Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Since the premise of my new YA was published in PM last week, I've had a lot of people emailing me about the secret hoarding that has touched their own lives. It seems that almost everyone knows someone who is a hoarder to whatever degree, but almost nobody talks about it. It is estimated to affect over 3 million American families, yet virtually everyone who grows up like this feels they are alone.

In a nutshell, the 'elevator pitch' for my book Dirty Little Secrets goes like this:
When 16 year-old Lucy arrives home to find her mother dead under a pile of National Geographics in their hoarded home, she has to make a snap decision: Does she call 911 and have the family's long-held secret exposed to the world, or does she try to 'fix' the problem before anyone finds out her mother is dead? Over the next 24 hours, Lucy digs in and discovers that everyone has secrets - some are just bigger and dirtier than others. Only she can decide what lengths she will go to to keep the secrets safe.

I'm not a hoarding expert, but in the course of writing the book, I met several people who are. There is a great hoarding community online called the Children of Hoarders. The woman that runs it is amazing and the people who are online have an enormous amount of knowledge about the disorder. They have resource information and what to look for in hoarding behavior. I urge anyone whose life has been touched by hoarding to go to the website. Just reading that you are not alone can be a really cathartic experience, although I warn you, the videos and stories can break your heart.

Squalor Survivors is another great website that can be invaluable in recognizing this disorder. They have a "degree" scale for hoarding, starting with a first degree hoarder who is simply getting behind in household tasks and the piles are starting to interfere with their life. They would be embarrased to let people in, but they would still have people over. The degrees go all the way to a fourth degree hoarder who is under a great deal of stress from the piles and mess that have caused a loss of habitability, loss of household functions such as plumbing or heat and presence of human or animal waste. Lucy's mother was a third degree hoarder.

As I was writing, the focus changed from simply telling an interesting story to making sure I got it right and recognizing the responsibility I had to the hoarding community. With the help of my experts and my new editor, I'm sure we will.

On this date: In 1955, James Dean died at age 24.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Techno Rant

I love technology, don't get me wrong. I can't imagine being a writer without the Internet. Blogs, writer's forums (not to mention my freelance career is entirely web based) and my beloved Google. My first book is set in nine different countries, and although I'd been to a few of the locations, most of them I wrote based on Internet descriptions and photos. Writing that book would have been near to impossible without the Internet.

People who know me know that I don't love my cell phone. Keep it charged, don't forget it, blah blah blah. I hate its insistent ringing when I'm doing something else, like talking to the cashier at the dry cleaners or picking up a book at the library - or listening to award winning author Patricia Polacco speak in a hushed room. Yes, I know you can set it to vibrate, but then I'd forget about it altogether. I always think that for the most part, people can leave me a message and I'll call them back when I get home. I'm not so important it can't wait. When 'the call' came from my agent I was smack in the middle of Target, and she was as surprised as I was that I actually picked up the phone (purely coincidence, I assure you). I couldn't squeal and jump up and down like I wanted to - instead I just hyperventilated until I was dizzy and we had to vacate the premises.

Now there's texting. I so don't get texting. I tried to write a texting scene in my last book, and got some tutoring from the teenager who was working the baseball snack bar with me. It was hopeless, so I just switched the scene to a cell phone. Now, texting while driving is going to be illegal in California. Go Arnold! Finally, a logical piece of legislation. Holding a tiny phone in both hands, pecking away at tiny little keys while steering with your knees and using your peripheral vision to see might be a wee bit dangerous. But wait! I heard on the radio this weekend that they are coming up with technology so that you can continue to text hands-free. That's right, you can call a number, speak into the phone and they will convert your message to text for the recipient. The recipient can do the same thing - they will convert their text to voice so that you can listen to it on your cell phone. Hold on to your hats people, we've had this technology already for several years. It's called the TELEPHONE! Talk to each other already. Sigh.

On this date: In 1907 Gene Autry was born.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I can finally put that in my subject line! Yay! This is the announcement that was in Publisher's Marketplace today:


Cynthia Jaynes Omololu's DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, in which the garbage-filled world of a 16 year-old girl comes crashing down around her even as she gets her first glimpse of what it might be like to be "normal" rather than living cloaked in the secret shame of her mom's out-of-control hoarding to Mary Kate Castellani at Walker, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (world).

From the minute I got the idea for this book, I loved it. Erin felt the same and never stopped cheering for me, even when I wallowed in angst. I had so much great help from the folks at the Children of Hoarders forum - special shout out to Donna Austin, my wonderful critique partners who gave their all in emergency critiquing and from my fabulous friends and family who never thought I was a joke. You guys rock!

