Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Stacey Jay!

Welcome to another Women Who Rock Wednesday! Before we meet today's featured guest, I need to announce the winner of POSSESSION by Elana Johnson.... Battle Studies (aka Andrea) on Live Journal, that would be you! I will contact you ASAP for your address (or feel free to contact me if you see this first)

Now I am super excited, maybe even more excited than usual to feature Stacey Jay. In addition to writing some seriously cool YA novels, Stacey and I seem to find a lot of things in common via twitter so I heart her extra much. And I have been DYING to read her new adult Urban Fantasy, DEAD ON THE DELTA. Deadly faeries + Louisiana Bayou setting + a recommendation from Jeri Smith-Ready + knowing that Stacey is a great YA writer = 1 seriously excited Stephanie. Once I finish reading these last two Harry Potter books in prep for the new movie, I am totally all over this and I have a feeling that once you hear Stacey talk about it, you will be, too, so let's meet her shall we?

Q: Give us the skinny on DEAD ON THE DELTA. What is it about?

Stacey: DEAD ON THE DELTA is the first book in my new urban fantasy series from Pocket books, featuring Annabelle Lee, a woman immune to the venom of the killer fairies that have infested the Mississippi Delta region. Killer fairies, mystery, secrets, lies, relationship drama, and magic--the book has a little of everything.

Here is the trailer:

Q: I've heard a lot of gushing about this book and it's unique premise, can you share a bit about how you got the idea for it?

Stacey: That's great to hear! I'm so, so thrilled that people are enjoying the story, and spreading the word. When I first started brainstorming this concept three years ago, I was living in Arkansas where the mosquitoes are horrendous. You can barely go outside after sundown without getting swarmed. And, of course, being a horror-leaning writer, swatting bloodsuckers made my story-wheels start turning. The original premise was that mosquitoes were biting fairies and then biting people, therefore infecting people with magic and connecting the Fey and human worlds. I was going to call it the Catching Magic series, and it was going to be a young adult project.

But over time--as I continued to brainstorm character and plot--I decided it would be better if the fairies were the creatures doing the infecting. The story got progressively darker from there, and I decided it would be best for DEAD ON THE DELTA to be an adult novel. That gave me the freedom to explore themes I wasn't comfortable exploring in a young adult book. (At least not at that time.)

Q: If you had a soundtrack for DEAD ON THE DELTA, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they remind you of the book or characters?

Stacey: DANCE WITH DEATH by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This is Annabelle's theme song. She's at a low place in her life--and knows it--but she's also at a place where she's keeping it real. I believe some of our biggest growth as people can come after these low, real moments. I'm excited to see who she's going to become in the next book(s).

I'M AN ALCOHOLIC by Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele. Another Annabelle song, in keeping with her dark sense of humor. (I don't believe Annabelle thinks she's an alcoholic, but she knows she might be becoming a bit too fond of the bottle. Still, she can't take anything too seriously, or she'll take everything too seriously.)

SOLDIER'S JOY 1864 by Guy Clark. This is a great old southern song that I think conveys the spirit of the book and all of the characters in one way or another. Each character has lost something in the fairy emergence, they're coming out of a dark time (and heading into a darker one, but don't tell them that. No need to get them all upset just yet.)

I AM NOT A ROBOT by Marina and the Diamonds. Several of the characters in the book are holding important people/issues in their life at a distance. They're denying who they really are and need to find a way to assimilate their truth with their persona before they become 'robots.'

WINTER WINDS by Mumford and Sons. This is it. The relationships in this book are all winter relationships. They're going to have to do some growing if they're going to make it to spring. (Love this song. Mention of pestilence wins it extra points.)

Q: I'm big on place in story. In my writing, the setting is almost like a character and it sounds like place plays a big role in DEAD ON THE DELTA. Can you talk a bit about how you decided upon the setting and/or how you researched it and built it?

Stacey: The setting is absolutely a character in this book, probably more so than any I've written previously. The post fairy-apocalypse world outside the iron gates of the small southern town of Donaldsonville, Louisiana, is a constant in the mind of every character. The natural world and the bayou that once provided for people in the delta are now a source of fear, predators outnumber prey and people have been shifted to a lower place on the food chain.

I knew I wanted a bayou setting--a special climate where fairies have lived amongst us unnoticed until chemical spills caused their mutation and growth. I also wanted a small Louisiana town near several real life chemical plants. I found Donaldsonville via google and my husband and I drove down there for a three day research trip (during which I took the pictures used in the DEAD ON THE DELTA book trailer). It was a very enlightening three days.

Donaldsonville is in a lot of real life jeopardy. Pollution from the chemical plants is a big problem, to the point the area has been nicknamed "Cancer Alley." A lot of the people I spoke with are worried about the price they're paying living so close to the pollution. D'Ville has an unusually high rate of sickness compared to other small towns. Also a high rate of poverty and illiteracy. There's a bit of a post-apocalyptic feel to the place already, which is sad. Because the people there are wonderful, good people. I've never felt so welcomed in a place so quickly. It sickens me to think that their health is threatened by the chemical companies in Louisiana--who historically have not been forced to play by the rules, even when the clean air act's very existence wasn't being threatened by extremist politicians.

I really came to love Donaldsonville, and I think that helped enrich my fictionalization of the town. I hope in some small way my book can raise awareness of their struggle for cleaner air/water/soil.

Q: Who are some of the people that inspired you and/or continue to inspire you to write, perhaps other artists or people from your own life? On WWRW we like to hear about inspiring women in particular, but feel free to include guys too!

Stacey: My critique partner, Stacia Kane. We've been CPs since 2005, when we were both unpublished and struggling to find time to write in between nursing babies. I've watched her career launch and her writing evolve into stories that take my breath away. (If you haven't read the Unholy Ghosts series, you must. Now. Today!) She's a soul sister of mine and inspires me daily. I'm grateful for her friendship, and so proud to have been a part of her journey.

Q: You are such a productive writer, I am envious. Do you have a clone and if so how do I get one? Just kidding, the serious question is what's next up for you?

Stacey: Don't be envious. I work too much. (No clone, just me and my crazy schedule.) I'm actually going to take a brief hiatus this fall. I've spent the last four years working harder than I should have and I need a break to refill the creative well. My first YA hardcover, JULIET IMMORTAL releases August 9th and then I'm working on edits for two other contracted books (ROMEO REDEEMED, the companion book to JULIET IMMORTAL, and BLOOD ON THE BAYOU, book two of the Annabelle Lee series). After that, I'm going to do nothing but read and hike for most of October. I'm really looking forward to it. I love playing pretend, but sometimes it's important to stop and stick your head out into the real world for awhile, clear out the cobwebs.

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!

Stacey: The first album I bought was "She's So Unusual" when I was six years old. Cyndi Lauper. I still love her. My first concert was Chicago when I was ten with my dad (mostly because they were one of the few bands to come to our small town). I was really bothered by how loud the music was and asked if we could leave about 45 minutes in--it took me awhile to grow into my rock. Obviously.

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!

Stacey: My first signing in Oxford, Mississippi at Square Books Junior is my biggest rock star moment. They had an after party with a punk band and the lead singer had composed a song titled "You are so undead to me" in honor of my book. I was blown away. Best signing ever. Thank you Jill and all the folks at Square Books! (Wish I still had the link to the video of the song. It was awesome.)

