Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Inspirational Laundry

I thought of the perfect title for the new paranormal/romance last night while I was folding laundry. Anyone who knows me knows that this has not been an easy task. Not the laundry. The title. In my notebook I have three pages, two columns each, full of titles. There is another notebook next to my bed for late-night inspiration. I've blogged about my title issues. I've gone through old song titles, Amazon listings and library bookshelves looking for inspiration. And then last night, somewhere between the towels and my son's grubby baseball pants, it hit me - the perfect title.

A lot of the time, that's how writing works. You can sit and stare at the laptop all you like, but the title/character name/plot point will never come. It's like having insomnia. You can lie there and stare at the little digital numbers change as long as you want, but it's not going to help. What does help is doing something to push your conscious mind out of the way so that the real work can get done.

Many writers talk about getting their best ideas in the shower somewhere between rinse and repeat. If I'm stuck, I usually take the dog for a walk (or fold laundry). Gardening, sweeping, even light dusting can all help free up your thinking so that you can reach that elusive 'aha' moment. I don't know if it's brain chemistry or magic, but whatever it is, it usually works.

Next time you're completely stuck, try getting up and doing something else. Don't have enough laundry? Come over and fold some of mine. I have enough inspiration in my hamper for a lengthy trilogy.

On this date: In 1997, Princess Diana dies.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Yes, it's Thursday. Yes, I promised that the LitChicks would happen on Thursdays. Yes, back to school, travel baseball, two soccer teams and hubs traveling are kicking my a**. But hey, it's still Thursday here on the west coast, so without further ado.....

Liesl Recommends:


I was a little hesitant to read this book when Cynthia lent it to us, but i was out of things to read and was like "Oh heck, how bad can it be?" let me tell you, it wasn't bad. i really liked it, and ask Portia, when i was done i was like “You need to read this, you need to read this”.

So, this book is about a girl named Molly who lives in the future (in the book the mom is talking about her mom and how she hadn't talked to her since 2028). Anyway...the world isn't doing the greatest economically and Molly is elected by her parents to go to Oregon (she's from Canada) to get her grandparents to come back with her and live with her family. She sets out on a long journey with nothing but her fiddle, jewels and a backpack of things including her dad’s almanac. She finally gets to her grandparents house and crazy stuff happens, she falls in love, takes care of these kids that live next door, gardens, and gets into a little trouble. In the end everything turns out good and i loved the ending!!

Portia’s Choice:


[I had to laugh when I saw that Portia picked this particular book, but I never said they couldn’t, so here goes.]

I'm not a suck-up, so I want everyone to know that me doing a review on Cynthia's book was purely accidental! Well, not entirely. I was browsing my house for a book that inspired me to reread it, and nothing was coming up. As you know, I came home from a long, tiring car ride to and from Southern California recently and am weary and lacking in library books and whatnot, so I was running around my house trying to find a book to read because I had a book review coming up, and let's face it--it would be really bad to miss one when we're only a month in. So, I saw Dirty Little Secrets on our bookshelf (our very own signed copy!) and thought I could read it. It's been a couple months since my last reading, and I remembered why I keep coming back to this book time and time again even though it is relatively new out.

I'm a little nervous about summarizing CJ's book to her face. Well, on her blog, but I'll give it her best shot because I already promised not to just type the jacket blurb. Only if I'm really desperate!

Dirty Little Secrets is a book about hoarding. Or rather, that's the central topic explored. Lucy is a sixteen year old girl (I think. You can never be too careful with ages, but she's in her junior year, I believe, so let's just call it sixteen) who lives along at home with her mother. Her mother has a hoarding problem. She never throws anything away. She buys everything as long as she gets a good deal for it. Clothes that no one will ever wear. Fancy mixers and kitchen supplies. Gifts for people that she'll never give. She keeps all her newspapers and magazines from years back to reread in case she missed some piece of information she might need. Their house is a disaster. The dishes in the kitchen sink are years old and covered in mold and fungus. Ancient meals and takeout dinners are sitting around and most are unidentifiable in their old age. Their refrigerator doesn't work so food is left on the sink to be eaten or not to be eaten. Their bathroom is barely usable if you could even get to it through all the piles of plain junk left everywhere.

Lucy is sick of living like an animal in a house that no one can ever see with a mom she's ashamed of. She only has 2 years until she can jet off far away to college and let her mom drown in her own filth, but she can't take it anymore. She finally has her first best friend in years and is determined to keep her. She has a crush on Josh Lee who asked her to come watch him play at a party. What she has is a shot at a normal life if she can only reach out and grab it.

