Monday, December 20, 2010

Reading Recap

I read like my boys eat--I gulp down so much, so fast, it's impossible to keep track of how much I've consumed. I have no idea how many books I read during 2010. A safe guesstimate would be fifty-two (one a week). Some I liked, some I didn't, but some absolutely stunned me. Here are the titles from that list:

My Best of 2010:

YA

1. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson
2. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (OK, this doesn't come out until May `11, but this one...omg, this one...It will be on your list next year.)
3. THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger
4. GIRL, STOLEN by April Henry
5. THE CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare
6. THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting
7. FORGET YOU by Jennifer Echols
8. THE DEMON'S COVENANT by Sarah Rees Brennan
9. NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Siobhan Vivian
10. CRESCENDO by Becca Fitzpatrick

Adult

1. A RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick
2. ONE DAY by David Nicholls

Non-Fiction

1. THE CYNICAL IDEALIST: A SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN LENNON by Gary Tillery
2. AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE by Bill Bryson


I'm currently reading two books I'm certain would have made the list if I'd finished before typing this: JUST KIDS by Patti Smith and ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins.

Got any titles to add? Disagree with my choices? Tell me!

(I'll be busy finishing up a project over the next two weeks, so this is my last blog post of the year. Happy Holidays to everyone!! Thanks for reading!!)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's a Wham Christmas!

Okay, I just have to link to this. I know it was featured on the Glee Christmas episode, but this time Rachel and Finn just don't do it for me.

And come on, don't tell me I'm the only person who sincerely thought she had a chance with George Michael...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Christmas Story

In early December 1993, I was living in Astoria, a working class neighborhood at the end of the N subway line in Queens, NY. I took that train home every day from my job writing for a trade magazine, a position I loved, even though it paid next to nothing. Like many other people my age, I lived paycheck to paycheck.

The first Friday of that month I came home from work and wrote out all of my bills. On Saturday morning I confidently tossed them in the mailbox. On Sunday morning, I got around to balancing my checkbook. I'd been careless. Unless I wanted to bounce a check, I had $8 left in my account. I had less than five in my wallet. I'd done some Christmas shopping for my family, and, it embarrasses me to write, my credit card was at its pathetic limit.

At first I didn't panic. I caught a ride with a friend most mornings, and I had a subway pass for evenings. I could eat what was in my pantry. Two weeks wasn't all that long. I'd be fine until payday.

Then I took some inventory. The only edible items in my apartment were a half empty box of Cheerios, a bit of milk, some butter, and a stack of Saltine crackers. I didn't keep much in the house because I was used to eating out. What can I say? I was young.

I ate cereal for dinner that night, and for breakfast the following morning. I bought a slice of pizza for lunch. I had a few dollars left.

If I spent my remaining money on a slice the next day, I'd have nothing. I panicked. I ate Saltines smeared with butter for lunch on Tuesday. I had the same for dinner. I went to bed with a growling stomach, my brain running too hard for sleep.

I could have called my parents. They would have wired some money immediately. But that would have been admitting failure. The worst kind. Do you know how many people said, "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere" when I moved to NYC? Too many. They would know I didn't make it. That I didn't have the stuff. Starvation was preferable.

I knew I could hang out at my cousins' over the weekend, and they would feed me. That was something to look forward to. I remember that Thursday we held a staff meeting where bagels and cream cheese were served. I think I ate two and snuck one in my purse. On Friday I endured a long lunch with our ad exec, Charlie, because I knew he would pay. A loud, sexist holdover from those Mad Men years, Charlie believed in drinking his lunch and pinching the waitress's bottom. We went for Indian. I was so grateful I didn't care that the entire restaurant could hear him tell me dirty jokes.

For whatever reason, I couldn't go over to my cousins' on Saturday. I was crazy hungry. I had two dollars.

I went to a Chinese restaurant near my apartment, figuring my credit card check went through and I'd have some room on it for a meal. I ate. The bill came, and I murmured a prayer as I handed over my Visa. When the waitress returned with my card, I knew by her pinched look it had been declined. I promised to return the following Friday to pay my bill. She said that would be fine, as long as I left my driver's license as collateral.

Humiliated, I ran home, tearful and angry. I knew what I had to do. I unplugged my VCR, stuffed the cord in my purse, and hopped on the subway headed for the city. I got out at 42nd Street, found a pawn shop in Times Square (it wasn't the family fun Disneyland it is today), and walked out with 25 dollars.

I went back to the Chinese restaurant and paid my bill. It felt good to slide my license back into my wallet. I went to the grocery store and bought peanut butter, a loaf of bread, some cans of soup.

I made it. The following Friday I stopped at the pawn shop after work and bought back my VCR. I took myself out to dinner. I went to the movies. I fell into a deeply restful sleep.

But I haven't ever forgotten how badly my stomach hurt when there was nothing in it for far too long. I remember the panic, the desperation, the anger, the embarrassment. I remember how much time and energy I had to put into figuring out a way to eat.

I didn't have children then, so I can only imagine what this feels like when you are responsible for people other than yourself. I can barely stand to think about the amount of families going hungry during these horrible economic times.

I doubt many of us are wealthy, but if you have a little extra, please pick up some non perishables next time you're at the supermarket, and drop them off at your local food pantry. If you have no idea where your local facility is, google it. You'd be surprised. Even upscale neighborhoods have them. Or, if your search doesn't bring anything up, shoot me an email and I'll find one for you. Seriously.

Being hungry sucks, but being hungry during the holiday season is its own kind of hell, you know?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Freaky Friday


Something a little different this week: How not to shop at a major cosmetics retailer (rhymes with Bora-Bora):


1. Don't assume that because your pajamas kind of look like pants no one will notice you're wearing them. The women who work there are capable of noticing a stray brow hair. They will take note. And then they will follow you around asking "Are you sure I can't help you?" until you want to run out of the store. Which is probably their goal.

2. Don't try on the Nars lipstick even though the store is out of alcohol swabs or anything remotely usable for disinfecting makeup. You will spend the next three hours OCD-ing about the Herpes/HIV/Hepatitis/Smallpox/Typhoid you probably caught. And the color will probably suck anyway.

3. Don't, in a fit of nostalgia, spray yourself effusively with Chanel no. 5. It won't smell the same as it did when you were fifteen. Somehow, in the twenty-five years since then, it went from being sexy and sophisticated to smelling like an old lady's closet.

4. Don't allow the Benefit representative to "fill-in" your eyebrows. You will resemble the Russian chick in that Dodgeball movie.

5. You are too old for sparkly eye shadow. Sorry, but it's true.


Um, yeah, I should not be allowed out of the house...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for Inspiration

In my literature class, we've been talking about allusions, particularly with poets making reference to artists who came before and paved the way. In part, an allusion allows the writer to acknowledge her influences, to thank a mentor, to show literary genealogy.

I am so proud to write stories for young adults. I wouldn't be doing it, though, if not for these artists, whose influence is lasting and ongoing:

1. Judy Blume: During my middle school years, we spent part of every summer at my grandparents' house, 20 miles from my friends. I always brought a JB book with me--DEENIE and TIGER EYES were my favorites. I fell so completely in love with the stories I didn't notice the loneliness so much.

2. S.E. Hinton: I remember being completely blown away the first time I read THE OUTSIDERS, but TEX is my all time fave. It just felt so real. Reading Hinton was my first lesson in characterization (Paul Zindel, too. PARDON ME, YOU'RE STEPPING ON MY EYEBALL! is a good one).

3. John Irving/William Goldman: OK, technically not YA authors, but these guys taught me about plot, narrative structure, and how to manage reader expectations. In their books, you grow to know the characters so well, but what happens to those characters is constantly a surprise.

4. Sarah Dessen: I picked up a copy of DREAMLAND while I was writing my first YA novel. Dessen tells such a good story you don't notice the impact of the emotional journey until everything comes together in the final pages, and you realize how skillfully she's led you to that point. Her books are always so well structured, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in her heroine's world. (I'd put Meg McCafferty in this category as well--her book SLOPPY FIRSTS is just about perfect.)

5. Susan Isaacs: If you haven't read the book SHINING THROUGH (watching the craptastic movie version doesn't count) then grab your Borders coupon (50% off today!) and buy it! I've read ST four or five times over the past twenty years and I still don't want to put it down while reading. Why? A complex heroine you desperately want to succeed. A love interest that is quite her match. A familiar setting (WWII New York) that turns unfamiliar (Germany in the grip of the Nazis). All of Isaacs books taught me about how to engage a reader on multiple levels, and how to make it all work.