Thanks so much for having me, Stephanie! And much rock to all your readers.

Yep, I gotta say that I love Stacey even more after reading that. (I think the fact that she was a Cyndi Lauper girl at 6 gives her major coolness points.) And I'm even more excited about DEAD ON THE DELTA especially after reading about it's real life setting. And after hearing more about it, I'm guessing you are, to, which brings us to...

Today's Contest:

You are in luck! Stacey is offering up a copy of DEAD ON THE DELTA to one fabulous winner! Due to postage expenses this contest will be for US mailing address only, please.

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 DEAD ON THE DELTA
+5 for blogging about DEAD ON THE DELTA

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner next week on July 6th when I bring you another lovely gal who rocks, Rea Frey!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Early Influences-- The Pop Era

I'm enjoying doing weekly music posts. Not so sure people are enjoying reading them, but hopefully cause I think I may keep them up for a while and as I've been hinting I want to talk about some bands/musical phases that I am rediscovering thanks to my Memorial Day weekend activity of uploading pretty much every CD I have that I think might be worth listening to at some point into my iTunes. Plus something about summer just makes me nostalgic. As much as I hated being a teenager, I got the summers mostly free and now I long for those days of driving around aimlessly cranking music.

Before we get into today's nostalgia. I just want to remind you all that I posted some contests last week and these contests are lower on entries than I feel that they should be.

You have the opportunity to win CDs from two bands I recently discovered, Farewell Continental and Wilson. Both are incredibly awesome and in different ways depending on how you feel like dancing and what mood you are in, so read about them here and enter the contest. It's so easy and who doesn't want free music? That contest ends in a week.

But there is another contest that ends TOMORROW. That is for Elana Johnson's new YA book, POSSESSION, which sounds incredible. So check that out and enter for it here.

Okay, Elana was interviewed for Women Who Rock Wednesday and I always ask that question about the first album and the first concert experience though I don't think I've ever answered it myself. Last week on Tuesday Tunes, I told you about my first concert experience. (In that same blog where you can win the Farewell Continental and Wilson CDs, so check it out!)

But now it is time to talk about my first album, or in my case, cassette tape. The first cassette tape I ever received as a gift was "Celebration" by Kool & The Gang. I'm not sure if the album is actually called "Celebration," but I wanted it because of that song, which was played when the Cardinals won the World Series... at least I think they won the World Series, maybe it was just the playoffs... my brother would know this better than me though at the time (6 or 7), I was a huge baseball fanatic and living in St. Louis being raised as a Cardinals fan. (And I still do root for them as my National League team, but when we moved to Chicago, I became a White Sox fan because I wanted to cheer for a team I could actually see play their games.)

Of course my question to my WWRW guests is not what was the first album ever, it's what did you BUY. For me that was this:

As you may have guessed by the watermark that is not my actual tape. I was too lazy to take a picture, but I still have it and the case is all cracked to show my love. I also had a copy of this on CD that someone burned for me at some point and I added to my iTunes in the big upload because I will always have room in my heart for Madonna, at least her albums up to and including the Immaculate Collection. After that I kinda lost interest. She's not as cool as Cyndi Lauper, I can see that now, but at 9 years old or so, Madonna was my numero uno. I ended up seeing my numero dos, Janet Jackson, in concert because Madonna was too expensive and perhaps a little too provocative, though my mom did buy me a t-shirt from the Blonde Ambition Tour to make up for it (she found this at a store, she did not go!)

My mother had no issue at all with the interracial video for "Like A Prayer" and though Mom was raised Catholic the way Madonna used religion in her songs didn't bother her either. That unzipped fly and the cone bra thing was kinda racy and I could tell that made Mom a little nervous, but since I wasn't really emulating that (I liked Madonna's look during the Lucky Star and Who's That Girl and Desperately Seeking Susan eras), she didn't take too much offense with that. This is why my love for Madonna disturbed my mother:

I remember Mom, a NICU nurse (meaning she works with a lot of premature babies, many born to teens), ranting up a storm that she felt this song glamorized teen pregnancy. I seriously recall her mockingly shouting, "I'm keeping my baby, UGH!" Despite being raised Catholic, my mom is feminist and pro-choice and I think she would rather Madonna sing a song about safe sex and considering adoption or even abortion. Though, she probably still wouldn't have liked me making up dancing and roller-skating routines to it at ten.

So there it is, my earliest musical influence and my earliest arguments with my mother about music. Of course by fifth grade, I was pretty much over pop music and discovering the rock 'n' roll that has ruled my life and my headphones ever since. I'll tell you about the bands that kicked that off next week.

But please, be honest and share with me, your childhood music loves and did your parents approve?

Monday, June 27, 2011

GCC Presents: Suzanne Young!

Summer really is the season for great new books, isn't it? Suzanne Young, a friend of mine from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit had a new one release last week called A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL.

It sounds amazing so I wanted to give you the details and let Suzanne tell you more about it.


We all want to be remembered. Charlotte’s destiny is to be Forgotten…

Charlotte's best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she's cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what's really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend's arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become—her mark on this earth, her very existence—is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny—no matter how dark the consequences?

Now let's meet Suzanne:

Suzanne Young currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she uses the rainy weather as an excuse to stay inside and write obsessively. After earning her degree in creative writing, Suzanne spent several years teaching middle school language arts. Now she can be found at home chasing after her two children and poorly behaved dog and writing novels for teens. You can visit her online at or follow her on Twitter @suzanne_young.

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

SUZANNE: A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL is about girl compelled to help people, even though her very existence is being erased as she does. The idea began a few years ago. A family member was sick and I was feeling lost. At my lowest point a stranger gave me advice and it helped me through the tough times. I often wondered how she was there, just when I needed her. It sparked the idea of these beings from the light, meant to help others. And A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL 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?


Iris by The GooGoo Dolls
Karma Police by Radiohead
Love Song by 311
The Scientist by Coldplay
Just Breathe by Pearl Jam

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?

Suzanne: I listen to music a lot of the times when writing. More than anything, it’s a quick way for me to get into the mood of the scene.

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

Suzanne: I’m working on sequel, A WANT SO WICKED, and I have a new series, THE PROGRAM, that comes out Spring of 2013 from Simon Pulse.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Realistic YA Revolution

I'm all kinds of fired up for revolution this week, aren't I? The #90minWrite revolution (and info on that is here if you haven't seen me tweeting incessantly about it) and now I'm fanning the flames of the Realistic YA Revolution that Tara Kelly is calling for. What can I say? This is how I deal with life when it gets rough. I sulk for awhile and then I remember that only I can change things or decide to be a part of something that is inspiring and will create change. It's a mindset I developed in high school when I discovered Riot Grrrl as I was dealing with the damage caused by an abusive relationship. The cry of "Revolution Girl Style Now!" really motivated me. So why not cry out, "Revolution Writer Style Now!" when I need motivation in that part of my life?

But I digress. We're here to talk about the Realistic YA revolution.

