Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nesselrode Pudding: Or Why I'm loving Janet Fox's Faithful

Reading Janet Fox's debut Faithful. I'll write a review at some point in the future, and Janet has promised to let me interview her/guest post her/take candid photos of her and draw funny captions... something in a few weeks. (after the juggernaut that I keep thinking of as: endofschoolfinishhauntededitsstopmedicinefortwoweeksgoradioactivestartmedicinerecover phase of my life)

But the nesselrode pudding! Faithful's main character Maggie mentions that it's on the menu when they dine at the National hotel. I've never eaten any, but it's one of those food items that seemed to pop up in historical fiction when I was a kid and always fascinated me. Do you have things like that? (please, please comment and tell me!) Stuff where the name just drew you in and you had this mental image of what it looked like and tasted like and it was just so different from your normal life food that it fascinated you?

Well, nesselrode pudding (which is this ice type of pudding studded with fruits and chunks of other stuff including chestnuts) was one of those for me. So was Turkish taffy. (I bet that one's on a lot of lists - we all read Narnia. We all wanted Turkish Taffy. We all tapped the back of our closets looking for a secret door. Okay maybe that was only me) And the word cruller - a type of doughnut. I had a collection of original Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twin books that an elderly neighbor gave me. And when Nan and Bert and Freddie and Flossie went ice skating, they often snacked on hot chocolate and crullers. Somehow it always sounded more romantically exotic than doughnut. Oh and the sandwiches that Meg and Charles Wallace made in the middle of the night in Wrinkle in Time. I loved the idea of that, too. I've never ever gotten up in the middle of the night and made a sandwich even though it's a classic movie convention. So I always love when characters do this.
So tell me, please. Was there something a character ate in a book you loved when you were younger that held this kind of fascination for you? Something you wanted to be eating, too?

And while you're thinking, go get a copy of Faithful. It's brilliant and romantic and I'm loving it.

Til next time...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Waiting for the Glow

So much going on right now. Some I can chat about. Some I can't. Hope to be able to soon - cause it might even be exciting stuff. One never knows.

Still hacking away at the mountain (all right - maybe it's just a small hillock) known as macro edits for Haunted. Hope to be done very soon. Editor Kelly makes it fun, though. Really - did your editor include a picture of Olivia Newton John as Sandy in Grease in your editorial letter? Okay there's a fuller context, but I'm short on time here.

School is racing to a close - although not without the requisite piles of final essays/tests/clean-up/meetings/parental phone calls/last minute training in things that have long acronyms or goofy names (case in point - the new program wherein we upload our lesson plans and prove that they have duly differentiated/used Bloom's taxonomy/genuflected to Marzano's theories of vocabulary instruction, etc. It is called - wait for it - Forethought.) Which humorless person with an education doctorate came up with that? Do you not see the potential mocking possibilities? I mean, come freaking on. Methinks there was a definite lack of forethought in that one, folks. (yes, a pun. yes on purpose)

Also getting ready for the radioactive iodine treatment that will hopefully be the last step in whipping Mr. Thyroid Cancer's cranky ass. Yes, I will have a certain glow mid-June. Bring on the geiger counters.

And because all of this makes me alternately excited, antsy, fearful and not the littlest bit crazy, I did what any red-blooded woman should do - headed to Sephora and bought a new lip gloss. NARS Orgasm. Oh yes! Do you know about this? It's beyond fabulous. Money well spent.

And that said, I shall climb back into the revision cave. I'm not coming out until I'm done. I swear.

Til next time...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Stuff.. and a few Haunted hints

Okay, just a quick post. Must finish Haunted revisions for Editor Kelly. Have placed the absolutely gorgeous cover here in honor of this morning's task! Kelly and I are whipping Haunted into lean mean fighting machine shape for February. Lots of running around. Lots of peril. (Kelly and I love to get into peril while we're editing. Just Friday we dueled with the art department over a tricky font issue) The Anne and Ethan romance heats up. (Oh does it heat up!) Some romantic conflict. Mostly because of a new character named Ben Logan. Baba Yaga's back. Plus there's this malevolent mermaid.... I think you're going to love it. So does Kelly.
Beyond that - in no particular order:
  • Since we don't have DirectTV, Friday Night Lights is finally back! If you are not watching, please watch with me. DVR it. Tivo it. Record it on your old vcr tapes. (seriously - you don't need that series finale of Gilmore Girls anymore. It's on dvd now. Just tape over it) But watch. You won't be sorry.
  • And speaking of my tv habits - the season finale of Vampire Diaries - hello! Saw it coming a couple of seconds before it happened. All I can say is holy fangs, Batman!! Am completely happy with my guilty pleasure.
  • And okay, Top Chef Masters. I'm addicted.
  • Almost done with Maggie Stiefvater's Linger. (My coveted ARC from TLA) Sooooo darn romantic. And wow, Maggie - your artist's eye is so evident. I wish I could describe things as fabulously as you do - the light, the angles - gorgeous.
  • My bestest pal Janet Fox's Faithful is on shelves now. I'm pimping you out, Janet. Dear readers - get thee to a store or Amazon and start reading now.
  • New on my Kindle: Friend is not a Verb by my beloved former editor Dan Ehrenhaft - who if you didn't know not only has crazy mad guitar skills but also has many, many books on the shelf. Do you know there's a character named Petra Dostoyevsky in this book? Dan! Why do you do this to me? I must revise faster so I can have the time to read.

