Wednesday, December 23, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #12: Laughter

I mentioned it before, somewhere back in the early gifts, but I'll say it again: one of the best gifts writing YA novels has brought to me is laughter. Buckets full of laughter. Backyards full of laughter. Snowbanks full of laughter (can you tell I'm waiting for Santa to bring me a snow & ice storm?).

Like the guys in the photo (photo borrowed from here)--you can't not laugh at them. They're trying to convince my Debs 2009 group that their library deserves all zillion of our books (it's our end of the year giveaway, and if you're a librarian, you should enter!). And they're vamping to Erin Dionne's Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies. Seriously, now--they are awesome models. Who wouldn't want to hang out with and write about people like this? I have been way too serious for my entire life, so laughter is the best gift I can give myself. My darling spouse was pretty convinced that SKY wouldn't be funny. But then he read it and, very grudgingly, acknowledged that it was. HA! I crack myself up.

Today is also Festivus (the holiday for the rest of us!), so it seemed like a good day to write about laughter.

This post, blog friends, is also the end of the 12 Gifts of YA. For now, the blog goes dark. I've got a manuscript to work on, and holidays to have--including a 97th celebration for my birthday twin, Elsie Callahan! If you don't know who that is, have I got a book for you . . .

See you in January with more blog fun! And giveaways--you have no idea the ARCs on my study floor. Dare I say it . . . John Green?

Here's to 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #11: Rebellion, and/or Sticking It To the Man

There is nothing better than flipping the bird at someone (metaphorical or otherwise), and teenagers are way better at it than grown-ups are. We tend to remember the consequences, so that gets in our way (for better or worse). But who doesn't love sticking it to The Man, whoever S/He is? I love writing characters who have a seriously degenerate attitude, who do things that piss people off and make people shake their fists in rage. Do these rebels have redeeming characteristics? Sure, and they end up on the "right" side of things, generally. BUT. But. They still need (and deserve) some bad attitude. Everybody does.

When I was a YA, I should have been flipping the actual bird at some people, given how they were acting. Instead I was a good, repressed girl who lived in fear of getting in trouble. Then I got old, and then I didn't care anymore. I don't think I should tell you how I enact my rebellion these days--you might think less of me. But one of my favorite (albeit boring) ways? SKIPPING MEETINGS (unless they're with book peeps). Meetings can be *such* a huge waste of time.

I look like a pretty average mom/teacher/Midwestern white woman, but I'm honestly a late '70s London punk. You just can't see the mohawk. And I think rebelliously, generally in snarky thoughts, but sometimes about stuff like universal health care, and how everyone deserves it. Or I think about ending hunger. Or what I can do to contribute to peace in the Middle East. I am not kidding. Totally rebellious thoughts.

One more gift of YA to go--tune in tomorrow!!

Image gracefully acquired from here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #10: Romance and Luuuuuuuuuuuuve

YA romance is a ton of fun to write. But it's also mysterious and challenging, because my flirting days are long over (though we still try). I do love digging deep into the recesses of my brain and finding that airy, goofy feeling that first love can cause. Case in point: 12/22/09 is the 26th anniversary of the first dance I shared with my silly, sweet, charming high school beau. See? I still remember.

I also like untypical YA romance. In SKY, Morgan's neighbor Tessa declares her affection for Morgan by 1) punching her in the shoulder, and 2) shuffling through a back yard of snow to write "MC + TR" inside a huge heart. Tessa stays away from public acknowledgement because she knows both she and Morgan would get the shit beat out of them. In BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, Gabe and Paige get into "I've fallen for my best friend" love--complete with flirting--but nobody knows what to do from there, and the situation is complicated even further by Gabe's trans-ness. In my WIP, there's more cross-cultural love. This stuff matters to me because there are all kinds of teenagers falling in love in the real world and not all of them are typical boy/girl romances.

I chose Ennis and Jack for my photo because I think BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the most gut-wrenching love story of the last five years. That kind of unrequited, unavailable romance is something 95% of us recognize, no matter who the players are. Gorgeous film. Gorgeous acting. Heartbreaking story. Devastating emotions. And YA love is tons like this film--beautiful and awful, all at the same time.

I said I wasn't going to talk about emotions anymore, but you have to mention romance if you're going to mention YA. Lately you should mention sparkly vampire romance (gak, eek, no!). But I shall refrain.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #6, 7, 8, and 9: Four Emotions of the Apocalypse

This post reveals a great mystery. Or not.

In my silly YA world, the 4 Emotions of the Apocalypse are anger, sadness, anxiety, and love. I believe them to be the secrets gift of YA. I haven't heard anyone talk about it--so maybe it's just my own weirdness for believing it's a gift--but writing teenage angst is a huge blessing. I get to channel my drama queen tendencies into my characters' lives!

For grown-ups, the negative three of those emotions can be brought on by myriad sources: bills, spouses, kids, jobs, you name it. GROSS. For YAers, on the other hand, those emotions tend to be more pure, more related to identity and learning about the world and themselves. That purity rocks, because it gets me back to the root of what it means to be human, what it means to be struggling to find yourself in this batshit whacked-out world.

Love is almost more tricky than any of the others, but I also believe that kids as a whole love more purely than grown-ups. They don't see the flaws in people/places/things as quickly as us oldsters. Or maybe they love *despite* the flaws, because nobody has told them to do otherwise.

And the apocalypse thing: teenage emotions go BOOOOOOOM, and I adore it. Grown-up emotions do, too, but other grown-ups look down on us when we let it happen. Grrrr. With teenagers, however, angst is *expected*. Excellent! It's a blast when characters lob nuclear emotion bombs at each other, even if they're *my* bombs from the flat tire or the rude colleague.

Enough posts about emotions, yes? Yes. And I have one day of finals left, and 3 YA gifts to go. I can do this!

