Monday, November 30, 2009


Well, it's Monday after a 4-day weekend, as you ALL KNOW. And I, like you, have many reasons to WHEW.

--Thanksgiving went beautifully! Turkey and lingonberry sauce (I prefer it to cranberry), green beans and mashed potatoes and stuffing. Most important, a tableful of people I love.

--We were very busy this weekend. Over three days, we bowled, played tennis, boxed, ski-jumped, downhill skiied, figure skated, luged, bobsledded, and played a few games of skee ball, darts, and hoop shoots. We even did a little Disney Princess journey-ing.

Yes, we bought a Wii. :) OMG, the fun! It is crazy. We played with my parents' Wii on Thanksgiving Day, and went right out and bought our own on Friday. Played with the thing ALL Weekend. Laughed ourselves silly.

I am very sore in odd places, but it is good.

--Last but not least, I made my 40k on SALVAGED today! I am going to finish the first draft by December 31. It will be a complete and utter mess, but I will FIX IT, yes I will.*

*Please ignore any moanings and mutterings in January and February while I'm wedged in the second draft. Right now I do not want to think about that, but I'm sure there will be some!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Candied Pecans!

I'm posting this because I somehow lose the recipe every year and must find it again, and this will be easier to locate. And I'm making them tonight, to bring to Thanksgiving tomorrow!

These pecans are *scrumptious*. The only problem with them is it's very, very difficult to eat just one or two.

Holiday Candied Pecans

2 cups whole pecans
2/3 cup maple syrup (real, not imitation)
Brown sugar, white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the maple syrup and pecans into a bowl, and stir to thoroughly coat pecans.

Spread pecans in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan (with sides) and sprinkle with brown sugar and white sugar. For a little kick, add a dash or two of Cajun spice (optional). Bake in middle of oven 15 minutes, then stir and bake 5 minutes more.

Transfer to wax paper or foil, separating as best you can. Let cool.

Eat all the sugar/maple residue yourself. Enjoy.

Still here!

Still writing! Still working! Still not much time for blogging. :)

You guys, I can see the next few bits of SALVAGED! The fog cleared away this morning, and it's fairly clear. And since I'm almost at 40k and my goal for the rough draft is about 50-55k...

I can *almost* see The End.

For seat-of-the-pants writers like me, this is thrilling. I never know The End until I actually write it, or just before. If things have worked as they should on first draft, The End will seem a natural, though not obvious, conclusion to all that came before. It will tie in pieces I laid down without thinking much about them, resolve plot arcs big and small, and be satisfying.

Of course there also will be bits that don't fit, characters that didn't arc right or are still flat because I didn't know what to do with them yet, whole sections of plot that consist of characters talking to each other and not much else, and all that will have to be cleaned up. Second draft is when I make it a book.

But first draft endings are magical. :)

I predict you won't be seeing much of me in December. Excuse me while I finish this book.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh, hello, blog

I keep *thinking* of things I want to post, but Life is rather swamped just now. So it hasn't been getting any further than my head!

Mostly it's work stuff keeping me occupied, but there's also been concerts up the wazoo, social events, Girl Scout stuff (a city-wide "pinning" ceremony for Child last night--she is now a proud Official Brownie), writing (remember that vow last post), and the insanity that is keeping up with events. And, you know, watching the Finale of ANTM. (squee!) Whew.

HOWEVER, Dear Blog, I have some fantastic things coming up for you!

  • First up, around December 1st, will be an interview/giveaway with fabulous debut author Kelly Gay. Kelly not only is a great UF author--The Better Part of Darkness is blurbed by the superstar Vicki Pettersson, so it must be kick-ass--but she just sold a YA series!! Now she is my genre-sister. :)
  • Sometime in early December I'm also going to be hosting a guest blog by...drum roll...another Agent Fabulous, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe!
So stay tuned. If I'm being quiet in-between I'm probably writing or working, but don't go away!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contests you don't want to miss, and a VOW

First, two fabulous book-winning contests you guys should check out!!

Suzie Townsend is giving away a copy of Kelly Gay's debut, A BETTER PART OF DARKNESS. The UF fan in me *wants* this book. I bet you want it too. Go enter!

