Friday, November 30, 2007

Keeping it Real, Man -- Eve

I’m at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop for three days of writing, critiquing, writing some more, then revising and re-writing some more. I had planned to work on my second book, a YA love story weaved into an ethics debate on the ramifications of genetic testing. Sounds strange, I know, but somehow it works.

Anyway, my plans were thrown for a little loop after a recent chat with my agent about my first book…a middle grade novel about tough inner city kids at a summer camp, which is really a subtle allegory for the evolution of contemporary street gangs. The question we came up with is:

How real can you get in terms of edgy themes and violence in a middle grade book?

Granted, this is definitely an upper middle grade read aimed at the 11-13 crowd. However, even with a somewhat “toned down” version of what gang life can become, the story still contains some elements that pre-teens may find too disturbing. Here’s my thing: If I tone it down too much, it may lose its authenticity. If an 11-year-old kid from the hood picks it up, he may expect to find some of himself in the characters, which is my goal. Chances are, this kid has witnessed violent acts on the streets or lost loved ones to them. Hate to say it, but if an upper middle class kid picks up the same book, he may be horrified by what some of the characters go through. Of course maybe he’s seen plenty of violence and inhumane acts in movies (Hello… Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Saw) or in video games, but maybe he’s never seen it in real life. (Which is not to say that rich kids don’t experience violence and only poor kids do, but for the sake of argument, I’m simplifying, of course.)

So, my problem is this: Whether the readers are rich kids, poor kids, or Sudanese kids, do we owe it to them to present life as it really is, or do we protect them from it? If I’m making a statement about violence, which I suppose I am with this book, which is that generally it’s senseless, but it’s pervasive nonetheless as long as humans inhabit the planet, and occasionally it’s necessary for protective purposes, so we as individuals must decide if and how we’ll add to the cycle, then we have to accept the consequences (i.e. retaliation, incarceration, injury, death, etc...), then I should keep it real, right?

Originally, I insisted that this was a middle grade book because the characters are 13 and many kids are initiated into gangs at age 11. But I’m guessing that most kids who read the book will never have been initiated into a real gang, and couldn’t possibly relate to some of the issues. Then again, I’m not writing about those kids, I’m writing about those who have seen uniquely horrific things at young ages.

Rather than omitting some themes and allusions to violent acts, I could also raise the ages of the characters and consider it YA. But then it defeats the original purpose, which was to create an edgy and real MG book. But how real is too real?

- Eve

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

There Ought to be a Law -- Robin

Our local assemblyman has started up a contest called “There Ought to be a Law,” where you can suggest a random new law and he’ll go to Sacramento and actually try to get it passed! I’m thinking about suggesting a few ideas. For example, I’d really like my assemblyman to pass a law that forces The Daily Show (after the writers’ strike is over, of course) to be aired one hour earlier. I’d really like that.

So once I was done thinking about my brilliant idea for a new law, I got to thinking some more…maybe we should make some new laws in the world of children’s literature. Come on everyone, play along with me!

There Ought to be a Law in Children’s Literature…
  1. Every children’s book author shall be paid a handsome advance. And by handsome, I mean James Franco! (Just pay me in Francos, baby!)

  2. Every children’s book author shall be named Honorary Ice Princess in their hometown Christmas parade. (I’ve always wanted to do that, and this may be the only way it’ll ever happen!)

  3. Every children’s book ever written shall include at least one vampire. (Oops, I think that’s already a law.)

Oh, oh! And I think we should also have a new law in DiscoLand:

No DM shall namedrop (no matter how cute the namedropped person is) unless another DM is allowed to also namedrop (as well as excessively exaggerate with poorly used Photoshop skills).

Why yes, that is Kirsten Dunst from all three Spider-Man movies (she just suddenly showed up in our hotel room at the SCBWI conference last summer). And yes, she is much paler than me. And no, I’m not good at Photoshop.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Random Post -- Jay

The lucky winners of our Two-Day Q&A contest are:

Creative Dreams


Linda D. (sbk)
Jumbled Ramblings

My intent was to have my wife randomly choose numbers to decide the winners, but I got home too late and she was asleep. So I found this handy-dandy site, which allowed me to still select the winners with complete randomness.

Why did I get home so late? Because I was 3-hours north doing school visits (courtesy of Kepler's Books) at Woodside High School, Gunn High School, and Palo Alto High School. And to end this post on a completely random note, here's a photo taken at the end of my last school visit:

Why yes, that is James Franco from all three Spider-Man movies! And yes, I did give him a signed copy of Thirteen Reasons Why! (And yes, he is so much cooler than me...)

- Jay

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Voice of Clay Jensen: Joel Johnstone

[Below is an interview Jay conducted with Joel Johnstone, the voice of Clay Jensen on the Listening Library audiobook of Thirteen Reasons Why. And remember to leave a comment for your chance to win a free copy!]

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about a mile and a half from Jeffery Dahmer. It was a very happy place! Seriously though, I am proud to be a midwesterner; I believe it has helped give me a sort of general objectivity as I split time now living between the coasts. After high school, I moved from Milwaukee to New York to attend Fordham University. I went to the Lincoln Center campus, which was a bit of a culture shock, initially. I studied acting there, and also went abroad for six months to study at a classical conservatory in London and Oxford. After graduating I began doing a lot of off-Broadway theatre, as well as TV and film work. Outside of my career, I am an enormous fan of baseball, playing and watching. I'm on a softball team with some acting buddies right now, and let's just say our team is not doing well. Please pray for us.

What attracted you to acting?
I grew up with a problematic obsession for baseball. I went to sleep wearing my Brewers hat and Dale Murphy baseball glove until I was eleven or so. In middle school I tried out for a community theatre production of The Music Man, and was cast as Winthrop, the Ron Howard part. I had one of the best times of my life, and so I began splitting my time between baseball, in the summer, and theatre, during the ten months of winter in Wisconsin. In high school my dreams of playing second base for the Brewers quickly vanished as I was benched for the majority of my sophomore year. However, it wasn't as big a blow to me as I expected. I had been performing in my high school plays as well, and I realized I was getting a lot more attention from girls by doing theatre than playing baseball. I would love to tell a story that some transcendent, out-of-body experience is what initially attracted me to acting, but truthfully it began as just a great way to meet girls. I got a lot more serious about it throughout high school. My acting teacher was incredibly encouraging and told me this was something he thought I could turn into a career. He helped me get into a summer program at the Steppenwolf Theare in Chicago the summer before my senior year. From then on, I knew this was what I was going to do.

What have been some of your favorite acting jobs?
My very first job on film, I got to play an American serial killer for a television show in London. It was sort of the British version of Tales From The Crypt. That was a wonderful introduction to film work. In one episode I killed five people using a nail gun, a samurai sword, an axe and a shiv. Ironically, I was in London studying Shakespeare at the time. Another favorite part of mine is Wesley from Sam Shepard's Curse of The Starving Class. That play is very haunting to me. If I could play that part every night for a year I would be ecstatic. Shepard is absolutely one of my favorite playwrights, and actors.

How did you get started voicing audiobooks?
I got started voicing audiobooks after I had been doing radio and television voiceovers for a year or so. The first audition I had was a twelve page, single spaced read, and I remember thinking, "There's no way I'll ever get this." There were so many different voices I had to create; I couldn't have been more intimidated. I got a call a month later saying the book company wanted to hire me. I was stunned and terrified at the same time. The 12-page audition was a challenge for me, and the manuscript they gave me two days ahead of time was 300+ pages. Somehow, I got through it. Since then, they've gotten much easier and a lot more fun.

Is there anything special you do between when you get the script and when you sit in front of the microphone?
The biggest thing I stress when I prepare is getting all the characters down. I read the whole book, and every time a new character is introduced I write it down on a piece of paper. Sometimes when I'm finished I'll have a list of up to 50 names. I then go through and try out different voices for each character. I can't have any repeats or anything too similar, so I make notes next to each name. A lot of roles demand a dialect, so I use a website that archives audio samples of people from just about every country speaking English in their native dialect. That has been a life saver. I also highlight every piece of dialogue in the book ahead of time. This gives me warning, as I'm reading the narrative in my own voice, that a character is coming up and I have to make an adjustment in pitch, accent, etc.

What did you enjoy most about recording Thirteen Reasons Why?
From an actor's point of view, it is a thousand times more enjoyable to narrate a book in the first person, like this one. It is much more conducive to giving a performance, rather than trying to force one. The book is rich with information about Clay, which allows me to delve deeper into the read and have more fun with it.
Aside from the performance aspect, I'm fascinated by books and films revolving around high school years. In my own life, whether I like it or not, high school was a very important part of my life. Not even including the academics portion, it was an extremely informative and character building time of my life. Your book reminded me about that, which I tend to forget time to time. I've also noticed most people I meet in my adult life seem to remind me of different versions of people I went to high school with. Many of the voices I used for different characters in the book were impressions of my old classmates.

Was there anything that made recording Thirteen Reasons Why more difficult than other audiobooks?
In many ways, this was the most demanding book I've narrated. In every other job I've had, I was the only reader and had the responsibility of creating each character in the book. In Thirteen Reasons Why I hadn't yet heard Debra read Hannah. I knew what Hannah said on the page, but I didn't know the inflections or emotion behind what Debra said, which is partially what I'm responding to. The best analogy is that it was similar to acting in front of a green screen. My main job as the reader is to tell the story through characters, breath, emotion, etc. And sharing that responsibility with Debra without her in the studio was an even bigger obstacle. I had to tell the story through Clay's narration, while reading Hannah's part quietly in my head, in order to keep it consistent. I truly have to thank Scott (the producer) for guiding me through the process. There is no way I could have done this without his direction.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Voice of Hannah Baker: Debra Wiseman

[Below is an interview Jay conducted with Debra Wiseman, the voice of Hannah Baker on the Listening Library audiobook of Thirteen Reasons Why. And remember to leave a comment for your chance to win a free copy!]

Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in the great area of Palo Alto, California. I was always interested in the performing arts and Silicon Valley was rich with theatrical options. I did as many shows as I could and gained a lot of valuable experience. I visited New York City at the age of 11 and saw Les Miserables on Broadway. From that moment on I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. The Big Apple!

What attracted you to acting?
Acting was just a natural extension of my first love...singing. Just listening to good vocals isn't enough, there has to be emotion behind it and that's where acting comes in. I prefer comedy to drama, but I do both. My grandfather was an opera singer and cantor in Europe and that is from whom I got my voice.

What have been some of your favorite acting jobs?
I got my very first job in New York from an obscure ad in Backstage (a trade magazine) and after auditioning, I got a call that I had gotten the job. There was a catch: Would I cut my hair? Yikes! I was just out of school and had printed up 500 brand new resume pictures. Not to mention, my hair was long, curly,and extremely important to my persona. So I said, "No, I couldn't cut it," and the man said he would call me back to tell me if I got the job or not. I then asked about the project. He said it was Woody Allen's fall project (soon to be titled Bullets over Broadway). I said I would pay him and be bald to do the film! It was a fantastic experience in every way and I didn't have to cut my hair!

How did you get started voicing audiobooks?
Luck! I had my first audition for one and felt very at home in the medium. I booked that job and that led to others and ultimately...this job! I would like to work more in this medium. I really enjoy the challenge.

Is there anything special you do between when you get the script and when you sit in front of the microphone?
I read the script and make a list of all the characters and their personality traits. I then think of voices for each. Some voices are more of a stretch, but if the character is minor then I can sustain it. I usually keep the main character's voice close to my own sound since that is the voice for most of the book. In this book, my normal sound was too perky and light for such a troubled character, but we tried a few variations until we got one that sounded and felt like this young girl.

What did you enjoy most about recording Thirteen Reasons Why?
I really enjoy the challenge of choosing character voices that fit the style of the book and help relay the story effectively. This was a profound book and I felt that is was very important for the listeners to feel this character's honesty, so they could really experience what the character was going through.

