Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Five (15)

1. The husband and I have very little in common. We like different movies and TV shows, we like different music, we enjoy different leisure time activities. We have different backgrounds, family situations, education level, political beliefs, and friends. I'm amazed that after thirteen years of being together that we still have anything to talk about.

There are only a few things we are both enthusiastic about...traveling, beer, and the band Jimmy Eat World.

Last night Jimmy played a very special show in LA at the Wiltern, one of my very favorite concert venues. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of their album Bleed American, they played the entire album all the way through. We went to a similar show they did a couple of years ago for the anniversary of their album Clarity, and since Bleed American is the album that got me into Jimmy in the first place, I knew I couldn't miss this show. Luckily the husband agreed and we snagged some last minute tickets on StubHub for half the price they were going for on Ticketmaster and we made a school night drive out to LA for the show.

I've seen them live about five times now, and I have to say that this show was my absolute favorite. They were AMAZING last night. They had this new arrangement of Your House that pretty much blew my mind. And the best part is that they played an entire set AFTER they were done with Bleed American. So we got the entire BA album and then 45 minutes worth of other stuff, too.

It's SO worth being a little sleepy today.

2. I have finally broken my reading slump and picked up a book! I'm about halfway through Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I wasn't sure if I would like it because fantasy is really not my thing, but everyone assured me that the writing was so amazing that I wouldn't care.

I agree...the writing is amazing. And it has one of my new favorite lines ever in a book. I can't say that I don't care that it's is taking me a LOT longer to read than it normally would, and I think it's because I just don't have a fantasy brain, but I am enjoying it. I can't wait to get back into it tonight.

3. Sunday is the OC Children's Book Festival! I love this festival because it is so close to me...I love it when I don't have to drive to LA or SD for a book event! If you are in the OC (or LA or SD) area, you should really come check it out. Lots of great YA authors are going to be there, and if you have little kiddos it will be a lot of fun for them, too.

I have to crack up sometimes when I think about my life. Saturday...birthday party at a bar. Sunday...children's book festival (when I don't have any children). My life freaking RULES, I swear. 

4. I'm sad to say that I think I'm going to have to skip the 2nd Campaigner Challenge. I had so much fun with the first one, and I was really hoping to get it done, but finishing my actual WIP this week was my #1 priority. And this weekend I have way too much going on to get it finished in time for the Monday cutoff. If I didn't care about quality I could just bust out 200 words in a few minutes, but I'm not like that. I want it to be good. And good takes time, which I don't have a ton of right now. Waah.

5. Okay, speaking of my WIP, here's the question everyone is dying to know the answer to...did I make my birthday deadline?

Well, sorta.

By the time I went to sleep on the night of my birthday I had finished writing, editing, and fixing everything I needed to write, edit, and fix...EXCEPT one troublesome scene I was afraid to write, and the details right before and after it. I had time to wirte it before the deadline, I just...didn't. Because I was letting it intimidate me.

Ugh. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Anyway, I finally got over my fear and just sat down and pounded it out. So, I got it all wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon. I still totally count that as a win.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend...and hopefully I'll see some of you at the OC Children's Book Festival on Sunday!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Love: Lola and the Boy Next Door

For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit - more sparkly, more fun, more wild - the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door.

When the family returns and Cricket - a gifted inventor and engineer - steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

It's no secret to anyone that Stephanie Perkins's debut novel Anna and the French Kiss was one of my very favorite books of 2010, if not my absolute favorite.  I loved everything about it, and I couldn't imagine a book that captured the tingly feelings of first love better. 

Until I read Lola and the Boy Next Door

Is it possible that I actually liked Lola MORE than I liked Anna? I think so! Both of these books were completely awesome, but I think I just related to Lola and what she was going through more than Anna, and Cricket, that boy next door, was so much more my type than the Etienne. (Don't get me wrong, I love me some Etienne. But Cricket is TALL, so that pretty much settles that.)

Lola takes place in San Francisco, and Stephanie Perkins does the same amazing job of making the city an active character in the story as she did with Paris in Anna. You really do feel like you are walking the streets of the California bay area when you read this book, with Lola herself giving you a guided tour. This book made me want to hop on a plane and head up to SF, spending the weekend soaking in everything it had to offer. 

And what Stephanie Perkins does so well with those tingly first love feelings in Anna? Well, she totally nails it here again with this book. She just GETS IT and manages to put everything there on the page for you to experience there with the characters. Her books just make me giddy, and as soon as I finished Lola, I opened it back up and read those parts again. You know those parts, they are the ones I read over again in Anna, too. The ones that just, ugh, that I just HAD to experience again and again. 

I've been thinking about this book since I finished it back in August, and I am so excited that I have my own hardcover that my writing bestie Heather picked up for me at the Decatur Book Festival. I can read and revisit again and again now that it's released. 

I try not to let Stephanie Perkins make me feel like a sham of a writer. It's difficult, but I try. I just hope one day I can capture a shred of the emotion and perfection that she is able to capture in her writing. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of September

It's time for another Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival hosted by the lovely ladies of YA Highway.
This week's question: 

What was the best book you read in September?
Well, if you remember, I was in a little bit of a reading funk. And if you add to that the fact that school started up again and I was frantically trying to finish my WIP, well...I didn't read a single book in September.
I know, I know! I'm so ashamed!
The last book I read was Moonglass when I was on the plane home from Costa Rica, and maybe I can say that Moonglass was so good that no other book would compete. But the truth is, I have a shelf full of amazing books to read and I just haven't picked anything up. I'm just BUSY and something's gotta give. This month it was reading.
Now that I'm going to be sending my WIP off to readers, I will have a little bit of time to read a book or two and just RELAX. I can't wait.
But for the month of September I have to say that the best book I read was the ONLY book I read. Multiple times. And that's my own. Heh.
What's the best book you read this month?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Black Dog

So, my Book Love post on Thursday was about The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by the very awesome Michelle Hodkin. (It comes out today, BTW.)

