Thursday, May 29, 2008

Revision-O-Rama -- Robin

This past weekend, I wrote it: The End. Writing those two words makes me do back-handsprings and air-splits and handstands underwater. Well, it makes me want to do those things. (I have coordination issues.)

So instead, I settled for a frosty beverage and some Cheez-Its. Then I looked over my manuscript and realized two things:

1. It needs major revisions.
2. It kind of sucks.

Usually, a revelation like that would cause me to dig deeper into a box of Cheez-Its and pour another frosty beverage, but I finally figured out how to handle the revision part of this book. This is a totally new idea for me, so we’ll see if it works.

But first, let me share a wee bit of backstory (it’s very wee, I promise!). I came across a summary of the SCBWI Washington conference on someone’s blog and saw that an editor there had spoken on the topics of Plot, Theme, Character and Voice. Which, to me, sounded like a speech about Everything. But then I realized that those topics, in that order, are the layers of revisions I need to do!

First, I’ll go through and revise only for plot. I’ll make sure the main character gets from A to Z, and that the manner in which she gets from A to Z makes perfect sense. I’ll also make sure that the car which was lime green in chapter 1 is still lime green in chapter 24.

Second, I’ll go through and look just at theme. Now that I have a newly buffed and shiny plot, did my idea of ‘xyz’ (whatever that ends up being) come across as I wanted it to? Is it too subtle or way too heavy handed?

Third, I’ll go through and revise for character. I’m not sure what the editor was referring to in his speech, but for me, revising for character means I’ll look at all the other people in my main character’s life. I’ll try to make them well-rounded and avoid stereotypes. I might look at subplots and see if I can strengthen their stories. I want the people in her world to be as interesting as possible (but not annoyingly quirky) and deliver only some of the best punch lines.

And finally, I’ll go through and revise for voice. Now that my main character is propelling her way through a decent-ish plot, she has an interesting theme to wade through, and the characters around her are freakishly real (hopefully)…what the heck would she say and how would she say it!?!?

I’m not going to kid myself…all of this revision is going to take a long time.

So! My plan—for now—is that once I get to the voice-round of revision, I’m going to check myself into a lovely bed and breakfast and just focus on my main character and her words. I’ll only think about how she would react to each moment and just become her. I think I can do that if I’m away from my own world and don’t have to get up from my computer every five minutes to help my son clean up the Life cereal he dumped on himself (which is what I’ve been doing while writing this post).

This is a new way of approaching a novel for me, so let’s hope it works. And if it doesn’t? I’m moving on to the hard stuff…a good bottle of Pinot Noir and Rainbow Goldfish.

- Robin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Radio Ga Ga -- Jay

Sometimes I say stupid and embarrassing things. And that makes me nervous about this Thursday. Why? Because I’m doing a live radio interview on The Dave Congalton Show.

Mr. Congalton (who’s an author, as well) used to direct the local writing conference, which I attended for several years. He’s had an open-invite for me to appear on his radio show, but I’ve shied away from committing because…well…sometimes I say stupid and embarrassing things. And that’s fine when I’m standing in a classroom, or even in an auditorium. But on the air?

So how did this happen…

This coming Sunday, I’m doing a book signing at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay with Catherine Ryan Hyde. Ms. Hyde has been doing the publishing-thing for several years, so she’s well connected with the local media. When she asked if I wanted to do a signing with her, she also said she could get us booked on The Dave Congalton Show on KVEC News-Talk 920…to which I replied with a very audible “Gulp!

See, in high school, I did a brief internship at KVEC. They were searching for a couple teens who might be interested in writing for the radio news business and my guidance counselor recommended me.

