Monday, March 31, 2008

Back to my old stomping ground

On April 19, I’ll be speaking at the Alabama Book Festival at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery. At 3:30 p.m. I’ll be part of a group session with Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and R. A. Nelson (Teach Me). But at 10:30 a.m. I’ll be all by my lonesome. I hope you’ll come out to support me. My mom has a bridge tournament that day. My dad will be on the premises because bluegrass musicians also meet at Old Alabama Town twice a month, but I’m not sure he’ll tear himself away from his banjo long enough to hear me speak. I picture an audience of hoity-toity writer types, wearing hats. And capes. And feather boas. And diamonds. I picture an audience that will not laugh at my jokes about marching band. I can already hear the crickets chirping.

*chirp, chirp*

Help me out here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My John Hancock

I have awful handwriting. It’s so bad that sometimes I’ll scribble something down and then, hours later, will not be able to decipher my own chicken scratches. It’s so bad that someone once asked me, "Are you a doctor?"

In elementary school, I got straight As...except for Penmanship. Yes, my grade school gave grades for penmanship and my grade was a big fat C. "Aimee cannot write legibly." Chicken scratches. Scribbles. My teacher, my parents, everyone admonished me. The implication was that I might never succeed, given my handwriting. This was the mid-1980s, before computers became ubiquitous, before it was a given that you’d type a homework assignment. Their concern made sense, I suppose.

I was heartbroken, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t make myself write any slower. Speed was the problem; I felt like I had so much to say, so many thoughts, that they spilled out on the page in a messy jumble. So no one was happier than me when my Dad brought home our first computer, a giant, blocky IBM. I plopped myself in front of it and taught myself how to type. And I am, to this day a very fast typist. My fingers fly over the keys, giddy with the freedom of both speed and legibility. At last, what I want to say comes out clearly!

That’s what writing is all about, isn’t it? The desire to be understood, to be read. I used to write all my stories longhand, filling up journals while I reserved the computer for school assignments. But sometime in high school, I made the switch to writing fiction on the computer, and I’ve never looked back. I now find it downright difficult to write fiction by laptop is pretty much surgically attached to me.

But there is, undeniably, something powerful about handwriting. Something so utterly unique, so personal. I remember getting a small thrill when I saw my boyfriend’s handwriting for the first time. We’d been dating for a while, but it was like I caught a glimpse of a side of him I hadn’t known. Signatures still mean something, after all, and thus far, I haven’t found a Word font that can duplicate my bold, messy scrawl.

For the same reason, I love getting authors I love to sign books. It feels like a memento, like a personal connection beyond the connection you’ve formed by reading their words. And I love signing my own books, too. I never tire of it. I love writing a personal note on the title page, marking my name with a flourish. And if readers can’t meet me in person, I always encourage them to mail me their copies of my books; I’m happy to sign them and slip them back in the mail.

I think I’ll end with a quote from an author I adore, one whose signature, sadly, I’ll never be able to ask for. In Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, when Bingley remarks that he has a terrible handwriting, Mr. Darcy insightfully replies:"You really are proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance."

So, maybe, like Bingley, I kind of like my bad handwriting. After all, it’s as much a part of me as the color of my eyes and the books I write.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reality is Totally Fake!

Please allow me to rant.  I just discovered a new TV show.  It's called Real Housewives of New York City, and it makes me sick.  Basically the show's about a bunch of  wannabees in Manhattan, who travel around on the outskirts of real New York society, flashing their money and praying it will buy them class, which of course it never will.  I'm a New Yorker and a wife,  and I take offense.  Let me state right now--most of us aren't like that.

As a writer, I am aware of a very dangerous trap--never let your characters become stereotypes.  I am always careful to make my characters 3D, with a myriad of emotions and traits that allow them to grow.  Like a real person. Unfortunately, this reality show features "characters" that are one note--and its all the same note.  Whiny.  If I ever tried to submit a manuscript with characters like that, my career would be over. (Or as these women with their horrible accents would say, Ovah.  I swear, no one in Manhattan sounds like that in real life!)

Which leads me to my big question.  Is anyone else sick of these so-called reality shows that have nothing to do with reality?  I know that during the writers strike the networks had little choice but to create them.  But the guild has settled with the producers.  Aren't we entitled to some good television now?  

I know what you're thinking: Why not just turn off the TV and read a good book? That's exactly what I did.   The Great Gatsby.    I guess that after a solid hour of the Real Wives, I just had a need to read about superficial New Yorkers that actually had some depth.

Of course, Daisy, Nick, Tom and Gatsby aren't real.  But they sure seemed that way to me after what I'd just watched.  And I'd much rather spend time with them than the wannabees on TV.  Wouldn't you?

Okay, rant over.  I feel better now.

Anyone else have a pet peeve today?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

School Visits

Do you know what I like even more than writing?

I love visiting schools! My first experience visiting a school as an author was last year, in my oldest son's first grade class. This year, I visited his second grade class and we wrote the cutest story:

The Big Fat Hairy Troll
by Mrs. Vaatuitui's 2nd grade class with the wonderful help from the amazing Mrs. Toliver (haha, that's me!)
Once there was a fat, stinky troll. His name was Hairy and he liked to eat greasy bugs. He loved scaring kids until one day when he met one. This kid, whose name was Hunter, scared the troll by jumping from behind a corner and jumping on his back. Hairy said, "Ahhhhhhhh!" and ran away. Hairy the Troll never came back for 100 years and never ever scared kids again. The end!

I've also had the pleasure of visiting Snowcrest Junior High in Utah, and Clair E. Gale Junior High and Rocky Mountain Middle School in Idaho Falls. And this Friday, I'll be in Colorado visiting Powell (where I went!) and Newton Middle Schools. My favorite part of visiting schools is the Q&A part. I love hearing the questions and comments the students have. Afterwards, I really enjoy getting emails from them, telling me they learned something or have more questions or just want to say hi. And of course, if they happened to adore The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, I like hearing that too! :)

On another note, if you're interested in joining a fun YA book club, check out this one. And if you live in the Denver area, I'd love to see you at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch on Monday, March 24 at 7PM.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Talk to your fave authors!

Have you made it over to the Pulse Blogfest yet? Lots of the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies authors are participating, along with some other authors you may have heard of (Judy Blume, HELLO!). Take a gander by clicking on the spectacular dancing .gif at right, and be sure to leave a comment on our posts! We love to hear from you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dark horse in the running?

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that I love to read. Like most other posters on this blog, my bedroom (and living room, and dining room table) are cluttered with "to be read" stacks, and when contemplating Aimee's "top five books you've read in the past 5 years challenge, I got so overwhelmed I had to let the whole thing go. I mean, I named my *dog* Bridget Jones. After the book, of course (you'd be shocked at how many people ask).

Yeah, I love books.

I *also* love my new neighborhood.
I've been going on for ages now about how I've been moving downtown (and yes, I'm well aware that the process has taken at least six months). I think I've been moving one sock at a time, honestly. Because I am lazy. And busy. And addicted to reality television when I'm not writing. But here I am, now. Down on Leroy Street, in the heart of Greenwich VIllage.

If you've never been to NYC, I should explain: The Village is a charming little enclave all unto itself. Down here, the streets wind in and out as opposed to following "the grid," and many people live in lower brownstones or townhouses as opposed to towering skyscrapers. We've got amazing specialty restaurants and lots and lots of famous movies and tv shows have filmed on location down here.

Another thing we've got: a literary tradition.
Now that I'm moved in for reals, I've been working from the Hudson Park branch of the NYPL. It's not the biggest or brightest branch of the library, but it's two doors down from my house, with wireless internet and lots of space for me to spread out and space out over my work.

It was during just such a spaceing the other day that I saw it: a small bookshelf labeled: GREENWICH VILLAGE AUTHORS. And it must be said, though my own books were not on that shelf (I've only been a GVA for about two months now, ya know?), there are a lot of "us." We include: the Beat poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allen Poe, and Henry James, just for starters. Oh, and for all you YA fans, even Louisa May Alcott.

Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Norman Mailer were devoted patrons of the White Horse Tavern (pic above), a watering hole that is these days more popular with tourists than would be scribes. But that's okay. I don't need the White Horse. I consider myself the *dark* horse as far as keeping up my end of my neighborhood's literary cred.

No, I may not have made my way to that very special bookshelf just yet...but I'm definitely getting closer. Both literally and figuratively.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a legacy to uphold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Love Libraries

I'm an Army brat, which meant that packing up and moving to a new home every 2 - 3 years seemed normal to me. While most non-military types are aware of how often soldiers (and their families) move, what they don't realize is that all this moving means you can't accumulate too much stuff. Soldiers are given a certain weight allowance, and that's all the Army will put on the truck. Go over it, and you pay a hefty price tag. Per pound. As a result, I didn't have much furniture--only the bare necessities (and if we were living in military housing, which we often did, the Army can supply some of it for you.) I also didn't have that many books. I'll admit, "many" books is a relative term; most of my friends thought I had a ton! However, I read several books a week, and my parents are big readers, too. Owning that many was out of the question. Therefore, when we moved to a new post, one of the first places we'd visit was the post library. It was simply the thing to do.

Here's what leaves me gobsmacked now: libraries have incredible programs for teens. If you're looking for a great place to hang out, meet with friends, and (shocker!) find some fantastic books, check out your local library. Many have active teen groups, an area specifically for teens to hang out, and programs that are actually (gasp!) FUN.

For instance, the Shrewsbury Public Library in Massachusetts has a loft area with comfy chairs, a TV, and video games. There's space to study or just chat with your friends. At the library in Glendale, Arizona, you can participate in a Guitar Hero contest (yes, there are prizes!), take a babysitting course, or even take glass art workshops.

You don't have to live in a big city to find these kind of library programs, either. In tiny Waterville, New York (with a population around 1700), the library hosts teen lock-ins, where you can spend the night in the library with your friends, eat pizza, watch movies and talk books.

If they'd had programs like this when I was in high school, I'd have lived in the library. (I was there often enough as it was!)

What about you? Have you looked at what's going on in your local library? Have you ever attended an event there, such as an author visit, a movie night, or a book discussion? If so, what's been your favorite event?

(This is me with some of the Canastota Librateens in Canastota, New York!)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Warm Weather, Where Are You?

I'm very tired of this:

Very. Tired.

I just put my older son on a plane to L.A. this morning. I was sorely tempted to sneak myself into his luggage. I want warm. I want to be able to walk on the sidewalk in my sneakers without fear of ice patches taking me down or snow piles blocking my path.

The most unfair thing of all -- son will be doing a one week internship basking in the glow of a computer monitor (think space camp, but substitute video games) and will not go out of his way to go outside and soak up the sun.

I really should have tucked myself into his suitcase. He probably won't even use those clean clothes anyway.

Ah well. Sometime soon I'll head out to L.A. for my own purposes (with a ticket, not tucked into a suitcase, which should be slightly more comfortable).

For now....I'm just glad we have a woodstove, and a pickaxe to chip the wood from the frozen ground.

Sigh. I think this is why my newest work in progress is set in LA. -- I'll take warm weather any way I can get it -- even fictionally.

I envy those of you seeing crocuses and tulips already. Will be at least a month or two for us.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Brushes with greatness

Who's the most famous person you've ever been in close quarters with? Other writers don't count.

The most famous non-writer-type person I've ever encountered is Bill Kazmaier, who was the World's Strongest Man from 1980 to 1982. I was reminded of this last night while watching large men carry Volkswagons on their shoulders. (My husband and my son usually control the TV.)

Mr. Kazmaier was the commentator for this contest. But he used to own a gym in Auburn, where I went to college. One day in the grocery store I found myself behind him in the checkout line. He was buying a bottle of Evian and four family-size bags of Doritos.

P. J. does not get to play this round. No one can top Robin Williams.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century

Inspired by my fellow Ro-Com Writers, I too have joined the current century and launched a website at I have gone the bargain basement route and been my own webmaster. (What's that they say about people who serve as their own lawyer? I think it holds true for webmastering as well.) In doing so I spent a lot of time traveling up and down the links to your right visiting the sites of the other Ro-Commas. I have to say that I'm impressed, and not just with your on-line selves. As I've tooled around your cyber worlds, I've gotten the faintest glimpse of your human sides as well. It's an interesting group to be a part of. I look forward to our ever entwining digital world of YA Fiction. I'm planning to add links to your personal sites from mine just as soon as I can get my webmaster to