Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Holly Cupala!

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we begin, I want to announce the winner of Wendy Toliver's book LIFTED... Erica aka The Book Cellar!

Today I am featuring a debut YA author who I've had the pleasure of hanging out with at both BEA and ALA and have decided she has the best taste in dresses of practically anyone I know (and I am a huge dress fanatic so it's a big compliment).... Holly Cupala! Her novel TELL ME A SECRET came out last week and I bought it at ALA and have moved it to the top of my TBR pile because it sounds beyond amazing.

Holly did something extra special for Women Who Rock Wednesday and recorded a video that will introduce you to the book. Check out Holly reading from TELL ME A SECRET:

Q: Tell us about TELL ME A SECRET, for my readers who may not have heard about it yet, what it is it about? What inspired you to write this particular story, which from my read of your two-chapter teaser, deals with some very important issues, not just teen pregnancy, but figuring out who you are, especially in the face of grief?

Holly: A little bit about TELL ME A SECRET: for five years, Miranda has been holding her family together after the mysterious death of her bad-girl sister, Xanda. One more year before she escapes her suffocating mother and disappearing father for good, on the arm of her dreamy boyfriend. Until then, she has a dangerous new friend to unlock her sister’s world…and a secret of her own. Two lines on a pregnancy test mean losing everything—and possibly finding her own future.

It was inspired by a very very hard period in my life. I almost quit writing, but some wonderful friends encouraged me through a major loss. The story came to me in a flash, and I started writing…it was difficult until I began to find the hope in it, and Miranda’s voice came to me. From there it grew into something all its own.

Q: If TELL ME A SECRET had a soundtrack, what are some of the songs that would be on it and why?

Holly: It just so happens TELL ME A SECRET does have a soundtrack:

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Our friend Kasson, of Symbion Project/Splashdown/Freezepop/Harmonix, makes us these amazing mixes, and one of them contained a number of the songs on this playlist. I listened to it quite a bit, and apparently a lot of the themes trickled into the story. Plus I especially love his work with Melissa Kaplan of Universal Hall Pass/Splashdown. The book trailer is coming soon and features one of my favorite Splashdown songs!

Q: Who are some of the people that inspired you to become a writer or keep writing? Since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we particularly love to hear about the women, but feel free to include men too.

Holly: The women writers who have rocked my world: Laurie Halse Anderson, Rachel Cohn, K.L. Going, Ellen Hopkins, Deb Caletti, Sara Zarr, the readergirlz divas, and my many wonderful writing friends in Seattle who have walked with me through the writing journey.

Q: What's next for you? What are you working on now?

Holly: A second YA (tentatively titled STREET CREED) is slated for Fall 2011—it’s about a suburban girl who runs away to the streets of Seattle and falls in with a band of homeless kids, one of whom she has seen and fallen in love with before ever leaving home. She has secrets she’s left behind, and every character has them. She must make a terrible choice, and she learns a lot about what it means to love.

Q: Since you live in Seattle and I am dying to move there, torture me a little bit and tell me your favorite thing about living in Seattle.

Holly: Oh…so many favorite things, Stephanie! When it’s beautiful out, the city just sparkles like nowhere else on earth. The downside is that it’s not so beautiful most of the year, and that’s when you comfort yourself with excellent international food, the arts, and good friends. When you come visit, you’ve got a place to stay.

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 :)

Holly: I’m going to embarrass myself with this one! My parents didn’t let me listen to secular music growing up, so of course I listened to it every chance I got—mostly mainstream, because it was a pretty small town with just one Top 40 station. But then I had this boyfriend in junior year who introduced me to Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, The Smiths…good stuff. I think my first purchased album was probably Depeche Mode’s Violator. I didn’t go to concerts until college, but I remember seeing Cowboy Junkies and Depeche Mode and Green Day, and India Arie when she opened for somebody. She was great.

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.

Holly: That would have to be the day of the sale. My agent is a wicked, wicked man. He’d only been subbing my manuscript for three weeks, but he didn’t say one word about the interest brewing. Then, right before I was going to hop on the plane for the SCBWI conference in LA, he called and said, “We have a pre-empt offer for two books.” From my number one editor. I don’t think I ever boarded that plane…I think I sprouted rock star wings and flew myself. Then, my wonderful-husband-favorite-person-ever sent me this Giant bouquet of red roses. They were so big that I took them out to the SCBWI table for everyone to enjoy, and Lin announced it to the whole crowd. What a moment.

Today's Contest:

Now that you have learned more about Holly and heard her read from TELL ME A SECRET, you probably want the book more than anything, right? Well, you are in luck! Holly is giving out a signed copy to one lucky winner.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about TELL ME A SECRET
+1 for sharing the video of Holly reading
+5 for blogging about TELL ME A SECRET

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Please note that due to postage expenses, this contest is for US mailing addresses only.

I'll announce the winner next week when my guest is Gina Frangello!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Wendy Toliver

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! The last WWRW winner who will receive a signed copy of Tara Kelly's Harmonic Feedback is Sara of the Hiding Spot! Congrats Sara!

Today I am thrilled to feature my Teen Fiction Cafe sister, Wendy Toliver, a YA author who definitely rocks. Her book LIFTED is up at the top of my to-read pile because it looks incredible and I definitely went through a shoplifting phase in my teens. Let's meet Wendy and find out about LIFTED, shall we?

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

Wendy: LIFTED is the story of Poppy Browne, the daughter of a single mom who takes a job as a professor in a tiny Texas town. On Poppy’s first day at her new school (a private Baptist one), she meets two very popular girls and one friendly choir girl, and all want Poppy to hang with them. When she gets to know the two popular girls, they quickly draw her into their surprising secret: they shoplift. A lot.

I was watching a show on TV about how shoplifting is a huge problem, especially with teens, and thought it would make an interesting topic for a book. Most people have either shoplifted themselves, have been tempted to try it, or know someone who has, so I think it’s something we can all relate to.

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?

Wendy: 1. “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga—captures the fun times Mary Jane, Whitney and Poppy have

2. Anything by Evanescense—Amy Lee’s pure, haunting voice is perfect for the part where Poppy realizes her life is spiraling out of control

3. “Gimme That Girl” by Joe Nichols—seems like a song David Hillcrest would sing for (or dedicate to) Poppy.

4. “The Fear” by Lily Allen—captures how confusing life becomes when you have all sorts of external influences trying to mold who you are.

5. And, just for fun, "Got Caught Stealin'" by Jane's Addiction. Because it’s about shoplifting.

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!

