Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Excuses, Excuses -- Jay

It’s my birthday, and I don’t feel like taking the time to write a full post today. So…I’m not gonna!

Why don’t I feel like writing a full post? It doesn’t matter! It’s my birthday, and that’ll just have to be reason enough for ya.

But I did take a close-up photo of that space around my eyes while I was smiling today. Based on this evidence alone, can you tell how old I am?

- Jay

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yay for CynJay! -- Robin

I want to give a big shout-out/ hug/ pom-pom shake to my friend Cynthia Jaynes Omololu (Cynjay!) for selling her debut young adult novel!

From Publisher's Marketplace:


Cynthia Jaynes Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets, in which the garbage-filled world of a 16 year-old girl comes crashing down around her even as she gets her first glimpse of what it might be like to be "normal" rather than living cloaked in the secret shame of her mom's out-of-control hoarding to Mary Kate Castellani at Walker, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (world).

Woo-hoo! (Doesn’t that sound like a fascinating premise!?)

I met Cynthia a couple of years ago at a conference in Santa Barbara where we both met up with our agent, Erin Murphy. Cynthia and I hit it off right away. It’s so cool when that happens…you look at someone and you immediately think, “Yep. I could hang with that girl—for sure.”

Since then, we’ve exchanged manuscripts and parenting advice and many silly emails and, of course, our thoughts on writing. And what I’ve learned most from her is perseverance. And I’m not talking the you can do it kind. Cynthia has perseverance of the extreme kind. She will write a book, send it off to her agent, go to the bathroom, take a sip of coffee…then start on another book. She made a decision to make this her path in life and she kept writing until it happened.

The Disco Mermaids are doing the happy dance for you, Cynthia! (Which is actually cute when Jay and Eve do it, but not so much for me.)


- Robin

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stop and Smell the Lavender -- Eve

I just spent 10 days biking through wine country in Southern France. A huge group of us got together to celebrate the life of a great friend who recently defied the odds to beat a deadly cancer. He “Lance Armstrong-ed” his way back to health through biking and came back better and stronger than science predicted he could.

Attacking Mount Ventoux, the most feared portion of the Tour De France, was the original point of our biking trip. Unfortunately, I busted my knee the day before and was unable to make it up the mountain. But I did take this pic from my hotel room at the very moment my buddies summitted. Can you see them waving?

Because the other bikers I traveled with tend to ride at the speed of Lance, and I ride more at the speed of, say, a lame snail, I ended up spending a lot of hours alone checking out the scenery. Having never been to France, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Funny thing is that upon first glance the French countryside looks a lot like, well, the San Luis Obispo countryside with its vineyards, wildflowers, and tiny rural towns. But below the surface, it’s a whole different world.

There’s something different about the air in French wine country. It’s somehow crisper, sweeter, more oxygenated. Although the trees are probably the same exact species we have here, there’s something about the way they tilt against the sky, the way the branches bend and leaves curve, that makes them appear to have been sculpted individually with an artist’s hand. Like maybe the guy who trims those shrubs at Disneyland into animal shapes took his shears to France and became a master of abstract composition. Everything in France is about aesthetics. Fruit stands are meticulously arranged. Buildings are preserved in all their ancient Roman magnificence. Even their ghettos are dazzling with perfectly pruned flowers and cobblestone streets.

One day I abandoned my bike and hiked a good twelve miles alone through untouched wilderness. As I was walking through yet another endless lavender field I realized that the space was so quiet, I could not remember ever hearing such a loud quiet. No cars, no airplanes, no voices, nothing! Not even a bumblebee buzz. Normally that would creep me out. But instead it was calming and I had one of those writerly epiphany moments. When a distant rooster finally broke the silence I realized that although the setting initially appeared so familiar, it felt so completely different. It was a “feeling” type of setting.

