Thursday, June 27, 2013

Neil Gaiman is my hero.

So yeah--I know Neil Gaiman is a hero for a lot of people. But attending his book signing in Phoenix crystallized (at least for me) some reasons why.

For starters, he's been on a non-stop book tour of epic proportions the last few weeks. He doesn't finish in until mid-July (and he's going to Canada too). His last blog post even has the phrase "Tired Neil"--and that was before he left the UK.

Every night he signs a truckload of books. Literally. Like at least two-semi's worth. At the event I attended, each group of 40 people were assigned a letter of the alphabet. And there are two go-rounds of alphabets--so when it reached Z, it started again with AA. So let's see--26 letters of the alphabet times 40, plus double equals--Holy Crap. Especially for people who have more than one book for him to sign. (And that doesn't count the 800 some odd books he signs before the event starts.)

So when my letter rolled, around -- S -- I saw the tired Neil. It was pushing midnight--and the reading had started at six. I knew I was adding to the problem--in my defense, I had a copy of GOOD OMENS, already signed by Terry Pratchett, and awaiting Mr. Gaiman's signature. And this had been a thorn in my craw for quite a few years--I wasn't able to see Terry Pratchett in person, and had to get a signed copy online--for the mere reason that my former library wouldn't let me take the time (even though I'd had ample vacation built up) to see him in person.

As I approached the table, I was informed only one dedication per group of books, which meant my name wouldn't be added to the GOOD OMENS inscription. Understandable. So I left the dedication to a friend (you'll know who you are when the book arrives on your doorstep) and the first thing I stupidly said to tired Neil was, "I'm not [Insert Name of Friend Here]." The poor man faltered a bit, and I explained that the dedication wasn't for me, but for someone else who couldn't attend. He kept going, and drew a star on the page (perhaps to spruce the monotony of having to write his name over and over). And then I explained how the library I'd worked at didn't let me see Terry Pratchett--and with a wry grin, he said, "Damn them." Thorn in craw officially removed.

I went on to say how delightful the event was--and thanked him for his time. With the gentlest sincerity, he replied, "Well, thank you for coming."

So, I'm 100% certain he will remember none of this. But in those brief moments, he shined a light into my drab little world that will shine brightly for months (and years) to come. All in the midst of the truckload of work he'd been given.

Not every author will take the personal time for their adoring fans. But Neil Gaiman is definitely one who will. And for that, he should be commended. His #1 spot on the NYT list should be ample accolade, I hope--but I think he deserves even more.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The Classroom" series by Robin Mellom

Last year, I featured DITCHED: A LOVE STORY, by Robin Mellom, an awesome YA debut. Now, Robin has a middle grade series, The Classroom, and the second book in the series, THE CLASSROOM: STUDENT COUNCIL SMACKDOWN! will debut June 25.

In 2012, a documentary crew descended upon Westside Middle School to detail the life of an average seventh grader and his classmates.
What they uncovered, though, was far from average. Mostly, it was upper average along with moments of extreme average, highlighted by several minutes of total epicness.
This is the story...

Trevor Jones--perfect attendance award recipient, former neurotic (he hopes)--has been preparing for the start of seventh grade his entire summer.But he is NOT ready for the news his best friend, Libby (proud neurotic, in a color-coding sort of way), drops on him: he must ask a girl to the fall dance. By the end of the day.

Trevor decides he would rather squirt hot sauce in his eyes than attend the dance. Everything changes when he meets mysterious new student Molly (excessive doodler, champion of unnatural hair colors). Trevor starts to think that going to the dance maybe wouldn't be the worst thing ever. But what if she says no to his invitation? More important, what if she says yes?!

Libby Gardner and Cindy Applegate are smile-without-teeth friends, but they are fierce rivals when it comes to politics. Cindy owned the student council elections in fourth and sixth grades, while Libby came out on top in fifth. Now, they both hunger for the prestigious title of seventh grade class president.

But middle school elections have their own rules...and pressures. When Trevor Jones is forced to join the presidential race, he devises a plan to make sure his best friend Libby wins. That all changes when he discovers that Libby has oh-so-sneakily gone behind his back by hiring Molly Decker to be her campaign manager. Now, he's in it to win it. And things are going to get ugly.

Join Trevor, Libby, Cindy, and the whole Westside contingency (along with the documentary film crew) as they explore the ugly underbelly of middle school politics.

Here's Robin's answers to some of my questions:

The Classroom series is geared toward a younger audience than your debut YA book, DITCHED. How is writing a middle grade novel different from YA?

With middle grade, I have my characters working on how they fit in this world, even with all their differences and quirks. While with young adult, my characters are figuring out what sets them apart and learn to accept their uniqueness.
Writing middle grade is also different because I listen to a different playlist of music. I tend to go for lighter dance music with MG, and listen to the grittier stuff when writing YA. But my writing snacks are the same and usually include far too much Pirate's Booty.

A great definition of YA versus MG. And I, too, love me some Pirate's Booty! In our last interview, we talked about humorous stories. What do you like most about them, and what makes them fun to write?

I used to teach middle grades and when I read stories out loud to them in class, they would always request another funny story. And another. They were insatiable. There wasn't too much out there at the time, and I ended up reading Sideways Stories From Wayside School over and over. I made it my life goal to write funny books for kids. It's an absolute blast to write and I pinch myself every morning because I can't believe I get to do this for a career!

