Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Do teens use Amazon?

Amazon (and B&N.com) is one of my favorite places to procrastinate-- I'll go there to check on my books , to find new and interesting covers, to browse my favorite YA fiction, and to occasionally even buy a (gasp!) book for "grown-ups". (I'm now reading and enjoying Girls in Trucks). I also love seeing all the Lists, as well as the reviews, many of which seem to be written by real-life teens! There is clearly a strong teen presence on Amazon, but yet when I email with my fans, many of them say that they are not allowed to purchase books online. This makes sense--I certainly didn't have a credit card when I was a teenager (and, uh, Amazon didn't exist yet!), so buying books meant a $20 bill and hitting up my wonderful local book shop (this was also before the Barnes & Noble megastores, which came into being when I was in the middle of high school).

I wonder: what are teens' book-buying methods today? Do they use Amazon or other online retailers to see what catches their fancy, and then visit a bookstore to seek those titles out? Are their parents purchasing the books for them, and how much does parental approval play into the book-buying process? (I remember my mom being hesitant to buy me a racy-looking Sweet Valley High...my reading of which probably inspired me, almost unconsciously, to write the books I do!).

Plus: where do libraries fit into the picture? What proportion of YA readers frequent their local libraries and leave with armfuls of novels? (When I was growing up, I loved nothing better than a long summer day spent at the library). When I stopped by a small library on the Upper East Side the other day to work on some writing, the YA shelf looked very well-stocked but I didn't spot any teens, as I often will in Barnes&Noble.

I'm curious as to what others think/experience on this topic...

Thanks, and happy spring to all...




Sunday, April 27, 2008

At Our House Every Month is Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month and for my April Blog entry, I thought I'd help with that awareness by writing about the most amazing boy that I have ever met - my son Alex. Alex is fifteen and he is severely autistic. You've probably heard of Autism, but may not be sure what it is exactly. Autism is a disorder with no known cause and no known cure that affects the ability to communicate and the ability to process information. Despite many common characteristics, virtually every incidence of autism - and it is becoming more and more common - is different and unique.

Alex seemed to be like other babies until he was two, when he suddenly withdrew. He stopped talking and stopped playing with toys. It took more than a year for us to finally get a diagnosis and it was quite simply the worst year of our life. Since then Alex has only spoken on two ocassions. After a lot of hard work and therapy he did start playing with toys, but that is a skill that comes and goes and unfortunately is currently gone. (We are determined to make sure it comes back.) Like many autistic children, Alex is also epileptic and has a great deal of seizures which hamper his mental progress and also put him at risk for various accidents and injuries.

Many people can see and understand how this is difficult. And, for the most part, people are understanding and try to be helpful. (There are a surprising number of really obnoxious people out there who like to stare, point and make comments, but they are in the minority.) What most people could never understand, though, is how great a kid Alex really is and how rich our life is for having him.

Like I said, Alex cannot speak or communicate in any normal terms. Yet, person after person falls under his spell. I can write books with tens of thousands of words in them, but I cannot find any words that accurately describe how it is that Alex makes people fall in love with him. He is smart and funny and can wrap his fingers around your heart with a dexterity typically reserved for concert pianists and safecrackers.

I had planned to have so many discussions with Alex, explaining the world to him. But, instead he is constantly explaining it to me. The world is what we make of it and the key to doing that is realizing who we are and what makes each one of us special. It is at the heart of every word that I write and it was taught to me by a boy with no words at all.

Cover Me

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes I can’t help it. More than once, I’ve bought a book by a writer I’ve never read before largely because of the strength of the cover art. Although it does help that the book is usually something I’m interested in reading. It’s not like I go around buying books that delve into the exciting world of tax law because there’s a stunning image of an abacus on the cover. Although abacuses are kind of cool. Or is the plural Abaci?

I love the look of the Ro Com line. The designer, Ann Zeak, and artist, Amy Saidens give it a great, distinctive style so that even though different people write the books—using different last names so we’re all over the YA section—you can always pick them out on bookstore shelves. Heck, other lines even mimic the look of this one. That’s always the sign of a true success.

