Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I had the pleasure of listening to Rebecca Stead talk at the National Book Festival. Her book, When You Reach Me won the 2010 John Newbery Medal.

Rebecca discussed her journey from school (she even had a class with Frank McCourt!) into law and then, almost reluctantly, into writing. I say reluctantly because Rebecca said writing was something she wanted to do for a long time but didn't pursue. She was afraid of failure, worried that if she admitted she wanted to be a writer then all that rejection would become even more personal. Her takeaway was that the rejection you receive regardless of what you admit to yourself does hurt and the longer you keep pretending NOT to want something, the more you're standing in your own way of getting it.

After her son knocked over her laptop onto the hard floor and she lost any previous writing, she decided to start fresh. This time she turned to her local bookstore and bought all the books she remembers as being instrumental to her growing up, trying to pinpoint what it was about the writing, the characters, the storyline that made them successful. She became a student again which is so important and not only a student of writing but of her genre, also studying up on what kinds of books were popular in that genre now.

When You Reach Me, she explains is about Miranda growing up and starting to see the world in a slightly different light; her realizations parallel the categories in the $20,000 Pyramid game that her mother is preparing for. Rebecca drew on her own childhood growing up as an only child in New York City as well as Madeleine L'Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time.

Here's a Q & A with the author:

Rebecca's talk about "owning" your writing and admitting what you're up to and what you want was reminiscent of a talk Molly O'Neill, associate editor at Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of Harper's Collins) gave at this year's WriteOncon called, "Give Yourself Permission." It's wonderful advice and if you're a writer, I strongly urge you to read it. Think of it as the communal Jerry Maguire mission statement.

I'm curious to hear from your personal experiences. What obstacles do you face in your writing? Are you like Rebecca and worried to put all those ideas down on "paper" because once you do, it's out there for the world to critique? On the flip side, how do you stay motivated?

Monday, September 27, 2010

National Book Festival

I was at the 10th anniversary National Book Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC this weekend and IT. WAS. AWESOME. It was like every bibliophile in a mass radius coalesced to one location to celebrate and encourage our (sometimes obsessive) love of books. Next year I may have to make little buttons that have the rocker symbol but instead say, "Read on." Yeah, I know, *nerd alert.*

The event is sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted 73 authors and illustrators all giving presentations and signings free of charge. Though the event typically lures out locals, this year I noticed a lot more people travling in from neighboring states for a glimpse at their favorite rock star writers.

This wasn't my first year in attendance but I have to say the enthusiasm is just palpable and seems to grow in spades from year to year--as does the crowd. What was most contagious, however, was the excitement from all the young readers. I've never seen so many but then again Suzanne Collins was there this year. Case in point: (You can't tell but they're all reading Mockingjay.)

The chairs under each tent were so compact that I couldn't help but eavesdropping on their conversations about why they preferred certain authors ("Her characters feel real") and why they gravitate towards certain genres ("I don't have to think about my life; I can just escape"). It was great. There's nothing better for an author than to hear from the intended audience why they like what they like. Since I'm in the midst of editing my YA manuscript, I spent a lot of time in the Teens tent though from time to time I perused others.

There were also Children, Contemporary Life, Fiction and Mystery, History and Biography, and Poetry and Prose Tents.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of just how packed the event was.

The whole event reminded me what I love so much about books and how interesting it is to hear stories about how authors get their ideas. Unlike a typical bookstore reading, this event encouraged authors to discuss what stories shaped their tastes, how they write, and whether or not books have changed their world view or their world view has shaped their books. For me, I'm draw to contemporary settings with characters that are not only believable but loveable, who have their imperfections but who I cheer for all along and whose story even if it is set in a realistic place, feels a bit fantastical. Join in the conversation, what do you love so much about reading?