Second, Victoria Schwab is hosting an innovative contest. Go watch her vlog, check out her bookshelves, and pick which book you'd like to have! If you win, she'll send it to you. Any book, people! ENTER!

(I totally typed that "entere", which I think should be a word.)

And the vow?

I PLEDGE to finish the first draft of this book, SALVAGED, by December 31. There, it's public now.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Who would make you go fan-girl?

Meg Cabot posted a delicious link to a Mary Stewart fan site I'd never seen:

Just browsing through the titles made me giddy. I LOVE those books. It started when I was about 12--I found a battered copy of WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT in a box of my mother's, ready to go to the library sale. I snuck it out and devoured it in a couple hours.

I was in love. Reader-love.

I quickly hunted down every book of hers I could find: read, re-read, treasured. I remember the moment, reading THE MOON-SPINNERS, when I first felt what it *might* be like to fall in love, that giddy sense that all the world is possible.

I walked around the house repeating to myself "Bryony...Bryony...Bryony Ashley", the opening lines to TOUCH NOT THE CAT.

I drove two hours to see Lipizzaner stallions two decades later because of AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND. I still want to sit with my back against Hadrian's Wall (which is where the name "Adrian" happens to come from, by the way) like Mary Grey did in THE IVY TREE or visit the caves and crashing surf on Corfu.

And that's not even touching the Merlin novels. I've probably read THE CRYSTAL CAVE ten times, and all the others at least three or four.

Her books--the combination of adventure, love, a touch of magic, and a smart, strong heroine--helped to shape me, who I am today. Who I try to be as a writer.

If I ever had the chance to meet Mary Stewart, I don't think I would be able to speak. I think I would melt utterly into a fan-girl puddle of worship and not come to my senses for a couple hours after she was gone, shaking her head.

I bet most writers have someone like that who inspired them, who is a real hero/heroine. Share the admiration. Who would make you lose your little writer/reader mind if you met them?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Yipeee! Thanks so much for joining in, everybody. I hope all you entrants who *didn't* win this time will go and check out DANI NOIR anyway!!

Winner of a signed copy of DANI NOIR: Mike Jung!!

Winner of a DVD of Rita Hayworth's fabulous GILDA: Sean Ferrell!

Send me an email and we'll get those prizes out to you!

Hope y'all had fun. :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Interview with Nova Ren Suma and Contest!!

Sorry, contest is now closed!!!

Here it is, peeps! The DANI NOIR interview, with the Most Fabulous Nova Ren Suma!!

Nova is the author of DANI NOIR, a tween novel about noir-movie-obsessed Dani and the lies she uncovers in her small nothing-ever-happens town, out now in hardcover and ebook from Simon & Schuster / Aladdin. IMAGINARY GIRLS, Nova’s YA debut, is the story of two sisters and their bond that can’t be broken. It is due out in hardcover tentatively in Summer 2011 from Penguin / Dutton.

Also, Nova is immensely cool. Just so you know.

Susan: Tell me your summary of Dani's story.

Nova: Speaking of fabulous, first off, thank you so much, Susan, for having me on your fabulous blog!

DANI NOIR is about liars, cheaters, and all things Rita Hayworth. It follows 13-year-old Dani the summer her best friend has moved away, her brother's away at camp, and her dad's left her mom for another woman. Classic black-and-white film noir movies and the stunning femmes fatales that star in them are Dani's only escape from her boring small town where nothing ever happens, or so she thinks. But when she realizes that someone's been lying, and not in the movies but in real life, she sets out to uncover the truth, no matter who gets hurt on the way...

Susan: I was so impressed with Dani's authentic voice, the authentic headspace of a 13-year-old. Tell me about how you slipped into Dani's skin.

Nova: Oh, thank you! You know, the whole time I was writing the book I felt like I was channeling Dani herself, like she was a real girl. She's a very dramatic character, so it turned out to be a very dramatic summer and fall for me while I was writing this novel. I may have acted out a little, so anyone who knows me, please forgive me! To get inside her head and slip into her skin I sent myself back in time to age 13. I remember the summer before eighth grade so clearly—too clearly—so it felt natural to speak from that voice. And when I felt myself feeling distant from Dani, I'd turn off the lights and watch a scene from a noir movie. Also, copious amounts of ice cream helped.

