Tuesday, August 31

In The News: The Silent Killer

Do you know what the fifth leading cause of death for women in the United States is?

Nope, not that.

Not that either.

It's ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly cancers out there. I know this not just because of what I've read, but because of what I've seen.

My cousin, who, at 39, is only a year older than me, has been fighting ovarian cancer for four years. That she's lived so long is--in and of itself--a miracle.

But she's been through every possible chemotherapy option available, and is now on experimental trials, hoping and praying that she'll go into remission.

Hoping she lives.

My cousin's ovarian cancer was caught fairly early--she went to a doctor, explained that her stomach had been bothering her a lot lately, and that she was tired. The doctor ordered a battery of tests, including a blood test called CA 125, which is usually (although not always) elevated in people who have cancer.

She was lucky to have such a good doctor.

She was lucky that test was ordered--it's not usually done for someone who is feeling tired and who's been having stomach trouble.

She wasn't so lucky with the results. My cousin's levels were very high, and more tests were ordered, including an MRI, which is what finally found the cancer.

Despite what a doctor may tell you, Pap smears *can't* find ovarian cancer (unless it's spread to your cervix, which, quite frankly, means your chances of survival are pretty bad) and, as I write this, there is still no accurate test to diagnose ovarian cancer in the early stages.

What does this matter?

Because in 2009, it was estimated that there would be 21,550 cases of ovarian cancer.

And that 14,600 women would die from it.

Do you like those odds?

I don't either.

Please visit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition for more information.

If you're interested in spreading the word, (don't forget that September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month!) there are a world of options available to you here and through the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's BEAT program, which has a flyer you can download and share here

Please help spread the word.

Please help the odds.

Sunday, August 29

News? Really?

So, this week we're all about In The News. Even though I live in New Zealand I still listen to UK radio, in particular Radio Two. What's struck me this week that one of the biggest stories is to do with Simon Cowell:

X Factor boss Simon Cowell has now banned auto-tuning software from the British talent show.

Cowell, 50, made the change after complaints from viewers that some of the auditionees were having their voices altered with errors being removed.

Cowell has now stopped the use of the software to make sure the audience can trust the show.

He said: "People have got to be able to trust The X Factor. We are not faking anything. People love this show, millions watch it every week and we absolutely respect that, we never take it for granted."

Seriously, I LOVE Simon, I'm one of his biggest fans, but this story is hardly headline news. If he wasn't involved it probably wouldn't have been mentioned. I also understand that American Idol has announced they have never and would never use this software. Phew.... that's a relief!!! We can all sleep easy at night :)

Friday, August 27

Good News Friday: The Contemps!

New Book Challenge alert!

The Contemps is a group of 21 YA authors with contemporary novels releasing over the course of a year. I just joined this group (which also includes TFC's own Elizabeth Scott), and we've got a challenge for readers all over. If you commit to reading 18 of these 21 releases over the next year, you're entered for the chance to win all 21 books! Here are the rules/how to enter.

Then snag this badge for your facebook/blog/myspace page:

Take The Contemps Challenge!

Happy Good News Friday!

Thursday, August 26

I’m going with… MUSIC!

All right, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a music junkie. And like any true junkie I’m not all that particular about what I put into my system as long as it gets the job done. I want my music to transport me someplace, to take me to different musical or emotional landscapes. I want to feel it pulsating through my body, chiming away in my brain, pushing different buttons, awakening forgotten memories and cementing new ones. And if it can’t do all that then it better be able to at least make me tap my foot…that’s the least it’s gotta be able to do.

You see, I don’t care what I’m listening to as long as it’s good. (It’s also important that you know that I’m the captain of these here ears on the sides of my head and I decide what is and isn’t good…got that, matey? If not, cast off before I make you swab the decks or send you off to Davy Jones’ Locker.) I don’t care what anyone says, all music is personal; if it doesn’t move you then it’s worthless. You might be able to convince me that an artist has talent but if I don’t feel his or her music in that inward place that some people call a soul then I’m not going to listen to it for very long.