Well...have you guys seen the book trailer?

I'm not generally a fan of most book trailers because most of the ones I've seen are just...not impressive. It's like they don't know what they want to be. Do they want to look like a movie trailer? Or something else? How can they capture the spirit of the book without forcing one person's vision for the characters on everyone? It's tricky business, I think, and I can't count on one hand the number of book trailers that have made me say YES!

Well, this is one of them. When I watched this trailer for the first time my jaw was on the floor. And then I watched it like seventeen more times. I LOVE IT. It uses words from the book, it uses actual scenes from the book, and it has actors playing the characters without forcing a vision of the character on you. I think this book trailer is perfection! (I'm curious what you guys think about book trailers in general and what you think about this one.)

And after I was done watching it for the seventeenth time I found that I couldn't get that song out of my head. I had to know more about it. I had to get it in my life.

So, I went out and found it. And it's ridiculously awesome.

I bought it on iTunes right away and I pretty much haven't stopped listening to it since. (Yes, I found something that has temporarily made me turn off the 90s playlist! I didn't think it could happen!) It's been the soundtrack to the frantic finishing of my revision. (Update soon!)

It's so haunting! It's so manic! It's so infectious!

Kelli Schaefer - Black Dog

I cant bury the black dog
singing till the sun comes up
you ain’t getting a hold of me
bones bleeding (if bones can bleed)
sore and seething all in harmony
you ain’t getting a hold of me
I cant believe you're serious
short tail
long legs
sharp teeth 

Coat tails dragging behind me
torn sails
whipping in the cold dark sea
you ain’t getting a hold of me
rapping on my bones
beating on my bones
keeping a beat
I’m sending everything to sleep
and you ain’t getting a good hold
I will use the coal you gave me
make a timeless masterpiece 

Oh no
you ain’t getting a hold of me 

Dang dog
claws in my side
slowing me down and making strange noises
creeping around and settling in slowly
making the fire grow above and below me
all I need to do now is to make my bed
all I need to give now is to get some rest
coming in and settling in slowly and making the fire grow above and below me
I cant believe that you don’t hear me (but you will eventually)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yay Birthday!

Woot woot! It's my birthday!

I'm celebrating like only I can...with mimosas and highly anticipated YA book!

Okay, that's not today. Today I'm teaching. But yesterday my friends and I went out to brunch and had mimosas and breakfast burritos and good times in our pajamas with Lola and her boy next door.

I know what you are all wondering...what about your birthday deadline, Jessica? Is your book ready to go?

Well, let's just say that my birthday isn't over yet, and I'll update you tomorrow. How does that sound?

Because today...I'm celebrating! Yay for birthdays!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Five (14)

1. Every other day I get done teaching REALLY early. So instead of just heading home and messing around with the dog, I post up at the Starbucks across the street and write for a few hours. It's been great. I still write when I get home, too, but I work so much better when I am out somewhere. I turn my music up loud in my headphones, I get a yummy drink, and I just tune everything out and write like a crazy person.

I don't know that I can make this a habit forever, though. I'm not really wild about the coffee at Starbucks. I do love the Pumpkin Spice Lattes right now, but a medium (I refuse to say grande) is $4.55. I can't pay close to $5 for a freaking drink every other day. (I get my daily coffee at 7-11, where it's $0.50 to fill up my own mug) And I really don't feel okay with hanging out and using their facilities without paying for something. So I have all of these GCs from students and what-not that are funding my sneaky every other day writing time, but when those expire I will need to figure out Plan B.

2. Never fear, though...I have not abandoned my favorite writing office, Panera. I still go to Panera when I need a writing getaway at home. So even though they changed my favorite sandwich, the turkey artichoke panini (it used to have yummy artichoke pieces in it! Now it has artichoke spread...SO not the same), my favorite chair is still super comfy (unlike the hard chairs at Starbucks), the employees there still know me (they said "We missed you!" after I came back from Costa Rica), and their hazelnut coffee is still more delicious (and cheaper) than Starbucks (but not 7-11...but I can't hang out and write at 7-11). So Panera is my writing home, for sure, but this Starbucks makes a nice vacation home for a few hours a week.

3. The end is getting nearer for my WIP. I finished making all of my major changes last week, and this week I've been going through and editing everything new. It's been a long process, because I've been really agonizing over my word choice and sentence structure and all of that little but oh-so-important stuff. It's been fun, it just takes so long. I'm super happy with my progress, though. I've done more in the past month than I did over the summer when I wasn't teaching!

4. I'm really happy because I'm finally feeling good about it, you guys. This project is my NaNoWriMo project from 2008. Can you believe that? But this is it's 3rd version. I've rewritten it twice. It was a hot mess from Day 1, but I just couldn't give up on the characters or the story, so I started from scratch, and then started again. I have learned so much about my process through this whole thing and, dang, do I know what to do differently in the future so it doesn't take three years.

I'm just so happy that it has really shaped into something I can feel good about and be proud to call my own.

