Friday, April 4, 2014

Five For Friday

And somehow it is Friday again!
Actually, it is technically still Thursday night. It's me and Jimmy Fallon -- who just told his 2nd Vladimir Putin joke-- and my laptop and this post. And the dog, who is snoring. Yes, this is the glamor life of an author.

Anyway, Friday!
So what am I obsessed about this week?

1. Just read THE OTHER SHEPARDS and WHERE I WANT TO BE, both by Adele Griffin. Brilliant! Simply brilliant. She explores family and loss and desire and achieves this delicate otherworldliness that just blows me away. Did I say brilliant? Times a zillion. An amazing talent, and if I'm lucky, I'll snag a galley of her upcoming ADDISON STONE (Soho Press, August 2014)

2. Popovers! Ordering a popover pan from Crate and Barrel. Popovers! I want to make popovers! It looks easy and I still have this luscious memory of the popovers and butter and salt they served with my fig Old-Fashioned at the bar at BLT at  Camelback Inn in Scottsdale. Okay yes, this was like 3 years ago! But I've been too busy to follow through. It is hard being both lazy and obsessed, I tell you. These huge puffy yummy popovers with melty butter.

*Oooh. It's now me, snoring dog, Jimmy Fallon and also Daniel Radcliffe. Hello little Harry Potter!

3. Game of Thrones Season 4! Starting Sunday. Now my only worry is: Exactly how many days are left on my free 6 months of HBO? Or will Comcast cut me off just as the opening credits roll? I shall let you know. But Game of Thrones! You are almost here!!

4. Secret News!!! I have secret news!!!
Okay, enough shameless self promotion. But seriously! Secret news. I have some. And I'm really excited about it.

* Ooh! Daniel Radcliffe is a fan of the Food Network! He watches Chopped! Harry Potter watches Chopped! Just like me. (let me note here that Chopped makes me very nervous. Because it's all: Okay, here is a baguette, corn, some kind of horrible fruit no one has heard of, canned haggis and gummy bears. Make an appetizer. You have 20 minutes. This makes my heart race. I'm all: Good God almighty, what is that ugly fruit? And haggis? In a can? I think I would puke. And then I'm all: Hey, I hope someone uses the ice cream machine or starts a fire or cuts their finger. Yeah. Chopped. I love it. I have this idea that we need to put YA authors on Chopped. Yup. Me (since it was my idea), John Green, Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater all opening our mystery baskets. IT COULD HAPPEN*

5. It is only a month until THE A-WORD comes out! That's the weird thing about books: It's months and months or often years until a book arrives. And it feels like it's never going to happen and you wander along all la la la and then you're like "crap!" It's almost here. And then SLJ says some nice things and you're pretty happy. Which is a relief when it's book 2 in a series.

*Jimmy Fallon and Daniel Radcliffe are wearing jumpsuits and playing sticky balls* In case you were wondering.

Happy Friday, my lovelies!!
If you're at TLA, please, please don't let me be alone in the Author Area signing line. Come get a galley of A-WORD on Thursday morning at 11. Tell your friends. I will give you candy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

GETTING READY FOR TLA and Houston Writer's Guild

Excited about TLA next week. Couldn't go last year and so I'm revving up to hang with librarians and teen readers and my publishers and fellow authors and wallow happily in books, books, books. It's always such an energizing experience and I'm thrilled to be there!

On Wednesday 4/9, our YAHOUs (YA HOUSTON) group is hosting a meet and greet at Overlooked Book's Pat Anderson's booth 2522 from 2-3. Pat is an amazing and tireless supporter of Texas authors and illustrators! We adore him!

Later than afternoon, from 4-6, I'll be with the wonderful gang from Soho Teen at Twig Books, signing  SWEET DEAD LIFE and maybe some A-WORD galleys, too! Yes, it's Soho Teen Afternoon and here's the link:

Thursday 4/10 brings a variety of events including TT4L and the Texas Tea with YA Authors events, both at the Grand Hyatt.

And for the first time, I'll be in the author area on the Exhibit Hall Floor, signing galleys of THE A-WORD (which arrives from Soho Press on 5/13) from 11-11:40

If you want an A-WORD galley signed by me, this is your opportunity!
And honestly, I'd love to see you! I've signed at TLA before, but always in the publisher's booth, so this is a bit daunting. I don't want to be that girl with no line! Please come say hi!

And just to round things out, on Friday, I'll be hanging out at the Book Festivals of Texas booth 2243 from 9:30 - 10 ish, signing SWEET DEAD LIFE and soaking up a few last hours of TLA!

