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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What DON'T you ever see yourself writing about?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I'm gearing up for NaNoWriMo in November, and one of the recommendations in the wonderful book No Plot? No Problem by NaNo's founder, Chris Baty, is this: Make a list if things you love in a book, and be sure to put those in what you write. Make another list of things you hate in a book, and be sure those evil things don't worm their way into your novel when you get tired.

I could list things I will never put in a book all day. But it’s easier to tell you what I will ALWAYS write. I write romantic stories, and I will always give you a happy ending.

I’m not talking about a satisfying ending. You and I have different ideas about what constitutes one of those. You may love those, but I tend to throw those books against the wall. I have invested a lot of time and emotion in this couple. If they don’t get together in a timely manner and live happily ever after, you may think it’s for the best, but I feel cheated. These satisfying plots include the following:

• Boy and girl are not right for each other.

• Boy and girl are right for each other, but she is already married to somebody else, and he lets her go.

• Boy and girl are right for each other, but the obstacle keeping them apart is so insurmountable that they can’t get over it.

• Boy and girl are right for each other, and just when you think they’re going to get together, one of them DIES OMG!!!!!!!!

• Boy and girl are right for each other, and do get together, but only after 50 years, wherein the boy has lived a full life and traveled the world, while the girl has thought the boy was dead and has shriveled into a wizened heap of skin and bones, with only enough energy left to lift her head and greet the boy upon his triumphant return. Hooray!

Y’all. All these books have been best sellers and most of them have been made into movies, but where you see satisfying, I see a waste of my time as a reader and viewer. I want some payoff. And I always try to write the book I want to read.

What DON'T you ever see yourself writing about?

Now this is a blog topic I had to think long and hard about because I honestly don't like counting out possibilities. In fact what I think will be interesting is to come back say ten years from now, read this and see if my opinion has changed.

Just a little while ago I was telling myself I'd never try my hand at Urban Fantasy Sci-Fi or Paranormal stuff. I adore those genres. I grew up a lover of all things other worldly, but I doubted I could build a world like the masters do and do it justice. But now I have ideas that are just scratching at my brain that definitely fall in those categories. They may take some time, but I will write them. I'll continue to write realistic contemporary stuff, but now I'm itching to expand.

Like Jenny O'Connell I once thought I wouldn't write from a male's POV. I had the same concerns of being able to get into the mind of the opposite sex. But then I wrote from Liam, Adrian, and Christian's perspectives in Ballads of Suburbia and I liked it so much that I started a short story from a male POV that I think could turn into a novel... but that novel would probably alternate POVs with the guy's sister. At this point I don't see myself writing a book solely from a male POV.

Like Jan Blazanin, historical fiction sounds like a lot of work. Really intensive research is probably not my cup of tea. But that being said I'm really fascinated by certain areas, like the Roaring Twenties. I was just thinking the other day about writing a story about a girl with past lives and sending her back to the Twenties. Not quite historical fiction, but still historical. So I may toy with that one day.

I also have a memoir or essay collection up my sleeve. It's just waiting for the right time and place. It might be about my struggles with insomnia, but it definitely won't fall in the self-help category. I'm totally with Danielle about that. I absolutely won't ever write self-help. I'm with her too about the religious thing. However I wouldn't rule out a book with a religious character. It's kind of a doubtful thing though because being raised without religion, I don't know much about it. Erotica, yeah, most likely that's out for me.... but then again, I don't know. I really like Anais Nin. Maybe I will try my hand at the kind of erotica she wrote sometime.

So as you see there are a lot of maybes for me. I won't ever write a stuffy, boring character though, that I can tell you. And my books will always likely have edge. I can't see myself ever doing something sweet. Maybe if I have kids one day though, I'll be inspired to write something younger. And maybe when I reach my forties I'll finally get interested in writing grown up books about mid life crises and that sort of thing. But honestly right now, I'm really only interested in writing about teens... or teens and their parents who are stuck in their teenage years, which is the kind of story I'm working on now.

But I'll turn it back on you, what kind of book would you absolutely not read if it was written by me?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What DON'T you ever see yourself writing about?

