Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Ending

Thanks to Google Alerts, I stumbled upon a great blog by a mother and son who were both reading Dirty Little Secrets. At first they seemed to love it, but the last post was about how the son hated the ending. I mean hated. And I quote: "What a terrible ending!" I think I died a little inside. My heart was breaking and I wanted so badly to comment or email to explain, discuss, apologize. But I'm not going to. I have to let it go.

This blogger writes for VOYA which is big for librarians and teachers, plus I have a policy of not commenting on blogs or discussions about the book. I want readers to be free to be honest and say what they really think about the book and I think if authors comment, it feels a bit like we are looking over their e-shoulder. So I have to let it go, no matter how much it's paining me.

The ending of the book is going to cause a lot of discussion among readers I'm sure. The original ending was one of acceptance and understanding. Lucy finally understood a bit more about her mother and was able to forgive her for what they'd gone through. One of my "experts" (women who had grown up in hoarding situations) gently suggested (gently is a euphemism) the current ending. She insisted that someone who had grown up in a stage five hoarding situation wouldn't be able to come to terms with it that easily, if at all. The more I thought about it and the further I got into the book I saw that she was absolutely right. And thus was born the ending that Z absolutely hated.

I'm sorry if people hate it. I'm sorry if they feel betrayed. But I'm also absolutely sure that the story couldn't end any other way.

On this date: In 1971 Apollo 14 leaves for the moon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Exploitation or Information?

One of the first questions that people ask me is where I got the idea to write Dirty Little Secrets. The answer is simple - a magazine article on people who had grown up in hoarded homes. The second questions is usually: Did you grow up in a house like that? And the answer to that one is also simple. No.

While I have had some experience with hoarding issues, my house was always neat and clean. Except maybe my room in high school. My mom used to walk in there and ask where I kept my bed, but that's teenagers for you.

Way back when we were subbing the manuscript for DLS, one editor at a big publishing house was interested, but ultimately passed because she thought writing about hoarding might come off as exploitative. Honestly, it was the first time I thought about it that way, but it's been in the back of my mind ever since. Is writing about "issues" when you don't have them yourself exploitative? Is writing about anorexia or drug use or suicide exploitative if you aren't anorexic/drug addicted/suicidal? How about writing about vampires if you aren't one?

Unfortunately, there isn't really an easy answer. As much as I hate to admit it, there is a bit of exploitation in a lot of what we do. I think part of the attraction of Hoarders on A&E is that of voyeurism - how could people possibly live that way? In the backs of our minds, we feel a little creepy sitting back and watching people paw through their piles of junk trying to justify why they need to keep the 20 year old can of baked beans. People often ask me what I think of the show and as long as the participants go into it with their eyes open, it does shine a light on a disorder that nobody has talked about until now (for the record, I think they should keep minors off the show). I think that's healthy. But is it exploitative? Do they pick the worst, most disgusting, least empathetic characters sometimes just to get ratings? Sure.

The people I worry about reading DLS the most are people who have hoarding in their lives. I did a lot of work with several people who grew up in hoarded homes and they did a great job helping me get the details right. I've had several people who have lived with hoarders write me and tell me what an emotional read it was for them. DLS does not have a conventionally happy ending. There's very little understanding or revelation at the end. Lucy does not come to terms with her mother's disorder in a mere 24 hours, just like the participants of Hoarders aren't cured of the disorder once their houses have been cleaned in two days. The ending is shocking and real and perfect for her particular story. It may also upset some people in the hoarding community.

There are two definitions for the word exploit. One is simply to use something and one is to use it in a cruel or unjust manner. I didn't set out to negatively exploit people with a particular mental disorder. I saw it as a story about something that at the time was deeply underground. Nobody had written YA fiction about hoarding before, and to me that was the best reason in the world to write the book.

While I hope that people read DLS and enjoy it for the characters and the story, the best outcome for me would be to get people talking about their own difficult living situations. I'd love for the book to be a jumping off point for discussions both within the family and in school situations about all kinds of mental disorders.

In that way, I guess I did exploit hoarding for my own purposes. But I did it for all the right reasons.