5. The Week of Jessica is now upon us! Feel free to celebrate! One of my besties has her birthday the day before mine, so we started celebrating last night with dinner and wine at our favorite restaurant, then Sunday is Mimosa Pajama Brunch on Sunday with our girlfriends (yes, brunch in our rules), and next Saturday is Saturday Funday at the beach with a bunch of our friends. I don't have any plans for my actual birthday yet, and I think I may lay low since the husband is going to take me out to dinner before my birthday gift Incubus concert. YAY!

I never need an excuse to party...but I definitely use my birthday as an excuse to party a LOT. I thought I might be over celebrating after I turned 30, but, nope! I'm thirty*something* now and still loving my birthday.

Happy Friday...and Happy Week of Jessica!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Love: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.

She's wrong.

You guys. Michelle Hodkin is a debut author to WATCH! Holy cats, can this girl nail a YA voice like no other. 

I had such a great time reading this book. It starts off with a mystery and it keeps you guessing up to the last page. No, seriously, right up until the very last page. I love when a book can keep me guessing like that, and this is one I devoured in one sitting because I had to know what happened. 

I was also a big fan of Noah Shaw, the mysterious hot dude with an English accent. Yowza. There is such great tension between Mara and Noah as soon as they meet, and, again, you keep turning the pages to see what's going to happen between these two.

And, like I said, her voice is just so good. Super authentic and lots of fun, even in the midst of this mysteriously creepy plot. 

So, we have debut author + authentic and awesome YA voice + compelling and surprising mystery + mysterious hot dude with an accent. Yeah, that = pick up this book for sure. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Favorite Book Covers

It's time for another Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival hosted by the lovely ladies of YA Highway.
This week's question: 

What are your all-time favorite book covers?

I have to admit, when I think of my favorite covers, the first one that pops to mind is this one:

But the truth is, I like it because I think the girl on the cover looks like me. Or, I like to pretend she does, anyway. (The story inside this book is just as awesome as the cover. Hear me gush about it here.)

But aside from that one, I have generally found myself drawn to simple covers with bright colors and with a graphic or a photo of an object rather than a face.

These I think are pretty and really evoke the mood of the story they are telling. They almost say, "lovely writing inside" when you walk by them.

I love the simplicity and color of some of David Levithan's books.

Same goes for Tera Elan McVoy's books.


These are two of my favorites, too, and I was sad to see both of them changed for their paperback printings.


And a few more favorites, just in case my style wasn't clear to you yet...


I think I must have latched on to the simplicity of my childhood favorites at some point.

So, what are your all-time favorite book covers?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Diversity and Authenticity and Race...Oh My

I stayed late at work yesterday typing up a pretty long and very thoughtful blog post for today on writing characters who are a different race than us.

And then I accidentally deleted it.

I pasted instead of copied, and I saved instead of clicking undo and the whole long thing was gone. Yeah...I'm awesome at the keyboard.

But I was prompted by these two fantastic blogs that I read yesterday and still want to share with you:

Malinda Lo on authenticity and what it means

and in that post she links to Brent Hartinger on the complications of diversity

I wasn't going to re-type my own post. Those two authors above said everything I was thinking so much better than I could, and it was so long, and it wasn't likely I could capture everything I was thinking earlier.

But I'll just get going and we'll see what happens.

Okay, so I want to tell you about four different teenagers.

One teenager is on the wrestling team and has long hair and smokes and drinks in the baseball dugout across the street and spends his weekends at punk rock shows.

His brother is super involved in church and has tons of friends and is a pro-level body boarder.

One teen girl is driven and smart and involved in every club and has strict parents who push her and give her tons of rules. She got caught by the police for breaking into the nature center after have a Bible study.

Her best friend is on dance team and has lots of boyfriends (not at the same time) and wears lots of makeup and has nice parents but she pretty much does what she wants.

All of these people are people I know. My husband as a teen (yeah, the pot-smoking punk rocker), his brother as a teen, and my two best friends in high school.

And all four of these people are Korean-American.

None of these four people had the same experience, despite their ethnicity.

If I let you assume that these people were white, would you have been able to pick out a book that each one might see themselves in? Probably.

But knowing that they are Asian, can you do the same? Probably not. Because how many books do you know where an Asian teen plays a major role? Sure, they can relate to the experiences of the characters (smoking weed, being awesome at a sport, having strict parents, being a bit of a party girl), but they can't see themselves as these characters.

I have the book Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez in my classroom library. One of my girls read it and loved it. Not because of the plot or because it was the best book she has ever read, but because the villain, the mean girl, was Vietnamese like her. She didn't care that the Vietnamese girl was the "bad guy," she just cared that she finally saw someone Vietnamese outside of the stories / poems she had read in class about the Vietnam war. This girl might not have been the villain in high school, but her life  was much more Haters than "Thoughts of Hanoi," and it thrilled her to see a Vietnamese girl having a real high school experience in a story that didn't center around her race.

And I look around my classroom every year and I see the Asian cheerleader, the black kid in band, the Muslim kid in baggy pants, a hoodie, and skater shoes, just like I see the white cheerleader, the white kid in band, and the white kid in baggy pants, a hoodie, and skater shoes.

They all have different backgrounds and their skin color is different, but they are all going through the teen experience, and if you are writing YA, that's something you know how to write about.