To check out videos of the authors visit here. Check back later this week for updates on the sessions I attended and to find out which book I got signed and am giving away right here on my blog!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ode to Coffee

Some days start at a sprint and continue that way endlessly, breathlessly until completion. Other days, like today, begin with a regretable departure from bed where everything is slow and foggy and glossy-eyed. They begin a little like this:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Re-casting characters

I was thinking about last Monday's post that featured the Beyonce song and dance, "Put a Ring on it" and how instead of Beyonce or a similar representation, we had a young, gay boy (ie. a remake of sorts from Glee).

This got me thinking about casting characters and how even if the storyline remains the same, the "who" is equally as important in how we interpret what's happening. In fact, I was editing a scene this weekend and I kept playing around with the idea of a character walking like she's on a catwalk. If the character that initially came to mind did this then it seems snooty but I re-cast it and suddenly it seemed playful and fun. One character could pull something off where another couldn't.

The best example I've heard of this was a staging of Othello in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately I didn't live here back then but my friend Jonathan was able to catch it. The director had taken liberties in casting but kept the narrative completely in tact. The result was a White Othello and a Black Desdemona. In fact, everyone's race from the book was flipped on it's head. The play sought to ask whether viewers made any different assumptions on the characters. Perhaps to a lesser extent you could compare the 1967 "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" movie with the re-make "Guess Who."

I think this stresses the fact that any information a writer provides about a character is filtered through the eyes of the reader and yet there can be so many different readers from so many different walks of life. It's not like you're giving a rally speech to a bunch of people who already support you. As a writer we may know our characters infinitely, in fact we should. We should know who their favorite band is and what kind of ice cream they like and everything else but we should also remember that the reader doesn't know this, doesn't know anything about these people as of page 1.

So how do we ensure that characters are interpreted as we intend them to be? I think the best advice on this is for the writer to have not only a thorough and complete understanding of all characters, even secondary ones, but to really carve out an identity for that person early on and, most importantly, remain true to that identity.

This later fact is where I've already had some disappointment in some recent fall premieres on television. In a couple season openers I've taken a step back from the juicy drama and thought, "I don't buy it. That person would never to that!" Am I the only person that's felt this way? Have you questioned a character's motivation, felt their actions weren't authentic or read a book where your interpretation was not in the least parallel to other's?

Friday, September 17, 2010

We Have Winners!

The "Super Contest Giveaway" is now closed and winners have been selected. As you'll recall, the first place winner gets to select two books and then we move down the line, each winner selecting a book from what's left.

Here's who won. Note: I'll contact you each directly via email once I know which books remain for you to choose from.

1. Jean Engler
2. Galina
3. Valerie
4. Searcher Gurl
5. Marc
6. Judit
7. Liz Baker

Congratulations to every one who won!!! Thanks also to every one who participated. There were a lot of entries for this contest. I regularly hold these, however, so if you didn't win this time, hopefully you will next. Speaking of contests, I've had so much fun with this one that I'm starting to plot the next but I'm not sure if it should be themed or have a special twist or what? I entered a contest that author Loretta Nyhan held this summer and she selected a book for me based on my personality. I thought that was genius but I want to hear from you? Any thoughts for the next contest?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I've been meaning to cover the topic of blogging for a while now. "Blogging" comes from the mash-up of the words "Web" and "log" and is a regularly updated journal featuring photographs, videos, and text in any combination. Blogging encourages dialogue between the author and users. The most common blog sites include: Blogger, WordPress, and Typepad.

To give you a snapshot:
-126 million blogs have been created as of January 2010.
-71% of bloggers report they blog to say what's on their mind and share their expertise.

If you're on my blog then you're probably reading many others so much of this isn't news. You may, however, be considering starting a blog yourself but not knowing where to start. Instead of reinventing the wheel I thought I'd point you in the direction of the amazingly talented author Elana Johnson who just discussed the topic at length on her own blog. She's called it "The Awesome Blogging Trifecta" and she discusses issues such as followers, leaving your mark, and what to blog about.

What I love so much about blogging is that it helps me share what I've learned so far about the publishing world and also share my love of reading with all of you. It's amazing the individuals I've connected with online via blogs and even Twitter. For example, just last week Theo Nestor came by the blog for a visit after seeing her book was featured in my "So Many Titles to Love" post and now Allie Larkin, author of Stay is going to come by for a Q & A later this month.

