Saturday, June 28, 2008

While the Cat’s Away…--Robin

Hi everyone! Jay is off to ALA this weekend, which means...we have the blog all to ourselves. Woohoo!!!

And you know what happens when the cat's away...the mice will play!!!

And as the next "mouse" who gets to post, and since Jay isn't around to tell me No!, I've decided to take this time to share with you some amazing photography. I feel a picture can change a world. It can change attitudes. It can change the outcome of history! (And yes, it also happens to be something I can post on the blog to entertain easily!)

Therefore, in Jay's absence, and because I know Eve will fully approve of these, I will now share for you some of my favorite photographs that have changed my view on life.

This picture changed my view on men with long hair.

And this photo changed my view on leaving the house that day. Wow. I could look at that forever.

But I'm not a deeply reflective person ALL the time. I love kitties, too!!!

Have a great weekend everyone! We miss you, Jay. For reals!!!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Get 'er Done -- Eve

36 days. That’s what I’m giving myself to finish this YA romance, work-in-progress, year and a half of research, changed the plot at least twenty times, labor of love, sweat and tears, great American teen novel.

July 31st, 2008. That’s my deadline. The day the Disco Mermaids leave town and head to the annual SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles. I told my agent I’d have the draft to her sometime this summer, and we’ll be getting together at the conference. So, the pressure’s on!

This is pretty much how I tackle all giant projects…slow, slow, slow, plan, plan, plan, re-think, re-think, research, research, think some more, do some outlining, then…GO!

Realistically, I’m about 1/4 finished. Because I’ve changed the main plot so many times, the beginning has been reworked to death (no pun intended, as this is essentially a story about a young girl learning to die with dignity). This is exactly how I wrote my first novel, Ring of Fire, as well. I wrote, edited, re-wrote, critiqued, and revised the first six chapters for three years! Then, when I finally had the exact beginning I wanted, and created a general outline of the remaining ¾ of the book, the rest of the writing went really quickly. I actually spent one entire month sitting at my dining room table, sucking down Diet Coke and red licorice (a surprisingly delicious combo!), writing like a madwoman for 10-12 hours a day.

Remember that, Jay and Robin? When you couldn’t get me on the phone or email for days at a time, and then you’d pop by my house to check if I was still alive, and you’d find me greasy-haired and sweaty with licorice in my un-brushed teeth, surrounded by crushed empty Coke cans? Well, prepare yourselves because that time is upon us again.

I’m afraid you won’t see much of me for the next 36 days. Unless, of course, you happen to be shopping in Trader Joe’s and wander down the sweets isle (it’s the third from the left), and accidentally drop some Australian Kookabura red licorice into your cart, then find yourself driving through my neighborhood. Then, and only then, should you walk into my house and disturb me. Thanks in advance!

- Eve

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Countdown to ALA -- Jay

I used to get nervous before speaking in front of a group. Insanely nervous! Sweaty, grumpy, shaky, ready-to-puke nervous. In fact, I used to pray for puke because “I can’t go on, I just puked” is a really good excuse.

But once I’m physically standing before an audience…once there’s no turning back…I enjoy myself. In fact, speaking before an audience has become something I look forward to. That sink-or-swim predicament allows me to forget all of my real-world stresses and just have fun. Of course, it took many speaking engagements before I noticed the nerves always backed off when I needed them to. But now, just knowing I will get through it without a dry cleaning bill makes me excited about upcoming gigs.

Until now.

This coming weekend is the American Library Association’s annual conference. On Friday, shortly after I make the drive down to Anaheim, Penguin’s hosting a dinner for select librarians, educators, and ALA Awards Committee members. And I’m supposed to get up and say a few words. Sounds like something I’d enjoy, right?

Well, I made the horrible mistake of asking for a list of names of the other authors who will be speaking. In alphabetical order, they are…

Andrew Clements
John Green
Ingrid Law
Tao Nyeu
Neal Schusterman
Jon Scieszka
Nancy Werlin
Jacqueline Woodson

I seriously don’t know if I can do this. At least, not without puking on something. I’ve already started shaking and sweating and a few people have even called me grumpy in the past few days (but I think they’re all stupid and wrong!!!).

Seriously, I’ve been trying to figure out where within that list I’d feel most comfortable speaking. And I don’t know where! There is nowhere!

- Jay


Everything’s going to be okay.

Why the sudden change? Because of a dare. Yes, once again, I’ve been dared by a Mermaid to do something potentially embarrassing in front of a bunch of strangers. And knowing that I might embarrass myself on purpose eliminates the chance of me embarrassing myself on accident.