Image shamelessly swiped from here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

12 gifts of YA #4 & 5: Watching and Boys

I'd better pick up the pace on the gifts, huh? I'm running out of month! Grading has kicked my ass out of the blogosphere.

In any case, two gifts this time. First: watching. I've always been a people-watcher, and (like being an adolescent), now I get to watch people FOR RESEARCH, which is the coolest gift EVAH. It is incredible what you can see and/or hear out there, and watching people always sparks dialogue and/or strange accessories for characters. Plus, I get to watch teenagers--double bonus! In particular, I watch boys. And before you get all smutty in your head, I watch boys because they are FUNNY. Plus they do crazy shit and they don't care what people think. Triple bonus, and a great attitude to have. AND--quadruple bonus--the stuff they cook up to do is JUST PLAIN DUMB. See also: FUNNY.

The kid on the dinosaur is one of the funniest. His name is Kyle. He's the son of some good friends, so I get to watch him often. And, of course, he's now wondering when he'll show up in a book. I tell him it will be soon, because it will be. The kid with Goalpost Mouth is his friend Aaron. Also funny. Kyle + Aaron + my own kid = book in itself.

More to do, friends, more to do, so a short blog entry. But there are more YA gifts out there! I have not yet been conquered by Christmas, the end of the semester, or sheer exhaustion! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT.

I am, however, quite punchy and weird at this point.

Friday, December 11, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #3.5: One Particular YA Peep

Blog friends, today is Agent Love Day, as declared by a few authors who love their agent. Since that is me, too, I wanted to share in the joyousness.

My agent is Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. She is cool as the day is long. I queried her on December 1st of last year, and she wrote back on the same day--THE SAME DAY. That doesn't happen. In the midst of my decision process, I knew she was the one for me when she sent me song lyrics and said, "hey, your main character is like this." And he was. So I signed, and then there were two of us who were enthusiastic about a small, quiet, musical book with an unusual, maybe-difficult-to-market main character. Plus there was Elvis (!).

After our first rejection in March, she convinced me that Elvis had to go (fair enough, even though I was sad about it). Not long after that, she had some major medical craziness, so I was in some other capable agents' hands for a while. I missed her tons and sent her mix tapes to help with recovery, though I don't know if they did. When she came back this fall, there was much rejoicing. Now we are submitting that small, quiet book, and she is reassuring me that someone will love it just as much as we do. And I believe her.

Amy is brilliant, editorially astute, well loved by other agents, editors, and clients alike, and the absolute best agent a girl could wish for. I am blessed.

And yes, I realize my blog posts have run to the sappy lately. But sap is a deep river within me, and sometimes it overflows its banks.

Photo of Amy by (I believe) her fiancee, Ed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #3: YA peeps

This post could be eight years long (see that crowd to the left?) if I gave everyone the love they deserve, but I'm opting for the shorter version: YA peeps are tops of the top, no contest. During my book journey, I've met more wonderful people--authors, editors, agents, readers, bloggers, book builders--than I can count, and all of us are tied together by our love of YA books.

What I ponder is this: WHY do we love YA? I have theories, friends (of course!). Children's books (in broad strokes) have positive events and feelings in them because--duh--nobody wants to be a downer for a kid. In YA, however, we're allowed some bleakness, some angst, some seriously bad shit. HOWEVER, even if there's no happiness, there's still some hope in there. It's *important*, I think, to give those ever-changing older kid peeps some hope--hope that the world isn't totally horrible, that someone's listening, that people are kinder than they thought. That's partially why I love YA, so I'd bet it might be part of it for others in this biz.

I love you, YA peeps, all of you. Thanks for inviting me into your crowd.

Monday, December 7, 2009

12 Gifts of YA--CONTEST POST: signed books!

My frabjously fantastic Flux publicity friends are running a contst this week to win TWO signed copies of my book! Need a holiday present for a teen--or for yourself? All you have to do is write a fortune. But make it a GOOD one. These folks are smart, funny, and clever--you will have to work hard to impress them!

Flux on Facebook
Flux on Twitter

Good luck!

Fortune cookie photo swiped from here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #2: John Hughes films

Related to the first post, yes, but worthy of its own: John Hughes managed to capture the beauty and beastliness of being a teenager better than anyone (for me) on the planet. Granted, he also captured *my* teenage years, so I identify with those poor 80s people. His films live on as some of the best explorations of 1) what it means to be a teenager, and 2) what it means to be human. If I can write a book someday that's half as good as a John Hughes film, I'll be happy.

My favorites, in order:
1) Ferris Bueller
2) Weird Science
3) The Breakfast Club

I realize I'm bucking the trend by not listing Breakfast Club first, but hey--Ferris has my heart, as do Wyatt and Gary (see photo above). The scene where Gary discusses his family jewels ranks right up there with "I'm On A Boat" (see the previous blog entry).

Besides that, I am raising Ferris Bueller II. And rather than dwell on how crazy *his* adolescence will be, I always try to think of the positive, namely that he's always good for a laugh, and he is smart and clever as hell. Any day the phone call will come from the girl, saying "Hi, Shae, how's your bod?" Then the water tower will no longer say NORTH MANKATO. It will say SAVE SHAE. And then I will have to hide.

Rest in peace, John Hughes. You did your job well.

PS: check out an early clip of someone you may recognize, currently starring as a legendary detective. Lots of current stars with small roles in these films, actually.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

12 Gifts of YA #1: Adolescence 2.0


Seriously--I can watch John Hughes movies (research), or SUPERBAD (research) and take YouTube recommendations from my students (research), like "I'm On a Boat" and "Dick in A Box" (OMFG ROFLMAO), plus I can curse and wear Chuck Taylors and text (at which, for the record, I suck). Yeah, other grownups do this stuff. But do they do it for RESEARCH? For their JOB? Not likely! Ha ha. I rule.