The day Lucy comes home to find her mom dead in the hallway under a fallen 6 foot stack of National Geographic magazines is the day everything changes. What should she do? Obviously, Lucy can't just leave her dead mom lying there. So she decides to finally clean up! But it's not as easy as it might sound. She only has a few days if that before her mother's body starts to decay and she can't make it look suspicious. She must clean up years and decades of accumulated junk in under 100 hours. She must deal with a suspicious friend, an unexpected visit from her elder sister who is scary like her mom....., a invitation she must turn down, and all the trash in such a short time!

I know I have a history of giving incredible amounts of spoilers that Cynthia must cut out, so I won't do that with this book, but I thought then ending was perfect! I'm very picky about endings and hard to please, but the ending to Dirty Little Secrets fit the book perfectly. It wrapped up everything nicely and was so unexpected! I think the last few chapters were my favorite. I was really fascinated by the house, though. I loved the idea of hoarding in a book because I had never read anything about it. The whole grotesqueness of the way they lived was interesting to me and I could have read pages and pages about it, but I guess that wasn't the point of the book. I liked the little coffee shop scene too. :) I know I sound like a suck up, but I really liked this book. It was different, it was unexpected, it was suspenseful, it was cute, it was the type of book that made you hold your breath and release and hold your breath some more! If you haven't gotten around to reading it, even though you apparently read Cynthia's blog and see her little ad every week, then I suggest you get around to it! She knows what she's doing! Maybe that's because she has us! *angelic smiles* (If I may have my moment of bragging.) :)

On this date: In 1980, Macaulay Culkin was born.

Monday, August 23, 2010


About a month ago I bumped into an upcoming memoir called DIRTY SECRET: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl. That led to some emails between the two of us and finally an interview that she has just posted on her blog with your's truly.

While I think my DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS is a good and accurate portrayal of what growing up in a hoarded home would be like, it is a work of fiction. I've always hoped that someone would be able to write a memoir about their life in a hoarded home and Jessie has done just that. Not only can she give a first person spin on the subject, but she's a professional writer as well, so I'm sure it will be a great read. Jessie's DIRTY SECRET comes out in December and I can't wait to read it. We're both hoping that any name confusion will end up benefiting us both. Looking for that fictional book about hoarding? Here, try this memoir as well!

On this date: In 1970, Lou Reed played his last show with The Velvet Underground.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Despite the fact that they are on a long car trip, the LitChicks came through for us once again with some great recommendations:

Liesl Likes:

THROWING LIKE A GIRL by Weezie Kerr Mackey

I LOVE LOVE LOVE books about girls who play sports and when i found this book i was like "MUst REad!!", so i read it and loved it! This book is about this girl who moves to Texas and doesn't exactly fit in. She is missing her friends and doesn't have any friends and so in P.E. one day they were playing a basketball and her teacher tells her that she is a natural athlete and that she should try out for girls softball... well she does and she throws herself into it and becomes an great team player and a starting 1st baseman. In the midst of other drama ('cause what’s a book without drama?) definitely read it even if you don't like or play sports because it has so much more in it. I found myself being happy when she succeeded and sad when something didn't go right. As the reviews always say " it was a gripping story" - so go read it!!!

Portia’s Pick:

ALONG FOR THE RIDE by Sarah Dessen

My sister, Liesl, is a girl who really loves those chicky-type books. Sarah Dessen and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and all those cutesy books. While I appreciate a good chick book, but usually leave them to Liesl. I read this one however - Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. I'm not sure how I came by this book; I think it might have been one of the many that Cynthia the amazing has dumped on us to read, but it was worth it! When my friend lent me this book for my recent 6 hour road trip, I knew I had to do a book review on it! It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was just about the only YA book that I brought! :)

Along for the Ride is a cute book about a girl, Auden, who decides to spend the summer before college with her father and his new wife and baby in a little beach town. While there, she stumbles into a job at a girly clothing shop (so not her style), babysitting her newborn sister (so not her forte), and a late night relationship with fellow insomniac ex-bikerider Eli (she didn't know his best friend died in a car accident recently and he was in mourning!).

I don't know what else to say about this book without making it pages long, but the summer away from her controlling mother, stressful schoolwork, distracted father, colicky sister, and frazzled stepmother is an opportunity for growth and experimenting with what she wants to do with her life. I liked that it was a chicky book that still made you think about life. I really like books like that, and Sarah Dessen does a really good job with combining the 2 styles.

Thank you ladies! See you next week.
On this date: In 1964, The Beatles kicked off their first American tour.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SCBWI LA - So How Was It?

A few weeks ago I went to my first big national kidlit writers conference AND I LOVED IT! It was so amazing to be in a hotel full of people who totally 'got' everything you are going through. If you're a writer and have ever thought about going, you should. To get a taste of how things went, head over to the official SCBWI blog and Rita Crayon Huang's blog - she had a camera around her neck the entire time and took some awesome photos.