I feel like the writing and book-worm world have really carved out a niche online and have taken a kind of "pay it forward" mentality via sharing query advice, doing free book giveaways, cross-promoting one another's books, and everything in-between. Individuals you might never consider reaching out to in person are suddenly more accessible. How else could I communicate with Jennifer Weiner or have author Lee Nichols retweet my previous Deception book giveaway?

Whether you're writing blogs or reading blogs or as I do, both, it's a great way to connect to other people with shared interests and to learn from one another. That's also why reaching out to blog writers and asking questions isn't just permissible, it's encouraged. I'm still a bit of a newbie to the blogging community but from what I've found so far, there is a wealth of information and fun out there. The only question I have for all of you is, what kinds of things would you like me to feature more often on this blog?

Monday, September 13, 2010

OMG I Love This

I had apparently missed this episode of Glee and only just watched it the other day. OMG, every time it's on I can't stop smiling and at once knew I had to share it with all of you to hopefully brighten your Monday morning.

If you've been following the blog for a while then you know I love a good sing off or a good dance off. This is a little different albeit in the same vein. It's a reinterpretation of sorts. Enjoy!

Now it's your turn. Do you have any tips for an instant mood improver to start the work week?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Author Visit

I've had the privilege of communicating with Theo Nestor, author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed and she's graciously agreed to visit the blog to answer some questions. For those of you haven't read the book yet I advise you, walk, skip, or run your way over to the bookstore and pick it up.

Q & A

1. Give us your brief “elevator speech” of what How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed is all about?

How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed is the story of the journey I went through when my marriage ended abruptly. It is the story of going from heartbreak to whole again. It's kind of a working girl's Eat Pray Love, a divorce story about staying home rather than going away.

2. What were the easiest and the most difficult parts of writing a memoir?

The hardest parts of the book to write were the scenes with my ex-husband. When I was writing the book, I still had a lot of anger toward him, and while I wanted the book to be an honest expression of my experience, I didn't want to misuse my opportunity by being vengeful or disrespectful. But, I also didn't want to sugarcoat the story. It was also difficult to write the scenes that showed how my children were affected by the divorce, but again, I knew those parts needed to be in there to make the story real and meaningful to other parents.

3. This book examines your journey through what you call the three stages of divorce: shock/denial, adjustment, and acceptance. In a market with so many other books about relationships and women going through divorces, what makes yours stand apart?

I think the ordinariness of my story makes my book stand apart in some ways. We aren't rich, super good looking, semi-famous or criminal. My kids were nine and five at the time of the divorce so there was no chance that I'd be traveling the world as I recovered from my divorce, so How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed takes readers to all the ordinary places that a divorced mom ends up--an attorney's office, school carnivals, the grocery store, and occasionally in the arms of her new boyfriend.

I think another aspect that may set the book apart is that I focus on what it's like to be the child of divorce going through a divorce herself. When I got married, I was determined not to divorce. I didn't want my kids to go through some of the things I went through--being asked who your real father is, feeling like an outsider, wishing my parents didn't hate each other.

4. Reading the reviews everyone mentions your humor and I couldn’t agree more. Did you consciously add humor into the prose to counterbalance the more serious moments or are you just that funny?

Thanks! I didn't especially "try" to be funny, just because whenever I try it doesn't work out so well. I did find some of the experiences I had in my first year alone so bad --interviewing for a job at Microsoft, going through the misery known as of divorce court, to name a few--that they almost seemed funny in a surreal sort of way.

5. If someone were to play you in a movie adaptation a la Eat Pray Love who would it be and why?

Thank you for asking! Yes, make a movie! I can't decide between Janeane Garofalo and Tina Fey. I want someone who can deal with the rat in the basement problem with humor and still clean up pretty nice. Okay, Tina, the part is yours!