(Don’t worry, as long as I buy that logic, it works.)

I’ll let you know how it goes…

P.S. From 11 to noon on Sunday, I’ll be autographing copies of Thirteen Reasons Why in booth #2617. Stop by if you’re around!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Suite Revisions -- Robin

This past week was a vacation at our house, only we didn’t take a family trip…at least not together. The plan was for my husband and kid to take a father/son camping trip so that I could have the whole house to myself while I worked on revising my middle grade manuscript.

I know…great plan!

Except that the camping trip suddenly got cancelled when we found out the cement mixing truck was scheduled to come earlier than expected. (We’re doing a landscaping project in our front yard, which is another post in itself, and it will include pictures, I promise!) Anyway, that meant my two-day, interruption-free revision retreat was now cancelled, too.

I know…total bummer.

My hubby saw the disappointment on my face and told me to go to a hotel…that cement mixing is bonding for a father and son. (Who knew!?) So off I went to spend two days at The Embassy Suites.

Yes, I said suites! That means two…whole…rooms! I set up the bedroom with my computer and iPod and speakers and stocked it with Coke Zeros and peanutbutter crackers. I used the “living room” to read the drafts and take notes. It was an awesome set-up. No, it was a suite set-up!!!

The hotel also had a large pool and a 24-hour gym. I brought my bathing suit and my gym clothes, thinking I’d have plenty of time for extra-curricular activities. But, no. I worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and only took a lunch break, coffee break, dinner break, and then a late night run to the grocery store to get Little Debbie Nutty Bars. (Love those!)

At first I thought the revisions would go quickly. I pulled out my handy-dandy red pen and cut some lines. Like, for example, page 8. A couple of sentences deleted. No biggie.

By the time I got to page 22, it was a different story. My handy-dandy red pen was starting to see a lot of action.

And page 35? Good grief. I gave up and just turned to a blank page.

So the process is coming along slowly, but at least my husband and son have now bonded in the name of cement. What more could I ask for!?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Smell of My Own Medicine -- Jay

There’s nothing about writing in this post. I just want you to know why I’m so proud of my wife.

But first, a li’l backstory…

In college, my roommate worked at Barnes & Noble and didn’t get off till midnight. I would meet him and a few other friends at Denny’s, where we’d eat seasoned fries and drink coffee for a couple hours before heading home. It was within those cushy booths that I perfected the fine art of comedic timing. My goal, whenever a new person joined us, was to get his or her coffee to come squirting through at least one nostril.

Sometimes I was able to do it alone. But quite often, it required my roommate to do a little tag-team with me. Since we had identical senses of humor, we would immediately understand when the other person was delicately setting up a joke. For example, say the new person on the other side of the booth was beginning to lift the coffee mug to his or her lips. My roommate would say something which sounded innocent enough. And then, just as the victim’s throat opened up to swallow, I would turn the "innocent" subject around…and the coffee would see fresh air once again.

My wife never understood the humor in that.

But just the other day, we were sitting in my car getting ready to go into a theater to see Kung Fu Panda. I was quickly downing my coffee because hot liquids were not allowed inside…and lukewarm, apparently, counts as hot. Unbeknownst to me, my wife began laying the groundwork for a messy pay-off, and I was paying close attention to everything she said. And just as my throat began to open, she seized the opportunity.

But it didn’t work. I was able to keep the coffee in my mouth.

So I kept trying to swallow before she came up with a back-up plan, but the giggles kept the liquid from going down. So my wife leaned close to my face, and with a voice which sounded like the spawn of Janis Joplin and Satan, she shouted, “Do it!!!

And for the first half of Kung Fu Panda, all I smelled was coffee.

I’m proud of you, babe.

I taught you well!

- Jay

BONUS COOLNESS: Check out this NPR All Things Considered report. (Thank you so much, Amber!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Graphically Correct

Between acquiring agents, speaking at conferences, a bestseller, getting featured on Tomie dePaola’s website, and receiving a tangential shout-out in a Newbery acceptance speech, the Disco Mermaids have had way too much fun the past two-and-a-half years.

And yet, somehow, things keep getting cooler. Thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg, you can now find our images immortalized within the pages of a picture book.

Say it with us now: Woo-hoo!!!

Mermaids on Parade tells the story of one girl’s experience at Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade. And who’s that riding atop float #46? It’s us!

