Friday, December 31, 2010

Swagger Song

I've written before about a good swagger song--you know that song that comes on while you're walking to work and suddenly you're more wide awake, you're picking up your pace, singing along in your head, maybe even winning grammys.

It's the kind of song that's as good as a cup of coffee in the morning. Well, I found another one of those songs...at least for me.

As you know I'm a total Gleek and a few weeks ago the show featured Gwyneth Paltrow as a hip, new substitute teacher. Better yet, they sang a version Cee Lo and let's just say I'm totally ADDICTED!

Enjoy! Hopefully this will help you get dancing and ready to ring in the New Year!



Have you discovered any new swagger songs?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Title Love

I apologize for a few less blog posts than usual over the last week or so. I have been traveling for the holidays and expected to have more computer access than I had.

But now I'm back to business as usual with an installment of "title love." These books include some seriously fabulous titles that are sure to peak your interest.

1. Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielson



Here's the description:
Violet's TV-director dad has traded a job in Vancouver for one in Los Angeles, their run-down house for a sleek ranch-style home complete with a pool, and, worst of all, Violet's mother for a trophy wife, a blonde actress named Jennica. Violet's younger sister reacts by bed-wetting, and her mother ping-pongs from one loser to another, searching for love. As for Violet, she gets angry in ways that are by turns infuriating, shocking, and hilarious.

When her mother takes up with the unfortunately named Dudley Wiener, Violet and her friend Phoebe decide that they need to take control. If Violet's mom can't pick a decent man herself, they will help her snag George Clooney.

My take:
I previously discussed Theo Nestor's How to Sleep Alone in a King Size Bed as a title I love. This book is, in some ways, the ying to that yang or vice versa. Nestor's book discussed the emotional trials of woman/mother/wife going through divorce while Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom chronicles a young girl's struggles through her parents' divorce and her mom's mid-life crisis all while dealing with the normal adolescent angst of young adulthood.

The title is really fun as is the George Clooney weave-in in the storyline. More deeply, it reminds us of that cusp of time of being both naive and having our naivete stripped away.

2. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender



Here's the description:
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

My take:
When I saw this book in the bookstore I had to pick it up. The name was quirky and intriguing plus the cool cover of a delicious piece of cake with a shadow of a person gave a seemingly innocent cover an edge to it.

3. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt also by Aimee Bender



Here's the description:
A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?

Aimee Bender's stories portray a world twisted on its axis, a place of unconvention that resembles nothing so much as real life, in all its grotesque, beautiful glory. From the first line of each tale she lets us know she is telling a story, but the moral is never quite what we expect. Bender's prose is glorious: musical and colloquial, inimitable, and heartrending.

My take:
I just stumbled across this book and it's definitely on my "to be read" list. It's rocking 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and I just have such a soft spot for witty titles that make you do a double-take in the store.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky



Here's a review:
What is most notable about this funny, touching, memorable first novel from Stephen Chbosky is the resounding accuracy with which the author captures the voice of a boy teetering on the brink of adulthood. Charlie is a freshman. And while's he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. He's a wallflower--shy and introspective, and intelligent beyond his years, if not very savvy in the social arts. We learn about Charlie through the letters he writes to someone of undisclosed name, age, and gender, a stylistic technique that adds to the heart-wrenching earnestness saturating this teen's story. Charlie encounters the same struggles that many kids face in high school--how to make friends, the intensity of a crush, family tensions, a first relationship, exploring sexuality, experimenting with drugs--but he must also deal with his best friend's recent suicide. Charlie's letters take on the intimate feel of a journal as he shares his day-to-day thoughts and feelings:

I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they're here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It's like looking at all the students and wondering who's had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.

With the help of a teacher who recognizes his wisdom and intuition, and his two friends, seniors Samantha and Patrick, Charlie mostly manages to avoid the depression he feels creeping up like kudzu. When it all becomes too much, after a shocking realization about his beloved late Aunt Helen, Charlie retreats from reality for awhile. But he makes it back in due time, ready to face his sophomore year and all that it may bring. Charlie, sincerely searching for that feeling of "being infinite," is a kindred spirit to the generation that's been slapped with the label X.

My take:
A blog I follow and which I highly recommend to you is Confessions From Suite 500, written by a group of young literary agents. This book had previously slipped under my radar until I read this very moving post they wrote about it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower seems to counter the belief--or even pressure--to be outgoing and noticed and notable. It tells us a little about the main character and about their perspective. It's intriguing and evocative.

What great titles have you seen lately?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Real Life "Walk to Remember"

I'm a sucker for contemporary fiction especially if there's a love story so it should come as no surprise that I've read my fair share of Nicholas Sparks. One book that really stood out to me was A Walk to Remember.

At the time it was Sparks' first foray into "YA." I don't believe it was formally catalogued as young adult but in my opinion it could have been and it certainly was his first novel with such a young main character.

First book cover:


Book cover after movie premiere:


If you're unfamiliar with it, here's a brief summary:

Every April, when the wind blows from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High. Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly the last person in town he thought he'd fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town's Baptist minister. A quiet girl who always carried a Bible with her schoolbooks, Jamie seemed content living in a world apart from the other teens. She took care of her widowed father, rescued hurt animals, and helped out at the local orphanage. No boy had ever asked her out. Landon would never have dreamed of it. Then a twist of fate made Jamie his partner for the homecoming dance, and Landon Carter's life would never be the same. Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood...

I appreciated this book because it broached the subject of peer pressure--something young adults know too well. And it coupled it with illness and transformation, something that's very difficult to discuss/accept/believe when you're young. That's because young people aren't supposed to get sick, but they do. In fact, this book was inspired by Sparks' late sister, a very religious girl who died young. Books that let young readers know they're not alone in their loss are, in my opinion, very necessary reading.

And yesterday, when I was catching up on the news I came across a real life Walk to Remember. It won't let me embed the video so you'll have to copy the link below. It's quite a testament to love and friendship. While I will warn that the video may make you cry (or at least choke up), it's also a beautiful example of the resilience young people have even at times of crises.

http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?cl=23572716

What books or movies have you seen that broached these topics?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gifts

I love to give--and receive--great books, that's a given. It's not surprising that several people I have to get gifts for are, in fact, getting books among other things. This prompted me to create a shopping list for the holidays with my book recommendations for the various people in not only my life but yours.



For the boyfriend/husband: The Bourne Series by Robert Ludlum

For the single girl: Stay by Allie Larkin. An interview with the author can be found here.