I saw Tara Kelly's blog post about started a Realistic YA revolution a week ago when I was rushing to get packed to travel to a panel called "Writing The Dark" about dealing with realistic, tough issues in YA fiction. Tara talks about the way contemporary realistic YA can be overlooked as these types of books don't often get a big budget from the marketing department. She mentions that she's heard (and I have to) a lot of readers say they *want* more realistic YA out there and they want it to make a splash the way urban fantasy and dystopian has. But in order for publishing houses to seek out more realistic YA and put the money behind it so that it can make a splash, readers have to show how much they want it by buying the amazing books that are already out there. Tara lists some of her favorite realistic YA books (and I was extremely honored that Tara, an author I admire greatly, named IWBYJR and BALLADS to that list). She encourages you to talk about the realistic YA you love in the comments and help spread the word about this realistic YA revolution that we are trying to start. In return, Tara is giving away an ARC of her forthcoming realistic YA, AMPLIFIED, which I for one would die to get my hands on and a bunch of other authors put up signed copies of their books in the contest (including me, I put up BALLADS), so what are you waiting for, read Tara's blog, comment, spread the word and enter! You've got another week, the contest ends June 30th.

I'm glad to see this enthusiasm spreading about contemporary realistic YA books. I was particularly thrilled to read this post on Stacked, which I believe brilliantly sums up contemporary YA as "truth-driven," and says that from a librarian's perspective that is exactly what teens are seeking. I know it is what I was seeking as a teen and as I've repeatedly said that's what drove me to become a writer. I wanted to tell those stories I needed by I couldn't find. On our "Writing The Dark" panel, I was asked why I write about the dark and I explained that I do so to shed light on it. A lot of the issues realistic YA writers write about are shrouded in secrecy or taboo and when a teen is coping with them, he or she feels very isolated. The more conversations that we start about these subjects and the more stories we tell, the more people can find their way out of the darkness and feel less alone.

I read books of all genres, but I tend to always come back to realistic YA as my favorite both to read and to write. The Bartender Book is "women's fiction," my first venture into writing for adults. (I guess. It's kind of crossover-y just like IWBYJR and BALLADS were.) But it is contemporary realistic whatever it is. I know my next project will be YA and right now I'm struggling to choose from three ideas. One is paranormal/urban fantasy, another is post-apocalyptic, and the third, newest idea is another contemporary realistic YA. Maybe it's because it's the newest idea, but right now it is tugging at me the strongest. It's another book that I know will rip me inside out to write like BALLADS did, but it's a story I really want to tell. So for that selfish reason, I would love to see a realistic YA revolution so my book will be able to find a home, but more importantly it will be able to get into the hands of the readers who may need that kind of story. I also want more books like these to read.

These are some of my favorite realistic YA books. If you haven't read them, I urge you to hit up your favorite bookstore or library and check them out to show the world that you are eager to read realistic YA.

To me SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson is the mother of all realistic YA. I wish I had this to read in high school. It shows exactly what realistic YA is about: having a voice.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen is another essential finding your voice, your strength and your place in the world realistic YA read.
Another incredibly powerful book from Laurie Halse Anderson. This one kept me up all night and ripped my heart to shreds.
As Tara says on her blog, I would concur, Courtney Summers reminds me why I write and I wish I could be as amazing as her.

This is another one that might have made life so much easier for me-- or at least I would have felt like someone got it--if I had it as a teen

Tara's book is a must for those who love music and struggled fitting in.

To me this is such a heartbreaking but true statement about where teenage girls fit into the world and what can happen because of it.

One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking stories I've ever read. Laura Wiess is another one of those authors who I totally idolize. She speaks the truth and creates such real, survivor girl characters.
This explores the complexities of the teenage girl friendship in a way I haven't seen done elsewhere and it rang very, very true for me. Scarily true.
Another classic of course. When I was worried about my agent shopping IWBYJR as YA, she told me YA had changed since I was in high school (even though I was only in high school in 1997 which doesn't feel that long ago) and told me to read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. I was floored and realized that yes, finally the YA books that I needed to read were being written.

A book about teen pregnancy that is so much more than a book about teen pregnancy, it's about friendship, family, living in someone's shadow and coming into your own. Again, Holly Cupala=Idol. I aspire to write as beautifully told and meaningful stories as she does.

This one is almost mean of me to mention because I've read it and you can't until October, but do yourself a favor and pre-order it now. This book punched me in the chest so hard. It's as powerful as a Laurie Halse Anderson novel. It may be my favorite book of the year.

And here is the realistic YA that is next on my TBR pile. I've heard so many amazing things about it and after sitting on that panel with Swati and hearing her talk about why she writes realistic YA, well, she is already on my list of literary idols, too.

Feel free to tell me what is next on your realistic YA reading list and what realistic YA means to you. But don't forget to comment on Tara Kelly's blog post too so you will be entered to in the mother of all realistic YA contests.

Viva Contemporary Realistic YA fiction!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Elana Johnson!

Welcome back to Women Who Rock Wednesday! See, I'm doing more of them as promised and bringing you some super cool ladies with amazing books out!.

First off, we have a prize to announce. The winner of Jessica Brody's MY LIFE UNDECIDED is Mitzy from blogger! I will be emailing you today, Mitzy, to get your mailing address.

Now let's meet Elana Johnson and learn about her book POSSESSION, which, yes indeed, you will get the chance to win!

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

Elana: POSSESSION is about an angry teenage girl who lives in a futuristic society where she can’t make her own choices. Well, that doesn’t really work for her, so she breaks the rules. Chaos ensues.

I wanted to write a dystopian novel, and I love exploring things that cause a strong human emotion—and free will (or the absence thereof) definitely does that.

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?

Elana: 1. If You’re Not the One by Daniel Beddingfield (this is Zenn’s song. He’s just so in love with Vi, and can’t understand why he feels that way, and she doesn’t.)

2. Perfect by P!nk (This is Vi’s song. She has so much pressure to conform, to be perfect, and she’s not sure she can shoulder it.)

3. She Will be Loved by Maroon 5 (This is Jag’s song. He’d pretty much do anything to let Vi know how valuable she is.)

4. Waiting for the End by Linkin Park (This is just a great song about the ending of a relationship, of which there are many endings in POSSESSION.)

5. Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones (Just because I like the idea of painting over everything in black to block it out or whatever.)

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!

Elana: I have two author friends who email with me regularly. Their work ethic constantly inspires me to work harder: Christine Fonseca and Ali Cross.

I also think of Lisa & Laura Roecker and Beth Revis as two inspirations to keep my chin up and keep forging ahead.

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?

Elana: Oh, yeah. Music is the only thing I have found that drowns out the kids! I love listening to music, especially during the editing stage. It really helps me tune everything else out and focus on what needs to be done.

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

Elana: Up next are edits on the companion novel to POSSESSION. It’s tentatively titled FUGITIVE, and will release in June 2012.

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!

Elana: I am lame, but I was an adult before I attended a concert, and it was The Dixie Chicks. *hangs head in shame* I can’t remember the first album I bought…

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!

Elana: My first rock star moment was when I met LaVell Edwards, the head coach of the Brigham Young University football team. He was buying oranges at the grocery store (who knew celebrities do that??). It was pretty awesome to see someone in real life that you see on TV.

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want
POSSESSION and you are in luck! Elana is offering up a copy!

This contest is open to international entries!

