Saturday, October 27, 2007
There was also one other major difference with my life leading up to the deadline, which has a lot to do with the book I was turning in. You see, DRAMA! is set in and around Malibu, CA.
First, let me make it clear that I live in Burbank. The fires aren’t near my home. I have not been in jeopardy. I am perfectly fine. At various points over the past six days, however, I was able to see huge plumes of smoke to the North, East, and West of me, off in the distance. For much of the week, the world outside had a yellow tint to it. Today, not only was the sky gray, but the very air around me was gray as well. I shudder to think what is currently in my lungs.
My sister was in a more precarious situation in San Diego. Her home is relatively insulated by several neighborhoods, but the mandatory evacuations did come within a few miles of her place. When the electricity went out the other day, she decided that it was time to take a short out-of-town vacation. She’s fine. The house is fine. But still, kind of scary.
I am, in no way, trying to compare my situation with those who have been displaced, lost their homes, their possessions, their pets, and in a few cases, their loved ones. But I do want to share how I have experienced this tragedy from a truly unusual perspective.
My characters live, work, and play in the part of Malibu that was directly threatened by the fires. In the scramble to get my book done, I would take breaks to find out if the places I was writing about were still there.
-Pepperdine University? Evacuated, but safe.
-Eric’s fictional house (the only house in the entire series that I have placed in a specific location)? Fine. But a house on the same block is gone.
-The shopping center that now plays an integral part in Bryan’s life? Varying reports note that anywhere from three to five stores are destroyed.
My heart goes out to the real people who suffered genuine tragedy, but I find myself surprisingly moved on a personal level, as if I was living the fire through the eyes of my fictional characters. It’s not like I can compare this to the actual losses people have experienced, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel more touched by this particular fire than the many others in Southern California (well, except maybe the one in my sister’s neck of the woods).
Malibu is about an hour away from my house. I’m often there scouting locations for scenes, hanging out to get a feel for the place, and setting up camp at the local coffeehouse that I like so much I set a scene there in Book 2. (No. It’s not the coffeehouse that Britney Spears frequents, although I have been there too). For the past two years, Malibu has played a significant role in my life and has been almost a second home in my imagination.
The Malibu fire is now 100 percent contained. It may not have been as devastating as the other fires in Southern California, but it has taken a definite toll on the community. As I begin work on Book 4, I have to decide how (or if) I need to address the fire in the series. Once things calm down out there, I’ll take a trip to survey the damage and determine how it affects my characters and their world. In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share my experience here, as an example of yet another way writers’ lives tend to be different from people with “normal” jobs.
Friday, October 26, 2007
2. Way too much caffeine.
3. You can't sleep. (I wonder why?)
4. 4:30 a.m. After tossing and turning all night, you don't wake up when your husband gets ready for work.
5. 6:30 a.m. You realize your son has no clean jeans to wear to school. Frantic laundry! [Incidentally, this is the only time in your life you will read the phrase "frantic laundry."]
6. 10:30 a.m. M&M cookies.
7. 1 p.m. Starbucks pumpkin cream cheese muffin!
8. When your husband returns from work, he looks you up and down and says, "Taken to wearing our sweat suits out in public, have we?"
9. Aaaarrrrrrg, I know #9 was the most important one but I CAN'T REMEMBER!!! Ask me next week when the novel is done.
A "Go Jenn go!" would be appreciated.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
October 8th marked the 2-year anniversary of me firing up the Internet and ordering myself a boyfriend; yeah, I can't believe N and I have been together for that long, either. We've got some other exciting news on the horizon, too, but I'll save that for later.
Anyhoo, as we were thinking about what to do for the occasion, we were reminded of a running joke in our relationship: back in the early days, lo so many months ago, we contemplated running away together. I reminded him that as a writer, my bank account hovered somewhere in the low triple digits. "I don't think we'll get much further than Amish country," I told him.
And so it was.
For anyone who is unfamiliar, Lancaster county is way more than just the setting for the phenomenal Harrison Ford/Kelly McGillis vehicle, WITNESS (which in fact we watched last year, on anniversary the first). There's gorgeous countryside, fresh farm produce and dairy, and historic landmarks.
