Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Rec: When You Reach Me

I picked up When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead with no expectations whatsoever. I'd heard from someone who'd heard from someone that it was, "uh, pretty good", which made the pleasure of being bowled over by its wonderfulness all the sweeter.

Miranda lives in late 70s Manhattan with her single mother, a para-legal and future game-show contestant on the The $20,000 Pyramid. Amidst helping her mom practice for the show, 12-year-old Miranda is dealing with a lot of firsts: first job, first crush, first confusing breakup with a best friend. Stead handles the swirling emotions of junior high so well, and the novel speaks so truly to these experiences, that when Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes from someone who seems to know the future, the reader doesn't feel jarred by the injection of fantasy. The sci-fi elements are gentle and unfold organically; the clues given to the reader make the ending seem fair and satisfying.

When You Reach Me offers a little bit of everything. It's a realistic depiction of the tentative nature of junior high relationships, a sci-fi, middle-grade Time Traveler's Wife, a bit of historical fiction (12-year-olds in 1979 Manhattan lived a much different life than NYC tweens today!). Highly recommended, for all age groups!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Here's my thankful Freaky Friday a little early:

1. I'm thankful for my family and friends. Couldn't ask for better.
2. I'm thankful that each year I realize, to a greater and greater degree, how much I don't know. It keeps me curious and active.
3. I'm thankful for the caring, nurturing nature of online writing communities. Without the support of my writerly friends, I'd probably be sitting in the crazy house playing checkers with Hurley from Lost.
4. I'm thankful Joanna Stampfel-Volpe said yes.
5. I'm thankful the genetic lottery graced me with perseverance instead of a cute little Heidi Klum nose. OK, maybe not that last one.

Have a great holiday!

Monday, November 23, 2009


So very excited. Tomorrow I'm heading down to the Newberry Library (employer of Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife!) to do some heavy-duty research. I'm still editing my current WIP, but I have an opportunity to look at some really cool stuff for the next book I'm planning, a young adult mystery set in 1881 Chicago.

You can't check anything out of the Newberry. When you arrive, you must apply for a one-day library card, tell them what you need, then they bring it to you. I might even have to wear white gloves to peruse my documents (notes typed in 1938). How cool is that? Or, rather, how much of a geek am I?

I loooove research. Once upon a time I worked a part-time job as a research librarian. Best job in the world for a Nosy Nellie like me. Have a question? I WILL find the answer.

Tomorrow is actually a research two-fer. After the Newberry, I'm going to a Tarot reader to get my cards read, and to ask her some detailed questions to flesh out a few parts of my WIP. I taught myself to read cards while preparing to write my story, but I learned from a book, which isn't the traditional way. I also scream like a little girl whenever the Death card comes up then shove it back in the deck--not exactly kosher in the world of Tarot readers. So I need a professional. OK, that sounds like I'm hiring a hooker--it's not that kind of book. Really!

So, I know a bunch of you are plugging away at WIPs. Did you do any research beforehand? What is your preferred method of finding stuff out? Google? Personal interviews? Like I said, total Nosy Nellie. Do tell!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Freaky Twiday

I got home at 3am from the first New Moon showing at my local theater. I'm tired, cranky, and, though I hate to admit it, a little hungover. So instead of a full review (which I probably shouldn't do anyway as I'm the spoiler queen), I'm going to list the five things I loved about the movie.

1. Jacob's abs. You knew this would be first, didn't you? OK, the cougar vibe in the theater was a little creepy, but I doubt you'll be disappointed to learn that Taylor Lautner's costume for nearly the entire movie consists of a pair of running shorts. Uh-huh. That's it.

2. Higher budget/better CGI. The werewolves did not look odd (for werewolves) or Disney-fied. I nearly jumped out of my seat during one transformation. The fight scenes (trying not to spoil!) were particularly well done, and seriously scary, not funny-scary.

3. They let Jasper keep his funky hair/make-up look. Jazz is the muppet vampire. And poor Dr. Cullen still looks like he ran into a vat of baby powder. Love it.

4. The humor. There is a lot of humor in this film--some modestly poking fun at the ridiculousness of, well, everything, and some super sarcastic, biting (ha) lines. There was still a lot of cheese (Edward gazing into Bella's eyes with a look of total constipation, a fantasy scene that resembled a 70s feminine products commercial), but you didn't mind it so much because the humor provided a nice, consistent contrast.

5. Best last line ever. Not telling what it was, but Twilight fans can guess, I'm sure. Let's just say everyone answered the screen, then burst into applause!

