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Friday, February 29, 2008

Moby Clique is out!

This week the third installment in the Bard Academy series, Moby Clique, hits stores! You can actually already order it on Amazon.

Yes, Amazon jumped the March 4 release date a tad. The only reason I know this is because my Dad called to tell me the books he preordered arrived in the mail already. Without Dad, I'd honestly have no idea when my books really come out.

Moby Clique is already getting some good buzz, so I hope that continues!

In other Bard news: the Bard Academy series has been option for a possible movie or TV show. Does this mean it will be the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer and will I retire on a giant estate in Hawaii like Magnum PI's myseterious employer? I sure hope so! At any rate, these things take a long time to develop, so there probably won't be any news right away, but you never know. Maybe I'll be hiring mustached bodyguards in short-shorts to drive my Ferrari around before I know it.

Keep your fingers crossed!

I also get a lot of questions about a possible Book Four. Right now, I don't have a contract for book four in the series, so whether there will be a fourth book is anyone's guess. Although, more specfically, I'd wager it's the guess of my publisher's accountant. I never know what that guy is thinking. I can hardly make heads or tails of my royalty statements. Honestly, they're like trying to read Greek. Granted, I suck at math, but even my husband who has a PhD in physics and number crunches for a living says they are impossible to follow.

I'm guessing if Moby Clique does really well, they'll ask for more, so pass the word among your friends!

Oh, and I'm giving away ten signed copies of Moby Clique, but you have to enter by March! (I know that's less than 24-hours away). Head to www.bardacademy.com for more details!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I know a lot of writers who say they've been writing as long as they can remember being able to hold a pencil. There are those that say they've been keeping a journal since they got their first diary, the kind with the lock and key that you'd hide and eventually end up losing. Well, I wanted to be one of those girls. I wanted to keep a journal. I imagined that's where I'd collect all sorts of deep thoughts. But you know what? Every journal I ever started lasted about three days before I said forget it. Writing for myself was boring. I already knew what happened and how the story ended, and writing just to listen to myself, well, I could think the same things in my head and it didn't require knowing how to spell.
In college I kept a journal for all of two weeks. It was my junior year and all sorts of tumultuous things were going on with my boyfriend. But at the same time I was having, shall we say, a wild streak with a ton of fun in a sort of reaction to all that was going on. So the situation was heartbreaking and a blast at the same time. I found the journal the other day and, oh my god, the girl who wrote that was a nut case. I could only laugh through my mortification. If she only knew one day she'd giggle at the drama. Still, she did some things that were so crazy, I'm glad she got them out of her system when she was 21 when the prospect of going to jail, apparently, wasn't so much of a concern.
I'm still not a journaler. I'd rather write for other people. But so much of what I write has actually happened to me, my books are a journal of sorts. Or maybe I'm just too lazy to imagine things and it's so easy just to use real life. In any case, were you a journaler? Have you ever gone back and read some of your entries? Did you cringe? And do you use your real life in your books like me?

The World You Never Knew

One of the things I hear from readers a lot--and I take it as a great compliment--is that I seem to be able to slip easily into a teenage mindset. That I remember well what it feels like to be fourteen or sixteen or nineteen. I'm not sure that's true, but it's nice to hear. What I do believe is that a part of me is still very much fourteen and sixteen and nineteen.

On a practical level, though, what that really means is this: I remember what it felt like to not have a job, to not have kids, and to believe that the good guys always win in the end--that cooler (and smarter, more sensible) heads would prevail.

Some of you, reading that last bit, are thinking: "dumbass, I'm a teenager and I don't believe that. I'm not that naive." Well, I know you're not, and that's exactly my point. At some point (and I think I know when) a wall went up between the teenagers that WERE and the teenagers that ARE. And that means it's no longer enough for me to *remember* being a teenager; I have to go and find out what the experience of being a teenager is now.

So, back to that Wall. Its bricks are grim reality, determination, and an acknowledgement at far too young an age that the previous generations have royally screwed the world. Its mortar is the absolute certainty that there is NO guarantee the good guys will win in the end, that it will take a new generation of smart, determined leaders to blow off the cobwebs of corruption that are holding the old ways in place.

A few years ago, John Mayer sang about "Waiting for the World to Change." Now, Barack Obama is campaigning on the promise of bringing about the change he was waiting for. All of it appeals to American teens and twentysomethings who already know it's gonna take a fight to stop global warming, to get honest leadership, to spread peace.