Robin Mellom, Gordon Korman and me!
Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

Lee Wind, Robin, Thalia Chaltas and guess who?
Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

The festive Eve Porinchak, me and Robin.
Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

Some highlights included dancing with M.T. Anderson at the gala. Okay, I didn't exactly dance with him so much as danced next to him, but whatever. Going to dinner with Lee Wind and feeling like I'd known him all my life. Meeting my new bestie Thalia Chaltas and hanging with roomie extrordinaire Robin Mellom and her bestie Eve Porinchak. Meeting so many people that I 'knew' from the Internet. Discovering that contrary to preconceptions, Shelli Johannes-Wells does not drink cosmos, but instead prefers dirty martinis.

The actual seminars and keynotes were great and inspirational, particularly the rousing speech by Ashley Bryan and getting to meet Gennifer Choldenko and Gordon Korman who are both my son's heroes. It was like a giant, four day slumber party with people you've always wanted to spend hours talking with. I highly recommend it!

Lindsey Leavitt, me, Guadalupe McCall, Kim Derting

With Greg Pincus

Jen Cervantes, Christina Gonzales, me

Me, Shelli Johannes-Wells, Robin

On this date: In 1958 Nabokov's LOLITA is published.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Things Writers Wish Their Agents Knew

Writers are neurotic, needy people. There, I said it. For an industry that requires a thick skin for rejections and bad reviews, the people that inhabit it seem to be made of Kleenex. I know of what I speak, although none of these suggestions are based on my relationship with the lovely Agent E. She is perfect.

A lot of times in the very complicated agent/author relationship, a mountain is made of a teeny tiny molehill. A molehill which writers are often too uncomfortable to address. I've seen many writer/agent relationships go south over some little point that blows up into a big split that could have been taken care of with a few seconds worth of communication. I've seen a lot of marriages end that way too, but that is another blog post altogether.

I get to talk to a lot of agents at conferences and online and it amazes me what they don't know about us, so I thought I'd put together a little list of things we wish agents knew in an attempt to avoid the future growth of molehills.

* We want you to have a web presence. I see a lot of posts about how authors should have some sort of web presence so that people can find out more about you. Right backatcha. Writers love to see their agents online, flogging their good news, showing their covers and generally cheerleading for their clients. You don't have to be Nathan Bransford or Kristin Nelson (who have awesome and informative blogs), but we'd love to see a little something. Facebook, Twitter, blog or just have a website with info you update every now and then. It's 2010, and all the cool kids are doing it.

* Our book birthday is whatever Amazon says it is. Like most other aspects of modern life, Amazon rules. I've talked to several agents who like to think of a book release week or month rather than a specific day. Yeah, no. Amazon posts the day they say your book comes out and that date gets cemented in the minds of everyone who is paying attention. Bloggers make countdown widgets for that day. Twitter book birthday parties are celebrated on that day. Trust me, IT IS A BIG DEAL. You don't have to send flowers or champagne that day (although I'm sure we wouldn't say no to the delivery guy), but do send at least an email that morning with some congratulatory thing in it. Other people will, and yours will be missed.

* We have a 24 hour window for answering emails before we start freaking out. We need constant reassurance that we matter, and if we send an angsty email that doesn't get answered for days we jump to the worst conclusion we can think of. You've dropped us and forgot to tell us about it. Nobody but nobody will ever want to buy our book. We'd better not quit our day job because we'll never sell another thing. The fact that you're really really busy won't really occur to us until later. I know an agent who regularly answers client emails with "Sure" or "Nope". That'll do.

*Bad things can happen if you forward rejections when we really can't take it. Or don't send us rejections hoping to spare our feelings when we are control freaks and want to know about every detail. Probably best to ask.

I'm sure there are more - feel free to contribute (you can post anonymously) additional suggestions.

On this date: In 1991, My Own Private Idaho debuts.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Win a Copy of DLS!

Lovely book blogger Liz is giving away a copy of my book over on her blog - if you want one, head on over there and check it out. It's open to international entries (which doesn't happen often), so if you're out of the country, even better!

On this date: In 1982, Fast Times at Ridgemont High debuts.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Although they're busy, the girls found time to send me their recommendations this week. Thanks guys!

Liesl’s Choice this week:

A SOFT PLACE TO LAND by Susan Rebecca White
Here's the story behind this book. The geek that I am did the summer reading program at our library this past summer. As a prize for getting points, you can pick out of a bunch of ARCs that were 10 points each. I had 20 points and was with a friend and being rushed in my decision, I grabbed this and one other that I had read before. Anyway, after reading the book that I was already reading, I started this one and couldn't put it down.

This book was about two sisters whose parents die in a plane crash over the Grand Canyon. The sisters had been inseparable, and in their parents plans it had been left that Julia (the older of the 2) would go to Virginia with her birth dad, and that Ruthie (the younger) would go to San Francisco with her dad’s sister and husband. Since the two sisters were so close, it was heartbreaking for them so be separated and they plotted and wrote letters and tried to get themselves to live together.