I liked this movie. I thought it did well by the book and enriched and enhanced the first Twilight film. Two thumbs up!

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comin' Through the Rye

OK, I just can't help myself. Have you seen LiLa's blog today? Their post about the F-bomb in teen lit sparked an amazing discussion about everything from parental rights to censorship. This is a touchy subject, but if I don't take it on I'm going to bite a hole in my tongue.

Let me get this out of the way first: I am a parent. I believe authors using the F-bomb just to shock are basically lazy, irresponsible writers. I teach literature for a living, sometimes to teens.

(Caveat goes...)

On LiLa's post, I saw a lot of commentary mentioning parental rights, as in, it is my right to not buy books that contain the F-word for my teenager. Of course this is your right. But should it be the determining factor?

What is the motivation here? To shield a 13 year old from this word? Guess what? Unless she's been raised in an arctic commune in Greenland, she's already heard it, knows what it means, knows the variations of grammatical usage, and has probably, if not spoken it aloud, thought it when she dropped her cell phone on cement or missed a major homework assignment.

I can understand the powerlessness parents feel as their families are chronically assaulted by reality television, violent video games and predatory marketing. Because of this I can almost understand parents taking advantage of opportunities to protect their children from vulgarity and unpleasantness until they are old enough to take it on. Almost. My fear is this leaves the child wholly unprepared for that "real world" we're always telling her about. Art helps us learn about ourselves and the world around us. It helps us understand what it is to be human, and celebrate the qualities we share and the ones that make us unique. Denying exposure to great art because of one bathroom stall word is short-sighted at best. It denies opportunity. To me, that is a worse parental crime.

While reading the comments following the post, someone mentioned The Catcher in Rye as an example of profanity used within literature deemed classic. The first thing that came to mind was, there was swearing in Catcher in the Rye? I was fifteen when I picked up Salinger's book. I remember identifying with Holden's loneliness, anger, and almost rigid morality. I remember feeling a rush of relief, grateful I no longer felt like the only weirdo in the world. I remember thinking about the book for days, weeks, years.

What I don't remember, is any swearing.

Running with the Wolfpack

I'm going to prop my eyes open until 12:05am, when I'll be lost in Kristin Stewart's Elvis sneer, Robert Pattinson's hair, and, oh-boy, Taylor Lautner's abs. Fun!

Full review tomorrow if I can formulate complete sentences...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Totally Random

OK, this might be the weirdest post ever, but today Amazon announced the full roll out of its "frustration-free" packaging. That's right--no more "impenetrable" plastic clamshells, no more twisty ties to get caught under your nails, no more strange bolty things that don't fit any standard screwdriver. Only easy-peasy packaging.

I am so freaking excited about this. Our Christmas morning will be all the more fun, and my kids won't learn any new curse words from their daddy. Yes!

(This is a well thought-out genius move by Jeff Bezos. There is a packaging feedback form for customers and a "frustration-free certification" process for vendors. Mattel, Fisher-Price, and Garmin are some of the companies already participating. Larry David is jumping for joy!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freaky Friday

Friday came up quickly this week! Here goes:

1. Books for Christmas! It's fun choosing books to suit the various personalities on my list And, I strongly believe in supporting the industry I hope will someday pay my bills. I plan on buying loads of books as presents AND visiting actual brick & mortar stores to make my purchases. Let's get those publishing numbers up, up, up!

2. Sweet potato pie. OMG. I ate TWO slices for breakfast. Uh-huh. Let me know if you want the recipe.

3. Planting a winter garden. I've never done it, but this year I think I'm going to try. Parsley stays through January around here. Chard. Spinach, maybe, but I might be too late. What else? Any ideas?

4. The midnight showing of New Moon approaches. The cougar lady deep inside is getting very excited. The suburban mom part of me is worried I'll fall asleep and miss it!

5. For my writerly friends: Suzy Townsend posted a great essay on characterization. And LiLa touched on a similar topic AND included a photo of the sexy Sayid. Check them out!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Too Funny

Courtesy of my sister-in-law, the lovely Lori, it's Christopher Walken speaking the words to Lady Gaga's Poker Face. Don't know if this has already made its way through the Twittersphere, but it's too funny not to post. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Rec for Mad Men Fans

Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is a beautifully rendered story of 1950s life in the colorful New York borough.

