Friday, December 2, 2011

And the Winner Is.....

MELINDA! (mbuttars83) You get the ARC of DITCHED, some bookmarks and super cute punk fairy tattoos.

Winners of the bookmarks and tattoos are:
Small Review
Julie@My 5 Monkeys
Pam Harris

Congratulations to all of you!!!

Send your actual mailing addy to and I'll get your prizes right out to you. If you didn't win, look for DITCHED on sale in January!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giveaway-DITCHED by Robin Mellom

This is one of my very BFF's Robin Mellom:

Why yes, that is Gordon Korman in between us, but that is another story for another day. Robin is cute and smart and funny...all of the things that would make me hate her if I didn't like her so much. She also wrote a book called DITCHED that is coming out on January 10.

Justina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing. So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her.

Ian, who always passed her the baseball bat handle first.

Ian, who knew exactly when she needed red licorice.

Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.

And then ditched her.

Now, she must piece together stain-by-stain on her thrift store dress—exactly how she ended up dateless…with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven. But to get to the whole story, Justina will have to face the boy who ditched her. Can losing out at her prom ultimately lead to finding true love?

I'm always afraid to read books written by friends of mine. What if I don't like it? What if I have to avoid the subject every time I see them? Lucky for me, DITCHED is AWESOME, because otherwise it would be hard to just fake my enthusiasm for the next couple of years. And it is. Awesome. Fun and funny, quirky and poignant in all the right places. The premise is new and the writing is great - nobody else could make time spent in a 7-11 so riveting. I was dying to find out what happens to Justina and Ian and the end made me say awwww out loud.

Robin gave me one of her precious ARCs and has authorized me to give it away to one of you lucky blog readers. She also sent me some of the cool custom punk fairy tattoos (you have to read the book for this part to make sense), so in addition to the book, I will give away tattoos and bookmarks to 5 additional readers.

Comment before midnight on December 1st and I'll draw a random winner of the ARC and five more winners for the tattoos and bookmarks. You don't even have to say anything funny - just leave your name for the drawing. This international contest is open to anyone over the age of 13.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cover Lovin'

I don't think there is any email subject line that can stop a writer's heart faster than "Here's your cover!". Most readers don't realize that authors aren't in charge of their covers and in many cases don't have any say at all. I'm happy that my publisher has kept me in the loop about my cover and often asks for my suggestions. Hopefully, we'll have a final cover to reveal here soon, but in the meantime, here are some of the covers that have been released in the past few weeks that I just love:

The only thing I can safely say about the cover for TRANSCENDENCE is that it won't have a girl in a pretty dress on the cover. Not because I'm against girls in pretty dresses, but Cole is more of a jeans-and-Vans girl. At least until book 2.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Ah, the two sweetest words in the English language - The End! I got to type those this afternoon and I feel like exhaled for the first time since late August.

The stats:

Days it took to complete first draft: 71
Length of first draft: 84,704 words
Average words per day: 1,193
Days skipped: 0
Days that I wanted to skip: 68
Coffee consumed: 177.5 large ones
Head-Desk sighs of frustration: countless
Number of times Naive by The Kooks was listened to: 234.3
Emergency email/texts to my support system (aka Daisy Whitney): 45 (approx)
Number of those occurring after midnight: a lot

At the end of the process, this is what the back of my sad, worn notebook looks like, full of food stains and coffee splotches:

And this is the infamous cork board, all filled up and happy:

So what's next? Well, tonight I'm going to sit down and watch my DVR'd episodes of Modern Family, Big Bang Theory and Hoarders. Tomorrow, I'm going to open the file to page 1 and start all over again, taking out the horrible parts and adding in some (hopeful) brilliance. If past experience is any guide, I'll probably take out several thousand words, but end up with about 10k more than I have now. Chapters will get switched around, threads will be deleted and expanded and characters may or may not survive to the final draft.

Yeah, in other words, the hard work has just begun.

Friday, October 28, 2011

So...How's It Goin?

As of this minute - 78,713 words and counting, or 259 pages for the normal people in the audience. Which means I'm about 10k from the end of the first draft of this book! I'm on Chapter 28, and I know what's going to happen for the next two chapters, which is always a relief. I have to say, forcing myself to sit down and write 1k every day has really worked, better than anything else I've ever tried.