I’ ve always been sucked into books where a moody “feeling” type setting emerges. You know, the kind where you “feel” like you are “in” it, not just being told about it. A few great examples come to mind; Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I love the idea of setting as a character in itself. And while hiking I promised myself that while writing I will now and forever pay more attention to setting. Describing one’s surroundings always seemed so boring to me back in 9th grade English. But now I realize there’s more to it. Setting has to evoke a feeling. Whether it’s soothing and familiar, or uncomfortable and frightening, the right setting can make or break a book. And a vacation!

- Eve

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Independents & Independence -- Jay

This past weekend, I attended the North Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association tradeshow, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Penguin hosted a meet-the-authors breakfast, which allowed me to...y'know...meet some authors! Cameron Tuttle, Loren Long, and T.A. Barron all spoke at the breakfast and had such different, but very inspiring, personal stories to tell. (Of course, I gave a presentation, as well. But I've heard my story a million times, so it's not that inspiring to me anymore.) You've gotta check out Loren's picture book, Drummer Boy. Not only was it inspired by my favorite Christmas song (and his!), but it's absolutely beautiful.

And then I crashed (just for a minute) a lunch hosted by HarperCollins so I could do a little fanboy dance and get this picture with Maureen Johnson.

Next, I took an expensive cab ride into Philadelphia...to wrap my mouth around my first-ever Philly cheesesteak. Wow!

Since I was already in Philly, I decided to check out some historical stuff. And what's my favorite American era? It's that whole Spirit of '76 thing. And what city rocks the Spirit of '76 the hardest? Philadelphia! They've got the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall, and Ben Franklin pretty much everywhere you look. They even have a new museum dedicated to the Constitution. One room has lifesize bronze statues of the signers, and you can walk amongst them, which is just eerie. When I had another tourist take my photo, I realized that I ridiculously had my hand on the back of one of the statues, as if we were posing together. (That's Ben Franklin in front, doing that classic pull-my-finger routine he invented.)

To make Penguin happy (and also because I love doing this), I walked to a bunch of bookstores in the area and signed their copies of Thirteen Reasons Why. And as I was walking by Independence Hall, the road was blocked off and a small crowd was gathering. I looked across the street, and guess who was leaving a meeting there...

Johnny McC walked across the street and shook hands with the people standing all around me. I guess I just...I don't know...didn't feel like it. But I did stick a camera in his face!

Then, the part I'd been looking forward to most of all because that's just how I am. I took a guided ghost tour! Our costumed guide led us around the city with a candle-burning lantern. In the photo below, our guide is standing in front of America's very first library, with a statue of Benjamin Franklin above her. According to our guide, Mr. Franklin's ghost has been seen many times walking through the halls with an armful of of books. But sometimes, when his arms aren't so full, his spirit has a habit of pinching ladies on the buttocks. Renaissance man, indeed!

The next morning, I went to the NAIBA tradeshow floor in search of freebies. I must've said D'oh! half a dozen times after realizing I recently paid full price for books I could've gotten for nothin'! These events are always nice for connecting with other YA authors in attendance. After chatting about the industry and creativity, someone usually says, "Hey! We should exchange books and autograph them!" So two of the latest additions to my signed-book collection are Same Difference, by Siobhan Vivian, and The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies, by Lizabeth Zindel.

My final big thrill of the trip (okay, it was actually followed by a second Philly cheesesteak) was touring Independence Hall. The room below is where the Declaration was signed and the Constitution came together. The weight of history in that room gave me the chills and, not to get all sentimental, it made me even more determined to do my part from now till November (and after) to help make this a more perfect union. By the way, more perfect union has got to be the most creative use of three words in any government document. Anyone who says America is already perfect...fine. But even the founders thought we should try to make it even more perfect. (Who knew those men in tights could be so sarcastic!) And that chair at the back of the room, that's the only piece of original furniture in there. Some guy named George Washington sat in it.

- Jay

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Done! (Almost)—Robin

I’ve finally finished the revisions for The Happiness Project. Woohoo! Now it’s off to get suggestions from a couple of author friends and then, assuming their suggestions aren’t the start-all-over kind, it’s off to my agent.

