Thursday, June 30, 2016

On Writing, Prison, and Sitting on a Plastic Chair in the Texas Heat

Was supposed to guest speak last night at a minimum security women’s prison facility where a friend is currently teaching creative writing. She’d gotten permission to bring in guest authors and so I was the first, but there was some snafu and when we arrived at five last night for the three hour class, I was somehow still not fully vetted. Some quiet drama ensued, although not on my part. Once you’ve taught a few decades in the public school system, you understand that sometimes, this is what happens in institutions and in this case, I really get it. You can’t just walk into a prison because you say you were invited. That kind of thing is no one’s friend.

Still. The education supervisor was called to attempt to sort things out. My friend went to teach her class. And I was instructed –okay, ordered actually—to sit on a hard plastic chair in the heat by Control and not move. And so I did until the supervisor eventually strode back. Honestly, it was relaxing: it’s a pretty place, more like a junior college campus if you ignore the barbed wire at the top of the fence—lots of trees and flowers and plants—and there was a breeze and I had my chair. I had left my cell in the car and so it was just me and nature and the guard behind the tinted glass and the occasional other contract worker checking in.

Mostly I thought about the questions the inmates had written for their instructor and which she had passed on to me—the things they wanted to know about writing and publishing and the act of creating art in this particular way—the ones I was going to talk about.

They were the usual sorts of things—questions about process and revision and what editors do, and how to find an agent and what if you’ve self-published and what to do about writer’s block and how you get paid.

But as I was on my plastic chair and they were in their classroom, I didn’t get to answer any of those. Instead, I sat and thought about how when my friend had received her training for this job she’d been reminded not to reveal any personal facts to her students. This makes sense in the setting and context. But how I wondered as I looked at the flowers and heard the traffic wooshing by on the road just outside the fence, do you talk about writing and inspiration without getting personal, other than in vague, general terms? It felt suspiciously like the time one of my former supervisors had informed the English department that it didn’t matter—not at all—what novels we taught or if we even taught just excerpts. We were there to teach skills. You could do that with anything.

Well, yeah. (And if that person is reading this, let me now say what was in my head during that department meeting: No. No. No. That’s kind of, um, bullshit. You know that, right?)

Anyway. It seemed that what was happening last night was a sort of metaphor for what they were collectively asking. Publishing is often, although not always, a series of amazing moments (when you get a story right; when someone acquires your book; when there’s a lovely review; when you type THE END) punctuated by frustration and dead ends and the occasional crushing disappointment. (Like wanting to hear a guest speaker who is stuck sitting on a plastic chair in the heat.)

If I had been in the room—and I know by now that you realize that matters were not sorted out last night and that eventually, the class ended early since the main attraction was not in attendance, the supervisor hugged me and said she was sorry, really sorry, and my friend and I went to the bar at the local Saltgrass for fried zucchini and a coke for her and a glass of cab for me—here is what I would have said about writing, the part that is in between the lines of my answers to all those many questions:

You can indeed save yourself through writing, but don’t expect writing to save you. There will be days when you get it right and still it doesn’t matter. There will be days when someone reads your story and really, really gets it and you feel there is nothing better in this world than having communicated your thoughts on what it means to be human—the good, the bad, the mundane, the glorious, the small, petty and awful and tragic (because that is what writing is about regardless of genre). By the next evening, you may equally feel that you are not quick enough, not smart enough, not talented in any way. You are too old or too young or not cool enough or too cool. (Is there such a thing?) You are too loud or too quiet. Your language is too rough or not rough enough.

You started too early. Or too late. Life intervened in a variety of ways. You are not the flavor of the week. Or you are and it’s overwhelming and you are afraid. Someone else has won the prize, gotten the golden ticket and there you are, fingers on the laptop keys, typing as fast as you can. You are trying to please the wrong people or the right people but in the wrong ways.

 You are stuck on a plastic chair in the heat.

Write anyway. Write the story only you can tell. Tell the truth on the page even if it’s hard and painful and scary. Treat it like a job not a hobby. Study. Read. Write some more. Your story has value. Tell it.

But don’t expect writing to give you anything in return. A thin, tricky line, that. Sometimes, you have to back away and let it go for a bit. Find a different way. Remind yourself to keep your eyes on your own paper.

Keep writing, I would have told them. Keep at it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


It’s here! It’s here!
Welcome to the world, IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS !

What a journey this book has been. It began as the barest of ideas discussed between my editor and me back in late fall of 2013—an elevator pitch and not much more. Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars. A girl and boy who become accidentally immortal and lose each other in the aftermath and somehow in searching for him, the girl becomes an immortal and jaded private eye. I liked the idea from that very first phone conversation. But liking an idea and executing it on the page are two different things.