Okay. Back to work.

til next time...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review Saturday: STRANDED by JT Dutton

Well, life got in the way a bit. As in I got my Haunted revision letter and needed to go into the writing cave for awhile to figure things out. But I've crawled out and now and so it's time for my review of Jen Dutton's Stranded which comes out June 8th, 2010 from HarperTeen and is a book you will absolutely need to read!

Kelly Louise Sorenson is darkly funny, smart, and, as JT Dutton’s second YA novel, STRANDED begins, stuck in Heaven, Iowa, where she’s come with her mother from the more urban – well, relatively speaking – atmosphere of Des Moines. Kelly’s also got a secret. Or rather, her cousin Natalie does. It’s Natalie who’s given birth to the baby found dead and abandoned in the cornfields of Heaven. Only Natalie’s pretending it hasn’t happened. So is Kelly Louise’s nana – she of the cleaning obsessions and the reminders that “Clothes should be hung, not flung.” Heaven, Iowa is not paradise and Kelly Louise is no ordinary girl. The mixture is a potent one. The longer Natalie refuses to admit the truth, the crazier things become for Kelly Louise – named after sexpot Tina Louise – the actress who played Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. Kelly finds herself adrift in a world of church goers and hypocrites, believers and sinners. As she tells us, “What if – I thought a little more loudly – I did what Mom asked and pretended the incident hadn’t happened? Do baby abandoners get do-overs? I offered my soul to encourage God to say yes. I wasn’t doing anything with it. God as usual, said nothing.”

Enter Kenny Stockhausen – “dark but not handsome and far too trigger-happy.” The Stockhausen’s live next door amid “unmowed lawn and rusting cars” and Kelly Louise wonders if they “were messy or just practicing environmental restraint.” Kelly’s feelings about Kenny are complicated – attraction and annoyance and, when she comes to realize that he may also be keeping Natalie’s secret, grow more complicated still.

As with most characters in JT Dutton’s novels, Kenny is not easily defined. Kenny is raw, rude and tightly coiled. But there’s a tender confused core under there, a streak of decency even during an ill-fated scene in his under-filled water bed where he helps Kelly Louise lose her virtue as she finds that keeping Natalie’s secret is taking its toll. “But then again, how could Kenny have perceived the real me when I hadn’t exactly locked that one down myself?” Kenny may or may not be helping his meth-dealing uncle. Kenny may or may not have helped Natalie give birth to Baby Grace in the Iowa cornfields. But unlike most of the denizens of Heaven, Kenny is real.

Dutton’s novel alternately amuses, horrifies and fascinates. Kelly Louise is a gem of a narrator – both self –aware and na├»ve at the same time. My heart ached for her as often as I laughed aloud at her descriptions. Heaven, Iowa, is certainly not heaven at all. Kenny is definitely not boyfriend material. Natalie is not the virgin princess she pretends to be. Nana is not quite as crazy as she seems. Okay, maybe she is, but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt here. Plus there’s Dutton’s take on middle America - equal parts wasteland of Croc-wearing true believers and simultaneously lost and steady-hearted souls such as Mr. Gruber, the principal of Heaven’s Carrie Nation High (gotta love Dutton’s naming skills) and the man to whom Kellie Louise finally trusts her secret.

I applaud Jen Dutton’s STRANDED for its humorous yet unblinking glimpse into the secret lives of imperfect people. Kelly Louise – part Margaret Mead anthropologist detached observer of those who name their school mascot the Fighting Soybean and part confused girl in search of love and acceptance – leads us into their world, stranding us all for awhile and making us contemplate the nature of good, evil, and life itself.

