Monday, April 30, 2007

Battle of the Books...Literary Versus Commercial --Eve

The “L” word and the “C” word are tossed around all the time in this business. A conference attendee recently asked an editor to define “Literary” and the editor replied, “It means (long pause…long pause…long pause), like, NOT the DaVinci Code.” I looked at my friends on either side of me. They shrugged. I shrugged.

I realized at that moment that I could not accurately (GASP!) define the two for myself. Really. No joke. How could I get this far and not know (or be able to articulate) the difference between Literary and Commercial? I mean, I get that Gossip Girl is Commercial and I get that Johnny Tremain is Literary, but what exactly does that mean?

These are some of the answers I received from author friends of mine:

“Literary books are for smart kids and Commercial books are for fun kids.”
“Literary books win awards, but Commercial books sell more.”
“Commercial means it has a big hook, Literary means it's slow and boring.”
“Literary books are pieces of art. Commercial books are trendy and fleeting.”

M'kay. (Remember, I didn't create these definitions…I'm just quoting them.) The exercise was not entirely helpful because, of course, I can argue that smart kids enjoy both L-books and C-books. Printz winners “American Born Chinese” and “Monster” both seemed pretty hook-y and Commercial-y to me, but still won the coveted award. And I consider “Because of Winn Dixie” to be Literary, but it certainly is not slow or boring (to me).

I looked up “Literary” in the dictionary. It means: Having to do with the written word. 'Kay, that just doesn't help me a bit. So I looked up “Literature.” It means: Written works (I get that part) that are recognized as having important or permanent artistic value. Ohhhhh…now I…wait. What? “Artistic value”…riiight.

Problem: Art is subjective. Which is why our small town still celebrates a massive structure built entirely of slimy used gum as a “must see” highlight on our Chamber of Commerce map…but that's a whole 'nother story. So, what really makes one book Literary and another Commercial? Is one better than the other? And can one book be both? I think about this constantly as I'm revising my book. And I wonder if adding all the figurative layers is dragging it down and taking away from its potential commerciality, or adding to its artistic value. I guess it all comes down to telling a good story. Which is what I've decided to do, no matter what category it gets thrown into.

I know Catcher in the Rye is considered completely Literary, but did people label it as Commercial when it was published back in 1945? Maybe it was the Gossip Girl of its time and everyone was all like, “Oh, that's sooo light and silly and trendy…” And now it's a major classic and J.D. Salinger is sitting there like, “Hmm…who knew?”


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Smile, Everyone! -- Jay

Earlier this week, the Advance Reading Copies of Thirteen Reasons Why were shipped out all across the country. For the first time, people who know nothing about me are going to be reading my words and judging me as a published author.

How freaky is that!

It doesn’t matter that I’m a nice guy. It doesn’t matter that I wrote that book while working at two public libraries and three bookstores (though never more than two at once). It doesn’t matter that the very first time I appeared in a newspaper was way back in elementary school, sitting in the school library and reading a book. It doesn’t matter that I think librarians, booksellers, and children’s book reviewers are the three most important pillars of any society.

And it doesn’t matter that our blog address is printed on the back of every ARC (tee-hee!).

The only thing that matters is whether people who don’t know me can connect with a story that I just totally made up. So as I try to focus on Book 2, I’ll be sitting on pins (as well as a few needles), waiting to hear their reactions to Book 1.

This moment is precisely what I’ve been saving my hour-long massage gift certificate for.

- Jay

BONUS POST: San Luis Obispo county has a weekly arts & entertainment paper called New Times. This week’s issue gave the results of its 21st annual “Best Of” readers poll.

Check this out…

Friday, April 27, 2007

Don't be a Dumb Writer

Be a smart writer! is now accepting entries for its 2007 Write-It-Now! Competition. The judges are cool. The prizes are cool. The doors that could open for you are cool.!

