Saturday, May 30, 2009

REVIEW: Jessica's Guide to Dating On the Dark Side

My annual summer read-a-palooza has begun, and I kicked it off with a wonderful YA novel by Beth Fantaskey, Jessica's Guide to Dating On the Darkside. If you think the title sounds absolutely adorable, you're right. It sucked me in as I passed the release on an end-cap at the book store.

I wasn't sorry.

Too many readers who only think they know YA are missing out on books like Fantaskey's, assuming this is a Stephanie Meyer knock-off. More closely wed to better books like the House of Night series and other, lighter books with a teen-vampire theme, Jessica's Guide is brighter, lighter reading with deftly handled, age-appropriate humor. In many ways it could be seen as a direct opposite of the Twilight series, with great messages about body image, self acceptance, and confidence.

Fantaskey's novel opens at a desolate bus stop in rural Pennsylvania, where young Jessica Packwood notices a mysterious figure watching her. Jessica, who was born Antanasia Dragomir in Romania, soon discovers that she was born a vampire princess. Though she has been happy to live in obscurity with her adopted family in America, her destiny has come home to roost. Her parents confirm the wild tale that emerges: she was a vampire princess, and Lucius Vladescu-- the arrogant, pushy exchange student who claims to be her long lost fiance-- is. Now what? How can she possibly love this domineering twerp who sucks blood? She's a vegan, for crying out loud.

Fantaskey's teens sound like actual teens. Her Jessica responds to the pressures of her new found royalty, bossy fiance, and the possibility of an actual war with very believable wit, angst, and impressive common sense. The clever "guide book" angle works beautifully. I found the romance in this sly, smart book took a second seat to Jessica's growth as a person. She faces her senior year and the bizarre new pressures with her trusty copy of Growing up Undead: A Teen Vampire's Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, deftly handling what has become, too often, a phoned in theme for teens.

Brava! What a great way to kick off my summer reading season.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Did you know I write books?

It occurred to me today that I hardly ever talk about Writing. Which is odd since that is what I mostly do with my free time.

So I thought I'd post my blurb for the YA Paranormal I'm working on and a the official soundtrack for Falling Under by Gwen Hayes:

Theia Alderson lives in the shadow of her mother's death. To please her overprotective and overbearing father, Theia takes great pains to be as unlike her wild, carefree mother as she can. Father controls her days, but he can't control her dreams...or her nightmares.

Everything changed the night the burning man fell from the sky.

After a surreal experience with the burning man, Theia is lured into a nocturnal realm that blurs the line between dreams and reality. In a labryrinth of thorns and a river made of tears, Theia finds herself falling for Haden Black--the one person who appears both in her dreamland and her waking world. The one person whose love could damn her to hell.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paranormal YA workshop at Romance Divas!

Do you like Paranormal YA? If so, then you've got to check out the Q&A session going on at Romance Divas!

Seven top authors are sharing their thoughts on writing Paranormal YA, so check it out:

As with all workshops at Romance Divas, this one is free, but you must register with the site to participate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Crappy Jobs

I thought it would be fun to blog today about two horrible jobs I had while working on my undergrad degree. Yanno, working crappy jobs helps you keep life in perspective. I mean, now I almost feel like nothing I do career-wise could be any worse than where I've already been. LOL

1--The first and foremost horrible job that has scarred me for life was working as an accidental death and dismemberment insurance telemarketer. Yeah, my sister and a couple of my friends worked there too, which helped ease a wee bit of the pain...but have you worked in telemarketing? Then you know how awful it is.

And not only is the job awful--calling and hounding people to just talk to me on the phone and not hang up or cuss me out--the product itself was not the most cheery thing in the world. "Hey, total stranger, if you buy our insurance and lose an eye and a limb in an accident, you get XX dollars. However, if you lose two limbs, you get XXX dollars. And if your accident results in death, you get the maximum price of XXXX. And all for the bargain price of X a month."

As you can imagine, most people didn't want to talk to me. LOL. I can't really blame one wants to be reminded of their mortality, or their natural frailty as a human being--much less by someone who interrupted them at home in the middle of the day.

Yeah, I didn't last long at that job.

2--My second horrible job: I managed to snag a position at a place I thought would be super awesome...working as a tennis court attendant. The place I worked for had like 10 courts, with 4 of them indoors. I thought I'd work inside the snack building, selling tennis snobs and sweaty teens some Gatorade and signing them up to rent the courts, and that would be the extent of it. Totally cushy, right?

It wasn't until I started working there that I realized it was rather like being in a prison movie.

My first daily task was to use a big, awkward leaf blower to clear off the courts every morning. Anyone who knows me knows I have the most horrid allergies. So after complaining (and even having to leave work early because of utter facial misery), the company begrudgingly provided me with a face mask while I did this job. As you can imagine, I was sooooo attractive.

Yes, I did have periods of time working inside the air-conditioned building, selling Gatorade...but the bulk of my time was spent outside, doing manual labor/maintenance on the grounds. See, I was usually working with this woman who had to be in her I was going to make her go do the back-breaking, craptacular work, which included such fun tasks as:

--pulling the weeds out from the cracks of the sidewalks and in/around the outdoor courts (my boss didn't want to use pesticides, so we had to HAND-PULL THEM OUT).