Here are some obvious things I’ll never write about: politics, the economy, quantum physics, or the love life of the Peruvian skink. Those topics and about a thousand others are outside my range of knowledge and interest.

But if we’re talking fiction, one genre I’m not likely to write is historical fiction. When I was a kid, history class meant memorizing the beginning and ending dates of battles and wars, the names of dead kings and queens, and the routes of explorers like Magellan and the guy whose name you call out in the swimming pool. I got some of my best sleep from reading history books.

Another reason I probably won’t write historical fiction is all the research I’d have to do. My research for FAIREST OF THEM ALL was on a bunch of different topics—modeling, dance, volleyball, acting, alopecia--and happened in little bursts of effort. Good historical fiction requires sifting through tons of letters, diaries, maps, public records, etc., etc. I can’t see myself spending months and even years digging through all that paper. By the time I’d gathered all the facts and details to write the book, I’d have forgotten what I was going to write about.

The third, and most important reason I won’t be writing historical fiction is that I’m not passionate about it. What’s the point of writing about something that doesn’t move me? I’d rather stick with contemporary fiction and leave writing about the past to amazing authors like Christopher Paul Curtis and Ann Rinaldi.

So historical fiction is probably out for me. But the love life of the Peruvian skink might be kind of interesting—at least to another skink. I wonder if skinks are big readers? I'll have to do some research to find out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What DON'T you ever see yourself writing about?

In the past 4 years I have read exactly 3 books with a guy as the main character. And those three books are all by the same author (John Green). Is that lame? Maybe. But here's the thing: I love reading about girls. I like when I feel like I relate to a character, that she could be my best friend or my enemy or even me.

And a guy? Well, I'll never be a guy. I can't even pretend to know what goes through a guy's head. In my book THE BOOK OF LUKE every chapter begins with a "Tip" for guys. Like Chapter Two: "Tip #3: Toenail clippers do not require hours of instruction, exceptional manual dexterity or an advanced degree. They're like scissors, but smaller. Use them." Or Chapter Twenty-five: "Tip #86: Bed head is not a hair style. Show a little effort. It can go a long way."
I had so much fun coming up with those tips, I got to rehash everything about guys that I don't understand and put them down on paper. It was like therapy.

I suppose I should be open-minded enough to admit that some great male characters come from women, and some men have written great books with a girl as the main character. But that's them. Me? If I was going to try to honestly and truly get inside the head of a guy I may as well spend my time trying to get inside the head of a nuclear physicist. They'd be equally challenging. (caveat: I love, love, love writing the male characters in my books, but would never ever want them to be the main characters)

So I don't think I'll ever write a book with a guy as the main character.

That said...

I am currently writing a book with a boy as the main character (RYAN PICKLER: BORN TO BE RAD). But it's a middle grade book and I'm writing it with my son, who is a fourth grade boy. And I know him pretty darn well enough to write a character that is the spitting image of him (and all the gross things a 9 year old boy does). I'm loving every minute we spend coming up with crazy stuff for Ryan Pickler to do, say and react to. I love Ryan Pickler, farts and all.

But as soon as Ryan turns 14, I'm done with him.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"What DON'T you ever see yourself writing about?

I must say, I thought this topic sounded like a lot of fun to write about. I have pondered this question before and there are a few things I cannot see myself diving into as a writer. If I ever tried to write erotica, I think the teen in me would just start cracking up. Using words and phrases like pecs, thrust, in the heat of the moment are just not my thing. I really enjoy a good love scene but it has to be within a story, not what the story is centered around. I was definitely one of those kids that covered their eyes every time Jack from Three’s Company made out with a hot chick.

I also don’t see myself writing a self-help book because I don’t know what I could help people with. Do people want to read a whole book on how to conquer mounds of laundry or convince their kids that they really should brush their teeth, everyday? Didn’t think so.

Books on religion are also not my cup of tea. I respect different religious views but to me religion is more a personal, spiritual thing. It's not necessarily something I want to write about or have the responsibility of educating people on the subject.