Susan: There is such a fabulous interplay between two different pieces in the book: Dani's troubles, including her parent's divorce, and her love of film noir movies. How did you come up with that combo?

Nova: I can't separate Dani from her love of film noir movies. I can't imagine a story about her without that interplay, it's so much of how she sees the world. I guess this is why, when I look back at the start of the writing before I decided to write about noir movies specifically, the story was completely flat. She was flat. Sure, Dani existed, but she was nobody special. She could barely carry a scene. Then I had one of those click-worthy moments watching a particular scene in a certain classic noir movie called Gilda. It's the scene where you first see Rita Hayworth.

I saw it through Dani's eyes, imagined her watching it from her lonely seat in the Little Art movie theater, looking up and meeting eyes with Rita Hayworth, and it all sort of fell into place. Once I knew where I was going, I went crazy with it. The "if this were a movie" diversions were my favorite parts of this book to write... could you tell?

Susan: Do you have favorite film noir bits? Are they the same as those in the book? Why?

Nova: If you asked Dani, she'd say her favorite thing about noir films are the femmes fatales, such as her hands-down favorite Rita Hayworth, but she'd also give props to Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall, and Lana Turner. And if you asked me the same question, I'd have to agree with Dani. Maybe that's why it was so easy to write her: We connect to the same things. So I think you could say that the scenes mentioned in the book are scenes that resonated with me personally, and that's why I shared them with my character.

Here's another scene that stuck with me from Gilda and that Dani also mentions loving:

In one point of the book, the projectionist, Jackson, insists on showing Dani the opening shot of Touch of Evil, which he says is genius because it's one camera moving through the streets without cuts, one of the first times that was done in movies. (View the Touch of Evil opening scene here) In real life it was my husband, an NYU film school grad, who insisted I watch that scene. I remember how excited he was by how skillfully it was done, not a cut until the car blows up at the end—and it sure was pretty impressive—but when I was watching I had the kind of reaction Dani might have had. The whole time I'm going, Yeah, yeah, that's great, but where's the femme fatale?

Susan: I understand you'd ghostwritten some projects before writing DANI NOIR. How many books did you complete before this sale?

Nova: For a few years, I did write a lot of books for kids and tweens under different pseudonyms and house pseudonyms—I lost count at seventeen. That amount probably sounds ridiculous, but only four were novels; the rest were shorter. Before DANI, I also wrote two adult novels of my own that were never published. At one point I remember counting up the pages I wrote in the span of two years—and it was more than a thousand. Let me tell you something about those years: I was tired. Very, very tired.

Anyway, I guess DANI NOIR is technically my seventh novel, but it feels like my first. It's the first original tween novel I ever wrote, and it's the first time someone actually gave me a real shot to publish my own story under my own name. Thank you, Simon & Schuster! Now that the book is out, it's also the first time people are actually reading what I wrote, reading and responding, and that's all new to me. It's a wonderful, exciting, frightening feeling. It took a while, and a lot of pages, to get to this place, but I'm glad it waited to happen with DANI NOIR.

Susan: Talk a bit about your writing process. Outliner or seat of the pants? Quick draft or revise as you go?

Nova: Outside my various day jobs, I am at heart a very disorganized person: scattered, messy, easily overwhelmed and terribly forgetful. This is why I need an outline to write a novel. It's important that I know what I'm in for, that I plan out my story in order to reach the end. Now, what I call an "outline" may look more like a rough or quick draft to another writer, but I like calling it an outline because I don't consider it real writing. I'd prefer not to show these "outlines" to anyone except my husband, who reads everything I write at every stage and helps me make it better (I'm so lucky to have him). No one else should see the outline though. I'm afraid it would make someone who didn't know me not want to read the book!

As for revising as I go, this is exactly how I write a first draft. What I consider a first draft has already been gone over multiple times—so it's maybe a third draft, technically. I do this chapter by chapter, so after writing to the end of one chapter, I spend days (sometimes weeks) rewriting it before hitting the next chapter.