--weeding the gardens

--squeegeeing the outdoor courts off after the rain (absolutely horrible...we had these MASSIVE squeegees we had to use on the courts to push the rainwater off the courts)

--power-washing the courts

--DIGGING A DRAINAGE DITCH. That one was the worst.

After this, I knew I had to quit. I was tired, crabby, and pretty much hated the job with every fiber of my being.

Okay, so those are my worst two jobs. What about you? Any horrible jobs? Share, share, share!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Could You Handle It?

As I was watching Jon & Kate Plus 8 last night (don't judge me, I freely admit my reality tv addiction) and they were discussing how public things have become about the issues they've been having and how inescapable the public eye is, I got to thinking...

Could I handle that kind of fame? Could you?

Can you imagine being photographed every time you leave the house, no matter what you're wearing or what your hair looks like?

Could you manage being followed while driving?

How enjoyable would family outings be if a band of photographers was camped out nearby with their lenses aimed at you?

What would it be like to have people call your name in public? Seek you out for an autograph or picture? What if that happened during a romantic meal? Or a not-so-happy conversation?

Could you give up your privacy in exchange for fame and fortune? Could you?

Monday, May 25, 2009

have you been bitten?

Okay, this is totally a shameless self-promotion day. I would apologize but hey, if I don't promote myself, who will? Right?

First off, if you're on Facebook, please join me on my Author Page and join my book group: Have You Been Bitten?

In other SSP news, I'm guest blogging over at the fabulous Lucienne Diver's place...dueling vampires! That's right, my girl from BITE ME!, AJ Ashe and the star of Lucienne's YA novel, VAMPED, Gina Covello are answering questions head-to-head. Stop by and check it out.

And last but not least, my new website will be launching today. It's almost ready...but not quite. Please stop by and bookmark for the latest and greatest on BITE ME! and its sequel LOVE SUCKS! we'll be announcing a super awesome contest there very soon!

Okay. I think I'm all pimped out. I hope y'all had a great weekend!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Trends in YA Literature

According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), young adult reading trends are, as is often the case, mirroring adult trends. Vampires and dark fantasy themes are dominating, with a new emergence of books that are "Gossip Girl" styled and themed.

In an informative interview with Sarah Debraski (HERE), the head of YALSA says fantasy will continue to have a strong presence, citing Harry Potter as another influence lingering on the genre.

One of the interesting points, for me, was a brief mention of the popularity of Graphic Novels. This seems to be a very specific, insulated market. The same, of course, can be said for the adult GN readership.

I cut my teeth on fantasy novels and general fiction, then later discovered romance and some of the lesser-known subgenres. Where do YOU think the market is going? Perhaps more importantly... where would you LIKE it to go?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Highway to Hell--or conversely--the Danger Zone

I am about to buy a ticket to see Metric and it occurred to me that I don't go to nearly enough concerts--and the ones that I've gone to are all very, very strange. I mean, they're not odd in and of themselves, but if you mix em all together, you have to wonder what is up with the concert goer in question. I WANT to go to more shows--but living in the boonies makes it a pretty big undertaking. You have to be serious. The closest concerts arenas are a bridge (which is closed for a month now, so add an hour AT LEAST to the drive, a ferry, and a two hour drive away.

I'll probably forget some, but this is what I can remember in order:
  • Chicago (a comedian opened, don't remember who)
  • Journey (Outfield opened-best concert ever)
  • George Michael (it would still be years before I admitted I suspected he was gay all along--it was the Faith tour. Do you REMEMBER that jacket? and I don't have a clue who opened)
  • Bon Jovi with a Skid Row opener. There was A LOT of hair at that concert. I think it was 1989.
  • 2 Live Crew (really, I don't know why.)
  • AC /DC (I'm pretty sure nobody opened. Or we were late.)
  • Kenny Loggins. I took my mom.
  • Collective Soul
  • Depeche Mode
  • Aaron Tippin
  • Def Leppard and Journey (not the new lead singer and not the one the new lead singer replaced who replaced Steve was some other guy who only filled in for a few shows. He was cute but no Steve Perry. Or the guy who looked like Steve Perry. Or the new guy who looks nothing like Steve Perry but sounds more like Steve Perry than Steve Perry does.)
  • Loverboy-at a Casino. (the bandana lives)
  • Faith Hill and Tim McGraw
See what I mean? If you look at my list, you would have no idea what kind of music I like. Well, except you could probably guess my age.

What was teh best concert you ever went to?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

College Daze

My little cousin Kristin will be graduating soon from high school. (Yay!) Come late August, she'll be heading off to the hallowed halls of Wellesley, one of the so-called "Seven Sisters," and famous as the old stomping grounds of Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham).

College is such an exciting time in a student's life. It's a time of firsts, of changes, a time to find yourself. Sounds just like a YA novel, right?

Yet many YA publishing houses don't seem to want to publish books set in college. The general rule you hear flying around the literary agent blogs is that 20-something college students is a very difficult sell for YA. You would think it would be perfect, because teens read up, so of course older teens would want to read about college students, but for whatever reason, it's just a very hard sell.

Take my own manuscript, PARTY LIKE IT'S 1899. When I originally wrote it, I had the heroine as a 19-year-old college sophomore, and the hero was 20. This was the version that finaled in the Golden Heart last year.

When we subbed it to editors, however, the general consensus seemed to be that it should be in high school. In fact, one editor even requested two rounds of massive revisions, including requiring that I turn my 19-year-old college sophomores into 17-year-old high school juniors.

