Monday, July 27, 2015

I Once Ate Lunch with Edward Albee and other Monday Confessions

Why am I writing some random confessions? I'm not sure except that I hit a stopping point on the WIP but I didn't want to stop writing and my brain is floundering about as it does on a Monday when once again I'm on a mostly self-imposed deadline (okay, my agent has some control over it, too) and so--some things about me that I am sure most of you don't know.

1. Once, I ate lunch with playwright Edward Albee. Yes, THAT Edward Albee, author of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff and Zoo Story and A Delicate Balance and a bunch of other amazing plays. He used to teach playwriting at University of Houston one semester a year or so, and he was buds with the late, great, theater professor Sidney Berger. And my friend Wanda and I were teaching high school English and Edward Albee was also directing one of his plays at the Alley Theater. And the Alley Theater often has a program for teachers combined with a Saturday matinee. And so… we went.

It did not occur to me that somehow Wanda and I would end up eating lasagna and garlic bread on paper plates at a table for four which consisted of Edward Albee, Sidney Berger, Wanda and me. And yet, we did. I think Wanda told them about North Carolina, where she is from. Possibly I said the lasagna is yummy. I mean really, what does one say in these moments? Albee drank a Diet Coke. (These are the kinds of details I remember.) Had I already been published, I might have had something else to say, but probably not because that's how lame I am.

Once in a while when life gets dull, I remind Wanda that once we ate lasagna with EDWARD ALBEE. On paper plates. With Diet Coke.

2. I shook hands once with the late actor Jimmy Stewart. (He was alive at the time.) He was very kind and very tall and very tan.

3. The main thing I remember about meeting former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn was that they were both very petite. (at least at the time)

4. I also once met actor Cary Grant. (He was also alive at the time) He was also very tall and very kind and very tanned.

Happy Monday.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Green River Soda and Other Friday Stuff

Back at the blog after a bit of a break to finish the final draft of next year's IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS. Something about that last push with a book when I'm struggling to get all the words right that just makes me feel like the only other things I have to say are "Hey! Did you know I'm still revising this book? Yes. You heard that right! Still. Been writing the thing for like a year now, on and off. I think it's done. Maybe. I hope."

But here I am and in time for a quick five things.

1. Absolutely in love with Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It's an Aussie show and it's been on PBS but I've discovered it on Netflix, thanks to the rec of my favorite pop culture know it all, the very talented Jennifer Mathieu. 1920s. Woman private eye named Phryne Fisher. Melbourne, Australia. And oh, inspector Jack Robinson. Plus outfits that make me want to scour every vintage store in the world. Plus Dot and Hugh Collins and Mr. Butler the Butler and a bunch of murders cleverly solved. Plus airplanes and fast gorgeous cars and a bunch of other stuff.

2. It has finally stopped raining here in Houston. So now it's 97 every day. But I am finally using that pool pass.

3. The tomatoes spit out 6 last ripe ones before the plant gave up. Too much rain washing all the nutrients out of the soil, I think. But seriously, what do I know? Going to build a garden box next and some time next month I shall plant stuff for the fall and we shall see if I am a #patiofarmer after all.

4. Working on a new book now. All I'll say for now.

5. Had a grand quick trip to Chicago and a lovely event at Book Stall with Ted Goeglein and if you are reading this and you came and helped fill the room, thank you! Book Stall is a wonderful indie in the Northshore suburb of Winnetka and if you are in Chicago, you must go buy a book there. Stopped on the way at a small indie grocery to buy some Lifesavers because CANDY, and saw a display of my favorite childhood soda pop, which is for some reason never sold anywhere but the Midwest. It's called Green River. And it is VERY GREEN. It looks like this:

Happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Stuff

Stuff I'm passionate about today:

  • Reading Katie Cotugno's blog. The girl can write. Her random observations about…everything make me want to fan girl her like crazy.
  • Speaking of which, she's doing a series on fangirl-ing and so I do have to say that I adore deep fandom. My last truly intense fandom was for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after that, all things Joss Whedon. As in I knew the titles of every BTVS ep. I recorded years of them meticulously on VHS tapes (yes, this was the late 90s and I don't know if DVRing even existed or we were just too broke to have it, but I had VHS tapes by God!), labeling the titles and the dates. I bought the novelizations. I chatted with like-minded fans on line. I memorized favorite passages of dialogue. I wrote a bit of fan fic.  I collected various swag. Okay a lot of it, most of which I still have. And mostly, I learned to tell stories and from that came my own first novel DREAMING ANASTASIA. I've been a fan of other shows since then, but nothing has come close to the Buffy years, to the sheer crazy joy I felt about new eps, particularly in the first 3 seasons.
  • My tomatoes are still growing! 9 more that may even reach tomato adulthood!
  • Vodka and pineapple juice. 
  • Miss Fisher's Mysteries, which we began last night to fill the gap until season 4 of Call the Midwife gets itself to Netflix. Roaring 20s. Amazing clothes. Australia. Murders. Cocaine. Sexy stuff.
  • My new sandals from Lucky. Fake python, I tell you. Screams summer.
  • Avocado toast!! Smear a little green stuff on toast. Sprinkle with sea salt. Heaven!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Heart Amy Fellner Dominy and A MATTER OF HEART