I’m also very happy with the look of the DRAMA! series I write. My favorite part is how the four covers work together to tell a story. To see what I mean, click on “P.J. Ruditis” over on the side of the screen. I’ll wait while you do that. [Toe Tapping … Humming the original, far superior version of “Think of Me” than the one sung on IDOL the other day.] Welcome back! See what I mean? The curtain rises on the characters to finally reveal them (looking nothing like I imagined them, but whatever. That’s not the point.) I love the colors. I love the individual stories they tell and I love the full picture you get when you see the covers all together. Who could ask for anything more?

And while on the subject of covers, here are three books where the great covers drew me to buy books that I might not normally have picked up.

MIDNIGHT by Dean Koontz: When I was in high school (and he was still going by Dean R. Koontz), the art for this book--a moody cover shot of a town with a full moon overhead and a spooky bird flying across--led me to discover an author that I followed for years.

MASQUERADE by Melissa de la Cruz (from the BLUE BLOODS series): The haunting, white mask and painted face beneath makes it, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen. I loved it so much that I had to get the first book in the series just so I could read this one.

BAD KITTY by Michele Jaffe: It’s so sparkly! The hardcover released with two different cover jackets--one in black and one in pink--with a glittery, stylized image of a cat (that looked a bit like Boo Boo Kitty from LAVERNE & SHIRLEY). I would love to have a book with two different covers one day. That’s a commitment. Naturally, I went with the basic black. I enjoyed this book so much I literally fell off the couch laughing at one point. And I'm allergic to cats.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fear of Blogging

I am supposed to blog once a month.  That's what I agreed to, and that's what I do.  The problem is, what do I do when there's nothing special to write.?  I mean, my life is pretty much that of any other working writer who happens to be a mom.  I get up, I swim, I write, I go to a baseball game or a stage performance, I come home, eat dinner, help with homework and crash out.  (How come writers on TV or in the movies always seem like such interesting people--either brooding, dark drinkers, or gloriously happy gazillionaires?)  

Which is not to say that I'm not happy with my life.  I mean, let's face it. I've got it pretty good!   I have a very flexible schedule, I work with some incredibly talented people on three different series simultaneously, and I get fan mail from kids of all ages. I also have great kids and a very supportive husband who's awfully cute.  How many people do you know who can say that?  And this month, I actually do have a lot to say career-wise:  The next six weeks will bring three new Nancy Krulik books hitting the shelves (one of which is already there):  Katie Kazoo Switcheroo: Free the Worms,  Katie Kazoo Switcheroo: Major League Mess-up  and the first collection of How I Survived Middle School books  (1-3)!  Now that's something to celebrate.

So how come whenever it's my turn to blog I get this cold, stone feeling in my throat?  I guess it's because I'm much better at writing about other people's lives.  Self-promotion has never been my thing.  I've never been the kind to toot my own horn.  But, as we all know, as writers we have to be able to push the product.  Because while publishers have great marketing departments who get the word out, no one knows (or adores)  our books the way we do.

So I'm working on it.  And maybe next month I won't wait until the end of the second paragraph to let everyone know what's going on with my career.  

Til then,


We've got the scoop!

Look for these new Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies this year! ♥

***COMING IN JUNE 2008***

Party Games
By Whitney Lyles

If only life were one big party...

Sara would be looking forward to her sixteenth birthday, but thanks to her mom’s party planning business, she’s way too wrapped up with someone else’s: spoiled socialite Dakota London‘s. Sara would much rather spend her summer hanging out with Ian, an up-and-coming guitar player and her new crush. But Sara is so busy catering to Dakota’s every wacky whim, she’s got no time to spend with him.

And then, the icing on the cake: Dakota wants Ian to be her date for the big bash! Sara can’t believe the favor she’s been asked, especially because she thinks she’s fallen for Ian. Will this birthday end up more bitter than sweet?


