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Three authors discuss writing for children.
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Jump the Shark: A term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality. Origin of this phrase comes from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on water-skis. Thus was labeled the lowest point of the show.
About three years ago, we put up our first post, describing this blog as an experiment. We immediately followed that with a Christmas-themed parody called The Twelve Form Rejections, which we’ve made an annual tradition on this site. Each time we come back to that tradition, it feels like we’ve come full-circle. In fact, we’ve come full-circle three times now, making the Disco Mermaids blog an official three-ring circus.
Like many experiments conducted by mad scientists, the results were beyond our anticipation. Here’s a brief list of things we never expected:
- The Newbery Jewels, our spoof on the Newbery Award’s scrotum controversy regarding The Higher Power of Lucky, led to a vague reference of us in Susan Patron’s Newbery acceptance speech…as well as a not-so-vague e-mail from lawyers for the American Library Association.
- The dePaola Code, our Tomie dePaola meets The DaVinci Code spoof, wound up being featured on Mr. dePaola’s own website.
- Jay was named one of the Hot Men of Children’s Literature even before he sold a book. (Hmm… Was that meant as a spoof, as well?)
- Robin was approached by, and acquired, a literary agent because of the writing style of her posts.
- Eve had a post reprinted in a book about writing.
- Some amazing logos were designed for us (scroll down and watch the right-hand column to see them all).
- We spoke at the national SCBWI conference in a workshop for bloggers, hosted by the always gracious Lisa Yee.
- We found ourselves illustrated in a picture book.
- We shared the joy and tears of selling a first book.
For us, this blog has been a wonderful way to document our struggles and successes as writers, and to meet so many wonderful people (both writers and readers). And while it’s dorsal fin hasn’t appeared yet, we know there’s a shark out there somewhere. So we’ve decided to jump off our water-skis, shake our Mermaid tails, and swim back to shore.
The Disco Mermaid experiment was a definite success.
When we get back to shore, we’re immediately trading our tails in for wings and flying independently into the blogosphere, thus beginning three new experiments. We consider these three new blogs like spin-offs, just like Happy Days spawned Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and…Joanie Loves Chachi?
Robin, Jay, Eve: Not it!
This blog will remain up because we already know we’ll want to come back to it often for nostalgia’s sake. But you can follow us into the future at…
Lots of love,
Your Disco Mermaids
THE TWELVE FORM REJECTIONS
(inspired by The Twelve Days of Christmas)
In my twelfth form rejection, the letter said to me:
regarding (CAPS & BOLDFACE TITLE),
thanks for your submission,
we're so glad you thought of our house,
we're proud of ev'ry book we publish,
see Writer's Market for our guidelines,
due to the number of submissions,
we can't give personal suggestions,
though we strive for quick responses,
after careful consideration,
good luck in the future,
but this story doesn't fit our current needs.
So I cried for just a minute, and then
(surging with ambition)
tucked a self-addressed-stamped-envelope
into my next submission.
It’s been a while since the Reading Bug bit me…and I blame the public library! Until recently, I worked full-time at a library. Surrounded by more books than I could ever read, I regularly took home more books than I could ever read. I’d skim through a few pages of whichever book piqued my interest at that moment, then put it down and maybe pick up another, hardly ever finishing two chapters of any book before it was due back.
Over time, I forgot how wonderful it is to get absolutely lost in a single book!
Now that I’m more selective about which books I begin, I realized the other day that I’m about to finish my third book this month. (I know, some of you read three books in three days. Good for you!) And then I realized, all three of these books are non-fiction titles dealing with authors and why…or how…they write what they write.
Author Unknown: tales of a literary detective by Don Foster makes it clear that “since no two people use language in precisely the same way, our identities are encoded in our own language, in a kind of literary DNA.” Mr. Foster first proved that theory with his work on a newly discovered poem by William Shakespeare…if that is who wrote it! Using the same literary forensics, he made headlines when he unmasked the anonymous writer of Primary Colors. But my favorite chapter deals with the true identity of the man who originally wrote the words ’Twas the night before Christmas… Did Clement C. Moore come up with that poem, as we’ve been told, or was it a man named Major Henry Livingston, Jr.? You absolutely must grab this book for that chapter alone. (Ever heard of Santa’s reindeer, Dunder and Blixem? Probably not. But you should’ve!)
The Man Who Invented Christmas: how Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol rescued his career and revived our holiday spirits by Les Standiford is a great book to pick up for the holidays. Not only does it tell some interesting history about a classic story and the man who wrote it (and there is no doubt that Mr. Dickens wrote it!), it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of how we experience the Christmas season.
Grant and Twain: the story of a friendship that changed America by Mark Perry was not one I expected to enjoy, but I’m over halfway through it and I’m trying to slow down my reading (yes, even slower than it already is!) so I can enjoy it for a few days more. It’s a book about history, literature, and the friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Twain influenced Grant to write his memoirs before he lost his fight with cancer. Those memoirs are now considered classics of American non-fiction. At the same time, Twain was trying to figure out what should happen in the last half of his book about a boy named Huck.
So what do I plan to read next? Well, for Christmas I asked someone to get me The Annotated Christmas Carol so I can dig even deeper into that book. And I just bought the personal memoirs of U.S. Grant, which is over a thousand pages long…so I think I’m set for a while.