So you would think now that I’m done with my part for a while, I’d have plenty of time for laundry and movies and shower scrubbing and well-cooked dinners. But…no.

I have another project I’m working on. I’ve been helping my husband start up his wedding photography business and we’ve signed up to be in a wedding faire next month. Which sounds simple, but the vendors at these fairs don’t just decorate, they go…all…out. Fabric, flower arrangements, lighting, rugs, souvenirs, giveaways. And the lighting. Did I mention the lighting!?


They even have a competition at the wedding faire for booth decorating and they’ll be handing out an award for Best In Show. My plan is to just do well enough that we aren’t escorted out of there by the decorating police. (Would they handcuff us with tulle?)

“Simple and elegant,” I explained to my husband.

He nodded.

But yesterday, Husband burst into the front door and said, “Dude, I found these lamps that sit on the floor and they’re covered in bamboo and I could take off the top and weight the bottom with sandbags and light it from beneath and we could buy four of them and build our own tabletops and attach them with brackets and run the cords underneath so it looks like tables that are sitting on glowing bamboo pods! What do you think!?”

What do I think?

We’re going for Best In Show, baby!!!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's the Thought that Counts -- Jay

After work, I met Robin for an emergency Brainstorm Session about a problem with her novel. Meanwhile, my wife was at a friend’s house and we probably weren’t going to see each other till much later because she was then heading to choir practice. Well, the Mermaid B.S. session ended early (it was an easy fix!), so I decided to surprise my wife before she left her friend’s house.

Her friend lives in a mobile home park, but I couldn’t remember which home was hers. So I parked my car across the street from the entrance so my wife would see me as she was leaving…and hopefully she could spare a second to say hi before driving off.

I was trying to be cute!

So I sat there. And then I pulled out a really cool book I’d just picked up about the Salem Witch Trials and began reading. Then I watched three teenage boys drive up beside me, walk across the street, and hang out in front of the mobile home park. I couldn’t hear their words, but after reading one or two pages, I’d look up and try to figure out what they were talking about based on their body language. There was a lot of stepping on and off the curb, swiping at the air when making a point, and full-throttle laughing while leaning way back. As a YA author, it was fascinating to remind myself how important actions are when describing a character’s personality. After a few more pages, a teenage girl riding a bike stopped beside the boys. Suddenly, their body language was very different. Everyone either stayed up on the sidewalk or down in the gutter, without changing positions. Hands were either in their pockets or gently pointed at the girl when she made a presumably good point. And the laughs were more like chuckles. I read a little more, and eventually the girl said goodbye and began riding away. The boys just stood there and watched her pedal for a long time. And then they went back to using their original body language.

Like I said…fascinating!

Wait. Where in the world was my wife?

Then it hit me. My wife’s friend didn’t live in the mobile home park anymore. She’d recently moved into a stationary home. Aaaaaargh!

So much for being cute.

- Jay

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Have a Theme! -- Robin

Something really amazing happened to me this week. While I was revising my middle grade manuscript, I realized…my book has a theme! And the strange thing? The theme wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

About half-way through writing the first draft of The Happiness Project, I decided the theme of the story would be about the importance of having opinions, and how having different opinions can be a good thing (in relationships and especially in society).

So, okay. Fine. That’s a fine theme.

But then this week, when I was working on approximately draft #347 of the book, I came across a sentence that jumped out at me. It was one line my main character said to her mom while they were talking about the family dog. And I realized: that one line is my theme!

It was one of those moments where fireworks went off and angels sang and chocolate was eaten quickly! I had heard of this happening to writers before—they write a story and many, many drafts later the theme presents itself to the author. Like magic! Then these lucky authors write another draft where they strengthen the theme and make one of those...you know…awesome books. I just never thought I’d be one of those authors.

Just like I never thought I’d consider myself a runner. I usually describe myself as someone who “moves her feet rapidly 3-4 times per week.” Not a runner. But I guess technically I can now call myself a runner because I've experienced that one thing that all real runners have experienced: Runner’s High. Know what I’m talking about? That moment where you’re running and you realize that your brain is not attached to your body and your lungs are on auto-pilot and you feel so good you think you could run forever…or at least all the way from Sarah Palin’s house to Russia and back!?