Of course, you won't see any of those if you hit the (no pun intended) holy trinity of the area: Intercourse (hee), Strasbourg, and Bird In Hand. You also won't be able to drive more than three miles an hour down the one major road (off of which, picturesquely, our B&B was located). We charged through and gawked at horse-drawn buggies, quilts, and a staggering collection of "barn stars" (such a strangely popular aesthetic choice). I felt slightly guilty about gawking, but then, the Amish were actually giving their own tours, so I figured they were kind of ok about it all.
Our first stop was the National Christmas Center. Though growing up I always celebrated Christmas with my mother's family, I still felt like some kind of also-ran; after all it wasn't *really* my holiday. So I reveled in the opportunity to dive headfirst into one (astonishingly dedicated) man's collection of Christmas...stuff. The vintage advertisements, the dioramas of Santas throughout the world, the recreated 1930's Five and Dime pre-Christmas...all of that was fascinating. Unfortunately, the artificial gingerbread smell piped through the building didn't do a whole lot for my sinuses.
After lunch we hunted down the Wilbur Chocolate factory in Lititz. This was totally up our alley. Free, and less of a "factory" than "huge store where in the corner you can watch them pouring chocolate into molds." Mmm. I bought chocolate bubble bath, but I haven't used it yet. I'm afraid it will make me more hungry than relaxed.
On Sunday we went pumpkin-picking (and just in time...rumor has it there's a nation-wide shortage of pumpkins this season? Yikes!), and visited a vineyard. The weather was spectacular and it was the perfect cap to a perfectly bizzare, but always interesting celebration.
When I first met Noah, his travel schedule worried me. I'm sort of a homebody at heart (case in point: I'm totally still in my pj's from this morning). But in the time that we've been together, I've come to understand his love of adventure...and to relish the fact that he chose me as his partner in crime.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
So now I have two teenagers! My daughter I can handle--I get the sudden tears, the slamming doors, the make up and even the overwhelming desire to change the planet (Amanda's attending her first anti-war protest next week! i'm so proud of my little neo-hippie). After all, been there, done that. But this boy thing is alien to me. Something happens to boys when they hit the teen years. Conversations seem to go like this:
How was your day?
What did you do?
Who's that on the phone
Followed by his battle cry: Do we have any food around here? (No one eats at like a teenage boy! He wolfed down six slices of pizza the other night!)
It's a good thing Ian has a lot of female friends. . .they give me all the details, every time they come over to hang out. So far, it seems Ian's still the funny, sweet, cute guy he's always been--at least outside of the house. Which is all any mom can hope for.
And the way I look at it--while I may have lost a little guy who likes to cuddle, and who thinks its really cool to have a mom who is a writer--I have gained a new source of material for future novels. One day I may try writing one from the guy's point of view. . .
As soon as I figure out exactly what that is. I suspect it has something to do with food.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
When I gave Meg Cabot the bound galley of my forthcoming novel, The Year My Sister Got Lucky, I wrote the following on the title page: "I feel like I'm signing a knock-off bag and giving it to Miuccia Prada." Talk about literary tradition; I truly believe that without Meg Cabot, chick-lit books for teens--books for teens in general -- would not be as popular, and not be as good, as they are today. She is the Real Thing, the designer everyone wants to emulate, and she raises the bar with every book. Our writing styles and subject matters are very different, of course, but she is a great source of inspiration for me, and I know, for countless other young adult writers. So her being such a big part of this contest makes it all the cooler.
Though I never entered a writing contest in Seventeen, I did win a prize in a fiction contest run by, of all places, Scholastic Inc., which, aside from Simon Pulse, is where I publish, and work, today. Destiny, perhaps? Who knows? Either way, pick up those pens, laptops, or keyboards, and get to scribbling for Seventeen...you never know where taking a chance might take you.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
It's a chipmunk. Yes, really.
He has several holes in the flowerbed under the window of my home office. He's tunneled all around the bulkhead in the rear of my house, and he has two separate entrances to his chipmunk condo, located under my front stairs. He makes squeaky sounds all day long, attaining the greatest volume when he's sitting on my front stairs, in full view of my dog, Tipper. I think he does it specifically to torture her. Tipper sits by the front door and barks back, frustrated that she can't get the chipmunk, looking at me for help.
When it all started, I plugged up the chipmunk holes and emptied the bird feeder. I figured removing any food sources would deter the chipmunk. Maybe get him thinking about staking a claim to a large area in the woods behind my house, where he could build an entire chipmunk mansion without bothering anyone. No luck.
