Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's Your Favorite Book?

I am asked this question a lot. Sometimes it's disguised as an educational tool as in, "What book has influenced you most?" Or "What book would want with you on a desert island?"

Depending on the time of day and what my particular hunger level is (low blood sugar has a HUGE effect on my choice of books), I will answer "A Conspiracy of Dunces" or "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" or if I think I'm really smart that day, "Foucault's Pendulum." This is usually enough to spark a discussion about other books, other favorites, authors I'd forgotten about - and serves to completely take the focus off me and whatever my choice happened to be at that moment.

In the past week, though, I realized I DO have a favorite book and it's not anything I have ever mentioned at any reading or school visit.

It's Roget's thesaurus. That's right - the book that lists words and their synonyms (and antonyms). I use it every single day when I'm writing. I refer to it all the time and rely upon it to make my writing stronger. I feel very passionate about word choice: the English language is filled to the brim with words and to not use them - and use them properly - is a crime!

Why use the exact same word to describe a cloud as you would a person? Those times that you're writing and you think, "this is kind of the word I want but not exactly" are the perfect occasions to get out the thesaurus and pick the right one. Many times I'll search for the word I want and in the searching discover another word I love, one that is perfect for a different sentence so I'll go back and replace it with the new, better word.

Having a thesaurus by your side is like owning a closet full of shoes: sure, you could always wear those black pumps, but the silvery gladiator sandals would really spice things up!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Playing the numbers game

Any author who tells you she doesn't check her Amazon numbers every single day is lying through her teeth. It's a compulsion. As soon as your book goes on sale somewhere, there is an Amazon ranking. Certain sites like this one consolidate your books into one link so you can check them all at once.

I hate it. But I use it.

I know it means nothing. I know there are other ways to sell books: store sales and library sales and other web sites like and Powell's and Barnes & Noble and Borders and so on. But those are not as easy to quantify as the tried-and-true at-a-glance constantly-updated Amazon rank.

I hate it. But I use it.

So whenever my numbers are particularly low at Amazon (and lord knows I have no clue why they change or what affects them and Amazon certainly doesn't want to divulge their complex algorithms), I go to World Cat or First Search for California Libraries. Both sites have links to libraries where my books are located. I can click on, for instance, Burbank, and see how many copies of ALL ABOUT VEE are available or when they are due back.

I love it.

Checking actual libraries to see there are actual copies in actual readers' hands is far more exciting and personally gratifying than the Amazon rank. I heartily recommend authors who are obssessed with their rank to instead look at library catalogs. It will remind you why you are writing in the first place.

Go, libraries!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Want my Trans fat!

California is not the first place in the country to ban trans fats from restaurants - New York City and Philadelphia did it first - but we are the first state to do so. I appreciate that our governor is concerned about our collective health and I do understand that trans fats are bad for us but isn't it MY choice to eat what I want when I want?

It sounds like a nice thing the government is doing for us: protecting our health. But it's just one more step on the road to Big Brother. I read in the LA Times today that trans fats kill "a few thousand" people every year. Well, take a look at these figures, please:

Cigarette smoking kills 400,000 people each year but I don't see the government outlawing cigarettes. Instead it just keeps taxing smokers more and more.

Alcohol-attributable deaths number over 75,000 per year in the US but the government doesn't ban booze.

Why is it okay for people to smoke and drink but not eat fatty foods? If the government wants to treat us like children who don't know any better, why not outlaw everything that would be bad for us?

The answer to all of the above is not to ban these products but to increase education about them. We need to teach people why you don't want to smoke or drink to excess or choose trans fat-filled foods and then let them make educated choices. And if they learn all about this and still choose the "wrong" thing, then let them suffer any consequences of their choices.

That's just as American as being able to make the choice in the first place.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My take on reality...

And once again, I refer to reality television, not my life, which is pretty boring and the same thing just about every day: emails, write, class, write, teach.

Well, reality TV can also be pretty boring, especially in the summertime. Wipeout anyone? Sheesh. What drivel.

I think HH and I are about the only people in the world who like Wife Swap for the lessons people learn. We hate to see people fight, hate seeing them ignore the new rules instituted for all of a week, hate seeing children emulate their parents' poor behavior. We much prefer to watch people become enlightened beings. We love seeing a husband suddenly realize he takes his wife for granted or a wife standing up for herself. We adore seeing people change! And if they can do it without yelling or storming out of the house, so much the better.

