Saturday, July 14

A fond farewell to our dear readers, but please don't be a stranger!

It's been over 4 years since we started Teen Fiction Cafe, and in that time we've had a wonderful time hanging out with readers, librarians, booksellers, and fellow authors. A lot has happened in those 4 years, and please feel free to peruse our past posts any time you please.

We have decided, however, to retire this blog and move our group's correspondences to Tumblr, where we will post random bits of information and things that amuse us and will hopefully amuse you as well. So please consider following us over there. Here is the link: or click HERE. You can also keep in touch with us individually via our websites (see the right column), as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Thank you so much for making TFC such a success, and such a pleasure. We look forward to hearing from you in other crannies of the internet!

The TFC Authors

Wednesday, May 30

Publishing a Page of My Diary

A few years ago, I let a magazine (Cosmogirl, RIP) publish one of my diary entries. My journal was kind of a downer most of the time--I think when I was happy, I wasn't writing in it. I was too busy having fun. Anyway, here's the entry:

I was talking about a near-friend-breakup, one that (luckily!) didn't happen (you can read more about what this entry means, if you're interested, right here). But later I did suffer a friend breakup, and that inspired my new book, Unbreak My Heart, which just came out last week! 
Here's a description: Sophomore year broke Clementine Williams’ heart. She fell for her best friend’s boyfriend and long story short: he’s excused, but Clem is vilified and she heads into summer with zero social life. Enter her parents’ plan to spend the summer on their sailboat. Normally the idea of being stuck on a tiny boat with her parents and little sister would make Clem break out in hives, but floating away sounds pretty good right now. Then she meets James at one of their first stops along the river. He and his dad are sailing for the summer and he’s just the distraction Clem needs. Can he break down Clem’s walls and heal her broken heart? Told in alternating chapters that chronicle the year that broke Clem’s heart and the summer that healed it, Unbreak My Heart is a wonderful dual love story that fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Susane Colasanti will flock to.

I have to admit that a walk down memory lane definitely inspired pieces of this story... save those diaries, even if they're embarrassing like mine!

Tuesday, May 22

Spring Reading

Snorkeling in Hawaii with my son April 2012
I admit it: I'm on a bit of a John Green kick right now. I might even have an author crush on the poor guy. The last two books I've read are Looking for Alaska, which a dear friend gave me for my birthday, and Fault in Our Stars. Loved them both and now I'm eager to read more of his novels.

I recently had the good fortune of vacationing in Hawaii and The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks is the paperback I kept in my beach bag. I still need to finish it, and I aim to do so soon because the next books on my TBR list is Fated by TFC's Alyson Noel--who, as luck would have it, I get to see when she comes to Salt Lake City, Utah next week as part of her book tour.

If you could bring any (living) author to your neck of the woods for a book tour stop, who would you choose? 
Hanging out with Alyson Noel (right) at Javier's Cantina in Southern California March 2012  

Monday, May 21


Well, the best of the books I've read so far at least. Here goes:

EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, by A.S. King. Lucky Linderman has dreams that take him away - literally - from his bullied existence to Vietnam where he meets up with his MIA grandfather.

WHY WE BROKE UP, Daniel Handler. An artistic narrator explains why she broke up with her popular boyfriend. Illustrated by Maira Kalman.

PAPER COVERS ROCK, Jenny Hubbard. A death by drowning, possibly accidental, and the paranoia that ensues at a boys' boarding school.

FAULT IN OUR STARS, John Green. Brilliant teens cope with terminal cancer brilliantly.

FIRST DAY ON EARTH, Cecil Castellucci, A loner who may or may not have once been abducted by aliens longs to return to space.

A MONSTER CALLS, Patrick Ness. Reality is worse than nightmares as a boy struggles to face up to the fact of his mother's impending death. Inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd; illustrated by Jim Kay.

And that's it! Now it's your turn:

While I've got you on the line, I'd just like to mention that one of my own YA novels, THE TWIN'S DAUGHTER, is currently a Kindle bestseller, ranked #71 overall; #9 in YA overall; and #1 in YA mystery. I hope you'll consider giving it a look.

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Thursday, April 26

Too Much TV, Too Little Time

Like Lauren, I'm a big TV-head. I used to be really into movies, but for some reason aside from big blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies they have lost their appeal to me. Actually, I know precisely why that is. I want MORE. A longer story arc, characters that grow and change and that I can live with for a long time. That's why I like the movies I like because they still give me that. (And I'm betting I will like Hunger Games too, but I haven't read the books yet. I know, I know. That's terrible. I will remedy it soon, but I won't see the movie til after.)

I have a problem though. I work as a bartender three nights a week and this cuts into my TV time severely. Right now, since The Walking Dead and Californication just ended and True Blood won't be back for a little while longer, I only have three shows that I'm watching as they air:

I started watching General Hospital to fill the hole that my beloved soap One Life To Live left when it was canceled at the beginning of the year. *sniffle* I watch it either while I exercise or while I eat dinner when I'm shifting from writer mode to bartender mode. It's not as good as OLTL, though that could just be because I lived with OLTL for 18 years, but it gets me my daily melodrama fix.

Mad Men is on Sunday nights and since I'm off, I get to watch it live and tweet things like "Whoa! Angela Chase's mom is serving up LSD on #MadMen?!?! Am I dreaming???" It's kind of exciting to finally be in on the show so many of my friends have been talking about for ages. My husband and I only started watching last fall when we consumed all four seasons on Netflix in like two months. I'm addicted. For a full breakdown of why check out my review of it which will post on Rookie later tonight.