I know that wise writers and writing teachers say that, for a first draft, you should just let your words flow and not get hung up on shaping your sentences at such an early stage, but I can't work that way. I do realize this is a waste of time when big chunks are cut later, or big plotlines changed, but I can't help it. I write in layers: I go over it and over it and over it and the story and the characters come clearer the longer I've spent carving them out. The first words I spit onto the page are never the ones you'll find by the end.

This method may sound painful, but I love it. The rewriting process between my private first draft and the official first draft I'll show readers is the most thrilling, delicious part of writing a book for me. 

Susan: You were one of the leaders of the "twitter-break" last week. Can you talk a bit about your love/hate with social media? Do you think it's valuable to you, or too much of a time-suck?

Nova: I'm so very conflicted about Twitter, mainly because I like it so much. Too much. I'm a very easily distracted person, so I tend to misuse it. I tell myself it's perfectly okay to tweet (or check Facebook) while writing, and then I spend much of my writing time clicking back and forth between windows, reading people's updates, commenting... and there I've lost an hour and my scene feels dead on the page. I have no self-control.

Last fall, while I was writing DANI NOIR, I forced myself to give up Twitter for about two months. And that was before so many people were using Twitter; I followed maybe 20 people. So imagine how much worse it is now to follow hundreds!

Fact is, Twitter is a wonderful tool for authors and, through it, I've connected with so many people in the industry: writers, editors, agents, librarians, reviewers, not to mention it's a great way to keep up with my faraway friends. In fact, Susan, I'm pretty sure that Twitter is how I first connected to YOU! I just need a way to find balance—to write when I'm writing and not let Twitter call me away. That's how this week off Twitter came to be. For me, abstaining like this has been cleansing. I hope to come back to Twitter refreshed and focused, and not let my bad habits hold me back from writing the best novel I can. Fingers crossed.

Susan: What are you working on now? Is there any more to Dani's story?

Nova: I'd love to write another book about Dani—in my mind, her story certainly continues, but there are currently no plans for a sequel. However, as we speak, I am in the midst of developing some new tween novels and there's one especially insistent 13-year-old who's making herself known in my head. I'm excited to try to find her story.

But that's for the future. Because the novel I'm writing under deadline now—the one that's so important to me, I even gave up Twitter for a week!—is due this winter. It's my debut YA novel, and it's called IMAGINARY GIRLS. It's the story of two sisters, their strong bond, and the dead body that threatens to break it. Even though it's for an older audience, you'll find some echoes of DANI NOIR in there: the first-person voice, since I always write in first person, and the place, as IMAGINARY GIRLS is also set in the Hudson Valley, where I'm from. I'm at the point in writing this novel where it's completely taken over all my senses. It feels more real to me than the real life I'm walking around in. This is dangerous, like when I'm outside crossing the street and don't pay attention to oncoming taxicabs, but it's been great for the novel so far. Assuming I make my deadline, look out for IMAGINARY GIRLS from Dutton in, tentatively, Summer 2011.

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Susan! I appreciate the chance to connect with your readers. And if anyone wants to find me elsewhere, my main website is, and all things DANI NOIR can be found on And... guess what? I'm on Twitter. Feel free to follow me and distract me, within reason!, at

And now....CONTEST!!

We are giving away TWO prizes:
  1. A *signed* copy of DANI NOIR!
  2. A copy of Rita Hayworth's classic film noir, GILDA, on DVD. (In case you weren't sure you wanted this, go watch here:
Yeah. You really want that, huh? (I DO!)

  • Contest will be open until noon MST on Thursday, November 12.
  • Each point will enter you in the contest once--at the end, I'll do two random draws.
  • You get 1 point for answering the question (comment posted in this thread): What's your favorite noir movie/scene? Or favorite old movie star?
  • 1 point for retweeting my announcement of the contest or tweeting your own
  • 2 points for posting about the contest and interview on your blog (please note in the comments or on twitter the link to your blog!)
Ready? GO!!!

Monday, November 09, 2009


You've heard me rave about DANI NOIR.

You've heard Courtney Summers rave about DANI NOIR. (and here, with fabulous interview!)

It's a 2009 Editor's Pick: Top 10 Children's Books for Middle Grade.

You want to get in on this action, don't you? Well, tomorrow you'll get a chance!!