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 POSSESSION
+5 for blogging about POSSESSION

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner next week on June 29th when I bring you another lovely gal who rocks, Stacey Jay!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: The Joy of New Bands & Small Shows

The last two weeks have sucked. Holy Hell have they sucked. Mostly it's all shit too personal to share on my blog (yes, I do draw that line sometimes, though I should probably do so more often), but let's just say it's crowning glory was coming home from a lovely panel (more on that later this week) and one-night visit with friends in Wisconsin to find that some asshole kid decided to use our car for BB-gun target practice, shattering both passenger's side windows, denting up the body of the car, and basically costing us a whole bunch of money that we don't have to spare. Of all the crap that has gone down in the past two weeks, that actually registered pretty low on the suckitude meter, so yeah, things have been bad.

I needed a little Chicken Soup for the Soul.... except yanno, my style. Meaning it's vegan, but also not lame, pat on the head, this fuzzy little cliche should make you content. As usual, I relied on music to make things better.

I had a little bright light in my two weeks of suck when a lovely girl named Tiffany tweeted me about seeing my book chilling at the merch table at a show she went to. She thought I'd like to see a picture and that I'd like the band. I always like seeing my book in the wild and I always like music recommendations, so I asked her about the band, Farewell Continental. She said she wasn't the best at describing a band's sound, which I totally get. If I were to describe them, I'd probably generically say "Indie," meaning it's not on the radio (yet... and maybe it is since I don't listen to the radio much anymore), it's not punk or heavy, it's got a bit of that Sonic Youth experimental sort of vibe. But that totally doesn't do the band justice at all, so I'm just going to do what Tiffany did and show you a video:

I was instantly smitten and since I was having an ADD-not-doing-the-90-minute-writing-challenge-like-I-was-supposed-to sort of day, I went to their record label's website and downloaded all of their music. I put it to the ultimate test and went running while I listened to it. I have a love/hate thing with running and need really good music to enjoy it. Generally this means a band that is tried and true and I am currently obsessed with, but even though I didn't know Farewell Continental's songs, they were so catchy, I happily pushed through my run. What can I say, I'm a sucker for girl and boy vocals and songs I can dance to. While posting a dorky, fangirly comment on their facebook page, I saw that they were playing a show at Schuba's, a smaller club in Chicago on a Sunday evening. Sunday's are writing group day for me, but since my writing group is basically just me and a friend who loves discovering new music as much as I do, I proposed to her that we write during the afternoon and make the trek to see Farewell Continental. She was game. I almost bailed after the car window smashing incident the night before, but decided that since the tickets were already bought and paid for, why not go?

I can't tell you how happy I am that I did because I got my vegan faux-chicken noodle soup for the soul in the form of a half an hour of unexpected headbanging.

Hopefully you watched the Farewell Continental video. If not, do that. I'll wait.

Now, picture the band you imagine opening for them.

Did you expect face-melting guitar riffs, pounding drums, throat-shredding vocals, and a frontman banging metal garbage can lids together?

Nope, neither did I. My friend and I were sitting down when Wilson started. Thirty seconds in, we were on our feet because you do not sit down when there is real hardcore on the stage. At the end of the song, the singer instructed us to come closer. He didn't have to ask, we would have anyway. I was awestruck. Suddenly I was back in eighth grade, the year that my best friend moved away and I'd spent a summer at theater camp being bullied and everyone thought I was suicidal, which maybe I kinda was but mostly I was just pissed. That was also when I started discovering bands like Motorhead and early Social Distortion and hardcore punk when it was actually hardcore, pre-guyliner and emo and boys whining about their broken hearts. I had this long, long hair back then and I shaved it underneath, inspired by Mike Patton from Faith No More. It felt so good to whip that hair around to metal and hardcore songs.

Although my hair is short now, that is exactly what I needed and exactly what I did last night. I headbanged my way out of my funk to this beautiful fucking noise, which I think my friend described best by calling it "feral":

Hands down this was one of the best shows I've been to and I've been to hundreds of shows since my very first in 1989. (Janet Jackson, my tenth birthday present, it was so loud that I asked my mom to leave after four songs. The next show was Soul Asylum and Screaming Trees in 1993, the summer before freshman year. Same venue, but I was on the lawn and my eardrums had been damaged by blasting music on headphones for a few years so I didn't wuss out that time.) My first two shows were at a huge outdoor amphitheater in Tinley Park, Illinois that has gone through more names than I have musical phases. My next was at the Aragon Ballroom (or Brawlroom as we lovingly called it), an indoor venue with a 4,500 person capacity, that bands tend to play right before they reach the sports arena fame level. The next was at the Metro, a smaller 1,150 capacity venue that quickly became my favorite place to see shows. Eventually I was spending every weekend and as many weekdays as I could get out of the house at the Fireside Bowl, which makes an appearance in both of my books. It's a bowling alley that let punk bands perform. (I guess it still does, but I don't know. I was constantly hearing that the Fireside was closing/not having bands anymore and then lo and behold another show.) Those Fireside shows were the smallest shows. They were also some of the best.

If I really love a band, I'll go see them wherever. I'm not one of those people who decries sellout once a band I like is playing the Aragon or the Whatever Bank It's Named After Now Amphitheater. At least I'm not anymore. When I was sixteen, I did have a "I will not listen to anyone on a major label" phase. Who doesn't? Now I may make snarky remarks about the other audience members or complain about the sound quality at the I Used To Be Named For A Town But Now I'm Named After An Insurance Company Arena, but I go and I have a good time, an amazing time usually.

But I'll always prefer a small venue and when I went to the show at Schuba's I was reminded why I like the really small ones. Not only does the music sound best, you are more likely to get a bill of bands that are all amazing instead of waiting around through some crappy opening act. I'm not sure why this is, but it's true.

The act between Wilson and Farewell Continental was called Into It.Over It and I say act because it was a guy with his guitar singing those acoustic songs I've been craving lately:

All three performances were stellar. They were totally wildly different, but that is what made the show so perfect.

I used to do this more often, go see a band in a small venue that I'd just started listening to or heard was good. In fact for a few years in high school that was my life. There is nothing more satisfying than discovering a band before they get big and turning your friends on to them. I don't get much of an opportunity to do this anymore, so I wanted to do it with these bands.

I went in knowing that I loved Farewell Continental and that I wanted to share them on the blog so I bought their very last copy of their newest CD. It's kinda beat up because it was taped to their merch table throughout the tour, but Justin and Kari signed it. Then I realized that since Wilson had saved my fucking soul, I had to share them too, so I uploaded the CD of theirs that I bought to my iPod and now I'm going to give it away too. Unfortunately I had this brainstorm on the way home or I would have forked over my last dollars to get something from Into It.Over It too, not to mention I would have asked the guys in Wilson to sign the CD because I did talk to the lead singer and he was super nice. I think he'll be pleased that I am spreading the party.

So what I'm trying to say is...


This is your chance to win either:
"Standing On The Reel" by Wilson
"Hey, Hey Pioneers!" by Farewell Continental

As usual you get one entry just by commenting. Tell me about your favorite show or a band you discovered, whether you like big venues or small ones, whatever.