For the single guy: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max (Note: The feminist in me strongly opposes this book and I debated including it but every single, youngish, guy I've met thinks this is just about the most hilarious book they've ever read and so it had to be included in this category.) I'm also including Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, however, as the safer bet since it still has a snarky sense of humor but is more about family quirks and less about dating exploits. If the single guy is your older, loves-to-travel brother, however, then I might recommend Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks which is great and was read by me, both my brothers, and just about everyone else in my family.

For the teen girl: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

For the teen boy: You by Charles Benoit

For the 20somethingthing year old girl: The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares

For the 20something year old boy: See recommendations for the single guy

For the young child: Two Dumb Ducks by Maxwell Eaton III (This is a book by a fellow classmate that seems timely given all the anti-bullying messages right now plus it's super cute.)

For the Mother: The Help by Kathrynn Stockett

For the Father: Freedom by Jonathan Frazen or The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein or The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (I couldn't decide between the literary dad, the family guy, or the addicted to CSI dad so I offered up three choices here.)

For the traveler: McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete McCarthy

For the quirky aunt or uncle: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Am I leaving anything off the list? What books are you hoping to get or planning to give this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Clubbing It

I joined a book club recently and I love it! (*nerd warning*) I've always wanted to be in a book club. While we usually drink wine and gossip half the time, it's great fun and we all get to take turns selecting a book. This month we're reading author Laurie Notaro's novel The Idiot Girl's Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life.



I know I've written about the importance of titles and I just adore this one! It's clear it's a humorous, women's nonfiction book.

Here's what Publishers Weekly says about it:
This collection of columns, originally written for the Arizona Republic, details Notaro's daring exploits and comical mishaps as she matures from wild teenager to disheveled adult. "The Useless Black Bra and the Stinkin'-drunk Twelve-step Program" is a classic drinking story, complete with the lost friend who is eventually found in a neighbor's front yard wearing only a bra. This hard-drinking, chain-smoking approach to partying inevitably leads to some punishing hangovers; in one extreme case, Notaro is mistaken for a homeless person while en route to jury duty in "Going Courtin'." Not surprisingly, disregard for her appearance diminishes her chances of fulfilling her mother's dream and bringing home from the trial a "balding, sexually repressed twenty-seven-year-old attorney strangled in a Perry Ellis necktie." Notaro's QVC-addicted mother is predictably in opposition to and embarrassed by her daughter's bad-girl antics. In "Waking Angela Up," Notaro compares herself to Janeane Garofalo, and there indeed are clear similarities in the blunt self-deprecation that fuels both women's humor.

In my opinion, if David Sedaris' writing had a crazy love child with Melissa Bank's, the result would be Notaro's writing style.

I think her work can help remind nonfiction writers that there is a dearth of comedic writing out there and yet an audience for it. For fiction writers, we need to remember that so much of the comedy we write into our stories can be inspired by true life. We're so busy trying to create something new but there may be great ideas (or quirky characters) all around us if we just stop and observe a little closer.

Here's one of my favorite excerpts from the book entailing a drunken night out with a friend and the subsequent break-in after locking themselves out of the house. "I found that night that being smashed does other things to me besides making me believe that I am thin, attractive, and have a Motown-quality singing voice. It also makes me limber as a wrinkled prostitute, because I scaled a six-foot wall to Nikki's backyard in seconds flat, though the next day I woke up with so many bruises on my inner thighs that I thought I'd wrestled a gynecologist."

What are you reading for your book club; anything funny recently?

Friday, December 10, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

I shared this on Twitter a week ago but it's funny enough that it warrants its own post here. If you haven't checked it out, I definitely recommend it especially if you're a writer!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whip It

I caught the last 10 minutes of the movie "Whip It" last night and considering I laughed, nearly cried, and definitely cheered during those 10 minutes I know have to go out and rent this movie to watch in its entirety.

One of the things I LOVED instantly and seemed so appropriate for the roller derby setting were the player nicknames. You know that moment when you read a book or watch a movie and something (although you often can't name it) seems a little off while other times it's so believable because it's perfectly right on. That's how I felt about these names; they added comedic effect while also coming off as authentic for the setting. Here they are; I'll let you decide if you agree.

* Ellen Page as Babe Ruthless
* Jimmy Fallon as 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket
* Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem
* Zoë Bell as Bloody Holly
* Eve as Rosa Sparks
* Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson
* Andrew Wilson as Razor
* Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven
* Ari Graynor as Eva Destruction
* Har Mar Superstar

And here a peak at the movie trailer:



An added bonus of catching the tail-end of the movie was hearing Lorene Scafaria's song "28" playing during the credits. It's an instant new writing song for me.



What about you? Have you uncovered any new great songs or movies to share?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One of Those Days

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Do you guys remember this book?



So begins the trials and tribulations of Alexander:
"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

So I'm sorry I didn't post something yesterday but...

Everyone in the house was sick, from my husband to my dog. The shower was freezing cold when I stepped into it shocking me awake. The 17 mph wind easily blew through any attempt I had at layers. The metro was delayed. I spilled coffee on my keyboard. It was, in summary, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I don't often feel I'm living out a book. Usually there are only small, stolen moments in a storyline that feel exacting. But yesterday I was Alexander in this book. We were together in the struggle.

I definitely do not love these days but I do love this book. It was, I remember, so refreshing to know that someone else had felt the way I had on occasion. So this got me wondering, what books have you lived out?


Confession:
My inner soundtrack was (and without fail always is on these kinds of days) Monica's "Don't Take It Personal." Sure it's an R&B song circa 1995 but like comfort food this is my comfort song and I dare you not to love it...okay, I don't dare the haters but the others, I dare you :-)




Bonus feature:
Judith Viorst, author of Alexander among others, has participated in the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. The podcast can be listened to here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Never Let Me Go Discussion

I promised I would do a discussion on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. Since that first post, I've unearthed two more renditions of the cover:





I can't decide which of the 5 covers (these two and the three I posted previously) I like best. What do you think?

One thing about this book that immediately pulls you in is Kathy H. as the narrator and the way she distinctly "talks" to the reader, even going as far as to clarify her points or emphasize particular themes in a story she's told to ensure "we've" got it right. Kathy H. offers a more complete picture than many narratives as she seems determined to observe the world a step outside. Ironically, this sometimes means we learn more about others than we do about Kathy H.