Til next time... and if you haven't read my interview with Jen, two posts back, please do!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Review still on the way!

Okay, so I said I'd post my Stranded review yesterday. And now it's today. And I have critique group in - oh - 30 minutes. And life has been quite crazy - good crazy, not bad. So tomorrow. Really, Jen Dutton! And the rest of you. Tomorrow.

til tomorrow...

Monday, May 3, 2010

In which I chat with YA author JT Dutton

Full disclosure - Jen Dutton is awesome! She's my class of 2k9 pal, my email buddy, and one of those people who share my quirky sense of humor and warped world view. We've commiserated about writing, life, and child-rearing. We laugh a lot. Interestingly we do this all in print, but that's the glory of the writing life! Jen's debut YA was Freaked (HarperTeen) and her second novel, Stranded (HarperTeen) will be out in June. I had the privilege of getting to read the ARC and I'll be reviewing it tomorrow for your reading pleasure. (hint: I loved it) But today, Jen and I are sitting down (picture it, people!) to talk about writing, Stranded, character creation, and other stuff.

So - welcome JT Dutton!!

Joy: Both Freaked and now Stranded are filled with dark humor. Does this reflect the actual JT Dutton?

Jen: I think I keep most of my weirdness in my head but I’m not sure. I get strange looks sometimes, when someone sees me talking to my dog. I don’t try to hide my weirdness completely because I live way out here in rural Ohio, where you know, every town expects a crazy person.

Joy: I've heard you say that while Kelly Louise is your narrator, you really see Kenny Stockhausen as your main character. Can you elaborate on this?

Jen: I set out to write a “girl” book, but I was frustrated by the many books for teen girls that end with a boy to validate the resolution of the conflict. I believe that there is something “true” in this arc—that girls see themselves in relationship to others. Plus, a hot romance makes for a very satisfying read. But in real life—where the heck is that boy? There are many, many literary and real girls like Kelly Louise who are funny, plucky, intelligent, and courageous. But there aren’t many boys in the real world like Edward in Twilight. Or if there are—no, there just aren’t any boys like that.

So here comes Kenny, bursting into my imagination. Fully human, fully boy—sort of an inside out of the Vampire model. And it’s his presence in the book, his likeable but sort of repulsive realness and his inability to keep a damsel in distress from becoming distressed that acts as catalyst for Kelly Louise’s story. A side message of this book, at least in my own head, is that it is better to love things as they are than to love them for what you want to them to be. Illusions are ultimately soul-destroying because they breed disappointment. Kenny is way sexier than Edward, if not in looks and suave vampire aloofness, at least in real flesh and blood deliverable vibrancy. You can find boys like Kenny working in the back of any restaurant kitchen. I believe that he exists and I believe Kelly Louise matures and evolves when she recognizes and relates to his realness instead of seeking out the Vampire.

Joy: Where did the idea for Stranded come from? Are there certain things that inform your writing more than others?

Jen: A friend recently called me a transgressive writer, probably what I get for hanging out with smart people. I had to go the dictionary to figure out the definition of the term. What he meant was that my stories are informed by people who develop moral codes outside the bounds of society (as a result of transgression). And I guess that’s true. Stranded was inspired by a series of news stories and editorials I read concerning a young girl who had abandoned an infant, gotten caught, and gone to jail. The public reaction included fury at her behavior. Was she a monster? Was she a victim? The question triggered something in me. I felt emotionally connected to her story, like there were lessons in it.

Joy: Why Iowa?
Jen: It’s more a question of why not Iowa? Babies are just as apt to wind up in cornfields in Tama County as they are dumpsters in Cleveland. People sometimes forget that, but maybe it’s better if we don’t. If we equalize our conceptions of place maybe we can take care of everyone and be less divided about who owns the right to call themselves citizens of Heaven.

Joy: So what is it about these bedraggled, stoner, morally ambiguous guys that attracts you to create them as your characters?

Jen: Some of these guys have impressive careers in the arts or restaurant fields after their periods of disaffection. Some keep smoking pot. Either way, they’ve made a break and rebelled against the machine.

I’m equally attracted to Principal Gruber and Knees, quieter men in each of my books who have also chosen to take the road less traveled by. They are themselves in a world that wants to rubber stamp them. They seem to do this without anger, as if they would hang on tighter to society, if society would hang on to them.

People should write their own moral codes, think for themselves about the rightness and wrongness of things. Humans have an instinct for good and I believe the quality is one of those mysteries of the planet that is larger than ourselves and the societal definitions we would inflict on it.