We've long considered the SmartWriters staff to be members of the extended (though close-knit) Disco Mermaid family. In 2005, Eve earned an honorable mention in the mid-grade category. In 2004, Jay earned third place in the picture book category and first place in YA (which then moved on to win the Grand Prize). In fact, Jay got Chris Crutcher to blurb Thirteen Reasons Why because Mr. Crutcher was the YA judge the year that manuscript won.

So enter today, because you never know...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Early Bird Gets to Take a Nap -- Robin

This past week I’ve been trying to tweak my writing schedule so I can get the maximum amount of writing done, watch The Daily Show, and feed my son (on an almost daily basis). A certain very special editor has asked for another round of revisions on my middle grade manuscript and now I’m in frenzied writer mode!

I remembered some conversations I had in the past with other writers who are also mothers. Here’s their one piece of unwavering advice: “Oh, honey, you gotta get up at 5 a.m. before the kids get up to get any writing done.” At which point I smile at these “helpful” moms and then kick them in the shins (but only because I might hurt myself if I tried kicking them in the head).

I was feeling desperate, so I took their advice. Beep, beep, beep! My alarm sounded at 5 a.m. and I tried smothering it with a pillow to put it out of its misery. Only there I was… without a pillow and the stupid alarm kept going off and my husband kept kicking me in the shin. (See where I get these ideas?)

I loaded up on diesel fuel for coffee, broke out the butcher paper, put on some bluegrass…and guess what!? I got busy, y’all!

This was my kitchen table at 8 a.m. after hubby loaded up on my gourmet diesel fuel coffee and took this picture. It was a very productive morning and I now openly apologize to anyone I physically hurt in the past.

Hopefully all my mother/writer friends out there are smiling on me and saying, “Finally…she gets it.”

Except that it’s 7:30 p.m. now and I just passed out face down in a bowl of pasta. Anyone got any other advice?

- Robin

Monday, April 23, 2007

3-2-1 Contest!: And the Winner is...

Congratulations, Natalie! Your celebrity children's book title just won you a bunch of stuff! You’ll be receiving a book, a painting, a drawing, a candy bar, a button, and probably some bubble wrap, too.

Natalie is the blogger behind Italian Moments: A blog in which an American expatriate rants and raves about life in Italy. And since she lives on an entirely different continent, the U.S. postal service would like to extend its congratulations, as well.

Either it's a coincidence or a sign of things to come for Jay's novel that this very week, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is taking place not too far from our winner’s home. If Natalie attends, we hope she gets offered an Advance Reading Copy of Thirteen Reasons Why. “No thanks,” she could say. “I already own the very first signed copy.”

That’s right…the very first!

Thank you to everyone who submitted a celebrity book title. You had us rolling on the floor and reaching for our inhalers too many times to count. In our minds, you're all celebrities (though you obviously need no help coming up with titles)!

And please...stick around. This won't be the last Disco Mermaid contest. In fact, we’ll be announcing a new contest in the near future with an even bigger prize!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Curious George Meets Grindhouse -- Eve

UPDATE: A winner has been selected in our ARC contest. And the winning entry is...(*scroll to the bottom of this post to find out)

I once saw a Hollywood marketing expert speak at a conference, and she advised us to pitch our children's books in terms of popular movies, so that people could get an instant feel for our stories. Some examples I made up for popular teen books:
  • SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson: The Accused meets Mean Girls
  • MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers: Menace 2 Society meets Dead Man Walking
  • THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton: Rebel Without a Cause meets West Side Story (minus the dancing)
  • GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous: Requiem For a Dream meets Thirteen
  • THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by Kate DiCamillo: The Velveteen Rabbit meets The Passion of The Christ (minus the beatings and flayed flesh)
I thought about this really hard and decided that my middle grade book (still in revisions) is basically Boyz 'N The Hood meets Unbreakable meets Stand By Me meets Lord Of The Flies. (Four of my favorite movies..woo-hoo!) I know it sounds funky, but when I thought about it in those terms, it gave me a clear vision and enabled me to weave layers of symbolism into the story. This little exercise really helped me focus. The deeper into revisions I get, the more the puzzle pieces seem to fit together. It's such an exciting process!