So I began pondering immortality. I mean who doesn’t, right? Myths and legends and stories and beauty ads and science and theological musings. It became quickly apparent that in one way or another we all want to live forever.  Even if we say we don’t. So what would it be like for this couple, I wondered, if they really did? If they weren’t magical in any other particular way but not aging? What would that really be like? Would they love it? Hate it? Would it get tedious? Would it be scary? Would it be the best thing ever? And if they were separated, how long would they search for each other? How long do you stay in love with someone? How do you cope if you’re truly stuck at seventeen? And how do I write a multi-point of view thriller/romance/mystery that spans 100  years and a large number of places? Do I tell it straight through? (Nope.) Do I find myself writing a non-linear novel that slowly builds characters past and present? (Yup.) How do I let my readers simultaneously get to know the innocent, sweet Emma of the past and the world-weary, jaded Emma of the present? And what about Charlie? And what about the bad guys? And the sort-of bad guys? And the legend of the Fountain of Youth? How would I get the fairy tale tone I thought I needed? 

I wrote and wrote, draft after draft.
Emma became Emma.
Charlie became Charlie.
Detective Pete Mondragon evolved from an offstage phone call to a crucial secondary character.
And so it went.

Today IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS becomes yours. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Accidental immortality. Star-crossed romance. Murder. And a forever-seventeen-year-old girl who refused to give up on anything, especially not on the search for the boy she loves.

"With its exciting plot and well-wrought characters, this novel emerges as a suspenseful treat with a gooey romantic center. The narrative alternates between scenes of Emma’s distant past with Charlie and her murder-mystery present, building to a final showdown that is both surprising and satisfying." 
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS is almost here!

So much going on.

IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS is coming in less than a week on 5/17 from Soho Teen/Soho Press! Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars. Accidental immortality. Star-crossed romance. And most of all a twisty, non-linear murder mystery with a hard-boiled forever seventeen year old PI named Emma O'Neill.

I'm very proud of this book. I hope you all love it as much as I do.
 It's that weird time right before a book arrives. We authors wonder if anyone will read. If anyone will talk about it. So many wonderful books that we always hope ours won't just slip between the cracks. Always so grateful that so many readers and authors and booksellers and bloggers support me with such full hearts!

And so it goes in the writing world.

Working on something new right now. Been working on it. Excited about that one, too!

And other cool, unexpected things that I won't talk about quite yet.

But mostly it's been IWALT release planning these past few weeks.

A brief calendar:

Tuesday May 17:
Release Day!
Launch Party at Murder by the Book in Houston
6:30 PM

Sunday May 22
In Conversation with Samantha Mabry, moderated by Mandy Curtis of FYA
at Book People, Austin TX
1 PM

Thursday May 26
In Conversation with Meredith Moore
at Twig Books, San Antonio TX
6 PM

More to come, including panels at Comicpalooza and the Barnes and Noble Teen Weekend, both in Houston in June!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

In Which I Express my love for THE RAVEN KING and Maggie Stiefvater

So excited for THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater! Managed to get to her event at Blue Willow this week despite getting caught in crazy Houston traffic caused by a shoot out on the beltway. Yeah, that was no fun.
But from my last minute seat on the floor, I snapped this pic:

I have loved, loved the world Maggie has created for the Raven Boys series. Truly magnificent writing. Brilliant. Only a few chapters in and already hooked again.

Maggie Stiefvater is the real deal, y'all. You probably know this already. But her artist's eye helps create stories like no other and her characters twine themselves around your heart. *I'm looking at you Ronan. And you Gansey. And you Blue and Adam.... Okay I'm looking at all of them.*

Two years ago I got to hear her teach about writing at SCBWI LA, which was also a true pleasure to learn about process through her eyes.

Anyway. If you haven't started the RAVEN BOYS series yet, do so right now. Four books, Raven King being the finale. You will thank me.

Til next week, when the IWALT countdown begins because tomorrow is MAY!!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Five For Friday

1. Reading Samantha Mabry's Fierce and Subtle Poison which is not only gorgeously written but also a twist on Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter, which is a short story I have long adored. Samantha and I will be paneling together (with others) at TxLA16, on a Fairy Tale Retellings panel on Thursday. If you are a librarian type, please come see us!

I'll also be joining Samantha at Book People on Sunday 5/22 at 2 PM, in conversation with Mandy Curtis from Forever Young Adult! We'll be talking our new books (IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS  will be out then!) and magic and mystery and love and other juicy stuff.

2. Getting ready in general for TxLA16. I am honored to have a big schedule this year:

Tuesday 4/19
Panel: What's New with Texas Authors and Illustrators for MG to YA?