A nine-year-old kid in my neighborhood showed me a great trap, one that can catch a chipmunk without hurting it, so the animal can be re-released elsewhere. I dutifully set out the trap, baiting it with raisins and a couple Cheese Nips. Two days later, I caught a chipmunk. Wrong one. (Too small.) I drove that one out to a wooded area a few miles from my house, found a nice spot near a reservoir, and let it go.
I re-baited the trap, figuring if I could catch one chipmunk, surely I'd catch THE chipmunk. But no dice. After a few days, the neighborhood kid needed his trap back--he'd promised it to a relative with chipmunk problems--so I continued to plug the holes while I searched local hardware stores for a similar trap.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, I found the same exact trap at a hardware store I'd already visited. On night one, nothing happened. Night two, I caught a (very frightened) mouse, so I took him deep into the woods and let him go. On night three, nothing. But on day four, I caught two chipmunks--at once! I got excited for about a minute...when I saw that, once again, I hadn't caught Mr. Big. These were both little. Again, I drove the creatures out to a wooded area, but they managed to poop in my car en route (now I know to put newspaper under the trap when I transport it.)
For the next three days, the trap stayed empty. I decided to move it, camouflage it with leaves, and put extra raisins inside. Mr. Big found it, but proved he's smarter than I am. He tipped it over, knocked out the raisins, and then dug a hole directly under the trap.
So now I'm back to square one. Right at this moment, Mr. Big is sitting on my front step, torturing the dog while I try to write. I think he's actually enjoying it; if chipmunks could laugh, Mr. Big would be howling up a storm.
Any ideas? If you send me an idea that actually works, I'll send you a free autographed copy of any Niki Burnham book--your choice. I might even draw a picture of a chipmunk in it!
Monday, October 15, 2007
8-3pm: life as usual: cereal, email, Television Without Pity, editing for my Media Bistro class
3pm: pack necessities (two outfits plus alternates, and a few contingency outfits, plus schoolwork, toiletries, meds, special hypo-allergenic dogfood, etc) in a rolley-suitcase, haul dog plus suitcase downtown.
3:30pm: arrive downtown, feel overwhelmed and frustrated by omni-presence of rolley-suitcase in life. call N to complain about the perceived irrationality of maintaining two separate apartments. get put in place by N, who has an office job and must deal with such meltdowns off the clock.
6:00pm: despite grumpiness, agree to stick to original plan of chili and football, with the caveat that N must bring chili ingredients home himself. N agrees, asks if i can run the dishwasher.
i can. but.
i actually NEVER used the dishwasher when i was growing up and never had one as an adult (not yet, anyway), so i am not innately familiar with its mysterious intricacies.
i looked for the dish detergent, but couldn't find any. all N had was a bottle of what looked like Palmolive.
now, I'm pretty sure Palmolive is NOT meant for the dishwasher. Like, seventy-three percent sure. so i call N, but he doesn't answer. i debate waiting until he comes home to run the machine, decide that after my attack of brat this afternoon i'd rather not be seen as lazy, too. decide to run machine with Palmolive.
(i was very savvy about it; only used about half the amount, to be safe).
7:22pm: come downstairs to find kitchen floor SUBMERGED in bubbles in vein of 80's romantic comedy (about people who frolic in kitchens, i suppose).
8:02pm: N comes home, finds me on the ground squeegie-ing up the bubbles with a baking sheet and tossing them onto the patio. somehow resists the urge to suggest that i return to my separate apartment, laughs.
9:30pm: chili-eating ensues.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
There have been very few (translation: no) posts from Erin Downing in the last few months and for that I apologize. I promise you there are many good excuses for that. Most notably, the picture I've included in this entry, which features my brand-new-fresh-out-of-the-oven twins and my charming toddler...who knew I was old enough to be responsible for THREE kids?! Twin A and Twin B (aka Henry and Ruby) were born a month ago today and things have been a little nuts. Apologies for my absence on the blog.
But wait! I do have extremely exciting news on the book front. A very wonderful TV network (who shall remain nameless for now) has decided to "option" Prom Crashers, which means there is a possibility it could someday be made into a TV movie! Of course, a millions stars need to align (and a million TV executives need to give it the green light) before we break out the champagne, but this is the first exciting step to a possible TV future for my prom crashing friends. I couldn't be more thrilled!