I'll keep you posted when I type those two magic words that start with T and E. At which point I get to start over on page 1 and make it good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Can Officially Die Happy

Why yes, that is DLS featured in our Scholastic Book Fair!!!!!!!!
(Dear Scholastic, I'm afraid the poster for Dirty Little Secrets was misplaced as we packed up the book fair....)

Putting My Word Count Where My Mouth Is

So I made a big deal a few weeks ago about writing 1k per day, every day in order to finish a book. In case you missed it, that post is here. People have been asking how I'm doing on the sequel to TRANSCENDENCE, and as someone famous once said, a picture is worth a bunch of words:

30,602 words to be exact (I added another thousand last night after I took this scan. Don't mind the coffee stain on the right side of my notebook. I blame the cat.) I'm happy to say I'm on track to finish this draft before Thanksgiving, unless it ends up a whole lot longer than I have planned. Are all of the words good? Nope. But they exist and for me, it's so much easier to fix stuff than create stuff.

Some of these words were REALLY hard to do. The words on 9/7 were written in a hotel room at a resort where we were celebrating my dad's birthday. The ones on both the 10th and the 17th were written in the car while my kid warmed up for his soccer game. More than a couple of thousand were technically written after midnight, but I counted them as I hadn't been to bed yet. More than once I thought about blowing it off for the day, because after all, this draft isn't actually due for quite a while. What's the harm? But I know that if I skip one day, it's going to be so easy to skip the day after that and I really want to keep on schedule. This weekend is going to be a blur of baseball and soccer tournaments (I don't know about you, but leaving the house at 5:30 on a Saturday morning is not my idea of fun) and it's going to be really hard to get the count in, but I'm going to do everything I can to get them done.

How about you? How's your draft going?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have a confession to make - Susan Vaught is one of my literary heroes. Her novel TRIGGER was a huge inspiration when I started writing YA, and a seminar I took from her years ago still resonates every time I have to write a killer synopsis (which I can now do because of what I learned from Susan). Her books take hot topics and turn them into intensely personal stories (BIG FAT MANIFESTO, EXPOSED). When I found out she was writing a YA about sexting and the repercussions of laws that don't keep up with today's reality, I had to get an advance copy.

I don't cry easily. It seriously took most of Titanic before I shed a tear, but by the end of her new book GOING UNDERGROUND, I was sniffing and wiping away tears in a good way. I really fell for her main character and the difficult and ridiculous situation the all-knowing adults around him have put him in (I have to say, the parents got off pretty well in this book. The law and those who enforce it rightfully don't) and what it does to his psyche and his future.

Here is a snapshot of GOING UNDERGROUND:

Del is a good kid who's been caught in horrible circumstances. At seventeen, he's trying to put his life together after an incident in his past that made him a social outcast-and a felon. As a result, he can't get into college; the only job he can find is digging graves; and when he finally meets a girl he might fall in love with, there's a sea of complications that threatens to bring the world crashing down around him again. But what has Del done? In flashbacks to Del's fourteenth year, we slowly learn the truth: his girlfriend texted him a revealing photo of herself, a teacher confiscated his phone, and soon the police were involved.
Basing her story on real-life cases of teens in trouble with the law for texting explicit photos, Susan Vaught has created a moving portrait of an immensely likable character caught in a highly controversial legal scenario.

These are the first lines of the new book:
Dead zones are places without life, without feeling, without air. I've seen them in pictures of polluted oceans and read about them in descriptions of the cold void of space. Sometimes I think parts of my body have turned silent and dark like those pictures and descriptions. Sometimes I think I've become a dead zone.

I told you her writing was amazing. I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan recently and asked her a few questions about the book.: As the parent of teen and pre-teen boys this was a topic that really hit home for me. How do you think having kids of your own changed the topics you write about or the way you write fiction?

My childrens' enjoyment of stories inspired me to start writing for children and young adults, and whenever I write fantasy, my son's tastes definitely weigh into the equation. My daughter is the contemporary literature fan, as is her best friend, who is now a high school teacher. I think about them as well. At times, I explore topics that were fears of mine when my kids were younger, or I imagine how I'd deal with newer-to-the-world issues now, if my children were still young. I believe I tune into injustice more quickly, because kids, teens, and young adults have a hard enough time surviving to adulthood without being strangled by the mistakes and shortcomings of adults.

I think my favorite lines of Del's are toward the end where he's explaining his situation in a letter to a college admissions officer; " personhood got revoked. I got kicked out of society. It felt like getting kicked off the world." My heart was just breaking for him and I was so angry at the outcome of such a ridiculous situation. Do you think things are getting better legally with Romeo and Juliet laws?

Some states are, some states aren't. I really wish it could be addressed at a federal level, and I believe we have to find some way to keep up with technology, and to focus more on real protection and safety issues for teens and young adults vs. trying to legally enforce morality. This last is the socially sensitive issue, I know, but it drives me insane when kids lose their futures because of ridiculous laws or legal decisions, or the over-legalization of the normal mistakes kids, teens, and young adults make. Sooner or later we have to face the fact that we have essentially criminalized consensual sexual activity between teens--something no society ever in time has been able to control--and we are ripping futures away from teens and young adults because we can't a) keep up with technology that they are mastering faster than we do, and b) get our act together on accepting the fact that teens think about and experiment with sex. I'm not saying don't have rules, don't educate them, don't attempt to dissuade them, don't have consequences (within the family group)--just, how about let's not send them to jail and prison and put them on sex offender registries for life for falling in love or doing the modern technological equivalent of "playing doctor."

I know you were inspired by some of the cases you worked with as a psychiatrist - what other research did you have to do to make the book ring true?

I researched age of consent laws in various states, researched cases where children have been convicted of sex offenses based on sexting, and spoke to a district attorney. I remember one question I asked the DA--what if two teens, one under the age of consent by one day and one over the age of consent by one day had sexual contact? Would you prosecute? The DA said, "I wouldn't in that situation, but if a parent chose to press charges, I wouldn't have a choice." I then asked her if she had seen cases like that, and she got tears in her eyes, nodded, and didn't answer out loud. That made quite an impression.

My favorite part of writing are the 'happy accidents' that come while you're writing when a character or situation just shows up. Did you have any 'accidents' that made it into the book?

The inclusion of Fred the parrot and the rescued animals happened by accident. That was nowhere in my outline when I started, but my own parrot was plucking my nerves (and my hair) while I was writing the first couple of chapters, and shortly thereafter, Fred the parrot stormed into the narrative.

In spite of having a difficult real world job, you write so many great books - what's up next for Susan Vaught?

I have one manuscript completed and in the editing process. My title for it is FREAK, but that may change. FREAK is told through the eyes of Jason, a young man with schizophrenia. When his best friend and maybe girlfriend Sunshine disappears, he knows he has to find her--even though the police and the FBI consider him the primary suspect. His voices and distorted perceptions confuse him and make him doubt himself, but he'll never give up, not if there's the tiniest chance of finding her alive--but Sunshine's time is fast running out.

I also have another manuscript still in the revision/writing process. It's a contemporary romance with some . . . unusual . . . fantasy elements. :)

Thanks Susan! Find out more about Susan and all of her books here. GOING UNDERGROUND is an important book for anyone to read, but I think it is particularly eye-opening for the parents of teen boys. And it's on sale TODAY!!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hoarding Resources

After writing DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, I made some amazing connections in the hoarding community. One of them is Geralin Thomas who is a wonderful organizer and one of the key players on A&E's show Hoarders. Today on her blog is a fabulous list of resources for books and DVDs on hoarding. Check it out with this link. Interestingly, there is only one fiction book on it (yeah, it's mine). Apparently more people should be writing about this subject for all age groups - get on it people.

Friday, September 2, 2011

...And Another Thing

I'm so glad that some people have found that last post helpful. One thing I forgot to mention that I think is key in the process of maintaining forward momentum - stop writing in the middle of something exciting. That tiny piece of advice has saved me countless hours of staring at a blank screen. Just when the scene really gets going, when you can't wait to write the next part because you know it's going to be awesome, when you've flown past your word count for the day and are on to a new personal best...hit Save and close the file. Sounds crazy I know, but it works and that excitement is what is going to carry you on to the next day's writing session.

I love the scene I wrote yesterday - a bunch of them go to a snooty party and I knew that Griffon and Cole were going to have a really heavy make-out scene up on the roof of the building looking over the lights of San Francisco (sorry to all of you who hate romancy stuff - these books are full of it). This is the point in the book where we see all of the good stuff happen before the shit hits the fan (Beat 4,: The Catalyst, for those of you SAVE THE CAT fans out there) and I was really looking forward to writing it. I wrote the beginning of the party, some cool stuff happens, and then just as Griffon was reaching for Cole's hand, I stopped. Closed it up and drove the kid to guitar lessons. I've been thinking about the next scene ever since - picturing it in my head and tweaking it here and there to make it even better - and now I get to sit down today and write it.

Just after that scene, there's a little bit of a cliffhanger where Cole bumps into another major character in the hallway and a big 'dum dum dum' is revealed. Yeah, you guessed it, I'm saving that scene for tomorrow. And am I writing on Labor Day? You betcha.

Have a great weekend everyone, but don't forget to squeeze in your 1k!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Write a Novel in 90 Days (or Less!)

So I'm about 8, 000 words into the sequel to TRANSCENDENCE (still a little bit of a thrill to actually write that) and it's occurred to me that I've learned a few things since I sat down to write my first book that might possibly be helpful to someone.

I have people come up to me all the time and ask how to write a book. My standard answer is that I don't know. Because I don't. For me, writing is like seeing a movie in my head and writing down what happens. But then I started to think, that, except for the magic part of the whole thing, I actually do know how to write a book because I've done it four times already (yes, I only have one novel published and one coming out next year - your math isn't wrong). And I have a guaranteed way to do it in 90 days. I wrote both DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS and TRANSCENDENCE in about three months each. (So what do I do with the rest of my time? It's called authoring, as opposed to writing, but that's another topic for another day.)

And the secret is...are you ready for it?....write 1,000 words a day, every day, no matter what. Thanks for reading, I hope that helps.

Wait, what? You need a little more? Okay, there actually are some guidelines for this groundbreaking butt-in-chair writing method.

1. Commit to write 1,000 words a day. I pick this number because honestly, it's not that much. Maybe an hour, maybe an hour and a half if I don't know exactly what's going to happen. 1,000 words in a standard, double-spaced manuscript with an average amount of dialogue is about 3 pages. You can do three pages, can't you? If you write really slowly (I always say that the typing course I took in 8th grade was the single most helpful thing I ever did), then you can change your word count to something like 500 words a day, but that moves you on to our 180 day guarantee. I have to keep myself accountable, so I write the date and the word count on the back of the notebook I use for, well, notes and stuff I print out from the internet. 1,000 words a day for 90 days = 90,000 words or about 300 pages, which is about how long my books tend to be these days.

2. That's every day. But what about Sundays? Or birthdays? Or soccer tournaments? Too bad. No matter what else is going on you have to commit to 1,000 words a day. Get up early, stay up late, stop watching TV, write during practice. I wrote most of DLS in a cold, drafty gym waiting for my son to finish his workout. Even people with crazy schedules can find the time if they want to badly enough. Looking at my notebooks, I see that I started both DLS and TRANSCENDENCE on November 17th. Why? I have no idea, but I had to force myself to work through the craziness of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last Saturday was packed with soccer and a pizza party we threw here at the house until fairly late. I was exhausted, but sat down at 11pm to do my 1k because I had to. The secret here is that it's not about word count per se, it's about sitting down and opening the file every day (we'll talk more about that later). If you're going on vacation for three weeks and know you won't write every day, then don't start the book yet. Which brings me to the next point....

3. Don't start your book too early. You know when a great idea hits you. You get that excited feeling in your stomach and your mind starts racing with possibilities. You feel like you should run to the laptop or notebook and start writing right away. Well, don't. Every idea needs time to stew and develop. For you to get to know the characters and the plot, even if it's subconscious. I got the idea for DLS from a magazine article I read in August, but started writing on November 17th. That's about the right amount of time for me. Your mileage may vary. Someone on chat asked last night when you know it's time to start writing. For me, it's when I find myself saying bits of dialogue out loud and I have a great first line.

4. Don't fly blind. Yes, my favorite writing quote is still the one over there on the sidebar about driving at night, but you do need to know that there's a road somewhere beneath you. I've tried a lot of different ways, from the 9 Point Plot Process to the method laid out in Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT (which I love), and find that I like a mashup of several different methods. I do like to have a lot of scenes plotted out on my bulletin board before I start so I have some idea of where to go, but leave a lot of room for the magic to happen where I have no idea why the characters are driving to the zoo, but I just go with it. This is the board for the sequel to TRANSCENDENCE (it was called FATED, but we're changing it - will NYT bestselling authors please stop stealing my titles!). Each card is a scene, and they're divided into acts. You might notice that the last two acts, basically from pages 151 to the end are a That's because I get bored outlining and planning. This is enough info to get me halfway through the book. At some point before I reach the halfway mark, I'll go back and write a bunch more scenes for the last half of the book. You only need to stay a little ahead of yourself so that you don't get stuck.

4. Can you 'bank' words for the next day? No. Are you really on a roll and want to keep on going until you've cranked out 4k for the day? Awesome! Go right ahead. But you still need to sit down the next day and write your 1k. The deal is that it's not so much about word count as it is about sitting down and opening the file every day, whether you feel 'inspired' or not. It's like skipping class in college. I used to go as long into the semester as I could without skipping a class, because the first one is the hardest and the rest were easy. If you go one day without writing a word on your manuscript, it's that much easier to not open it the second day.

5. What if you get writers block? Then just write garbage. That's right , 1k of complete crap. Stuff you know you're going to dump. It's all in the doing, not what's done. Eventually, you'll get back to a place where it's working again, and you might surprise yourself that what you wrote isn't a total loss.

6. Can you revise as you go? Yes, but you still have to keep up word count, which is why I suggest not doing heavy revisions until the first draft is done. Yesterday, I was trying to get the first chapter in shape to show my editor, but my darling and wonderfully harsh critique partner insisted I cut a bunch of fluff, which amounted to over 1k words. That stunk, but she was right, so I did it, and then had to add enough words to make the final count for the day 1k over the count from the day before. Does that make sense? If you start with 5,500 words from the day before, and then cut 1,000 words, then you have to add 2,000 words that day to make up for it. Sound unfair? It probably is, but those are my rules.

7. Writing is not a 365 day a year exercise. At least it's not for me. I know Stephen King would probably disagree (and if you haven't read his On Writing or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird you should). I do the 1k-every-day thing until the first draft is done, and then I go and do other stuff like revising, copyediting, website improvement, playlists, laundry and dishes. I can get about two books done a year at this point without completely burning out, and books are wonderfully cyclical in what they demand from you - create, fix, wait, promote.

8. What about punishments/rewards? I don't use them, but you can if you want. The guilt of not completing what I set out to do that day, combined with the crankiness I always get if I'm drafting but haven't done my count for the day is enough for me. Although I never say no to chocolate and I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee.

I hope some of this helps you zero in on the method that will work best for you. As for me, I only got 50 new words done this morning, so I'm off to do the other 950.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

And the New Title is......


I love it and think it works perfectly with the theme of the book.

If you're a regular around here, you might know that figuring out what to call this book has been a bit of a struggle. I blogged about it here and here. Right as we were submitting it we decided to call it DESTINED because it deals with reincarnation and the meaning of life (simple stuff, I know) and the publishers loved it too. After meeting with marketing, my editor told me that P.C. Cast was coming out with a book called DESTINED at about the same time, so we couldn't use it. Dang.

After throwing around literally hundreds of titles, my editor, the marketing department and I have all agreed that TRANSCENDENCE is the winner and I'm so glad. Even better, here's the catalog copy:
Love isn’t the only emotion to survive death . . .

When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.
As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.
Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually intriguing question: What would you do with another life to live?

They're including a really kick-ass excerpt as the flap copy, but I don't want to give everything away. I've seen some cover-mock ups and they're amazing, and hopefully I can share sometime in the near future.

On another note, today was the first day of school, and like I promised, I wrote the first thousand words of the sequel to TRANSCENDENCE today - so far, it's still called FATED, and we should be able to firm that up soon. But that is another post for another day.

Look for TRANSCENDENCE sometime in June of 2012!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Now That's Cool!

Remember the Scholastic catalogs that you used to get as a kid?

Look what's in the Fall Teen catalog!

(Closeup of page 7.)

And what a bargain!

Friday, August 12, 2011

So How Was LA?

Every August, kidlit writers converge for summer camp, also known as the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's) conference. This year was the 40th anniversary, so there was record attendance with over 1,300 people.

This was the view from our room. LA even looked pretty for us.

There were some amazing speakers!

Richard Peck was a master of the subtle glance to get a laugh. He was awesome.

Laurie Halse Anderson told us to stop volunteering and get to work. She even gave me a hug, because that's how we roll.
If you ever get a chance to sit down and talk to Gary Paulson, take it. Tell us more about jail Gary!

And then Judy Blume stopped by to chat with Lin Oliver for awhile. It was the dream of just about every woman in the room to hear her speak. She even told us what she wants on her tombstone. What is it? You had to be there.

Of course, everyone knows the real doing is happening in the lobby. Here's me with fabbo EMLA clients Ruth McNalley Barshaw (my son's personal hero) and the amazing (and not-so-shrinking violet) R.L. LeFevers.

And Robin with up-and-coming superstar Mike Jung.

Robin Mellom and her lovely agent Jill Corcoran.

Me and the lovely Lee Wind.

Greg Pincus and the glowing Eve Porinchak.

And then there was the party. It was crazy. Crazy good.

Shelli Johannes-Wells and Robin Mellom looking a little sleepy.

Suzanne Young and my roomie Christy Raedeke getting reacquainted.

We're still not sure who let Miss Elaine in.

And those are all of the photos that I'm allowed to post. So how was LA? Let's just say we're counting down the next 359 days until we can do it again. Ahem. Because it's such hard, hard work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Meet Michelle Ray and her book FALLING FOR HAMLET

Most people who know me know that I only read YA books. Mainly because I don't have time to read anything else (The Help has been on my Kindle for months), but also because I love to see what new and exciting things other YA writers are doing.

A few months ago I started hearing about FALLING FOR HAMLET and I couldn't wait to get the book and see how Michelle imagined the main characters in Hamlet for a current audience. I know this one is going to be a favorite of many teens in my life. Michelle took time out of her busy debut week to answer a few questions, (and after hearing her answers, I can tell she's a kindred writing spirit) so let's get to know Michelle Ray and her wonderful debut book!

First comes love, then comes madness...

Meet Ophelia: a blonde, beautiful high-school senior and long-time girlfriend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Her life is dominated not only by her boyfriend's fame and his overbearing family, but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go. As the devastatingly handsome Hamlet spirals into madness after the mysterious death of his father, the King, Ophelia rides out his crazy roller coaster life, and lives to tell about it. In live television interviews, of course.

Passion, romance, drama, humor, and tragedy intertwine in this compulsively readable debut novel, told by a strong-willed, modern-day Ophelia.

Adapting something that is well known can be scary for a writer. Did you have any second thoughts about adapting a Shakespeare play?

I did. First, the question was whether I had anything fresh to say. There are other adaptations of Shakespeare and even other adaptations of Ophelia’s story, but I thought the setting, my voice and my way of telling it made it unique so I kept going. Second, the language of Hamlet is incredible but translating it was rough. At times, I wasn’t sure I could make it sound colloquial enough, and at other times, I wished I didn’t have to. Shakespeare’s words are magnificent, so I hated to make them go away. However, my hope was to remind people what a great story Hamlet is, to update it with a modern message, and to perhaps draw the unfamiliar or the reluctant to the original.

How did you get to know Ophelia?

I thought about her a lot. I know that sounds basic, but I did. She was in my head constantly for years. I would imagine conversations she’d have with other characters, how she would view the media, and how she would feel about certain events in the book. I’m not a writer who jots these things down formally. I chat in my head while driving, while trying to fall asleep, and while going through daily activities. In fact, I created Ophelia’s conversation with Hamlet about his seeing ghosts while at a children’s museum with my kids. When a great idea strikes, I end up rooting through my purse for receipts or scraps of paper to write on so I don’t forget. It’s not pretty, but it works.

In terms of building who she was, I started with what would make her betray Hamlet and worked my way back and forth from that. I had to think about the history of her family (the dead mother was Shakespeare’s fault, not mine, yet it helped Ophelia be a little more lost and lacking in good guidance), her father’s position in the court and living situation (the pressure to behave well and the lack of privacy within the castle mirrored what happened to her outside), and how long she was with Hamlet (a tumultuous, long-term relationship seemed like a better answer than a new relationship. When you’ve got history with someone, you’re less likely to walk away from craziness . . . usually). Then it was a matter of adding detail. When I tried to make her do things she didn’t want to do, the pages didn’t work. Sounds as insane as the original Ophelia, but it’s true. She guided my way.

What kinds of things did you change as you worked on the story?

In early drafts, she was in college. This allowed her to be more independent, and in some ways, more irresponsible. Once my agent suggested that I try aging her down, the dynamic changed, and I believe it changed for the better. Her ties to her father and her conflicting feelings about his demands seemed even more believable when she was in high school. Some of the behaviors that got her into trouble were more embarrassing once she was younger. And her feeling of being out of her depths and having no one to turn to made even more sense with her still being in high school. Also, with Hamlet already in college, there was added tension of his being free of their old life while she was still under the thumb of his parents and her father. He had more access to girls, too, which drove her nuts.

You’re a teacher – have you always been a writer?

Nope. I was a director before I was a teacher, which is storytelling, but the words weren’t my own. There’s a certain comfort in that because you can always blame someone else for dull moments. In truth, I’d always had stories in my head, but I didn’t write them down because I didn’t see the point. My husband encouraged me to put them on paper, but it took a loooong time (over a decade) before I thought of myself as a “writer.” It’s still odd to admit that, actually. What really made me take writing seriously was teaching writing to my fifth graders. An incredible group called LitLife came to my school to teach teachers how to teach writing. In doing the activities, I realized that I loved putting words on paper and that I was good at it.

What’s a writing day like for you?

Choppy. My teaching day is intense, so I don’t usually have time to think about my writing. I love what I do, and I love that I have a job that keeps my mind occupied, but when I get home, I’m tired. Even so, it’s writing time. This means I sometimes shortchange my family by disappearing to write, and other times it means I’m frustrated because I can’t write when I want to. Kids’ homework, baths, bills, and quality time are important, but it means I have to be very efficient when I write. I admit that I get shouty when I’m interrupted (like if my kids can’t sleep and come out a thousand times to tell me so), and I stay up late a lot, but I love all the aspects of my life so I wouldn’t give anything up.

Many reviews for FALLING FOR HAMLET say they can’t wait to see what you do next. What’s up next in your writing?

It’s the most remarkable thing that people feel that way, and it presses me to keep going. I’m working on another adaptation for teens and an adult historical fiction novel. My great fear is that FALLING FOR HAMLET might be the only book I ever get published, but others I trust don’t seem as concerned as I about this. Either way, it’s been such an exciting ride, such an unexpected pleasure to be published and to have my book in real bookstores. I’m trying to appreciate each moment.

Thanks Michelle! Whether you know the story of Hamlet backward and forward or have never read a word of Shakespeare in your life, check out FALLING FOR HAMLET and hear another side of the story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm Not Dead

In fact, I'm blogging today over at YA Outside the Lines.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Don't Panic!

Wow, has it really been over a month since I posted? For the three of you who check back regularly, I sincerely apologize and as soon as this revision is put to bed and tucked in I should have the brainpower left to have something interesting to say here on the blog.

I got my second round of revision notes on The-Book-Formerly-Known-As-Destined (as some of you know, PC Cast is coming out with a book called Destined at about the same time, so basically, she wins the title contest) and as always, my first response is to panic, brush back tears and shake my head as I read the three single-spaced pages of notes, knowing deep in the pit of my stomach that there is no way I can possible fix all of the millions of things that are still wrong with this book. And we're not talking misplaced commas here. We're talking notes like: the overarching sense of danger is lacking...I found this plot point difficult to accept...this whole thing needs more of a build should give up writing altogether because you obviously have no talent. Okay, so I might have read between the lines on that last one. After an hour or so of wallowing, I usually go take a shower and when I emerge and read the letter over again, things are looking...if not doable, then at least remotely possible.

By the sixth time I've read the letter, I'm starting to see what my editor means. At this point, we usually start an epic email back and forth where I write comments or questions and she answers them in another color. I answer back in another color and this goes on for awhile until we have a veritable rainbow of possible solutions to the big issues. We've found over the past couple of years, that we both like email rather than phone conversations because we can print them out and refer back to them as we go. Plus the colors are pretty when you print it all out.

About this time, I usually call my BWB (best writing buddy) Daisy. She's read an early draft and knows enough about the book to be able to bring me back from the edge of the cliff. We talk possibilities from the insane (should V be the reincarnation of Hitler?) to the reasonable (maybe cutting this kissing scene, however painful, will move the plot along faster). Everyone needs someone who's not being paid to work on their book help them out. She can take a step back and help me see the big picture that is now completely lost to me.

By the end of the first day after notes come, the panic has ebbed and I'm starting to see a light at the end of this process. That maybe it just might work after all. That the book, when all is said and done, might not completely suck. It might just be...dare I say it...pretty awesome.

I guess the message in all of this is that when you get a critique, whether from your editor or your critique partner, don't panic. Don't email them right back, screaming about the fact that there is no way this is all going to get done. Don't get angry that they want to change big parts of your plot and kill some of your darlings. Put it away for a little bit, and when you come back, read each sentence slowly until it begins to make sense. A little time and common sense can do wonders. A big bag of Starburst jelly beans left over from Easter doesn't hurt either.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Almost Done!

I've been gone. I'm sorry. I've literally been spending every waking hour (and a couple that weren't so waking) in my kitchen chair working on the revision for the-book-that-was-called-Destined. I'm about to turn in this revision so that my editor can have another crack at it and send it back to me one more time in a few weeks.

When I'm writing, I can't read fiction. I don't know if it has to do with lack of confidence or what, but reading good books brings me down, so I tend to read writing books - usually Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or On Writing by Stephen King. This time around, my buddies Robin and Eve recommended Save the Cat and Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder.

So far, I've read both of them cover to cover twice in the hopes that all of his great advice will be implanted in my brain by osmosis. The books are about screenwriting, but there is so much good stuff in there for fiction writers, I can't recommend them highly enough.

By using some of Blake's techniques, I've turned this:

Into this:

Because I can never use something right out of the box, I adapted his methods a little bit to suit how I do things but it is really helpful to see everything right out in front of me. I can swap scenes around and find something in seconds without having to rifle through all 300+ pages trying to remember where I had a particular character say a particular thing.

Better pacing? Check. Better character motivation? Check. New title? Um.....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Set in My Ways

There have always been three things I've needed to write: laptop, coffee and total silence. I've never been able to work with the radio or music on - I don't even really like it if other people are in the house. I wrote most of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS with earplugs in and noise-canceling headphones on because even though there was nothing playing, people were less likely to bug me and ask me to make them a sandwich or something.

I got my edits for the-book-formerly-known-as-DESTINED last week and there is a lot of editing and rewriting involved. Most things are still the same. I still work in the kitchen (although it's a different kitchen this time), I still drink way too much coffee and I'm still wearing headphones. Except now, there is constantly music coming through them, which is weird to me.

It started because I would listen to Foster the People before every writing session to get in the mood. I've watched this video so many times that if this book ever does get finished I'm seriously going to have to put them in the acknowledgments.

I've always liked listening to music before I write to set the tone, just not during. The guys are so adorable and the video makes me think back to when I lived in SF right after college, going to clubs and watching bands. And the new book is set mostly in the Haight, so it makes sense. Then it changed to listening to them and the Black Keys over and over while I was writing to keep me in the mood. The past couple of days it's been non-stop Pandora through the headphones, something like six or seven hours a day. And it seems to be working. Characters are talking, scenes are flowing. Who knew?

Just goes to show that new stuff can sometimes work. But I'm never giving up my coffee. Ever.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The LitChicks are back this week, and this time Leisl's up with her recommendation:

DASH & LILY’s BOOK of DARES by Rachael Cohn & David Levithan
I know they always say ‘Don't judge a book by its cover’ but I'm convinced that it's second nature. We don't mean to, we just do. That's what happened with this book. Believe it or not the reason I chose this book was because of the heart on the traffic light thing. The cute cover aside..this was a good book.

This book is about a boy named Dash who finds this red notebook on a shelf in a bookstore one day, and as any curious human being would do, he read it. Inside were a series of questions that led to a dare. Ihe writer , a girl named Lily, gave the reader of the notebook directions to follow and then they ended up having a sort of joint journal type thing going with little dares & adventures mixed in. The story is set during Christmastime and Dash hates everything about Christmas while Lily loves everything about it, so they learn about each other and then in the end they meet each other amidst a string of events.

It's a very fun idea and I found that the characters were relatable and fun to read about. Makes me want to start my own dare book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets - After

By far, the question I get most often about DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS is: What happened after the book ends? People want to know what happened to Lucy, if she stayed with Josh, where she lived and if she and Kaylie stayed friends.

I ended DLS a bit abruptly because I felt that that was where this part of Lucy's story ended. If you look closely, you can get some hints about what happens next. A lot of people like it that way - curtain down, end of story. Apparently, a lot of people don't and really want to know what happens after page 210. For those people, I bring you...THE LAST CHAPTER.

Click on that link and you will be able to read AFTER, the last chapter of the book that is only available on my website. There you will find the answers to a lot of questions about what happens after page 210, but I warn you - ONLY READ THE LAST CHAPTER AFTER YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK. I'm serious about that. There are HUGE spoilers that IMHO will ruin the regular reading of DLS.

Lucy and I hope you enjoy!