This isn't a completely unheard of phenomenon, either.

Jessica Burkhart originally wrote her series with her students as 21-year-old college students. When her agent signed her, she said that Jessica would have to rewrite it with the characters 16-years old and in high school, "so we can sell it to Simon Pulse." So she did. When her agent submitted it to Simon Pulse, the editors there liked it, but didn't think it was right for that line, so they passed it on to their colleagues at Aladdin (Simon & Schuster's tween line). The Aladdin editors made on offer, on the understanding that she would have to rewrite it yet again, to change her characters to 12-year olds in middle school.

This book later became the first in the popular and prolific "Canterwood Crest" series of books about girls who love horseback riding. Looking at the end result, it's difficult to imagine that it was ever originally in a college setting, but that's because Jessica underwent major revisions. Changing your characters from 21 to 16, then from 16 to 12? Yikes! And I thought 19 to 17 was a big change!

So let's look at books actually set in college, shall we?

Probably my favorite college-setting series is Diana Peterfreund's "Secret Society Girl" books. (In fact, the last in the series was just released this past Tuesday!) Many people mistake this series as YA. It's not. It was sold to Delta Trade, which (until Bantam Dell imploded) was an adult Random House imprint. It's published under an adult imprint and shelved in the general fiction section of the bookstore. It's marketed to both adults and teens as a crossover book, but not shelved in YA because it's not technically a YA book. Many people think it's YA because the NY Public Library called it one of the best "Books for the Teen Age" but there were also several other adult books on that list, too.

One of the best suspense novels I've read all year was Kayla Perrin's WE'LL NEVER TELL (St. Martin's), which is about a hazing gone wrong, murder, and coverup at the University of Buffalo, and the pledge that three sorority sisters make never to reveal the truth of what happened that night. I believe the characters are juniors and seniors, and this was definitely published under an adult imprint.

Speaking of thrillers set in college, there's always the classic KISS THE GIRLS (Grand Central Publishing) by James Patterson (which was much, much better than the movie, but I digress). It tells the tale of two psychopath killers stalking female students on the Duke and UNC campuses. It's definitely a good thing I didn't have time to read for fun in college, so I read this one during the summer in between my sophomore and junior years. Why? Well, I happened to have lived right next to where one of the killers used to prey, according to Patterson. Needless to say, I probably never would have been able to walk alone -- or at all -- at night if I'd read it during the school year. Oh yeah, again, this is an adult book.

But there's got to be some books set in college that actually are YA books, right? Yes, of course there are. But I've got a theory about this.

Kate Harmon's "Sorority 101" series (Puffin) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like -- a series about what it's like to go through sorority rush. But the characters are actually still in high school at the very start of the first book, albeit like one day away from graduation. It then quickly shifts to two months later, at college move-in and orientation. So yes, it's set in college, but in many ways, it's still a YA book because the characters are teenagers (most are 18 and a couple are 19) and it's very much a "finding your place" type of's college orientation with lots of changes.

Another example is Rosemary Clement-Moore's HELL WEEK (Delacorte), which also takes place during sorority rush. This is the second book in her Maggie Quinn series (following PROM DATES FROM HELL), and by the second book, Maggie is in college. But the first book took place in high school, so I can see why she's able to get away with a college setting in a YA. (Her third one, HIGHWAY TO HELL, was released in March, and is a Spring Break setting, but again, she already had a high school setting, so it's merely the proper progression.)

Same with "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (Delacorte). The first 2 books, the girls were squarely still in high school. The third book took place during the summer after graduation. The fourth book (FOREVER IN BLUE) took place during the summer after their freshman year of college. But since she began the series when they were just sixteen, it's still a YA series, even if they're no longer in high school.

Anyway, this is just my theory. Feel free to tell me I'm full of you-know-what.

What are some of your fave books set in college? Are they YA or adult books?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Funny YA books

I don't know about you guys, but one of the things I most love is picking up a book that makes me laugh--hard. I'm sure I'm forgetting some great ones, but here are a few that round out the top of my funny list:

Demon Envy by Erin Lynn (she's one of my good friends, the one who actually encouraged me to try YA. A demon comes out of the heroine's bathtub drain, released from his hellish prison after she spills her zit cream in there. LOL)

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (this is seriously one of the funniest stories EVER. It's for older teens--a bit edgy--but really, really, REEEEEEALLY funny--after a teen breaks up with her boyfriend, he writes a scathing song about her that hits the charts and sends the paparazzi hot on her heels)

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter (I read the ARC of this and laughed--the poor heroine! So much bad stuff happens to her as she tries to earn money on her quest to get a nose reduction. haha)

What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook (OMG the scene that describes how they'd asked santa why he took the Christ out of Christmas--I snorted OUT LOUD, haha)

Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott (her characters are quirky and, the dad quit his job to sell vitamins in a mall kiosk. LOL)

Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies by Erin Dionne (a BOX OF BRAS falls on the heroine. Seriously, I was dying)

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard (I read an ARC of this--the poor heroine goes through some funny struggles to fit in when she accidentally goes back in time to regency England)

So, what about you? What YA books have cracked you up?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pop Quiz

Go take this quiz, then report back. Seriously. You know you want to. Then you can find out what color you are too.

You are most like:

You are Yellow

The clouds part and the smell of daffodils and daisies fill the air when you are around. Your sunny disposition cheers most, and makes others (the jealous and bitter ones) wish you'd never gotten out of bed.

