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Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm not a movie person. My friends all know that when they say, "Hey, Jen, you have to go see Juno, it's awesome," I'll nod and wait for the DVD. Maybe. Most of the time I won't even make it to the DVD (because I'm way behind the times and still actually have to go to a store to rent a movie -mostly because, like I said, I don't really like movies and having them arrive in my mail seems quite useless). The thing is, most writers I know love movies, probably because they use another form to tell a story. And we're story tellers, right? But I find that most movies disappoint, and if they're the film version of a book, they pretty never stack up to the experience I had turning the pages.

But tonight my aversion to film changed. Sort of. I still don't care if I ever watch another movie, but I've become an addict of Windows Movie Maker. I decided to kill time between books by making a trailer for LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS. Had no idea how to do it, but last night I opened up Movie Maker for the first time and had a hard time shutting down. Tonight my daughter got involved, and as we scored the storyboard and rearranged videos and photos I felt like we'd both hit our stride. Making sure the music aligned with what viewers saw was challenging, if only because it felt like each second counted and being off by just one made a huge difference. It's not done yet, but I love it. LOVE IT! Making movies is way more fun than watching them. Surprisingly the hardest part of the whole thing is writing the copy to go along with it. All of a sudden each and every word matters because we only have 60 seconds to tell the story. I'll post the trailer here next month when it's my turn to blog again.

In the mean time, what do you think of movies? Do you find yourself as blown away by the trailers as I do, only to watch the first twenty minutes of a film and discover they used the best content in the 60 second promo? Do you find that book to movie adaptions rarely measure up?

UPDATE: Trailer is finished!!! I posted it above, took about 7 hours total to create from start to finish - a very fun 7 hours. Such a blast, Spielberg has been put on notice...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Knowing who (and where) your friends are

When people (myself included) talk about my forthcoming book I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, the focus is usually on the musical aspect of the book (along with the mother and daughter relationship). I really loved writing the rock ‘n’ roll stuff as I’ve said so many times, but what I’ve neglected to mention is how much I enjoyed exploring the friendship of Emily and her best friend Regan. It’s one of my favorite relationships in the book and I hope my readers find it as meaningful as I do and that it reminds them of that really awesome friendship they had growing up (and hopefully still have).

I’ve said it before and I’ll clarify here again, I never draw events directly from my own life for my fiction (I save that for creative essays), but certain things about my real life definitely inspire my fiction. Emily and Regan’s friendship has a lot in common with my relationship with my real life BFF, Katie. Unlike Emily and Regan who knew each other from birth, Katie and I met my sophomore/her freshman year of high school, but she has been one of the most important people in my life ever since. Like Emily and Regan, she and I both had a tough girl façade in our teen years. We had a hard time trusting anyone but each other and sometimes we were so busy acting tough, we couldn’t even share our feelings with each other which led to the occasional “ick” as we liked to call it. This is something Emily and Regan face as well.

Teenage friendship and the concept of “fitting in” interests me immensely and I write about it a lot because it’s something I struggled with all my life. I usually had one or two good friends, but I desperately wanted to be a part of a group of friends, you know, like the gang on 90210 or something. But I was to weird and poorly dressed to fit in with the popular, preppy kids. I didn’t play sports or participate in clubs. In high school, I hung with a group of misfit types who were into punk and indie rock, but I always felt like I was living on the outskirts for some reason or other. I actually graduated high school early because I wanted to get out there and find my place in the world ASAP.

I didn’t find it until I was in my early twenties and I started taking classes in Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Department (pictured above). I went back to visit my home away from home on the 12th floor of a building on Michigan Avenue yesterday. I took the day off work to attend some events at their fabulous Story Week Festival of Writers. I got up and put on jeans and a T-shirt (ie. “real” me clothes, not the stuffy office garb I usually have to force myself into Mon-Fri), grabbed my backpack (I miss carrying around a back pack. I’m one of those nerds who seriously loved school—for the learning, not so much the socializing, at least until college), and hopped on the L to go downtown. (You can read all about my love for downtown Chicago and the writing events I was looking forward to in my own blog.)

I felt a little weird at first being among students I didn’t recognize, but soon enough I spotted some friends who are either teaching now or still finishing their grad degrees. And honestly, I felt more comfortably at ease with Fiction Writing student strangers than I had many of my “friends” at high school because I knew that we both had the same wide-eyed love for books and writing and nobody was trying too hard to be someone they aren’t. And maybe that’s because it’s not high school anymore. But I like to think it’s because bookish folk are usually not judgmental. They have a wider worldview that they gained from their reading, not to mention, maybe like me, the took so much crap for being nerdy or different, they don’t like to put others down.

I enjoyed informative writing panels, feeling like a student and totally at ease. Then I went over to the building that housed the Fiction Department and I’m such a dork, but when I stepped off the elevator, I breathed deeply to take in that familiar scent, which I can’t really describe to you any better than I can describe the smell of my own home. It’s just familiar, comforting, perfect. Then I walked into the office where I spent 5 years working while in school and I was greeted with shrieks and hugs from my old co-workers and friends. The office looks more professional every year compared to the mismatched, poorly painted place it was when I started working there, but the purple couch is constant. I sat there and talked to my old friends for an hour, even kinda wished I could sit behind the old front desk (even though it was a actually a new desk and Meredith told me that for the first week they had it, no one wanted to sit there and they all edged around it liked nervous dogs). I was so giddy when Nicole showed me that they put my book cover and an article about me in the display case I can't even tell you. I sure as hell wasn't in any display cases at my high school!