Then you can get additional entries as follows:
+1 for following Wilson on Twitter
+1 for liking Wilson on Facebook
+1 for sharing either band's videos on Twitter or Facebook (and the more you tweet/post, the more entries you get)
+1 for sharing the link to this blog entry on Twitter or Facebook (again, the more you tweet/post...)
+5 for writing your own blog entry about Farewell Continental and/or Wilson

Yeah, that's a lot of ways to enter. That is because I like these bands a hell of a lot and as a fellow struggling artist (writers, bands, we aren't that different), I like to help spread the word.

When you enter, note your additional entries, leave me an email address to contact you, and tell me which CD you would prefer or if you would be okay with either.

Oh, because I have broken car window bills, I can really only afford to ship to US Mailing Addresses only. Sorry, but that's the way it is right now.

I'll draw a winner on Tuesday July 5th. So that's two weeks. Get entering!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge

ETA: Per my lovely friend Annika's stroke of brilliance, this now renamed "The 90 Minute Writing Challenge" as it is a hell of a lot more tweetable!

Today on Twitter, I called for people to join me in a 1.5 hour writing challenge. A few people joined in. Others asked me later, "What is this 1.5 hour challenge and will you do it again?"

So I decided I better type up a quick explanation.

The Article That Spawned The Idea

Last year when I was struggling hard to get into my first draft of that troublesome but lovely project that my regular blog readers know as The Bartender Book, a friend of mine told me about an article she'd read in the New York Times about how to deal with distraction and our brains being constantly bombarded by information, etc. I tried to find the article again but couldn't so I'm just going to summarize the three major points I took from it and applied to my writing process:

  • We are at our most focused at the beginning of the day before we are bombarded by email and oooh, look at that cool YouTube video and hey, my friend posted an interesting link on Facebook and holy crap, how is it noon already?
  • Though we want to be multi-taskers, it often leads to doing a crappy job on things or a task taking much longer than you intended.
  • And this is the big one: we focus best in hour-and-a-half intervals. Then we need a short break to refresh (though in my case, that break must be closely monitored and can't be doing something too distracting.)
The 1.5 Hour Writing Routine

I consider myself a full-time writer with an additional part-time job (I bartend three nights a week). This means whenever possible, I feel like I should be writing 5 days a week, though being productive for 8 hours a day is not always possible. So using what I gleaned from that article, I came up with my 1.5 hour writing routine. I use this at the beginning or during the hard parts of writing when I can't just get sucked into what I'm writing and binge. Or when the rest of my life is stressful and I'm letting that interfere with getting writing done.

When I get up in the morning the only internet stuff I will do is tweet about a blog post I may have written and scheduled for that day. (I do all blogging and non-writing internet activity in the evening AFTER writing whenever possible.) I exercise, shower, feed my cats and myself, make some tea and head to my computer. I turn off the wireless on my laptop and hide my phone someplace where I can't see it blinking every time I get an email. Then I focus on my writing for a solid hour and a half.

I don't have a word count goal. I learned the hard way that that doesn't work for me. (I wrote really fast and ended up getting 3/4 of the way through The Bartender Book before realizing I had to cut a major plot thread and rein in the story.) Sometimes my first hour-and-a-half is simply rereading what I wrote last and tweaking it. Sometimes I only write a paragraph. Sometimes I cut an rearrange. Sometimes I end up on a massive roll and write a ton. It depends on the project and where I'm at with it.

If I'm not on a tear, I stop after an hour and a half and make lunch. I take a half an hour break. Since the internet distracts me, I usually only check it quick on my phone to see if there are urgent things. Then I spend my half-an-hour doing whatever little household tasks that may need doing or just eating my lunch and reading a book or magazine.

Then I settle down for the next hour and a half of writing. Again, if I don't get lost in the story, I stop for a fifteen minute break. Then I do my last hour and a half of writing for the day. My routine since I'm a late riser generally looks like this:

10:45 to 12:15: Write
12:15 to 12:45 Lunch Break
12:45 to 2:15: Write
2:15 to 2:30: 15 minute Break
2:30 to 4:00 Write

And after four, I do my internet stuff, get ready for work etc. Sometimes it varies depending on when I get up or if things get hectic that day. Obviously this is easily adaptable for any routine and you can do a single 1.5 hour writing block before or after work if you have a full-time job or kids or whatever else.

It works for me better than word counts because it doesn't put that pressure of writing fast or not editing or whatever else on you. It follows what I believe is the cardinal rule of writing: GET YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR.

And Now The Challenge Part

I am no saint at this. I get distracted easily. Particularly if I'm at the beginning of a project or if there is a lot of stress in my life (which pretty much sums up the past two weeks). Another thing I learned while writing The Bartender Book is that I'm better at staying focused when other people are holding me accountable. One day YA authors Melissa Walker and Mari Mancusi and I were all tweeting about how distracted we were and we had been all week and man, we had to be good tomorrow. We decided to check in the next morning, state our goals and use each other to stay off the internet. We've been doing this for quite a while now and it really helps.

Today I was determined to be focused, but my first two writing periods were interrupted by phone calls I absolutely had to take. This happens. However I have a bad habit of using it as an excuse to call my whole day a wash. I decided to use Twitter/Facebook to make myself accountable.

I posted: "Been unfocused today? Me too. So I call a 1.5 hr writing challenge! Get offline, eliminate distractions & c what u can do. Check in @ 4 CST"

I didn't know if people would reply, but I wasn't waiting around to find out. I'd made myself accountable and said I was writing til 4 pm so that's what I was doing.

Like I said, a few people replied, a few people asked me questions after the fact, so now I've decided to start a 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge Revolution!

It's selfish really because it will keep me accountable, but anyone can play and I want as many people as possible to join in. I will be tweeting and posting on facebook when I'm doing one (usually around 10:30 or 11, 12:30 or 1 and 2:30 or 3 CST) and if you see it and have been procrastinating, use it as your cue to GET OFF THE INTERNET AND JOIN IN!

Of course, I don't write every day or at the times of day that some people write, so the revolution depends on others calling out for challenges too. If you have been procrastinating and need to focus and be held accountable to have your butt in the chair, then you should call out for a 1.5 Hour Writing Challenge and catch some other slackers or at least get some work in yourself.

Maybe we can even come up with a cute twitter hashtag or something like #1.5hrWC ? Of course for all the time I spend on twitter, I don't know if there can be periods in hashtags, but whatevs, we'll figure that out. As long as it gets people writing.

So are you up for the challenge?

PS. DAMN, Hashtags definitely don't work with periods in them. Someone else got a cute twitter tag idea?

PPS. We are going with Annika's first suggestion #90minWrite because I like it best, but if someone does think of something better, I'm still open. I just think Annika was being very genius-like as usual.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

GCC Presents: Amanda Ashby

There are a slew of amazing books coming out right now and one of them is FAIRY BAD DAY by Amanda Ashby who is part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit with me, so naturally I wanted to bring you an interview with her about the book. Let's get the skinny on FAIRY BAD DAY first, shall we?

It’s going to be a fairy bad day

First, my rightful designation of dragon slayer is STOLEN right out from under me by Curtis Green. Sure, he’s really cute, but that doesn’t give him an excuse.

On top of that, I am assigned to slay fairies. I know what you’re thinking—how hard could it be right? Wrong! These menacing beasts with their tiny hipster clothes and mocking sarcasm love taunting me. And they won’t STOP!

