Monday, April 30

Film Chick or Movie Maven?

When I first started dating my significant other 15+ years ago, we used to rent videos a lot. And that's where we first discovered a major difference between us. I was a film chick; he was a movie guy.

What's the difference? Most of my films had subtitles. Farewell, My Concubine; Xiu-Xiu, the Sent-Down Girl; anything with Vincent Cassel in it. Merchant & Ivory movies. Period pieces. In general, as my guy put it, "Stuff with people with accents." In general, too, my films had heavy themes--suicide, abuse, prostitution, prejudice and bigotry. The heavier and more complex, the better. I admit it. I was a film snob.

Him? Well, suffice it to say his entire movie repertoire consisted of having seen every Rambo movie and anything with "Ah-nold" in it (and go figure Conan would end up as the governor of California). Once, his cousin babysat my baby daughter. As I left, she was perched on his lap on the couch and they were watching Smokey and the Bandit. I grew up with all sisters; my guy with all brothers and male cousins. Movies vs. flicks. I was getting an education in why men love movies with smashed-up cars and the obligatory naked breasts.

Over the years, like any long-term couple, we've worn off on each other a little. I knew it had happened when, in 1998 or so, we rented a movie by one of my fave directors, Wes Anderson--Rushmore. And my guy actually used words like "plot" and "dialogue" when we discussed it afterwords. I almost cried with joy! He had learned that movies had things like THEMES! When we went to a flick in the THEATER with subtitles, I knew he had changed. As for me? I dutifully went with him to see Independence Day. I have seen every Will Smith movie there is, along with Ah-nold, and a bunch of movies that sort of blend together with a lot of fight scenes and car chases.

So . . . that's the story of my life and film. How about you? Do you see "films" or "movies"?

Sunday, April 29

Entertain me!

This week the topic at TFC is supposed to be entertainment. But...but...but...I'm not sure what I'm supposed to write about! So I guess I'll just talk about what I do for entertainment and hope others jump in to tell me what they do.

My working life provides most of my entertainment. I love to tell stories and I'm privileged that people will pay me to do this for a living. But what do I do in the few hours when I'm not writing? I read. A LOT. I read all different kinds of books for all different age levels, and for those of you out there who want to pursue a career in writing, I suggest you read a lot too. It's amazing how often I meet would-be writers who never read. Since this blog focuses on teen fiction, I'll mention two really great books I've read in recent months: Harmless, by Dana Reinhardt, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick; the latter is for a younger readership but the illustrations are fabulous. Similarly, if you want to stretch to the adult shelves, you can't go wrong with Michelle Richmond's Year of Fog.

Moving away from the printed word as entertainment, either written or read, I like movies and TV, but a lot of what I get to see at the movies is dictated by my seven-year-old daughter's tastes. Thankfully, it's not only animated movies we see - not that there's anything wrong with animation! - and we've been to see "Road to Glory" (about the integration of basketball) and "Invincible" (about an older guy getting his big break in the NFL). I've found sports movies to be a big hit with my kid. Even though the language is stronger than in the G and PG movies, the theme of people pursuing their dreams comes across...and that's a favorite theme of mine. Still, I live for the day my girl is old enough for me to drag her to see more mature films where we can, oh, say, drool over Ioan Gruffudd together.

In terms of TV, we're DVD heads. We're up to season three of "Gilmore Girls" and we also are currently into "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie." Once the girl is in bed, we also like "Entourage," "Rescue Me," etc, and I'm a huge politics geek who watches all the political talk shows. (I'd probably be as excited to meet Chris Matthews as I would be to meet Ioan Griffudd.) Oh, and I put on "General Hospital" nearly every day while I'm working. And, of course, our whole family watches "American Idol" together. (Truth time: I'm starting to really like Phil.)