I'm curious to hear your “Hollywood Pitches” for your own books. Especially Jay Asher's THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (I'm stumped on that one). C'mon… try it, it's pretty cool. Okay, if you can't think of one for your own book, make up a pitch for a teen book you'd like to read. And you can't say, Curious George meets Grindhouse...that's MY next masterpiece.

- Eve

*...going to be announced on Monday!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Penguin Pride! -- Jay

I lost a bet. And when you're a Disco Mermaid, losing a bet means total public humiliation. I admit, sometimes I go on and on about how wonderful it is to be a Penguin author. So Robin and Eve assumed that making me dress as a penguin for an entire day would wipe the P-word from my mouth.

Let's see...

First, I gassed up for work.

Once there, I helped a kid check out a book on, that's right...penguins!

For lunch, I grabbed some frozen yogurt.

I did a little window shopping...

...which gave me the urge to hit the treadmill.

After work, I splurged on a fancy new 'do.

I relaxed with a round of golf.

And by the end of the night, Eve and Robin's plan had totally backfired. Cuz not only is it still great to be a Penguin author...but I learned it's also great to actually be a penguin!

- Jay

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The DMs in L.A. -- Robin

UPDATE: At 11:59 Tuesday night, we will stop taking entries for our ARC contest.

(Jay, Lisa Yee, Cheryl Klein, Gregory K., Robin, Eve)

Yes, we rubbed elbows with some pretty impressive people last weekend at the SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day. Luckily we didn’t rub noses…cuz that would’ve been awkward.

I have to say that I was totally moved by Lisa Yee’s speech. Well, I was moved during the parts where I wasn’t actually laughing and snorting loud enough to cause Eve to elbow me in the ribs to shut me up.

What I loved most was seeing Lisa’s family there supporting her and handing out bookmarks after her speech. How cute was that!? She talked about being true to your passion and writing if that is what you’re meant to do. But more importantly, she said, if you have children, you must do your passion. Your children need to see you pursuing your dreams and doing what you love. Otherwise, what are they learning about their own futures? Oh man, my eyes got all teary at that one. Fortunately, Eve must have sensed my vulnerable moment because she finally stopped elbowing me in the ribs. (Thanks, honey.)

I learned some other things on our trip to L.A. It was a long car ride and the three of us had planned on brainstorming our writing projects together to, you know, get some work done. But instead, we ended up playing a riveting game of “If you could only smell one smell for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Yeah, we’re that dorky. I learned some interesting things about my fellow Mermaids.

If Eve could only smell one smell for the rest of her life it would be white cake (why white, I do not know). For me, it’s a newly opened can of tennis balls (please, no ball jokes…I heard enough of those from Eve and Jay). And if Jay could smell only one smell for the rest of his life it would be Jessica Alba (please, make all the jokes you want).

- Robin

P.S. While Stephen Mooser of SCBWI didn’t say much about this summer’s conference, he did tell us the theme for the after hours party: Under the August Silver Moon. And, yes, we’ve already started brainstormin’ costume ideas!

Friday, April 13, 2007

3-2-1 Contest!

You won’t find any French hens, turtledoves, or partridges in pear trees here. But you will find 3 Disco Mermaids, 2 literary agents, and 1 fantabulous editor.

We’re giving away an Advance Reading Copy of Jay’s debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. And all you’ve gotta do is make us laugh! Actually, you’ve gotta make us laugh harder than anyone else.

Your entries will be judged by all three Disco Mermaids on a funny-scale of 1 to 10 (10 being frickin’ hilarious). The ten highest-scorers will move on to Round Two. Or maybe we’ll use a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being the least funniest, in which case the lowest-scorers will move on.

The top ten entries will then be judged by Jay and Eve’s shared agent and Robin’s agent (which she refuses to share) using a 1 to 10 scale. The top five highest-scorers (or lowest-scorers…we’ll figure it out by then) will move on to the final judge, Jay’s editor. And while his editor definitely knows how to pick a winner, she absolutely refuses to pick the winner’s nose!