But the thing that tops my list of stuff to ruin my day? That would be the GIANT KILLER FAIRY that I have to hunt down and slay because I am the only one who can see it. There is someone who can help me. Unfortunately… it’s Curtis.

Now let's meet the lovely Amanda!

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

Amanda: My new book is Fairy Bad Day and to be honest it all started with the title, which I thought was cute. I wrote a chapter for it but my agent wasn’t keen. However, she agreed that the title was cute and so we brainstormed a new idea and then went from there. And if I’m making that sound easy, then I’m lying! I think because it had such a weird start, it took ages for me to find the true story that was lurking within!

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?

Amanda: I actually wrote Fairy Bad Day over two years ago and since then my laptop died, taking with it my playlist and I honestly can’t remember all the songs that I had on there, so this is what I would put on it now rather than what was on when I was writing!!!!!!

Dog Days are Over by Florence and the Machine
Modern Love by David Bowie
Hymm to Her by The Pretenders
I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton
Ant Rap by Adam and the Ants

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!

Amanda: My desire to become a writer has always stemmed from the books that I’ve read and so to begin with it was just me and the computer trying to figure the whole process out. Since then I’ve met lots of writing friends and some have totally inspired me but the two people who keep me on track every single day are my cps, Sara Hantz and Christina Phillips.

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?

Amanda: I listen to music everyday when I’m walking, which is also when I do my thinking and plotting, so I really like to have a playlist to inspire me. Sometimes I will have music on when I’m actually writing, but often I’ll be so lost in the story that I won’t even notice that it’s finished!

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

Amanda: I’ve got a middle grade series called Sophie’s Mixed-Up Magic that starts next year, hopefully in summer and I’ve also got a new YA book called Demonosity, which will be out either at the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013 (and I’m really excited about this one because it has demon knights in it!!!!!!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Acoustic Punk

Some time last year I came up with the idea that at least once a month I'd do a new music Tuesday post to talk about what I've been listening to and find out what you are listening to since I haven't really listened to the radio much in years and MTV hasn't had a cool music video show in even longer and the internet is overflowing with too many bands for me to sort through, so word of mouth is the best way to go.

Of course I've been seriously slacking on the blog front for a while, but I'm trying to find a way to balance out my daily schedule and I need new muses for new writing projects (you can read all about my struggle for balance and attempts to focus on new projects in my latest YA Outside The Lines blog post, by the way), so I'm going to give it a go again.

My latest musical obsession is what I'm going to call acoustic punk for lack of a better term. (Maybe that *is* the term, I'm no music critic, just a music lover.) It seems like a little bit of a contradiction, at least if you think about punk the way I thought about it when I was in high school. The music my parents listened to was acoustic. Growing up, I'd loved some of that stuff (ie. The Beatles) and hated others (ie. Bob Dylan. I'm sorry, I know to some people it's blasphemy, but I really can't stand the sound of his voice. You can blame my father and all the Dylan he inflicted on me during childhood roadtrips.) But by eighth grade or so, I felt like such an outcast and had been bottling up so much anger and sadness about it for so long, I needed my music to match. It had to be loud and furious. Sure I understood that punk was political, a form of protest like the folk my parents listened to in the 60s, but I wanted the bands to shout their political and personal discomforts over raging guitars and drums.

During my teen years, I made few exceptions to this rule, but I rediscovered one of them recently while adding a bunch of my old CDs to my iPod. (This will warrant another blog post or perhaps a series of Tuesday Tunes flashback posts after I work my way through the 3000 songs from my past that I've added.) It's safe to say that I was at my angriest during my junior year of high school. For the most part, I was fueled by Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and Babes in Toyland fueled me. But I also loved Tattle Tale. They were different--cello, acoustic guitar, the occasional acapella duet--but somehow just as raw, in fact maybe even more so because the music felt so vulnerable and maybe because I felt so vulnerable, I couldn't listen to them unless I was in a certain mood. They were alone, late at night, writing in my diary music:

I don't feel that vulnerable anymore. I've stripped away most of the really angry layers and addressed what was underneath. I've learned to deal with my rawest emotions and to channel them into my writing. I went through a massive Johnny Cash phase while writing BALLADS OF SUBURBIA because I was trying to produce something as earnest and real as that man with his deep voice and his guitar. Ever since then I've been seeking out more and more of that--songs that feel like stories whether they be stories about a political event or the state of our world or stories about someone's personal growth and experiences. I was pleased to discover there was a type of punk rock that fits that particular mood of mine perfectly. The so-real-it-hurts mood, when you want to crawl inside your own head (or often in my case, the head of a character) or put your finger right on that throbbing raw nerve.

Dave Hause, lead singer of The Loved Ones, recently put out a solo album that kicked off this acoustic punk obsession of mine. His album Resolutions as been playing on my iPod and my record player pretty much nonstop since February. Maybe it's that "early thirties thing" he's singing about, but I haven't related so strongly to an album on such a personal level since I heard Hole's Pretty On The Inside in junior high or Sleater-Kinney's first EP junior year of high school or The Distillers' Coral Fang in my mid-twenties when I was coming out of a messy 8-year relationship and finally learned to use words instead of substances to heal. All of those albums are filled with loud, dark songs sung by women. This is a softer, more reflective album sung by a man, but nothing else has summed up how I feel as someone who is struggling to make a living off of their art, but wondering if the time will come that they have to get an office job and a 401K. I hear my own self-doubts. I hear the restlessness I've been feeling stuck in the same general area where I grew up, longing to move away from the winters that drag me down, but again can I take that risk, can I live in the city I love and still afford to be the struggling writer. I hear my own story of a fucked-up teenager who has grown up and feels relieved to have survived, but sometimes gets nostalgic and tempted. I hear my own thankfulness for the amazing friends that helped her through. And I hear stories of the characters I write about, too. ("C'mon Kid" could be the theme song of the Bartender Book--well, one of them.)

Once I realized how much I loved the sound of Dave Hause's record, I started searching my collection for things that I might have picked up in the past that were similar and I'd overlooked because I was in the wrong place for it. Admittedly even though I'm not that angry, fucked-up teenager anymore, loud, distorted punk is still the main thing I listen to. I also tend to obsess on one band or type of sound for awhile and if I buy something new that doesn't fit with it, it gets set aside.

My husband who is a huge Hot Water Music fan had actually been the one to download Chuck Ragan's solo album Feast or Famine. He'd played it for me a few times, but I always when I was on a Civet and Social Distortion kick or an Alice In Chains and Soundgarden kick or something else that just didn't jive. I saw on twitter that Chuck Ragan and Dave Hause were touring together (and god, why couldn't they have come to Chicago together because it would have been me and the spouse's dream show!) and it reminded me that I had Feast or Famine and should give it another listen.

Sure enough, now I'm hooked. This is like my Bob Dylan, complete with harmonica, which I must admit is an instrument I used to loathe partially because of the aforementioned childhood road trip trauma and partially because of teenage bad alt rock ala Blues Traveler trauma. While I still can't deal with Bob Dylan's voice, I appreciate the kind of stories he tells through his songs and how they struck a chord with my father and my brother. Fortunately I have Chuck Ragan to sing songs with the perfect mixture of the political and the personal, but the kind of raw, punk voice I adore:

So that's what I've been listening to lately. Check out Tattle Tale, Dave Hause and Chuck Ragan if you're in the mood for something stripped down to the most raw and real punk rock heart.