Today we had our annual Children’s Writers Holiday Luncheon and book exchange. It’s always a blast to catch up with our local writer friends and then watch their mouths drop when you steal a book from them during the gift exchange. Ha! Just trying to keep it interesting, y’all!
Last year, I walked away with my own copy of Twilight. Which turned out to be a new favorite of mine. So I’m hoping this year’s book will turn out to be another.
I have (ahem, stole…sorry, Yvonne!) a copy of What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell. Just the cover art and back flap got me excited to read it. Here’s a review from Publisher’s Weekly. Anyone else hearing buzz about this book? Can’t wait to dig in!
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Blundell, author of Star Wars novelizations, turns out a taut, noirish mystery/coming-of-age story set in 1947; it's easy to picture it as a film starring Lana Turner, who is mentioned in these pages. When first met, 15-year-old Evie and her best friend are buying chocolate cigarettes to practice smoking. Evie sheds that innocence on a trip to Florida, where her stepfather, Joe, back from the war in Europe, abruptly takes her and her beautiful mother, Beverly, and where Evie falls in love with glamorous Peter, an army buddy whom Joe is none too happy to see. But after a boating accident results in a suspicious death and an inquest, Evie is forced to revisit her romance with Peter and her relationships with Joe and her mother, and to consider that her assumptions about all three may have been wrong from the beginning. Blundell throws Evie's inexperience into high relief with slangy, retro dialogue: Peter calls Evie pussycat ; Beverly says her first husband kicked through love like it was dust and he kept on walking. Readers can taste Evie's alienation and her yearning; it's a stylish, addictive brew. --Publisher's Weekly
The question I get asked most often these days by non-writers is "How did Stephanie Meyer do it?" Of course, if I knew the key to exactly why Twilight became such an epic phenomenon, I'd be Stephanie Meyer-rich by now. But I do have my theory. I saw Bruce Coville give a speech once on why Harry Potter became Harry Potter, and his thoughts were brilliant. It was something like: orphan+average boy+magic+fantasy world+adventure+world is at stake = winner.
I cannot claim to have the brilliance of Bruce Coville, but I can jot down my ideas on this here blog and see if anybody agrees with me!
First, Twilight is the classic "longing for the love that can never be," but with a genius twist. The love could easily be changed into eternal love by only one method...killing Edward's one true love and turning her into a monster. The same monster Edward has been hating in himself for 100 years! So we, the audience, want them to be together so badly, but experience constant conflict and tension because we know what it would take.
Second, Edward is perfection personified. He is smart, worldly, musical, athletic, sensitive, mysterious, funny, protective, loyal, generous, a little dangerous and it-almost-hurts-to-look-at-him gorgeous. Girls want to marry him. Boys want to be him. He's the ultimate. Who wouldn't want to spend a few hours with the world's most awesome guy? Of course, he is anything but boring because he also has the biggest flaw in the universe...he's an undead murderer and deep down he yearns to kill you!
Third, Bella is the every-girl. Truly, there is nothing extraordinary about her. She is plain looking (at least in the book), not athletic, nice enough, of normal intelligence. She is so very average. She could be us. We could be her! So, we the readers can easily put ourselves in her shoes and "live" Bella's story. Which means we, too, could capture Edward's heart!
Take the perfect guy, the normal, average girl, the impossible love story, combine with a little magic and fantasy, toss in a tiny bit of violence and adventure, but keep everything "real" in terms of high school issues, friendships and hardships, and you've got yourself a winner.
I think the most appealing thing about Twilight is that it taps into our romantic ideal of true love. I don't care who you are, if you have two X chromosomes, you've fantasized about that one perfect soul mate at some point in your development. And in our dreams, that one perfect soul mate loves us unconditionally. He would do anything to keep us safe and make us feel loved and happy. He is gorgeous inside and out. He has nothing but interesting thoughts and hobbies and things to chat about. He listens to us. And he truly believes that we are the best thing that has ever happened to him. Oh, if only we could be that lucky!
Yep, I totally get why Twilight is such a phenomenon. Just wish I had the brains to concoct the new recipe for the next big thing!
This past week, two posts from my past (PFMPs) were brought back to life. And while both situations were good, let this serve as a reminder that blog posts are forever. (Or at least until you delete them. But even then…)
PFMP #1: Razorbill asked if I would give an author blurb for the paperback version of Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait! As you may remember, I love that book. In fact, all three Mermaids love that book. And last August, we wanted the world to know it! But we didn’t want to break our no-book-review status, so we decided to each give Audrey a few blurbs. (Y’know, pretending like we’d actually been asked.)
But Razorbill didn’t want me to write a new blurb, they wanted to use one of the blurbs I’d already written. Now, writing blurbs is very hard. You’re trying to convince someone, with as few words as possible, that they should spend some quality time reading this thing. You’re also trying to make the author feel really good because you, as another author, appreciate what they accomplished. Diff-i-cult!
Thankfully, that PFMP saved me several hours this week.
PFMP #2: Thirteen Reasons Why made this week’s Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers list. Aside from just listing the top fifteen bestsellers, PW also picks a few of the books to highlight with a little extra wordage and a photo. This time, they chose The Maze of Bones (in The 39 Clues series), The Book Thief, and Thirteen Reasons Why. In their report on my book, they included a line from my two-year-and-two-month old post where I described speaking on the phone with the three editors interested in my novel. “I came away with the impression that children’s book editors are some of the coolest people in the world.”