Most people who borrow my ipod don’t listen to it for very long. It’s all over the place: jazz, rock, punk, classical, country and everything far and in between. One of the things that bother me most about my old friends is that most of them are stuck in their golden years of music. You know what your golden years of music are, right? It’s that period of your life between 12 and 25. The years when music becomes the soundtrack of your life, when you wake up and go to sleep listening to music, when you actually live inside of it soaking up the lyrics, searching for their meanings, and diving in deep probing for answers. You reach out to people who like the same music you do and categorize others who don’t. It’s a time of your life when music rules all. Unfortunately some people never move beyond the music they listened to in their golden years. They listen to the same tired songs year in and year out all the while trying to convince you that they just don’t make music like that anymore. But I’m not buying what they’re selling. My ears didn’t close at 30 and they’re still wide open. There’s a TON of good new music out there.

If you’re like me you love to get lost in your music and one of my favorite musical black holes to dive into is The Black Cab Sessions. Maybe you’ve seen it before. It’s so simple that it’s beautiful. Take an artist, put him or her in an English cab, drive them around London and let them sing. It’s intimate, moving and can be a huge time drain if you let yourself get caught up in it. Here’s a link to one of my favorites that always knocks me out, Amanda Palmer covering Radiohead’s “Creep” on a ukulele. Enjoy if you dare but I’m warning you once you venture inside the Black Cab Sessions it’s hard to leave. (Warning: Explicit lyrics.)

"Creep" on a ukelele.

How about you? Is music the center of your universe? And if so, what moves you the most?

Tuesday, August 24


This week at TFC it's all about books/television/movies and since every person and their dog is probably going to be talking about or thinking about Mockingjay I thought I would break it up with a little chat about my favorite YA show ever. Skins. We've just finished with season four over here in New Zealand and I can honestly say that this show just gets better and better.

For those who haven't seen it, Skins is set in Bristol and follows the lives of a group of teenage friends. Season one and two follow Tony and co and then, in a bold move for such a successful show, season three and four followed another group, only loosely linked by Tony's sister Effie.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about Skins. It is edgy and real and, if you're a parent with teenage kids, probably highly disturbing!!! In fact the second last episode of the season four was so upsetting that I couldn't sleep for hours and then had to ring up Sara Hantz to consult with what her teenage son had thought of the episode. Turns out he was shocked as well, so I didn't feel like such a loser.

Even better, there is also going to be a movie as well as a new group of friends for season five. In slightly less giddy news, I've also heard that they're doing a US version. This definitely concerns me and while I know that The Office worked, I'm not just not sure if the edgy, realistic nature will translate well.

So that's me - what about everyone else? Any Skins fans in the house? What do you think of the idea of a US version - and more importantly, is it wrong that I'm a little bit in love with Cook????????

Monday, August 23

New Books!!!!!

One of the questions I get asked a lot is why I chose to write YA. The answer is simple: I love to read YA, so it's a natural for me to write it. There are so many really amazing YA choices out there right now, it's hard to imagine not reading YA. This month is a good example. Just counting my pre-orders, there are eight new titles about to join my TBR pile.

(Yes, I'm an addict. My TBR pile is constantly growing and spawning other TBR piles. I can't help myself. The anticipation of a new book is, to me, delicious.)

The good news is, both my editor and agent are on vacation this week and I have no deadlines looming. Plus, the kids went back to school today so I'll have seven glorious hours to myself each day to read! Which is a blessing, because check out the books I can't wait to get my hands on:

23rd: DEAD IS JUST A RUMOR by GCC sistah Marlene Perez

24th: SABATOGED: MISSING by critique partner Margaret Peterson Haddix

of course MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins


The last 39 CLUES book, INTO THE GAUNTLET by Margaret Peterson Haddix (she's been busy!)

RADIANCE by our own TFC sister, Alyson Noel

THE TWIN'S DAUGHTER by another of our own, Lauren Baratz-Logsted

UNRAVELED by agency sister Gena Showalter

How about you? Do you count down to release dates? Pre-order books because you can't wait to get to a bookstore? What YA titles are you looking forward to?

