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Saturday, June 28, 2008

They're Out!

Yes, LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS are finally out this week. Even though the weather all week sucked. Thunder storms and rain and wind. Who can think about hanging out on a beach (preferably with guys who look like the ones to the left) when it hardly feels like summer?

But even if it's not sunny and warm here in Boston, hopefully there are some readers somewhere who are hunkering down in the sand for a good read. Today it was actually sort of decent out and so I sat myself down by the pool and cracked open a book I just started. It's a total beach read - takes place on Nantucket during the summer. Which got me to thinking.

Everyone talks about a "beach read," but what's that really mean? Do you read more "beachy" (whatever that means) stuff in the summer? Are there books that just lend themselves to donning a pair of sunglasses while you're reading? What do you think? Is there really such a thing as a "beach read?"

(and one more thing, I've already given away two t-shirts in the Island Summer t-shirt contest, and there are more to come - find out how easy it is to win by going to my blog)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Continent Hopping: Miami. London. Cape Town. MTV Books.

Wait, how did I get here? Let’s see…I took two jumbo planes across the world, sat with my kids as they watched Bee Movie seven times and landed on the tip of Africa, then waited….

I have wanted to be an author since my first grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, published my picture book, “Mommy, I want to go to the Zoo” using her typewriter and lamination machine (okay, I know that dates me a little, but at least lamination machines are still in use, right?). Throughout the years, I’ve always relished fiction and tried to turn as many moments as possible into one that might involve creative writing. Like the time my high school physics teacher asked how he could get us to improve our test grades. My answer, by adding a creative writing essay question to the exam. And he actually did!

Then I went on to college, not to study science, obviously, but to major in creative writing. Afterwards, I continued on to graduate school, just in case I couldn’t find a job in creative writing and received a degree in marketing communications & advertising. Since college, and owing tons of money in student loans, I have worked as a copywriter, English teacher and tutor (even in science, I know, those poor kids). But something has always brought me back to fiction and since I’ve never left my teen years (helps that my youngest sister is seventeen), I love writing young adult fiction best of all.

So this brings me to my family trip in February to Cape Town, South Africa. We journeyed to my birth place to visit my grandmother. One day before heading to the beach (yes, the one in the photo pasted here), I decided to check my email. Everyone sighed, I was holding them up from serious tanning time. But there was a message from my lovely agent saying, well, what do you want to do? We had an offer from an editor at MTV to publish my first novel, Shrinking Violet. Hello, what do I want to do? Scream! This was the moment I had been waiting for and I got to share it with my grandmother (who died three weeks later). I spent the day at the beach, jumping up and down, with one of my sisters telling everyone that would listen, “my sister is going to have her book published!” The culmination of the day was when my six year old son made me a book cake in the sand. Chocolate or vanilla frosting, he asked? Both, I answered.

So in a way, it feels like I have traveled across the globe to join this awesome group of MTV writers!

And the moral of the story—if you want to get your book published, just hop a plane to Africa, duh! So where were you when you received good news?

Shrinking Violet is about a painfully shy high school senior that lands a job at a radio station and has to find a way to come out from behind her mask. It is scheduled for release Spring 2009.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iron Wolf vs. Space Mountain

So, *goes to check countdown clock,* it's exactly 17 days until I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE comes out. 17 days.... Deep breaths. Try not to hyperventilate. It's getting to be crunch time. I feel like I have a lot to do and very little time to do it, especially with working 40 hours a week. I have a big pile of blogger interview questions to answer and guest blogs to write. There have been a couple newspaper interviews (!!!) and if you look to the right, you'll see a whole bunch of traveling ahead for me. It's exciting (I've daydreamed about publishing a book since I was about six), it's overwhelming (I've been getting roughly five or six hours of sleep a night to cram in everything I need to do), and it's terrifying (what if the book is a big flop and all of this is for nothing?). Basically it's one big ass roller coaster ride and I hope that when I get off I feel like I did on my first big roller coaster, the Iron Wolf at Great America (ie. I wanna go again, again again!) and not like my mom did after Space Mountain at Disney World (she puked a lot).

