twin

THE LATKE WHO COULDN’T STOP SCREAMING, A CHRISTMAS STORY by Lemony Snicket

Chrismukkah on crack
For those who celebrate both
This book is way fun

Feel free to leave your own Haiku reviews in the comments. I’m always looking for book recommendations to spend my coupons on!

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I’ve waited as long as I could to say this, but the Franco storyline just isn’t grabbing me. You’d think an A-List celebrity doing a soap opera would be daytime gold, but so far it seems disconnected from the show. I don’t care about this character at all. And Jason fighting yet another threat to “his family” on the heels of Alcazar, Manny, the Russians, Jerry Jax, just seems played out. I wish the writers had done something else with “Franco.” Because right now, the Liz-Lucky-Nick triangle is more interesting. And this is coming from a Sam fan.

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Wow, It’s a Chrismukkah Miracle!

Oh, Chrismukkah! Oh, Chrismukkah! How lovely are your candles! For those who don’t know, my DH and I are rocking the interfaith marriage. He’s Jewish, I’m Catholic, and for the past 11 years, we’ve pretty much perfected the menorah/Santa hybrid holiday we call Chrismukkah. But this holiday season, we’re staying with “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then,” so there have been lots of inquiries as to whether we can pull off the season in temporary digs.

Now it must be said that I am a Christmas freak. I can’t help it. I was raised by a Christmas freak. My sister’s a Christmas freak, my aunt’s a freak. The seasonal sickness has a long and lengthy family history. So I am publicly admitting that there are seven large Home Depot plastic garage tubs in our basement labeled “Christmas.” We’ve got inside decorations, outside decorations, ornaments, lights, wreaths, you name it.

Add to that, two menorahs, two Chrismukkah books (Yes, they actually make these. We got them as gifts), and plenty of challah. Plus, we also go to the DH’s annual family Hanukkah party, which was this past Saturday.

So our Chrismukkah-filled weekend went something like this:

FRIDAY

- Lit candles for first night of Hanukkah with DH’s parents and grandma. Blessed the wine, blessed the challah, ate chicken, gave each other candy.
- Went to friend’s birthday party in Philly and drank a little more wine— this wine was not blessed (accept by Napa sommeliers).


SATURDAY
- Went to Home Depot, bought seven-foot Christmas tree (I like Noble firs), and plopped it in one of the cool foot petal stands.
- Went to Hanukkah party, brought fruit salad, lit candles for second night of Hanukkah, ate latkes, exchanged Pollyanna gifts (got an iTunes gift card, gave a Philosophy gift set).


SUNDAY
- Decorated Christmas tree with my husband’s Jewish family. How nice are they? They even listened to Christmas carols as they hung the Potterybarn crystal snowflakes.
- Ate sushi and latkes.
- Baked Christmas cookies. My signature cookie is the Maple Lace (they’re these lacey oatmeal cookies sandwiched with melted chocolate).
- Watched the Eagles game. They won! And they’re in first place, officially making it a Chrismukkah miracle!

POP CULTURE RANT: Eagles
How awesome was that Eagles-Giants game last night? I cheered, I panicked, I bit my nails. And to top off their win, the Cowboys lost (Thank you, San Diego!). But, I will say I was a little shocked by all the punches. I mean, what good is it throwing a punch at someone wearing a helmet and a few tons of protective pads? It’s a wasted effort that will only get you thrown from the game. Whether you’re winning or losing, don’t be a jerk about it. This isn’t hockey.

* Those are photos of my actual tree and actual Hanukkah party, slightly blurred to protect my pint-sized relatives. It is the Internet, folks.

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I’ve Got A New York State of Mind

Ah, Manhattan at Christmas time, gotta love it. Of course when I lived in Times Square and my roommate worked at Rockefeller Center, she swore we “lived in Christmas hell.” The crowds can be rather aggressive, you know? But still, it’s very pretty.

And I’m proud to report that I even got a little snow when I visited this weekend. I felt just like that Alabama song.

“By now in New York City… There’s snow on the ground…” Christmas in Dixie

Anyway, as a former resident and current tourist of the great city of New York, I have a few observations to share.

Things I Noticed About Christmas in NYC This Year:

1. You won the World Series! Does anyone remember that? Because Philly does, painfully. Yet you can walk around Manhattan for days and see no evidence of the Yankee’s accomplishment. There are no signs in the windows, no banners in store displays, no flags on cars. If the fans really care that little, I think we should take back championship.

2. We found a rockin’ four-star hotel on Lastminutetravel.com for $179. Considering NY prices, that’s practically free. And our place had a bedroom, two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a dining room! I’m not joking. It was extended stay that was bigger than my friends’ apartments.

3. Takashimaya, the Japanese department store, has the best selection of under $25 Pollyanna gifts ever! There was a Lego calculator, a funky paper wallet, an engraved silver NYC subway map, typewriter key cufflinks. You name the random crap, and it’s got it!

4.The tree at Rockefeller Center has no ornaments. Was it always that way?

5. The price of a caricature in Central Park has gone down from $20 to $15. See, the economy has affected everyone.

6. We found three—count ‘em THREE—free parking spots over the weekend. We didn’t pay for parking once. The odds of that happening are about as good as me winning the lottery, maybe I should play…

7. If you go to the Met, you don’t actually have to pay $20 per adult (as the sign says). It’s just a “suggested donation.” You can just give them $5 if you want. Really.

8. There are “bridal consultants” in the J.Crew in Rockefeller Center.

9. The ring that inspired my engagement ring is no longer at Tiffany’s. (Six years ago, my DH took the Tiffany specs of that ring to a jeweler in the Diamond District and had the ring recreated for much less. He’s so smart.)

10. I’m mad old. At one point while visiting a college friend, I realized we had just spent thirty minutes discussing furniture and the prices at Pottery Barn. That’s sad, folks. We used to do shots.

POP CULTURE RANT: Shrek the Halls
Okay, I think this is officially the best modern Christmas movie in existence. If you haven’t seen it, rent it. Now. It’s really funny. And as always, my favorite character is Puss ‘n Boots. If you’ve got a cat, you’ll find this clip funny. “I’ve shamed myself.”

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GCC Member Debbie Rigaud Breaks Some Barriers at Simon Pulse

I’m excited to introduce everyone to GCC member Debbie Rigaud, who has a breakthrough young adult novel debuting through Simon Pulse. PERFECT SHOT! marks the first book in the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies series to feature an African-American protagonist and to be written by an African-American. Talk about breaking down some barriers! And to make Debbie even cooler, she lives in Bermuda. Jealous, yet? Okay, so let’s talk about her novels.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

What’s the wackiest thing you’ve ever done after a crush attack?

High school athlete London Abrams is more likely to spike a volleyball than wear spike heels. Yet in one crush-tastic moment, she signs up for a modeling contest as an excuse to meet the photo intern Brent St. John. But instead of getting a call back from Brent, London gets a call back from contest judges! Now she’s in a fierce modeling competition feeling way out of her league, and Brent’s camera is zoomed in to document everything. Suddenly, London’s not feeling so ready for her close up.

Here’s what Debbie had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Debbie: I try to be. I look at it this way, there are too many people spilling secrets and feeling okay about it, just because they convince themselves that it’s okay to tell one trustworthy person. That one person then tells their one trustworthy person and so on. Pretty soon, everyone knows that secret.

Very perceptive. I think that IS how many secrets are spread.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Debbie: Ghana, West Africa. It was such a culturally and spiritually enriching vacation. The coolest thing about my trip was vibing with the people. From friendly teen students, knowledgeable tour guides, market vendors, hip hop MC’s and talented dressmakers (who hooked me up with gorgeous traditional dresses), I was given the warmest welcome.

Sounds like an AMAZING trip! I must add Ghana to my list of must-see places!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Debbie: Yes, I have visited a psychic before. I went with friends, which made it more fun. I’m totally fascinated by all things paranormal. Ironically, I absolutely don’t like getting predictions. Predictions mess with my head. I’m afraid of hearing anything unpleasant, like when I was told that my college boyfriend wasn’t “the one.” At the time, I really wanted him to be and didn’t want to hear anything to the contrary.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Debbie: Sad to say, but I haven’t yet visited Haiti, the place my parents were born. But I adore everything about the vibrant Haitian heritage I inherited. In researching my family, I’ve learned that my relatives left their mark on Haitian history. For example, my dad’s great great grandfather played a role in the Haitian Revolution. My dad even pointed out the page where our great-great-great grandad’s photo was included in his school history books. Pretty cool.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Debbie: I was on vacation in Accra, Ghana with my husband. We stopped by this tiny but crowded Internet cafe in the heart of the busy capitol one night. That’s where I read my agent’s email announcing my book deal. I was mad excited, but I kept cool until I exited the café, so as not to cause a scene and incite panic in such a tight space. Once outside, I told the hubby and we celebrated over chilled bottles of pineapple juice.

Thank you, Debbie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Hi, My Name’s Diana, And I Didn’t Like The New Moon Adaptation

It’s painful to admit it. And I know it’s unpopular. But I have chosen to confess publicly that I did not enjoy the big screen version of The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Like, I thought the special effects guys should get a raise and the director should have to sit in time-out and “think about what he did wrong.”

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read the book(s), please lift that rock above your head and read no further. Because I’m going to delve into plot points.

DOUBLE SPOILER: Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, plan to do so, and don’t want me to ruin it with my critical opinions, stop here.

Okay, so let me first say that I love the Twilight book franchise. I’ve read them all more than once, and I even own the DVD of the Twilight movie.

Now given that, I had some problems with the first movie, namely the special effects–like, I honestly laughed when Edward jumped from his bedroom to that tree and they looked like they were suspended with the Peter Pan wire from your community’s last theater production. I also thought the love story was rushed in Twilight and could have used a few extra scenes to better show the evolution of their relationship from strangers to soul mates.

However, comparatively speaking, I have now come to appreciate Catherine Hardwicke’s vision. She was creative, she was edgy, and she went off script (or off book). She gave you fun relevant scenes that weren’t in the novel. Like the vampires killing that guy in the fishing boat. Like the opening with the deer in the woods. Like the “Say it, out loud. Vampire,” scene. And her montages during Bella’s lullaby and the ballet studio, all gave viewers peeks into moments we didn’t get to experience as readers.

Chris Weitz, however, showed the creativity a tree stump. If Stephenie didn’t write it, we didn’t see it (with the exception of one brief fight scene with Felix in the Volturi chamber).

When the movie opened with Bella’s dream of her grandmother, my heart sank with disappointment. It was so boring compared to the deer in the woods. Or even the glimpse of Bella in Arizona. Those “extra” scenes in Twilight made me excited for the rest of the movie.

The dream was dull. I would have much rather have had a montage of Bella and Edward all happy and in love during the summer, something readers never got to enjoy. Show us the honeymoon period, so the impending loss would be more dramatic. My DH didn’t even realize that New Moon was supposed to be set in a new school year, he thought it was the day after the end of Twilight.

And Bella’s depression? I can’t believe they just had her sit in a chair and flash the names of the months. It was a great technique in the book, but for a movie, I would have rather seen Renee show up and try to pack her things, the doctor call her comotose, her dad frustrated by her pain. Something blurry and warped through the lens of her depression.

And don’t even get me started on the quickie rush through the Volturi. After the millions of trailers, I thought (hoped) half the film would be in Italy. And it should have been. Michael Sheen as Aro rocked to the point he should get a spin-off prequel: “Twilight: The Rise of the Volturi.” But no, we were in and out of there.

Overall, halfway through, the DH turned to me and said “this movie sucks.” And I have to agree. It was just too literal. I know as a reader and an author, I should appreciate a movie being so closely tied to the novel. But I felt it was just missing that “movieness,” that little something extra that captures the essence of the book without boring you with a page-by-page Cliff’s Notes synopsis.

So props to the special effects guys—those wolves were awesome! And props to the make up people because all of the actors looked unbelievably better—the Cullens no longer look like the Adam’s family. And props to the actors for doing the best with what they had (this includes Taylor’s abs).

But thumbs down to the director for giving us a film with no more artistic vision than a play-by-play on SportsCenter. Let’s hope the director of Eclipse, David Slade, has a bit more spunk. I want some advanced glimpses of that newborn vampire army, and a heck of a montage of the vampire wars in the South.

But nevermind me, what about you guys? Did you love New Moon? What grabbed you or what didn’t? And what would you like from the next film?

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My White Whale Swims Again

So back in May, I blogged about my White Whale. My first manuscript. The one that got away. The book that despite a heaping helping of rejection letters, I just can’t let go of. I told you I was going to dust it off, polish it up, and send it out into the world all shiny and new. And I’m happy to report I did just that.

Okay, don’t jump to conclusions. I didn’t sell it. Yet.

But I can say that for the first time in the five years since I conceptualized it, I finally feel at peace with this great white beast. I have conquered my objective to create a realistic depiction of the (often nasty) friendships that exist between 13-year-old girls with enough internal monologue to make even the great Angela Chase proud.

It’s told from four different girls’ points of view and each contains snippets of thoughts and observations that I pulled from my own middle and high school journals. No joke. I really cracked open diaries to get a fresh perspective on how I looked at my friends and boyfriends at that time. And here’s what I found.

The Collected Wisdom Of My Teenage Self:

• It’s the feeling you get when he smiles at you and says hi. And the feeling you get when he’s talking to another girl.
• As much as I hate to admit it, I think she’s too much like me. And that’s what makes our friendship so boring.
• Some of the cheerleaders on our squad don’t deserve to be there.
• It hurts every time I see him with her, which is often.
• We’re not friends anymore. Actually, it’s as if we’re acting like we’ve forgotten how much time we used to spend together.
• I have to wonder if he ever thinks of me, and if so does he think of me as much I do him? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.
• I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people in my life. But it’s only been one day and I already miss her. Maybe because this is different. I’m missing someone who’s standing right in front of me.
• For that one instant, I had his full attention.

There you have it, a sneak peek– thoughts plucked from my own teenage brain that I’ve embedded in my manuscript. So if THE EX BFF (current title, the manuscript’s gone through many) ever does make its way to a bookshelf, maybe I’ll do a contest and ask you all to guess which thoughts are mine.

Because much like the Breakfast Club, I discovered that I was once a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Okay, not really. But you get my drift. Ahh, middle school…

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
So James Franco has officially made his debut in the soap world, and so far he’s really creepy. But in a good way. Yesterday’s episode almost felt like a movie, which is about as high of praise as you can give to a daytime drama. It seems as if all the other actors are stepping up their game to match their Oscar-nominated guest star. And it’s impressive. Maybe if the writers and actors put this much effort into all of their work, the genre wouldn’t be in so much trouble. Just saying…

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GCC’s Laurie Stolarz Has Two Hot Holiday Books

It’s been awhile, but the GCC is finally back in full swing. And I’m thrilled to kick off this new round of tours with Laurie Stolarz who is the author of not one, but TWO, great new young adult novels: Black is for Beginnings, and Deadly Little Lies. One is even full of pictures for those graphic novel enthusiasts out there.

As always, here’s a little bit about her books to get you hooked:

The BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARES series that put a spell on more than half a million readers continues – in graphic novel format! Prophetic nightmares. Near-brushes with death. Killers pursuing her and her friends. Stacey Brown knows that being a hereditary witch isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
All she really wants to do is work things out with Jacob and figure out what to do with the rest of her life. But before Stacey and Jacob can have a future, they must face their pasts. BLACK IS FOR BEGINNINGS reveals the never-before-seen backstory – and what lies ahead – for the young, spellcasting lovers.
BLACK continues the harrowing adventures of Stacey and Jacob in the wake of Jacob’s brush with death. Ever since he lost his memory, Jacob hasn’t been able to remember Stacey – his own soul mate. He leaves Massachusetts, returning to his childhood home in Colorado, hoping to jog his memory. What he remembers is Kira, his ex-girlfriend. As Jacob works to piece together his past, will there be room for Stacey in his future?

DEADLY LITTLE LIES: Last fall, sixteen-year-old Camelia fell for Ben, a new boy at school who had a very mysterious gift – psychometry, the ability to sense the future through touch. But just as Camelia and Ben’s romance began to heat up, he abruptly left town. Brokenhearted, Camelia has spent the last few months studying everything she can about psychometry and experiencing strange brushes with premonition. Camelia wonders if Ben’s abilities have somehow been transferred to her.
Ben returns to school, but he remains aloof, and Camelia can’t get close enough to share her secret with him. Camelia makes the painful decision to let him go and move on. Adam, the hot new guy at Knead, seems good for her in ways Ben wasn’t. But when Camelia and Adam start dating, a surprising love triangle results. A chilling sequence of events uncovers secrets from Ben’s past – and Adam’s. Someone is lying, and it’s up to Camelia to figure out who – before it’s too late.

For more, watch her awesome book trailer.

Here’s what Laurie had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?
Laurie: I’m the best secret keeper. Seriously, when you tell me something in confidence, it’s like locking it up in a vault. I feel flattered when people feel they can open up to me by telling me something private. I’d never want to betray that. Even if I stop speaking with the person, I feel it’s not my place to tell their secret or story.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?
Laurie: In college, I studied abroad in Cannes and Paris and had the time of my life. I backpacked across Europe with some friends, staying in hostels and sleeping on trains. It’s hard to choose the coolest thing I saw or did because it was all so amazing.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?
Laurie: No, I never visited a psychic, but once when I was in TJ Maxx, Laurie Cabot, Salem, Massachusetts’ official witch, shoved a crystal cluster rock into my hand and told me the entire plot of my novel (one that had already been written and was sitting in the hands of my thesis advisor). She didn’t “sense” it was a novel, however. She pegged me as the main character and she told me my life was in danger and that I had 4 days to do something about it. She went on to describe the killer and told me not to go anyplace alone for one week. All the while she was talking to me, I just kept thinking: this is my novel. Blue is for Nightmares came out about a year and a half later. There’s no way she could have read the novel beforehand. Only some fellow classmates and my thesis chair and reader had access to it.

My fated visit to the psychic was in Salem! Gotta love it!

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?
Laurie: I’d love to go to Ireland and trace my grandfather’s heritage. Unfortunately, I never got there when I was in Europe.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Laurie: I actually got the contract in the mail before I even got a phone call. I thought it was a little odd, so I wasn’t really sure it was real.

Thank you, Laurie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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I’m Leavin’ On a Jet Plane, Don’t Know When I’ll Be Back Again

Okay, actually I’m not. I’m driving in a UHaul, but same deal. “All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go…” And the DH and I are moving to places unknown.

You see, while we may have sold our house and purchased another, the new abode isn’t expected to be ready for habitation until the daffodils bloom. Yeah, that’s a little while from now considering we’re still in the season of mums and pumpkins.

So where are we going to live ‘til then? See I thought you’d ask, but unfortunately, I can’t tell you. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. Or that I’m scared you’re gonna go all Single White Female and start following me in stilettos (well, not entirely because of that).

It’s that I promised “Those Who Will House Me Until Then” that I will not blog about the experience. At least, not directly. ‘Cause you know, they’ve got friends who peruse this blog and it might make for awkward dinner party conversation if they’re like “Hey, I read you left the water running!” Some people just value their privacy more than us bloggers. Weird, I know.

But I will tell you this: a) there are no potholes where I’m going; b) my cat will like the views from the windows; c) there is a cleaning lady; d) it will significantly cut my DH’s commute to work.