The Big Bang Theory is the first sitcom I've watched in over a decade. I loved sitcoms, like Roseanne and Blossom when I was a kid, but since then the only one I've really enjoyed was probably Seinfeld. Then my husband got me into this show. Not only does it feature actors from my childhood favorites-- Johnny Galecki who I thought was super cute and Mayim Bialik and Sara Gilbert who were both my idols--I totally relate to the geek factor. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation and a bunch of other sci-fi TV and movies (as documented on Rookie here.) This show could be me and my brother's inside joke. Oh and I totally sing "The Soft Kitty" song to my cats:

Unfortunately, The Big Bang Theory is on Thursday nights when I work, so I have to record it and watch it later.

It doesn't seem like this is a lot of TV to balance and it wouldn't be... except I have three other series on DVD going.

I have a regular writing day on Sundays with my friend Jenny. We write together for a few hours, then we make dinner and enjoy it with these handsome boys:

Supernatural. We are just finishing up season 4 right now and OMG am I obsessed. I'm totally a Dean girl. Love the car and the classic rock, what can I say. Jenny and I also seem to pick shows that perfectly suit what I'm working on. We were watching The Gilmore Girls when I was working on my adult book which is a mother/daughter story. Now I'm working on a YA novel that incorporates mythology and folklore, so Supernatural definitely feeds that. Though, um, watching it while you're eating is sometimes not so good.

Another series that has been feeding the muse for me is Buffy. Can you believe that up until this year, I'd only seen a couple episodes of Buffy here and there? I know! What is wrong with me! Both my brother and my best friend have been riding me about it forever and finally my brother just brought me his DVDs. I'd watched most of season one with him and then powered through season 2 and 3 on my own. I love it so much that this weekend I bought this t-shirt:

Buffy has to be one of most fun TV heroines ever and I can't believe it took me this long to recognize this truth. I've slowed down a little bit now that I'm on season 4 because my brother and several friends suggested that I go back and forth between Buffy and Angel. That's what I'm doing, but of course my husband sat down with me when I watched episode one of Angel and now he wants to watch those with me, so figuring out that schedule has been a bit difficult and it's been put on the back burner since we started watching this show:

Motorcycles. Rebellion. A main character who bears some resemblance to Kurt Cobain. Sounds like the perfect show for me. Oddly I end up resisting the perfect shows for a long time (often because of that lack of time thing) and my husband, who watched it on his own while I was at work, had to ask repeatedly before I gave it shot (and admittedly I did so because Tara Kelly told me how awesome it was too). After we watched one episode, I told my husband, "I will continue watching this with you if you admit that this basically a soap opera with violence and motorcycles."

"Sure. A really, really good soap opera," he agreed.

So we kept watching. The drama sucked me in, but the characters kept me. Many of them I disliked on the surface. Unlike say Angela Chase from my all-time favorite show, My So-Called Life, who is basically a mirror of me, I didn't see myself in anyone. Hell, I can't even imagine myself being friends with any of them. But their stories compel me. I know the writing is good because I feel for them even when I don't like them. As a couple of people pointed out to me, the first season echoes Hamlet and since I'm an even bigger sucker for Shakespeare than I am for soapy TV goodness, I'm severely addicted to this show. Like watched 2 seasons in less than a month addicted. If only I didn't have that pesky night job I'd be done with all of the seasons that are out and on to Six Feet Under which is the next show that has been recommended to me.

Despite my lack of time, I'm always looking for new shows to add to the queue, so what are you addicted to?

Monday, April 23

Must-See TV

This week at TFC, we're focusing on can't-miss movies or TV shows. Since the latter is a longer list for me because I'm such a TV head, I'll go with that. The following is a list of the regularly sheduled TV programs you can catch us watching in my house:

Monday: House, Being Human (which just ended), Smash

Tuesday: Glee, New Girl

Wednesday: Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23

Thursday: Awake

Sunday: The Killing, Mad Men

This does not include General Hospital (every day), Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (most days), or sports (currently Knicks and Mets). And it doesn't include older things we watch on Netflix. And it doesn't include demand, on which we like to watch Storage Wars, Shipping Wars and all those House Hunter shows.

Man, I watch a lot of TV.

The thing that has me most curious now: What is going to happen in the final episode of House? We noticed that Kal Penn is going to be in it, but Penn's character died a suicide a few seasons back when the actor decided to take time off to work in the Obama White House. So how is he coming back - a flashback? Or will House die and meet him in heaven?

The thing that has me most frustrated now: New Girl. I feel like the writers are so bent on the idea that Jess must be appealing to all the guys, and further that Jess and Nick must be on some kind of Ross-and-Rachel trajectory so that no other relationships are allowed to flourish even when there's charisma there.

The thing that has me post perplexed: Last night's time-bending episode of Mad Men. WT_?

Oh, and don't get me going on General Hospital.

So that's what I got today. It'd be more attractive if I could figure out New Blogger, but I can't, so.

How about you? What's one or more shows that you consider must-see? What's something you're loving or that's making you crazy on the tube?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Monday, April 16

It's all about me!!!

This week we’re taking a look behind the scenes. In other words, what goes on in our writing or personal lives that you might not know. I thought about my obsession with all things ‘Idol’. Although that’s well documented. And now it’s more than Idol because we have X Factor (UK/USA/Australia); The Voice (UK/USA/Australia), Britains/USA/Australia’s Got Talent…… if there’s singing I’m there!!

So, then I decided to talk about my other obsession. Masterchef (yes, it’s always going to be TV related). It’s so bad that when it starts, I drop everything I’m doing to watch. So much so that my critique partners use the term Masterchef when I finish the end of a scene too abruptly – I very often get told ‘You’ve Masterchefed it’. They know that the scene has ended not because it was the right place to do so, but because it’s 5pm!

