Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

So long, 2011! You may not have been a knockout, but you weren't a bad year--certainly not after 2010, ugh. This was the year we unloaded our condo and went back to renting (hooray) with a move to crazy Venice, so the overall atmosphere of this year has been of thankfulness and relief.

I'm a pretty big fan of New Year's resolutions as a way to set my focus for the coming year, but this year I'm only making two. I'm not making any for my writing--I'm in a pretty good place there, and I've got some fun new projects to work on. Wasting time on the Internet (another previous resolution) won't be one either, since I'm getting better at turning away from all the enticing distractions offered by the world wide web. No, this year my only resolutions are:

1 - Cliché as it is, I have to start getting some exercise. I used to be a regular gym goer, but in the past year I have pretty much abandoned any attempt to stay active. And I feel it, both in the way my jeans fit but more importantly, in my energy level. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who's scheduled exercise only to skip it because I could be getting more writing/revising done! Writing in my free time is important, but good grief, I can't let it be the only thing I do in my free time.

2 - And further to the previous resolution: Be a social animal. Because I got so obsessed with writing this year, I turned into even more of a hermit than I usually am. This has made me an incredibly boring person who has to be nagged to go out and meet people, and usually does so looking like a schlub. I don't like to look like a schlub. I am a fan of good grooming. Not only does going out and being a social animal make me feel better about myself, but I found that when I do get out of the house, being out (and I'm talking about out in the city, not sitting at a friend's apartment drinking wine) and watching and interacting with people is actually a great way to get those creative gears turning.

So that's it. There are other things I should do--eat leaner, read more books--but these are the two things that have been really nagging at me. Good luck with your resolutions, if you're making them, and I wish you all an outstanding 2012!

p.s. My apologies for bailing on the YA Superlative blogfest--between the houseguests, the exhaustion, and having read so few 2011 books, I couldn't get it together. I've been reading the other blogfest posts though, and have queued a bunch of new books to read next year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Superlative Blogfest: Head of the Class, 2011

So when I started getting ready to compose my first entry for the YA Superlative Blogfest, I went to my Goodreads account to see how many 2011 YA books I read this year, and the answer was eight. What can I say, I've been catching up on a lot of older titles! To avoid having to put The Death Cure as my favorite comedy title of 2011, I will have to leave some categories off. Please feel free to leave me your favorite suggestions so I can add them to my TBR queue!

Favorite Dystopian: Divergent - Who didn't love this one? I'm sooo curious to see where she takes the story in the next book.
Favorite Science Fiction: Across the Universe - Spaceship stranded in the middle of the cosmos YES.
Favorite Fantasy: Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Is this fantasy? Paranormal? I'm not sure. I don't read a ton of high fantasy.
Favorite Action/Adventure: The Death Cure -  While I didn't love the way this trilogy played out, it was gripping enough to keep me coming back.
Favorite Mystery: Legend -  Er, I'm not sure if this book counts for this category, but don't most books have an element of mystery? I really liked it, so I'm going to say yes.
Favorite RomanceDaughter of Smoke & Bone - Slayed me. Loved it.

So as you can see, I need to beef up on my 2011 reading, especially in the areas of contemporary, historical, comedy, paranormal... If you've got a 2011 book you think absolutely must be read, please recommend it in the comments!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hanging Onto Our Hats

Hello, blogosphere! I hope you've all had a wonderful holiday break so far. Here at our Venice stronghold, we're in full visitor mode. This has included:
  • seven Midwestern relatives, including three little boys
  • my brother looking so incredibly wiped already on the first day that my husband whispered to me, "Is it (child-rearing) really that hard?" 
  • my cat getting so ticked at the invasion that he went on a peeing rampage, hitting my laundry, a sofa, and my sister-in-law's jacket
  • one wild-eyed trip to Disneyland
  • one exhausted toddler in a post-Disney fugue countering the cat with his own peeing rampage
  • LOTS of cookies
  • two pies
  • LOTS of dishes
  • daily beach visits
  • one multi-dolphin sighting
  • and lots of good conversation
My guests are heading back to the winterland tomorrow, so things will slowly go back to normal. I'm looking forward to the return of my critique partner Liz, who's been holidaying in the rain-soaked plains of Great Britain, and to meeting with critique groups and getting back into a creative gear. I'm also starting to think about my resolutions for 2012--which bad habits I've settled into, and what sort of goals I want to work toward.

I'll be back tomorrow for the first day of the YA Superlatives Blogfest, although I won't be able to get my post up until later in the day. I'm looking forward to some good recommendations for an upcoming reading binge!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Little Christmas Music, Yooper-Style

Christmas is ten days away. What? That's right. Is everyone else scrambling to finish up their work for the year too?

To bring a little holiday cheer, I present you with this video of 'Rusty Chevrolet,' by Da Yoopers. I also have a question for you. Where I grew up, everyone knew this song, and so when I tiptoed over the bridge out into the rest of the world, I assumed that this was a popular Christmas parody, and that everyone else would know it too. So my question is, was this actually something that you all have heard before, or did I grow up in a Yooper bubble?

It's a goofy video, but I love it because everything in it reminds me of my childhood. The song doesn't actually start until about 1:08, so if you're going to watch it, you may want to skip ahead unless you want to watch a minute of some crusty dude digging his car out of the snow.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winding Down

The end of the year is approaching, folks. It's funny to think of December as a time of winding down, since it's probably the busiest month in the year--maybe I should've titled this post, Racing For The Finish. The music that's going through my head these days is somewhat like the finale of the William Tell Overture (which I'm embarrassed to say I had to do a Google search for [da da dum da da dum da da dum dum dum song name classical chase music] to refresh my memory as to the name...)

Anyhow...everybody getting geared up for the holidays? This is our first year in a house rather than an apartment, and I went a little nutso on the decorating. We put up a full-sized tree last weekend, though it's fake, because my Turkish husband was a little horrified at the idea of cutting down a tree every year just for decoration. We've got work holiday parties the next two Saturdays in a row, and we will probably do a little festivizing around our house as well, in the form of raclette, fondue, Lebkuchen, and Feuerzangenbowle (an American and a Turk, but we like to celebrate our Christmas German-style). And did I mention what we're doing for Christmas? My entire family--parents, brother, sister-in-law, and three energetic little nephews--are all coming to stay with us for a week. Excitement!

Since I haven't blogged in a while, I wanted to say congrats to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo! Even if you didn't hit the 50k mark, you pushed yourself to think about your WIP for a month and probably got more on the page than you would have otherwise. If you're interested in winning a signed ARC of Marie Lu's Legend, head on over to Liz Briggs's blog. It's a really solid book and I enjoyed reading it, so sign up! Also, Jessica Love and a few other writers are hosting a fun blogfest later this month: the Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest. I signed up--you should too!

p.s. Need an energy boost? Do yourself a favor and listen--really listen--to the whole thing:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Year!

I'm kind of astonished to realize that it's been one year since I started blogging here. I'm also one short of my hundredth post--who would have thought? Certainly not me. I opened my blog with a dopey post about a childhood toy that my mother was throwing away, and continued on that path of random until I hit my "must write about writing in every post" phase. That took way too much energy and didn't last long, which is how I ended up at my current policy of "whatever's on my mind, hopefully with a nod to books and writing as often as possible."