(I'd also like to add a few other YA authors whose artistry continues to inspire: Jandy Nelson, K.L. Going, Simone Elkeles, Jennifer Echols, Kody Keplinger, and Maureen Johnson. Thanks!)

So...how about you guys? Which authors do you give thanks to?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Personal Review of HP7

Harry Potter is a large part of the mythology of my children's childhoods. My guys made wands by covering pencils with brown construction paper, played platform 9 3/4 with a toy shopping cart, using every piece of luggage in the house (my walls will never be the same), ran through the backyard, shouting Expelliarmus! Stupefy! but never, ever Avada Ka----- (why risk it?). When my youngest was nine months old I sewed him his first Hogwarts robe. When my oldest was four, he insisted I use my eyeliner to draw a scar over his brow. His preschool teacher spent a few days wondering what it was until she gathered up the courage to ask me.

So this weekend I took my two Potter fans to see part 1 of the last installment of the series. It was thrilling for them, and, um, emotional for me.

There are many tear-worthy moments in the film, but the one that got me all verklempt was at the start (which meant my eyes burned with unshed tears for over two hours). Harry stands in the empty Dursley house, staring into his old room, the cupboard under the stairs. It's empty, except for some left behind items, namely the toy soldiers Harry played with when he thought that the world was a very small place. The cupboard that once seemed cramped now appears absolutely tiny, meant for a mouse. The look on Harry's face was full of meaning. He was mourning his passing youth, yes, but at the same time reflecting on everything that had come to pass. Would he exchange everything that had happened to reclaim that young boy's innocence? The answer was definitely, no.

What would have happened to that little boy, had he not been shaped by the love and friendship of good people? How would he have turned out without mentors to guide him, to tell him his life had meaning?

J.K. Rowling, genius that she is, gives the answer to us in Voldemort. By shirking our responsibility to the young, we risk raising selfish monsters who make the world a very dark place. Friendship and loyalty and integrity are meaningful and lasting, and brighten the world like the tip of Hermione's wand.

The Deathly Hallows illustrates all of these ideas coming full circle. Our Harry has grown up. And so have we.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Freaky Friday

You guys know what's going on this week, right?



1. HARRY POTTER!! I'm going to bring the kidlings this weekend. We can't wait. Kody Keplinger has a great post today about her love for all that is Weasley. Check it out here.


2. Add my total sleep time for the past two nights and you will still be in the single digits. Why? I was up reading DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. I'll post a review next year, but let me just say this: find a way to get your hands on an ARC. DIVERGENT is a nail-biter of a thriller, but also a deeply moving coming of age story. It has action, romance, and fantastic world-building, but what spoke to me the most was the surprising gentleness of the love story, given that the setting is so brutal. More later...


3. I'm, um, thinking of running a 5K with my oldest this Sunday. Pray for my knees.


4. Update: my students LOVED Mel Gibson's Hamlet. Now on to the Romantic poets.


5. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Are you guys cooking? Do you get a little creative with the stuffing? I love my mom's recipe (which is actually my paternal grandmother's) but I think I'm going to lobby for cranberries and pecans this year. What do you guys add? Anything interesting?



Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Freaky Friday

And so it goes...



1. I'm not cut out for NaNoWriMo. I've spent November editing one project, readying another to pitch to my agent, and writing my current WIP. I have no idea how many words I've written (or deleted). Counting them now just seems...exhausting. I know: I suck.

2. I've got nothing against book packaging companies--some wonderful series have come out of that world--but James Frey's sweatshop mentality creeps me out. Check out the story in New York Magazine.


3. I'm convinced picking paint colors for my house is the hardest thing I'll ever do. I find this task more difficult than writing a novel. Oy! How do decorators do this all the time? It's causing me major stress. Maybe I'll post the color choices and have you guys do the picking?


4. I'm making a lot of my Christmas gifts this year. The aunts are getting knitted washcloths and homemade soap or scarves. Seems more in line with the holiday spirit, no?


5. I'm teaching Hamlet this term (Go ahead. Laugh. But believe it or not I've actually memorized some parts.). My students are really into it, and though we've read the play, I wanted to show them a film version. Well, there are many good ones--how to choose? After much deliberation, I went with the Mel Gibson version. He's really, really good as Hamlet--maybe the whole madness thing came easy for him?



"Though this be madness, yet there is method in`t."


Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

LoNyWriMo

I'm in.

Not officially (because I've already started my novel), BUT NaNoWriMo here I come.

I'm about 20,000 words in on my latest. I figure it'll finish somewhere between 60 and 70,000, which means I'll write roughly the same amount of words as an official participant.

I've always been a little conflicted about NaNoWriMo. Maybe I'm a little uptight about slapping words on the page to make my daily count. Maybe it feels too much like quality takes a back seat. I'm an "edit as I go" kind of writer. It's hard for me to type without thinking too hard, which is--let's face it--what I'll have to do if I want to get 50,000 more words on paper. But hey, Kerouac wrote ON THE ROAD in three weeks. Of course, he was fueled by benzedrine. I'll be using green tea and fun size candy bars.

I'll post word count occasionally, and I encourage you guys to do so as well. Good luck! I'm definitely going to need it!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Freaky Friday: It's All About Me Edition

I'm back to work after an eight week sabbatical, I woke this morning to find my car was egged in the night, and the Halloween party I was going to attend on Saturday was cancelled. Stellar morning, yes indeed.

So this installment of Freaky Friday is all about me, me, me. In the face of adversity, I choose narcissism, or something like that...

1. Now that I have nothing to do on Saturday night, I'm going to have a little no-Halloween movies netflix film festival. My choices? Klute (Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland = perfecto) and A Home at the End of the World (Colin Farrell. Colin Freaking Farrell.) No spooky movies for me. I watched Amityville Horror once and couldn't sleep for three nights because my apartment was 20 miles from the real Amityville. So close! Too close! (Yeah, I'm a wimp.)

2. My friend Alexa, photog extraordinaire, is going to take professional photos of me this weekend. I'll post the results. I've gotten a lot of good tips from friends regarding how-not-to- look-like-a-complete-moron in front of the camera, and Stina Lindenblatt coincidentally posted some tips this week on her blog.

3. I am convinced I can write a decent steampunk novel. OK, more than convinced, I'm obsessed. (I've actually only read one. But I'm a 19th C. history chick and the idea just appeals.)

4. HARRY POTTER is coming. I've already bought my tickets. Is it wrong to think Harry is a hottie now? He's a wee one but so cute. (I almost deleted that...it seems a tad icky, no?)

5. I've got some Borders bucks burning a hole in my pocket. I'm definitely going to buy this, and this. Any other suggestions?

Have a good weekend, everyone! Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cold Comfort

Oooh, Chicago is truly a windy city this week and people are NOT happy. I saw a litany of complaints on twitter (too cold! too rainy! too fallish!) and all I could think was, bring it on! I love cold weather, rainy days, wind whipping against the windows--I love it all (OK, maybe not power outages and moldy leaves, but almost all.)


Maybe I love everything that accompanies inclement weather. Sweaters. Wellies. Movie days. Especially movie days. Sometimes I like nothing better than to curl up on my sofa with a mug of tea, remote in hand, ready to catch some classic on an obscure cable channel--because it's one thing to have a film on DVD and quite another to catch a favorite by luck when scrolling through the guide.


If one of the following pop up on a random rainy Sunday, I stop everything, curl up with a blankie and watch:


1. Four Weddings and a Funeral

2. Pretty in Pink

3. Bridget Jones's Diary

4. Hannah and Her Sisters

5. Charade



How about you guys? What are your comfort movies?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Freaky Friday--Girlcrush Edition

This week I'm loving the ladies...here goes:


1. Sarah Dessen--You all know about my love of The Dessen. But did you know she has her own book-inspired racecar? It's pink and white and all kinds of gorgeous. Check here for photos.


2. Helena Bonham Carter is my new style icon. I mean LOOK AT HER:




And check out these photos of a dressier HBC, if you can stop drooling over Colin Firth for 10 seconds.


3. Judy Blume & Co. are filming Tiger Eyes!! Right now! In New Mexico! Be still my 12 year old heart!


4. I'm guessing most of you have seen this post by Libba Bray already, but if you haven't, reserve a little time to give it a read. Have Kleenex nearby.


5. I sent my revised second novel off to my beta chicks. Oh, how lucky I am to have them. Thanks gals!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This is the end...well, sort of

I just finished a (mostly) fantastic YA mystery. The story was compelling, the voice incredible, the plot kept me on my toes. I kept thinking, I am LOVING this! Yay!