The coolest? In the world? Yes, I still believe that. But if I knew PW was only going to use that one sentence, I probably would’ve spent a little more time crafting it. I mean, is that the best I could come up with? The coolest people in the world??? It sounds like when I was eight and used to say, “Pizza is my most favoritest thing on the entire planet!”
Well, I guess I’ll forgive myself. It was only the most awesome day. Of. My. LIFE!!!
From Publisher's Weekly:Add a Comment
On the blog he shares with two other writers, Jay Asher posted a blow-by-blow account of the auction for his first novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. He said he found the process nervewracking but exhilerating. Three houses were in the running, and he spoke with all three interested editors by phone. "I came away with the impression that children's book editors are some of the coolest people in the world," he said. Razorbill won the auction, and Thirteen Reasons Why came out in October 2007. The book--which covers the issue of teen bullying and suicide--is still selling very strongly; 200,000 copies are now in print. Asher is at work on his second novel, also for Razorbill.
Yep, it’s that time again. Time for mistletoe and holly and candy canes. But when you’re a parent, it’s also time for…the questions.
Usually the questions come in groups of two or three and the answers are simple and we can move on quickly to eating our candy canes. But this year, my son is six-and-a-half, so the questions came fast and furious. And I was completely unprepared…
• Will Santa visit our house this year?
• And Uncle Buddy’s house, too?
• Even Georgia?
• How does he visit everyone’s house in one night?
• Is he magic?
• Was he always magic?
• Was he born magic?
• Does Santa have a mommy and a daddy?
• Does Santa have brothers and sisters?
• Is Santa married?
• Do they have kids?
• Why not?
• Why don’t they just have their own kids?
• Was Santa born from his mommy’s tummy?
• Right after Santa was born from his mommy’s tummy, what did she do?
• But why?
• But…but why do we need to go to church more often now?
• Can I have some juice?
So I feel bad saying this, but I’m a little concerned about Easter now. (And if anyone out there knows what Santa’s mommy did right after he was born from her tummy, please let me know. I’m at a loss here!!!)
Our blog has been getting a lot of new visitors recently. Many of you are finding us through the recently updated Thirteen Reasons Why website. Now, before you go scrolling and clicking around…be careful. If you don’t pay attention, you might leave here thinking Jay has a severe multiple-personality disorder. And that’s not true. At least, it hasn’t been confirmed. There are two other authors (hopefully, soon-to-be-published authors) blogging on this site with Jay. Robin and Eve! So check 'em out while you're here.
And for those of you who stumbled upon us while looking for info on a li’l something going on in Iowa…welcome! It's come to our attention that the newspaper made things out to be a little calmer than they actually were. So we wanted to take a moment and say thank you to the students, teachers, and librarians who stood up to defend something much more important than this one book. As well, thank you for taking the time to remind people about context. Context is fairly important. Oddly enough, this ruckus caused so many people in Des Moines to buy Thirteen Reasons Why, it helped raise the book another notch to number 9 on the New York Times bestsellers list. So thanks for that, too!
It's all about timing.
My chin has been covered up by either a goatee or a beard for nine years and I was beginning to miss that patch o' skin. But when you're an obsessive person, you think about way too many details before you do anything drastic. For example, what if I make a book-related appearance and no one recognizes me because I don't look like my author photo? (I know, I know, it's just a few square-inches of hair. It's not like I used a photo from twenty years ago...like some people!) Or what if eight years without sunlight makes it look like I painted my chin with Wite-Out?
So I put it off till there was a big gap between scheduled book events.
A couple Sundays ago, I sat on a panel with author Ron Koertge to discuss intellectual freedom and censorship in front of an audience of California teachers and librarians. The basic idea we were trying to get across is that censorship $%@&in' sucks! The next day I did my second book signing at Vroman's Bookstore. But this time, I teamed up with Jordanna Fraiberg, a fellow Razorbill author. Her debut teen novel, In Your Room, is a very fun and well-written love story that you absolutely must check out. For more info and pics of that event (including the last known photo of my pre-exposed chin), check out the blogs of Paula Yoo and Lisa Yee.
With those two bookish events concluded, my calendar was free till the end of January...which is plenty of time to cover my chin again if needed.
So my only other concern before shaving was whether or not the color of my chin would match the skin nearby it. And since the vampire look is in right now, no one seemed to notice when I let my never-very-present-anyway tan fade away from the rest of my face.
So out came the clippers and the razor.
And now, introducing, for the first time in nearly a decade...my chin!
This Thanksgiving I put my vegan ways behind me for a day and chowed down on some turkey. I know…shame, shame. And the turkeys thought they’d be safe from me this year. Nope! They get as nervous around me as they do just before a Sarah Palin interview.
Mom and I cooked up dinner for ten and all I kept thinking was, “Please, please let there be enough chairs.” To accommodate, my mom sat in my faux leather computer chair (I even let her adjust the height).
While we cooked, my son took on the job of decorating the table with anything he could find in the driveway. Turned out kinda cute!
Then I helped my son scoop up some of that previously nervous turkey. But by this point the turkey was very calm. (Oh, and dead.)
In the kitchen with Mom. Love her!
And here’s our annual Thanksgiving family portrait and, as usual, it’s without my husband since he’s always on the other side of the camera.