Anyway...they never end up living together and because of it, they kind of drift apart. In the 9/11 terrorist attack, Julia happened to be in New York, and so when Ruthie and Julia finally get ahold of each other they realize how much they need each other and it brings their relationship back to where it had been.

This is a really beautifully written book and being a sister it really was something that I could relate to. It is definitely a must read, and its kinda funny reading about San Francisco - we live right here!

Portia’s Pick:

LINGER by Maggie Stiefvater

I know we've all read Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, so we're all dreadfully excited that Linger has arrived!

When my sisters, mom, and I dropped by Cynthia's the other day to bring her a borrowed alto sax, books, and carrot cake, she accidentally let slip that she had the next book--Linger--and then asked if Liesl and I wanted it to borrow it. I'm quite sure we didn't mean to shout, but our resounding, "YES!!!" (PS, jinx, Liesl!) was a bit loud. Anyway, Cynthia went and fetched said book for us, and I grabbed it, and I'm sure we were looking at it in awe and wonder--almost scared to open it because we had waited so long.......but no more!

Linger--for those poor book-malnourished souls who have yet to read Shiver (and if you fall into this category, go read it! There is a library located conveniently close to us here and Amazon is right online!)--Linger is the sequel to the suspenseful novel, Shiver. Because it's a sequel, I have to give you a bit of background so you can understand everything in Shiver. This happens when you're reviewing a book that comes out after another and is related and has the same characters and a continuing storyline. So you should be happy I did not choose to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (AKA number 7), though I may when the movie comes out in November!

Shiver followed main characters Grace (the girl) and Sam (the boy werewolf) through the first stages of their relationship. Grace has watched the woods her entire childhood, and loves the wolves that live behind her house even though they attacked her when she was about 7. She is drawn to one wolf in particular. "Her wolf," the one with yellow eyes that seem to stare straight at her. Sam has watched the girl his entire childhood through the eyes of a wolf. He is the wolf. Bitten when he was seven, Sam lives in the woods behind Grace's house in the winter with his pack, only turning human with a few others when during the summer months when there is hot weather.

When Grace is 17 and Sam is 18, they first meet each other as humans. Sam was shot as a wolf and shifted to human when Grace found him. She brought him to the hospital, where they treat him as much as possible before Sam and Grace run away. (The majority of the human population does not believe in quickly healing werewolves.) Grace brings Sam back to her house (I warn that this is not a good idea to do in real life, as it will not be taken well by your parents), and they figure out that Sam is Grace's wolf, and eventually they fall in love, la-di-da. It's all very happy, and they aren't found out by Grace's parents, even though Sam is sleeping in her bed (just sleeping). But, the catch is that it's almost winter, the weather is getting colder, and it's Sam's last year shifting to human. Sam fights to retain his humanity and find a cure, Grace fights to keep Sam human and find a cure, and there are some other characters. Jack--the new werewolf--, Jack's sister Isabel, Grace's friend, Olivia, and Sam's almost father, Beck.

[Cynthia: Sorry Portia, I took out the spoiler here! Let’s just say that Sam shows up in the second book.]

Linger is told through first person perspective, but the perspective shifts every few pages from Grace to Sam to Isabel to a new werewolf, Cole. I really like the changing perspective, though I know some people can find it confusing. It offers a better coverage of the story to the reader because you get background of every character and know what they're thinking, hiding, and how they react to the different situations. It can get maddening, though, when the characters misunderstand each other, or don't recognize something and you know what's going on, and you think they're pretty thick.

In this book, Isabel is trying to cope with the death of her brother and come to believe that it's not her fault--though she thinks it is--while also trying not to fall for the new werewolf, Cole. Cole is trying to run away from his horrible past life as front singer and keyboardist of the teen band, NARKOTIKA, and trying not to fall for Isabel. Grace is getting sick, and she doesn't know what it is. She's getting headaches and stomach aches and fevers, is always tired, and is trying to hide is all and downplay it so Sam doesn't worry. She's also starting to rebel against her suddenly controlling parents. Sam is starting to worry about Grace, but is also having trouble believing in his cure, and accepting that he is going to stay human no matter how cold it is outside. He doesn't want to deal with Cole and leading the werewolf pack.

I'm not going to run through every little thing in the story, as that would take too much time, give away too much, and you would all get bored, but I've covered the four main characters main struggles as much as you need. The end was very surprising, unexpected, but also not (I admire people who can write endings like that), as happy as Shiver's. That's all I will say. But I sincerely hope there is a next book as my sanity desperately needs it. :)

[Cynthia: Portia, you’re in luck! FOREVER, the third and final book comes out next year.]

On this date: In 1973, American Graffiti was released.