Wendy: My mom has been a huge inspiration for as long as I can remember. I’ve also had some really great teachers who really believed in me and my talents. Now that I’m an author, I have author friends who give me frank critiques, shoulders to cry on (when need be), and champion me not only as a writer but as a person. I’m truly very blessed.

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?

Wendy: I can listen to it while I’m writing but I don’t usually. If I’m alone I like it quiet, or I sometimes write in bed with the TV on something like “America’s Top Model”—something I can glance up at every now and then but don’t feel tempted to stop writing just to watch. However, the minute I’m in my car, I’m blasting music, car-dancing, and singing my heart out. It cracks me up when my three little boys join in!

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

Wendy: I think I’ll try my hand at paranormal YA. I’ve been working on an idea for a while now and am whipping it up into a proposal.

Q: I have two questions that I always ask 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, we like to see the roots of our women who rock!

Wendy: My first album was the soundtrack to the movie “Grease.” I bought it for fifty cents from my neighbor’s garage sale. Still love those songs! My dad’s work was always giving us tickets to concerts like the Beach Boys, The Righteous Bros. and Gladys Knight so one of those might have been my first concert but the first one I remember going to with friends was LL Cool J. Followed closely by George Michael. Those were when I was in junior high.

Q: Tell us about your biggest rock star moment, perhaps it's a moment of real success in your career, a time when you met someone super cool and had that Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" moment, or just a time where you felt like you got the rock star treatment. I get a huge variety of answers for the questions, so it's pretty much whatever "rock star moment" means to you!

Wendy: My first “I’m not worthy” moment was a few years ago in L.A. when I was at a movie premier with Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale. I can honestly say I’m usually just myself when in the company of famous people, but for some reason, Gwen really got to me (she’s one of my favorites and gorgeous in person) and I could only utter a measly, “Hi.” Oh! I just thought of another “rock star” moment, but I didn’t know it was happening until afterwards. I did karaoke one night (again in L.A.) and Hugh Hefner was in the audience. LOL!

Today's Contest:

Now that you have read about LIFTED (and how awesome Wendy is!), I am sure you want to read it as badly as I do. Well, you are in luck. Wendy is giving out a signed copy to one lucky winner.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about LIFTED
+1 for sharing the book trailer
+5 for blogging about LIFTED

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Please note that due to postage expenses, this contest is for US mailing addresses only.

I will announce the winner next Wednesday when my guest will be debut YA author, Holly Cupala!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First Drafts & First Chapters

This reposted from the MTV Books Blog.

For the past week I've been struggling with the first chapter of my work-in-progress (some of you know I have two works in progress, but in this case I mean the bartender book).

This book has had many different first chapters. To be far, I started writing it without really categorizing it (much like I did with I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone). Then I decided that I should try to write a book that was solidly YA. The partial I wrote didn't sell and I realized it's because the story was all wrong so I started it over as a book that will appeal to both adults and teens, but likely be called "women's fiction." (I really still hate labels as much as a I did as kid... so restrictive.) Anyway, the story is on the right path and I struggled so long with writing the perfect first chapter. And then I had one of those rare moments of clarity: my fighting cats jumped on my bed and I realized, Bar fight! Perfect!

Only it wasn't. My agent read it and pointed out it's flaws. I grumbled about it, pondered for a few days and realized she was right. Then I got this brilliant vision for the perfect intro that would capture the characters and the place and be chock full of imagery. I thought it would be about five pages. Right now it's a twenty-five page mess. *Sigh*

So what's a girl to do? Go back and look at drafts of old novels and reassure myself that I always suck in the beginning and things will be okay.

Well, um as it turns out the first paragraph of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone has been virtually the same give or take a word since day one. Okay, so I knew the beginning of that book pretty well, but I struggled in other places. There was a terrible case of writer's block 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. And that book went through so many titles....

Ballads of Suburbia was a little more fun to re-examine. It only had one other title. The version of it that I wrote during my first year at Columbia College was called The Morning After, which was what I'd always wanted to name a band when I was in high school. I wrote a full draft of The Morning After and honestly, it's probably a completely different book except there is a main character named Kara with boyfriends named Adrian and Christian and she also has a more innocent fling with a guy named Liam. Her brother in that version is named Sam and I guess ultimately I decided those characters should be merged and that I liked the name Liam better. Speaking of names, Maya was Lana and Cass was Acacia (she would be Ava for most of the time I wrote Ballads actually, before one of my critique partners pointed out that I had too many names with double a's). Oh and while I use the real name of the park that the characters hang out in, Scoville Park, I give the town a fake name, Lincoln Prairie. I'm not sure what I thought I was doing there... Instead of starting the book with Kara returning to her hometown four years after a heroin overdose, I started with Kara returning to Scoville Park in the spring of her junior year after not hanging out with her friends for some time because she's been trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship with Christian. This was actually much more autobiographical than Kara's storyline in Ballads ended up being.

It starts with a very melodramatic reference to Kurt Cobain's suicide involving shotguns shoved down scratchy, song-torn throats and "exquisitely scarred poetry." *shudders* The whole thing is so overwrought and angsty, that I can't even bear to post the first paragraph, but here's a line describing the park that I still like for some reason even though it makes NO sense.

The bark of the trees smelled like ashtrays and through the sparse tufts of grass there was a muddy path that lead to where they all sat in the sun staring at a statue dedicated to soldiers who fought in long gone wars that they didn’t remember, understand what was fought for, or feel what was lost or won.

I don't why on earth I felt that tree bark could smell like ashtrays, but I still like the idea of it. Somehow it's so very Scoville Park.

Basically the first chapter of "The Morning After" is beyond cringe-inducing. I learned *a lot* from going to school for writing.... but my first drafts are still usually way off from how the book ends up.

This is the beginning of the first chapter of the first real version of Ballads, which I started writing in my last semester of grad school while my agent shopped I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

Now at this point I came up with the idea for starting with the epilogue and it is largely the same except for some extraneous information about Stacey and Cass (who was called Ava at the time) that I cut:

Sirens and lights welcomed me back to the suburbs of Chicago after my four-and-a-half year absence. It seemed fitting. Symbolic, considering they had also heralded my exit. And it could not have happened anywhere else: only a Berwyn cop would pull Stacey over for rolling a stop sign, cash in on her total lack of insurance, but not notice the pot smoke lingering in Stacey’s long, auburn ponytail, my cropped, black hair, and beneath both of our winter coats.

Stacey had spent two hours on the phone convincing me to come back from California for winter break that year. I planned to spend the first three nights with her, her husband, Jason, and their four year old daughter, Lina—a situation I was still having trouble grasping at twenty. My mother didn’t even know I was back yet, nor did the only other high school friend I’d kept in touch with, Ava. Stacey was the one who needed me.

