Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Five -- My Favorite Books of 2011

I hesitate to say the "Best" books of 2011, because the word is so subjective.  When thinking of "best" I encounter a difficulty choosing between a story I adore, a concept that is truly unique and simply stellar writing.  Plus I know I've read too few books really to be able to suggest that I know which books of 2011 were the "best".

Caveat over.  On to the books!  In no particular order.

1.  Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.  I blogged about this book back in June over on the YA Muses.  And I can't stop thinking about it.  It covers a segment of history about which I knew nothing, follows the story of a strong and compelling protagonist and tells a story of such poignance and power that it lingers many months in the mind.

2.  Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.  If you haven't read Anna and the French Kiss or its companion/follow-up, Lola, walk away now and go find a copy.  Feel-good romance and detailed characters you feel you know.  I was so glad to see Anna and St. Clair in Lola, but equally glad that it really told Lola's tale.  She's a character you need to meet.

3.  Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach.  I wasn't sure I would like this book at first, but it ended up being another one that seized me and wouldn't let go.  An somewhat unreliable narrator who knows he is unreliable but who the reader can look past and see the truth before the character himself can.  So cleverly done, I need to read it again to see how Herbach did it.

4.  Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace.  I love boarding school books.  And this one is set in the 80's (my favorite decade?  No, I guess the 90's were better) and in Zimbabwe.  I felt attachment to this novel before I even read it, and since reading it, I feel I know Zimbabwe better.  History -- only 30 years old -- that few people know or understand brought to life in a novel that could be contemporary.

5.  What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen.  I love Dessen's novels, and this one did not disappoint.  Beautifully rendered, with fully-developed characters each with quirks and faults and truth.

There are many more books out there that deserve to be on this list.  And I'm always on the lookout for recommendations from others!  Let me know what you've read this year, what's surprising, what made you cry, what changed you.  And, of course, what you're looking forward to next year!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best. Present. Ever.

I have a very dear friend -- we've known each other since we were fifteen -- who is always a breath of light and happiness when I see her.  We tend to fall into the same kind of chat and banter that we always have, even though we only see each other a couple of times a year.  We catch up -- "How's your dad?" "What are your kids up to?"and then we just are.

Wilathi is an artist, a gardener, a healer and a philosopher.  She is one of those people you love to know.  And she is also one of those people who treasures her friends and family.  I'm glad to be one of them.

Yesterday, Wil gave me a holiday gift.  When she handed me the square-framed, lensless glasses, I didn't get it at first.  She had decorated the temples and the rims, but the original rosy color shone through.  I put them on, asked, "Do these make me look more intelligent?"

And then I got it.

In our twenties, Wil delightedly accepted the fact that she sees the world through rose-colored glasses.  She wants to be the optimist.  The Pollyana.  The one who sees the good in the world.  "There's already so much negativity," she says. "So much darkness.  Why shouldn't we put these on to help us remember that there is also positivity, goodness and light?"

So I have my rose-colored glasses.  When things seem to be too much for me, when the fact of my father's illness or the snarky reviews or the weight of my responsibilities get to me, I can put them on, and remember the good, the positive and the light.  And Wil.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

And happy Boxing Day, everyone.  Here's wishing that you are having a fabulous holiday!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Follow Friday -- Santa

'Tis the Season, right?

Several Christmases ago, I heard a story on NPR about how back in the dark ages, before Internet, a Colorado Springs Sears and Roebuck printed an add for kids to call Santa.  Unfortunately, the number was misprinted, and kids were directed to CONAD (the Continental Air Defense Command).  But the confusion gave the commander-in-chief a brilliant idea.  They track airplanes, right?  And other flying objects?  Why not Santa?

So from then on, they have.  And you can, too.  Through the present day North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Check out NORAD tracks Santa
And @noradsanta on Twitter.

Where is Santa right now?  Go find him.  And tell your kids.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cover Reveal for IF I LIE by Corrine Jackson

I've been wanting to read this book since it was announced on Publisher's Marketplace back in March -- and I still have to wait until August to read it!  But the darling Corrine Jackson has just revealed her cover for IF I LIE, and I'm just desperate to share it here:

And here's the synopsis (from the synopsis that will be on the galleys):

A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.
Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.
Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Young Adult

Addendum, January 5, 2012:

I've been getting a lot of hits on this post from people searching for that brilliant song that Mavis listens to obsessively in her Mini Cooper (including the refrain, "I didn't want to hurt you, ohhh, oh yeah").  Just to set your minds at rest, it is The Concept, by Teenage Fanclub.  And yeah, I love it, too.

On Saturday, I went to see the film Young Adult - starring Charlize Theron - with three other authors and a future filmmaker.  We figured it was our obligation -- to see how close to the truth the film came.  Plus it was a good excuse to get out and talk books and nonsense.