I started this blog as a way to reach out and meet other writers, and boy have I. This past year has been phenomenal for me in terms of making connections with other creative people and working on making my writing better. I was talking with a "real life" friend last night and telling her about all the writers I know who are querying and getting agents, and she commented, "Wow, it's like you have this whole other world." And it is, and I love it.

Having this blog was also a way for me to really commit to the idea of being a writer. I know that a blog does not a writer make, but it's public, and I have to be okay with the idea of someone I know possibly finding it and thinking, Huh, I guess Rachel likes to write adventure stories. Which is hideously embarrassing to think about, but there it is. Putting myself out there. Meep.

This is what blogging feels like to me
Thank you to everyone who's read my blog, followed my blog, cheered me on during the Great Thumbdrive Oopsy of 2011, and shared their experiences with me in the comments. You inspire me--I know it's corny, but you do--to push myself harder and put myself out there, and I love you, writing community!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Bits of Friday

Early Friday morning. An overpriced hotel room in northern California. Bleary eyes, no coffee. Yet.

  • I get to fly home this afternoon. This week has kicked my butt, both literally and actually--getting up super early every morning has meant that there is coffee flowing in my veins, but I also ran into the bedframe on my first night in my hotel room, giving myself what may be my most impressive bruise ever on my leg. It's still hot to the touch, four days later. Bella Swan ain't got nothing on me.
  • I don't know if it's the exhaustion or if it's the hotel room, but the mad revisions I was planning to do in the evenings here did not get done. No whining--it is what it is.
  • Tomorrow, my dear husband is flying to Turkey for a conference. I was almost going to go with him, since, as you may know, this is also where he is from and so we would get to visit his family. Alas, there were too many complications with a trip this last-minute, so I will be staying home with the cat.
  • I have at least three little notebooks that I have bought or been given with the purpose of always having them nearby to scribble down notes. And where are they? Stashed somewhere in my house. Which means that my revision notes show up on the backs of envelopes and receipts, and on a wide assortment of hotel stationary.
What I wanted to post was a shot of my crazy bruise, but that might be weird.
Happy Friday everyone! Have a good weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2011

One From The Road

I'm on a business trip this week, hanging out at the company mothership for a global conference. I always like coming up to headquarters for a taste of the dynamic environment here, but this week is extra supercharged because of the rare convergence of my entire team. So, lots of discussions on quality and policy and those kinds of fun things.

This evening in my hotel room, I'll be working on wrapping up those pesky revisions, made peskier by a critique partner's comment that unlocked new ideas for tension in some of my final chapters. What I'll want to be doing is reading the rest of The Death Cure, which I started while stuck at LAX for three hours yesterday. I love it so far, but I'm hoping for LOTS OF ANSWERS by the end, because right now I have many, many questions. One thing I really like about this book--even though I'm totally confused about who is good and who is bad, I feel like I have a very good idea of the entire dystopian world that it's set in. I've read other dystopians lately where the immediate setting is well described, but the world it's set within, not so much.

And, because I haven't got much else of note to say today, here are the books I've got queued up to read on my Kindle. What are you reading?

Holes by Louis Sachar
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
The Curse of the Wendigo, and The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

Monday, November 7, 2011

In Which My Cat Tries To Maim My Landlord

Does this look like the face of evil?
So my sweet little cat is napping by the window--no, check that, he's coming over to curl up on my lap for a snuggle. And yet fifteen minutes ago, he was trying to find the highest vantage point in my living room so that he could leap onto my landlord, presumably to destroy her. He was making scary yowly cat noises and had already shredded her ankle. She said she was fine after I gave her some Neosporin, but to her I am now forever the tenant with the psycho cat. What gives, cat? Got a case of the Mondays?

After having it recommended to me multiple times, I finally read M.T. Anderson's Feed this weekend. I find it a little hard to get into books that have their own invented vocabulary like, "I didn't want to be null for the unettes on the moon, at the hotel, if any of them were youch." But after a chapter or so, you get inside Titus's head and get the rhythm of his dumb speech patterns: "I wanted to say something, like, something that would be, you know, something about how she was more right than he was." And then you realize that this book is extremely clever and thought-provoking, and you just enjoy the ride. My favorite excerpt:
"It smelled like the country. It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was like these huge hedges of red all around us, with these beautiful marble patterns running through them. They had these tubes, they were bringing the tissue blood, and we could see the blood running around, up and down. It was really interesting. I like to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from."
I can see this book being on future school reading lists--or is it already? It's a very successful addition to the Brave New World/1984 category of dystopian literature. Read anything great lately? Or are all you NaNo'ers on a one-month reading hiatus?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Sorry for getting this post up so late! Not only am I completely wiped out from Vegas, but my husband and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 this morning so that we could go catch the last day of the Tim Burton exhibit at the LACMA before going to work. But enough about me--as selected by, here's the winner of my giveaway:

Penelope Lolohea!

Congrats Penelope! I'll contact you about getting your new book to you. I so wish I had enough copies to give to all of you, but at least you'll only have to wait two short weeks to get your hands on it. 

In other news, it's Halloween today! Anybody have any fun plans? I might have to drop by a party, but all I really want to do is catch up on my sleep. And tomorrow the NaNo madness begins--who's participating? I really wanted to, but I've decided I'm going to buckle down on my final polish of the current WIP, and save my NaNo idea for another time. Plus I'm going to a week-long work conference the week after next, and I may be crazy, but not that crazy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Quick Note

What I meant to post
Have you signed up for my giveaway yet? I think I may have committed some false advertising, because the copy of SHATTER ME I have here does not have the sparkly girl cover that I posted--I received the stark white, Art And Design To Come version. But it's what's inside that counts, am I right? Anyway, you've got until midnight tonight to sign up. I'll post the winner on Monday, because I am headed to Vegas, baby! My husband is a big fan of electronica music, so we've got tickets to see Avicii and Tiësto. Not #1 on my to-see list, but we're going with a couple of friends and it should be fun. (Speaking of my to-see list, I think I forgot to post about going to see Roger Daltrey perform the entire Tommy album from start to finish a few weeks ago--now that was amazing.)

ALSO, if your creative juices are flowing and you've got a good scary story tucked up your sleeve, I encourage you to enter Liz Briggs's Halloween Spooktacular contest. Your creepy 500-word tale of horror could win you a critique of your query and first 10 pages courtesy of Bradford Literary agent Natalie Lakosil (formerly Fischer). So get busy writing!

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Just Because' Giveaway--SHATTER ME!

Today I have something to give to you, my reader friends. Tell us what it is, Rod!

A signed ARC of Tahereh Mafi's SHATTER ME!

That's right, I'm going to mail this book to one lucky person. I'm not celebrating anything in particular with my giveaway--just had a good week and feel like spreading some love. Please fill out the form below by next Friday, 10/28. I will even mail this book overseas, because my love for you, dear reader friends, knows no borders.