Ava had turned out to be more stable than any of us, devoted to nursing school and her boyfriend of two years whom she lived with in Wicker Park (as Stacey said, “Only losers like me still live around Oak Park.”). Ava had managed to pull together a completely normal life while Stacey was a walking disaster and I vacillated in between the two of them. I had the successful-college-student, laid-back-west-coast-transplant fa├žade, but I hadn’t stuck it out and healed like Ava. I’d run, and the reason I hadn’t risked coming home was because I feared that if I did, I’d find out that I was still the same fucked up kid I’d been at seventeen, like Stacey thought she was.

Right before we got pulled over, Stacey was saying, “God, Kara, I’m such a fuck up. The night Jason took Lina, I tried to drown myself in the bathtub.” She rolled her cerulean eyes and exhaled a dark, nicotine-tinged laugh. “Do you know how hard that is? Your body really fights to survive even when your heart is broke so bad and your mind wants to die. I laid in the tub swilling tequila for hours, till the water was ice cold, dunking my head underneath, and trying to force myself to stay down. I fell asleep in there, but I didn’t fucking die. I woke up wet and miserable and still without my kid. So I begged Jason to take me back. Told him I’d sober up, that I wouldn’t cheat again, and I’m working on it, ‘cause I need my baby with me.”

We were on East Avenue between Cermak and Roosevelt Road where there’s a stop sign, like, every block. Stacey paused at them all, tapping her brakes, then moving on. I mean, honestly, when there’s no traffic, what Chicago driver comes to a full stop? “Fucking motherfuck!” Stacey cursed. “Don’t the goddamn Berwyn cops have anything else to do? Shit!” She slapped the steering wheel hard with the heel of her hand as I turned my head to gaze at the flashing red and blue behind us.

Then there is the actual chapter one of the book (the chapter after the epilogue since my epilogue functions as a prologue...)

It’s the ballads I like best on movie soundtracks—hell, on any album. And I’m not talking about the kind of song where a diva hits her highest note while singing about love or a rock band tones it down a couple of notches for all the ladies out there (though Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” is a classic, by rights). I mean a true ballad, according to the dictionary definition: a song that tells a story in short stanzas and simple words, with repetition, refrain, etc. I’m talking about the punk rocker or the country crooner telling us the story of their life in three minutes, belting out that chorus a few times to remind us of the way they messed up love and success yet again. That’s the music I’ve gotta face, my own cycle of despair.

But my story is going to take a little longer than three minutes to tell even though the concept is pretty basic: the fallen girl child. Like Persephone from the book of Greek mythology I got for Christmas in second grade. Maybe I imagined myself to be Athena, but my tiny fingers traced the drawing of little Persephone, hands thrown to the air, mouth open in a scream as Hades took her away from the bright sunshine and flowery existence that she had known. Even though her mother would eventually save her, Persephone was doomed to relive her mistakes with every winter, with every chorus. And she probably never got to be the perfect, beautiful goddess she was supposed to be.

I am definitely not the girl I was supposed to be, the genius girl that my parents, teachers, and guidance counselors wanted to mold. And I don’t mean the kind of girl who works on movie soundtracks, that’s fine, I suppose. I mean, I’m a functional human being with a career path, but I’m marred. Like Persephone, I’m an ice queen on the inside instead of content like I used to be, all because I wasn’t supposed to stumble down that path, take those turns, follow those curves. And I don’t really know how it happened. It’s like one day I got out of bed and then I closed my eyes—you know, the reverse of what you are supposed to when you wake up in the morning. Starting in the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I did that every day for a little over a year.

Cue the music here. Cue Dinah Washington crooning “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes!” But that’s already been done and that’s not my ballad, mine would be something by PJ Harvey or the Screaming Trees because if Ms. Polly Jean and Mr. Mark Lanegan had a bastard child, it would be me.

I’ll begin with the setting of my movie, what you’d see as the opening credits rolled: Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park isn’t one of those suburbs—you know, the type with no grid system, no streets or avenues, all courts and lanes that twist through subdivisions, which center on a strip mall or a manmade lake. No, it’s nothing like that. It doesn’t have what Maya’s grandmother would call “ticky-tacky box houses”—you know, where the only thing that varies from one house to the next is the paintjob. Pale blue, pale gray, and a bunch of other shades of pale that god knows how you tell apart at night, especially if you’re drunk or stoned. I’ve heard stories about kids walking into their neighbors’ houses, accidentally climbing into bed with their friend’s sister, and getting the cops called on them. But I don’t know anything about it first- or even second hand.

‘Cause I didn’t grow up in one of those suburbs with wide lawns and narrow minds. Even though Hemingway coined that phrase about Oak Park, I’ll give it more credit that that. The lawns were broad and beautiful, true, but the people kept their minds open for the most part. I just can’t say the same about their eyes—not when it came to their kids. But, you know, it was the early nineties and there was a recession and property taxes were high and the kids needed stuff—well, we needed something and we let stuff be that thing. Anyway, everybody’s parents seemed to work long hours in Chicago, that’s where their minds and eyes were most of the time.

Of course, we didn’t live in one of those suburbs with an hour commute into the city—in fact, you can just cross Austin Boulevard and there you are on the west side of Chicago. But Oak Park is definitely not the city, which made a big difference to me because I lived on the south side of Chicago in Morgan Park until the summer before second grade when my dad got promoted. My brother, Liam, was about to enter kindergarten and my parents decided he should do so in “better public schools” now that they could afford them. Even though I didn’t really remember the old neighborhood, I claimed it as my real home for years because I didn’t want to be a suburban kid. It felt like a stigma I didn’t deserve. I mean, I remember that winter when Maggie Young, the most popular girl in the class of 1990 at Washington Irving Elementary, came up to me and asked if my coat had a YKK zipper. When I checked, responded that it didn’t, and Maggie made it into another reason to shun me—we were seven, for fuck’s sake!—I knew I could never be one of those kids from the suburbs.

The final book version of the first chapter begins with:

The summer before I entered second grade and my brother Liam started kindergarten, Dad got the promotion he’d been after for two years and my parents had enough money to move us from the south side of Chicago to its suburb, Oak Park.

Then I describe Oak Park briefly and we go into a scene with Maggie Young--an actual brief scene not just Kara's narration of it.