I understand conflict makes for good drama but when you're watching real people, I don't want to see conflict that celebrates bad manners and that encourages people to pick fights or be rude. There is so much rude behavior in the world; can't we have a respite from it for a few hours a night? Does everything have to be about competition and greed and getting one over on someone you don't even know?

It's not that I expect or want everyone to be nice to each other - and if you read my books, you know I can write some pretty wicked characters - I'd just like people to respect one another.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday

1. Did Al Gore really invent the Internet?

2. Who - honestly - let the dogs out? Come on, step up here.

3. If I could, I would dance and write and teach dancing and writing every single day for the rest of my life and be happy.

4. Happy belated birthday to my friend Moochie. Hope you got to celebrate with Chris and Mikey!

5. I wish I could meet every one of my Facebook and Myspace friends. That would be cool.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Facebook v. Myspace

Gotta say...lately, I've been digging my fb page much more than Myspace. It's way easy to update, add friends, add pictures and albums, and some of the apps are kinda fun (LOVE sending flair and Starbucks!). The only thing I haven't figured out how to do easily is post announcements to all my friends, like Myspace has bulletins.

Anyone, anyone? Bueller?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2K a day

I write at least 2,000 words every day, although I usually take Sundays off. This means I can churn out a first draft in 3 months. In the past year I've written 3 complete manuscripts, including rewrites of two of them, and a 10K short. Before the year ends I aim to rewrite one of those novels again and finish the first 150 pages of a brand new story, as well as another short.

Why am I telling you this? Because I cannot stress enough the importance of writing on a schedule. So many people wait until they're moved to write, inspired by something or someone, and then a fury overtakes them and they write and write and write until they are drained. Some people have told me they stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning writing when they're in the zone.

And then what do they have the next day? A horrifying blank page. Blecch.

Is it wrong to create in this fashion? Of course not. You can scratch your words out on the back of a grocery receipt at three in the morning while you listen to Neil Diamond on your iPod for all I care. If that works for you, more power to ya. But more often than not, I think that doesn't work for people. It's too erratic (what will I create? when will I create? can I still create?) and contributes to unnecessary anxiety over the writing process. And believe me there is so much anxiety involved with writing and publishing, why would you want to add to it?

When someone asks me for writing advice, I tell them this:

1. Read. A lot.
2. Write. Everyday.
3. Finish. Whatever you write.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How Can Marisa Tomei Look So Good?

Does anyone remember that classic episode of Seinfeld where George goes out on a date with Marisa Tomei, the Oscar winning actress, because somehow he found out she likes short, fat, bald men? She was very cute then, with her raven hair swept up in a twist and her bangs flattened down against her forehead - sophisticated even.

HH and I just rented "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (an unrelentingly dark film by Sidney Lumet, the amazing director of "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon" - two other dark, sad films) and Miss Tomei had some nude scenes in it In the first scene we see her in with Philip Seymour Hoffmann, I didn't recognize her. I thought she was some young up-and-coming actress who had a Marisa Tomei thing going on. HH noticed who she was.

She...looks...fabulous. I mean, even by Hollywood standards which are pretty darn high, she looked fantastic! If I had that body and skin, I would totally do nude scenes. Not that I have much of an opportunity as a writer of young adult novels to be in a nude scene but I think you know what I'm saying.

Ah, but the film...well, the film itself is very well-cast: Hoffmann and Ethan Hawke are perfect in their roles as brothers with a long painful history and Albert Finney is terrific in the role of their dad who suffers such a loss when his wife is shot during a robbery. This movie starts dark and gets darker and darker and darker and you wonder if anyone will end up happy and the answer is, frankly, no. What on earth could you expect after the film opens the way it does? I felt completely drained after watching this movie and had to watch an episode of Dexter to cheer me up afterward.

Monday, July 21, 2008

TCA News

This year the TCA press tour (Television Critics Association) is being held very late due to the writers strike. This is the opportunity for the networks to present their schedules to the critics and make grand announcements about how they're doing deals with Producer X and Actor Y and Showrunners A and B are just hitting homeruns out the gate and then in less than six months, it will all fall apart.

Found this very interesting article in Broadcasting and Cable: "If Critics Ran the Networks..." Fascinating comments from some smart critics.