I know I should never say never but erotica, self-help and religious books are three areas that I don’t see myself getting into. If you are what you eat, then I am what I read. My favorite genres are teen and adult realistic fiction. I also love humorous nonfiction and biographies. And my favorite food combo, chocolate and peanut butter—yum! Now this is what they call food porn—more down my alley!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

People Who Died

Maybe you're expecting a post about Patrick Swayze here, but it's not gonna happen. I loved Dirty Dancing and was saddened by the story of Swayze's battle with cancer, but I don't have anything really profound to say on the subject of his passing. I was never hugely influenced by him in anyway and I'm sure you're not all that surprised to hear that.

My sorta morbid blog post title is also the title of a punk song that I've adored since I was a teenager. It's by Jim Carroll. And now he too is a person who died, so this is my ode to him.

Jim Carroll was a poet and a musician and most famously the author of the Basketball Diaries. He died on September 11 of a heart attack. I didn't hear about it until Sunday which seemed odd in this age of instant celebrity death updates via text message and Twitter. My dog also died that day. And I really hoped she would go the day before because September 11th is such a tragic day already. For some reason, it comforts me that she and Jim Carroll died on the same day though. On the other hand, it upset me hugely that Michael Jackson died on the one year anniversary of my friend Marcel's death. This was supposed to be my day to be sad about Marcel, not the world's day to be sad about Michael Jackson. I dunno grief-- real grief, not celebrity death grief-- is an odd thing. But let's get back to Jim Carroll, who was personally a much bigger influence on me than Michael Jackson.

I discovered his poetry first via my dad who always wanted me to appreciate Ginsberg, but I turned to the likes of Burroughs and Jim Carroll instead. Why? Because they wrote about drugs and I was 14 and drugs were playing a bigger and bigger role in my life. In the course of one year my view and experience with drugs had gone from claiming I would always "just say no" to learning my best friend had smoked pot and thinking she was an idiot to trying pot myself to falling for a guy and finding out he had a heroin problem. You'd think my journals from the summer before freshman year and the summer before sophomore year were written by two completely different people.

I was attracted to Jim Carroll's poetry because he wrote in a style I admired and he wrote about raw, gritty real experiences. It was the kind of poetry I was trying to write at the time. As for "Howl" I just didn't get it. I still don't think I've read the whole thing and when my dad made a joke about reciting it at my wedding, I froze up in fear. I love Burroughs, but he's definitely weird and hard to understand. I can't tell you how many times I started and stopped reading Naked Lunch. But when I got my hands on the Basketball Diaries I read it straight through in one sitting. I was both enthralled and terrified because seeing the way Jim changed for regular basketball playing boy to junkie and looking at the shift in my own diaries... It made me think.

I read and re-read the Basketball Diaries and watched the movie quite a bit while I was in high school. I first heard the Jim Carroll band when they played the song "People Who Died" during the credits. They may have even showed the music video in the credits if I remember correctly. I also adored the 7 Year Bitch cover of his song, "It's Too Late."

He also wrote a poem called "8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain," which I read so many times I probably had it memorized at one point. A lot of people have paid tribute to Kurt Cobain, but I really think Jim's poem is among the best. If you haven't read it yet, I'd encourage you to check it out here.

I think the stanza that always stuck out to me most was this one:

But Kurt...
Didn't the thought that you would never write another song
Another feverish line or riff
Make you think twice?
That's what I don't understand
Because it's kept me alive, above any wounds

Let the words keep you alive, above any wounds was something I told myself repeatedly as I struggled through my teenage years. The words eventually faded into my subconscious, but they are probably part of what brought me here. Though I didn't fully recognize Jim Carroll's influence on my work until Sunday night.

I read about Jim Carroll's death via a link posted on Twitter literally five minutes before I had to go to work. I had no time to process it before I was in thrust into the midst of loud, drunk Bears fans at the bar where I work. If you were keeping up with my tweets that night, you'd know that I had a very annoying night and I hate bartending during football. But in there was a bright spot. One customer came in and was more interested in talking to me than watching the football game. He'd read my column in the local newspaper and asked me what else I wrote. I told him books and pointed to the postcards we have hanging up above the bar with their covers. As it turned out he used to be in the bookselling biz, so he was genuinely interested and asked me a lot of questions.