It was an amazing few months with many cool responsibilities. One, I had to record the ABC news feed which came in at specific times. This was before the internet took off (in fact, I recorded it on 8-track cassettes!), so if I missed it, we couldn’t just download the report. Two, I had to call people, interview them, and record sound bites. Three, if I wanted to, I could record myself doing a special news report and they would air it. But I only did that once because my teen-voice was not radio-friendly. And four, I called the police news hotline to find stories to fill air-time. I became addicted to that hotline and would wake up in the middle of the night just to see what was goin’ down in the underbelly of my town…which wasn’t much. The only story I specifically remember writing was about a neighborhood Peeping Tom who’d been peering into bathroom windows. The police caught him in the bushes…y’know…doing something. (I'm not sure if this was the inspiration for a certain scene in Thirteen Reasons Why, but it sure sounds like it.)

After writing those police stories for several weeks, I was told that the news guys hadn’t been using my stuff. Ever! Apparently, I wasn’t writing them correctly. And everyone kept forgetting to tell me I was doing it wrong...or to show me how to do it right. So, day after day, I was happily turning in material which I thought was being used.

And I’m a sensitive writer!

So I left the radio business for good. But this Thursday at 3pm, I’m back! And even if you’re not in the area, you can probably catch me saying stupid and embarrassing things online by clicking here.

- Jay

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vote Purple!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if characters from children's literature were allowed to run for president? They know the important issues. They feel the pain we authors face everyday. And they're just so darn cute! Maybe one day, if we're lucky, we might hear a speech as stirring as this one:

My fellow writers, I know your struggles. I know the mountains to be climbed, the oceans to be crossed, and the distractions to be ignored.

Hope, my friends, is on the way. And that hope…is made of wax.

Come inauguration day, I will place a crayon in every hand. A purple crayon. And together, we will draw that bridge to a shiny tomorrow. And that bridge will be purple and proud.

Searching for a novel idea? Draw a purple lightbulb over your head. Can’t bust through that writers block? A purple powderkeg will blast it away. And when you send off your manuscript to the grand city of New York, and your carefully crafted words are first seen in that highrise in the sky, draw purple dollar signs in the editor’s eyes.

You will be published. Yes, you will be published. Tomorrow’s leaders—today’s children—will read your books. And then you will be tickled a new shade…and it will be purple.

Now, my opponent may tell you that you need more than purple. That you need sparkles and feathers and things that twinkle. And even though Nancy has quite an impressive wardrobe, fancy is not what you need.

When I look out across this great country of ours, I do not see blue states and red states. From sea to shining sea, just like the mountains majesty…I see purple. It's not just a color, but a color you can believe in.

When you enter that booth on election day, vote Harold.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alignment of the Planets -- Eve

I've been researching astrology for my YA romance in progress for some time now. And, consequently, I've become obsessed with checking my own. In researching the history of astrology, I found that back in the day, kings, queens, astronomers, and all kinds of famous and intellectual people used their sun signs, moon signs, Venus signs, etc., to chart their futures and make big decisions. So I charted out all my signs based on the alignment of the planets (plus sun and moon) the minute I was born. I figured, hey, if powerful royal rulers used this stuff to decide whether or not to invade neighboring countries, I should take a few pointers from the universe in my quest for publication.

My "personalized horoscope" pops up in my email inbox every morning and strangely, it's usually right on in terms of how my day is going to go. Just to make sure I'm not just making my day go the way my horoscope says, sometimes I experiment and check it at the end of the day to see if it fits. My personalized reading includes a full detailed paragraph of what I can expect to endure mentally, physically, professionally and intimately during the next 24 hours. And the opening sentence sets the tone.

Since I've received so many emails from friends and supporters asking how the edits on Ring of Fire turned out, and if I've heard back from the publishing house who showed promising interest in the novel, I'll leave you with a sampling of opening horoscope lines from the last several days to let you know how my week has gone.

"Your long-term goal is completely in reach."
"Don't even think of taking a break now, the finish line is ahead."
"Creativity flows, emotions are high, the world is yours."
"Sweet success is upon you in ways you never dreamed of."
"The powers that be decide your fate today."
"Nightfall brings news you have been waiting patiently for."
"Sometimes what we want may not be what we need."
"Rejection and disappointment create a stronger, healthier, more motivated you!"