One new show I am looking forward to is FOX's Fringe from the amazingly talented LOST co-creator, JJ Abrams. He's also the director of the brand new "Star Trek" movie which I CANNOT WAIT FOR!!! I just hope he can juggle both of those projects AND my favorite show of all time (did I mention LOST?).

Part of me misses working in television. There was a time when I knew what every network was producing and who was doing what and what the prospects looked like for everything. Now I know zilcho. In most ways, that's very good for my brain capacity; but the frivolous superficial part of me wishes I was still in network television.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday

1. I was on TV!! Me! I can hardly believe it! I was like, a star, for a very brief moment in time. It was really hard to watch myself at first(I can't even stand to listen to my recorded voice - yuck!) so I kind of cringed as I watched but then I tried to just sit back and imagine being a member of the audience and I didn't sound so bad after all. Hope you all got to see it but if not, it will probably go up on YouTube and on Connie's website. Check back on my own site for that info; we'll keep you updated.

2. Anyone looking for a respite from the summer heat should duck into her local theater and watch "Hancock" starring my super-crush, Will Smith. If you haven't seen it yet, it's fun but thoughtful - a very unique superhero movie that somehow manages to include all of the typical superhero conventions yet remain original. HH and I so love Will Smith that we came right home and watched our favorite scenes from both MIB movies. I would own "Pursuit of Happyness" except so much of it is way too sad.

3. Jordyn, your book is in the mail. Jordyn was the winner at Teen Book Review's blog when I was guest blogging over there in June. On Wednesday I sent her out a signed hardcover of LOVE, MEG. I hope you'll let me know what you think when you read it, Jordyn!

4. Hey, I was on TV!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

TV? Today? TV! Today!

Yes, today is the day I am on "Connie Martinson Talks Books"! And I'm very very excited. If you're in the LA area, it's on Channel 35 at 3 and 11:30PM (it also streams live at those times). Other markets have the show on different days and times so it's best to check your local listings or simply watch it on the computer if you can. Go to my website to this page for more info.

I am actually rescheduling a dentist appointment so I can watch it on my computer, since I don't have cable. Of course, I would probably use just about any excuse to reschedule a dentist appointment. [shudder]

Here is a photo of me with Connie...for some reason, the flash didn't go off so this is all I got.

Just go ahead and watch the show instead so you can see the great dress I'm wearing (and my hair didn't look too bad either!). Oh and here's one more photo for you: me on the set, so you can see the great shoes I have on! Love these espadrilles!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is Jetlag?

I never could understand jetlag. I mean, I get the whole body clock thing and how we are naturally predisposed to certain things at certain times of the day and when we travel to different time zones, those natural cycles get thrown off but seriously, why does it last for days?

I still have jetlag after returning from LA last Friday morning. And a cold that feels like someone has beaten my brain to a pulp.

And yet...

I am still SUPER-EXCITED about being on television! Now, I know many people don't have cable or aren't in a market where "Connie Martinson Talks Books" will be shown but never fear! You can watch online! It will stream live on your computer! My Ninja Webmaster put this together so you can find the show.

So that's tomorrow, Thursday, July 17 at 3PM and 11:30PM in the LA area, Channel 35. Or like I said, you can watch it stream live on your computer. Cool, huh?

Man, I am jazzed. It's the surest thing to get over jetlag and a bad cold.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Celebrate the Indies

Independent bookstores are amazing places, did you know that? Not that chain bookstores can't have their great personnel (see Borders in Farmington and the fantastic David Battaglino as an example) but in general, the people who run indies are the ones who love books. They know just what to recommend when you're searching for something but you don't know what you want or when you want to buy a gift or when you do know what you want but can't find it.

Sadly, many of them are going out of business because of various economic realities. I love finding my books in these stores - they're like little surprises - and I love talking to the stores' owners about why they happened to purchase it. It's not usually because a corporate person has declared the book a best-seller or because a publisher is paying a ton of money for table space. It's often because of the sales rep or because they see something in the book that appeals to them. They know they can sell the book to their readers.

You absolutely have to love that personal touch.

Here are some of my favorite indie stores...

The Alphabet Garden, Cheshire, CT
Hickory Stick Books, Monroe, CT
RJ Julia Books, Madison, CT
Chevalier's Books, LA, CA
Book Soup, LA, CA

If you're nearby, I hope you'll take a look on their shelves.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Interview at Book Girl Reviews

Double-post Monday!