This giveaway is now closed, thanks!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Monday Rundown

It's been a heck of a Monday so far, and I am only capable of bullet points and random thoughts:

  • Oh happy day--I was the recipient of an unexpected writing cave day on Saturday, when my husband went to work for a 9:30 a.m. meeting and ended up staying there until 1 a.m. Poor him, but I got LOTS done, hooray!
  • I accidentally fell asleep in my contacts last night, and the punishment for that is being forced to wear my glasses today. I don't know if there's anything I dislike more than wearing my glasses. It's not a vanity issue, I think glasses look stylish. I just can't stand the way they feel on my face.
  • Have you purchased the domain of your name yet? Why not? It costs a few bucks (I think I spent $60 for a five-year contract), but feels good to own it if you're worried about some doppelganger snatching it out from under you. Even if you're not ready to put up a site, you can just make it redirect automatically to your blog until you are. 
  • Are you still using password verification for your blog comments? I turned mine off a while ago after reading a rant on someone else's blog, and since then I've only gotten one spam comment. I'm not saying it's wrong to use it, I'm just genuinely curious if anyone has had trouble with spam on their blog. Watch, now I've invited doom down on my head and will probably get a zillion spam comments in the next week...
  • And finally, here's my revision tip of the day: Try editing your doc in two-page view. It makes it look more like a paper book, and for me that really helped to see how my pages were flowing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Road Trip: Writing Journey

The ladies over at YA Highway are asking a pretty personal question this week:

What has your writing journey looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Like most of you reading this, I've wanted to write stories ever since I first got hold of a pencil. I wrote in fits and starts over the years, taking a long hiatus in my early twenties, but it was never an option that I wouldn't write a book someday. And then I realized that if I was going to write a book, I had to actually do it. I spent a year or so putzing around on a story that I eventually realized had no real plot, and then I wrote a few pages of another idea that I thought had potential, but also: no plot. Adventure stories are what feels right for me, but when your adventurers are kids, they need to have special circumstances or else logic will come calling, asking Why don't the adults here just stick these adventure-loving kids in juvenile detention and be done with it?

I sat down to figure out this problem in a cafe while waiting for my husband to meet me, and a bunch of ideas came tumbling down at once. I remember getting very excited, beating my pen against the table. I was listening to my iPod but the only song that I recall hearing is Britney's Toxic. What can I say--it was in my running mix, okay? Still I didn't write the book. Occasionally I'd find the motivation to get my characters to the next scene, but I wasn't serious. It took, of all things, a New Year's resolution to get me to write the whole thing in 3-4 months.

And then what? I polished it, I let a few friends read it, but in my gut, I knew it wasn't ready. I wrote a query letter that I didn't send (thank the heavens above--I will never share that catastrophe with you). My husband commented, It's a story about people reacting to stuff that happens to them, and that's exactly what it was.

Looking for a way to get to the next level, I joined SCBWI. I went, all alone, to my first writer's conference. I started to feel a little bit more like a real writer. And then I found the perfect critique partner, Liz Briggs, who told me on one of our first meetings, "Your character doesn't do anything. And nothing's happening." (She later told me she was terrified to say this and thought I would hate her and run away. Ha! No way, Liz! You're stuck with me!) She helped me figure out where my story was, pointed me towards helpful blogs and craft books, sent me threatening messages when I hadn't revised a new chapter in a while.

It's been about a year now, and I'm almost finished with content revisions. I've cut almost a third of my word count, changed my target age group, empowered my main character. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my other critique group, the Damn Fine Writers, who are mostly offline but also give me great notes and encouragement. I wish the process had gone faster and that I could make more time to write, but if wishes were horses, etc etc...

Where am I going next on my journey? Well, pretty soon I'll try out querying. I tested my (much revised) query in the WriteOnCon forums and it did pretty well, but I know there will be plenty of rejections in my future. I'm pretty confident, though--I know I've still got lots of room for improvement, but I'm learning, and I'm having fun. So maybe it won't even be with this book, but I like to think that someday I'll see my name on a bookshelf.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Updates

Fall in the U.P., photo shamelessly ripped off from a Facebook friend
Whoa, it's already one-third of the way through October and I haven't posted yet this month. Shame on me, but to be fair I've been devoting most of my free time to revisions, so that makes it ok, right?

Fall has fallen in L.A., starting with a lovely rainstorm last week and crisper mornings ever since. Mornings on the hardwood floors are chilly, but the cat, who had forsaken us for his glamorous new kitty condo, has returned to sleeping curled up between my feet at night, which I missed. Fall is also when my baking gene kicks in, so we've had gingerbread pear cake and focaccia, and I've got a bag of festering bananas that I'm hoping to make into banana bread tomorrow, if I can get up the motivation to try this recipe. I may have ordered a new bread cookbook. And a copy of this book, which I think looks completely fascinating.

Chilly weather gave us an excuse last week to try out the fireplace in our new home (built 1911). Thank goodness my husband had the idea to test things out with a piece of newspaper before lighting a Duraflame, so that we were only mildly smoked out when we discovered the chimney is sealed off. And that was when we learned that the giant chunky grate in our fireplace has a bio-ethanol burner built into it. Oops. One shop-vac cleaning and a liter of bio-ethanol found under the cellar stairs later, and we had a cozy fire. Brings to mind that excellent Wedding Singer quote, "Once again, things that could have been brought to my attention YESTERDAY." It's okay, landlord, we'll figure this stuff out ourselves.

I haven't been very good this past week at reading blogs or answering email, so if I owe you a response, please know that I haven't forgotten about you. My goal is to get all caught up this week, and also to finish my revisions. By Friday. But for now, I must bid you adieu and find a way to relocate the happy creature lying half on my keyboard and breathing his hot hot cat breath into my ribcage.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Ode to Kale

(The writing antics continue, nothing new to report, so instead I will wax lyrical about plants in the aftermath of a delicious lunch.)

I grew up in the rural Midwest with parents who love to garden. Peas, carrots, corn, tomatoes--I ate a lot of vegetables, but not a wide variety of vegetables. Other Midwesterners probably get me on this one, am I right? The region is not known for its exotic horticulture. A few years ago my sister-in-law left me a message saying that her co-worker had given her six eggplants and she needed recipes. I later learned that what she had actually received were six acorn squash. (Love you, C!)

Moving around broadened my vegetable horizons, and I had become acquainted with the eggplant via an Italian friend in Munich. I was instantly smitten with its creamy texture and unique flavor (when cooked right--when cooked wrong it tastes like plastic). During our early courtship, my now-husband once called his mother in Istanbul to get her recipe for Turkish fried eggplant salad to make for me because I was sick. And then I decided to marry him. The Turkish word for eggplant is patlıcan, which I think is kind of cute. Looks like pelican. But it's pronounced pot-luh-john. Sorry, this is getting random.

