Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Stuff

Stuff I'm passionate about today:

  • Reading Katie Cotugno's blog. The girl can write. Her random observations about…everything make me want to fan girl her like crazy.
  • Speaking of which, she's doing a series on fangirl-ing and so I do have to say that I adore deep fandom. My last truly intense fandom was for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after that, all things Joss Whedon. As in I knew the titles of every BTVS ep. I recorded years of them meticulously on VHS tapes (yes, this was the late 90s and I don't know if DVRing even existed or we were just too broke to have it, but I had VHS tapes by God!), labeling the titles and the dates. I bought the novelizations. I chatted with like-minded fans on line. I memorized favorite passages of dialogue. I wrote a bit of fan fic.  I collected various swag. Okay a lot of it, most of which I still have. And mostly, I learned to tell stories and from that came my own first novel DREAMING ANASTASIA. I've been a fan of other shows since then, but nothing has come close to the Buffy years, to the sheer crazy joy I felt about new eps, particularly in the first 3 seasons.
  • My tomatoes are still growing! 9 more that may even reach tomato adulthood!
  • Vodka and pineapple juice. 
  • Miss Fisher's Mysteries, which we began last night to fill the gap until season 4 of Call the Midwife gets itself to Netflix. Roaring 20s. Amazing clothes. Australia. Murders. Cocaine. Sexy stuff.
  • My new sandals from Lucky. Fake python, I tell you. Screams summer.
  • Avocado toast!! Smear a little green stuff on toast. Sprinkle with sea salt. Heaven!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Heart Amy Fellner Dominy and A MATTER OF HEART

Today I’m welcoming my friend and awesome author Amy Fellner Dominy, whose latest YA, A MATTER OF HEART, just arrived in May from Delacorte. Amy is delightful and funny and very smart, and I was fortunate to be able to hang out with her at TLA in Austin this past April. She’s also the author of one of my favorite books,  the award-winning, OyMG, about a Jewish girl who wins a scholarship to a Christian speech camp and the things that ensue, both comic and serious from there.

Here’s the basic premise of A MATTER OF HEART, which author Lauren Myracle calls, “A novel that will make your heart pound—anxiously, joyfully, triumphantly.”

Readers will happily sink into this emotionally grounded, contemporary young adult novel about the sudden end of one girl’s Olympic swimming dreams and the struggles she endures before realizing there are many things that define who we are.

Sixteen-year-old Abby Lipman is on track to win the state swim championships and qualify for the Olympic trials when a fainting incident at a swim meet leads to the diagnosis of a deadly heart condition. Now Abby is forced to discover who she is without the one thing that’s defined her entire life.

Hopefully you are as excited to read this on as I am!

I asked Amy about her inspiration for A MATTER OF HEART, and here’s what she said:

What would you do if the one thing you love, the one thing you’ve ever dreamed of doing, the only thing you’re good at…is the thing that will kill you?

That’s the question Abby faces in A MATTER OF HEART. Abby is sixteen, she’s a swimmer good enough to compete for a spot on the Olympic team in three weeks when she discovers that she has a heart condition. One that could kill her if she swims.

So what would you do?

What would I do?

That’s how I usually start writing a novel—with a question that I can’t answer. Of course none of us wants to die. But how do you give up the one thing you’ve been living for? That’s the thought I had on the day I brought my kids to their high school for a heart test.

At the time both of my kids were varsity athletes. My daughter played tennis and my son played baseball. I’d read about a football player from their school who had died of an enlarged heart (the medical name is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) and his mom had started a foundation to bring heart tests to schools across the country. She never wanted the same thing to happen to another student athlete.

On the day of the heart test, I met the mom, Sharon Bates. The story of her son, Anthony, really affected me. It started me thinking and imagining and questioning.
The result is A MATTER OF HEART and I hope it’s a story that will touch your heart, too. Abby’s not just dealing with her health and the pressures of competition, but she’s also got parents she wants to please. A boyfriend who also swims. And then there’s Alec…well… you’ll read about him.

This is Abby’s story and I hope none of us will ever have to make the decision that she has to make.

But what if you did?

For more info about Amy Fellner Dominy and her books, you can visit her at
Or follow her on Twitter: @amydominy

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why I'm totally devoted to DEVOTED by Jennifer Mathieu!