Stay Tuned, My Pretties. Tomorrow I'll be posting my interview with Nova Ren Suma--and we're going to give away TWO fabulous prizes. A signed copy of DANI NOIR, and a DVD of:

You know you want both of those, right?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why I write YA

I have a couple of big-ish blog posts in the works (a new sock-knocker and the interview with Nova Ren Suma), but I was a little stuck on what to talk about in the meantime. So I begged on Twitter, and Courtney Summers told me what to do.

Guys, if Courtney Summers tells you what to do, DO IT.*

*unless it involves Lady Gaga or Twilight or horror movies I couldn't watch from another room. But otherwise, listen!

Anyway, I am ruining my Serious Post.TM Courtney said, "tell 'em why you write YA." And I thought, hmmm. Why DO I write YA?

Part of it is as simple as "that's what comes out". There was no initial greater YA plan. My first book, The Murderess's Tale, was meant to be straight-up historical fiction. It didn't hit me until long afterwards that the heroine was 16 and it really was a coming-of-age book that just happened to be set in England of 1387. I'd been writing historical YA without even realizing it.

But then I decided I didn't want to write historicals for the rest of my life. I wanted to write a book that *I* would read, that had everything I loved poured into it and shaken up. When I sat down and started brainstorming that book, I listed out all the characteristics of books I loved. And I wrote this paragraph in my writing journal:
So all together, if we have all this stuff, this is some sort of YA. A funny YA, with some sort of fantasy/alternative world element to it, but without the predictable portal crap. A powerful, real voice. A girl who faces things as they are and deals with them—who is having a tough time, and then it gets way tougher and she has to figure it out.
And what came out of that was The Weirdest Thing about Jenna, which got me my most fabulous agent and is out under submission now.  And that was! I'd found my most natural voice.

But the other side of that question is what do I like about YA, about reading and writing it. I certainly take my fair share of guff from other grown-ups about my reading choices ("Why can't you read books for adults?"), so there's got to be a reason I head for the back corner of the bookstore every time.

YA books--well, the best ones--resonate with the inner me (who is apparently 15). They have an immediacy and a lack of pretense. Sometimes I think kids are the most honest, and as we conform and take places in society we learn to adopt masks for different situations, to pretend, to do the socially correct thing. Teenagers are very aware of the masks, which is perhaps the source of some of the scorn for grown-ups you see popping up at that age. They realize they're probably going to have to use them too, and they try a few on. But they're still figuring out who they are.

There's more drama, but there's also more possibility. And far more honesty, both good and bad.

So the reason really is as simple as that, I guess. I write what I love, and I love YA books.

It doesn't hurt that I think the community of YA writers is the best and most supportive (and funniest!) group of people I've ever come across. I keep finding other writers who feel like soulmates, who are Just Like Me.

I sure didn't find that in high school.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The WINNER is:

Girl with One Eye!!

There were 54 entries with all you guys tweeting and posting and commenting, and picked #27!

Thank you guys SO MUCH for celebrating with me! This was fun.

Girl, send me an email with your choice of book! The rest will go to the teen room at my local hospital. :)

Monday, November 02, 2009


First, you guys are amazing. I popped in over the weekend to find a zillion hits and 50 comments (thanks to Janet Reid's link). At first, I admit, I thought I'd been spammed. But no. REAL PEOPLE! Hi real people!

So I also ended up surpassing my secret Twitter goal, which was 500 real followers. Hooray!

Twitter note: This came up in the comments to the How Not To Act post, but I *don't* actually auto-follow. Though I use TweetDeck on one computer, at home and on the road I use apps that don't do lists--so more than 200 people swamps Twitter's usefulness for me. BUT I do always (always) respond to replies, and I often update my lists and drop off/add interesting people. I LOVE Twitter.

To celebrate belatedly the 500-mark, I'm going to give away...a book! Or two. I have a big stack of YA books just sitting here--some of them old-ish, some not. So it's SHARING TIME!! 1 point for commenting here, 1 point for RT'ing. 2 points for announcing on your blog. I'll pick tomorrow this time. Winner can choose from:

EVERMORE, Alyson Noel
BLUE MOON, Alyson Noel
THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins

You want *one* of these at least, right?

Please enter and spread the word!