Today I’m welcoming my friend and awesome author Amy Fellner Dominy, whose latest YA, A MATTER OF HEART, just arrived in May from Delacorte. Amy is delightful and funny and very smart, and I was fortunate to be able to hang out with her at TLA in Austin this past April. She’s also the author of one of my favorite books,  the award-winning, OyMG, about a Jewish girl who wins a scholarship to a Christian speech camp and the things that ensue, both comic and serious from there.

Here’s the basic premise of A MATTER OF HEART, which author Lauren Myracle calls, “A novel that will make your heart pound—anxiously, joyfully, triumphantly.”

Readers will happily sink into this emotionally grounded, contemporary young adult novel about the sudden end of one girl’s Olympic swimming dreams and the struggles she endures before realizing there are many things that define who we are.

Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is on track to win the state swim championships and qualify for the Olympic trials when a fainting incident at a swim meet leads to the diagnosis of a deadly heart condition. Now Abby is forced to discover who she is without the one thing that’s defined her entire life.

Hopefully you are as excited to read this on as I am!

I asked Amy about her inspiration for A MATTER OF HEART, and here’s what she said:

What would you do if the one thing you love, the one thing you’ve ever dreamed of doing, the only thing you’re good at…is the thing that will kill you?

That’s the question Abby faces in A MATTER OF HEART. Abby is sixteen, she’s a swimmer good enough to compete for a spot on the Olympic team in three weeks when she discovers that she has a heart condition. One that could kill her if she swims.

So what would you do?

What would I do?

That’s how I usually start writing a novel—with a question that I can’t answer. Of course none of us wants to die. But how do you give up the one thing you’ve been living for? That’s the thought I had on the day I brought my kids to their high school for a heart test.

At the time both of my kids were varsity athletes. My daughter played tennis and my son played baseball. I’d read about a football player from their school who had died of an enlarged heart (the medical name is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) and his mom had started a foundation to bring heart tests to schools across the country. She never wanted the same thing to happen to another student athlete.

On the day of the heart test, I met the mom, Sharon Bates. The story of her son, Anthony, really affected me. It started me thinking and imagining and questioning.
The result is A MATTER OF HEART and I hope it’s a story that will touch your heart, too. Abby’s not just dealing with her health and the pressures of competition, but she’s also got parents she wants to please. A boyfriend who also swims. And then there’s Alec…well… you’ll read about him.

This is Abby’s story and I hope none of us will ever have to make the decision that she has to make.

But what if you did?

For more info about Amy Fellner Dominy and her books, you can visit her at
Or follow her on Twitter: @amydominy

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why I'm totally devoted to DEVOTED by Jennifer Mathieu!

My friend Jennifer Mathieu is also one of my favorite writers. Actually favorite doesn't quite cover it. The woman can WRITE! She has this steady, understated style, simple yet layered, each moment building to the next, the character's emotions driving the action along with the external plot elements. And I think it comes not only from her understanding of the craft and her ability to mold it to her needs but also her understanding and thoughtfulness and endless curiosity and dark humor about the human condition, about the things we do and the things we want and the things we need. It is no surprise that she started as a journalist before she turned to the English classroom and the writing of young adult fiction. Just google Jennifer Mathieu and Houston Press and you can read her columns which are irreverent and funny as hell and make me adore her even more. Like this one, in which she discovers that Gwynnie Paltrow has a lifestyle website called Goop. (which in full disclosure, I must say that I subscribed to so that I could mock it and it's worked out swimmingly)

Jennifer occasionally asks me mentor-ish questions and I mumble some answer but in truth I need to be asking her because her career has rocketed off and she is handling it like a champ.

But to DEVOTED! It's her latest YA novel, out just a week or so from Roaring Brook, and it's a brilliant sophomore book, following the equally brilliant TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, which was on everyone's TBR list last year and which is important and gorgeous and moving and hits the nail about high school and girls and slut shaming and finding who you are even amidst people who would rather spread lies about who you are not.

DEVOTED is the story of Rachel Walker, who has been raised in what essentially is a Quiverfull family-- an ultra-fundamentalist Christian movement which places the man as the head of everything and women are raised to be helpmeets and modest above all else. (think the Duggar family--which Mathieu says inspired this novel, at least in part--but without the scripted cuteness, such as it is, and with whatever is actually under there that has been hinted at with the recent sexual abuse scandal) And then, of course, Rachel begins to have doubts. Not about faith in God, but about THIS faith and its effects on her and the life she is hoping to lead.