My friend Jennifer Mathieu is also one of my favorite writers. Actually favorite doesn't quite cover it. The woman can WRITE! She has this steady, understated style, simple yet layered, each moment building to the next, the character's emotions driving the action along with the external plot elements. And I think it comes not only from her understanding of the craft and her ability to mold it to her needs but also her understanding and thoughtfulness and endless curiosity and dark humor about the human condition, about the things we do and the things we want and the things we need. It is no surprise that she started as a journalist before she turned to the English classroom and the writing of young adult fiction. Just google Jennifer Mathieu and Houston Press and you can read her columns which are irreverent and funny as hell and make me adore her even more. Like this one, in which she discovers that Gwynnie Paltrow has a lifestyle website called Goop. (which in full disclosure, I must say that I subscribed to so that I could mock it and it's worked out swimmingly)

Jennifer occasionally asks me mentor-ish questions and I mumble some answer but in truth I need to be asking her because her career has rocketed off and she is handling it like a champ.

But to DEVOTED! It's her latest YA novel, out just a week or so from Roaring Brook, and it's a brilliant sophomore book, following the equally brilliant TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, which was on everyone's TBR list last year and which is important and gorgeous and moving and hits the nail about high school and girls and slut shaming and finding who you are even amidst people who would rather spread lies about who you are not.

DEVOTED is the story of Rachel Walker, who has been raised in what essentially is a Quiverfull family-- an ultra-fundamentalist Christian movement which places the man as the head of everything and women are raised to be helpmeets and modest above all else. (think the Duggar family--which Mathieu says inspired this novel, at least in part--but without the scripted cuteness, such as it is, and with whatever is actually under there that has been hinted at with the recent sexual abuse scandal) And then, of course, Rachel begins to have doubts. Not about faith in God, but about THIS faith and its effects on her and the life she is hoping to lead.

What I love more than anything about DEVOTED is the way Jennifer balances Rachel's journey. Rachel does not stop believing in God. She does not go all wild girl rebellious crazy. But she does move slowly, painfully, and in some cases with such frightening tension for the reader, toward a personal revelation that there are other ways to live, that they are not wrong, and that she will suffer more from staying than from escaping. (Seriously, I know no other author who could build such nail-biting tension into a scene where essentially the character is sitting and reading some emails!)

Jennifer just debuted the novel at Blue Willow Bookshop, one of our wonderful Houston indies, so here's the link to that page so you can get your own copy:

Want to find out more about Jennifer Mathieu and her books? Visit her here !

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Real Life View into FINDING PARIS and Leo's Las Vegas World!

When Leo and Max go searching for Leo's missing sister Paris, they find themselves on a scavenger hunt through Vegas and beyond. Here are some of the real views of where the journey takes them!

Fake Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel!

Looking for notes from Paris! Do you see any?

Maybe she left a note up there!

When Max gets kicked out of the casino, here's what Leo sees.

More fake Eiffel Tower!

Of course since it's Vegas, there's a bar.

And oh! Is that the Bellagio across the street? Is Paris over there?

FINDING PARIS is out now from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins!
Need some road trip survival tactics? #EPICREADS  and I created some based on FINDING PARIS!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which I Am Reminded That It's About The Work: My Week at The Writing Barn

Anne Bustard, Nicole Griffin, Bethany Hegedus, Tim Wynne-Jones, me
Just back from a week (an entire week!) teaching and learning and writing at The Writing Barn, a truly magical place for writers, founded and created by Austin author Bethany Hegedus and her husband Vivek. Workshops and retreat spaces and lecture series and guest authors from all over--all talking writing and learning writing and digging in to their craft. I'd been there a few times--both as a co-guest author recently with Nikki Loftin for the Words and Wine event, and as a participant in long weekend workshop taught by the amazingly brilliant Sara Zarr. (this was in fact where FINDING PARIS was workshopped and received those last tweaks that pushed it from almost acquired to acquired and on the road to publication, culminating this past April when it released from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins.) So I was beyond honored, and not a little nervous, when Bethany asked if I would help teach a week long Whole Novel Revision workshop with Tim Wynne-Jones and Nicole Griffin.

It is a lovely thing to have the luxury of an entire week devoted only to the work. Okay, fun and food and a bunch of laughter slip in there, too, but even they are in the context of writing and revision and writing and revision and discussion of the same. Like a mini version of the residency session in an MFA program, but perhaps a bit less intense because there are no degrees involved! We learned from Tim's talk on dialogue and Nicole's on building novels by identifying the characters' emotions and even my own on crafting settings that matter, plus guest talks from Nikki Loftin and Anne Bustard (our TA for the week) and Brian Yansky. We ate our way through Austin at dinner. And we worked with our mentees, the hard, painful work that comes with talking about where a story has gone off track and how to make it stronger and better, how to make your vision work on paper. I was honored to do that, too, moved to tears many times by everyone's willingness to break through that fear and get it right.

 THIS is what writing is all about. It is about telling stories and digging for authenticity and peeling back the false stuff to get to the truth. It is about learning craft and building layers and finding the way to step back and let our characters soar. It is about knowing HOW to do all those things and making each book a better book than the one that came before it. It is about reading and learning and talking about those things.

