Wednesday, July 31, 2013

THE SWEET DEAD LIFE Educator's Guide Adventure and other Wednesday Stuff

I've done study guide questions before for my own work. Did these for the DREAMING ANASTASIA series, which my publisher even prettied up for me in the art department, although I I never did see them around again other than on my own web site. It happens. They are good questions, by the way. Some projects, too.

This week I'm working on Educator's Guide questions for the SWEET DEAD LIFE series. There is a certain fascination and yes, awkwardness in analyzing your own writing. Because here's the secret of my writing process: I am telling a story. I spin that story as best as I can through a full draft and then when I read it over, I discover all the subtext and themes and what have you. All the things that clearly weigh on my mind about life and love and faith and courage and redemption and second chances, which somehow tend to be the things I end up writing about. As Stephen King discusses in ON WRITING, I begin with a basic idea-- in this case 'girl's stoner brother comes back after a fatal car accident as her guardian angel and they solve a vast mystery' --and then wind things out from there. Only later do I see what I was really writing about beyond the basics of the plot.

And once I'd written THE A WORD, which is the sequel to Jenna and Casey's story and set to come out next May, 2014, I saw even more. This series that had begun as light and humorous and quirky actually had a serious core to it and that core got more serious as book 2 went on. I want to say it wasn't a surprise, but I think on some level it was. And then I knew I wasn't the only one who saw all this because there was Editor Dan, emailing and saying you know, we here at Soho Press think this book should have a Common Core Educator's Guide. Which was thrilling because I had written a small story that was suddenly larger than I thought and they were good with that. Delighted in fact.

Let me interject here that I know teachers and curriculum folks have varying opinions on the CC and the attached high stakes testing. I know that my home state Texas actually does its own high stakes testing thing. But let me say this: THE SWEET DEAD LIFE guide is as delightfully subversive as the books! It's the kind of guide I would actually have used as a teacher. Because what is good education if not asking the little suckers to THINK and formulate OPINIONS and FORMULATE a rebellious idea or two. Or else what are the teenage years for?

Turns out I'd ending up writing a book about American culture and faith and the sometimes wasteland that is the suburbs in addition to writing a quirky angel book with a Texas twist that's mostly a sibling story although in book 2 is largely about love. Yes! THE A WORD gives Jenna her first love!! I am so excited for you to read!

But back to the guide!

Here's how the first draft of that guide begins right now. It will change a little, but mostly this is it:

Part mystery, part angel book with a Texas twist, Joy Preble’s THE SWEET DEAD LIFE series is at its core a Vonnegut-esque sibling story of love, loss, faith and belief, of what it means to be good and the inherent human failings that cause us to fall from that.

Through the eyes of its young teenage narrator, Jenna Samuels, TSDL presents its readers with an epic battle of good and evil set in the modern wasteland of the Houston suburbs. A fifteen year old girl and her not-so-angelic guardian angel brother find themselves fighting a global conglomerate that has weaponized memory drugs with the real potential of controlling human society. (All against the backdrop of mall culture, fast-food tacos, and Texas high school football.)

Through the suggestions made in this Educator’s Guide, TSDL will challenge students in English and Humanities classrooms to think critically about life and society through darkly humorous and satirical lens.  Those discussions will take them beyond the pages of the novel and will be useful in constructing a Common Core-aligned curriculum. We hope you and your students accept THE SWEET DEAD LIFE’s invitation both to laugh and learn.

That last sentence is important to me since I come to writing through after a long haul in public school classrooms. I believe that we can take learning seriously but still laugh. A lot. And even poke a little fun at our own foibles. Yup. (Hey, I'm a former English teacher. I can use words like foibles.) 

Hope soon to show you the A WORD cover and maybe even the new look for the paperback TSDL cover, which will be out in February! The clever folks at Soho Press have outdone themselves. They really get it, this whole book creating business. I am one lucky girl.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Stuff

Just drank a root beer float.
That is not the exact one I drank, but the inter webs provided a good facsimile.