Mary Kate is going to be a wonderful editor, and I can't wait to get started. She ran with the book right from the start, and it's so great to have someone so excited in your corner. So many of the editors who saw the book had such nice things to say that it just goes to show what a great group of people kidlit editors are. I wish I could have worked with all of them.

I have to go toast this news with a strong cup of coffee and get on with my day. Celebrating with champagne and caviar, you might wonder? Nope. Yard duty and soccer practice. Some things never change.

On this date: In 1957, West Side Story opens.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I See Fake People

Those who know me, know that I firmly believe that writing is a power greater than I am. I believe that the stories are already out there fully formed, just waiting to be uncovered and discovered. You try on pieces of the story, and when they're right they click, just like the pieces of a puzzle. Other than being a typist, I often have little to do with it.

The next book that I'm working on contains a lot of opera. I know nothing about opera, so I had coffee this morning with our local opera expert Mark. In a previous discussion, he had given me a few good suggestions, which included naming the secondary character Mimi after the character in La Boheme (which, I swear, I know nothing about). This is how our conversation went this morning:

Me: So I did name her Mimi. Well, that's what everyone calls her anyway. It turns out that her real name is Lydia, but she changed it.
Mark (looking at me funny): Wait, did I tell you the story?
Me: What story? You just suggested that I name her Mimi.
Mark (laughing): In the very first act, Mimi tells Rodolfo that her name is really Lucia, but everyone calls her Mimi.
Me: Huh. I didn't know that. Interesting...

Freakish, yes, but not surprising. Sometimes the fictional people take over my life.

On this date: In 1936, Jim Henson is born.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

King of the Dog Bed

If the Big Hairy Dog ever had delusions that he is the king of the house, they have been dashed recently.

Every time we have a set of kittens who get big enough, they take over his comfy bed and leave him on the hard floor. And every time he goes willingly.

On this date: In 1846, the planet Neptune is discovered.

Monday, September 22, 2008


John Green had a nice post on his blog today containing numerous quotes. I loved them, but it made me even more aware of a major deficiency - I have a memory like a pair of fishnets after Burning Man. Not only can I never remember stellar quotes, I can never remember the name of the person who said it. I read something and I think, God, that is great, I'll remember it for sure. Two minutes later..pftt, it's gone. I keep that great writing quote by E.L. Doctorow on my blog only because I'll lose it otherwise.

The interesting thing is that, like most people, I'm great with lyrics. I just put together a new CD for the car (including my new favorite Pink song, but not - to his chagrin- including some heavy-metal garbage from Psychosocial which is J's current fav) and there I was, singing along to a Smith's song that I haven't heard for 20ish years.

It too, has some quotable moments: And if a double-decker bus, crashes into us...to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten ton truck, kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine. See, I did that from memory. That amazing quote from Maya Angelou (I think it was her) I read in a magazine last night...gone.

Maybe if you hum a few bars, it'll come to me.

On this date: In 1862, Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Note to Self

When a child says he has a stomach ache, don't put him to bed on the top bunk. Vomiting, when done from a height of six feet, has a five-foot splat radius.

On this date: In 1973, Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes

Thursday, September 18, 2008


As a biracial family, we're always on the alert for racial questions, although they come up less often than you might think. I thought we were going there today on the walk to school:

T: You know, even though everybody thinks I'm more you, I'm half you and half Daddy.
Me: That's true...
T: Yeah. Like you know how both you and I are tall and we both wear glasses? Daddy doesn't. And Daddy and I both like tomatoes and spicy foods and you don't. So that makes me half you and half him.

Exactly right.

On this date: In 1960, The Twist hits number one.

Character Soundtracks

For my last book, fabbo Agent E sent me Priscilla Ahn's entire album which helped set the mood for the character. That character had a lot of issues going on and I love listening to the music and think about what she would do in a situation and where she would go.

For the next book I'm about to start (I am about to start actually writing it, I promise), one of the secondary characters picked her own themesong. It's Pink's new one So What. This kid is quite the bada**, and this is the perfect song for her as she rails not against a boyfriend but about all of the people who have let her down in life (and theyr've been a lot). Trouble is, I listen to it so much I can't get it out of my head. Good thing I like it, because it's playing in an endless loop 24 hours a day.

On this date: In 1970, Jimi Hendrix died.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Written in the Stars

This was my horoscope in yesterday's SF Chronicle:

It turns out you're not the apple of someone's eye. Ego-bruising to be sure, but you won't be left hanging for long. You've other takers.

If it's in the newspaper, it must be true.