These days, my eggplant obsession has given way to a new favorite vegetable, kale. Some of you may be acquainted with curly-leaf kale as "that green cabbage that they use to decorate the edges of the salad bar." But like the shy girl in the corner of the dance hall, kale can be so much more. When properly wilted (rub it with salt), kale makes a delicious salad. Tossed with olive oil and salt, kale can be roasted in the oven for 20 minutes where it takes on an addictive crispiness not unlike a potato chip. Or saute it, and mix it with hot brown rice, beans and a vinegary romesco sauce for heaven in a bowl. With more substance than spinach, and less crunch than cabbage, there's nothing I'd rather eat these days than a heaping pile of kale.

Kale. It's not just for garnish anymore.

Disclaimer: This post was not written by a vegetarian. I like my bacon crispy and my steak bloody.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some thanks, and a plan

On this cloudy Thursday, I'd like to thank Caitlin from All About Growing Up and Becoming a Famous Author for selecting me to receive the Versatile Blogger and Irresistibly Sweet Blogger awards. Thanks, Caitlin! You should go check out her blog--she does these awesome Cookbook Thursdays, and today's recipe is for sweet potato soup...mmm. And this reminds me that I forgot to thank Lori from On Writing and (sometimes) Publishing for giving me the Liebster Award last month. Thanks Lori, sorry I'm such a spacer! Lori posts delicious recipes on her blog too, including this one for fresh orange cake from the same post where she gave me the award. Haven't tried it yet but it looks tasty. Hmm, writing and recipe blogs combined...I think you girls are onto something!

All around me, these days, it seems like many of the talented writers I know are finishing up their books and making concrete plans to get them into the hands of prospective agents. I'm so excited for them, even strangely proud of them now that I know how much hard work and courage this all takes. I'm cheering them on from the sidelines, but looking forward to joining their ranks (hopefully) soon. I've been able to get back into the groove of things pretty well this week and have put two newly revised chapters into the hands of my critique partner. In addition, a meeting with my other critique group on Tuesday where I got some confidence-bolstering praise (and more revisions, always more revisions) was like a shot of creative adrenaline, and we're back on schedule to start meeting every other week again rather than once a month like we did in the summer.

From the looks of things, I'd say I've got about seven more chapters to rewrite until I'm finished, and then another round of polishing/pulling threads. Could the end be in sight? I'd like to set a schedule, but lately those haven't been working as well for me, so I've set a goal for when I want to be finished, by the end of October. So people, if you see me writing posts next month about carving pumpkins and baking ghost cookies, feel free to harass me about my impending deadline.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blissfully Home

My traveling stint is finally over and I am back in my Venice home, so happy to be here that I could scream. The cat is screaming with joy too--he's barely left my lap since I got back. My skin is still buzzing with jetlag and I'm having some crazy, crazy dreams--I give it a good week before I'm not falling asleep at nine every night.

It took us a total of thirty hours to make it to Dubrovnik, and when our driver picked us up at the airport, all we could think about was sleep. But we were in town for a wedding the next day, and all our friends were waiting for us at a restaurant where they'd just had dinner. So we said Hey what's a few more hours and stayed out with them until 2 in the morning, and to be honest, seeing all their faces after so many years totally gave me my tenth wind.

The wedding was beautiful, and my husband and I got the added excitement having the suitcase with our dressy clothes get lost at Dulles. It arrived at our pension a scant hour before the wedding. We ate ourselves silly at the reception, went to a disco on the beach with the newlyweds, and stayed up until sunrise to celebrate. Actually we stayed up until about three or four every morning, just sitting around and sharing stories over cold bottles of Ožujsko. Talk about needing a vacation from your vacation.

On the way home, my husband and I stopped in Munich for a few days to hang out in our favorite city and spend a little more time with some friends. We were unbelievably lucky with the weather and got to spend time in the sun at the Seehaus, a beer garden on the lake in the English Garden. We also made it to the Oktoberfest, though fortunately for only a few hours, because a few hours of Oktoberfest is entirely enough. If you don't like crowds, then Oktoberfest is not for you.

Now I'm home at last, and so very excited for what I hope will be a long and productive fall. I want to cook more healthy meals, do more yoga, finish this freaking book. I took lots of notes on the plane and I think all I need is one good push. And finally, finally, I will able to make the time for it. How's your writing going? About to finish a project? Starting something new? What are your goals for the fall?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A message on behalf of the Croatian ministry of tourism

The quality is not great--these shots were taken with my cell phone. It took us thirty hours total to get here, but the return on this time investment has been fantastic:

The Adriatic as seen from our resort
The old walled city of Dubrovnik is totally shabby chic
Streets so clean they sparkle
The church where our friends were married. Happy day!
What is it? Swordfish carpaccio, anchovies, fish pate and octopus salad.

I think I've eaten my body weight in octopus. Lovely, clean, friendly country! Tomorrow we head back west, with a stop in Munich, but for now my Kindle and I are going to the beach.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Road Trip: Best Book This Month

YA Highway's question of the week is a fun one: What's the best book you've read this August?

I already mentioned this book a few posts ago, but this gives me an opportunity to sing its praises again, because I thought Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone was absolutely spectacular. Here's the description:

(From Goodreads) Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I had already read Laini Taylor's National Book Award-nominated Lips Touch: Three Times and was impressed with her beautiful writing and the wild inventiveness of her stories, so I was pretty excited when my CP brought me an ARC of her new book. And boy, I was sucked in from the first page. Karou is strong and mysterious, and the author doles out her background in little tidbits that make you want to read on as quickly as possible. And the writing, as expected, is gorgeous. It make me want to go to Prague and eat goulash, to wander through Marrakesh and haggle with shopkeepers. The originality of the story blew my mind--I've never read anything like this before. And the pieces of her puzzle fit together beautifully in the end, which is when you gnash your teeth and say Why can't I have written this book???

Daughter of Smoke & Bone comes out on September 27th, and if you like things that are awesome, I highly recommend you pick this one up. I know I'll be buying copies for friends and family. Laini Taylor is an author to keep on your radar.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

September Madness

My three-week traveling stint is in full swing, having started yesterday with an early flight north to the Company Mothership and a raging sore throat. Why do I always get sick on work trips? I'm not kidding--my coworkers must think I have no immune system. I'll fly home on Friday, but I've got two four-hour bus rides to look forward to between now and then. Yay.

Next week my husband and I are flying to Dubrovnik, Croatia--a journey that will take us through no less than five different airports--to attend the wedding of an old friend from our Germany days. And what's a trip to Europe in September without a pit stop in Munich on the way home to catch the first day of Oktoberfest? It will be my sixth time auf der Wiesn, and my husband's ninth. It's like being a repeat visitor to Mardi Gras, and I don't know why we still put ourselves through it. Must be the Steckerlfisch.

I love to travel, and I'm grateful that we're able to take these trips, but man alive am I hoping this is our last trip for the year. These next few weeks are going to put a hitch in my revisions, but one good thing about spending hours and hours in transit--it's great free time for plotting and brainstorming. Are you like me--do you plunge your mind into your imaginary worlds any time you find yourself sitting around with nothing to do?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Recharge of the Week

This is where I was at last night--does this count as an artist's date?

deadmau5 at the Hollywood Palladium
Music that gets you jumping and shouting, masses of sweaty, happy people, a grinning DJ who seems as excited about sharing his music as you are to be listening to it. Tank refilled. Just in time, too, because tomorrow night I will be in full writing-cave mode while my husband goes back out to see this guy again.