In the original first chapter, Kara sounds a lot more like Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, which is fair because I'd just finished that book, so I was stuck in her voice. She also explains a lot, tells instead of shows, which is a MAJOR first draft problem for me, but I also think it's part of the process for me to get to know the characters. I needed to know that Kara was the bastard child of a PJ Harvey and a Screaming Trees song. (I actually wrote that down on a sticky note somewhere and listened to both of those artists repeatedly during revisions.) Like I wrote those few lines in the epilogue about Cass/Ava because I needed to know that she became a nurse. I needed to know that Kara wanted to be Athena but was drawn toward Persephone... though actually that was also me. The original version of Ballads had more references to Greek Mythology that I cut because I thought that was better saved for another book.

Actually, now that I've gone through this whole analysis, I'm not sure I feel better. I'm half-worried that the newest version of the first chapter of my bartender book will end up cut to pieces.... though wait, didn't I want to trim it down? Maybe this will help me. I guess I should go find out.

As for my fellow writers out there. Do you write crappy first drafts? Do you do a lot of voice-heavy telling instead of showing like I do? Or what are your early draft bad habits?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Early Summer Spoils: Kittens! Garden! Books! And a Contest!

This weekend really kicked off summer for me and I had a lot of fun, so I thought I'd share my adventures on the blog.

It started with a rare Thursday night off. (I usually work my night job, bartending at the Beacon Pub on Thursdays.) I went over to see my friend Amber who I haven't hung out with in wayyyyy too long and she was fostered 7 kittens for PAWS (an amazing animal shelter in Chicago). Yeah, um total adorableness. Here is Amber with four of the kittens:

And several other kitten shots (all from my phone so excuse the quality):

I really really want one. My husband and I decided the next cat we get will be pure black and named Danzig (to go in the tradition of naming cats after punk rock musicians, we have Sid named for Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Lars named for Lars Frederiksen of Rancid). And there was definitely a potential Danzig there, but with lots of kitty health problems lately, we can't afford to take on another cat. It was nice to spend a few hours playing with them though!

On Friday morning, I got up to work in my garden. My mom and I had done a lot of work in it last Sunday, but it was so hot, we needed to stop. I finished up the weeding, planted the cucumber seeds by the trellis my husband built, and planted a few more seeds. My garden is really starting to look gorgeous this year. Last year, it suffered from total neglect because I was juggling a book release and wedding plans. Though I plan to be very busy writing this summer, I also plan to pay much better attention to my garden and use it as stress relief. I'm not a natural green thumb by any means, but my mom, who no longer has a garden because she lives in a condo, comes to help me out and it's an activity we enjoy immensely. I'm trying to grow a lot more veggies this year.

Here is the front garden, AKA the troubled garden. It is completely overrun with weeds and the sun beats down on it so hard that it hard to grow anything there. My lilies are perennials that always look amazing, but when they die, things go downhill. We planted sunflower seeds this year in hopes that they will keep it looking pretty. An added bonus this year, my strawberry plant produced a handful of strawberries! Very exciting! (And just click on the photos to see them bigger.)

Here is one of two gardens on the side of my house. It's L-shaped and is split between vegetables and flowers (important for cross-pollination for the veggies I've learned). This used to be all grass, but I hate grass (completely unnatural in Illinois and a waste of resources to try to maintain) so I tore it out a couple years ago and have been slowly cultivating it.

This end of it has the cucumber trellis that my husband built and I’ve also planted green bean seeds back there behind all of the prairie plants. Also mixed in there is an eggplant plant. In the front left corner you can see where the Kale is beginning to sprout.

Here is the other half of the garden, where I’ve got tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, lettuce (which will soon be replaced with zucchini) and carrots planted, along with at the top, a Hosta that was transplanted from the house I grew up in.

My third garden is mainly an herb garden with a couple of lilies, Rue, some coneflowers and I keep planting a poppy but it never seems to work out. *sigh* I also grow hot peppers in this garden because hubby and I love spicy food. We’ve got jalapenos going this year. My mint and chives are going crazy and I’ve also got a good crop of thyme and parsley. I just planted basil and some dill, though I’m not sure that dill plant is going to survive, so I may need to get a new one. And I’m still planning to get oregano and rosemary. I’ve also got a row of Brussels sprouts going.

So as you can see, I cram as much as possible into my three little gardens. And, as much as I love my townhouse, I do dream of the day we can afford a house with a proper (large!) backyard so I can do more gardening.

In the meantime, I like to get the fresh produce I can’t grow from farmer’s markets in the summer. My town hasn’t had its own farmer’s market in a few years, but one finally opened on Friday afternoons this year. In fact, it kicked off this weekend and I went crazy buying stuff there. I got some fresh strawberries and a lot of cool specialty goods like locally made hot sauce and spicy organic Bloody Mary mix, which I already made good use of on Sunday afternoon.

Friday after I visited the farmer’s market, my husband and I headed over to SummerFest, which is a big street festival in the center of our town that falls on the first weekend in June. They block of the street, let local merchants sell their wares and let those of us over 21 drink in the street. There is something about drinking in the street that greatly appeals to me, so I enjoyed a glass (well, plastic cup) of wine in the street and my husband played carnival games and won me a stuffed turtle:

We didn’t stay out too late because the next day I planned to volunteer at the local library’s summer reading kick off event. I worked the sundae bar and I have to say, serving ice cream to kids, just as demanding though perhaps more fun than serving booze to grown-ups at my night job. I was so jealous of the kids signing up for their summer reading challenge though. I *loved* doing that as a kid. I did it every year through junior high. I miss having an entire summer off to do nothing but read books. My best friend and I were talking about it later that afternoon, saying how silly it was that half through the summer we’d always complain that we were bored. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and have one of those summers this summer, just going to the pool and reading all day every day…. Especially seeing as I came home from the library to two boxes worth of books that I’d sent myself from BEA!

With all of this good stuff to read plus six books I’ve recently checked out of the library, I need an entire summer to read!

Of course, I don’t have that. Not at all. In fact this is probably going to be my hardest working writing summer since I finished the first draft of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone back in 2005.

My weekend--and potentially the most carefree time of my summer--wound down yesterday, which I spent at Constructor, a local arts and crafts fair that I love to hit every year in search of funky clothes, accessories, and other things for my home (I held back and just got one necklace and one t-shirt this year). Then it was a very personal afternoon with friends, remembering another friend who passed away two years ago, as yesterday was his birthday. We paid fitting tribute. He continues to inspire me every day even though he is gone.

I also had a fun night actually getting to watch the Blackhawks game in the Beacon beer garden instead of having to bartend inside, which I will be doing on Wednesday, when hopefully we will get to see them win the Stanley Cup!