And the funniest thing is, I’m the world’s worst cook. I hate cooking. Though I am very good at burning. But for some strange reason I like watching others do it. My children have dubbed me ‘weird’.

I do have other little ‘foibles’, but they’re best not mentioned here….. for fear that the ‘weird’ label might stick!

Tuesday, April 3

Must See DVD Sets

Guys, this topic of the week (movies and TV) is for me. I'm obsessed with television. In order to control my list of must-sees, I'm going to go with 3 DVD sets that you can buy and watch in their entirety. Because marathons are THE BEST.

1. My So-Called Life. Seriously amazing. I mean, just watch this scene and you will need to see every episode of the sadly short-lived series:

2. The Wire. (My favorite season is season 4; here's that opening). Warning: Scary! Also: Language!:

3. Friday Night Lights. This theme song gives me chills. Trust me, just watch the dang show.

Monday, April 2

Fantasies of Downton

So this week we're talking about "Can't Miss Movies and TV" and of course, when I read this topic, my mind immediately flitted to day dreams of seeing HUNGER GAMES for the third time But after I reigned myself in from fantasies of Peeta in a cave, I thought, "Well, Hunger Games is kind of a given, so I better pick something else to write about."

So I decided to go with my second biggest obsession of the hour: DOWNTON ABBEY!

Okay, let me just start by saying, if you haven't seen Downton Abbey, add it to your Netflix Watch Instantly Queue this instant! And if you don't have a Netflix account, sign up for one now!

Downton Abbey (not to be confused with DowntoWn Abbey. I made that mistake when first trying to search for it) is a show about a very wealthy British family living in a super duper large house (that requires like 25 servants just to keep it running) during the early 1900s. It delves into the scandalous and dramatic lives of the family AND the servants who serve them (and brush their hair, and tie their ties, and saddle their horses, and cook their food, and even wipe their bums, although don't worry, that part is just implied, not actually shown). And who wouldn't want a "ladies' maid" to brush our hair at the end of the day while she listens to stories of our woe? (For me, the woe would definitely be along the lines of my unrequited love for a certain grime-covered, cave-slumbering tribute whose name shall not be mentioned for fear of lapsing into fantasy again.)

Now that we're all over our desires to live in 1960s New York City (after the Mad Man craze has died down a bit), thanks to Downton Abbey we can all now aspire to live in England in 1912 and say things like, "we'd better get her settled before the bloom has gone quite off the rose."

What's funny is that I met a "proper" English gent this weekend and he couldn't quite believe that our country was so obsessed with this show (which originated from England and now airs on our PBS). When I asked him if the show was popular in England he replied, "Only among old people." LOL! So what is it about this show that draws us in so? The scandal? The costumes? The Dowager Countess herself? 

If you watch the show, please feel free to weigh in! 


Thursday, March 29

Favorite Bands: A List

I'm a big fan the movie (and book!) High Fidelity even though I think Rob, Barry, and Dick are total musical snobs who would make fun of my taste in music without a doubt. I love that they do a bunch of wacky top five lists throughout like, "Top 5 musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the 80s and 90s, go." Here is the scene where Rob (as played by John Cusack) gives his top 5 side one, track one songs for fun evidence of their musical snobbery.

I'm not nearly as creative or as good at breaking things down as they are (or as snobby, yikes!), but in honor of favorite bands weeks at TFC, I thought I'd do a list my own way.

A top three is too easy because it's remained the same since freshman year of high school. There are some newer bands in the top five, but it does not fully represent my whole life if we are talking ALL-TIME favorites. Top ten might have worked, but I like the number 13 better, so I'm going to give you my top 13 favorite bands, followed my favorite album by them (though this would not necessarily be my top 13 albums in order because, for example, my number two favorite band made my all-time favorite album and my favorite album by my number one band would rank number two on my list, and I'm sure in some circles this would cause great controversy) and then I will provide a YouTube video of my favorite song by that band. (Again not in order. Oh my god, I'm not even sure I could pick an all-time favorite song.) Okay, here goes...

13. Against Me!; favorite album: Searching for a Former Clarity; favorite song: "TSR"

12. Sleater-Kinney; favorite album: Call The Doctor; favorite song: "Dig Me Out"

11. Alice In Chains; favorite album: Dirt; favorite song: "We Die Young"

10. Screaming Trees/Mark Lanegan solo work (I know it is kind of cheating, but I can't really separate them out); favorite Screaming Tree's album: Sweet Oblivion; favorite Mark Lanegan album: Bubblegum; favorite Screaming Tree's song: "Dying Days"

favorite Mark Lanegan song: "Down in the Dark" (which features Kurt Cobain on guitar)

9. The Gits; favorite album: Frenching The Bully; favorite song: "Another Shot of Whiskey"

8. Rancid; favorite album: ...And Out Come the Wolves; favorite song: "Radio"

7. The Cure; favorite album: Seventeen Seconds; favorite song: "Disintegration"

6. The Distillers; favorite album: Coral Fang, favorite song: "I Am A Revenant"

5. Civet; favorite album, Hell Hath No Fury, favorite song: "Son of a Bitch"

4. The Gaslight Anthem; favorite album The '59 Sound; favorite song, "Boomboxes and Dictionaries"

3. Social Distortion; favorite album: Social Distortion; favorite song: "Don't Take Me For Granted" (after all, it inspired my book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE)

2. Hole; favorite album (of all time, thank you very much): Live Through This, favorite song: "Plump"

1. Nirvana; favorite album: In Utero; favorite song: "On a Plain"

What about you? Give me a top five, top ten, top whatever of your favorite bands, songs, or albums?

