Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guilty Pleasures and other Things or Occupy Thankfulness

Yes, I am just shallow enough to be thankful for guilty pleasures such as USA network's Covert Affairs which fabulously returned from its summer series status to a fall season as well. If you haven't been watching the saga of Annie Walker, CIA spy, well, you're missing out on huge fluffy sexy fun with not a drop of realism to get in the way. Except maybe tonight when Annie almost got shot. That was sort of real. Or last week when she pretended to love the hot Israeli Mossad agent... except maybe she really does... yeah, that was real. Or anything involving character Auggie Anderson, who lost his sight in Iraq but still manages to be quite the sexy super spy as evidenced by the photo above. Yes, the writers seem to have exponentially increased the opportunities for Auggie to take his shirt off. Smart folks, those writers.

In the real world as I get ready to make spinach dip and pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce and all the other things that I'm bringing to our family/friends who are like family feast tomorrow, I am also thankful for: the aforementioned family and friends, and also my mentors, agent, editors, local booksellers... everyone in my world who laughs with me, nudges me, teaches me, makes my world a fuller and miraculous place. It takes a village and I adore mine!

Eat too much tomorrow if you can. Watch the Macy's parade. Go for a long walk. Hug someone you love. Say thank you early and often. And with all due respect to every righteous protest going on, let's just Occupy Thankfulness. Cause I think we all have a damn lot to be thankful for. Even on days when we think we don't.

Want to tell me something you're especially thankful for? Leave a comment. And then go eat some more pie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friend Friday

Pushing through revisions for Sweet Dead Life today for Editor Dan Ehrenhaft at Soho Press so I can get on the road later and hang with Janet Fox, who is not only talented and smart, she is also someone I am lucky to call a friend. She's in the picture above, second from the left. In order up there we are authors: Suzy Morgan Williams, Janet Fox, Sydney Salter, me, and Rosanne Parry, enjoying each other's company at Disney World last year during NCTE.

This afternoon, Janet will be at the Barnes and Noble in College Station on Texas Ave, talking writing and books, including her Faithful and her newest book, a companion novel to the first, Forgiven. She'll be there from 4-6 .

It's worth repeating this morning that one of the best and most unexpected benefits of my writing career is how it has allowed me to create this wide circle of phenomenal friends and colleagues beyond the ones I'd already had over years of teaching. I am thankful beyond words for these people. They enrich my life, challenge my brain, and nurture my creative spirit. Plus they mostly make me laugh my head off like an idiot, which is my favorite thing to do. I adore them all! And best of all -- the circle keeps growing.

So my question for Friday morning: Tell me about your best friend(s). Why do you adore them?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Which I Tell about Austin Comic Con

Austin Comic Con was crazy, amazing, funny, and definitely an event I want to do again. Thanks to fearless leader PJ Hoover, the Writing Ninjas of Texas came, saw, conquered, and got great booth space overlooking the stuffed Tribble store and just behind the aisle where all the Buffy people were signing. If you are not a geek like me, this may sound trivial. Trust me when I say it is not. Thank you times a zillion to all the comic book, sci-fi, paranormal, steampunk and other fans that stopped by. A huge bow of thanks to Danny and Julie of Book Spot in Round Rock for selling books at the event and helping organize (including that contraband cooler of water and Diet Dr. Pepper... shhhh...). And to my fellow Ninja: PJ Hoover, Madeline Smoot, Jessica Lee Anderson, Mari Mancusi, Kari Anne Holt, Cory Oakes: You guys rock my world! I have seriously never had so much fun or laughed so hard for three days! (Even if I did have to wear my evil rusalka (Russian mermaid) costume for so many, many hours!)

And now for a little picture fest:

Me, zombie KA Holt, PJ Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Cory Oakes

Five minutes with James Marster -- aka Spike of Buffy -- and this autographed photo, courtesy of Peter Katz who knew what a ridiculous fan girl I am! (note my Baba Yaga chicken leg hut Tshirt)

Hanging out with my buddy R2D2

Me, Jo Whittemore, PJ Hoover, Danny and Julie, Cory Oakes, Mari Mancusi, and in the front: Jessica Lee Anderson, Madeline Smoot and KA Holt - best zombie ever!

Thanks to Danny and Julie of Book Spot!!

KA Holt, Cory Oakes, Madeline Smoot, me, PJ Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson

Captain Jack Sparrow saying hi to Jessica Lee Anderson...

Kari Ann "Zombie" Holt is getting a bit peckish.... Jessica looks tasty...

Hello James Marsters.... You were quite gracious during our chat!