Um, yeah, thanks planets, but I think you got it wrong this time. I'm not feeling so strong, healthy or motivated at the moment.

- Eve

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Love the Internet -- Robin

The reason I love the internet isn’t because I can get current pictures of Britney Spears on a minute-by-minute basis or because I can read customer reviews of hot tubs from Costco any time I want to. And it isn’t even because I can make myself into a South Park character (even though that is freaking awesome!).

I love the internet for two reasons:

1. Research for my novels

I love those particular two things because I can listen to music on Pandora that I may have never considered listening to, all while researching information on American history. Heaven!

So this weekend I was listening to Wyclef Jean (my new fave) and looking up info on the Declaration of Independence. (I know…who wasn’t?) And I came across a woman who has done extensive research on the D of I (which is my new pet name for the good ol’ Declaration of Independence). She had written a book on the Founding Fathers and some of the information she discovered on a specific incident in history is going to be a critical turning point in my book. So I really, really wanted to find out more from her. And thanks to the internet, I found her email address.

I sent her a detailed email describing the book I’m working on and asked her a few questions about the D of I, hoping she’d give me the little nugget of info I needed to make the scene that much more real (and also hoping she wouldn’t mind me calling it the D of I). But I also figured she was probably a busy person and it was probably an old email address and I’d probably never hear from her.


She wrote back the very next morning. And she gave me the perfect nuggets I need to make the story so utterly real. Woo-hoo! Yes, I squealed as I read her email, which caused my husband to yell across the room, “Why are you squealing!?”

“Oh,” I said, “I’m just chatting with a history professor from MIT…that’s all!!!”

And he said under his breath, “Man, I love the internet.”

- Robin
(who is currently listening to Fiona Apple radio on Pandora)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Write On! -- Jay

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is an awesome and creatively inspiring book. For a lot of you, that’s probably not news. Basically, it’s a collection of 14 black and white illustrations, each with a title and a line of text from a different book written and illustrated by the mysterious Harris Burdick. But that’s all we have…a single page from each book!

And that, of course, allows whoever picks up this amazing book to imagine what happens beyond these story prompts.

I was reminded of this book while flipping through the latest Houghton Mifflin catalogue, where they revealed the following website:

It includes stories written by children who were inspired by Mr. Van Alls—…I mean, Mr. Burdick’s artwork. There’s also a story written by Stephen King! Mr. King chose "The House on Maple Street" to inspire his story. In that illustration, a two-story house (with a light on in the attic) is beginning to blast off. It's a cool story prompt with a little bit of personal history for me.

When I was an assistant children’s librarian in Wyoming, I used The Mysteries of Harris Burdick to teach creative writing in an after-school program for elementary school students. The only story I still remember was written by a boy who was inspired by the same illustration as Mr. King. He was so excited to show me what he'd written because…I was the main character. Yes, I was in the house as it began lift-off. Of course, with a house pushing off against the Earth’s gravitational pull, there’s a lot of shaking that occurs. And things began flying off shelves. And one heavy object hit me on the head. And there was blood oozing out of my head. Lots of blood. Pools of blood.

And when I finished reading, I heard the author laugh. “Huh-huh. Heh-heh-huh.”

I don’t know what I’m trying to say with this post, but that laugh still gives me the chills.

- Jay

BONUS COOLNESS: Check out this article from Publishers Weekly regarding Thirteen Reasons Why. It is beyond cool!!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bucket List -- Eve

While working on my second YA novel, I tend to think a lot about "Bucket Lists," you know, the list of things one wants to do before he or she "kicks the bucket" (Jack Nicholson's phrase, not mine). My main character is coming to terms with her own mortality, but in an effort to be more spontaneous and less meticulous about her life she kind of creates an anti-bucket list, and spends her days doing random things she never even dreamed she'd enjoy.