Meanwhile, there are so many truths about the world beyond the Hailsham boarding school walls that the students (while growing up) know nothing about. They're completely sheltered. As readers, we know something is askew, that this isn't a normal boarding school. It's evident in the treatment of the students, in the sharp emphasis on health, and the lack of visitors (including parents) and access to anything beyond the walls. There is also a sense of complete obedience. Rarely do students question anything they're taught or the rules to which they must abide. And when they do--or Kathy H. does--it's carefully kept inside or whispered at secure meeting places around the school to ensure they're not detected or overheard.

Kathy H. also offers the unique perspective of age. What I mean is, often in books when a character is aging, we're right alongside them in the process. In this particular novel, however, Kathy H. is reflecting back on her time at Hailsham and with her friends Tommy and Ruth. This means that some of her memories are limited to what she could understand at that age and others have eroded with time.

Ishiguro is able to describe Hailsham with such detail that I can envision the playing field where Tommy has his tantrum, the classrooms the students do their creative art work, and the pond where Kathy H. and Tommy meet for a private discussion. The grounds seem so expansive that I imagine Ishiguro had to literally draw an entire campus to keep straight where everything is. For the reader, this allows us to really immerse ourselves in this world because we can so vividly imagine it.

This world, however, is marketed to the students as a kind of utopia. They're constantly reminded of how special they are and what an elite school Hailsham is but what they don't know is their true purpose for being there. That they are really in a dystopian state, repressed from doing as they pleased with their bodies--and their lives.

While reading Never Let Me Go, I couldn't help but think of Alduous Huxley's Brave New World. The staff at Hailsham act as a kind of government and certainly they've embraced a new, clinical way of creating people. Both are set in London (though Never Let Me Go was essentially present day rather than futuristic.) The characters find that there are constraints to the level of individuality they're allowed--or encouraged--to exude and there's the realization that their relationships cannot exist as they wish unless they move outside the confines of this "society."

While there are suggestions from some of the "guardians" who watch the students that they should know more about what's going on, about their purpose, the students don't push it (sometimes out of fear, other times out of complacency). The result is a shell-shock realization that their future has been decided for them.

If you read the book, what characteristics first struck you as unique or hinted at the true purpose of our characters and of Hailsham? Did you think Kathy H. reflecting on particular memories rather than experiencing those moments as they happened helped move the book along or limited our perspective of the other workings at Hailsham?

I'd love to hear from everyone regarding whether you've read (or watched) any dystopias that marketed themselves as utopias? And how do the main characters break free (if at all) from the confines of this society?

Monday, November 29, 2010

And the winner is...

The winner of the Personal Demons book giveaway is Raquel. Congratulations! This is a really fun read. Please be sure to email me your mailing address so I can send the book out.

Thanks again to everyone who entered. I regularly hold book contests so be sure to check back often.

Also, don't forget that tomorrow I kick-start some conversation on Kazuo Ishiguor's Booker Prize runner-up Never Let Me Go.

If there are other book contests or discussions you'd like to see on the blog, let me know!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thankgsiving

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! Here's Adam Sandler's "Thanksgiving Song." Enjoy:



And here's a little more about the history of the song first played on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program

Oh.My.God. Here's the inside of the latest People magazine "sexiest man alive" issue with Ryan Reynolds. Have you seen this?






They actually say he has "eight-pack" abs. Who knew you could supersede six-pack abs?!

One of my favorite parts of the interview is when he explains that the hardest part about his new title is going to be “organically working” the title into conversations with strangers. Hilarious!

I already adored Ryan Reynolds especially in The Proposal and Definitely, Maybe which I've seen far too many times to admit.

Clearly he was overlooked in the June post when we were "staffing" this blog operation and that needs to be righted. Am I overlooking anyone else to add to the infamous "dream team"? Oh, and if you didn't know about Ryan Reynolds before then happy birthday, you're welcome, and merry Christmas :-)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Flashbacks

My husband and I were driving back from Thanksgiving number 1 this weekend and a song by Marcy Playground came on the radio. Now I can only name one Marcy Playground song in total but that happened to be it. And it took me right back to high school.

This ignited conversation about high school--something that's kind of neat to discuss between me and my husband because we went to the same school but never knew one another while we were there. He was a senior and I, a lowly freshman.* So when he tells me about teachers or classes or other students I often already know some of the back-story about them.

While I quizzed my husband about what details he does and doesn't remember, however, I was amazed that he seemingly recalls it all. From his homeroom to his locker number and whose lockers were beside his to his morning routines driving into school with a couple of friends, picking up coffees, and goofing around.

My memories, however, seem much more centered on "events" and extracurriculars. I remember distinct things like homecoming and getting my braces off and reading some seminal literature in my advanced English class. I can tell you how our team did in nearly every soccer game or what events I planned for student council or what time I ran in track to reach my personal record but my locker number? Forget it.

I realized, however, that to be able to write a character thoroughly authors need to know all the things I remember as well as all the things my husband does. We need the complete picture.

We truly need to know everything about our characters lives and their motivations. We need to know not only what they do in school but everything they do outside of school. My husband and I then began to discuss these very things. What were we doing back then for fun? How did we get around before we had cars? What movies and other music were in vogue?

And then, to my astonishment, when we returned home one of my all-time favorite movies from high school (freshman year to be exact) was on: Clueless.

And I realized I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I saw this movie for the first time: Oneonta, NY with my cousin Caitlin. So perhaps the details of my childhood are all still here and what I need to do as a good author is ask myself the same kinds of questions I ask my characters. In that way, perhaps my writing of high school can be more informed by experience than observation. In an interview with YA author Lauren Oliver she said, "the novelist Chuck Wachtel told me...aim for truth and beauty will follow. Aim for beauty, and truth will not necessarily follow." If we can tap into our experiences and the highs and lows of young adulthood and translate this (when applicable) to our characters then we've already accomplished the biggest writing hurdle of all.

So while I adored Clueless and saw it as the epitome of cool when I was 14, I'd love to hear from you and what you remember as being "all that" in high school. I do believe recalling what shaped us, what we put on a pedestal, what infiltrated the media channels all around us are important observations that will help us move closer to that "truth" that Oliver discusses.



*ie. 14-years-old with two overprotective older brothers

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cover Love

I came across a few new book covers that I just adore though all for different reasons.

1. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry



I love how simple yet creative this cover is. Plus, if you love to cook then I dare you to try and resist this book especially after its fabulous comparison: "Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove." LOVE it! I must add this to my reading list.

Here's a little more about the storyline:

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio, isolated by Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister Amanda insists on selling their parents’ house in Philadelphia, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the unique mind of a woman struggling with Asperger’s and featuring evocative and mouth-watering descriptions of food, this lyrical novel is as delicious and joyful as a warm brownie.

2. Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender



Now I'm not usually one for horror books (or movies) but I have to admit this sounds seriously interesting and the cover is pretty bad-ass in my opinion. Plus, you HAVE to check out its book trailer. AMAZING.



3. Hold Still by Nina LaCour



I have to confess, I definitely have a soft spot for contemporary books and covers done in soft tones usually featuring a photograph rather than really modern artwork or typography. I don't know, that's just what I'm first drawn to at the bookstore and I suppose considering a large majority of books that I read in both YA and adult fiction are contemporary, it's probably not a big surprise. This book cover, therefore, is right up my alley. I also like how the girl on the cover almost seems to be on a precipice as if we don't know if she's about to jump and fall or fly.

I also wanted to highlight this book as it tackles the issue of teen suicide something that we've all heard a lot about lately and which I highlighted in my post about the "It Gets Better" Trevor Project. I congratulate LaCour for tackling such a difficult topic and from what I've read and watched about it, with haunting yet poetic prose.

Here's the book trailer which I think you'll agree, is pretty fantastic. The slightly grainy feel of the film coupled with the narrator's voice-over seems to really tap into the heart of the novel and the difficulty of coping with depression and loss.



Anyone else see some great new book covers or have recommended reads?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Moment of Zen?

I'm all for creativity; I mean I'm a writer and also a very visual person but sometimes in life (as in literature) some things just don't mix.

First, my confession: I'm a huge nerd. There. If you didn't know before, the truth is officially out of the bag. I love Dictionary.com's word of the day. Sometimes they help spruce up my vocabulary and other times it's just pure fun (nerd fun, that is) to hear the quirky words making their way into the dictionary.

But then I read about "zedonk." Yes, yes, it's fun to say but seriously what is it? Well, it's the offspring of a zebra and a donkey that's what. No, I'm not kidding. And if you need photographic evidence then here you go:



Now, I understand the want to create new things. I even understand the current obsession with mixed breed dogs like Labradoodles and Goldendoodles but, surely, there must be a line. We all take such care to try to name kids--and even characters--things that won't get them pummeled on the playground but zedonk? Not only does the name seem made up but it looks like the poor, little animal has on weird knee-high socks.

I know this isn't zen-like but in my quest for all things zen, I stumbled upon zedonk instead and couldn't help but add this to your verbal library.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Greetings from Paris

That's right. I'm not sitting around huddled over my laptop like usual but stuffing my face with croissants (okay, okay with eclairs, baguettes, pain de chocolates, and a couple glasses bottles of wine too!), attempting to speak French, and loving life in the city of lights!



So this blog post is brought to you courtesy of Blogger's amazing pre-posting capabilities. I'm praying all is going off without a hitch!

It seemed fitting given my trip abroad that I highlight Stephanie Perkin's soon-to-be-released (as in December 2!) book Anna and the French Kiss.



Here's a little about the plot line:

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

And it's been receiving rave reviews by everyone who has been able to get their hands on an ARC. I think my favorite quote comes from New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson: "Very sly. Very funny. Very romantic. You should date this book."

If you don't believe her you can read reviews here, and here, oh yeah and here, here, and here! Crazy, I know.

It's not often I see this much excitement about a book that hasn't even hit the shelves but as far as YA novels go, Anna and the French Kiss is definitely drumming up some serious groundswell so get ready, get set, and on December 2 go to your bookstore and pick this up!

I want to hear from you though. Do you think you'll run out and get this book and, if not, what books are you putting on your Christmas wish-lists?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Personal Demons Review & Giveaway

Warning: Lisa Desrochers' debut novel Personal Demons is highly addictive.



Here's a little about the book.

Frannie Cavanaugh has always been a bit of a loner. She's spent years keeping everyone at a distance, even her closest friends. That is, until Luc Cain enrolls in her school. He's hot, sarcastic, and dangerous—-and Frannie can't seem to stay away.

What she doesn't know is that Luc is on a mission. Because Frannie isn't exactly ordinary. She possesses a skill so unique that the king of Hell himself has taken notice, and he's sent Luc to claim Frannie's soul. It should be easy: All he has to do is get her to sin, and Luc is as tempting as they come.

Unfortunately for Luc, Heaven has other plans, and he's just started making progress when the angel Gabriel shows up. Gabe will do anything to keep Luc from getting what he came for, and his angelic charm might just be enough to keep Frannie on the right path.

It isn't long before Luc and Gabe find themselves fighting for more than just Frannie's soul. But if Luc fails to win her over, there will be Hell to pay . . . for all of them.


Personal Demons is rocking 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads and it's well deserved.

Desrochers has all the ingredients in this book for a hit. There are likable though flawed characters, a love triangle, and nearly constant rising action as Luc and Gabe fight for Frannie's attention--and her soul. Continued threats from the Underworld will have you anxious to find out what happens next. Though I didn't miss my metro stop reading this book I certainly stayed up well beyond my bedtime several nights in a row so I could finish it and find out for certain just what happens of our heroine.

There were a few critiques I had namely that Frannie is quite literally out of breath for the first half of the novel; every class she attends she's escorted by either Luc or Gabe, hand on the small of her back guiding her there; and the heaven/hell colloquial sayings sometimes felt overdone (e.g. "for the sin of Satan). That said, these are easily forgivable when looking at the book as a whole. Though Frannie is wildly enamored with her new gorgeous classmates and revels in their attention, she's no classic flirt or push over. Far from it in fact. She has 8 years of judo under her belt, is smart enough to get a full academic scholarship to UCLA, and is very cognizant of her actions towards others while also helping improve their lot in life (e.g. helping her friend Taylor's father find a job). In short, she's much more put together than your average senior in high school. Ironically, for her family, she's a bit of a bad-ass given her expulsion from Catholic school but the first person narrative reveals that much of this is due not to behavioral problems but an inquisitive mind.

This is, in fact, an issue I must congratulate Desrochers. She tackled crisis of faith head-on and in a teen novel no less, certainly not an easy feat. Her treatment felt real and relatable and I was pleasantly surprised just how deep this theme ran. It makes sense, of course, given that heaven and hell are battling for Frannie's soul but Desrochers didn't take the easy way out and our protagonist really struggles with this. Is there a God? Why do unfair things seem to happen? How could someone I love die young? These are just some of the many questions Frannie struggles with and I hope that this book not only serves as a delicious addictive read but goes beyond that especially for young readers--that it encourages them to open up and be honest about where they're at with their struggles, what questions they have, their place in the world, and yeah, even God.