I'm not fond of root beer most days, but something about summer and adding vanilla ice cream and there you have it -- a glass full of yum. I associate root beer with summer anyway. Growing up in Chicago, I lived walking distance from the lake, which meant walking distance from the beaches as well. In the summer they'd open up the refreshment stands and you could buy a paper cup of root beer, which always tasted better on the beach somehow. That strong taste and smell mixed with the aromas of Lake Michigan -- water and sand and suntan lotion and sometimes dead alewives, which were these fish that on occasion died in wanton abundance and washed up on the sand. Not a good smell, that. But summer anyway.

And cherries - they define summer for me, too.
Yes, I know you can buy them out of season from Chile, but I refuse. I want Michigan cherries or Washington cherries or wherever they're growing here, nearer to me. (This is a longer rant, but I will spare you)

What food/drink says summer to you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's Friday! Time for Updates and Booktalk

Yesterday was one of those days. The kind where come about 2 PM you think, well, nothing much is getting done here today and I'm good with that and then all hell breaks loose and the next time you look up from the million things it's like 9 PM. But EXCITING THINGS!! And someday I will spill all the beans.

Amidst all this, the week long landscaping adventure is over and my first thought after the initial 'yeah it looks pretty and I guess it was worth the $' was the thought, "Holy shit, what will the basset-boxer who loves to roll and dig do to all that mulch? Especially the new flower bed that's sort of in one of her old sprinting paths."  Don't tell me, okay?

Finally back to Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races, which I started about a year ago and then put down because of this and that and now picked up again and am loving. It is a slow read -- much slower than any of her other books and certainly slower than Raven Boys and maybe that's why I put it down when I did. But the language and the description is lush and gorgeous and unique and really NO ONE writes like Maggie Stiefvater. So damn good! But so visual in these small, specific ways that you really do have to concentrate on seeing it all. Because every sentence gives you an image of some sort. Brilliant. Damn brilliant. And underneath the beauty is a story of two characters who both want the same thing for different but similar reasons. And the lengths they will go to and the danger they will endure, in fact embrace. Did I say brilliant. Sometimes you're just not ready for a book. But right now I'm ready for this one.

And just finished The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen. I adore Sarah Dessen's work. I love losing myself in her N.C. worlds, particularly the beach books. I love finding hidden - or not so hidden- references to characters from her other books. I love her formula for telling these stories set in summer where the main character discovers that the world is not exactly as she has seen it. I sink in and I am so happy to be there. Emaline's journey in Moon and More is a perfect example, but with some different and I think more realistic results at the end. *slight spoiler coming* Not all endings can be tied up with a bow. I appreciate that because that's how I write, too. We don't all get our HEA just because the story the book is telling is over. So bravo! That said, I was less fond of the moments where Dessen 'breaks the fourth wall.' If you follow Sarah Dessen's blog, if you are a fan, you know that she is super fan of GMA. I love that quirky revelation. I like when she blogs and tells everyone that it must be summer because she's made deviled eggs. She is real and funny and engaging when she blogs. But there are minor -- very minor, as in barely referenced but still there- characters in Moon and More named after the GMA crew. There is a Robin Roberts. A Mr. Champion. I think there's even a Josh Elliott. Which is funny and in-jokey. And sweet. But it pulls me from the story. Because now no way do I believe these characters, minor as they are, are anything more than a device to pay homage to real people. And honestly, I wish they weren't there. Maybe that's just me. I still ADORED the book. For the record, Morris is my favorite character. Daisy, too. I'd love to see a book about Daisy in fact! I think she'd make a fabulous main character.

And thus endeth Friday book talk!

Happy weekend everybody!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pardon Monsieur

So next year I have decided we are going to Paris. Possibly more of France as well, but at least I will see the real Eiffel Tower and not just this:
Which actually exists in real place called Paris, TX, but is NOT THE SAME as the real thing.

I have also seen this:
Which is atop the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It is ALSO NOT THE SAME as  the real thing.

In fact these two replicas so fascinate me that I've used them in a book I'm working on, but that is not the point right now.

The point is that I AM GOING TO FRANCE.

And yesterday, I got this:

Why Pimsleur and not Rosetta Stone? Two reasons: 1. It's a whole lot cheaper  2. David Sedaris seems to like it or at least find their language lessons drolly amusing.  Yeah, that's how I make decisions, folks. If Pimsleur is good enough for David Sedaris, it is good enough for me. Moi.