I’ll try to slip in some more clues about my undisclosed hidden location as time goes on. And, of course, I’ll post pictures of the new house when there’s more to show you then studs and electrical wires. Not that our studs aren’t awesome. The DH is already very excited about the formation of the ceiling beams (I’m not joking).

And I also have to give a huge shout out (yes, I said that) to everyone who helped us move our unfathomable pile of stuff yesterday. Our awesome neighbors loaded every single box from our house into the moving truck! This was unplanned. They all had other things to do on an unseasonably warm 70 degree Sunday afternoon. But when they saw our moving truck pull up, they came out to volunteer a hand. How nice are they? Seriously. I will miss these people.

Also, thanks to my brother who carried a leather chair and a television set down three flights of steps. And thanks to Jen, Craig, Krav, and Matt for unloading the UHaul. And of course thanks to “Those Who Will House Me Until Then” for, you know, housing us…until then.

POP CULTURE RANT: DVR Countdown
While we’ve moved all of our stuff, we technically don’t settle on the house until Friday. So we’re squatting in our Philly residence with nothing but a bed and a tiny kitchen television until then. This means we have four days to watch everything saved on our DVR. Because once we go to “Those Who Will House Me Until Then,” we will lose our cable box. So here’s hoping we find time to watch half a season of Mad Men, most of 30 Rock, the Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and everything else we’ve got stored to capacity. The outlook doesn’t look good.

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This Is Where We Used to Live, Broke In To The Old Apartment

So I’m officially moving. The date is set. The truck is booked. And the inspection hoo-ha is finally over (finally!). Now I just need to put stuff in boxes, tape ‘em shut, fold some clothes, bubble wrap some wine glasses, take some pictures off the walls, clear some closets out… or, I could just ignore that whole packing thing and throw a party with my neighbors instead. Um, I think I’m gonna go with the last one.

Yesterday, the DH and I hosted a party I’ve aptly named “Goodbye Sweet Neighbors! I shan’t forget you!” (If anyone gets that cultural reference, I’ll send you some packing peanuts.) After six years, I can now officially say that we can cram 20 people into our house (including neighbors, a sprinkling of family, and some pint-sized toddler friends).

I made butternut squash and sweet potato soup; grilled thyme chicken sandwiches with brie, apple butter, pears, granny smiths, and spinach; and a spring mix salad with apples, pears, cranberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Fancy, right? Though I hardly ate anything. That’s my problem with cooking for large parties, I spend so much time working on the food that I no longer have interest in eating it. I wonder if Rachael Ray has a cure for that?

Anyway, the best part of the whole party was the champagne toast where my DH and I got to look out at all of our full-of-awesome neighbors who have lived next to us for the past six years. That really will be the saddest part of this move—not the house, or the location, or the Starbucks down the street. But I’ll miss our courtyard friends who throw BBQs, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, and even feed my cat when we go on vacation.

I hope the new owners appreciate them as much. If not, I’m leaving specific instructions with our ghosts to haunt them freely until they do.

POP CULTURE RANT: Bare Naked Ladies
You can’t pack up a house without having “The Old Apartment” stuck in your head. I keep dusting off vases and packing books humming, “I know we don’t live here anymore…This is where we used to live!” Another artist really needs to make a song like this. All these sappy tunes about romance, break ups, heartbreak–we need more moving day representation in modern lyrics. Everybody moves.

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I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me! Paparazzi!

I’ve always liked dressing up on Halloween. My earliest memory of the holiday is of wearing yellow footy pajamas with a Tweetie Bird mask in my old house. Ahh, memories. Years past I’ve gone as a genie, a witch, an M&M, a hippy, and more recently, white trash Britney.

Usually I have to force my DH into costume. He says he’s “not that into” the holiday. But when you get invited to awesome parties, you can’t just throw on a cheap wig and call it a costume. You need (as the teacher says in A Christmas Story) a “theme.”

So this year, I thought creative, I thought pop culture, I thought US Weekly, and I came up with what I think is some very timely attire: Lady Gaga and Papa, Paparazzi!

Yes, I realize I look like a complete nutjob, but it’s Halloween! Loosen up! Sing with me, “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me! Papa, Paparazzi!” (Believe me that song sticks in your head especially if you go around all night singing it.)

And I’m not the only one who thought of it!

Turns out our hostest with the mostest, Regina (of the awesome fashion blog, Here Comes Gina) also went GaGa this year. But with a very different look.

So here we are in our dueling Lady Gaga ensembles with the real lady herself in the photos below.

Not bad, right? Considering I bought my outfit on South Street in what passes as a real clothing store (the headpiece is a feather boa twisty-tied onto a headband). Gina’s outfit, I am fairly positive, was purchased in much more classier establishments. And in case you’re wondering, my MTV “moon man” is actually one of my DH’s second-place soccer trophies covered in tinfoil. See, there’s a reason his parents didn’t throw out that room full of little league memorabilia!

POP CULTURE RANT: Alanis’ Lady Lumps
I know I’m late to the party on this, but I heard this song on the radio for the first time during our traffic clogged drive to our romantic hot air balloon excursion. And it took me a good minute to realize what song this was. I’m like “Hold on, is this?” “Wait, no, this can’t be…” “Um, I think it is…” Yes, Alanis Morissette is covering the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps,” and it is straight up fantastic. So check it out. SNL should have thought of this years ago.

You can see the entire video here, they just wouldn’t let me embed it for some reason.

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Amelia Earhart Is Chillin’ in Hawaii, So Say Philly Students

So I did a workshop at the University City Arts League yesterday with my youngest group of students ever (8-12 years old). And I was a little nervous because when I visited a third grade class last year hands went up after every fifth word I said (“Do you have pets?” “Do you like the Red Sox?”). But I’m happy to report that the group of Philadelphia students yesterday were creative, fun, engaged, and excellent young writers!

Now, my workshop centers on the class working together to create one story based on a nugget of truth from their own lives. So yesterday our story started off with one student’s suggestion that:

He’s “afraid to fly.”

But by the end of that story, our character (Joey, 13, from Philadelphia) had parents who died tragically on the planes on 9/11:

He has a grandmother he’s moving in with who lives in Hawaii and travels for business:

He survives a water landing on the way to Hawaii and has to swim to a deserted island:

Only to find the pilot badly injured and realize he has to fly the plane himself to his grandmother’s house:

Who just happens to be the long lost Amelia Earhart:

Helping him to get over his fear of flying and become an airplane crash inspector:

How great is that?

Thanks to the Philly Spells Writing Center for putting the workshop together. I couldn’t have asked for a more creative bunch of kids!

POP CULTURE RANT: Phillies
I’m so sick of the Yankees. I had the displeasure of living in Manhattan during the (I can barely say it) “Subway Series.” It was a miserable time to be a non-New Yorker in NY. Add to that, I went to school a few blocks from Fenway, and I’ve come to be one of those people who sees (ugh) Derek Jeter and cringes like something smells bad. That said, I’m so glad the Phillies won and put a few wrinkles in all the “predictions” going on in the sports world. As Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News said:

“In the end, almost nobody [sports commentators] could see the most clutch team in recent Philadelphia memory pulling out the series…Such is the power of New York, of the Yankees, of the pinstripes. The history and the legacy are clear and unrivaled, and it is all true. But baseball isn’t about history or legacy. It is about two teams in 2009 – because, you know, Babe Ruth is dead. Now the Phillies have the advantage and the Yankees are the team facing the pressure in Game 2.”

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Goodbye Toto! Goodbye Balloon Boy! My Trip in A Hot Air Balloon

So the day after Balloon Boy faked out the country and hid in his attic rather than floating dangerously in a balloon, my DH and I were scheduled to take a hot air balloon ride. No joke. It was our five-year anniversary and we were going to spend it cruising above the autumn leaves in Chester County, PA.

But alas, it rained in buckets, so we rescheduled. And you know what we got instead? A balloon ride this past Sunday on one of the prettiest October days you ever did see. It was warm. It was sunny. And the foliage was all orange and yellow. (It sounds like a cheesy sitcom, doesn’t it? The couple running off to look at foliage?)

Anyway, I thought I’d share my experiences floating around the air in a wicker basket. First, you get pretty high up there. At one point we were at 3,400 feet. We could see all the way from the farms of Chester County to the skyline of Philadelphia (about an hour and half away). We could even see to Ocean City, NJ at one point.

And oddly, you barely feel like you’re moving, just kind of hovering—on your feet, because you stand the whole time (about an hour). And the balloon really does shoot flames, like big hot flames (think dragon breath and that’s what it looked like).

There’s also, surprisingly, competition in the balloon industry. When we were up there, we saw three other hot air balloons cruising, all fighting for market share. Some balloons even have advertising on them.

And finally, but most strange in my opinion, you land randomly in some stranger’s backyard. Yup, the pilot just picks a stretch of grass and plunks the balloon down. Then the entire neighborhood comes out with their kids to greet you.

So I think our hot air balloon ride now makes us officially as cool as:

The cast of Police Academy 4

And the cartoon guys in Up

And… wait for it… the Muppets! How awesome is that?

And of course, Dorothy & Co. in the Wizard of Oz. One of our fellow ballooners even yelled “Goodbye Toto! Goodbye Oz!” as we took off. Too cute.

So if you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. Just don’t spend all day watching balloon boy coverage before you do. Because it’s way cooler (and less dramatic) than CNN made it seem.

POP CULTURE RANT: NJ Governor’s Race
I don’t even live in NJ, and I’m getting sick of these commercials. But I have to say that the latest one claiming that if Chris Christie is in office women will no longer have mammograms covered by health insurance is kind of alarming (disgusting?). And the sad thing is, Factcheck.org doesn’t completely dispute it. Now I’m not taking sides here. I don’t even live in the state and thus can’t vote, but I would think that in this point in history it’s not too popular to be giving more power to health insurance companies. And given that it’s breast cancer awareness month, and that my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I really hope Christie doesn’t plan to do anything that would even remotely limit a single woman’s access to a mammogram.

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Crack Open A YA Novel and Celebrate Teen Read Week

This week (Oct. 18th – 33rd) is Teen Read Week! What, you didn’t know? Let me explain. YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, takes this week every year to try to draw teens away from their Nintendo DS and iPods and toward fun, awesome, page-turning YA novels.

To help bring attention to their efforts, ReaderGirlz has called on authors to blog about cool teen books. Clearly, I know a bit about this. And I’m proud to say that in the past couple years, I’ve gotten lots of adult friends and family members to crack open YA novels (and not only Twilight!).

So I thought I’d bring to light some of the young adult novels currently in my to-be-read pile. Obviously, since I haven’t read them, I can’t give too much of a review. But this will give you a glimpse into what YA novels got this author to hand over her cold hard cash. So here it is:

My Teen To-Be-Read Pile (in no particular order):

1. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins. This is the sequel to Hunger Games, which I psychotically loved. It will probably be the next book I dive into.

2. Cuba 15, Nancy Osa. This book is sometimes compared to Amor and Summer Secrets in a “fans of this will like that” sort of way. So I’m curious to read another multicultural teen story.

3. Prophecy of the Sisters, Michelle Zink. Before I was published, I hung out on a site called Writers Net. And I remember Michelle being on there when we were both querying for agents. So I’m excited to read her novel.

4. The Naughty List, Suzanne Young. This is actually an Advanced Reader Copy that Suz (a new GCC member) was nice enough to send me. It’s about girls who spy on classmates’ cheating boyfriends, how cute is that?

5. Jars of Glass, Brad Barkley & Heather Hepler. I met Brad at the Baltimore Book Festival last year and he was incredibly nice. I’ve never written with a partner so I’m curious how he and Heather put this together.

6. Keeping the Moon
, Sarah Dessen. She’s one of the YA queens of realistic fiction with a great writing voice.

So that’s it. I hope it gives you some intriguing teen reading ideas. Now go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

POP CULTURE RANT: Oprah
Did you guys see the one where Nate Berkus, design extraordinaire, shows up at a lady’s house and doesn’t makeover a room? Seriously. He just showed up to take her kids to school and give her a few hours off to get a pedicure. Um, Nate, you’re cute and all but people sort of expect paint swatches from you. You know this woman had to be thinking, “I’m going to come home to a whole new master suite!” And instead she got a few hours to herself and a rearranged closet. She should put that on a T shirt, “I was on Oprah and All Nate Gave Me Was An Organized Closet.”

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Oh, My Holy Screamfest! Wow, That Was Scary

Okay, so I followed the hype. I couldn’t stand “Paranormal Activity” being a trending topic on Twitter for the past umpteen weeks and having no idea what anyone was talking about. So I Googled and discovered it’s this low-budget, Blair-Witch-esque scary movie that supposedly gave Steven Spielberg nightmares.

And since it rained all weekend, thus negating my previously awesome five-year anniversary plans (we were gonna go on a hot air balloon ride the day after the Balloon Boy story), we instead went to Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls” and to see Paranormal Activity. Oddly, the movie was scarier than the haunted prison (the haunted prison!)

Not to say Eastern State isn’t awesome (it sooo is), but I’d been there before and taken the non-haunted tour, so I was well prepared. But for Paranormal, I was not.

I purposely didn’t watch more than five seconds of the trailer, and I highly recommend this tactic if you want to be shrieking like a crazy person in your seat. I’m not exaggerating. The audience in Philadelphia was almost as entertaining as the movie. Everyone was screaming so loud that toward the end when I shouted, “What is he doing?” no one noticed because they were all screaming louder.

It was that scary. And if you don’t believe me, listen to this audience reaction someone recorded in Seattle. (There are no spoilers here, just sounds from the crowd… and listen to the end.)

Yeah, I sounded something like that.

No joke. I was so freaked I couldn’t return to our 175-year-old house. I made the DH stay and get a drink at the bar first (yes, our awesome city movie theater has a bar attached). And then we came home and I had to watch SNL just to shake off the willies before getting in…that bed. Shivers.

Really, if I lived alone, God help me.

So go see this movie if you’re looking for a good Halloween screamfest. Also, to its credit, it’s actually quite witty, great dialogue. Go writers!

But don’t watch the trailers! It will totally spoil the movie. Trust me…if you dare. Ooooohhhhhh!

POP CULTURE RANT: Phillies
They’re back in the run for the World Series! I’m psyching myself up for this. I really want them to win. But the problem with a city that goes that long without a championship is that when we finally got one, we went ALL out. I danced down Broad St., popped champagne on South St., marched with the parade all the way from my house to the stadium. It was a celebration! And…I’m not that greedy. I mean, I want them to win, it’s great for the city, the fans deserve it, yadda yadda. But I’m so used to rooting for the underdog that a repeat almost seems unnatural. So here’s to the Phillies hopefully turning me into a fan that expects championships from my city, rather than one who’s shocked by them. Go team!

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House Sales, Eagles Games, and A Wedding Anniversary

Okay, I’m not supposed to say anything because, you know, things can still fall through, inspections can go wrong, locusts could swarm in, yadda yadda. But I prefer not to live in a Debbie Downer kinda world so I’m just gonna come out and say it….We Sold Our House!! Yay!

Technically, we just accepted an offer. But we signed legal-looking paper work and canceled an open house, thus making us officially “under contract.” This is Phase I of what appears to be a million-phase plan that gets you to settlement. Phase II is the home inspection, which should be in the next week or so. And many of the other phases involve the buyers coming up with a mortgage and, you know, money.

But after nearly four weeks of showings, and showings, and showings. And cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning. “Under contract” are now my favorite two words ever. This means we don’t need to keep our kitchen or patio tables perpetually set with fresh flowers and place settings for four as if a dinner party might miraculously spring up at any moment. And our coffeemaker can go back on the counter. And our bathmats can come out of the closet. And our hand soap can return to the edge of our sinks.

Ah, the freedom from staging. It just makes me want to throw my wet towel on the floor and not make the bed.

And instead of shining every surface of our home to prepare it for an open house yesterday, we got to go to the Eagles Game! And they won! And the weather was about as nice as a football fan could hope for, even if our seats were a little chilly in the shade. And by “shade” I mean we were in the last row of the entire stadium, next to the concrete wall, with a better view of 95 than of the field. But that’s neither here nor there, it was still awesome. And did I mention they won?

Plus, the game marked the first activity of our Action-Packed Anniversary Week. Hard to believe but the DH and I are celebrating five years of wedded bliss. And we’ve got lots of fun stuff planned from haunted prisons to balloon rides to martinis in Manhattan. I’ll be sure to post lots of pictures. Stay tuned!

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I think people have lost the right to make fun of me for watching this show since James Franco has joined the cast. Yup, you read right. James Franco, the bad guy from Spider-Man, the stoner from Pineapple Express, the serious actor in Oscar-nominated Milk, will be joining GH. He’s doing a two-month arc during sweeps, and according to reports he was the one who approached GH. And I think it’s awesome. I can’t wait to watch. And that’s not all, the original Lucky, Jonathan Jackson, is returning this month to reprise his roll. Man, it’s a good time to be a soap fan.

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Getting Kicked Out of My House By Strangers, Sort Of

Lately, I’ve become an expert at finding “things to do” for short bursts of time. This isn’t by choice. It’s not like I was going around looking for a hobby or anything. But somehow my work-from-home, build-my-own-schedule lifestyle has been co-opted by a bunch of would-be homebuyers.

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m the one who put my house on the market (well, my DH and myself). And I should be thrilled by all the traffic. The economy is slow! The housing market is tough! And that’s true. I get it, I do. But after three weeks, it feels like half the tri-state area has traipsed through our place in their black scuff-inducing dress shoes (nine showings this weekend alone). And every time one of these homebuyers wants to take a peek, I have to hit the road. Sometimes three times in one day.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why don’t you just leave for the whole day?” Well, it’s not so easy on a work day. It’s not like I’ve got an office to go to. And there’s only so much coffee one can consume.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of the places I’ve gone during work days when kicked out of my house for the sake of real estate. Here goes:

My Things To Do When I Can’t Go Home

1. Starbucks -vs- Philly Java. I refuse to let myself purchase more than one coffee in a single day. Surprisingly, Starbucks is cheaper than the local joint. However, Philly Java has free Internet access. It’s a toss up, but they’ve both made enough money from me in the last couple weeks to warrant me a Christmas card come the holiday season.

2. The gym. Seems like a logical choice. I go there anyway, why not time my workouts to home showings? Great in theory, and it works sometimes. But on days when you have two consecutive showings that go ridiculously long, even I can struggle to fill an hour and forty-five-minutes of workout festivities.

3. CVS. I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes, I will plant myself in their magazine aisle like it’s the free library and read the mags until my house is clear. I’ve never been so updated on celebrity gossip (what’s up with Letterman?).

4. Read outside. Great for daytime showings.

5. A walk. I always heard of people “going for walks” to “clear their heads.” But I find it’s kinda lonely to walk around the city aimlessly with no destination. Not a fan.

6. Hairdresser.
I only go once every three months, but hey for that one time, it was nice to have a concrete plan.

7. Book store. The one by my house is crazy tiny, but there’s no time limit on how long I can peruse their YA shelves. I’ve become a squatter.

So that’s it. The new interrupted daily schedule of a stay-at-home writer. And that doesn’t even include weekend activities—though this weekend we’ll be at the Eagles game during an open house. Whoo hoo! Now that’s quality time suckage.