Take this quiz: Which Crayola Box of 8 Color Are You?

Monday, May 18, 2009

big day here at chez francis...

My youngest son starts 6th grade in the fall and today, I get to register him for his classes. He has instructed that I interview every teacher and pick only the nice ones because, and I quote, "I don't do very well with mean teachers."

Um yeah, I'll get right on that.

What I remember about 6th grade:

  1. I had a pair of bright green "painter's pants" overalls that I wore all the time.
  2. The big thing back then was to carry a large comb in your back pocket that often had a message on it. Mine said "No Tailgaiting." (BTW: I had no idea what that meant at the time.)
  3. My smart mouth fully developed that year. It was the first year I smarted off to a teacher. I had to write a report on why I shouldn't get a paddling. (yes, I went to public school. yes we had corporal punishment. no I did NOT want to bend over and grab my ankles) I wrote the report. I did NOT get paddled.
  4. I also wrote several other reports that year for my smart mouth for a different teacher. Because I knew Coach Ralph did not read the papers, I added commentary into the reports such as, "Teacher's Name is an ass" and "Teacher's Name is a pig." He either never read the reports or read them and let it pass because I had big balls because I never got into trouble.
  5. The cool teacher that year was my homeroom teacher so that made me cool be default, even though I had ugly glasses and was a good 5 inches taller than everyone else. (BTW, I'm exactly the same height now that I was in 6th grade.)
  6. I played kickball every day. And I ruled.
  7. I rode a motorbike (not really big enough to be called a motorcycle) for the first time. It was awesome, until I wrecked it and burned all the flesh off the inside of my calf. This meant I had to wear a skirt everyday to school for at least a week with a tube sock covering the burn. I didn't wear skirts. You can't rule at kickball in a skirt! I was flipping mortified.
  8. People started calling me French Fry that year. Thankfully, that nickname was quickly replaced with Mel.
I look at my youngest son and wonder if he'll have similar memories. Do you? I think 6th grade was the biggest year for change. I wouldn't go back but I can tell you, I love the kids at this age. I love watching them develop their personalities, push limits, go through the awkwards, and come out on the other side full of personality.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Love Books

I suppose if you're here, reading a blog dedicated to the joys of Young Adult fiction, you love books. I love books. My obsession started before I could even read them. As a little child I liked touching the spines, turning the pages, staring at the letters and wondering what they would say to me if I could read them. Needless to say I started reading early. I never stopped.

I've always had a deep suspicion of anyone who claims they "don't have time to read." Why is that always the excuse? Nobody ever says "I don't like books." I've begun to think we have created a culture of "stress addiction" that's really just "excuse addiction." Almost every excuse I hear these days involves a lack of time. We live in an age of ultra-portability and technological amazements, but nobody seems to have time. Microwave your dinner, take the fast lane down the highway, get your appointments sent to your Blackberry, text your kids. But finding an hour a night to enjoy a novel? Impossible!

I'm the first to admit I love television. I love movies. I love spending time with my friends. But if I had a choice between any of those things and books... no contest. Books would win every time. They are my favorite, most treasured indulgence. I probably buy three novels a week at minimum. I do not have a "to be read" pile. TBR? If you count waiting until I'm done with the one in my hand, maybe. And with summer coming, most of the good stuff on tv is going on hiatus, anyway. Most nights I turn on the tv, true, but I also only glance up when I hear something interesting. Or Ahmed bumps my shoulder and grunts. What? Oh. They're doing fiddleheads on Iron Chef. Cool.

Back to my book...

I was thinking about this last night because I had food poisoning, but wouldn't put my book down. Every time I needed to run for the bathroom I stuffed a bookmark in, dropped, and scurried... but I also came right back. This morning Ahmed asked me how the heck I retained any of it. You know, he has a point. But I tend to blow through a novel in one evening, so I'm not worried. I can re-read it. (For those planning to ask, the book is Darkborn by Alison Sinclair.)

Bottom line? If you don't love books, you can't take a prominent place in my life. We can be acquaintances, but we can never be true friends. Sorry. I mean... what on earth would we talk about?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Interview with Lili St. Crow

In case you were wondering what the heck is up with the spasmodic movement in the corner--that would be me dancing what I like to call the "Look Who I Got To Play With" dance. Fantabulous author, Lilith Saintcrow has joined us to day to celebrate the release of her new (and first Young Adult) release: Strange Angels.

I first found Lili's books when a friend referred me to her Dante Valentine series and I was hooked--though my very most favorite was the Society series. When I found out she was writing a YA series I totally fangirled the poor woman.

Lili, tell us about your new book.

Strange Angels is kind of like Buffy meets Supernatural, with a dose of Eastern European folklore and a heavy smatter of Appalachian folk-magic. It follows Dru Anderson, a girl who's traveled from town to town with her father, hunting thing that go bump in the night. When Dru's dad ends up dead and turned into a zombie, she's suddenly on the run. The things she and her father were hunting are now hunting back.

It is part of a series, I'm working on the third book now. I get to set a girl loose in an all-boys school, with werewolves and vampires, and watch the fun.

What inpsired you to make the jump to Young Adult and what was different about your writing process for Strange Angels compared to a Dante Valentine book?

There wasn't much difference. The books grew very organically around a single scene, and they both involve someone being taken past the point of what they thought they could bear. The basic commitment of any book is to tell the reader the truth, whether that reader is four, fourteen, forty, or a hundred and four.