And hit me up with your recommendations. Maybe you know of other similar stripped down punk artists I should check out or perhaps you have a different obsession and can launch me into a whole new phase.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Warning: This Post May Leave You Humming For Days

It's been kind of a stressful week so I felt a lighthearted blog post was in order.

On Monday, which oddly enough was the best day of my week, a friend from high school posted on facebook that she had this song stuck in her head:

Take The Skinheads Bowling - MyVideo

Even though she said that it had been in her head for a week and was getting rather annoying, I got super excited because I'd completely forgotten about Camper Van Beethoven and this song, which has always made me happy.

But um, now it is has been in my head for a week. It probably didn't help that I picked up a shift at the bar on Monday night and it was super slow, so one of my three friends/customers who was there decided beer bottle bowling was in order... utilizing an exercise ball (I don't even want to explain how we got an exercise ball at the bar) as a bowling ball. I tried to take pictures but it was too dark for my phone, so you'll just have to trust that it was a seriously hilarious experience. However, my friend Mark who was there has recently shaved his head...

*Hums "Take the skinheads bowling, take them bowling!"*

So I went to bed that night with the song in my head. Fortunately I was able to sleep. That's the worst when you can't sleep or your sick or something and you have a song in your head. Pure torture. At least for me. (And now for one of the characters in my bartender book as I stole from myself for her. She hears Morrissey singing both times she's in labor.)

The song has remained in my head all week and like my friend said, it's definitely getting annoying. At one point I tried to tell myself that at least it wasn't that Proclaimers song from Benny and Joon.

Did you click on that? I'm sorry. If it makes you feel any better just *thinking* about that song caused it to take over from Camper Van Beethoven for a few maddening hours. That song was in my head for like 2 weeks once and it was a very miserable time. So I tried to think of another catchy tune to get it out and I settled on this:

Oh, Punk Rock Girl. I kind of wanted to name I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE after that song, but since MTV Books already had a book called, GRAFFITI GIRL (a really freakin' awesome book by the way), my editor told me that unfortunately it was out, but we still bonded over a mutual love for the Dead Milkmen.

Anyway "Punk Rock Girl" is another one that will stick in your brain... Though in my case, I'm back to those bowling skinheads because last night at the bar it was slow at the very end and we broke out the exercise ball to bowl down some empty beer bottles again. Even though my shaved-head friend was not present, the mere mention of bowling brought it back.

So let's see if you can get a different song to infiltrate whatever part of the brain that music gets stuck in for the weekend. Preferably one with an awesome 80s/early 90s music video because that makes the torture worth it. (Except in the case of that Proclaimers song. Even seeing adorable Johnny Depp as Benny does NOT make it worth it. I'm really sorry about that one.) What song or songs have taken up a long residence in your head?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Jessica Brody!

Hello my lovely blog readers... hopefully there are still some of you out there after I posted in fits and starts for the past nine months and mostly about writerly angst. (Though also about some rather important, writerly things too. If you missed my post in response to The Wall Street Journal's awful article about YA Fiction over the weekend, please do check it out here.) But I promised I would bring the Women Who Rock Wednesday interview series and I wasn't lying. I've got stuff lined up at least every other week for a while and we are kicking it off with a bang with the fabulous Jessica Brody, who is here to tell us all about her new YA novel MY LIFE UNDECIDED.

This is Jessica:


And finally my friends, the first Women Who Rock Wednesday interview since November. Yes, there will be a quiz contest at the end.

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

Jessica: MY LIFE UNDECIDED is about a fifteen-year-old girl, infamous for making terrible decisions, who enlists the help of her blog readers to decide how she should live her life. The idea came to me while my husband and I were watching TV. An ad for a reality show came on and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a reality show where you could vote on what the characters did. As in, “who they went out with?” or “Whether or not they forgave their backstabbing best friend.” Like American Idol meets The Hills. We both agreed although it would be cool, it wouldn’t be practical from a production standpoint since they shoot those reality shows months before they air. I was not deterred though. I said, “Fine, I’ll write it as a book,” and then marched up the stairs and in ten short minutes, wrote a page-long synopsis for what would become MY LIFE UNDECIDED and sent it to my editor. She wrote back right away saying that she loved it and the book 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?

Jessica: Although there’s no official soundtrack for this book (yet!), all of the music that’s featured in the book trailer I specifically chose because of how well it represented the character and the story.

There are two songs in particular in the trailer that I think are just perfect for this book. The first is “Be Original” by Savannah Outen. It’s a great song. This book has an important message about self acceptance and I think this song really captures it. The other song plays at the end of the trailer. It’s called “Here We Go” by Josh Golden and I think it really represents the leap of faith that my character has to make at the end of the book in order to take back control of her life.

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: I guess I would say my second grade teacher inspired me to become a writer. I’ve always loved writing but she was so supportive of me and always encouraged me. I remember how other teachers used to tell me that my handwriting was too sloppy because I wrote too fast and that I needed to slow down and take the time to form the letters correctly. But she was exactly the opposite. She told me to just write and let it all come out and worry about the handwriting later. To this day, it’s still great advice. When I’m in a writing flow, I never stop to correct spelling or grammar, I just keep going and remind myself that I can always fix it later.

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 can’t listen to music while I write because the lyrics distract 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.” About two years ago, however, I discovered that 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: Ooh, I have TONS of fun stuff in the works! Some I can talk about and some I can’t…YET! My next book is called 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER. It will be released in Summer 2012. I just finished all the edits. I’m so excited about this one! It’s about a spoiled teen heiress, famous for her partygirl antics and tabloid headlines, who’s 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 receiving her trust fund. I had SO much fun writing that one. And it was recently optioned for film! So fingers crossed it actually gets made! How cool would that be?

And right now I’m working on the first book in a new sci-fi trilogy I just sold called UNREMEMBERED. It’s about a sixteen year old girl who wakes up amongst the wreckage of a devastating plane crash with no memories. She's forced to piece together her forgotten past with only one clue to her identity-- a mysterious boy who claims she's not from this time.

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!

Jessica: The first album I bought was Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl. I bought it on my tenth birthday after my parents gave me my very first CD player. I was so excited because “Straight Up” was my favorite song on the radio. And the first concert I attended was actually Debbie Gibson! My best friend in elementary school got us tickets and backstage passes. We never got to meet Debbie herself but I remember going backstage and seeing all these teen celebrities (like Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years!) and thinking how cool it was.

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!

Jessica: Well, I’m still waiting for the one rock star moment that I’ve been hoping to happen since my first book was published. And that is for someone to recognize my name and go, “Hey, didn’t you write The Karma Club?” Or something like that. It’s yet to happen! But I’d have to say my biggest “rock-star” moment so far was when my name and picture was published in Variety a few months ago. It was an article about a film option for my upcoming sci-fi series called UNREMEMBERED. I used to work at MGM Studios and Variety would be delivered every day to my desk. It’s like the film world bible. So to see my name (and picture!) in there was totally surreal! I have the article hanging on my wall.

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want MY LIFE UNDECIDED and you are in luck! Jessica is offering up a copy!