Desrochers really created authentic voices for the characters and an accurate portrayal of teens in this book. I loved that it offers alternating perspectives between Frannie and Luc though I would have enjoyed hearing what Gabe was thinking. Given that Gabe is not as central a character, however, this would have been difficult to achieve while still creating a seamless plot line. At minimum I would have liked to have heard more about what Gabe was doing exactly while Frannie and Luc were together since Gabe's mission is to keep Frannie safe and every second with Luc is a second her soul is in jeopardy.

But perhaps these questions will soon be answered. Personal Demons is gaining wild success having been picked up in 10 countries in addition to the U.S. and is the first installment of a three part trilogy. Original Sin, the second novel in the series, will be out July 2011 and Hellbent, the third novel, will be out May 2012. To learn more about Desrochers check out her Website. She's also posted an interview she did on Sacramento & Co. along with her book tour dates.

The book is sold at all major book distributors...OR you can win a copy right here. That's right. I'm hosting another book giveaway. Here are the rules:

1. Be a follower of the blog
2. Send me an email at scookraymond@gmail.com, subject line "Personal Demons" to enter.
3. Contest runs until Friday, November 26 at 5 pm EST. The winner will be notified via email and posted here on the blog on Monday, November 29.
4. Extra entries for each time you blog, tweet, Facebook about the contest and two extra entries for every friend you refer.

Good luck and game on!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Morning Moment of Zen

I was laid up most of the weekend and then some with the flu but thankfully TBS ran their usual movie marathons. This weekend was full of comedies including Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.



I love Will Ferrell and his sometimes dry and even over-the-top sense of humor. In particular, I couldn't help but laugh at this closing scene where the characters truly battle it out until the finish. The icing on the cake, however, was Pat Benatar's "We Belong" playing in the background.

Here's the clip (pardon the brief commercial). Hopefully it makes you laugh like it did me.



Anyone else watch--or read--something funny this weekend?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My WIP

It occurred to me that I haven't shared any of my works in progress. As I'm knee-deep (ie. 25k words and counting) in the YA male POV book I mentioned a couple weeks ago I thought I would share an excerpt from that.

In short, Toby our 15-year-old main character has gym class and has just learned they're playing dodge ball today. The scene begins when he's in the locker room.

“What are you looking at?” Chris says to me. I’m nameless. He has no idea who I am but I know perfectly well who he is. He’s an Abercrombie & Fitch wannabe douche bag with too much hair product to the brain. He’s the guy all the girls drool over—-further evidence that the universe has a cruel sense of humor. He’s the guy who’s about to kill me.

I’ve grown six inches in the last year and am all flailing limbs whilst his body is built on protein shakes, bromance visits to the weight room, and a winning genetic lottery ticket. I can almost see the headline now: Local boy dies of uncoordination during dodge ball game.

I change quickly and hurry down to the gymnasium. Sure enough, Chris ends up on the other team and somehow all his buddies do too. Mr. Jones must be the biggest bully in school, how else can you explain the jocks versus my team: Team Deer in Headlights. How is this even sanctioned exercise? I wonder as I hear the whistle blow.

In my periphery I see movement at the far end of the gym. I know better than to look away but I do regardless and as I suspected it’s Cassandra. Her friends flow out behind her like a flock of birds in a V. Then *wham* I’m lying on my back, my cheek burning from the sting of rubber. I close my eyes and hear Chris begin laughing and then others chiming in. All I can think about is another kind of V: virgin. At this rate I’ll die one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

I suppose I should have done this post yesterday and The Rally to Restore Sanity post today seeing as yesterday was November 1st and the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month and today is election day but oh well. What's done is done.

National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo) or "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon" asks writers to pen 50,000 words in the month of November--the equivalent of a novel-length piece.

Sure it seems to prioritize quantity over quality but part of being a writer is creating--and adhering--to a schedule and getting words on the page. This challenge certainly ensures that. There's no time for writer's block. YOU.MUST.WRITE.



One of my English professors used to say that there are two types of writers: those who meticulously write word by word and those who make a mess and clean it up later. I'm not suggesting that what you write during NaNoWriMo is a mess but often revision is when the real writing happens so as I see it, this challenge, celebration, or whatever else you'd like to call it, helps you get to that next important step.

Even if you can't commit to 50,000 words then I encourage you to pick another ambitious target and stick with it. I for one have a trip abroad and not one or two but three Thanksgiving dinners to attend and limited computer access over much of this coming month.

I am, however, inspired by the enthusiasm on the Web and yesterday's posting that 55 million new words exist in the world now that didn't previously thanks to NaNoWriMo. Characters were born, alliances were made, conflict brewed.

If you adhere to NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words over the 30 days of November that's an average of at least 1,667 words a day so my goal is every day I have computer access, I need to write at least that much. Sure it won't get me to 50,000 this month but it will be me a lot closer to a completed first draft and certainly hitting 50,000 in December. Pick your goal or officially sign up to embark on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

In a time when we hear about just how much television everyone watches, it's exciting to see how many people are turning the tube off and the laptop on (even if it simply means your Tivo is getting quite a workout this month)!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity



I attended the John Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity this weekend in downtown Washington, DC. It's not my first foray to the National Mall for a political event though the general atmosphere for this was quite different. When Stewart encouraged "indoor voices" at the event, people did abide by that recommendation. There was no yelling or fist pumping of any kind. Statements were made by signs or simple claps of agreement during various portions of the Rally.



Attendance wildly exceeded my expectations. Streets had to be closed and metro ridership increased by 330,000. In fact, here's a picture of a major downtown street, completely shut down by human traffic:



And here's one of the crowd:


Overall it was a great day. Cat Stevens played "Peace Train" while Ozzie Osbourne tore through the stage and began playing "Crazy Train" as a kind of musical counterpoint. Kid Rock was there to sing a duet with Sheryl Crow and The Roots played, among others. The weather was beautiful and sunny and in the backdrop was the Washington Monument.





John Stewart and Stephen Colbert were their usual hilarious, witty, and intelligent selves. They boasted this of the rally: "Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement." And they had an important parting message: don't forget to vote.

In addition to standing on museum steps and lining the National Mall, attendees climbed trees and perched on traffic lights for a better view.