I talk to my students about it and, yes, they are aware of their race and culture and how it is the same and different from the other kids in their classes. But they are also aware of how their jeans are different or how their test grades are different or how the guy they like is looking at them differently. I teach in a pretty diverse area, so the kids are used to it. Their best friends are everyone, their groups are made up of everyone, and that's just how it is. It's nothing unusual that your name is Tran and your best friend's name is Roshni and your other best friend's name is Sara. And YOU are the main character and Sara is the side character. These kids...their race and their ethnicity don't become an after-school special all the time.

I think about these kids and how much they would just love to have a book about someone who looks like them and they don't. They don't because people are scared that they can't tell this story authentically, so they just don't write it. But the thing is, a lot of what's authentic for these kids is authentic for a white kid, too.

I'm not saying to just disregard race. I'm just saying don't make it ALL the character is about. No character is ALL about any one aspect of his or her background. Characters are nuanced. And if your character plays soccer and you don't, you research. If your character is a boy and you aren't, you research. If your character is a king and you aren't, you research. You take that aspect of your character and you learn about it and you take it seriously and you present it as a part of what makes that character whole.

Because just like being a boy isn't the same as every boy, and we as readers will accept different version of "boy," even when written by a woman, being ______ (insert non-white race that you aren't here) is different for everyone, and readers will accept different versions.

I'm also not saying to write about diverse characters just to have them, because that's just gross. But your character might tell you that he isn't white. Listen to him. Don't be scared. Tell his story.

Give my students someone who looks like them in my bookshelves.

But I know, believe me I KNOW, when you think "But I am WHITE! I will mess this up!"

I recently attended a talk about "writing about other cultures." I assumed that it was going to be about writing about cultures that you are not a part of, but the focus actually ended up being "writing about non-white, non-western cultures, despite your own background." I was ready to soak up all of the tips, but the author who was presenting instead started naming off books that white people wrote about the author's culture and how those authors got it wrong. In the end, the message I took from that talk was, "White people will continue to write about my culture, and they will keep doing it wrong. But it's good because it makes me really upset, and I channel that anger into writing better books about my culture."

I left that talk feeling pretty defeated and pretty insulted. So what am I, white girl, supposed to do? Just give up and stick to writing about white girls from southern California? Keep writing about my Asians, even though I am apparently insulting and incensing Asian authors and readers everywhere, according to this person?

I mean, if only people of that race are allowed to write about that race, well...that sucks.

So I'm not going to listen to this author. And I might not get everyone's experience portrayed authentically. And, who knows, I may piss off some Korean-Americans out there, because my main character is a little bit bitchy and has like three different boyfriends throughout the course of my book and OMG what am I saying about Korean girls? But you know what? If I went into my WIP and changed every single reference to Chelsea being Korean, and made her white instead, she wouldn't portray every white girl's experience authentically, either, and I wouldn't expect her to. I'm just telling Chelsea's story. And I'd love it if someone saw herself in my character, regardless of race.

But yeah, even as I'm about to post this, I'm still nervous. I'm worried someone will call me out on my whiteness or accuse me of not taking race seriously because of my privilege or something like that. (I'm also nervous I'm going to accidentally delete this again.) But you know what, I respect that. And I'd love to talk about it.

What do you guys think about the posts from Malinda Lo and Brent Hartinger? What do you think about writing a background that isn't your own? If you aren't white...what do you think of people who aren't of your race / culture / background writing about it?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Could It Be?

So, I did a crazy thing this weekend.

I finished my revision.

Time to get my roots done!

I set my deadline for my birthday, which is a week from today. And I finished last night. I never meet my own deadlines early.

I'm not done done. I'm going to spend this week nit-picking over the details. And then I'm going to have some readers take a look at it and see if it's any good.

But...OMG. I'm almost done*. I'm in shock over here.

*Unless the readers tell me it sucks. I don't think I could handle that. Seriously. Readers...just lie to me, ok?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Five (13)

1. There are some amazing things going on out there in the blogosphere.
If you haven't had a chance, go check out the auction going on over at Read For Relief. These amazing women have teamed up to help the Red Cross with Hurricane Irene relief, and there are still so many great reading and writing-related prizes up for grabs!
Also, go check out YA Confiedential, a new blog that's all about the teen perspective. Real teen spies are giving us the low-down on what it's like to really be a teen today. They had a real teen interview yesterday and it was pretty awesome!
2. My birthday is coming up a week from Monday. You know what that means...birthday deadline! I'm really plugging along with my revisions. I swear, I have never been this productive. Not even over the summer when I wasn't teaching! I don't know if it's because I changed my deadline (bad) into a gift to myself (good), or if it's this freaking 90s playlist that makes me so dang happy every time I turn it on. I don't know why, but I've been ENJOYING my revising, I've been PRODUCTIVE, and I actually think I may do it.
I have to say that my friends have been super encouraging, too. Thanks for the motivation, everyone!
3. Speaking of my birthday, I usually LOVE my birthday and make a huge celebration about it. Even as I get older I still enjoy having a big party. But this year I just couldn't get pumped up about planning something. The husband was bugging me and bugging me about it, but I couldn't shake my old anxiety. Do any of you get this? That fear that you will throw a party and NO ONE WILL COME? I get this hardcore every time I plan something. And, believe me, it's not unfounded. I have had a few parties where people bailed and flaked at the last minute and I was left almost alone. It terrifies me every time, so I was really putting off putting anything together. Finally I figured something out (even if it is at the same time as football...stupid September birthday) and sent out an invite to people I thought might be interested. We'll see if anyone shows up.
4. I am still waiting for my Pottermore owl, and I'm rather miffed that it hasn't shown up yet. Are you lost, owl? Do you need directions to my house? Does it take to long to get to California? Did they send Errol?
I think more than my party anxiety, I am having anxiety about which house I will be sorted into. I just want to do it already so I will KNOW and can stop worrying about if I'm going to be Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. IT'S KEEPING ME UP AT NIGHT.
5. I've been staring at this box here for almost an hour now and I can't get my brain to function enough to come up with a fifth thing. I just can't. This has been a long week for me, and I spent the majority of yesterday thinking it was Friday. I would think it was Friday, remember it was Thursday, get sad about it, then forget and think it was Friday again. This happened several times. Yesterday was a very disappointing day. Now today I am exhausted and confused...but at least I get out early today! Whee. Yay for early Fridays.
Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reading Funk

