Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Truly Scary Halloween Story

Growing up, I loved to come up with creative, homemade costumes for Halloween. Mainly because most store bought costumes were junky, paper-thin jumpsuits with molded plastic facemasks held on by a rubber band. They were nothing compared to the full-on outfits you can buy at Target these days. But I also wanted to be unique. Not one of the mass-produced looks that was strolling the streets. I wanted to stand out.

One of my favorite costume ideas turned out to be my worst costume disasters. It was the year I decided to go for some international intrigue and be a spy. Not one of those black leather and spandex-clad spies you see in the movies and on TV these days. This was the 80s after all. I was going old school with the overcoat and the fedora. I even wore my sunglasses at night. My intention was for something like the art for Love Undercover.

But without the flowing blond hair.

I borrowed my mom’s raincoat, popped on an old hat, added sunglasses, and an eyebrow-penciled mustache and voila!

I was a spy! And see what a good spy I was? Smart enough to hide behind Superman. Because he’s bullet proof. The scarecrow and the bunny wouldn’t have protected me from enemies remotely as well as Superman.

I loved my spy outfit. I thought it was original and cool. I grabbed my pillowcase (none of those tiny, plastic jack-o-lantern buckets for me) and hit the streets. I was the baddest spy to ever walk my neighborhood.

Except that I got the same question at every door I knocked on: “Are you a flasher?”

Yep. People thought I was an eleven-year-old FLASHER!


Now, allow me to turn my story of a failed costume into a useful piece of writing advice. Because NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts the day after Halloween, you know.

One of the things I’ve learned from having a few books published is that not everything you write will come across the way you intend it. I once wrote a playfully innocent line of dialogue that was meant to be cute and sweet. Maybe even bring a smile to the readers’ faces. What I didn’t realize was that the sweet little line of dialogue could easily be misinterpreted as something very, very rude.

I never noticed it. My editor never questioned it. The copyeditor didn’t raise a flag. But the readers? Oh, yeah. They picked up on it. One person even said that she wanted to throw the book across the room upon reading that line. (I’ve always thought that was a wonderfully descriptive criticism and have used it several times myself when talking about other things.)

In hindsight, I can understand why people misunderstood the line. Although I think it speaks more to their messed up minds than to mine. But still it’s something you’ve got to be aware of. Readers grow up in different parts of the country. In different parts of the world. Places where soda is known as pop or cola or coke. Their experiences will be very different from yours.

Certainly, writers can’t go into the minds of every single person that will read our books and guess what they are thinking. But keep in mind that there is an audience out there that might not always get the joke. They may misinterpret your innocent line. There’s really little you can do to avoid it because people are going to think what they think. But as you’re editing your work, remember that many words have dual meanings. Which is why it’s helpful to have critique partners read your writing and catch something that you might have missed.

If only to minimize the amount of people who will later want to fling your book against a wall.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Which character in your book most reminds you of yourself, and which character can you least relate to?"

I’m not sure if this is human nature, or if I’m just a narcissist, but London Abrams first came to mind as a representative of girls like me. I bonded with London over the things we have in common—particularly, our awkwardly long, lanky limbs. My original intention was to create a world in which gangly girls dream big. Call it pay back for all of those times people called me “no bigger than a minute” or obnoxiously asked me if I’m anorexic. Whatever the motivation, a character was born. But, in the writing process, London became her own person.

In all her volleyball glory, she’s a lot braver than I am. I shy away from conflict. (Okay, more like cower in the face of conflict, but that’s neither here nor there.) For London, conflict is just another word for competition, and she’s one lovingly competitive chica.

As it turns out, London is most like me when she is least like herself—impulsive. A creature of habit, London strays from her script when she falls for Brent St. James. As suddenly as Cupid’s arrow strikes the poor girl, London finds herself doing wacky, uncharacteristic things in the name of a crush—namely, signing up for a local modeling contest. Crush-attack is the new temporary insanity and London’s plays the part big time, just as I would (and have!).

I can most relate to London’s best friend Pam. Pam has a bit of flair for the dramatic like my Haitian family. (Dramatic quote of the summer: “I feel like…throwing myself on the floor.” —my sister Judy, upon first seeing the detested new haircut worn by the weatherman on her TV set.) My husband likes to joke about all the “oh no!” moments my sisters and I have…in one afternoon! Put too much salt in the rice you’re cooking? "Oh NO!" Missed the bus? “Oh NO!” Grab the cell phone and whine about it to whichever sister is available. Be sure to add in how tired and achy your feet are as you stand at the bus stop. And, oh, the extra morsels of misfortune you can sprinkle into your story if it’s starts to rain. Hoo—don’t get me started!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Relating to My Characters

With which of my ro-com characters do I best relate? That's a good question. None of my characters are the real me disguised as a fictional character. That would be much too boring for a whole book. However, Sasha Finnegan's greatest talent is match-making and I have to say that I, too, love fixing people up and watching the sparks fly. Both Sasha and I like to shoot hoops. Also, I have a really close relationship with my sister, even though we are very different, much like Sasha and Maddie in Miss Match.