On this date: In 1965, the Smothers Brothers debuted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hit or Miss

I was checking out of the grocery store today (not my usual grocery store, mind you) when the twentysomthing clerk referred to me as "miss". As in, "How are you today Miss?" I just looked at him because:
A. I was old enough to be his mother. I actually sat and figured it out. As long as he was under 27 (and I guarantee he was, because he was talking about going to State with the cute girl in the San Jose State sweatshirt right in front of me), I could have theoretically given birth to him.
B. Nobody has called me "miss"for over a decade. Not even those cutsie guys who are trying to get on your good side by carding you for buying wine. Please. My driver's license picture is older than they are.
C. It bugged me. When he said it a second time it really bugged me. I can only guess that this is because it was obviously said ironically. These guys probably sit in the back at the end of the shift and tell each other stories about the old ladies that blush when you call them "miss" like we all think we're being mistaken for one of their peers.

Or maybe he thought he was just being nice.

On this date: In 1620, the Mayflower left England.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What's in a Name?

Unfortunately, a lot. The right name can make a character lovable, vulnerable or distant. You could name the main character Hugo, Elmer or Jackson and even though it is the same character with the same issues, it will bring up different things for different people. In their lifetimes, most people only have to come up with names for a couple of kids (unless you're John and Kate), a few cats, a dog or two and miscellaneous goldfish. Writers have to come up with names for all of the characters in every book, main or not.

I say 'come up with' loosely, because it's more a process of deduction than creation. My characters seem to already have names and it's my job to figure out what they are. I tend to use my kid's elementary school directory for clues. I get a feeling for a character and try each name on - actually say it out loud to see if it's the right one. Is this kid a Cory or a Kevin? A Jasmin or an Emily? When you get close, the name settles down on a character like a nice winter coat that they parade around in and try on for size. If it seems to work, then I write it down in my handy-dandy story notebook so that I don't forget it. Now I have to find a last name to go with it.

I used to name characters based on names I liked rather than the names they liked. The first book I ever wrote contained a secondary character called Olivia, a name I wanted to use if I ever had girl children. Rather, I tried to call her Olivia, but apparently she insisted on being called Nina. It went on like that, jumping between Olivia when I was paying attention and Nina when I was so into the writing groove that I wasn't, until I just gave up and named her Nina for good. Now I'm a little wiser and save myself all of that "find and replace" nonsense.

On this date: In 1963, the First Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed, killing four schoolgirls.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Love Mondays

And I'm no longer a big fan of the Friday. Of course, I do like spending time with my family on the weekend, it's just that most of my weekends are spent watching this:

Which is okay, it's just that there is so much of it. But that's not the real reason. The real reason I don't love weekends anymore is that editors and agents tend to take the weekend off (I know, the gall). This means that there will be no exciting good news phone calls, no obsessive monitoring of email (okay, I still obsessively monitor emails, but I know realistically that nothing is coming) and the giddy feeling of possibility that greets me every morning has to wait.

Come Monday, everyone gets back to work and the possibility that everything can change starts all over again. Bring it on!

Happy soccer weekend to you all.

On this date: In 1963, Leave it to Beaver ended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saxophone Lessons

J has been playing alto sax in the band since last year, and since last year, we've been renting one for the lofty sum of $43 per month. Now that he's in middle school, he's decided to keep at it, so yesterday, thinking about how smart I was, I got on Craigslist and found a great alto sax for only $300. We went, he played and I shelled out the cash. He got his own sax, a backpack case for it and some music. Good move, right?

Fast forward to this afternoon, when he comes home from school all excited because the band teacher asked him if he would play tenor sax because he's doing so well. Sigh. Maybe T will want to play alto when he gets to fifth grade.

And so it goes.

On this date: In 1993, The X-Files premiered.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stuff I've Learned

One of the best things about being a writer is that you actually get to learn things through your research. The more you don't know about something, the more you have to research so that you don't look like a complete idiot and have some 11 year old call you out on the details. Here are some of the more interesting things I've learned over the years:
1. Raccoon daddies don't stick around. If you see more than one raccoon, it's a mama and babies.
2. How fast a body will decomp at just above freezing temperatures. You can watch fast-motion videos of pigs decomping on the internet. Thought I'd throw that out there in case you're having a slow night.
3. That I shouldn't try to write in rhyme. Ever.
4. The best way to strip the skeleton of an armadillo is using bugs in the backyard.
5. That the bony armor of an armadillo is called a scute. I used that word in Scrabble a couple of weeks ago, so that little detail has come in very handy.
6. You can go tandem hangliding just north of San Francisco. No lessons necessary, just strap yourself in and jump.
7. It takes one day, 19 hours and 20 minutes to take a bus from Austin to San Francisco.
8. Campus police can arrest you in Santa Barbara.
9. You need to open a window in the back of the house in order to get fire to spread there.
10. That there is a paid scholarship program for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera. That would have been so cool - if I could sing, of course.