Until I got to the end. If one can even call it that. When I was almost done, I could feel the scant pages left and I wondered how in the world the author was going to tie everything up.

I shouldn't have given it a thought, because--I kid you not--the last page read to be continued.

Loose ends were not tied, the threads were simply cut. If I want an explanation, I need to buy the next book. Which, let's face it, I probably will. So, from a marketing perspective, the technique worked.

As a reader, I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I'm pretty angry. I feel manipulated. On the other hand, I'm intrigued, and still thinking about the book overall.

So what do you guys think? Does the writer have an obligation to the reader to complete the story? Should books in a series stand alone?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Imagine


Thursday, October 7, 2010

RIP Burning Dan


I never met Dan Gordon-Levitt. Yet, when I heard about his death yesterday, I felt a deep sense of loss. I wrote about Dan on this blog a few months ago. He taught fire dancing and flow arts to everyday folks. He describes how he came to this profession on his web site:

"The first time I saw anyone spin fire, I was transfixed and inspired, but it was so far removed from my vision of myself that it didn't occur to me that I could do it. Subconsciously, I thought that Other Kinds of People do crazy things like that.

Six months later, I went to Burning Man for the first time. I found myself in a supportive, encouraging, inspiring community that helped me break through that myth. I realized that there are no Other Kinds of People. Anybody can do anything. I can do anything. YOU can do anything."

I love this message. In teaching this art to others Dan helped to unleash the creativity within each student. Watch him dance--isn't it easy to imagine the flames as words or music or paint? The process is so freeing.

His life's work made total sense to me.

Being dead at 36 doesn't make any sense at all.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

From the Vault



My husband and I had kind of a schizophrenic honeymoon: we (and by we, I mean our entire wedding party) went to Vegas for him, and San Fransisco (just the two of us) for me, so I could visit City Lights Bookstore (side note: I think this why we've been happily married for 13 years. IMHO, it's more important to find someone who respects your interests than someone who shares them.)

Visiting City Lights was a religious experience. And I don't mean that in a funny or ironic way. I'm not even sure how long I was there. Hours? Days? I do know the hub, after watching me wander the shelves in a semi-hypnotic state, retired to Vesuvio, the bar next door, where he sat on a barstool that could have once held Bukowski's butt, or even Kerouac's. After I sucked up as much of the atmosphere as possible in City Lights, I joined him...

...and capped one of the greatest days of my life by drinking Campari and soda, my newly purchased copy of HOWL on the bar next to me, my new husband on the other side.

It wasn't, however, my first copy of HOWL. I scored that one in the 80s. 50 cents at the Salvation Army. I devoured it, let the words invade my soul (c'mon, I was fifteen) just as I had with ON THE ROAD, a book that's had more influence on me than any other.

Shortly after reading it for the first time, I found out HOWL was the focus of a famous obscenity trial. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights Bookstore, found himself on trial for daring to offer HOWL to his customers. If the prosecution had won the case, it would have been against the law for anyone to sell Ginsberg's masterpiece.

So what was it about HOWL that could damage my fifteen year old brain? Some sex, particularly references to homosexuality. Some drug references. Um...nothing I hadn't read about already.

What damage could have been done to my person had I not been allowed to read HOWL?

After finding out about the trial, I researched the political climate of the 1950s, independently and in far greater detail than the watered down Joe McCarthy lecture given by my high school poli sci teacher. I studied the House Un-American Activities Committee AND the American Civil Liberties Union (It supported Ferlinghetti.). I read. I learned. About history and art and human nature. This is what we want of our kids, is it not? Knowledge gained by the very desire to learn. To know.

I now teach a 20th Century survey course. We spend significant time on the Beats. I lecture on Ginsberg and Kerouac and Ferlinghetti and Snyder. I'm able to give my students a clear understanding of the time period because I understand it so well. And these kids, who are too young to identify the members of New Kids on the Block, well, they LOVE it.


And to think the book I owe so much to might have been kept from me...well, honestly, that makes me a little sick.

For more info on the HOWL trial, read the fantastic HOWL ON TRIAL: THE BATTLE FOR FREE EXPRESSION. Also, currently in theaters AND on cable (if you have On-Demand viewing) is a cinematic version of the Ginsberg/Ferlinghetti obscenity trial, starring (swoon) James Franco and (double-swoon) Jon Hamm. You can watch the trailer here.





Friday, October 1, 2010

Freaky Friday

Bits of the random:

1. My brain was too shell-shocked from revisions to write a blog post for Banned Books Week. I didn't want to do a half-assed job, and I still don't, so I'd just like to name some titles of books that were still being banned when I was young enough to have them taken away from me. I read these books during my school years and I don't think I'd be the person (or writer) without them: DEENIE by Judy Blume, THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton, HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain.

2. Once a week my fifth grader takes the a.m. junior high bus for district band practice. He's still young enough to want me to stand at the bus stop with him (yay!). It takes my son a minute or two to settle into his seat (He plays the euphonium), and during that time I stand on the corner while the 7th and 8th graders stare blankly at me. I tried waving once and got nothing. Once in a while we take it up a notch and engage in a highly competitive staring contest, but this week offered an upsetting new development. Two girls gave me the slow once over, coldly assessing my outfit--yoga pants, an olive oil stained sweatshirt and Keen mary-janes so old I've worn through the bottoms--and obviously found me lacking. One pointed, the other laughed, then, mercifully, the bus pulled away. I shouldn't care. I am above that...right? I'm three times (thrice!) their age! But honestly, all that's really going through my head is I need a makeover. Sad, huh?

3. Cool contests: Amy is giving away some gorgeous bookishly decorated wine bottles at Hello, Moon. Nancy, Jo, and Sara over at NC Literary are giving away some awesome books.

4. Sometimes I can't read other books while I'm editing, other times I read like a fiend. With this revision it's been the latter. I've read: CLOCKWORK ANGEL, YOU, RETURN TO PARADISE, and THIS GORGEOUS GAME. For this weekend I picked up PERSONAL DEMONS, which I've heard is great. What are you guys reading? I need more, more more! Feed the addiction!

5. Have you guys been watching the new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire? I've seen the first two shows and I'm not quite sure what I think. I love my Scorcese, but...it's a bit slooooow, isn't it?

Anyhew, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something to Look Forward To...

Last weekend I attended the 7th Annual Anderson's Bookstore YA Literature Conference. Yep. An independent bookstore sponsoring a conference devoted to young adult literature. In other words...heaven.

One of the break-out sessions discussed recent releases and upcoming titles for fall. I was mesmerized. There are some mega-cool books on the shelves right now, and more coming out soon. Here were some of my faves (I'm paraphrasing the descriptions from my notes):

1. ACCOMPLICE by Eireann Corrigan--Two friends, Chloe and Finn, want to make themselves stand out to college admissions boards. Instead of taking an extra SAT prep course or delivering food to the homeless, these two concoct a plan: Chloe will "disappear" into the woods and come stumbling out 11 days later. Finn will lead the search party and make a name for herself as the brave, persistent best friend. Their subsequent fame will make them attractive to choice universities. Easy peasy, right? Well...not so much...

2. VIRGIN TERRITORY by James Lecesne--After his mother dies, Dylan finds himself moving from NYC to Jupiter, Florida. When his life seems to be sinking into a quicksand of depression, Dylan runs into the Virgin Club, a group of kids whose families travel around the country in search of Virgin Mary sightings. They help him see the world a little differently. Uh-huh. You read that right. Virgin Mary sightings. You guys know I love quirky and this one looks pretty darn unique.

3. SOMEBODY EVERYBODY LISTENS TO by Suzanne Supplee--Retta graduates from high school with few prospects. All she wants to do is be a country singer, so she heads off to Nashville in search of a future. Reality is not kind to dreamers, yet Rett manages to do all right...until family circumstances mean she might have to leave and give up everything.

Also of note: LOW RED MOON by Ivy Devlin, FAT VAMPIRE: A NEVER COMING OF AGE STORY by Adam Rex, and ANNEXED, the story of Anne Frank told from Peter's point of view (!) by Sharon Dogar.


* And, for those of you who want some conference gossip: Yes, David Levithan and John Green are as cute and funny as you think they are. Kody Keplinger is adorable in real life, as is Veronica Roth, another of my agent sisters. From certain angles, Claudia Gray resembles Catherine Deneuve. Charles Benoit could earn side cash as a stand up comic and Simone Elkeles seems like the kind of gal you want at your bachelorette party--super fun and quick witted.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Freaky Friday

Friday's list of randomness:

1. I have a new nephew!! Whoo-hoo! Liam Sebastian. I'm probably a bit biased but I think he's super cute!

2. Maureen Johnson wrote a very interesting post on "boy books" and "girl books" and all that nonsense. It's fantastic. Read it here.

