Thursday, December 29

Big Bang Theory

I was very excited on Christmas morning to receive in my stocking, season 4 of the best TV show in the world.... Big Bang Theory. I then spent the rest of the day, and some of the next watching it. It's one of those shows that the more you watch the funnier it becomes. And then when you go back to watch earlier episodes they make you laugh even more because you know the characters so well.

It's becoming, for me, like Friends. I can watch episodes over and over and never tire of them and always laugh. And, like Friends my favorite character changes all the time because each one of them has their quirks.

If you haven't ever watched it then I urge you to find the time. You won't regret it!

Here's a short description of the show:

Set in Pasadena, California, the show is centered on five characters: experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter and theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper, two roommate geniuses who work at the California Institute of Technology; Penny, a blonde waitress and aspiring actress who lives across the hall; and Leonard and Sheldon's equally geeky and socially awkward co-workers and friends Howard Wolowitz, an aerospace engineer and non-PhD from MIT, and Rajesh Koothrappali, an astrophysicist also working at Caltech. The geekiness and intellect of the four guys is contrasted for comic effect with Penny's social skills and common sense.

Friday, December 23

Good News Friday: New Cover!

Hi, guys.

I can finally reveal the cover for my May 22, 2012 release, Small Town Sinners Unbreak My Heart (Oops! I'm distracted, people!) Here it is. I'm smitten. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, December 6

A birthday surprise

When I was driving home after teaching a writing class this morning, I was listening to the radio and the host was making a big deal out of her friend's 35th birthday. "It's a big one, just like every birthday ending in an '0' or '5,'" she explained to her skeptical co-host. In my opinion, every birthday is a big deal and though I'm not having a "big one" for another 2 years, this discussion brought me down memory lane to my "big 3-oh."

I'm kind of a weirdo and since my birthday is 3-3-73 and I turned 30 in 2003, I thought that was pretty cool. What wasn't cool was getting sick on my birthday. Not just a cold, I mean stay-in-bed sick. I was so sick; it didn't even bother me that my husband hadn't planned a single thing. I just figured we'd go to a nice dinner once I felt better. So, anyway, my girlfriend called and said she realized I didn't feel well but if I go to her house she'll make sure my family and I get some dinner. I felt bad because she wanted to do something nice for my birthday and since it would just be our two families, I accepted. I put on a comfy pair of sweats and put my hair in a ponytail (probably with a scrunchie *cringe*) and we headed over to her house for some soup. Before we even got there, I knew it was a bad idea. I couldn't smile or act happy to see her when I felt that crappy. I was about to feel a whole heckova lot crappier when all my friends, dressed to the nines, jumped out and yelled "surprise!"

I still give my husband a hard time about that, wishing he would have at least recommended I put on a pair of jeans or brush my hair (or teeth?). But it was sweet of them to give me a party so I couldn't be too upset about it.

Have you ever had a "big birthday" that was a flop, whether no one remembered or you were sick or there was something that went wrong? Or are you one of the lucky ones whose birthdays truly are the most special days possible?

Monday, December 5

Favorite Books [Read] in 2011

We can sagely assume that all TFCer books are fabu so of the 154 books I've read so far this year, these are the other books I've read that I really loved:


The Dark Devine, Bree Despain
The Miles Between, Mary E. Pearson
The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff
The Unwritten Rule, Elizabeth Scott
Matched, Ally Condie
Across the Universe, Beth Revis
Brutal, Michael Harmon
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King
Fat Kid Rules the World, K.L. Going
Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
Some Girls Are, Courtney Summers
Will Grayson Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt
Cryer's Cross, Lisa McMahon
Divergent, Veronica Roth


The Girl I Used to Be, David Cristofano
Still Alice, Lisa Genova
The Privileges, Jonathan Dee
The Old Romantic, Louise Dean
Gone, Mo Hayder
The Poison Tree, Erin Kelly
You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon
The Complaints, Ian Rankin
Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin
The Adults, Alison Espach
Voyeur, Daniel Judson
Rescue, Anita Shreve
The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
Vaclav and Lena, Haley Tanner
Playdate, Thelma Adams
Cold Rain, Craig Smith
The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt
The Ninth Wife, Amy Stolls
The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta
The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry
The Things that Kept Us Here, Carla Buckley
The Other Life, Ellen Meister
Names My Sisters Call Me, Megan Crane
Love in Translation, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman
The End of Everything, Megan Abbott
Daughters of the Revolution, Carolyn Cooke
The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai
Headstone, Ken Bruen
The Cut, George Pelecanos
The End of the Wasp Season, Denise Mina
Hideout, Kathleen George
If Jack's In Love, Stephen Wetta
Sister, Rosamund Lupton
The Snowman, Jo Nesbo
The Winters in Bloom, Lisa Tucker

Wow! That's over 50 books - I'd say I just made your holiday sopping easier for you.

Now it's your turn: What have you really loved this year?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Wednesday, November 16

Behind the Scenes: Deadlines

I'll never, ever, EVER pass for a soccer mom. But . . . I suppose on the outside of things, my household might appear somewhat normal. You know, for a family with four kids (one moved out), two grandparents living with us, two dogs, a cat, a hedgehog, a ball python . . . and one mom who writes. There is the piano, the tuba, the violin (noise). One Naked Pirate Boy practicing Tae Kwon Do moves. (More noise.) And a LOT of clutter everywhere. Just too many of us in one house.

But whatever passes as "normal" around here (and man, am I using air quotes), disappears when it's deadline time.

In fact, Pirate Boy did not speak until he was two and a half. Not one word. Not mama, nothing. And then suddenly, he spoke in fully articulate sentences. And I'm not sure, but his first words may have been "Mommy has a deadline."

The following things--"normal" things--disappear when I have a deadline.

  • Showers.
  • Showers for Pirate Boy.
  • Clean clothes. For anyone.
  • Any semblance of healthy eating for my children.
  • Any THOUGHT of exercise, taking a walk, heck, I think breathing becomes optional.

The following things APPEAR when I have a deadline.

  • Pizza boxes. Everywhere.
  • Half-drunk cups of coffee. Everywhere.
  • Bedhead hair. I just don't have time to deal with it.
  • Dust bunnies. They breed.
  • Occasional tears, panic attacks, and meltdowns. Mine and Pirate Boy's.

Yeah. Behind most writers, this ugly scene takes place in some way, shape, or form.

So 'fess up. Whether a term paper, a deadline, a big work project . . . what does it look like behind the scenes when your life ceases being "normal"?

Thursday, November 10

What I'm craving: TIME!