And then, if things aren't busy enough, I'll be at Houston Writer's Guild conference on Sunday 4/13, presenting the post-conference workshop on Building Your Author Platform. We shall be using legos. Okay not really. But I'll be dishing the story of how I went from teaching Julius Caesar 6 times a day to author with books on shelves. It will be fun, informal, and hopefully informative as well!

Happy Wednesday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Five for Friday

Been writing, writing, writing this week. Revising and writing new material, both. Some days it's been like digging up rocks with a toothpick. Other days--yesterday--it flows more smoothly.

But it's time for the Friday five!
Here's what I'm obsessed with this week:

1. On the Kindle: The 2nd Outlander book. Still LOVING Jamie and Claire. But this second book moves a tad slower than the first. It is a little less unbridled lusty romance and a little more 18th century political intrigue in France. A little more "Claire! Why did you let the French maid wax your armpits? Who would do such a thing?"  But no matter. It's Jamie and Claire. I'm in this for the duration!

Also: Swamplandia -- which I just started because Amazon sent me a refund from that law suit with various publishers including some of mine so what did I do? Bought a book. Of course. It's by Karen Reese, who I randomly heard on NPR the other morning and who, it turns out, is an NU alum like me (well, not like me. She was nominated for a Pulitzer before she was 30. ) And now there she was on the cover of my Northwestern alum mag, the issue called The Write Way, which featured alumni fiction writers including Veronica Roth, who wrote Divergent during her senior year. During my senior year at NU I did take Creative Writing but mostly I hung out, worked crazy part time jobs, and did as little work as possible while applying for teaching jobs. Uh, yeah. (I do appear in the mag-- but only in the alum news section. Cause I've got a new book out and another coming. There's even a picture)

But to the book. The writing is gorgeous. Reese writes that the night sky was 'star-lepered.'  Lovely! And I am obsessed with the relationship between characters and their settings these days, so the FL swamp setting is pulling me in. Swamplandia! A mother who swims with the gators. Annoying oldster tourists. The weirdness that is FL

2. Catching up some with Scandal. Love the dialogue. Love the crazy plots. Love Olivia Pope and her outfits. But I'm more a fan of Blacklist. Maybe it's because I haven't watched every ep. But I think it's the pacing. I think I want more variety than only frenetic. And while I find Olivia fascinating, I don't find myself empathizing with her the same way I do Spader's Reddington in Blacklist. Weird. Thoughts?

3. Speaking of Blacklist-- finally! Finally Lizzie has figured out that her husband (sorry my friends in the UK who haven't watched yet) is NOT WHO SHE THINKS HE IS. It took you long enough, Lizzie!

4. And speaking of Outlander, I am now obsessed with planning a trip to Scotland. OBSESSED, I tell you!

5. This one is for Ree, the Pioneer Woman, whose recipes I currently love. Made her chicken spaghetti the other day. It was darn good chicken spaghetti. Also in the past weeks, in non-TV related recipes, I have figured out how to make chicken pot pie and Shepherd's pie. So there you go.

Happy Friday!
What are you obsessed about this week?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writing in the Suburbs: Can You Create Art While Carpooling and Buying Toilet Paper at Target?

One of the best sessions I attended at the AWP conference last month was the one titled: Daydreaming at the Mini-Mart--The Suburbs and Literary Imagination. The controlling question being not only how has the conception of the American suburb informed American writing in general but this: Is it possible to live and write in the suburbs and not consider yourself a suburban writer? And this: Does art exist in the suburbs? And as someone who lives and writes in one, am I affected by it and its mall culture? Does my daily existence somehow preclude the type of art that I might create in say, Brooklyn? Or Austin, even? And yes, my darling Austinites, you know you contemplate this as you shop at your vegetable collectives and buy your organic soap at Whole Foods. (which we have here in Houston, just not near me). I wonder if Texas collectively believes that Austin= art. And that the rest of us are struggling to keep up?

I think about this a lot, actually. I've poked at it the Sweet Dead Life books some, but I've not come to any definitive conclusions other than that Jenna in SDL is both a product of and an ironic observer of, her life in the northern Houston 'burbs. As am I.

Have you seen this?

Labelscar is a history of closed retail establishments. It details pictorially the 'death' of malls and the 'scar' left both literally and culturally when the name is stripped but the shut down building or business is left behind.

Suburban life has changed a lot since the musings of John Cheever and John Updike and period pieces like Revolutionary Road and books like Little Children. I think it's more than just what one of the panelists referred to as 'renegade sexuality' or the rampant infidelity in Updike's books like Couples. There's a wider mixture of people here now and certainly a thread of violence--whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. (Have you seen the film American Beauty?)

