Friday, April 30, 2010

GCC Presents: Jessica Brody

My lovely friend (who totally rocks, as evidenced by her Women Who Rock Wednesday interview in November) Jessica Brody is currently on her Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour promoting her YA debut, THE KARMA CLUB, which sounds like an amazing read.

Here are the details:

When you mess with Karma, Karma messes back...

Madison Kasparkova always thought she understood how Karma works. Do good things and you'll be rewarded, do something bad and Karma will make sure you get what you deserve. But when Maddy’s boyfriend cheats on her, nothing bad comes his way. That’s why Maddy starts the Karma Club, to clean up the messes that the universe has left behind and get back at the people who have wronged them. Sometimes, though, it isn’t wise to meddle with the universe. It turns out Karma often has plans of its own.

Now let's meet Jessica:

Jessica Brody is the author of two books for adults. THE KARMA CLUB is her first book for teens. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California where she is working on her next novel. Despite what some people from her high school might claim, she has never sought revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Visit her online at:

Q: Please tell us what your new book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Jessica: This was definitely one of those ideas that just “came” to me. A friend of mine had told me some horrendous story about how a boy dumped her (I don’t even remember the story, I just remember it was infuriating!) and the entire time she was talking, I kept thinking, “Someone needs to do that right back to him. He can’t just get away with that. He needs a taste of Karma!” And then boom, the idea came to me. A secret society of girls who help each other out, dosing out Karma to those who deserve it when the universe is slow to do it on its own. And thus THE KARMA CLUB was born. Of course, as soon as the idea came to me, I also knew that my characters would never be able to get away with it. Karma is a tricky thing. And you definitely don’t want to meddle with the universe!

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

Jessica: Actually there IS a soundtrack for my book! The Karma Club Original Book Soundtrack releases this summer! Featuring songs inspired by the book. Many of them are featured in The Karma Club book trailer! My business partner and I, Holly Clark started a record label and this will be our first release. There are FOUR original songs on the soundtrack that we produced and all of them fit at least one scene or key moment in the book. The Karma Club theme song, “Remember When” by Nikki Boyer, has been released as a single and can be heard on my website.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

Jessica: Hands down, Helen Fielding is the reason I’m writing today. When I read Bridget Jones’s Diary back in college, my life changed. It was the first book I’d read for “pleasure” (rather than for a school assignment) in a long time and I’d forgotten how entertaining and fun books could be. I knew right then and there that I wanted to write to entertain people. Just as Helen Fielding had entertained me.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

Jessica: I discovered rather quickly that I couldn’t listen to music while I write because the lyrics distracted me. Actually anything that doesn’t have a constant sound distracts me because every time the music changes or the beat changes, I get pulled out of my “zone.” So then I discovered I could listen to something called “white noise” tracks. I found one that’s just the constant sound of a waterfall and I started listening to it while I write. Now I can’t write without it!

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

Jessica: I’m working on a new YA book that will be out in 2012 called 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER about a teen heiress who is forced by her ever-absent mogul father to take on a different low-wage job every week for a year if she wants any hope of getting her trust fund. I’m SO excited about it! Plus, I just finished the copyedits on another book that will be out in 2011 called MY LIFE UNDECIDED. And I’m also working on a new YA series that I can’t quite talk about yet. But it’s gonna be SOOOO cool!

Super cool, rockin' woman that she is, Jessica has agreed to run a contest for THE KARMA CLUB!

One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of the book. To enter all you have to do is leave a comment about the interview and include a way to contact you if you win. You can also gain additional entries as follows, just note them in the comments as well:
+1 for tweeting/blogging/linking to this interview
+1 for tweeting/blogging about THE KARMA CLUB
+3 for posting THE KARMA CLUB trailer on your blog or facebook/myspace

You have one week to enter, as I will draw the winner next Friday!

And last but not least, Jessica's got another contest going on as well. To celebrate the release of The Karma Club, she's giving away FOUR Flip Video Cameras (as well as TONS of other cool prizes!) on her site. Visit her website, for all the details and to enter to win!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Cheryl Rainfield

Women Who Rock Wednesday is back with a bang. Today I'm bringing you a really great interview with an author Cheryl Rainfield, who has written the kind of book that should be required reading. It's called SCARS and as you may be able to tell from the title, it deals with an issue I've grappled with myself, self-injury. I *needed* this book as a teen. So I hope you'll learn about it from Cheryl, read it and spread the word so that those who need it can find out about it.
Let's meet Cheryl!