And over in Artists Alley, my favorite Austin literary duo and mentors: Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith!! (who were across the aisle from Peter Mayhew, otherwise known as Chewbacca!)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Telling the truth

When I teach writing, I talk a lot about honesty. Our stories, true or fictional, need to reflect the core of our humanity, the deeper essence of what it means to live in this world, to love, to celebrate, to mourn, to grieve, to fear, to rejoice. If a story isn’t honest, if it doesn’t dig into the marrow of how we see the world, it’s not worth telling. And in publishing terms, it’s also probably not worth making it into print.

My agent, the generous but tough Jen Rofe, is never easy on her authors, especially when we’re close but not quite there to telling a story that is going to move us to a different writing space. Growth in this profession does not come easily and it takes tough mentors to keep us on track. Jennifer likes to ask, “Why should someone pay you thousands of dollars for this book? Why this character in this story in this situation? Why?”

So I have to force myself to heed my own writing advice: Tell the true story. Don’t fake it, not even the tiniest bit. The setting, the character, the dialogue, the conflicts— they all need an authenticity that holds up to reader scrutiny. This does not mean, by the way, that every reader will find your story true to his/her own vision. That’s the other hard part, the part where we as writers need to keep the faith of what we know to be the story that we must tell. Readers come to literature with different life experiences, different ideas of what it means to be human. Some will say, ‘Oh no, a guy would never do that to someone he loves.’ As writer and master of my fictional universe, I have to stand by my own observations and experiences, by what I know is authentic for a character. Sometimes readers will get angry at you – yes, it’s happened to me: I’ve been lambasted by a few adult readers for letting Ethan in the Dreaming Anastasia series smoke cigarettes even though this habit makes sense for him. The criticism makes little sense to me: we are not creating stories of the perfect universe. We are telling what is.

I’ve been thinking hard about all of this the past few days because I’m reading Ellen Hopkins’ Tricks, which deals with some excruciatingly rough topics including child abuse, drug abuse, and child prostitution. Ellen – who I am lucky to call a friend – is a fierce advocate of teens who live lives that many people cannot imagine. She is an even fiercer writer when it comes to not only telling the truth, but telling it in a way that forces the reader to LOOK and not look away until the story is done.

Tricks is a stunningly powerful novel, one I would recommend only for older teens. It is gritty and graphic – often highly graphic in terms of sex and drug use. It is not a book for everyone, and honestly (since we’re talking about honesty today) not one I would feel comfortable using in a high school classroom. Such intensity is too much for some students – and adults for that matter. A student who has not yet experienced love or loss, much less sex or drug use, might not be best served through the images of violent and forced sex here as their first visions of the sexual experience. Nor is it a teacher's place to foist this on them in a classroom setting.

That said, this is still an important book. Having taught a number of years in public high schools, I never fail to be surprised by how many people deny the lives that many teens lead or who espouse the idea that writers need to censor their material so as not to influence teen behavior. Don’t write about sex (or smoking or drug use) this argument goes; you’ll give them ideas. While I am convinced that not everyone is ready for every topic at the same age or time, let me say as firmly as I can: teens are going to think about sex because they’re teens. That they can now – at an age where impulse control is often iffy – film their youthful indiscretions and post them on line is another story entirely.

I have taught students whose parents were found to be photographing them for child pornography. I have taught students whose parents ran meth labs. I have taught criminals and drug addicts and alcoholics. I have taught students who were struggling with parents with chronic illness and depression. I have taught students whose parents abused them. I have taught students who have been kicked out their homes, who have had abusive boyfriends, whose parents have been divorced multiple times, whose step-dads (or biological dads) have had sex with them. I have taught students whose parents were in prison – for drugs, for theft, for manslaughter. One dad came home and was the most supportive, loving parent one could ask for. I have taught students whose parents sold drugs or embezzled or were addicted to pain killers or who committed suicide. I have a former student who was later convicted of child molestation. I have had students whose parents were caught in highly public love affairs that destroyed marriages and lives and churches. Currently, I have a former student who has disappeared without a trace.

Now let me add that the school where I most recently taught is in a middle to upper middle class suburb, sitting next to a highly affluent suburb, north of Houston. I am not in the inner city, although I have taught there. And let me also add that many, if not most of those students mentioned above were/are amazing human beings who often rose above circumstances in ways that should humble the average person. Some did not. Some made their problems known. Some hid them very well. Most were funny, smart, courageous. They liked to learn. They made me laugh and hopefully I made them laugh too. (usually I did. I tried at first to be serious, but I’m just not, so I gave it up.)