This is an e-mail from my cousin, who's in charge of tickets to sports events at my alma mater. I love winning a contest I didn't even know I'd entered! Now my husband and his BFF get to go to the Auburn vs. LSU game, and I never have to wash dishes again.
I can't offer you Auburn tickets or a lifetime of clean dishes, but here are a few contests going on now for readers and writers.
Teens Read Too is offering five free copies of MAJOR CRUSH and THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, plus lots of other YA novels. Sign up by October 31 for the drawing. And congratulations to Kate, Tiffany, Brent, Alexandra, and Brenna, who won copies of my books in September! They're in the mail as of this morning. (Really.)
For readers nominating writers...
Nominations are open for the 2007 Cybils, "the only literary awards by bloggers." Anyone can suggest a book, so click here to make sure your favorite YA novel of the year has been nominated!
The Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, sponsored by the Birmingham-based writers' group Southern Magic, has a YA category. Plus, I am the contest coordinator. So on its way to the hands of our judges--avid readers, librarians, and booksellers--your book will have the privilege of getting my fingerprints all over it and then sitting in my laundry room for a few days. Don't worry, the Tide is on the opposite counter. Click here for all the info and a downloadable entry form, or e-mail me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited to add: THE BOYS NEXT DOOR just won the coolest prize of all: the approval of the teen reviewers at flamingnet.com. And a dragon!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Well, despite the fact that I have been absolutely drowning in work, there's been some funnage going on of late, as well.
For starters, N and I celebrated two years last night, for which I was gifted 24 roses (it took me WAY too long to realize that it was one per month since we'd met; I've never been one for math) and a lovely dinner at Top Chef Season One winner Harold's restaurant Perilla. Olive oil poached sea bass=YUM.
We also had the pleasure of attending the first ever Kidlitosphere conference this past weekend in Chicago (http://www.robinbrande.com/1st-annual-kidlitosphere-conference-rsvp-list/), where we got to meet and chat with some very cool people, including Laini Taylor & her illustrator hubby, Ysebeau Wilce, Barry Lyga, Robin Brande, Esme Codell, and a zillion others that I am leaving out only because, well, the attendee list is included in the link above. But rest assured, a great time was had by all, and I'm looking forward to next year in Portland.
Alas, N and I are missing from any group pic you might find online, as Saturday night we missed the group dinner to hit the US premiere of "Tehilim" at the Chicago Film Festival! I wore fabulous shoes and N Q&A'd the eve away. Then it was back to the hotel for some much needed room service and r & r.
Meanwhile, my Media Bistro students are KICKING my butt--in the best possible way, that is. They rock so hard, and came to class super-prepared. I am going to have to stay on my toes for the next 11 weeks.
And finally, I am thrilled as peaches to announce that CRUSH DU JOUR releases today! It's my third S&S romantic comedy, with a fun (IMHO, anyway) cooking theme. So, you know, pick up a copy and get cooking! (sorry).
Now, back to my regularly scheduled manuscripting.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Writers tend to notice the themes they write about after a few books. And then, of course, ask why. My why is pretty easy to uncover -- as I child I never lived in one place more than a few years. I was born in Charleston, SC while my father was still finishing college at the The Citadel. After he graduated and got a job, my parents moved out to a suburb called Goose Creek (really!). And then, for the biggie, when I finished first grade (and when my youngest sister was 6 weeks old), we moved twelve hours north to Delaware. After three years, my dad was transferred to SC (Florence, this time). We stayed there for four years -- but I went to three schools because I did 5th and 6th grade at the elementary school across the street, my first year of junior high at the in-town junior high and then was bussed for eighth grade to the big new school on the outskirts of town. It wasn't until we moved back to Delaware that I finally stayed put...for four years, at least, until I went to college and began the ritual of moving dorm and apartment almost yearly until my husband, daughter and I ended up in Maine, at last. We've been here twenty years. Longer than I've lived anywhere (my husband lived in his family home from birth to twenty, so he's just even).
So, naturally, when my youngest graduated high school, I noticed I was itching to change my circumstances (moving house is the best way to clean and organize *ever*). DH can't move, he's got a job that needs him here (bummer, dude). So my compromise? I'm headed here:
Yep. Really. I'm only going for six weeks...at first.... But I'm going to look for work writing for TV. Wish me luck!