I have a confession.

I haven't read a book in a month.

Well, it hasn't quite been a month yet. The last book I read was Moonglass by Jessi Kirby on my flight home from Costa Rica on 8/20. So I'm not quite at a month, but I'm pretty much there.

A month. This is pathetic.

Part of this is because I am trying to spend as much of my free time as possible working on my WIP. I'm really serious about my birthday deadline, and I want to make sure I spend all the time I can on my writing. I'm also going to sleep earlier because I get up earlier for work this year...and I've been tired. So there hasn't been as much free time in my day.

But I also have a huge stack of books to read and I'm having a hard time getting super excited about picking any of them up. One of them is Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I have heard nothing but rave reviews about. But I look at it and just...walk by. I have Beauty Queens, which I have heard is hilarious. I have Supernaturally, which is the sequel to a book I loved. I have six books from the library and countless e-galleys on my iPad and...nothing. Nothing is getting me pumped up.

It has been years since I've gone this long without reading a book, and I hate it! I'm a big reader, as you can tell from my book list. But look how short my 2011 list is. I read 31 books in January of 2009 alone, so 36 for this entire YEAR? Shameful. I need to do something about this. 

Do you ever suffer from a reading funk like this? What do you do to shake yourself out of it? Re-read an old favorite? Pick something at random? Go outside of your comfort zone? Read a short book?

I'd really rather not get to an official month with no reading...that's just embarrassing. Do you have a good recommendation for me? Any tips? I need help, friends!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Themes

It's time for another Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival hosted by the lovely ladies of YA Highway.
This week's question: 

What themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do you find recurring in your work?
There are a few things I find myself drawn to over and over again, either in my current WIP or the things I am planning.
Non-white main characters
Yes, I'm white. But my husband isn't. Many of my closest friends aren't. About half of my students aren't. My world isn't just white, and when I picture characters or scenes, the people who populate it aren't either. I can't speak for the rest of my life, but right now I can't imagine writing a story about a while girl and her white love interest and all of her white friends. My brain doesn't work that way.
Complicated relationships
Oh, I am so fascinated by complicated relationships. Falling in love with the wrong person (and not in the "oops, you're a vampire" or "oh, you're such a mysterious bad boy" type of way), doing something with good but misguided intentions that ruins your chances with someone, bad timing. I love the idea of people who want to be together but can't make it work, for whatever reason.
Who doesn't love some awesome kissing?
What about you? What do you find yourself consistently adding to your work?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Obsessions

I love Marina! A friend who has incredible taste in music recommended Marina and the Diamonds to me awhile ago as music that was poppy and fun but also serious and deep. She was pretty right on with that assessment. There really is so much depth to her songs, even though they seem pretty fluffy at first listen. I think this is my favorite kind of you can enjoy on multiple levels.

As someone with an extremely obsessive personality, I found myself immediately drawn in particular to this song. All of the songs on the The Family Jewels album are truly amazing, but this one really speaks to me and all of my issues. Like the verse about the crackers? Yeah. So me.

Marina and the Diamonds - Obsessions

Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette.
Last night's love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed
Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm
Won't you quit your crying? I can't sleep
One minute I'm a little sweetheart
And next minute you are an absolute creep

We've got obsessions
I want to wipe out all the sad ideas
that come to me when I am holding you
We've got obsessions
All you ever think about are sick ideas involving me, involving you

Supermarket, oh what packet of crackers to pick?
They're all the same, one brand, one name, but really they're not
Look, look, just choose something quick
People are staring, time ticker-quicking
Skin is on fire; just choose something, something, something
Pressure overwhelming
Next minute I am turning out of the door, facing one week without food
A day, a day when things are pretty bad
But don't let it make you feel sad,
the crackers were probably bad luck anyway
Can't let your cold heart be free
When you act like you've got an OCD

We've got obsessions
I want to erase every nasty thought
that bugs me every day of every week
We've got obsessions
You never told me what it was
that made you strong and what it was that made you weak.

We've got obsessions
I want to erase every nasty thought
that bugs me every day of every week.
We've got obsessions
You never told me what it was
that made you strong and what it was that made you weak

They made you weak, weak
Made you weak, made you wek, made you...

Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette
Last night's love affair is looking vulnerable again

Monday, September 12, 2011

10 Random Facts About Me

I saw that a lot of Campaigners have been doing these 10 Random Facts posts as a way to introduce themselves to new followers. I decided I would probably do one, and then Brinda tagged me in hers, so now I have no choice. ;-)

So here we go...10 Random Facts About Jessica

1. For those who have never met me, or in case you can't tell in pictures, I am REALLY tall. I'm 6 feet in my bare feet, and I tower over pretty much everyone. I have become the master of trying to make myself look shorter than I really am in pictures, but believe me, I am a GIANT. I love being tall, but not SO tall. It's difficult to find cute things that fit properly, and I get pretty sick of the constant comments about my height.