Of course my teenage years were gross, for various reasons, just like most people's were. The biggest legacy of that time: a perpetual view as an outsider, even though I can appear very insider-ish. More about this in another post. But it begs the question: if my own adolescence sucked, why would I want to do it again?

Because it's BETTER this time--different people, more money, no parents, a less isolated place, and a much better mindset, because the stakes are lower. I am having SO MUCH MORE FUN. More on that later, too. I was waywaywaywayway too serious.

Plus there are fewer pimples and less boyfriend angst.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December silliness: the 12 gifts of YA

Okay, friends, here we go with DECEMBER! It's my favorite month of the year--yes, weird, I know, but since when have you gotten less than weird from me? Exactly.

With the holidays rolling up to our doors, at one point or another we'll all hear "The Twelve Days of Christmas," either in the mall somewhere or in our homes (though in my home it's the Bob & Doug McKenzie "Twelve Days," which is a prime example of what I'll be talking about this month). So, stealing the theme of twelve gifts, I decided to talk about the twelve gifts writing YA novels has brought me.

AND . . . dun dun dun . . . there will be at least one contest this month, for GIFTS you can GIVE AWAY! But I'm still plotting and scheming the contest rules.

So stay tuned: the twelve gifts of YA. They will not be beer, toques, and french toast, but they *will* be equally awesome.

(image swiped from here--I haven't been very good at crediting my images--bad interweb hygiene!)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gratitude post #14: duh!

I am grateful for books. Duh. You were waiting for this, right?

This post could go on for days. Books give me something to do (write them), something to think about (teach them), and somewhere to go, to escape and/or hide. Books were my first friends--isn't that sad? But they were. And still are.

Instead of rambling forever, here's a quotation that, for me, is exactly the essence of books. JK Rowling deserves a medal for these paragraphs alone. Be glad you never had to endure a gratitude post about HP.

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

"Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that is it not real?" (DH, 723)

I know, I know: flurry of entries at the end. Now gratitude month is over, friends, and I am sad. Next month: GIFTS. And giveaway gifts, too! Stay tuned for more nerdy, wordy craziness.

Peace out!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gratitude post #13: The Trickster

Today, friends, I am grateful for Sherman Alexie, because he marries the sacred and the profane better than any writer I can think of.

Sherman (I always think of him as Sherman, not Alexie) is clever, brilliant with a crowd (listen to him here, look for the words "listen to program"), funny as hell, and cute as a bug. And he writes from the center of a culture I'm always interested in, so that adds fuel to my literary crush on him. Is he always brilliant? No. Is he a great stylist? No. But the man has heart and passion to spare, and like I said up there, he has the ability to talk about the shit of the world and the beauty of the world in the same sentence, then help us understand how those two things are one and the same.

My favorite short story in the world is "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," which he wrote, and you should read it here. So brilliant.

You should also watch this fantastic clip of Sherman reading, then answering questions about books and boners. If I had a bone, books would give me boners, too, so I totally identify.

I always admire artists whose work is so powerful I can't stand to read/watch it. I had to do that with Smoke Signals--I had to turn it off, because the subject matter was too close to home. It took me 3 weeks to turn it back on. The cool thing about Sherman--he'll teach you to laugh at what used to make you cry. And that, friends, is a skill worth learning.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gratitude post #12: The Middle

Say it loud: I'm Nebraskan/Minnesotan and I'm proud! And I'm grateful to be a Midwesterner.

Hear that big THUD that happens when those words land in empty silence?

This post used to be a rant about those folks in publishing who have no time nor energy to waste on those who live in flyover country. I decided not to be a hater, even though I was sorely tempted, when I realized most of the publishing folks *I've* worked with (from everywhere) have been OK with my Midwestern-ness. Instead, let me just celebrate a few examples of Midwestern brilliance, quietly chipping away at the East Coast and/or Left Coast myths that nobody talented lives here or is from here.

Take the former poet laureate of the United States, Ted Kooser. Ted is the fucking MAN, and he is so happening and fabulous, he is from Nebraska (via Iowa), just like me. I wept, for joy and homesickness, when he was chosen. In the Minnesota creative community, either emerging from here or living here now, barely scratching the surface, we have Kate DiCamillo, Pete Docter (of Pixar) and the Coen Brothers. Some publishing personnel might think that we're square, stupid, and backwards, but let me tell you, Midwesterners persevere, just like the wind and the fields and the sunsets.

I love New York City and California--truly, I love to visit and I love the energy--but I also love my Midwestern writing community, my Midwestern publisher (who publishes fantastic writers from everywhere), and my Midwestern life. While I don't glitter like CA or move at the speed of light like NYC, my Midwestern cool its its own gift, handed down from the big, wide-open sky.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gratitude post #11: some like it hot

Strange, I know, to blog about this, but today I am grateful for passion.

It's not necessarily a popular emotion, because it gets people into trouble (oh man, been there). But it also gets people through the tough spots, because sometimes it's all a person has. Especially on the days when you say to yourself, "this m****rf***ing thing is a PILE OF SHIT and IT IS NOT A SPARKLY VAMPIRE and NO ONE LOVES ME!!" Those are the days you need some passionate belief in yourself.

Here's a guy who is passionate about bending things. Love this dude.

Here are some folks who are passionate about cake. Love cake.

Here's a family who's passionate about hedgehogs. Do not know if I love hedgehogs, but am willing to give them a go.

The writing community is passionate about words. The ranching community is passionate about cows. Whatever communities we belong to, passion keeps us together.

I should write it with a lot of exclamation points, in caps: PASSION!!!!!!!!!!!!!


(Do you know how hard it is to find an image for passion that is not people having (about to have) sex or crown-of-thorns Jesus?)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude post #10: the essence of life

No, blog friends, not blood, not air, not anything so easy: the essence of life is music, and every second of every day I am grateful for music. And yes, I am prone to hyperbole (!), but I am pretty damn serious about this.