This week at TFC, we're talking about what we are craving and while yes, I definitely could go for some cookies like Wendy ALWAYS, what I'm really craving is time! This is what time is always doing to me:

It's flying by and I don't have nearly enough of it. Between writing books, my new staff writing job for ROOKIE magazine, my teaching job, my bartending job, the emails, the blog entries, and the desire to I dunno see my friends and family every once in a while this is how I feel:

When the clocks went back an hour this weekend on a night that I generally work until 3 am, I was so grateful for that extra hour of sleep. I wish I could have the every day! I thought.

It seems like everything I do takes twice as long as I thought it would so I'm constantly scrambling and going if I had five more minutes, one more hour, gah!!!! And sometimes I'm totally my own worst enemy because I get very distracted and end up trolling the internet instead of writing or trying to multi-task which always ends badly. I keep trying to hammer down a routine that would allow me at the very least on the nights that I don't work to have a few hours with my husband and then an hour to read so that I can keep up better with books like Lauren's which sounds totally amazing. It seems like reading time and social time are always suffering.

Does anybody else struggle with this? Do you have any tips on balance or can we get together an lobby to turn the 24 hour day into a 25 hour day which would shorten the year probably by a few days or a week or something (I can't do that math, or I could but it would take a lot of much-needed time!), but we could take those days out of January since it's an unpleasant month anyway. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, November 9

craving cookies!

Congrat's on Lauren's Little Women and Me book launch tomorrow!

What I'm craving today isn't quite as exciting as Lauren's big news but I've been yearning for pumpkin cookies. The way I like 'em is with dark chocolate chips and made with "Lighter Bake" which is a butter substitute made largely from plums. And as luck would have it, my dear mom, who flew in last night to visit and help me out while I go to a SCBWI conf. this weekend and my first-ever girls' trip (my friend Megan and I are heading to Charleston next weekend) is making pumpkin cookies for me. I've lost count how many I've eaten but WOW are they good!

What about you? Anything in particular you're craving today?

Monday, November 7


This week's theme at TFC is "What I'm Craving." I could go on about some cupcake I'd really like to eat, but what I'm really craving today is...readers!

Tomorrow, LITTLE WOMEN AND ME goes on sale. It's about a contemporary teen who time travels into the classic Louisa May Alcott novel. Once there, Emily discovers that she needs to change a major plot point of the book in order to get back out again. What will she do?

Kirkus Reviews calls it "a consistently entertaining read that delivers a genuinely original heroine and frequently hilarious satire."

I hope readers will agree because what I'm really craving these days - shameless admission here! - is a hit.

So how about you? What are you craving these days?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Friday, October 28

Good News Friday!

I absolutely love the month of October. Mainly because it's so beautiful weather- and scenery-wise, and also because Halloween is my favorite holiday. This October in particular has been even more wonderful than ever, and here's a quick summary of what all has been going on.

First, YA and MG author Sydney Salter (who wrote My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, Swoon at Your Own Risk, and Jungle Crossing) and I have been chosen by one of the most inspirational teachers I've ever met, Cassie Cox, to instruct a writing course at an alternative high school in Ogden, Utah. The class is made up of about 20 students who are serious about writing, many even want to be professional writers someday. So every Tuesday for 12 weeks, one or both of us show up bright and early and demonstrate what it takes to write a novel, short story, poem, etc. Here is a newspaper article about it if you want to know more: CLICK HERE. Anyway, if you can't tell, I'm over the moon about this opportunity and it's truly one of the best things to happen to me since having become a published author.

Second, I've been editing an anthology for a fascinating group of professionals, the majority of whom are Asian American and living in California. The book, Pho for Life: A Melting Pot of Thoughts, comes out in December and even though it's been a lot of hard work on many different levels, the final product is going to be simply amazing. People are always asking me how I became involved in this particular project and it all goes back to the MySpace days, when Mai Bui, who's heading up the project, asked me to do some light editing for Thirteen Minutes magazine. We've kept in touch all this time and I was deeply honored to be asked to edit their first book. (Yes, there will be more to come.) Here's the web-site if you want to take a peek and/or get involved: CLICK HERE.

Third, October has been a great month for hanging out with some of my favorite authors, including our very own Linda Gerber! (Alas, I forgot to take a photo.) Linda was kind enough to squeeze me into her busy schedule and we had a tasty lunch at Thaifoon in Salt Lake City where she told me all about her upcoming (March 2012) middle grade Celebrity series and its fantabulous heroine, Cassidy. I also got to see Brandon Mull, who was signing Beyonders at a library in Ogden, UT. I brought an entire mommy-mobile full of fan-boys and as always, Brandon was Mr. Rock Star. I also got to hang out with the beauteous and talented Becca Fitzpatrick, author of the Hush Hush saga, whose Silence tour brought her through Utah. Though I was unable to go to their book launches, I was there in spirit to welcome book-babies How to Save a Life by TFC friend Sara Zarr and The Death Cure (book 3 in the Maze Runner series) by James Dashner. And even though the Pen Fatale Tour, starring TFC darlings Alyson Noel and Jessica Brody didn't come to Utah, I was also there in spirit and my mom was able to catch them at the Tattered Cover (one of my fave indie book stores) in Highlands Ranch, CO.

Has your October been as exciting and memorable as mine? Do tell! :)

Thursday, October 27

Road Trip Music

I'm off on a road trip this week doing book research, so music week here on TFC comes at a great time for me. Why? Because I cannot travel without tunes.

Things have been so crazy at home over the last few weeks that I rarely have time to eat much less enjoy my favorite songs. But driving an entire day to my destination? Oh, baby. Crank up that volume.

In the spirit of playlist happiness, here are 10 songs currently on my travel soundtrack this time. Some of these are book-related (for writing inspiration) and others are just because I like 'em. I'm happily eclectic when it comes to music. :-)

Gravity by Sara Barielles
Back to December by Taylor Swift
One Last Breath by Creed
Better Life by Keith Urban
Across the Universe by Rufas Wainwright
World by Five for Fighting
This Could Be Heaven by Seal
Duck and Run by 3 Doors Down
Every Day by Rascal Flatts
Ordinary Miracle by Sarah McLachlan

What's on your personal soundtrack this week?

Sunday, October 23

Favorite Bands

This week we're talking about our favorite bands. My taste in music is varied. I love musicals with a passion, I also love Adele, Maroon 5, Barbara Streisand, Adam Lambert, Pink.....

But when it comes to my absolutely all time, no one can touch them, favorite band it has to be Queen. I was lucky enough to see them live at Wembley in London many years ago..... and wow!! Nothing can beat hearing We Are The Champions live... and as for Bohemian Rhapsody... it was amazing.