So far I can say: Pardon Monsieur and then go on to inquire if he understands French. Or if he understands English. Or if he is American. Or if he understands in general. That was pretty much lesson one. Pimsleur is a stickler for the correct accent. I don't have that yet, but I am hopeful. No written words. No dictionaries allowed. DO NOT take notes warned the tutor before lesson one began. Just listen and say and we'll get you through this. Soon you will be asking the waiter for your baguette like a native. And then there was some scientific stuff about how Pimsleur knows his stuff about how the brain learns language. Even a middle-aged brain that barely remembers her high school German other than the first three lines of Der Elf King and how to order in a restaurant and ask for the bathroom.

I think the dog is learning French, too. Oui.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And the Winner is

And today's winner of the Soho Teen Spring 2014 Sampler, including early pages of THE A WORD (the sequel to THE SWEET DEAD LIFE) is EMILY ELIZABETH!!

Emily Elizabeth, if you could email me (it's on my website!) and let me know where to send!!

Congrats from me and Soho Press!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


So this is what came in the mail last week:

Yes! Even though it is only July 2013, Soho Press is already thinking ahead toward Spring 2014! Which makes my heart sing because that is when THE A WORD comes out. Yes! The sequel to THE SWEET DEAD LIFE. In which Jenna gets a love life. And a new angel arrives on the scene. And the larger mystery gets more mysterious.

So you know what? There is an excerpt from that sequel in this sampler! And samples of five other amazing books, too!

And I am giving away ONE. Yes, just 1. One special person who gets to read ahead in Jenna and Casey's story. Book 2 of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE series, a Texas makeover of the angel story.

WANT TO WIN A SOHO TEEN SPRING 2014 SAMPLER with the first 30 pages of THE A WORD?

Well, since the series is set in Texas, comment here on the blog and tell me something that you find fascinating or funny or interesting about The Lone Star State! Your name will be put in the contest hat and you may win!

Contest will run through Monday 7/15. Winner announced Tuesday 7/16!
Make sure I know how to contact you if you win!

Good Luck!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I first met ‘THE SISTERS’ – as our mutual Soho Press publicist, Meredith Barnes like to call them, yes, with the CAPS—back in March 2010 at the launch of Sourcebooks Fire YA imprint. My debut DREAMING ANASTASIA had just come out a few months back and their debut THE LIAR SOCIETY, was on its way. We chatted briefly, the way people do at these things. We listened to Tiger Beat play, because yeah, we shared (and still share) an editor—Dan Ehrenhaft— who plays guitar in an all YA author band with Libba Bray singing vocals. Which yeah, is very cool. Sometimes mind-blowing.

But back to LISA AND LAURA! They rock. LIAR SOCIETY came out and I loved it. Secret society, private school, kick ass girls kind of mystery. Sleek and fun and oh so well-written. As were the two sequels.

And the best part was, that even though they were in Ohio and I was in Texas and we have honestly NEVER SEEN EACH OTHER IN PERSON again, we kept up the conversation. Why, you may ask? Is it because you chat about publishing and the brilliant people you work with and the FATE OF THE BOOK? Because we both have new books as part of yet another debut imprint – SOHO TEEN at SOHO PRESS, a wonderful, nimble publisher of fabulous books including ours? And we both work with editor Dan again, now at Soho Press?

Nah. It’s because along the way we discovered our mutual low brow TV tastes. Specifically all things Bravo. Housewives. All of them. Andy Cohen, in general. Gallery Girls (a travesty that they cancelled after only one season). Princesses Long Island. I could go on. But I will spare you. Let us just say           WE BONDED. Andy Cohen needs to have us all behind the bar on Watch What’s Happening Live. Meredith Barnes needs to GET ON THIS!

THE SISTERS are here with me to talk about THIS IS W.A.R., their new YA, out today from Soho Press! Here is a brief synopsis:
This is not a story of forgiveness... 

The mystery of their best friend's murder drives four girls to destroy the Gregory family. Emily Thorne would be proud.

Everyone at Hawthorne Lake Country Club saw Willa Ames-Rowan climb into a boat with James Gregory, the Club’s heir apparent.

And everyone at Hawthorne Lake Country Club watched him return. Alone.

They all know he killed her. But none of them will say a word. The Gregory family is very, very good at making problems go away.