When researching peoples’ bucket lists on the internet, I noticed that certain things pop up regularly. Why does everybody want to grow a vegetable garden? Experience weightlessness? Spend an entire day lounging in pajamas, eating only junk food? Okay, that one I get, but it doesn’t count as a bucket list item because I pretty much do that every single day.

I think bucket lists say a lot about people. Though I’ve never committed mine to paper, there are definitely activities or adventures that I’ve always secretly (or not so secretly) wanted to partake in.  Although I’ve still (hopefully) got another 100 years to live, I’ve been taking stock lately, and I realized I’ve almost checked off my whole mental list! Not sure what that means. Either my life’s almost over, or it’s time to make another list.

My bucket list so far in no particular order:

Live on an island. X
Spend time in the rainforest, living off the land. X
Swim with dolphins. X
Jump off a really scary cliff. X
Visit Fiji (to see where The Blue Lagoon was filmed!) X
Attend the Olympics. X
Teach young children. X
Paint and show the art in a real gallery. X
Meet the President. X (Not the current one, the good one before him.)
Learn to ballroom dance. X
Drive America coast to coast. 3X
Run a marathon. ½ X
Meet Duran Duran. X (Woo-Hoo!!)
Be featured in People magazine. (For doing something cool, not for being a murder victim or anything.)
Write a novel. X
Publish a novel.

Any other bucket listers out there willing to share? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

- Eve

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Murphy-isms -- Robin

On Monday, Cynthia Leitich Smith posted an interview with my agent, Erin Murphy. I almost didn’t read it because I thought I knew everything there was to know about her. (She really likes dark chocolate. What else do I need to know?) But luckily I checked it out and, man, if the interview didn’t just blow me away! I got to the end of it and thought: She is so dreamy…I want her for an agent.

Then I kicked myself and said: She IS your agent, doofus. Now sit up straight and be grateful! So I just wanted to share with you all that I am so thankful to have such a fantastic agent (and that I’m working on my posture).

About halfway down, Cynthia asks her what she sees as the ingredients for a "breakout" book. And Erin’s answer is fascinating! I think I’ve had thoughts similar to hers on this subject, but I just didn’t know those thoughts could be put together in a way that makes so much sense. (It makes me wonder who the real writer is in this relationship!) So check it out!

I also wanted to make sure all you moms out there had a fabulous Mother’s Day! I told my family I only wanted one thing for Mother’s Day: three hours to myself. So I went to my favorite coffee shop and wrote two chapters in my middle grade novel. Then I went to the gym and exercised like crazy! But I overexerted myself and ended up dragging my limp, lifeless body home…only to find my son and husband proudly holding backpacks filled with snacks and water bottles. They both cheered, “Happy Mother’s Day! We’re going on a family hike!” They looked so cute and well-prepared…I couldn’t let them down.

And how are my thighs feeling now? Like overcooked spaghetti. Good thing I have a sit-down job.

- Robin

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Faster than Hollywood -- Jay

When Hollywood's moving too slow, you can always count on the students in Alabama*...

and Pennsylvania to pick up the slack!

- Jay

*also responsible for the awesome teen book review site,!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

13 Again, Part Deux -- Eve

I've received so many calls and emails asking for updates on my Teaser Post about my incredible news, so I thought it only fair to appease the thousands of readers out there (okay, three) who've been politely asking.

Oh! You thought I meant that news? Oh, no, we're not talking book news here. No, I'm talking about the fact that my sister Amy and I got to meet Duran Duran last weekend backstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl!

As young teens, all my girlfriends and I ever wanted was to meet the boys of Duran Duran. I swear I'm going to write a YA book based on our crazy antics. Funny that after all these years, my inner 13-year-old still pops out upon hearing one of their songs (and certainly upon meeting them in person...who knew??). My words cannot adequately express how insanely cool it was to finally meet the band of my dreams after worshiping their awesomeness for 25 years!

I'll let the pictures (and quotes) speak for me...

Eve & Amy: We are so excited! They'd better come backstage before we hurl!

Amy: Seriously, dude. I'm gonna hurl. Not joking. Seriously.