Well, it happened to me! (Once.) I was running on the beach in Morro Bay, CA and I literally ran so far I ran all the way to the next town. I ran so far the dog leash law changed!

So, I guess I can kind of call myself a real runner. And now I feel like a real writer. I wrote a story and the theme presented itself to me like magic!

Now that’s Writer’s High!

- Robin

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fellowship of the Wing -- Eve

No, that is not a typo, and I don't have an Elmer Fudd speech impediment. FOW is the unofficial name of my monthly L.A. based kid-lit writers critique group. Judy Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon started the group a few years back, when I was still "green" and silly and hopeful (and a really BAD writer, but that's a story for another day!). Okay, so I'm still silly and hopeful. But with the help of this extremely generous and talented group of women, I am hoping my "greeness" has become a little less neon and more of, say, a light mint or celery color.

Over the years we've lost a few members for geographic reasons. But when one leaves, Tina Nichols Coury (who so generously provides housing, snacks, coffee, tea, puppies, candy, and sometimes special gifts, for our meetings) always seems to round up another insanely creative and special writer to fill the spot. Oh, and did I mention Tina is the queen of marketing (both BEFORE and after selling a book!), an amazing golfer, a prolific painter, a world traveler AND knows the business of writing inside and out? Seriously, when does the girl sleep?

I'm humbled to work with these women, and often feel out of place. Remember that song, "Which one of these things is not like the other...?" Not because we don't connect on a personal level (we do!) or a political level (we definitely do!) or have things in common (oh, boy, do we ever!). But, as I sat yesterday critiquing the masterpiece works (NO JOKE) of Barbara Bietz, Denise Gruska, June Sobel, Barbara Jean Hicks, and Tina Nichols Coury, I realized that I have SO much still to learn about the craft of writing!

I mean, my goodness, these people know a lot about A LOT. I used to wonder why Judy and Stephanie chose me to join this group in the first place, having been so new to writing and all. But, then I stopped and thought, WHO CARES? I have to believe that some serendipitous forces tossed us together for a reason, and I'm certainly enjoying the ride! So, why ask why?

Just yesterday I had an incredible chat with Barbara Bietz, who somehow miraculously balances working, writing, parenting, and still manages to look fashion-model put together, keep up on politics and Hollywood gossip, and read seemingly every book that hits the shelves. Superwoman personified, you know what I mean? Anyway, just before we hung up the phone she said, "There are no accidents, Eve." I didn't used to believe that. But now I think I really do!

For some reason, the planets aligned perfectly, I found this unique group of writers, or maybe they somehow found me, and every time we get together it's complete magic. Our manuscripts are transformed, our feelings and fears are validated, our views on the world listened to, and spirits are brightened. I always drive home (2.5 hours for me each way) feeling like I just finished an amazing workout, had a massage, a home-cooked meal, and a breakthrough therapy session all at the same time!

Seriously LOVE these girls. Long live the Fellowship of the Wing! When attempting a group picture, we were unable to figure out the camera timer thingy, so there we are, one pic sans Eve, one pic sans Tina. We're better writers than we are photographers, trust me!

- Eve

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Hair Piece -- Jay

At long last, I’ve found another creative outlet. Painting!

This past Saturday, I painted my very first canvas. I titled it "Windcatcher" and gave it to my wife on our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday. (The woman in the painting is supposed to be JoanMarie, in case you don’t recognize her.)

For several years, I had been telling Eve that I wanted to learn how to paint. She always told me to c’mon over and she’d show me how, but I always had “other things” to do. Truthfully, I was just terrified of discovering that I sucked. I can’t draw, so how could I possibly paint? But last week, I watched a BBC series about famous paintings and I relearned a word that would allow me to justify a lack of attention to detail: Impressionism!

