Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of One Good Friend

I've been trying to write this post for a year. Brace yourself, it's going be long and weepy, but sometimes these things just need to be said because it's important to say these things out loud (sort of). So here it goes:

One morning last October I was packing up and getting ready to leave Yellowstone National Park, where my family had been staying at the Old Faithful Inn for a long weekend. My cell phone rang. I smiled when I saw who was calling: my friend Joan Kremer, who had been my off-and-on writing partner for the past six years.

"I was just thinking about you yesterday," I said as I picked up. "Happy birthday!"

But on the other end, there was silence.

"Joan?" I asked.


"Silas?" I said, thinking maybe Joan's baby grandson, whom she adored and was often joyfully babysitting, had gotten ahold of her phone. "Silas?"

A throat cleared. Then, in a faltering voice, Joan's wife, Brenda, told me that Joan had suffered from a sudden brain hemorrhage the day before. She'd been in the hospital all night, surrounded by her family, but there hadn't been anything the doctors could do.

"She's gone," Brenda whispered.

After I hung up I sat down on the edge of the hotel bed in total shock. Just like that, my friend, who I'd spent hours upon hours talking to and laughing with and goofing around with, was dead.


I spent the first several months in that stage where I couldn't get my brain around what had happened, where it felt like there'd been some kind of awful mistake. Joan can't be gone, I'd think. There was just so much I had to tell her. I never got to tell her, I kept thinking, how she kind of saved my life.

Hiking with my son in Westlake Village, CA
Rewind seven years. My husband and I had just moved to southern California so my husband could start his new job at Pepperdine University. We had very little money at first, and only one car. Every day my husband took the car to Pepperdine, and I was stuck at home with my toddler in a city where I didn't know anyone.

To say that I was unhappy during that time is such an understatement that it almost makes me laugh. I was deeply depressed--a touch of postpartum, a dash of guilt that I clearly wasn't "enjoying the time" with my baby, a whole lot of cabin fever. I was bored. I was wildly lonesome--the kind of lonely that caused me to start up conversations with the grocery store clerk just so I'd have a flicker of adult conversation. The second my husband crossed the threshold of our apartment I was like an excited puppy waiting at the door. The problem was, he was usually exhausted at the end of the day, trying to get on his feet in his new job.

It was not a good year.

In April of that year I heard an NPR story about a new internet phenomenon: SecondLife, a virtual world sort of like The Sims but where the inhabitants were all real people and the content was all created by the players. It wasn't a game so much as a social experiment, NPR claimed, and it cited colleges setting up virtual campuses to hold virtual classes and people doing cool things like recreating the Sistine Chapel and having poetry readings attended by people from all over the world.

I was intrigued. I was also, as I've said, dull-eyed bored, so I thought I'd check this Second Life thing out. So, one day during my son's nap, I created a profile, put together an awkward avatar, and stumbled into another world.

My avatar at the virtual Sistine Chapel
I'm always a little hesitant to talk about SecondLife, honestly. It shows off my geek side, sure. There are some incredibly cool things to see and experience in that place--yes, there IS a virtual Sistine Chapel, where you can fly up and get a closer, private look at every nook and cranny, which is SO cool-- but there is also a very seedy underbelly. It can be like a gigantic costume ball where everyone is wearing masks. Real money is constantly flowing through that world--money for virtual clothing for your avatars, virtual property that you can rent, virtual furniture you can buy for your virtual property, sounds and textures and animations for sale to make your experience more and more lifelike, and it isn't really surprising that the best selling items in SecondLife have to do with sex.

It can be a creepy place, is what I'm saying. But I guess, like anything, SecondLife is what you bring to it.

So there I was, duck-walking around a self-proclaimed "writing center" in SecondLife--somewhere that people had set up to hold these aforementioned poetry readings and serve as a resource for writers--when I literally (or virtually, I should say) bumped into an avatar named Alas Zerbino.

Like me, Alas was new to SecondLife. She quickly introduced herself as a freelance writer and educator who'd heard the same NPR story that I had and come to check it out.

So we decided we'd check it out together.

Alas Zerbino and me in the virtual Vincent Van Gogh exhibit
At first we were just merry traveling companions. There's a lot to do and see inside Second Life, and from pretty much that first day, Alas Zerbino and I experienced it together. We went to poetry readings and fiction writing groups. We explored the Emerald City and the planet Mars and the inside of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. We shopped. One of our favorite things was to collect a bunch of free hair demos (in SecondLife, you have to buy your hair the way one buys a wig, already styled, but most places will let you try on a demo first) and then try on the silliest ones and laugh our butts off. In the beginning Alas wore her hair in an updo--a cascade of curls. Over the years we both went through a series of different looks, but Alas always sported auburn hair, large brown eyes, and a hint of a smile.