Was there anything that made recording Thirteen Reasons Why more difficult than other audiobooks?
This book is not a flimsy or silly read. It is a serious novel depicting deep issues that can arise in high school. I knew going in that we had to keep the serious tone of the book, but also be real as to the whims and humor that goes with being a teenager. Well, by the end of the book I was completely invested in the character (just like when you read a good book). There was an emotional scene and I started crying, which was just a reaction to speaking her words as honestly as possible. If I was just reading the novel silently at home, I probably would've cried for the character as well. It means it's a good book, it pulls you in!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Two-Day Q&A -- Jay

I’ve had Listening Library’s audiobook version of Thirteen Reasons Why in my possession for several weeks. But it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally slid the first C.D. into my car stereo. Basically, I was terrified of hearing someone else (in this case, two someone elses) interpret my words. And fifteen minutes after pressing play, I couldn’t take it anymore and I pressed eject.

I couldn’t take it anymore because I was freaking out! I worked on that story for several years…I knew it inside and out. Yet I was so caught up in its retelling that my muscles were tense and my mouth was hanging open as I waited to find out what was going to happen next. How is that even possible!?!?

It's possible because of the actors. According to AudioFile Magazine:

The novel makes a perfect transformation to audio. Debra Wiseman narrates Hannah’s story with a blend of dispassion, disgust, and defeat. Joel Johnstone portrays the grieving Clay, who chimes in uncertainly from time to time to protest Hannah’s words, his comments marked with desperation. The interplay of the two is perfectly choreographed in this powerful audio.

I contacted Debra and Joel to learn more about the actors who literally gave voices to the voices in my head. And over the next two days, I’d like to introduce them to you.

Also, be sure to leave comments. On Monday, I'll randomly select one commenter from each Q&A to receive a free audiobook of Thirteen Reasons Why.

- Jay

PAST POSTS: To re-read about my trip to NYC to witness the recording of Thirteen Reasons Why, click here. And if you don't already know about the audiobook's bonus track, click here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is It Just Me? -- Eve

Lately I’ve had my fill of YA books dealing with high school bullies. And although I’ve enjoyed every one of these books, the whole “bully” thing is becoming a little played for me. Don’t get me wrong, my MG novel that I just finished features heroism, death, gang life, and what else? A bully, of course! We Americans loves us some bullies.

But, and here’s the big “BUT”… I honestly don’t remember any bullies in my high school. Is it just me? Am I delusional? I mean, we had our partiers, our stoners, our rah-rah’s, our band geeks, our drama-ramas, our sports stars, our Dungeons and Dragons nerds, our wannabe rock stars and rap stars and models, and a few real gang bangers. And I pretty much had a few friends in each group, so I sort of floated around. (Okay, mostly I was Reese Witherspoon in Election…Type A, peppy rah-rah, student government nerd, took everything too seriously, studied waaayyy too much, never partied, etc, etc. But, I digress.)

My point is, by the time high school rolled around, we were kind of over the whole “too cool” phase of adolescence. Nobody was shoving kids into lockers or trash-canning dorks or giving swirlies in the boys’ bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t angels…we just got all that stuff out of our systems in Junior High. Our HS was 10th-12th grade, so maybe not having Freshmen around to bully was part of it. But, I remember people in my HS being pretty tolerant of each other. Even back in the day, pre-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, pre-coming out coolness of Lance Bass, Ellen, and Portia deRossi, kids came out of the closet at my HS and nobody blinked. Even the conservative kids just kind of shrugged and went on about their business.

The only true bullying I endured as a kid was in 4th through 7th grades. One day in the 4th grade, I was punched in the stomach and kicked into the street by a group of kids. The leader, who shall remain nameless, (because you know who you are, Woodrow) kicked my ass because he heard some kids made fun of his name, and he thought I was among them, when actually it was another girl (you know who you are, Kecia) who had blond hair and he got us mixed up. And in 7th grade Jackie B. tried to beat me up after school for sticking up for my friend, Kirsten, who J had called a “slut.” She chickened out when she remembered who my sister was…not a bully, but she was tough, and you wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley after you messed with her little sister! But, beyond about age 14, kids in my neighborhood seemed to focus on sports or academics or drugs or whatever their interests were. And bullying wasn’t really cool anymore. It was just sort of juvenile.

Is anyone else with me? Do kids outgrow the bullying phase by high school? Or is the bullying just more covert, more psychological and cunning rather than physical, so we don’t notice it as much? Or maybe I was just clueless!

- Eve

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Committed -- Robin

Recently, Eve and I saw the movie Across the Universe (at Jay’s constant urging) and I must say…I was blown away. It’s a movie set to Beatles songs, which makes it part musical, part regular movie, part one-very-long-tripped-out music video. I came away thinking not so much about the acting or the singing (though they were wonderful) but more about the person who came up with this strangely wonderful idea for a movie. I love that she stuck to her vision and made a truly unique piece of art. I think it was because the movie stayed committed to the concept and never held back that I felt so inspired when I left the theater. Bravo!

For me, being committed to an idea is what makes unusual ones work so well. For example, let’s talk about Stephen Colbert. When he was on The Daily Show, I loved him. He totally cracked me up. So when I heard he was going to start his own show, I thought, "Oh, no way. He could never follow The Daily Show!" And when I found out he was going to do the show as a persona, a character directly opposite of himself, I thought, "Oh, no way. He seriously can’t follow The Daily Show!" But dang, if he didn’t pull it off. He commits to his idea and never wavers from it. Sometimes he commits to his idea so much that it’s over the top, but that makes me love him even more.

Speaking of loving Stephen Colbert, I must admit that Eve and I have had the “Who would you date…Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart?” conversation (but who hasn’t!?) and we both came up with the same answer. But our reasoning got very technical, so join us for drinks someday and we’ll tell you! (Jay was very quiet in the back seat of the car during that conversation.)

Anyways, I also love it when I come across books that take an unusual idea and stay committed to it. For me, that book is Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini. I mean, it’s one thing for an author to think, “Hmm…I think I’ll write a book about how to turn a nerd into a popular guy.” But it’s absolutely brilliant to then create a realistic sci-fi book about a kid who swallows a computer chip and walks through his life with the voice of Keanu Reeves in his head telling him what to do and say in order to be cool. What an amazing idea. And Ned Vizzini stuck with it, never held back, and created a killer book.

So those are the people who have inspired me to stay committed to my ideas and not hold back. But wait! There’s one more inspiration…

Every single skit with Chris Farley on SNL. That dude can commit! (Sniff.)

Who else do you feel is “committed”?

- Robin

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Da Club -- Jay

This past Tuesday, I spoke on a YA panel at Books Inc. in San Francisco. It was for their Not Your Mother's Book Club year-end party. And I must say, if every community had a group like that, literacy rates would be sky-high (and I'd be I tell you!!!).

My wife drove up with me and got the chance to see her honey in action for the very first time. At one point, she claims, she even had to hold back tears of pride. At another point, she couldn't help inserting herself into a conversation two girls were having about my book by saying, "Guess what! That's my husband!"

Good times and good pizza were had by all...

Jennifer of NYMBC introducing us.
(Notice CynJay squatting on the right?
Thanks for coming out!)

Brian Mandabach, me, Barry Lyga, Ellen Hopkins,
and members of the book club
You Say Read We Say Party!

They actually seem interested
in what I'm saying.

"No, but I hope someday I'll be big enough
to get writer's cramp from excessive autographing."

- Jay

CHECK THIS OUT: Ever hear the phrase "boys don't read"? Well, let's put that ridiculous cliche away! Check out Boys Blogging Books (which includes an interview with yours truly). I'm definitely gonna check these guys out on a regular basis...and so should you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"They're Not Dumb, They're Just Young" -- Eve

When Reka Simonsen, Senior Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, said the title of this post at the recent SCBWI Writers’ Day, Robin and I scribbled down her words immediately. It’s my new favorite quote for children’s writers. For years, Robin, Jay and I have discussed this topic at length. Kids are often way more sophisticated than grow-ups believe them to be. So, when I pick up a book that “dumbs down” the kid-speak or kid-think, it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. Thanks for nailing down our thoughts, Reka!

Other favorite quotes on writing for children that I toss out regularly:

“Show, don’t tell.”

“The story’s DNA is in the first sentence.”

“Write what you want to know, rather than only what you know.”

“Chase your MC up a tree, then throw rocks at him.”

“Kill your babies.”

“Boil your story down to one brief 'elevator pitch' sentence.”

“Sentimentality is a failure of feeling.”

“Character trumps plot.” - Jack Gantos

“Teens crave honesty.” - Laurie Halse Anderson

“Lift the carpet on your character to reveal the icky but true issues.” - Libba Bray

“I don’t like hostile narrators; however, there’s a difference between being harsh to the world and being harsh to the reader.” - Julie Strauss-Gabel

“Careful what you wish for.” - Robert Sabuda

“The road to publication is like a churro, long and bumpy but sweet!” - The Disco Mermaids

“Attack your next book with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!” - Dr. Stephen Holtzman

If you are an author of any of the first 7 quotes, please accept my apologies for failing to write down whose mouths they came out of! And, if you’d like, please identify yourselves here in the comments section.

Any other great writing quotes to add to my list? Thanks!

- Eve (favorite quote of all time: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” - Ben and Jerry)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Office Space -- Robin

If you read this previous post, you’ll remember that I recently remodeled our messy toy room/dog room/sun room/box-collecting room into a nice little office for myself. Some of you wondered if I’d be able to keep it looking so nice and clean.

Here’s an office update:

1. Heck, no. It’s a total mess! I’ve done a good job of keeping the actual desk space clear of clutter, but the floor is a magnet for all things that don’t fit in a drawer or in my car trunk.

2. The Spider-Man pinball machine has been helpful when my son runs into the room wanting my attention. I tell him to play one game and then Mommy will be all ears. (Note: this turns into 3 games, played at full volume.)

3. When my son finally finishes his games, he’s forgotten why he came in there in the first place. Then I play a couple of games, of course.

4. I’m able to close the door to the office when I need complete silence.

5. Sometimes when I’m about to close the door so I can get complete silence, my husband asks me what he and our son should do with their time while I’m shut off in my office, and I absent-mindedly tell him, “Just build something!” Well…then the following usually happens:

Our living room is transformed into…


Apparently, they’re still looking for a new sheriff in Creature Land, due to the high number of “bad guys.”

- Robin

MERMAID SIGHTING: If you’re gonna be near San Francisco on Tuesday, November 13th, swing by Not Your Mother’s Book Club at Books Inc. Opera Plaza and have Jay sign your copy of Thirteen Reasons Why (he’ll be there with fellow teen-lit. authors Ellen Hopkins, Barry Lyga, and Brian Mandabach).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Johnny, Be Good -- Jay

Johnny Tremain.

No, stay…stay. Hear me out. Trust me, that name fills my veins with ice, too. I don’t know if I was forced to read that 1943 Newbery winner in 5th or 6th grade, but it scared me away from any other Newbery medalist till I was in college.

But I’m gonna give it another chance.

I plucked that book from the library shelf earlier this week, fully intending to delve into it that night. But four nights have since gone by and I’m still too nervous to turn past the first page and really commit myself.

On rocky islands gulls woke. Time to be about their business. Silently they floated in on the town, but when their icy eyes sighted the first dead fish, first bits of garbage about the ships and wharves, they began to scream and quarrel.

The cocks in Boston…
Sorry for splicing the introduction right there, but that’s the only way I’d be able to intrigue you into picking up your own copy and joining me on this venture. Misery loves company, you know.

Why have I decided to put myself through this? I don’t know. But I plan to use this experience to study what’s changed in the publishing world since shortly after World War II. Could a book like this ever get published today? At the Writers’ Day we recently attended, there were two separate presentations with editors reading and critiquing anonymous first pages. I can’t imagine where they would’ve started with Mr. Tremain, because we writers are constantly being told to hook readers (and editors) immediately. We need to make them turn that first page. Well, good ol’ Johnny isn’t even mentioned on page one, and neither is any sense of conflict. Basically, Boston is full of sleepy women waking up even sleepier children. Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started!

Honestly, I’m hoping to fall in love with Johnny T. this time. And I’ll admit, when I first had to read about him, I was reading books like The Secret Life of the Underwear Champ and The Mad Scientist’s Club for pleasure. So a 256-page historical fiction novel, heavy-heavy-oh-so-very-heavy on description and adverbs, and labeled A Novel for Old & Young on its title page, had no chance of pleasing me.

So…here I go. I’m now approaching the end of page one.

And so, in a crooked little house at the head of Hancock’s Wharf on crowded Fish Street, Mrs. Lapham stood at the foot of a ladder leading to the attic where her father-in-law’s apprentices…
I know! The page almost turns itself, doesn’t it?

- Jay

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Mermaids Go Solo -- Robin

Poor Jay had to go to The Goonies fest the other night without his Mermaids. Eve and I were both busy and couldn’t/wouldn’t go watch him recite every line from his all-time favorite movie. Not that I wouldn’t do the same thing if they were playing The Jerk. Or Raising Arizona. Or The Breakfast Club. Or Heathers. (Anyone with me!? “He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!”) Sorry. Got a little carried away.

Nope—Eve and I were very busy. I’ll tell you what I was doing, but I won’t say what Eve was doing because I wouldn’t want to embarrass her by telling you she went to a Billy Joel musical all by herself. I’m just too good of a friend to do that. (You’re welcome, honey!)

Tuesday night, I was on the phone. It was a tele-seminar put on by the fabulous Bruce Hale about how to write and sell a series. He’s one of the best speakers around and I learned sooo much! As always, he started off his speech with a joke which involved a parrot and a dog and Jesus…I think. I can’t remember the punchline, but I do remember it was funny!

Bruce was interviewed by Roxyanne Young (of and he took questions from the “audience” at the end. It was so surreal because people would announce their name and where they were from…and they were from all over the country! Vermont…North Carolina…Pennsylvania…California (that was me!). It was very cool to have a phone conversation with people from so many different places who were all interested in writing for children. Many, many thanks to Bruce for sharing his wisdom and humor.

And speaking of jokes, I only know one…but I’m not going to tell you the punchline. Let’s see who can get this one first:

What does a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac do?

Good luck!

- Robin

Monday, November 05, 2007

Treasure Huntin' -- Jay

How many of you have ever been in a bookstore? Okay, hands down. How many of you have ever been in a bookstore and had a giddy person walk up to you, jumping up and down, pointing at the book in you hands, saying, “I wrote that. I did. I really did! Look, that’s my picture”?

Hmm… I’m not seeing many hands. But maybe you can still help.

What if that did happen to you? How would you react? Would you even want to be approached? Well, what if the author was able to contain himself and not jump around?

The past two days, at different bookstores, I’ve seen people walking around with my book. At both stores, when I first arrived, I immediately checked the teen section to see if they had copies of Thirteen Reasons Why. Then I went on my merry way, looking for a book that I didn’t write. At both stores, from several aisles away, my eyes somehow drifted back to the teen section…and I noticed that the number of copies had decreased by one!

So I went into full treasure huntin’ mode, stalking the aisles with shifty eyes, looking for someone carrying my book. It felt weird…and very cool…to know that my book was somewhere within that magical area between the bookshelf and the cash register. At the second bookstore, Robin was with me, and she caught the treasure huntin’ fever, as well. And both times, I successfully tracked down the elusive customer. But both times, I chickened out before approaching.

What would I have said had I approached? Primarily, I wanted to do a little market study. Why did they originally pick up my book? Was it the title? The cover? Was it recommended by a friend? Why did they decide to hold onto it rather than put it back on the shelf? Was it the premise? Had they actually read a few pages? But even more primarily, I just wanted to say, “I wrote that. Look, that’s my picture.”

Personally, I’d want the author to approach me. But is that just me? Would it be too weird? If not, then what’s a good icebreaker? Help!

- Jay


At 7:30pm on November 6th, my head will probably explode. Why? Because I’ll be watching The Goonies, one of the greatest movies ever made, on a big screen for a one-night-only event. (For those of you who’ve read Thirteen Reasons Why, the Crestmont Theater was inspired by the theater pictured below.)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Happy NaNoWriMo to You! -- Eve

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I’m all signed up for NaNoWriMo! Okay, so I’m a few days late. Have any of you ever known me to be on time for anything?? Go to for more info, but basically it’s a nationwide project where we crazies pledge to write an entire novel in exactly one month!

My good friend, Tina Nichols Coury, once told me that John Lennon (yes, that John Lennon!) said he wrote his very best songs in the back of the car on the way to the studio. I believe he personally said this to Tina’s husband several times back in the day, when they hung out together. Long story! Anyway, though I’ve never been a “work better under pressure” kind of person, I think of John Lennon’s words often. And, these days, I’m finding that I actually do some of my best work with a self- or agent-imposed deadline. Who knew?

After the recent release of two YA novels (that shall remain nameless) that share the exact same premise as my YA love story work-in-progress that I’ve been obsessed with for the past year, I had exactly two days to re-think, re-synopsize and re-write my story, so that it would not appear to be a knock-off of either of these critically acclaimed YA masterpieces (even though I had the idea way before coming across either of these). Whew! What a fun 48 hours! The reason for the deadline is that I’m attending the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop at the end of November, and had to FedEx part of the ms for editorial critique by, um, yesterday. And the reason I started the process so late is because I didn’t finish revising my MG novel for my agent until Wednesday. So, I re-started my YA book at midnight Thursday. NaNoWriMo to the rescue!

Even though I was heartbroken to abandon my genius hook and plot, I found that working under the gun actually worked to my advantage. Lack of sleeping, eating, and bathing does wonders for my creative side. I watched a Charles Schulz biography on TV recently that described his battle with depression. He used to withdraw from society for long stretches of time, hole up in his office with only paper and ink, and, ironically, create his very best work. I’m not suggesting that anybody submit to depression on purpose to enhance his or her creative work, but I’m finding that sometimes I do my best work when I’m somewhat withdrawn and “in my own head” for a while. Which translates into refusing to take calls, emails, or visitors for awhile. Sorry, Jay and Robin!

But, I digress. The idea of NaNoWriMo freaked me out at first. I thought How? Why? But when I realized that I had no choice but to write a whole new novel in one month (the Big Sur Workshop starts on November 30th, and I need to have a crappy first draft complete by then), I said, “Bring it!” And then I said, “It’s already been brough’in!” And then I said, “Si, se puede!” *

Happy NaNoWriMo! Please let me know if you are one of the “crazies” who signed up, too!

- Eve

* Please forgive the inside-jokes aimed at Robin :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Busting the Box -- Robin

When it comes to writing, I’ve come to the realization that I’m one of those people who does not fit in. True, I am very tall and typically don’t “fit” into most things (I can’t actually shop at The Gap, I have to go to Gap online). But now it seems my books are shaping up to be!

My middle grade book, Dude, Where’s My Locker?, is about a boy getting through Day One of middle school. It includes drawings and graphs and letters and quizzes and just general weirdness. By the end of the day, he defeats the bully, gets the girl, and finds his locker. I’ve been getting amazing responses, including one publishing house that said they passed the book around the office because they thought it was so hilarious. Their problem was that they couldn’t figure out how to market it. I think this book is a case of needing to find a publishing house that loves a book that doesn’t quite fit the mold (which sounds like the plotline of virtually every Disney movie ever made -- a story about a kid who doesn’t quite fit in…or a lion, or a clownfish, or a cowboy doll, or a mermaid). And those movies seem to do just fine!

I took a break from writing Dude a few years ago, and decided to write something completely different. Something that might actually sell, I thought. What came out was a chapter book called The Nitwits about a couple of bumbling boys who solve local mysteries that always end up being spoofs. And how did that turn out!? Totally and completely outside of the box. Nitwits is part novel, part graphic novel, part screenplay, part, um…something. But it was fun to write and it involves lots of scenes where someone falls down. And I find falling down very funny. I love slapstick comedy. (Give me a Jim Carey/Three Stooges/Naked Gun movie marathon and I’m in heaven!) And again, I’m getting a great response to Nitwits, but no one’s willing to publish a little book that refuses to get in the box. (I like to think of this book as more of a happy chicken on a cage-free ranch.)

I’ve considered adjusting my writing style…believe me, have I ever considered it! But in the immortal words of Popeye (another great dude who never quite fit in), I yam what I yam!

- Robin