Hope you all had a turkey-filled thanksgiving. I’m now back to a life of lentils and tofu. Can’t wait till next year!
Wait…isn’t Christmas supposed to be a time to celebrate the wonders of ham!?
- Robin Add a Comment
The other day I read a funny article by Stephen King where he described all the things he was and was not thankful for this last year. It got me thinking about my "Thankful For" and "Not Thankful For" lists I've had over the years.
When my sister and I were kids, our family spent every Thanksgiving with the "Sycamore Street" neighbors. We were lucky to have a block full of kids my age and young parents who were all best friends. Every year, after hopping through potato sack races and watching the Twilight Zone marathon and overdosing on Tryptophan, we'd go around the table and discuss what we were each thankful for. When I was 4 years old, I chatted nonstop about how thankful I was for my big wheel. When I turned 13, I gave thanks for Duran Duran. At age 18, I was thankful for light beer and all-you-can-eat dorm food.
As my sister and I sit here this Thanksgiving week and reminisce about all the holidays past and thanks we've given, we marvel at how much we have to be thankful for now that we're all grown up.
Amy and I agree that this year we are very thankful for:
our wonderful family
eternal support of the Disco Mermaids
frequent flyer miles
plumping lip gloss
Dave Eggers books
Judd Apatow movies
heated car seats
Things we are not particularly thankful for:
that bailiff dude who thinks Amy looks like Celine Dion
Tonight when we asked my 9-year-old nephew what he is thankful for, he had to think for a long time. Finally, J.B. decided he is thankful for:
He added, "That pretty much covers everything!" Then he said, "But you should know I am not thankful for shots, needles, or leeches!"
For the most part I agreed with him. Until I remembered that shots, needles, and leeches are the exact things that enable Demi Moore to defy the aging process. I think I'll add those three to my "Thankful For" list.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY!!
Wow! I loved the movie even more than I had expected to (Edward Cullen is the hottest thing I've ever seen onscreen). Most people believe books are better than their movies. However, I usually have the opposite feeling. I'm a very visual person with a short attention span, so watching the story unfold onscreen in front of me often makes for more satisfying entertainment (and watching Robert Pattinson saunter his sexy self around for two hours makes for a lovely afternoon).
The movie did leave out a lot of scenes and became sort of a glossed over, Reader's Digest version of the novel. But if the movie-makers had crammed all 498 pages into a film, it would end up being 6 hours long (although, now that I think on it, 6 hours of staring at that perfect pale face and those luscious lips couldn't be all that bad).
The coolest thing to me was how well the characters were cast. Everyone looked almost exactly how I had pictured him/her. And, although Kristen Stewart was a little bland as Bella, she did capture her 16-year-old insecure yet idealistic persona. The acting was great. Not too melodramatic, but not too mellow either. The setting was perfect. And, yes, the "romantic tension" between Bella and Edward was palpable and anxiety provoking. Funny...I just realized that they only kissed one time onscreen. Amazing how the tiniest moments and slightest touches can be so romantic. I have to add that Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen was the most beautiful work of art I've seen onscreen since Brad Pitt trotted his way through Legends of the Fall. And did I mention how gorgeous Edward Cullen was?
Huge thumbs up for me!
I liked the movie. I did. I had a bit of a different reaction from Eve, in that I came away thinking, "Wow. The book was sooo much better." Which is a good thing. It tells me the book was more in-depth and I had a more emotional connection with the words than with the visuals. That's pretty cool! (I had the same reaction to The Prince of Tides.)
I would have to say there are things I wanted *more* of and things I wanted *less* of...
I wanted more of Bella's inner-thoughts so we could understand her motivations more.
I wanted less make-up. I mean, sheesh, just make them regular pale...not E.T.-dying-in-the-river pale. And not all of the family members were made up like that. Only Edward, Jasper, and Mr. Cullen. The others all looked normal. Weird!
I wanted more music. I heard the soundtrack rocks and I wish I had heard more.
I wanted less of Jay saying, "What!?!?" every time Eve and I squirmed when Edward came onscreen. Really, Jay. Just give us our girl-time!
I wanted more of Mr. Cullen's back-story. I found that part fascinating in the book--why he is the way he is and how they came to be a family of "vegetarian" vampires. And how he is a doctor and why he chooses to be one. I thought that was one of the best parts of the book.
I wanted more of Bella and Edward. Can you believe that!? I don't think they could've actually shot more scenes with them, but their relationship was so dripping with emotion and, you know...lust…that it was so much fun to watch.
And my only regret? Not seeing the midnight showing. (Sorry, Jay!) We saw it in the middle of the day on a school day and there were no teenagers in the crowd. It was a quiet group. I really wish I could've heard a bunch of girls swooning at all the right spots. Because that's what Twilight is all about...swooning and all-around fun.
I give it 3 out of 5 fangs, baby!
It’s funny how we all had different experiences at the same movie. Sitting by Robin and Eve, it sounded like the audience was packed with swooning girls. Packed! Of the three Mermaids, I think I was the only one who touched my popcorn. But I suppose it is hard to chew when your jaw is permanently dropped to the floor.
Okay, here are a couple changes made in the book-to-screen adaptation which drove me batty (tee-hee):
When Bella left the hotel and raced to the dance studio, my storyteller-brain nearly imploded at the lack of character motivation. Having read the book, I knew why she did that. But in the movie, she might as well have looked at the audience and said, “I have a sudden craving to do something really dangerous. Wanna watch?”