We were a bit guarded with each other at first. We were both wary of the dangers of the internet, and we didn't give out our real names and locations. We didn't voice chat--only type. But over the weeks and then months that Alas and I hung out in that virtual space, the details of our lives started to trickle out. We started to talk about more than just our writing. Alas Zerbino slowly became Joan, and Clarissa Tolsen (which was my avatar's name) became Cynthia, and we spent less time exploring and more time just finding cool places to talk.

Joan and me literally hanging out

It didn't add up to that much time that we spent together, really, maybe one or two hours a couple of times a week, but it made a HUGE difference in my life. Suddenly I had someone to talk to, and not just someone, but Joan--Joan who was quietly funny and whip-smart, sympathetic yet capable of calling a spade a spade when the need arose. We were both writers and mothers. Her younger sister had died when Joan was a teen--my younger brother had died when I was twenty. She was older than I was, in the next stage of her life, with two kids in their late teens / early twenties who she was constantly worrying about, but she remembered her early times with her kids so well. We had so much, we found, to talk about.

After so long feeling completely adrift, I felt like I'd found myself again. And it was all because of the power of one good friend.

It was about a year after I met Joan when I had the idea for UNEARTHLY. At the time it seemed like a huge undertaking--WRITING A NOVEL!-- one that I had tried before and pooped out on long before I'd finished. When I told Joan about it, she was the best cheerleader. Not only did she urge me to just start writing, she offered to write with me. By this time Joan and I had pitched in to get our own little spot in SecondLife, a place we called Story Mountain, which was basically like a big ski lodge where Joan and I compiled all the SL information about writing and writers into one beautiful reference location and where I taught intro classes in creative writing from time to time.

My alter ego working on my real book.
So for the next six months after I had the big idea for UNEARTHLY, Joan and I showed up every day at Story Mountain to work. We both set up virtual desks with virtual computers and directed our virtual avatars to sit at those desks and type while we sat at our own real life computer and wrote. We wrote hard for a couple of hours, and then we retreated to a couch in my Story Mountain office. We copied and pasted our day's work onto a virtual notecard and traded. We read each other's work and offered advise and encouragement. (Click here to see a transcript of one of our discussions of Unearthly.) And then we showed up the next day, and the next day, and the next.

At the end of that six months I had a novel, and within a year, I had a book contract with HarperCollins and my life would be forever changed.

And it was all because of the power of one good friend.

Joan and me in Chicago
I met Joan is real life once. I came to Chicago for the Romantic Times Book Convention. Joan and Brenda drove down from Wisconsin. I remember that I was a little nervous to meet her in person, and I knew I was being silly. We ran up and gave each other a big hug and then found a spot to hang out and talk. I shouldn't have worried; it was just the way it always was--totally comfortable. Sure, we weren't as thin or as well-dressed as we were in SecondLife, but guess what? Our friendship wasn't based on looks, obviously. We had a great time.

In the past few years we didn't log in to SecondLife as much. I became monumentally busy with all of my Unearthly stuff, and I had another baby. Joan finished her novel and shopped it around for an agent, but didn't have any luck. But she was tough--she just kept working on it, revising and revising. And then along came Silas, her grandson, and Joan threw herself into being the epitome of the loving grandmother. We both got caught up in other things, but every now and then we carved out a little bit of time and found a place to work together--a virtual cabin or a virtual beach, wherever we could put down some virtual laptops to work. We'd write and we'd talk, and it was always like picking up right where we left off.

Joan and I writing together and also 1500 miles apart

This is the last picture I have of Joan and me: the two of us as avatars writing together. Today, on what would have been Joan's birthday, I pulled it out and looked at it, and finally let myself have a good long cry over the loss of my friend. I wish I could call her right now and say thank you, for being my person when I desperately needed a person, for being my cheerleader and my writing partner and my friend. You showed me just how much power one good friend can have in changing a life.

Thank you, Joan. Love you. Wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Young Adult Scavenger Hunt

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This tri-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive TWENTY signed books, one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are THREE contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GOLD TEAM--
but there is also a red team  and a blue team for chances to win a whole different set of twenty signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage. 

Scavenger Hunt Puzzle

Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the gold team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 4, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

Scavenger Hunt Post

Today, I am hosting Pintip Dunn on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!