I was searching for a photo that shows off how tall I am, but it looks like I have become so good at hiding my height (with a move I call "the fold") that I don't have any pictures where I look like gigantor. I guess that's a good thing.

2. I'm a high school English teacher now, but that's not what I went to school for. I have my BA in Communications / Advertising, and I worked in advertising for 3.5 years before going back to school to get my teaching credential. I thought advertising was going to be the perfect job for me, but it turns out that I pretty much hated it.

My minor is in American Studies, and when I first went back to school I thought I wanted to teach history. But I'm really only interested in American history, and neither the credential nor jobs let you be that specific. So English it was!

3. A few years ago I was on a Bingo game show on the Game Show Network that was hosted by Patrick Duffy. Even though I knew most of the answers, I lost because I couldn't get the buzzer strategy down and just couldn't manage to buzz in in time. I was beaten at trivia bingo by a breakdancing dog walker named Kip.

4. I have shaken hands with the president of Italy. He just happened to be in Florence the day I was there on a trip with some students over Spring Break. We hung out in the square and he came by and shook hands with the crowd.

5. In 2008 I finished the LA Marathon. I'm not a runner...I actually hate running. But I made a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30, put "run a marathon" on it for some insane reason, and then trained for it with an awesome group of friends. It wasn't easy, but I can now say that I did it, which is pretty darn cool.

I have not run since then.

6. I don't really watch TV, but my husband loves it. He turns the TV on right when he gets home and it stays on until he goes to bed. I only watch Glee and Amazing Race, but I know a lot about bad reality TV and WWE wrestling because it is constantly on. I used to watch TV, but for some reason I just stopped, and I really don't miss it.

I secretly love it when he is out of town because it is blissfully silent here. I don't turn the TV on at all when he's not here. Aaah.

I also really want a pair of noise-canceling headphones for my birthday.

7.  I was in a sorority in college (Alpha Chi Omega, in case you are curious), and I loved everything about my sorority experience. Joining sorority was the best decision I have ever made for myself. I realize that it's not for everyone, and I realize that my experience at my school (a commuter state school with a small Greek system) is very different from the experiences of others, but I encourage all of my students to give Greek life a try. It changed my life for the better.

I'm still involved in my sorority alumnae chapter. I had to give up my role on the exec board because of my writing, but I'm still involved.

8. I met about 85% of the people I hang out with on a regular basis on the internet.

9. This is my 5th blog. I had a personal blog on xanga that I started in 2003, then a wedding blog on xanga when I got married in 2005, then a personal blog on Blogger from 2007-2008, then my old book blog from 2008-2010, and then this blog. I love blogging, but it's been difficult to find a balance of sharing personal info and staying semi-anonymous. My first xanga blog lost its personality because I revealed too much and it came back to haunt me. My first Blogger blog was so private that it was difficult for people to interact with. I'm hoping I've found a good balance here, but who knows.

10. My one major talent in life is knowing every word to every song. This is useful when it comes to karaoke, but little else in life.

Saturday night I was at a wedding and a random guest came up to me and complemented me on both my dancing and my knowledge of every word to every song. I have to admit that it made me very happy to finally get some recognition on my talent.

Wow, that was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I'm not really the tagging type, but if you are inclined to share some random info about yourself on your blog, go ahead! I'd love to hear it!

And to all of my new's so nice to meet you!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Five (12)

1. I hit up the Borders closing sale again, this time to stock up on some books for my classroom library.

First I got this over the weekend at 60% off
13 books, 6 hardcovers, for only $70-ish. Thanks to my mom for her generous donation to my classroom library. She loves to hook my students up with awesome reads.

Then I went back yesterday and got this at 80% off
11 books, 3 hardcovers, only $27. YOWZA.

I sure hope my students love all of these new reads!

(And, yes, I have the most amazing classroom library EVER, in case you were wondering.)

2. I'm still super bummed over the closing of Borders. I went to B&N and got one of their memberships...and I totally felt dirty about it. I'm such a Borders girl. I feel like a little piece of myself is going away with the closing of these stores. Bye, Borders! You have been awesome to me! I'll miss you!

3. We had a bit of a heat wave this week in southern California. Holy Moses was it hot in my neck of the woods. 105-ish where I teach, and close to 90 at my place near the beach. Being so near the beach, I have no AC in my place, and I swear it is a sauna in there. It's always a good 15 degrees hotter inside my apartment than it is outside, and no amount of open widows or fans bring any relief. Even having the light or the computer on adds extra heat to the room, so I sat around in the dark, just staring at the dog, both of us wishing for some kind of break.

It's supposed to cool down this weekend, and to that I say THANK YOU SO MUCH MOTHER NATURE I WAS DYING.

I love summer and I love the heat, but my little beach area isn't really equipped for those high temps.