Puppy Love
By Nancy Krulik

Romance can be ruff...

Alana loves her dog-walking job, but it blows her mind to see how pampered these pooches are. Her newest clients actually feed steak to their prized poodle and treat her to massages at a doggie spa! Alana can’t make heads or tails of why anyone would do this--or why she seems to be confiding her frustrations in hunky handyman Connor, and not her own boyfriend, Sammy.

When Sammy starts keeping an awfully tight leash on her, Alana wonders whether Connor might be a better match. But Alana's puppy love comes to a screeching halt when she learns that Connor isn’t who she thought he was. Is Alana barking up the wrong tree with him, too?


The Twelve Dates of Christmas
By Catherine Hapka

Lexi's best friend has this theory that, once a couple has gone out a dozen times, their relationship is pretty much set. If this is true, then how is Lexi going to rekindle her relationship with her ex, Cam, seeing that Cam's twelfth date with a new girl is approaching? Lexi has just one Christmas wish-her boyfriend back!


Sea of Love
By Jamie Ponti

When it comes to love, sometimes it’s sink or swim

Like it’s not bad enough that Darby had to leave her longtime boyfriend and NYC life to move to Florida, where her family’s started running a hotel. Now Darby has to help with the hotel’s annual Valentine’s Day "Cupid’s Ball." Things start looking up when local beach hottie Zach takes Darcy surfing and shows her around. Beach life actually starts to grow on this fish out of water.

Then--surprise! A week before the ball, Darby’s NYC ex decides to pay her a visit. Darby’s knee-deep in guilt--because she realizes that she’s head over heels for Zach!

This Valentine’s Day, is Darby ready to dive into a new relationship with the guy who’s captured her heart?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day Everyday, Everywhere

Mom and me in our Akumal backyard.

Hola! I just got home from a lovely week in Akumal, Mexico. I got to brush up on my Spanish, soak up the sun (and quite a bit of rain one night), snorkel, go fishing (sailfish, mahi mahi and barracudas--oh my!), chase iguanas and geckos, explore Mayan ruins in Tulum, search for shells and critters on the beaches, and visit one of the many eco-friendly parks called Xel-Ha (pronounced Shell-ha). I was impressed by many things on this trip, from the scenery and weather to the tasty foods and friendly people, but one I'd like to highlight is the ecological awareness of the people there. They go out of their way to preserve the Earth, including an abundance of recycling opportunities and the mandatory use of biodegradable sunblock when snorkeling or visiting eco-friendly parks. At Xel-Ha, they exchange your Coppertone for a tube of Coral "Natural Friendly" face and body cream. I love knowing that I'm doing my part to keep the ocean healthy and thriving, even if it's just by switching sunblocks.
With Earth Day being celebrated this week (April 22), I'd love to hear about what you're doing to preserve our planet.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Check my pulse

I know, I know--I'm late posting this month.
There's a reason for that. And believe it or not, it isn't that I just turned in my critical thesis for my MFA program (yay!), completed a session teaching at Media Bistro (sniff), and started a new session THE NEXT NIGHT (eep).
Although, a girl does get tired.

No, actually, the reason that I have been insanely busy over the past few weeks is due to a quintessential good news/bad news situation.

The good news:
I'm writing a new series for your favorite publisher, Simon Pulse!
(Okay, I guess technically that qualifies as *great* news).
The bad news:
It's launching spring '09. Which means that the first draft manuscript of the first book is due in about five minutes.

The series takes place at posh private school Bradford Academy in the uber-ritzy Philadelphia Main Line, and it's told entirely in blog format. There will also be a huge web component to the series. All of which means it's great that I've been able to hone my blogging skills right here with the other Ro Com authors.

Right now we've got three books in the series signed up, and the schedule is insane. But I must say that it hurts so good.
Believe it or not, it's always been my dream to write an ongoing YA series. Seriously--I was the freak at summer camp that hated things like kickball or instructional swim, and spent as much time as possible curled up under a tree with several installments of Sweet Valley High. I thought I'd hit the big time when I was given the chance, as an editor, to work on Francine Pascal's Fearless series. But as it turns out, life just gets better and better.