Here is what struck us as true:

1.  Sitting in front of the computer, staring a screen completely blank except for the words Chapter 1.

2.  Listening to conversations in public places and holding onto choice snippets for possible use in a present or future novel.

3.  Stealing moments at coffee shops and bus stops to get the novel written.

I was delighted that the author in the movie didn't "see the light" at the end of the film and become a "real writer" - for adults.

But I was very, very uncomfortable with how close her deadline was and how far she was from finishing the book.  It ended up giving me a stomach ache, worrying about her deadline.  It was my worst nightmare - to be on Chapter 1, and have the book due on Friday.

There were a lot of other things about the movie that made me uncomfortable.  Theron's character, Mavis, was not an easy character to like.  But I loved the brave choices the screenwriter and director made.  And I loved that even the stunning Theron wrote in her Hello Kitty jammies and stayed up late eating New York Super Fudge Chunk (and drinking Maker's Mark - but you'll have to see the film to understand the significance of that.)

For me, however, the best part of the evening was hanging out with other writers afterwards.  Talking about books and plotlines, ridiculous Christmas gifts and legendary holiday photos.  That was the whole point, after all.  Because we all need time with writer friends.  So thank you, ladies, for a good night out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Five -- Facts About Me and Books

Five facts about me:

1.  My parents are both geologists.  I spent a considerable amount of time as a child looking at road cuts.  And I still, on car trips, can look up and exclaim, “Look at the stratification in that.”

2.  When I was ten, I wanted to go to law school and then become President.  My fifth grade teacher set up a “learn about the law” program in which kids could take “the bar”, become lawyers, and then hold mock trials.  We had one.  I was prosecuting attorney.  But during recess, when the trial was over, I saw the accused (who had been found guilty) crying in the classroom.  And my dream of being a lawyer died right there. 

3.  My sister and I shared a room for years.  At night, when we were supposed to be asleep, she read aloud THE HOBBIT and the entire LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  I still can’t disassociate the stories from the sound of her voice.

4.  I studied ballet for two weeks when I was eight.

5.  The thing that frightened me most as a child was a nightmare I had in which a pretty little yellow bird turned into a monster.  The thing that frightens me most now?  Well, I’m not saying…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Does anyone else do this?  You're getting ready to go out, putting on nice clothes, great shoes, doing your hair (I straighten mine.  My 14-year-old self desperately wishes she had straightening tongs, so my present-day self uses them whenever I want to look nice.  If you could see my 8th grade class photo, you would totally understand).  And, of course, makeup.  Stand back.  Look in the mirror.

What do I see?  Not the whole picture -- the nice clothes and decent straightening job.  I see the little frizzy bit over my right ear that I can't tame.  I see the little pill coming up in the shoulder of my sweater.  I see the spot just starting to appear on my forehead above my left eyebrow.

I see the imperfections.

I do the same thing when cooking -- the broccoli is overdone, the sauce is too thick, there aren't enough potatoes to serve my family (in the entire world.  My family loves potatoes.  This is not an imperfection, this is a fact.)

And again in my writing.

I just got my edit letter on Book 2.  And I have to force myself to go back and re-read the first sentence: "Let me begin by saying I loved it!" Because the next nine pages are all about what needs to be fixed.

The imperfections.

It's hard to have the imperfections pointed out.  It's like someone standing in front of you and saying, "You look great, but did you know you had a huge spot just above your eyebrow?"  There's nothing I can do about the spot (maybe a little concealer -- and about three days worth of hiding beneath low-brimmed hats).  But I can do something about the imperfections in Book 2.

And it's good to have someone else point them out.  Because I get so close to my work I can't always see them myself.  Some of them are like that spot -- I know they're there, but I desperately hope everyone else will ignore it.  But I need them pointed out to me.

These imperfections need to be fixed.  It will make the book better.  It's just hard to look them in the face.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Cure for the Monday Blues

How many of you out there get the Monday blues?  Back to work, back to school, back to whatever…Even if you love your job or your classes, getting back to the same old thing can be a bit tiresome.

Since I started writing full-time, I look forward to most Mondays.  I say most because that statement needs a qualifier.  I look forward to having a few moments alone.  I look forward to getting back to the life that happens in my head and in the pages.  Mostly.  There are weeks – when I’m in the throes of writer’s block, or when I have a week ahead that is full of volunteer opportunities that seemed fun when I volunteered…

This week, I definitely have something to look forward to.  My revision letter for Book 2.  I’m a little nervous (amend that – I’m a lot nervous) but also thrilled to find out what my editor thinks.  And as much as it terrifies me, I’m looking forward to digging back in – in part because I was in the throes of writer’s block with Book 3.

There are other things to look forward to today:

You can still enter the GILT giveaway over at the YAMuses blog!