Q: Tell us about SCARS, your new book, which sounds absolutely powerful and amazing.

Cheryl: Fifteen-year-old Kendra can't remember who abused her as a child--she was threatened with death if she talked. Now someone is watching and following her, leaving her threats that they will kill her if she tells, and Kendra is sure it's her abuser. Kendra uses her art to express her feelings, which helps, and talks to her caring therapist and her friends. But when things get too hard, she cuts; sometimes it's the only thing that helps. As Kendra gains support from Carolyn, her therapist; from a gay mentor, Sandy; and from Meghan, a friend and classmate who she has a crush on. As the truth about Kendra's abuser gets closer and closer to the surface, the danger—and her healing—intensifies.

Q: I also wrote about self-injury in my recent novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. I did so because as a teen, I self-injured and I feel like it is a subject that is too often ignored because it's uncomfortable to talk about. So thank you for adding another voice by writing SCARS.

Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write about this difficult subject? What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Cheryl: I'm so glad you also wrote about self-harm! It is an issue that there's still a lot of silence and shame around.

I am a survivor of incest and ritual abuse. I grew up very isolated and feeling so alone--and was always looking for validation, for ways to feel less alone through the books I read. I found bits of it in different ways--books were a big part of my survival--but I was still always searching. So I wrote the story I needed to read.

When I was a teen and first started remembering the abuse, and experiencing the overwhelming emotional pain and trauma, I started using self-harm as a way to cope. (I was also taught by my abusers to use it to keep quiet.) There was so much secrecy and shame around the cutting; I was terrified that someone would find out and try to stop me. Self-harm was another thing that helped me survive--it helped me to not kill myself.

I'm also lesbian (and very happy to be). So all those issues are really important to me--and they've all held various amounts of initial shame, secrecy, and social prejudice. I want to show the strength and beauty that can be found in those who survive trauma, in lesbian/gay love, and the strength that can be in self-harm. (Of course, there’s even greater strength in being able to stop self-harming—but there needs to be healing resources there.) Self-harm, especially, holds so much shame, and is so rarely talked about or really understood from an insider perspective.

I hope that readers of Scars will come away with a greater compassion and deeper understanding of self-harm, especially that it's not trying to get attention, not a failed suicide attempt, and not manipulation--but is coping with extreme pain and trauma. I also hope readers will understand more about the impact of sexual abuse, and will have more openmindedness towards people who are lesbian/gay, if they didn't have that before they read Scars.

I know that's a lot to hope for! (laughing) But I think that fiction is powerful; I think it can reach readers in a way that non-fiction alone can't. I think, if fiction is infused with truth, it can touch us on a deeper level. I've already heard from a few readers who didn't understand how anyone could cut or self-harm, that they now “get” it after reading Scars. That's exactly what I'm hoping for--as well as letting others who've used self-harm, or who are survivors, or lesbian/gay, know that they're not alone, that there are others who understand, and that they can be okay, even when crap happens.

Q: Will you please list five songs that would go on a soundtrack to SCARS and tell us a bit how they relate to the book?

Cheryl: Jewel - "Hands" - That kindness and compassion are so important, and that they can help make great change. That with compassion and kindness, you can survive and heal so much. Kendra has compassion for others--and she also knows how much she needs the compassion and kindness of others.

Destiny's Child - "Survivor" - That you are stronger away from your abusers, that you can survive, heal, and do so much better without toxic people around you. Kendra knows that, seeks to gain that for herself, and is a true survivor.

Chris Williamson - "Having Been Touched/Tender Lady" (see also: Lean on Me) - That it's so important to have support, real compassion and tenderness, to help healing. True friends. That you need real and safe love, caring--things to help ease the pain, and help get to a place of happiness. Kendra is always reaching for that, and she finds it.