Some other series from my fading youth that I gobbled up like M&M's:
-The Girls of Canby Hall
-The Babysitters Club
-The Sweet Dreams collection
-Anything Christopher Pike (I know, not technically a series, but category publishing at its best).

These days, there are so many amazing series out there: Private, Gossip Girl, Fearless, Drama, Body of Evidence, The Clique, The A List, The Show, and, of course, everyone's favorite line, the Simon Pulse Ro Coms! I'm so excited to be contributing to my very favorite aspect of YA publishing!

What series do or did YOU read, past or present?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Milestone Books

A couple nights ago, I was hanging out in the coffee shop at my local bookstore, typing away on my current project, when a mom sat down with her young son and a bag full of just-purchased books. The son begged his mom to let him read one he'd just picked. Though I pretended to continue working, I couldn't help but listen in as the boy read the book to his mom. For me, that book was a milestone: When I was in kindergarten, that book--Dr. Seuss's One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish--became the first book I ever purchased on my own. I still have that copy.

Listening to him read made me think about other "milestone" books. For instance, I'll never forget the first mystery I enjoyed so much I immediately re-read it: Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Or the first romance novel that made me say, "Wow!"and want to write romance. That'd be Julie Garwood's The Bride.

Then there was the first book that made me think, "Does my mother REALLY know what's in this?" even though she let me borrow it from her when I was thirteen: Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear.

Another milestone was the first book specifically for teens that I read as an adult, one that made me (no, I'm not kidding) choke on coffee I was laughing so hard. Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging was also the first book that made me think I'd enjoy writing books for teens (even though my writing style's completely different from Rennison's.) It reminded me how irreverent a character can be.

What about you? What books pop into your mind as "milestone" books? What was it about them that made them so memorable?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Check me out!

No, seriously. If you're in Miami in May, come check out my workshop and reading at The Writers' Institute:


Bonus: Rick Moody!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It's not a backside 360, but hey, it's something

Y’all, I’m so excited. I’ve signed on to write another Simon Pulse Ro-Com. The Ex-Games, about a snowboarder who challenges her ex-boyfriend to a battle of the sexes on the slopes, will be published in Fall 2009.

I went snow-skiing six times in high school with my friend Amy. Once she took on a tree and lost. Today I e-mailed her to ask permission to use that crash in the book. She said sure, as long as I dedicate the book to her. My friends are slowly figuring this gig out.

She very sweetly did not say a word about the fact that her crash was my fault. It was my bright idea to go on the expert slope when we were NOT experts. I will not be writing that into the book. That’s The Magic of Fiction.

She did want to know whether the heroine slides off the icy road in her mother’s car while driving through the snow to see the movie Pretty in Pink. Of course I would not write that into the book and give away Amy’s secret! Amy would be in big trouble if her mother found out about that, even though Amy is now 38.

Anyway, I have some time to think about what I’ll include, because I’m not starting the book right away. At the moment I’m revising the book formerly known as Boy in Blue/currently known as Running to Stand Still/possibly known as something else next month, which will come out in March 2009. Then I’ll finish another book, and I’ll be ready to start writing The Ex-Games just when it hits ninety-five degrees here in Alabama. I’m not worried. I wrote the summery books Major Crush and The Boys Next Door in the dead of winter. Part of writing a good book is longing for something you can’t have. Like the daily companionship of my BFF Amy, or a 120-inch base with 4 inches of packed powder.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What's So Special About Twins?

Does anyone else wish they'd been born a twin? My mom is a twin (that's her and my aunt in the picture...my mom is the one on the right...I think). But I'm a singleton, all my sisters are singletons, and all of our children have been singletons...so far.

I used to think it would be great to have twins (two for the price of one pregnancy, labor and delivery). But as I've ushered my children through the milestones of kindergarten, speech therapy, fencing lessons and college...um, I've rethought that a bit.