That's the hopeful side of Life After the Wall Went Up. But there is a much, much darker side as well.

See, that Wall I keep talking about, the one that separates *my* teenage years from the ones my oldest son is just embarking upon? Its foundations were laid on September 11, 2001. It grew even higher in late summer and fall of 2005, when government at all levels abandoned the people of New Orleans in the days before and the months and years after Hurricane Katrina.

Maybe that sounds far-fetched to you, but it's not. It's just the truth. My grandparents lived in a world BEFORE people knew that atrocities like the Holocaust were possible in modern times. After World War II, a Wall went up between generations, separating what people believed BEFORE and what they believed AFTER. My parents can recall the era of change and hope and excitement and prosperity--the era historians call "Camelot"--of John F. Kennedy's presidency. They lived in a world BEFORE people knew that an American president could be assassinated in modern times. And I spent my teen years in the 1980s, in a world BEFORE there had ever been an enemy attack on American soil in modern times. A world BEFORE terrorism meant anything at all to America, except as something that happened on the other side of the globe. A world before 9/11.

Teenagers and people in their early twenties never knew what it was like to live in the world I grew up in. Sure, for the most part, what it means to be a teen hasn't changed that much in twenty years. But even though most may not realize it, their lives and attitudes ARE different. Both in the hopeful ways I mentioned above, and in the grim acknowledgement that 9/11 happened, and it could happen again...that Katrina came, and the government turned its back, pointed fingers and blamed others, and left people to save themselves.

Every generation seems to have one of these Walls. But the Wall is different this time. After the Holocaust, most of the world said "never again." After JFK, and RFK, and MLK, most of the world said "never again." And in their hearts, they believed it. But NOW we say "never again," even though so many people only half believe it, and instead are waiting for the *next* thing. We hear government officials telling us all the time that it's inevitable that there will BE a *next* thing. A superflu pandemic that kills millions. A global meltdown that kills millions and makes many millions more into refugees. A dirty bomb nuke in a major U.S. city, or a nuclear attack from abroad. Total economic collapse.

After the Wall Went Up on 9/11, the American people became convinced that, though they might not know what the *next* thing is, it's definitely coming. One of these days, SOMETHING will happen.

To that, I have two responses. First...Duh. There's always a *next* awful thing. Just as there's always a next wonderful thing. Always new fear, just as there's always new hope.

But, second...this certainty. The people who will be ready, the people who will ACT when the time comes, are the people who are too young to remember the world they never knew, the world before the Wall. They're the ones who understand (earlier and perhaps better than any previous generation) that they have to fight for the future they want.

So whether it's environmental disaster, medical tragedy, religious jihad, or....(as in my novel SOULLESS) the walking dead....the ones we can count on are the ones who already KNOW they have to act to safeguard their future. See, John Mayer comes from a generation of slackers, all of them sitting around just waiting for the world to change.

But the next generation...they're ready to change it.

And those two facets--the grim truth about today and the bright hope for tomorrow--are a big part of the story BENEATH the story I'm telling in SOULLESS.

See, and you thought it was just about zombies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Letting Go

I’m the worst at letting things go. I’m possibly the biggest packrat ever. Seriously, I have two closets and two dressers because I can’t part with any of my old band t-shirts or dresses. Well, maybe that’s a bad example, those are more of collections. Especially the dresses, I’ve been buying vintage dresses since I was thirteen. But that’s another blog. I also have several boxes full of crap in those closets. I’ve got notes from junior high and high school (like the notes my friends passed to me, not the notes I took in class), old magazines with articles on my fave bands, and then items that were important to me for some reason or other. I was forced to part with a lot of these things when my mom moved out of my childhood home into a condo and I could no longer use my old bedroom as storage. I whittled my grade school and high school mementos down to one box. Well, and my mom graciously allowed me to keep a bunch of stuffed animals in her storage space and she also has a “memory box” of a lot of my old clothes. I can’t help it, I’m a Cancer and we’re really nostalgic!

I do have to say it was fun when I got the cover of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE to be able to dig out my old combat boots that totally match the pair on the cover. My boots are pictured above along with the army jacket I wore daily and Hello Kitty lunchbox I carried around junior and senior year of high school during the big punk rock grrrl phase (and note that the photo is taken in front of my cassette collection. I don’t listen to cassettes anymore but I still have all of them, there are those and then two cases in a closet).