Check out the interview The Book Girl did with me for her blog. I have to say, she asked some really interesting questions, very thought-provoking. Typically, people ask me about my writing influences or favorite authors but Book Girl dug deeper and wanted to know about the real me (and who wouldn't want to know about the real me?).

LOL!!! I am seriously not that enamored of myself. Honest!

I (Heart) CT State Troopers

What a long strange trip it's been...

Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm home in LA. First of all, the visit to the east coast felt like it was a million months long. Was it really less than 3 weeks? Wow...time flies, huh? Well, first of all, there was the Wallingford PL event, then a reunion, and a Borders event, then a trip to NYC and Jersey, then some more meetings and a podcast and a holiday and visiting with friends from Boston and family from Connecticut and I did take a few great classes at the New Haven Ballet with Noble Barker.

And then there was the trip home. We were supposed to leave Hartford at 6:30 and get into LA at 9:30. Delay #1: 7:50 departure. Delay #2: 10:20 departure. Delay #3: 11:20 departure. Final departure: midnight. Arrival in LA: 2:22AM. Arrival in my bed: 3:45AM.

But there was a chance we wouldn't have even arrived in LA were it not for a big State Trooper at the airport in Hartford. Apparently, the airline told the TSA security people they could leave and go home and shut down security at 9:30 even though they KNEW the flight wouldn't leave until almost midnight. So we (and a bunch of others) showed up - post 9:30 - and found NO ONE there to screen us. A cop directed us to the airline (who shall remain nameless because they were completely LAME) headquarters and we found a bunch of people up in arms because they were being told they couldn't board a plane that HADN'T EVEN ARRIVED YET.


One trooper showed up and basically backed the airline because what did he know? We thought all was lost. One woman with a box of pizza was near hysteria.

But then a big state trooper whose name I didn't get (but not because he was lame) showed up and said, "Wait a minute. This doesn't make sense. We'll get you on the plane." So he called TSA and they argued for a bit but he was BIG, BIGGER than them, and he made them work something out.

We had to be escorted to the security table and back and we weren't allowed to touch anyone after we were screened but I have to say, this was the best screening experience I have been through. All the TSA personnel were super-nice and they actually smiled and cracked jokes and we were allowed to bring our suitcases on board instead of checking them, which ultimately helped us for time back in LA.

The airline personnel on the plane were also super-amazing and kind and the flight was awesomely smooth. If only we hadn't arrived so effin' late, it would have been an okay experience.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday

1. Podcast followup:

What a blast I had doing the recording for the Cheshire Public Library's teen book board's podcast! Here is a photo of me with Loan Lee, my fantastic interviewer who had so many amazing questions. I won't spoil it for you by telling you what they were but I will tell you when it's available on their website. Thanks, Loan, and extra special thanks to Sarah Kline Morgan, the teen librarian at CPL!

2. Television followup:

Today I will head to the Time Warner studio in Topanga Canyon to record an interview with Connie Martinson for her show, Connie Martinson Talks Books. I can't express to you my full excitement about this! I will be in amazing company! She has interviewed, among many others, Barack Obama, Gigi Grazer, Al Gore, Gloria Steinem, Thomas Kenneally, Ray Bradbury, Lisa See and TC Boyle. Here's her site...

3. New book followup:

I have already started my brand new story which I wasn't sure I was ready for. I am so unbelievably thrilled about this one. I can't wait to immerse myself in this new world.

4. Happy belated birthday to LOVE, MEG!

You'd think I'd have remembered this one but it came out on 7/5/07, just 1 year and 6 days ago. Even after a year, she still looks great! She doesn't show her age at fact, she's at college now! Here she is at the University of Connecticut Co-op in Storrs:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Time out for reality

Television, that is, not my own reality which tends to be a lot less interesting.

Did anyone but me and HH follow Hell's Kitchen this season? At first I have to admit I didn't like many of the contestants. They were shallow and petty and just not likable. The youngest of them seemed too inexperienced to run a kitchen, too arrogant to learn from those who were experienced and did I mention, just not likable?

As the season wore on and chefs were cut and cut and cut (and burned a few times), I began to like at least one of them: Petrozza. He learned as he went along, took in the criticism and got better, was a genuinely kind person who wanted the best from people, and never sabotaged anyone else. He was also very sloppy and kept a dirty station which Chef Ramsay hated but even Gordo recognized his skills as a chef.

I was thrilled he was a finalist. He completely deserved the honor. He was also 47.