Why did I not realize in my 20s that live music is a good thing?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Writer's Block

This week, the good ladies over at YA Highway have posed this question:

How do you beat writer's block?

I think this is a topic we all have something to say about, unless I suppose you're some sort of freak who never gets writer's block. WHO ARE YOU? WHAT IS YOUR SECRET?

I saw a funny tweet once (can't remember who) that said something like, Gangsters go to the mattresses--writers go to the showers. It's true, I've had a plotting breakthrough or two in the shower. Also while running, or cooking, or playing Attack Horses with my cat. 

Sometimes the key to beating writer's block is as simple as letting myself write a really crappy first sentence, using brute force to get that first awful paragraph down. Sometimes it involves a Google spreadsheet and a hundred cells of stream-of-consciousness notes. Picking up someone else's book and reading for a while can help untangle the brain snarl too.

Speaking of other people's books, this reminds me of another piece of advice that Laurie Halse Anderson shared at SCBWI LA (taken originally from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way): Make an artist's date once a month, if not once a week. This is a regularly scheduled time that you spend feeding your creativity, and there are countless ways you can do this. I found a good page here with some ideas, including flying a kite or coloring in a coloring book. I was thinking something more along the lines of going to a museum or listening to live music, but taking a pottery class sounds like a good idea too.

I don't usually think of myself as an artist when I'm writing, but when we're creating stories out of thin air, we really are. So I guess on top of your writer's block cure, I'm really curious about what you do to feed your creativity. Do you pursue anything artistic outside of writing?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are You WriteOnConning?

The new writing configuration, chez moi
Hey mes amis, are you checking out all the goodies at WriteOnCon this week? I was resistant, but my CP Liz talked me into joining the fun. Let me tell you, those forums are totally addictive. I even posted my query for critique, although because I am a big hairy chicken, I posted under a nickname. I'm not hard to find, though--I told you this nickname back in January, so if anyone is really that curious, then have at it, Encyclopedia Brown.

What else is going on? I'm slaving away at the final part of my revisions, i.e. the hard part. This is the point where the story kinda ran off the rails in the first draft, and while my characters are still headed in the same direction, I need them to take a route that's less...circuitous. I'm still planning to get my revisions done by the end of the month, but it's going to be tough, since this week I have houseguests (again!), and in two weeks I'm out on a business trip. Followed by a trip overseas. And then maybe some peace and quiet. In October. (Profanity follows...)

In the reading department, I read two ARCs recently that I really enjoyed--one was Legend by Marie Lu. Good world-building, very solid storytelling, and I loved the characters. Marie Lu shows no mercy. The other ARC was Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, which knocked my socks off. The story was unique and rich, and the whole thing was so original. I'm the kind of reader who likes to be carried along by a story--I don't try to guess endings--and to me this one was just about perfect.

I hope your weeks are going well, and I hope to see you in the WriteOnCon forums. Keep your eyes on this blog--I may have a little giveaway for you soon...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Holy Moses It's Practically Halloween

How, may I ask, did a third of August already slip past? Has anyone noticed a recurring theme on this blog along the lines of, Where the heck did all my time go?

When I was a little girl, maybe around 2nd grade, I went through a phase where I couldn't fall asleep at night because I would just lay in bed and worry. I would worry about my parents, about my pets, about school, about just anything that had to do with the future and my minimal control over it. One night I remember sobbing to my sweet patient mom, after wandering downstairs in tears for the thousandth time, Mom, why does time go by so slowly?

Ha. I think my mom did actually choke back a laugh when she said, Don't worry, when you get older, time will go faster than you want it to. And I think about that conversation every time I find myself sweating over the passage of time.

I suppose I should mention that I survived SCBWI LA last weekend! It was awesome, and exhausting. I met the coolest people and had such a good time being in an environment where it just felt natural to talk about imaginary characters and world building and shiny ideas. I don't have a picture of myself en pajama for the 40 Winks Gala (does anyone? anyone?), but had some ridiculous fun. The keynote speakers were fabulous, some of them (I'm looking at you, Libba Bray and Jon Sciescka) made me laugh until I cried. And Gary Paulsen, my goodness--I don't know how many of us had ever heard of him beforehand, but we all left with our jaws dragging on the ground. That someone like that even exists!

The standout for me out of all the workshops was Laurie Halse Anderson's talk, The Nuts and Bolts of Crafting a Creative Life. I don't know how to explain it, but when she spoke to that small room, it didn't feel like a lecture, it felt like advice from a colleague and close friend. What she said wasn't revolutionary--nobody has enough time. That's nothing new. But her words hit home: We all waste time on things that don't matter. She advised us to write a list of the 5 things that matter most, and the 5 things we spend the most time on, and see if they line up. If not, make it so.

And stop farting around on that undeserving time vampire called The Internet.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dog Days Are Ongoing

I feel I must apologize for my infrequent blogging and commenting and my hideous response time these days. A full calendar, busy job and constant rotation of house guests are drawing away my time, and the little I have I am scrimping away for my writing endeavors. And for reading! My CP Liz went to Comic Con, and because she is utterly rad (yes I said rad), she brought me some exciting ARCs including Shatter Me and Legend. Whee! Go check out her blog because she will be hosting some amazing giveaways sometime soon.

In other news: LASCBWI is this week!!!! I am so excited, I can barely contain myself. I went to this conference last summer on a whim--a stalker's whim. I wasn't blogging or tweeting myself, but I was Twitter-stalking, and a particular agent that I liked had tweeted something about catching a flight to L.A. I wondered what was going on in my city, because I'd never even heard of SCBWI. Fortunately, I guess last summer registration didn't sell out, because I was able to join the society and sign up for the conference about four days before it began. I think that's where I came up with the name for my blog, too, because boy did I feel suuuuuper awkward all weekend. I loved the speakers and meeting other writers, but I felt a bit like a giraffe wandering through a meerkat community.

But not this year! Joining SCBWI has enabled me to meet my critique partners, which is how I got into blogging, which is how I met all you cool folks. I'm so looking forward to catching up with friends and meeting other bloggers face to face. If you're going to be at the conference and happen to see this giraffe ambling through the corridors, please come say hi, and I will do the same. In that spirit, I'm also updating my profile picture, since I don't plan on donning the pink bunny ears despite the instant recognition they would bring me.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's your favorite line?

Happy Monday! I hope everyone out there had a glorious weekend and got more sleep than I did. Folks who went to Comic Con: POST PHOTOS NOW PLZ K THX.

Yup, that's the one
Most of us have a movie quote or two in our regular repertoire, am I right? Two of my favorites are "You can do eeet!" and "Chill, Winston," and at the moment I could not tell you which movie either of them came from*. Lately, though, one of my favorite lines to quote is from the book The Giver: "Precision of language, Jonah." I didn't even dig the book that much, but the line is great to use on flaky friends or a nonsense-talking husband (who, unfortunately, is the only one who gets it). Just a few minutes ago I was poking around online and I found a sentence someone had written that was the equivalent of: "Kelsey and me stood around long after the party was over." That kind of bad grammar makes my toes curl, and the first thought that popped into my head: Precision of grammar, Jonas!