While laughing at Stewart's American flag Snuggie or their duet about how they represent everyone "from the gay men who like football to the straight men who like Glee," I couldn't help but take a step back and be amazed at just how active--and vocal--the public has become. It's a beautiful thing to see so many young people throw away complacency and become involved.



And as people emerged from the crowd back en route to their homes, signs that were previously tucked away to enable better visibility during the rally emerged en mass as a kind of silent protest--and closing arguments. Some were controversial, some were very politically loaded, one said, "Stop Justin Beiber" (which made me laugh though completely off topic), and others were general comments to the government at-large regardless of your affiliation like this one (another personal favorite of mine).



If you couldn't attend, you were missed. If you were there, I'm sure you'd agree my photographs can't possibly convey the general energy in the air and the palpable excitement of what's possible when people become proactive rather than reactive. I have to agree with Stewart and Colbert and say that this enthusiasm needs to be translated into tomorrow's election regardless of where you stand on the issues. Get up, go out, and vote! The general consensus of the rally was that there is nothing more American than this: the ability to peacefully assemble and the right to vote. Sure Colbert suggested the ability to eat hot dogs at baseball games and watch TBS marathons were also purely American pursuits but they won't create change.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life As We Know It

I saw the movie Life As We Know It starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel and I have to say I really liked it.



I have a soft spot for romantic comedies to begin with but this exceeded my expectations. Sure there were a few story elements you could have guessed up front but even those weren't wrapped up quite as nice and neat as many other movies in this genre. There were certainly roadblocks to overcome regarding the characters' personal and professional goals in addition to a huge learning curve of raising their best friends' child while also grieving their death. On top of that, there is the constant reminder of what's been lost.

The movie's beginning was certainly it's most formulaic and at first glance the characters seemed over simplified but both Heigl and Duhamel quickly recovered and thus I found this initial violation forgiveable. As the storyline progressed, the audience wants to cheer them on as they struggle to determine what's best for themselves, for their new daughter Sophie, as well as coming to terms--and even embracing--the fact that their lives have become something altogether different than they expected or even had hoped.

Here's a peak at the trailer:



The more I thought about this movie over the last couple of days, the more I realized how many lessons there are for creating a story that works. This also reminded me how important it is for writers to take a step back from the stories we love to ask ourselves why we love it and why it works. So I created the top 10 reasons why, I believe, this story was a success.

1. There were believable, likable characters.
2. The dialogue felt natural.
3. There was conflict on all levels (internally for the characters and between the characters).
4. There were obstacles blocking the characters from what they wanted at numerous points in the storyline, forcing them to reveal their true personality.
5. There was a quirky, complementary group of supporting characters.
6. There was comedic relief to balance the more serious undertones of the film.
7. The characters had chemistry--a vital ingredient for any romance.
8. There were balanced rises and falls in action.
9. The characters evolve in the film, revealing what they value most at the point of the story's climax.
10. There's an adorable, little baby (oh, yeah and pretty good-looking protagonists). In my opinion, that never hurt anyone...especially in a romantic comedy.

This, of course, isn't an exhaustive checklist that every story needs but it's a good starting off point. And if there are other key elements to a good story that come to mind I invite you to include it in the comments so we can add it to the collective list.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Morning's Moment of Zen



I saw this tongue-in-cheek photo-op and just had to post it. This is actress Jane Lynch at a photo shoot for More magazine. Lynch plays Sue Sylvester, the Cheerios cheerleading coach, in the hit show Glee.I hope it makes you laugh this Monday morning as it did me. Lynch jokes she's trying to show that the other Glee actresses aren't the only ones who get to be sexy, so for this photo shoot, she ditched the matching sweatsuits for leopard print robe and the help of a few friends :-)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Never Let Me Go

When Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go came out in 2005, a friend of mine that works at Random House sent it to my apartment with a short note, "You need to read this."

She's given a lot of recommendations over the years and probably holds the high score for the number of ratings posted on Goodreads. So her insistence on reading this meant a lot. And I was excited--really excited as this book sounded so powerful and poetic and beautifully haunting.

Plus we're talking about Kazuo Ishiguro who won the Booker Prize for Remains of the Day.

But then something happened...moving day. The day after I received the coveted package I was moving from my respectible single pad (ie. tiny studio apartment) into a McMansion (ie. a condo that only seemed big in comparison). And all of this was happening with my newly-minted fiance. So, yeah, I was a bit preoccupied.

I did, however, pack all of my books into carefully labeled boxes and placed Never Let Me Go right on top so I could rip open the packing tape, quickly grab the book, and be reading it by the next morning commute. And then something else happened further proving the karma police have a twisted sense of humor...no moving van.

The moving van company had apparently overbooked the day we needed to move. You have to remember too, we live in the city so the only cars we'd been taking lately were cabs. And living in a 10-story building I had to jump through every administrative hoop to reserve an elevator for a brief window of time and that time was ticking.

So when I say that we bribed, blackmailed, begged, and cohersed with tales of free pizza and fresh beers our way across town you better believe it. Every friend I know in D.C. with a car was there that day leaving sore, fat, and happy. (Alright! Maybe they weren't terribly happy but we're all still on speaking terms.)

After what seemed like 67 trips from my old apartment to our new condo we were finally done. My carefully catalogued system, however, had no follow through. Boxes were strewn wherever there was available space and even after I identified my boxes with books, I still couldn't find Never Let Me Go. It had seemingly up and disappeared. Perhaps it deemed my life too drama-filled and fled the scene.

I know what I should have done. I should have marched to the bookstore and bought a new copy but instead I moved on to one of the many other books in my "to be read" pile and somewhere *gasp* (I'm sorry, I repent) I forgot about it. There, I said it!

I forgot about it until I saw the movie trailer the other day starring the amazingly talented Kiera Knightly, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield (also in The Social Network). I definitely want to see this movie but first things first, I have to read this heart wrenching book. I've heard where some books touch on the surface of an issue, this book drives down to the raw emotion, that it asks us to question the worth of a life, the expectations set out for someone rather than the goals they set for themselves; and how to navigate the world when those around you believe your course has already been set. How do we live, love, let go? How do we set ourselves free from expectation and into the unknown?

I'm so excited to read it...finally! Instead of kicking myself too much for having forgotten I am trying to see the positive. Perhaps I was meant to read it now because I not only unearthed Never Let Me Go in the excavation of my bookshelves but also discovered additional books that had fallen off my radar. I hadn't lost these novels after all (*high fives*). They were simply tucked into the available crevices behind the seemingly neat row of books. As penance I'm giving them all prime real estate on my bookshelf so there's no forgetting this time around. And I'm starting with Never Let Me Go.