A day is not complete for me without music (or carrots and my kid's smile). Music can change my mood, put my head back together, keep me current, and remind me of why I love my life. From my virtuoso pianist grandmother to my brother the guitarist (check him out here, in my book trailer) to my aunt & uncle with the ginormous music collection to all 3 parents, it was an everyday thing in my house. And it remains so today--in their houses along with mine. My kid can't keep a beat nor sing a note, but he loves listening. That's enough for me.

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN is all about music, and I've started to make iMixes for Gabe's radio shows (Gabe, the main character, wants to be a radio DJ). For Gabe, music is escape. Granted, his life requires more escaping than mine, but I totally understand the feeling.

I can't work on a book without music, and I know I'm not alone in that thought--many authors make playlists for their books. And friends, I'd bet you also have soundtracks to your lives. Alas, my darling spouse does not, no matter how hard I've tried to convince him that music is essential to living. It's a good thing he has many more redeeming qualities.

What's on right now? "Radio," Flo Rida. Up after that? "Radio," the Corrs, then "The Nightfly," Donald Fagen. Check it out: iTunes home page, then click "music," then click (way down on the bottom right) "iMix", then search "Gabe's competition." If music is your lifeblood too, I think you'll like it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gratitude post #9: those one particular kinds of nerds

OK, you're going to think this is a "duh," but today I am grateful for readers.

I am, of course, grateful *to be* a reader. My mom claims I learned to read when I was three, and books have saved me since then. As I said previously, there were times I was reading stuff I shouldn't have been reading, for better or for worse. But books have rescued me, educated me (I had no idea what a hard-on was previous to this), and sustained me. I believe books are holy. How's that for a huge misconception? But I don't care.

And without readers, there wouldn't be writers. And just maybe, somebody somewhere out there is reading my book, and enjoying it, maybe even laughing out loud (!). That's the best part, for me: knowing that my book has been good for someone else. I loved creating it, and I love knowing someone else might love it, too.

This isn't even scratching the surface of my gratitude for books. That's another post. But hallelujah chunky peanut butter for readers (I stole that phrase from this guy. I told you he was influential.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gratitude post #8: orange deliciousness

Blog friends, the gratitude is neverending, but I am out of time to come up with a post about the writing community--today I need quick and easy--so today I am grateful for mangoes and carrots. Mangoes aren't orange on the outside, but they are on the inside.

The only bad thing about mangoes? Cutting them up. Otherwise, I am a mango girl, on a par with my carrot fetish (a day without carrots is a day without sunshine). My favorite--Mango Madness Naked juice, or a mango smoothie of any kind. Carrots--raw, every day, lunch. Period.

I am not much partial to orange, though my darling spouse looks mighty attractive in it, but these two orange foods are to die for. Yum-ola!

Back to book gratitude next time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gratitude post #7: my first crush

Call it work avoidance, and this will make you laugh your ass off, but today I am grateful for Saturday Night Fever. More specifically, Tony Manero. He practically glows with testosterone, and holy god, the man can dance.

I first saw Saturday Night Fever on television when I was eight or nine, and looking at Tony Manero was the first time I felt the "wow, I need me some of that!" feeling that grown-ups call desire. Seriously--who *wouldn't* be smitten with a hot working class Italian man from Brooklyn who can dance his ass off? For this grade-school girl from Central Nowhere, he represented the complete opposite of everything I knew. And that's attractive enough. But still . . . that smile. Pretty sexy, no?

I think this is also where my secret desire to become a dancer comes from. I wanted to be Tony's dance partner, define "dance" as you will. And, a corollary gratitude: I am grateful for disco.

I know (gasp, gasp), I said disco. But it's great. And so is he.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gratitude post #6: The Old Master

Today I am grateful for Stephen King. I don't write horror, but man oh man, he's the master of characters, and I want to be like him when I grow up. You'd know if a Stephen King character came and knocked on your door. Name any of the biggies--Jack Torrance, Annie Wilkes, Randall Flagg (a personal fave), and I'm NOT talking about their movie counterparts, I'm talking about their purest book forms--and you'd know who it was as soon as you answered the door.

I started reading Steve King (as he calls himself) when I was WAAAAY too young to be reading it. Like under 10. So I grasped nothing but the basic storylines: lots of blood, lots of bad things. But WOW, did I absorb things I had no idea I absorbed, stuff about love and sex and death and human interaction. I'm finding that out now, as I revisit his early stuff. These days I'm absorbing King in audiobook form, and it's teaching me something about how he shapes books, characters, and story structure. I also love King's casual, irreverent voice and tone. He's my kind of guy, and that was something I knew when I was 10--I knew I could talk with him, and he'd tell me what I needed to know. He could be why my own books are slightly (!) irreverent and casual. Plus, Steve King has written good stuff, and he's written shit, and he admits to both. I like that in a writer. I'm partial to his early works, but there are good ones later on, too.

As I listen to him, I'm also thinking a lot about Flux's statement that "young adult is a point of view, not a reading level" (a brilliant statement if there ever was one). Case in point: Carrie. Almost all the protagonists/antagonists are high school students, but are they thinking in high school ways? No. They're making very adult decisions and having adult thoughts, because they're being "watched" by an adult narrator (it's 3rd person). Even though it's YA characters, it's not a YA point of view. Interesting stuff.

Hail Mary, full of grace, let me win this stock car race. Thank you, Steve King, for your words and your voice. Sometimes I can't read you, because the gore or the plague or the sadness is too real, now that I'm a grown-up and I understand you, but I still love you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gratitude post #5a: more Sesame

I am sorry, but I just cannot resist. In 10 years, you'll get the same things--provided we have blogs, of course. But seriously, this show was all we had, and it gets stuck in your head. Like STUCK.