In the book, I loved the detail of the bad vampires first appearing as incognito backpackers coming out of the woods. In the movie, they were slo-mo Abercrombie & Fitch models (who happened to appear onscreen as Robin and Eve were just about to taste their first handfuls of popcorn).
But there were plenty lot of changes I loved, as well. Why simply run through the forest at breakneck speed when you can climb to the tops of the trees? It’s beautiful…and so cinematic…up there. Since Edward’s been a music lover for the past hundred years, his music collection should reflect that. In the book, he has a wall of C.D.s. In the movie, he also has vinyl records and 8-track tapes! Oh, and then there was that art piece made up of their collected graduation caps. Hilarious!
And then there’s my favorite change of all. In the book, when Bella first sits beside Edward in Biology, he seems like a barely contained ball of rage. But the movie takes a more creative approach and expands that scene. A book-reader knows the powerful thoughts ravaging Edward’s mind when she approaches, but to Bella, it appears less like rage and more like the mere sight of her is about to make him vomit. At that early point in the movie I thought to myself, that Robert Pattinson guy can act. That’s right. Act!
But you know who’s really hot? Ashley Greene, who played Alice Cullen. Unfortunately, whenever I did the masculine-swoon thing and shared my vampire crush, Robin and Eve shushed me and told me to eat my popcorn. Gotta love being a Mermaid!
If The Count from Sesame Street used decimal points, I'd give this movie "One. Two. Three-point-five out of five bats. Ah, ah, ahhhh!"
It takes me forever to finish reading a book. My word-speed isn’t necessarily slow, I just have a short attention span. Rarely do I flip through more than one chapter per sitting. And then, who knows when I’ll pick it back up again!
For my birthday last September, Robin gave me a copy of Twilight. My goal was to finish the book before the movie came out. As you know, most theaters scheduled midnight showings for its release…which happens to coincide with this blog post going up. And I did it! I finished the book early! (Thirteen hours early, if you wanna know.)
So I called Robin and said, “I did it! We can see the movie tonight!”
And Robin said, “I’m not going to a midnight show.”
“What? That’s the whole reason I read it so fast.”
“Jay, I gave you that book in September.”
So Robin, Eve, and I will more than likely attend the 1:20pm show. (That, I wanna tell you, is thirteen hours later than a true Twilighter should be seeing it.) And I can’t wait! I completely understand why the book became the phenomenon it did, even if Edward doesn’t make me swoon.
If anyone’s looking to buy me a Christmas gift, mark me down for a copy of the Twilight sequel, New Moon. But does anyone know when that movie’s supposed to come out? Because my goal is to finish the book first…with hours to spare.
P.S. Robin, I’m not really that mad that we missed the midnight show. But…ahem…I won’t be upset if you offer to buy the popcorn.
I’ve been trying to get back into the edits on my middle grade book, The Happiness Project, but it’s hard to let something sit for a while and then pick it up cold. Whenever I open the manuscript, I stare at the screen, unable to make changes…fearful any word I write will ruin it forever. So I’ve been doing a lot of staring lately.
I had this problem once before when I was trying to make edits on my first middle grade book, Dude, Where’s My Locker? The manuscript had been in the hands of an editor for a while, and when I tried to make the changes she had suggested, I totally froze. I couldn’t write a word! For some reason, I wasn’t able to get into the character’s voice, couldn’t figure out what he’d do next, couldn’t put him in dangerous situations because I didn’t know how he’d react.
So to break myself out of my writer’s block, I started writing a fake sequel to the book. I knew it wasn’t really going to get published, so I felt free to explore situations and play around with the character’s voice. Usually I wrote short stories, kind of like blog posts, and I was finally able to “hear” my character’s voice again. The title of my fake sequel? Dude, What’s That Smell? I wrote a lot of scenes about the lunchroom. Of course it will never get published…and that’s what made all the difference. It allowed me to warm-up until I was ready to get back to the real deal.
So I may need to take this approach again with The Happiness Project. Which means I need a fake title to my fake sequel. How about…
The Somewhat-Depressed-Sure-Could-Use-A-Reese’s Project
The Frustrated-By-People-Who-Don’t-Use-Blinkers Project
The I-Have-To-Admit-I-Have-A-Crush-On-Anderson-Cooper Project
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Any other suggestions?
I've always said that if I ever ran for President, my slogan would be "Can't we all just get along?" (Yes, I did just quote Rodney King.) Upon my inauguration I would declare, "Everybody be nice to everybody, starting now."
Some would call me naive, and some would call me stupid, and most would never vote for me in a million years. But, it's nice to know that somebody out there feels me on this. I read a blog post today by Laini Taylor over at Grow Wings that really touched me. Like, even made me tear up. And, anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows full well that I never cry. Sometimes I wonder if I have tear ducts. Anyway, you'll have to read her post yourself because I could never in a million years articulate with such eloquence my beliefs on the state of the world like the magnificent Laini does.
Yes, you will notice that in this post I'm referring you to her post where she mentions my previous post...it's like a never ending house of mirrors! But, Laini really got me thinking (as she always does) about my core beliefs on humanity. Not sure if it's because of the historic election year, or my intense writing of book #2 or my experiences teaching the incarcerated kids, but for some reason, I'm full of deep thoughts lately on how to make the world a better place.