Tuesday, March 27

Driving Tuneage

I have three young sons and coach boys' basketball, so lately I've been getting bombarded with LMFAO while driving them around. Which is, in my humble opinion, some pretty fun, get-me-up-and-wigglin' stuff, but it's better when experienced in smaller doses. I think this might be one reason that when I have the luxury of selecting the drive-time music, I've been gravitating over to the Coffee House satellite radio station, which features singer-songwriter acoustic rock music. Adele, Norah Jones, and Dave Matthews are examples of artists.

Although I love that music, if I need a quick pick-me-up (especially while driving long distances, which I'm getting ready to do for spring break), I like to listen to the BPM (Beats Per Minute) satellite radio station, which features dance/club music and remixes and artists such as: Kaskade, Deadmau5, and David Guetta.

What kind of music or radio stations do you like to listen to while in the car?

Monday, March 26

Music...Sort Of


Singing-competition shows.

Let's take an informal poll here. Your favorite is:





In terms of your favorite, why is it your favorite?

Oh, and here's a good question: If there's a show you started watching or used to watch regularly but then stopped, why did you stop?

And one last question: If there's something that makes you particularly crazy about one of the shows you still watch, what is that crazy-making something?

OK...that's it for now! Sorry about the brevity but I am going to see THE HUNGER GAMES today! Do you think there will be singing in it? If you saw it, were you satisfied?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Tuesday, March 6

What I'm Reading: Lots!

I have a book on my nightstand, one in my daily bag, one in my "every once in a while" bag, and one in the living room by the couch. Is that crazy? Yes, it takes me longer to finish each one, but it's the way I roll these days--from one location to the next, from one story to another.

These are the four books that are currently haunting my favorite spots (three new ones and a classic!):

Does anyone else have this kind of crazy reading juggle? Which titles are currently in your piles?

Thursday, March 1

Falling In Love With Francesca Lia Block Again

I have a huge TBR pile. It's not even a pile, but a small bookshelf. And the books are really jammed in there. Totally overflowing. But I spent the last month ignoring it in favor of a couple of battered and dog-earred, extremely well-read and well-loved books from one of my three giant and terribly overstuffed bookcases that house the already-read books.

I do this occasionally. One winter when I was sick, I busted out the first series I loved: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I was surprised how many parts I still had memorized, though I shouldn't have been because I must have read those books a hundred times as a kid. There was more time for reading back then. Entire summers with hours upon hours for books. It was okay to read the same thing over and over. I don't really do that as an adult because I have such a big TBR pile and so little time. I mean, I did it with the Harry Potter books when the last movie came out (and I used to do it when each book came because at the time I worked in an office where I was allowed to sit and read between answering the phone or making copies), but other than that (and being sick and craving the Little House books like a bowl of my mom's homemade soup) rereading is not a luxury I often allow myself. I wasn't planning on this particular month-long binge. It happened because of a new book.

At the end of January, I got this package and nearly wept with joy when I opened it to find this:

That would be the prequel to Francesca Lia Block A.K.A. My Fairy Godmother's Weetzie Bat series A.K.A. The Only YA Books That Spoke To Me When I Was A Teenager. The early 90s while an amazing time for gritty, raw, and real rock 'n' roll music were not a good time period for gritty, raw, and real YA literature like we have now. I was desperate (DESPERATE!) for books that spoke of the things that my friends and I were going through (drug addiction, eating disorders, bullying, not fitting in, unhealthy relationships, self-injury, surviving rape), but not finding them. Francesca Lia Block's books were the rare exception. On the surface, her stories may seem more glittery and gritty because of her incredibly vivid depiction of her characters and especially her setting, Los Angeles, but she paints gorgeous pictures of very ugly, very real things and those unique characters of hers survive them. I could go on (and on and on and on), but what it boils down to is this: Francesca Lia Block's books were like the music of Nirvana and Hole for me. They saved me in my darkest hours. Gave voice to the things I was thinking and struggling with. And most importantly helped me find my voice. I wouldn't be a writer without Francesca Lia Block. Period.

I've kept up with her books, but as a teenager I read the Weetzie Bat books (collected as Dangerous Angels) and Francesca Lia Blocks early novels like every couple of months. I haven't done that in awhile, but once I devoured Pink Smog in a night in a half, I knew I had to (and if you want a fuller review, you'll find one that I wrote for Rookie Magazine here.) Reading Pink Smog was like seeing a bio-pic on some celebrity I've been obsessed with because I love Weetzie Bat as much as Weetzie loves Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. She's totally one of my heroines (as is her daughter Witch Baby), even though... you know... she's not real. But once I saw what shaped Weetzie into the girl with the bleached-blonde flat-top and amazing homemade wardrobe, I just had to spend quality time with her again.

So I re-read Dangerous Angels and then Necklace of Kisses (which is Weetzie at 40 having a midlife crisis), but I couldn't stop there. Even though I was done with the Weetzie series, there was a book that meant even more to me. In fact, if I were to name my all-time favorite book, this one would probably tied with Grapes of Wrath:

The Hanged Man. It's gorgeous and lush and ripe with symbolism as all of Francesca Lia Block's books are. It's beautiful structured. Chapters laid out like a tarot reading, each card perfectly chosen and representative of what happens in that part of the story. Laurel is so damaged, so fucked-up, so much like teenage me except she has different reasons. She's coming to terms with her father's death... and the things her father did while he was living.

As I did my rereading, I quickly realized that it wasn't just for pleasure. I'm taking my first stab at writing a book that has elements of magical realism. In the past, I've drawn on Francesca Lia Block to give me permission to write YA novels that deal with very real, difficult issues and push boundaries. Now I'm studying how she builds her worlds, how she uses symbolism, and especially how she draws these lush, full characters, settings, and stories in such a compact space. The Hanged Man is only 160 pages. I read it in two hours. My books are two hundred more pages than that and I often struggle to get them to that length. So I'm seriously examining how she does what she does.

Sigh. She still definitely remains my rock star and my heroine.

What about you? What books have you reread a lot? What do you take away from them?

Monday, February 27

Books, Books, Books!

This week we're all about books, at TFC! Well, when isn't that the case?

The last YA that I loved: DEAD TO YOU, by Lisa McMann: Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It's a miracle... at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn't going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he'd be able to put the pieces back together.

The YA that I'm reading and loving now: EVERY YOU, EVERY ME, by David Levithan
: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts
to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone
is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever
since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he's been unable to sleep, spending
night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as
it sounds, Evan's starting to believe it's Ariel that's behind all of this,
punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his
paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself.
Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the
reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every
is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

The next YA I'll read and I know I'll love: EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, by A.S. King Lucky didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home
from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He
didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine.
And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying,
which has finally gone too far. But Lucky has a secret - one that helps
him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky
escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos - the prison his grandfather couldn't
escape - where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's
dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life might just be worth living.
But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way
inside? Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny, and
boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope
with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against

THE YA BOOK I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: INSURGENT, Veronica Roth's followup to my favorite YA novel of 2011, DIVERGENT.

So how about you? What have you loved, are loving, are sure you'll love, are most looking forward to?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Sunday, February 19

All I Want........

So this week it's all about what I'm craving. Being the shallow sort of person I am I decided to go for the obvious....... and why not!!!!!
Is there anything you'd like to add to my list????

Tuesday, February 7

Music Talk: Charlotte Sometimes

For a few years now, I've been loving Charlotte Sometimes. Watch this video teaser for her song "The Wait" to see why:

Now, she's on The Voice!

Listen to another of her songs, "Stay in My Heart," if you need more convincing. Get her latest EP here.

And, PS, if you're into book soundtracks... check out my playlist for my May release, Unbreak My Heart, and enter to win an iPod Shuffle with a few authors' playlists loaded on it, from Figment and I Heart Daily!

Have a musical Tuesday. x

Thursday, February 2

Happy Groundhog Day or Stephanie Rants About Snow

Okay so I don't really celebrate Groundhog Day, though I do love that Bill Murray movie! I honestly can never keep straight which thing (seeing the shadow or not seeing the shadow) means what (winter is over or we have six more weeks). If he sees his shadow, it means more winter according to Wikipedia, but that doesn't make sense to me. Isn't sun a good thing? I think I'm also cynical because in Chicago, we're definitely getting way more than six more weeks of cold weather either way. We sometimes get snowstorms in May and in fact last Groundhog Day was one of our biggest blizzards ever! Here's what it looked like along the famous Lake Shore Drive:

Ugh! Just looking at it makes me want to burrow under some blankets and never EVER come out. We got over two feet of snow, which is the most snow I've ever dealt with in my lifetime, and you guys, I HATE SNOW. Totally and completely hate it. After spending most of the past twenty-six years in either Chicago or Madison, Wisconsin, if I never saw snow again or experience temperatures lower than 40, I would be THRILLED. Seriously, especially after last year's blizzard, I see no redeeming qualities in snow WHATSOEVER. It looks pretty coming down, you say? Well it doesn't feel pretty and it's a nightmare to drive in. It's so white and fluffy, you say? Yeah, for like five minutes and then it's all black and dirty and in the Midwest unlike sunny places like Denver, it sticks around in this big, disgusting piles for EVER.

Okay there is one good thing about snow. Just one:

Adorable little (or big) animal tracks. I will give you that one. But other than that, screw snow!

Okay, I almost afraid to say this because I could totally jinx us, but Chicago has been lucky this year. We've had a mild winter. Only one snowstorm. Annoying but not huge. And it's gone now because it was like 60 on Tuesday. Yes, 60 in January! It may have been the happiest day of my life.

I'm hoping the groundhog doesn't see his shadow today and that it stays that mild and soon I'm seeing this in my front yard:

Those are my super goth tulips. I would actually see crocuses first, but I don't seem to have any pictures of those.

What about you? Are you eager for spring or do you actually like snow and winter?

Monday, January 30

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Super Bowl Sunday's coming up this weekend. Do my Kiwi/Aussie sisters at TFC watch the Super Bowl?

About three years go, I realized something was missing in my life and I started watching sports again. I'm a NY fan: Mets for baseball, Knicks for basketball, and for football, I'm a Jets fan all the way. The Jets have given me a lot of pleasure - and no small amount of frustration! - these past few years. And of course, since they're out of it, I'm torn about who to root for this weekend, the NY Giants or the New England Patriots? Here's the thing: I'm also torn between two neighbors. One neighbor, Mr. Nice Guy, loves the Patriots. Mr. Nice Guy deserves to win, right? But the other neighbor, Mr. Anger-Management Issues, loves the Giants. Do I really want to be around if he loses? It is a dilemma.

How about you? Who are you rooting for in this year's Super Bowl?

While you're thinking about that, here are the titles of some fabulous football-themed YA novels I've read and loved:

CRACKBACK, by John Coy

GYM CANDY, by Carl Deuker


THE DAIRY QUEEN TRILOGY, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

So, have you made up your mind yet? I'm still not sure. I like Tom Brady, the Patriots' QB, a lot better since I saw him guest star on Entourage. But I always feel sorry for the Giants' QB, Eli Manning, even though the Giants are the Jets same-city/same-stadium rivals, because Eli always looks to me like he's scared someone will try to steal his lunch money.