Pintip Dunn

Pintip Dunn graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. She then received her J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL. She is represented by literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House. She is a 2012 RWA Golden Heart® finalist and a 2014 double-finalist. She lives with my husband and children in Maryland.

Find out more information by checking out the author website!

Buy the book from here!

Imagine a world where your destiny has already been your future self.

It's Callie’s seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she's eagerly awaiting her vision―a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they're meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist.

Or in Callie's case, a criminal.

In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in Limbo―a hellish prison for those destined to break the law. With the help of her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years, she escapes.

But on the run from her future, as well as the government, Callie sets in motion a chain of events that she hopes will change her fate. If not, she must figure out how to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all—Callie, herself. 

Exclusive Content -

FORGET TOMORROW – alternate opening
The following is the original opening of FORGET TOMORROW. I decided not to use this scene pretty early on – although I’ve always liked it, this scene didn’t fit the direction of the story.  What was originally scene two is now the opening of the book. Enjoy!

We’re learning in school that our ancestors believed in God. He took many forms, appearing sometimes as a single omniscient being and other times as a whole gang of deities.
“God was necessary,” Ms. Farnsworth lectures, tapping teal blue fingernails against her beaky nose, “because back then, in the pre-Boom era, time travel was nothing more than a theoretical possibility.”
She doesn’t add that time travel still isn’t possible, at least not for physical bodies. In the future, we’ve apparently figured out how to send memories back in time, but so far, the present’s yet to see evidence of an actual time-traveler. Unless, that is, you count Ms. Farnsworth, who seems stuck in a fashion-era of her own making.   
Even now, she tosses her pink feather boa around her shoulders as if she’s a flamenco dancer. Or a flamingo. “Any questions?”
            My hand shoots into the air. “You mean, our ancestors didn't have to wait until their 17th birthdays?” I blurt out. “They had this God’s comfort all of their lives?”
            My classmates gasp. Ms. Farnsworth blinks. Even my best friend Marissa knits her eyebrows like she’s just been pinched.
            What am I saying? This is blasphemy.
            Every citizen in the North Amerie is allotted one memory to fling into the space-time continuum, to be received by his or her seventeen-year-old self. The memory can be sent any time after the legal age, but conventional thinking advises waiting as long as possible, to ensure choosing a proper memory.
Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve been waiting all my life to turn seventeen. I measure my days not by my experiences but by the time remaining until I receive my memory, THE memory, the one that’s supposed to imbue meaning into my life.
They tell me, then, I won’t feel so alone. I’ll know, without a shred of doubt, that somewhere in another spacetime exists a future version of me, one who turns out alright. I’ll know who I’m supposed to be. And I’ll never feel lost again.
            Too bad I have to live through sixteen years of filler first.
“Calla Ann Stone.” Ms. Farnsworth’s high-pitched voice squeaks an octave higher. “I hope you’re not seriously suggesting that the Agency is mistaken in setting the age of receipt? You don’t actually believe that a sixteen-year-old is mature enough to handle future memory?”
            Right. As if a few months’ time will stop Bobby Fernandez from drawing pictures of his anatomy on his desk screen and turn him into a responsible adult.
I drop my eyes to the table. “Of course not.”
            Ms. Farnsworth sits in her chair and drums her hands along the edge of her desk, fingers dangerously close to the button embedded in the underside of the glass. “That’s not the way it sounded to me.”
            Eighteen pairs of eyes fix on her hands. The button is supposed to be a secret, but everyone knows it’s there. One push, and officials from ComA will descend on the school so quickly, you would think they were staked out in the trees. The button’s only been pressed twice since I’ve started school – once, when Mikey Russell made a ball fly across the racquetball court, without touching it, and the second time, when Lena Pereles flipped out and started hacking at the ComA’s Rulebook with a pair of scissors. I really don’t want to be number three. 
“Callie’s not herself today,” Marissa says, grabbing my arm. “She’s getting her memory tomorrow, remember? It’s enough to put anyone on edge.”
            Ms. Farnsworth purses her lips. My heart misses a few beats and then, thank the Fates, she moves her hand from the button.
            “I was hoping you could tell us about the time you received your memory,” Marissa continues. “It must have been so exhilarating, learning that you would someday become a teacher in this school.”
            “Well, I suppose I could.” Ms. Farnsworth pats the glass beads around her neck. “As you know, my class was one of the very first to receive the memories in a structured manner Before the Agency intervened, the memories struck individuals like a bolt of lightning – randomly but so vividly, it gave the survivors of the Dark Days the hope they needed to rebuild the future…”
I mouth “thank you” to Marissa. We turn to our desk screens, and I tap out a word here and there, barely comprehending what I’m typing.
It’s over. I’m safe. She didn’t report me. 
And then I hear, from somewhere behind me, in a voice so low it might just be my imagination: “It’s not like the Agency has any control over it.”