I'm a walking cliche, I realize that. "La-la-la...love makes the world go 'round, blah, blah, blah..." But, ignore my naivete for a moment and hear me out.
Last Saturday I had one of those "aha" epiphany moments. A "Holy crap, that's the key to happiness!" realization. Want to know where I had this brilliant hit-me-like-a-ton-of-bricks thought?
Ironically, I was in jail. Teacher Johnny K was nice enough to turn his older girls' class over to me for a morning, so I could get a feel for teaching girls, which I'd never done. I have to admit, I did prejudge. I won't lie. I was scared. I'd heard things about these girls. Unflattering things. Frightening things. As open-minded as I claim to be, when I'd heard about their alleged crimes, I pictured them stabbing me in the neck with a pencil, tying me up with their socks and holding me hostage under the table while they terrorized the compound, then escaped into the Sylmar hills. Don't get me wrong, I didn't obsess over it. It was a fleeting thought. But, still, I had it. Hey, give me a break...I've watched way too many of those World's Scariest Jail Stories! shows.
Here's the twist. Not only would I never in a million years have guessed any of these girls was capable of breaking a law, let alone murdering someone. I witnessed a fascinating camaraderie I haven't witnessed before. Anywhere. It was touching to watch the girls comfort each other, wipe away each other's tears, share pictures and stories about their babies back home, comb each other's hair, and protect each other from sadness and harm. One girl brought in a fruit roll-up she'd received in a care package. She immediately shredded it into equal pieces for everybody.
They are strangers. They have not known each other for long. But they are a family. They are generous. They listen to one another. They are open-minded and accepting of each other's differences, including gang affiliations and sexual orientation (hear that Prop 8 people??). They have realized that they need each other to survive. It is a very communal feeling. Not at all like the jail shows depict it. Now, maybe the bonding of this lovely group of girls is a fluke. Maybe it was all for show. Maybe they'll go back to their cells and carve shanks out of their notebook paper. But, I'll never believe that.
When I asked at the end of class how they could all remain so nice to each other in such crappy circumstances, they said, "Because we are sisters. We're all we got." I swear that three hour class was a whole book in itself. And a clear affirmation that humans can be good to one another, no matter what they've done in the past. And, again, call me simple minded, but I have to believe that if every human shared just a sliver of generosity and compassion toward a stranger every single day, we'd create the perfect world that Laini and I dream of.
I think I've got book #3 figured out just in the course of writing this post. Amazing what blogging can do!
Thanks for listening...
I’m doing a little experiment. It’s one of those experiments more accurately described as just an excuse to do something I want to do.
While I still love the coffee shop I do most of my writing in, I’ve decided to occasionally change my scenery. New scenery means new people which means new oddballs to observe. And oddballs are great for sparking ideas.
So yesterday I drove down to Santa Barbara, a beautiful beach town a little over an hour from my house. I was there from nine in the morning till about six at night. Other than a random shift of gravity which forced me into a movie theater (taking ninety-nine hilarious minutes to get out of), I spent most of my day in a new bookstore/coffeeshop. Being surrounded by the newness rejuvenated something in me. My creativity seemed fresher. My writing seemed fresher. I just might even smell fresher!
It was also Farmer’s Market in Santa Barbara, which is always a great place to people watch and look for future literary characters. As usual, there were a lot of street-side performers (mostly playing Beatles tunes). The only musician who was potentially book-worthy was a boy around twelve-years-old playing an acoustic guitar and singing. I’d never seen someone that young play at a farmer’s market by himself, which made the writer in my brain scribble down some notes for later use.
But the only oddballs I saw who might make it into my next novel were downstairs at Borders. One male and one female, they were in the children’s section…but they weren’t children. They could’ve been college-age, and they were laughing hysterically, using the picturebook reading area to wrestle. She was trying to prove she could pin him and he was trying to prove he could deflect her best moves without breaking a sweat. It looked like a ton o’ fun, which meant some poor employee was going to be asked to break them up. But that wrestling match (with their ages slightly deflated) just might find itself in my next teen novel.
The experiment is working!
I recently turned in my completed manuscript to my agent and thought to myself, “Hooray! I’m done! It’s totally, utterly perfect! Time to break out the Kit-Kats!”
Did I mention my delusional nature? Yeah…I can convince myself of anything.
My agent wrote me a long email (correction: long, long, long email) outlining what she loved and what she thought needed more work. The book is coming along, but it’s back to work for me!
I found myself reading her email several times. One, because I have comprehension problems. And two, because she said some amazing things in that email that I think will help not only my story but any writer’s story. They were little nuggets of brilliance that had me banging my head on the table many times. (The last head bang kinda hurt.)
Here are a couple of things she said that I loved. And she’s gonna hate me for putting a spotlight on her. She’s kinda the David Plouffe of the writing world...the one behind the curtain running an amazing campaign. So instead of telling you that her name is Erin Murphy, I will instead refer to her as Agent X (the X stands for “awesome”).
“The difficult but important thing is for readers to feel two contradictory things—that you can’t possibly sustain all this juggling, and that you are in absolute control all the time.”--Agent X
“But of course that means that we need to understand what that closest-to-her-heart thing is. And that has to underpin everything, be the thing she checks all her impulses against, the thing that allows her to step out of her comfort zone and makes her continue to take on more and more problems, upping the ante all the way—because the stakes at the heart of it all are high for her emotionally.”--Agent X
While Agent X is busy at being brilliant and awesome, little ol’ me will be busy getting back to work. See ya’ll later!