Enter the W.A.R.—the war to avenge Willa Ames-Rowan. Four girls. Four very different motives for justice and revenge, and only one rule: destroy the Gregory family at any cost.

I know, right?? I was lucky to read an ARC and so I’ve known for awhile how kick ass this book is! In fact one lucky one of you will WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY!! So make sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

But first, Lisa and Laura are chatting today about reviews. Yeah, I know, everyone’s favorite thing, right? Of course, people like Publisher’s Weekly are saying fabulous things about THIS IS WAR. “The Roecker sisters (the Liar Society books) weave money, power, and secrets into this suspenseful story of four teenage girls determined to avenge their friend’s murder.”

But every author knows that reviews can be tough. So here’s some advice from my favorite SISTERS!

My senior year of high school, I took AP English and my teacher hated me. I think he thought I was an idiot. I’d write a response to one of his prompts and his red pen remark would read, “Perhaps you’re thinking of the movie version” or some other hate-filled reaction. I’m not saying I was a genius, I wasn’t, but I wasn’t that stupid. And for the record, I did actually read Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS and I wasn’t confused by Bullock’s performance dammit.
The point is, there’s nothing worse than writing that poem, you know the one, that beautifully constructed (I use the term loosely) poem about heartbreak and loss with hope just skirting around the edges and knowing, positively knowing that today you’ll be asked to read yours aloud because it most definitely is the best in the class. And then having said poem returned without comment but rather a big, fat, red ‘C’ at the top of the paper. Average. Sure it could have been below average, God knows it probably was, but, but, but…
Well, reading reviews is kinda, sorta like that. Only more than 30 people are listening and they have no idea who you are and you’re the fly on the wall, the one who really isn’t supposed to be reading anyway and certainly shouldn’t be reacting even if it is within the confines of your own, broken heart. See? I was a poet.
I always know a bad one’s coming when I get a single link in a text from Lisa. It looks like Spam and if I were smart, I wouldn’t take the bait. But according to my high school English teacher, I’m not smart, so I always click. And WHAM. A review. A BAD review with comments. Lots of comments. I’m whisked back to high school and can practically hear the snickering rising from those God forsaken metal desks with the too-small chairs attached. These girls are vicious! They’re laughing at lines, ridiculing characters, burning books, researching our other books so they can burn those too. It’s all very tragic. We didn’t even get a C. We’re not even average. The lines we read aloud to each other, the words we lingered over, the characters we became are reduced to a pile of 50+ catty, mean-spirited comments.
But what’s a pair of writer-sisters to do? Give up? We considered it. Respond? Oh, lord no. Cry together? Sometimes. Laugh? Always. The harsh reality is that you’re the ones standing naked at the front of the room. And you put yourself there on purpose. And readers are supposed to pick apart and disagree and judge. In fact, that’s the whole point. So, we give a loving pat to the book we still adore and we look forward to the next. Because that’s what writers do. We write!

And now, the giveaway!! Since this is a holiday week, the giveaway will run through next Tuesday, 7/9!

Monday, July 1, 2013

If it's July It Must Be the Soho Teen Spring 2014 Sampler

Happy July --which we are celebrating here because the heat wave broke. In Houston, this means it is only 93 this week, sinking to 90 and possibly even the high 80's. In July! Which is awesome. Saturday it was 107. Eek. Yes, I know Death Valley and Phoenix were hotter. And yes, I actually did hear more than one person say, "107! Well, at least it's not 120!"

But the postman braved the 107 (at least it's not 120!) heat on Saturday to deliver this to my mailbox!
The SOHO TEEN SAMPLER FOR SPRING 2014, from my lovely publisher, Soho Press!

In which are the first 30 pages or so of THE A WORD, the sequel to THE SWEET DEAD LIFE, plus five other totally cool book samples by very talented authors Amy Talkington, Kimberly Pauley, Marguax Froley (the sequel to Escape Theory), Joe Shine, and Adele Griffn.

It is one thing to write the book and look at the Word document. It is always another to SEE IT IN PRINT!  Even if it's not coming out til May 2014!

A giveaway is in order, I do believe, so stay tuned!

And tomorrow I will be hosting the delightful Lisa and Laura Roecker on the auspicious occasion of the publication day of THIS IS W.A.R, their new murder mystery/revenge tale from Soho Press!