(Side note: I did an exact search on this quote, thinking I would find it used in a hundred different places, but I only got one hit. Guess it's not as popular as I wanted to think.)

Other than a few completely random and useless Stephen King phrases that I will never get out of my head, I don't think I have any other favorite memorized lines from books, but I'm guessing that some of you do and I'm curious to hear them. So if you have time, please share your favorites!

*Yeah I had to go look them up. I knew Rob Schneider says the first one but I didn't realize he says it in, like, every Adam Sandler movie. The other is from Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels, and if you haven't seen that movie yet, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fun With Dialogue And Stuff

So I'm finally getting back into the writerly swing of things in my sunny new home office, working my way through the Dreaded Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen Where Things Get Complicated. Not that things aren't complications in every chapter, but here I'm trying to construct some deception and in a way I feel like I'm writing a geometric proof.

My deception is based on dialogue, and two characters who each suspect the other of something terrible, but each are hiding secrets of their own. Trying to write their conversation makes my head hurt, because it's not just question and response, but what is character A not telling and what does character A think about character B that's not really true, but what can he say that will fit both what he knows and play into what character B believes about him, which also isn't really true. I ended up scribbling out two separate pages of what each one would want to say, and then tried to match them up like a puzzle. I've got it down now, but it's a pretty awkward conversation and will require much smoothening in a future draft.

In other news, I took quite the beatdown* in critique group this week from a CP who's having trouble with one of my character's dialogue. I do have a weakness for tossing in the random extremely formal line of dialogue--I think I read too much British lit when I was a kid. So at some point I'm going to have to go through the entire manuscript and highlight this character's lines to make sure his voice stays even.

Do you like writing dialogue? Got any good tricks for making it work?

*Not really a beatdown, I just like that word. It was more like bitter medicine--good for me, but still unpleasant to take.

Friday, July 15, 2011

News From The End Of The World

The end is coming in Los Angeles, have you heard? That's right: Carmageddon is here. Tonight, starting around 7 p.m., authorities will begin shutting down a major section of one of our major freeways. Havoc will ensue, we've all been promised. There are billboards, public service announcements, apps and probably even entire companies springing up around this one event. My favorite billboard leads with the line: DON'T GET STUCK. Have you heard about this, rest of the country? 'Cause here it's mayjah.

What will happen? Will there be gridlock spread out over every inch of the city? Will there be rioting for essential goods? Will the entire county spontaneously burst into flames? I predict...not much. Most people I know are staying home, staying local, keeping it low-key. Riding bikes, reading books perhaps? I'm hoping for an idyllic weekend, and perhaps fewer inland yahoos at the beach.

Reading: I finished Unwind, and whoa. Have you read it? There is a chapter near the end that is hands-down the creepiest thing I have ever read. Bravo, Mr. Shusterman--you blew Stephen King out of the water. I'm now reading Thirteen Reasons Why because I needed a taste of reality, even if it's kind of dark and depressing. I'm thinking I might need to read Bossypants or Anna and the French Kiss after that to lighten the mood.

Writing: Revising a chapter a week, thanks to the tireless nagging encouragement of my CP Liz. She's going to ComicCon next week and I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. It's not three-chapter-a-week progress, but right now I'll take any forward motion.

What are you up to this weekend? If you're in L.A., are you hunkering down with some rations and duct tape? And can you believe we're already halfway through July? What happened??

Friday, July 8, 2011

That Old Disembodied Feeling

It's been five years since I last moved, and I'd forgotten about that odd feeling that comes with waking up in a stranger's house every morning, making coffee in a stranger's kitchen. I feel so detached from my old routines and my old self. Who am I? What do I do? Really, I was writing something?

Let's see if I can dig up enough random thoughts for a Friday Five:

  • Firstly, thanks go to my critique partner Liz, who has hounded me relentlessly this week to get back into my revisions. (I swear I'll get more chapters to you soon!) Were it not for her, I probably wouldn't start again until mid-August.
  • Google+ is out and everyone around me is going bananas for it. Are you on it? Do you like it?
  • I have never lived somewhere with hardwood floors before. I have no idea what to do with them. Do I need to buy a mop and bucket? A scrub brush and kneepads? Do these Swiffer monstrosities do the trick, or is it like rubbing a wet paper towel over a greasy stovetop?
  • Reading time has been severely curtailed, but I'm still reading Unwind by Neal Shusterman and love that I have no idea where it's going right now. 
  • I baked a cake! It looks very pretty, but to be honest the eating experience left something to be desired, as the cake base came out unpleasantly dense. In Germany you just buy your cake base in the grocery store, and thus I haven't been able to find many recipes online. Any Germans out there have a fabulous recipe for a nice fluffy Tortenboden?

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, July 4, 2011

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

Happy Fourth! If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend watching the John Adams mini-series that HBO made a few years ago with Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. I don't really read any non-fiction history books, but I bet there are some great ones about the Revolutionary period. Can anybody recommend any for me? Is Stephen Ambrose the way to go?

Pretty cool guy
My favorite Fourth of July memory is from one of the years when I was living in Germany. A bunch of us Americans got together for a bbq and brought our favorite dishes from home--I brought strawberry pretzel jello salad--and we invited all of our German friends and taught them how to do keg stands. At the end of the evening, we stood together and sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and I'll be damned if I didn't get all teary. It's nice to feel like you belong somewhere, and I think it's important to take a day and appreciate that.

Today my husband and I are celebrating the holiday by unpacking boxes and cleaning the patio. The cat is still figuring out these hardwood floors, and he's had a few Bambi moments. When he runs across the room, he sounds like a horse. We haven't gotten our grill yet, so we're making cold Turkish food for our holiday meal. What are your celebratory plans?

Thursday, June 30, 2011


That title is meant to be funny--I'm not really beating myself up over not finishing my revisions this month. It's been crazy-busy here the past couple of weeks, and the poor little WIP never had a chance. We moved on Tuesday, by which I mean that movers hauled our furniture over. Everything else--plates, pots, pans, etc--is still at the old place and being picked up on an as-needed basis until we can build the momentum to pack it all up.

Here is a photo of my new home office! This is where I will be writing...once we get an office chair. Until then we're using an Ikea footstool, which doesn't feel as ergonomic.

Wondering why my bookshelf is empty? Well, I haven't finished unpacking and arranging. But here's a good start:

I did skip out on moving last Saturday to go out to Pasadena with my CP Liz to the YA in Bloom event. Some very cool local YA authors were there, and I got a copy of In the Path of Falling Objects signed by the supercool Andrew Smith, and won an ARC of Gretchen McNeil's Possess, and since she was there too I asked her to sign it as well. She was so sweet and friendly--I can't wait to read her book. Folks, these are my first two signed copies of anything! I had a great time talking to other local writers (hi Sophia! hi Kristen! oder vielleicht sollte ich eher grüß dich sagen?) Has anyone ever counted the number of YA writers who also speak German? There are more than a few of us. What is up with that? Anyway, so much fun talking with them--I hope there are more social events like that soon.