The illustration below is from the back jacket flap, accompanying Melanie’s author/illustrator bio. To see us proudly strut our stuff atop float #46, surrounded by more mermaids than have ever legally been allowed in a two-page spread, you’re just gonna have to buy the book for yourself. (And you will not be disappointed. This very fun picture book even includes instructions on how to make your own mermaid tail!)

To fully appreciate Melanie’s attention to detail, click here.

Three mer-kisses
to Melanie Hope Greenberg!!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another World -- Eve

The other day I was reading a post on Christy Raedeke’s blog, Juvenescence, about her travels through India, when I suddenly got the itch for travel. Not like, “I need a shopping trip to Santa Barbara” travel, but the urge to get up and go somewhere completely foreign and different than my current world. Every few months, I become overwhelmed with the need to reach beyond my safe bubble and experience life as strangers know it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in a military family where we traveled constantly. Or maybe I was an explorer in my past life. Or maybe I just have ADD.

There’s something about traveling to new random places that really charges my batteries and makes me feel like I’m fully living life. Travel cures my restlessness, clears my mind, and just makes me a happier person. Little did I know that I’d be transported to a place so foreign, so different from my own existence, that I’d be forever changed. And it was only three short hours from my house. And it wasn’t even another country. But it was a completely different world.

Earlier this week, I spent the afternoon and evening at Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall, where I joined several writing classes for my first official InsideOUT Writers training. Beyond fascinating. Everybody knows that jail isn’t exactly The Ritz, but nothing could have prepared me for the claustrophobia and sickening feeling in my stomach as I wandered down the long hallway of concrete cells. Tiny square windows carved into heavy steel doors framed ghostly faces pressed up to glass. Some screamed, some smiled, some cried. But I couldn’t hear a thing through the soundproof cells. Skinny feral cats lurk throughout the place. I had read about this, but never really believed it. When I questioned whether the cat situation was a health issue or not, the IOW program director commented that it was actually pretty helpful since the cats scavenge the rats, lessening the work for the probation staff. Every room in the entire joint is either freezing or a complete sauna. There’s no comfortable in between.

It’s no wonder the kids are ecstatic to join a writing class. They get human contact. Fresh (or at least oxygenated) air. Paper and pens. A semblance of normalcy. The kids were polite, funny, creative, vulnerable, and honest. Though I learned important jail stuff, like how the girls “shave” legs and “pluck” eyebrows by resourcefully using the tiny elastic threads weaved throughout their Los Angeles County CJH issued socks, and how to use ink pens and comb bristles for all my tattooing and piercing needs, the most important thing I learned was just how huge a difference teaching writing to these kids really makes. It provides them with an outlet. And connections to other people. And most importantly, hope.

Our conversations constantly reminded me how child-like they really are, missing their moms, wishing they could dress up for Halloween and eat Easter candy and listen to music. The most riveting part of the night was when perhaps the most threatening-looking, beefy, tatted-up, double-murder, facing a life sentence, would rather swim with crocodiles than meet this kid in a dark alley dude I’ve ever seen stood up to read his in-class assignment. He’d written a beautiful poem about his greatest fears in life. The one that got me the most… “Fear of love. Cuz when it’s gone, that’s the worst pain of all.” Then he said, “You know, under this tough-guy exterior…is really just a little scared kid.” I believe he summed up the sentiment of the entire class.

I think I’m going to love this job.

- Eve

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pass Me a Tissue Again -- Robin

Well, it’s been ten months since this happened and you’d think I’d stop being a blubbering mess by now.

My son’s first day of kindergarten was emotional because it marked a beginning in his life, and this Thursday marks the end of that beginning…the last day of kindergarten. There’s something special about kindergarten, unlike any other grade, I suspect. First, the teachers are the most gentle souls on the earth. And second, a visit to the principal’s office is a good thing…it means they get to read him a story. How awesome.

I have to admit that this past year has been my favorite as a parent. Don’t get me wrong…two-year-olds are very cute. And six-month-olds are very, very cute (even though you’re still in a daze from all the sleep deprivation and you only remember how cute they were when you watch home videos of you feeding them strawberries for the first time and you think Is that me in that video!? I don’t remember that!).

But five-year-olds? They’re amazing. They still call you Mommy, not Mom, and they still like hugging and kissing you goodbye…no matter who sees.

And they say things so wise that you’d never expect something like that could come from a person only four-feet tall. Like the time we were driving in the car and he called out to me from the backseat and asked, “Mommy…what are you thinking about?” I know, how adorable is that!? So I told him what I was thinking about and then I thought to myself, You know…maybe I shouldn’t be explaining the problems with our country’s health care system to a person only four-feet tall.