Oh...and the Murphy's law part? There are certain things I know about my life, and one is that I always pick the longest line. Always. I always get the wrong order at the drive-thru window if I don't check before I drive away. And my timing at stop lights and traffic circles -- and really, for anything -- is almost always off.
Like now. When I have the plane tickets. The place to stay. Two fabulous conferences to go to. Friends who will go out to lunch with me (or so they say). It is "Houston, we have a go!" ...except that it looks like the WGA is going to strike (that's the writer's union for film and television writers). And strikes mean you can't work (or if you do you're a scab, and I wouldn't do that because I think unions do mostly good things).
Now, one thing I know about Murphy's Law. It has taught me a lot through the years (patience, the proper way to proceed through a four-way stop when you all get there at once, and which checkout clerk to always avoid at the grocery store). So, what is it teaching me this time? I'm really not sure. I suspect it has something to do with making contacts (everything about work in Hollywood is about contacts -- my personal skill at making and following up contacts is dreadful). I suspect this trip will be all about meeting people and then (horrors!) remembering them by face and name and following up with friendly reminders that I want to write for them.
Or maybe it's another lesson altogether. Guess I'll figure it out after I come back (which won't be until December). I'll let you know then.
Until then, though, here's the game plan: meet as many people as I can who can hire me (or know some one who knows someone who may be able to hire me). I have one ultimate connection goal in mind: meeting Rob Thomas (the Veronica Mars Rob Thomas, not the singer Rob Thomas). Did you know he was a Simon Pulse author, too? I just read his Rats Saw God and loved it. So now he's my new (imaginary) BFF. You have to understand, everything in Hollywood is connection -- and Rob and I have a major connection, don't you think? We both wrote for Simon Pulse (sure, there's a gap where he became a big wheel writer-producer and I...didn't...but really, what's a small gap between writer-house-buds?).
Having put that out into the universe, another writer might expect to run into Thomas and be instantly taken under his wing because of the deep, profound and unbreakable connection. I, however, count on Murphy. This is how my brush with Rob Thomas with go:
Starbucks. Line out the door. Oblivious woman reads book in line as it slowly crawls forward. Man bumps into her as he carries out a Venti Mocha Latte.
WOMAN (looks up from book and smiles faintly)
Man walks away.
GUY IN LINE BEHIND WOMAN
Hey, wasn't that Rob Thomas?
WOMAN WITH GUY IN LINE BEHIND WOMAN
That Veronica Mars guy? Yeah. I hear he's bringing back Cupid.
Woman shoos away a bee and keeps reading. Line moves forward. Woman orders a Venti Caramel Macchiato. EXITS.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Here is the bride chugging a prenuptial Red Bull:
It was by far the most fun wedding I've ever attended. But the best thing about it was how every careful detail reflected the bride and groom's personalities.
Personally, I am allergic to tradition, attention, fashion, and taffeta--everything weddings are made of. So my husband and I eloped to Hawaii (which reflected our personalities, too). But I know chicks exist who dream for years of their wedding day. I roomed with one of these people in college. There was a lot of bridal mag scattered about on the dorm room floor and a lot of "Jenn, which dress do you like better--this white one, or this white one?" *eyes crossing*
How about you? Are you a virtual wedding planner? Or, if your dad is like mine and offers you cash NOT to have a public ceremony, will you take the money and run?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
I think humans are amazingly adaptive animals. That's a line I've just written into the new book I'm working on. I'm thinking a lot about change and adjustment now that I've finally moved into my own place. I posted over the summer about my search for an apartment. And now here I am! I found a lovely light-filled studio on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It's not my favorite neighborhood, but a lot of close friends live nearby, and most importantly, the space feels big and airy, with enough room for my mammoth desk, my bookshelves, my shoe collection, and hopefully, for the dinner parties I plan to have! And it's mine. Eek. It's still very odd to come home to an empty apartment, to not have to listen for a roommate's key in the door. It's both wonderful and strange, freeing and a little lonely. On the one hand, I can sprawl out on the couch wearing whatever as I watch THE HILLS. I can be up at all hours typing in my bed without fear of waking someone. On the other hand, when there's that story I just HAVE to tell someone right away, or a purchase I'm bursting to show someone (I just bought the cutest lamp at Pottery Barn...) it's not quite as satisfying to do so over the phone. I know it's just an adjustment process, though. It takes a while before anyplace starts to feel like home. And a home you can write in...well, that's almost a whole other story.