Ashley Gramins - "Ooh Child" (also The Five StairSteps version; they both sound soothing and/or happy). That you can come through things, that things WILL get better, happier, lighter. That you can find happiness. Kendra tries to find that, and she hopes for it. In the beginning, she's not sure she can ever really find it. But she keeps on reaching for it.

Justina & Joyce - "Affirmation." That it's important to resist, to fight back against abuse and injustice, and to speak out. That it's important for all of us to listen to each other and stop what's wrong. Kendra knows that--she speaks the truth through her art, even though she's being threatened.

Q: Tell us a bit about how you came to be a writer and who some of your inspirations have been over the years whether writers, other artists, or people from your life. Of course since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we love to hear about the women who have inspired you, but feel free to include men too!

Cheryl: I have always written. I can't remember not writing; it was my voice when I had none. It was a way I could express myself safely without being too much more abused for it. And books--they were and are my soul food. I turned to them, and so writing came naturally to me.

I've had many inspirations over the years. All of the writers whose work I loved and read as a child and teen and still love now--but especially L M Montgomery (I loved how her characters were so emotional, creative, spunky, and intelligent girls); Lois Duncan (I loved how her characters faced such danger and had special talents, magic, and used their wits to cope); Judy Blume (I loved how Blume wrote about things other people didn't talk about much, that needed to be talked about, including bullying, sexuality, and more). And many strong YA writers whose work I discovered over the years and loved, with strong girl characters and/or powerful writing and truths, including Nancy Werlin, Tamora Pierce, Wendy Orr, A M Jenkins, Ellen Hopkins, Marlene Perez, and many, many more.

I've also had some wonderful, strong, caring, loving women in my life, who've given me a sense of family and happiness--especially Jean, Julie, and Jo. And then, too, there are many feminists, strong woman, and strong survivors who have inspired me in their speaking out, including Nellie McClung, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Alix Dobkin, Rita Mae Brown, Ellen Bass, Laura Davis...and again, many more. There have been--and are--so many strong women who help make a healing difference in the world. It's inspiring.

Q: I know SCARS just came out, but I'm sure everyone will be clamoring for your next book once they read it, so can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?

Cheryl: I'm working on two different manuscripts right now. One is a paranormal fantasy about a teen girl who can read minds in a society where she can be enslaved or even killed for that talent. She's on the run for her life and her freedom. The other is about a teen with a port wine stain who has strong body image issues, and who is kidnapped. She must face and outwit her abuser, and in the process, learns to accept herself more. I usually put in fragments of the abuse and pain I know into my novels, as well as healing and hope.

Q: I have two standard questions for my women who rock. The first is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge :)

Cheryl: Both my answers are ones that most people probably won't know, because they are a very specific audience. The first album I ever bought was Living with Lesbians by Alix Dobkin. The first concert I ever attended was by Heather Bishop--also openly lesbian and feminist.

Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Cheryl: I felt like a rock star--and also went to that 'I'm not worthy' place--when some of the writers I admire so much read Scars and gave me great blurbs and comments--especially Ellen Hopkins, Lois Duncan, Laura Davis and Ellen Bass, and Wendy Orr. I was both thrilled and scared--maybe because i'm not used to good things happening. But that's starting to change.

Well, I hope you agree with me that Cheryl was the perfect interviewee to bring WWRW back with. I thought she had a lot of important things to say and spoke about a lot of amazing women when talking about her influences. Also, SCARS is clearly a very important story. Wanna win a signed copy of it? Well, let's spread the word about it, shall we and through that you will have many opportunities to win.

Today's Contest:

As usual, all you have to do to enter is leave a comment (and please include a way to get in touch with you if you win and get your mailing address).

You also get an extra entry for every way you spread the word about SCARS, whether by tweeting about it, blogging about it, or posting it somewhere else online. Link to this interview, let the world know why you think it sounds like an interesting and important read, link to Cheryl's website. And do note all of your extra entries in your comment.

I will draw my winner next week when I feature a fun fictional character interview with Aura, the main character of Jeri Smith-Ready's AMAZING YA Debut, SHADE!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Upcoming Chicago events, BEA & ALA

First of all, happy thirtieth birthday to my beloved husband today :)

I've got a couple of unique Chicago events coming up next week.

