Sunday, February 22

School Days: Bullying

My forthcoming YA novel, CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, is a contemporary re-visioning of Beauty & the Beast told in he-said/she-said fashion about a boy with hooks for hands and a gorgeous girl who meet on their first day at a new school. The book's central theme is not bullying, but a certain degree of it definitely happens in the book. If the kids at the school grant Aurora instant popularity based on her perfect physical appearance, Lucius is immediately forced into the role of crazy loner due to his imperfect physical appearance and because of the rumors contstantly swirling around him: that he was somehow responsible for the loss of his own hands. I'd tell you more specifics, but that would be spoiling the book. So I'll just say that if Lucius occasionally is very angry, it's not without reason.

As many of you know I have a nine-year-old daughter, the amazing Jackie. Recently our family has become obsessed with watching the series "One Tree Hill" on DVD. We're already in the middle of Season 4, and even though, as Jackie will occasionally say, "This show is so inappropriate for me," I can't stop watching, nor do I mind her watching a show with so many mature themes because I'd rather have to answer all the questions a well-written show raises in her mind than have her watch a poorly written, seemingly more age-appropriate show, that doesn't challenge her at all.

In the middle of Season 3, however, the challenge became almost too big. There was an incredibly dark episode where an unpopular boy decided to come to school with a gun one day. Without giving anything major away, I'll just say that by the end of the episode, two people were dead of gunshot wounds. As an adult accustomed to reading the headlines about the school shootings that have plagued the country in recent years, I could see what was coming a mile away; and, if anything, thought it wasn't as devastating to watch as it could have been, given how high the death count has been in such incidents in real life. But for Jackie? Believe me, the people who worry about sex in YA books or in TV and film put too much of their worries in one direction and not enough in the other: violence. And I'm not talking about the comic-book type violence of movies like "Iron Man." I'm talking about the realistic portrayal of some nebishy character one day coming to school with the intent to blow his classmates away. The thing is, I can discuss and explain any issues that come up about sex; and I'd just as soon my kid get answers to her questions as they organically arise while we watch a show together than from the kids in the neighborhood. But she was devastated by the school-shooting episode. And how could I explain that?

Parents and educators sometimes use the phrase "a teachable moment," a phrase I detest for its prissily superior sound. Unfortunately, I was out late shooting pool last night, so I'm too tired today to have my brain come up with a more-pleasing-to-me phrase than "a teachable moment," so that's the one I'm going to go with here. I realized that my daughter's devastation over the school-shooting episode presented a teachable moment.

That's when I began talking to her about the importance of kindness; how people who are born attractive - their own good looks a matter of luck, not merit - have a particular resposibility to be kind to those who are not so fortunate; how having been bullied and ignored is never an excuse for doing violence against others but it is certainly an all-too-common precipitating factor; how if you are always kind to the disenfranchised, one day your kindness may serve to save your own life, and even the lives of other people, and even if nothing so dramatic as that ever happens - and it is fervently hoped that it will not - you will at least have performed the human act of making someone else's like a little better.

We'll never solve all the world's problems, we'll never even completely solve the problem of bullying and its sometimes even more violent aftermath. But we can certainly take action to make things better. We can choose, instead of making fun of or ignoring the school "loser", to become empathetic, to wonder what it would really be like to be that other person, and becoming more empathetic, to simply reach out and say, "Hey, how's it going?"

Whoa, I'm long-winded today! Oh, and in case you're interested, I shot really well at pool last night. So...


Be well. Don't forget to write.

Friday, February 20

Myths and Fairytales

This book to the left was one of my absolute favorites growing up. You can tell because the cover is falling off, certain pages are coming out, but still it holds a sacred place on my bookshelf. I loved Egyptian lore as well and begged my parents to take me to the Field Museum here in Chicago to see the Egyptian exhibit, but I didn't have a book about Egypt that was as special to me as D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. 

The myth that has always been closest is that of Persephone. I always longed to be wise Athena, but would be drawn back to Persephone. Maybe it's because Stephanie sounds sort of like Persephone, but I don't know, something about the haunting picture of her being carried off to the underworld by Hades, reaching toward the sunny sky, flowers falling from her hands, pigs tumbling into the yawning crevice of the earth (yeah the pig imagery is a little weird, but they're in the picture in the book...). That image both frightened and fascinated me as a kid and as I grew older I really started to relate to it.