This book was short-listed for the Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as being a New York Times Notable Book and called "One of the Best Novels of the Decade" by Time magazine. And on top of that I cried just watching the movie trailer so I can't imagine what it will be like reading the book.

Like many novels, Never Let Me Go has seen a makeover or two. Here's the first edition cover:



Here's another edition cover:



And lastly, the cover based on the movie:



The plot description if you're unfamiliar is this.

Never Let Me Go is a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules--and teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them so special--and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Never Let Me Go is suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric.

Here's a glimpse of how they took that storyline and translated it to film:



So if you're belated to the Never Let Me Go party like I am or you just want to re-read this amazing book, then I welcome you to pick it up. I'll be reviewing the book and posting conversation pieces the week of November 22. I invite you to read along and post your own questions and conversation pieces here. And if you have any other suggestions of books you think I just NEED to read that have potentially fallen off my radar as well then please, from one bibliophile to another, let me know.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We Have a Winner!

The winner of The Hunger Games contest is *drum roll* Lora. Congratulations! This is an amazing book.

Lora, please email me your mailing address so I can send the book out. Thanks to everyone who entered and thank you also for your enthusiasm. Don't forget I have another giveaway taking place right now for Allie Larkin's ridiculously adorable and delicious book Stay.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Confession Monday

Confession: I'm venturing into uncharted waters (ie. I am writing a story from a male point of view).

I never imagined writing something from a male POV before because, really, what do I know about being in the mind of a man? What does any woman? Isn't that the age old question, "What are they thinking?!"

But then something happened. I got an idea for a YA story... and the main character is a boy. So I tried to change it. I thought of all the ways I could try to work the story around a female character because I had no idea where to start if the character was male but none of my attempts stuck.

I usually have to work hard to put together my characters. I typically know the storyline before I know them fully. For some writers it's the opposite. I suppose that's what I've always found the most difficult to understand: when writers say characters seem to have come to them fully formed. I didn't understand until now. My main character Toby didn't want to change. He wanted to be himself and just WOULD.NOT.CONFORM.

I have to admit knowing this character so well so early on has made it easier to envision the constructs of his relationship with other characters. Sure he'll likely surprise me from time to time as I delve further into the story but when I sat down to write Toby, his distinct voice came out. On top of that, I seemed to know everything about him from his one sibling sister to the fact he's grown six inches in the last year to who his high school crush is and for how long.

I'm excited because I think the characters who are unabashedly themselves are the most refreshing and we often feel like we know them like close friends so that's what I'm hoping I'll be able to achieve when I'm done. But there's still the questions of, "What do I know about being in the mind of guy? And what do I know about being a teenager...today?"

I got thinking about these questions and began to panic. "What do I?" but then I remembered that as writers we've come to know our characters infinitely because we've birthed them, watched them grow from an idea to an identity. Isn't that what fiction writers do anyways, we envision the mindset of someone else? So who cares if that someone else is younger or older, male or female, queen bee or class outcast? If we're true to who the character wants to be then it'll feel genuine and readers will be passionate about them. Or that's what I'm hoping and what advice I'm sticking to. And I have to admit, thus far, I'm really loving this new adventure of sorts.

First person male POV feels less censored to me. My character isn't over analyzing anything, he's just thinking what he's thinking. It also helps that I've somehow roped my husband into being my consultant on this and so I'm often hollering questions from my laptop like, "What are the most popular video games right now?" and he knows like *that.* Talk about quick research!

I should preface that I'm not writing a "boy book" but rather a book with a main character who is a boy. The difference being that this isn't a book just for boys. There's still adventure and romance and self conflict and all of the themes I love equally in books told from a female POV. Author Hannah Moskowitz has done a great post on boy books and how, at least in teen fiction, there aren't enough options for male readers. Moskowitz for those of you unfamiliar with her work is sort of the queen of the male POV as she's written a number of novels with a male protagonist.

For the writers out there, here's a good assignment: take a scene you've written or read from the female POV and re-write/re-envision it from the male POV, trying to be true to the character. This doesn't have to take any more than 10 minutes but it's a fun exercise.

In fact, L.J. Smith is doing just this: after the wildly successful Vampire Diaries (which I admit I have not yet read but I do watch as one of my new fav, addictive treats) she's embarking on Stefan's Diaries, a series of novels told from the male main character's POV. I may have to pick some of these up from the library to compare how Elena sees Stefan and how he sees himself.

For everyone else what's your confession this Monday morning?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cover and Title Round-up

Cover pick of the week:



I know I featured some of my favorite covers and titles a few weeks ago but I had to add these to the list. In fact, as new books come out, I'm hoping for this to be a semi-regular spotlight feature here at The Long Ride Home.

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers is a gorgeous cover with the photographs hanging in the background while the girl hangs her head in the foreground, the black and white images juxtapose a wall of faded yellow. This image seems to evoke so many emotions plus the storyline sounds pretty rivoting and seems to adequately match the beautiful and haunting feel of the cover:

When Eddie Reeves’s father commits suicide her life is consumed by the nagging question of why? Why when he was a legendary photographer and a brilliant teacher? Why when he had a daughter who loved him more than anyone else in the world? When she meets Culler Evans, a former student of her father’s and a photographer himself, an instant and dangerous attraction begins. He seems to know more about her father than she does and could possibly hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death. But Eddie’s vulnerability has weakened her and Culler Evans is getting too close. Her need for the truth keeps her hanging on… but some questions should be left unanswered.

Title pick of the week:



Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by comedian Chelsea Handler is, of course, a spoof on Judy Bloom's long-time classic, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret..

The book is a collection of Chelsea's experiences from sibling rivalry to parental humilation and everything in-between. I knew when I laughed out loud at the sight of this title that it had to be featured as the pick of the week.

So tell me, have you seen any good covers or titles lately?

Monday, October 11, 2010

It Gets Better

I recently saw some videos called "It Gets Better" in response to the many teen suicides in recent weeks. The videos are meant to raise awareness about bullying and also about The Trevor Project (866-4-U-TREVOR), a crisis hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and I wanted to share one of those videos here:



I think for writers, especially MG and YA writers, the issues of acceptance, stigma, social isolation, bullying (both physical and cyber-bullying) are all things that warrant serious attention and I would love to see more inclusion of these themes and how to deal with them in YA literature. I found this Web link of a California Library and their recommended books on bullying but I'd love to hear from you and what novels you've read on the subject and what else you think there needs to be more of in teen books.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Q & A with Allie Larkin

I had the pleasure of chatting with the amazingly talented Allie Larkin, author of Stay.