I was initially worried about writing YA until I just flung myself in (it's normal for me to go merrily where angels fear to tread) and decided to write the book I would have wanted to read fifteen years ago. That happens a lot--it's the magic of writing. My job isn't to worry about where the words come from, it's to show up consistently and let the words take care of themselves.

Steven Brust once said he had a sign tacked up in his writing space that said, "And now, I'm going to tell you something REALLY cool." I think that's the best thing for a writer to do--be excited about what you're writing. Write what you think is cool, what makes you tingle all over. Life is too short to do otherwise.

One of our favorite themes at Fictionistas is "follow your dreams". What is your average day like?

My day is pretty boring--I get up early, get breakfast for my children, then answer correspondence and update my weblog. Then t's time to look over the work for the day, whether that's producing new words, revising, or looking at edits. After an early lunch I settle into a long slog throgh the afternoon, breaking to make dinner, then it's more work until I get the kids in bed. After that I'm up until midnight or one AM, writing or doing revisions. I put in long, long hours, but it doesn't seem like work. For one thing, it's what I love doing. Writing feels more like play than anything else.

I can also be home all day for my kids, which is great. The flexibility of my schedule is really ideal for parenting.

The downside is that I have to really, truly be disciplined. If I don't do it, it doesn't get done--and if I don't turn in my work on time and in a reasonably-clean condition, I may not be invited back again, and that's bad for me. My rent and groceries depend on me being dependable, and the discipline of writing every day is hard but necessary. Not only does my rent depend on it, but as John Scalzi says, it's the only way to get better. (

I've caught a lot of flak for insisting that a "writer" needs to write, and write consistentl every day, but I'm not sorry and I don't take it back. There's no getting better without a lot of practice--Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand hours to achieve mastery. Might as well get them all out of the way, you know.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on two contracted books--the third in the Strange Angels series and the next Jill Kismet book. I do tend to work on more than one manuscript at once, I'm not happy unless I have two or more things going on that I can juggle and play against each other.

What is the most surprising thing one of your characters has done?

They're all pretty surprising. The most awesome thing is when a character "tells" me something I couldn't possibly know that is borne out by further research. It's happened so many times that I've stopped wondering about it. Whether it's a stray bit of information I've unconsciously retained or whether the imaginary people do know more than I do...well, I'm content not knowing.

What were your favorite movies when you were in high school? Has your list changed much since?

When I was in high school, I loved The Breakfast Club, Highlander (original movie only,) The Crow (Alex Proyas is one of my favorite directors,) Heathers, and similarly dysfunctional movies. The list is in a constant state of chage, because there are so many awesome films out there an I have a Netflix subscription. I have to say, though, that Dead Poets Society was and is my absolute-favorite movie, and Frankie & Johnny and Conspiracy Theory are comfort-views for me.

What book is on your nightstand right now?

Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, Nancy Price's Sleeping With The Enemy, and a stack of Georgette Heyer's romances. I always think you should have more than one book on your nightstand.

You are on a deserted island with an mp3 player with only three songs. What do you hope those songs are?

Beethoven's Ninth, Rob Dougan's Clubbed To Death, and Tom Petty's Won't Back Down.

If you could go back and time and have a heart-to-heart with TeenLili, what would you tell her?

"Don't stop writing. It will get better. Soon you'll be on your own and these people and the things you're enduring now won't matter. You will have survived, and you're going to be awesome. None of this stuff matters. Just keep writing."

Strange Angels trailer:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Random Questions

Because I can't think of anything to blog about today (yes, I know I'm lame), I'm just going to ask a bunch of random questions.

Deal with it.

1. What music are you listening to at the moment?

2. What was the last TV show you watched?

3. What was your worst summer job as a teen?

4. What's in your purse?

5. Is Izzy going to die tonight on Grey's Anatomy?

6. Do you even care?

7. If you could choose to live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

8. Do you think I'm awesome?

My answers:

1. "Freeze Frame" by the J. Geils Band on the Classic Rock Greatest Hits Pure Gold Collection CD

2. "Morning Joe" on MSNBC while eating breakfast

3. Waitress at the Gibson, I really hated that place

4. work ID badge, lipstick, thumb drive, tampons, cell phone, keys, wallet

5. Probably

6. Nope...stopped caring about that show when the ferry accident happened and Meredith fell into the water. She lived and I was actually kinda upset with that outcome. LOL!

7. Tuscany

8. Well, duh.

The correct answer to #8 is "yes" by the way. I will accept no other answers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

African American novels--I need suggestions!

You know, I pride myself on being fairly well-read. I try to pick up a wide scope of stories dealing with a variety of cultures, attitudes, people, values, etc. But one area I'm sorely lacking in is African American literature.

Why is that? I mean, it's not that I don't want to read AA novels--I've read some fantastic stories in the past (Kindred by Octavia Butler is one of my all-time fav novels, actually). And it's not that I think the experience is just too far removed from my own as a white woman--I read Asian literature all the time, as well as historicals and futuristics, and those are quite decidedly different than my life.

To be honest, I think part of it is I'm not exposed to a lot of AA novels. And the other part is, I don't think to look specifically for it when I'm in a bookstore. It makes me sad to admit that, because I know I'm missing out on some stellar reads.