Enter the Contest

And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Cynthia Hand, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 37. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the green team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

Continue the Hunt

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! Click here!

Enter The Extra ARC Giveaway

In honor of this special event, I'm going to give away 1 extra signed copy of THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE. Just follow the directions in the rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 31, 2015

Deadline Week Rundown

This is what last (deadline) week looked like for me:

Monday - Friday:

6 am - Woke up, drank coffee, and worked on my revision for the new book.

7:30 am - Woke the kids up, drank coffee, and got them ready for school.

9 am - Returned home from dropping off the kids, drank coffee, dinked around on the internet and/or called my agent / editor to freak out over my impending deadline and book issues.

10 am - 4 pm WORKED WORKED WORKED on the revision, eating lunch at my desk. Also drank some coffee.

4 pm - Picked up my kids. Homework. Shenanigans.

6 pm - Threw something together for dinner and shuttled the kids to various activities and / or found a movie for them to watch so I could WORK WORK WORK on my novel.

8 pm - Bedtime for kiddos, which is always a circus entitled, Tricks My Children Do To Avoid Going To Bed. I should charge admission for this. . .

9 pm - WORKED WORKED WORKED on the novel.

12 am - Went to bed. Stared up at the ceiling thinking about the revisions.

1 am - Fell into fitful sleep in which I actually revised my novel in my dreams. All night long I wrestled with phantom lines.

5 am - Woken up by two cats jumping all over me who had decided it was time for the human to WAKE UP AND PLAY. Threw ungrateful cats out of the bedroom.

6 am - Started all over again.

Behold the oh-so-glamourous life of a writer! It went like this until Friday, where I'll add -

11:52 pm (8 minutes before my deadline) - Pressed send to give the draft back to my editor

12 am - Went to bed, stared up at the ceiling for no good reason.

3 am - Finally got my brain to turn off enough to fall asleep. But that's okay because it's Saturday so I can sleep in. . .

5 am - Woken up by my 4 year old because she was cold. Also, was it time for cartoons?

The weekend was a total blur- not even sure what I did there--maybe cleaned up the house and had some friends over for both me and the kids, ate donuts and pizza, played the game Munchkin for the first time, which was highly entertaining, but mostly just sat still with my brain going DUHHHHHH DOHHHHHHH DERRRRRRRR.

Which leads me to this morning, which went like this:

7 am - Woke up and laid in bed for a while.

7:30 am - Woke the kids up and got them ready for school

9 am - Returned home and threw myself into my To Do pile: finished several writer errands I've been procrastinating on, like signing up for YASH and filling out my author profile stuff they make me do for every book for the new book, sent a barrage of emails

10 am - Stared at the computer.

11 pm - Spent an hour making homemade banana bread. The house now smells amazing.

12 pm - Ate leftover pizza and took a shower so long it would have made Al Gore cry.

1 pm - Stared at the computer.

1:30 pm - Wrote a bizarre blog post about my schedule for the past week.

2 pm - Eyed the notebook for the next project. . .

2:03 - Picked up a pen.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Novel #6

So last Wednesday I finished the first draft of my sixth novel!!!!

 . . . which I can't tell you much about yet.

*frowns* Well, that's no fun.

What CAN I tell you?

Hmm, well:

-It is a stand-alone.

-It is NOTHING like my last (solo) standalone, (i.e. THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE) in that it is not a straight contemporary, and it will probably (hopefully) make you laugh more than it will make you cry. (I did sniffle a bit writing a scene or two at the end there, but that's just me. I'm emotional about the needs of my characters.)

-It is also nothing like my last (group) standalone (i.e. MY LADY JANE) in that it is not a fantasy, and I am not writing the point of view of a sixteen year old boy.

-It was a blast to write, because I've had this story in my brain for, like, three years now and it was awesome to finally get to write it.

-It was the fastest I've ever written a book.

-It's probably the roughest first draft I've ever produced, which is both exciting and terrifying for me, because, at this point, so much could change.

-The main character is EVIL. I love her so much. I also kind of hate her. She and I have a love-hate thing going.

-It is mainly set in Manhattan, and also a little bit in Malibu, and I listened to Taylor Swift's new album a lot while I was preparing to write it. Like, a lot a lot. Welcome to New York.

-It will (fingers crossed) be out Fall 2016.