4. I'm excited because I was asked to join the staff of our school's yearbook and become the writing advisor! I was very involved in my own yearbook in high school, and I was a co-editor my senior year. I loved everything about yearbook - writing, design, and photography. I'm super stoked to be able to get involved in my students' yearbooks! I know yearbooking has changed...back when I was in high school we actually typed up our stuff on one of these:
We had one for the whole staff, and we saved our work on floppy discs. And we thought we were high tech! So going into a program where everything is on Macs and there are bunches of computers and the design is all done digitally, well, I'm already sort of tripping out about it. But I'm so excited! Have I mentioned how much I love yearbook? And writing? (Duh) And my students? I can't wait to get started on this.

5. Okay, this is a big one. I'm getting really, really close to being done with my WIP. I had been hemming and hawing and writing around some of my major problems, and pretty much avoiding making any actual progress. But then I had a couple of breakthroughs, realized how to solve some of those things (well, theoretically, anyway), and got super motivated to be DONE WITH THIS THING ALREADY.

I wanted to set a deadline for myself, but my self-imposed deadlines don't really work. If someone else sets a deadline for me? I'm all over it. But when I set it? Psssh. I make excuse after excuse until that deadline is in my rearview mirror. I guess I just don't take myself seriously.

Well, I needed something to get me motivated...and then I remembered my birthday is coming up soon. This month, actually. And I figured that the best birthday gift I could give myself would be a completed ms.

This isn't really a deadline, see? It's a PRESENT. TO MYSELF.

So, that's my goal. A completed and polished ms by my birthday...September 26th. Can I pull it off?

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blogaversary Giveaway Winner!


I'm totally floored by the enormous response to my Blogaversary Giveaway! And all of the new followers! I'm so glad all of you are here, and I can't wait to get to know you better. Thanks for hanging out with me!

But, there can only be one winner of the super awesome Blogaversary prize!

Remember the prize? The winner gets this:

And a pre-order of this, since I totally surpassed 200 followers:

And thanks to, the winner of all this loot is...


An email is on the way to you for all of your information. Enjoy your books!

For everyone else, I like to give books away, so stick around. There will be more giveaways in the future. And thank you so much to all of you for hanging out with me! It's been a blast. xoxo

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: YA Characters

It's time for another Road Trip Wednesday, a blog carnival hosted by the lovely ladies of YA Highway.
This week's question: 

Which non-YA character would you love to see in a YA book (as his/herself)?

Haymitch from The Hunger Games - I know we get a taste of what Haymitch's experiences in the Games were like when Katniss watches his tapes, but I'd love to see pre-Games Haymitch, and how he transforms into the broken man we get to know in the trilogy.

Spencer from Suite Scarlett - Spencer, Scarlett's brother, is college-age during the Scarlett books, but, honestly, this guy stole the show for me. I'd love to read a book just about Spencer and his high school antics...and I'd love to see him in a romantic plotline, too! It made me sad that, as her brother, he was obviously not an appropriate love interest for Scarlett. I would love to see high school Spencer woo-ing a girl.

Geoffrey Beck from Shiver / Linger / Forever - Beck is the most fascinating character in the Wolves of Mercy Falls books, and I would love to see a glimpse of his life when he is Sam's age.

Who would you like to see as a YA character?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: 90s Playlist

This weekend I was looking for a little inspiration, so I made a playlist of 90s hits on Spotify.

Check out my 90s playlist

I was a kid in the 80s, but I was a teenager in the 90s, so it's the 90s music I really relate with the most. I didn't realize how much listening to music from my teens would help me tap into my inner teen when I'm writing! I turned on this playlist the other night and all of a sudden the ideas were flying and I was making more progress than I had in weeks. It was amazing.

And, man, nothing makes me happier than listening to these songs that I loved so much. I'm just smiling every time a new track comes on.

For those of you who don't have Spotify and can't see my playlist, here are a few of my favorites:

I remember singing this song with my friends in the car on the way to a dance team competition. Over and over and over.

I was the biggest Counting Crows fangirl. My favorite song on August and Everything After was Anna Begins, but this song is so 90s to me.

The album that this song comes from? One of my very favorite albums OF ALL TIME. Harvey Danger rocked so hard, and if you haven't listened to Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? you are missing out on life.

Ok, I could really post a video of every single song on that playlist, so I'll cut myself off before I get annoying.

I know it makes me old to say I miss the 90s, but...oh GOD I miss the 90s!

What are your favorite 90s songs?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Campaigner Challenge: The War

It's time for the first challenge in the Campaign!

Here are the directions:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

Okay, so I knew if I was going to do this I would have to do it right. So of course I was going to do exactly 200 words and use the ending words, too.

I also knew this was going to be a challenge because short is so not my thing. I am the wordiest mofo around and I always use 4,826 words to say what I could say in 3. 

But I managed to put something together. So here it is in all of its 200 word glory. (FYI, the original version was 385 words. Heh.)

The door swung open, and all thirty-seven students in Chem turned in their seats.

Except me. I knew it was you.

My eyes drilled into my sloppy notes, covered with plans for what I would do to you next. It was your turn, but I needed to prepare, since I never knew when you’d strike. Apparently it was now, and after what I did to you yesterday in gym, I braced for the worst.

“Sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Reyes.” You paused, obviously struggling to keep your voice under control. “Is Kate Ngyuen here?”

I heard everyone turn toward me, but I kept staring at my notes like the lecture never stopped, like you hadn’t come in to completely humiliate me.

Then you were right there. Your Vans nudged my backpack in my peripheral vision.

“Your mom dropped these off with the nurse, Kate. I guess it’s an emergency.” Something thudded onto my notebook.

A box of Depends undergarments. On my desk. In the middle of Chem.

Dang, that was good.