3. This weekend I'm attending the 7th Annual Anderson's Bookstore YA Literary Conference. Kody Keplinger will be there, along with John Green, David Levithan, and a whole bunch of other cool folks. Check back next week for my full report.

4. I'm an allergic sort, which means every spring and fall I suffer from sneezing, wheezing, and yes, eczema, those small patches of dry, itchy skin. I sway towards natural remedies, and eating raw honey has done wonders for the respiratory stuff, but has been unimpressive as a skin salve. I've switched over to Wild Oregano Oil for skin issues and Oh, man! It works so well. The only problem is I now smell like a pizza.

5. Speak Loudly--I've written about censorship before, but I have not yet written a post specifically about Wesley Scroggins' call to ban SPEAK and TWENTY BOY SUMMER. I've read some pretty phenomenal posts (C.J Redwine and Veronica Roth come to mind, as well as essays written by Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Ockler, the respective authors of the two books mentioned in Scroggins' complaint.) and I feel if I'm going to add to the conversation I want to add something of value. I'm not quite sure what that is yet.

Well, enjoy this first weekend of fall! Drink cider! Eat something with pumpkin in it! Get ready to plant your garlic!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Internet Tag

OK, this thing is going around. The blogger is supposed to answer these eight questions, then tag a few other bloggers, and so on, and so on...Well, I tag everyone who reads this--ha!



1. If you could have a superpower, what would you have? Why?



Invisibility. I am seriously the most curious (read: nosy) person in the world. Being invisible would expand my spying capabilities.



2. Who is your style icon?



Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Or Ali McGraw.



3. What is your favorite quote?



"A great thought begins by seeing something differently, with a shift of the mind's eye."



Albert Freaking Einstein. I know, I know. But I'm really not that pretentious; I just really like it. I also have a poster of this hanging in my bathroom.



4. What is the best compliment you've ever received?



Someone once told me I was the most observant person she'd ever met.



5. What playlist/cd is on your iPod/cd player right now?



My "cool chick" playlist. Emiliana Torrini, Madeline Peyroux, Joni Mitchell, Ingrid Michaelson, Feist, and Stevie Nicks.



6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?



Morning person. Totally.



7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?



Dogs. Cats always look at you like, If I were human, I'd kick your ass for the fun of it.



8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?



The Beatles. It always goes back to the Beatles, no?


Let me know if you participated so I can read yours!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hard Times

(OK, epic fail on the unplugging thing. I still twittered. I might have facebooked once or twice, and I read a few fabulous blog posts. But I did get over the hump with my latest project, and I feel a lot better about the revision as a whole. So much better that I could actually write something else. Here it is...)


Tara Kelly, author of the fantastic novel HARMONIC FEEDBACK, recently tweeted this: "What I need to see more of in YA: non-white MCs, poor kids, kids who have to work, girls who have curves, girls who don't, gay MCs."

Amen, sister. On all fronts. This blog post, though, will concentrate on the first three.

Our country is in a state of economic transition. Ok, that was probably a bit mild. Our economy is in the shitter and will be for quite some time. I realize that isn't exactly earth-shattering news. We all know people who have lost jobs. Maybe you've lost yours. At the very least the thought of being "let go" is probably swimming laps in your brain, surfacing steadily, rhythmically.

The official unemployment rate is currently 9.6 percent. That figure doesn't include the underemployed, the people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, the folks who can't take it anymore and have just given up. So the unofficial rate, according to a variety of sources, hovers around 16 percent.

Yes, that's awful. But do you know what the unemployment rate is for young adults (the age group 16-21)? 26.3 percent, according to the Department of Labor. Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I'd say it's much higher for minority teens. Just to give a little perspective, at the height of the Great Depression one out of every four men was out of work. 25 percent.

Teens are not adults. I get that. They aren't chiefly responsible for paying the rent or mortgage, the grocery bill, the utilities. The thing is, though, as more and more adults are losing their jobs, teens are increasingly responsible for helping to keep their families afloat. Some teens have always lived their lives like this. For some, economic instability is a new kind of pain. Add it to the everyday strain of adolescence and you get some stressed out kids.

And that added stress dramatically ups the risk of those kids dropping out of school, suffering abuse, drinking and drugging, making unwise sexual choices, etc. This is their reality.

But back to Tara's tweet. Should we be writing about this? Or better yet, do teens want to read about it?

During the Great Depression, people flocked to the movies for escapist fare--screwball comedies, musicals, stories about cute kids. In contrast, the top selling novels of the era reflected the desperation of the times more accurately: THE GOOD EARTH, THE YEARLING, and Steinbeck's story of the Oklahoma Joads fleeing the Dust Bowl in search of a better life in The GRAPES OF WRATH. (Incidentally, all of these books still show up regularly in high school teachers' lesson plans.)

I think tastes in literature and film in the Great Recession will prove similar to the past. A movie like Grown-Ups takes in 160 million, while Stieg Larsson's stark DRAGON TATTOO series tops the bestseller lists. My explanation for the disconnect is this: sitting in a movie theater is a group experience in entertainment--you laugh/cry/boo with others. A book, even if one reads it on a cold, hard Kindle, is much more intimate. You might be reading in bed. Or at the breakfast table. It feels safer to open a few more emotional doors.

There are a lot of stories grounded in realism out there, waiting to be read. And there is an audience for them, a nation of teens looking for acknowledgment, looking to connect to their reality through literature. Let's make sure they have the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unplugged

I'm doing it! Talk to you guys after I turn in my latest revision...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Old School

I have seven weeks left of my eight week sabbatical. Seven weeks in which I'm going to revise one novel and finish another. Uh-huh.

The truth is I LOVE setting unrealistic deadlines. Makes me work harder. And I have been working...just not as hard as I'd like.

To blame? Twitter. Facebook. Obsessive blog reading.

So I'm going old school. For at least a couple of days a week, I'm unplugging for three or four hours. My computer will be a word processing machine, just like in the old days. I might even bring my laptop to our wifi-less library and set up camp.

Think it'll work?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dullness of Perfection

My kids have school pictures this week. I was looking over the various packages, trying to figure out which one gave the most bang for the buck, when I noticed a new option. For a small fee, the photos can be retouched, brushing away blemishes and scars, birthmarks and moles. For a second I was tempted; my little guy has a honking mosquito bite right under his left eye. My fifth grader has something (Is it a zit? Bug bite? Boil?) hanging out at the tip of his chin. If I checked the box, my kids could have faces as smooth as GAP models. Very tempting...

But then I thought about my husband's fourth grade photo. The weekend before picture day he'd gotten into his first (and only) fistfight with his younger brother. Tom walked away with a split lip; his brother rocked a black eye. Those photos look like stills from The Little Rascals. And every time I look at them, I tell myself the story.

When I took my senior photo, my mom talked me into wearing this blue and white cotton sailor dress (??) because according to someone it was all the rage (I suspect she'd been browsing a 1936 Ladies Home Journal at our elderly dentist's office.). I showed up looking like Popeye gone rogue while my classmates all wore black, fake cashmere sweaters and pearls. Flip open to the senior section of our yearbook and you'll see row upon row of Betty Drapers with Bon Jovi hair and frosted lipstick. Then you'll see me. My eyes show embarrassment, humiliation. Something in my smile, though, reveals the faintest hint of defiance, and maybe, if you look closely enough, dignity. I'm proud of that girl, but no, you are not seeing that picture!

I love that my little guy spent every moment he could this summer running around outside with his friends, mosquitoes be damned. I love that my tween is at the start of all those changes guaranteed to wreck havoc with his complexion (among other things!). I want to remember those stories in twenty years; I want to glance at those photos and feel all the things I'm feeling now come back in a rush. I look forward to it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little Bit of Structure

School starts tomorrow. (Let me take a second to luxuriate in that last statement.)

Ahhhh. OK.

Summer has its merits but it sucks for writing schedules. I don't work well without some structure to my process, and summer, if you're doing it right, is one meandering, destinationless float down a lazy river. I need a designated writing time every day in order to get anything done. One of my heroes, William Goldman, rented an office in Manhattan and furnished it with a desk, a typewriter and a coffee machine. He showed up five days a week and wrote from 8:30 to 5. I wear more hats than he did--mother, wife, teacher, chef, chauffeur, etc., but I LOVE that idea. Writing is your job, so treat it as such.