No, of course that doesn’t look exactly like a woman’s hair caught in a breeze. It’s simply my impression of a woman’s hair caught in a breeze.

Eve was getting ready to begin a painting for a neighbor, so I joined her. Her paints were all set out, she had an assortment of canvas sizes for me to choose from, and we got to work. She gave me a few pointers (you can use the other end of a brush to scratch lines through the paint!), but she otherwise allowed me to get lost for a couple hours in the colors.

Of course, after I’d finished my painting, Eve showed me what she’d been working on.

Show off!

- Jay

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reading The Times -- Robin

I would love to be boastful and say, “I read the New York Times!” But I don’t. I read articles in the New York Times…not the whole thing. I would love to read it from front to back, but I simply don’t have the time. (Who knew getting the consistency right on my smoothie every morning would be so time consuming!)

My husband loves to read it cover to cover and hands it over to me with particular articles he wants me to read circled in black ink. Sometimes they’re articles about politics, sometimes they’re articles about fuel consumption, but usually they’re articles to help me with book ideas. Like the one about the teenagers who did a school research project on the type of fish used in sushi restaurants. (Be careful…that bluefin tuna might really be tilapia!)

But this last article he gave me was about teenagers. And popularity. And how popularity (or lack of it) when we’re teenagers can be an indicator of our future success as adults. And it’s not what you think! (Hence, the reason I love reading the New York Times.)

The article suggests that kids who are likeable seem to have more success outside of high school than kids who are prominent. Researchers asked teens questions about who is popular in their school and who is not. Then they asked them who’d they like to hang out with most on Saturday night. And the answers were different. They weren’t the “popular” kids, they were a different category of kid. To quote the article: “(those students) tend to have closer friendships, to excel academically and to get on well with most others, including parents—their own and their friends.” The researchers also concluded “this group is characterized by a degree of openness to strong emotional experience. These are very, very socially skilled kids who are really able to master the intricacies of diverse social situations.”

These kids are likeable. Which is cool to think that the A-list popular kids don’t always end up being the most successful. It sounds like the smart, nice ones get to rock in the future! (Can you tell I was never on the A-list?)

But now this whole thing is making me very curious about my high school reunion…

- Robin

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Life of Crime -- Eve

I just returned from a wonderfully relaxing Florida vacation. Although, I use the word “vacation” loosely because now that I’m “retired” from full-time teaching to “write” full-time, my holidays seem like less of a break from things than they used to. I always considered it a heinous crime to have an easy life. And now I am that person!

Believe it or not, throughout junior high, high school, and college I was always an over-scheduler. A crazy Type-A energetic freak of nature, who had to be doing something important and meaningful every single minute of the day. When I graduated college and became a “real” grown-up, I was completely obsessed with planning my future of saving the world in every way humanly possible. Even the year I took off between undergrad and medical school, which was supposed to be my take a break from the grind-travel and relax year, became a random frenzy of philanthropy work through the jungles of Mexico and the forests of Vermont. Not one minute was wasted lounging or playing. After all, I had an entire world to save!

Fast-forward to 2008. Ever since I quit full-time teaching to begin my quest for YA novel publication, I’ve had nothing but free time. True, I do spend hours upon hours reading, writing, researching, re-writing, critiquing, revising, revising, and revising. But the difference now is that I have all the time in the world, and can make up any schedule I want to. Unfortunately, as a result I’ve become less productive and way more slothful. Of course, in my defense, the life of a writer is inherently idle, so until somebody invents a portable computer screen I can attach to my forehead and a keyboard I can operate with eye movements, I’m stuck sitting on my growing-wider-and-more-numb-by-the-day butt.

It’s a paradox, this slacker lifestyle. One the one hand, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. True story…I had pneumonia six times during med school and teaching combined. Like, antibiotic-resistant-I’m-on-my-deathbed pneumonia. I haven’t suffered so much as a sniffle since I quit. I’m not chronically sleep deprived anymore, so the under eye bags and dark circles have vanished. I have time to run outside every single day, so I’ve shed my pale-green skin color and exchanged my skeletal, lack of muscle tone physique for a pleasantly tanned and plump version.