Eilis Lacey of Enniscorthy, Ireland doesn't think of herself as the adventurous sort, but when a string of circumstances sets her off on a boat for America, she finds a new life waiting for her, one of both extreme loneliness and absolute wonder. Toibin takes us through the immigrant experience (getting used to new customs, consumerism, finding a job, finding someone to love) with such careful attention to emotional detail, his simple, almost pedestrian vocabulary builds into poetry.

This is a book to curl up with, mug of tea in hand, snowstorm building outside. Enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2009


Lisa and Laura Roecker, the fab sisterly writing team, are giving away a kindle to one lucky follower of their hilariously funny blog. Check out their site to enter, and check out their book, The Haunting of Pemberly Brown when it hits the shelves in Spring `11!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Nuns Were Wrong

I went to a Catholic all-girls high school. Um...yeah.

So I heard a lot about God smiting me if I so much as let a boy's hand travel up my back while dancing. I heard about girls getting pregnant from toilet seats. I heard about the shame which would fall upon my family if I rolled my skirt at the waist so my knees would show.

At first, this constant barrage of nunsense meant sex and guilt seemed a natural combination. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize having sex did not necessarily have to result in a scenario worthy of a hand-wringing after school special. (Actually all it took was one really hot boy.) I was around seventeen when I figured this out. And I think kids today, if they even have the heaviness of this particular guilt stuck to their shoulders, figure it out much, much earlier.

So why do so many books directed at this age group still equate sex with punishment? Believe me, I'm not saying sex isn't a big deal--at any age--but I think contemporary teen fiction should reflect the realities of teen life. Cory Doctorow has a great, common sense take on this topic. Check it out here.

And, now, back to the WIP...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Freaky Friday

With so many people heavily involved in NaNoWriMo, I decided to do a writing-oriented Freaky Friday.

I don't listen to music much when writing my first draft, but while editing--oh, boy--I rely on it. The right song can set my imagination off, inspire the right tone, and (almost paradoxically as it has the opposite effect as I'm first-drafting) keep me focused. Here are five songs I'm obsessing about while editing my WIP, Queen of Cups:

1. Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode)
2. She (Green Day)
3. Paddy's Lament (Flogging Molly)
4. Season of the Witch (Donovan)
5. Caravan (Van Morrison)

My story runs through these songs and if you listen closely you'll have an idea of what it is...

I'm interested to hear what you guys think about the relationship between what you listen to and what shows up on paper. NaNo folks especially, what are you listening to as you pound out that draft?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Wrestler

Nathan Bransford posted a link to this John Irving interview on Twitter. I know you guys probably don't have time for the whole thing, but it is full of interesting commentary on writing--the process, the lifestyle, the discipline. I've linked to a segment about the writer's need for "alone time." Irving explains it well. Have a listen if you can.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

LiLa La-La-La-La!

Hey, everyone! Frequent commenters Lisa and Laura Roecker just sold their super-fun debut novel--A Kate Lowry Mystery: The Haunting of Pemberly Brown--to Sourcebooks. It'll be at your local bookstore in Spring `11! Check out their fab web site and pop into their blog to say hello!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

YA at the Movies

I'm a sucker for coming of age stories. That time of life is so incredibly interesting to me--it's all I write about and it's evident in the stories I choose for my students, and it's what I prefer to watch if I'm actually going to sit down in front of a movie.

This weekend I caught two. The Wackness stars Josh Peck, the sweet-faced goof usually found mugging on Nickelodeon's Drake and Josh. It was a little disconcerting to watch Josh smoke dope and have sex, but I quickly got over myself because the kid is a good actor. The script? Not so much. With YA, in books, films, and TV shows, it's so important that the emotions ring true to both teens (who are immersed in that reality) and adults (who tend to vividly remember that time in their lives). This movie just doesn't hit the right marks. All the teen characters seem off because the lines are polished to adult perfection. Ugh.

The other film I watched was a total classic: The Outsiders. It gets everything right. If you haven't watched it in awhile, check your listings--it's all over cable. The absolute beauty of The Outsiders got me thinking about successful YA movies, the ones who offer those moments of complete recognition, the ones so true to what it felt like to be fourteen or sixteen or eighteen, the ones you remember because your appreciation of them deepens with time. Here are a few of my favorites:

* Dogfight
* Lucas
* Friends (Not the TV show, the French movie from 1971--yeah, I know, but it's good.)
* Dazed and Confused
* The Sure Thing
* Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Feel free to add your faves in the comment box. I'm always on the lookout for Netflix picks!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Suzy's having a writing contest! If you aren't obsessing about word count for NaNoWriMo, give this a shot! You could win a $20 gift card!