Which of my ro-com characters is a far cry from me? Well, that would have to be Roxy Zimmerman from The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren. Sure, there are some characteristics we share, such as having reddish hair (mine was strawberry blonde in high school), an engineer for a dad (though mine drove a van when I was in high school--not a Porsche!), playing the flute, and living in the Denver 'burbs. However, I have not and do not have ANY power whatsoever over men. Hang on.

Nope. I tried to get my 9 year-old son to clean his room and he's not budging. So it's true: I don't have siren powers, dang it.

In other news, one way I do get male heads to turn is by cooking, and one of my all-time favorite (and easy!) recipes is on Readergirlz diva/YA author Holly Cupula's blog today if you want to check it out. Click HERE.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Casting Call...Who Would You Choose?

Getting letters from readers is one of the best parts of being a writer. I'll admit, I love the actual writing part the best, but I've had thirteen books and two novellas published, and I still never fail to have a "squee!" moment when I open a letter or e-mail from a reader. It's validation that doesn't come with a lot of other jobs. (For instance, I never got a single letter from a client telling me I was "awesome!" when I was a lawyer.)

Lately, however, a huge percentage of my mail has contained various forms of the same question: Will there be a movie or tv show based on the Royally Jacked romantic comedies?

The answer is: I don't know. While I have an agent who handles those things, seeing any book make it to the screen is a long shot. Still, it's awfully fun to think about. I know a lot of writers--including some on this blog--who have mentally "cast" their own books. And readers definitely have ideas for casting!

Judging from your e-mails, the number one pick for Valerie is Miley Cyrus. I can see that--she has that clean cut, yet edgy vibe you get with Val. And, of course, there's the whole relationship with her dad (which is a huge part of the Royally Jacked series.) So that gives Billy Ray a role, too.

Miley's not the only name to hit my in-box, however. Here, some of the suggestions that have been made recently:

Valerie Winslow: Ashley Tisdale, Taylor Swift, Shailene Woodley, and Jennette McCurdy (quite a range there!)

Prince Georg: Joe Jonas (LOTS of e-mails for Joe), Daniel Radcliffe, Daren Kagasoff

David Anderson: Chace Crawford (the top suggestion), Jesse McCartney, Jason Earles

Christie Toleski: Taylor Swift (nearly as many e-mails for Taylor to play Christie as for Miley to play Val!), Emily Osment, Dakota Fanning

Jules Jackson: Kristin Stewart, Selena Gomez, Taylor Momsen

Natalie Monschroeder: Demi Lovato, Emma Roberts, Vanessa Hudgens, Miranda Cosgrove

Ulrike: Abigail Breslin, Dakota Fanning

Steffi: Minka Kelly, Nikki Reed

Fun, huh? But the one that made me call my husband to the computer with a "Watch this!" was a YouTube video trailer. Apparently, it's been posted to YouTube for several months, but I only heard about it recently:

(If that's not working, check it out right here.)

So what do you think? Who would you cast? And what about other romantic comedy books--any you're dying to see on-screen? I've mentally cast Hayley Erin (who currently plays Abby Carlton on The Young & The Restless) as Jo O' Connor in Cameron Dokey's HOW NOT TO SPEND YOUR SENIOR YEAR. And Erin Downing's Olivia from DANCING QUEEN is definitely Olesya Rulin (at least in my head!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Which character in your book most reminds you of yourself, and which character can you least relate to?

The last half of this question confuses me. I just don't think about characters this way. The easy answer would be that it's hard for me to relate to the villains in my stories: the Evil Twins in Major Crush, Sean in The Boys Next Door, and Gavin in The Ex Games. But the truth is that my villains aren't all that villainous--they've just set things in motion to make life difficult for my heroines. The Evil Twins have a right to be angry, even though their anger at Virginia is misplaced. Sean is just...Sean, and Gavin is just being Gavin. In another situation, Sean and Gavin would be the heroes of their stories instead of the villains.

Which brings me to my point: in order to write a villain, I have to understand the villain, embrace the villain, BE the villain. I have to know what the villain would do and why, so that I can write a story that makes sense to readers. This is true of all my characters. I go out of my way to relate to them. And if there's a character I can least relate to, I have some work to do.