It's rocking a average 4.5/5 stars on Goodreads and, well, it's awesome! Van's journey and struggle are entirely relatable. She's trying to figure out what's next for her, where her life is going, and how to be what she's supposed to be (a good friend, a good bridesmaid) while also being true to herself. She's rebuilding after the love of her life has married her best friend and she's lost her mother to cancer. Amidst the serious themes is constant comedic balance that will have you flipping through until the end.

Publishers Weekly said, "...Van's conflicts feel authentic, and her emotional frankness is refreshing" while New York Times bestselling author Beth Harbison wrote, ""I cannot wait to read more from Allie Larkin-an effervescent new voice in fiction. Witty, sweet, and strikingly real, Stay is for any woman who has ever experienced heartbreak or loss and needed a friend to lean on. I loved every word!"



And now what you're really waiting for, the interview with Allie herself...

• What inspired Stay?

Stay started as a writing exercise in my advanced fiction class in college. Later in the semester, I turned the exercise into a short story about two women, Van and Janie, sitting in Starbucks talking about Van’s failed love life. Years later, I went back to the story and started asking myself more questions about Van and Janie, and Stay started to take shape.

• Can you give us the “elevator speech” of what Stay is all about?

Stay is about a woman who has to serve as maid of honor while her best friend marries the man she’s been in love with since college. After the wedding, she does what any girl would do – gets drunk on grape Kool-Aid and vodka, watches a Rin Tin Tin marathon, and accidentally orders a 100 lb German Shepherd from Slovakia off the Internet.

• Did you know right from the beginning that you wanted there to be a dog or did that happen organically when you were conceiving Savannah “Van” Leone’s journey?

The dog really did happen organically. I wrote the wedding scene and got Van back to her condo in Rochester. She was drunk and depressed and had no one to talk to, and that’s as much as I knew. I had no idea what was going to happen. I was outside raking leaves one morning with my German Shepherd, Argo (who is the cover model for Stay). I starting thinking about the ways Argo changed my life. I knew Van needed a change, and a dog would certainly shake her life up. The how of Van getting Joe just kind of happened when I sat down to write again.

• If the marketing department at Penguin, your publisher, sat you down and said you had to choose between a great book cover or a fabulous title, which would you pick?

I don’t know, really! I mean, I’m certainly thankful to Argo for being such a great cover model. I know I can’t say no to that face. I also know that word of mouth is very important to book sales, so having a title people want to talk about is very helpful too. But, I suppose, covers can change with reprints, but titles rarely do, so I guess if I absolutely had to pick, I’d say title.

• If they made Stay into a movie, who would you cast as Van, Peter, Janie, Alex, and Diane?

You know, I really don’t like to say, because I want people to bring their own ideas of who the characters should be to the book. I did let it slip on Facebook the other day when I was watching Parenthood that I thought maybe Dax Shepard would be a good vet. But I wasn’t talking about Stay, or anything, of course. I was just talking about vets in general.

• Van is very much going through a quarter-life crisis. Why should readers well out of their 20s also run to the local bookstore (or online) and pick this up?

Van is someone who is desperately trying to figure out where she fits in and what she wants out of life. I think that’s an evolving process for most people and isn’t necessarily age specific. We’ve all had less-than graceful times in our lives, and found comfort in friendship – furry or otherwise. So, I think, at any age, there’s something to relate to – either from an I’ve been there or I feel like that now point of view.

• Now that it’s autumn and book club season is in full swing I wanted to ask, if Stay was selected as a book club read, what questions or themes do you hope readers discuss/debate?

I’m actually going to my first Stay book club discussion next month and I’m so excited! I hope they want to talk about Diane and Van’s relationship a little bit. Of all the characters in the book, Diane evolved the most in the writing process. She was so interesting to write, because she kept surprising me.

• There are so many people you thank in the acknowledgments section of your book for helping encourage your writing. What sage advice from them, or from your own experience, would you like to pass along to other writers hoping to break into publishing?

I’m so lucky to have had so many people support me in this, and I think that support is so important. My writing group, especially, is such a huge part of my support system. They are brilliant writers and amazing readers.

It’s hard to write completely alone in a bubble, so I think the best advice I can give is to find a writing group or a writing partner. It’s so important to get constructive criticism, and the constructive part of that is just as important as the criticism. Look for a writing group that inspires you and challenges you. You don’t want to go to group just to get a pat on the back, but you should never feel attacked either. I’m a better writer for all the times someone in group said, “this part isn’t really working for me,” and I kept writing because I had a group of people who believed in me and believed in my characters.

• Do you have a writing regimen and if so what is it?

I don’t stare at a blank page. It’s not productive and I end up getting frustrated with myself. If I’m stuck, I stop writing, and try to accomplish something else. I seem to have the most success getting unstuck when I’m doing something physical that allows me to daydream. Hiking, biking, and gardening are favorites. But I have to keep pushing myself to make sure I sit down to write once I work out the ideas. It’s not enough just to think them. I’m pretty disciplined about getting my butt in the chair and getting the work done once I figure out what’s next for my story, but I don’t write at set times or to hit a certain word count. If I don’t have the ideas in place, I won’t get anywhere, no matter how many words I say I need to write.

• What can we expect to see from you next?

My essay about adopting our younger dog, Stella, will be in an anthology called I’m Not The Biggest Bitch in This Relationship, that Wade Rouse is editing. And I’m working on a new book, with brand new characters, although I hope to check back with Van someday too.

• How can readers follow you online?

I’m all over the place! I tweet @alliesanswers (twitter.com/alliesanswers), I have a website and personal blog at AllieLarkinWrites.com, and I blog at TheGreenists.com. I also have a Facebook page.

• And I have to ask, are you closet Boston music fan?

No, I openly and unabashedly love Boston.


In conjunction with the interview I'm also hosting a contest to win a hardcopy of Stay!!! Contest rules are as follows:

1. Be a follower of the blog
2. In no more than a tweet (aka 140 characters) tell me your funniest pet story, extra points if it you use Boston music references.
3. Enter the contest by emailing me at scookraymond@gmail.com (subject line "Stay book contest")
4. In homage to Van's pumpkin-inspired bridesmaid dress the contest closes on Halloween.
5. Note: This particular contest is U.S. only. (Sorry but the hardcover book is too heavy to mail internationally!)

To bide you over till then, here's the really fun book trailer for Stay.