There are a ton of interpretations of the myth of Persephone. At it's most basic it's an origin story that explains the seasons. Winter comes when Demeter, Persephone's mother is sad because her daughter is down in the underworld. *Stops to ponder if this might be another underlying reason I hate winter.* But to me it's a metaphor about how quickly we as girls/women lose our innocence/childhood. That's the way I've related to it since I was a teen at least. Often times I'd be in a situation too adult or messed up for my own good and I'd think about Persephone who'd just been frolicking after her mother, picking flowers one day and then the ground cracked open under her feet. Childhood over. Suddenly she's the queen of hell. That is how growing up kind of felt to me. Sad, I know, but true too often.

So I've always related to Persephone. And always really really wanted to write a story about her. My WIP is loosely based on her. I have a character named Persephone (her dad's a rock star and her mom is a model, so they do the crazy celeb baby name thing) who was abducted along with her best friend Cori (after Kore, one of Persephone's other names) when they were five. They were brought back seemingly unharmed, but it seems that every three years something awful happens to them... the ground opens up under their feet, so to speak, and they have to go back to the underworld. I'm still in the early stages of writing this, so I'm equal parts delighted and frustrated with it right now. But the part that delights me is getting to play with Greek mythology.

What about you? Is there a myth, fable or fairytale that you always related to for some reason or other as a kid. Or that you were totally obsessed with? Or, if you write, is there one that you want to draw on or have drawn on in your writing?

Thursday, February 19

"The Zombies Are Coming!"

Hi TFC Readers!

I've been gone on a little writing hiatus that involved much hair-pulling, nail biting, and massive amounts of Fresh Vanilla Cafe. Now I've come up for a breather and since this week's topic is Reading, I just had to share about the fun book I read by our very own Amanda Ashby--Zombie Queen of Newbury High coming out March 5th!

Here's the blurb:

Quiet, unpopular, non-cheerleading Mia is blissfully happy. She is dating super hot football god Rob, and he actually likes her and asked her to prom! Enter Samantha-cheerleading goddess and miss popularity- who starts making a move for Rob. With prom in a few days, Mia needs to act fast. So she turns to her best friend, Candice, and decides to do a love spell on Rob. Unfortunately, she ends up inflicting a zombie virus onto her whole class, making herself their leader! At first she is flattered that everyone is treating her like a queen. But then zombie hunter hottie Chase explains they are actually fattening her up, because in a few days, Mia will be the first course in their new diet. She's sure she and Chase can figure something out, but she suggests that no one wear white to prom, because things could get very messy.

Sound like your kind of read? It was for me too! This is what I have to say about it:

"Zombie Queen of Newbury High is where popularity can turn you undead (with an unsettling appetite) and Prom will be a little dangerous this year. Amanda Ashby moves into the YA world with snapping prose and an entertaining high school mix of teen crushes, popularity drama, and a zombie squad. Zombies beware--you'll love to follow the twists and turns of this fresh and fun novel!"

And Amanda is like having the coolest blog launch party coming soon! Check out the vid... Be there or be eaten! (No, just kidding about the eaten part...but definitely be there! *wink*)

Thursday, February 12

So it's Anything Goes week here at the cafe and since it's my turn to blog I was trying to think of some interesting topic to discuss--but the truth is, I got nothing.

This whole week, well, actually starting from last Tuesday when EVERMORE was released has amounted to one, giddy, fog.

The day after its release I got news from my publisher that EVERMORE went into another printing and that I might actually have a shot at the New York Times bestseller list. To say I was shocked, is putting it mildly, I could hardly believe it. I could barely breathe!! But being my usual jinx-fearing self, I tried not to get too over excited. You know, in case it might all fall apart, or turn into some big cosmic joke with me as the butt.

During the course of the week I learned that it had sold out in B&N, Borders, and Wal-Mart and had gone back to print a total of three times. So with each passing day, my fingers were crossed tighter and tighter, and when it seemed as though a TV option we'd been negotiating for the last three months was nearing a conclusion, I spent the better part of my time glued to my computer, phone by my side, obsessively checking for updates

And so, in the tradition of watched pots never boiling, it wasn't until I was forced to leave the house for a long ago scheduled dentist appointment that I heard from my agent, telling me we'd come to an agreement and Spring Creek Productions and Warner Horizon had optioned EVERMORE along with the rest of the IMMORTALS books for a TV series!!! And then, I was actually in the dentist's chair, mouth full of instruments, when my editor called with the news that I'd made the NYT children's paperback list (for the week of 2/22), debuting at #3! And yes, I answered the call!! (My hygienist is a kind and patient woman!)

And when I finally got home, I saw that I'd made #84 on the USA Today bestseller list too.

And then I spent the next several hours sharing the news and trying not to hyperventilate while drinking champagne!  It was truly a magical day, and the funny/ironic/weird thing is it happened exactly 5 years and 1 week from the day when I first got "The Call" that I'd sold my first book deal. That time, I was returning a rental car!

So, tell me, what do you do when good news is brewing? Do you shout it from the roof tops? Or are you jinx-fearing like me, afraid to count your chickens before they hatch??

Sunday, February 8

Favorite YA Romances

This week is 'anything goes' week on TFC, so I hope you don't mind if I start with a little BSP:

I'd like to invite you to join me and TFC sisters Wendy Toliver and Melissa Walker for a LOVE FEST Monday thru Saturday on my blog. We'll be joined by Simone Elkeles, Tina Ferraro and Sasha Watson to answer questions on romance and relationships and to give away free stuff!

Meanwhile, since I'm in a romantic kind of mood, I've been perusing my shelf of YA novels that have romance in them and considering what it is about my favorites that make them so great.

For me, if I adore the romantic interest in the book, I'm completely sold. Take Jesse in Meg Cabot's MEDIATOR series, for instance. How could you not fall in love with a hot Spanish ghost? Or how about Owen in Sarah Dessen's JUST LISTEN? He's complex and strong and sensitive and there for Annabel when she needs him. I could go on and on...

How about you? What are some of your favorite romantic YA books? Why?

Wednesday, February 4

MISS MATCH: The Final Countdown!

I am so excited! On February 10, my second Simon Pulse romantic comedy, MISS MATCH, will be hitting bookstores. As any author will tell you, by the time their book comes out, he or she is very attached to it. It's only natural. They're like our children. After all, we've spent countless hours on it, from its conception to its infancy, through its childhood and maturation--and finally, the day we send it into the world on its own.

It's a bit scary by the time it hits this point, to be honest. Will the world like it or hate it? Will people get it? Will they even read it?

Though I'm sure I'll have a soft spot for all of my books, both past and future, there are definitely unique qualities about MISS MATCH that I adore.

  1. It takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is about an hour away from where I live. It was so much fun putting local elements (though fictionalized) in my story. (BTW, if you like reading about Salt Lake City, pick up fellow TFCer Sara Zarr's Sweethearts.)

  2. Sasha Finnegan, the heroine, is not the typical gorgeous, popular, skinny character of a romance novel. She's smart, sensitive, savvy, and funny.

  3. The story has elements that are sometimes hard to talk about, yet are present in many teenagers' lives, such as divorced parents, parents who are dating, and body image issues.

  4. For those of you who are lucky enough to have a sister, I love the relationship between Sasha and her sis Maddie, and I think you will too.

  5. It comes out right in time for Valentine's Day, which is no fluke. :) It will make the perfect gift for someone special or for yourself. And to celebrate, I'm offering a FREE signed copy of MISS MATCH. Just tell me about your favorite V-day memory or plan (for this year). I'll have my 6 year-old son choose the winner on Saturday, Feb. 7. GOOD LUCK!

Sunday, February 1

Promo Week: Durinda's Dangers

It's promo week here at TFC, so I'd like to draw your attention to Durinda's Dangers, which is Book 2 in The Sisters Eight, the series of books for young readers that I created with my novelist husband Greg Logsted and our just-turned-nine-two-days-ago daughter Jackie. (Jackie doesn't have her own website...yet. Oh, but she's got this! The Sisters Eight.)

Durinda's Dangers originally published on December 29, the same date as Book 1 in the series, Annie's Adventures. What I didn't realize at the time was that with the dual pub date, a lot of places would review the first book, and then...and then....

What about Book 2???

So I was both relieved and thrilled yesterday to learn that Teens Read Too had given Durinda's Dangers five stars in this review which includes the following quote that - yes! - makes me insanely happy:

"THE SISTERS 8 is my favorite new tween series. The story keeps getting better and I love how funny and witty the books are. The sisters are a fun, eccentric family, and I wish I could spend a day with them. I think Zinnia is becoming my favorite sister and I have to think that maybe her cat-talking talent shouldn’t be ignored! If you have tweens or know tweens, then get THE SISTERS 8 in their hands now - they’re sure to love it. Kudos to this family of authors for writing another fun adventure!"

What's not to love? So please please please buy Durinda's Dangers and tell other people to as well. But just in case you're unfamilar with the book that started the series about octuplets whose parents go missing one New Year's Eve, you can see Annie here. (???) No, actually you can see her above Durinda at the top of this blog...because I still can't figure Blogger out!

That's my Promo Week promo! So how about all of you? I know my pal A.S. King's DUST OF 100 DOGS pubs in something like five minutes, but what about the rest of you?


Be well. Don't forget to write.