On this date: In 1986, the Challenger exploded.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Excuses and Distractions

Sorry for the blog silence - we were up frolicking in the snow. Now I'm home frolicking with about 30 pounds of wet, dirty ski clothes. Such is the life of a not-really-famous writer.

We live about 3 1/2 hours from Lake Tahoe and for me the best part of going up to the snow is the fact that I get to leave when we're done. I can't imagine going through all the hassle that snow brings every day. I bow down to those who live in snow country.

While the kids were sledding, I decided to see if the whole rolling-a-snowball thing really worked. Apparently, it does. Except I don't know where to stop.

The ginormous snowball ended up as the bottom of a 6-foot tall snowman called Snowy. As I've said, I'm not good with names or titles. Quick, which is the hubby?

All of this is a major distraction to the fact that Dirty Little Secrets comes out in SIX DAYS! Ack! Interviews I've done are popping up around the web, including this one from Joelle Anthony that made me blush it was so nice and this great one by Julia Karr over at the Elevensies. There have been several reviews over the past few days and I really appreciate every single one. There is a giveaway organized by my publisher over on Goodreads that is on until January 31st. Get on over there if you want to win a free copy.

Now I just have to fill the next six days and decide how I'm going to spend next Tuesday. Should I get the kids off to school and then crawl back into bed? Go to local bookstores looking for copies only to be disappointed when people have never heard of it? Celebrate by having lunch with a friend (anyone free around noon?)? How does one properly celebrate a book birthday?

On this date: In 1976, Laverne and Shirley premiered.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lines in the Sand

Totally amazing. Watch it to the end - thanks to Ellen Hopkins for the link.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bad Reviews

I can read bad reviews no problem. As long as they are for somebody else's book.

With only 14 days to go (but who's counting - I'd get one of those countdown-widgety things but I'm sure I'd just sit staring at it) until DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS officially debuts, I'm furtively scanning the web for my first bad review which I will then attempt not to read under any circumstances. I'm right in the middle of my WIP (which is going swimmingly, thanks for asking) and that first scathing review will cause me to doubt every word that comes out of my laptop. But I know it will come. And I will crumble.

I have a confession to make - I read the bad reviews that other YA books get. A lot of them are the result of people in a bad mood, or people who don't understand YA or people who are just so depressed about their own writing that they can only lash out at someone who has a book in print. But some of them make valid points. Points about characterization or the pace of the plot. Points about love at first sight and the unrealistic expectation a lot of modern YA imposes on readers. Points that I'm trying to incorporate into my new book. I can learn a lot about writing from reading what isn't working for actual readers. As long as they're not talking about my baby.

In other news, pub house buddy Jen Nadol had her book birthday for the awesome The Mark today!

Yay! She's giving away all sorts of cool stuff on her blog, so if you want to win a free book or giftcard, head on over there and enter.

And in other other news, I also started Tweeting. I'm not very good at it, but feel free to follow me anyway. Just click on the link on the sidebar over there ------------------->

WIP Word Count: 39,951 ( That is ridiculous. I must get to 40k by the end of the day.)
Line of the day: I said nothing as he bent down and pressed his lips against mine in a kiss that felt like it was seventeen years overdue.

On this date:
In 1953, Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky.

Monday, January 18, 2010

So Many (Great) Books...

...and I have no time. I have to confess that I usually only read for 20 minutes a night. I hear all the time about people who whipped through a 200 page book in one sitting and I'm awed. I can whip through a 200 page book in ...oh about a week. This has become problematic because there are so many GREAT books out there these days.

Attention YA writers - stop writing so many awesome books. This is making my to-be-read pile exceedingly tall and I'm in danger of being concussed should the pile topple over. Every week more and more great titles are released and try as I might, I just have to go out and buy them and add them to the pile. Here is the self-imposed book-read order:

1. Critique partner books (there is usually a time limit on these)
2. ARCs by fellow Tenners that need to be sent on.
3. Books by people I'm going to see in the near future (I hate having dinner with someone having not read their book).
4. Books by people I "know" either in person or online.
5. Books that have gotten great buzz.