A few African American novels I've read in the past are:

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Native Son by Richard Wright
Kindred by Octavia Butler (this novel is AMAZING)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (this is set in Africa, actually)
The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley
The Conjure Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

There are some others I can't remember off the top of my head (and actually, most of these I read in undergrad).

A couple of days ago, it hit me--it's been years since I've read an AA novel. That's far too long. And while the novels above are stellar examples of classic reads, I'm sure AA literature has evolved over time, and I'd love to read a few contemporary AA novels.

So, I've decided I'm going to take a trip to my local bookstore today and pick a few up.

Can anyone give me recommendations on AA novels you've read and loved? I'd especially love to get some recommendations for African American YA (Paula Chase Hyman is already on my to-buy list--I'm going to snag her novel So Not the Drama).

Thank you for your help!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Power of Change

Tonight is the season finale of The Biggest Loser. Even people who haven't watched previously understand that this show is about the contestants making extreme changes to their lives. Not only do they lose weight but many of them become different people, turning their backs on the unhealthy lives they once lived in favor of eating right and getting more active. They go through a lot of mental change as well as physical.

But how do you get there? How do you get to that place in your life where you're ready for a life change? Because I contend that without being in that "right place" no real change can be made.

I've been in that place. I've made a life change that while difficult and painful, was ultimately all things good. It probably saved my life. (I left an abusive ex.) But it took a lot of hard, uncomfortable years for me to get there.

Have you ever made a big change in your life? What did it take for you to get there?

Monday, May 11, 2009

almost woodstock...

You may or may not know that my favorite band is STAIND. I adore them. Have considered running away and marrying them. The whole band. Not just the hot-n-angsty lead singer. No. The entire band. It's not polygamy if you think of the band as a singular entity...

Anyway, one of the items on my 40 Things to do at 40 list (y'all do know I'm 40 right?) is to see STAIND in concert.

That concert was this weekend. They came to MudEdgefest along with Hurt, Drowning Pool, Chevelle, and Slipknot.

It has rained here in central Arkansas for damn near 2 solid weeks, so we are pretty much floating away. This concert was outdoors. And it thunderstormed and poured rained most of Saturday.

I did not care. I was NOT going to miss my most favoritest band ever on earth. Rain be damned.

So I put on my high-waters, my duck-boots and wore my cutest smile and we set off for MudEdgefest.
See how cute my smile is? Srsly, I was workin' the cute Saturday night.
The traffic was horrendous. I was getting texts from my friend Griff who had been stuck in traffic for more than two hours. He was getting ready to give up. But I was determined to get to the concert. I didn't care if they concert coordinators didn't have a good contingency plan for 40 days of rain. I would swim through the swamp if I had to. I was going to see my future husbands favorite band live.

We decided to bypass the traffic and go down to the next exit to see if we could come in the back way. We found a place to park and set out on the hike to the cow pasture.
It was a huge procession. But it wasn't raining anymore and the temp was perfect, so we made the most of it.

After about a mile and a half, the procession came to a halt. The road was completely flooded out.

Knee deep in some places

I was undeterred. Yes it was swamp water. Yes it was disgusting. Yes I was slightly afraid a water moccasin would come and take me away.

But I didn't care. I wanted to see STAIND!

So we trudged forward. And not long after the swamp we arrived at the farm. And this is where the fun began.

There was mud:

And even more mud:

and even some mud 'rasslin:

and the obligatory concert mullet:

And then there was STAIND:

Totally worth the drama of getting there. So glad I went. The adventure was fabulous. Plus, I was rocking the cute-n-muddy look. As was my oldest son...

Have you ever wanted to do something so badly that you endured extreme circumstances to achieve your goal?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

M is for the many things she gave you. You can make up the rest. But whatever you do, don't let tomorrow slip by without thanking a mom, even if you no longer have one. Mothers deserve so much more than a day!

I've always loved being an aunt and god-mother, but never wanted to have children of my own. Just as well, since I am unable to have them and adoption would be irresponsible for somebody with health issues. Still, I'm incredibly lucky to have wonderful children in my life. More-so, I think, than most people think. I get to send them home when they aggravate me, be the ear they need to bend, and buy them the thing that's a weenie bit expensive when they've earned it. It's a heck of a job and I wouldn't trade the kids in my life for anything.

As for mothers... I still have mine, thank goodness, but I also had some amazing women in my life during my formative years. My grandmothers-- including a great-aunt who will always count as a grandmother to me-- were astonishing, inspiring, phenomenal women. They were wind-sown feminists before feminism was a catch-word, taking root in the hedges and dales of the world, thriving where the wind blew them. They raised children without help, fostered families without expecting anything in return, and were artists without ever having their canvases acknowledged. I know they had stories, though they never knew a page. I've memorized them all. I know they could paint and draw, though no gallery ever featured them. Scribbles on the corners of newspapers delighted us when we sat on aging knees.

Carrie Virginia, Marie, Irene, and Elaine-- great, towering talents. Their canvases and manuscripts were their children.

Thanks. Love you. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 08, 2009

These Dreams

I had a strange dream that stuck with me this morning.

I was trying to take my kids to a movie. Carrie Fisher was the movie ticket girl--but that isn't the part I want to talk about even though it was kinda cool. Anyway, I sent the kids to get seats and I went to get the snacks. Long lines/not enough hands and general mayhem ensue at this point. I then tried to find the viewing room and got on this escalator that went so fast it spilled me and my accouterments at the bottom of it and it turns out that was the wrong place anyway--it was a hotel lobby. Then, the escalator that went back up was broken. By the time I found the right place, I had to find the kids in the dark and make everyone mad while I tried to get my seat. Then Oprah was there and the movie was over.