"Would they be appropriate for my twelve year old nephew?" he asked.

"Um, probably not," I told him. "The publisher lists them as 14 and up. I mean it depends on the kid...." I trailed off, thinking about how badly my friend's twelve year old daughter who is like a niece to me wants to read I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and how grateful I was to pass that decision off to her dad.

"What is there like sex, drugs, and suicide in there?" he questioned further, laughing a little like he expected me to say no.

"Yeah, actually."

"Seriously? All three."

"Well, sex and drugs in the first one, but there's all three in that one," I said, pointing at Ballads of Suburbia.

"What did you write the next Basketball Diaries or something?"

I blinked at the question. No one had ever made that comparison. And it seemed like an obscure one to make. Why not the more well-known Go Ask Alice? But I guess he's a book guy, maybe he knew about Jim Carroll's death. Maybe I wasn't the only in the bar staring at the football game mindlessly but while thinking about Jim Carroll. But before I could ask him if he'd heard about Jim Carroll's death, I had to answer his question and the answer, I realized was... "Wow, um, I never really thought about it before, but in a way yeah, I guess."

I really hadn't thought about it before and maybe they don't have all that much in common besides heroin (boy in NYC in the 60s into basketball and heroin vs girl in the suburbs of Chicago in the 90s into punk rock and heroin), but I hope I was able to infuse the honesty and realness that I admired in Jim Carroll's work in my own.

I never did get to ask the guy if he'd heard about Jim Carroll's death. I had to pour drinks and then there was a near bar fight (oh football season, how I loathe thee).... So the first person I really talked to about Jim Carroll was my friend Jenny. She told me something I didn't hear in the obituary I'd read: apparently Jim died at his desk, working. Seriously, what an inspiration that Jim Carroll, right to the very end.

If you haven't read his stuff, I advise you to read that poem for Kurt and pick up a copy of the Basketball Diaries. And please comment away in Jim Carroll's honor.

Now lets all enjoy his song:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It’s that time of year again

My next novel for MTV Books, Forget You, is coming out in July, and things are starting to move. I’ve already written the description for the back cover:

Zoey’s life in her Florida beach resort town is happy and organized. She’s the captain of her high school swim team, and she works for her dad at his popular water park. Then her dad has an affair with one of his employees, and her mother has a breakdown. But Zoey begins a committed relationship with a hot lifeguard, which makes her feel stable, even if things aren’t perfect at home. Everything is still under control.

Until she has a car accident that she can’t remember. She should have been with her boyfriend that night, but he doesn’t seem to know anything about the accident—and he doesn’t seem to care. The person who does care, and knows more than he’s telling, is Doug, Zoey’s darkly handsome arch-enemy who saved her from the wreckage. As Zoey begins to piece together what happened that night, she finds her sense of control over her life was only an illusion. And she inches closer to discovering the darkest secret of all: why Doug has fallen in love with her.

The folks in editorial usually have a different idea about what makes a good description, though. If my description actually appears on the back cover, that will be the first time!

I’ve also had a conversation with my editor about ideas for the cover. I told her I honestly can’t imagine a cover more beautiful than the cover of Going Too Far. Doug and Zoey look very different from Meg and John in Going Too Far, but I would be happy with a similar cover.

This can backfire. I spent three and half years as the contest coordinator for the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and I can’t tell you how many times an author sent me copies of the wrong book because all her books looked so much alike! In the bookstore, I’m afraid this may translate as a reader picking up Forget You and thinking, “Oh, I already have this one,” and putting it back.

There’s one change I know I want to make. Take a look at my critique partner’s first book

and her sixth book, coming out in January.

Is that her name on the cover, or is she just happy to see me? As authors get bigger, their names on their covers get bigger, because readers start buying their books on the basis of their famous names alone. Now check out my name on my first book. (Hint: use a magnifying glass.)

Forget You will be my sixth book, and I’m thinking something like this will be in order:


Well, all RIGHT. But by my seventh book, I will be so big, my name won’t even fit on the cover.