My inability to let things go translates directly into my writing, too. And I’m not just talking about the file cabinet full of journals, drafts and now that I write and revise almost entirely on the computer, the file folders on my flash drive filled with numbered drafts. I have a very hard time being able to say I’m done with a project and handing it off to my agent or editor. I had to do it last night with my second book. You would think this would be easier because I’ve already gone through it once, but it seems that everything has been harder this time around (though maybe that is selective memory). I’ve been comparing the experience to my aunt’s childbirth experience. Her first son was a moose, but out he came, no problem. Second son was two pounds smaller, but she had to get a C section.

I think the main thing is that it is a different kind of pressure. My agent shopped IWBYJR for over a year before it finally landed with MTV Books. I was on the verge of going back to school for a library science degree and giving up on my dream of writing. I kept telling myself if I could just get this one book published I’d be satisfied. Yeah right. Now I’ve tasted the thrill of the (soon to be) published author world and I want to stay in it. But my contract was a one book deal with an option clause, so MTV gets the first look at Book 2. This seemed like a good idea at the time because if I didn’t work well with them, it would be easy to walk away. But my editor is my dream editor and I absolutely adore being a part of this MTV Books community. So, yes, *huge* pressure. My editor *must love* this book. And it’s a different book than IWBYJR, it’s darker, it doesn’t have the same kind of hook, and it’s a very big story that I’ve had a hard time reining in and getting to fit together seamlessly.

I missed 3 deadlines with this book. All of them were personal deadlines, but still. The first was the beginning of January, so I could begin the new year with new projects. Well, I got sick over Christmas break, had a total nervous breakdown about the direction of the book and hadn’t even started the revisions by Jan 1. So I told my agent Feb 1. Probably a bad idea because I had copyedits for IWBYJR that took up the first week of January. Then came page proofs, I knew I had to send those Feb 18, so I told my agent I’d send her Book 2 then as well. Then I’d be done with everything IWBYJR and Book 2 (and by the way Book 2 does have a title and you can read about it on my website, but I don’t want to go into it too in depth here because I’m in such a paranoid state now that I fear I will jinx things). Well, it was all looking good, I just had one part I wanted to fix on Feb 17 and then lo and behold my basement floods. Sigh. My dear boyfriend took care of the basement while I wrote, but because of the stress I still couldn’t nail it. I asked darling agent for a two day extension. I told her that today (Feb 20) is Kurt Cobain’s birthday and I felt that if she sent it out then, it would bring me good luck. I apologized for the dorky nature of my request, but she wrote back to tell me she didn’t think it dorky at all. This is why she is my agent.

So I after three hours of angsting over a 10 page section, I sent it off last night. I still wasn’t entirely happy with that pesky section, but the point is to find out if my editor likes the concept enough to buy it and if she does, I know she gives damn good revision notes that will help me smooth the rough patches. Right? (Assurances/advice from more experienced authors would be very appreciated.)

To make myself feel better about letting go (because my dorky choice of a “lucky” final date was not enough), I’ve created a list of things that getting Book 2 off my plate makes room for.

  1. The much neglected boyfriend
  2. The much neglected friends (saw BFF for the first time in a month tonight and will start making the rounds of long-owed phone calls tomorrow)
  3. Fulfill that New Year’s Resolution to blog daily. Because I’ve come to love blogspot so much, I’ve got a new blog at http://stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com. I will continue to mirror it on my myspace, but myspace has been irritating me lately so I don’t want it to be my primary blog. Come visit me at my new home. It’s still under construction, but it’s lonely.
  4. Read more. I’m on a vampire kick. Reading an advance copy of Wicked Game, which rocks and then I *finally* jump on the Twilight band wagon.
  5. Catch up on all the entries to the latest contest I am running and actually create a spreadsheet to organize them.
  6. Do my taxes. First year I’ve made money off writing, so it’s going to be complicated. I’m dreading it.
  7. Dive into the next two book ideas that I’ve been journaling on and mentally composing for the past three months!