Joy: Chocolate or peanut butter?

Jen: Both should always be used in the same sentence. A person should never choose between the two. They are the yin and yang of existence.

Joy: Pop culture influences? Were you in fact a fan of Gilligan's Island reruns?

Jen: Recently I watched a Mad Men episode in which the characters talk about Marilyn Monroe vs. Jackie Kennedy. Good girl vs. bad girl. Betty vs. Veronica. It’s one of those weird archetypes. The Ginger vs. Marianne dynamic stuck with me as I coped with the differences between Natalie and Kelly Louise. I was forced to watch many, many, hours of reruns of Gilligan’s Island because my parents only let us near the television between 5 and 6 pm on weekdays. I am also programmed to think of life in terms of Hogan’s Heroes, Mash, and Star Trek. Over-aired television has definitely shaped my world view.

Joy: Stranded is a slightly risky endeavor - as it touches on religion, hypocrisy, underage sex, loss of virginity, homosexuality and other juicy topics. Do you consider those risks as you write, or do you just tell the story that needs to be told?

Jen: I love the line in The Lorax where the Onceler says “Now listen here, Dad, all you do is say bad, bad, bad.” Because it’s true. That Lorax is a freaking broken record of doom and gloom.

But somebody has to save the Trufalla Trees.

We don’t really want that Lorax to go away.

If social change can happen via the wit of a teenage girl who is obsessed by sex and scandal, why not let it?

I might toss bad, bad, bad into my storyline, but all I want is good, good, good, to come out of it. Sometimes that’s how discovery works.

Joy: What are you working on next?

Jen: I decided to write a novel narrated by Kenny Stockhausen. I just couldn’t leave that guy alone. Fleeing the law for a crime he only sort of committed, he gets himself a job in a horse barn at an all girls’ summer camp in Maine. I’d let you in on more, but I think I better leave it at that and give the full elevator pitch at the end of the summer—the lessons he learns, the drama he faces.

Joy: Anything else about JT Dutton that you'd like readers to know? Like where the JT came from, perhaps?

I chose just J. Dutton first, but I liked the ring of J. T. (even though J. T. is the name of my neighbor’s dog.) When people ask me about the T, I tell them it is short for Tiberius like Captain James Tiberius Kirk. All of my initialing is just a crazy attempt to obscure my real identity.

Please feel free to just call me Jen.

Joy: Thanks, Jen! Some of the best answers I've ever gotten! And it explains why we get along so famously - I too, spent time lying on the carpet watching reruns of Star Trek. So what I should have asked was: favorite Star Trek original series episode. For the record, I have two: Trouble with Tribbles and City on the Edge of Forever. (gotta love that Joan Collins. and Spock in a cap. and William Shatner over-acting during the tragic ending...)

Tomorrow, we'll talk Stranded review. Admittedly you've gotten some hints today!

Til next time...
And until then, check out this video from Harper Teen, where Jen chats some more about Stranded!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday stuff... and did you know?

Really should be finishing my stack of censorship essays, but some tasks are too depressing to complete all at once. And here I thought everyone would have an opinion... possibly having an opinion is hard work. Wouldn't want to work now, would we, kiddies?

Tons of stuff that should also be commanding my attention: am I going to SCBWI LA? Do I need to make my hotel reservation now for Orlando NCTE? I really should be subbing another HuffPo piece. What the heck is my quiz for part one of Fahrenheit 451 going to look like? When am I going to get those copy edits for Haunted?

Speaking of which - guess since it's public now, I can chatter about the newest change in my world. Editor Dan has moved to Harper Collins, where he is now grand master of Intellectual Property for teens and children's books. (cool, eh?) And although I miss him madly, I do get to work with one of my other favorite people - Kelly Barrales-Saylor, who had also been part of the Dreaming Anastasia team and is also an all around very cool hipster girl who has worked quite hard the past few weeks on my behalf. Publishing = change. On a very regular basis, it seems.

No ALA for me this year. I will still be semi-radioactive, I think, from the last steps toward making the big bad cancer go poof. So if anyone stops by the Sourcebooks booth - tell Publicist Paul or Publicist Kay how excited you are about Haunted. Too bad Joy's not here, you should say. Oh how we miss that snarky woman. No clue if we'll have ARC's out by then. But I'll let you know.

Later this week - my interview with Jen Dutton and then my review of her upcoming Stranded. I'm very excited to share this interview with you. Jen ROCKS!! Seriously- the woman is deep! And one cool mama.

til next time...