This morning started out with a jog through Forest Home Cemetery near my house. I know it's a strange place to go jogging, but it is peaceful and it's an old cemetery full of so many interesting things to look at, so it inspires me... and I needed inspiration because now it's time to get back to work.

I’m working on two projects this summer, a YA Urban Fantasy, which I talked a bit about (along with my take on paranormals in general) on the MTV Books blog last week here, and a women's fiction novel (the bartender book you may have heard me reference here and on twitter). The bartender book is my main focus this month. My agent read and loved the first hundred pages of it, but of course she had suggestions (and very wise ones) and my critique partner Vanessa had good notes. So, I'll be revising that over the next couple of weeks before I head to ALA.

I may not be blogging very often and I apologize for that but it is a *good* thing. I'm writing books, which is the main part of my job and will hopefully be much more fun to read than my blogs... even when I post kitten pictures. I promise to update when I can though and at least share garden pictures and any small summer adventures I do have. And I do plan to keep the Women Who Rock Wednesday interviews going. (Be sure to check out Tara Kelly's. That contest will be running until 6/15).

Speaking of contests, I now have an extra copy of Melissa Marr's Radiant Shadows (because I had a copy, but wanted a *signed* copy at BEA, so now my original unsigned copy is just laying around), so I'm going to give that to one lucky commentor along with some other swag and a signed copy of your choice of one of my books (IWBYJR or Ballads).

To enter, just leave a comment, but to gain bonus entries, let's help out a good cause, okay?

Venus Zine (one of my favorite magazines ever) is selling this hot poster of Jack White to benefit victims of the Nashville flooding.
So tweet the link to that and you'll get an extra entry.
Buy the poster and you'll get +5.
Do any other blogging/tweeting/linking to benefits for Nashville or for the Gulf Coast's struggle with that horrific oil spill and you'll get an extra entry.
+5 for proof of donation or purchases that benefit either Nashville or the Gulf Coast.

Due to shipping costs, this is going to have to be for US shipping addresses only. And be sure to leave a way that I can contact you if you win.

This contest will run until June 15 as well and I will announce the winner on June 16th. So yeah, help Nashville and the Gulf and get some summer reading. Sound like fun? Go to it.

And let me know how your weekend was and what you are looking forward to this summer!

Friday, June 4, 2010

GCC Presents: Jennifer Echols!

While I was off at BEA, one of my favorite YA writers, Jennifer Echols released a new book called Endless Summer. Jenn blogs with me at MTV Books (though her next MTV Book, Forget You, won't be out until next month) and she is part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, which is why I'm bringing her her to you today.

So let's find out about Endless Summer, shall we?

The Boys Next Door and the sequel, Endless Summer, in one volume!

Two irresistible boys. One unforgettable summer.

Lori can't wait for her summer at the lake. She loves wakeboarding and hanging with her friends--including the two hotties next door. With the Vader brothers, she's always been just one of the guys. Now that she's turning sixteen, she wants to be seen as one of the girls, especially in the eyes of Sean, the older brother. But that's not going to happen--not if the younger brother, Adam, can help it.

Lori plans to make Sean jealous by spending time with Adam. Adam has plans of his own for Lori. As the air heats up, so does this love triangle. Will Lori's romantic summer melt into one hot mess?

Now, let's meet Jenn!

Jennifer Echols grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama--a setting that has inspired many of her books. Always interested in creative writing, she finished her first (and still unpublished) novel soon after graduating with a degree in English from Auburn University at age 20. She worked as an editor for newspapers, a writer for business publications, and a writing instructor for three major universities, completed a master's degree in English, and finished the coursework for a PhD in genre studies before selling a book. Since then, she has written many young adult novels for Simon & Schuster, including Major Crush, which won the National Reader's Choice Award, and Going Too Far, which is a finalist in the 2010 RITA, the National Reader's Choice Award, and the Book Buyer's Best. Her next novel, Forget You, will be released on July 20. Currently she works as a copyeditor and lives in Birmingham with her husband and son. Please visit her online at

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

Jennifer: Lori is a tomboy determined to become more feminine to catch the boy next door, whom she’s had a crush on forever. But his younger brother has a crush on her and does everything he can to stand in her way. The story is set in summertime on a lake in Alabama like the one where I grew up. None of it really happened to me, but it should have.

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?

Jennifer: “Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson and “Figured You Out” by Nickelback—Kelly Clarkson and Nickelback are symbolic of Lori trying to eke out her own feminine identity while surrounded by boys who make fun of her and insist on listening to their Nickelback albums over and over.

“Lights Out” by Santogold—This song just feels like summertime to me.

“Light Up the Sky” by Yellowcard—There are a lot of fireworks and other explosions in this book.

“Endlessly” by Green River Ordinance—This is the awesome love song at the very end, and you’ll just have to read the book to find out if it’s the soundtrack to Adam and Lori’s happy ending.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing?

Jennifer: I am so thankful for the internet, because it puts me in touch with author friends I never would have met otherwise. Any time I need help or encouragement, I have lots of people I can ask. Authors are a wonderful group of people.

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?

Jennifer: I make a soundtrack for each book and listen to it over and over when I’m writing. It helps with revisions, too, because even if I haven’t looked at the book in months, I can turn on that soundtrack and I’m right back in the story.

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

Jennifer: My next romantic drama, Forget You, comes out on July 20. Right now I’m writing still another romantic drama that will be published by MTV Books in July 2011.

Stephanie, thanks so much for having me on your blog!

Thanks for coming, Jenn!

I'm really excited that these two books are packaged in one volume and am definitely going to pick this one up to read outside in the sun this summer. It seems like a perfect poolside or beach read, as a love a romance for that. I hope you'll check out Endless Summer too and please tell me about the summer reads you are looking forward to!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The BEA Blog

I've been slowly reviewing my trip to New York in pieces. (Here is the entry about Day one at the Teen Author Carnival. Here are some words of wisdom gleaned from the Children's Author Breakfast at BEA. And here are some general reflections on visiting New York City and what I love about it.) The trip was totally exhausting and overwhelming, so it's taken some time to process and recover (I've had this cold/allergies/exhaustion thing going on for a week now. My BEA hangover.) But my ultimate analysis of the experience is this:

It felt so good to be completely surrounded by book lovers for a week. I truly wish that the rest of the world were as passionate about reading as the folks at BEA because then maybe I would be able to make a living off of writing, lol!

So in case you missed my previous clarifications, BEA = Book Expo America. It's the premier North American publishing event where the publishers go to display (mostly) their fall releases and hock their wares to booksellers, librarians, and also get the word out about them via members of the press (lots o' bloggers) that attend.