One of the biggest, scariest parts of the roller coaster has been planning ROCK 'N' READ. Perhaps you remember me blogging about it back in April. I got really excited about it and then I shut up. Why? Because it really looked like it wasn't going to happen. We had all kinds of trouble nailing down a venue. Alexa Young, my partner in crime on this, finally thought of Virgin Megastore at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, and then they had to mull it over, which took a long time because it's actually a lot more complicated than you think to pull together authors from a bunch of different publishing houses, not to mention add bands to the mix. So we didn't get a confirmation until Monday... and they need posters and stuff by the end of next week... and it's too late in the game for our publishers to design the posters to I had to enlist the help of my two amazing friends Jenny and Elise. And Jenny is throwing together a website for us, too, www.rocknread.net, but that link might not work yet because the hosting service is being slow to register the domain. If it doesn't work, please try it again in a couple days because it will be cool, I swear. I mean, check it out, Jenny already designed these great banners for us!

(And feel free to put it on your site.)

We've also been gathering bands and authors at the very last minute. Authors we pretty much already had (and they include: N.L. Belardes, Cherry Cheva, Megan Crane, Kim Culbertson, Stephanie Kuehnert, Alyson Noël, Rebecca Woolf and Alexa Young), but bands are hard to get until you have a venue lined up, so we were scrambling a lot this week. We got some great California bands though, Lucid Nation, Noah Stone, Norfolk, and Dirty Spanglish, and we may still add some more.

So yeah, that basically took most of my week and was a very bumpy ride. I still haven't determined if it's Iron Wolf or Space Mountain. At least I have Alexa to hold my hand when I turn green, though!

But whether the publication roller coaster for I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is Iron Wolf or Space Mountain, I'm pleased to officially announce that I will be riding again. Okay, so this was officially announced on my own blog awhile ago, but since this is MTV Books' blog, I had to wait until it was super official. And it is. I received the contract for my second book BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. Of course, even though I was stressed and not nearly as pretty as I would like to be, there had to be photo documentation.

Since IWBYJR isn't even out yet, I probably shouldn't go on at length about BALLADS, but I do want to say that I'm thrilled and relieved to remain a part of the MTV Books family 'cause I really love it. BALLADS will come out next summer and according to my contract it's "a young adult novel about a young woman's journey through the darker side of suburbia, and what it teaches her about herself." That's not very specific. More specifically it's about a girl named Kara who starts hanging out with the punks and the misfits at the park in the center of her suburb. She grapples with some pretty dark stuff like self-mutilation, divorce, and heroin addiction. You can read more about it including an excerpt here.

There is also a playlist that I updated just last night there. While I was procrastinating dealing with Rock 'n' Read and IWBYJR stuff. Cause that's what I do, I make playlists in iTunes... I even tried uploading this one to iTunes. It didn't have all of the songs (and the project playlist on my website has more, but still frustratingly not all), but I'll share it anyway:

Consider it music to ride roller coasters by. What about you do you like roller coasters or not? Share some literal or figurative roller coaster ride stories with me!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's summer, which means travel time

This is going to be a cross-country sort of summer. First I'll have to pick up my kids from Cashiers, North Carolina, where they'll be visiting with their grandparents. Then it's down to Miami, so my son can go to his favorite day camp down there and from there, I'll fly with my daughter to New York where she'll be attending Camp Broadway. It's really not as pretentious as it sounds. It's just something fun for her Diva-self to do. Then, after catching my breath for a couple of weeks, it's off to San Francisco and the Romance Writers of America National Conference. This is my event-- something I look forward to every year, the opportunity to network and see friends I haven't seen for the past year, and get dressed up in something other than sweats and t-shirts. It's one of the most energizing events, from a professional/creative standpoint and the fact that this year it's in San Francisco, one of my absolute favorite cities on the planet, just adds to the anticipation.

(I also get to present at the RITA awards, so I'm very excited about that as well.)

On the downside, however, I'm fully expecting all of this travel to be exhausting and I know that I'm going to be more than ready to come home and retreat into my cave. The upside of National being held during the summer is that most of us have greater freedom to travel. The downside is that by the time you come home, the last thing you want to do is travel again. Which is quite the bummer sometimes, because I do have some dream trips I'd love to take and most of them involve a powerful car and the open road. I absolutely love driving and traveling by car. From a writing standpoint, it's actually my favorite plotting time—I've always made up stories while driving. And from a creative standpoint, I get so much out of seeing places up close and personal—it never ceases to amaze me how varied and amazing the United States is from state to state and even from town to town.

You know, I even still have the old AAA atlas that's all marked up in colored pencil with the routes I was going to take:

U.S. 1 from Key West all the way to Maine.