A great way to fill a niche--and I hope there will be many more stories to come! Trevor is a great protagonist--did he come to you fully fleshed or has his character developed as you've gone along?

Here's the truth: I started writing about Trevor in the very first novel I ever wrote, which was about ten years ago. He is a combination of many students I've known, plus a little bit of me thrown in there. And then a bunch of stuff I made up. So his character came to me pretty fleshed out, but as I've been writing this series, I've discovered a lot about him--mostly his family dynamics. (His mom--love her!)

It's great that he continues to develop as the series does--and it sounds like you've built some unique secondary characters too. The Classroom looks like a good choice for reluctant readers. In what ways might they relate to the series?

There are a lot of school problems Trevor must deal with. Dances, eighth graders, popularity, how to read a school map. It's all in there. The illustrations Stephen Gilpin did will also appeal to reluctant readers and they are hysterical!

What current projects are you working on? More books in The Classroom series? Will DITCHED have a sequel?

Book two of THE CLASSROOM (STUDENT COUNCIL SMACKDOWN!) releases on June 25th. And I'm currently finishing up book 3. Here's a hint for book 3...think: disco ball. Yep, book 3 brings the bling.
And I'm also finishing up edits on my next teen novel, BUSTED. A girl takes a job running errands for an eccentric couple and finds herself involved in the crazy world of LA nightlife but after a misunderstanding lands her in jail, she has one fateful night to clear her name, help a rising movie starlet avoid the paparazzi and find Adam, the coworker who is quickly stealing her heart.

Thanks, Robin! You have some excellent new stories coming down the pike--and I'm looking forward to seeing the "bling"!

To purchase Robin's books for yourself, click on the links below:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Poor, Neglected Blog...and What Happens When I Stop Writing for Too Long

I hear from so many writers about how their blogs are collecting mothballs. "I'm too busy writing," they say, apologies pouring out of their eyes and mouths.

We all know they have nothing to apologize for. I've said it before--an online platform for writing is empty without the actual writing.

But even my writing, as well as my poor, neglected blog, has had to take a back seat. My hubby and I came back from a cousin's wedding to discover our sick kitty was even sicker, and she'll probably have to be put down sooner than we anticipated. To add to the fun, our fridge was busted the entire weekend--and wafted all kinds of interesting smells, ranging from old cottage cheese to ripe ice cream.

My brain's energy has also been devoted to other kinds of decision-making. I had a horrible moment where I thought, "Is writing for a living something I really want to do?" The answer is still yes, but I also came to an important epiphany. I want to write, but I want to do other stuff too. I want to dance. I want to sing. I want to experience life while I strive toward my goals.

This also taught me that my brain does horrible things when I'm not writing, or creating. It's like a mewling toddler, complaining that it has nothing to do--so it gives me all kinds of terrifying thoughts to think about instead. So the ultimate conclusion I've come to is: "Writing for a living (paid or unpaid) is something I have to do." Because it makes me and my brain oodles happier.

So my new goal is to produce 1,000 new words a week. Even if I'm in the throes of edits. Even with ten broken fridges and fifteen ailing cats. And hopefully that will get my brain to shut the hell up already.

What about you--what do you struggle with in balancing edits, writing, blogging, and living?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beautiful writing...?

I had a wonderful time at the Backspace Conference, and learned tons, which I'll be sharing bit by bit as time unfolds. I also met a bunch of excellent writers who I was fortunate to spend time with.

And there were so many important take-aways--especially having to do with craft. I realized what I thought was "beautiful writing" could be better described as overwrought narrative.

Because most people think beautiful writing means dishing out fancy words. But those frilly words don't have impact if they don't carry weight for the character or the plot. For example:

She unwound her curly red hair, which cascaded down her back like a flowing waterfall.

Gag, right? And it reveals nothing about who "she" is or why we should care about what her hair is doing. A name perhaps? Some kind of conflict? Maybe get rid of some of those cliche comparisons?

In the cafeteria, Shiela watched Matt flirt with Betty, a pixie blonde with a cute giggle. Maybe she could get in on this action, too. She walked past their table, and unwound her cascading curls for all to see.

A bit better, but we still don't know how why Shiela cares about Matt flirting with Betty. And that was a bit long-winded for me. Because here's the dirty little secret about beautiful writing--it has to be concise.

Matt flirted with Betty. Again. With the same smile he gave Shiela on Valentine's Day. So Sheila pulled down her hair and smacked him in the face with it.

I'm struggling a bit with the "smacked him in the face" part, since hair doesn't really do that. One more try.

Shiela rubbed her hair in Matt's face. "No personality?" she yelled. "I'll show you no personality!"

The last one covers a lot more information with much less words. We now know what Matt thinks about Shiela--and why that matters to her. And why Matt's flirting hurts her so much. Betty is everything Shiela isn't. And it pisses Shiela off.

I'll admit the last one is pretty minimalistic, and could probably be expanded upon. But if we get stuck in pretty adjectives and adverbs, the narrative will take a gigantic halt where it doesn't need to. Because beautiful writing needs to have proper impact. 

What about you? Are there examples of beautiful writing you'd like to share?