Now if only I could come up with a list to motivate me to clean out those closets… What about you? Are there things that you can’t let go of or could you pack up all your belongings in hours and go world traveling? (That would be the only thing to motivate me, but even still I don’t think I could do it…)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Making myself take a break

This week, I'm going on vacation.  A real, honest-to-goodness, no one but me and the husband vacation.  Why is this mention-worthy?  Because it's been eleven years since the husband and I went away together by ourselves.  Fourteen, if you consider that I was six months pregnant with the second child (AKA, the Diva) on the trip eleven years ago.  Now, I haven't been completely travel-free, obviously, since then.  Because we lived away from both our families for many years, any time we had off, we generally had to dedicate to trips home to see the family.  Then, we finally caved and moved back to Florida so we could be closer to family and wouldn't have to spend all our vacations on family trips and wouldn't you know it?  The husband's work schedule and mine rarely coincided.  Which is really pathetic when you consider I'm a full-time writer and I work from home.  But there was always a conference or a research trip and then I was working, working, working, because I love nothing more than working.  A vacation?  What's that?  It's an imposition and time that would be taken away from working—what if I get a great idea and I can't work on it?  What if?  What if?  What if?

Hi, I'm Barb and I'm a workaholic Virgo.

Thing is, I'm getting rather crispy 'round the edges.  I'm frustrated with the project I'm working on and I'm tense waiting for my next round of revisions and all sorts of things I've never been before with respect to writing.  So I know I need a break.  I know I need to get out of my cozy little environment and shake up my surroundings and just get out and see new things and, you know, other people, and get out of my routine.  Because I'm just self-aware enough to know that change can be the best inspiration and motivator.  And the irony is I love travel and adventure and seeing new places and things.  But I'm a Virgo, through and through and practically have to be pried out of my Aeron chair with a crowbar.  And the husband, God love him, is the ultimate homebody—he'd be happy to hang out at home in his sweats on a vacation, so he's not going to be the one with the initiative.

But again, thank goodness for self-awareness and that Virgo thing, because another very Virgo trait of mine is I loathe wallowing.  So when it looked like I might be headed straight for a good old-fashioned wallow, I finally did something about it.  And we're going on vacation.  Somewhere neither of us has ever been—San Diego.  That picture above?  That's our view.

And no, I won't be answering the phone.  

So what do you do when you finally find yourself hitting the breaking point?  Or are y'all a whole lot smarter than I am and actually have lives?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Numero uno

I get a lot of e-mail from readers who want to be writers, but they're not sure how to get started. I thought it would be interesting if we all shared how we wrote that first novel.

Here's how I did it. In 1990, I was 20 years old. I'd just taken a college creative writing class and caught the bug to write. I'd taken plenty of writing classes before, but they were taught by short story writers. This one was taught by a novelist, so she required us to turn in chapters of a novel as our final project. That's what hooked me. I've never been sent by a short story. Novels send me, and I was finally writing what I wanted to read.

When the class ended, I didn't want to stop. Unfortunately, I graduated from college and had to get a job. Although my major was English, not journalism, I found myself with a copyediting job at the major newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama's capital. This was about an hour's drive from my apartment. It was also an evening shift, 3 p.m. to midnight, because the paper was a morning paper. (Let's not even talk about my weekends, which were Tuesday and Wednesday. Party on.) So here's what my day looked like:

8 a.m. Get up, shower.

8:30 Type what I'd written the day before on a TYPEWRITER. I kid you not. Computers were exorbitant back then. You'll be happy to know the experience of typing an entire 100,000-word novel on a typewriter, then revising it and typing the whole thing AGAIN, did drive me to buy my first computer before I finished my second novel.

9:30 Write, LONGHAND, with breaks to buy food and pantyhose. Yes, people still wore pantyhose to work back then. The pantyhose were the bane of my existence, besides the typewriter.

1 Change into work clothes.

1:30 Drive to work.

3 Work

4 "Dinner" break. We took it so early because the night would get increasingly crazy as the reporters hit deadline and the stories rolled in for copyediting. The other copyeditors often would go to dinner together. I couldn't afford this, and I also saw this time as precious. I would bring a peanut butter sandwich and go sit on the steps of one of the state government buildings surrounding the newspaper office--my favorite was the state capitol--and write some more. It was during one of these hours in the hot late afternoon of summer, sitting on the steps of the Alabama Forestry Commission building, that I finished my first novel and immediately wrote the first page of my second.

5 Work.

12 Drive.

1 Sleep.

8 a.m. Start over.