I don't have a fall release and my books are not nearly big enough to warrant my publisher promoting them or setting me up to do a signing at BEA. However I wanted to go to see what BEA was all about, snag some free books, meet fellow authors and the bloggers I've come to know online in person, and just generally be surrounded by book lovers for a few days. I got a grant from the Illinois Art Council (which hopefully they will be able to pay. Right as I was leaving BEA, I got the sad news from them that they may not be able to because the state of Illinois is in such a budget hole, they are not paying out promised funds to organizations. I hate how the arts always suffer in these situations.), so I paid my admission and airfare with that. I stayed with my agent, the lovely Caren Johnson Estesen of Johnson Literary Agency. And then I started getting invited to participate in some events.

I was part of the (previously blogged about) Teen Author Carnival on Monday and I was on a panel with Melissa Marr, Jeri Smith-Ready, Michelle Jaffe, and Jennifer Donnelly about YA/Adult crossover on Wednesday afternoon at BEA and then part of a group signing at Books of Wonder on Wednesday night.

BEA technically started on Tuesday, but all I did that day was pick up my badge as the exhibitor floor was not open yet. Then I went out to lunch with a friend from high school and bummed around the Washington Square Park area and the Flatiron District with Jolene Siana, whom I have been (very slowly) working on a website with called Paper Cuts Zine that will focus on art and writing as a positive outlet for emotional struggles, as both Jolene and I struggled with depression and self-injury when we were younger. Jolene took some really rad photos of me, which I hope to have to post one day soon. I also found this fabulous tea shop called the Tea Spot near Washington Square Park and since tea is a huge passion of mine that was highly exciting.

Tuesday night, I went to the Class of 2K10's event at Books of Wonder. I attempted to take photos, but sadly most of my photos from BEA totally suck because whenever I don't use flash on my camera they blur terribly. But here is the Class of 2K10, some amazing YA and MG writers that you should absolutely check out.

Wednesday was my first really really early morning. 6 am. 5 am, my time. Sigh. So not good with mornings. But it was the Children's Author Breakfast (previously blogged about here) which was quite delightful. I also I ended up sitting by agent Kristin Nelson, which was a thrill because I love reading about her take on the publishing industry on her blog.

I wandered the floor for a bit before my panel. My panel on "Young Adult Authors Crossing Over" with Jennifer Donnelly, Michelle Jaffe, Melissa Marr, and Jeri Smith-Ready is up on Book Expo Cast and you can watch or download the whole thing here! One of the issues we talked about was shelving in bookstores and libraries when it comes to crossover authors or authors like me who are shelved sometimes in YA, sometimes in adult. Sadly, we did not come up with any real solutions, other than ummm ask your bookseller or librarian where to find the book?

After the panel, I hung out with Jeri Smith-Ready and Inara Scott briefly before heading off to have lunch with Jennifer Heddle, who edited both of my books at MTV Books. She and I discussed very important literary matters like Battlestar Galactica.... Seriously though, we did have an interesting conversation about what matters to us most in TV shows and both of us care a lot about character development and the TV writers staying true to them and rewarding us as viewers. And we ate at a delicious old school Italian restaurant called Don Giovanni.

Then I returned to BEA and wandered around, attempting to go to all of the signings and nab all the books I wanted. (Mostly successful, but I missed Holly Black's Unicorns vs. Zombies thing, sad about that.) Here are some blurry shots of what the chaos of the exhibitors floor and autograph signing area looked like:

Then Melissa Walker and I went off in search of a cab with librarian Marie Hansen, to get to our event at Books of Wonder. Trying to find a cab during a major heat wave in NYC is not fun. It's fortunate we didn't melt or I didn't collapse with all of my books. Sadly due to an ordering snafu, the store only had IWBYJR and not Ballads. Since I wasn't really prepared to read anything from IWBYJR and stupidly did not have my own copy of Ballads, I just babbled a bit about Ballads and read the first paragraph of IWBYJR since some of the kids there were pretty young and I was kind of iffy about reading much from it in front of them.

The highlight of doing this event was getting to be with my TFC sisters Melissa Walker and Linda Gerber. Sadly I did not get a photo with them or one of me reading. But I did get to pose with book bloggers Sarah & Khy:

My agent, Marie and I grabbed a quick bite to eat after the event, but then we hauled butt back to Queens because I had to get up early again for the Adult Author Breakfast.

I will admit now that the only reason I bought tickets for this is because I wanted to see Jon Stewart, who was the emcee of the event. Though I only got one very blurry, crappy photo of him:

The authors were John Grisham, who I don't read (though what he had to say about his writing process and research process was interesting), Condeleeza Rice, who politically I don't care for (though after she spoke about the pre-Bush years autobiography she has coming out, it made her almost likeable and Jon Stewart took the words right out of my mouth when he came back to the podium and jokingly shook his fist at her while saying through gritted teeth, "Don't make me like you!"), and Mary Roach, who I hadn't known about, but she was the most interesting of the bunch. She writes books to answer those questions you've always wondered about like "Where do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?" I found her the most entertaining aside from Mr. Stewart himself, who was totally hilarious, making jokes about how he'd heard that publishing was dead and thought maybe that meant he wouldn't have to get up so early to be at BEA. He also mocked some of the Q&A with the authors, which really needed to be mocked because seriously, you're going to ask John Grisham about self-publishing, c'mon fellow authors, this is a bookseller event, let the booksellers ask questions!

Speaking of booksellers, I had another good seating experience for this breakfast. I found myself in line and then sat with a bunch of women who work for the fabulous Blue Willow bookstore in Houston. I've heard nothing but amazing things about this store and had been sending them ARCs and bookmarks for my books, so it was awesome to just randomly bump into them and get to join them for the breakfast. I really do hope I make it to Houston to do an event at your store, ladies!

Honestly the best part of BEA was these little run-ins with people I'd never met in person before or rarely get to see. I had a little bit of time to chat with my TFC sister Alyson Noel, who I haven't seen since I was in LA in 2008 and we read together at Rock n Read. Melissa Marr and I wandered the floor together for a bit and caught up. I hung with Jeri Smith-Ready whenever I could and met Laura Bowers through her and she has to be one of the sweetest people on earth. Here we are together at the book blogger and author reception at the end of BEA on Thursday (Jeri is on the left, I am in the middle, Laura is on the right):

And speaking of book bloggers, I think my continual run-ins with them throughout BEA really was a highlight. I especially kept bumping into Erica, Sarah, Kristi, Chelsea, Khy, Mitali, Devyn and James, who are all super awesome and I loved chatting with and getting book recommendations from. Though sadly I didn't get many photos here is one from the book blogger reception on Thursday:

I was starstruck both by my fellow authors and by the bloggers. I told a few of the bloggers this and they always kind of looked at me like I was crazy, but they do impress me with their devotion to books and all they do to promote them. They are the ones who make me the formerly very insecure teenager and the still sometimes (more often than I'm proud of) insecure adult feel good about myself when they tell me how much they enjoyed my book. It puts me over the moon in ways that words really cannot describe. Ditto for the fellow authors and agents/other folks in publishing who didn't work with me on the books who complimented me. I really can't express how good that made me feel.