And because there are three Disco Mermaids, the winner will not only receive a gift from Jay, but will receive a gift from Eve and Robin, as well. Eve signed a 20 x 16 print of her acrylic painting, Sunset Vineyard (which does indeed include a touch of pink, as all of her paintings must). Robin’s four-year-old son drew a 12.5 x 30.5 panoramic profile of the Disco Mermaidmobile on taupe butcher paper, which he christened the Really Big Ship! You will also receive an official Disco Mermaid button, featuring the logo designed by Don Tate. Plus, a Butterfinger bar similar to the one mentioned in the book. But unlike the literary candy bar, this one is a 'New 2 Piece King Size' Butterfinger. Not only does it come with the familiar tagline crispety, crunchety, peanut-buttery, but since it was purchased in Nipomo, it also claims to be crocante, prurient, cremosa con cacahuete (mani).

So…whatchagottado? Simply give a celebrity a helping hand. Give someone famous an idea for a children’s book...because you know they all wanna write one. And since everyone should follow the advice to Write What You Know, give them a title for a book only they could write. For example:

ANGELINA JOLIE: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (and does she need a Mommy)?

JUDE LAW: Daddy had Two Nannies

AL GORE: Walter the Ozone-Depleting Dog

You get the idea. And if you don’t, just flip through a few pages of Us or People or Star and you’ll get more ideas than we’ll have time to judge. Just leave your entry in the comments section of this post, and you're entered. The last day to submit is Tuesday, April get titular!

BONUS: This ARC will be personally signed by Jay, having the distinction of being his first ever autographed book!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

He is Relaxin', Indeed -- Jay

My wife was staying with her sister in Santa Cruz last weekend. Since we didn’t know if we’d see each other on Easter, we didn’t color any eggs. At the last minute, we decided to all meet up in Big Sur on Sunday morning to spend the day hiking and hunting.

Hunting Easter eggs, that is.

I told them I would bring some plastic eggs with me, but by 9 o’clock Saturday evening there wasn’t a single store with anything more than rabbit Pez dispensers. By 10 o’clock, I was back home doing things the old fashioned way...boiling eggs and dipping them in dye. Then I woke up at 6, drove three hours north, and had an awesome Easter Sunday.

By the time we met, we'd missed the only church service in town, so we went to the spot we’d originally wanted to get married. It’s an outdoor chapel featuring nothing but a dozen basic wooden benches facing a stone and wood altar and a large wooden cross overlooking the creek. A few other people (visiting from Sevier County, Tennessee) had the same idea as us. After talking for several minutes, I learned that the middle-aged couple purchased their first home in Arcadia, California...which is where I lived till I was thirteen! In fact, we all lived there at the same time.

Small world.

My wife, my sissie-in-law, and I then hiked to the top of Buzzard’s Roost. We had lunch at the Big Sur River Inn, relaxed by the water, then I hid Easter eggs for them...

Then it was their turn to hide Easter eggs for me...

Finally, my wife said something she’d been holding in all day. “You seem much more relaxed than you have in months.”

It was true. With no way to check my e-mail, work on my second book, and very limited cellphone reception (though I was able to welcome Eve back from Hawaii), it was hard to do anything but simply reeeeelaaaaax. And it felt refreshingly wonderful.

But don’t worry...I’m back.

- Jay

UP NEXT: win yourself an Advance Reading Copy of my debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why (plus many more cool prizes)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Aloha and Mahalo and Aloha! --Eve

Although most of you probably didn't even notice my 2+ week departure, I did in fact just return from sixteen days of Hawaiian Island hopping with my parents, sister, brother-in-law and nephew, and feel like I've been under a lava rock forever. In an effort to completely relax and have quality family time I ignored newspapers, TV, email and phone messages. My secondary goal was to synthesize all my MG book revisions (YES, I'm still revising the same book) in my head (or out loud to anyone who would listen) so that all the connections make sense. I'm weaving in new themes, allegories, metaphors, (acronyms, logarithms, onomatopoeias and Lord knows what other big word things I can't define that I've thrown in there!) and needed some brain marinating time. So, between swimming, eating pineapple, hiking, eating papaya, exploring, and eating coconuts I managed to learn a ton about the revision process.