Which character reminds me of myself? That's easy: Lori from The Boys Next Door. As I've said before, when I sent that book to my critique partners for review, Vicki texted me: "OMG you've written yourself!!!" Not that Lori and I are exactly alike. I'm not that pretty, that athletic, or that selfless. But a lot of things about us are exactly the same. The general cluelessness: check. The faulty sense of fashion coupled with an inability to care: check. The tomboyish interests as a result of idolizing an older brother: check. The tendency to blurt out inappropriate comments, just because they are funny (to us, anyway): check check.

Lori is on my mind this morning because yesterday I finished writing the sequel to The Boys Next Door, called Endless Summer. Today and tomorrow I'm re-reading both books back-to-back to make sure they're bulletproof. I have a lot of fear regarding this novel. Readers have been asking me for this sequel for a long time, and I can't let them down. The sequel needs to be as good or better than the first. I have tried my best to write the book I want to read (my rule, always) AND to give you what you want (just wait until you get to the tree house scene!), but you can decide for yourself when book comes out next June!

Friday, October 09, 2009

I am a reader.

The title of this post may seem a little weird. I mean, I clearly love books so much that I choose to write them, so of course I read, right? Um...not always. Here's the thing: When I'm deep in the clutches of writing a book, I usually CAN'T read - because I tend to get so engrossed in the stories I'm reading that I can't shake them out of my head when I'm writing my own novel later that night or the next day.

But things changed while I was writing the book I just finished (it's called KISS IT and will be published by Simon Pulse next summer, but not as part of the Romantic Comedy line): I became a reader again. And an obsessive reader, at that. I found that the more I read, the more I wrote, and it became downright impossible to extract me from either the worlds of the books I was reading or the one I was writing. I was like a character for a few months, living in fictional scenes that had nothing to do with my real life.

To put the obsession in very boring list form, here's what just the last month looked like for me - and keep in mind I have a full-time day job, kids, and am working on writing a new novel. Sleep time is suffering, obviously. I finally read Looking for Alaska (John Green), dug into The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman), just finished the incredible Dani Noir (Nova Ren Suma), have gotten myself sucked into the world of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod (Heather Brewer), devoured the latest Jennifer Weiner novel (Best Friends Forever), sped through a manuscript-copy of a hilarious novel called Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood (Eileen Cook), and am now in the middle of Wake (Lisa McMann), Need (Carrie Jones), Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler), and a novel by my friend Kirstin Cronn-Mills entitled The Sky Always Hears Me (and the Hills Don't Mind). I'm also snacking on Rampant (Diana Peterfreund), can't wait to start Once Was Lost (Sara Zarr), and have been eagerly-anticipating The Ex Games (Jennifer Echols)!

I told you it was an obsession. What else?! What else should I read?!

Friday, October 02, 2009

New question of the month! "Which character in your book most reminds you of yourself, and which character can you least relate to?"

As a writer I can relate to many characters in my books. My main characters are always the easiest for me to relate to. I spend so much time with them I have to find things in common with them, and I have to like them a lot. Believe it or not sometimes I even understand the bad ones a little bit too. None of us are perfect and we all learn from our mistakes. I like to see my characters evolve. So it's fun to throw in some bad ones that readers might end up liking in the end. That's what makes life interesting.
If I had to pick just one character I would say I most relate to my heroine, Natalie, in LOVE OFF-LIMITS. I'm not saying I can relate to her dilemma of being in love with her boyfriend's best friend. Happily married here. But I think Natalie and I definitely share a few characteristics.
1. She is a night owl, and so not a morning person. I have always loved to stay up late and sleep in. I miss those days!
2. Her passion for writing. I've never been a person who minds solitude, so I can understand burrowing up in my little space when I'm stressed and writing.
3. She can keep a secret. I'm a pretty private person, and a good friend to confide in as well.
On the flip side, who can I least relate to? Probably Dakota London in PARTY GAMES. The biggest diva of all time. Dakota is the spoiled girl who has everything yet is never happy.
1. Dakota loves to be the center of attention. One of her biggest desires is to make this stunning grand entrance on a pair of dolphins at her super sweet sixteen party. Maybe it's because I'm a middle child, but I hate being in the spotlight. I do everything I can to avoid it. I'm much more comfortable safely tucked behind my computer.
2. Dakota is just downright mean. Among many mean things she does, she invites the main character Sara to a party and then ignores her all night just so she can have a shot with the guy Sara likes. I could never do something like that.
3. She's really high maintenance. She's obsessed with all the petty details of her party, and wants everything to be a certain way. I think everyone believes they're easygoing, but I think my mom can testify that I was really laid back when we planned my wedding. I didn't care about the small things, or even most of the big things for that matter! I just wanted to have fun that day.