It was good to be reminded. Sometimes I forget because there are the other pieces of this job-- the days when I feel lost in this endless loop of all the things beyond the book: How is it selling? Why did they say no to paying my mileage for that event? Did they say no to everyone? Will they buy another book? Will they promote it? Will it be enough? Am I enough? And on like that. Then I'll click to one of my list servs hoping for commiseration and someone will have typed a sentence like "Well, if they don't give you car service or send you to ABA then they're just not that into you." Or "Unless you get at least 4 starred reviews you can forget about another book." And on like that, filling my head with chatter about how I need to be on a Buzz Feed list. Now. Or someone else posts about how she wrote four books in 8 months and oh my god, maybe she could have done more if only she hadn't slept that one night.

The truth is that we can't ignore all that. It's a business after all. It's not just craft. But sometimes, it has to be about the work. Because without the work, the other stuff doesn't matter.

Last week at The Writing Barn, we talked about the work. We did the work. We lived and breathed art. It was GLORIOUS!!

Occasionally we had a few interactions with wildlife because out in this piece of South Austin there are deer and foxes and spiders and snakes and ants and bugs of all sorts. Nicole and I believe there was a bobcat trying to get into our cabin one night. Bethany believes we were hallucinating. To which I reply, it might have been a cougar.

Want to find out more about The Writing Barn? (So many great authors coming to teach, including Nova Ren Suma and Margo Rabb and Matt de la Pena!!) Here's the link:

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

And One Month In, Some New Thoughts on FINDING PARIS

Mostly what happens after a book arrives, is that there's a flurry of activity and then you move on (or back, as the case may be) to whatever come next. In my case, I'm finishing up a third (and hopefully final) draft of IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, which arrives next May from Soho Press. Publishing deadlines march on even if you're promoting something else and so for a few weeks it's like this wonderful but crazy madness as you try to balance telling people about the book that just arrived-- in this case, FINDING PARIS--while still keeping your head in the upcoming project and also doing whatever else it is you do in your life. So I've been writing, revising, teaching, prepping lectures, scheduling events and travel and book clubs and… well you get the picture.

But a month in, it's time to take stock and so I'm going to do that here this morning, or at least attempt to. My non-publishing friends will often ask, "So how's the book going?" and I'm never exactly sure what that means except that I think it means sales and then I have to tell them that while I sort of keep track, really, that's the publisher's area not mine and I don't have access to all the numbers and remember I don't sell them out of the back of my car. And then we look at each other awkwardly and talk about something else, like Hillary Clinton's run for the White House or why kale is so popular when everyone knows what it tastes like.

What I do pay attention to is this: I am OVERJOYED at how many wonderful people are seeing in FINDING PARIS the story I hoped they would see. You are telling me that you cried in the places I hoped you would cry and laughed in the places I hoped you would laugh and saw the down and dirty side of Vegas I hoped you would see. You ached for the secrets that characters have such trouble revealing and you understood that Paris HAS to send Leo away, has to force her to confront things that Leo does not want to confront. You are telling me that you see that this may look like a surface happy road trip/caper story but it's anything but that and you are telling me that you are HAPPY that the book surprised you, that the story is twister than you expected and to that I say THANK YOU! And YES!

It's different book than I've written before; it's sparer and leaner and it's really much more showing than telling and so I had to trust that my readers would look at what is being said and described and what is being not said and put the pieces together. Although (and I'm no longer worried about the spoiler aspect at this point, although if you are, please close your eyes or something) the reveal of sexual violence comes later in the novel, you, my lovely readers, are telling me that this just made you go back to the beginning and then you said, "OH! oh! oh!" And you saw! And this makes me so grateful. Because as I've said a few times since the book came out, I strongly believe that although we think that we tell the world everything with our endless posting on social media, the truth to me is that we don't. That the dark painful stuff is still hard or impossible to say and our images are important and we don't like to show need or weakness or ask for help because look at all those happy people out there smiling on their Instagram feeds. I should be that, right? How can I tell an awful secret that will change the way you look at me? So it's slow reveal that unfolds page after page but can't arrive until Leo is ready for it to, until she has no choice but to tell.

And another thing that was a surprise and a happy one? So many WONDERFUL librarians who are saying how much they love FINDING PARIS and comparing it to one of my favorite titles, PAPER TOWNS by John Green. This makes me delirious with joy! It honestly never occurred to me but yes, Leo and Paris have some journey in common with with Q and Margo -- not the plot but the essence and  so I am honored.

Anyway. It's Tuesday. I have a lot of work to do and a talk to give on setting.

More soon, including a review of DEVOTED, which is out today from Roaring Brook and is written by my dear friend Jennifer Mathieu who is such a talented writer and amazingly wonderful human and funnier than hell.