Next stop: revisions. I can’t wait!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bummer Summer

Bummer Summer

This summer has brought some good times, but it’s been kind of a bummer, too. Here are a few of my gripes:

1. A tree in our backyard rained enormous branches on our house and yard until we gave up and had it cut down.

2. The road to our development collapsed during a flash flood, and I was cut off from civilization for an entire day.

3. Gizmo, our Pekingese, wiggled under our backyard gate and vanished into the woods.

4. About a minute into my morning run on August 31, I had a heart attack.

If you follow this blog, you've read about items one and two, and you’re waiting breathlessly for updates. Wait no longer.

Two weeks ago we planted a red maple in our backyard to take the place of our former tree. It’s farther from the house, and we have a few years before we need to worry about falling branches.

A permanent solution to our crater/road is on the way. Construction begins tomorrow to add a fourth culvert under our road—and reinforce the whole thing with concrete—so only a Noah-level flood can wipe it out. Two problems solved.

Our straying pooch Gizmo straggled home two days after his getaway. His ears, tail, and all other body parts were so matted with stick-tights that the groomer had to cut his fur down to ground level. Until his coat grows out, we’re living with a Pekingese disguised as a pug. As you can see from his picture, he's not too happy about it. Mike lowered the gate to eliminate Gizmo’s wiggle room and prevent future escapes. Problem three solved.

Yes, I really did have a heart attack. And, yes, I’ve been running for a zillion years. I don’t smoke, drink infrequently, lift weights, eschew red meat, and basically do everything possible to take care of myself. I'm no stranger to shin splints, stress fractures, and pulled muscles. But a heart attack?

My heart was the one organ I knew I could count on. So when my chest and neck and arm burst into pain, I was stunned and in denial. But I wasn’t completely stupid. I stopped running, got myself home, and called the paramedics. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital, the clot causing the problem had dissolved. The tests showed no blockage, the damage to my heart is minor, and recovery will be 100%. In a few weeks I’ll be back running again.

What’s the bright side of having a heart attack? Let me think. I can vividly describe what a heart attack—and all the subsequent testing, poking, and prodding--feels like. I can write what it’s like to ride in an ambulance, hang out in the ER, drag an IV around, and have a tanker truck of blood sucked from my arm. Of course, the paramedics, technicians, doctors, and nurses will make great characters for future stories.

And, if you’re going to make me see the glass half-full, I suppose the bright side is obvious. I’m still here to bitch, moan, and write it all down.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If these jeans could talk...

My new jeans just arrived in the mail and my husband rolled his eyes at me. "How many pairs of jeans does one person need?" he wanted to know.

"You can never have too many jeans," I told him. But it got me thinking about jeans, and how jeans have defined parts of my life.

One year for school (6th grade) I told my mom I wanted "French" jeans. She bought me a pair of Sassoon jeans before anyone had ever seen them mentioned (along with Oo-la-la) in a commercial. The next year I got a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and I can remember how they'd stretch when I put them on because they had spandex in them. Those were my designer years, when jeans felt "formal" and special. And even though nothing came between Brooke and her Calvins, underwear came between me and mine.

In high school, my sophomore year, I got the greatest pair of Girbaud jeans. They were amazing. I wore them with flats. I went to a high school with a dress code that didn't include jeans, so on the weekends all I ever wore to parties were jeans. That pair of Girbaud saw lots of life in their three years of high school. I felt so contemporary when I wore them.

My first week of college I bought a pair of Levi's. I thought they were too dark, so I also bought a bottle of bleach and soaked them in the bathroom sink until they were a nice pale shade of blue with some patches of dark where they didn't get covered. I wore those jeans into the ground. Jeans in college were all about comfort and feeling good. Even when they eventually ripped (I really did wear them ALOT) I sewed blue bandannas into the knees and kept wearing them (I went to college in the late 80's so the look was totally acceptable).

After college I bought Gap jeans. Skinny ones. They never made me feel as good as the Levi's.