On Monday 4/26, I'll be part of the You Me Them Everybody talk show/podcast, which I imagine will be online/iTunes eventually and I will post a link at that point. But you can see it live at The Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont in Chicago, doors at 8 pm, show at 9 pm. 21+. I honestly have no idea what this will be like so, umm, should be interesting?

Then I'm reading at Stories at the Store on Wednesday 4/28. The Store is at 2002 N. Halsted and the event starts at 8 pm. I'm planning to read new stuff... most likely... if I can get the courage up to do so and a scene revised in time. I'm guessing since The Store is a bar that this one is 21+ too.

And if you are an early riser (which I totally am not so this should be interesting), I will be interviewed live at 8 am (good god) on Rick Kogan's Sunday Papers radio program on WGN 720 on Sunday May 2nd. Again, this will eventually be online and I will post a link then.

I also am finalizing plans to go to BEA in New York at the end of May and ALA in D.C. at the end of June. I've been invited to be on a panel at BEA, but don't have confirmation or details on that yet, so I'll post info when I get it. I will definitely be at the Teen Author Carnival on Monday May 24 from 5 to 8 pm. That will take place at Jefferson Market Branch, 425 Avenue of the Americas, in Manhattan.

Then on Wednesday May 26, I'll be at Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th Street, from 6 to 8 pm with my fellow Teen Fiction Cafe sisters Linda Gerber, Erica Orloff, and Melissa Walker.

Lastly, I just booked my flight to D.C. for ALA and I'll be at the YA Coffee Klatch again this year there. I'll let you know if there are other events in D.C. aside from me going to see Hole with Jeri Smith-Ready...

I'm able to go to BEA and ALA this year because I got my very first grant from the Illinois Arts Council, which is highly exciting... of course the grant came with a disclaimer noting that the state of Illinois has been very slow at "paying it's obligations" including grants, so most likely I won't receive my funding until after my grant period is up. Sigh, good thing I have some savings and I just hope they really do pay me eventually!

Anyway, hope to see some of my Chicago people next week and can't wait to see NYC friends and fans in a month! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GCC Presents: Kay Cassidy (a woman who definitely rocks!)

I don't have a contest for you this Wednesday, but there is an opportunity for you to win a copy of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE on Steff Metal's fabulous blog zine. She did a really awesome interview with me (great questions that really made me think!) and is offering up a copy of IWBYJR to one lucky commenter. Check it out here. Contest ends next Friday.

Also, I am taking part in an auction benefiting PAYA, which brings YA literature and authors to libraries in Pennsylvania. You know I heart libraries big time and will do what I can for them, so up for bids is an hour-long Skype chat with me about my books, writing process or whatever you, your school group or book club (due to the price, probably more well-suited for groups) want to chat about. The details about the auction can be found and bids can be put in here.

Even though this is not an official Women Who Rock Wednesday post or contest (I'm hoping to bring those back next week with Cheryl Rainfeld author of SCARS as long as I can get my act together, lol.), I decided to post this today because Kay Cassidy freakin' rocks and I have no doubt about that. I've had the privilege to meet her in person (and I'm hoping to do an event with her or see her again sometime soon!) and she's my sister from Teen Fiction Cafe as well as the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. As a part of her GCC tour, I'm interviewing her today about her fab new book THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY, which is literally on the top of my TBR pile (I was lucky enough to be the last person on Kay's ARC tour) and I can't wait to dive into it as soon as I finish the book I've gotta get back to the library. It sounds like a really fun, girl-power type read and you probably know by now that those are my favorite kind of reads :)

If you haven't heard about THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY yet, here's the lowdown:

What a girl to do when the glass slipper fits, but she doesn't want to wear it anymore?

Sixteen year old Jess Parker has always been an outsider. So when she receives an invitation to join The Cinderella Society, a secret society of the most popular girls in school, it's like something out of a fairy tale. Swept up by the Cindys' magical world of makeovers, and catching the eye of her Prince Charming, Jess feels like she's finally found her chance to fit in.

Then the Wickeds--led by Jess's arch-enemy--begin targeting innocent girls in their war against the Cindys, and Jess discovers there's more to being a Cindy than reinventing yourself on the outside. She has unknowingly become part of a centuries-old battle of good vs. evil, and now the Cindys in charge need Jess for a mission that could change everything.