6. What is your writing regimen?

I don't have one, per se. I do write almost every work day in one way or another (my blog or freelance articles), but my "real writing" I might only work on two or three times a week, usually ducking out to a cafe for a few hours to get away from the distractions of home. I have a "writing partner," and she and I meet once a week to support each others' work and spend an hour or two writing side-by-side.

7. What advice would you give in terms of capturing real life experiences and translating them into writing?

The first step, I think, is to start listening to the stories going on around you all the time. Carry a notebook. When you see something at Target or the dog park that intrigues you, take a note. That's how King Size started. I had a notebook in my purse at the time for a class I was teaching, and I was feeling so miserable and isolated that I started taking notes about the other women in the waiting room at the attorney's office, about something another mother said to me when she heard about the split, about a song I heard on the radio.

Then, when you're writing the scene, close your eyes and let it play out before you. Don't write what you wished happened or what you would've expected to happen. Write down the real life with all its quirky contradictions.

8. How did you land your agent and what advice can you give unpublished authors about that process?

An editor from Brain, Child magazine suggested my agent to me. I think the website might be a good place to start.

9. What can we expect to see from you next?

I'm writing a memoir about my childhood called: Like Mother, Like Daughter, Like Crazy: A Memoir of Unrequited Love.

10. How can readers follow you online?

Follow my blogs:

Check out my Website:

"Like" my Facebook fanpage (I have book giveaways fairly routinely.)

For a sneak peak at the first chapter of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, see here and to win a signed copy of the book be sure to enter my book giveaway contest by September 16.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Super Contest Giveaway!!!

I decided to give away not one or two but eight books as part of my end of summer contest. I've attempted to compile a pretty eclectic mix of books so hopefully there's a little something for everyone.

The books include the following.

1. Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach

A little about it: The year is 1962. Florence, the daughter of a successful businessman and an aloof Oxford academic, is a talented violinist. She dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, the earnest young history student she met by chance and who unexpectedly wooed her and won her heart. Edward grew up in the country on the outskirts of Oxford where his father, the headmaster of the local school, struggled to keep the household together and his mother, brain-damaged from an accident, drifted in a world of her own. Edward’s native intelligence, coupled with a longing to experience the excitement and intellectual fervour of the city, had taken him to University College in London. Falling in love with the accomplished, shy and sensitive Florence – and having his affections returned with equal intensity – has utterly changed his life.

Their marriage, they believe, will bring them happiness, the confidence and the freedom to fulfill their true destinies. The glowing promise of the future, however, cannot totally mask their worries about the wedding night. Edward, who has had little experience with women, frets about his sexual prowess. Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by conflicting emotions and a fear of the moment she will surrender herself.

From the precise and intimate depiction of two young lovers eager to rise above the hurts and confusion of the past, to the touching story of how their unexpressed misunderstandings and fears shape the rest of their lives, On Chesil Beach is an extraordinary novel that brilliantly, movingly shows us how the entire course of a life can be changed – by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

2. Susane Colasanti's Waiting for You

A little about it: Derek is clearly the boy Marisa has been waiting for, but there's just one problem. He has a girlfriend. Nash, Marisa's neighbor and childhood friend, is totally geeked out, with zero boyfriend potential. So of course Nash wants to take his friendship with Marisa to the next level.

Beyond her boy drama, Marisa is also dealing with overcoming a major problem from her past, a family that's falling apart, and a best friend who won't stop talking to sketchy guys online. Only the anonymous DJ, who has the school hooked on his underground podcasts, seems to get what Marisa's going through. But she has no idea who he is...or does she?

3. Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

A little about it: Cases rarely come much colder than the decades-old disappearance of teen heiress Harriet Vanger from her family's remote island retreat north of Stockholm, nor do fiction debuts hotter than this European bestseller by muckraking Swedish journalist Larsson. At once a strikingly original thriller and a vivisection of Sweden's dirty not-so-little secrets (as suggested by its original title, Men Who Hate Women), this first of a trilogy introduces a provocatively odd couple: disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, freshly sentenced to jail for libeling a shady businessman, and the multipierced and tattooed Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable superhacker. Hired by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he dies, the duo gradually uncover a festering morass of familial corruption—at the same time, Larsson skillfully bares some of the similar horrors that have left Salander such a marked woman. Larsson died in 2004, shortly after handing in the manuscripts for what will be his legacy.