"Some and none"--not the best quality, but still hilarious and wonderful.

"Fat cat sat hat"--same monster dude, but better quality and maybe even sillier.

And seriously, how could I forget this one? "Mah na mah na"! A different version than I remember, but it still works.

One for my brother Chris: "Ladybug's Picnic". "Imagining shapes," in the first post, is for my other brother, Kjell, who is a square. He will come after me if he ever reads that statement. But also for Kjell: "Everybody Eats" and "Everybody Sleeps."

One for my dad: "The Alligator King"

One for my son: "Put Down the Duckie"

And one more for all you opera fans: "Orange Carmen."

You are kind to indulge me.

Gratitude post #5: Sesame Street

This one is obvious: today (every day) I am grateful for Sesame Street!

40 years ago today, the first Sesame Street episode aired. I am almost the same age as my favorite street, and when I was a munchkin in Central Nowhere, purple monsters and brown-skinned people were NOT people in my neighborhood. But I totally thought they were, and said thought has served me well in the rest of my life. I seriously credit my interest in cultural diversity to them. And, just to prove my Street cred: I remember Mr. Looper ("Hoopah, Hoopah"), David, and when nobody knew about Mr. Snuffalupagus.

So, my favorite skit of all time: imagining shapes. This was Jim Henson's *3rd* shape-imagining skit, but the first one on Sesame. Look up the other two on YouTube. You have to wait a bit for the payoff, but it's there. Imagine on, baby . . .

A couple existential/mystical pieces: the letter I, and the letter N, both in the same clip. I still puzzle over these. Deep, baby. Deep.

The coolest badass musician on the planet showing off on Sesame Street: my man Stevie. 70s funk at its finest.

I could go on and on and on (just ask my brothers), but I won't. Suffice it to say that I adore Sesame Street. And I adore all the people who put this stuff on YouTube, so I can continue my love.

Do you know what a square is? I know WHO a square is! And the wind is very still for the lowercase N.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gratitude post #4: details

Let me say this very clearly: today I am grateful for details. You know why? DETAILS MATTER.

Some of my students are notoriously I-could-give-a-fig about details, and it makes me NUTS. So are, for that matter, lots of people in our culture. Hey, as long as I get the big stuff right, what's the problem? They're just small chunks. Details don't matter.

But let me ask you: who's to define what the "big stuff" is and what's not?

I cannot even tell you how many times my name has been misspelled in the last six months--book-related and otherwise. That matters to me, I must tell you. To other people, it's a detail. Think about details in a book, friends: it's kind of a big detail that we know Edward can't be in the sunlight, yes? But what about knowing how hard and cold his chest is, and, despite this fact, Bella likes to snuggle with him? That small detail, to my eyes, is almost more important, because it gives us clues to understanding Bella.

Yes, I've heard it again and again: don't sweat the details. Well, the devil is in the details. And you should sweat the small stuff.

In my current work in progress, I'm figuring out details for characters. Hair color, clothes, that kind of stuff. But also small details like how Ray bounces from foot to foot while he talks, because he's really just kinetic energy contained in a body. Small stuff like Callie's dark circles under her eyes, because sleeping brings her nightmares.

I'll say it again: DETAILS MATTER. Sweat the small stuff. Get it right. It matters to the story. And to life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gratitude post #3: mad scientists

Today I am grateful for agents (well, every day I'm grateful for agents, especially mine, but today I'm writing about it). I can hear you now: "but your post said mad scientists!?!" I use the label with the utmost, utmost respect, and I'd bet, once you think about it, the label will seem appropriate. Plus, it was just Halloween, so "mad scientists" is more fun than "agents".

But consider this scenario: once you've matched yourselves up, you come to your brand-new agent with a book, one you think is finished. And the agent says, "Wait! I have an idea!" And then s/he helps you slice and rearrange and chop and sew and come up with a brand-new creation. And you say, "Wow! Much better!" And then your agent takes your new monster out to make friends with editors. At least that's how it's been for me. I could never have imagined the shape or scope of my current book without my agent's mad scientist genius.

Maybe your agent is not a let-me-help-you-invent-a-new-creature type of agent. However, I bet your agent is out there working the phones and electrons, trying to get you a book deal. There's some mad science to a book deal, isn't there?

Along with being grateful to my own agent, whom I love, and to two more kind and generous people who've helped us out recently, I'm grateful to agents as a whole. Every agent I've encountered, in person or on the web, has taught me something. There are some fantastic agent blogs out there, and sometimes whole agencies, like Dystel and Goderich, blog together. Agents contribute a heap of help to the online writing world. We are lucky people.

I also know there are people with bad agent stories out there. But I've found those stories fewer and farther between than the stories about kind, generous, and helpful agents. I even crashed one agent's computer--and he still read my sample pages. Totally above and beyond, ladies and gentlemen! It's a hard job, and they do it well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gratitude post #2: profanity

First, the winner of the fortune contest is Angelique! Her winning fortune: Take a minute to notice a child. It might help awaken the one inside you. Yay, Angelique! A copy of JAKE RILEY is on its way to you.

Today's gratitude may be slightly unusual, but today I am grateful for profanity. To be clear, I don't mean insults--words you hurl at each other to hurt--and it only goes for particular audiences. Gotta be audience-conscious. But I love profanity when it's hurled at things you can't hurt--crabby computers or books dropped in the parking lot or cancer, in cross-stitch. Morgan loves profanity, and Gabe is a friend of it. The three of us are fans of the F-bomb, yes, but also words like "batshit". I love "batshit".

If you want a longer list of profanity I'm grateful for, I can send it to you. "Asshole" is the most equal-opportunity curse word, because we all have one, so we can all be one. But now we're getting into insults.

And no, I don't like profanity because I am out of more creative alternatives. My vocab skills are way too mad, so I can always find something else to say.