On this date: In 1956, Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan.

Monday, September 8, 2008

LIttle By Little

So now that my new character Eli has begun dragging me into his drama, I've put off actually starting writing in favor of a little research. As you are supposed to write what you know, there are a few issues with this MS:
1. It is set somewhere in the midwest (or at least somewhere that has tornadoes). I've never been in a tornado, and the only place I've been in the midwest was Kansas City, and I didn't leave the hotel where the conference was being held.
2. It involves opera. I know less than nothing about opera. Luckily I know someone who does.

3. One of my secondary characters is a foster kid. I have to learn a little more about the system.
4. There is also some diving, karate, football, piano and baseball. Not really and expert on any of these. Sigh.

It's also a matter of commitment. Once I open a new computer file and start writing, I have to write 1k words per day (anyone remember the last MS?). This means that I have to make sure I'm not unduly distracted for the next month or two. Of course, I started the last book right before Thanksgiving last year (what was I thinking?), so that might just be an excuse.

On this date: In 1966, Star Trek premiered.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Process

The process of writing a new book is mysterious. I always have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head, things I've picked up in a magazine or heard about on the news. The last YA was inspired by a Marie Claire article I read on an airplane. These ideas have to percolate for a little while, until some sort of a plot starts to emerge and the main character begins asserting his or her personality. Sometimes I even get snippets of other characters too. At this point, I don't write anything down.

After a little while, one of the voices (hopefully the main character) really starts talking and developing a personality all their own. I usually start to hear conversations in my head, or sometimes even entire paragraphs of the character's inner thoughts. This happened to me last night, when I was in my favorite place - the bathtub. This particular character got to be so strong and opinionated that I had to hop out and start taking some notes. I was being fed so many good lines, it was time to start writing stuff down (someday, someone is going to invent waterproof pens and paper for just this purpose). By the time I was done, I had about two pages of quotes and maybe the first paragraph of the book. A few more notes on the other characters and the plot and I'll be ready to sit down and start writing.

So, this all sounds good right? That's exactly what you want to happen when you're trying to write a book. Yes, except for the fact that IT'S THE WRONG BOOK! I told Agent E that I was going to write a girl-centered YA. I had some of the basic plot points worked out and was going to start focusing on character when this other boy-centric mid-grade book popped up and asserted itself. The main character has not only told me his name and his nickname, but he's given me some really good lines to work with. As much as I try to focus on the other book, for right now it looks like he's going to win.

I know this all sounds crazy, but sometimes you have to take what you're given and run with it. Oh, BTW, his name is Eli. I kind of like it.

On this date: In 1940, my dad was born. Happy Birthday Dad!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Career Moves

It turns out that editor Cheryl Klein is looking for a few good interns. It's not paid, but you get to work with editors, do office stuff and get free books (not to mention college credits). Do you think that DH and the kids (and the cats, dog, kittens and turtles) mind if I take the next couple of months off, move to New York and work at Arthur Levine?

Ah, you're right, maybe that is another life in another time. Can't hurt to think about though, can it?

On this date: In 1957, On the Road is published.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Around the Dinner Table

T: So what part of the pig does turkey come from?

On this date: In 1966, the last episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet airs.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Due Dates

I've decided that waiting for a manuscript to sell is a lot like being 10 months pregnant:
* You know that something is going to happen, but you don't know exactly what kind of baby you're going to have or when.
* You overanalyze every little twinge - is this it?
* You get so tired of everyone asking why it hasn't happened yet.
* Unbecoming thoughts enter your head when you see other authors and their brand-new book babies while you're still lumbering along.
* Your mind is always elsewhere, no matter how much you try to be present.
* You picture your book baby in your head constantly.
* You have an excuse for being short with family members.
* Your ankles swell.

Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

On this date: In 1969, Star Trek's last episode airs.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Kidlit Community

I don't know what it's like in the world of adult writers, but the best thing about being a kidlit writer is the great community. Rather than every writer for themselves, everyone seems to bend over backwards to help, cheer and commiserate each other.

Thanks to my not-so-subtle kvetching on the blog, several other writers (thanks Debi and Maurene) have sent messages that have resulted in a couple of great leads for things I can do at home that don't stray too far from my likes and talents.

One of the best resources for kidlit writers is the Verla Kay writer board forums. Not only do the writers on that board have some great advice, they are soley responsible for getting my first book published as well as hooking me up with Agent E. My favorite (and occasionally the most painful) thread is "Good News" where people go to cheer on everything from finishing a book to getting a publishing deal.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - writing might be a solitary experience, but it can't be done alone.

On this date: In 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was found.