4. Gregory McGuire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

A little about it: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

5. Anna Godbersen's The Luxe

To read what it's about, see here.

6. A SIGNED, Hardcopy of Jennifer Weiner's Fly Away Home

A little about it: When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips, and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife—her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored knit suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her husband, the senator.

Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ younger daughter, is at twenty-four a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, trouble always seems to find her. Her older sister, Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve—a husband, a young son, the perfect home—and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more.

After Richard’s extramarital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider her life, who she is and who she is meant to be.

7. A recently-published soft-cover book of your choosing!

8. A SIGNED copy of Theo Nestor's How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed

A little about it from Publishers Weekly: A full-time mom and a part-time professor at the nearby University of Washington, Nestor had been married 12 years, raising two children with the man she loved. Then one afternoon, she discovered her husband had been using her bank card. He had a gambling problem, and she'd already warned him, if it started again, it would end their marriage. They agreed to have a good divorce, but Nestor had no idea how to reimagine her life as a single mother. As Nestor moves through what she's told are the three stages of divorce—shock/denial, adjustment and acceptance—she discovers she's a lot more resilient than she'd ever thought. She has good parenting instincts and some solid friends. With cheerfully self-deprecating humor, Nestor shares her divorce process, always giving generous credit to the family and friends who helped her, and in her telling she offers hope that if that's what readers are facing, they, too, can manage.

Check back on September 9 for a Q & A with the author! And for a sneak peak into the book, see here. You can learn more about Nestor on her blog and Website.

How it works:
-First place winner will get to choose TWO books.
-Second place winner will pick their fav choice of the remaining books and on and on down the line until all eight are taken

Rules:-You must be a follower of my blog.
-To enter, simply find my picture under the "followers" list (page 2 of "followers), click on it, and send me an email, writing "super contest giveaway" in the subject line.
-An extra entry will be added for every friend you refer to who signs up as a follower (just make sure they mention you in their email entry).
-An extra entry will be added if you spread the love via Facebook, your blog, or Twitter (just send the link where you've posted it to me so I know).
-Contest closes at 5 pm EST, September 16.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Great Typo Hunt

The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson is, according to the Philalphia Inquirer, "travel porn for copy editors."

I think this book offers a unique, funny twist on the typical grammar guide by adding elements of classic road-trip/travel writing narrative and a quirky bromance of two English nerds out to save the world from typos. There's been some discussion that the authors avoid the more serious issues or questions that arose regarding race, class, and geographic variances in linguistic standards/norms, or rather the underlying sociolinguistics of it all but the book lives up to what it's marketed as. If I were still teaching English, I would have photocopied some chapters by now and shared them with my class. I think students will find this kind of grammar book more digestible--and fun--than a traditional grammar lesson, plus it invites lots of conversation.

Here's what others are saying about it:

“Only Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson could make the complete decline of the English language so entertaining. It's heartening to accompany these two young men on their quixotic quest to identify and rehabilitate the typos, spellos, and prepostrophes that threaten to bring down civilization as we know it.”
—Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English

“With sly humor and pitch-perfect tone, Jeff and Benjamin take us on a hilarious ride in a '97 Sentra around the U.S.A. in search of malapropisms and misprints on everything from menus to marquees, bumpers to billboards. It's a spell-checker's On the Road, a Strunk & White Odyssey, a charming Travels with My Dictionary with two young men who start as linguists and end as friends.”
—Michael Malone, author of Handling Sin and The Four Corners of the Sky

“In this seriously funny--and seriously thoughtful--book, a simple typo hunt becomes something more: an investigation into the deeper mysteries of orthographical fallibility. To err is human; to correct, divine!”
—Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

You can also follow them on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, or their blog.

So tell me, what are your greatest typo pet peeves?