Overwhelmed, Jess wonders if The Cinderella Society made a mistake in choosing her. Is it a coincidence her new boyfriend doesn't want to be seen with her in public? And is this glamorous, secret life even what she wants, or will she risk her own happy ending to live up to the expectations of her new sisters?

And here's a little teaser from the book:
I opened the card, my hands trembling in dread and the faint remnants of what I used to call hope, as a tiny silver high-heel pin bounced into my hand.

I juggled the pin for a second, barely managing to keep it from falling, and flipped open the note with my other hand. The words inside were not a message but an invitation that sent shivers down my spine:

Your presence is requested at The Grind.
Tonight, 7 p.m.
Wear the pin.
Discretion MANDATORY.

Now, let's meet Kay Cassidy, shall we?
Kay Cassidy is the author of teen fiction she wishes was based on her real life. She is the founder of the national Great Scavenger Hunt ContestTM reading program for kids and teens and the host of the inspirational Living Your FiveTM web project. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, movies, music, and reading. Lots and lots of reading. She hopes her debut YA novel, THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY (April 13, 2010 - Egmont), will help girls embrace their inner Cindy.

Q: Please tell us what your new book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Kay: The Cinderella Society is about an outsider who gets tapped to join a secret society of good populars dedicated to defeating the mean girls of the world. The Cinderella Society actually came from a magazine article about high school sororities. I'd never heard of that before and, once I started thinking about the kind of society I would create if I could, I realized I would've wanted it to be an organization devoted to fighting the everyday battle of good vs. evil. It all snowballed from there and The Cinderella Society was born.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

Kay: I create a playlist for my books because it really helps me make the transition from the real world of laundry, phones ringing and domestic crises to the world of the story. Some of the songs on the playlist would give away story twists, but the theme song of the book is Soar by Christina Aguilera. Jess's theme song is Who I Am by Jessica Andrews and Ryan's theme song is Savin' Me by Nickelback.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

Kay: When I first started looking into writing YA, my local teen librarian suggested three books: The Princess Diaries, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and How My Private, Personal Journal Become a Bestseller. I took them home, devoured them, and knew this was what I wanted to write. Those books were—and still are—the reason I became a YA author.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

Kay: I can't listen to music when I'm writing because it's too distracting. I used to need complete quiet, but I've gotten much better about writing amidst distractions and noise. Sometimes my husband will have to ask me a question three times because I'm so engaged in the scene that everything else is blocked out. :-)

In addition to using the playlist as a way to transition from real world to imaginary world, there are times when I'm struggling to nail the emotions of a particular scene and it comes in handy. I'll listen to a certain song on the playlist over and over trying to absorb and acknowledge the emotion it brings out in me. Once I'm really connected to that feeling, I can transfer it to the scene.

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

Kay: Right now I'm working on the sequel to The Cinderella Society, titled Cindy on a Mission. It follows the further adventures of Jess and the Sisters as the Wickeds launch an offensive that threatens everything the Cindys hold dear. Cindy on a Mission will be on shelves in Spring 2011.

So there you have it! Go check out THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reality Check and new tattoo pics

I've been back from Seattle for almost a week and a half and I meant to get back to the blogosphere last week, but it just didn't happen. Well, not on my own blog at least. I posted some goofy pictures and told some of my silly inside joke type Seattle stories over on the MTV Books blog, so you can see those here. But I meant to post more serious stories and photos from the trip here and I will... eventually.

As I mentioned in that blog entry, I really needed to get away and just be goofy, forget about being writer Stephanie or bartender Stephanie or responsible adult Stephanie. And I did and it was good. But then I came back to reality. Currently, I am not a big fan of reality. In my reality, I am stuck in a bit of a holding pattern and it really isn't much fun.

I don't want to get all whiny (and I really hope this doesn't come across that way), but this is my blog and sometimes I need to use it to vent... I may regret it, but here goes.

