Thursday, May 31


When I was in high school, sports, clubs, and after school activities were always referred to as "extracurriculars." It was one of those subtle reminders that everything- even the things you did for fun- was part of the college admission equation. My private high school was very into college admissions- and very in to EC's.

Everyone was required to play two sports (though only one of them had to be competitive), and one day out of every six on our "modular" scheduling program (don't ask), our first period was devoted to "meetings"- which meant that everyone had to participate in at least a couple of clubs. Because we were also highly encouraged to start our own clubs, there was a pretty impressive (and entertaining) variety available (says a former member of the Table Tennis Federation, which considered ping pong to be an extreme sport). Because we were REQUIRED to play sports and join clubs and the like, I got a lot of experiences I might not have had otherwise. I played volleyball and basketball my freshman year to meet the sports requirements- loved one, hated the other, and spent the next three years on the varsity volleyball team, and four years after that playing intramural v-ball in college. I joined clubs that were completely foreign territory for me, and ended up staying with them for three or four years.

Still, with everything I did, there was a small, underlying element of competition- I didn't just want to do these things... I wanted to be good at them. Part of it was the extracurriculars-are-an-important-part-of-getting-in-to-colleges atmosphere, and part of it was just my personality and the fact that I have a really hard time turning down a challenge. I never did things just because they'd look good on my resume, but at the same time, if I was doing something, I wanted to do it really well.

The entire time I was in high school, there were two exceptions to this- two things that I did JUST because I loved them, things that I never felt competitive about and never felt any pressure to be better at. The first was dancing. I started taking ballet when I was three, and I've always loved it, and loved pushing myself and trying to train my body to do new things, but of everything I've ever done, dancing was the one thing that I never did competitively. No competitions. No awards. My dance studio was home and the other people there were family. I loved doing it, simple as that, and nothing else ever came into play.

As for the other thing I did after school that wasn't competitive in the least... that was writing. I wrote my first book (which, believe me, no one will ever see) my senior year in high school. And my second, third, and fourth. But like dancing, writing wasn't like everything else I did. It just sort of was. I submitted things, I got rejected (and rejected and rejected), but my whole perfectionist competitive whatchamacallit never clicked on the way it did with almost everything else. Writing was fun, and being published was a dream, not a goal.

My freshman year in college, I kept really busy, but the word "extracurriculars" never once crossed my mind. I tutored at a local elementary school, tried out for the mock trial team on a whim, played three seasons of IM volleyball, and joined a cognition lab. Over time, everything I did outside of class became like what dancing and writing were for me in high school. I did them. I worked hard at them. I loved them. But at the end of the day, whether or not I was "good" at them (and just how "good") didn't matter.

And that summer, I wrote Golden, which became my first published book.

So... any other perfectionists out there? Anyone braving the scary world that is the college application process? As far as after school activities go, what are/were your labors of love?

Sunday, May 27

School's Out...Almost!

When I was growing up, back in the Dark Ages, we had no central air-conditioning before I turned 12. This meant we spent our summer days in suburbia outside, running like maniacs from early morning until the mosquitoes got too nasty at night. We were the last house on a short dead-end street, the only one for a long time with a pool. The boy next door would rise even before my older brother and I did, and we'd find him waiting outside the back door at seven a.m., his snorkle and inner tube ready for another day in our pool; the other three kids on the street would join us later. We'd eat our lunches outside, sometimes breakfast and dinner too, playing all kinds of games from tackle basketball - don't ask - to kick the can as the sun sank lower on the horizon. None of us went to camp, something I did daydream about based on books I'd read. Ah, those books. In between all the activities and imaginative play of childhood, I'd read: mysteries, The Separate Peace over and over, anything I could get my hands on.

Of course once we got that central air our hours outside diminished. And still later, when I was in high school and then college, there were other entertainments besides running around like a little maniac and other responsibilities, like my summer jobs at Dunkin' Donuts, great source of my infamous white lung disease.