The class erupted in laughter, but I wouldn’t let you see me react. And I was already planning my next prank in our little war as the door swung shut. 

That was actually pretty fun. And it was a nice little warm up as I'm about to dive into some pretty heavy revisions on my WIP. (Hopefully the last round...cross your fingers!)

Go check out the other Campaigners over at Rach's blog. There are a lot of fun entries out there!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Five (11)

1. I am exhausted. This was my first full week back at work and it just about killed me. It's not like I spent my summer just lazing around...I worked at my other job 3-4x a week and that's a pretty active job. But this year I am teaching zero period, so there is just something about having a classroom of students at 7:30am that is just wiping me out. Plus every other day I teach straight from 7:30 - 2:30 with only a 30 min break for lunch. The other day I get ample breaks, but I'm so wiped from the long day that I haven't been able to recover fully.
This is what my week has looked like so far:
Monday: Long, exhausting day, email CP Julie and cancel meeting, fall asleep on couch for 2 hours, moan on couch until bedtime
Tuesday: Easier day, but still exhausted. Get home early, take 1 hr nap on couch, work Job 2 until 10pm
Wednesday: Long, exhausting day, after school meeting, hair appt, errands, finally get home at 7:30pm, fall asleep by 9pm
Thursday: Easier day, but still exhausted, even after all of the sleep. Errands, nap, dinner w/ friends where I try not to pass out on my plate
I'm really hoping I will adjust to this schedule and being back in the classroom soon. I am completely useless right now. I have seriously never been this worn out at the beginning of the year. What's wrong with me?
2. Oh, let's add to that the fact that I am sick...AGAIN. I swear, my immune system is on sabbatical. I never used to get all that sick, but in the past year I have had THREE sickness that have lasted an entire month. So that means I have spent 1/4 of the past year sick. Nice.
I need to get to the doctor, but, well, see #1 above. I know I need to make my health my priority but it's so difficult when I don't even have the time to call my mom or vacuum my house.
3. Needless to say, I have done JACK on my WIP. I'm sad because I was so pumped about outlining my changes and getting everything all fixed and making it awesome, and then SCHOOL HAPPENED and all of the energy and drive got sucked right out of me. I'm so sad about this. I just wanted to get this outlined and jump into fixing it and I don't even have the energy or brain power to open the computer much less think and be productive. I'm really hoping that I'll get some good rest this weekend and be able to bust through this.
4. Oh, speaking of work, I had a total high school moment at our staff meeting on Wednesday. I got to our meeting early and saw a friend of mine from the English department at a table, but as I was walking over to sit with her, this woman who talks a lot and is generally a bit coo-coo sat down next to her. I was way too tired to deal with her, so I just went to an empty table and waited for my work bff to show up. Well, the staff filed in, the tables filled up, and NO ONE CAME TO SIT AT MY TABLE. Not a single person. No one even approached my table to sit with me. People were pulling chairs up to full tables and squeezing in, and no one even considered sitting with me.
I couldn't believe it. When work bff finally showed up she looked at my empty table in a sea of full tables and just laughed. Yeah, the two of us may be a little cliquey, but we are NICE and FRIENDLY. Finally the band director sat with us. Better than no one, I guess.
I need to make more friends at work, apparently.
5. I think it goes without saying that I am pumped for this three day weekend. I don't have any plans besides recovering on the couch (and hopefully dragging my sick butt to the Dr), but it's going to be a GLORIOUS time of sitting. I plan on enjoying every second. And hopefully cracking open that outline.
Have a fantastic weekend everyone! <3

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Love: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

MILO is the funny and poignant story, told through text and cartoons, of a 13 year old boy’s struggle to reconnect with the loss that hit the reset button on his life. Loveable geek Milo Cruikshank finds reasons for frustration at every turn, like people who carve Halloween pumpkins way too soon (the pumpkins just rot and get lopsided). The truth is – ever since his mother died there’s not much Milo likes anymore. Now, instead of the kitchen being full of music, his whole house has been filled with Fog. Nothing’s the same. Not his Dad. Not his sister. And definitely not him. In love with the girl he sneezed on the first day of school and best pals with Marshall, the “One Eyed Jack” of friends, Milo copes with being the new kid (again) as he struggles to survive the school year that is filled with reminders of what his life “used to be."

I don't read a log of MG. But when I had a chance to listen to Alan Silberberg talk about this book during a panel at SCBWI LA, I ran to the bookstore the second the panel was over to pick it up.

This book was awarded the Sid Fleischmann Humor Award at the conference this year, so I knew it would be funny. I mean, it has all of these cute little cartoons! It must be cute and sweet and silly, right? Well, it is. But it has so much more depth than that, and it's the depth that had me running to the bookstore, and it's the depth that had be sobbing on the plane as I read through this amazing book.

Yes, Milo is adjusting to life at a new school and a crush on a girl and all of the antics that come with that territory. But he's also adjusting to life without his mother, who died of cancer four years before. And Milo's observations about life without his mom and the impact that loss has had on his dad, his family, and himself...oh man. It's impossible to read this book without shedding a tear for Milo's loss and heartbreak.

This book manages to be both hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad. Sometimes right there on the same page. It's the kind of book that you hug to your chest when you finish, and you make a list of the special people in your life you want to share it with. It captures all of those truths about life, both the irreverent and the painful, and it does it in a way that stays with you long after you are done with it. I loved Milo, and I hope everyone takes some time to get to know this sweet and thoughtful little guy.