Finally, if I get to leave the house for my entertainment, I love to shoot pool. I don't get to do it often these days, but I still have four trophies from before my girl was born and I'm the only person I know of who received a pool cue for a wedding shower present (mine had been stolen one night). If we meet someday, I'd love to play you. Perhaps for money?

So that's me. I'm a reading, writing, movie- and TV-loving pool-hall girl. Oh, and did I mention Sudoku? I love all kinds of puzzles, proud geek that I am.

How about you? What's your favorite form(s) of entertainment?

Friday, April 27

Back To The Movies

The Future.

Or more to the point, Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox.

I must admit, Back To The Future I is my all time fave of the Back to the Future Trilogy:
(snagged from wikipedia)

"17-year-old Marty McFly is accidentally sent back in time to 1955 in a time machine built from a DeLorean by eccentric scientist Doc Emmett L. Brown. Upon arriving in 1955, he inadvertently causes his parents to never meet. To make matters worse, Marty did not bring back any extra plutonium to power the time machine, so he must find the 1955 version of Doc Brown to help him out. Not only is his own existence in danger; Marty must get his parents back together before the clock tower is struck by a bolt of lightning, the only power source both capable of sending him back to the future, and predictable enough to harness."

A couple of my fave, memorable scenes are when Marty is rocking out at the school dance and starts playing 80s rock and roll with a guitar and then everyone just stops and stares. And when Marty wakes up in his underwear and his mom in 1955 keeps calling him Calvin because his underwear says Calvin Klein. LOL!

If you have not seen the Back to the Future trilogy, doing so is highly recommended for the following reasons...
-If you need to brush up on 80s & 90s flicks
-If you enjoy sci-fi trilogies with humor
-If you think Michael J. Fox rocks
-If you think Marty McFly is just the coolest character name
-If you think Biff is the perfect bully bad guy name
-If you like eccentric scientists with wild white hair
-If you like awesome memorable lines such as...

Marty McFly: Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?
Dr. Emmett Brown: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

-And if you just like good enjoyable flicks!
If you've seen the Back To The Future Triology which is your favorite or most memorable scene, and if you haven't you don't know what you're missing! :)

Wednesday, April 25

The Crystal Ball

If I would’ve looked into a crystal ball 10 years ago and seen myself today, I would’ve laughed my head off.


To a guy whose idea of decorating is dead animal heads on the wall and whose idea of fashion is Eddie Bauer?

Living in the mountains?

Living in Utah?
Um, where?


Three boys?
Ha! Don’t make me laugh.

Stay-at-home-mom, soccer mom, PTO mom, Junior Leaguer …?
How do you turn this thing off?

Hmm. Very interesting. Intriguing even. I think I like it!

But now, having experienced everything that got me to this point, I have to say that this life I’ve made for myself is wonderful. Not perfect, by any means. But I’m doing what I love to do, I’m surrounded by people I adore, and I’m living in one of the prettiest and most fun places in the world (IMHO).

And I’m excited to see what the next 10 years holds for me.

Just for fun: If you could look into a crystal ball and see yourself in 10 years, what do you think you’d see?

Monday, April 23

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades...

So, this week's theme is the future.

Having written I Was a Teenage Popsicle (set ten years in the future), I guess I'm supposed to be some sort of expert.

Secret confession: I'm so not. (Though I love watching old Star Trek episodes as much as the next gal. Vastly prefer the 'Next Generation' episodes, though. Just can't handle William Shatner anymore.)

Secret confession #2: I wouldn't even want to be cryonically preserved. Would hate waking up to a future with no friends and even more gadgets to figure out. I have enough trouble with cell phones and laptops. Besides, most people who sign up for cryo-preservation are exlorers, adventurers. (They kinda half to be, 'cuz let's face it: the technology required for successful cryo-preservation is way far off at this point.) I, by contrast, am a cautious homebody. Don't even like going on rides at the fair.

But here's one thing I do know about the future: it's in jeopardy.

If we don't start taking better care of the planet, we could be living in a vastly different world as early as ten to twenty years from now.

We can all do our bit. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and check out (Suzuki's an ultra-cool Canadian scientist/environmentalist) and sign up for the Nature Challenge to reduce global warming. It's a cinch, I promise--you just have to promise to do a few easy things, like walk, bike or carpool whenever possible.

Here's something else I know about the future: it's in great hands.

The tweens and teens I've spoken to since writing I Was a Teenage Popsicle are completely and totally awesome--super smart and super energetic. If anybody can turn the environment problem around, they can.

Finally, here's the last thing I know about the future: it's bringing you Beyond Cool, the sequel to I Was a Teenage Popsicle (though it can easily be read as a standalone) in August!!!

Love ya!


Thursday, April 19

After you with the sun screen, Santa!

I LOVE New Zealand. It's the most amazing place ever to live. My only problem is the seasons. They're all back to front.

Snow in July.Totally weird!
Lambs in October. Can't be right!
Leaves falling off the trees in April. Yikes!

And worst of all, Christmas on the beach. Nooooooo!

Christmas is all about snuggling up by the fire; wrapping up warmly and going out to see the lights; it being dark by mid to late afternoon; eating as much turkey, stuffing and roast potatoes as is humanly possible.

It's not about laying on the beach and having a BBQ, with salads and cold ham...... And what about Santa..... how awful is it for him to be dressed up in a thick woollen suit, when he'd rather be in board shorts, tee shirt and flip flops?

In Between Days

Recently, my husband and I were having a disagreement over when a particular event occurred, and it went something like this:

He- “It was last year.”
Me- “No, last year, I had the pixie cut. It was the year before that, when I had the chin length bob.”

That’s right, I don’t keep track of my life by calendars or date books, I keep track by my ever-changing haircuts. Seriously. The Great Japanese hair straightening experiment marks my first book deal. But by the time I needed an author photo, I’d already cut it all off, added some highlights, and was sporting a bob.

I wasn’t always this way. Throughout my childhood and teen years I had long, wavy, brown hair that hung past my waist. And since my hair remained constant, I kept track of my life by summer holidays.

And even though mine was not a vacationing family, (my parent’s were divorced and money was tight), I still looked forward to those long, hot, lazy days of riding my bike to a friend’s house, swimming in the pool, and begging our mom’s to drive us to the beach or the mall so we could cruise around in shorts and flip flops, trying on lip-gloss and looking for boys.

The summer going into ninth grade was when I had my first kiss—some semi-pro skateboarder dude with chapped lips and a name I quickly forgot.

The summer going into tenth grade was when I was allowed to graduate from drop off dates to “car dates.” Car dates were big time—no longer did you need an adult to drop you off and pick you up, now it was just you, your date, and, um, his car.

The summer going into Junior and Senior years I was working at a department store selling business suits to crabby, disappointed, middle aged women by day, and hanging out in L.A. by night.

And then came graduation and the end of my summer breaks. Though strangely enough, that’s also the time when I got my first major haircut—though I’m not sure I was cognizant of this life-tracking shift at the time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that those long ago summers used to represent milestones, growth, and maturity. They were a way to keep track of where I’d been, and where I hoped to be going.

But now I rely on my hair, knowing that this summer will forever be referred to as the one where I grew out the pixie and reclaimed the bob.

What about you- how do you keep track of your life?

Wednesday, April 18


For the past couple of days, we've been trying to make sense out of the images we're seeing on the television. 33 dead at Virginia Tech? How does such a thing happen?

There are no words to describe the shock and sorrow at such an unthinkable tragedy.

I'm sure I speak for all of us here at Teen Fiction Cafe when I say our hearts and healing thoughts are with the students and families of Virginia Tech.

May this kind of insanity never happen again.

Tuesday, April 10

Culture. Shock?

When I first thought of what to write about this topic, it seemed natural that I would cover the experience of living in a foreign country. But then I thought...