The Pacific Coast Highway.

And my most desired road trip? The Mother Road, Route 66, all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles, preferably with stops along the way at every kitschy roadside attraction.

Mind you, I have regular, run-of-the-mill vacations I'd love to take. I mean, I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at a week at a secluded beach house in Hawaii. But give me a full tank of gas and a road? It would have to be a pretty amazing beach house to make me give that up.

So, what are some of your dream vacations?

Friday, June 13, 2008

For Father's Day...

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to a song over and over and write down all the chords so my dad can play along on his banjo. Like writing novels, I’d love to this anyway, but I love it so much more knowing someone else will enjoy it too.

And I want to give back to my dad, who gave me my love of music in the first place. His dad, who passed away Memorial Day weekend at the age of 98, played trumpet in his high school band, led the George Washington University Glee Club to a first-place finish in a contest at Carnegie Hall in 1930 or so, and worked as a church organist until he was 95. My dad grew up just as immersed in music. He played trumpet in the high school band too. In college he played guitar in a folk quartet that recorded a few radio commercials here in Birmingham. And when he went to medical school, he taught himself to play the banjo. Now that he’s retired as a doctor, he wishes he’d worked as a musician all along.

But there is no accounting for taste. I was a music major in college, and ever since he’s been bringing me songs and asking me to figure out the chords. Then he blasts the chosen song on his stereo (seriously, you can’t stay in the same room with him when he does this, it’s that loud) and follows along with my notations until he has the banjo chords memorized. The chosen song could be absolutely anything. I’ve figured out the chords to bluegrass and country songs--as you might guess because he’s a banjo player--but also rock songs and classical tunes, anything he decides is worthy. Probably the song he’s blasted loudest and most often over the years is the Whitney Houston version of “I Will Always Love You,” and now I can’t hear that song on the radio without banjo notes echoing in my head.

Unfortunately he’s developed an elbow problem recently. He is banned from playing the banjo for a few months until his arm heals. But he hasn’t stopped his search for worthy songs. He can’t play along with them, but he still wants to blast them on the stereo. A few weekends ago when I visited, he told me he’d heard the most gorgeous song by what had to be the best singer ever, and he sang a few bars for me.

Me: “Uh, Dad. That’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ by Bette Midler.”

Dad: “Yeah! Can you--how do you say it--get it off the computer for me? Do you know how to do that?”

So I downloaded “Wind Beneath My Wings,” threw in “The Rose” for good measure, and burned them to a CD for him. He was elated. Later in the week my mom called and said my dad wanted me to download “The Navy Hymn” for him. When she told him she wasn’t sure I could download something like that, my dad told her, “Jennifer can do anything.”

I went through the versions of “The Navy Hymn” on iTunes to pick the one I thought he’d like best. I played, “Oh hear us when we lift our prayer/For those in peril in the air,” over and over, until I swear I could hear the Blue Angels flying in the missing man formation over my house. Finally I settled on an instrumental version by the Marine Corps Band with a kick-ass low brass arrangement (I have been in marching band myself, so I am allowed to say things like “kick-ass low brass arrangement”) and took my dad the new CD. He was beside himself with joy. He cranked up the stereo. The windows of his house rattled for about an hour. Finally my mom and I went in to check on him. He was lying on the sofa in the living room, letting the chords wash over him. When he saw us, he yelled over the music to us:



Later he wanted more versions of “The Navy Hymn,” so I showed him how to use iTunes and burn CDs. I haven’t checked on him since last weekend. God knows what he’s downloaded, but I hope his elbow feels better soon so I can write out the banjo chords for him.

What do you enjoy doing with your dad?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A room of my own...again!

I used to have a lovely home office. And then I had a baby and she took it over. But we're about to renovate our house, claiming the apartment downstairs, and the thing I'm most looking forward to is having an office again. [That and not having to hide stuff behind the bed when we have company!]

These days, when my sitter comes so I can have some time to write, I have to leave the house and go to cafes. This has its perks, of course. Better coffee than I make at home, yummy Greek breakfasts, the occasional good looking man to gaze upon (like the one guy who comes in to my neighborhood Starbucks on Fridays looking all broody and studying tomes by Jean Paul Sartres). But there are downsides, too. Like how it's annoying if I can't get a seat by an outlet. And the one guy that goes to the Greek cafe who never ever ever stops talking on his cellphone. And frankly, sometime I just don't feel like making myself presentable to the outside world by 10 am.