Now I have 12 pairs of jeans in my closet. The newer ones are bootcuts (from Abercrombie), which I never thought I'd wear because I never thought I was a bootcut kind of girl. I have some with tab pockets in the back, which look cool but sort of make me feel like I'm trying too hard. And I have a few old pairs that for some reason I keep even if I haven't worn them in years. And I still have that faded pair of Levi's from college (and they still fit). It's not like I ever plan to wear them with all their holes and bandannas sewn all over the place. But I can't bear to get rid of them. They remind me of college and hanging out with friends and writing on my jeans in class when doodling was more fun than taking notes on Plato's Republic. If those jeans could write a book, let me tell you, it would be a comedy and a drama and one heck of a read.

What about you? Do you have clothes in your closet that tell your story?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Myths about Being an Author

It’s been about a year and a half since I accepted an offer from MTV Books for Shrinking Violet and during that time I have fielded many questions about being an author. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting questions with you. All in good fun of course, but I sure did get a kick out of some of these questions!

1. “Are you going to be as rich as J. K. Rowling?”
My answer: “I wish!”

2. “Do you need a personal assistant?”
My answer: “Are they giving those out for free?”

3. “Your book is with MTV? What Channel?”
My answer: I’m not answering that one. Enough said.

4. “Do you need someone to fly with you on your book tour?”
My answer: “Sorry, I already have a personal assistant for that.”

5. “Will you remember me when you’re famous?”
My answer: “Remind me who you are again.”

Whatever your profession is, I’d love to hear some funny questions that you’ve encountered along the way.

What I loved most about being a teen

When I saw this month's question, I was stumped about what I'd write about and for pretty much the exact opposite reason that Jenny O'Connell mentioned her blog on the topic.

I hated everything about being a teen. Seriously. I hated school. I hated struggling to fit in outside of school. I dated bad boys who tended to cause more heartache than they were worth. My home life was kinda rocky with my parents on the verge of divorce and that aside, I felt they totally didn't understand me. And most of all I hated feeling like I had absolutely no freedom. My parents had rules, the school had rules. And I was living in this town that I thought was totally boring and stuck-up and I just wanted to escape but dammit I wasn't old enough too.

Okay, so there were a couple things I liked about being a teen, while I was a teen. I liked punk rock and going to shows, but you've heard me talk about that plenty. I liked my friends, though sometimes there was even painful drama there, and I covered the teenage relationships that mattered the most to me in this blog. I liked doing some rather self destructive things, but yeah, that was no good in the long run.

But mostly what I realized is I have a lot more fondness for my teen years as an adult looking back. Yeah, I said it. I'm waiting for sixteen year old me to appear from the past and punch me.

I think I started to realize it while I was writing Ballads of Suburbia. I set the book in my hometown and in doing that I began to see that while I wasn't a fan of the town itself (and I honestly still have issues), there were some places I loved. I took great joy in writing about the details of the places I'd memorized. Even though I thought I was bored as hell sitting around at Scoville Park or Mills Park or Punk Rock Denny's or Ambrosia's or Jedi's, I was spending time with my friends or sometimes just sitting quietly writing like in the picture to the right which was taken at Mills Park probably right around my sixteen birthday. Do you know what I'd give to spend a carefree hour let alone several hours a night sitting outside in the park or at a diner with friends. Oh, it sounds magical. What I called boredom back then, I realize now is this glorious thing called FREE TIME! I have no idea what that thing is now says the grown-up author who is publishing her blog two days late at two am because she spent all day writing while feeling guilty about not answering email or doing wedding stuff or.....

The freedom of living on your own is not all teenage me thought it was cracked up to be. Bills, the jobs that pay the bills, that stuff is not fun.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be past all the angst and pain. I'm glad that I have a better relationship with my parents, found a good boy, and have drama-free friendships. I'm glad that I went to a college that I truly enjoyed. I'm glad that if I wanted to take a road trip tomorrow no one could tell me not to, but I wish I had the free time to actually take that road trip or read a good book or have a long chat with friends.

Ultimately I think the best thing about my teenage years was just surviving them. It made me a stronger person and one who can look back and say, hey, there were some moments that were really sort of perfect in a simple way that I just couldn't appreciate at the time. What about you? Did you adore your teen years? Or absolutely loathe them? If so, do you find there are some things you can appreciate now? And if you are still a teen, what do you love or hate... and embrace a boring moment and chill out for me, okay?