I'm fortunate enough to have my days pretty much free when the kids are in school. I write in the mornings after dropping them off, sometimes until lunch, sometimes even after. Yes, I've been known to stare at the monitor for three hours, or wander over to Twitter to torture myself with other writers' word count updates (2000 words today! I'll hit 80K tomorrow!), but the whole butt in seat concept actually works. Some words usually come, and yeah, they might get deleted the next day, but they are there, you know?

So how do you guys get the words out? Are you a morning person like me or do you work best late at night? Do you need to write every day? Are you a word count freak? I'm curious!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Vault: Material Girl Version

My confirmation name is Madonna, so as you can imagine I have a soft spot for Madge, even in her current botoxed, "man-arms" state. (So glad the Kabbalah bracelets and pseudo-English accent have fallen to the wayside.) Women my age owe a lot to the Material Girl, more than we probably realize. Female artists especially. M has always approached her music with a combination of intense creativity and steely-eyed focus, and there are more than a few things we can learn from her long career:



1. Commit yourself wholly to a project. Yes, she's a control freak. But every good artist is to a certain extent, no? And she does take advice from people she trusts--look at what came of working with Jellybean Benitez.


2. When in doubt, reinvent.


From this:






To this:







To this:




All in the span of a few years.





3. Don't be afraid to take risks. Remember Madonna rolling around MTV's stage in a wedding gown singing Like a Virgin? Wearing a mega crucifix and making goo-goo eyes at Jesus in Like a Prayer? OMG, remember her SEX book? People stood in line for hours to buy some photos of Madonna hitchhiking in the buff.



4. Help out your fellow artists/Mentor the young. Too bad Brittany didn't have Madonna's force of will and business acumen.






5. Believe in yourself. The girl has not always been on top of her game. The acting. Her shaking hands at the 1990 Oscars. "American Life" sucked. But she takes lowered expectations as a challenge and always finds a way to surprise us.





So Happy Belated Birthday, M! We can't wait to see what you do next.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Freaky Friday: WriteOnCon Edition

I was crazy-woman busy this week, but not nearly as much as my friends over at WriteOnCon. Did you attend? It was fantastic, no? So much info for writers at every stage in the publishing process.

Here were some of the highlights, for me:

1. Mary Kole's vlog on stereotypes. Really great advice complimented by some incredible Rubik's cube skills.

2. The live chat between Molly O'Neill (HC), Martha Mihalick (Greenwillow), and agent Holly Root. Topic? Myths and misconceptions about publishing.

3. Lisa Schroeder's vlog about romance in YA...and, um, cupcakes. Who doesn't love cupcakes?

4. Martha Mihalick's "Choose Your Own Adventure" guide to the acquisitions process. Clever and informative.

5. The live chat on voice, featuring Anica Rissi (Simon Pulse), and agents Mary Kole, Suzie Townsend, and Joanna Volpe.

There were so many great vlogs and essays--I wish I could list them all. I don't have to, though, because the fine folks at WriteOnCon are establishing an archive on the site. Awesome, right?

Big thanks to the founders of WriteOnCon and to everyone who participated. I look forward to attending next year!

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where Am I?

I'm at WriteOnCon.com! And I'll be there, soaking up advice from a ton of publishing industry professionals, from August 10-12. Go check it out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why You Need to Pre-Order THE DUFF

We take a break from our regularly scheduled Freaky Friday...

My head is spinning with the amazing books coming out in the next few months. MOCKINGJAY and THE CLOCKWORK ANGEL are atop my list, but the book I'm most excited about is THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger*.

"DUFF" is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Uh-huh. In any group of girls there is the one who is "not quite", as in, not quite as popular, not quite as pretty, not quite as fit. To gain the sympathy of the more attractive girls, guys who want to score befriend The Duff.

So a guy gets a hottie and the homely Duff gets a little attention--win/win, right?

Not exactly.

When man-ho Wesley Rush sidles up to "Duffy" Bianca Piper she throws a Coke in his face. Then she, um, kisses him. This is only the start of a very complex, secret relationship, where self-identity and motivation and desire all come into play.

Bianca is an absolutely fascinating character. She's angry. She makes questionable choices. She messes up. But still, I was wishing so hard for her eventual happiness. She made me laugh (often), cry, and sometimes want to throttle her. This girl is feisty, and you'll love her for it.

Wesley is also not your standard two-dimensional romantic interest. Just like Bianca, Wes is not the character equivalent of a shallow kiddie pool, but a guy working through some very real issues. Bianca starts to see the many layers hiding under Wesley's playboy exterior, and, because of Keplinger's skill, it's as surprising to the reader as it is to our heroine.

I finished THE DUFF wishing I had a teenage daughter to share it with. THE DUFF is not a book you finish with a sigh and return to your bookshelf--you'll want to carry it around and talk to your friends about it until the wee hours. We've all felt like the Duff as some point in our lives, have we not? It's this message that elevates THE DUFF from a great teen romance to a classic young adult book of lasting importance.



*Full disclosure: Kody and I share an agent and I think she's a fabulous person. BUT, even if she was a complete stranger I would love, love, love this book. It's really so very good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

From the Vault: Forever...


Total score this weekend: I was at my local used bookstore and picked up a 1975 copy of FOREVER by Judy Blume for 25 cents. I actually squeed. Yes, the sound I thought I could never quite make burst from my diaphragm and scared the beejezus out of the poor kid behind the counter.

FOREVER was one of those life-changer books for me. In 1982, my progressive 6th grade teacher stuck it in the middle of a pile of more Catholic-school approved books she'd collected for me to read over Christmas break. The title intrigued me so I dug in. For a girl used to Nancy Drew's chaste kisses with her prepster boyfriend Ned, I was blown away. There's sex. Fairly explicit sex. A girl goes on the pill. A guy names his penis Ralph for heaven's sake. I think I read some passages twice (OK, maybe five or six times.), in complete shock. People were allowed to write about this stuff? I was barely allowed to acknowledge sex existed.

Judy Blume wrote about the things we were afraid to ask our parents about. Heck, my friends and I didn't even talk about sex with each other. I didn't necessarily feel more confident after reading FOREVER, but I definitely felt more normal. And, for a 12-year-old girl, that was pretty darn amazing.

So...which book changed your life?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Freak-Out Friday: Forty Fun

Ok, yeah, I'm freaking forty today. Uh-huh. I was going to write a post boring you with a run-down of my life's greatest hits thus far, or moan and groan about gravity and fine lines, but then I decided...no.

It's a birthday, which means joy and fun and celebration. So on this day of my birth, I'm celebrating you.

I'm so grateful I have people who actually click on this site and read my ramblings. The publishing biz is tough, but I am constantly amazed at how freely my fellow writers offer support. You are all wonderful, interesting, vibrant people, and I want to offer something to thank you for your amazingness.

I wish this list could include a diamond bracelet or an all-inclusive trip to Cancun, but hey, I'm a writer, so my goodie bag is a bit more modest. Here goes:

1. I will be someone's beta-slave. Query? Synopsis? 300,000 word dystopian based on Gone With the Wind? I'm there, red pen in hand.

2. I will give someone a tarot card reading. Online, but still fun.

3. I will attempt to match your personality to a book I have on my very crowded shelves. It might be something obscure; it might be a bestseller. I will then send it to you.

4. I will give free advice, on any topic. I'm actually pretty good at giving advice (notice I didn't say taking).

5. I will say nice things about one lucky reader on facebook and twitter and my blog for an ENTIRE day! Whoo-Hoo!

If you're interested in any of the above mega-gifts, just mention the number in the comments section, or send me an email at lorettanyhan (at) gmail dot com. First come, first served (except for the tarot readings--I could do those all day.)

Happy Weekend! I'm off to drink a gallon of resveratrol!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From the Vault: Moms and Dads

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about the depiction of parents in YA literature. Most of the opinions I've read are basically complaints: the moms and dads we see (when they're not conveniently dead) are cartoonishly self-centered, and often absent until they're needed to help the plot along by providing a ridiculous obstacle.

The arguments against this either find examples of richly drawn parental figures (Hello, Zarr, Dessen, and Caletti!) or explain that in a YA novel we're seeing the world through a teen's eyes, which would, at the very least, keep the focus on the teenager, not the concerns of her parents.

As a YA writer, I've been giving a lot of thought to this issue. How do I present realistic parents without taking anything away from my teen protags?