Yes, I did sometimes hang out with my friends rather than writing during the middle of the day--but not often, because they were still in college classes. And no, I didn't watch TV. I didn't have one. I was spartan, baby, and loving it. I really did get a lot of joy out of writing, which is why I'm still doing it, right now, at the kitchen table, at 4:30 in the morning before my son gets up.

That's my story. What's yours?

Jennifer Echols

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ah, Vegas

Last time I promised some tidbits about my long and storied relationship with Las Vegas so I guess it's time I deliver! First I guess I should try to count the number of times I've BEEN to Vegas. Um, yeah. So things get a little blurry already. But let's see.

There was the time I went with my two Irish roomies when we were all sharing an apartment in Brooklyn. There was the time I went for a wedding when one of said roomies got hitched; that was the time I hired an Elvis impersonator. There was the time it seemed like a good idea to go there with an ex boyfriend; we saved some money by staying at the dusty old Stardust for a few nights then checked into the Hard Rock Hotel for our last night and did not see daylight for 24 hours because we thought the Hard Rock was so cool that there was no reason to leave. Then there was the time, last year when I booked a trip to Vegas with my husband before realizing I was pregnant. Is it awful to admit that it wasn't QUITE as much fun that time? I know I'm forgetting one, though. Maybe that's for the best.

The challenge of writing What Happens Here, which is mostly set in Vegas, was writing from the perspective of someone who lives in Las Vegas. I've only ever been a tourist. But two of those trips above were "research trips" (Hello, IRS, man!) and I did the best I could. The main characters in the book are transplants from elsewhere anyway, like a lot of the residents of the greater Las Vegas area. I guess that's me cheating a little tiny bit?

So for no particularl reason in no particular order, here are the top five things I love about Vegas:

The Easy River pool at the Monte Carlo hotel. You can rent a tube and just float around and around and around....It's shaped like a figure 8.

The replica of Rome's Trevi Fountain outside Caesars Palace mall. Does YOUR mall have such a kick-ass fountain?

The half-scale Eiffel Tower @ Paris. I mean, come on. How can you not love feeling even just a little bit like you're in Paris?

Let It Ride. A really fun card game that makes you feel like you're not actually losing as much money as you are.

Lance Burton. Okay, so his magic show is really cheesy but I'm still dumbfounded by half of the tricks he does.

I also like the slogan that ultimately gave my book its title. "What happens here stays here" is about as good as tourism slogans get, wouldn't you say? Actually, the only other one that comes to mind is something like "Philadelphia: It's better when you stay the night" or, um, how about "It's better in the Bahamas"? I guess that's a pretty good one. Anyway, I digress.

Are there things that YOU did in Vegas that you think should stay there? I'm not sure I'm ready to tell. :)


Thursday, February 7, 2008

FELINE REHAB by Alex McAulay

So anyway, what you see in the picture to the left is our cat BronBron trying to open a bottle of wine with her teeth. The reasons behind her actions are unclear... unless she has secretly become a raging alcoholic! I'm particularly amused by the feral look in her eyes, and her bared fangs. She wants her liquor, goshdarnit! Anyway, I just hope she doesn't become a bad influence on our other cat, Ishmael, and lead him astray... Ah well, at least BronBron has discovered the most important substance in the life of a writer (just kidding!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Revision Time"

Recently, I received my revision notes on INVISIBLE TOUCH from my editor, and I was relieved there wasn't anything too major. Much of it was beefing the story up--feelings, sensations, and experiences. You know, that fine gloss to hopefully make your book shine.

So I have my trusty highlighter and pen for notes, and I'm checking off line edits off as I go. While writing the first draft, I had a boatload of story lines. Some very small, some major. I didn't want to drop any of them. Here's my drastic attempt of keeping track of them all. Unfortunately, I still dropped one small one!

IT plot board

Now with the revise, my first step is to go through and fix the small edits, then as I go through again, I'll add scenes that will strengthen threads. Then through again to add more gloss and description, then... LOL! So many layers.

Care to share your revising technique?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Teen ♥'s u

In the Winter 2008 issue of Teen, editors asked their Very Important Teen advisors about their top page-turners (p. 96). Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra and Plan B by Jenny O'Connell both made the list. Also included are old faves Sula, Native Son, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, so I'd say this is excellent company. Congrats chicas!