I just like it. And I'm grateful. So there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November gratitude: post #1

Blog friends, I'm trying something new.

November, of course (in America), leads us down the path to many things: snow and ice, below zero temps (in MN), gifties, much holiday feasting, weight gain, and CHRISTMAS BREAK, IN WHICH I GET TO WRITE A LOT, alternated with skiing with my son. All of that aside, November also leads to Thanksgiving, a time when we're ostensibly supposed to be thankful for things. Some folks don't care. I do.

I know gratitude is embarrassing if it's gushing and weird, so I'll keep it simple. I won't bore you with some of the personal stuff, probably just the writing world stuff, but who knows?

ALERT: I also know gratitude is uncool. I have to turn in my hipster cred (what hipster cred?) if I'm gushing like your grandmother over all our myriad blessings, praise be to above, yadda yadda yadda. So I'm going to try to retain some snark.

To wit: today I am grateful for snark, most especially Miss Snark (may she be at peace and drinking cocktails somewhere, read the archives for fantastic help, that's Killer Yapp gracing us with his photo) and The Rejectionist, who I would kiss if I ever met him/her, because s/he is so fscking funny, most especially the Karl Lagerfeld post and/or the Rachel Zoe post.

Feel free to post snarky gratitude in the comments, for whatever snark you're a fan of.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday sentiment: speaking music

Are you getting tired of alliteration? I think I am. : \

So Janet Reid posted this musical link (if you don't read her, you need to), and it's brilliant. Like flat-out, like Bobby McFerrin is cooler than cool, like humans are the bomb instead of bomb-makers (oooh, peacenik coming out). Plus, it makes me want to go back to music theory class. Music is a neglected part of my life, aside from listening to it. I used to speak it quite fluently.

Sigh. So much to do in the world! Write, read, teach, watch my kid grow, kiss my spouse, talk to you . . . never enough time.

Happy Saturday, friends. Enjoy the Robin Williams improv in that second link.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday fun: character names

In whatever I'm writing, characters are always driving the bus. If I don't have a handle on my character, nothing goes very far. Names are one of the ways I get in touch with my character--a name says a lot, of course. Mystery Manuscript (my work in progress, hereafter referred to as MM or WIP) has two alternating points of view/characters, and both are named, but one character is proving veeeery elusive right now. It's making things hard.

In the interest of learning more about YOUR favorite characters, I thought I'd post a couple of my favorite character names.

Minty Fresh--a side character in two of Christopher Moore's books, COYOTE BLUE and A DIRTY JOB, one of my fave books of ever. He's not what you'd think.

Stanley Yelnats--probably the best character name ever, because it's so simple but so clever, from Louis Sachar's HOLES. Stanley's one dedicated kid.

Dwight Schrute--from THE OFFICE--I'm not sure why, but his name just sums him up for me.

Furious Styles--Laurence Fishburne's character from BOYS N THE HOOD, John Singleton's 1991 debut film. If you haven't seen it, get thee to your Netflix queue! It's incredible (and there are heaps of stars in it).

So who are *your* favorite charcters?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday tension: help Lauren Myracle!

Scholastic has these big Book Fairs, right? My kid gets one in his school every fall and spring. Scholastic is refusing to stock Lauren Myracle's latest book, Luv Ya Bunches, because there is gay-friendly content (one character has two moms).

Silliness, no? Silliness that speaks to LARGER ISSUES WE HAVE TO STOP IN THIS SOCIETY! Come on, people! This is the 21st century. Humans have an unalienable right to love who they love, and caring parents are caring parents. End of story.

Do your good deed for today:
sign the petition here.

Edited on Wednesday: look what happened!

"UPDATE: After more than 4,000 members petitioned Scholastic Books, the company has responded that they will include Luv Ya Bunches in their Spring 2010 book fairs, and they've issued a statement affirming the dignity of LGBT families and LGBT parents around the globe. Congratulations, and thanks!"

YAAAAAY for the interweb! Yay for standing up! Yay for Lauren Myracle! Yay for two mommies!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday fortune-writing contest!

It's that time again . . . this fortune-writing contest will be open until next Friday, October 30, at midnight. Tell your family! Tell your friends! Tell book people!

The prize this time: a fantabulous copy of JAKE RILEY, IRREPARABLY DAMAGED, by (FTC full disclosure) my most wonderful friend Rebecca Fjelland Davis. Becky's next book, CHASING ALLIECAT--a tale of intrigue, love, and mountain biking--will be published in early 2011 by Flux--yay, Becky! Yay, Flux! For now, Jake and Lainey's story will intrigue you, upset you, delight you, and satisfy you. Plus, the writing's gorgeous--that's always important to me (and it should be to you, too!).

Here we are at the top of Blarney Castle in May of this year, waving at our students--yes, *that* Blarney Castle, and no, we probably don't need more blarney, but we went for it anyway. Maybe it's not OK to feature your friends' books on your blog, but if your friends won't promote you, who will? And I'm not the only one who thinks JAKE RILEY is a good book: read the reviews here. If you want to know more, Becky's web site is here and her blog is here.

So, for an autographed copy of JAKE RILEY . . . what's your advice?

Have a lucky day, friends. And happy weekend!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday treasures: a sweet gift!

Look what Kelly Berkey made me! She works where I work, and she's an amazing jewelry designer. She can customize a charm for you, too--check out her Etsy store as well as her blog.

What a sweet, kind gift--and totally unexpected! I am wearing it today, combined with some fortune charms another sweet friend (Chelsea) gave me. On the back it says "author." Guess it's time to claim the label, huh?

Thank you, Kelly!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday seriousness: what I learned this week

This blog post is late, yes indeedy. Please forgive me. Internet connections have been brief and/or sketchy.