I'm a reader, and I usually to search out my answers through reading, but I think a lot of my ideas regarding character development came from television. In the 70s and 80s YA pickings were slim in the library, but television was full of stories about young people AND their parents. I can think of five off the top of my head that focused on teen concerns without skimping on adult character development. And though my examples come from TVland where the characters had at least an entire season to develop, I think if you separated out one episode, you'd still see a rich and realistic depictions of parent-teen relationships. Here goes:

1. Family Ties: Ex-hippies Elyse and Steven Keaton deal with raising (gasp) an uptight Republican son and two daughters, a tween and a teen. The show never falls into the traps you'd think--it's not preachy or dogmatic, but instead richly explores issues still important to teens: sex and pregnancy, drugs, body image, and identity crisis.

2. Good Times: The Evans kids, J.J., Thelma, and Michael, try to manage growing up amidst the violence and economic instability of the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Their parents weren't consistently around, but their presence was always felt.

3. Little House on the Prairie: Half-pint's relationship with her Pa was the heart of this series.

4. Eight is Enough: Seven of the eight were teenagers. The focus was the kids' shenanigans, but Mr. Bradford always seemed like a real--if kind of harried--dad, and Abby, the stepmom, is hardly evil and earns her PhD over the course of the show. Seriously!

5. My So-Called Life...is from the 90s, but is the freaking gold standard for creating richly drawn adult characters in a teen driven series.



I missed a ton, I know. Care to add any to the list?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Freaky Friday

1. Inception--I have only a vague notion of what this is about, but I haven't seen people this excited about a movie in a long time. I think it's going on my to-do list this weekend. I mean, who can resist Leo, right?

2. Book Clubs: I joined one a while back and it's been an amazing. The ladies of Baby's Got Paperback really put 100% into the experience, and as a result the discussions are smart, thorough, and highly entertaining. And the food is pretty great, too!

3. Friday Night Lights--I have no interest in football whatsoever, but I do love a good one-hour drama. I rented the first season of this show from Netflix on the recommendation of a friend. Do you guys watch?

4. Thank God for camp counselors, those rare people who manage to be cheerful when confronted with incessant whining, killer bugs, and temps in the high 90s. I bow before them.

5. I just got an invite to a screening of Who Does She Think She Is?, a documentary about five female artists who struggle to balance their creative lives with their roles as mothers and wives (We all know how unbalanced it can make us, right?). Check it out if it's playing in your city. Here is a review from the NY Times for the curious.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Check this Out!

Hey, everyone! Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation now has an official web site and blog. Go take a looksy by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From the Vault: Netflix Extravaganza

I'm obsessed with coming-of-age stories. I write them, watch them, teach them. The 1950s offered the best literary coming of age; the 1960s gave us music to reflect that time in our lives. What the 1970s lacked in literary and musical offerings it made up for in cinema. Probably as a reaction to the 60s youth movement, there are a ton of great 70s movies about growing up. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Butterflies are Free (1972) An overprotected blind man moves into his first apartment and makes friends with his giggly, half-dressed hippie neighbor. Guess which role Goldie Hawn plays?

2. Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) Paul Mazursky's autobiographical film about a young man finding himself among the artsy, bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village. It's set in the 1950s, but is definitely informed by 70s cynicism.

3. Friends (1971) I've seen this described as Romeo and Juliet meet The Blue Lagoon, but it's so much more than that. Two teens falling into a childish love that has adult consequences.

4. Harold and Maude (1971): If you haven't already seen this there is something very wrong with you.

5. Carrie (1976): Greatest horror movie ever about female adolescence.

So, do you guys have any to add from the 80s? 90s? 00s?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Freaky Friday

Super random:


1. Things I'm spending my money on: Josie Maran cosmetics (The company is super committed to eco-goodness.), Rowan yarn (I WILL make a kick-arse sweater by fall.), and Picket Fence Pinot Noir (available for a limited time at Trader Joe's.).


2. I'm obsessed with people who can make a living doing something other people would never think to do. Burning Dan is my hero. He's a fire dancer who keeps body and soul together by teaching and performing. Do you think he does children's parties?


3. Movie I'm definitely going to make time to see: The Kids Are All Right. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the same movie? Playing a married couple? I'm surprised I haven't seen it already.


4. New goals for the rest of 2010: Complete my third novel, THE FOUR OF US; learn to use my sewing machine; paint my son's room. I figure if I send this list out into cyberspace these things will actually get accomplished.


5. TV is my friend again. Mad Men is back. Weeds, too. And, this man/werewolf is protecting Sookie on True Blood:




Aaaaah-woooo! Happy weekend!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Passion of the Mel (and Mary)

The movie Tim was on cable a few weeks back. It's based on Colleen McCullough's touching novel about a mentally challenged man's affair with an older woman. I love McCullough's more famous work, THE THORN BIRDS, but TIM is a gentler, more nuanced book. The movie adaptation succeeds because the acting is so spot-on--Mel Gibson, in his first film role, portrays Tim's disability in such a natural, unaffected way the audience feels compelled to protect him.

I wish I still felt that way about Mel. If you haven't heard it yet and have the interest, laineygossip has an audio of Mel's verbally abusive conversation with his girlfriend/baby mama Oksana. It's absolutely brutal--the man speaking is a racist, misogynistic bully. The insults flow from his mouth with such ease there is little question this wasn't the first time he's levelled that kind of abuse on someone close to him.

It's hard to reconcile that man with the artist who directed Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, but then, I think the man Mel was then is buried deep under a mountain of empty liquor bottles, if he even still exists at all. The first thing that struck me about the audio was how much he sounded like X, a person I once knew (now deceased) who drank and drank and drank and then spewed venom. Against his family and remaining friends, trying to destroy them with his words. Against himself, who he ended up destroying with whiskey.

People often say getting drunk is no excuse for bad behavior, and only unleashes what was already inside. I agree there is no excuse for violence and brutality, but I do think alcohol erodes not only the stomach lining but the personality as well, rubbing away the good until the alcoholic covers the bare spots with rage and hatred. And there is a difference between someone having a few too many at the office Christmas party and saying something obnoxious to the boss and the slow deterioration of brain and heart and soul that comes with long-term alcoholism. Those personality changes are often severe and irreversible if the drinking doesn't stop.

Coincidentally, I read LIT this weekend, the newest memoir by Mary Karr (author of THE LIAR'S CLUB--great book.). In beautifully poetic language she discusses the ugliest time of her life--her drinking years. It was horrible to read about a wasted, out-of-control mother screaming at her toddler son in the supermarket, a near fatal accident while driving drunk, the constant vomiting and trembling of the DTs. I worried for her, my anxiety slightly assuaged when I turned to the back cover to see a nicely made-up, healthy looking Mary. Whew, I thought, she got through it OK.

I wish the same for Mel Gibson.



Friday, July 9, 2010

Freaky Friday

How can it possibly be Friday? And July? Oy.



1. The Emmys: Glee scored 19 Emmy nods, Mad Men 17. Whoo-Hoo! I love it when deserving shows are recognized. I do wish Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell were nominated for their fine work on LOST. Their acting during Juliet's death scene is worth a closetful of trophies.


2. ONE DAY by David Nicholls: OK, I read it almost entirely in one long stretch, it was that good. Until...well...shoot me an email at lorettanyhan (at) gmail.com if you want to discuss. And oh, boy, do I ever want to discuss.

3. Harry Potter Wizarding World: It's officially open to the public. They serve butterbeer. You can walk into Olivander's and your wand picks you! Voldemort couldn't keep me away from this place.


4. Libba Bray on libraries: I have a major girlcrush on this babe. Here is her blog entry about the value of local libraries and what we need to do to save them from sweeping budget cuts.


5. Kombucha: Long-time readers of this blog know about my love of fermented tea. I don't do Red Bull or even coffee, but every so often one needs a bit of motivation to get through the afternoon, no? Kombucha supposedly supports the immune system, energizes the body, and gives the digestive system a dose of probiotics. What's not to love, right? Well, the other day I cruised into Whole Foods to pick some up and the Kombucha display was gone, replaced by a sign stating it had been recalled. I asked the WF dude what was up and he explained--don't you just love how everyone working at Whole Foods loves to engage in conversation?--that the problem was the tea kept fermenting in the bottle after it had left the factory. So the trace amounts of alcohol listed as byproducts of the fermentation process became a lot more than the .05% listed on the label. In other words, I was downing the equivalent of a wine cooler in the middle of the day. No wonder I always felt so good at after-school pick-up!

The Whole Foods dude told me I should just make my own Kombucha in the basement. Um...if any of you know how to do this without blowing up my house, let me know.

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From the Vault: Style Edition

I'm, um, coming up on a BIG birthday. One of those milestones that, according to my cousin's husband, "Make you start thinking you're extremely lucky if you really are at the halfway point."