On Friday I had a No Good, Very Bad, Horrible Day. It seems silly to explain it, but basically I woke up and my internet was down. This actually seemed like a good thing at the time. I figured it would lead to getting a lot of writing done and I needed to get a lot of writing done. I'm trying to get another partial to my agent by the end of the month. So I figured I'd just respond to a couple things via my phone quick and then I'd get to work, just checking the BlackBerry when it blinked to see if it was the News I'm Hoping For. I did this and was texting back and forth with a friend making plans. Then an odd thing happened, the screen of my phone went white and gave some kind of illegible error message. So I pulled the battery, expecting it to start up again just fine, but it went straight to the error message. Oh, I'll just check the internet.... wait the internet doesn't work either. My phone doesn't work, my internet doesn't work, I am cut off from the world and I am hoping to get news. This is no good. Oh and I'm also waiting to hear from the vet about my cats' neverending diarrhea problems. Definitely not okay.

So off I go to the AT&T store with the phone that is only three months old. They look at my phone and say I can either send it in to be repaired or drive to a specific AT&T store to get it repaired. The store is an hour away in traffic. And best reached via highway. I haven't driven on the highway in four years due to a traumatizing accident involving my car and a semi-truck and actually, an on-ramp very near to where AT&T is trying to send me. This is ridiculous. It leads to a major anxiety attack. I beg for a loner phone to no avail. Frustrated, I demand to be let out of my contract, stating that I will walk across the street and get a phone from Verizon instead. They are not fazed.

Long story short, I end up spending nearly 4 hours of my day in the car and what happens at this special AT&T store? They take one look at my phone, say it's a software problem that they cannot fix and they give me a new phone. A new phone which of course it has taken hours to reprogram like my old phone and I still haven't figured out how to fix a few settings.

Okay, that whole story definitely sounds like whining and it kind of is, but the point of it is that it caused a complete and total meltdown. The type of meltdown I haven't had in years (well, with the exception of while writing Ballads of Suburbia because getting to the place I had to go with that book put me under incredibly emotional strain) and that really shouldn't happen over a phone. But really, it wasn't about the phone. It was about a day that I really needed to spend writing and I didn't get to write at all. And there have been too many of those lately.

Writing functions as my anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication and when I don't get to do enough of it, I become very very cranky. However this is a double-edged sword. My writing "career" is also currently causing much of my depression and anxiety.

This is where we get to the stuff I feel hesitant talking about. I feel like I published two books, this means I'm lucky (and I am), so I should shut up and be grateful. There is not a lot said about how hard it is to stay published after you've been published or about feeling successful. Though at the beginning of last month, many of my fellow authors at Teen Fiction Cafe talked about it and that made me feel much less alone.

Right now there are two questions I dread more than anything in the world: "How are your books doing?" and "When is your next one coming out?"

They are completely innocent questions, but the answers are not simple. And people have really bizarre notions about how the publishing industry works. For example, after my whole AT&T ordeal on Friday, husband and I decided to go out for dinner and drinks... which were followed by more drinks at the bar where I worked. And one semi-regular customer who I find mildly annoying but tolerate because it's my job (and this is the thing that sucks about drinking where you work, you still have to be nice to people you normally wouldn't be because no matter which side of the bar you are one they are your customers) started giving me career advice... which I guess he felt like he could do because he's a financial advisor, but um, given the economy I'm not so sure financial advisors should be allowed to give advice. His experience with the publishing industry was this. He had a client who wrote a book which supposedly sold for 2 million dollars and then she enlisted him to help her interview agents. This is one of the least likely situations ever for a writer. It happens. But he also wouldn't tell me her name or her book so....

Anyway, he wanted to know why after having books out in the world for two years, I wasn't in a better position. "Well, my agent is shopping my next book now, so fingers crossed," I said in the falsely cheery tone I currently use when answering my most dreaded questions.

"Why isn't it sold yet?" he demanded.

Uh, I dunno.

"What's wrong with your agent?"

Uh, nothing, I don't think. I really like her....

"Do you have her on a retainer?"


"The only good agents are the ones who work on retainer."

Ummm no. Generally paying up front for representation in my world is a scam, agents work on commission.

"When I was interviewing those agents, the only one who was impressive worked on retainer."

What I wanted to say was: sooooo I guess that's why I've never heard of your client and her two million dollar book. She spent all 2 million trying to shop another book.