These last few days I haven't even really known what to do with myself, because I have been working SO HARD for the last six months and my brain just wants to keepgoingkeepgoinsomuchtodo. I spent a few hours today playing SKYRIM, which, I kid you not, I have not played since May 2012. And the whole time I was playing I felt vaguely guilty, like I was betraying my writer self by letting my video-gamer flag fly for even a little while.

But that's how it goes.

If you need me, I will be over here either a) working on my mad-bow-skillz or b) pacing while waiting for my editor to tell me what she thinks.

Either way, it's always good to be at that place where I've written a NOVEL. It feels like a miracle every single time.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Last Time We Say Goodbye in Italy

It's June! (How did that happen?!)

This month THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE is coming out in Italy. (June 16, to be exact). The publisher there (Harlequin Mandadori Editore) has been so wonderful and proactive, so there's going to be an official Italian blog tour, starting today, featuring lots of exclusive content from me and other sources.

And here is the Italian cover:

Beautiful, right? I love it.

So if you're Italian, or if you speak Italian, here's the link to where you can buy the Italian version.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Playing Catch Up

Wow, I have been absent from this blog for a long time. Sometimes this crazy, unreal writing life of mine leaves me very little time for anything else. What have I been doing these past few months? Well, let's see:

1. In February I went on the Epic Reads tour with Victoria Aveyard and Jasmine Warga to Chicago, North Carolina, and Florida. This was so fun, especially because I got to meet two lovely debut authors and get to know them beyond their books. These girls were so smart and funny and great to be around. Some highlights of this tour include: a. being in a Chicago cold spell that was so fierce that they cancelled school and my nose hairs froze (but I did get to eat the most amazing pizza), b. getting to interact with so many amazing readers and booklovers, c. HARRY POTTER WORLD at Universal Studios, and d. Girl Scout cookies that a wonderful reader brought us.

Book tour!

2. In March I went to New York City to throw a book launch for my friend Jodi's new book, THE ORPHAN QUEEN. We had an awesome event at seriously the best children's book store I've ever been to (Books of Wonder!), ate dinner that night at a place that uses chocolate in everything on the menu (Max Brenners!) and then tearfully said goodbye to my friends (it was okay; I'd see them next month). I spent an extra few days in New York researching for my new book (which takes place in NYC), meeting with my HarperTeen editor, and hanging out with my agent--who is one of my favorite people in the world.

A picture my agent took of me outside of a restaurant in New York

3. In April I went to ENGLAND with the Lady Janies. In case you missed this from an earlier post, the Lady Janes are myself, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, three authors who wrote a book together this year about the Lady Jane Grey called MY LADY JANE. (Click here to go over to the Lady Janies page and find out more about this.) Anyway, in between the first and the second draft of the book we went to England to do some research and work on the revisions all together.  I'll save the highlights for the Lady Janies web space, but I will just say that it was the best trip ever. We wrote, we laughed, we took a gazillion pictures and video, we got lost, we got found, we wrote some more, we laughed some more, and we enjoyed every bit of our adventure.

The Lady Janies at Windsor Castle

4. In May I went to Texas to take part in the Romantic Times Book Convention, which was, as usual, both overwhelming and awesome. I was on a couple of brilliant panels, the first on how to throw a successful launch of your book (led by the always-charming Victoria Scott), and the second on writing tips and techniques led by Aprilynne Pike. On this second panel was Alyson Noel, Rachel Caine, Claudia Gray, me, and . . . Kathy Reichs. KATHY REICHS, as in the real life forensic anthropologist who writes the books they make the TV show BONES about. She may have asked me to pour her some water. I may have poured her a glass, and then poured some water on the table. Because I am smooth that way.

My view from the giant book signing at RT. That's Rachel Harris on my left.

5. I worked my backside off all this time on MY LADY JANE. Yesterday we turned in our final draft before the book goes to copy edits, and I have serious revision hangover. I would be just lying on the couch going GAHHHHHH for a few days, but I can't. I have a draft due on my next solo book (which I can't really tell you about yet) coming right up.

So consider this the part where I peek out of my writing cave, wave to you all, and then . . . crawl right back in.

I'll be out more at the end of summer.

I hope.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Epic Reads Tour

I'm moments away from the big black car coming to pick me up for the Epic Reads tour! I am so excited to meet my fellow tour-mates: Victoria Aveyard and Jasmine Warga. I read both of their books last month and loved them. Yay for new friends!

I'm also super excited to see the readers and bloggers who are going to show up in Chicago, Chapel Hill, and Florida! See below for dates and times. Yay for old friends!

See you there!