So--I looked up escalator on an online dream dictionary (interesting note: Carrie Fisher is not in the online dream dictionary) and found that escalator dreams symbolize moving through various levels of consciousness.

Only I don't think that's what my dream was about. I think my dream was about me realizing that my kids are growing up really, really fast. And that my life (the escalator) is keeping me from spending time with them because it is taking me away from them rather than towards them. And that I need to try and slow down and enjoy the teen years instead of stressing so much about where everyone is going and how they will get there (literally and symbolically).

Mother's Day is Sunday. As usual, what I want is not a lavish lunch in a restaurant with expensive gifts and well dressed kids on their best behavior. I want a day at the beach or up at Hurricane Ridge. Or maybe even croquet in the back yard. Mother's Day isn't just about appreciating Mom (though you should), it's also a day to appreciate being a mom for those of us who are.

And if someone sees Carrie Fisher, tell her I said hello.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Popular Girls

I'm sorry to say, today's blog isn't about us Fictionistas, even though everyone already knows we're the coolest group of gals around. No, today I'm blogging about the phenomenon that any female who has gotten through middle school is very familiar with.

The Popular Girls, and how they rule the school.

I was not one of the Popular Girls. I certainly had a lot of friends, and straddled many groups. But I didn't fit in any one particular group. I was a cheerleader, and a dancer, and a drama club actress, and in choir. I was also in National Honor Society and Student Council. I worked on the Yearbook. I was voted "Most School Spirit."

But I had my first and last boyfriend (until college) in junior high. I flitted from one social group to another. Everyone liked me, but I was nobody's best friend. And later, when one of the girls who I was pretty close to in junior high decided she didn't like me senior year, I was on the outs with the original group of girls I hung out with most. I started hanging out with others -- after all, I had lots of friends, although few really close friends -- but by that point, it was too late to be very close friends with this group of girls.

Because these things are set in middle school. Whereas we all invite everyone else to our birthday parties in elementary school, somewhere around 6th or 7th, suddenly the cliques form. Some girls become the Queen Bees and the others all want to emulate them.

By the time you get to high school, if you weren't a Queen Bee, you probably have stopped wishing you were, or at least were her best friend, but they're still there. They still rule the school, and they can make life miserable for the ones they don't like.

Yesterday, I started reading Kathleen Gilles Seidel's novel, A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity. Kathy's in my local chapter, and this has been on my to-be-read pile for a while now, and I can't believe it took me so long to get to it. It's GREAT!

It's the story of former-lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom Lydia Meadows, who is shocked on the first day of middle school to discover that her daughter is one of the popular girls. Lydia has always thought that popular girls were manipulative little "blonde bitches", yet her own daughter is decidedly brunette and unhighlighted and sweet and kind. One thing leads to another, of course, and eventually the moms become more obsessed with their daughter's social lives than they are. Set in an exclusive DC private school, this is a heartfelt and funny story about raising a daughter. (Would make a good Mother's Day gift, as would Kathy's mother-and-sons novel, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige.)

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting and refreshing to read a book about Popular Girls in which they weren't manipulative and scheming. (Actually, that behavior is left to their moms...) Because while I wasn't a Popular Girl, and there certainly were Popular Girls at my school who fit the mold, perhaps the truly most popular girls at my school seemed more like Lydia's daughter and her friends. Nice, friendly, and well-adjusted...and just happened to be the Girls-Everyone-Else-Wants-to-Be. And the ones who made my life most miserable back then weren't the Popular Girls at all, but rather, the girls who were supposedly my friends.

But you never see this in popular culture. The Popular Girls are always portrayed exactly like Lydia's stereotype: manipulative blonde bitches. (Or brunette...or redhead. But you get the point.)

Probably because it's so much more fun to write a Mean Girl rival for your heroine than a Nice Girl. We love to cheer for the hero and boo the villain. We especially love when she gets her comeuppance, particular if she's extra evil. We love to hate Penelope Hayes Schoonmaker in the Luxe series. We cheered when Veronica stole Heather Duke's red scrunchie in Heathers.

Who are some of your fave Mean Girls?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

And The Winner Is...

The winner of Lucienne Diver's new book, Vamped, is...

Jillian Clemmons

Congrats, Jillian! Please email your mailing address to me at kbrunori AT gmail DOT com.

Thanks and enjoy the book!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Interview With Lucienne Diver

Lucienne Diver is not just a super agent with the Knight Literary Agency, she's also a YA author. Her new book, Vamped, just came out! And one lucky commenter is going to win a copy!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay, it was Baltimore, Maryland. We moved to NY when I was five, and that’s where I grew up, reading anything I could get my hands on: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance. Not much has changed, except now I do it for profit as well as fun. I love agenting and writing, mostly because it makes me a part of the rarified world of publishing, which is ever challenging and never dull!

2. How did you get the inspiration for Vamped?
One day Gina (my heroine) just started speaking in my head. It was either see a shrink or give her a story. It was just supposed to be a short one, a vignette, really, but she wanted more. My writers group wanted more. This was the same writers group that was sometimes known to whap me over the head with rolled up manuscripts (you know who you are), so I knew they weren’t just being nice. So I gave Gina a novel. Now she wants a series. Beware newly minted vampire fashionistas…they’re out for blood!