Are the suburbs still banal and filled with only Olive Gardens and Cheesecake Factories and the like? If I live in this world, does it affect the art I create? If so how? Can I treat it only ironically? Or as one of the panelists mused, "Even in a Food Lion parking lot you find that pastoral inspiration." Meaning: there is more complexity here in the 'burbs than just the stuff we might satirize or criticize.

Of course sometimes I do. I can't help it. I live in a place where we have Market Street, which is a newly constructed 'town center' where they have put up stores in what look like old buildings repurposed but are actually new buildings with basically just a facade. There is something strange and not necessarily wonderful about this if you think about it too long. How can this not affect me as an artist or the characters whom I might place in this landscape?

And that thread of violence: What do I do with the fact that there are robberies in Wal-mart parking lots? That sometimes groups of bored teens from the local highly affluent high school do more than re-arrange Christmas lawn reindeer into sexually compromising positions but break into houses and smash windows on cars just to have something to do?

What about technology? Are we lonelier here in the 'burbs now? Or is that just a myth?

And how, if at all, does it affect my writing?

Of course, the panel also used phrases that were new to me. Like "liminal interstitial nature of all our spaces." Which I had to look up. Possibly because my trips to Target and the fake French bistro in my fake town center have confused me. Possibly not.

What do you think? Does where we live affect our art? Are the suburbs a specific and special case in this regard? Or is this entire idea simply an intellectual sort of navel-gazing/anti-tract home/snobbish derision at Stephen King/etc. that one finds at academic conferences?

I'd love your thoughts!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Art of Revision

Been revising a lot lately. I'm working on some sample pages for a new project and at the same time I'm finishing up a final round of revision for FINDING PARIS--which I just learned will arrive in the world on 4/21/15!!

Working on other things, too, but it's the revision that's most on my mind this morning. Mostly what's on my mind is that I am very fortunate to be working with two amazing and thoughtful editors and an equally amazing and editorial agent--all of whom care very deeply that the work I produce is the best it can be.

I showed my latest editorial letter (a short one: just 2 1/2 single spaced pages!) to my husband. I don't always do this. He has enough to do without reading what is essentially a 'do it like this' note from my boss. :) But this time he looked interested…

"That's a lot," he said.
"It's way less than last time," I told him.
"You seem happy," he said.
I was.

Not just because the edit letter was shorter. But because I am working with an editor who is incredibly vested in making this book work. Because each time I dig deep and add layers, she pushes me to go deeper. We look together at words and phrasing and pacing. At flashbacks or lack thereof.  At the narrative as a whole. At how the minor characters are working. At the big reveals and the small ones. Is everything clear? Is everything balanced? What needs to be on the page? What should remain off-screen? We look at the characters' little descriptive 'tics' and at my own as an author. Where does style slip into repetition and become less effective? How exactly should this or that be revealed?

It is hard work.
And I love it.
Digging in now.

How about you?
Thoughts on revision?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Failure is Your Friend (Yes, Really)

Did a lovely school visit last week at Moody Middle School in Moody TX. (A writer friend pointed out that this is the perfect name for a middle school! Because 7th and 8th graders… yeah… they can be kinda moody, you know?)

But we had a great time, at least as far as I could tell, and the librarian and teachers had asked me to speak about both revision and the idea of never giving up. And as I was creating my powerpoint-- interspersed with images of Lyla the bassett/boxer, who never fails to elicit a laugh or two-- I add this slide:
Because I really, really believe it's a message they needed to hear. And then I added this, because it's the follow up:
Because it's the other thing I think we all need to keep reminding ourselves.

I have not taught full time in over 2 years, but I still remember the day my principal told us that 50 was the lowest grade we could give a student. Period. Because, the logic went, if we gave the student at least a 50, then mathematically, he/she would still have a chance to pass. And the school had basically preset the grading program to make this happen for us. Meaning if a student earned only a 40, it would automatically be figured in at grading time as a 50.

Well, that year I had a student who had refused to work. And just before Thanksgiving, he stopped coming to school at all. By mid January, he'd never returned, but he hadn't dropped out, either. So the school had to issue him a report card. He was going to receive a 50. He had done 1 assignment during the course of a semester. It made no sense to me. Still doesn't. Not as a general, required rule. Are there extenuating circumstances sometimes? Yes.

Here's what I believe: Failure is okay. I used to be afraid of it. But the truth is, if I never fail at things, then what that means is that I am not stretching myself. I am not testing my limits. I have no idea what huge things I can achieve. It is good for me to be afraid sometimes when I'm trying something new. To wonder if I'm up to the challenge. When I stop getting those butterflies in the belly, I'm not trying hard enough. I'm just phoning it in.