Eve: OMG, Nick. I want to marry you!
Nick: Uh, yeah, thanks, but you should have called me when I was between wives.

Roger: If I had one wish, I would wish for Evie to smooch me!

John: OMG, Evie! I've been waiting 25 years to meet you too!

Duran Duran: We love Amy and Eve. They are our most favorite fans ever!

- Eve

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Oops!...I Did It Again -- Robin

Yep, I got sick again. I thought I had paid my dues when I came down with the flu (the super evil kind) last month, but the bugs of the world felt I was such a lovely host that they decided to vacation with me again. (Do they have frequent flier miles or something!?)

Sorry for the gross opening paragraph. But I spent five days (yes, five!) lounging in my bed watching bad TV. I also moaned and complained a lot, but after that I found myself—yet again—addicted to watching The E! True Hollywood Story. Last Wednesday, they dedicated an entire afternoon to Britney Spears. And it happened again, the same way it happened with JLo! Once I heard her back story (all three hours of it) I totally felt empathy with her and now I adore her! The poor girl. Someone help her! (And please, not Dr. Phil.)

Now, I would help Britney if I had the time, but I’ve been sidetracked ever since I got something in the mail…the SCBWI 37th Annual Summer Conference brochure!!! Woo-hoo!!! Breaking the seal on that little half-circle sticker to reveal the list of speakers and events is like holding a little slice of heaven in my palm. I look forward to that moment every year!

It was nice to see some familiar names on the faculty list, like Bruce Coville, Arthur Levine, David LaRochelle, Lisa Yee, and, of course, Jay Asher! Jay’s topic sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to see what he puts together because, as I’m sure you all can guess, there will be many laughs.

There are so many other people I can’t wait to see. I noticed that editor Julie Strauss-Gabel will be giving a four-day long workshop on revising your YA novel. Just as I was sitting there thinking, “Hmm…I think I’d like to take that class,” an email popped up from our local SCBWI listserv saying that Julie’s workshop had just filled up. D'oh! But I can’t wait to hear from people who do take the workshop—I think it’s a super idea to have intensive classes on revision. Are any of you signed up for it? Maybe I’ll be quicker on the draw next year!

And, of course, The Mermaids are busy brainstorming costume ideas for this year’s “Paint the Town Red” poolside party! Most of our brainstorming sessions consist of me and Eve saying to Jay: Nope, too difficult…too revealing…too itchy…too, wait…you want us to do what!?!?...okay, but only if you'll wear this...DEAL!!!

It should be fun! Do any of you have plans to go to the conference?

- Robin

Sunday, May 04, 2008

FCBD08 -- Jay

I have a really long list of things I love.

At least, I say I love them, but then I don’t spend nearly enough time with them. I guess I love the idea of loving them more than taking the time to genuinely explore my love with them.

Like history. I love history! And sometimes I’ll get into a love affair with history and think, “I need to know more about the Renaissance!” Then I’ll do tons of research to find the perfect book about that time period, I’ll buy the book, and after twenty or thirty pages…I’m over it.

Or space. I love outer space! One of my friends teaches astronomy, and sometimes we’ll go camping and he’ll teach a group of us about the constellations, and I’ll think, “I need to know more about space exploration!” But pretty soon…I’m onto something else.

I also love comic books! As a kid, my favorite was the entire line of Archie comics. Riverdale High School rocks!!! But then I stopped reading any comics at all. Over the past few years, though, they’ve been piquing my interest again. Some of my friends are really into comics, and I always ask them to buy me the cream o’ the crop for my birthday. Usually, they’ll bring me their favorites titles from the previous year as well as a couple they think I’ll like. And I always love what I read!

But then I never go out and buy my own.

Last week, I saw an ad announcing Free Comic Book Day, which is always the first Saturday in May. For seven years now, all around the world, comic book stores have been celebrating FCBD. And this past Saturday, I finally enjoyed the festivities down at my local comic book store, Captain Nemo…

I spent a long time analyzing the titles on the racks from which we could choose two comic books created specifically for FCBD…

And then I went to the counter where the staff selected a non-FCBD comic just for me. That’s three for free!!!