Last week, I got an e-mail from someone working on one of the foreign translations of Thirteen Reasons Why. He needed a few things clarified to help with his translation because his job isn’t simply to swap one word for another, but to interpret each word for another language. His job is to make my story make sense. And some of his questions fascinated me!
Here are some examples:
What does "Boy Scout" mean in this context: "my tongue twisted into knots even a Boy Scout would walk away from"? (p.17)I gave him a fairly detailed answer to that question. How he’s going to whittle my answer into a few simple words to convey context, I have no idea (which is why I never did well in my foreign language classes).
On page 57, Ms. Antilly says "Or... not." Does this mean "Maybe it was not a good idea to introduce you two to become buddies"?One thing I am excessively conscious about is slang. Pop culture and slang will age a novel like nothing else. Unless a novel is meant to be timefull (which is my made-up opposite for timeless), most pop culture and slang can be deleted without being missed. “Or…not” was said with a little sarcasm in my book, making it a tad slangy...and making the translator earn his pay.
On page 59...Ah, yes. Something was found in translation, as well. Because a translator can’t take any word for granted, they need to pay special attention to everything. And sometimes they can catch little inconsistencies no one else has caught. (Yes, I already contacted my editor and said, “How did we miss this???”)
Then, on page 194...
On page 283, it says "Class of '93". Just out of curiosity, is there some special meaning in the year 1993?It's extremely cool to know that the person working on the translation also enjoyed the book. Can you imagine if the translator hated the book? Yikes! So it meant a lot to me that there were details he wanted to know just out of curiosity. And in case any of you are suddenly curious, 1993 is when I graduated from high school.
P.S. Speaking of graduating from high school, the list of people taking the challenge of sharing their senior photos is still growing. Did you show us yours? Add a Comment
I wanna rock!
Okay, I stole that line from an 80's hair band (Twisted Sister, maybe?? Man, I'm old...).
In chatting with my writer friend Christy Raedeke today, I got to seriously thinking about what I really want to do with my life. My writing life, that is. Christy recently landed a fantastic 2-book deal with a fantastic editor at a fantastic publishing house. When I hear news like this my immediate response is always pure excitement for my deserving friend, and then fantasies about what that day will feel like for me when I finally get "the call".
Usually those fantasies begin and end with me getting the contract, throwing a launch party on P. Diddy's yacht, and sipping champagne with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I've never really thought too far beyond that. But, today, I started really thinking about who I want to be as a writer. Some types I'm considering:
The J.D. Salinger: reclusive, mysterious, one-classic-wonder
The Ellen Hopkins: passionate edgy genre master
The Gordon Korman: flawless genre-jumper
The Dave Eggers: independent, shuns money and media, writes only what he loves
The Jodi Piccult: prolific, "issue-oriented"
The John Grisham: perpetual bestseller, unable to write a flop
The Nicholas Sparks: love, love, love, sap, sap, sap, but in a good way
The Cormack McCarthy: Downer-Debbie, and a bit disturbed, but a genius!
The Greg Trine: funny, funny, lighthearted, and always funny
The John Green: award winner
The Stephanie Meyer: dazzling storyteller, "gets" teens
The Earnest Hemingway: massively influential writing style, wrote "autobiographically"
The Harper Lee: one brilliant piece of work was enough!
The Bruce Coville: creative, hilarious, humble, master entertainer, loves his job
The Jerry Spinelli: champion of the underdog kid
The Walter Dean Myers: tireless researcher, tackles tough subjects regardless of commercial appeal
The JK Rowling: no explanation necessary
It's hard to pin down which type of writing career would make me the happiest. Bottom line is that I want to write good, meaningful, entertaining, fascinating, brilliant, bestselling books that don't cave to trends, yet will speak to youth of today and youth 100 years from now. I'm thinking some kind of
SalHopKorEggPicGrishSparkMcTrineGreeMeyHemLeeCovSpinWDMRow combo might work for me.
I'm curious, though. Do any of our other writer friends out there have an ideal writer type you shoot for? And does anyone aspire to be The Valerie Bertinelli or the Pamela Anderson? Just wondering.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
I’m hoping it will be a happy Halloween for me this year. I’ve been awfully sick this week with the cold/flu/plague thing I seem to get every Fall, which means I was unable to participate in the family Halloween preparations. My husband and son went to the pumpkin patch, decorated the house, and carved the pumpkins without me. Waaaaahhh! I love doing that stuff! But I’m hoping I’ll be better by tonight so I can take my son trick-or-treating…the best part of Halloween.
Every year we buy a pumpkin for each of us: a Mommy pumpkin, a Daddy pumpkin, and a Big Kid pumpkin (he no longer lets me say words like “baby”). And we each get to choose the type of face to carve on our own pumpkins. But like I said, I was sick and missed the pumpkin carving—I was too busy lying in bed, sneezing and coughing and yelling at the pundits on CNN.
My hubby and son decided they would carve my pumpkin for me, and they asked what I’d like. But I was moany and groany and said, “I don’t care. Whatever you want to carve.” So my son said he would make sure it was something that would make me feel better.
I went back to sneezing and yelling at the pundits, and a little while later, the boys called me into the living room. The room was completely dark and all I could see was my glowing pumpkin.