3. What authors do you read?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Janet Evanovich, Laurell K. Hamilton, Aaron Elkins, Mary Stewart, and my own wonderful authors: Rachel Caine, Marjorie M. Liu, Rosemary Clement-Moore, David B. Coe, Faith Hunter, Susan Krinard, Diana Pharaoh Francis…. I could go on!

4. Who is your favorite character?
Ever? Wow, that’s tough. I’ve fallen in love with so many characters: Melanie Rawn’s Rohan from The Dragon Prince series, Lynn Flewelling’s Seregil, Carol Berg’s Seyonne, The Scarlet Pimpernel and, of course, the unattainable Sherlock Holmes.

5. What five things are always in your purse?
My wallet (hopefully!), a pen, something to write on (whether it be a notepad, an envelope or the back of my bank book, business cards and lint.

6. What music are you currently listening to?
I can’t listen to music and think enough to answer interview questions at the same time. I have this tendency to give whatever I’m doing my full attention and not work well with distractions. I was way better about that in college, where I could listen to music, watch tv, do homework and chew gum all at the same time.

7. Tell us about your pets?
We have two gerbils we won in a raffle that my son has named Charcoal and Smoky. Very descriptive. I can’t look at them without thinking of Stephanie Plum’s hamster Rex and wanting to give them a raisin. I think I’ll try it and see what they think.

8. One item of makeup you can't live without.
Powder. I like to be shiny in the Joss Whedon’s Firefly way only.

9. First thing you drink in the morning.

10. Best/worst prom/high school memory.
My best friend Liz and I double dated to our junior prom. My date drove. Now, you know all about my notorious sense of direction…or rather lack thereof. Well, the after-prom party was at my place. Guess which was the only car not to find our way? You guessed it. First, we started out the wrong way on a one-way street. After we pulled an illegal U-Turn and hyperventilated for a few minutes, we got going in the right direction…or so we thought. We ended up almost in New Jersey. By the time we made it to my place, my friends had rung the bell and thrown rocks at the house to wake my folks and then fallen asleep on our sofas waiting for us. I’m the hostess with the mostess, yes I am. I now let my husband give the directions, which is why I still have friends.

11. If you could go back in time and talk to the teenage you, what would you tell her?
Lord, I’d tell her to stop hiding the body I had then in big, bulky shirts. I look at the pictures of the old me now and wondered why I didn’t flaunt it when I had it! I’d also show her where a waist is supposed to be (i.e. not above the navel)!

12. What are you working on next?
I’m really excited about the middle grade idea I’m working on now from the point of view of a latchkey kid in New York City who gets embroiled in some strange and interesting things.

Monday, May 04, 2009

10 things I wish I'd known when I was younger

Okay, here are a few things I wish I'd actually listened to a few adults about when I was younger...

  1. If you're in love at 22 and planning to get married, then you'll still be in love at 30. Wait til you're 30 before you walk down the aisle.
  2. When you do get married, don't waste your money on a huge wedding. Elope with a few close friends/family members then throw a party. You'll actually enjoy it more and remember it! You can still take pretty pictures without spending multiple thousands of dollars.
  3. Less is more. This can be applied to everything from credit card debt, to personal belongings, to make up, to accessories.
  4. Every girl should own an appropriate little black dress that can be worn on any occasion.
  5. The moment you get a job, start saving a minimum of 10% from each check. Never stop doing this, no matter what. It could become a life-saving habit.
  6. If something or someone seems too good to be true, they probably are. Trust your instincts.
  7. If you are too insecure to trust yourself or make your own decisions, then you're not ready to get married.
  8. Work hard, play harder.
  9. Even if you've been victimized, you are not a victim.
  10. You can't please everyone so focus on pleasing yourself first and everything else will fall into place.
Of course this isn't everything you should know, but I definitely think these are good rules to live by. Otherwise, you'll be like me and sitting here at 40 thinking "If I knew then what I know now..."

Saturday, May 02, 2009

In the Company of Company

If you've been wondering where I'm hiding lately, I'm not. In another week or so a merry band of relatives (my father's sisters) will be arriving from Virginia and Tennessee. These women are wonderful, funny, warm, and incredible. I like them. Can you tell?

They are also all fantastic cooks. They're quilters, bakers, and probably candle-stick makers on the side. So no pressure.

Couple that with a lot of stuff going on in my life, my main squeeze being in Nova Scotia until next week, and a few complications with my critter-family, and I'm swamped. Yesterday was Beltane, one of my favorite holidays, and it's a bit of a circus around here.

On the up-side I happen to have inside information about The Fictionistas, and I can tell you all, gentle readers, that this joint is jumpin. So in slightly-belated celebration of May Day, I am making the following predictions for the summer:

Amanda Brice and Gwen Hayes are two milli-slivers from huge deals.
Rhonda Stapleton is headed for the best seller's list.
Mel Francis is headed for the best seller's list.
Kristen Painter is headed for the best seller's list, followed by a YA release that will top her adult best seller.
I'm going to try very, very hard to look like I belong around here... and hopefully do somewhere near as well.

SO anyway... I have chicken to fry, curtains to fix, floors to sweep, and a pleased grin to fak-- err-- wear. I'll be scarce, but only a thought and a prayer away.