And tonight, at 9 p.m. EST, I will be hosting my first ever Twitter chat – the Apocalypsies will be talking about world-building and we’ll be giving away prizes donated by Veronica Rossi (author of UNDER THE NEVER SKY) and Megan Miranda (author of FRACTURE).  Come by Twitter and check out the hashtag #2012debuts.  You won’t regret it!

How’s that for a cure to the Monday blues?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Follow Friday -- Beth Hull

Today I'm going to look like a dragon eating its own tail, but even if Beth wasn't posting an interview with me today, I would choose her as my first Follow Friday.

I met Beth at an SCBWI event sometime in the spring, and we got to chatting about books and blogging, about our own projects and about our kids.  Turns out her child was about to start at the preschool where I used to teach (and where my kids are now in the elementary school next door) so I immediately invited her to come to mom days at the park.

And started following her blog.

Beth writes about writing.  She writes about not being able to write.  She writes about being a mom, and how hard that can be to reconcile with being a writer (and a reader).  Beth's blog has shaped up to be what I hope will be a model for my own (including the 3-days-a-week posting).  And on top of all that, she's shaping up to be a good friend.

And she makes devastating peppermint truffle lumps.

So if you want to find out about the life of a writer who is on the verge of something great (she just got a request for a full of her YA manuscript from a top agent), start following Beth Hull.

Beth's blog is called Nebula and can also be found by Googling her name.
Beth is also on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This Week in History -- Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham

This was a bad week for Catherine Howard.  Like, the worst.  Imagine your worst week and multiply it by a thousand.

As you know, my first novel, GILT, tells the story of Catherine from the point of view of her best friend.  My goal is to be as historically accurate as possible, placing people and events as they actually were, but lacing these events through a story with a more contemporary feel -- the story of the friendship between Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard.

The White Tower in the Tower of London
But I'll run through some of the facts here on the blog over the course of the year.  On the 1st of December, 1541, two of Catherine Howard's lovers were put on trial and found guilty of high treason.

Seriously.  Can you imagine how impossible it would seem for an ex-boyfriend to be tried and convicted of treason?  As a teenager, when you fell in love, did you stop and think, "Wait, maybe I shouldn't do this in case I marry the king one day?"  No.  Neither did Catherine Howard nor Francis Dereham.  Unfortunately for them.

But Thomas Culpepper was a different story.  Catherine started the affair with him after she married the king.  And adultery was a very bad thing for a woman (though not for a man.  Especially the king.  Double standard, anyone?)  Adultery with the queen could *ahem* adulterate the royal line, placing a non-royal on the throne, which was even worse.  Treason.

So on December 1st, Catherine heard that her bedfellows were going to die.  And I wonder if she knew then that she might follow.

On December 10, the men were executed on Tower Hill.  Culpepper was beheaded -- his sentence commuted by a generous king.  Dereham was not so lucky.

Not a good week, all in all.  I certainly hope yours is better.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift-Giving and Giveaway

I'm blogging over at the YA Muses today, even though it's Monday, because we are kicking off a week of discussing gifts for writers and I have a special wish on my list.

Drop by to find out what it is, and a chance to win an Advance Reading Copy of GILT!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Five

I love movies. I always have. I used to spend endless afternoons lying on the faded red carpet of our living room, watching whatever movie they showed on channel 44 out of San Francisco.

But when anyone asks me what my favorite movie is, my answer depends on what mood I'm in, what I've seen recently, and what I want to see next. Sometimes it's tied up in my writing, and what I think my favorite movie is would be a perfect foil to the character am writing at the moment.

So if you asked me what my favorite movies are today, this would be an answer. But if you ask me next week, answers may be different. So be warned.

1.  A Room with a View. Not Oscar worthy material perhaps, and not deeply emotive performances, but such a rich and tender romance.  Not to mention, it's set in Florence, one of my favorite cities in the world.

2.  Gone with the Wind. From first glimpse to closing scene, Vivien Leigh lives and breathes Scarlett O'Hara. And Clark Gable? Yes, please.

3.  Apollo 13. One of the few movies I actually own. And every single time I watch it, I cheer when Ed Harris says “not on my watch.” And I cry when those 3 astronauts touchdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

4.  Silence of the Lambs. Brilliant, masterful, and oh so deeply frightening. Anthony Hopkins outdoes himself. I saw this film when it came out, and I will probably never watch it again. Because now it would scare me too much.

5.  The King’s Speech. I had to put a new movie in this list. Colin Firth is eminently believable, and I honestly believe that Geoffrey Rush can do no wrong.

I know there are hundreds more that I love – Roman Holiday, To Kill a Mockingbird, Doubt, the list goes on and on.  What about you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Hello, and welcome to my blog! You can already find me on Tuesdays over on the YA Muses, but I wanted a chance to talk about news, books, and anything else that comes to mind. So here I am.

I’ll blogging here Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and possibly other times as the muse strikes. Talking about things that inspire me, writing process, history, and books. Always books.

So please join in, add to the conversation, ask questions, and tell your friends!