On the other end of the spectrum was Christina. Very young, very arrogant, very opinionated and very shrill. The one thing she had going for her was that she was a consistently good cook. From the get-go, she was simply the best cook of the contestants. But I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her and her filet mignons. No, sir, not me. And I would absolutely hate working under her. Who would want to hear that squeaky, whiny voice yelling every moment of the day? No, thanks.

I was not as happy for her that she was a finalist. I didn't think she deserved the honor. She was 25.

So who wins? Of course, the young 'un wins cuz Ramsay thinks she has more potential.

Those of us who are getting older want to believe we all have potential regardless of our ages.

Let's take this big picture. Let's look at the Presidential election. Perhaps Barack Obama, being young and full of potential, will beat out John McCain, the elder statesman who isn't as in touch with the American public.

In this case, yes, I will take the young 'un over the old guy. Absolutely.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Podcasting from Connecticut...TV in LA...

This afternoon I'm taping a podcast with the Cheshire Public Library teen group for their website and I'm wicked excited about that. I've got some very cool media things lined up including a TV taping on Friday when I get back to LA!

To celebrate, here are me and HH in a classic pose at the Trader Joe's in West Hartford...hee hee!:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sold out!

Am I a sell-out? Well, not if you're talking about getting big money for the commercialization of my work. Then, um, no, darn it, I'm not a sell-out.

Although for the right dollar figure...let's talk.

I mean, I sold out at my Borders event last week! How awesome is that? We had a great crowd (see pics above and below) who were polite and asked some terrific questions and then they bought all of the store's copies of ALL ABOUT VEE! A few even looked under the desk where I was signing and asked with sad faces, "No more?"

The store manager, David Battaglino, was super happy and said he would order some more copies so I could come back and sign them before I leave (which I very happily did!). Then he put the paperbacks of LOVE, MEG which I also signed, in the "summer reading" section in the center of the store (I'm right next to Jerry Spinelli's LOVE, STARGIRL and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA!). And how thrilled was I about that?

Borders treated me amazingly well while I was there. David was so kind and generous, offering me coffee and taking care of me and HH and our guests. They served samples of a new frosty drink from Seattle's Best to all of the guests, who loved that on a very hot day! I can't say enough good things about them. So if anyone is in the Farmington/Hartford area and is looking for my books in paperback - signed copies with the little stickers on them! - please go to Borders down the street from West Farms mall and buy them there.

Thank you, everyone, and thank you, David!

All in all, this was a great trip to the east coast for me. We had a wonderful turnout at the Wallingford public library, great press in the Meriden, Hartford and Waterbury papers, and sold lots of books at the Borders in Farmington. How much better could it get?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday

Red - is the color of Dexter, the best show on Showtime you're not watching because you think it's really creepy that a serial killer could be the good guy. If you have Netflix, you can watch the first season instantly on your computer. Will you do that?

White - is the color of the blank screen, the virtual sheet of paper that both excites and scares me whenever I'm faced with it. I have a brand new project in my brain that I can't wait to work on but I'm not sure if I'm ready.

Blue - is the color of my fingertips after I've eaten a handful of seedless black grapes, my favorite summertime fruit.

Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Desert Island Books

You're shipwrecked.

You're on an extremely long vacation.

You're on LOST.

No internet. No phone. No iPod. No television or DVDs or even electricity. You're desperate for reading material. What do you hope the Universe will drop onto your lap?

Here is my dilemma: do I choose an author whose sheer prolificness (is that a word? maybe I should request a dictionary) means you have ample reading material for the length of your stay? Or do I choose books that I would gladly read over and over and over again?


Can I have both?

No? Bummer. Okay, in the former category, I would definitely go for someone like Stephen King. Lots of books in lots of genres (well, okay, not that many genres but enough that I don't have a nightmare every night) that wil keep me occupied while I await rescue or death. While a writer like Isaac Asimov wrote something like 100+ novels, they're all s/f and I would need a break. King at least wrote some strictly literary material as well as nonfiction and some fantastic short stories.

In the latter category, I would choose a novel like Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," a novel I could read over and over again. I considered Eco's "Name of the Rose," which I also love, as well as Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" but Toole's work is especially poignant because he committed suicide and if I'm stuck on an island, I would want a book that spoke to the depth of a human condition while also being hilariously funny.

What about you? Any choices? Do you pick romance novels or graphic novels? Short stories or epics? Poetry? Haikus? A book of dirty limericks?