On the other hand, at the end of the day I often feel, well, slackerish. Like I’ve accomplished nothing, gained nothing, and given nothing to society. I’m not complaining. Again, I’m extraordinarily happy. However, I do battle this love/hate relationship with the slack-life on a daily basis. And I feel guilty for failing to save the world.

Funny thing is that I’m guessing when I do publish my novels, become rich and famous, and soar to unfathomable literary heights, I’ll still feel a bit like a slacker. Because, really, it’s bizarre to think I'll be paid for doing something insanely fun that I love so much. That I can do in my pajamas. Late at night. While blasting Maroon 5 music. And eating chocolate covered pretzels. I mean, really. It’s criminal, isn’t it?

- Eve

Friday, September 05, 2008

In Your Head -- Jay

Awhile back, I told you I was re-examining my life’s passions. I wanted to find a way to occasionally stop worrying so much about writing and promotion. I needed to think about something else. I needed a hobby!

But that, apparently, wasn’t what I really needed.

This week, I did something I never thought I’d do. And I definitely never thought I’d tell anyone about it if I did. But it was such a great experience that I want to tell you about it. So here it goes: I went to a shrink.

Wait, wait! I mean, I went to a therapist. (Sorry. Old habit.)

My time “on the couch” wasn’t at all like it’s portrayed in the movies and cartoons. The room was small but brightly lit and I sat on a two-seater couch facing the counselor across the room, as opposed to lounging on my back while staring at the ceiling with the lights dimmed.

So what did I learn? Nothing that shouldn’t have been totally obvious…but wasn’t.

Like most writers, I’m an observer. And I don’t simply observe what other people do, but I try to predict what they will do based purely on visual clues. It’s a fun little exercise which helps when it’s time to figure out individual traits for my characters.

The problem? I’m an observer, but I hate being observed. Even by me!

As a writer, here’s what I found so interesting. Whenever I’m asked which character in Thirteen Reasons Why I most identify with, my answer is automatic. And most outside observers will guess that same character. But when I get really deep into motivation and how a character thinks as opposed to just acts, my answer is different. And looking back at my previous (unpublished) manuscripts, I actually identify more closely…in a much more personal way…with different characters than I originally thought.


It’s almost like my writing could have been used as therapy, but I wasn’t letting it.

Alright, I’m gonna pull myself back into my head for awhile. Thanks for listening. And who should I make the check out to?

- Jay

BONUS COOLNESS: Here's the Italian cover of my book, known over there as 13.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Higher Power of Revision -- Robin

I’ve been pretty blurry-eyed lately, pouring through the edits Jay and Eve gave me for my manuscript, The Happiness Project. Looking at all their slash marks, I realized that I have some serious word addictions.

I used to think my only word addiction was to the word wonky. I love saying that word...and I don’t even think it’s an actual word! But now I realize I have many more word addictions, where I use the same words over and over, hoping for a different result each time. But what really happens is they just end up getting slashed by my wonderful critique partners because I never needed those words to begin with. So now I take it one page at a time, accept the words that I cannot change, have the courage to change the words I can, and hope Jay and Eve have the wisdom to know the difference.

Here is a small list of the words I am seriously addicted to:

  • Suddenly
  • Um
  • Okay
  • Even
  • Just (...but I just love that word!)
I also have an issue beginning too many sentences with the ever dependable: Then/But/So. Which sounds like a new type of dance move, to me. Which reminds me! My friend Katie told me about a new dance craze called Zumba. I thought it sounded like a fruity, semi-alcoholic drink, but she assured me it was a fitness program. And I believe her because she can do this. And I…um…can’t.

Speaking of addictions and things I can’t do well, reading through Jay and Eve’s edits also showed me that I have a serious dysfunctional relationship with the italics function…and…the…ellipses function.

But I looooove them. Italics and ellipses are just so…what’s the word???


- Robin