I have failed a lot as a teacher and a writer. I'm not happy to admit this, but it's true. Bethany Hegedus is doing a great and related series about rejection over at the Writing Barn blog. Here's what I wrote having my option book rejected a couple years ago:

I have presented lessons that didn't sufficiently teach the topic. I have had manuscripts rejected multiple times. I have turned in revisions and been asked to revise again. And again. That last part isn't necessarily failure, but it still means that I need to dig deeper to get it right. I have pitched ideas--and myself-- for conferences that weren't accepted. I have reached out to stores who did not choose to host me. I have written two full manuscripts that will most likely remain in a file on my laptop. I stubbornly worked at education for many long years even though the creative life kept calling me. Some days I feel like I will never catch up with the herd.

And that's just some of the professional stuff. My personal failures could be an entire year long series of posts. :) Including those ballet lessons that just didn't stick.

Well, so be it.
From each of those failures has come a success. Really. Sometimes it was a long time getting here. But it happened. Some days it's harder to see that than others. Some years, it seems patently false. But it's true. All my successes are owed to the times I didn't quite make it.

Except for ballet.

A true story: I decided to try it again when I was at Northwestern. A pass/fail PE credit that I didn't even need at all, but figured hey, what the heck. Except it was winter quarter. It snowed foot after foot that winter. The gym was almost a mile walk from where I lived. I still sucked at ballet. So I stopped going.  My OFFICIAL transcript includes my ballet grade. Yeah. You know what it was.

Anyone else have a failure story that pushed you toward eventual success?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Five for Friday plus Nathan Fillion

Happy Friday! Happy Spring!
Here in Houston we're trying for spring. My azaeleas are blooming and it's no longer dipping into the 30s or below, but it still feels half-hearted with cold fronts still pouring through. (Yes, I know. Some of you are still getting snow. I grew up in Chicago. Once we had a full on blizzard on April Fool's Day.

To the five!

1. YA books I'm currently obsessed with!

  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith --- Brilliant! Funny! Giant praying mantises taking over the US in apocalyptic fashion, with ground zero, so to speak, in Ealing, Iowa. A sixteen year old boy named Austin Szerba. It's about science gone bad, and middle America and sex and love and teenage boys...It defies description actually-- in the best of ways--  so I'll let this review from the NYTimes speak for me:
  • This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales-- sad, funny, lovely. I love Elise Dembowski, who is smart and funny and wry and different and incapable (mostly for all the best reasons) of fitting in at high school. But she loves music and stumbles into DJing at this pop up dance club… and finds herself in the process. I'm loving this book and Elise's voice so much. (My one quibble comes from the very broad strokes it paints of the high school experience. In my personal teacher experience, rarely are the bullies so obvious as they are in fictional treatments. But no matter. I LOVE THIS book.
2. Finally got to see Frozen! Yes, I'm woefully behind. So behind that I knew most of the soundtrack but hadn't seen the actual movie. Loved it. Princess Elsa! Princess Anna! And mostly Olaf and Sven. Olaf's song and dance about summer? I could watch that dimwitted little snowman a million times over.

3. In my own book news, THE A-WORD is almost here. Launch party is now planned at Blue Willow Bookshop on 5/17 at 2 PM. There's a link in the Events/Appearances page of this blog. I am so thrilled to bring this book into the world. So happy to be making books with Soho Press. And I'm almost, almost done with the last of the revisions for FINDING PARIS. (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins). Two sisters. A crazy scavenger hunt road trip. A very cute boy. Las Vegas! LA! And some dark and twisty secrets. And some new projects and other stuff that I can't quite say yet… Yeah. It's been busy.

4. Real Housewives of NYC is back! I'm definitely team Carole these days. And in other TV obsessions: Blacklist! It's not perfect but James Spader as Reddington makes up for every moment where this show can't quite decide if it's this carefully plotted character driven mystery or a procedural. But omg, I love this show. I love that we know that black ops agent Lizzy's husband is a Russian spy and she doesn't! Although Lizzy! Red keeps telling you not to trust him… As for Castle, well, Nathan Fillion, I would watch you read a grocery list. I really would. But the show is losing my attention. Much better? The Americans on FX, which, come to think of it, seems to have loaned a bit of its plot lines over to Blacklist… And Vampire Diaries. Damon. 'Nuff said.

5. Also Tina on Bob's Burgers. My friend Beth made me watch. "You will love Tina," she said. Beth always knows! So yeah. Tina's horrible. I absolutely adore her.

And since now I'm thinking about Nathan Fillion and wishing that Castle was still holding my attention the way it used to, I'll leave you with this, also pointed out to me by pal Beth. 90's Nathan! You are welcome.