I'm taking the opportunity to throw out a huge MAHALO holler to everyone who helped make this such a fruitful (No pun intended. Okay, pun intended.) trip.


AMY for listening patiently to my constant babbling about plot details, character quirks, and theme relationships when all you wanted to do was quietly develop your Coppertone tan.

KERILL and DON for teaching me “The Hero's Journey” and for the book and video on how to write it well. (How lucky am I to have two good friends in Hawaii who just happen to be writing and literature experts??)

MOM and DAD for listening to my constant babbling about how hard it is to get a book published, and for watching the entire “Hero's Journey” video with me…even though it has no relevance to your lives, whatsoever. Although, maybe it does…did you ever know that YOU'RE my heros?? (Cue Bette Midler…sniff!)

J.B. (my seven-year-old nephew) for reminding me that children's books are fun, and writing them should be fun too.

TRI (bro-in-law) for keeping me laughing. I find it's the best cure for writer's block.

NANCY (homicide investigator…long story, don't ask) for hanging out with me in Waikiki (listening to my constant babbling about my book) and answering my millions of childish questions about what you do for a living…fascinating! (Her line of work is actually quite pertinent to my book…plus it's like watching a good movie. For free!)

RANDOM HOTEL POOL BOY for listening to my constant babbling about my book, how much I know about the hero's journey, all the workings of homicide investigation, and how tan my sister is.



Sunday, April 08, 2007

Coming Soon...

With 2/3 of the Mermaids out of state (one in the desert, the other on a tropical island), things have been a tad unusual in DiscoLand. There hasn’t been a Brainstorm Meeting in a few weeks…or even a Brainstorm Phone Call.

But there’s still been a ton of exciting things going on. While camping, Robin got a very encouraging phone call from her agent (she had to stand atop a rock to keep the signal). Jay got what’s called a Spectacular E-Mail from his editor. But neither of these bits o’ news can be shared just yet. Which means, yes, we’re extremely cruel for even bringing them up. (But don’t worry, we won’t even mention the Chicago lawyer who contacted us on Thursday.) Oh, and Eve went to a luau with a real live pig. Well, it was real…but there was absolutely nothing live about it.

Later this week, two more cool things will be happening. One for us…and one for you.

For us: On Saturday, we’ll be attending the Los Angeles SCBWI Writer’s Day (anyone else going?). Among those speaking will be two of our favorite bloggers: Lisa Yee and Cheryl Klein!

For you: Before the end of the week, we’ll announce a contest to win an Advance Reading Copy of Thirteen Reasons Why. The only reason we’re not announcing the contest right now is that we haven’t gathered all the prizes…and we haven’t settled on the type of contest.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

RobinJayEvesDropping #1

- overheard in the teen section of a bookstore -

Female Teen 1
Why do you always read books about girls
who are mean to each other?

Female Teen 2
I don't know...because it's fascinating!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Leaving the Boy at Home Without a Babysitter -- Robin

Luckily, I’m not leaving my 4-year-old home by himself…I’m just leaving Jay home by himself! Eve is still drinking from coconuts in Hawaii and I’m leaving for a camping trip in Zion National Park in Utah. My son is determined to see “red rocks.” Not brown, red. So, of course, we’re packing up and taking a big family trip. Hopefully, my boy won’t say, “The Fjords! I must see the Fjords!” But, of course, we’d take him. He’s just that cute.

Here’s what I’m reading on my trip:
The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California, by Mary Hershey.
Rules, by Cynthia Lord (I work with autistic children at my “day job” so I can’t wait to read this book.)