What I love more than anything about DEVOTED is the way Jennifer balances Rachel's journey. Rachel does not stop believing in God. She does not go all wild girl rebellious crazy. But she does move slowly, painfully, and in some cases with such frightening tension for the reader, toward a personal revelation that there are other ways to live, that they are not wrong, and that she will suffer more from staying than from escaping. (Seriously, I know no other author who could build such nail-biting tension into a scene where essentially the character is sitting and reading some emails!)

Jennifer just debuted the novel at Blue Willow Bookshop, one of our wonderful Houston indies, so here's the link to that page so you can get your own copy:

Want to find out more about Jennifer Mathieu and her books? Visit her here !

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Real Life View into FINDING PARIS and Leo's Las Vegas World!

When Leo and Max go searching for Leo's missing sister Paris, they find themselves on a scavenger hunt through Vegas and beyond. Here are some of the real views of where the journey takes them!

Fake Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel!

Looking for notes from Paris! Do you see any?

Maybe she left a note up there!

When Max gets kicked out of the casino, here's what Leo sees.

More fake Eiffel Tower!

Of course since it's Vegas, there's a bar.

And oh! Is that the Bellagio across the street? Is Paris over there?

FINDING PARIS is out now from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins!
Need some road trip survival tactics? #EPICREADS  and I created some based on FINDING PARIS!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which I Am Reminded That It's About The Work: My Week at The Writing Barn

Anne Bustard, Nicole Griffin, Bethany Hegedus, Tim Wynne-Jones, me
Just back from a week (an entire week!) teaching and learning and writing at The Writing Barn, a truly magical place for writers, founded and created by Austin author Bethany Hegedus and her husband Vivek. Workshops and retreat spaces and lecture series and guest authors from all over--all talking writing and learning writing and digging in to their craft. I'd been there a few times--both as a co-guest author recently with Nikki Loftin for the Words and Wine event, and as a participant in long weekend workshop taught by the amazingly brilliant Sara Zarr. (this was in fact where FINDING PARIS was workshopped and received those last tweaks that pushed it from almost acquired to acquired and on the road to publication, culminating this past April when it released from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins.) So I was beyond honored, and not a little nervous, when Bethany asked if I would help teach a week long Whole Novel Revision workshop with Tim Wynne-Jones and Nicole Griffin.

It is a lovely thing to have the luxury of an entire week devoted only to the work. Okay, fun and food and a bunch of laughter slip in there, too, but even they are in the context of writing and revision and writing and revision and discussion of the same. Like a mini version of the residency session in an MFA program, but perhaps a bit less intense because there are no degrees involved! We learned from Tim's talk on dialogue and Nicole's on building novels by identifying the characters' emotions and even my own on crafting settings that matter, plus guest talks from Nikki Loftin and Anne Bustard (our TA for the week) and Brian Yansky. We ate our way through Austin at dinner. And we worked with our mentees, the hard, painful work that comes with talking about where a story has gone off track and how to make it stronger and better, how to make your vision work on paper. I was honored to do that, too, moved to tears many times by everyone's willingness to break through that fear and get it right.

 THIS is what writing is all about. It is about telling stories and digging for authenticity and peeling back the false stuff to get to the truth. It is about learning craft and building layers and finding the way to step back and let our characters soar. It is about knowing HOW to do all those things and making each book a better book than the one that came before it. It is about reading and learning and talking about those things.

It was good to be reminded. Sometimes I forget because there are the other pieces of this job-- the days when I feel lost in this endless loop of all the things beyond the book: How is it selling? Why did they say no to paying my mileage for that event? Did they say no to everyone? Will they buy another book? Will they promote it? Will it be enough? Am I enough? And on like that. Then I'll click to one of my list servs hoping for commiseration and someone will have typed a sentence like "Well, if they don't give you car service or send you to ABA then they're just not that into you." Or "Unless you get at least 4 starred reviews you can forget about another book." And on like that, filling my head with chatter about how I need to be on a Buzz Feed list. Now. Or someone else posts about how she wrote four books in 8 months and oh my god, maybe she could have done more if only she hadn't slept that one night.

The truth is that we can't ignore all that. It's a business after all. It's not just craft. But sometimes, it has to be about the work. Because without the work, the other stuff doesn't matter.

Last week at The Writing Barn, we talked about the work. We did the work. We lived and breathed art. It was GLORIOUS!!

Occasionally we had a few interactions with wildlife because out in this piece of South Austin there are deer and foxes and spiders and snakes and ants and bugs of all sorts. Nicole and I believe there was a bobcat trying to get into our cabin one night. Bethany believes we were hallucinating. To which I reply, it might have been a cougar.

Want to find out more about The Writing Barn? (So many great authors coming to teach, including Nova Ren Suma and Margo Rabb and Matt de la Pena!!) Here's the link: