Wednesday, April 27

In Erica Orloff's Perfect World

Oh, where do I even begin?

World peace and all that, but that's a given.

1. Three years ago, I had a wild ambulance ride involving my blacking out in the middle of Grand Central Station and fracturing my skull. The cause? Sudden onset of adult allergies--to seafood. I can't TOUCH it. Eat it. I'm not even sure if I can smell it. If I do, I go into shock. I carry an Epi-pen at all times. Which means, the ONE food that brings me JOY, that I adore, that I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is off-limits. That's right. Sushi. In a perfect world, I could eat it. Lots of it.

2. As long as we're in a perfect world, there would be an Erica channel on cable. It would play all my favorite shows, and carry all my favorite movies, 24/7. I would turn it on and watch Love Actually. I might next flick it on and see an old movie I love, like The Bishop's Wife. Then there would be my Law & Order BBC version. And all the ones from America with Bobby Goren. Whatever the heck I wanted to watch, it would be on. And it would be on when I have insomnia at 3:00 a.m., which is about three nights a week.

3. I used to think I'd cure my insomnia. But I have to admit, finding an extra couple of hours here and there is groovy. I would just like for my coffee to have not only caffeine but some weird restorative power so that the day AFTER my insomnia bouts, I would drink it and feel fresh as a daisy. It's my world after all.

4. In a perfect world, my phobia of flying would be cured by new technology from Star Trek. I would be able to beam myself where I needed to go. Dinner in Florida with my best friend? Beam me up, Scotty. I'm there. We're eating sushi. It's all good and I still can fly back to tuck in Pirate Boy.

5. Finally, in a perfect world? I would have a rich old uncle leave me a zillion dollars so I could buy a bigger house. My parents moved in with me this week. I have three kids still living at home. It's a tight squeeze. We're busting at the seams. I'd like a house with WINGS. Or at least a couple more bedrooms!

How about you? What's in your perfect world?

Tuesday, April 26

In Melissa Walker's Perfect World...

Behold: A list of 5 things for my perfect personal world. (Of course, in a larger perfect world we'd have peace and love and flowers and hugs all around.)

But here's my self-involved list:

1. All coffee would taste like coffee ice cream (we finally have iced coffee weather in NYC -- yay!).

2. The Carolina Tarheels would win the NCAA championship year after year.

3. My ipod would play everywhere I go, and it would mind-read my mood.

4. I could get amazing, local heirloom tomatoes all year round, and basil would grow wild in my tiny little Brooklyn garden.

5. "Friday Night Lights" would stay on forever (or at least until I tire of Tim Riggins, which might take forever).

What happens in your perfect world? 

Saturday, April 23

Happy Passover! (Encounters with the Gefilte)

Happy Passover! Or, as they say in Hebrew … um, I forget. I also forget if today is even Passover. I am, in fact, a terrible Jew. No, no, no, let’s not judge. I’m just a lax Jew. OK, beyond lax. Beyond Reform Judaism. My dad in fact always says “reform reform.” If we’re being honest, I could add a few more “reforms.” But I in fact love Passover. (Not well enough to remember when it is, obviously, but, well, we just celebrate it whenever our schedules allow.) That’s reform-reform, my amigos. (I was going to say a Hebrew/Yiddish word for "friends" but all that came to mind is "amigos.")

Passover is a beautiful holiday -- the seder is a lovely story, the songs are fun (namely Dayenu!), and all the traditions are pretty great. The food is … interesting? OK, the main dishes are usually OK, and I don’t particularly mind matzah. I really love matzah ball soup, despite the barbaric practice of harvesting them, which must be beyond painful to the male matzahs. But the desserts are pretty awful. I get that you can’t eat leavened bread, I really do. (Another one of Passover’s good points is that it’s pretty much the only time of the year I use the word “leavened,” much less “unleavened,” which are pretty great words.) But why eat baked goods at all then? If we want a dessert with no wheat or leavening ingredients, couldn’t we just eat ice cream? Maybe just a piece of fruit? I fail to see how macaroons are better than these options. I was going to say that I’d actually rather eat a box of sawdust than macaroons, but I suspect that they are actually the same thing. Perhaps there is a valid reason to eat macaroons, but I am not aware of it.

Nontheless, I am not here to talk with you about macaroons. I am here, as the title suggests, to discuss the great mystery known as gefilte fish. (Fun spell-check-fail: a suggestion for “gefilte fish” is “defiled fish,” which sort of sounds about right.)

To the uninitiated, gefilte fish is a disgusting mass of white fish that appears to have been recently and heartily sneezed on. But to the sophisticated Jewish eater, it is … well, yeah, it’s still basically a disgusting mass of white fish that appears to have been recently and heartily sneezed on. When I was young, I thought “gefitle” was an actual type of fish. Like a stream might have bass, trout, carp, what-have-you, and then a “gefilte” could swim by. I grew up in the suburbs and did not know from fishing. Turns out that gefilte is actually a way of preparing a fish, which probably has some sort of significance, but is mainly just gross. It comes in a jar that looks like it should contain pickled animal fetuses.

I have come to believe that the entire Passover Seder (basically a long ceremony you do before the food is served) is designed to make gefilte fish edible. You get so bored and so hungry that by the time the first course is served -- the gefilte course of course -- you’d pretty much eat anything (including a disgusting mass of white fish that appears to have been recently and heartily sneezed on). Oh, and to make things better, sometimes you put carrots and horseradish on there. Does anyone out there actually enjoy it? Have any of the gentiles among you ever been confronted with gefilte fish? Please share your stories, if so. And happy Pesach (yes! I remembered!) to all, whenever you may celebrate it.

(BTW, I did some -- not very much, obviously -- research for this article, and found a site called JewishRecipes.Org, which claims that when making gefilte fish, “the fish is first debunked.” I did not know you had to expose/ridicule the fish’s false notions! But I will be sure to do this. Does the gefilte claim Obama was born in Kenya? I SHALL DEBUNK YOU, FISH. HE WAS DEFINITELY BORN IN HAWAII. WHO ARE YOU, FISH, DONALD TRUMP?? Oh, wait, maybe it’s just more spell-check-fail and it should say “debone.” Anyway...)

Thursday, April 21

Happy Sweet Sixteen Sidney!

I feel like a total dork writing yet another blog post about one of my cats, but the theme for this week at TFC is Holidays, Anniversaries, and Seasonal postings and while I could write about how excited I am for the arrival of spring (even if it was only here for a day or two so far in Chicago before winter resurfaced) and how I cleaned out my garden and have planned out all of the vegetables I'm going to grow (Okra is going to be a new one this year since I love it and my husband loves pickling it), but today just happens to be my eldest cat, Sidney's birthday, which is holiday-like (birthdays should be holidays!) so I had to celebrate. Of course, this means you should expect one other dorky cat post here this year because since I talked about my middle cat, Kaspar's crazy eating habits back in January and I'm talking about Sid today, I will need to talk about my youngest, Lars, at some point or I'll feel guilty.

But today is Sid's day. He turns sixteen, which is getting up there for a cat and he has all the ailments to prove it. He has kidney disease and irritable bowel, which require two different slightly conflicting diets that took us almost all of last year to balance, very stressful. We also recently discovered that he has high blood pressure. (How did we determine this? because he was yowling in the middle of the night, annoying the crap out of us. I felt very guilty when it turned out to be a symptom of painful headaches, not just him being old and deaf like I thought.) We have to crush up two pills a day in his food and feed him four, sometimes five times a day in small doses so his stomach doesn't get upset. But we do all of this because we love him and he's my baby-- the first cat I got who was mine and mine only. I grew up with a family cat, Snuggle--who was not very snuggly--but for my sixteenth birthday all I wanted was a cat of my own. I was going through a really tough time. I was reeling from an abusive relationship that had just ended and not coping well, struggling with self-injury, depression, and anorexia. Though, my parents didn't know the extent of what I was going through, they knew I was depressed and understood that a kitten would both cheer me up and give me something to feel responsible for.

Since I was young and uneducated, I got Sidney at a pet store in the mall. I would never ever get an animal from a pet store now because A. There are so many animals in shelters who need homes, breeding for pet stores should not be encouraged and B. Pet store animals tend to be cared for poorly and are often sick. But I happened to be in the mall and saw this little black-and-white kitten playing in a cage. Black-and-white was my favorite color scheme at the time and he was cute and looked forlorn, so I asked if I could see him. They brought him in a room for me and my best friend to pet and hold, but he spent the entire time running around in circles because as I interpreted, he was so happy to be free from that awful cage. I had to free him for good. So I put down a small deposit, went back to my parents and asked if they would pay for the rest as my birthday present and the very first place I went with my brand new driver's license was to pick up my kitten! My best friend Katie held him in the car and he fit in the palm of her hand. This is a picture of her holding him in my bedroom presumably taken the first week we got him.

And here is with me. My what big ears you have!:

I named him Sid after Sid Vicious. I'd mostly grown out of the Sex Pistols and gotten into less well-known (and IMHO much better) punk bands by that point, but Katie and I were totally obsessed with the movie Sid & Nancy and we liked to yell, "SID!!!!!" like Nancy does approximately 82 times in the movie (we counted. like I said, obsessed.) So he was Sid to give us an excuse to yell, "SID!!!!" Though oddly enough, I call him Sidney just as often as I call him Sid, perhaps because I like multi-syllable names for cats and dogs. (I also at some point gave him the middle name of Jonathan and the last name of Puffins. I have no idea how I came up with these, but as a result he sometimes is referred to as Sidney Puffins, Mr. Puffins, or S.J., short for Sidney Jonathan.) But as you can see here by his desire to lay down on top of my Flipper CD and next to my Doc Marten boots, he was true to his punk roots.

He also enjoyed a good game of Sonic the Hedgehog:

And he got along better with our family dog, Domino, than with Snuggle, who he terrorized (hence I couldn't find a picture of them together). Maybe it was a black-and-white thing.

When Sid was less than a year old, he moved with me to Madison, Wisconsin when I graduated high school early. Living on our own was a big adventure and Sid liked to get the best view in the house:

And Sid found some stuffed friends to fill in for Domino and Snuggle:

The only time Sid and I did not live together was the nine months that I went to school at Antioch College in Ohio, where I could not have (and would not want to trap such an adventurous cat as Sidney) in my dorm room. When I dropped out, I went back to Madison, Wisconsin for a couple of years and Sid came with me. He also moved home with me when I returned to Chicago to go back to college. Between my mom and my ex-boyfriend, he got very spoiled with people food. Here you will see Domino and Sid in what I call their fat Elvis phase. At one point Sid was a whopping 22 pounds, but I got him back to an average weight of twelve pounds.

Now he lives with his BFFs Kaspar and Lars--though he'd be perfectly fine if those obnoxious little brats went to live elsewhere because I was his person first.

And when I make him wear the rooster costume, he probably wishes that he could go live with grandma (my mom) again:

Even though he is sixteen and suffering from some old age ailments, he still loves to play with his favorite toy... pipe cleaners, which he will bring to my husband and me and yowl proudly like he killed a mouse for us. He also loves a good laser pointer and sleeps loyally at our feet almost every night (despite the rooster costume torture).

Sid saw me through several very rough periods in my life and I feel like in a way we grew up together. Though I love all of my cats--or sons as I call them-- he has a special place in my heart, so much so that I have a tattoo of his paw.

So I had to pay tribute on this birthday when he turns the age I was when I got him. I hope he's got a few more birthdays in him. What about you? Tell me about an animal you grew or are still growing up with.

Oh and I also have to give a shout out to Misha, who is author Jeri Smith-Ready's cat, who apparently was separated at birth from Sid because he also turns sixteen today!

Tuesday, April 19

Chocolate Bunnies in the Rain

Like Halloween, it seems like Easter in Northern Utah is almost always cold and rainy (or snowy) and egg hunts are moved indoors. Which puts a damper on the whole holiday, in my opinion. However, every few years, it's halfway decent weather and we get to spend the day outside: hunting eggs, playing ball, having a picnic, going on a hike, etc. I'm crossing my fingers for this year, but as it's been raining three days straight, I'm not holding my breath. One thing is a constant, and that's Robin's Eggs, chocolate malt candies that turn your mouth a rainbow of colors. Bring 'em on!

Do you celebrate Easter? If so, what are the things you like to do to celebrate? Church? Brunch? Egg-dying? Chocolate bunny decapitating?

P.S. After telling my 4 year-old son the (Biblical) Easter story, he wrinkled his nose thoughtfully and asked, "So Jesus is a zombie?" (Amanda, are you reading this? I thought you'd get a kick out of that.)

Monday, April 18

Anniversaries: A Date to Remember

Many moons ago, I used to go to a neighborhood joint regularly to shoot pool. One of the owners was an older man who referred to his wife of several decades as "The Little Lady." This was a pretty rough place to shoot pool, hence my referring to it as a joint instead of something more fruity-drink appealing, but whenever The Little Lady would stop by, the older man would hurry to her side and escort her to a seat as though the place was the Ritz. He owned a joint where a person could get themselves killed but he sure loved that woman. I remember talking to him one time around Halloween. He said his anniversary was coming up in about two weeks but that he could never remember exactly what the date was - was it November 12th or 13th or 14th? He never could keep it straight. I thought it sounded like it could be a problem, and wondered why he didn't just use one of those miniature Hallmark pocket calendars they used to give out, but he said not to worry; he had it under control. He'd just do what he'd been doing for years. He'd buy a present the first week of November and hide it in the trunk of his car. Then he'd wait for the day when The Little Lady would start looking worried or disappointed, at which point he'd whip the great present out of the trunk with her none the wiser that he had no idea exactly when they'd gotten married. I do think people should be able to remember their own anniversaries, but I've always been charmed by the idea of that: he knew what his flaws were and took the necessary measures to keep his beloved from ever being hurt by those flaws. Me, I come from a line of people who have scary-good memories for dates. So not only can I tell you when my wedding anniversary is but I can also tell you that my husband and I first met on Saturday, August 13, 1983 at 10:30 at night. And I can tell you the dates of many other obscure significant-only-to-me dates in my life but that's enough about me-me-me. How about you-you-you? Are you good at remembering dates or are you in need of some present-in-the-trunk assistance? Be well. Don't forget to write.

Thursday, April 14

Good news Friday

Yay! I'm so happy that I can finally share the details of my latest book deal! It's a YA called Demonosity and out of all the books I've written, this is by far my favorite! It's a lot darker than anything I've done before but there is still lots of humor (and lots and lots of seriously lovely guys in it!!!!!!)

Anyway, here is the Publisher's Marketplace announcement!

Amanda Ashby's DEMONOSITY, in which a sixteen year old girl's life is
turned upside down when she has to protect an ancient alchemist's
relic from two demon knight brothers, one of whom is good and one of
them bad: the problem is she has no idea which is which, to Puffin, in
a nice deal, by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency (World English).

I've also just sold the Indonesian rights to my upcoming book, Fairy Bad Day. This is the first time that any of my books will have been translated! I sure hope that they have a word for evil-killer-invisible-fairy-with-bad-taste-in-leather-wear!

My new favorite word: SIMPLIFY

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes life throws several at the same time. Over the last six months, I've been through several major life changes including, most recently, the loss of my mom and turning 40 within a two-week period. For those of you who've read The Cinderella Society, you may recall that the book is dedicated to her. The dedication reads:

For my mom,

my role model, my friend, and the world's first Honorary Cindy

I love you, Mom.

My mom battled cancer for 10 years. When she was first diagnosed back in 2001, she had advanced cancer and the long-term survival prognosis was dim. Little did we imagine back then that we would get to spend 10 more years with her. It was a blessing I'm incredibly grateful for.

In the weeks since her passing, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the last 10 years. Things I've accomplished, and things I haven't. Times we spent together, and times we could have but didn't. And it turns out the only thing I really regret is that I let the unimportant "tasks" of life take precedence over my true priorities.

So often the little things - the imagined crises stemming from being a writer, the home maintenance issues, the nagging weight of things like social media or blogging - got addressed long before I made sure that the important things in my life were running smoothly.

My new favorite word for this next stage of my life is SIMPLIFY. To that end, I'm cutting out a lot of the riff-raff of my life. That sounds like a gang of bandits I'm banishing from the homestead and, in a way, maybe it is. It's about nixing all of those seemingly urgent but actually unimportant "things" that constantly bubble up in our lives. What does SIMPLIFY look like for me? Well, for starters:

** First and foremost, I'm making sure I'm focusing on the five most important priorities in my life by doing my own happiness project. If you haven't read Gretchen Rubin's fabulous The Happiness Project, you're missing out on a lovely opportunity to rethink how you approach life. (A special thanks to my wonderful agent Holly Root for recommending this book to me after my mom passed away. I appreciate you, H.) In the book, Gretchen focuses on a different theme each month but I chose to focus on my five major life priorities - well-being, relationships, career, home, and peace of mind - and establish one new positive habit in each area each month. Those become the top priorities of my everyday life and ensure that all of the unnecessaries take a back seat to what's really important.

** Restructuring the national Great Scavenger Hunt Contest(TM) reading program for kids and teens that I run for more than 800 libraries across the country. There will still be winners every month, but everything else will be updated quarterly rather than monthly to streamline the process of managing such a massive program all by myself.

** Clearing the clutter of my home, my to do lists, and my life. I've purged my office, cleared out closets and under sinks (an ongoing project), and tackled nagging projects like calling the plumber to replace the faucets in the master bath. (He's here right now. Hooray for more water efficient plumbing!)

The more I reflect on SIMPLIFY the more ways I find to streamline the chaos of my life and get back to what really matters. Because in the end, no one will care how many times I tweeted or washed the windows. What they will remember is who I was as a person and what truly mattered to me. (And possibly that I was a cupcake fanatic. I do talk about them rather obsessively.)

In this year of so much upheaval across the globe, I think it's a good time for us each to take a step back and rethink what it is that's important to us. And then to ask the simple but powerful question, "Does the life I'm living now reflect that?"

If we can't answer a resounding YES, maybe it's time to think about simplifying our lives so that our true priorities are front and center.

So what about you? Can you think of one way you would like to SIMPLIFY your life?

Monday, April 11

The Secret of Success

This week we're talking about interesting quotes, and whenever I think of quotes I always remember my first boss. His mantra was:


For some reason it reasonated with me, and it's something I've always tried to stick to. Of course, I can procrastinate with the best of them, but when it's something to do with work, or the various committees I've been on I've always stuck to it.

What about you, is there any quote or saying that influences you on a daily basis?

Friday, April 8

Good News Friday: Support Teen Lit Day with Rock the Drop!

Readergirlz and Figment are going to ROCK THE DROP in honor of YALSA's Support Teen Lit Day next Thursday, April 14th.

What does that mean? It means that YA lit lovers all over the world will be dropping books in public places for others to find and enjoy. So keep your eyes open!

You can snag a bookplate for any books you want to release out into the world over at readergirlz, where all day on April 14th there will be photos of people Rocking the Drop (send your own pic to readergirlz AT gmail DOT com).

Imagine people around the globe finding copies of amazing books in unexpected places, gifted out of love for YA lit. COOL.

Are you in?

(Graphics created by the uber-talented David Ostow.)

Thursday, April 7

Larry Or Lawrence (LOL) moments.

What’s in a name? Was Shakespeare right, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? I’m not so sure. Would Mickey Mouse be as popular as he is today if his name was Michael Chapman Mouse the third? I think not. Even the whole mouse thing is a bit misleading, people tend to think of mice as rather cute little guys but really, when you think about it, what’s the difference between a mouse and a rat which everyone agrees are disgusting creatures? I mean a rat is just a large mouse, right? Would you build a theme park around a rat?

Take the names Larry and Lawrence. If you were writing a short story, would you send your protagonists to the tough biker bar to share a beer with Larry or Lawrence? Let’s see a show of hands from everyone who picked Lawrence. Yeah, that’s about what I thought. And what about the name Lawrence? Doesn’t it sound more fitting for an investment banker or someone with a column in the financial section? Now if you were going to name the lobster that was about to appear on the dinner table then I’d have go with before-mentioned Larry, as in, “Oh-no, Larry the lobster has fallen into a pot of boiling water!” But I can’t see calling him Lawrence; it just doesn’t have the right ring to it. Larry, Lawrence, Larry, Lawrence, Larry, Lawrence – what’s in a name? The details, of course, and everyone knows that the devil is in the details. Yeah, sure, a rose might smell as sweet with a different name but who’s to say a different name would sound as sweet? We’re talking marketing here, people, it’s the whole package we’re trying to sell.

Names matter. Sticks and stones might break your bones but words can really rip your heart out. A good friend of mine changed his name after high school. I didn’t think the old name was that bad. Sure, it wasn’t pronounced anything like it was spelled and if you pronounced it like it was spelled, well…I guess that could be a problem, but to actually go before a judge and have it legally changed – that’s got to show you something. He said he was teased and tormented so much about his name throughout school that he just wanted a fresh start. Even after all these years I could see his pain and hear the anger in his voice. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but I guess a new name might have some bandage-like qualities.

What if people or objects that weren’t named properly glowed fiercely like fireflies? Wouldn’t it then be our duty to take the time to properly name them so that we could all get some sleep at night? But here’s a thought: what if you glowed brightly but you really loved your name?

It would be like, “Hey, glad to meet you my name’s Greg.”

And everyone would just stare at you with their best puzzled expressions before finally shaking their heads and saying, “No…I don’t think so.”

Here’s a little something to bring out that healthy lol glow.

Wednesday, April 6

Misplaced Condolences

After the Bar Mitzvah!

So this week we’re talking about LOL moments, and, no big surprise to anyone who knows me, but as it just so happens, I just had one.

Recently we were invited to attend my friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, so the day before the event I ran to the store and bought a card.

It was one of those “blank inside” cards wrapped in plastic. I liked the illustration, I liked the fact that it was blank inside since I prefer to write my own messages, and, as it was, I was in too big a hurry to read through a bunch, so I grabbed it, paid for it, and ran.

It wasn’t until the next morning, just before leaving for the Bar Mitzvah, and already running late, that I realized it wasn’t blank inside AT ALL.

It was a sympathy card that had been shoved in the “blank inside” section.

Okay, I thought. It’s not like its overly sympathetic. Noticing how it merely said something a long the lines of: “Thinking of you during this difficult time.” And since her son has a good sense of humor, and since prepping for a Bar Mitzvah can be difficult (or so I’ve heard), I shoved a check inside and decided to go with it.

My husband and I set out for the temple (still running late), and as I’d never been to this temple before, was unfamiliar with this part of town and didn’t realize it was actually “temple row”—the first temple I saw I told my husband: “Pull over here, and hurry—we’re late!” And even though GPS insisted we had a ways still to go, he decided to listen to me instead.

By the time we snuck in, the bar mitzvah was already in progress, and as it was an Orthodox temple the men and women were seated separately with a partition placed between them.

I grabbed an empty seat and looked all around, thinking how strange it was that I didn’t know my friend belonged to an Orthodox temple, and once I got settled with that, I realized I didn’t recognize a single face in the room—including the boy being Bar Mitzvahed. After about ten minutes of my husband and I shooting each other quizzical looks from across the partition, he motioned for me to join him outside, and said, “I think we’re at the wrong temple.”

Turns out, we were. Which meant we were now really, really late for the intended Bar Mitzvah and all we had to make up for it was a sympathy card with a check shoved inside.

Luckily, my friend and her son both share the same great sense of humor, so no harm was done, but in the future, I’ll double check my cards, and bow to the wisdom of GPS.

Friday, April 1

Good News Friday!!

So it's Good New Friday here at The Cafe--and this week I finally got the okay to announce some good news I've been holding onto for a very long time--like a painfully long time--but now, I'm free to shout if from the roof tops, but since I've got this incurable fear of heights, announcing it here feels a whole lot safer!!

So anyway, without further ado . . .

Summit Entertainment has optioned the dramatic rights for all 10 books in both The Immortals & The Riley Bloom series!!

You can see the story HERE!

Hope you all have an awesome weekend!