In my latest project, my characters are twins and I'm having fun with the secret twinnication that is part of the twin mythos. I, personally, don't believe it is myth. You wouldn't either if you your mother was a twin and you saw how she communicated with her sister without words but with spooky accuracy (and I'm not counting the pig latin they used to use around us).

Twins can be fraternal (DNA of typical singleton brothers and sisters) or identical (same DNA). If I were a twin, I'd like to be identical. Although maybe it would be freaky to watch yourself walk, talk, eat, and wear something you'd *never* be caught dead in. My sisters and cousins and I are divided as to whether our mothers are identical or fraternal. They look quite alike in their younger pictures, but they have traveled different fashion paths and no longer could play the switch game they used to try in high school.

Would you want to be a twin? Fraternal or identical? Well, if you weren't born one, you can do second best like me, and write a pair of twins into a book!


Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Writer's Work

A writer's work is never done. It's a crazy life. And I love it.

This week, my writing partner., Rhody Cohon and I, are starting new projects. We were asked by three different publishers to write samples for them. That means we don't get paid, yet. We write a chapter or two of an idea and then send it in. And then, we wait. Hopefully they will come back and ask us to write the book.

We've done this before. Lots of times. Usually we get the job, but sometimes, they tell us that "our voice isn't right" or that "our writing style is too young." Or "too old." It can be hard to guess what publishers want. We don't mind trying out for writing jobs. In fact, we like it. We just plain love writing. The rejection hurts a little, but if we weren't right for a job, then we weren't right. It's okay, there will be other books. Gotta keep going forward.

Usually we write our own creative books, like In the Stars, our young adult comedy novel. But we also like these jobs where you audition and then get hired to write someone else's book. We just finished writing a junior novelization of this summer's big Batman movie, called The Dark Knight. Basically, we took the script (someone else's story) and made it into a book. After that movie book, we got a chance to do it again with another big movie for next spring, but that one is still a secret.

Rhody once said that the hardest thing about being a writer is that everyday we get rejected. By an editor. A publisher. By someone who isn't into the way we do things. That's true. It probably is the hardest part. But we also get to try out for fun jobs and more and more often, we get them! With twenty one books in four years, we are finally finding success in a job we both adore.

If you want to be a writer, I say "Go for it!" Be sure you know that there will be rejection. Lots of it. It's just that sometimes things don't click. But other times they will. Keep writing. Keep going. And enjoy every day knowing that you get to do what you really want to do!

I will be at the LA Times Book Festival at UCLA's Campus on April 26th from 10:30-11:30 at S and S/C and M's booth. Come visit me! I'll be signing In The Stars and my young chapter books called Blast to the Past.

And be sure to check out our web page at www.astrology4stars.com.

Stacia Deutsch

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Move to Minnesota

Back at the beginning of winter, I, Erin Downing, made a major move away from New York to Minneapolis (this picture showcases our never-ending snowy Minnesota winters and two of my cutie-pies). For the most part, the move has been good. But after having to shovel YET AGAIN (on April 1, no less), I'm sort of missing the less severe New York winters.

Here are 10 other things I'm missing about New York City (in no particular order...food is first because I'm hungry right now):

1) Ethiopian food and spicy tuna rolls
2) Robin Wasserman (a brilliant friend and author who helps keep me motivated...and who I desperately need to get me on track with the two books I'm writing right now!)
3) The subway
4) Taxis
5) Brooklyn Chocolate Stout beer
6) Spring...and with it the faint smell of urine that starts to develop throughout Manhattan right around now and peaks in the heat of August.
7) Good pizza by the slice...at any hour of the day
8) Walking everywhere (except when utilizing #3 & #4 above)
9) Proximity to Paris (I always said I'd take spontaneous "weekend trips" there...never did)
10) Unabashedly honest people

One final note: Since I made my political opinions known a few months ago, now I'd like to express my support for Jason Castro on American Idol. He's charming.