Now I have a seven-year-old daughter and her summers are so different than mine were. Sometime around mid-June she'll start an eight-week adventure day camp. They will run her all day long and it will be wonderful for her - they'll take her to see nearly everything worthwhile there is to see in our small state of Connecticut and some of New York, also taking her swimming nearly every day. And of course, this will be good for me, since my career as a novelist does not allow for a long summer vacation. I need to write; it is what I love and it is how I make my money. But just like I sometimes long for the days before we knew so much about safety - when small kids rode in the front seats of vehicles, having conversations with parents that somehow felt more intimate than those that can be had when one sits in the front seat and the other in the back and no one can see each other's expressions - I can't help but think that all the structure of our new world keeps us entertained and moving, and yet does not allow much room for the quieter pleasures of lying down on the grass next to a good friend, watching the sky move by, lazily turning to that friend, and saying, "Hey, you want to go catch fireflies?"

What were your summers like? And what are your plans after school lets out?

Friday, May 25

A List of School Experiences...

School was a time of so many interesting and worth remembering experiences...
-I met the boy who I first kissed...
-The only teacher who gushed over my drawing and encouraged me to pursue my artistic talent.
-Two coaches who enjoyed teaching kids to play basketball and to go for sports tryouts.
-Friends to remember for a lifetime.
-Where I worked for a school paper.
-That science projects, biology, and chemistry would never be my strengths.
-The time I got to fly to Washington D.C. for a week.
-I met my husband who was one of my best friends.
-The first time I danced with a boy so close that I could smell his cologne.
-The first time I felt peer pressure to follow along with friends.
-Where I learned photography.
-Where I hung out with friends at football games and felt free goofing off without adult supervision.
-Where I learned how to really cook.
-And that I could never really type no matter how hard I tried.
-That quoting Shakespeare wouldn't help me much in the future.
-Where I learned how to parallel park in Driver's Ed, and have conveniently forgotten over the years.
-Where I learned that after graduation, it wasn't as easy trying to be a grown-up after all...

Please share a learning or first experience from your school days!

Tuesday, May 22

Everything I learned, I learned when I left school...

Okay, I know it's considered very un-p.c. to tell this to teens, but it's true. Virtually everything I learned about writing and publishing, I learned once I was actually working in the biz. Which isn't to say you don't need to go to school. There's no way I would have landed my entry-level position at a publishing company without my Honors English degree. (These days, you probably need a Masters, or a post-grad Publishing certificate, which didn't exist when I was a student.) Thing is, I probably would have read most of what I read for my English degree on my own.

Going back to high school, I have to say the same applies. By my final year, my schedule was pretty much full up with various English courses, when I spent all my outside-of-school time reading, anyway.

Here's what high school was really good for:

Learning to apply makeup. (Thanks, Dawn.)

Learning who my 'people' were.

Confirming my suspicion that I wasn't a Math or Science person.

Getting exercise. (It was a very long walk to my school from my house.)

Learning I sucked at sports. (I impressed my Phys-Ed teacher only when his daughter started attending my ballet school and he saw me perform a solo on point at a show. He asked me to lead a warmup in Gym class the next day.)

Getting praise for my first stories and essays.

Refining my personal style. (I didn't want to wear label-laden popular girl wannabe clothes, nor did I want to dress too artsily/crazily....)

Refining my doodling skills.

Gathering material for future YA novels.

What did you guys learn at school???

Love ya,


Monday, May 21

Yay! Summer Camp Season!

Summer break means suntan lotion and alarm clock-free mornings, but it also means fresh possibilities for romance. Especially at summer camp.

I was always a little braver around guys at summer camp. The instant I arrived, I started scouting for my “Camp Boyfriend,” or C.B. He was typically the hottest, most athletic, most unavailable. You know the type. I was more willing to take a risk because these guys weren’t classmates, neighbors, or best friend’s big brothers. So if I happened to make a fool of myself, I could bounce back to my Real Life virtually unscathed.

What made summer camp flirting exciting was the possibility of really falling for a C.B. and him falling for me. It was like a mini-reality show, where you have a predetermined time period in which to “win the guy,” against obstacles like poison ivy, allergies, the camp talent show, and girls who are knock-outs even without makeup and curling irons. Gag.

Unfortunately, none of my summer camp romances ever stuck. Sure, we’d keep in touch, and once a C.B. even mailed me a gold ring. (I sent it back and it got lost in the mail. Sad but true.) Looking back, I think that my C.B.s were excellent training for more serious dating later on in my Real Life. Thank you, C.B.s!

Do you feel braver at school, or away from school? What is your favorite part about summer vacation?

Friday, May 18

Health Warning....... Diet Coke!

For years my drink of choice was Diet Coke. I'd read that it wasn't good for your health, but I knew that didn't really mean me. I don't drink tea or coffee and because I can't eat dairy products my intake of chocolate is limited to the occasional piece of dark. Anyway, against my better judgement, after visiting a naturopath last December, I gave up my beloved diet coke.

And proceeded to have the worse headache ever for over a week. It was an absolute nightmare. During this time I researched online and found out about caffeine addiction, which I clearly had.

Since then, all I've had is the very occasional sip if I see someone has a glass. Do I feel any better for it? Ummmm..... I'm not sure. The only think putting me off drinking it again is the headache.

And do I miss it? You bet I do. I've started to drink ginger beer, which is ok..... but it's not DC.

So tell me someone... why is it that all the things I enjoy most are bad for my health????

Tuesday, May 15

Pretty Persuasion

I have this friend, she’s a mother of two adorable girls. And every night before they go to bed they play this game where they name a part of themselves that they like, and then explain why it’s perfect. I love this. When my friend told me about it, I actually cried. Of course, I pretended it was just steam rising up from the Jacuzzi, but the truth was, I was touched.

I didn’t grow up loving much of anything about myself. I felt awkward and obtrusive and wondered why I got stuck with wavy hair when my friend’s all had straight hair (okay, I still battle with this). But the thing is, nobody ever sat me down and made me write an ode to my baby toe. And I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve made a difference. My friend’s daughters are wonderful, and confident, and charging through life, and if they’re any indication, I’m thinking it would.

Growing up in California, a place where Christmas can find you wearing shorts and heading for the beach, you can’t help but be a little body conscious. There’s no hiding under big winter coats and bulky sweaters when it’s short sleeve weather for most of the year. But even if you don’t live in a warm weather place, there’s still that pervasive celebrity culture we’re constantly bombarded with. And the ironic thing is, that most of the stars we’re all trying to emulate don’t exactly look like that either. As a former flight attendant who flew the LA to NYC route more times than I care to remember, I had my share of celebrity sightings and I know this to be true. (With the exception of Natalie Portman and Beyonce who are even more beautiful in person—but I digress.)

The last two years I’ve spent a lot of time in cancer wards as several people I love and care about were diagnosed with the disease. And it gave me a whole new perspective on what makes someone beautiful. When people complimented my sister in law on her weight loss, she’d laugh and say it was the cancer diet. And suddenly being healthy grew way more important than being thin. Having a good hair day is always nice, but the courage and strength I saw when my brother in law lost his, was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in a world that’s all too willing to point out your flaws, I think my friend’s solution is the perfect antidote. So the next time you’re looking in the mirror and hating on something, why not try to turn it around and pick one thing, anything, and remind yourself why it’s perfect.

Which part are you willing to love today?

Alyson Noel is the author of KISS & BLOG- which is in stores now!

Saturday, May 12

Sibling relationship - Rocky or Smooth waves?

I only have one other sibling...a sister. We're only 18 months apart, so we were really close when we were little. My mom even dressed us alike. Then, when she went to high school it all changed. Suddenly I was a big pest, someone she didn't want to be around. When I asked her what it was like to kiss a guy (she had her first boyfriend at the time), she wouldn't answer and said I'd figure it out myself like she had to do.

From then on, it was downhill. Yes, I was a brat to her at times. And I'm sure I did things to grate on her nerves, but our relationship never got better. It's kind of like this:

I am totally jealous of people who have great relationships with their siblings (especially sisters). Serioulsy, if I asked my siter to paint my toenails she'd laugh in my face.

Do you have a sibling or wish you had one? If you have one, what's your relationship with them. Do you go to them for advice as if they're your best friend? Or do you only see them when you have to?
~Simone Elkeles
Check out my new website...contest with FREE stuff!

Tuesday, May 8

Escalator Encounters

He was just a guy she saw on an escalator in a crowded train station. He was going down, she was going up. They never said a word but their eyes met. For that brief moment in time, the rest of the world faded away, and all that was left was the promise of what could be followed closely by the disappointment in realizing that it never would.

For weeks she thought about him, long after she had forgotten what he looked like. She imagined what it may have been like if they had been able to stop the escalators and actually meet. She should have written down her phone number to flash at him. He should have run after her train.

Eventually, the daydreams faded. But for years afterward, every time she struggled with a tough relationship or broke up with a boyfriend, she thought of that day in the train station, and the longing for romance returned.

Have you ever had an escalator encounter? A chance meeting that will never lead to anything but the idea that something could have happened?

Better yet, have you ever had a serendipitous moment like this that has actually led to a long-term relationship?

The romantic in me wants to know!

Tuesday, May 1

TV and Me

My name is Jen, and I'm a TV junkie. I wasn't always this way. There was a time (middle school) when I didn't watch much TV at all. For several years, I was the only person on the planet who'd never seen Seinfeild, ER, or Friends. I've still never seen a complete episode of either of the first two. I went from watching Full House and Saved by the Bell to not watching much of anything.

And then my town got The WB. This occurred during my sophomore year of high school, which corresponded with season four of Buffy, season 1 of Roswell, and one of the later high school seasons of Dawson's Creek. About that time, I also started watching reruns of Party of Five and got embarassingly hooked on the Disney Channel, for someone who wasn't, you know, nine. And then there was Gilmore Girls...

In the long run, The WB was my downfall, because watching those teen shows taught me something very important about television: watching it can be a bonding activity. I rarely, if ever, watch TV alone. My best friend from college and I watched all of our shows together, and all of my roommates would gather to watch Grey's Anatomy on Sunday nights. My lab group actually sponsored One Tree Hill marathons, and as an undergrad, I used to go over to the grad students' houses each week for The OC. Actually watching a show is only half the fun- if that.

My freshman year in high school, back when I was no TV girl, I used to tease my friends when I overheard them talking about what had happened the night before on Party of Five, because I'd always come in on the end of conversations, and I'd be convinced they were talking about real people. As a scientist, one of the things I research is the way we view fiction and the relationship between empathizing with fictional characters and empathizing with real people. As a writer, I want to write characters that feel as real and immediate to my readers as the numerous 3-D television characters I've related to over the years. In some respects, those of us who write books have a lot to compete with. You can't actually see our characters. Nuanced emotion has to be put into words, and dialogue that would seem right at home in the Buffyverse might seem cheesy on the written page. At the same time, however, books have an advantage that television doesn't- complete access to the inside of our characters' heads.

As a writer, I've learned a lot from watching television over the years. Season 1 of Veronica Mars is one of the best examples of plotting and story arc I've ever seen; Joss Whedon's Firefly has remarkable characterization, and nobody does the supernatural-as-metaphor better than Buffy. For me, watching TV isn't just a passive process. I'm in a constant state of analyzing the characters, trying to get inside their heads, predicting what's going to happen next, and picking out my favorite pieces of dialogue to smile over at a later date. One of my friends prefers watching me watch television to actually watching the shows himself, because I have a tendency to get really... involved.

This year, I'm living abroad, and therefore missing out on the twelve or so shows I watched religiously last year. My college roommate/partner in TV-watching crime keeps me up to date on some of them; my mom sends me care packages with recorded shows on DVD, and my friends and I watch Heroes on iTunes every week. I also read comics, tear through books, and go to the movies as often as possible. I'm a total fiction addict.

So what are your fiction addictions? And while I'm asking questions, are there any other writers out there who've learned something about their craft by watching TV?