Of course, in reality, I just weakly tried to defend myself, my agent, and the industry as I understood it until I couldn't handle it anymore and then I sort of ditched my husband with the guy (don't worry, I rescued him in a few minutes, claiming that another guy needed to talk to him about baseball tickets).

The story is kind of funny, but kind of not. Because while the majority of people may not have as fucked up views about the publishing industry as this guy, most people still have a very inaccurate view of the publishing industry.

I officially sold my first book three years ago on April 17. I was bright-eyed and excited and thought for sure it would be a big hit because I would promote the hell out of it. I did and... yeah not so much. MTV Books is not nearly as powerful as the television network it's named for (and they are related in name only as I have to explain all the time). Without big muscle publishing power behind you, it's hard to be a big hit. At least that's what I've gathered over the past three years.

This is not something I understood before being published. It is not something many people understand. When I tell people I am a writer, they are usually surprised. Because they haven't heard of me, they think this means I'm talking about self-publishing. You are either self-published or you are JK Rowling/Stephenie Meyer/Stephen King/James Patterson. Everyone seems to forget that there are a whole bunch of us in between. A whole bunch of us who haven't been lucky enough to get mentioned by Oprah or get any sort of ad campaign or anything, but we're here.

And don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be here. Very glad. Every time I get an email or message or acknowledgment of any kind that someone read one of my books and liked it, I am over the moon.

But there are countless ways for me to depress myself too. I don't know how well my books have sold. I have my agent's perspective on things, I have numbers, but I don't have a concrete idea of how I'm doing because I don't understand what it all means in the scheme of things. I wish it was as simple as being graded A, B, C, D, F and I wish there was a simple way to bring up my grade. But there isn't and I try my damndest not to stress about things I have no control over.

*whispers* but sometimes i can't help it. sometimes i can't help but noticing that i never ever ever see Ballads in bookstores. IWBYJR is there sometimes, but usually in adult when i wish it would be in YA. and Ballads the book that nervous-breakdown-emotional-overload consumed me seems like it will disappear. it feels like i tried to scream and no one heard me. i have nightmares like that, screaming but no voice comes out. or i have nightmares that i'm on a bus headed down a steep hill. i have to pull a certain handle at a certain time or we'll all die and i wonder why i am i in charge of this thing having never driven a bus *finishes stream of conscious whispering*

So that is the long answer to the first most dreaded question "how are your books doing?" The short answer is a shrug.

That brings us to the second most dreaded question of when is your next book? My books came out so quickly because it took my agent over a year to sell my first book so I started writing the second one. And the whole time I was writing it, I was thinking, should I even bother? I don't think anyone is ever going to be interested in my stories. But then someone was!

I wrote the first book under no pressure, just to write it. I wrote the second one under some pressure. I was doing revisions after the first one had already come out and of course I had all thsoe bad reviews in my head and was fighting to make it better (which I think I did.) Now I feel hyper aware of audience and industry and everything while I'm writing and it slows me down because I have to empty my head of that.

That is why it took me a while to nail down the concept of my next book (well one of them. I am also working on two at once which slows things a bit too), but when I did, I have never ever been more proud of an idea, never ever been more excited to write something. My agent sent it out to several editors approximately two weeks ago. She tells me they are enthusiastic about it. Thus far no offers though. And I don't know realistically how long it is supposed to take. I hear these stories where a book sells overnight and oh god how I wished that could be me, I thought maybe it could be this time, maybe this idea would be good enough, maybe it would be the one. But so far it's not me. Right now, all I can hope is that it doesn't take another year again because I'm not sure I'm cut out for that.

Sometimes I really doubt I *am* cut out for this. It's freaky, not knowing if I'll ever sell another book again, thinking that right now I am just a bartender because as I recently read in the book Cocktail: "You are what you get paid for." This is what the character said in response to being asked if he was a writer. Then he added, "I am a bartender." So yeah, I am a bartender.