Wednesday 4/20
Texas Tea: Meet and Greet with YA Authors
Hilton Hotel

Off site event: Soho Teen Night at Murder by the Book
2342 Bissonnet Street, Houston 77005
with Adam Silvera, me, Robin Epstein, Brianna Baker
7 PM

Thursday 4/21
Signing galleys of IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS at Author's Area: 1:00- 1:35 PM

Panel: Fairy Tale Retellings in YA Literature
2:00-3:50 PM
with Liz Bramwell, Samantha Mabry, Lisa Maxwell, Marissa Meyer, Liesel Shurtliff and me!

Did you notice that you can get galleys of IWALT on Thursday??
And just fyi Soho Press is distributed by Penguin/Random House, so if you are a librarian, check the PRH booth for any further info about IWALT! Which will be here 5/17! (more on that soon.)

3. So Blacklist. Last night. The big surprise. Not at all sure how I feel about this. Or if I believe it's even true. Hmmm...

But OUTLANDER season 2 is here. And it did not disappoint. Oh Jamie Fraser. Jamie. Fraser. You are the cause of the great Preble household "This is why I must have access somehow to Starz" debate. Which I lost last season. But won last week. Yes, I know. Shallow problems. But still. It's Jamie. I mean seriously.

And in less cerebral matters, RHONY 's Ramona Singer will be guesting with Amy Schumer on Bravo's WWHL next Wednesday and so yeah. The DVR will be cranking. Because where else would this pairing exist except in the mind of Andy Cohen?

4. The WIP continues. All I'm saying for now except that this book is set in Chicago, right in the heart of the city and so I've had the honestly fun research job of looking up El and bus routes and I've been spending some quality time on Google Maps looking at street views. Which always makes me think twice when I walk out to the mailbox and imagine those same satellites taking pictures of me in my yoga pants.

5. Can't wait to show you the amazingly awesome IWALT swag I just ordered. Counting down to 5/17.

Tis next time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016



I’m Joy Preble, your hostess for this stop on the hunt! I’m the author of the DREAMING ANASTASIA series (Sourcebooks) and the SWEET DEAD LIFE series (Soho Press). I’m also the author of FINDING PARIS, a dark mystery/road trip novel (Balzer Bray/Harper Collins) On 5/17/16 comes IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, a wildly romantic story with the quick pitch of Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars! (think: accidental immortality, star-crossed romance and murder mystery!)
I will give you an extra special chance at the bottom of this post to win some of my books!!

And as promised, here is my own extra bonus giveaway!! It is for domestic U.S. readers only because of shipping costs. But hang in there the rest of you, because when IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS comes out in May, I will be doing a broader set of giveaways. But for those of you in the States, check out the Rafflecopter below and enter to win a whole bunch of my books!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In Which I Adore the Romance of WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED by Kristin Rae

WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED, coming at the end of the month from Bloomsbury’s  If Only line, is a delightful, romantic, beach read romp. Main character Maddie Brooks loves drama, musicals, and romantic Hollywood heartthrobs—the old-fashioned classic kind who can sing and tap dance, who ‘cute meet’ their true loves and dress in dapper fashions and woe a girl off her feet with dance moves and sweet kisses. Think: Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire or Cary Grant. (Okay I don’t know if Cary Grant can tap dance. But dapper, he definitely was!) Like many of my own more modern film favorites—think: Sleepless in Seattle, or Kate and Leopold or The Holiday— WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED is about that movie version of love—the one where the guy you think you want is not exactly the guy you need. And where the reader knows that despite the many complications, all will be well in the end.

So Maddie moves with her family from Chicago to Texas. She is not happy about the outer burbs of Houston. She hates their small house; she hates the weather; she hates the pollen; she hates that her father is starting over in his new job and that her mother is pregnant.She wants her first kiss to be perfect but what boy can meet her fantasy, movie-romance standards?

Enter Jess Morales, the boy next door. Baseball star. Hunk. Sweet. And unbeknownst to Maddie, a tap dancer extraordinaire, even if he’s given it up for baseball and a dream of the pros.

Enter a grand and pleasing story about a quirky girl who needs to grow up before she's ready for true love and a talented boy who needs to learn that his true friends won’t care if he can both pitch a no-hitter AND tap a three beat shuffle.

My very talented friend Kristin Rae is a gem of a romance writer. Like Maddie, she knows her way around classic movies and musicals. When she first told me the premise for this book, I couldn’t wait for her to write it so I could read it.

Want a happy ending? Vibrant, relatable characters? Sweet romance?
Then pre-order your copy of WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED by Kristin Rae. And settle into your lawn chair and read!

And check out the Kirkus Reviews love for WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED here!