POP CULTURE RANT: The Gosslins
I think the world, collectively, needs to stop caring about this marriage. First, I can’t stand to see Kate’s haircut on one more magazine cover (you know it’s gonna be the hot Halloween costume). Second, Jon’s love life is just sad. These twits are dating him to get in the headlines, and the news keeps reporting on them thus perpetuating the problem. We need to break the cycle! We got Octomom out of the news (relatively), so let’s dump the Gosslins, folks. It’s time for America to divorce them.

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How Good Books Get Banned By Good People

So as many in the publishing industry know, this is Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 3). And while typically bloggers and news outlets focus on the books that have been banned—everything from Judy Blume to Catcher in the Rye to Little Women—I’d like to focus on something else. Actually, someone else. The book banners. Because they’re not who you think.

I suspect that many in the literary community tend to think of book banners as these evil beings with Freddy Krueger nails and Zippo lighters. And while some may fit that description (who knows?), I think most of them look like the guy sitting in the cubicle next to you. And he might be a nice person. He didn’t go from book lover to fire-starter overnight. I bet the shift was subtle, stretched over years (maybe decades), until one day he saw his kid’s reading list and snapped. And instead of just monitoring what his own kid was reading, he decided it was his job to monitor the reading for all kids. He got out the torch.

And I’d like to talk about the first step into book burning craziness.

Not long ago, I was speaking to a couple of young parents. They are both highly educated (multiple graduate degrees), liberals, and one even works in the realm of education. They were talking to me about how horrified they were about the young adult literature they recently saw stocked at their local bookstore.

“There was all this stuff about ‘summer hook ups’ and drugs, and rape, and sex. We were shocked. They didn’t sound appropriate for teens. Who decides this is okay? What happened to books?”

I explained that YA spans the spectrum, you’ve got your squeaky clean authors like Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries) and then you’ve got your more risqué authors like Cecily Von Ziegesar (Gossip Girl). There’s even an entire section called “trauma porn” that’s all about teens dealing with catastrophic events (think Hunger Games or If I Stay). But you’ve also got your Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and your Sarah Dessen novels to even it out.

Still, I could see that look in their eye, that implication that something had gone “wrong” with publishing. That this needs to “change.” And if they simply apply that belief to monitoring their own child’s reading, then fine. That’s a parent’s job. But I feel like I got a glimpse into what could lead a person down that slippery slope—that first step to where “this needs to change” becomes ”this needs to stop.”

So remember people, this week of all weeks, that books are fun, and tragic, and scary. And teens are smart enough to enjoy them and appreciate them as entertainment. I know I was smart enough at that age. Weren’t you?

POP CULTURE RANT: Thursday Night TV
When did the world decide it only watches television on Thursdays? Did I miss that memo? Because if you look at my DVR, I’ve got nothing going on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then suddenly everything I have ever wanted to watch is scheduled on Thursday night. My DVR can only do so much, folks. Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, and The Office. That’s one too many. And you know which one gets the ax? The one that’s free on Hulu.com. Sorry, Steve Carell, but I’ll be watching you on the net until these conflicts are resolved.

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In Memoriam: My Editor At Kensington, Kate Duffy

I may be too stunned to write this. But I feel like I should. My editor at Kensington, Kate Duffy, has passed away. I knew she had been ill for some time, but I honestly never considered the possibility that she wouldn’t pull through. I guess maybe you would have to have known Kate to understand why, but she was just so strong. She had a strong personality, a strong work ethic, a strong point of view. She was the type of person you felt certain could beat anything.

I know many people in the publishing world knew Kate as the Queen of Romance. And she was. But I knew her as the woman who took a chance on my young adult manuscript. I was her first young adult author, and I remember when I met her she was so excited to be working in a new genre. She had spent decades editing romance, and I sensed that she had developed a fresh spark for delving into the unfamiliar. And she didn’t just take a chance on one of my novels, she bought three. Three books from a previously unpublished author. We launched my series together.

I have a lot of memories of her that I’d like to share, but here are just a few:

Kate called my agent to make an offer on Fat Tuesday 2007. I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans at the time, and that phone call will forever go down as one of the greatest moments of my life. Kate gave that to me.

It should also be noted that Kate had only had my manuscript for four days before making an offer. I now know that isn’t the typical speed at which editors read submissions. But that’s how hard Kate worked. She made it look easy.

In our first ever phone conversation, I was standing in the stairwell of my former office shaking with nerves. And the first words she said were, “Diana, I’m so thrilled to be working with you. You’re brilliant, absolutely brilliant!” I don’t know if this was a standard thing she said to all of her new authors (though she was not one to mince words), but I remember being so overjoyed that someone of her caliber would even read my book, let alone compliment it (or buy it!). Throughout the ups and downs of my publishing journey since, I’ve often returned to those words to cheer me up—Kate Duffy thinks I’m brilliant. Smile.

Many people don’t know this, but Kate came up with the titles of my first two novels, Amor and Summer Secrets and Amigas and School Scandals. Who knows what they would’ve been called if I was left at the helm. Titles aren’t my strong suit. But Kate felt certain these were the titles that would work. And she was right.

When I first met Kate, she took me to lunch with my art director so we could discuss the cover of Amor and Summer Secrets. Afterward, the three of us walked around Barnes & Noble in Midtown scanning the YA shelves commenting on what we liked and didn’t like. They listened to every idea I had and treated me as an equal, though I had no experience with marketing a book. We came up with a collective concept together, and I now know that that experience is uncommon among debut authors. But Kate never acted as if this were out of the ordinary for her. And I suspect that it wasn’t.

Kate always responded to every email I sent her within about ten seconds. It seemed as though she was always working and she’d answer any newbie question I had. She once even explained the entire process of how a book gets acquired by a book store, and she never sounded frustrated for having to go over this for what was probably the millionth time in her career. She always had time.

Kate told it like it was. If she disagreed with you, she had no qualms in telling you why. She had a few decades of experience to back up her opinions, and with that came a bluntness that took a little getting used to. She didn’t sugar coat the truth, she didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, she gave it to you straight. You could take it. And now having been around this business for a while, I’ve learned to appreciate this style. There aren’t a lot of people who will tell you the honest truth, and Kate was one of them. And I think this is one of the reasons she commanded so much respect.

So as I said, I’m still stunned to think of her passing. To me, losing Kate is losing the first editor who looked at my writing and said, “Hey, kid, you got something here.” She gave me the career I have now. And it saddens me to think of the writers out there who won’t be able to get that chance from her. She made authors. And bookshelves won’t be the same without her.

Kate Duffy left her mark with me and with readers everywhere. She will be missed.

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I Feel A Sudden Need To Misuse Punctuation!?!!

In honor of National Punctuation Day (yes, it’s really a day and I was surprised too), I’d like to delve into the punctuation pitfalls that irk me most. Don’t worry!!! i wont go, crazy w/over-used inc’rrect punctuation; just to make my “point” so: let Me “get it” all/out NOW!!!??

Okay, that’s over. Whew. So let me dedicate the rest of this blog to the two most annoying punctuation offenders: the misused “quotation” marks and the overused exclamation point!!

You know what I’m talking about. Our world seems plagued with people who don’t understand that quotes are either used to indicate dialogue, the title of an artistic work, or (most importantly in regards to this blog) to indicate irony or sarcasm. If you want to emphasize a word, italicize it. Otherwise, you get some very funny interpretations. And thankfully, there are some blogs out there to show us all how unintentionally funny some of these misused quotes can be.

So from the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks, we have:

I don’t know about you, but I read that as kinda dirty. What type of “tips” are they looking for? It seems like a sign that should be in a strip club.

Now this can be read a variety of ways, but my first reaction was that the sign belonged outside Area 51. Or maybe a prison. You know, anyplace where you wouldn’t want to disturb the “neighbors.”

And from Flicker’s “Quotation mark” abuse pool, we have:

Be careful, I think that sign may lead to open elevator shaft.

That’s just openly dirty. Is anyone else picturing a “massage” parlor, or do I have my mind in the gutter?

Now, for the exclamation mark abuse. You’ve all seen it— those emails from friends or coworkers that seem to have multiple exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

“Lunch in the conference room!!”
“I can’t wait for the weekend!!!!”
“OMG!!!! She said what????!!!!!”

These emails hurt my eyes. They’re almost worse than CAPS lock (which I didn’t mention in this blog because it’s a grammar misuse not specifically related to punctuation. But don’t worry, I hate CAPS just as much).

Why must you shout at me from your computer? One exclamation point is enough. And please use sparingly. If it’s a legitimate question, no need to add the extra exclamation point at the end. The simple question mark works fine. That’s its job.

Really, stop doing it. Or next year, I’ll have to repeat this whole lesson and won’t be able to get into how people think they know how to use semi colons, but really don’t.

POP CULTURE RANT: Kings of Leon
I know I may gain a few enemies with this post, but can I just say to radio broadcasters everywhere that I get it. You like Kings of Leon. You like the band so much that in a ten-minute drive I hear their song played at least three times on every station from Rap to Easy Listening. I mean the band’s okay in a better-than-Nickelback kinda way, but does it really need to be in rotation every half hour? And don’t even get me started on the fact that I listened to their entire CD at the hairdresser’s and I couldn’t determine when one song ended and another began. So to Kings of Leon: congrats, you have been beaten into my brain. Now can we go back to beating that Taylor Swift song to death? Anything else, please.

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Hispanic Heritage Month, Get Your Latino TBR Lists Ready

It has officially been a year since Amor and Summer Secrets debuted. Can you believe it? Wow. The years shall run like rabbits as the poet W.H. Auden said (or more recently, Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise). But coincidentally, my book birthday happens to fall right smack in line with Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15th – Oct. 15th), and in honor of this often overlooked celebration, some fabulous bloggers have compiled lists of must-read young adult novels featuring Latino characters. I even made the cut!

So check out the below list compiled by Color Online. Thanks for including me! It’s amazing to be in the same company as these other authors.

1. Rogelia’s House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood
2. The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans by Carmen Tafolla
3. Voices in first person edited by Lori Marie Carlson
4. The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
5. White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez
6. I Wanna be Your Shoebox by Christina Garcia
7. Invisible Touch by Kelly Parra
8. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
9. Who’s Your Daddy? by Lynda Sandoval
10. Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena
11. Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos
12. The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees
13. Gringolandia by Lyn Miller Lachmann
14. Down To The Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
15. The Meaning of Conseulo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
16. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
17. Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino’s
18. The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
19. Leaving GloryTown by Eduardo F Calcines
20. Petty Crimes by Gary Soto
21. Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
22. Haters by Alisa Valdes Rodriquez
23. Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros
24. Sofia Mendoza’s Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico by Malin Alegria
25. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
26. La linea by Ann Jaramillo
27. The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle
28. Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer
29. Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
30. Gamma Glamma by Kim Flores
31. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa
32. Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz (MG)
33. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz (MG)
34. So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez
35. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
36. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
37. Jaguar by Michele Dominguez-Greene
38. The Whole Sky Full of Stars by René Saldaña Jr
39. Cubanita, Riding the Universe by Gaby Triana

POP CULTURE RANT: Emmys
Who gets to vote for these things? ‘Cause I think they need to liven up the voting pool with some fresh faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mad Men and I love 30 Rock, but again? Why bother to watch these things if they could save time by mailing half the statues to Tina Fey. And seriously, I love her. But share the wealth, people! I would have liked to have seen How I Met Your Mother take best comedy. And don’t even get me started on NPH and Jim Parsons (Sheldon, Big Bang Theory), they were so robbed! Someone needs to send me a ballot next year.

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A Guiding Light: Why We All Love A Good Happily Ever After

Call me a sap. But I find it sad when a long running television show comes to an end. I tuned in for the (bloody) last episode of E.R., though I hadn’t watched it in years. I still remember the lights going out on Cheers. And I got choked up when Monica packed up that unrealistically large Greenwich Village apartment on Friends. And after all that, I for one like to see those characters go off with some sparkly fireworks and cheery fanfare.

I don’t want to watch Seinfeld wither away in a stupid prison cell. I don’t want some character to “wake up” and discover it was all a dream (or an autistic fantasy). I don’t want the main character to die of a brain tumor (a la Prison Break). I want a happy ending, damn it!

So that’s why I’m thrilled to see that the writers of Guiding Light, the longest-running soap opera (at 72 years), did just that. It may have taken nearly a century, but finally happiness has come to Springfield!

Because you see, viewers (and readers) invest in characters. The drama, angst, sadness, silliness, ridiculousness, of any story is secondary. We care whether Buffy will continue to save the world at the expense of her own happiness. We care whether Sydney and Vaughn will finally find love on Alias. We care whether Felicity will choose Ben or Noel. We don’t care about the Hell Mouth, or Rambaldi, or Med School. In that final episode, we just want those characters to be happy. For once.

And I think it’s because we associate ourselves with these shows. I was in middle school when 90210 started. I was in elementary school (in my old house!) when Alyssa Milano debuted on Who’s the Boss. I entered college with Felicity. And my roommates and I used to rush home from evening classes to watch Ally McBeal.

Their lives intersect with our lives whether we like it or not. And I think there’s a crazy place in all of us that believes that if Brandon and Brenda Walsh can find happiness after all that madness, then maybe so can I.

So, RIP Guiding Light (and RIP Alan Spaulding). A little piece of my childhood memories with my grandmom goes with you. And you know what? I think she would have liked this ending. It catered to the vets, bringing back characters from Holly, to Fletcher, Mindy Lewis, to Michelle Bauer & Danny, to Dylan Lewis, to Ed Bauer. And finally all of these characters in her “story” got to be happy.

POP CULTURE RANT: Soap Operas
So there was this interesting article on CNN about the decline of the soap genre being connected to the rise of reality TV. Because, really, why do you need JaSam when you’ve got Speidi? And I can see the reporter’s point. But honestly, isn’t it preferable to know that the crazy angst of soap operas is fictional? Whereas, the stupidity of reality TV stars is real (at least to some degree)? I don’t know. I’m admittedly not a reality TV fan. I prefer my drama to be openly fabricated. And I prefer my celebrities to have some actual talent. And yes, I think soap stars have talent. Just ask all these actors who started on Guiding Light: Hayden Panettiere (Lizzie Spaulding), Kevin Bacon (TJ Werner), Mira Sorvino (Julie Camalletti), Taye Diggs (Adrian “Sugar” Hill), Calista Flockhart (babysitter, Elise), Christopher Walken (Mike Bauer), James Earl Jones (Dr. Jim Frazier). Long live the soap!

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Strange Things You Learn on a Girls’ Weekend

Seriously, we should have filmed this past weekend. It would’ve gotten more hits on YouTube than any cat playing piano. Because when you get a bunch of 30ish women together for two nights without the hubbies, reuniting down the shore at the scene where we spent a summer together after we graduated high school, antics will ensue. We talked so much my throat hurts.

So, after my weekend with the ladies, I realized I’d come away a wiser person, and I thought I’d dispense some of that wisdom onto you. Here it is:

Top Ten Things I Learned On My Girls’ Weekend

1. Lemonade goes very well with blueberry vodka. Not so much with coffee.

2. Pregnant ladies can hang until 3am.

3. Celebrity is the greatest game ever. And it goes to show, all you need is a sheet of paper and a couple pens and you too can be Milton Bradley.

4. iPod playlists can make the night, especially if they include Biz Markie.

5. You can never eat too much Sweedish fish.

6. By 3am women will delve into conversation topics that could make strong men beg for mercy.

7. If you leave your husband to handle your first open house alone, you may receive a frantic phone call about your wild-eyed hissing cat scaring the potential buyers in a manner worthy of Pet Cemetery.

8. A fully grown person can fit comfortably into a toddler car seat.

9. You may want to consider who is looking at your pictures online, because they may unintentionally provide hours of entertainment.

10. Having close friends who’ve known you since you were a silly teenager is awesome. They’re not only way fun, but in some ways, I think we all helped shape each other into the intelligent women we are now. Plus, we knew what we all looked like during our awkward stages, and you can’t get more bonded than spiral perms and Sun-In highlights.

POP CULTURE RANTS: Philadelphia Eagles
This is my first Monday-morning quarterback rant of ’09, and it’s nice to start off on a high note! The Eagles crushed the Carolina Panthers in what felt like a million-to-zip beat down with about a thousand interceptions, which unfortunately led to McNabb breaking a rib for a touchdown we didn’t really need. Don’t get me wrong, teams can come back, the game’s not over ‘til it’s over, yadda yadda. But if you’re winning by a million points, I don’t think a QB needs to be diving into opposing players for the score (even if it was a late hit). Take the slide. Take the win. Heal quickly.

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If Selling My House Were a YA Novel, This Would Be The Plot

So this Sunday officially marks the first open house for the little place I’ve called home for the past six years. And so far I’ve learned that the process of preparing a house for sale, well, it pretty much sucks. There are rubber gloves involved. And paint brushes, and mops, and grout cleaner, and spackle (lots of spackle). Exciting, right? But it is my life, and since this is a blog about my life, I’ve decided to spruce things up for your reading pleasure by giving you some imaginary YA-esque plots centered around the concept of selling a 175-year old home.

So here it is (imagine a James Earl Jones voice here):

1. In a world… where nothing is as it seems. Seventeen-year-old Abigail moves into a historic house in Philadelphia to find she and her parents are not the only residents. After her radio begins to mysteriously play a classical piano tune every time Abigail is left alone, she discovers her home was once a music school, but the lessons it taught were far from pleasant. Abigail must track down the last living descendant of her home’s vicious piano instructor, or the ghosts that haunt her home may be teaching Abigail a lesson she’ll never forget.

2. In a world… where real estate is wicked. Sixteen-year-old Franklin thinks he’s helping his single mom stage another Philadelphia home for open house, until he unearths the remains of an old outhouse, which is really a portal to another dimension—an alternate reality where his deceased father is still alive and Franklin is an Olympic athlete. As Franklin visits this alternate life where his family is happy and reunited, he must decide whether he’ll return to his own place in the universe or whether he’ll find a way to take his alternate persona’s place—and at what cost.

3. In a world… where selling a house means selling a life. Sixteen-year-old Katie has spent her entire life on the same South Philly block. But when her father takes a job in India, Katie is faced with not only leaving her life behind but also Jesse, the boy she thought she’d marry. So Katie and Jesse team up to make sure no buyer would ever want her family’s home. But between faking hauntings during open houses and spraying the house with animal odors, Katie realizes that preventing this family move may also mean preventing her father’s dreams. Will she put her family’s needs before her own?

So there it is, folks! Three YA plots that sound way more interesting than the endless, stressful ordeal that is selling a home. Feel free to add your own plot suggestions in the comments. I’m always up for a good, fake, YA query.

POP CULTURE RANT: Celebrities on Twitter
I follow a few celebs on Twitter because I initially thought it would be cool to hear these actors, singers, models, speak in their own voice directly to fans. Then, I heard what they had to say—which for the most part is nothing. I don’t want to know that an actor eats six eggs for breakfast and does nothing but work out, or that he/she uses the word “peeps,” or that they watch their own show and critique themselves. It’s like they say, “Don’t sit up close at the ballet. It spoils the illusion.”

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Very Superstitious, Writing’s on the Wall…Sing It, Stevie

I’m a rather superstitious person. Not a “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” kind of superstitious, the kind that believes in “signs.” You know, when you have a dream about someone from high school, then you suddenly run into them on the street. Or when you make a hypothetical soundtrack for your novel, then you hear two of those (rarely played) songs back-to-back on the radio. Or when you’re waiting for good news about your book, and you see that your waitress has the same (uncommon) first name as your main character. I think all of these are good signs.