Culture shock relates to a lot more than just going from one country to another. Whenever you step away from the way you are used to doing things (your culture) and have to adjust to someone else's way of doing things (their culture, natch) you're bound to experience some sort of culture shock.

Even moving from middle school to high school can be difficult. The "rules" are different. The procedures are different. The people are different. Everything can feel strange and overwhelming. Bingo. Culture shock.

We encounter something new - go on vacation, move across town, across the country, across the world, start a new job, switch schools, etc. - and we are amazed, shocked, dismayed, whatever. We've all had the experience at one time or the other. I think that's why fish-out-of-water stories are so prevalent... we can relate to them.

So how do you deal with culture shock?

(And, since I can't resist throwing some of the living in a foreign country stuff in here, I have to share this YouTube with you...

Yes, keeping a sense of humor definitely helps.)

Doesn't everyone speak English?

Today my post is supposed to be about Culture Shock, which is perfect since I just came back from a two-week trip to Israel and Italy just yesterday. I'll try to post some pics, but we haven't unpacked the camera from the suitcase yet.

I admit I take it for granted that I think everyone should/does know English. While in Israel learning English is mandatory (they're taught English starting in grade school), in Italy we encountered some problems. When I asked people if they spoke English, most people answered, "A little". I learned that for a lot of words I just add a vowel on the end and the Italians usually understood. "Spinich pizza," I ask. (Italian waitress shakes head, confused). So I say, "Spinachi pizza?" "Ahh!" (Ah, now she understands!)

But forget about that. Here's things that shock me...or at least make me uneasy.

Israel: kissing people on both cheeks. In America we do the "air kiss" on one Israel it's two and sometimes three and you switch sides each kiss. You never know if it's a two-kiss or a three-kiss, so you have to be ready. I swear one of these days I'm going to end up kissing someone on the lips by accident. Which actually freaks me out more than it should.

Italy: There are no numbers to the streets, even on maps. So the maps show a mass of lines to show roads, but you never know what those roads are called or where they lead. Has anyone been there? Please confess!

Israel and Italy: What's the deal with the three-hundred and sixty-five degree turnarounds every two meters when driving? Which of the three (or sometimes four) exits do you take?

Israel and Italy: Why is EVERYONE so thin? And why are their jeans so tight you think their jeans are painted on?

Israel: Military personnel all over the place, everyone with an M-16 machine gun or bigger. And why do I feel so safe around all those guns?

Italy: You have to pay for water at restaurants. Makes me wonder what's wrong with their water.

Israel and Italy: Crazy drivers! and Gorgeous men! (also gorgeous men who are crazy drivers)

Israel: Why does the McDonalds taste different. And why do they have "kabob" on the menu? Isn't all McDonald's supposed to be the exact same no matter where you are? Isn't that the whole concept of McDonalds?

Oh, I hate this one! Israel: You have to actually turn on the water heater each time you want to take a shower and the hot water doesn't last long enough for your entire shower.

Okay, enough of my babbling. Anyone else been somewhere during Spring Break where they had culture shock? (I've also had culture shock when I've been to South Carolina - me being a yankee and all)

Saturday, April 7

So the topic this week is beauty, and after two wonderful, thought-provoking posts from Lauren and Erica, I debated a lot about what to write. For a while, I was totally sold on doing something on the science of beauty, because I'm a cognitive science person, and there's a lot to say about how humans are wired to view certain things as beautiful. And then, I thought I'd go completely the opposite direction, and blog about what society tells us is beautiful. I fully intended to link to this entry on the Go Fug Yourself website, because I think it's dead on about the mixed messages Hollywood sends out about body image. But at the end of the day, I decided I didn't want to blog about what society says is beautiful, or what our brains tell us is beautiful. I wanted to blog about what I think is beautiful, because the other definitions of beauty are out there- everywhere- and I'd much rather use this space to talk about what we think is beautiful than anything else.

So what and who do I think of when I think of beauty? I thought about this for a long time, and ultimately, I realized that one of the problems I have with "beautiful" these days, is that whenever I look at pictures of models- especially high fashion models- their faces are just completely blank. Back when I was modeling, photographers would actually try to coax this expression out of you. "Less of a smile. Give me less of a smile. No. I can still see you smiling. The edges of your mouth are still tilting up. I want soft lips. Give me soft lips, soft lips..." That carefully blank expression is hard won (especially for those of us who LIKE to smile), but when I think about what's really beautiful to me, all of the images in my mind have one thing in common: emotion.

I think my mom is beautiful. Her whole face lights up when she smiles, and whenever I look at her, I can see the way she's looked each time she's hugged me and loved me and taken care of me when I was sick.

I think people are beautiful when they're so happy they cry, even if their faces get all blotchy because of the tears.

I think babies are beautiful when they smile, even though I normally think babies are kind of weird looking.

And even though this may sound kind of weird, when I'm watching television, I'm always struck by how much more beautiful I think most characters are when they're angry or sad than when they just sort of are.

Beauty isn't cold, distant, blank, or unchanging. I guess for me, beauty isn't so much about a person's features as it is about what they do with them. So what do YOU think is beautiful?

Tuesday, April 3

Confidence is Sexy!

I once saw this great commercial. I think, honestly, it was for beer, but I can't remember. A bunch of guys were in a club, sitting at a bar, and one of the guys turns to the others and says, "Do these jeans make me look fat?" The commercial then went on to show men asking these sorts of questions we usually associate with women.

I remember laughing out loud. The commercial was so true. I've never met a guy who worried about putting on ten pounds, or who wondered if his jeans made his butt look big. Bad hair day? Heck, judging from some of the guys I've dated, they're all bad hair days.

But women? Most of the women I know have a constant tape in their head with negative messages. Bathing suit season? Most women dread it. In fact, they have whole television shows on how to dress best for your figure and choosing the right bathing suit.

I made it a point a long time ago to tell that negative voice to shut the heck up. And when I did, I noticed something. The women I appreciated as the most beautiful, the sexiest . . . well, they weren't necessarily the most conventionally beautiful women. But they were the women who just felt so comfortable in their own skin that they exuded sexiness and brains and confidence. The women I didn't find sexy were the ones who chronically worried about their appearance or diets or their hair.

I remember in high school, one of my best friends was not from the U.S.--and the country where she was from appreciated women who weren't stick thin. When all the girls around us in high school were worried about bathing suits and perfection at the beach, my friend wore a bikini. She was--by American standards--probably 15 pounds overweight. But she was so COMFORTABLE in her skin that she had all the guys swarming around her.

Confidence, I have decided, is what's sexy.

So how about you? Have you learned to shut up the voices of negativity, or is there something about your appearance that you still fret about?

Sunday, April 1

Who's Beautiful?

Like it or not, how we look affects our interactions with the world around us. Anyone familiar with the site Fametracker - - with its Fame Audit link - It's been a while since I looked at the site, but I used to enjoy reading their celebrity audits: detailed descriptions of all sorts of people, with the wrapup declaring what the current level of fame is and what it should realistically be. For example, in 2000 they declared Ben Affleck's level of fame to equal that of Johnny Depp but that his deserved level of fame should be on a par with Omar Epps. What can I say? Sometimes we writers will surf all kinds of strange places in the service of procrastination.

I think beauty can be just as subjectively ranked. We've all known people who were objectively beautiful and who couldn't get a date, perhaps because something about their personality made them unattractive; or, conversely, people who others think are plain and yet who never suffer a lack of romantic attention, again because they're projecting something to the world beyond their own physical package - they have a charisma or joy in life that shines through.

For myself, in terms of where I fit on the attractiveness continuum, I've long been fond of saying that while no one has ever asked me to put a bag over my head, I've never been asked to model for any magazine covers either. In fact, I've liked saying that so much, some of my characters have said similar things. Imagine my surprise, though, being as ordinary in the looks department as I am, when I happened to spawn a daughter who is stunningly beautiful.