Since Eve and I are gone, we all know what that means…Jay is in charge.


I’ve instructed him not to answer the door unless it’s someone he knows and to only answer the phone if it rings twice, hangs up, then rings again. (Probably shouldn’t give my secrets away, huh?)

So take it easy on Jay while we’re away. And please, if you see him in public and he’s wearing white socks with dark shoes, set him straight for us, would ya?

- Robin

Monday, April 02, 2007

I Get So Excitable! -- Jay

A few days ago, walking through the teen section of a bookstore, I stopped in front of a new hardcover memoir. Something about the author’s name sounded familiar. So I picked up Grief Girl, opened it to the back flap, and…Yes!…I do know Erin Vincent. At last summer’s SCBWI conference, I chit-chatted with her and Sarah Littman in the hotel lobby till even the moon started to get tired.

I absolutely love those out-of-the-blue Hey, that name sounds familiar! moments. And while I wait for the next one, here are some more moments I can’t wait to arrive this year:

I can’t wait to read Debby Garfinkle’s Stuck in the ’70s! I’ve been a fan of Debby’s since before we shared an agent. In fact, when the Disco Mermaids first discussed blogging, we often referred to the humorous tone of her blog.

I can’t wait to read Jerry Spinelli’s Love, Stargirl! You probably didn’t know there was a sequel to Stargirl, did you? Well, there is...and that's got me all excited!

I can’t wait for this summer’s national SCBWI conference! Next month, at the L.A. Writer’s Day, we’ll find out the theme of the after hours party. And on the entire drive home, I’m sure the Disco Mermaids will be rackin’ our brains over what costumes to wear.

I can’t wait for the next brainstorm session with Eve regarding her teen romance, 365 Days (or whatever she's gonna call it)! This is the novel that I think best captures Eve’s humor and heart. And while I’ve never cried while reading a book, this one just might do it.

I can’t wait for Robin to start submitting her teen novel, Skye is Falling (or whatever she's gonna call it)! Not only is it populated with some of the best characters I’ve ever read, it’s…well…it’s got a huge kick-ass twist that I am so excited about.

But most of all, I really can’t wait for October 18th! (That's the release date of Thirteen Reasons Why, in case you didn't know.)

So, what’s got you all excited? And it’s okay if you say October 18th…I can share.

- Jay

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Monster at the End of this Post

Did you read that?

In the title, what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this post???

IT DID? Oh, we are so scared of Monsters!!!

SHHHH Listen, we have an idea. If you do not scroll down, we will never get to the end of this post.

And that is good, because there is a Monster at the end of this post.

So please do not scroll down.


Maybe you do not understand. You see, scrolling down will bring us to the end of this post, and there is a Monster at the end of this post.

Here, this will stop you from scrolling down. Get a long rope and *tie* your arms to your sides. This way you cannot…


You do not know what you are doing to us! Nowstop scrolling down!

Okay! We, the Disco Mermaids, are asking you nicely to *nail* your scrolling-finger to your mouse pad so you will not be able to scroll down, and we will not get any closer to the Monster at the end of this post.

All right!

All right!

All right!

Do you know that every time you scroll further down…you not only get us closer to the Monster at the end of this post, but you royally piss us off!

What we need to do is keep your hand entirely away from your mouse or keyboard. So why don’t you *glue* your hand to your forehead! We would just like to see you try to scroll down now.

Do you know that you are very stubborn?

One more scroll will bring us to the end of this post, and there is a Monster at the end of this post.

Oh, we are so scared!

Please do not scroll down.




Well, look at that! This is the end of the post, and the only one here is…YOU.

You, lovable, furry old YOU, are the Monster at the end of this post. And you were so scared!

We told you and told you there was nothing to be afraid of.

(Oh, you are so adorably ugly...)

Happy April Fools Day!
And Happy Birthday, Evie
(turning 29…again!)

(WRITING TIP #23: to learn everything you need to know about writing a suspense novel, you've gotta buy this book)