So lately I've been thinking a lot about what this new office of mine is going to be like. Technically, it'll be my old office, since we're likely to move the baby into a bigger, brighter room. But I want this office to be somehow better, more inspiring than my last one, which was full of lots of, well, junk. I know there will be a desk, and probably a comfy chair for when I'm reading print-outs of my drafts. But beyond that...well, I don't know! Something inspiring on the walls? Maybe a masseuse? Any ideas for me as I plan the way forward?


Thursday, June 5, 2008


ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more When I started writing, must have been six years ago, one thing I've always thought about was Author Branding...what kind of image do I portray in my writing? What is it about my stories that's different that I can help with marketing myself?

I tend to write fiction with an Urban edge.

What exactly is Urban??

Is it street fights, fast cars, and drugs?

haha. Not all the time.

urban (relating to or concerned with a city or densely populated area)
urban (located in or characteristic of a city or city life)

It's life in a populated area.

Graffiti Girl may have taken place in a small town, but Graffiti is very much part of the Urban lifestyle.

And now I've written Invisible Touch, a story of girl with a peculiar psychic ability, still with that Urban lifestyle in a town setting instead of the city, but it's there. I don't know if it's all because of growing up in a small town that has outgrown its limits or being raised ten years in the California Bay Area that makes me write about it. But it's behind my eyes as I write. It's probably all those 80s - 90's movies I watched in big cities with cops and bad guys. haha.

And as I stray a little into Sci-fi, it's still there. Real problems with character journeys taking place much of the time on the streets. My characters have homes, and they are young, just trying to live with the life that surrounds them. The life that sometimes isn't so wonderful and can throw obstacles in your way before you know it.

I came across this description of my writing for Graffiti Girl @ RomanceWiki:

Graffiti Girl stands out from other contemporary Young Adult fiction due to its unusual setting and subject matter. While certain aspects of teenage life cross all boundaries, it's refreshing to see a novel set outside the white urban teenager world. Graffiti artists are often demonized in our culture, yet Parra's exploration of this world reveals the human aspect of this world.

I'm glad someone else sees that I try to bring real life issues to my fiction.

Trying to put my finger on the kind of fiction I write has always been tough. Because branding yourself one way which readers may not understand, can detour readers sometimes.

So I don't know if author branding works with marketing, but it makes it easier to tell people the kind of fiction I write. Can you brand your writing?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Contests Galore for I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Butting in here and speaking out of turn, but I wanted to let everyone know that there are several opportunities to win I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE going on right now. Yep, you heard me correctly. The book isn't out for over a month, but you can win it before you can buy it!

Melissa Marr, author of Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange is running a contest on her live journal. You tell us three of your favorite grrrl power songs and the 6 entries that excite us most get a signed, early copy of IWBYJR. Deadline is June 6. Enter here!

Then I am running a contest on my website where you can win an early copy of IWBYJR, signed cover flats, and a gift certificate to DownloadPunk. Deadline is June 13.

Finally, I just stumbled upon this contest at ELLEgirl, not only would you win IWBYJR, but a bunch of other great YA books.

Last but not least, you can win a copy from me in person this weekend if you happen to be in the Chicago area. I'll be at two different festivals. Check out my gigs page for more info!

Happy entering and good luck!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ah, summer!

Don't you just love summer? I know it doesn't officially start until June Whatever, but frankly, I think it's pretty much anytime after Memorial Day weekend. Barbecuing, sunshine and ice cream. It's all good.

Of course, Miranda doesn't have a great summer in Moby Clique, which makes her all the more ready to get back to campus. You know it's not a good summer when you're actually eager to get back to school, much less a haunted campus!

I don't have too much to report other than it's finally starting to get warm here in Chicago and I'm going to take full advantage of every day of sunshine since they're prety much numbered around here. In Wuthering High movie news, the producer has a director (and possibly) a screenwriter on board, so things are moving along there. You never know what will happen with these things, but if you want to see a Bard movie on the Big Screen just keep your fingers crossed. You never know.

Speaking of movies, anyone looking forward to any summer blockbusters this year? I have to admit I went to see Speed Racer the day it came out! I was a huge fan back in the day. I asked my dad to paint a five on my tricycle, I was so into the cartoon. I'm not quite sure why, although Speed is kind of cute, in a Japanese anime kind of way.