But seriously, I don't mind aging so much. Sure my hair isn't as lustrous as it once was, it's harder and harder to lose weight, and it only takes a sip of wine to stain my teeth purple (What is up with that?), but those things pale in comparison to what I've gained. (OK, maybe not entirely, but I'm going with it.)

When I was a teen I tried on as many identities as most girls did prom dresses. I had a (thankfully) brief flirtation with jock chic (legwarmers, high top Reeboks, big hair) and preppie (Bass penny loafers and polo shirts with turned up collars). I had a longer affair with Goth. Oh, how I loved pairing Doc Martens with torn black dresses and practicing sullen looks in the mirror. The problem was, I'm kind of a sunny person. I can't help smiling at people. It kind of killed my whole Goth persona AND made me look like an ass in front of the real Goths. My real personality kept seeping through, but I wasn't comfortable enough to accept it. I'm naturally a hippie/gypsy/boho kind of chick. Still, during my last years of college I went through an Audrey in Paris phase (black leggings, ballet slippers, bobbed black hair) and a Marilyn phase (Chanel No. 5, tight dresses and a short curly `do).

I still wear ballet flats almost exclusively, but at nearly (fine I'll say it) forty, I've come to accept that I'll never shop at Hermes, and Doc Martens just make my feet sweat. This is my style, and has been, if I'm honest with myself, for decades:







And...









I love these inspirations, but mostly I follow my instincts. I know myself, and I know my tastes. And that is one of the true benefits of getting older (OK, that AND reduced insurance rates).
So, how about you guys? Do you feel like you've reached the age where you're comfortable in your own skin?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Freaky Friday--Eclipse Version

OK, I went to the midnight showing on Tuesday, yes I did. Standing in line was awesome--hordes of teenage girls decked out in their Team Edward/Jacob finery, squealing and crying and intensely debating whether or not the headboard banging scene would make it to the final cut of Breaking Dawn (most thought yes, it would). Just standing there was like hormone replacement therapy.

The movie itself? Loved and hated it with equal measure. Here are my reasons:

LOVED (mild spoilers if you've been living under a rock):

1. Jacob and Bella kiss. Since Jacob spent the entire movie running around in Daisy Dukes, you are sooo primed for it to happen. H-O-T. (And, Taylor Lautner is, um, legal now, so I can stop thinking about him as "the kid who played Sharkboy".)

2. Jacob tosses off some seriously funny one-liners. So does Charlie.

3. The producers obviously had more cash for the important stuff. Special effects. Make-up. A decent director.

4. Bree Tanner is introduced. Now I might actually read the novella.

5. Jasper doesn't make me want to laugh hysterically every time he appears onscreen. All the Cullens--Rosalie and Emmett especially--actually have lines, and reasons for being in the film.


What I HATED (Again, spoilers if you haven't read the book):

1. The tent scene didn't exactly live up to my expectations. It was more about Edward and Jacob, than the, um, heat in that sleeping bag. Roger Ebert called it the "Brokeback Mountain scene", which is right on.

2. Bella's perpetual case of blue-balls. Sorry, there is no more applicable term. Edward is saving her soul by refusing to have sex with her? So the end result of asking for what she wants in the relationship is losing her very essence. Ugh. Double-ugh.

3. The ring looks like this cubic zirconia mess my mom bought with her 30% off Kohl's coupon a few years back. They couldn't do better?

4. When did Anna Kendricks become the most annoying person in the series? In a movie full of annoying actors, this is an accomplishment.

5. Bryce Dallas Howard was a poor choice for Victoria. She just looks too nice--definitely her father's daughter. It weakened the action scenes considerably.

I'd love to hear what you guys thought! Did you love or hate?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Goodreads

I've noticed a disturbing trend in Goodreads reviews: people are giving one or two stars to YA books because they include instances of teen sex (and sometimes drinking and/or drug use). Reviewers often complain that a book provides poor role models, is immoral and offensive, or simply is not reflective of modern teen life.

When I read these reviews I want to type in the comment box, do you actually know any teens? According to the National Survey of Family Growth (sponsored in part by the CDC), 42% of teen girls and 43% of teen boys are sexually active. Contrary to the myth that teens are having a lot less sex, these numbers have remained steady for the past ten years.

The adults posting these reviews know this. Maybe their teen isn't having sex, which is well and good, and let's face it, preferable. But there are millions of other teens who have decided to do the deed, often quite responsibly--is it so hard to admit a novel may be reflective of that reality? And, that it may have value as a work of art because it does?

Now, I should cut the teens writing these reviews some slack. And I will. Because the more I read them the more I lose faith in our school systems, not our young people.

Increasingly, these reviews contain no mention of character, plot, or even a gut-reaction like or dislike. The sole reason for giving a book a low rating is the inclusion of sex. Judging a novel on that basis illustrates a definite lack of critical thinking skills. Expecting novels to only reflect your system of values is expecting them to cease to be art.

Good art has always challenged, provoked, reinforced, reflected. Good art investigates what it means to be human. This is something one used to learn in high school. But (sweeping generalization alert) it seems we're focused on training kids to only search out what art means to them personally. There is a place for that response, but there is also a price for using it as the only evaluative tool. We're not teaching our kids to look for a book's impact on society or to appreciate an author's skill. We're not showing them that though a book may infuriate, it may also instruct. We ask, how do you feel about this? and leave it at that.

This is a type of close-mindedness. It creates narrow thinking, a terrible trait to develop as our kids face the challenges ahead.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Yaaawwwk!


Just got back from THE BEST CITY IN THE WORLD. Once upon a time I was a Manhattanite, but as I was reminded (What? No subway tokens? Is there really a GAP on every block or am I just imagining it?) that was a loooong time ago.

But that's why I heart New York. It's always in flux, always changing. But then, so am I.

The last time I visited I was not writing and wouldn't for years to come. Fear kept me from pounding out beyond a few pages. What if I sucked? Then I would not be able to dream that particular dream and at least one ventricle of my heart would shut down. I couldn't take the risk. No way.

But then, I did. I'm not sure why. Maybe for the same reason I drove to NYC at 22 with no job, no home, no connections. Something compelled me. I HAD to. That's really the only reason.

So this visit was different. I came up from the Lincoln Tunnel and took a great big gulp of New York air. I met with Jo, my fabulous agent, and we talked about books and writing and publishing. She took me to The Strand (church for writers) and then to the Nancy Coffey/Fine Print offices (Yeah, I almost stopped breathing when I met Nancy).

On the way back to my hotel I wanted to cry on my cabbie's shoulder. I felt legit. I felt like my dreams might really come true. I felt like a writer.

And that's the best souvenir ever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm Type Eric

Entertainment Weekly contains a great article about how the most compelling stories are found on television, not at your local multi-plex. I totally agree. I haven't actually sat in a movie theater since taking my kids to see Alvin and the Chipmunks 2--The Squeakquel. (I know, but come on, it was my little guy's birthday!). Television has experienced a golden age, probably since the premium channels have come into their own, HBO and Showtime in particular.


I didn't watch much TV as a kid, don't watch much now (comparatively), but here are some shows I get really, really excited for:


1. True Blood. Yes, we're on vamp overload, but this series is adult entertainment of the best kind--sex with a sense of humor, real jump out of your seat scares, and, um, him...




2. Mad Men. Complex characters doing morally ambiguous things on sets so historically accurate, even the toilet paper is vintage. I can't wait for this to start up again in July on AMC.

3. GLEE. Music. Teens. Drama. Sue Sylvester. I hope next season they have an Elton John/Billy Joel episode. That would be my dream.

4. Weeds. When this show started up about five years ago, I thought the premise was cute. Newly widowed suburban mom selling pot to keep up her Real Housewife of San Diego lifestyle. This show is anything but cute, in fact it's seriously disturbed. In the best possible way.

5. Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. This has become a travel channel staple, but Anthony has not been mellowed by the passing of time. His humor is as acidic as the "gravy" on a plate of mostaccioli.

So what did I miss?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Online KidLit Conference? I'm In!

Some of the biggest names in the YA Lit world--writers, editors, agents, bloggers--are conducting an online writer's conference on August 10-12. It's FREE. Yep, free. And you don't have to find a babysitter or money for a flight or the will to change out of your pajamas because it's all ONLINE. Registration starts July 1. Click here for more info!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Freaky Friday

How can it possibly be Friday already? Oy.

1. Blackhawks win!!! I was driving home from work when the Hawks won in overtime. By the time I pulled up to my house the entire neighborhood was cheering. I mean, it was LOUD. Then the fireworks started. So awesome.

2. True Blood starts up again this Sunday. From HBO's teasers I think we're going to get to see a lot of Eric Northman. Whoo-hoo!