I can't believe that if Freddie had lived he would be be 65...yikes!!!

So who is your absolutely all time favorite?

Tuesday, October 18


Hello TFC, my name is Amanda Ashby and yes, I have been missing in action for many, many months but now I'm back and I promise that I won't go wandering off again for so long! Of course I do have lots of lovely excuses but listening to my woes of moving countries and crowd surfing through bureaucratic red tape probably isn't anyone's idea of a fun time so instead I'll just give you all some Cyber Skittles and promise to do better!

So now that I've dusted off my long forgotten rota, I can see that the topic is about Lists. Which is totally fine for you A-type folk out there but what about people like me who can't even decide what their favorite chocolate bar is (though I've narrowed it down to three, which I think is jolly good going). But, because I'm feeling remorseful I'm going to give it a go and come up with a list. Let's call it:

Amanda's List of Small Crimes That Shouldn't Annoy Her But They Do*

(*please try not to judge me too harshly for what you are about to read)

1) When the checkout person at the supermarket who is meant to be scanning my magazines stops to read them.

Nooooooooooooooooooo. This should be illegal. It's wrong on so many levels. Oh, and I'm not talking when they just glance at the headlines and comment on someone's haircut, this is more a stop work and flick through it and START READING IT. And honestly, if this had only happened once then perhaps I would be more forgiving, but no, it happens All The Time so my payback is putting at the top of this list (see how they are now all quivering in fear)

2)Husbands who refuse to learn where light bulbs are kept (also applies to cutlery, towels, scissors and sticky tape) (also only applies to one husband in particular)

Actually, I have no words for this one. If you live in a house and are over the age of five you can learn where things are kept. It's that simple.

3) Anyone who says 'can I ask you a question?'

Actually, if I wasn't feeling so grumpy about the magazine business, this one would be at the top of the list because it drives me nuts. Why waste a question with another question? It's wrong (plus stupid because I will naturally always answer 'no'). TV and movies use this lame piece of dialogue all the time and if anyone who is reading this has also used it, then 'I'm sorry, I love you, but please, for my sanity consider deleting it next time it appears on the screen!'

4) People who try and phone me when one of my favorite TV shows are on.

Anyone who knows me knows that I will not answer the phone when I'm watching a show so therefore it stands to reason that if you are ringing me, then you don't know me so I'm perfectly entitled to let the machine pick it up. The only exception to this rule is when Sara Hantz texts me so that we can pass judgement on Australian X-Factor. I'm down with that!

5) Bananas

Just because I really hate them and tend to blame them for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the world. Not only are they a displeasing color and shape but that squishy noise they make when people are eating them is just a world of no.

Of course being an indecisive person, this list will change by tomorrow (or even in ten minutes) but for now they are definitely the main offenders!

So what about everyone else, what is a small crime that annoys you, even though it shouldn't!!!!

Monday, October 17

A Japanese Ghost Story

The topic choices this week included something "seasonal", so in honor of Halloween, I'm going to share with you a ghost story I heard while living in Japan.

My family and I lived near the American School in a city called Tama. One of the things Tama was known for was its beautiful cemetery - the Tama Bochi, located just a few blocks from my house. (Bochi means cemetery.) It was such a prominent landmark that it became a point of reference for the HS kids. They called the train from Tokyo to Tama the Bochi Bullet, and the students who lived in the area called themselves the Bochi Crew. (My son and his friends made t-shirts with "Bochi Crew" written in kanji. One day an old lady saw my son wearing his t-shirt and gave him an earful because she felt he was up to something evil, referencing the resting place for the dead. His friends got a good laugh out of his dressing down.) But one strange event that happened at the bochi was no laughing matter.

Late one night, a taxi driver stopped just outside the Tama Bochi when a teenage girl flagged him down. He pressed the button to open the automatic door for her, watching in his rear view mirror as she climbed into the car. In a quiet voice, she gave him an address and then settled back against the seat.

He drove to the address - an apartment building on the other side of town - but when he stopped, she didn't move to get out of the cab. Instead, she simply asked him to wait. For ten minutes, she sat in silence, staring sadly at the window of one of the upper-floor apartments. Finally, she gave the driver another address and asked him to continue on.

The driver stole glances at his young passenger through the mirror as he drove, feeling the weight of her sorrow settling like a rock on his chest. When they reached the address she had given him, the driver stopped and turned to say something comforting to her, but when he looked to the back seat, it was empty. Suddenly, the back passenger-side door opened and then closed on its own. Terrified, the driver scrambled out of his taxi.

Just then, a man walked out of the house and calmly approached him. He handed the driver the exact fare that showed on the meter and turned back toward the house without a word.

The driver called after him and asked him how he knew how much to pay.

The man explained that the year before, his daughter been riding on the back of her boyfriend's scooter when they were hit by a car. His daughter had been killed and was buried in the Tama Bochi. Sometimes she would wake up confused and lonely, the man said. Each time, she would take a taxi to her boyfriend's apartment, but when he never came out to see her, she would ask the driver to take her home.

Do you have a favorite spooky story? Please share!

Wednesday, October 12

Memory Lane

Okay, for my trip down memory lane, I thought I would blog about HAIR.

Because there are few things more representative of the teen years that the battles you fight with you hair. And few things chronicle a woman's life better than her hair.

I happened to grow up in the era of BIG 80s hair. Snooki has NOTHING on me. NOTHING. You think I'm kidding? Check out the photographic evidence.

BIG. BIG. GIANT. HAIR. And the BATTLES to get it that way. Hot rollers. Curling irons. Perms.

Then . . . I turned 20 and my first white hair appeared. Premature gray runs in my family on my mom's side--but they're all blonde. In my (natural) hair color of dark brown/black (photo above was a dye job) . . . it showed up. So I had NEW battles to fight. Dying it every four weeks. For YEARS. As long as I was dying it, I tried red, black, striped, highlighted. It was only hair, right?

I also stopped trying for the big hair thing (thank God, right?). Only this weird thing happened and it got more unruly the older I got.

Eventually . . . I reached some sense of peace. With myself. And my hair. Then this summer I spent a long stretch in the hospital. And if ever there was a time to let the "real" me come out, it was then. I wasn't able to get to the salon anyway. So I decided to see what was under all that dye. And it turns out, it's ALL white. So this is the new me.

And this me is ME. My real color (who knew after all this time???).

Ahh, but my hair? Thanks for the memories.

So how about you? Is you hair some sort of timeline of your life?

Tuesday, October 11

Favorite Haunts in Austin

I just hit Texas for the Austin Teen Book Festival (which is AMAZING AND YOU MUST GO!), and though it was only my second time in that kickass town, I felt like I was seeing an old friend! Plus, I finally got to meet fellow TFC'ers Jessica Brody and Alyson Noel in person! YES.

My 2009 release, Lovestruck Summer, is set in Austin, and the characters hit a few of my favorite haunts, including...
Ironworks BBQ!
Shady Grove
Anywhere you can see the bats fly at night!

And my new favorite Austin haunt? The Friday Night Lights field! OMG, I adored that show so much. Here's me in between fellow fangirl Jenny Han and future fangirl Coe Booth. Future fanboy John Corey Whaley drove us out here. EPIC!

Don't you love it when a city has a lot of favorite haunts? 

Thursday, October 6

What I'm (still) listening to

Since everyone else has been talking about what they are reading this week, I thought I'd vary things up and talk about what I'm listening to. It's nothing new. In fact I've been listening to it for 20 years. Well, not like 20 years straight or anything, but it's definitely the music I go back to more than anything else. That would be this band:

I've been on an especially big Nirvana kick since mid-September when everyone was talking about the 20th anniversary of this album:

I totally got in on the act here if you want to read about how that album and Nirvana in general influenced my life.

I just got back from doing a Smart Chicks Kick It event in my favorite city on earth, Seattle, and since Nirvana is so heavily associated with Seattle (though none of them actually lived in Seattle until after Nevermind broke. They are originally from Aberdeen, Washington), my Nirvana streak continued, especially since I went to this super cool exhibit at the EMP (Experience Music Project) that is all about Nirvana's career.

(That's a giant blown up photo of Kurt crowd-surfing with a quote from Krist Novoselic that says "Music is an art form that thrives on reinvention." You can click to make it bigger.)

It was actually my second time to the exhibit because I'm that obsessed. (Also because I was traveling with Jeri Smith-Ready who is a fellow Nirvana geek and I had to make sure she saw the exhibit.) They have all these great video interviews with people in the Seattle music scene in the early 90s plus Nirvana memorabilia like this little display that includes the shirt Kurt wore and guitar he played in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video as well as the MTV VMA award they won for the video:

As a result the Nirvana kick continues, but admittedly on this particular kick even though everyone else has been on about Nevermind a lot lately, I've been listening to their live albums. They put on a hell of a live performance, which sadly, I never got to see, but since I'm such a fangirl, I actually have just about every show of theirs that was ever bootlegged. My favorite right now is an official release though, their 1992 Reading Festival show. I'm also waiting to get my hands on the 1991 Halloween show at the Paramount in Seattle that was just released on DVD (but right now you can only get it at Best Buy and I'm an avid supporter of indies so I am waiting patiently til my local record store can sell it). They showed bits of it on VH1 a couple weeks ago and streamed the whole show on VEVO, but in case you missed it, here's a song that is still up on YouTube:

I also recommend checking out the Live, Tonight, Sold Out DVD which not only showcases some stellar live performances, but also the band's sense of humor, because yes, even though they are rarely portrayed that way, they definitely had one.

What about you? What band do you consistently return to? Or whose live performances do you love as much as their albums?

Wednesday, October 5

What I'm (Not) Reading

Pictured above: William Faulkner,
judging me harshly.
I've been on a really big reading kick lately! This might not sound like a surprise, because I'm an author and a librarian and a general book nerd. But sometimes I get in reading slumps. Not sure if it's just a mood or a series of less-than-inspiring books, but I do sometimes go through periods where I can't get into anything, book-wise. But lately I've been on a tear! In the past few weeks I read some actual grown-up novels (That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo & Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit From the Goon Squad') and some books for younger readers, including two great reads by friends of mine ('The Only Ones' by Aaron Starmer & Steve Brezenoff's 'Brooklyn, Burning'). These books were all great! All very different and all pretty amazing.

And now I'm on a reading roll. So I'm feeling inspired to tackle one of the American classics -- a great work of American literature I've always meant to read, and maybe started, but never actually finished (hence the title of this post). Soooo, even though it's kind of embarrassing to admit I've never read all these, please weigh in to comment and vote which classic I should tackle. Then I PROMISE to finish it. I'll blog about whether or not it stinks. If it does, I hold you highly accountable. Just kidding.

I decided to use this list -- and pick the ones that  (1) I have heard of/have always meant to read (2) haven't read and (3) are by American authors. I'm not sure why I limited it to American novels. OK I do know why and it's because I don't want to have to read a nine thousand page Russian novel or one of those fussy British books about dukes and ladies who wear hats or whatever. Those hat-ladies will kill my reading groove! Haha. Just kidding. Not really. Anyway please vote by commenting for your favorite/whichever you think is the greatest, and NOT which one you think I'll hate the most just because you want to see me suffer/ are a sadist ;)

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    As I lay Dying by William Faulkner (I don't think I've ever read any Faulkner except for maybe some short stories?)

    Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

    Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

I'm excited! Pick me a winner, friends!

Tuesday, October 4

What I'm Reading

I just barely finished reading Erin Vincent's memoir, Grief Girl. When Erin was fourteen, both of her parents were killed in a car crash. Her mom, instantly. Her father died a little later in the hospital, due to a blood clot. Now, left with her sister (17), brother (3), and a band of relatives with suspicious motives, Erin must figure out how to pick up the pieces and remember how to live her own life. So far, I'm really liking Erin's raw, emotional story. She somehow manages to mix a sense of humor in with moments of deep despair. A gripping, sincere read.

Since Halloween is around the corner, I'm also reading Tales from H.E.L. and Beyond, a collection of spooky short stories penned by a group of writers with ties to Huntsville, Eden, and Liberty, Utah (collectively known as Ogden Valley). I like to read it right before bed, to freak myself out.

Next up? The Limit by Kristen Landon, which comes highly recommended by my 11 year-old son. Kristen was kind enough to sign it for him so I had to promise not to get anything on it. Below is the trailer. Sounds awesome, doesn't it!?

Now, it your turn to share what you're reading!

Monday, October 3

What I'm Reading Lately

Last week I was in Vancouver, BC, doing events for the amazing Kidsbooks for the release of The Sisters 8 Book 8: Zinnia's Zaniness. We sold nearly 600 books which was pretty happy-making for me. In between events, I got to catch up on Canadian TV - does the U.S. have anything like "Canada's Worst Driver"??? - and I also got a chance to catch up on my reading. The following are three books that I particularly loved, all adult novels but I think each has something to offer lovers of YA too:

DAUGHTERS OF THE REVOLUTION by Carolyn Cooke. It’s 1968. The prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the town of Cape Wilde is run by its aging, philandering headmaster, Goddard Byrd, known to both his friends and his enemies as God. With Cape Wilde engulfed by the social and political storms of integration, coeducation and the sexual revolution, God has confidently promised coeducation “over my dead body.” And then, through a clerical error, the Goode School admits its first female student: Carole Faust, a brilliant, intractable fifteen-year-old black girl.