OK, so, in no particular order, here are the top five things I learned while I was on my barnstorming book tour of Nebraksa:

1) It still isn't OK to talk about girls kissing girls in Central Nowhere--far from it (see above image). But I did it anyway, and it felt good, and I loved looking at the shock on people's faces. In Eastern Nowhere, it was way easier.

2) I still want to be Mrs. Koch (or Mrs. Koch-Johns, as she's known now). She's still my best role model for being a loving, kind, kick-you-in-the-ass-at-the-same-time teacher. Love. Her.

3) I love high school students. Love them. Love how funny they are, how brave and shy, and how they're ready to learn stuff and engage with you. Love. Them.

4) People you haven't seen for 20 years will still support your book, even if they don't agree with the language or content.

5) I think I've opened a Pandora's box. And I'm OK with that.

(Bonus thing I learned: my family is really supportive! But I knew that already.)

Suffice it to say it was a good few days. Now it's time to work. Maybe even work on book #3!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday travels: barnstorming NE trip

Dun dun DUN! Morgan is revisiting the scenes of her crimes this week while I visit my hometown high school, a neighboring high school, and the high school of my favorite teacher. If anyone's interested, there are also book stores involved, to wit:

Thursday, October 15: Strawberry Patch, Cozad, NE: 3-5

Saturday, October 17: The Bookworm, Countryside Village Shopping Center (87th & Pacific), Omaha, 11 a.m.

I'd love to see you, and I'd actually tip over if you came up to me and said "gee, I saw the post on your blog, and so I'm here to meet you!" Anybody who does that gets a FREE BOOK!

Friday's post will be on the fly (har har, no pun intended), because there are no internet cafes in Western Nebraska (if there are no Targets, do you think there'd be internet cafes?) and my dad's dial-up service is unreliable.

Off to pilot the barnstorming biplane. Seeya!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday fandom: FOUR HOURS of book signing

This is a picture of my dear friend Al and his goddess Kathy Griffin. Al was # 710 (his friend Marissa was #711) in the line to have his book signed, in a Borders in the Loop of Chicago. Kathy Griffin signed books for FOUR HOURS. She is my new hero! She is also a huge celebrity and should expect a big crowd, but still . . . four hours? That's stamina. That's over-the-top kindness.

And Al said she took a moment for every person. Seriously--over the top in a way we rarely see--a *good* way. A kind way. The world needs more of that.

Check back next Friday for a new fortune contest. Happy weekend!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday tunes: book soundtracks

I've seen a little chat about this in the blogosphere, and I don't know if other writers do this, but my books definitely have soundtracks. I can't live a day without music--I know that sounds like exaggeration, and it is, but it isn't. My day needs tunes. When I'm writing, I listen to specific kinds of music (for SKY, it was VH-1 Classic "We Are the 80s" videos, plus 70s music). When I 'm at the day job, I need music when I'm in my office. Sometimes I let myself listen to "book tunes," to remind me of my writing life.

Right now (like at this instant), I've got my Pandora set to Elvis Presley, crossed with Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and Bill Haley & the Comets, to bring me early Elvis. Elvis is a pretty big force in my second book, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN, and I'm feeling lonesome for those characters right now (they're wandering around NYC), so Elvis tunes help. See those album covers? That's what I want my book cover to look like (or something that echoes them). If it was good enough for The Clash, it's good enough for me. When I was at home writing this book, I listened to "solid gold oldies," as my TV music channel called them, which also included a huge dose of Elvis. Me & Elvis have become quite tight.

Sometime I need to go to iTunes and make iMixes for Gabe, the main character of this book. His goal is to become a radio DJ, so he does all sorts of radio shows in the book. They'll make great iMixes.

Today, friends: listen to music! Elvis will do, if you can't think of anyone else. Now Pandora has given me the Beach Boys, "Sloop John B." Not so much. : \ Give me back "That's All Right"!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday follies: what happens in the library stays in the library

I am at a conference, for media specialists in K-12. Not so many people are interested in an edgy YA novel. So I'm in a public library, sitting next to a guy who's probably a little bit wasted (he smells like it), and he's looking at porn. And not just regular porn. Complicated porn. Complicated sexualities and positions, not that I'm looking, but there are big appendages flashing in the corner of my eye.

And I'm thinking--in the library? Obviously people don't get embarassed about much these days. But we still have Banned Book Week. Why?

I need to finish what I'm doing and get back to the conference. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday word: FRABJOUS

I keep giving myself stuff to do, dammit. Like, "Gee, Kirstin, why not start a word feature on Wednesday, since you claim to be such a word nerd?" And my nerd self says, "Ok, yeah, good idea!" And then my rational self says, "But look at this heap of sh*t to do that doesn't relate to Being An Author?" And then some other self says, "Everybody just shut up!" And then another self says, "Can we go back to bed yet?"

And here we are.

SO . . . today's word is FRABJOUS. Where it came from, nobody's sure, but people think Lewis Carroll combined "fair," "fabulous," and "joyous" for something in Jabberwocky, and it stuck.

I like it. It's a bit of a kick-your-heels-up kind of word, fractured and happy and full of optimism. And it's just a little weird.

To see a proper use of it, check out Pimp My Novel. Also a good industry blog, if you're interested.

Have a frabjous day!

(And to keep myself sane, we will call this "an occasional feature of the blog," as the parlance goes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday title: Fortune-Writing Contest Winner #1!

Hey, good morning! Today's fortune-writing contest winner is Karen Kincy! Congratulations to her! And big thanks to all who participated.

Her winning fortune: "When threatened by zombies, fight with chainsaw, run without."

Because I could not choose (all were great), I let Husband choose. He was in a zombie mood, and it's good advice, actually, especially since I saw today (in the newspaper, a reputable source, right?) that, if the world becomes infested by zombies, we're all toast.

Stay tuned for the next contest . . .

