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.