So, yeah, that’s my home, my place, my people. I didn’t find them until my mid-twenties, but nowhere else on earth can make me happier because that is the place where I can be 100% truly me. And I guess it makes sense that I feel that way among fellow writers. What about you? If you are a writer, do you feel most at ease around fellow writers? And whether or not you’re a writer, tell me about the place where you feel most at home and the people that make you feel that way.

PS. I just wanna remind everyone that I have a contest running on my website that ends March 31!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hey Ma! Finally something MTV Books related to blog about!

You know how I've lamented that I never have anything about my MTV Books to blog about?   Well, I finally do and it's a doozy!  I found out last week that Adiós to My Old Life, AKA, my Little Book That Could, was nominated for YALSA's 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults in the Fame and Fortune category.  

This is what the letter said:

The Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committee is to prepare annually one to five annotated lists of at least 10 recommended titles, widely available in paperback and selected from popular genres, topics, or themes.  The purpose of this list is to encourage young adults to read for pleasure.

Dude... how cool is THAT?  And the fact that it's a YALSA list?  Even cooler.  (YALSA is the Young Adult Library Services Association, a part of the larger American Library Association.)  

Librarians rock.  Whoever nominated Adiós rocks.  Anyone who's read and enjoyed Adiós most assuredly rocks.

Can you tell I'm just a little giddy about this?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Four bottles of fish sauce on the wall

Mmmm, have you read Caridad’s novel It’s Not about the Accent? I love the heroine’s connection to her Cuban grandmother through cooking wonderful food together. Food as symbol and substance of culture and home is one of my favorite themes in writing. There’s Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, and The Book I Have Read The Most Times In My Life, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read this book every time I have the flu and it makes me feel so much better. Boy can Ma cook. Laura Ingalls Wilder makes even broiled pig’s tail sound good.

But you will never find me using this theme. My family comes from England, Scotland, Germany, Scandinavia--pretty much anywhere in the world known for bad food. My grandmother cooked wonderful dessert--pralines and meringue cookies--but that was about it. My mom can make a mean chocolate chip cookie. Don’t push her any farther. She makes lasagna with cottage cheese instead of ricotta and I’m actually not sure she knows the difference. Cooking is just not something that interests her. She would rather read. In this tradition, as a wedding present she gave me my very own copy of The I Hate to Cook Book, which she has been using since she got married herself.

However, I married into a family with a rich ethnic food culture. My husband has already started fasting in anticipation of Easter dinner, because his mother is making Thai food. That’s right--while you are eating ham and turkey on holidays, I am feasting on sticky rice, lop gai, sum thum, lop neer, egg rolls with peanut sauce, and pad Thai. Occasionally she also throws a curve ball like pankadow,* Chinese bitters,* or one of the previously mentioned dishes with tripe substituted for the meat.†

Bless her heart, over the years she has made an effort to teach me to cook for her child. She has brought me a rice steamer basket that looks like a hat, a double boiler that looks like a spittoon, a papaya dicer that looks like a weapon, a mortar and pestle, and four bottles of fish sauce. But she has been making these dishes since she was a little girl, picking a papaya for sum thum off the tree in her front yard on her way in from school every afternoon. She’s one of those cooks who knows her stuff so well, it’s hard for her to explain it to someone else. Especially someone who grew up thinking lasagna was supposed to be made with cottage cheese. However, my husband and I have made a pact. This is the year we will learn to cook Thai food, and we will be paying special attention this Easter.

How about you? Can you cook? What special dishes have been passed down through your family? Are they really good, or do you just think they’re good because you’re used to them? And do you ever write about them?

*Not recommended.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tattoo you?

I know, I know. It's lame to complain about the funk that comes after a vacation. So I'll focus on the positive. My trip to Florida was GREAT. I ate so much shrimp that I should've turned into one, and I got to go swimming and played minigolf and went to a cool rooftop bar called the Glider Lounge, where you sat at big tables with bench seats and the whole thing glided back and forth on a track. I had a bird's eye view on a hula hoop contest on the beach. Right on!

There were all these henna tattoo places around and I was so very tempted to get one because I've always wanted to and then I started to wonder, Am I too old??? I thought the same thing when I tried on a mini-skirt in a Gap outlet but then I bought it anyway. So next time, henna tattoo for sure.

There was a time in my life when I was a bit of a pool shark. And I thought that if I ever got a tattoo, I'd get an 8 ball. But then I realized that you have to be really consistently good at pool to get an 8 ball tattoo, don't you? So I got to wondering what kind of tattoo (henna or otherwise) I'd get now and thought it'd probably be an anchor. I met my husband because I wrote a song of his called "Anchor" into my first novel [for grownups]. I actually got incredibly lucky in that same Gap outlet when I found three different 8 dollar t-shirts with cool anchor designs on them. One of them is for a fake bar called the Anchor Bar on Coney Island, which is especially cool since I got engaged to Nick on the Wonder Wheel out at Coney, where we went on our first date less than a year earlier.

Anyway, I doubt I'll ever get a real tattoo. Nick has one, a Celtic design on his arm, and I love it but I'm too scared to commit to something because I feel like life changes so fast. Who out there has tattoos? What and where are they? And if you don't have one, do you ever think you'd like one? What would it be????

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Two Ideas"

At the moment I sit between two story ideas. INVISIBLE TOUCH has been turned in. I have pages written for both new ideas. My agent has stated interest in both stories... So which do I side with? Which one to live and breathe night and day for the next coming months?

It's definitely hard to say.

I have a tough time concentrating on more than one book at a time, so I'll have to go with one.

Do I flip a coin? Pick a number? :)

I guess I just write, and let the muse make the big choice for me.

But I'd love to hear how any writer makes a decision when more than one story calls to you...how do you make the decision? What is the tie-breaker for you?