3. What constitutes badass for me: eating triple fudge brownies for breakfast. Um...yeah.

4. My son's running class teacher called yesterday to tell me he thinks I've got myself a talented track and fielder. Why is this a big deal? I am the girl who faked horrific cramps to get out of running the fifty yard dash in high school; when we ran the mile I groaned so loudly the nuns almost carted me off to the hospital. I must have had 27 periods during freshman year alone. One of the great feelings in life is when my kids excel at stuff I suck at. Feels like I did something right.

5. Words I like today: medley, farcical, perusal, lumbago, and indefatigable. How about you guys?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RHONJ and Writing

I love my Real Housewives (except Orange County--eww). The New York ladies sucked me in their drama the past few months: Bethenny and Jill's disintegrating relationship, Kelly's wackadoo antics, Alex's hives, Ramona's harmless self absorption, and Sonja--oh, man--the aging Holly Golightly is my new fave.

Contrarily, the New Jersey housewives have been a disappointment. Carolyn, Dina, Jacqueline, and Teresa seem like the same person with subtle variations. They dress the same (Sopranos-Lite), live in the same McMansions, chant the same mantra ("Family, Family, Family"), and groove on their hatred of Danielle. And what is our villain's motivation? To force a friendship with these clannish ladies? No matter how crazy Danielle is, the reality is four against one, and an unfair fight is a boring one.

The drama in RHONJ is forced at best. But what were the producers to do with four inherently uninteresting women and one seriously deranged ex-con?

There is a lesson here for writers. I often read books where plot is king and the characters seem just pieces on a checkerboard, moved here and there without much thought or definition. If the characters' personalities and desires are not well-drawn, it's definitely harder to let the drama unfold organically.

These ladies are primo examples of true characters:







(PS--I heard Bravo is thinking about doing The Real Housewives of Chicago. Think I should apply?)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From the Vault



My husband is going to see the poor man's Dead this weekend, otherwise known as Phish. Feel free to make fun of him in the comment box, as I haven't done nearly enough teasing the past few days.

I was a deadhead in college. Not totally. I mean, I still went to college, and pretty much stayed in one place, but I never cut my hair and wore too much tie-dye and stacked those colorful woven bracelets on my arms. I hung out in the parking lots before and after all the Chicago area shows, thankfully (miraculously) staying out of major trouble. I was at Jerry Garcia's final show in `95, and that was...it. I still listen to the music when I'm stressed, but that phase of my life was definitely for a younger me.

I started going to the shows in high school, when it had only been 20 years since Woodstock. I often wonder how those experiences shaped my teenage life. My parents were mega-strict, and hanging out with people whose goals for the day were making baba ghanoush and God's eyes felt pretty good. I didn't think about the future much, and, besides my super low paying job at a local bakery, my responsibilities were nil. I had the time to explore and think and daydream and yes, experiment.

The teens I know today would think I wasted my time. They get up at 5 am and head to football practice or yoga or band. They stay after school to squeeze in a weightlifting session or to tutor a struggling student. They come home and stay up until midnight completing their own homework. Weekends are spent playing organized sports, hanging out with their families, or attending an aggressively chaperoned school dance. Sometimes I feel like they are more mature than I am. I know they have better discipline.

What does this mean when it comes to writing about about these young adults? I haven't figured it out yet. I'm definitely mindful as I build my characters. This is definitely a more responsible generation, do you agree?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Freaky Friday

It's the end of the week already??? Here goes:


1. Deception by Lee Nichols is the best ghost story I've read in a long while, and one of the best YA books I've read all year. Why the love? The heroine, Emma Vaile, is funny, smart, and so relatable. Often in YA paranormals the leads are just a step above cardboard cut-outs, but Emma was so real and well-drawn I kept reading way past my bedtime, wondering, what's she going to do next?


2. As is well documented on this blog I have gray hair that I do not cover. Yep. Not forty yet and I have huge streaks of gray one of my students very kindly called "Mrs. Robinson-esque" last night (I suspect she's insuring her A this term). I have an appointment with my hair chick tomorrow. And I'm tempted to cover it all up with this color:





Yes, I know that's Diane Lane and this photo illustrates a whole lot of wishful thinking on my part. But look at that color...do you like it? I probably won't make the decision until I sit in the chair.

3. I love our local pool. It was built in 1959 and hasn't been changed much since. It's got a snack shack and old school chaise lounge chairs, and could double for a Mad Men set. The adults are allowed to bring cocktails and the sound of a martini shaker often drowns out the hum of dragonflies. I always half expect Betty Draper to walk by me in her yellow bikini.

4. It's June. How the eff did that happen?

5. My lemon balm plants have grown seriously out of control. I know I could make tea out of it (good for the metabolism, so they say) but what else can I do? Any ideas?

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From the Vault

I'm going to visit New York City in a few weeks and I am beyond excited. I lived there once upon a time, at 55th and 8th and, though I love Chicago dearly, there is no better city in the world.

So, in honor of my upcoming vacation, I'm going to have a little online film festival of my favorite New York movies. Here goes:


1. Annie Hall: La-De-Da, La-De-Da...That says it all, no?





2. Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey, Moon River, no-name cat...what more could a girl want, daaarling?





3. Working Girl: "I have a head for business, and a bod for sin." Actually I have a head for writing and a bod from sitting at my computer all day, but I can dream, right? And Harrison Ford is just so dashing in this one...






4. The Way We Were: OK, I think I'd beat Carrie Bradshaw in a Streisand-Redford obsession competition.







5. The Seven Year Itch: I once stood over a subway grate wearing a babydoll dress. Train shot by, dress went up. In front of a priest. I think my face is still red from that one.






Do you guys have any New York faves? Do tell!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just Words

As a writer I'm hyperaware of the power of words. Even one word, carefully chosen, can elevate or destroy, inspire passion, evoke hate, crush a soul.

I have a ten-year old boy. He's a nice kid, but even nice kids (sometimes especially nice kids) have to come up with a way to protect themselves from the harsh world of the playground. Words are becoming his weapons of defense. They aren't curse words, but they are hurtful--retard, moron, idiot. I correct him. I get angry. I try to think of creative ways to show the damage these words can cause. Just when I think he gets it, I hear a group of his friends talking while playing hockey. "That's so gay," one of them says. The rest laugh. I realize I'm fighting a battle I'll probably lose.

This issue was tackled so effectively on the show Glee this week. The father of the gay character defended his son after another boy used the word "faggy." The boy didn't mean the harm the word caused, and was shocked by the father's reaction. In an incredibly moving speech, the dad effectively explained the pain, the cumulative pain of a word often used so casually. I went back and forth on whether or not to show this to my son, and ultimately didn't because he'd be watching it out of context.

I guess my job is to connect these words to the pain they cause. The lady down the block has a son with Down's syndrome. We wave hello in the morning on our walk to school. Should ask my son if he'd call this man a retard? My husband's cousin brings his partner to family parties. Would it be appropriate to use the word fag? To call out someone for being "so gay" in front of Jon and Ed?

This seems a little mean, I know. He's ten. But then he's eleven, and then comes junior high and high school where the words (and the cruelty) become much, much worse.

Many of you have kids. Any ideas on how to handle this? I welcome your words of advice!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh, LOST.

I need to watch it again. And I'm not that smart when it comes to this stuff. And I watched through the haze of a migraine...OK, enough excuses, here's what I thought...

I don't see the ending as a cop-out at all. If Jack had woken up in Kate's arms with little freaky Aaron toddling about, now that would have sucked. What I saw last night was a daring commentary on time, life/death, and the power of love. I have way more questions than answers, but I'd rather focus on the conclusion, because I think there actually was one.

Time is fluid and bendable and not linear. What happened on the Island actually happened, whether you think the losties were dead or alive when the events occurred. We know our losties weren't in the light, so they hadn't let go of things like anger and fear and revenge (before Locke goes into the church, he "forgives" Ben, and Ben's reaction reinforces this). Was the island actually purgatory, as people have predicted from the start of the series? No, because heaven and hell and earth exist in time, in all time, and not as actual places but as a part of the total life experience of every human being (which is why Jacob and Richard are so happy to be re-entered into natural life--in protecting the light they are robbed of ever participating--which is why Hurley is in the church at the end--he changed the rules).

What is this light? When Jack enters the vestibule, he sees symbols of a variety of faiths, but ultimately what is in that church is about love and basic connections in our lives that bring love to the world. This sounds cheesy, I know. But it isn't. Not when the show spent six years basically showing us the redemptive power of love.

I think this is beautiful.

But I still have questions...