BEA had a way of making me feel both very special and very insignificant at the same time (soooooo many books!). It made realize the goals I had achieved (at least a few people have read and do seem to like my books!) and set my sights on new goals (I want to write books that sell well enough that I get to sign at BEA!)

Second to compliments on my books, I got compliments on my hair and my hair accessories, which was also exciting because I've been trying to do funky things with my hair since age fourteen and find the neatest barrettes. Cool barrettes are one of my favorite things to collect. Of course books are another favorite thing and I shipped two boxes of them back to myself from BEA and I promise to post pictures of those when I receive them.

I capped off my BEA experience with dinner with my agent and Elana Roth, the other agent at Johnson Literary Agency. I'd never met Elana in person, so that was fabulous. She's a Midwesterner like me, though she is from Detroit originally and therefore our hockey teams are rivals. I did get her to say go Blackhawks though, which was pretty exciting. But seriously, she is amazing and has great insight to publishing. I gleaned a lot of insider knowledge from listening to her and Caren talk. I'm so glad they work together. I feel lucky to have them both in my corner.

I spent my last morning in New York having breakfast with Caren and Barb Ferrer, my fellow MTV Books author. Barb is another one who has been an inspiration to me. I've followed her journey online and gained a lot of wisdom from her, so it was fun to have a chance to talk in person. She lives in Seattle, further reinforcing my need to move there.

Here I am with Barb:

And here are the two of us with my agent, Caren:

Sorry my blog was kinda scattered and my photos aren't that great, but it was a lot of fun and I encourage book lovers to get to a BEA and experience it if they can. Also, fellow authors and bloggers, please please please share your photos with me (you can email them to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com) and leave me links to your blog entries in the comments because I want to see other people's takes on the craziness.

I am still semi-sick and exhausted, but I walked away with a lot of great books, good knowledge, stronger friendships with people I mostly only talk to online, and most of all, amped up to push forward with my writing.... Which I'm off to do now!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Tara Kelly

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! I'm excited to feature Tara Kelly today. Her debut novel, HARMONIC FEEDBACK, came out last week and it is a book I truly adore and read in one night because I was so sucked into Drea's world. I wish I could go back in time and give this to my high school self as another reminder that "fitting in" and trying to be "normal" is a lot less important than finding yourself and the people who love you for who you are.

Anyway, I will let Tara talk about her book and more now!

Q: I've been singing the praises of HARMONIC FEEDBACK for months now, but in case my readers missed it, will you tell them what the book is about?

Tara: Harmonic Feedback isn't about Asperger's Syndrome. It's about a girl who is trying to figure out what normal means--and if normal is something she even wants to be.

Q: I don't have Asperger's, but I really related to Drea's struggle to fit in and I think a lot of teens will. Also I obviously loved the musical drive of the book. Can you talk a bit about what motivated you to write this book and what you hope readers will get from it?

Tara: Coming from a family of socially-awkward folks--I have ADHD, my brother is on the autistic spectrum, and I suspect my grandmother had AS, I've always wanted to write from the POV of someone who sees the world differently. Someone--who from the outside--is easily misunderstood. Drea is much different than I am. She's far more literal and logical, but it was her struggle to both understand the people around her and understand herself that I could most relate to. That alien there's a party and you're watching it from the outside, wondering why you weren't invited. So I used that feeling to connect with Drea and really get inside her head. My other motivation was I wanted to write a book for all the 'freak' kids out there. The book I needed to read in high feel a little less alone.

As for the musical aspect...well that's easy. Music is such a huge part of my life, it's like breathing, really. And my characters tend to pick that up *grin*

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and who are some of your inspirations? We especially like to hear about women on Women Who Rock Weds, but feel free to include men too!

Tara: Since I can remember, but I guess it really hit home in the 5th grade when the teacher picked one story to read in front of the class. And it just happened to be mine. Writing, like music, was my form of escape. It literally saved me during my teen years, I think. As for inspirations...I did have an infatuation with Emily Dickinson. Yes, I was a goth, what can I say. I also LOVED Joyce Carol Oats--she was probably one of my biggest influences. Poppy Z Brite was a big influence too. And I read a LOT of Christopher Pike. Yes, I was quite the little horror addict.

But if I had to pick one book that made me want to become a writer, it was Anne of Green Gables. I related so much to Anne and read that story over...and over...and over.

Q: In addition to writing, you are a one-woman band. Can you tell us a bit about your music and who inspires you there? Also do you feel the pull more towards music or writing or do they bring about a nice creative balance in your life?

Tara: I write music, much like I write the seat of my pants. I can't do one without the other--so creative balance, for sure. I play entirely by ear (honestly, I can't read music at all--I'm a fraud like that), but the playing by ear deal runs in my family. I think my dad is the only one who reads *grin* As for how I got to be a one-girl-band...well, because I can't just stick to one instrument. I want to do it all. In fact, I can't even decide if I'd rather be a musician or a producer. Why not both? I'm a believer in letting the imagination run wild and doing what makes you happy--even if you completely SUCK at an instrument.

If anyone wants to hear my masterpieces or monstrosities (depending on your cup of tea), feel free to check out my music at

Q: I'm dying for the next Tara Kelly book after reading and re-reading HARMONIC FEEDBACK and I'm sure anyone who reads it will be as well. So can you tell us what is in the pipelines for you?

Tara: Of course. My next book, C-Side Tales, comes out next year, and I'm very excited about it. Harmonic Feedback deals with music, obviously, but C-Side focuses solely on what it's like to be a band in today's music world--which has changed significantly in the last ten years. To steal my agent's summary--the story revolves around a 17-year-old girl who has to battle wicked stage fright (and a crush on the superhot bass player) to convince the members of her new band that she can hack it as their lead guitarist.

The other book I'm working on is called Nyx & Thor. Told in alternating points of view, it's a love story about two Vegas teens--a bully and the girl he torments.