And more and more I am resenting the time that I have to spend at the billpaying job and how it takes away from my writing. And I resent how household chores and emails and social networking and blogging and all the things I do to promote my books take away from writing. Also as much as I loved my trip to Seattle, I came back angry. I want to be in Seattle, in the city of my heart, not in Chicago, which is more and more (especially after being stuck in so much traffic because of all the horrid awful flat SPRAWL) becoming the city of my nightmares. So I'm resenting where I live. I'm even resenting my cats because they've been perpetually sick for months and no one can figure out why. But most of all, I resent all the time I spend worrying and waiting anxiously to find out if this book, this big idea, the thing I've probably wanted to write since I was ten years old, if it will sell. My dreams in someone else's hands.

That's the reality of being a writer. Your dreams are in someone else's hands.

And the only way I can cope is with more writing. It's not even good writing. It's fast and furious scrawl (well, typing, but you get the picture). I'm throwing words on the page quick and dirty to keep myself occupied. I know where the story is going, but I can't make it pretty yet. I'm too distracted by anxiety, but either I will reach the end of the section I want to write or I will get good news and either of those things will give me the energy to go back and polish it. It's another partial. Hopefully I can sell on partial. That might mean working less at the bar and writing more which would be awesome. But yeah, we'll see. This is the grown-up version of my bartender book because the YA version did not sell. The editor I wanted for it could not buy it, but she was interested in seeing adult fiction by me and I honestly felt this story would be better off if the characters were a bit older. She was intrigued by my new direction and this has given me enough hope to work on it. Again, we'll see.

So this is what I've been doing. Trying not to think about the questions I seem to get asked on a daily basis (How are your books doing? When is your next one?) and instead throwing myself into doing the thing I love because I need to know that I still love it. I need to know that it is still my drug, my cure-all, even if it has weird side effects sometimes.

And I haven't blogged in awhile partially because I'm more interested in writing than blogging right now and blogging will have to take a backseat sometimes as well it should, but also because I needed to vent these things and felt I couldn't. Felt it wasn't kosher. Felt it would come off as whiny. But I had to do it. So I stayed up past my already quite late bedtime and did so.

This is the reality of writing. You have very little control and you spend a lot of time waiting. And if you ask my husband he will laugh and tell you how much I hate both of those things. But I love writing more so I'm doing it.

Hopefully the book that is being shopped will sell soon and I can stop worrying over that. It would be my dream come true if I could sell well enough to write full-time, or best of all, to write full-time *and* move to Seattle. But I'll take what I can get.

So I haven't been blogging because I'm writing. Fast and furious attempting to meet a self-imposed deadline.

But I will be posting an interview tomorrow and Women Who Rock Wednesday will be back soon and there will be a proper blog with Seattle pictures ummm eventually. For now I will leave you with photos of my new tattoo since it is almost completely healed. (This is probably the part most of you skipped to get to; no worries, I understand)

My two friends Jenny (left) and Eryn (right) went to Seattle with me (middle) and we decided to get cherry blossom tattoos in honor of our love for the city and for each other. That is why I got two blossoms, one for Jenny and one for Eryn and they are branching out over my heart because that is where they are even though they live many miles away. Cherry blossoms also symbolize Seattle to me because the first time I went, I was awestruck by all the cherry trees in full bloom. Seattle is in my heart as well.

But I also am struck by the fragility of cherry blossoms, and the fact that they are a spring flower and come in after a hard winter on these sometimes grizzled looking trees. I don't really have the words for exactly why that spoke to me, but I've long wanted something to symbolize and remind me of the way I came out of a lot of darkness to make my dreams of writing come true and find true love with my husband.

Here's the tattoo up close. I hate how my skin looks, but you get a decent view of the detail the artist used. He used a super small needle to get the detail on the leaves. I really love it. Need to get more tattoos done by him.

Ultimately I want to expand this tattoo into a full tree that spans my left arm up to where the current branch crosses my chest. It will be a gnarled and blackened tree with scarred roots, but the most beautiful blossoms at the top. And, if I can get the design to work how I want, there will be girl, breaking free of her demons and reaching for those branches, pulling herself upward toward her dreams.

I may or may not incorporate the phrase "The pen is mightier than the pain" which are words that just came into my head while I was dreaming up the design, but that is what the tattoo will symbolize to me.

I have those words on a sticky note near my computer as a reminder. Even if now my writing career is the source of much worry and self-doubt, I will write my way through it. That is what I do.

And now off to bed, so I can get up and do exactly that.