Jumping around in time, this is more a novel of interconnected stories than a conventional novel and it is very, very good. It's often moving but at least on one occasion it's laugh-out-loud funny. That's when a woman in her early 20s, after having had an alcohol-related fall that lands her in the ER, upon exiting the hospital, suggests to the male neighbor who took her there, "We could go somewhere and have a drink," to which he replies, "Are you out of your nmind?"

THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott. Thirteen-year old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable. They are best friends who swap bathing suits and field-hockey sticks, and share everything that's happened to them. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities of their own teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place. And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a maroon sedan Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the Midwestern suburban community, everyone looks to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

Considering that this is a literary novel and not a mystery, it certainly reads with the page-turning quality of the latter.

WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT by Sarah Winman. This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.
In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence-a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.

Highly unusual and emotionally satisfying plus the school Nativity play is hands down one of the best school Nativity play scenes in fiction.

And that's it!

So how about you? What truly great books have you read lately?

Oh, and don't forget to get the latest Sisters 8 book and all The Sisters 8 books. If you love my writing, give them to a young person you love. And if you hate my writing? Then give them to a young person you intensely dislike!

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Thursday, September 29

I love favorite books week! Sometimes I even read...

... books for grown-ups.

No, seriously.

Most of the last five years have been spent reading YA in all its various forms. And then, every once in a while, I will decide that I need to stop living in the world of teenagers and actually *gasp* be a grown-up for a bit.

This year, I discovered Sarah Addison Allen. I kept hearing all this great buzz about THE PEACH KEEPER, so I decided to check it out. I loved it literally from page one.

I’m not a huge fan of traditional adult paranormals, but I adore books where the magic is woven in more as part of the ambiance of the story. Sarah is absolutely brilliant at this. Lovely romance, great magic weaving, and an intriguing mystery make this an absolute winner.

Sarah also does something that I love as a reader. Even though her books aren't a series, she sometimes weaves in characters from previous books. Which made me super bummed that I hadn't started with her first book, GARDEN SPELLS.

When my mom passed away this winter after a decade-long battle with cancer, I really needed a charming, lovely, hint of magic read to help me through that difficult time. Allen's books were exactly what I needed when I needed it most. I immediately went out and bought her entire backlist after reading THE PEACH KEEPER. I adore them one and all.

What about you? Which authors have you discovered recently that you absolutely adore?

Wednesday, September 28

The changing face of books!!

So this week it's all about books. I LOVE books. I love the feel of books, the smell of new books, I love everything about them. And when I pass a book shop I go all glassy eyed and have to go in there.

And I treasure my books and treat them well. I never, ever, ever, turn the corners of the pages down and get very upset if I see anyone doing it. I always use a bookmark and when I've finished reading a book it still looks like new.

My only problem is living in NZ and Australia, books are double the price as anywhere else. I mostly buy my books through Book Depository in the UK because they're loads cheaper and they ship for free.

Plus, when we go on vacation my suitcase is weighed down by all my books. I'll often read one book a day.

So...... with that in mind, for my birthday I got a Kindle!!!! O. M. G. It's amazing. I can take it anywhere in my purse, without it being too heavy.... the hair salon, doctors, dentist.... I've never had such an awesome present.

And........ although I never thought I'd hear myself say this, I'm not sure I'll buy a book again (okay, I will probably buy non-fiction reference type books but not fiction).

So what about you..... an ereader convert?

Thursday, September 22

Loyalty Program Update!

Hey everyone! It looks like our Teen Fiction Cafe Loyalty Program is already off to a rockin' start!

Two loyal visitors have already reached 5,000 points and claimed free books!

Congrats to Amanda and Laurene!

SMALL TOWN SINNERS by Melissa Walker and MY LIFE UNDECIDED by Jessica Brody are no longer in the catalog. But don't worry! We still have tons of fantastic free books left to be claimed.

As of 9/22/11, the following books are still available:

Kay Cassidy - The Cinderella Society
Wendy Toliver - The Secret Life of the Teenage Siren
Erica Kirov - Magic Keepers: The Eternal Hourglass
Stephanie Kuehnert - I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
Elizabeth Scott - Between Here and Forever
Alyson Noel - Evermore
Linda Gerber - Death by Bikini
Josh Berk - The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin
Amanda Ashby - Fairy Bad Day
Greg Logsted - Alibi Junior High
Lauren Baratz-Logsted - The Education of Bet
Sara Hantz - The Second Virginity of Suzy Green

Remember, you can earn up to 500 max points per day simply by...

- Visiting our site (100 points)
- Commenting on of our posts (100 points)
- Tweeting one of our posts (100 points)
- Liking one of our posts (100 points)
- Google Plus-ing one of our posts (100 points) 

Click here to read the full details about our loyalty program and learn how to join!

Keep visiting and sharing!

The Teen Fiction Cafe Authors

Thursday, September 15

What I'm Craving...a Bully-Free World!

While I didn't want to use this post as a shameless plug for Dear Bully (although
it DID come out last week with great reviews from the New York Times, Boston Globe, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, Romantic Times, School Library Journal and got some shout outs from USA Today,, and Better Homes & Garden!), I feel that it's okay to do it here, because several Teen Fiction Cafe members are also contributors to DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperTeen, Sept. 2011). Essays included are Alyson Noel's Silent All These Years, Jessica Brody's End of the World, Linda Gerber's The Innocent Bully, Melissa Walker's When I Was a Bully Too, and Stephanie Kuehnert's The Soundtrack to My Survival. The contributors to DEAR BULLY (including the ones on this blog) were incredibly generous with their stories; wanting to share a deeply personal part of their lives in order to help teens deal with bullying today.

The sad fact is that it's a LOT harder for teens today than it was when we were roaming our schools' hallways. With Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, IMs, text messages, email (I am ashamed to admit for fear of scaring everyone off with my age, but I didn't even HAVE email or a cell phone until after college!), with all of these technological advancements, it's almost impossible to escape from bullies. Every time a new social networking site pops up or a new gadget like the iPhone becomes available, there's just one more way for kids to target each other through bullying, spreading rumors, sending hurtful messages or harassment.

This is why I became so concerned with their plight. There is virtually no escape, no safe haven. That is why I created a Facebook page called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, which eventually morphed into Dear Bully. That was the goal -- a place online where teens could go to know that they were NOT alone. And that (hopefully) will be the result of the anthology DEAR BULLY. A way for us to share with our readers our own stories of being bullied. And to show that we made it through okay. Because that's the whole goal: to make it through.

Just to give you an example of how dire the bullying situation has gotten in schools across the country these days, consider this: The third leading cause of death for kids aged 15-24 is suicide. And a huge percentage of suicides involve some kind of bullying. That statistic alone is staggering. And when you add the other national statistics available, it gets worse:

  • 1 in 3 kids is bullied. That's roughly 2.7 million students each year.
  • 77% of children are bullied mentally, verbally and physically.
  • Every 7 minutes an American child is bullied.
  • 160,000 kids miss school each day for fear of being bullied.
  • 1/3 of all teens have admitted to being involved in bullying at some point in their school career.

And if you think this doesn't affect you directly, consider this: Approximately 289,000 students (4.1 % of bullied kids aged 12-18) brought a gun, knife or other weapon to school. And that percentage jumps to 7.4% when cyberbullying is brought into the mix. 75% of all school shootings arise from some kind of school bullying or harassment.

Truly frightening.

On the upside, if bystanders get involved and no longer give bullies the audience they so desperately crave, the number of bullying incidents drop dramatically. It's okay to stand up against a bully when you see something that is not right going on. Not just okay, but necessary. Bullying is not and never has been acceptable. It's not a right of passage and it's not something that everyone has to go through to become a better, stronger person.

And, finally, most importantly, teens need to know that they aren't going through this alone. That's the most important message of our book. If teens don't have anywhere else to turn, at the very least, they have us. We are here. We believe in you. We know that it's hard and it sucks and sometimes you want to give up, but you can do it.

Just trust us.
We know.
We've been there.

Wednesday, September 14

What I'm Craving . . . . My Own Shoe

No, I wouldn't wear the shoe in the picture. I haven't worn heels in nearly a decade, I don't think. I DO wear cowboy boots--one pair is fire engine red, the other is worn and gray. Now that fall is here, I will be breaking them out.

But I DO feel like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I have four kids. They range in age from adulthood down to Pirate Boy in first grade. Both my parents live with us. We have two dogs. We have a cat (who used to be called Pumpkin, but when my mom moved in, she HATES cats and nicknamed the cat "Fleabag"--this got shortened to Flea, as in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it has stuck). We have a hedgehog. (Again, the hedgehog used to be called Penelope, but now we all refer to her as Hedgie.) We have a snake. A python, actually. A ball python (they are smaller and calm and docile). It is not OUR python. It is my oldest son's python. When he leaves for college in two years, it must go to a good home because I loathe the snake. LOATHE it. Lydia (the snake) started out the size of a pencil. I rather liked her then. She is not, most assuredly, the size of a pencil now and I live my life in mortal terror of her escape, when I am certain she will seek me out (because she KNOWS I loathe her) and eat me. The fact that she really isn't THAT big (three feet or so) matters not one iota. I find my fear perfectly rational.

Anyway, my office is open on two sides. My dad sits in the next room and generally talks to me a lot of the day. This is not conducive to writing. Then there is the fact that I must chauffeur said children to various activities. The homework hour. The laundry all of them create. And so on and so on and . . . .

So I want my own shoe.

A little place of my own to write and escape. To run away from home to. A place that is QUIET. Very quiet. And ALL MINE.

I don't really expect that to happen. And I assume even if I HAD my own shoe, I would miss the chaos a bit.

But it's what I crave and it's my pipe dream after all.

How about you? Ever long for some SPACE? QUIET? What?

Friday, September 9

Ode to Zooey

Besides getting to wear boots again, one of my favorite things about the fall is the new lineup of sitcoms. Is there a new TV show you're eager to watch?

I am so excited for Sept. 20 because it's when the first episode of The New Girl will be on Fox TV. I've been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Eulogy at Sundance Film Festival about 6 years ago. If you haven't seen it yet, I totally recommend it!

Now tell me what other shows I should be recording this fall! And don't forget to sign up for Teen Fiction Cafe's brand-spankin' new Loyalty Program as introduced HERE.

Thursday, September 8

Stephanie's Can't-Miss TV

Though I can be out of the loop a lot with new TV and movies because I work nights and spending my days in the writing cave, I have a few “can't miss” TV programs that are on currently, but about to wrap up: True Blood (dude, I love Eric way more than I want to admit!) and Weeds. With both of these my husband and I started watching them on Netflix. We got the first season and were so hooked that we set aside money so that we can order HBO and Showtime respectively when they are on. But I was out of town so I haven't seen this week's episodes yet, so shhh no spoilers please!

I tend to discover TV shows late through Netflix. My current “new discovery” is Mad Men. We've powered through the first two seasons in about two months and will definitely be caught up by the time season five starts in January. (Right now we just started season 3, so again, please no spoilers!) It's actually always a bummer when we catch up because then we have to watch the show one episode at a time and after months of binging, it's total agony. Not to mention the season breaks. I'm sure True Blood in particular will end on a cliffhanger and I don't know what we'll do while we wait for it to come back next year.... Actually I guess we'll fill our time with The Walking Dead and then Mad Men will be back along with Californication and before we know it it will be True Blood and Weeds time again! Plus I'm sure we'll have a new Netflix addiction to binge on.

As you can see the TV I watch is extremely varied. We've got a vampires/werewolves/faeries/witches/shapeshifters show, a dramedy about the very dysfunctional Botwin family, and then a sixties drama. I have to say one of the coolest things for me about watching Mad Men is that my mom would've been about the same age as Don Draper's little girl on the show, so I feel like I'm getting a hint of what her childhood is like—except she was raised by a librarian and a baker, so it was probably very different. Also I highly doubt she got caught smoking at 8 like Sally here:

Anyway what all three of these shows have in common are great characters who are like no one else on TV. As a character-driven writer, it's no surprise that that's what I look for in good TV. That and I like a lot of drama, even if it's supernatural drama or drama with comedy thrown in, or really emotionally repressed sixties drama.

I also of course am very open about my love of over the top soapy drama, which means my most anticipated fall return is 90210. In terms of characters, I really got thrown a curve ball by that show last season. I also loved Adriana and hated Naomi, but now I've completely flip flopped. Adriana became so shallow and Naomi actually began to show some depth. Of course we ended the season by finding out that Naomi was pregnant and I'm dying to see what that does to her character. So, even though it's totally a guilty pleasure (and I'm still very angry at the writers for pushing Adriana beyond what I think was realistic for her character, but that's a whole other rant), I'm really psyched for 90210.

What about you? Do you watch TV shows regularly or catch up later on Netflix? What is your most anticipated show to return? And have you heard of any new ones that look like they are going to be good? Maybe I can jump on the bandwagon early instead of 5 years late like with Mad Men!

PS. In case you haven't heard about TFC's new loyalty program yet, check it out! You can earn points to win our books just by commenting, linking to, or tweeting about us!

Wednesday, September 7

A Can't Miss Movie for Writers

I stink at watching movies. I have had "The Social Network" home from Netflix for literally six months. I really plan to watch it one of these days! But my kids always rule the TV. I've seen lots of children's movies. But usually I go to bed really early. Also: baseball is on a lot.

This is too bad because I used to watch a lot of movies and in fact had a job (well, freelance gig) as a movie reviewer for a while. It was a two-man column, sort of like a printed Siskel & Ebert, but with more jokes. I wore a weird hat and scarf in my headshot. (Note, I can't find that picture anywhere, but it looked sort of like this.) We would often spend a lot of the column making fun of each other rather than talking about the movie. But we always (eventually) got around to watching the movies and, because it was a city paper we tended to focus on the movies playing at the one arty cinema in Allentown rather than the blockbusters at the multi-plexes in the burbs. This was fine with me, as I really like artsy movies. (I mean: "films." Artsy movies are always "films.") I have my limits of weird to be sure, but I am way more likely to enjoy a film that is two hours of people talking about sadness than two hours of robots blowing things up.

This means that, yes, Woody Allen is still one of my favorites. He hit a rough stretch there of course (understatement!) but he has made some pretty good movies lately. And my choice for recent "can't miss movie" (specifically for writers) is Woody's 2010 "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." This movie was recommended to me be a writer-friend. It was Sally Keehn, who also lives here in Allentown. (Hi Sally, if you're reading this! You should be proud because I actually got around to watching a movie and chose the one you recommended.) Sally slyly said it was a great movie for writers and would say no more. I can see why she didn't want to say too much because it has some twists that are best left unexplained. It has generally gotten mixed reviews, but man, I really think all writers will like it.

There are a couple of different plotlines, all of which I enjoyed, but Roy (played by Josh Brolin) is the one who writers are likely to connect with. He gave up his previous life (as a doctor) to become a writer. He's written one successful novel and is now faced with the massive struggle known as "book #2." He's going a little crazy, he's under a lot of pressure, and he finds himself in a desperate situation (I hope this isn't giving too much away) where he is considering "borrowing" someone else's brilliance. There's a great twist at the end and so many little scenes of a writer's life that I really related to. Even his apartment (flat maybe? it is set in London) with its leaning piles of books looks exactly like every writer's apartment/house I've ever been in. So check it out! Let me know what you think! I give it forty-five thumbs up.

Tuesday, September 6

Win Free Copies of Our Books with Our New Loyalty Program!

Hey loyal TFC Fans! Guess what!? We're SO appreciative that you continue to visit our site, that we wanted to REWARD you for your loyalty! That's right! We've installed a brand new "Loyalty Program" on the Teen Fiction Cafe. The more you visit and interact with our site, the faster you can earn points to win free copies of our books!

You earn points by:

  • Visiting our site daily (100 points)
  • Commenting on our posts (100 points)
  • Liking our posts on Facebook (100 points)
  • Tweeting our posts (100 points)
  • Sharing our posts on Google + (100 points)

But FIRST, you need to sign up for the program. 

Signing up is SUPER easy.

1) Click on the "Become a Member" button in our Loyalty Program widget on the top left corner of the site.

2) You'll be asked for permission to link your Facebook profile. Click "Allow"

That's it! You're a member of our loyalty program! Now every time you visit our site, comment, and share posts, you'll be collecting points!

Once you reach 5,000 points you can choose one of our books to win!

But remember, there's only 1 copy of each of our books in the catalog, and once someone claims it, it's gone! So be sure to start visiting, commenting, and sharing now so you can claim your favorite! (Once you sign up for the program, you'll be able to view the catalog and see which books are left to claim).

Use the Like, Tweet, and Google+ buttons at the bottom of each post to share and earn points!

Points are limited to 500 per day (1 visit, 1 comment, 1 Tweet, 1 Facebook Like, 1 Google+ ) so keep coming back each day to earn max points and claim your Free book fast!

We hope you enjoy the new program! And thanks again to our loyal fans!

- The Teen Fiction Cafe Authors

Monday, September 5

Can't Miss TV

When I was growing up, September was cause for much rejoicing, rejoicing along the lines of: Yippee! It's the new TV season! Of course, times have changed. Now we get the launch of various TV shows scattered throughout the year. There are even new shows launched during the summer now, where summer used to be the dead zone of reruns or third-rate variety shows. Still, despite its downgrade in uniqueness, there's something special about the fall season. Maybe it's that there's still more new shows that launch then than at any other time of the year? Maybe it's just habit? Whatever the case, here's five fall shows I'm really looking forward to:

5. Pan Am. It'll be like Mad Men but without advertising and in the skies! OK, maybe it won't really be like that. Maybe it'll just be nostalgic fun for me since I'm old enough to remember when even little boys and girls put on full suits and ties before getting on a plane.

4. Terra Nova. I'm pretty sure there are supposed to be dinosaurs in this one. When have dinosaurs ever worked in any show filmed for the small screen? But, you know, Steven Spielberg. Plus, small screens are much bigger now!

3. The X Factor. Because I need another entertainment/competition reality show in my life!

2. The New Girl. Zooey Deschenel. Zooey Deschanel. Zooey Deschanel. It's just so much fun to say Zooey Deschanel! The first episode was available On Demand even though it hasn't aired yet on network TV - how quaint! I just said "network TV"! We saw it and all gave it thumbs-up. It was really cute. Plus, you know, Zooey Deschanel.

1. Luther, Season 2. I know, I know, I'm cheating and this isn't a new-new show. It's the second season of a BBC show that's already aired over in England but who cares??? I just found out that my favorite new-to-me show of last year - Luther! Luther!! Luther!!! - has ts U.S. premier on September 28. Could I be any more excited? I could not.

So how about you? What upcoming new shows or returns of old favorites have you champing at the bit?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Thursday, September 1

What could *your* walls say?

My favorite web gem - for messing around whenever I need a pick-me-up (or, okay, feel like procrastinating) - is Wall Written. Wall Written allows you to custom design wall clings of a variety of inspirational sayings. You can choose the size of the overall quote and also the colors of the text and decorative elements. Like this one, of my very favorite quote in the world:

You can even choose your own saying and custom design it as a wall cling using their awesome design tool! You choice the saying, font, color, layout, and decorative elements. Is that cool or what? If I had my way, my entire office would be blanketed with sayings. They already kind of are! My two favorites? "Be the change you wish to see in the world" and "Live-Laugh-Love".

What could *your* walls say?


Friday, August 19

Good News Friday: Baby!

I missed my TFC post this week (sorry!) but I have a good excuse, I promise! Baby June is here, almost three weeks old, and so delightful. She has a big library already and will definitely be a Teen Fiction Cafe girl before I know it.

Happy Friday!


Thursday, August 11

Favorite Haunts: Vacation Edition

August is vacation season and since I'm about go to on mine, I thought I'd talk about my favorite haunts away from home to fit in with this week's TFC theme.

When I was a kid, my family had some regular vacation spots, mainly Door County and the Apostle Islands in Northern Wisconsin. Some times we stayed a bit closer to home and went to Starved Rock, a state park in Northern Illinois. Or there were trips to Michigan where my aunt had a cabin. We did a lot of camping. For someone who is terrified of spiders, likes the comforts of a nice indoor bathroom, and has lots of allergies and dislikes extreme heat, this wasn't usually very pleasant.

Fortunately, now I get to pick my own yearly vacation spot and that would be the city that I wish I could afford to move to:

Ah, Seattle. Sigh. City of my heart. I visited for the first time in 2004. It sounds kind of morbid, but I went on the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. No artist has had a bigger influence on me than Nirvana and since Kurt committed suicide when I was 14, it left a really big impression on me. I'd always wanted to go to Seattle since I was a teenager, so I went with some friends to pay tribute to Kurt and I also kind of closed the door on my own troubled youth in the process. It's hard to explain, but I tried to do so in this essay if you are interested.

Anyway I didn't expect to fall in love with Seattle. It was just a vacation, a trip with my girlfriends who were fellow music nerds. But as soon as I saw all the bright green trees (that rain is good for something) and all of the water (of course as a Cancer I would love a city that is surrounded by water on three sides), I fell in love. The air smelled better. The land had dimension. (I come from the abysmally flat Midwest.) And I just felt like I belonged.

One of these days (like when the economy turns around and we can sell our house), I will move out there and live happily ever after. But for now I make a yearly visit. Usually I go with two of my girl friends that I visited with the first time in 2004, who fell in love with Seattle like I did. The three of us live in different cities (me in Chicago, my friend Jenny in St. Louis and my friend Eryn in Denver), so it's like a little reunion. Normally we go in spring, but this year we head out on August 20th and I'm currently putting together a list of must-do's for us. Eryn and I have visited Seattle together 6 times and I've been there 2 additional times on top of that, so I definitely have my favorite haunts. Here are some of them:

1. The Waterfront:

The first time we stayed in Seattle, we were in a hostel just a block away from it so the first thing we did was walk along Elliott Bay. Now it's basically a tradition. We dump our stuff in the hotel and head directly there. Yeah it's touristy, but it's beautiful and there is nothing like it back home so who cars.

2. The Pike Place Market:

Also a touristy location, but I love a good farmer's market and this is pretty much the king of them all. We generally stay downtown so I like go here every morning for breakfast. Then I can buy fresh fruit and a vegan cinnamon roll at Cinnamon Works. (I definitely can't get vegan cinnamon rolls at home!) If I were a coffee drinker, I might grab a cup at the original Starbucks, but I'm a tea gal so I stock up at Market Spice. I usually will get one cup of Joe while in Seattle because well when in Rome... But I generally go for one of the smaller, local coffee houses.

3. The Seattle Center:

This is basically as touristy as it gets, but since the Space Needle symbolizes Seattle to me, we always have to walk by and get some cool shots of it (or totally dorky ones like the one above of me pointing to it), though I don't usually feel the need to pay to go up in it. The Seattle Center is also home to the EMP (Experience Music Project) and the SFM (Sci-Fi Museum), which is that super funky looking building pictured above. I geek out hardcore over both music and Sci-Fi so I do love both places and when they get exhibits I'm interested in, I go. Right now EMP has a huge Nirvana exhibit and SFM has a Battlestar Galactica exhibit. I am so there.

4. Thrift Stores and local crafty boutiques. It's weird because I don't shop much at home. Maybe because I grew up in Chicago now I'm cynical about it and nothing seems as cool as it used to be. But in Seattle I love to hit Red Light, my favorite vintage store at both of it's Capitol Hill and U-District locations and then I like to wander both of those neighborhoods and see what else I find. I also love the Ballard neighborhood which has this strip of boutiques where I can always find clothes by local designers. A lot of times we also hit up craft fairs like I Heart Rummage because I love to support local artists and find unique clothes and accessories. There's something wonderful about knowing that no one in your town will be able to get that hoodie or necklace.

5. Food and Drink. Since I work at a dive bar, I'm kind of a dive bar aficionado and Seattle has some of my favorites like The Comet Tavern in Capitol Hill, Nitelite downtown, The Central Saloon in Pioneer Square, and 9 Pound Hammer in Georgetown. It's also vegan paradise, especially compared to Chicago. I love the all-vegetarian Asian Restaurant, Bamboo Garden and Pizza Pi has the best vegan pizza I've ever tasted. Georgetown Liquor Company has these great vegan sandwiches with sci-fi names like Frac and the Picard. Umm yeah, that is pretty much the best thing ever.

6. Outdoorsy stuff. Seattle definitely has Chicago beat for this as well. I love going to the very odd Gasworks Park:

And visiting the nearby Fremont Troll:

Then there cool hikes like through Discovery Park to this neat little beach:

But this year I am really excited to check out Lincoln Park in West Seattle which has public pool right on the beach that is fed by Puget Sound waters.

7. Of course the big mama of parks for me is actually a very tiny park, Viretta Park. It's next to the house that Kurt Cobain owned, the house where his body was found. Fans gathered there in mourning in 1994 and my friends and I gathered there in 2004. It was where I had a bunch of personal epiphanies about letting my past go, fitting since like my characters in Ballads of Suburbia, I spent much of my time as a teenager hanging out in a park. So I do have to make a trek there every time I visit Seattle and leave a little hello and thanks for the music to Kurt on the bench where fans write messages to him and then have a little quiet reflective time for myself.

So those are my favorite Seattle vacation haunts. Do you take an annual trip somewhere? Or do you have a city that you wish you could visit regularly (or move to!)? What are some of your favorite places there?