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 :)

Tara: know I always say the first album I bought was Alice in Chains "Dirt", but I was thinking about this the other day. It might have been Bjork's Debut album. Either way, it was ONE of those :) The first concert I went to on my own (not my parents dragging me) was White Zombie and Babes in Toyland. And even today, that remains one of my favorite concerts of all time.

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.

Tara: Probably when Poe pulled me up on stage, had me dance and sing with her, and gave me a hug. Poe is probably one of my favorite female musicians...I just have the utmost respect for her. So that was a moment I'll never forget. I just hope we get to see her on concert again one day soon!

This Week's Contest:

If I hadn't already gotten you excited about HARMONIC FEEDBACK, I am willing to bet you are pumped now. Fortunately, Tara is putting a copy of the book up for grabs in this week's contest.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about HARMONIC FEEDBACK
+5 for blogging about HARMONIC FEEDBACK

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. Please note that due to postage expenses, this contest is for US mailing addresses only.

Winner will be announced in 2 weeks on June 16th when author Wendy Toliver is our guest for Women Who Rock Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Okay, I admit it, I do love New York

I've really enjoyed reading various accounts around the blogosphere about BEA and everyone's experiences in New York during that week. I'm sorry I've been so slow on posting about my BEA experiences. Traveling really wore me down *a lot* more than usual. I think it was the combination of completely fucking up my sleep schedule (I was getting up much closer to the time I normally go to bed on most days) and the seasonal change which always leads to sinus upheaval for me. I don't know if it's allergies or a cold, but there is a lot of snot involved and I'm very groggy. So I'm slow moving on blog entries and other catching up and perhaps not as coherent as I would like to be.

I think I already posted the best slices of knowledge I gleaned from BEA on Saturday in this entry about the Children's Author Breakfast. If you have any interest in YA/Children's lit and why people write it, check that out because I gathered some great quotes from writers who are wiser than me and added some of my thoughts about what they said.

I'll post more about the BEA experience, which was extremely overwhelming, but definitely positive either tomorrow (depending on if my WWRW interview comes through) or Thursday. Today I want to talk about New York City.... and how I've grown to love it.

This was my first Book Expo America (BEA), but not my first trip to New York City. I went there for the first time in 2005 and for the second in 2007, so I've done the touristy stuff like going to the top of the Empire State Building and to the Statue of Liberty before. This third visit was largely a business trip for me. But it sealed my affection for the city, which I must admit was hard-won.

I'm a Chicago girl. We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder in Chicago about not being seen as good enough as New York or LA because we aren't on a coast or as glamorous or whatever. For some reason, these feelings for me have always been directed more at NYC than LA. I was enamored with LA, more because of the palm trees and the weather than the Hollywood glitter, though there is that appeal as well. I lived in LA for a semester and as much as I did love the weather and the landscape, I know I could never live there long term. I can't deal with all the sprawl and the necessity to drive everywhere. I'm a public transportation girl. And there is way too much posturing and superficiality in LA. I just couldn't handle that; it would feel too much like junior high. For example, actual sign on a hospital in LA... Really?

I don't have any interest in living in New York either. They have the same weather as Chicago, and if I leave Chicago, it will largely be to escape that. But unlike LA, where I went in with expectations to love it (and I do, don't get me wrong, I just couldn't live there), I went into New York expecting to hate it. It was partially that Chicago chip on my shoulder and partially my association of the East Coast to certain people and parts of my life that I don't like. With the exception of Baltimore (and a strange affinity for Salem, MA), I've never been all that impressed by the East Coast.

I knew after my first visit that I actually didn't hate New York. In fact, I maybe sort of liked it. And now I can say that I definitely like it and maybe actually love it... Not Seattle or New Orleans love. But it could be up there with my other favorite cities like LA, Baltimore, and Madison. The places I love to visit, but know I could not live.

I was on my own a lot during this trip to New York. The past two times I went with a friend and I was almost always accompanied by my agent, showing us around. I was also mainly in Manhattan. I saw and shopped St. Mark's Place. Went to CBGB's before it closed. Discovered my favorite dive The Mars Bar. So I saw both the touristy sights and the touristy punk sights, I guess you could saw. This time I split my time between Manhattan and Queens, where my agent currently lives. I wandered around a little bit in Queens. I navigated the subway by myself a lot. (Though I love love love my new bff Marie Hansen from the New York Public Library who made sure I got safely back to Queens on the subway my first night navigating it alone.) This made the city begin to feel real to me.

And honestly it felt a lot like Chicago.... but with a much better transportation system (seriously, as a public transportation girl, NYC is heaven)...however not as clean (they don't have alleys like we do in Chicago and the whole trash on the street in the heat thing, not appealing).

I think the biggest way that New Yorkers get misrepresented is that they've been given the reputation of being rude or cold. Now, I am not your average tourist. I'm from a big city myself and I don't like it when people come to an abrupt stop in front of me to snap a photo or pull out a map. Sidewalks in big cities have the same rules as roadways. If you are slow, go to the right so the rest of us who have places to be, know how to get there and want to get there as quickly as possible can easily pass you. If you need to stop to take a photo or consult a map, pull over. Like to an out of the way place. I'm guessing the people who complain about New Yorkers being rude aren't actually being very considerate themselves. I was as considerate as I would have been at home and on the few occasions where I did get turned around, every New Yorker that I approached was polite and helpful. So there you have it.

I really like the people of New York. I like how different the various neighborhoods and boroughs are. I want to go back from a non-business trip at some point and really explore Brooklyn, which I've heard excellent things about and try out some more restaurants. (In terms of vegan friendliness, I would say New York is also on par with Chicago. There are lots of good options, though it is not nearly as vegan friendly as Seattle or San Francisco.)

And this time it really resonated with me what a city of dreams New York is. Of course, I felt this when I went to the Statue of Liberty and thought about Ellis Island and the dreams of so many people first arriving in America. I've understood how New York has been the dream for many in theater and dance and people escaping smaller towns looking for a city that will provide them more opportunities to fit in. But going to Book Expo America helped me see how New York is the city of my dreams as well. It is the capital of publishing. I spent all of my days there surrounded by people who love books as much as I do and I can't express how good that felt. I've been published and I hope to continue to be and to rise in my field and New York is where those dreams have come and will hopefully continue to come true.

Here I am in 2007, when I first visited my editor and publisher and my first dream came true:

That brings us to BEA and I will blog about it soon, I promise. But I had to express what a truly great city I have come discover that New York is. I'm glad my business will continue to bring me back there and hope to enjoy more of a pleasure trip there soon.

What about you? Have you been to New York and if so, do you love it? Is it a dream city in any way to you?