Today as I struggle with telling the truth about a character named Amy in a novel I’m trying to get right, I am in awe of Ellen Hopkins, who refuses to back down, refuses to avert her eyes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Which Book Three is now called Anastasia Forever

This is my lovely Sourcebooks editor, the intrepid Leah Hultenschmidt. She is smart and clever and thoughtful and we have discovered that we share many things in common, not the least of which is pleasant adoration for the hunk of handsome that is David Boreanaz. (in full disclosure, let me mention that Leah is the proud owner of a David Boreanaz as Angel shot glass, generously gifted her by yours truly. Do not let it ever be said that I don't give creative gifts)

But to the point, Editor Leah has informed me that the third Dreaming Anastasia book, originally titled Again and Again, will come to bookshelves as Anastasia Forever, which we all agree is really the best title ever!

Titles are slippery little devils and they do indeed change quite often from what they were when the book was sold. Dreaming Anastasia, as some of you may remember, was originally called Spark. While reflective of the magic pulsing through Anne's veins once she collides with the handsome -- and then immortal-- Ethan, this was not in any way as effective a title as Dreaming Anastasia, which much more clearly brands the book for the reader. Book 2 of the series, Haunted, does have its original title. I know there was much discussion about this, but in the end that's what was decided. Just as dreaming was key in book 1, being haunted -- both literally, by the rusalka and figuratively by past choices and decisions, is the key element of the middle book.

And so we come to book three, now titled Anastasia Forever. Not quite ready to give you too many spoilers yet, but let's just say that it's an apt title. It reflects the highly romantic nature of the final book -- where Anne and Ethan's hearts and destinies are tested and the final secrets of the mystery are unfolded. Everyone's back in this book, including the girl in the title. That's all I'm saying.

Editor Leah and I think you will love it.
Coming pretty soon... in August 2012... Anastasia Forever. Watch for it!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Draggy Monday

So Friday night we went to Feast with the Beast which is this awesome event at the Houston Zoo where there's food from 60 different restaurants and animal 'experiences' and wine and beer and this year the B52's played. We had the best time, Hubs and I.

Saturday I felt a little meh. But still we went out with friends. Nothing can keep this girl down!

Until Sunday. When instead of getting my extra hour of daylight savings set the clocks back sleep, I woke up at 4 AM with either a stomach virus or food poisoning or the curse of death. And so it continued all day.... until about 4 this morning when I decided that I would live. I will spare you the details. Let's just say it was not pretty. Have you ever had to vomit but just been too exhausted to actually do so? Uh huh. Like that. And that's the prettier part.

By last night I could finally sip Gatorade. So when Hubs went to buy some, he also came back with the latest copy of People, the one that gives the juicy deets of the Kim/Kris breakup. He knows me, this man. By then I was lying on the couch trying to watch a movie. Possibly I watched Hellboy. Possibly it was a documentary.

As for Kim K and Kris H? I don't have a clue in hell why they're splitting up, despite People's best journalistic efforts. I do know she's keeping the 2 mill ring, though. And there was a little article on Jessica Simpson's pregnancy... Maybe it's just me, but I'm just tired of this whole ego parade. Or maybe I'm just cranky from the flu.

Anyone else want to whine about something this morning? I'm listening.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Austin Comic Con

Comic Con is coming!! Comic Con is coming!!
Would love to see everyone at the Austin Comic Con next weekend, 11/11- 11/13 at the Austin Convention Center. The Writing Ninjas will be be performing a stealthy but deadly assault at booths #521/523 where we will be signing copies of our books, giving away swag, candy and other prizes of awesome and basically taking the Con by storm. Ninja style, of course! Come on by and say hello. Check out my zombie glasses and Russian rusalka costume. Get a HAUNTED t-shirt! Who are the Ninjas? We are: Jessica Lee Anderson, Jason Henderson, KA Holt, PJ Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Cory Oakes, Joy Preble, Madeline Smoot, Tracy Deebs!

Want to read more about it? Go here.
Want to know more about the entire Comic Con event? Click on the banner above.
Hope to see you there! Spread the word. The Ninjas are coming. Better beware!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits

1. I am going to bring my left over candy to Comic Con next weekend. I swear I am going to do this. I am not going to eat all the cookies and cream mini Hershey bars on my own. I swear I am not.
2. Is anyone surprised that Kim Kardashian is getting divorced from Kris Humphries?
3. Am baking a devil's food cake for hubs' birthday. Wondering how I will cool it with a nosy puppy in the house.
4. Am in revisions for three projects right now. This is crazy making. But kinda fun. In that childbirth kind of way.
5. Tazo Green Ginger tea. Oh yeah.
6. Austin Comic Con is coming!! Stay tuned for Wednesday's Comic Con post. November 11-13 at the Austin Convention Center. I will be there. I would love to see you!!