Hopefully, by Sunday at kickoff time, I'll make a decision.

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Monday, January 16

Martin Luther King Day

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

This may age me, but I remember when President Reagan signed legislation creating this holiday back in 1983 - 15 years after it was first proposed. It took 3 more years for the federal holiday to go into effect. Even then, the governor of Arizona decided to rescind the holiday in his state - resulting in boycotts and even the loss of hosting the 1993 Superbowl. (Arizonans later voted to have the holiday reinstated, and all was forgiven by the NFL. They hosted the Superbowl in 1996.) Still, not all states recognized the holiday by name, nor as a paid state holiday. It wasn't until Y2K that all states were on board.

After such a struggle, it seems fitting to commemorate the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with something more than a day off school and a sale at the local mattress store. Since I'm in challenge mode this month, I'd like to throw out a challenge to all TFC readers: find a meaningful way to celebrate this day. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

Read Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Join the Day of Service. You can find organized projects in your area here, or check out the twitter feed here. If you don't see anything nearby, you could always find a way on your own to serve your community. (Hint: lots of food banks and shelters say they have more help than they need in December when people are in the giving mood, but that volunteers drop sharply once the holidays are over.)

What are you going to do with today? Any other holiday/service suggestions?

Friday, January 13

Good News Friday: A New Website and a New "Zone"

I love good news Friday! And today, I'm thrilled to announced that after several LONG months, my sparkly new website is LIVE!

I've been wanting to redesign my website for years and I finally took the plunge. And up until now, I've always designed and (semi-adequately) built my own. Because I figured it was a good way to save money and I was, after all, semi-adequate at web design.

But then recently I read this book called THE BIG LEAP: CONQUER YOUR HIDDEN FEAR AND TAKE LIFE TO THE NEXT LEVEL by Gay Hendricks. And he has this great philosophy about "Living in your Zone of Genius." Essentially, we all have FOUR zones:

The Zone of Incompetence - stuff we can't do at all, even if we tried...e.g. for me this would be singing opera, speaking Swahili, blogging regularly, and cooking.

The Zone of Competence - stuff you can do fairly well, but there are others who can do it WAY better than you. This is where my web design would come in. As well as my inexplicable desire to always want to try to fix my computer myself, before inevitably calling someone six hours later when I'm tired, sweaty and about to chuck it out the nearest window.

The Zone of Excellence - stuff you do extremely well and probably have been doing well for years but it's not exactly what you've always dreamed of doing. For me, this is the stuff I did at my old job, financial models, building pretty spreadsheets, crunching numbers, etc.

And finally, there's your...

Zone of Genius - And no, I'm not talking about some mythical place where all the Geniuses from the Apple store hang out after working, making fun of all the technically incompetent people in the world. Your Zone of Genius includes all the stuff that doesn't feel like work. That you could do all day, every day and never get tired or bored. The place where you really are at zen with yourself and the world. For me this is brainstorming new book ideas and seeing them come to life on the page!

And the book says that we should make a conscious effort to always live in our Zone of Genius and find ways to escape our Zone of Competence and even our Zone of Excellence as much as possible.

So...long story short (too late, I know!): It was for THIS is the reason I decided to finally hire a web design company to build my new website. (The awesomeness of Hanee Designs) Since building websites is clearly in my Zone of Competence (and sometimes even in my Zone of Incompetence) so that I could spend more time living in my Zone of Genius. Meaning, spending more time brainstorming and writing books!

And this website is the result. So I'm especially proud of it for several reasons. And I do hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and I should also note that the new website, which went live yesterday, features the FIRST EVER RELEASED synopsis of the first book in my forthcoming teen sci-fi trilogy. It's called UNREMEMBERED and you can read all about it here!

Happy Friday everyone! And here's to living in your Zone of Genius all day, every day!

- Jessica

(Writing) Books I Have Loved

I'm a writing book junkie, for sure. I have an entire bookcase devoted to books on writing, publishing, publicity, creativity -- you name it. Many I'm lucky enough to find at library sales (especially out-of-print books and even grammar and textbooks on writing --yes, I'm THAT obsessed), but my favorite ones were purchased by me or given as gifts. Here are a few of my top, top, top writing books (i.e. ones that I will never lend to anyone, because I need to know where they are at all times).

Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird -- This is the very first book I ever read on writing that wasn't assigned to me in a classroom. And I return to it again and again, for inspiration, for comfort, for new ways to look at this crazy thing that we all do called writing. The title of the book explains how to tackle the seemingly impossible task of writing a book. It came from some advice that Ann Lamott's younger brother received from their father when he was doing a book report on birds and it seemed overwhelming. He told her little brother to "just take it bird by bird." Read it. Today!

Stephen King's On Writing -- While my writing leans toward the scary, thriller genre, this was a no brainer for me to read. But I recommend this book to any writer of any genre. King not only gives a look into his own writing style (the when, the where and the how), but he also offers short, easy, do-able ways of getting your story out. He doesn't give lofty, convoluted exercises that only MFA graduates can handle. He gives you manageable tasks: for instance, he describes his way of plotting as putting "a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free." Plus, any insight into the master of the horror genre is guaranteed to be a thrilling read.

Julia Cameron's The Right to Write and The Sound of Paper -- Julia Cameron has been known as a kind of creativity guru for decades, helping all kinds of writers overcome writer's block. Her most famous and widely read book, The Artist's Way, was born out of those lectures and teachings. One of her main exercises is for writers to write 30 morning pages every day, no matter what. It doesn't have to be your work in progress (or WIP) or an article you are working on. Just get those 30 pages done and you will train yourself (like an athlete) to become accustomed to churning the work out every day. She also advocates taking yourself out on Artist Dates -- a time when you and your artistic sensibilities (or "muse") are treated to some time together. It could be a 20 minute walk or a trip to a museum. Anything to get those creative juices flowing.

Lawrence Block's The Liar's Bible -- Lawrence Block is known for his great success in the mystery genre (especially his Matthew Scudder novels), but his writing books are what really stand out for me in his impressive body of work. This book is only available for download on Kindle or e-book, but it's well worth it. Liar's Bible, along with his other writing books, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, The Liar's Companion, Spider, Spin Me a Web, and Writing the Novel, From Plot to Print, are indispensable in so many ways. Most of them are essays from a long-running column he did for Writer's Digest. I take a peek at any one of these books when I'm feeling down about writing. He takes away the "mystique" of writing. He is able to churn out a book in 60 days and he has a no-nonsense approach that makes anyone feel like if you just sit down and bite the bullet, you can finish that novel, that chapter, heck, even that page of writing that has been staring you in the face for weeks.

Cheryl Klein's Second Sight -- I started reading this after it was given to me as a Christmas present this year and I took it everywhere with me. It was amazing to get all of this insight from an editor of YA and children's books. It felt like a gift from the writing gods. Like I was getting information straight from the source. Almost like pulling away the curtain and getting insight into what editors are REALLY looking for. And then, I lost it. (Not my mind, the book!) For the life of me, I cannot find the book anywhere and it's driving me crazy. I've searched high and low in every reading spot in my house. Until I find it again, I will be one unhappy camper!

Other books that are near and dear to me on my beloved writer's shelf (or, I should say, bookcase) are The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.

 Happy 2012 and Happy Writing!!

Wednesday, January 11

Books I Have Loved...

So many, so many! But here are a few very recent faves, presented tweet-style (in 140 characters or less).

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr . Jill lost her dad; Mandy never had anyone who loved her. When they’re forced together by fate, they might just be able to rescue each other.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. Two loving dads, hot musician boyfriend, the streets of San Francisco–Lola has it all. (Except the guy who broke her heart.)

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis. Part mystery, part love story, part tale of forgiveness and coming-of-age, this one sparkles with sights and sounds of NYC.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King. Lucky Linderman has been bullied for years, but he’s figuring out how to take a stand.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (pictured). Two plotlines — in Arkansas and Africa — merge seamlessly in this odd, appealing debut novel about a slow summer when a brother goes missing.

Anyone want to add some others, tweet-style, in the comments? My to-read list can always get longer and longer and longer. It's a glorious thing!

Monday, January 9

What I Read (and loved!) Over the Holiday

This week we're talking about favorite books and boy am I glad we are because over the holiday I read some super amazing books that I've been bursting at the seams to talk about. 

The first book I read over the holidays was ROOM by Emma Donoghue. It's an adult book and it's fabulousity! Definitely one of my favorites of all time. It's so haunting and beautiful at the same time. ROOM is about a five year old boy named Jack who lives in an 11x11 foot room with his "Ma." To him, Room is the entire world. It's all he's known. But to his mother, Room is a cell where she's been kept prisoner for the past seven years.

The next book I devoured was WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm embarrassed to say that this is the FIRST book I've ever read by Laurie (I know! What have I been doing with my life?) but I will definitely be reading more. Wintergirls was amazing. It was chilling and disturbing and awesome. I actually got physically cold while reading the second half. I had to read it under two blankets. That's pretty powerful stuff! Wintergirls is a teen novel about an seriously anorexic eighteen year old who is haunted by the death of her best friend, who died from a similar eating disorder.

I also recently read the arc for STRUCK by debut author Jennifer Bosworth. This book doesn't release until May but it's definitely something you'll want to look out for when it does! STRUCK is action packed and exciting, revolving around seventeen year old Mia Price, who is a lightening addict. She's been struck hundreds of times. And unbeknownst to Mia, the lightening has left behind a hidden power. A power that is highly sought after. It takes place in Los Angeles, after a massive earth quake has destroyed the city. Now two doomsday prophesies have risen--one wants to save the world. while the other wants to destroy it--and they both need Mia's help to achieve their goal.

And finally, right now I'm reading (and almost finished with) CINDER by Marissa Meyer, the first in the Lunar Chronicles, which just released last week! Marissa Meyer is a debut author published by my same publishing house (Macmillan Children's) and boy is she in for a wild ride. Not only is CINDER a fantastic, fantastic book that is so imaginative, vivid, thrilling, romantic, exciting, and super engaging, the book is getting tremendous buzz. It seems like everywhere I look I'm hearing about this book. I think Marissa is poised to be the next big thing in teen fiction. She's created a world as vast and creative as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games and I was immediately sucked right in. CINDER is a crazy retelling of the famous fairytale CINDERELLA, except Cinder is a cyborg (part human, part machine) who is living in a far future world (after World War IV) where cyborgs are second class citizens, androids do all of our dirty work, and there is a powerful nation of Lunar people (who live on the colonized moon) ready and waiting to take over planet earth. Oh, and the prince is super dreamy too!

So those are my latest faves. What about you? What have you read lately that you've absolutely loved?

Thursday, January 5

Behind the Scenes: Connecting with Readers

Wendy shared some amazing things that she's been doing behind the scenes in her writing life on Tuesday. I think my favorite behind the scenes thing that happens in my writing life has to be emails and letters from readers. I'm not a super huge rock star of a writer so I don't get tons of these (which is always awkward to admit when the email starts something like "I'm sure you get tons of these so if you can't write back...") but even if I did, I know that every single one would matter to me. It seems like most email I get is either junk or bills or boring day-to-day stuff, so when I get an email from someone who enjoyed one or both of my books, it is literally the highlight of my day. I write the books that I would have wanted to read as a teen, so when teenagers tell me that they connected with my characters and were encouraged by the books in some way, I truly feel like I've done something meaningful. No matter how many books I sell, no matter what I do with my life after this, I'll have made some small impact for someone.

In some cases, readers tell me that they never liked reading until they read my books because my stories felt so real. Huge compliment and I always send them book recommendations so that hopefully they will come to love the world of books as much as I have. In other cases, since my books deal with issues like rape, drug abuse, depression, and self-injury, I get emails from readers who were inspired to confront their own personal demons or who found my books therapeutic and healing. Those are some of the most meaningful emails/conversations I've ever had.

And then I get emails from readers who inspire ME, which is super mega awesome. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a girl named Kayla Spazz in Australia. She told me how she'd gotten I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE as a gift for her best friend, Acacia Pip. She explained that she'd done something that I definitely have done before when giving books as gifts--she read the book before she wrapped. She really loved it and she thought it was crazy how much my characters Emily and Regan reminded her of herself and Acacia, who were not only best friends but bandmates. She said their band, Smash Mystery is made up of three girls and a boy and they take a lot of guff for being a girl band, but she doesn't care because those folks will be eating their words when they are on the cover of Rolling Stone. I noticed a link to the band's website in her signature and clicked to check it out. You should click it too and listen to the song at the top of the page, "Dolls." I listened to it like five times. I ADORE it! I ADORE them! And Kayla and Acacia are 15! They will be taking over the world, I am sure of it!

That is what I love best about having written I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE in particular, meeting girls like Kayla and Acacia who are actually living it. I wrote that book because I always wanted a band like She Laughs to top the charts and through the book I discover bands like Smash Mystery who are posed to do it. Serious awesomeness.

And the story gets even cooler. Acacia got her Christmas gift and read it, and thank goodness, loved it, too! She sent me a picture she'd made of my main character Emily Black in photoshop. And as it turns out she imagines Emily pretty much as I do. She said I could share it with you so here it is:

So this, in my opinion is the best behind-the-scenes part of the writing life. Hearing from readers and discovering how amazingly talented they are! Enjoy Smash Mystery :)

Tuesday, January 3

Behind the Scenes

One of the coolest things about being a YA author is all the opportunities we get even when we're not writing our next books or promoting our latest releases. Many of these opportunities come from knowing other authors, like the time Teen Fiction Cafe's very own Melissa Walker gave my name to her friend at MORE magazine, which resulted in my first-ever major magazine interview. Others come about when you accept an invitation to an event and make a good enough impression on someone there to be invited to something else down the line.

For example, I've been to a couple of author-student dinners at the local Olive Garden, an event organized by Cassie Cox (in the middle of the photo with the lovely long hair) who is an extraordinary English teacher at an alternative high school. Above is a photo from the latest one, which YA authors James Dashner (back row, v-neck sweater), Dan Wells (back row, glasses), Sydney Salter (front row, pink cardigan) and I (floral blouse on right side) went to. Later on, Mrs. Cox earned a grant to bring in two authors, Sydney Salter and me, to work with a group of teen writers at Two Rivers High School in Ogden, Utah. This 12-week period ended right before the holidays and I have to say it was definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. Click HERE if you want to learn more about it.

Another amazing thing I recently got to do is edit an anthology, Pho for Life. It was penned by a diverse assortment of people, most having Asian roots or connections. Though it was my most challenging editing project to date, it was also the most eye-opening and fulfilling. We had a glamorous red carpet launch party in Los Angeles, California last month and it was wonderful getting to meet everybody in person. This is a photo of the editor-in-chief and man behind the project, Mai Bui. (photo by chrislynn photography)

Last summer, I ran a writing camp for kids and now that summer is long gone, I've made enough contacts in the community to become a "writing coach" for children, teens, and adults. I love helping people write stories, books, and practice for their SAT/ACT essays.

So, even though I consider myself an author by trade, I'm moonlighting as a teacher and an editor and I'm loving every minute of it! But enough about me! What are some things you've been doing behind the scenes?

Monday, January 2

10 Things You May Not Know About Me

1) I'm 4'11. Shocking, I know - I blog so tall!

2) I'm a TV head.

3) I'm a politics geek.

4) I have four trophies from shooting pool.

5) I love Frank Sinatra.

6) I recently started a micro-blog at Red Room called "Fortune-Cookie Tips for Writers," the latest of which you can see here:

7) I sometimes find Blogger frustrating, which is why the above link isn't neat and pretty, and why probably no other links I might make below will be either.

8) I have a cat named Yoyo, who tried to put his paw in the Hanukkah candles, earning himself the nickname G. Gordon Kitty, and who also took a nap lying across the branches in the middle of the Christmas tree.

9) When I was little I didn't like my name and asked my mother to start calling me Andy.

10) Before writing YA and children's books, I was known primarily as a writer of adult fiction. I recently released my first comedic novel for adults in over three years as an ebook, which you can find on Kindle, Nook, Apple and wherever ebooks are sold. It's called THE BRO-MAGNET and I hope you'll give it a read. You can sample the first 30 pages for free here: It's about an ultimate man's man named Johnny Smith who's been Best Man at eight weddings but what he secretly longs to be is a groom.

And that's it!

How about you? What's something about you I may not know?

Be well. Don't forget to write.