Then I went straight home and started reading my new books while downing Mountain Dew (I guess it's a comic book culture thing...I saw a few people drinking it inside Capt. Nemo).

Now, if you're still one of those people who think comic books aren’t a respectable art, then you definitely haven’t read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Go read it now! It's amazing!!!

- Jay

Bonus Coolness: Thirteen Reasons Why, along with Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine, just won the California Book Award for Young Adult Literature, given each year to books written by California authors. And that's really cool for two reasons. One, both books were represented by the same literary agent...the amazing Laura Rennert! And two, from what I understand about the population distribution of the United States...California is huge!!!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

13 Again -- Eve

Back in the 80's, my girlfriends and I were huge Duran Duran fans. Now, when I say "huge fans" I mean we were the fans. Crazy. Nutty. Obsessed. Kid you not, Maril, Kelly, Christy, my sister Amy and I owned every album, European remix single, poster, button, and T-shirt available on the planet. Whenever a new piece of DD paraphernalia became available, we acquired it. We screamed and cried (literally) every time a DD video played on MTV (this was pre-video recorders, pre-TiVo). Everything we did revolved around the band. When other kids were out drinking, smoking, partying, and taking Tomfoolery to new heights, our group was lying around Maril's living room, rewinding and replaying our DD tapes bit by bit so we could memorize every word to every song. No joke, I still know them all (but, of course, I couldn't recite state capitals or even tell you what I had for breakfast today to save my life...funny how memory works, isn't it?).

Every birthday that Simon, John, Andy, Nick and Roger had, we celebrated with a party, a cake, and a stand-in poster of the absent birthday boy. When the band started touring in the US for the first time, our parents styled us with 6th row center tickets at the L.A. Forum (purchased for a lot of money through a scalping agency...did we have the greatest parents or what??), a limousine, and a pre-party (with a DD themed cake) at my house. We spent months planning our outfits, our make-up colors and deciding what gifts to toss on stage. I settled on a stuffed elephant that I had been sewing in 7th grade Home Ec. class just for the occasion. I attached a (scary, stalker-fan) note to the elephant and hurled him to the middle of the stage, where it poofed against Simon's foot. I had written my phone number on the note. They never called.

About six months later, the band scheduled a second show in San Diego, and Maril's mom schlepped us all down there. She sat in her car in the parking lot during the three hour show, then suggested we stake out the backstage door afterward so we could hopefully meet the band. We camped out all night in the back of Mrs. Manning's El Camino. No luck. They never came out. Probably got airlifted out by helicopter the minute the show ended to avoid shrieking fans accosting them.

Our goal in life was to meet Duran Duran in person. We knew once they met us, they'd fall madly in love and simply have to whisk us off to England and marry us. Maril would marry Simon, Amy would marry John, Christy and I would both marry Nick (I spent the entirety of my junior high years writing "Eve Rhodes" on every paper I turned in!). Over the years, Duran Duran has broken up and reunited a number of times, but every time they play a concert together with the original 5 members, we're there. In the last 10 years, I've seen them in Florida, Vegas, L.A. and the O.C. But, alas, have never had the coveted opportunity to meet them in person. Certainly not for lack of trying!

So, my sister is flying out here from Florida as we speak so we can once again relive our youth this Saturday when we attend the Duran Duran concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. But this time we're doing it right. We decided to throw caution (and several hundreds of dollars) to the wind and purchased two very special DD VIP packages, which include...Pre-party reception with food and drink, "special" gifts from the band, front row center tickets, and...drumroll...


I'm expecting one of two things to happen. Either the band will be too exhausted to meet us, and they'll ditch us, forever shattering my dream of a lifetime. Or, if you never hear from me again, you can assume I'm lounging around a mansion somewhere in the English countryside, under the name Mrs. Eve Rhodes!

- Eve