So there goes June--and now we're halfway through 2011. Fellow JuNoWriMo'ers, I hope you all had more success than I did meeting your goals. This move really threw a wrench in my plans. I'm giving myself the weekend to settle in, eat some bbq and watch some fireworks, and then Tuesday it's back to the grindstone. Enjoy the holiday weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Doing The Things We Do Not Relish

I just wanted to post a quick update to say that I'm still around. We got the keys to our new place this afternoon, so the moving madness is about to hit full swing. Oh joy. We packed up about 30 tons of books last weekend, and we haven't even finished the first bookshelf yet. Good thing I picked up that Groupon for a chiropractor.

It was exciting to walk around the new place and imagine what it will be like when it is full of us and our belongings. We've got a great location, right in the middle of Venice. We're increasing our square footage, including an extra bedroom. All in all, this is a big happy step for us.

So why was I feeling a little panicky when I got back home to my apartment? I started to worry about silly things like what cupboard I would put my spices in, and less silly things like what if someone vaults the fence and breaks in? I've only lived in complexes out here, never in a single-family house, so I feel like I'm venturing outside the fortress. And the parking spots, oy--I think I'll need to turn in my Prius for a clown car to make these turns.

These are the kinds of worries that keep people from stepping outside their comfort zone, I know. Life will be different here, and different is scary. But just like starting a new job, going to that conference, sending out those query letters--these are the things you put yourself through to get somewhere better.

The writing has taken and will continue to take a bit of a dip over the next week or so while we reassemble ourselves five miles down the road. I'm keeping my hopes up that it will go smoothly, and using the image of my sunny new home office as incentive. I'll be at the YA in Bloom event out in Pasadena on Saturday, so if you're going, look for the shell-shocked gal with the cramped hands and crooked lumbar support belt rocking back and forth in the corner, and come say hi to me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thunder's Day

Hello, Thursday. How did you get here so fast?

We went out with an out-of-town friend last night for a few drinks, and I'm feeling rather...slow today. I want to start off my post today with a big thank you to Jenna Cooper for bestowing the Versatile Blogger award on me. Posting the button and nominating more folks is sounding really complicated and in truth I'm not feeling especially versatile at the moment. I nominate you all in spirit. And instead of listing 7 things about myself, as I tend to share plenty on this blog anyhow, I'm going to list the next 7 books that are queued up on my Kindle.

1. Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan
2. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness
3. Revolution - Jennifer Donnelly
4. Everlost - Neal Shusterman
5. Unwind - Neal Shusterman
6. Great House - Nicole Krauss
7. Pathfinder - Orson Scott Card

I'm very excited about all of these. Feel free to geek out with me if any of these are your particular favorites.

JuNoWriMo update: I'm still way behind schedule, but I've been kinda kicking butt this week so I'm feeling good. With these revisions, I'm truly learning the meaning of killing your darlings. Scenes that seemed so important before are flying off left and right, and I'm okay with that. An agent (and I wish I could remember which one) once posted that it's okay to kill your darlings because you'll write new and better darlings, and that little token of advice has brought me complete revision zen. And it's true, I like the new scenes better.

And finally, some dates: If you live in the LA area and are free this Saturday, do yourself a favor and get over to Pink Taco for the first ever Kit Lit Drink Night from 6-8. This sounds like so much fun, but tragically I already have plans that I can't get out of. So go, and then tell me how awesome it was and how much I missed out. I'm pouting already.

Also, tomorrow is the last day to sign up for the SCBWI summer conference at the early rate. It's only a $20 difference, but if you know you want to go, why not bite the bullet and write that fat check now? I know it's not cheap, but I went last year and it was worth every penny. If you have any questions about it, or about traveling to LA, feel free to email me.

Did you know today is Recess at Work Day? I hope you're celebrating. I hear ethernet cables make good jump ropes...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Please Sell Me Your Time Machine

I skipped blogging for most of last week, and I'd like to tell you that it was because I was getting caught up on all my revision goals for JuNoWriMo.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

However, I did make some progress, and I'm still chipping away. I've reached a few chapters where I can revise what's already written rather than writing all new stuff, which I hope will help me to bound ahead a few chapters. Because I feel like this is NEVER GOING TO END.

I don't really get time for writing on the weekends, so I have to fit my writing time in during the week. Between my job and the fact that my husband and I have plans most evenings, this leaves a very fine sliver of time for yours truly. Most days I have to make a choice--do I use this time for writing, or to go to the gym? Because for the life of me, I cannot fit in both. More often than not, I end up getting all indecisive and doing neither, and that free time gets sucked into the social networking abyss. And then I don't get a workout, which makes me sad and flabby, and I don't make progress on my WIP, which makes me sad and ornery.

Clearly I need to work on my time management skills. Last week I told my critique partner I feel like if I could just get a handle on one of these things, then I could figure out how to manage both. So I am dubbing this THE WEEK OF NOT HAVING TO CHOOSE, and layering a gym challenge on top of my revision challenge. I dragged myself out of bed this morning to get to an early spin class, which got me to work early as well, and I'll be damned if I'm not feeling perkier and more ambitious than usual. So for this week: a workout every morning, and revisions on the next three chapters.

Hold me to it, blogosphere. I will figure out how to manage my time if I have to bend the space-time continuum to do it! And tell me, what secrets have you discovered for managing your time?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday, Monday

I have returned alive from my husband's birthday weekend in Vegas. Alive, and with all the energy and ambition of a garden slug. Let's do a Monday Five, shall we?

  • I followed the WSJ kerfuffle on Twitter over the weekend, and damn, the YA folk are a passionate group! It all comes down to parenting, right? People trying to tell people how to raise their kids, those people telling them to back off, everybody swayed by the people who aren't doing a great job of raising their own kids, since those are the ones everybody hears about because they are more likely to end up in the news. Oh, the humanity. I spent my youth reading Stephen King books, so a little dark YA certainly wouldn't have twisted my soul.
  • After reading that article, I decided it was time to finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think I jumped on board a little too late though--I know it's a classic and all, but the 1943 writing style is driving me bonkers. It's like Angela's Ashes, only with a lot more telling. Telling, telling, telling. Don't hate me, I know this book has mega-fans.
  • We signed a lease this morning, which makes it official that we are moving in a few weeks. This is a little scary, as we haven't moved in five years and we are going from an apartment to a full-on house, with stairs and everything. Also, I haven't met the landlords yet (this was done through a realtor), and I hope they are awesome. Scary.
  • Last week my awesome critique partner Liz (who swears she is coming off blog hiatus soon, right Liz?) signed us up for the YA in Bloom event out in Pasadena on June 25th. Anybody else going?
  • JuNoWriMo update: According to my calendar, I need to be done revising chapter 14 by the end of the week. I just finished up 9. Wildly, wildly optimistic, but I'll be pushing myself to get as close as possible. Blog updates may be infrequent this week. And on that note, adios!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Joy of Scent

For about the last five years, I've had a lot of problems with my sinuses. I've tried all sorts of stuff to fix them (if one more person tells me to try a neti pot I will scream), but the problem still comes and goes in waves of sinus infections. Obvious and worst side effect: not being able to breathe. Less obvious but more troubling side effect: loss of smell.