And, of course, there was the time that my son farted really loud and then turned to our dog and said, “Samson! Jeez!!!”

Yep, he learned a lot in kindergarten.

So on his last day I plan to hug him and kiss him in front of everyone because it may be one of the last times I get to do that. And then I’ll spend the rest of my day in very close vicinity to a tissue box. Maybe two.



Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Golden Gate to the Windy City -- Jay

Last Thursday was one of the biggest nights of my literary life...and I nearly missed it. My wife and I raced over three hours to San Francisco, peeled into a valet parking garage, and with the valet standing nearby, changed out of our comfy work clothes and into our much less comfy (but much more appropriate) dress clothes. Then we ran a couple blocks and made it to the California Book Awards ceremony just in time.
Here's Agent-of-the-Evening Laura Rennert squished between two of her authors, Ying Chang Compestine and me, co-winners in the Young Adult category.
Paul Fleischman (the man can write anything) won in the children's lit. category.
A couple winners you may have heard a little something about are Michael Chabon...
...and Khaled Hosseini.
I swear, I felt like such a dork giving an acceptance speech to a room filled with authors of this caliber. But I had fun, and even had a chance to work Ross: Dress for Less into my speech!

The next morning, my wife and I flew to Chicago for the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Book Fair. Here's the view of the fair from our hotel window.
We went to a ceremony honoring S.E. Hinton, where she took audience questions for an hour. For such an influential writer, she's extremely down-to-earth. Unfortunately, I had to run to my speaking gig and didn't have a chance to faint in front of her. So my wife stood in line to get an autograph. And without being asked, she knew I'd want a photo to put on the blog!
Then I spoke on a very fun panel with Jennifer Smith, Renee Rosen, and David Wartik, with Kait Steele moderating. Everyone on that panel was so nice, and it was great to hear so many different perspectives on writing issues. I even used the water bottle in front of me to play an impromptu game of Spin-the-Bottle (because, apparently, everyone's played it but me)...but when it stopped spinning, it pointed back at me. Sigh!
Then we stayed in Chicago an extra day to check things out. We caught a show at The Second City. Hilarious! Took an architectual boat cruise. Awesome! Heard (but couldn't see) B.B. King play at the Blues Festival. Insanely cool! Got caught outdoors in a thunderstorm. Wet! And checked out a few museums.
Of course, we had to eat, too!

Best pizza of my life!

- Jay

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Project Runaround—Robin

So…how are my revisions going, you might wonder?

Well. Um. Yeah.

Sometimes life takes the driver’s seat and I have to just sit back and hang on. And this week, I was consumed with one thing only: planning my son’s 6th birthday party.

The planning was going smoothly earlier this week, but then it all came to a screeching halt. My boy had asked for a Star Wars themed party and I went on a massive quest to search for a Star Wars cake. First I checked with our little local bakery, but they said, “Sorry, we don’t do licensed characters.” So I called every bakery and grocery store in two towns until I finally found a big, chain grocery store that had the perfect Darth Vadar sheet cake. Woohoo!

But no…the day before the party, the store called me to say they were wrong. They actually didn’t have a Darth Vadar cake, but would I like to replace it with Indiana Jones? Umm, no. I needed a Star Wars birthday cake like Barack needed an endorsement from Hillary…without it, I wasn’t going to get anywhere. But luckily for me, I got what I needed. (And according to CNN tonight, Barack got what he needed too!) I ended up calling back our little, local bakery and explained my desperate situation. She sighed and said, “Okay, honey. Bring in some figurines and I’ll see what I can do.”

And when I saw what she did, I realized: local and little…is always better.

(She actually made the light sabers from icing!)


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

BEA & MB -- Jay

I apologize. I'm a blogger, yet I walked around BookExpo America without taking one picture. I know!

BEA is this huge deal in the publishing world where booksellers from around the country come to see what publishers have in store for their stores in the near future.

I began my weekend late Friday night by hanging out with Stephanie from Moravian Book Shop and Jill from Square Books. Moravian is the oldest bookstore in the world (and Stephanie is Laurie Halse Anderson's daughter!). Square Books is in Mississppi, and my fingers are crossed that I can visit there next April (hint-hint, Jill).

Saturday morning, I had breakfast with my fantabulous agent, followed by an exhausting stroll through the Los Angeles Convention Center, trying to grab as many free books as possible. Then I had an amazing book signing, where I got to walk out from behind a blue curtain to face a long line of people waiting for my autograph. Seriously, this job rocks! I met lots of cool booksellers from all over, and even had an unexpected visit from the teens of Vroman's Galley Group, hereby lovingly referred to as The Screamers! Here's a photo from the signing (courtesy of Love the Books? Meet the Authors!). And no, that's not Jeff Bezos behind me, but Ben Schrank, my publisher.