In other news: not much. Had a fantastic two days with the Flux peeps--Brian, Steven, Courtney, Marissa, Tricia, Maggie, Margaret--and really enjoyed myself, because they're all so fab. Snatched a bunch of books: nerd Christmas for me!

I think, on Tuesdays, I'd also like to point out blogs I like, so one for today: The Swivet, by agent Colleen Lindsay. Wise words, interesting stuff.

Peace out, y'all. Gotta head to the day job.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday mischief: Banned Book Week 2009

Dudes, I'm at work, but I have to say this stuff: read a banned book this week. Read one EVERY week, but especially this week, because it's Banned Book Week. Support free speech, y'all. It's what makes America great. Even though it gives people the opportunity to say incredibly stupid stuff, we have the freedom to say it without getting thrown in the clink.

It's my humble ambition to write a challenged or banned book in my lifetime, and it's a bit of a steep order. Or is it? So many people are interested in restricting what others read/see/think about. Maybe I can find just the right one to get pissed about SKY (or BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, novel #2, which stands an even better chance of making people freaky). If I could get someone to challenge or ban my book, I'd know I succeeded in making people think. And woot for thinking!

AND: I have not forgotten the contest. : ) Winner announced tomorrow!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Freaky Friday: NEIL GAIMAN!!

Ok, blog friends, I'm at the Midwest Booksellers Conference in St. Paul, as a guest of Flux and Llewellyn, and I am having a blast. I got to pimp my book at lunch, I met a fellow NE author (for grown-ups), and I got to hang out with Steven and Courtney, fantastic fabulous Flux publicity people (how's that for alliteration?). And I get to hang out with them tomorrow, too. So fun, all of it.

But here's the coolest: I'm going to a mingle-chat-drink situation, and my goal is to stand next to NEIL GAIMAN! Holy crap! He's here to promote his kids' titles, but those aren't my favorites. Coraline creeped me out, and I was lukewarm about The Graveyard Book, so I don't think I'll tell him either thing (thought he might like my reaction to Coraline). I'd rather talk about American Gods or Sandman: Endless Nights (which I've taught, and which I adore). And I almost forgot about Good Omens, which is so damn funny. This man is a complete rockstar, in my world at least.

It is so dumb to be dumbstruck by an author. But seriously . . . I may have no words in my head if I actually get to meet him.

Be cool, Kirstin. Be cool.

(He is also cute as a bug, which doesn't help with the star-struck-ness. Be COOL, Kirstin! Try, at least.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday talk: the economy and book topics

Here to submit a fortune? Next post down!!

Back to Tuesday business: this post is a downer. You are warned.

Five hundred people in Morgan's hometown are losing their jobs by the end of next year. The biggest employer is calling it quits. Why? Because the auto industry has tanked, and the biggest manufacturer in Morgan's home town is a shock absorber factory. (As an aside, I think the sweet man who gave Morgan's boyfriend Derek his best characteristics currently works at this factory.)

Here's what the CEO said: “We sincerely regret the impact this action will have on our employees at Cozad,” said Gregg Sherrill, chairman and CEO, Tenneco. “However, we now feel that industry conditions have stabilized enough for us to move forward on our original plans to consolidate our ride control capacity in the United States, which we need to do in order to strengthen our long-term competitiveness in this critically important market.”

Granted, it's his job to worry about the bottom line of his company, but wow--that's bureaucratic coldness. He probably can't care about those 500 people, or their families. It's just reality, and something (someone) has to give.

But I care, as do other people from Morgan's home town. I care so much my gut hurts. Maybe I need to write about what it means when a parent loses a job. I bet there are way too many young adults out there who would be able to identify.

Friday, September 18, 2009

the first FORTUNE FRIDAY, with a kick-ass prize!

On Fridays, probably every other Friday, I plan to have a fortune-writing contest. We did one last night at my book signing, and it was great.

The winners, in order:

GRAND PRIZE--Chelsea Kocina--"Good friends share more than shoes."

2nd PRIZE--Jackie Bromeland--"You WILL obtain that helicopter's license."

3RD PRIZE--Kelly Berkey--"It's never too late to find your inner naughty."

The choices were made by the esteemed members of my writing group, and fine choices they were. Each winner receives a "cookie champion!" medal, and Chelsea receives a medal AND a box of fortune cookies. Lucky girls!

BUT . . . the prizes get better on the blog! If you win the fortune-writing contest here, you receive a signed copy of ASH, by Malinda Lo. It's the hottest YA to come out this fall! If you like new twists on old stories, if you like GLBT YA, if you like lyrical writing, you're in for a treat. Entries close next Friday, Sept 25, at midnight.

Post your fortunes in the comments--and have a lucky day! (You knew that was coming, didn't you?)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

let's get regular + my fast food book

OK, so . . . I need to be blogreliable. So, from here on out, look for posts on Tuesdays and Fridays. AND on Fridays . . . contests, as soon as I get some decent prizes. Well, decent prizes besides signed copies of my book, and the first person to comment that a signed book isn't a decent prize will be sent a surfing vampire who does NOT look like Brad Pitt, probably more like my grandmother's third husband, so think before you write.

Not that anybody's commenting. But hey. Someone might start. I'd really love that. : )

So . . . a Tuesday post. I got my book in a Mighty Kids Meal the other day at McDonald's. That was pretty cool.

What's that, you say? Mickey D's is now giving away YA novels?

No. I got an American Girl book. Do you know American Girls? They are all very sweet and historical, though a little saccharine and clone-y for me. One of them is named Kirsten. See above. And we have some similarities! We both live in Minnesota, and we both come from Scandinavian peeps. But our names are spelled differently, and she probably pronounces her name "KUR-sten," not "KEER-stin," like me. Plus, she's cute and wears dresses and has braided blonde hair. Me, not so much.

But it was still pretty cool to pull out a book with a character name that was close to my own. I took it as a Good Sign. Of what, I don't know. Something.