Please note that due to postage costs, this contest is for US/Canada residents/mailing addresses only.

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 MY LIFE UNDECIDED
+5 for blogging about MY LIFE UNDECIDED

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner on June 22nd when I bring you another lovely gal who rocks, Elana Johnson!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why I write about damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds

I use a quote from the TV show My So-Called Life to open up my second YA novel, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA:

"If you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book."

Fifteen year-old Angela Chase played by Claire Danes says this in (I believe) the very first episode of the show when asked to justify why she quit yearbook.

I was fifteen and a sophomore like Angela when My So-Called Life originally aired in 1994. It was my favorite TV show. I'd never seen anything so real. The way my life mirrored Angela's (and as I got a bit older, her best friend Rayanne's) was uncanny. That was the year I first dyed my hair. Not Crimson Glow like Angela's, but I put a blond streak down the middle (yeah, like I said, maybe I was a bit more Rayanne...) I had a best friend that I was growing apart from and starting to spend more time with a crowd that was perceived as bad or troubled. My parents marriage wasn't perfect and I could see and worried about the fissures. I longed for a better relationship with my father and judged him for his flaws. And oh my god, the Jordan Catalanos in my life during 1994/1995....

But I digress. My point is that I loved My So-Called Life because it was real. And when it was canceled, I was pretty damn convinced that it was taken away from me because it was too real.
I'd scrawled that quote, "If you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book," in my diary because to me it explained why I couldn't find answers to my teenage struggles in books, a fact that troubled me greatly. As a child I read avidly. Books were the places I found answers, understanding, friends. Somewhere around 8th grade I couldn't find characters that I related to anymore--not characters that were my age, at least. YA wasn't what it is now. It wasn't as real.... or as the Wall Street Journal put it in this despicable article yesterday, full of "damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds."

This article, which I think it is essential to point out DOES NOT QUOTE A SINGLE TEENAGE READER is basically a call for censorship. It asserts that teenagers are children who need to be protected from the dark and ugly things that go on in the world. We should not talk about self-injury or drugs because it might encourage otherwise innocent teenagers to start doing them. We shouldn't talk about rape, abuse, incest, gay teens being battered, etc, etc because it is depraved. Damn fucking right rape, abuse, etc. is depraved and vile and disgusting and wrong. (Oh, pardon me, I suppose that should be D#%n f&%#ing right...) But unfortunately it exists. And horrible as it is, it happens to teenagers. It happens to children. Do I wish I could wave a magical wand and make it go away? Hell yes, I do. But I can't. So I write about it, I read about it, and I share those books about it with others. Why? Because not talking is not protection, not talking can be lethal. In the dark, you are blind.

I grew up white and middle class in a suburb of Chicago. If you are blind or ignorant, you would probably like to believe this means my life was sheltered and untouched by the dark, demented forces that according to the Wall Street Journal is too prominent in YA fiction now.

Not. At. All.

For the regular readers of my blog, I'm going to keep this short and sweet because they already know a lot of these stories. Not to mention it would take me all day to get in depth about it.

As I mentioned before I was an avid reader as a child. Part of this was an escape from loneliness. My family moved to suburban Chicago from inner city St. Louis between second and third grade. I did not fit in. I tried during grade school. I gave up in junior high. I was bullied. It made me depressed. I started cutting myself when I was twelve or thirteen. I discovered it quite by accident. I was very upset one day while working on stage crew and snagged my arm on a nail. For some reason the sensation released the tension. I would continue cutting until my early twenties. It worsened in high school. I was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship during my sophomore year. I already had low self-esteem so it was easy to fail prey to this guy and convince myself that what he was doing to me was love. I had a brief bout with anorexia following that relationship. I used and abused various substances from alcohol and pot to coke and heroin in my teens and early twenties. I was in love with a heroin addict. I was in love with an alcoholic. More than one of my best friends were molested as children. Some multiple times. Some by family members. I have friends who were raped. I can't bring myself to use the word rape about that sexually abusive relationship because I didn't say no, but when someone is crying through sex I'm not sure exactly what you call that. I have friends who dealt with severe mental illness in their families. I have friends who feared for their lives on a daily basis in their pretty suburban homes. I have friends whose parents neglected them. I have friends who became parents way too young. I have friends who are dead. I have friends who have been to rehab multiple times and failed. I have friends who still refuse to get the help they need. I have friends who survived, who lead shockingly normal lives, who I am insanely proud of and grateful for every day.

Fortunately there is a large number of those friends who survived. There is one common factor among us: WE TALKED ABOUT IT.

That's the thing about "damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds" if you keep quiet about it, it festers, it bleeds, it gets infected, it never ever heals. In my seemingly perfect suburban town, the rape, the abuse, the neglect, the violence was ignored, not confronted. So the people dealing with it found ugly destructive ways to cope.

Books were the way I was raised to understand things. When dark things started happening in the world around me, when I was struggling with depression, with self-injury, with addiction, and the aftermath of abuse, I wanted a book that would shine a light for me, that would tell me I wasn't alone. Knowing that there are other survivors would give me faith that I could survive. But during my teenage years, I didn't have books written for teens. I had books that were slightly older like THE BELL JAR and GIRL, INTERRUPTED. However towards the end of high school and into my early twenties I started to find books like THE HANGED MAN by Francesca Lia Block, SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, and SMACK by Melvin Burgess.

The more I read, the more I talked to my friends and my family, the less I cut, the less I drank. Writing had also always been a release for me. Poetry, 'zines, the occasional short story. When I finally found my way to college for creative writing at twenty-one, I started writing about punk rock kids struggling to find their place, about girls and women who were hurt but trying to survive. At first, it was therapy. Eventually it became a mission.

Sometime around then, I got My So-Called Life on DVD. When that scene came up where Angela says, "If you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book," I went running for a scrap of paper. I wrote those words down. I taped them to my computer monitor. That was what I needed to do. I needed to write that really upsetting book, not because it was really upsetting but because it was about what really happened.

No, neither of my books are autobiographical, but yes, my second one, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is set in the town where I grew up and it does deal with a lot of the issues (and resulting coping mechanisms like cutting and heroin addiction) that I faced as a teenager.

And I will continue to write those upsetting, real books partially because it helps heal the wounded teenager in me who needed those books so desperately but could not find them, but mainly because I know teenagers still need those books so desperately now. My name is not a big one, my books have not had a vast audience (though maybe if I put suicidal vampires in the next one, they might), but I am happy to know that they get to the teenagers (and adults) who do need them.

I want to send the Wall Street Journal copies of the emails from teenagers who tell me that BALLADS or I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE helped them seek the help the need, for drugs, for depression, for self-injury, for surviving abuse, for surviving rape. But I would not dare violate those people's confidence, especially not by giving them to someone who does not understand how sacred it is to find your voice, your experience, your fucking key to survival in a story like I have, and apparently, I've been fortunate to help others do through my books. That's why I write YA. That's why I write about "damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds." These stories are not just stories of darkness, they are about hope, survival, and the human experience. Sharing them makes me feel like my existence has a purpose.

Please feel free to share your comments about YA fiction and how it has helped you. Also if you are on twitter, I highly encourage you to check out the #YAsaves thread. You will smile, you will cry, and you will rejoice in the strength of the human spirit.