I often just make note of them, smile, and go on with my day. But sometimes I’ll take it a step further. Like when I dreamt the concept for my first YA novel and then a psychic told me I’d go on to become an author—I quickly sat down and wrote that book.

I mean, if you spent nearly as much time in a Catholic church as I did growing up—or you just watch Oprah—you know the saying “God speaks in a whisper.” So my theory is that if you’re getting beaten over the head with a message that blatantly, you better pay attention.

So that’s how I came to write my WIP. There were a lot of signs leading me to that story. I won’t get into them now (I will soon), but I will say that they trace all the way back to when I was 18 years old. And I believe that means something.

And really is that so much stranger to believe than some magical muse who whispers in writers’ ears? I was never really one to get the whole concept of authors being “vessels” to “channel” divine inspiration, and maybe it was because I was already too busy running around believing in signs. If I added mystical muses to the mix, it might just be enough to push me over the line into crazy town.

But my point is, often aspiring authors ask me how I decide which story idea to work on, which novel to write. And interestingly, this has never been an issue for me. I just follow the signs. But if you’re not a believer, then I’ll say this: write the idea that keeps nagging in the back of your brain. There’s always one idea that nags louder, so pay attention to it.

And if the new guy at work happens to walk in sporting your main character’s name, maybe you want to make a note of it. I’m just saying.

POP CULTURE RANT: Glee
I’m sadly excited for this show to debut. I mean, Fox has been pimping it like it’s the second coming of Seinfeld. I swear the commercials have been running nonstop for what seems like forever. And last night, my hubby and I watched the rerun of the pilot. And at the end when they were singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” he turned to me and said, “Is this supposed to be funny? Because they’re pretty good.” The show must have something if it can get my husband interested in Glee clubs. But, personally, my favorite character is the teacher’s wife who works at “Sheets and Things” and has a Christmas closet. She’s on her feet “four hours a day, three days a week!” Classic.

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Covers Really Do Sell Books, Or So A Teenager Told Me

So I was at a baby shower this weekend—my third this summer not including a Christening. (It’s what I do. Some people go down the shore on weekends, I go to showers and help with gift openings.) But at the shower I met a very cool girl who was getting ready to enter high school and who had read my Amor and Summer Secrets series. We got to talking and for one brief and shining moment I was let behind the curtain of what compels a teen reader to pick up a book.

First, let me say I have to be the only adult she’s ever met who knows more about the YA books she’s read than she does. We had a lengthy conversation about whether Twilight—the books, the movies, and the actors—are overexposed. (We voted yes on all counts, though we had each reread the books several times and love them.) Then she told me she loved the Gallagher Girl books by Ally Carter, and I of course told her that my WIP is also about spies and that I’m so excited about it.

And then we inevitably landed on the standard book conversation, “Have you read this? Have you read that?” And I noticed a trend. For each book one of us mentioned, the other had either read it or could describe the cover.

For example, she asked if I had read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. I hadn’t but I knew it was about a werewolf romance and I knew it had branches on the cover. You know what she said, “I know! I love the cover! It’s what made me pick it up.” Then she told me she loved my cover, because she thought the “holes” were cool (thanks!). She asked if I had read Shug by Jenny Han, which I haven’t but I knew it had a red Popsicle on the cover. Then she told me she saw a really cool cover with an image of chocolate candies, and I told her the book was Artichoke’s Hearts by Suzanne Supplee (whom I’ve met and is really sweet).


Then, that’s when she said it.

“You know, I really do buy books based on their covers. If it’s a cool cover, I’ll pick it up. But if I don’t like the cover, I won’t even read the back.”

I knew it! There it is in a nutshell, folks.

Think of all the months (or years) authors spend slaving on the words inside those covers, and at the end of the day whether or not a teen picks up our beloved works of love often depend more on that random girl in the art department than us. Not that art directors aren’t wonderful, but they could never love your book as much as you do. Yet they have more influence over its success than you ever will.

How many times have authors been disappointed with their covers and then tried to convince themselves that it didn’t really matter much. I know I’ve heard those horror stories. Just look at Justine Larbalestier’s cover controversy.

So the next time you see a teen at a book store thumbing through a few different novels, take a look at the covers on those books because chances are they’re what’s driving the purchase. You might even want to take notes. Because often what’s catching their attention might not be the same thing that’s catching ours.

POP CULTURE RANT: The Daytime EmmysYay, Julie Berman (Lulu) won! And so did the General Hospital writers! I had almost forgotten about Lulu’s stint at Shadybrook until I saw her nomination clip. She so deserved it. And I must admit that it was kind of sad to watch the tribute to Guiding Light. I grew up watching that show with my grandmom (my dad’s mom). It’s one of the strongest memories I have of her. (Watching soap operas is how my grandmom learned to speak English. You can imagine how that affected her vocabulary.) I remember when Rick Hearst (Ric) from General Hospital played Allen Michael on Guiding Light. And when Hayden Panettiere (Heros) played Phillip Spalding’s daughter. And when Melina Kanakaredes from CSI NY played Eleni. And when Vincent Irizarry, David Hayward from AMC, played Lou Jack. Man, Guiding Light is up there with Sesame Street in my childhood memories. And you wonder why I still watch soaps.

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Why Cocktail Parties Make Me Run For The Hills

I’m not a shy person. At least not in the traditional sense. I talk too much to be considered shy. My teachers used to move my desk around in middle school because I wouldn’t shut up (though I still got good grades). And by the end of the year, I learned what a 360-kick flip-shove it was from a skateboarding kid; who thought their older sister was pregnant; and what the band-couple wanted to name their first-born child (Alyssa).

I also laugh really loud. And in general, quiet people kind of freak me out. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a shy streak. Specifically, my shyness is directly connected to cocktail parties. Not the awesome ones that your friends throw before weddings, but the ones that are dull, gray and work related.
It stems from my days as a magazine reporter. I used to get sent to all these conferences around the country, held in bland hotel banquet rooms (which is why I refused to be married in one), and comprised solely of bald men wearing suits. I was a 22-year-old female. And I knew no one there.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was fresh out of college, living way above my means in Manhattan, and knew how to appreciate free booze and appetizers when I saw them. But I loathed standing in a room of thousands and having absolutely no one to talk to.
It would get so bad that I used to call my now-husband on my cell phone just so I could look busy while I was drinking my free beer (I didn’t drink wine in those days either, so a girl holding a beer just added to my freakishness).
Flash forward about a decade and now I’m being asked to join author societies. These are wonderful groups that support writers, provide resources, and in general attempt to create a welcoming community for a bunch of professionals who usually work alone. So last year, I joined SCBWI (http://www.scbwi.org/). I dabbled in the message boards, applied for one grant, but in general I didn’t really utilize what the group had to offer.
Namely, I didn’t attend a single event. Not one. And the Eastern PA chapter is rather active. And that big conference they have in NYC—I didn’t go. I’d like to say it was because of the cost or because I was swamped with work, but really it was because of the cocktail parties.
Now, I know a lot of writers virtually. We correspond via Twitter or MySpace or blogging groups. But I haven’t met many of them in person. And the idea of walking into this massive hotel full of people in suits and having no one to talk to just brought back too many bad flashbacks.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I’m shy when I don’t have a “buddy” to hang out with at events.
And now I’ve made the decision to rejoin SCBWI. They have this great new speakers bureau that I found enticing and a new social networking component, and of course I was sent all the information about the NY Conference. It’s in January.
I’ve got four months to decide whether this will be the year I kick my fear of cocktail parties. And I really don’t know. I mean, if I could do this what’s to stop me from killing my own bugs? Or getting a pet spider? Maybe I could talk them into doing a Fear Factor SCBWI edition? It could work.
POP CULTURE RANT: Mad Men
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Designed to Sell, And Designed to Write

If this writing thing ever falls through, I swear I could have a killer career hosting HGTV’s Designed to Sell. Yeah, you heard me Clive Pearse. I’m coming for your job. Just because you’ve got a fancy British accent, doesn’t mean this Philly girl can’t do just as good of a job teaching desperate homeowners how to declutter and repaint.

Okay, seriously, I may not be destined for a career in television, but I can stage a house. My own house that is. Yup, we’re selling. We heard all those headlines about the real estate crash and the bubble bursting and thought, “Hey, why not join in the fun?”

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My Special Gift Is "Teen Movies," and A Colbert Update

So I was down the shore last week. (That’s what the Jersey beaches are called. The “shore.” Not the beach. You don’t have a beach house; you have a shore house. And you always go “down” there. Don’t ask me why.) Of course, there were a few highlights, like the sun, the sand, and the surprisingly warm ocean water, but none trumps going to my first ever Quizzo bar game and getting the category of “teen movies.”

You know that scene in every Scooby Doo cartoon when he inevitably gets surprised and makes that Scooby sound? That was me when that category was announced.
Because barring young adult novels, which I doubt will ever be a Quizzo category, “teen movies” pretty much encapsulates my knowledge base. You want to know the percentage of Americans incarcerated, ask the Ph.D.s at our table. But you want to know which teen movies starred Judd Nelson, I’m your girl.
As soon as the category was announced, the entire table turned to me as if I were Yoda, and my husband said, “She will nail this.” Under that amount of pressure a girl could crack like a sleep-deprived teen at the SATs, but I’m happy to report that I got 9 out of 10 right (with the ninth answer actually coming to me after we turned in our entry, but before the answers were announced. So I count it, because we could have changed our answer but didn’t). And we won the category, free T-shirt and all!
Here are the questions I’m most proud to have nailed (answers are at the bottom of the blog):
1. Teen movie featuring an ‘L’ train.
2. Teen movie featuring Ron Howard.
3. Teen sports movie based on a book written by a Philadelphian (this is the one that came to me late).
Here’s the one question I missed:
4. Teen movie that won an Oscar and has only one word in the title.
(I’ll give you an added hint that we weren’t given: it’s way more recent, which is why my brain wasn’t on its wavelength.)
And of course the rest of the trip was fabulous. We stayed in a huge house with my husband’s family including his grandmom and three little kids (actually three and a half, if you count the one in my sister-in-law’s belly). We mini-golfed, ate ice cream, went boating, grilled, the whole works. Lots of family fun.
Now, on to some other news. While down the shore, my college roommate emailed me to inform me that her cousin knew someone who knew someone who happened to be on Stephen Colbert’s website and saw MY VIDEO on the homepage!!

I had no idea. By the time I learned about it, it was posted under items that were “added last week.” But it was one of the only items there that wasn’t a direct clip of Colbert during his show. So all our campaigning worked, folks!
Madam Colbert has officially been introduced to Stephen Colbert. And he clearly must’ve liked it if he added it to his homepage! Thanks for all your help!
POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Are you all ready for some Sexico in Mexico? Come on, I know there had to be other Sam fans out there who were dying when they played “the song” a week or so ago when she was in the car with Jason. Now she’s acting all Florence Nightengale to his bullet wounds, you know what’s coming next! Though is anyone else wondering why Sam wouldn’t just take Jason to a hospital? Is there a reason they’re avoiding the Mexican authorities? Because I’m pretty sure you could have internal injuries after a building falls on you, and a few antibiotics wouldn’t hurt. But whatever, I won’t over think it.

Quizo Answers:
  1. Risky Business (the sexy train scene)
  2. American Graffiti
  3. Friday Night Lights
  4. Juno
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Dogs Prepare A Protest At The Linc

Apparently, according to legend, 40 years ago Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa. It’s a little piece of a folklore that has followed our fair team every time a player is (most often justifiably) booed. Then, about ten years ago, some Phillies fans threw batteries at an opposing player who had snubbed us. That same year, Eagles fans cheered when Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin was injured on the field.

We’ve booed, we’ve fought, we even had an “

Eagles Court

” built into our former stadium to deal with unruly fans.

And it is because of our checkered and passionate history that I have faith our fans will rally together to make dog-abusing Michael Vick’s entrance into our city memorable.

Now, let me be clear. I love football. I love the Philadelphia Eagles. I even named some characters in my WIP after my favorite players.

But I also loved my black miniature poodle, Satch, who died at the tender age of 17. He was a good dog. He’d cry when we’d leave the house. He’d sit on the reclining chair with my mom every night. And he’d jump like a gymnast on a trampoline whenever you touched his leash. He was a little person: he had emotions, a personality, and could clearly express what he liked and disliked.

And I think anyone who can take pleasure in torturing, murdering, and abusing dogs is sick. Pure and simple. There is something wrong in your brain if you feel no empathy for a dog crying in pain.

This is not a sport. This is not a cultural difference. Dog fighting is wrong. It’s obviously and disgustingly wrong.

And I am offended that Michael Vick will be playing for the Eagles.

Now I know there are people, like Donovan McNabb, who think Vick served his time and should be able to get back to his life. And there are those like Andy Reid who think everyone deserves a second chance.

I’m not denying those two things. I just don’t think that violent ex-cons should get multimillion contracts to be role models. And definitely not in my city.

Michael Vick has tainted my team. He’s made it hard to root for a sport that I love because any win with him feels wrong.

And so, Philadelphians, if we can make legendary stories out of snowballs and booing, I hope we can make a legendary welcome for this dog-abuser. And I am absolutely, in no way, suggesting anything violent–that would go against the very point of the demonstration. But I’m sure there are a few soft and squishy velcro dog collars out there that if the wind is blowing just right could make it onto the field.

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Get Witchy with GCC Member Megan Kelley Hall

I’m so thrilled to host my Kensington sister, Megan Kelley Hall, whose new book The Lost Sister just debuted! (Get it, sister-sister? Insert groan here.) The first book in Megan’s Sisters of Misery series released to wicked reviews, so I know you’re all dying to find out how these witches from Massachusetts get scared straight. (Insert second groan). But seriously, Megan is an amazing author and if you haven’t read her books, you need to start now. You haven’t seen teen hazing until you’ve seen it gothic style.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Sisters are born, not chosen…
Maddie Crane is grappling with the disappearance of Cordelia LeClaire, and trying to escape the grasp of The Sisters of Misery—an insidious clique of the school’s most powerful girls, whose pranks have set off a chain of horrific events, and who have Maddie in their sights…

Beware the sister betrayed…
Now in a prestigious boarding school far away from her mysterious hometown of Hawthorne, Massachusetts , Maddie feels free from danger. But when an unmarked envelope arrives at her dorm containing a single ominous tarot card, Maddie realizes with terror that some secrets won’t stay buried. Knowing she must return to Hawthorne—a town still scarred by the evil of the Salem witch trials—Maddie prepares to face the fears of her past…and the wrath of the sister she wronged.

Here’s what Megan had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Megan: No. Well, let’s see. Give me a piece of juicy gossip and we’ll see how long it takes to hit the Internet. Just kidding. But, in all seriousness, I’m terrible at keeping secrets. Terrible.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Megan: I spent three weeks on the French Riviera, which was totally wasted on a 13 year old, because I was pining away for a lifeguard back home, who clearly had no interest in me. (I still get flutters in my stomach when I hear his name – shhh, don’t tell my husband.). On that trip we visited a medieval town called St. Paul de Vence. We kept running into Tom Hanks and his new bride Rita Wilson. Since the town keeps wrapping around, we kept passing him until the third or so pass, he waved to us and said “Oh, my old friends.” Of course we had to have a picture taken with him.

Okay, that is the most awesome story ever. First, I’ve been to St. Paul de Vence and it’s awesome. And second, Tom Hanks is the personification of awesome. I’d love to meet him. Wilson!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Megan: I live next to Salem , Mass, so witches and psychics are commonplace. I’ve visited them now and again and never heard anything but very general stuff. One weird thing that happened to me was I played with a Ouija Board in college and it told me I’d marry someone named Ed. I only knew one Ed at the time, and I didn’t really see myself marrying him (no offense, if you’re reading this, Ed.) Anyway, here I am today, happily married to a guy named Eddie Hall. Go figure. But don’t get me started on Ouija boards. They are totally evil and I highly recommend people avoiding them at all costs. Seriously.

My fated visit to the psychic was in Salem! Gotta love it!

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Megan: I’m Greek, Italian, and Irish. Quite a mix. No one can ever tell what my nationality is. My daughter is Greek, Italian, Irish, French Canadian, English and Scottish. She looks like the All-American girl. Go figure. I went to Greece when I was four and all I remember was sitting on a really hot stone burning my butt while my parents took pictures. I also remember my first and last time using an outhouse. It was basically a shack in the Greek countryside with a hole dug in the ground. There was also a chicken nesting in the corner. I had nightmares for weeks.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Megan: My heart stopped – literally! I was at home recovering from open heart surgery! I definitely had a bumpy road toward publication. I had series of mini-strokes, lost partial vision in one eye, and had a carotid stent. It was a nine hour procedure where they basically flatlined me for 96 minutes. After I was “fixed” (turns out the medical problems stemmed from radiation treatment I received when I was a baby with cancer), I was forced to do basically nothing for three months because I had to let my sternotomy wounds heal. It was at that time that I realized that even though I had written for some national magazines like American Baby, Parenting, Working Mother and even Boston Magazine, I’d never written for a major women’s magazine and I’d never published a book. So I used that time to revamp the book I’d been toying with for years and turned the adult suspense MISERY ISLAND into the YA suspense novel, SISTERS OF MISERY.
I realized how precious life was and how if you want something, you really have to go after it (it’s not going to come to you). Using those three housebound months as “work” time, I was able to accomplish the following things within the next year: I finally had a feature article run in Glamour magazine, I got a literary agent from one of the largest agencies in New York, and I got a two-book deal from Kensington Books for the SISTERS OF MISERY series. And to top it all off, my essay about overcoming obstacles was included in former CNN Anchor Daryn Kagan’s anthology entitled, “What’s Possible!” Truly amazing! So….just a typical first book story, I guess.

Thank you, Megan! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Teasers: A Glimpse Inside My Work-In-Progress

So despite Amor and Summer Secrets having been out for almost a year now (can you believe it?), I’m still thrilled to see reviewers who are just discovering it and discussing it now with their readers. Specifically, Renee at Book Girl Review did something I thought was particularly cute. She posted a two-sentence teaser from Amor while she was still in the process of reading it.

It’s a description of Mariana’s brother, Vince. And truthfully, I’ve never seen this quote pulled out on its own before. So it was interesting even for me, the author, to read the lines on their own merit. Here it is:

Amor and Summer Secrets

“It came so naturally to him- the ability to adapt to any situation or, even better, make it more enjoyable. He could have fun at a funeral, if it were socially acceptable.”

This gave me an idea to pull some mini quotes out of my WIP. I’ve discussed the never-ending WIP often here on the blog—mostly how it’s been driving me slowly insane. But I’m getting freakishly close to reporting some good news (fingers and toes crossed), that I’ve decided to give you a little peek inside the minds of my characters.

In short, this is a young adult spy novel with lots of action, tragedy, and of course romance. Think Alias meets The Da Vinci Code meets Nancy Drew.

So here goes! The first glimpse inside my massively revised YA novel:

ANASTASIA RISING

Opening line of the book
“Only my sister could turn Mother’s Day into a drinking holiday. Especially given the fact that she wasn’t a mother, and we had no cause for celebration.”
(It must be noted that this by far my favorite opening line of all my novels.)