Friday, August 20

Good News Friday: Charitable Authors!

Happy Friday, everybody! One of my favorite things about being an author is being involved in charitable causes. Sara Zarr and I belong to a great group of Utah-based authors and illustrators called the Rock Canyon Writers and tomorrow (Saturday, August 21) we'll be doing our 3rd annual Writing for Charity event, "A Book for Every Child," in Salt Lake City, Utah. Click HERE for more information. It's a really great opportunity not only for readers to connect with their favorite local authors; aspiring authors can have their writing read and critiqued by a nationally published author!
There's also a silent auction. Click HERE to see what all is up for auction (though more will be added for the event itself). Some items that are already proving popular are lunch with James Dashner, lunch with Brandon Mull, a picutre book critique by Kristyn Crowe, the not-to-be-missed opportunity to have Shannon Hale brag about you on her blog, a chance to be murdered in one of Dan Wells' novels, and getting to be a character in a Jessica Day George novel. The money earned from this event will go to putting books into the hands of underprivileged children.
Anyway, this is my Good News Friday post because yes, I wanted everyone who can come to come, but also because I am SO thankful to belong to a group that's so gung-ho about making a difference.
Photos: 1. Here is the Rock Canyon Group at last year's charity event which was at the Treehouse Museum in Ogden, Utah. 2. 8 of us sharing the love at the Purple Cow, an indie bookstore in Tooele, Utah (Mike Knudson, Wendy Toliver, Randall Wright, Emily Wing Smith, Kristen Landon, Sara Zarr, Jessica Day George, and Anne Bowen). 3. Emily Wing Smith, Sara Zarr, and James Dashner. 4. Anne Bowen, Emily Wing Smith, and Wendy Toliver at the Provo Library.

Thursday, August 19

web sites that tell me to get off the web

Now you know I love the Internet. Basically I am nothing without it. But, there are times when one needs to unplug and let the old noggin' run wild and free outside of screens. So for my contribution to blogs'n'websites week, I offer a few links that have helped inspire me to get away from blogs'n'websites:

Freedom: This site offers a shareware download for your Mac or PC called...Freedom. Freedom blocks you from the Internet for any time period you choose, up to eight hours. You can't get back online unless you do a total reboot of your system, and let's face it, that's a pain in the butt when you're in the middle of working and also it feels a bit shameful to go that far just to see if anyone mentioned you on Twitter in the last 20 minutes. It's especially great for writers. Set the deal for a couple of hours and get to work. (This works best if you don't have your iPhone or BlackBerry a few inches away. Maybe you need to put it out in the car, or bury it in a dresser drawer. Not that I know anything about that.)

43 Folders: Time, Attention, and Creative Work: My friend Mike turned me on to this site, which is run by a guy named Merlin Mann. As if having a cool name like Merlin Mann weren't enough, he's also pretty smart about brains and the things we do to avoid using them. Start here. I think my favorite page on the site is First, Care.

This post from Seth Godin's blog. To the point.

The Artist's Way Basic Tools. Okay, a lot of Julia Cameron's classic book on creativity is a little woo-woo for me, but the Basic Tools---morning pages and the artist date---are really great for grounding your inner life when things have gotten a little noisy. And as much as I love and depend on the Internet, there comes a tipping point every day when I've gotten what I need and want from it and the rest is noise.

I'm always looking for more sites about how not to look at sites all day, so if you've got more links in that category, leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, August 17

Websites for "Reflecting"

I am pretty good at wasting time. That's right, it's a skill of mine. Also, I like to call wasting time "reflecting," especially when I need a writing break where I'm not staring at words. Here are three of my favorite visual websites:

1. Flower Power (shown). Point your cursor and draw to see what blooms. Super fun.

2. DJ Qwerty. Just trust me.

3. Self-promotion alert: Okay, I run this site but it's seriously still fun for me to click through. Before You Were Hot celebrates the awkward years. (Today's post is from one of my favorite NYC librarians!)

Share some favorites? I may need to add more "inspiration" into my day.

Thursday, August 12

Shoes: Cute vs Comfortable

I have my own sense of style, which depending on the day is dressed down in jeans and a rock 'n' roll t-shirt or dressed up in a girly vintage dress very early 90s babydoll Courtney Love. I've pretty much been rocking these looks since I was 12. But in my late teens/early 20s, I went through a goth/club girl phase (it was quite the identity crisis). During that time period I wore shoes like this every night. (And wave hi to my cat, Kaspar in the background.)

(oh and you can click to enlarge for better detail on all of these pics. The pair on the right has constellations on them, still sooooo in love with those)

In fact I had pair of 6 inch black crushed velvet platform boots that went up almost to my knee. Unfortunately (actually, fortunately for me...) there are no pictures of me in them and apparently I got rid of them even though I am a packrat when it comes to saving old favorite clothes and I still have my first pair of Converse, Courtney Love-style Mary Janes, Doc Martens, and my favorite combat boots from high school, which are these (along with my other favorite high school accessories, the army jacket and the sticker covered Hello Kitty lunch box. Can you tell I was a teenage riot grrrl?)

But back to the platform heels that I was wearing at nineteen. I wore them nightly. I danced in them for hours. I even drove in them. Sometimes I drove all the way from Madison, Wisconsin, where I was living at the time to visit my mother in Chicago. And she would freak out. "You're going to screw up your knees doing that!" she'd say (and I did stop driving in heels once I started to feel weird pains in my knees). She'd also tell me that I was going to break my ankle (never did, no matter how intoxicated I might have been while wearing them, lucky!) and that eventually I wouldn't be able to wear shoes like that any more, my feet just wouldn't tolerate it. CURSE HER! She was right!!!!!

I'm going to blame my job for this one. When I started bartending, I quickly realized that if I was going to be on my feet all night I would have to be comfortable. I also learned that if you work on your feet for a few years, your shoe size goes up and shoes just don't fit as comfortably as before.

I can still rock these Mary Janes when I am dressed up, though I was very frustrated a few weeks ago when the shiny pair on the left (only 20$ at Target! and non-leather of course because I am vegan and never buy leather shoes) which have never ever failed me gave me two huge blisters and my husband had to give me a piggy back ride home because I could barely walk!

So mostly, I wear these shoes:

The comfortable, butt-kicking black boots that go with everything are a must have for every rock n roll girl. Those are the engineer boots from Vegetarian Shoes, which I bought here. Yes, they were expensive but a good pair of boots are the one thing I will spend a lot of money on. Dress shoes look like crap fast (at least mine do) and sneakers wear out, but boots can last many years. I can wear those to bartend in and walk over cities in and I wear them constantly until it gets too hot out. Converse of course have been my faithful shoe since sixth grade, back when my peers mocked me for wearing them. (two years later they were cool. I'm still slightly bitter about this.) HOWEVER any regular Converse wearer knows that when it comes to support, they SUCK. I don't know how people ever played basketball in these guys without killing their heels and their arches. So I rarely work in those. Instead I bartend in the Vans at the front of the pic which are more cushioned though I still add a heel insert since my heels tend to hurt. And the Vans are a recent addition.

These were my work shoes forever and they were perfect and I think the cutest sneakers ever. (My cat Lars even loves them, he is trying to be pictured with them.) Hearts and skulls = AWESOME! But alas Rocket Dog stopped making them. Damn you, Rocket Dog!

Summer is the hardest time of year for me to keep feet cool and comfortable. I'm super picky about flipflops. They have to have a soft fabric in between the toes or it chafes and I hate it. But I found these this year and love them and should have bought five pairs. The worn-to-death canvas Mary Janes with the skulls (can you tell I have a skull thing?) were my absolute favorite summer shoe. They can be worn casual or dressy. I love canvas Mary Janes or those little black velvet Chinese slippers.

But I was soooooooooooooo mad because apparently the canvas Mary Jane is not currently in fashion. I could not find them ANYWHERE this summer. Annoying because I prefer flats to heels now (yeah, Mom, you were right...), but I don't like flats that don't have some sort of strap. I think they make my feet look funny. (It's probably just all of those years of wearing strappy shoes.) So instead I ended up with these.

They are cute yes. But I have worn the pair on the left only once because they blistered the hell out of my feet despite seeming comfortable at the store. The other pair is slightly better, but I'm still getting blisters so they are not the every day shoes I wanted them to be.

After shopping for these I realized that after being a shoe person for years (I have two closets full and probably only wear a handful of pairs anymore... basically the ones I showed you.), I kind of hate shoes now. I want cute shoes, but I'm not willing to hurt myself for fashion anymore and apparently my feet are much more prone to aching and blistering now. (Crap, this means I'm old, doesn't it?)

So what about you? Are you a shoe person? Do you pick style over comfort? Or are you more like me? Or have you found the magical pair of cute, comfortable (non-leather) shoes or do you know how to prevent blisters? Because if you have, please share! You'll be my new BFF!

Wednesday, August 11

A history of Berk in hair

I'm going to take this opportunity for Fashion/Style Week to post this historical document, a video representation of my many hairstyles over the years. As far as the present goes, I don't have too much else to say about fashion and/or style. These days I'm rather clueless & pretty much my wife picks out my clothes. Actually I was always rather clueless but before I had obligations of work and office at least I had some gusto. Man, did I have gusto. So many weird hairstyles! Mohawks, afros, dreadlocks, and is it weird that I sort of miss the mustache? Yes, yes it is.

Side note: I forget why I made this video, other than that I thought would amuse people, and lo, it has. Well it makes Kay smile. Enjoy!

NOTE: The embed got goofy. If you double-click, it will open a new window & you will get a better view.

Please also enjoy the videos youtube has deemed as "related," which are of my dog singing.

Tuesday, August 10

Guys and Fashion

When I was a teen, my dream guy looked like a Gap model. He wore casual clothes: jeans or worn chinos (not too tight or too baggy, just right), a striped T-shirt or polo-style shirt, perhaps layered, and flip-flops or basic sneakers. Longish, carefree hair and a hint of whiskers were bonuses. Then, when I went to college, I was still attracted to guys who dressed this way. I liked guys who cared a little about how they looked but didn't look too put-together. Now that I'm married to a guy who would be happy getting his wardrobe from Cabela's (with a few items from Eddie Bauer sprinkled in as necessary), I still try to integrate a few pieces here and there. One of my favorite things for him to wear in the summertime is a pair of baggy chino shorts and a white and green striped knit polo (It's so soft; I can't keep my hands off of it.), and brown sandals. For colder weather, I have a favorite pair of dark jeans (I love the way they are fitted in just the right places) and a long-sleeved rust-colored T-shirt. The shirt is a great color for his olive complexion and shows off his shoulders and biceps.

So girls, is your guy fashionable? What are some of your favorite outfits or articles of his?

And if you are a guy, how would you describe your style? Armani suit? Ashton Kutcher-like? Slicked-back black? Hip-hop? Rock 'n roll? Just-rolled-outta-bed? Athletic all the way?

Monday, August 9

Fashion/Style: Oh, Mom, Do I Have To?

It's Fashion/Style Week at TFC and today I'm going to talk about the style we do not choose for ourselves, the unfortunate fashions that are thrust upon us.

The nice thing about getting older is that despite the mental pressure of advertizing or the societal pressure of seeing everyone around you race to embrace the latest ill-advised craze - gauchos? seriously, 1977, what were you thinking? - the choice is finally yours and yours alone. Do I like this new thing that's out? And if I don't, am I going to buy it and wear it anyway in the hopes of eventually learning to love, as though fashion were an arranged marriage in the 1800s?

But when you're still a fairly young kid, you almost never get that option. That boy toddler in that now-infamous diaper commercial? I'm fairly certain he knows how ridiculous he looks in those blue-jeans diapers. He's only faking that strut-with-pride attitude in the hopes that people will buy that his doo-doo is now encased in a fashion do rather than a fashion don't. But who is he kidding? We all know he didn't pick that outfit for himself. Someone made him wear it.

One of the great indignities of childhood is having to wear things that you know make you look bad. It's having to wear little white socks or knee socks with your party dress when you're sure you're old enough for pantyhose. It's barrettes or a hairband when that little ponytail thingy with the colorful twin plasic balls attached looks so much zippier. It's Keds when everyone else is wearing Converse, or Converse when everyone else is wearing Keds.

But as bad as having the wrong item can be visually, it's nothing compared with having to wear something that's just downright uncomfortable.

I present as Exhibit A: Patent-leather shoes so stiff they always cause a blister at the back of the ankle.

I present as Exhibit B: Stiff, starchy collars.

I present as Exhibit C: Lace ruffle underwear!

Growing up I had this great-aunt who was a widow with no children but lots of money. Yet instead of giving me lots of money, or even toys, for my birthday or the holidays, she always gave me the same present: white underwear, so stiff it looked like it should come with a piece of cardboard shaping it, with a triple row of starchy lace across the backside and leg holes that were elasticized in the worst way. Since I was the only girlchild of my genersation, I think she thought she was doing me a favor, bestowing a little bit of elegance on me. Well, let me tell you, those underwear were no favor. They were the worst brand of unattractive and uncomfortable combined, not to mention the havoc those ruffles wreaked with my visible panty line. But of course I had to wear them. They were a gift!

I'd also like to point out, apropos of absolutely nothing, that this same great-aunt used to address all her cards to me to: Miss Laurea Baratz. Laurea. When she talked to me, she said my name right, so I know she knew what it was. But she always spelled it Laurea. A misspelling? For ten years? I think not. Not when she managed to spell every other name in the world correctly. I think it's that she thought her way was more elegant, that I should be elegant Laurea to go with my elegant white lace ruffle underwear.

I shudder to think of that underwear now. Honestly, I'd rather put on a hair shirt instead.
So how about you? What's the one - or more! - item you hated wearing before you had a choice in the matter?
Be well. Don't forget to write.

Thursday, August 5

The stuff of yum

This has been a very stressful week. And when things are stressful, I crave sweets. I just do. I don't always indulge, but boy do I ever think about it. :-)
Mostly, I crave cupcakes. There is a local cupcake bakery that makes THE most amazing red velvet cupcakes with chocolate chunks and cream cheese frosting. I'm not a big red velvet person--I managed to live down South for 8 years and only have red velvet cake once--but these cupcakes, I'm telling you, are the stuff food fantasies are made of.


When I'm deep in writing mode, as I am right now (Cindy on a Mission is due to my editor on 9/1), I almost always have two essential treats on hand:

Milk chocolate caramel Treasures...

And Twizzlers (always strawberry, never cherry)...

If I had to list all of my favorite yum foods, the list would be long and distinguished. But these are my top go-to treats when I'm in writing and editing mode.
What about you? What do you crave most when you're going to indulge?

Sunday, August 1

The Sweet stuff......

This week we're talking about food, and because I'm crazy busy at the moment I'm cheating and reposting a post from about 18 months ago. Not least because I love the photos so much.

For the past 16 years (yikes... I didn't realise it was that long) I've been dairy free because I'm lactose intolerant. It's not too bad, and I'm an avid label watcher in the supermarket, looking for all the hidden milk products that are in food. I trained my children to do it too.

On the plus side, there's no dairy in chips (fries) my favorite food and I have the hugest sweet tooth ever and there are lots of sweets (candy) I can eat. The only negative is chocolate. Some dark chocolate is dairy free, but I always preferred milk chocolate.

Anyway, just in case you feel sorry for me..... which you don't have to because believe me I can always find things to eat (as my friends will attest), here are some of my favorite sweets...... enjoy because being cyber these sweets are calorie free.

Dark chocolate ginger, jelly babies; jelly beans; dolly mixtures; marshmallows, peppermint creams, chocolate biscuit cake (not strictly speaking a sweet but I love it so much I had to include it).

So what are you favorite sweets/candy/lollies???