Lunch with Mr. Schrank was interesting. Great conversation, good Mexican food, and people dressed as pirates carrying books by L. Ron Hubbard (no, I have no idea what that was all about). That was followed by a meeting with Mr. Schrank, Don Weisberg (the new president of Penguin's Young Readers Group), and Barbara Marcus (P.Y.R's strategic advisor). People kept asking if I was nervous about the meeting, but they're a fun bunch of Penguins with lots of exciting ideas about the future of Thirteen Reasons Why!

Oh, and then I got an autographed copy of Holes. Woo-hoo!

By the way, am I the only writer who was unaware that publishers spend a ton of money on parties? I went to (read: crashed) the Little Brown party...held on top of a building in downtown L.A.!

The entire Andrea Brown Literary Agency crew was there, but here's me with my beautiful agent, Laura Rennert.

Then I attended a party put on by Publishers Group West, thanks to a generous invite from David Diaz. That was held in a dance club, the El Rey, where they hired an amazing dance troupe to perform. Here's Mr. Diaz, Vicki Arkoff, Jen Rofé (Jaeger), and me. Jen is an agent at A.B.L.A. and Vicki writes for MAD Magazine!!!

On Sunday, now completely exhausted, I drove to Morro Bay for a wonderful booksigning with Catherine Ryan Hyde at Coalesce Bookstore. Lots of friends came, as well as our parents, which capped the weekend beautifully. Here I am with the Coalesce staff and Ms. Hyde (to my left).

And then I slept harder than I have in a long, long time. So let me end with a second apology to anyone out there who heard me snore.

- Jay

Meet a Mermaid: If you happen to be in the Chicago area this Saturday, come say hi at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Book Fair, where I'll be speaking and signing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sweet -- Eve

One of the things I love most about writing for children is the major support network and generosity of the people in the business. I've never had a job where people are so incredibly kind and noncompetitive and sincere. And I've worked in medicine, social work, and teaching! Not that those colleagues weren't supportive, but this is a whole different world. A completely different level of niceness. It's like children's writers are inherently driven to help one another.

Of course, being a Disco Mermaid has its major perks because the support is three-fold! Those blog readers/book readers who support Jay also become connected to Robin and me. Blog readers who I become "cyber" friends with always ask for updates on Robin's and Jay's careers. It's like one giant, never ending web of friends. Seriously, we are undisputed evidence for the six-degrees of separation theory. I wonder if Kevin Bacon is reading? Hmmm...

But I digress.

My first official day of being a full time writer (Translation: Quit my day job and traded my skirt suits for sweat suits and hair products for hair scrunchies) was Friday August 2, 2002. I valet parked my car at the Century City Hyatt Hotel and nervously entered the giant ballroom that was buzzing with 1000 or so children's writers, all gathered for the SCBWI annual Los Angeles conference. I had just sped 3000 miles across the country a couple days before the conference in a move from the sticks of New Hampshire to the California Coast. And, man, did I feel like a movie star! Well, more like a wannabe movie star who had just jumped off the bus from the sticks of New England in my flannel shirt and Sorrel snow boots, hoping some big-time agent would discover me while I wandered the streets.

I must have looked like a scared child because almost immediately, the kindest woman appeared and said, "Are you alone, sweetie? Come sit with us!" And just like that, I was swimming among the "In Crowd" of the SCBWI. The woman was April Young Fritz, a fantastic YA novelist, whose first book had just come out. During the four-day conference, April and her pals took me under their wings, introduced me to everybody, and shared their meals with me so I didn't have to sit in a corner alone.

My six-year path to publication has been filled with that type of thoughtfulness from friends and strangers alike. Just the other day, I opened my mailbox to find a package with a New York return address. It was from longtime blog reader, Laura Ludwig Hamor, who sent me the most beautiful handmade bracelet and told me she had just been thinking of me and wanted to send some "Goodwriterluckiness." What a total sweetheart!

Just when I'm sinking to a new low in the "I'll never get published" pity party, I receive the most uplifting of gifts from a children's book professional I've never even met. So, thank you, thank you to Laura and all the other readers and friends out there who have provided unwavering support in my quest for publication. When I do get published, I will no doubt have the longest acknowledgments page in the history of novels!

- Eve