This makes for a huge pile:

For those of you who read the blog and are not in the biz, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning. You can watch them live online starting at 4:45am Pacific time. At that hour, the only thing I was watching live was a great dream that I can't share here, but I did get a rundown of the winners and this year the ALA outdid themselves. Such great picks - I can't wait to read them all! In years past, kids were forced to read the Newbery winner in class which would cause eye-rolling and grumbling. Not anymore. These picks are books that any kid will love! Some highlights include:

Caldecott: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (well deserved! A big shout out to my agency-sister Liz Garton Scanlon whose All The World won a Caldecott Honor)

Newbery: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Printz: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Morris Award: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan (yay!)

Coretta Scott King Author Award: Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Nelson

If you're looking for something to read, you can't go wrong with any of these. Of course, you could just come over and borrow something off the bottom of my pile. It' to be awhile.

On this date: In 1974, The Six Million Dollar Man debuted.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

True vs Real

The first thing pretty much everyone asks me after they've read Dirty Little Secrets is how much of it is true. You'd think that would be an easy question to answer, but it's really not. Much of it is true in that I did a lot of research into hoarding and used the stories of people who had grown up in a hoarding situation to make the situation in the book as true as I could. None of it is real in that the entire book is fictional and I didn't base any of the characters on anyone in particular.

Except one.

That's right - Teddy B actually exists and is at this moment sitting on the bookcase behind my "desk" (aka, the kitchen counter). My mom came to visit this week and brought me a surprise - the teddy bear that I made when I was a kid and who made it into the book intact as Teddy B. If you've read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, let me just assure you - Teddy B is real.

New Book Word Count: 36,285
Line of the Day: The fabric inside the jacket was still warm from his body and as I zipped it up I was enveloped in the earthy scent that was uniquely his.

On this date: In 1928, experimental TV sets are installed in three homes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And the Winner Is...

SNAZEL, commenter number 6! Please send my your snail mail address to and I'll send you the ARC of The Mark by Jen Nadol (you're going to love it).

Congratulations! And for everyone else, look for The Mark in stores near you in just over a week - next Tuesday, January 19th. Thanks for coming by and we both appreciate all of the great comments.

On this date: In 1908, Roosevelt makes the Grand Canyon a national monument.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Borders Original Voices

I'm so happy to announce that Dirty Little Secrets has been selected as a Borders Original Voices selection for the month of February! According to their website:

Borders Original Voices recognize fresh, compelling, and ambitious written works from new and emerging talents in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, kids' and teen books. We select innovative and inspiring new books from first-time authors, as well as works that represent a new direction for established authors.

DLS is starting to get some real support from both independent booksellers and some of the larger chains and I couldn't be happier. It's such a difficult subject but I feel like the book is being embraced by the reading community and it's completely thrilling! Thank you SO very much.

On this date: In 1935, Elvis Presley was born.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hittin' Thirty

Thirty years old? I wish. Nope, this thirty is a yay for hitting 30k on my work in progress. It's cranking right along and I'm still loving this story, which is good. Just wish I had more time every day to work. I could probably do this 10 hours a day if I just got rid of the family and all the other stuff I have to do.

I'm mostly blogging because my dad was complaining that I haven't been posting enough. Um Dad, (waves) I live about 20 minutes away from you. Feel free to come by and take me out to lunch to get the scoop in person.

Finalizing the date for the official launch party of Dirty Little Secrets which will probably be at the same place we launched the picture book last fall. I just found out that the release date of February 2nd is Ground Hog Day. Don't know why that amuses me, but it does.

WIP Word Count: 30,175
Line of the day: Doing her sales job from home meant that Mom was physically here but often mentally somewhere else.
Google Search: High School Sophomore reading list.

Please keep entering on the post below to win an ARC of Jen Nadol's The Mark. We'll unscientifically draw a name out of a hat on Monday.

On this date: In 1973, Schoolhouse Rock premiered. I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill...