ANASTASIA and her sister KEIRA
“We argued nonstop about everything from my grades (which tanked from B’s to barely scraping by C’s in a single quarter), to my suspension rate (which alarmingly accelerated due to skipped classes), to Keira’s lost surgical career. We resented each other. We resented our parents. And we resented the Red Sox for winning the World Series and making everyone in the city so damn happy.”

ANASTASIA
–“The most striking trait that I inherited were my smoky gray-blue eyes, which—depending on who you asked—either made me appear perpetually gloomy or a tad mysterious. My sister voted for ‘gloomy.’”

–“I didn’t think. I didn’t pause. I didn’t plan. I forgot everything my master instructors had ever taught me. I simply reacted. I grabbed a handheld silver mirror from the dresser beside the door and flung it like a Frisbee at the attacker’s head.”

–“I felt a sudden pang in my chest. It was strange, but for some reason I had never considered death as a possible outcome.”

CHARLOTTE, Anastasia’s friend
“Charlotte had a bedroom library that consisted of everything from Pride and Prejudice to Advanced JavaScript. She actually read Law Reviews for enjoyment. It was amazing that she was still fun to hang out with.”

MARCUS
“His face was perfect, but frankly hard to focus on while he was half-dressed, especially given the giant black tattoo inked on his neck—a bull with two curved horns and angry eyes. It was hard not to gawk.”

JULIAN
“There was an air of respect that followed him—cab drivers were nicer, waiters more attentive, and I was guessing employees who fell easily in line. I doubted that Julian had much trouble getting what he wanted.”

If I do get some official good news soon, I will post a longer celebratory teaser. I might even skywrite the entire novel, like across America, in Scriptina font, in purple smoke. How’s that for a publicity stunt?

POP CULTURE RANT: Fox Philly

So the finale of So You Think You Can Dance was on last night. And you know I love this show. Even if this season was less than exciting—Is it just me or were the dancers too good yet not as interesting? We need more breakers, but I digress—Last night my crappy local station, Fox Philly, aired too many commercials and thus entirely cut Kayla and Jeanine’s Mia Michaels routine from our broadcast. I’m not kidding. We saw the last ten seconds of it, and that’s it. I googled the situation and discovered that this was, in fact, a Philadelphia-specific problem. So boooooo Fox Philly! I don’t know what was up, but that was a bad call. So for any of my local SYTYCD diehards, I found the clip on YouTube. Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

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Go Punk Rock With GCC Member Stephanie Kuehnert

If you grew up in the ‘90s or just want to be reminded of how awesome us teens were back then, you should definitely pick up a copy of GCC member Stephanie Kuehnert’s (www.stephaniekuehnert.com) BALLADS OF SUBURBIA http://www.amazon.com/Ballads-Suburbia-Stephanie-Kuehnert/dp/1439102821). It’s chocked for a piercingly honest teen angst and enough 90s music references to make me smile. Plus, I think the cover is pretty cool. Who doesn’t love a plastic riding duck with freaky eyes?

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:
There are so many ballads. Achy breaky country songs. Mournful pop songs. Then there’s the rare punk ballad, the ballad of suburbia: louder, faster, angrier . . . till it drowns out the silence.

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park. . . .

Amidst the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives.
Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

Here’s what Stephanie had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Stephanie: Yes. Well mostly. Unless it’s a really, really personal, important secret, I usually do end up slipping and telling either my fiancé or my best friend.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Stephanie: I haven’t done any overseas travel, so my favorite place to travel to is Seattle. There is not really a glamorous reason that I love Seattle so much and there isn’t even a particular cool thing that I’ve seen or done while there. Though I did because I’m nerdily obsessed with the band Nirvana track down lots of places they played and stuff. Mostly I just like to go to the Pike Place Market or sit in one of the many beautiful parks or by one of many waterfronts in Seattle.

The coolest thing I ever did traveling wise was probably that I went to New Orleans for Halloween and they had a huge parade on Bourbon street, not quite to Mardi Gras level, but close!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Stephanie: I’ve never gone to a psychic, but I have had tarot card readings that have come true and I used to do a lot of tarot. A friend of mine’s mom goes to a certain psychic and trusts her immensely, so if I had money to burn I’d go to her. I believe in that stuff for sure, but I also believe there are a lot of frauds out there.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Stephanie: I haven’t done much family research. My dad’s side of the family is from Germany, but came over here like around the civil war. One great-great-great uncle got shot for cheating at poker, which I think is pretty Old West and cool. My mom’s side of the family came over from Poland and much more recently. I would love to go to Poland some time and see where my family came from.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Stephanie: With my first book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I was at work. I got an email from my agent asking me to call her so I went into a vacant office (I was in a cube with no privacy) and called her. We’d been trying to sell the book for a year and had so many almosts that I didn’t believe this was an actual offer. Obviously I didn’t get much work done that day. With my second book, Ballads of Suburbia, I was in St Louis for my brother’s graduation from law school, so it was really fun because we had two big things to celebrate!

Thank you, Stephanie! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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YA Book Covers Going All “Hollywood” And Stuff

So I saw this article on important women of politics discussing their love of Nancy Drew. I think Sonia Sotomayor started the discussion, and it really got me thinking. You see, my mom used to own a volume of hardback Nancy Drew books that looked older than she was. And I never read them. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I wanted shiny pink covers like The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High to go with my permed hair and stretch pants.

In fact, I don’t really remember any girls in my class reading Nancy Drew. But man, did we own those Babysitter books. I’m not really sure what happened to my mom’s set. Most likely, she gave them away. She gave away a lot of our books to coworkers who had younger kids, which was nice and all. But now as an adult, I really wish we still had those Nancy Drews so that, at the very least, I could see what everyone is talking about.

But alas, they’re sitting in someone else’s attic right now. Thanks, Mom! (Though in all fairness to her, she didn’t know I’d grow up to write young adults books. She saved my Barbies.)

But, sadly, off with the Nancy Drew set also went my Christopher Pike books.

I loved Christopher Pike. Like, seriously loved him. I wanted to eat his pages. Chain Letter, Remember Me, Fall Into Darkness, Sati, were just a few of my favorites. And now that my WIP is dipping into the YA mystery genre, I really wish I still had those books.

Now I know what you thinking. Go online and buy them.

And I could.

They’re available, some for less than $1 used. But most have these new Hollywood covers with teen actors who must have starred in TV movies based on the novels. Like, did you know that Fall Into Darkness was made into a movie? It starred Tatyana Ali (from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and Jonathan Brandis (who I just read died a few years back. So sad. I had no idea.).

But my point is, they’re not the covers I remember. If I really want the sensory experience of reconnecting with these books, I want the cover with Ann’s necklace on the rock. Not the cover with Jonathan and Tatiana.

Same with Twilight. As much as I love Kristen and Rob, why would anyone want this mass market cover over the iconic image of the hands holding the apple? Maybe it’s just me. But putting real actors on the cover takes some of the mystery out of the book. You can’t read it now without thinking of them. What do you think?

And now in belated, loving memory of Jonathan Brandis, who may have been one of my first teen crushes after he starred in Ladybugs with Rodney Dangerfield, here’s a clip of Fall Into Darkness.

POP CULTURE RANT: 16 and Pregnant

Am I the only one who hasn’t seen this show? I feel like the entire YA community is talking about MTV’s latest reality show featuring, presumably, teenagers who are pregnant and deciding what to do next. So I’ve succumbed to peer pressure. I just set the DVR to record three episodes. And because MTV runs this program at least 20 times a day, all these episodes will be recorded within the next 48 hours. I’ll let you know my thoughts afterwards—including my thoughts on Dr. Drew’s post-labor show with teenagers on the trials of breast-feeding.

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Oh, Pedro, I Told You, It’ll Never Work…

Pedro Martinez has become a Philadelphia Phillie. Now, you may not think this is significant. But that’s because you don’t realize that Pedro and I have a long-standing history. When I lived in Boston, Pedro pitched for the Red Sox. I watched him in his prime, playing alongside Nomar (ah, Nomahh) and a team that has an uncanny way of making baseball fans out of anyone. Really, spend four years living within walking distance of the Green Monster and believe me you will leave that town wearing a Red Sox hat. (There’s one in my closet. It’s pink.)

Then, I moved to New York. And what happened? Pedro followed me. Started playing for the NY Mets. It was a love-hate relationship since the Mets and the Phillies are both in the National League East division. And while I’m not a huge baseball fan, I am a huge Philadelphia fan. So once again, we were star-crossed lovers, until…

Pedro followed me to Philadelphia.

At first, I was like, “Pedro, no. We can’t go on like this. I’m married.” But how I could ignore his devotion? I mean, to follow me to three different cities! And he’s an injured old-timer now looking for a comeback. You can’t get more Philadelphia (and Rocky) than that! It has to be a sign! We’re meant to be together!

Okay, I’m kidding.

Though the timing of the moves is very coincidental. And it brings me to my next point. While I may not be a baseball nut, I am a crazy football fan. The hubby and I already have tickets for a game this season. (Got them during the five-minute window Eagles tickets were available to the general public. I swear it’s harder to get seats at The Linc for an Eagles game than a Madonna concert. But I digress…)

I’m Eagles fan who owns not one, but two jerseys; a fan who has sat out in the freezing cold to watch a playoff game (4th and 26, baby!); and a general fan of naming my characters after people I like. So some of you might notice that when my WIP comes out at some point in the distant future (fingers crossed!), a few of my characters will have last names that might sound a tad familiar to you sports fans. Ahem, Detective Dawkins—that’s all I’m saying.

And this brings me to my final thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who participated in my contest last week and who posted my YouTube video around cyberspace. I’m happy to report that Ivy League Sister has personally contacted a Colbert producer! This means that the little inside joke I inserted into my novels years ago, a joke I never really intended to bring to light, has now exceeded my wildest expectations and made its way (almost) to the source.

I still can’t believe it, and I think it’s very cool. So thank you all! Maybe this time next year, I’ll be asking you to decode every name in my book that’s tied to a professional athlete. Now that would be a cool contest.

POP CULTURE RANT: So You Think You Can Dance

How much did you love that Breast Cancer routine? Wow. Really. And “This Woman’s Work” is one of my favorite songs ever. So this leads me to come out and just take sides here—Melissa and Ade are my favorite dancers this season. Melissa, because she’s a naughty ballerina in my age bracket—so I love that a woman who can be considered too “old” for this profession is dancing circles around people. And Ade, because I seriously think he could lift Hulk Hogan over his head and make it look effortless. And when he jumps, it’s like he sprang off a trampoline. It’s sick. Really, the two of them rock. Love this show.

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And the Winner of Madam Colbert/Stephen Colbert Contest Is…

This is just a quick blog to thank all of you for entering the Madam Colbert Meets Stephen Colbert Contest. We had 51 entries in total! Thanks so much for spreading the word.

I’ll have some exiting updates to my Colbert Campaign to share on Monday, but in the meantime, I wanted to announce that the winner (selected by random drawing) is…

Drum roll please…

WordVore Prod (ProdElektra)! Congratulations!

You have won:
A signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals
A signed copy of Adios to All The Drama
An exclusive Amor and Summer Secrets Bookmark

But since so many of you helped me out, I thought I’d hook a few more of you up with prizes (all selected via random drawing).

So, our Second Place winner is…MY NAME IS ELENI AND I AM A BOOKAHOLIC! Congratulations! You have won a signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals.

And our Third Place winner is… Violeta Garza! Congrats! You have won a signed book plate of Amigas and School Scandals and a signed book plate of Adios to All The Drama.

Thank you everyone! The winners should please email me (via my Contact Me form) with your mailing address and who you’d like the prizes made out to. Enjoy the weekend!

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Bumping My Way Just A Little Closer to Stephen Colbert

So my “Campaign to Get on the Colbert Report” is still in full swing and it’s even taken a few giant leaps forward. I haven’t planted my flag (or books) in the studio yet, but I did find out that I’m only two degrees of separation from a Colbert Producer! That’s like a friend-of-a-friend connection, folks. Doesn’t get much better than that.

So here’s the deal. After I sent out my monthly e-newsletter last week (Not receiving it? Sign up for it here), my sister calls me. You see, the whole email was devoted to my efforts to get on the Colbert Report so I could introduce the famous faux-news comedian to “Madam Colbert,” the character I named after him.

Anyway, my sister calls and here’s a rough breakdown of the conversation:

(Background info: my sister graduated from college with my husband’s brother. That’s how my husband and I met. So the ‘CEO brother-in-law’ mentioned below is actually my husband’s brother, not my sister’s husband. Just an FYI.)

IVY LEAGUE SISTER:
Hey, so I saw your video.
ME: You like it?
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: Well, I didn’t really get all the jokes. I don’t watch Colbert. It’s on too late. But it looked funny.
ME: Thanks. You should really get DVR.
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: Anyway, I was reading my alumni magazine from *fancy ivy league university* last month, and I remember an article about a producer at the Colbert Report being an alum.
ME: You read your alumni magazine?
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: Yeah. But listen, she graduated my year. She’s a ’94 alum.
ME: Shut. Up.
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: Yeah. And I think she was in *CEO Brother-in-Law’s* college.
ME: Double, shut up. What’s her name?
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: *insert name*
ME: Wait, I bet *CEO Brother-in-Law* does know her! He knows everyone!
IVY LEAGUE SISTER: I know!

(Side notes: I’m omitting the producer’s name because I think it might be rude to post about her given that I don’t actually know her. And Fancy Ivy League University is broken down into separate colleges that have nothing to do with majors. It’s like being in the same dorm or something.)

So it turns out that my CEO Brother-in-Law does remember this comedian/producer. And we are currently in the hunt for her direct email address. I will keep you all posted.

Also, don’t forget to enter the THE MADAM COLBERT MEETS STEPHEN COLBERT CONTEST for a chance to win: a signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals; signed copy of Adios to All The Drama; and an exclusive Amor and Summer Secrets Bookmark.

All you have to do is post a link to my Colbert YouTube video, and send me the link via comments or email. But there are many more ways to enter. For all the details, read last week’s blog.

And for those who missed it, here’s a repeat of my Madam Colbert Video:

Also do not miss out on another cool contest being run by the awesome young adult author Stephanie Kuehnert. She’s hosting a cyber launch party for her new book, Ballads of Suburbia, which debuted last week. It has one of the coolest covers ever, plus it’s about teenagers growing up in the ’90s. So I know I’ll relate to it and so will many of you. Oh, to see all of those grunge band references–I can’t wait! So check it out!

POP CULTURE RANT: True Blood

While I may have DVR, I do not have premium cable. So I just finished watching the DVDs of the first season of True Blood. Wow, it’s um…a little graphic. I mean, you expect blood and gore in a vampire series, but this show has more naked sex scenes than Sex In The City. And that’s saying something. Plus, I just realized that that one girl, Amy, who gets down and dirty (and very naked) with Jason, is actually the actress that played the goth/artsy friend Janice in Mean Girls! She’s come a long way, hasn’t she? This chick could now put a Victoria’s Secret model to shame with that body. Go her!

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A Character Named After Colbert Spawns A Contest

Okay, a couple of weeks ago I told all of you about I how named one of the characters in my Amor and Summer Secrets series after Stephen Colbert. You know, the comedian on Comedy Central who has helped elevate spoofing the news into an art form. Well, I’m thrilled to report that Phase II of my “Campaign to Get on the Colbert Report” is now in full swing.

It took a lot of editing, camera work (filmed by my talented cinematographer husband, Jordan), re-shoots, and script work, but I’ve finally come up with a video that I think will explain exactly how big of a Colbert fan I am and why I think he needs to hear about my young adult character, “Madam Colbert.”

Fair warning, if you’ve never seen the show, some of the jokes might fly a tad over your head. The video is really geared toward the Colbert fan. But even if you’re only mildly curious, take a look. It’s kinda funny—at least I hope so. And when else do you get to see a YA author poke such fun at herself?

So without further ado, here it is… The Worldwide Broadcast Premier of:

MY MADAM COLBERT VIDEO!
Drum roll please……

There you have it, folks! All the reasons why I think Stephen Colbert needs to “Better Know” my young adult series. Come on, wouldn’t you love to see Madam Colbert join the ranks of Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle, the mascot of the Saginaw Spirit minor league hockey team, as a classic Colbert namesake?

I know I would, which is why I’m launching a free book giveaway to help bring my character to the attention of “Papa Bear” Stephen Colbert! So get your links ready for:

THE MADAM COLBERT MEETS STEPHEN COLBERT CONTEST!

The Prize:
A signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals
A signed copy of Adios to All The Drama
An exclusive Amor and Summer Secrets Bookmark

All you need to do is post a link to my YouTube video somewhere on your blog, website, or MySpace page and send me the link (either via my blog comments or the Contact Me form on my website).

Number of Eligible Contest Entries To Win:
–Posting the YouTube link enters you ONCE.
–Embedding the YouTube video enters you THREE TIMES.
–Forwarding the link to someone who works at Comedy Central (forwarded email verification needs to be sent to me) enters you SIX TIMES.
–Forwarding the link directly to someone who works at the Daily Show or the Colbert Report (forwarded email verification needs to be sent to me) enters you TEN TIMES. (Plus, if anyone does that, I’ll probably throw in a few extra prizes. Heck, a bunch of extra prizes…).

I will announce the winner next Friday, July 24th by 5pm EST. So get the links clicking and send them over. I want to bomb the Internet with this video, so spread the word! And thanks everyone for watching!

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Okay, I’m just gonna say it. I loved Karaoke night. When Robin and Patrick sang the Dirty Dancing song, I nearly fell off the elliptical machine. You know how embarrassing it is to laugh at the gym while wearing headphones? No one can hear what I’m laughing at. And to make it worse, when they look at the little TV on my machine and see a soap opera airing, they stare at me like I’m special. But I don’t care. It was worth it. I just wish they had Kelly Monaco sing in her Bo Peep outfit a la Vegas.

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Haiku Reviews and Some Palin Too!

So it’s Friday, and it’s sunny, and it doesn’t exactly feel like a day for a serious blog entry. Lots of other bloggers post Friday Funnies and whatnot, and while I’ve never been one to follow the day-of-the-week blog rules, I do feel a need to keep it lighter. It’s summer! It’s beachy! It’s the start of Happy Hour! Stop bringing us down with Iran protest announcements.

So instead, I’ve decided to give you the second installment of:

MY HAIKU REVIEWS
1. “Audrey, Wait!” by Robin Benway
Boy meets Girl meets Song
Think “Jenny, 8675…”
Only Audrey’s cool

2. “Artichoke’s Heart” by Suzanne Supplee
Fat girl is lonely
Kinda sad for a beach read
Makes you love the gym

3. “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman
YA trauma porn
Picture “Ghost” meets “Lovely Bones”
Really makes you think

4. “The Hangover” movie in theaters now

Must quote all the lines
Better than Wedding Crashers
Bradley Cooper, yum

5. Sarah Palin Resignation

Was that in English?
Quitter, chicken, bock ba-bock
Gee, how Mavericky

And for those of you who might have missed Sarah Palin’s thought provoking, Martin Luther King, Jr.-esque resignation speech (please note tongue inserted in cheek), here’s a clip of the “highlights.”

POP CULTURE RANT: Daily Show & Colbert Report

They’re on vacation! They’re on vacation and Sarah Palin quits! Mid-term! And she gives a belligerent speech about basketball point guards and dead fish! Come on, guys. It’s in emergencies like these that Americans expect our leaders to be called back from Camp David to give us guidance. Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert: we need you to make fun of this! The world just doesn’t seem right without it. Can I get a “Hell, ya!”
This brings me to my final note, folks. For those of you who have been waiting for Part II of “My Campaign to Get on the Colbert Report,” stay tuned to the blog next week. We’ll have an update. And it’s funny.

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Get Glammed Up With GCC Member Jennifer Banash

What better way to spend your time at the beach than immersed in the world of Manhattan drama and glamor? So come on Gossip Girl fans, if you like Chuck and Blair, why not learn a little about Casey and Drew, the stars of GCC member Jennifer Banash’s The Elite series? The final book in this young adult trilogy, SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE, debuts this week through Penguin’s Berkley Trade imprint.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:
She’s climbing the social ladder, to the dismay of her neighbor and rival, Madison Macallister. And Casey could end up as popular as Madison now that the two are set to star in their own reality show, ‘De-Luxe.’ But reality TV can be so unreal.

Madison loves the attention, but having every bit of her life caught on tape is often less than glamorous. Yet fame comes at a price – and she’s willing to pay. Meanwhile, now that Casey and her almost-boyfriend Drew Van Allen are currently more off than on, she’s beginning to wonder if everything in her life is just an illusion-and how much longer the illusion can last.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jennifer: I used to be terrible at it! (See this story) Because of major lessons I learned about being a gossip in high school, I’m now a really, really good secret keeper.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jennifer: Paris. I went every summer when I was in graduate school, and spent 2 or 3 months there just walking around, sitting at sidewalk cafe, drinking wine, and, of course, shopping. I wrote In Too Deep, and my novel Hollywoodland there, and it’s always been a magical place for me to write.

Ah, scribbling away at a cafe in Paris…is there anything more writerly?

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jennifer: I’ve had my tarot cards read, but that’s about it. When I was in college, my roommate went to a psychic who told her that she had a curse on her, and that she’d need $1,000 to remove it. My roommate was so freaked and naive that she actually paid it!

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jennifer: I never really knew my biological father, and he disappeared when I was 2 years old. I’ve searched for him on and off over the years, at various points in my life, but have never really turned up much.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jennifer: I was sitting at my kitchen table! So exciting and glamorous, I know. Afterward I was excited, but it also felt completely unreal at the same time. I think I had a really big glass of wine, and basically walked around in a daze for the rest of the day.

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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My So-Called Blog: My Life Lessons From Jordan Catalano

My husband (coincidentally named Jordan) bought me the My So-Called Life box set for Christmas, and I just got around to finishing watching the DVDs this past weekend. Don’t get me wrong, this is probably the 1,234,868th time I’ve seen this show. But for some reason, the run through these last few episodes really got me thinking about the wisdom of Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano.

The timing of my viewing is quite perfect, because I conducted two interviews recently where I was asked what type of student I was in high school. I answered truthfully:

“I was one of those students who flew under the radar. I was a good student (National Honors Society), but I wasn’t one of the “smart kids” most likely to succeed. I played sports, but I was mostly second string. I was a cheerleader, but it had nothing to do with popularity. And mostly, I think I was in the “background” of the social scene.

Looking back, I can now recognize how insecure I was in middle and high school (what adolescent girl isn’t?). But I think that’s why I enjoy writing for teens. I still vividly remember how I felt during those years, and I hope teens today can relate to that voice in my writing.”

This is very, very true. I was the girl who sat next to you in English, but who you never really gave much thought to. The girl who spent a lot of time wrapped in her own head, silently miserable.

I was Angela Chase.

And I was living high school when that show came out.

Growing up, that show stuck with me because it was such an accurate portrayal of what I was experiencing and feeling at that exact point in time. I had a Jordan Catalano who I obsessed over and who was absolutely no good for me. I had happy, normal parents who I wanted to rebel against while simultaneously not wanting to disappoint. I had friends who I thought were much, much cooler than I was (and who are probably reading this, hi!).

I don’t think I realized it then, but that show was the first piece of writing I ever emotionally connected to. It influenced me as a teenager and it now influences me as a writer.

My first novel ever was my attempt at My So-Called Life. It was a telling of my emotionally wrenching middle school years. It’s the book that landed me my agent, but never sold. And it’s always stuck with me. Because I knew I didn’t nail it.

The story continues to toss and turn in the back of my head, trying to become something. I call it my “white whale,” because time after time I try to revise it, mold it, change it. But it still always ends up feeling wrong.

I won’t give up on it. If I was meant to, it wouldn’t still be tickling in the back of my brain. And I wouldn’t still be striving to make the simple act of handholding seem like the most climatic thing since a meteor was about to crash into Earth.

POP CULTURE RANT: If I Stay

So I just finished reading If I Stay, the book everyone has been talking about—the next Lovely Bones, the next movie to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke. I loved how real it felt. I thought the characters—including the boyfriend, the best friend, the parents—were extremely well developed and unique. Only criticism? I wanted more. It ends on a bit of cliffhanger, and I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of what happens next. But as far as criticisms go, that’s a pretty good one.

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I Wouldn’t Want to Work at People Magazine Right Now

As I write this I am watching the “Dirty Diana” video on VH1. I can not tell you how much this song ruined my life in elementary school. There were some tough playground moments. Even my teachers called me “Dirty Diana.” Couldn’t it have been “Pleasant Diana,” or “Awesome Diana,” or “Rockin’ Diana.” Nope, I will forever be Dirty Diana. And the reason the song stuck? Because it was sung by Michael Jackson.

If it were sung by Tiffany, or INXS, or the Bangles, or some other artist popular in 1988, I believe no one would be calling me Dirty Diana today. Because Michael Jackson was an icon matched only by the likes of The Beatles or Elvis. He changed the scope of the music industry—he perfected the video, he invented a style of dance still imitated, and he elevated pop music to a level that paved the way for most of the artists on the Billboard 100 today.

How many of us dressed up as Michael Jackson for Halloween? I know I had the white glove (along with Madonna’s lace gloves). How many of us have tried to moonwalk (badly) in our living rooms? Or yelled “eeh, hee!” on a dance floor? And please, how many of us remember the kid who knew every dance move in Thriller (or sadly, were that kid)?

If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I believe Michael Jackson was the most “flattered” man in my lifetime, and his death will leave a mark in pop culture history similar to the loss of Elvis.

I hope his family one day opens up Neverland Ranch a la Graceland, because I know I’d love pay homage to the man who shaped the music of my childhood. And I anticipate the music world paying tribute to this icon with a concert, album, or tour sometime soon, because I know all of his screaming, crying “fan girls” would love it.

And the fact that his death falls on the heels of two other iconic deaths, makes this an even sadder week for Hollywood.

Farrah Fawcett was the first true Supermodel I remember from my youth. That feathered hair was to be revered. And my brother, who’s ten years older than me and thus a child of the ‘70s, even remembers having Charlie’s Angels trading cards.

That hit show influenced many of the movies, television shows and books to come out since. I know while I was slaving on my WIP, I hoped to capture a bit of a “Charlie’s Angels vibe.” I even have a character who I think of as my “Charlie.”

Farrah was a legend.

And if that’s not enough to make the heads of People magazine’s editors implode over cover layouts, they also have to find a way to pay tribute to the late, great Ed McMahon.

While he was best known for being Johnny Carson’s sidekick (“Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!”), that’s not how I remember him. For me, Ed McMahon was the host of Star Search. He was the first Ryan Seacrest.

Through Star Search, he introduced us to Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Aaliyah, Dave Chappelle, Destiny’s Child, Martin Lawrence, Alanis Morissette, Rosie O’Donell, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake and many, many more.

Take another look at that list. Where would pop culture be today if those artists hadn’t gotten their first big break on that show? Ed was part of the magic that made that show popular, and as a result we have today’s celebrities.

Like I said, as a former magazine journalist, I wouldn’t want to be the one in charge of making People’s cover. It a sad week in Hollywood that will be remembered forever.

My heart goes out the family and loved ones of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon.

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Thripple, and Other Words Found In Balderdash

When you go down the shore during a period of continuous rain not since seen since the biblical days of Noah, you got to find some other stuff to do to fill your time. Like go to the Cape May winery, or take a tour of the town, or eat a lot, or rock the skee ball lanes. Or play board games.

My husband and I stayed in stormy Cape May, NJ with one of his childhood friends at her parents’ awesome shore house (yay, Big Blue!) and we spent Saturday night enjoying the local spirits (ahem) while playing Balderdash. You know what I learned?

Thripple.

And, no, it surprisingly does not mean the “scientific term for a third nipple,” as my husband suggested. Though I do think that’s a darn good answer (and deemed valid by urbandictionary.com).

It surprisingly means, “an extension device that attaches to the rear of haywagons.” Like, duh.

But I challenge all of you out there to find that definition in existence anywhere, because I’m convinced it only lives in the Balderdash black hole. The game is making up words. Seriously, Google “thripple;” you get nothing. The biggest search engine in the world thinks I’m on crack and can’t spell the word “triple.”

Though Merriam-Webster does claim to know what it means, only you have to pay $30 for its Unabridged Dictionary to see the definition.

Uh huh, sure. I bet if I typed in “o;ijgnvdbho8iahwge,” it would say the same thing.

I also learned that if I ever get on Deal or No Deal, I could make a fortune from Howie Mandel. My husband, our friend, Melissa, and I played the arcade version—which is equipped with pretty models, a banker, tickets, and everything—and we made it the final case with the top prize money (400 Arcade Tickets) or one of the lower numbers (40 Arcade Tickets). We knew we had it. The banker was on the ropes desperate to entice us with his entrancing offers of 220 tickets, but we refused to be swayed! We had the case!

But, um, here’s the deal—we didn’t. Unfortunately, the lovely model holding case No. 7 had the big ticket pay out. So we took our 40 tickets and left (actually, we gave them to this little girl at the counter with her parents who was eyeing the pink stuffed poodle).

We did see sand eventually though. We made it to the overcast beach for almost two full hours yesterday before it ultimately started raining, again. And you know what’s really twisted? It’s beautiful today—sun’s shining, birds are chirping, sky’s all baby boy blue—and I’m at home with my computer.

Damn you, thripple, Damn you.

POP CULTURE RANT: Sushi

So I had my first real sushi rolls this weekend. Normally, I avoid the stuff. I was raised by a woman who works in microbiology, so let’s just say I grew up with unusual knowledge of things like E. coli, Pasteurella, Salmonella and all other “ellas”. So I still ordered an entrée of fried and battered tempura (go with what you know), but I at least tried three different types of sushi. And you know what? They weren’t bad. Sort of tasted a lot like the soy sauce I was dipping them into. And if I didn’t know what was in it (ie. cooked or uncooked fish/scallop/shrimp/etc.), I found it was easier to eat. Though I didn’t go near the stuff at the end with the orange fish eggs on top. I have my limits. Great dinner though. Thanks, Berks!

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Colbert’s So 3008, Oprah’s 2000 and Late!

There are lots of things writers do to try to promote their books. They send press releases, try to get blurbs from other authors, do interviews, write blogs, tweet. And all these methods work, relatively. But sometimes, you just got to think bigger.


This is why I’m launching Phase I of my “Campaign To Get On The Colbert Report.”

You may be thinking, “Why Colbert?” I’ll tell you why.

A) He’s awesome.
B) His infamous “Colbert Bump” has gotten politicians elected and has sent artists soaring to No. 1.
C) He invented the word “Truthiness.” And,
D) I named a character in my young adult series after Stephen Colbert.

Those who DVR the show know that Mr. Colbert is a huge fan of having international icons named after him—like Hungarian bridges, ice cream flavors, little league hockey mascots, sea turtles, spiders, NASA treadmills, and bald eagles. So when I was creating the Amor and Summer Secrets series, as a fan of the show, I thought it would be fun to join in the crusade. If you’ve read my books, you may have noticed the name but may not have put the connection together.

You see, I spent much time warring with who would be the perfect character to represent his essence, and after much debate, I ultimately decided on a strict, French, long-legged ballet instructor. Oh yes, “Madam Colbert.”

Madam Colbert is first mentioned on Page 12 of series’ debut, Amor and Summer Secrets. But she serves a much more vital role in the final book in the series, Adios to All The Drama, where she readies our main character, Mariana Ruiz, for the lead in their community performance of Sleeping Beauty.

Now, you may be thinking, “But Diana, Adios came out in January. Why are you just now starting this campaign?”

Well, truthfully, it was just a little private joke that I put in my book with no thought of ever bringing the name’s origin to light. Honestly, most of my characters’ last names are connected to some sort of private joke—I mean, come on, Bobby McNabb, anyone? I live in Philadelphia! And in Amigas and School Scandals during Mariana’s birthday party, I even sit McNabb at table Five. Get it, sports fans?

Anyway, I never really thought to bring the name to Donovan McNabb’s attention any more than I thought to bring it to Stephen Colbert’s. But then I started stressing about my WIP, I mean really stressing—like get the padded cell ready and call the men in white coats stressing. And all of the sudden, lots of things seemed like a good idea. Like contacting Stephen Colbert and trying to get myself on his show.

So as of today, there is a package in the mail addressed to Mr. Colbert with a very nice (and rather witty, if I do say so myself) letter, a cheeky bio, an author photo, and a signed copy of Adios to All The Drama with a bookmark inserted to a page where “Madam Colbert” figures prominently.

But don’t think that’s all I’m doing! Stay tuned for Phase II of the “Campaign To Get On The Colbert Report.” It will be forthcoming.

And it may take time, folks, but I’m telling you I will get Colbert’s attention. Just wait and see. The guy’s gonna be bigger than Oprah. All he needs now is a book club.

POP CULTURE RANT: Boom! Boom! Pow!

Was anyone else as surprised as I was to find out that the lyric Fergie is singing in The Black Eyed Pea’s hit “Boom! Boom! Pow!” is that she’s “So 3008, you’re so 2000 and late”? I had no idea. I always thought she was saying “2008,” since it makes more sense. But no, Google the lyrics and see. And I’m not just suggesting that to justify why it says 3008 in my headline (ahem, but it’s right).

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I Think I’ve Been Hit by the Anti-Secret

So you know how I’ve been blogging lately about how fabulous the Latino community has been? It’s true. I’ve gotten tons of emails from multicultural teens, I won second place at the International Latino Book Awards, and Hispanic schools and organizations have helped me to promote my books. I even talked about how the Latino community assuaged my fears about not being “Latina enough.” And you know what the universe tossed me in response? My worst nightmare.

I call it The Law of Retraction—or the Anti-Secret (or maybe the Blabbermouth?). Essentially after all my heartfelt thanks for the warm welcome, I brought forth from the universe the exact thing I was dreading—the Latina naysayer.

You see, I’ve spoken frequently about how I worried some might claim I’m a poseur for writing a novel with Puerto Rican characters (though I am Puerto Rican). You know because I don’t look like the Latina stereotype and I wasn’t born speaking Spanish. I did study Spanish in school but I haven’t used the language since I graduated in 2000, and right now my Spanish sucks rocks.

But what I am gonna do? It’s not like I’m living in Spain anymore. And I could try speaking Spanish with my cat, but I really don’t think that would help me much. It’s just the world I live in. But I guess there are those who just don’t take too kindly to that ’round these parts.

Specifically, I was recently chastised (in person) for not being fluent in Spanish, for not writing my novels in Spanish, and thus for not contributing to the Latino community in the way this person thought I should be. Um, yeah.

First off, I’m not going to apologize for how my parents raised me. No, my dad didn’t teach me Spanish in the home. But my mom didn’t teach me Polish either, yet there don’t seem to be many people criticizing me for that (and my mom’s parents spoke Polish as well as my dad’s parents spoke Spanish).

And secondly, my books are about a character who’s dealing with these exact issues, which makes the criticism really ironic. Clearly this person hadn’t read my books, but if anything the remarks just provided further validation that a character like Mariana Ruiz is needed for today’s multicultural teens.

Personally, I think I’ve made a lot of strides to connect to my parents’ roots. But I guess there will always be those who feel the need to criticize, considering this same person also asked “what I else I did?” besides the whole novel-writing thing. So if I have to explain how being a young adult author is an actual career, I think it’s safe to say we’re not going to be getting those BFF charms anytime soon.

So haha, universe, you got me! Maybe next time I should start ragging on Oprah’s book club selections and in return maybe the Law of Retraction will put me at the top of her YA list.


Cartoon from the New Yorker

POP CULTURE RANT: Gossip Girl

I realize this is YA sacrilege, but I just started watching Gossip Girl. I’ve read a couple of the books, so I’m not completely out of it. But I never really dipped into the TV show, and given the reruns I thought I’d give it a whirl. Can I say I’m now obsessed with Chuck and Blair? And I just found out that the actor who plays Chuck, Ed Westwick, is British! Love his real voice (what girl’s not a sucker for a British accent), but I’m really impressed by the deep, raspy, American voice he’s perfected. I think if my WIP ever gets made into a movie, I might have to cast Ed as the male (British) lead.

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How to Create a Best-Selling Summer Beach Read

‘Tis the season, right? In the winter, we’re all expected to be depressed under our wool sweaters snuggled up to fires and reading books of child slaughter games and morbid suicides. But once that sun comes out, bring out the suntan lotion and the rainbow covered paperbacks.

Even the New York Times has caught the buzz. They (shockingly) devoted an entire article not only to books written by women, but to books that could be classified as (dare I say it?) “chick lit.”

And in honor of the summer sun (which is probably shining somewhere, though it’s been raining like the end of days here in Philly), I’ve decided to take a deeper look at what publishers consider a vacation-appropriate read. This is a completely unscientific study based on my observations of books presented on the front tables of stores lately, and books that are blatantly being labeled as beach reads by major retailers (and by that, I mean Borders’ “If you want great beach reads” list).

So here it is, writers. Tips to creating the:

Next Great American Beach Read

1. Cover must be in pastel colors.
This is non-negotiable. Who wants to be the girl with a black-covered book on the beach? It’ll absorb all the sun rays.

2. Main character must be female. I can’t say this with absolutely certainty, but I’m pretty sure you can’t have a male protagonist in a beach read. It goes against the grain (of sand).

3. Keep your titles beachy simple. Don’t over think it. Go with “The Beach House,” or “The Beach Road,” or “Barefoot,” or “The Last Summer.” (All books currently on beach read lists.)

4. Try to get sand dunes or an Adirondack chair on your cover. Now is not the time to experiment with abstract corpses or machine gun graffiti art.

5. Hope you’re funny. The goal here is to make your beachy reader spit her waterice on the sand. So start studying the female comedy greats (or just watch a few episodes of My Life on the D-list, same difference).

6. Make your heroine self-conscious, awkward, and chubby while smart, witty, and clever all at the same time. While these books are read by women in bikinis, you don’t want your main character to look good in one.

7. Chose the heroine’s name carefully. Go with Cammie, Bridget, Lizzie, and avoid any urge to select Gertrude or Blanch.

8. A female friendship must be central. Preferably the novel should feature a friend the heroine has known since grade school, and the friend must be prettier than the heroine (goes back to the bad bikini bod rule of No.6).

9. Romance, romance, romance. It can be of any variety: vacationer-lifeguard, vacationer-bartender, vacationer-young male neighbor, vacationer-townie. The only exception to the “heroine must be on vacation rule” would be: heroine-high school sweetheart, heroine-college sweetheart, heroine-first relationship after college sweetheart.

10. Paperbacks fold better into beach bags. Not that women won’t read hardbacks on the beach, but why make it harder to tote? And see if your publisher will splurge extra for water proof pages or built-in bug repellent. Could be a big selling feature.

So everyone go out and buy some fun summer beach reads! I know I will—though I did recently buy a book about a fatal car crash, but whatever. I’m weird.

POP CULTURE RANT: Colbert Report

Did you know that Stephen Colbert is reporting from Baghdad, Iraq all week? He is! And to make him even cooler, he let one of the army guys shave his head live on stage on Monday in a moment of solidarity (there’s even a cameo with Barack). Check him out—he’s no longer coiffed and sprayed. Though I hate to admit that the new buzzed do does bring attention to a less fortunate hairline I believe he was previously hiding under a lot of hair spray. But whatever, props to him for entertaining the troops!

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Gets His Hair Cut
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq
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I Think My Lack of Patience Is Making Me See Dead People

Is it just me or are things in the publishing world actually starting to move even slower? I didn’t think it was possible. When I first landed my agent, I had come from the world of magazine publishing. Magazines as you know have a long lead time—they’re working on spring issues before the snow even starts falling. So you’d think I’d be accustomed to waiting; however, when my methodology of dealing with impatience is to have staring contests with my phone to see who will ring/blink first (I haven’t won yet), I’m not helping things.

And at this point, I think the publishing industry appears to be doing business at a crawl so infinitesimal that I really think there’s an old man with a white beard transcribing my manuscripts with a feather pen somewhere. Because that’s the only thing that makes sense. That, and the fact that most publishers laid off so many employees that there is now one person doing the job of 12.

But that said, I still have four years of dealing with this snails pace. I remember having to send agents query letters in the postage mail, and then having to wait for a mailed self-addressed envelope to get a reply. It boggled my mind that anyone would do business this way when email would cut that transaction time down to about five seconds. But whatever, I dealt with it. (By that, I mean I considered stalking the postman for every SASE in his bag.)

I also had to learn how to physically Fed Ex hard copies of my manuscripts to my editor, and then receive a physical hard copy in return with little red squiggle marks on it that I had decipher with a decoder ring (because what recent college grad is taught copy-editor shorthand anymore? I went to J-school, we used “track changes.”).

However, I accepted these things. Some industries take a little longer to adapt, but I figured once they discovered these newfangled things called computers, the rate of business would pick up. Only this hasn’t happened—mostly because you need bodies to work the computers, and publishing houses have fewer of those these days.

So now an industry that I thought was maddeningly sluggish four years ago, is now moving at the velocity of a time-elapsed photo composite. It takes forever to get manuscripts read, for emails to be returned, for edits to come in, for offers to be made, for publicity to be generated. Honestly, I think coffee even brews slower at these houses—the laws of physics have ceased to exist there.

And for someone who will admittedly tell you that patience has never, ever, been one of her virtues, I’m starting to wonder whether I’m secretly part of some Dharma initiative lab experiment: “Let’s see how long we can make an absurdly impatient girl wait before she actually loses her mind and starts seeing dead people or smoke monsters.” Honestly, one more week, and I think I’ll be playing chess with Mr. Echo.

POP CULTURE RANT: Adam Lambert

OMG, he’s gay! I had no idea! (I’m kidding.) But apparently it’s cover news for Rolling Stone Magazine. Is it me, or is finding out a glam rocker is gay like finding out a fashion designer is gay? Really, are there people who were surprised? Maybe it’s the world I live in, but I really don’t see this as news anymore. However, I’m psyched he’s now able to just be himself. That’s gotta take a load off his shoulders. Though I doubt any more girls will be stripping naked at his appearances. Still, can’t wait for his album!

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I’m a Poet and I Didn’t Know It: Check Out Some Haiku Reviews

I’m admittedly ripping off another author here. Yes, you read correctly, I’m stealing inspiration. But if I come clean and tell you that, that makes it less wrong, right?

You see I read a lot of blogs. I have dozens upon dozens of publishing-related blogs saved in my Bookmarks. I don’t read all of them regularly, but I do scan them all occasionally. And recently, I came across a cute blog that was reviewing books in Haiku form. However, for the life of me, I can’t remember where exactly I saw this (if you know, please tell me).

But I thought the idea was so clever, I’ve decided to give it a whirl.

Now, let me warn you—I’m not a poet. Like, not at all. I took one poetry class in college (EN 246) and when tasked to either create a Shakespearean-esque sonnet based on one of his timeless themes, or to create a sonnet using all of his rhythms and structures—I chose the latter.

Everyone else in the class took the assignment oh-so-seriously and wrote deep college-sounding sonnets about love, turmoil, and death (for which most of them got a ‘C’) while I instead wrote a very technically sound sonnet entitled, “Shall I Compare Thee to A Dental Visit.”

I think it ended with something like, “So long as men can eat and gums can bleed/So long live germs that lead to cavities.”

I’m not joking. And I got a B+ on that poem.

Anyway, I’ve decided to dip back into my poetic bag of tricks and try to create some reviews for books I’ve read (or re-read) within the last month. So here goes:

MY HAIKU REVIEWS

“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
Kids fight to the death
Mad Max meets Project Runway
Could not put it down

“Paper Towns” by John Green

Funny and witty
Too many Walt Whitman quotes
Writing style rocked

“Angels & Demons” by Dan Brown
Just filled with clichés
Writing needed lots of work
Plot was very good

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding
Just as funny now
Literary comfort food
Her Singletons rule

“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
Fighting through pages
Need to read all the footnotes
A smart person book

Feel free to leave your own Haiku reviews in the comments. I’m always looking for book recommendations!

POP CULTURE RANT: So You Think You Can Dance

I guess I should have known they’d split up the brothers, but man, did that suck. Could you imagine knowing that the reason you got the chance of a lifetime was because you prevented your brother from getting his chance of a lifetime. And at the same time, wouldn’t you feel guilty for watching your bro on TV and wishing that were you? That was cold, Nigel. Not that they had to put them both through, but it was mean to leave them to the final two. I think it would have been kinder to deliver the news separately, so their fates weren’t tied. Regardless, can’t wait for the season!

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Yay! I’m Officially An “Award Winning” Author

Not to get all “Secret” on you, but I will say that I’m a believer in the loosely interpreted Field of Dreams philosophy of “If you think it, it will come.” And I got to say, it can’t be coincidental that the week after I write a blog acknowledging my relief that the Hispanic community has been so supportive of my novels that Amor and Summer Secrets gets awarded 2nd place in the 11th Annual International Latino Book Awards for Best Young Adult Fiction-English.

Come on, there’s got to be some sort of cosmic alignment there.

The winners were announced at BEA by the Latino Literacy Now. And while I knew my publisher had submitted a nomination for me, I got the news of the win while I was down the shore and completely in non book-mode. So I was totally surprised—and crazy excited.

I now get to say I’m an “award winning author.” Well, sort of. Since technically I won second place, so I guess I’m a “second-place finishing award winning author.” I’ll have to tinker with the wording.

And of course, I have to admit there was that tiny piece of me who upon hearing I won second immediately thought, “Who won first?” But I’m happy to report I got over it when I learned I was in killer company.

The first place winner was Pulitzer Prize winner author Oscar Hijuelos who won for his young adult novel, Dark Dude (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing). This is the guy who wrote The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, a novel which later was turned into the movie The Mambo Kings and then turned into a Broadway show.

I say I got a little ways to go before I come close to reaching those credentials. But, hey, it gives me something to reach for. So I will gladly, enthusiastically, and overwhelmingly take my second place finish if it even puts me in the same category as an author of his caliber.

And since the universe might be listening to me right now, I’d just like to put it out there that if Amor and Summer Secrets does ever get turned into a movie, I would be happy to follow in Mambo Kings footsteps and have Antonio Banderas star in it. Maybe we could go to lunch one day to discuss character and theme and whatever important actors think about when taking on a role. (Of course, my husband probably wouldn’t like this plan as much.)

So thanks to the judges, nonprofits, and everyone who put together the awards!

POP CULTURE RANTS: MTV Movie Awards

So I’m sure we all expected Twilight to be the big winner, to the point where even reading the other nominees seemed unnecessary, but I bet no one expected Borat to land half naked on a ticked off Eminem. I don’t know if it was staged or not, but even if it was, how big does your death wish have to be to risk putting your bare butt cheeks on Eminem’s face? The man raps about celebrity’s who happen to mention his name in passing, and this guy stuck his naked butt in his face on national television. Crazy. I now officially think Sacha Baron Cohen should join the Jackass team because he’s got to be missing a few brain cells.

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Oh, Yeah, Just Call Me J.Lo. (or D.Rod.)

So when I first started this blog, I wrote a post describing how I was a closeted Latina. Basically, because I grew up with pale skin, freckles, reddish hair and no Spanish accent, people weren’t exactly mistaking me for Selma Hayek. And because they treated me as if my last name were just some quirky accident, I sort of went into the closet about it.

Essentially, it took me a long time to find my inner Latina, but when I did, I figured why not go all the way and write a book about it? It’s what I do, right? So I created the character Mariana, who has my same ethnic background and is just now coming to terms with her multicultural identity.

And while it may sound like I suddenly became all evolved in a manner worthy of a reinterpretation of Roots, let me be honest here, I’m a bit of a chicken. And when I first started writing the novel, I remember worrying that people might call me a poseur, claim that I’m not “Latina enough” to write a novel with a Latina character. (My dad’s from Puerto Rico, by the way, and he doesn’t look any more like the Hispanic stereotype than I do. I’m just saying…) But all kidding aside, I was truly concerned about how my books would be received by the Latino community.

That fear almost seems crazy to me now.

The largest and most positive reactions I’ve received for the “Amor and Summer Secrets” series thus far have been from Latino teens. I had an event this morning for students from a Philadelphia charter school where most speak English as a second language—all of them were enthusiastic and carrying my book in hand. I had girls come up to me in Lancaster last week all giddy because they had been reading my books with their moms. And I can’t tell you how many emails I get from students who are half-Hispanic and thrilled that someone finally wrote a book they can relate to.

In fact, one was so sweet I’m sharing a piece of it here (I hope she doesn’t mind):

“Lately, I was questioned about my own Hispanic heritage and I have no idea about my own roots…This book was an eye-opener. I know I asked myself, ‘okay, I need something to help me find my roots and give me a clue in.’ I did, your book was one that I picked up randomly after that question was asked and now I believe I found my answer.”

How awesome is that? Seriously? It’s why we write, people.

That’s not to say that my books are written only for Latinas. That’s like saying Seinfeld’s comedy is only for Jewish Americans, or Kanye’s music is only for African Americans, or that the Real Housewives of New Jersey is only for overly pampered whiney princesses from the Garden State (wait, maybe that last one is true).

But my point is that I’m really proud to be “going all J.Lo.” now. And I always thought D. Rod was a pretty cool nickname. Too bad I’m not a ball player.

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital

Is it just me, or did Michael wake up from his coma more annoying than ever? Seriously. That kid’s always gotten on my nerves. But I thought that when they SORASed him (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome), the character would be a bit more tolerable. Nope. Just got snottier. Thank goodness adolescent boys don’t watch this show, because that character’s whole attitude toward his mother makes me wanna slap him.

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Living In An Amish Paradise: My School Visit to Lancaster

So, no, I did not get to do a Creative Writing Workshop in a one-room schoolhouse in the heart of Amish country. Though I do think that would make for an awesome school visit. Imagine: I could teach them that there are books in the world other than the bible, and they could teach me how to churn butter and raise a barn in a single day. It’s a win-win.

But alas, I don’t think many urban Latina authors get invited into that world. I did, however, get invited to visit J.P. McCaskey High School in the Lancaster, PA School District. It’s a slightly different population—in that the students are multicultural, they wear buttons, they don’t ride in horse and buggies, and there wasn’t a straw hat in sight. In a nutshell, they’re very cool American teenagers—only surrounded by more farm land (and more outlet shopping).

The school was amazing. They did a fantastic job promoting the event. It was hosted in the library by their wonderful librarian, Samantha Simatos, and about 45 students attended. It was my biggest workshop group ever, and consequently we did run a bit long, but thankfully that was mostly do to all of the killer ideas the students suggested.

They created a very clever young adult story based on a set of twins caught in a love-hate relationship when each is raised by a separate parent—one by the mom, and one by the dad. It creates a whole lot of drama.

I was really impressed by the imaginations of the students, and I’m happy to report that one student already contacted me to tell me that she started writing her own version of the story. Feedback doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Plus all of the students got a signed copy of “Amigas and School Scandals.”

It was a fun day, and I thank everyone who put it together! Next time, I’ll try to keep Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise” from playing in my head on the drive out there.

POP CULTURE RANT: So You Think You Can Dance

Yeah, I know everyone’s still talking about the American Idol upset (I personally was rooting Adam, too), but I’m more excited about the debut of its reality counterpart—So You Think You Can Dance! I seriously heart this show. Every time I watch it, it makes me want to learn a Mia Michaels routine (and not die trying). So everyone, let’s get on the SYTYCD conga line. I’m already cheering for Katie’s roommate, Natalie. Girl’s a shoe-in for the Top 20.

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Have a Lovestruck Summer with GCC Member Melissa Walker

Memorial Day is just around the corner and I’m sure you’re all looking for a great beach read worthy of your beach chair and floppy hat. Well dust off your flip flops, bust out the sunscreen, and grab yourself a copy of GCC member Melissa Walker’s latest book, LOVESTRUCK SUMMER, which just debuted through HarperCollins Publishers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:
This is the story of Quinn, an indie rock girl who came out to Austin, Texas for a music internship. She also plans to spend long, lazy days in the sun at outdoor concerts–and to meet a hot musician or two. Instead, she’s stuck rooming with her sorority brainwashed cousin, who now willingly goes by the name ‘Party Penny.’ Their personalities clash, big time.

But Sebastian, a gorgeous DJ, definitely makes up for it. Sebastian has it all: looks, charm, and great taste in music. So why can’t Quinn keep her mind off Penny’s friend cute, All-American Russ and his Texas twang?

One thing’s certain: Quinn’s in for a summer she’ll never forget!

Here’s what Melissa had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Melissa: I used to be terrible at it! (See this story) Because of major lessons I learned about being a gossip in high school, I’m now a really, really good secret keeper.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?
Melissa: I went to Sao Paolo, Brazil for Fashion Week once, and it was so amazing that I had to set one of the Violet books there. The colorful clothes, the carnival feel, the amazingly delicious meat dishes–sigh. So great.

Now, that’s an enviable vacation! I’d love to go to Brazil. But I worry my body would need way too much waxing and tanning before I could step foot in country.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?
Melissa: Ooh! I have. My Spanish class went on a field trip to NYC in 10th grade, and we all visited a psychic. She told me I’d drop out of college halfway through because I’d fall in love with a dark foreigner. Didn’t happen, but maybe that’s a book plot I’m supposed to write?

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Melissa: We used to have these HUGE family reunions in West Virginia, where my Irish ancestors on my dad’s side settled. There’s still a ton of family history there, and I can trace waaaay back when I visit the cemetary, which is a neat feeling.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?
Melissa: I was at work at ELLEgirl when I got the offer call from an editor. After that, I had to do things backwards and find an agent, so I don’t have that one shining moment that some authors had, I was just kind of buzzing for days!

Thank you, Melissa! And for a chance to win Lovestruck Summer, plus 3 other great beach reads, visit Melissa’s other (very cool) website iheartdaily.com.

Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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My Proposed Etiquette Guide to Writing Bad Book Reviews

I came across an amazing new blog this week, The Worst Review Ever, and I’ve been shouting its praises because it’s so unbelievably cathartic and funny. Essentially, it’s a venue—created by Alexa Young, author of Frenemies—for writers to post the worst reviews their novels ever received with the intent being for all of us to join together to chuckle and commiserate. Heal the pain, people.

Because, really, there’s nothing you can do when your book is ripped to shreds. You can’t defend it, and there’s no point in crying about it. Ultimately, you just got to shrug it off and laugh when someone actually has the nerve to call your book “a holocaust of prose.” Or when someone says your romance novel is so “derivatively chick-lit it was physically passed from Oprah’s uterus onto paper made out of Helen Fielding’s afterbirth.” (Honestly, that line deserves to be on a T-shirt somewhere.)

But I noticed a common thread among the bad reviews posted here (as well as elsewhere)—most come from bloggers who openly admit they don’t like books in the genre in which the novel is written. They hate chick-lit, yet they’re reviewing a romance novel. They hate young adult, yet they’re reviewing a teen novel. They hate books featuring rich prep school girls, yet they’re reviewing a book about a rich prep school girl.

See where I’m going with this?

So to take a cue from Emily Post (or these days Martha Stewart), I’ve decided to create:

An Etiquette Guide to Writing Bad Book Reviews

1. Do not spend half your bad review bragging about how you received the book for free, and begging people to use your Amazon link for purchases so you can get a few pennies of “commission.” To steal a line from Z100, “Knock, knock. Who’s there? TACKY.”

2. Be sure you get all your facts straight. If you’re going to attack an author’s plot and characters, be for darn sure you’re getting every scathing detail correct. Do not leave the author (who will read it) to wonder whether they should comment on your plethora of factual inaccuracies (as was the case in one of the blog’s reviews).

3. If you hate SciFi, don’t review it! If you hate chicklit, don’t review it! If you hate thrillers, don’t review ‘em! It’s not brain surgery, folks.

4. The author (often) has little or no control over their cover or title. So picking on these aspects of a novel in the book review isn’t really fair to them—especially if you follow it up by stating you hate all pink covers that look like chick-lit. (See a trend here?)

5. If you’re going to trash an author’s book, at least do it with some comedic flair. Show some originality! Calling someone’s book Oprah’s afterbirth is far superior to calling it a “cliché commentary on the perils of adolescence.” Because, let’s face it, the reviewer’s cliché there was probably worse than anything the author wrote.

I’m sure there are many, many more etiquette tips we could share—feel free to leave some of your ideas in the comments section. And check out the site, if not for just a good dose of schadenfreude.

POP CULTURE RANT: Lost –vs- Fringe

It’s been said before that Lost needs to start selling a companion study guide, equipped with a few chapters on quantum physics, because it can get a bit daunting to follow. (How do people watch this show without DVR? Because I had to rewind Faraday’s theories several times before I got them). But, confusion aside, have you guys noticed a growing trend with time travel themes? Both Lost and Fringe are dipping into this time-honored scifi territory, both with unique twists (Fringe is really based more on an “alternate universe,” but it’s close enough). Now the question is—who explained their crazy plot best? Personally, I preferred Fringe’s “déjà vu” analogy to Lost’s “record skipping” analogy. But hands down, I gotta give it to Hurley’s character for always uttering what we’re all thinking, “Dude, what?”

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Attacking My White Whale…Once More With Feelin’

I think every author has a book tucked under a shelf (or these days, tucked in their hard drive). A book they wrote a while ago—maybe their first novel, maybe their first dip outside their genre, or maybe some unfinished manuscript that lost its plot. It’s our white whale. The book that despite the thick layer of dust on top, still nags at the back of our heads. We must conquer it. Get the torpedo!

My white whale is my first novel—the novel that actually landed me my agent. I love it. She loves it. But frankly, every editor in Manhattan did not love it so much.

So every once in awhile, I go back and take a peek.

Once I added an entirely new family and back story to the main character—equipped a single dad and dead mom (ah, tragic). Once I changed the climax. Once I added in more current technology references. Once I changed all my characters names. The edits go on and on and on.

Currently, I’m changing the voice—making it sound more funny and snarky, rather than sad and lonely. I like it better now. It’s lighter with just a touch of girl-power.

But you may be thinking: it’s been five years woman, get over it! Stop plucking away at that withering, old manuscript! Write a new one already!

Trust me, I have. But there’s still a little piece of my brain that refuses to give up on Libro Numero Uno. The story is good. The characters are good. And based on my recent school visits, the themes are still relatable. Maybe even more so.

And because of that, I have vowed to conquer this manuscript! Regardless of whether every editor in the greater state of New York has previously showered it with rejection letters. Just think of it this way—how often do you get that much professional feedback? And with years of distance behind me, I think I can go at it with fresh eyes and a new found perspective. At least I hope so.

Because, come on. If I don’t believe in my work, who will?

POP CULTURE RANT: Justin Timberlake on SNL

Oh, my God! Did you guys see this? Justin Timberlake has now risen to the ranks of Alec Baldwin in the SNL Guest Host Hall of Fame. He was hysterical. Like, every skit was funny and not just because of the writing, but because of him. He played on old lady, a singing breast implant, and he even revived his notorious R&B singing duo with Adam Samberg. Let’s just say, the sequel to the famous Christmas Present in a Box video is even more inappropriate; but wow, is it funny. Be forewarned, do not watch the below video if you are easily offended.

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Vampires Teeth With Lipstick In GCC Member Lucienne Driver’s New Book

Imagine a fashionista (à la Paris Hilton) gets bitten by the undead and turned into a vampire—Can she still go tanning? How would she do her hair and makeup without the aid of a reflection? And how do you keep your hot boyfriend vampire’s wondering eye from straying to the latest vamp bitten on the block?

All of these questions and more are answered in GCC member Lucienne Driver’s latest book, VAMPED, which just debuted this week through Flux Publishing.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

From “Valley Vamp Rules for Surviving Your Senior Prom” by VAMPED heroine Gina Covello:

Rule #1: Do not get so loaded at the after prom party that you accidentally-on-purpose end up in the broom closet with the surprise hottie of the evening, say the class chess champ who’s somewhere lost his bottle-cap lenses and undergone an extreme makeover, especially if that makeover has anything to do with becoming one of the undead.

Gina Covello has a problem. Waking up a dead is just the beginning. There’s very little she can’t put up with for the sake of eternal youth and beauty. Blood-sucking and pointy stick phobias seem a small price to pay. But she draws the line when local vampire vixen Mellisande gets designs on her hot new boyfriend with his prophecied powers and hatches a plot to turn all of Gina’s fellow students into an undead army to be used to overthrow the vampire council.

Hey, if anyone’s going to create an undead entourage, it should be Gina! Now she must unselfishly save her classmates from fashion disaster and her own fanged fate.

Here’s what Lucienne had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Lucienne: Wow, start with a toughie, why don’t ya? I’m a pretty good secret keeper, except from my husband. It kills me when people say that I can’t tell even him. I have to admit that some of those slip.

I’m the same way. But is telling your husband really breaking the confidence? Who’s he gonna tell?

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?
Lucienne: So many places I’ve been and loved! Heights used to be a stumbling block for me, but I’ve been working on that lately. I’ve now been to the top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland and the rotating restaurant there that was used in a Bond film, climbed all the stairs to the very top of Sacre Coeur in France and even, just this year, become a regular coaster freak. But I think the coolest thing I ever did was go cliff diving in a spot only locals knew about near Lake Champlain that had two different levels of cliffs and falls. That’s where I learned that when diving from a great height you aim out, not down. Down will take care of itself.

I love Paris! Been there twice, but never went up to the Sacre Coeur. Maybe next time.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Lucienne:
You know, I want to believe. It does my heart good to think there might be magic in the world, but up until about a week ago I’d have said I hadn’t seen any evidence. Then one of my authors did a palm reading for me….

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Lucienne: I’ll make it to Sicily some day. My very favorite family story is this…. My great grandparents’ families came from the same teeny tiny town near Palermo, Sicily. Didn’t know each other. They both emigrated all the way to America and ended up next door to each other in the same tenement building in Manhattan. His name was Cosmo. Her name was Cosma. He was a barber and she was an opera singer, one of the early RCA recording artists. They married, and he eventually left his job to take care of the kids and travel with her. This was waaayy before the concept of house husband. Papa was one of the kindest, funniest, oddest men I ever knew. Once, realizing that the cracked wall in the dining room was about the same color as the mashed potatoes he was eating, he tried to spackle the fissure with potatoes. It worked really well for a few days until the spackle turned green and moldy (and stinky!). I could build a whole interview around Papa stories, but no one would ever believe them.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Lucienne:
I was in the airport, flying to New York for a Superbowl celebration with friends. It was terribly frustrating because I wanted to run around and tell everyone I knew but was surrounded by strangers, who just looked at me funny when I whooped and inched away from me. I might have turned cartwheels. Okay, there were definitely cartwheels, but I still say the security guy was way out of line.

Thank you, Lucienne! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Eat, Pray, Write…I’m Joining An Advisory Board with Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m telling you, Philadelphia is turning into the writing Mecca. Not only does Jennifer Weiner live on my block and the Copy Store Man routinely tell me about the amount of local authors Xeroxing manuscripts, but now I’ve been asked to join the Advisory Board of this amazing start-up non-profit that’s opening a writing center for Philadelphia students. And because we have such a plethora of writers living in the area, the board is chocked full of amazing authors including—Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yeah, I’m going to be advising alongside the woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and who spent time on Oprah’s couch. No big deal. (Hence the note of sarcasm.) Seriously, how cool is that?

Elizabeth’s picture with Oprah is Real.

My picture with Oprah is Not.

Now, I’m gonna have to read her book. I previously hadn’t picked it up because I’m happily married and I thought a memoir about a tumultuous divorce might scare the crap out of me (and my husband). But I have traveled to both Rome and Bali, which I hear are heavily featured in the book, so I’m sure I’ll love the parts about the pizza and the luxury resorts (please, tell me she stayed at the Aman Resort in Bali. I fantasize about that place often). So I now have a reason to head over to Head House Books and join the reading masses who have already made the memoir a colossal success. Can’t wait to dive in!

And I can’t wait to work with Elizabeth and all of the other authors, lawyers, educators, nonprofit advocates, marketing specialists and others who will be bringing the Philly Spells Writing Center to Philadelphia. The center will be based on the 826 Valencia model, and is slated to open in Fall 2010.

One of the goals is to expose the city’s kids (ages 6-18) to all facets of the writing world—from novel writing to journalism to song writing to screen writing. Let’s just hope I won’t be teaching kids how to write music. I’m fairly positive I did not retain the sheet-reading music skills I learned while playing the flute in the fourth grade mini-band. But hopefully I will be continuing my Creative Writing Workshops and teaching teens how to outline their stories and pull ideas from their personal histories (we’re all a lot more interesting than we think).

And hopefully we’ll help some kids enter the workforce knowing how to write better than they did before they met us. Hey, maybe they’ll even find writing fun. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

POP CULTURE RANT: Craig’s List Killer

So a week or so after BU’s Men’s Hockey Team wins the National Title, I find out that my alma mater is in the headlines once again—this time for educating a now notorious (alleged) serial killer. Yup, the infamous Craig’s List Killer was a med student at Boston University. Though something tells me BU won’t be sending any alumni emails about this. Seriously though, can you imagine what his fiancé is going through? In the midst of planning your wedding, you find out your groom-to-be (allegedly) murdered women—um, about your age. Talk about dodging a bullet. And do you ever picture yourself buying a sofa from Craig’s List again? I’ve never used the site personally, but I know people who have (mostly to buy furniture). And I can’t say I see myself showing up at some stranger’s house to pick up their old sofa now. If I want to save some cash, I’ll hit the outlets (and protect my life).

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Death by Novel With GCC Member: Linda Gerber

I love a good mystery. I’m even writing one, which makes me even more excited to host fellow GCC member Linda Gerber. Her “Death by” series is tons of fun, action packed, and filled with to-die-for settings (Paris, anyone?).

So if you enjoyed the first two installments in her young adult series—Death by Bikini and Death by Latte—then you’ll love her latest book DEATH BY DENIM, which debuts next month through Penguin Books for Young Readers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Aphra Connolly is being chased by some very dangerous people. She knows her survival depends upon staying far away from love interest Seth, and listening to her mom’s lectures on the finer points of anonymity and survival. But how is a girl supposed to live under the radar and not think about her boyfriend when she’s in Paris—the most romantic city in the world? When her mom’s contact in Paris is found floating in the Seine with a deadly message stuffed in his mouth, Aphra realizes that she will never be able to stop running unless she confronts the situation head-on. Sneaking away from her mom, Aphra tracks down the criminal mastermind in Italy, only to unwittingly reveal Seth’s location. And her mistake has just put them both in mortal danger. . . .

Here’s what Linda had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Linda: I stink at keeping my own secrets – the urge to tell becomes like an obsession until I confide in someone. But I don’t tell other people’s secrets—I unintentionally made that mistake before and hurt someone I cared about, so now I know the value of confidence.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Linda:
I love to travel, too! One of the benefits of living overseas is that we got to travel a lot. We saw so many amazing places that I could never choose one favorite. I absolutely loved exploring Japan while we lived there because it helped me connect to my new home. Kyoto was probably my favorite city there because – to me – it represents the history and culture of Japan. Another sentimental trip for me was going to China with my parents and climbing the Great Wall with my dad, who is blind. And another was going to Scotland for the first time because my family hails from the Clan Colquhoun and it was like discovering a part of myself.

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Linda:
I’ve never been to an “official” psychic, but I used to drive past a psychic’s home every day when I lived in Pasadena. Does that count? I’ve had dreams on my own about things that subsequently happened, though, so the whole concept of precognition fascinates me. In fact, I’m just gearing up to work on the revisions for my YA paranormal (out next year) about trance-writing sisters.

Oooh, trance writing. I’ll have to learn more about that!

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Linda: Genealogy is really big in my family. We’ve traced our ancestors back hundreds of years. As I mentioned before, one line is from Scotland and in our records, Campsie Parish is mentioned again and again. So, when my husband and I visited Scotland last year, we attempted to find Campsie so I could take some pictures and maybe rub a few gravestones – but the navigation system in the rental car didn’t recognize the location. As we were out exploring, we were really excited to find signs directing us to ‘Campsie Glen’ and we thought we were onto something. We followed the signs, driving an hour out of our way to find… a new subdivision going up named Campsie Glen. When we continued north and into the Highlands, though, the connection I felt there more than made up for the disappointment of not finding the real Campsie.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Linda:
I was still living in Japan when this series sold. I had already done two books with Puffin, SASS, NOW AND SEN and SASS, THE FINNISH LINE so I hoped they would be interested in working with me again. I was thrilled when they not only bought the book I had submitted, which became DEATH BY BIKINI, but contracted for three books in a series. The actual receiving of the news, though, was kind of anticlimactic. No exciting call. My (previous) agent emailed the good news to me. And, at the time I found it in my inbox, my husband was away on a business trip, my kids were at school, and it was like three in the morning in the States where my crit partners lived, so I didn’t have anyone around to squeal to. I smiled at my computer screen a lot, though.

Thank you, Linda! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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I Still Have Sand in My Shoes…Oh, Anguilla

I miss Anguilla. I’ve been back from vacation for two days and not only is my heat still on, but it’s raining. There are no waves crashing outside my window. No one is bringing me a continental breakfast to my balcony. There’s not even a marble bathroom! (Insert pity party here.)

But seriously, Anguilla is awesome. If anyone is looking to get away in a matter fitting this description—turquoise water, white sand, palm trees, slushy drinks—I highly recommend it. We saw two weddings while we were there (and we were only there five nights). It’s tropical romance personified.

So now I’m back in Philly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was perfectly happy with Philly before I met Anguilla. I got excited that one day in April where it was warm enough to sit outside here. And we’ve got both the Flyers and the Sixers in the playoffs. That’s something, right?

And let’s face it, perfection can get wearing after awhile. I’m sure if I spent too much time in Anguilla eventually I’d want to go to a movie. Or buy shoes not made of hemp. Or wear black. Or drive on the right side of the road. It would get old. Right? Right?

Anyway, here are some interesting observations to share about the tiny little island of Anguilla.

1. It’s pronounced “Ahn-gwilla” like “Vanilla.” Though the locals put a funky twist on it where the emphasis is on the “Ahn” and not the “gwilla.” So it’s more like “AHN-gwilla.” It took us five days to master that.

2. It costs a $5 tax to get to the country but $20 tax to leave it. See, they want to make it harder for you to leave.

3. The Cuisinart kitchen people own the nicest resort on the island. (Seriously, we stayed there). And they serve breakfast on dishes that aren’t their own. But they grow their own veggies in an onsite hydroponic farm. Yum.

4. You get free sorbet on the beach at 3pm. Who doesn’t love free sorbet?

5. Because the resort’s owned by Cuisinart, which is owned by Conair, you get a hairbrush and hairspray along with your bathroom toiletries. It was a like a wedding basket in there.

6. We couldn’t stop joking about how funny it would be to open the “KitchenAid Resort” next door.

7. Anguilla is a British island, yet everything is paid for in US Dollars. However, they make you drive on the left side of the road just so you don’t forget the Brits own it.

8. You have to go through customs to go from St. Martin to Anguilla—we had to wait in line and everything. It was kinda silly being as though you can throw at stick at the other island.

9. The food is awesome. It’s the best I’ve ever had on an island—mahi-mahi, grouper, snapper, shrimp. Seriously good.

10. Anguilla is the world’s source of Pyrat rum, which is owned by Patrón (you know, the fancy tequila). Nice rum, though my husband says he still prefers the Ron del Barrilito from Puerto Rico.

POP CULTURE RANT: Paper Towns –vs– Hunger Games

So I brought both of these books on vacation. I read Paper Towns first because I thought it would be a little lighter than the doomsday storyline of Hunger Games. But I have to say while I loved the humor in the beginning of Paper Towns, it kinda of lost me in the middle. Maybe because I’m not a Walt Whitman fan (aside from his awesome bridge in Philly) and about 100 pages seemed to be a college term paper dissecting Leaves of Grass line-by-line. Don’t get me wrong, it was good. But I have to say that Hunger Games gave it a smackdown. Once I picked up Hunger Games, I was obsessed—blown away by how twisted and creative it was. And I couldn’t stop picturing the movie. I think Tim Gunn should play Cinna. Just imagine, “Make it work, Tributes!”

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What Judy Blume Means To YA By GCC Member Jennifer O’Connell

I don’t think there’s a YA author out there who doesn’t bow down and worship Judy Blume. She’s our Yoda. (Good writer she is.)

We not only grew up reading her, (I learned everything I needed to know about my period from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—except what a menstrual belt is), but she also paved the way for us all to be writing in this genre today. Let’s face it, the young adult shelves have come a long way, baby. And much of that progress—especially with regards to themes previously labeled “taboo”—is thanks to Ms. Blume.

This is why I’m thrilled to introduce GCC member Jennifer O’Connell whose latest book just came out in trade paperback: EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL, I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME. How true is that title? And the book’s filled with fabulous essays by acclaimed women writers including: Megan Cabot, Megan McCafferty, Cara Lockwood, Melissa Senate, Laura Caldwell, Stacey Ballis, Shanna Swendson, and 17 others.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Whether laughing to tears reading Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great or clamoring for more unmistakable “me too!” moments in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, girls all over the world have been touched by Judy Blume’s poignant coming-of-age stories. Now, in this anthology of essays, twenty-four notable female authors write straight from the heart about the unforgettable novels that left an indelible mark on their childhoods and still influence them today. Drawing on their own experiences of feeling like a Fourth Grade Nothing before growing up to become Smart Women themselves, these writers pay tribute, through their reflections and most cherished memories, to one of the most beloved authors of all time.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jennifer: I am a terrible surprise keeper, but a good secret keeper. I love surprises and I know they make people happy, so I have a hard time keeping a lid on it. But secrets are things people don’t want to share, and telling one only makes you feel better, but not the person whose secret you’re keeping. So I try my best to keep it under wraps.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jennifer:
I love Anguilla, a small island in the Caribbean . I’ve been about six times now. The entire island is less than 40 square miles, very small. The people are so nice, chickens wander around, the beaches are pristine and deserted. The coolest thing I’ve done there is spend the day on an even smaller island just off the coast, a boat dropped us off and left. Just me, my husband and a little tiny shack where they cooked us chicken for lunch and kept the chilled beverages coming. For the entire day. It was the best.

No joke, this is my next vacation. I have the Jimmy Buffett “Live in Anguilla” album and everything. I hope I love it as much as you do, Jen!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jennifer:
I LOVE psychics!!! I’ve been to several (there’s a great place here in Boston called the Tremont Tea Room, very famous for its psychics – you have to check it out if you’re here). In college I went to the Tremont Tea Room and had my tea leaves read. The woman looked at me and said, “Who’s Joe?” I was like, “What??!!” She pointed to the side of the cup where the tea leaves (I swear) spelled out Joe. Well, Joe was my boyfriend at the time. The same psychic said she saw me writing by a large body of water. I wasn’t even an aspiring writer at the time. Ten years later I wrote my first book in Chicago, where I lived beside Lake Michigan. So many things like that have happened when I’ve seen psychics. So much fun.

You know I love me a good psychic story. Now I have another reason to head back up to Boston! (My original psychic prediction was in Salem, by the way.)

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jennifer: Unfortunately, no. My father’s side of the family is Italian, my mother’s Germany. I’d love to go to Italy one day.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jennifer:
This is pretty sad. I completely don’t remember. I was under contract to write other books at the time and was on deadline after deadline. All I could think about was finishing the books I was contracted for—not selling another one!

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

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Wow, It’s a Good Thing Porn is Still Ranked on Amazon

Happy Easter/Passover everyone! And in celebration of the holiest of holidays, we are going to discuss gay porn. Well, not exactly. But I got your attention, right? Truth is, if you hit Twitter on Sunday, you would have noticed a strange tag appearing every other post or so, #amazonfail.

You may have thought, “Hey, what’s that number sign thingie mean?” Well, basically, it’s a way to follow every Tweet with that phrase/tag. And wow, were there a lot of them. Because in the spirit of Easter Sunday religulousness, Amazon has decided to strip the rights of authors whose books touch on themes they deem to have a bit too much of a rainbow tint.


Photo taken in Philly a couple weeks ago

In short, some colossal bonehead over at Amazon (jury’s still out on who the fall guy will be) has decided to no longer allow books featuring “gay themes” to have an Amazon sales rank—thus removing them from best-seller lists and those awesome “people who liked this…” recommendations.

The romance author who broke the scandal, Mark R. Probst, got an Amazon rep to state why his gay novels were stripped of their ranks. According to the email Probst posted, Amazon claims that, “in consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists.”

This led many authors to go, “Omigod, are you serious? Really?” And then we all went and searched, and low and behold, everything from Ellen DeGeneres’