From the moment she was born, literally, there were signs the world was going to find J a great beauty - she was born pink! And for her first two years, everyone made a huge fuss about her looks. I told myself that of course I thought she was beautiful, but other people were just being nice. After all, no one would ever say, "Ooh, look at your ugly baby!" But then came the day we joined Gymboree. Hard to believe it, but that was the place where the writing was written on the wall. A famous actor/director – no, I won’t name names! – had his two young twins, a boy and a girl, enrolled in the same class as J. Usually, their mother or the nanny brought them, but occasionally he would. I can distinctly remember sitting in a circle on the floor, all of us with our legs stretched out, holding our precious treasures perched upon our knees, preparing to commence that wonderful classic, the one you just can’t hear enough times in your life, “The Noble Duke of York.” The famous actor/director couldn’t keep his eyes off J. After a long time with him just staring, he uttered the words I’d already heard uttered so many times, by so many other people: “That’s the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever seen.”

And that’s when it hit me: for, while it might be the usual course of events for other people to say, “Oh, what a pretty baby,” people weren’t referring to her as the most, they weren’t using a superlative just to be polite…certainly not when their own children were present! It was as if they couldn’t help themselves, it was as if they were almost involuntarily giving in to something that was, quite simply, empirically verifiable: J, my daughter, was the most beautiful little girl that any of them had ever seen.

This makes me worry about her future. (Of course everything makes me worry, but since we're talking about beauty today this makes me worried today.) I know from having been friends with some extraordinarily beautiful women in my life, that this comes with advantages but also disdvantages. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, when you’re extraordinarily good looking, people have a tendency to make assumptions about you that have nothing to do with who you are. Come to that, people make assumptions about people based on what they look like, no matter what they look like!

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Indeed.

We have a tendency in America, I’ve long noted, to scorn the very ends of any spectrum, preferring to hew towards the middle, meaning that most people don’t want to be either the smartest or the dumbest kid in class and that while surely no one wants to be the ugliest, there are definite downsides to being the most attractive too: people who think you’re stuck up, an overabundance of people making passes at you, loneliness.

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Indeed.

I find myself hoping that it will be to J's benefit, having a non-fashion mother, a mother who only pulls out a tube of lipstick on rare occasions, like in the winter when her lips get so chapped she runs the risk of passing for Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Having a mother like me is, I think, good for J, because while I tell her she’s beautiful every day – how could I not? – I am far more likely to place emphasis on things that are inside her than on things that are on the surface. Yes, she’s dressed in clean clothes every day – sometimes, they’re even pretty clothes – but we spend more time playing and telling stories together and just plain living than we do worrying about what matches or if our hair is messy. We live and we love and we have fun.

In one of my books published for adults, A Little Change of Face, a novel about an attractive librarian's ambivalence about her looks, I concluded that there are no easy answers. We all want to be judged for who we are and we want to be found beautiful.

Beauty is a blessing. Beauty is a curse.

Someday, when I send J out into the world, I will not be sending out Just Another Pretty Face, not just another face that can launch a thousand ships, though she is certainly that. I’ll be letting loose the girl who, even at a very young age, showed astonishing compassion for other people; who when she was two, upon seeing a baby’s distress, approached and said in her stilted toddler voice, “Little Baby, why are you crying?”; who the first time she ever saw me sad, said, “Don’t worry, Mommy, I’ll make you feel better”; who used to get reprimanded in preschool for being too nice, because she always wanted to hug every kid goodbye when she left; who always forgave even her most difficult friend any transgression.

When I let J go, I’ll be letting loose someone who is bright and funny and resilient, not to mention a great storyteller, and who is so much more than the sum of her most beautiful external parts.

That's my loooong story and I'm sticking to it.


As always, take care and don't forget to write.