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Mark - Review and Giveaway

If you knew that someone was going to die today, would you tell them? The Mark explores this question in an amazing story that is going to be published in just a few short weeks. Here is the excerpt about the book:

Sixteen-year old Cassie Renfield has seen the mark since forever: a glow around certain people as if a candle were held behind their back. The one time she pointed it out taught her not to do it again, so Cassie has kept quiet, considering its rare appearances odd, but insignificant. Until the day she watches a man die. Mining her memories, Cassie realizes she can see a person's imminent death. Not how or where, only when: today. Cassie searches her past, her philosophy lessons, even her new boyfriend for answers, always careful to hide her secret. How does the mark work? Why her? Most importantly, if you know today is someone's last, should you tell?

The first line from The Mark is: There is nothing like the gut-hollowing experience of watching someone die, especially when you know it's coming. Whew! From the very beginning I was hooked on this story. Cassie follows a guy with the mark off the bus and I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. We watch as she figures out what she has been seeing her whole life - the mark around a bunch of kids playing in a schoolyard and even a glow around her beloved grandmother. There have been a few "I see dead people" books out over the years, but don't be fooled - this one was completely different from anything I've read.
I have to admit - I'm picky with my YA. I get frustrated with unnatural dialogue or teen characters doing things that aren't in their nature, but there was none of that in this book. The dialogue was spot-on, the action was just right and best of all, the writing is fast-paced and intelligent, causing you to think hard about what you would do if you were in Cassie's situation.

There is a romance thread in The Mark, and that adds a second layer of excitement which Jen handles in an unexpected way - I was cheering when Cassie makes her hard decisions. Jen didn't opt for the easy way out and the effort really pays off in the book.

I love the premise of seeing a mark on someone when it's their day to die, and frankly when I read about it the first time I wished I'd thought of it first. Good thing I didn't, because Jen turned a good idea into an awesome book. You should go out and grab a copy when it debuts on January 19th - you can preorder it here (I already did because I want a hard copy for myself before it is covered with those pesky award stickers). Better yet, you can win an ARC from me (in full disclosure, we have the same publisher, although I would love The Mark no matter who put it out). All you have to do is go to Jen's cool website, and then come back here and tell me in the comments something that you notice about it. Anything - what is the background like? Something funny in her bio? Comment before midnight on January 10th and I will draw a random winner on January 11th from all of the comments and send it right along to you. This international contest is open to anyone over the age of 13.

You may notice on her blog that Jen is giving away an ARC of Dirty Little Secrets, so while you're there, go ahead and enter her contest too.
With the upcoming release of The Mark as well as other great books from the Tenners list, 2010 is shaping up to be a great year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Laptop

After almost four years of dogged service, it's time to retire my old laptop. Not such a big deal you say? Maybe - but I was one of those kids who had a hard time getting rid of stuffed animals because I didn't want to hurt their feelings. I'm having the same issue with my old pal here.

Yes, it's ridiculously slow no matter what we do to it. Yes, the D key has worn off, the Q doesn't work unless you jam at it, the mouse has completely worn through and the powercord connection is so touchy that if you bump it, you may not be able to get it to power up again. Ever. There are cookie crumbs from 2007 trapped between the keys. It weighs eight pounds and my shoulder hurts when I have to take it somewhere. It is time. I realize that.

My new laptop is pristine, lightening fast, weighs just four pounds and has fancy new Windows 7. I do like it a lot. I powered it up and downloaded all of my mail in under a minute, vs the 27 minutes it took me yesterday on my old one. It's cool.

But I still have the other laptop open next to me. Why? Because we've been through so much together. This was my very first laptop. The one that wrote all of my beginning not-for-human-eyes stories. It was the one that came to the conference in Kansas City with me where I met Agent E. I wrote Dirty Little Secrets and the first ten chapters of the new book on that old workhorse. I've researched everything from compulsive hoarding to Tudor England on it. I've gotten thousands of emails this baby - both the "no thanks, not for us" emails as well as the ones full of "yes, they'll take it" great news. When I got that laptop, almost nobody was Facebooking, Tweeting or even blogging. I've written 506 blog posts on it. Seeing it neglected makes me a bit sad.

I know I'll learn to love this new laptop. But I'm not getting rid of the old one. I'm going to tuck it away as a reminder of how far we've come together.

Happy 2010 and may all your laptops be fast!

On this date: In 1863, Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation.