Friday, August 31, 2007

The Perfect Book -- Eve

At this year’s annual SCBWI conference, a panel of editors discussed the perfect book. For me, it’s always been hard to nail down what makes a perfect book, and forget about naming one…there are just too many, and the type of book I’m obsessed with generally changes from year to year. It’s kind of like falling in love…you can’t always list the things you’re looking for because there’s some element of magic involved and you just know it when you find it.

That said, after the panel, artist-extraordinaire David Diaz and I held our own impromptu panel in the hotel lobby, and pressed people to name one perfect children’s book and explain why it’s perfect. Here were some of the answers:

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli: “It has it all! Suspense, drama, humor, and it’s so well-written. Amazing message without being preachy. It’s not what you think it is. Best book ever, by far.”

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: “Perfect in every way. Beautiful writing, realistic, funny, sad, dramatic, exciting, hopeful.”

Monster by Walter Dean Myers: “So completely original and different from anything else out there. Very kid-friendly, exciting, riveting from start to finish, realistic in every way. It doesn’t wrap up with a tidy little ribbon in the end, and it will keep you thinking long after you finish.”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: “Perfect depiction of a post-trauma, depressed teen girl, but it’s also funny and hopeful at times. Flawless writing, very real characters, and very kid-friendly. Impossible to put down.”

Holes by Louis Sachar: “Has so much going for it, it’s hard not to love it. It has drama, humor, adventure, plot twists that will keep you guessing, magical realism weaved in, and awesome characters that kids love. It’s kind of like a fable or fairy tale, but set at a prison camp for kids…brilliant!”

The Giver by Lois Lowry: “It’s dramatic in a parallel universe kind of way, but the writing is so intense and real, you feel like the story is really happening to you.”

Interestingly, this little exercise made me identify exactly what goes into my perfect book (talking specifically MG and teen novels here). First, it needs to grab me immediately and move quickly. Yes, I was a reluctant reader as a kid. There. I said it. Moving on. It has a realistic mix of action, drama and humor, and depicts real kids (not 13-year-olds who speak like 35-year-olds). I can’t stand dialogue that sounds stuffy and forced and too grown-up. Last, it must must must be kid-friendly, meaning, as a 13-year-old I would have completely understood it’s nuances and messages, and would have chosen to read it over and over, enjoying it thoroughly every single time.

Can you guess which of the above titles is my answer? And I would love it if you could add your perfect book as well. Thanks!

- Eve

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pass Me a Tissue -- Robin

I really had no idea this whole thing was going to turn me into a blubbering mess. Today was the first day that…wait!…have to blow my nose…my son went to kindergarten.


Okay. It’s not such a huge deal. Just a different school with different teachers, right? Well, that’s exactly what I’d been thinking the past few months. Whenever someone would ask me if I was nervous/excited/sad/freaked-out that my son was going into kindergarten, I was like, “It’s really no big deal for us. He’s happy to be going and we’re happy that it’s free and we don’t have to pay for preschool so now I can go get my nails done.”

But then last Friday rolled around. The day we went to go buy school clothes. My boy ran around the store buried beneath mounds of new clothes (because he wouldn’t let me hold any of them) and he went up to every person who would listen to him and yelled, “I’m getting new clothes! I’m going to kindergarten!” On the way home in the car, he sat in the back seat hugging his enormous bag of clothes, then looked wistfully out the window and softly said, “I’m so happy.”

Fine. Very cute. I can handle cute.

But then yesterday rolled around. The day before kindergarten. The day that everything changed.

You know how pregnant women start doing that weird nesting behavior when they can sense that their baby is about to be born? (Yes, I mopped my floors at 4 a.m. the day my boy was born.) Well, my boy was now doing kindergarten nesting behaviors! He cleaned his room. He laid out all of his clothes (shoes and underwear, too!). Then he told me he was going to brush his teeth and floss all by himself since he was in kindergarten now. He wouldn’t even let me peek into the bathroom! I’m pretty sure he’ll have a full beard and a deep voice by the end of the week. My boy was becoming very independent all of a sudden.

Fine. Independence. I can handle independence.

And then, today. The first day of kindergarten. For the first time ever, he got out of bed and put his clothes on…including his shoes and underwear (in the correct order, I’m hoping). No help from me.

He asked for a big breakfast, watched one episode of The Pink Panther, then put on his adorable backpack and snuck into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.

Finally, he walked up to me, gave me a hug, and politely asked, “Where am I going today?”

He had a sly little look on his face. He knew exactly where he was going. He just wanted to hear me say it…again. “You’re going to kindergarten, honey.”

And he did that thing that grown-ups do when their favorite team wins a big game or when their credit card isn’t denied…he pulled in his fist and said, “Yes!

And I was done. Tears were flowing.

My cute, independent little boy was suddenly a big, grown-up boy.

And now I’m a big, grown-up mess. Pass me a tissue!!

Luke showing off his new clothes to one of his teachers
while his mother stands off to the side, sobbing.

- Robin

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mermaids & Faeries: Together at Last

Reason #13 to start a blog: Befriend other bloggers

Ever since we stumbled upon Grow Wings, Laini Taylor’s blog, we’ve been huge fans. She just seemed so cool. But we were a little nervous about meeting her and her artist husband, Jim Di Bartolo, at the SCBWI national conference a few weeks ago. Cuz what if they weren’t that cool in person? Well, guess what. They were!

At the conference, they mentioned they were gonna be in our area for a wedding, and wondered if we’d like to meet up. So last week, that’s what we did. We met them in our local Barnes & Noble so they could sign several copies of Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (which, we just checked, proceeded to fly off the shelves). Then we went out to dinner. Not only did we chow on some healthy Big Sky cuisine, the Taylor-Di Bartolos handed out gifts. Eve and Robin each received very appropriate Laini’s Ladies, and Jay got an autographed Blackbringer.

After parting ways (which only came after some unhealthy Cold Stone Creamery ice-cream), the Disco Mermaids took a vote…and it was unanimous! Laini & Jim are hereby known as the Cutest Couple in Children’s Literature (C.C.C.L. for short).

from left to right:
Luke, Luke's Best Friend, Luke's Mommy, Luke's Other Best Friend, C.C.C.L.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Favorite Post -- Jay

This is the news I’ve been hoping to share since I was only halfway into the first draft of Thirteen Reasons Why. There are two poems in that book attributed to Hannah Baker, my main female character. The first poem is called If My Love… It’s a sappy/cheesy poem I originally wrote many years ago for an ex-girlfriend. The second poem, Soul Alone, is absolutely beautiful…and I’m not being cocky by saying that.

My wife just happens to be my favorite songwriter. And that works out real well, because I’m her favorite novelist…so long as Johnny Depp never gets a literary itch (because my wife would love to scratch it). When it came time to write Hannah’s “good” poem, the lyrics to one of my wife’s songs would not get out of my head. Then, one of those lightbulbs ignited over my head and I ran to our stereo. For a songwriting contest, my wife had recorded a bare-bones version of three of her songs…one of them being Soul Alone. And talk about eerie! The lyrics could have been written by Hannah Baker. In fact, I knew that if I tweaked the chapter in which the poem was supposed to appear, it would be an exact match (I wouldn’t dare ask my wife to change her lyrics). Then the lightbulb clicked itself one setting brighter. I knew, because of its premise, Thirteen Reasons Why was a natural for an audiobook. And if that happened, I told my wife, I would fight hard to get her song included as a bonus track…with her singing.

It turns out, I didn’t have to fight hard at all.

After signing the contract, I mentioned to Orli Moscowitz (the producer) that Soul Alone began as a song written by my wife, and that I had a recording of it if she’d like to take a listen. She agreed. I burned her a C.D. and mailed it the next day. She listened. She loved! And now…my wife is an official recording artist.

[We interrupt this blog post so that the author can dry his eyes.]

Below are some photos from the three hours my wife spent at Moon Productions & Recording Studio recording a more polished version of Soul Alone (hey...I’m a blogger…of course I made her document it). Bringing together some local musicians, she recorded a song which will bring Listening Library’s audio production of Thirteen Reasons Why to a perfect ending.

Darrell Voss (drums)

Terry Lawless (keyboards)
-- the dude actually tours with u2! --

Thomas Gingell (audio engineer)

My Honey

I can’t wait for you all to hear Soul Alone…written and sung by JoanMarie Asher.

- Jay

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sock Monkeys and Stegosauruses -- Eve

I’ve had a hideous headache since Friday. For me, this is rare and can only mean one thing. No, not a hangover. I don’t even drink (that much...on Mondays…in the summer…during months that end in 'gust). No, I’ve self-diagnosed a Writer’s Blockage. It’s not that I’m at a loss for ideas for my YA romance-in-progress. Problem is that there are too many ideas swimming aimlessly around my brain, clogging up the place. It’s more like a Writer’s Clot, a literary aneurysm, if you will. The pressure is building, causing my head to feel like it might, at any second, explode Scanners-style all over my white carpet.

Believe it or not, a random blog comment from Lisa Yee led to the most bizarre of cures. She said, and I quote, “One time I couldn’t write until I had a sock monkey. I know it sounds weird now, but I swear the lack of a sock monkey shut me down.” Hmm. Sock monkey. Sock monkey. Where on earth could one get a sock…? Then I remembered that last time I was in Florida visiting my family, my 8-year-old nephew gave me…wait for it...wait for it…a sock monkey! (Dressed as “Heidi” with yellow braided pigtails and, for some odd reason, a lasso…but, hey, a sock monkey nonetheless.)

When I put Heidi sock monkey next to my computer today, strange things happened. A sense of calmness took over. Ideas began to flow and make sense. I took copious notes on my main theme. Just as I was staring at the ceiling trying to figure out how to weave this theme with the others, a link to a random Salon article popped up on my computer…and it was perfect! It pretty much summed up (in a strangely scientific way) my main character’s belief system and motivation for acting the way she does, which hadn’t occurred to me before today. Soon, I could feel the swelling in my aneurysm shrinking.

While writing my first book, Kidz In The Wood, I suffered a severe three-month blockage. One day I woke up and felt better, and the story began to unfold and write itself like buttah. In retracing my steps to figure out what changed for me back then, I remembered Robin’s son, Luke, brought me a rubber toy Stegosaurus and left it on my dining table one day. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t until that rubber dinosaur appeared that I actually got a firm handle on what exactly I was doing with my book. Sock monkeys? Stegosauri? Who knew??

As I’m proofreading this post, I realize how outlandish it sounds. But, on the other hand... whatever works, man. JK Rowling has her Potter-ites. John Green has his Nerdfighters. And I got my sock monkeys!

- Eve

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Found it! -- Robin

I found my missing notebook! Thanks to all of the good vibes you all sent my way, I found my notebook sitting upside down and crammed into a corner behind my closet door…right where I put it!


Now I can go back to the business of working on my novel without using any more excuses, like, “My notebook’s missing! Waaahh!

The thing is, I came up with many more excuses this week not to write:
  • This chair is too uncomfortable
  • The fluorescent lighting is making my brain blink out
  • Is this decaf?
  • How did the dog get out…again!?
  • Mmmm…chips and dip
  • The Internet
  • Must…watch…Daily Show

Now all I need is a new chair, a lamp, a latte, a dog leash, a diet, no internet access, and no more political shenanigans…and this book is done!!

- Robin

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Postcard Post -- Jay

Exactly two months from today, my book comes out. And I really want you to read it, but not for my sake. See, Robin and Eve really wanna know what you think about it...and I really care about their happiness. So I'd like to mail you a postcard to remind you when Thirteen Reasons Why becomes available.

The back of the postcard is pictured above, but your copy will be personalized with your very own address. The front of the postcard depicts the cover of my book, which will be autographed (probably by me) using a permanent marker. Just e-mail your name and address to RobinJayEve{at} and I'll send you a postcard, timed to arrive exactly two months from today!

Robin and Eve thank you.

- Jay

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Superbad -- Eve

Have you ever started writing a book that’s so wonderfully innovative and profound that you just can’t wait to finish it and get it out into the world? Like it’s so perfect that you start believing you were born to write this book. And then you think, “I can’t believe no one has done this yet. It’s such a great idea. I’m freaking brilliant!”

And then has your friend, Jay, ever called you when you’re halfway through writing this book to say, “Hey, y’know that wonderfully innovative/profound/perfect YA book that you’ve spent almost a year working on? Well, check out Joe Schmoe’s website that features the synopsis and reviews of his new book. It’s the exact same premise as your book. Isn’t that weird?”

And then have you ever looked up Joe Schmoe’s website to see that not only has he come up with the exact same idea, but he uses similar obscure references and plot twists? Oh, gets better. Not only is Joe Schmoe an amazing, award winning, prolific author, but reviewers are calling this latest diddy his best yet…his masterpiece to end all masterpieces!

Uh-huh. Oh yeah. And then…and then, they called it the bawl-fest of the century. And what did I intend for my book to be? You guessed it. Bawl-a-palooza. Are you kidding me with this? My horoscope predicted that this month would bring an abrupt ending to a major labor of love project. Uh, yeah. This day just keeps getting better and better. On the bright side, I can always go back to writing that fantasy novel about a boy wizard who goes away to boarding school and fights evil and comes of age and stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s an original idea.

- Eve

(The artist formerly referred to as Joe Schmoe is not actually named Joe Schmoe. He who shall not be named shall not be named because I’m still upset with him for taking my idea. Even if it was telepathically. And by accident. Get outta my head Joe Schmoe!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Quick Question -- Robin

My head is still reeling with everything I saw and heard at the SCBWI national conference this year.

But I suppose after all that, I really came away with one question:

Did anyone pick up a grey spiral notebook with a bunch of papers stuffed in it with notes that aren’t very legible?

Cuz I lost mine.

And I really want to find it because I’ve been using it to store all my brainstorming notes and thoughts that pop into my head as I write my new middle grade book. I have printouts from websites stuffed in there, and notes from a documentary I watched, and little drawings and notes I wrote to Eve and Jay during some of the speeches at the conference. (Oops! Did I just write that out loud?)

Coming back from the conference and trying to sit down and get busy with the process of writing is kind of like taking a whirlwind romantic anniversary vacation with your man to a place that’s exotic and warm and smells nice, then coming back home to clean up cat puke and balance the checkbook. It has to be done, but it isn’t all that pretty.

I’ve spent this week coming down from my National Conference high, remembering all that was exotic and nice-smelling, and realizing that this process of writing books is…reallyhard.

I got an email newsletter from Bruce Hale (go check out his website to get one…it’s great!) and he had a quote in there that really rang true for me today:

Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

- Gene Fowler

Wow. That is totally gross.

But true. Anyone with me?

- Robin

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Thirteen Reasons Why: The Introduction

I’ve been hyping the release of my teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, for ten months now…and there are still two months to go. Yet not once has anyone left a comment (not even anonymously!) asking me to please shut up about it. For being so considerate, I’d like to offer you a sneak peek between the covers. Unfortunately, the introduction is all I can offer. Fortunately, you can walk into your local bookstore and pre-order the entire novel right now!

- Jay Asher

“Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

I rub two fingers, hard, over my left eyebrow. The throbbing has become intense. “It doesn’t matter,” I say.

The clerk takes the package. The same shoebox that sat on my porch less than twenty-four hours ago; rewrapped in a brown paperbag, sealed with clear packing tape, exactly as I had received it. But now addressed with a new name. The next name on Hannah Baker’s list.

“Baker’s dozen,” I mumble. Then I feel disgusted for even noticing it.

“Excuse me?”

I shake my head. “How much is it?”

She places the box on a rubber pad, then punches a sequence on her keyboard.

I set my cup of gas-station coffee on the counter and glance at the screen. I pull a few bills from my wallet, dig some coins out of my pocket, and place my money on the counter.

“I don’t think the coffee’s kicked in yet,” she says. “You’re missing a dollar.”

I hand over the extra dollar, then rub the sleep from my eyes. The coffee’s lukewarm when I take a sip, making it harder to gulp down. But I need to wake up somehow.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to get through the day half-asleep. Maybe that’s the only way to get through today.

“It should arrive at this address tomorrow,” she says. “Maybe the day after tomorrow.” Then she drops the box into a cart behind her.

I should have waited till after school. I should have given Jenny one final day of peace.

Though she doesn’t deserve it.

When she gets home tomorrow, or the next day, she’ll find a package on her doorstep. Or if her mom or dad or someone else gets there first, maybe she’ll find it on her bed. And she’ll be excited. I was excited. A package with no return address? Did they forget, or was it intentional? Maybe from a secret admirer?

“Do you want your receipt?” the clerk asks.

I shake my head.

A small printer clicks one out anyway. I watch her tear the slip across the serrated plastic and drop it into a wastebasket.

There’s only one post office in town. I wonder if the same clerk helped the other people on the list, those who got this package before me. Did they keep their receipts as sick souvenirs? Tuck them in their underwear drawers? Pin them up on corkboards?

I almost ask for my receipt back. I almost say, “I’m sorry, can I have it after all?” As a reminder.

But if I wanted a reminder, I could’ve made copies of the tapes or saved the map. But I never want to hear those tapes again. Though her voice will never leave my head. And the houses, the streets, and the high school will always be there to remind me.

It’s out of my control now. The package is on its way. I leave the post office without the receipt.

Deep behind my left eyebrow, my head is still pounding. Every swallow tastes sour, and the closer I get to school, the closer I come to collapsing.

I want to collapse. I want to fall on the sidewalk right there and drag myself into the ivy. Because just beyond the ivy the sidewalk curves, following the outside of the school parking lot. It cuts through the front lawn and into the main building. It leads through the front doors and turns into a hallway which meanders between rows of lockers and classrooms on both sides, finally entering the always-open door to first period.

At the front of the room, facing the students, will be the desk of Mr. Porter. He’ll be the last to receive a package with no return address. And in the middle of the room, one desk to the left, will be the desk of Hannah Baker.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

3 x 5 SCBWI Highlights

Here are five highlights each from last weekend's SCBWI national conference. But afterwards, we're done with this topic. It's time to start counting down to next year's conference.


I learned that Walter Dean Myers is an inspiration, that John Green is humble and brilliant, that Ellen Hopkins is prolific and just plain cool, and that Lisa Yee is adorable and hilarious (scratch that last one…I already knew that!).

Our first annual Kiddie Lit Drunkard Meeting (isn’t that what it was called?) was a smashing success. It was so great to put faces with names. And the event was well-documented by fellow blogger and all-around awesome chick, Rita Crayon, so hopefully she’ll have pics up soon. (Hint, hint, Rita!)

I completely enjoyed the “Authorpreneur” workshop put on by Bruce Hale (love him!) and Roxyanne Young (adore her!). They talked about the DMs as an example of how to use blogs as a marketing tool. On the huge screen they put up the entry I had written about me buying pajamas…so that was…embarrassing.

Jay and I took a break one afternoon to go swimming and sit in the hot tub. We looked up to find ourselves soaking next to one of the Baldwin brothers. I soooo wanted to ask him if he was the religious one or the recovering alcoholic one or the cute one. Considering that I stayed in that hot tub until my fingers turned to prunes, I’d say he was the cute one!

Evie and I discovered that when you go up to a person you don’t hardly even know and ask, “What are ya…a libra?” that nine times out of ten…they really are! Isn’t that fascinating!? Not sure of the science behind this phenomenon, but it probably has something to do with the fact that we are complete geeks for asking such annoying questions.

When we first got to the hotel, I ran straight to the restroom nearest the lobby and ended up being next-urinal neighbors with John Green. Later, I related that excitement to Mr. Green himself, and he told me he once peed next to Paul Newman. That separates me by one-degree from being next-urinal neighbors with Mr. Newman. Beat that!

Every year, getting dressed in our costumes for the poolside gala is a huge rush. We always get a room overlooking the pool so we can watch the surrounding area fill up with people. Then we lock arms, ride the elevator down to the lobby, walk outside, and straight onto the dance floor. I love my Mermaids!

After we all fell asleep, exhausted by hours of dancing and schmoozing, Eve had a fascinating dream. When we all woke up, she told us about it...and I will never forget what she said. Unfortunately, I promised that I would never repeat it.

Far away from any urinals, I handed John Green a copy of Thirteen Reasons Why. That night, he started reading it. The next morning, he told me what he thought about my book. Paul Newman? Who cares! I peed next to John “Printz Winner” Green!!!

Because I spoke in a workshop with the Class of 2k7, we were invited to the faculty wrap party at Lin Oliver’s house. I’ve been wanting to crash that party for years! And while I still felt like a poser being around all those Printz, Newbery, and Caldecott winners, I think I played it pretty cool. But whenever the “even cooler” person I was talking to would look down or to the side, I looked to the nearest Mermaid and gave a thumbs-up and a smile! They, in turn, rolled their eyes.

Silvery, sparkly, poolside party. Glitz and glamour. Great food and drink. Lots of dancing. Paparazzi stalking us. Scantily clad Playboy bunnies running around the dance floor (no joke!). Y’know…the usual stuff.

Conversations with Caldecott-winning uber-artist, David Diaz. Although hanging with DD is always a highlight, this year I learned a lot too. Like, the saying “Deadline-Schmeadline” and when to use it as a brand new, stressed out writer.

Binging on cheese sticks and sugar cookies late into the night with Jay and Robin, while rehashing every detail from the day. You know it was a good time when you laugh so hard you use up all of Jay’s puffer medicine. Sorry, dude!

Words of wisdom from the always funny/inspiring/creative John Green. He’s laugh out loud funny one minute. He’s insightful the next. I want to be him in my next life. And he’s nice, humble, and tirelessly dedicated to ending “World Suck” too. Ha! Love that guy.

Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. That’s the main thing I took away from this year’s conference. From watching Jay revel in his new Published-Author status, to getting advice from the generous Mark McVeigh, to discussing the importance of writing about the struggles of inner city kids with the talented Greg Neri, every minute of this conference was an affirmation for me. I love this career!

Rock and Roll SCBWI!!!

NOTE: Jay (as well as Penguin) are all out of Thirteen Reasons Why advance reading copies. So stop asking! But as a teaser, the next time it’s Jay’s turn to blog, he’ll post the introduction to his debut novel. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

S'More Rockin' in L.A.

We're still catching up on sleep, so we'll discuss the highlights of SCBWI's national conference in our next post. Until then, feast your eyes on these:

Robin, Julie Strauss-Gabel, John Green, and Jay at the By the Light of the Silvery Moon poolside gala.

The Mermaids with Newbery winner Susan Patron. And she confirmed, she was talking about us in her acceptance speech!

We grabbed some drinks at the swanky Skybar then dined at Asia de Cuba with Mermaid scholarship winner Stephanie Blake and Caldecott winner David Diaz. Who else was dining there? Only Lionel Richie!

Then we all headed to The Standard, a funky club with velvet swings hanging from the ceiling, just big enough to hold three children's book writers.

We know. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rockin' in L.A.

No time to chat. So we're gonna let the pics do most of the talkin':

The Mermaids with TadMack and A.Fortis of Finding Wonderland, Kelly Herold of Big A, little a and Little Willow.

Richard Peck congratulating Jay on his book sale with Sonya Sones smilin' on.

The Class of 2k7 panel (Greg Fishbone, Carrie Jones, Thatcher Heldring, G. Neri, Jay, and Joni Sensel).

SmartWriters W.I.N.ners Leslie Muir, Jay, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Roxyanne Young

Our second place silver suits. Sssssparkly!

The silver suits with Arthur Levine.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Aaaaand...We're Off!

We're just about to leave for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators summer conference in L.A.

Of course we have our costumes.

Of course we have a camera.

Of course we'll keep ya updated.

But enough with the questions. We've gotta go!