When you can't smell anything, it's not like losing your hearing or vision. Life goes on basically the same, and you walk around oblivious in a scent-free world. Sometimes it's even a good thing, when everyone around you is writhing over some horrible stink, and you're grinning like a fool. But then comes dinner time at a fancy restaurant, and you find yourself eating a $40 plate that looks like a work of art and wondering how it tastes. Fresh mint and eucalyptus leaves are interchangeable for you. Or you're cooking, and you lean over the bubbling pot to waft some steam towards your face, and...nothing.

I'm on a new mix of drugs this week, and the swelling in my sinuses has gone down enough that my smell receptors have resurfaced. I don't recommend it, but if you do ever happen to lose your sense of smell for an extended period of time, it's pretty awesome when it comes back. All of a sudden, you smell EVERYTHING. It's like super-bionic smell, you can smell carpet and paint and grass and dirt and motor oil and everything you walk past, and because it's been so long, it all smells good. It's a symphony in your nostrils. Right now I'm doing some laundry, and the detergent is kind of blowing my mind. It's so STRONG.

Anyhow, that's all I wanted to share for today. Kind of random. Writing progress continues, chapter 9 has been (mostly) dealt with. I just can't blog about writing when I'm so obsessed with grabbing everything in sight and stuffing it under my nose. Anybody else gone through something like this? No? Well, enjoy the weekend. JuNoWriMo'ers, be productive!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No Gloom For Me, Thank You

Here's something I didn't know about Los Angeles when I moved here: June sucks. You may think we're all sunshine and beaches and movie stars out here, but in June a marine layer rolls in off the ocean to hover over our fair city, and we are grey and overcast for pretty much the entire month. They call this June Gloom. Oh, the tourists just love that! Last summer the marine layer started early, with May Grey, and lasted much longer, right through Fogust, and we got cheated out of our southern Cali summer altogether. You should have heard the collective whining!

I'm still a fan of June though, that mild portender of barbecues to come. Back in the day, it was when school got out and the lazy mornings of sipping Kool-Aid and watching The Price Is Right began. It's usually a slow month, sandwiched as it is between Memorial Day and Fourth of July. Folks in the Midwest might be planting their gardens, or harvesting their first tender lettuce and tiny strawberries. Sigh. I need a plane ticket to Chippewa County.

Here in L.A., I won't be letting June Gloom get me down--I've got too much to do. As noted in my last post, I'm taking part in Shallee McArthur's JuNoWriMo challenge, with the intent to revise three chapters a week. This means I'm supposed to be done with chapter 11 by this weekend, and...I may not hit that goal. I'm still negotiating a series of agreements with chapter 9, and I'm leaving tomorrow for Vegas to celebrate my dear husband's (June!) birthday. This doesn't mean I can't try to catch up next week. Six chapters! Double time! I'm also, um, moving in two weeks, which might throw a tiny wrench in my intentions. Will this make me scrap my calendar? No way! Full charge!

How could I be gloomy when I've got so much fun ahead of me? What are your June plans?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Get Your Writing Butt In Gear

Did that title make any sense? Folks, what I wanted to point out to you today is that the lovely and charming Shallee McArthur is hosting a JuNoWriMo challenge for those of us who need a proverbial kick in the pants! Head over to this post to sign up--there are still two days left to plan out the conquest of your WIP. We'll be cheerleading and sharing the details of our valiant struggles on Twitter using the #JuNoWriMo hash tag.

For me, the goal is to FINALLY FINISH THESE FREAKING REVISIONS. Because if I don't get moving, I'll flop around on this part of the process forever. My plan is to revise three chapters a week, which is totally doable as long as I spurn my friends, order takeout every evening, and cut my sleep time down to four hours a night. Totally doable.

But seriously, sometimes a little jump start is what you need, especially when you've got a million other things going on that suck away your focus. Need to rewrite a chapter (or six, or seven)? Sit down and start, and maybe it will be amazing, and maybe it will be painful and ugly. Then come over to #JuNoWriMo, and we can all whine/cry/exalt/hyperventilate together.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wadsworth Longfellow I Am Not

Brownie points if you can name his most famous poem
without googling him (I could not)

So, I entered the poetry contest on Rachelle Gardener's blog last weekend, and while I didn't win, I had so much fun writing it that I thought I would re-post my poem here to share with you all (with a few small edits, 'cause, you know, we never stop editing). It's a little long, but I hope you enjoy!


After planning, plotting, drafting,
After writing three years long,
Just imagine my elation
when an agent signed me on.

Her name was Mary Ellen,
and she knew I’d be a star.
You’re a genius! she first told me,
When I met her in a bar.

I had penned a racy thriller,
based on ancient Roman lit,
Where the killer was a werewolf--
We were sure we had a hit.

Mary took it to the big leagues,
Harper, Random, every spot.
When the indies wouldn’t buy it,
Then she asked, what else you got?

So I took those tear-soaked pages
And I hurled them in the fire,
Then I went back to my laptop
And I started to perspire.

That book had been my oeuvre,
I had nothing else to say.
How I gnashed my teeth in anguish!
How I rued the wretched day!

Then genius struck: I had it.
I could base it on my life!
I could mine my wealth of stories--
The ideas, at once, were rife.

Mary Ellen met me downtown
And she bought me rounds of drinks.
Then she said, I love you madly,
But this story kind of stinks.

I’m a certain sort of wizard
I can sell ‘most any book.
But no publisher will buy this--
It’s all fluff, and zero hook.

I know this is disheartening
But that’s no excuse to cry.
Dystopians are selling,
Why not give that type a try?

And while we’re on the topic
(Now please don’t take this as stricture)
Let’s talk about your website,
In particular, your picture.

The shot is unbecoming,
But your problem’s worse than that,
For your fans might find it strange
To see you posed with twenty cats.

Then I went back to my workspace
Feeling like a bitter fool.
And I signed up for some classes
At a local writing school.

The idea for my next book
Took me ages to discover.
I was thrilled when it was finished,
and designed a flashy cover.

A desperate tale of bravery
By a Congo-dwelling doctor.
A complex plot, a hot romance,
And prose worthy of Faulkner.

Mary Ellen cried, I love it!
This is clearly your new best!
There are just a couple changes
That I humbly would suggest.

The story starts in chapter five,
So cut out one through four.
And while you’re at it, you should tweak
The dialogue some more.

The plot twist comes too early,
So delay the revelation,
And change the doctor’s background
To define his motivation.

The ending is fantastic!
But the middle just drags on,
And could you change the setting
To Karachi, or Saigon?

Now I’m working on draft seven
Of book number twenty-two,
And my dreams of overnight success
Have soared into the blue.

I’m still working as a waitress,
But don’t dare call me a hack.
I know I’ll make it someday:
Mary Ellen’s got my back.