And my boy was right. I felt a lot better!
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’Twas the day before Halloween,
and all through the library…
Okay, I can’t think of a decent rhyme for library, so I’ll save you the eye-roll and just get to the point. Last Thursday was my final day working at the public library, and my co-workers put together a delicious potluck for my going-away party. So while the day felt bittersweet, it tasted like frosting and quiche.
I bequeathed a couple of my toys which had been put to great use over the past five years. I gave my pigapult (it’s like a catapult, but flings tiny plastic piggies) to Marci, my boss. But to keep the peace in my absence, I gave the piggies to Diana. I gave Mr. Peabody, who can shoot a stream of "water" up to ten feet, to JoAnn (for the past few years, her desk was well within Mr. Peabody's reach).
I received a few parting gifts, as well…including a pair of shiny red boxers. (Don't ask.) And when Halloween rolled around the next day, those boxers made a great addition to my costume. Thanks, Barry!
That night, my wife and I had a Halloween get-together at our house. While I was organizing the photos for this post, I realized that most of you have never seen a picture of my brother. So here’s Nate (do you notice the resemblance?), along with his girlfriend, Sarah (Moaning Myrtle!).
I had no idea what my wife was dressing up as. So when she came downstairs dressed as Hannah Baker (from Thirteen Reasons Why), I freaked out. Freaked! Out!!! How often do authors get to hang out with their characters?
Overall, we didn’t have as many trick-or-treaters this year, but we did have more teenagers. At one point, a group of three girls were at the door. My wife and I were letting them pick their favorites from the candy bowl. As they turned to leave, and we began shutting the door, one girl whispered something to her friend.
TEEN: She looked just like that girl from that book.
ME: Wait, what was that?
TEEN (turning back around): What was what?
ME: You said something about a book.
TEEN: She’s dressed like someone in a book I'm reading.
ME: Really? Really??? What book?
TEEN: Thirteen Rea—
ME: She is! That’s who she is! She’s Hannah Baker!
TEEN (to my wife): You read that book?
ME: I wrote that book!!!
TEEN (looking my costume up and down): You? You did?
...anyone doing anything important today?
Important things we've been doing:Add a Comment
Jay Asher - voted at 7:30 a.m.
Robin Mellom - voted at 8:55 a.m.
Eve Porinchak - voted at 4:00 p.m.
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Lately I’ve been visiting Creative Writing classes in the L.A. juvenile jails as part of my teacher training. I wrote about my first visit here, and every minute I’ve spent in the jail since, I’ve learned something completely unexpected. Needless to say, this teaching position will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
When I tell people about this new job, the most frequently asked question is:
Aren’t you scared?
All I can say is that I am way more afraid of the mountain lion that lurks in the hills behind my house, and the pit bull down the street than I am of these kids.
To me, incarcerated kids are not scary. Here is what they are:
They are appreciative.
Thankful for the few things they have left, like family (if they have any), friends (if they have any), shelter, food, and outsiders who brave the halls of the pokey to mentor and listen to them.
They are curious.
They want to know what I drive, what kind of kid I was, about the books I write, what music I like, if I want to hear the song they wrote, if I like baseball, if my hair is real, why I dress the way I do, why I like the color pink so much, if I like their tatts, why I have no tatts.
They are lovers of reading and writing.
The other night, I sat in a cramped room with 12 alleged murderers; it was two of the most fascinating hours of my adult life. We didn’t talk about murder or gangs or “the outs.” We talked about…books! They crave books more than any other luxury item. More than candy or photos or soap or socks. For them, books are an escape, books are entertainment, books are education and wisdom. Even though many of them can hardly read fluently, they want books. Any books, all books, picture books, girly books, Dan Brown books. This surprised me…have to admit that my little closed mind assumed kid-thugs would find books boring. Boy, did they school me on that one! Writing is many things to them: therapeutic, entertaining, exciting, enlightening, hopeful, and anything but boring.
Most importantly, they are hungry.
Hungry for food. Hungry for shelter. Hungry for money. Hungry for attention. Hungry for respect. Hungry for compassion. Hungry for knowledge. Hungry for a new life. Hungry for guidance. Hungry for hope.
They are hungry because their basic needs have never been met. While on “the outs” they lie, cheat, steal, assault and kill in an attempt to acquire these things. The only difference between them and me as a kid is that my basic needs were always met…I had the luxury of loving, nurturing parents, constant roof over my head, plenty of food, money, role models, and opportunities for success in sports, academics, arts, and social activities.
Working in the juvenile jail is like watching a sick and twisted real-life version of SURVIVOR, where the contestants’ hunger for basic needs remains unmet, and the worst in them emerges. Ever notice how on Survivor there’s always a “losing” team that acts negative and defeated? They’re always out of food and skinny and sick and cold because their shelter leaks and they have no blankets. Then, as soon as that team wins a reward challenge, their demeanor and behavior completely changes. They become confident and happy and positive and physically stronger. Then, they’re less likely to steal food and fight and attack each other.
I believe that you can take the most compassionate and level-headed person and turn him into a monster criminal by stripping his basic needs. And I cannot judge them for the things they’ve done because maybe I would have taken the same route if I’d grown up in their circumstances. I also believe that if we help them gain and sustain these human needs, their behavior will change and hope will prevail.
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