Friday, April 23, 2010

There is greatness among us, in the next generation...

So...I came across this young writer by the name of Hannah Moskowitz. And when I say young, I mean 19. Half my age. She's published her first novel, Break (Simon & Schuster Children's imprint, Simon Pulse), and the second, Invincible Summer, is due out next year.

HOW a then-17-year-old girl wrote this book...she's nothing short of a prodigy.

Break is the story of a teenage boy ...well, let's let the back of the book tell you much better than I can: 

Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. Jonah wants to be stronger--needs to be stronger--because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is the only way he can cope with the stresses of home, girls, and the world on his shoulders.

When Jonah's self-destructive spiral accelerates and he hits rock bottom, will he find true strength or surrender to his breaking point?

I came across this lovely writer and immediately ran out to buy this book. Then I spent two hours devouring it. Delicious. Frightening, raw, visceral, but delicious.

You should run, not walk, to Chapters/Barnes & Noble, and get your copy. 

I will be publishing a thorough review on Chic Mom Magazine ( in the coming week to two weeks, so stay tuned!

Yay, Hannah! 

Happy birthday, Will Shakespeare!

Four hundred forty-six years ago, a child was born whose words would change the face of literature. And I lurve him. If you think he's a hack, take your evil elsewhere. There's no room for it here. The first photo is the traditional representation of the Bard; the second  is the newly discovered Cobbe Portrait, allegedly the only painting ever done of Shakespeare from real life.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rejection sucks, like a leech, bleeding me out...

Rejection means rewrites. Rewrites mean reworking. Dismantling. Reconstruction. Confusion. Despair. A day lost hiding under my pillow, in my room, questioning my existence, wishing I were Faulkner or Hemingway or Parker or Salinger, someone who wrote important crap and stayed drunk the entire time to make it even more meaningful.

I've been told that the story takes too long to get started. I constructed it with the framework of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" as underlayment. Familiar with it? It's a slow, romantic, heartbreaking build until the ultimate climax two-thirds of the way through the piece, at 6:08 or so in the 9:03 version. I'm going to stand by that slow build. The payoff is too rich to make it happen any sooner.

But alas, rewrites will continue. Never say die.

Shakespeare's 446th birthday -- Friday, April 23

Get your quills ready, kids. Dust off those doublets. Clean out those codpieces and de-wrinkle those ruffs! Friday is Will's 446th birthday, and it's the perfect excuse for chocolate as the main course!

Send me your plans for your Bard party. Make it good! Now I must be off to steam my chemise and fluff my petticoats. Oh, what I would give for a time machine.

(In truth, I have to go duct tape my sons to the fridge because they're watching Robot Chicken excerpts on YouTube. Damn you, Seth Green, damn youuuuuuu!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday...and the sun is out!

Here we go, Friday morning, and oh, what to post, what to post! Coffee is brewing--the fact I'm even awake before 9 am on a school professional day is just weird. The small people in my house are all still asleep, so other than the cat, who is having a total freak attack in the hallway right now because something is itching his back where he can't reach to bite (no, it's not fleas--too cold, too early--he has this skin thing, like, nerve damage or something), it's quiet. Niiiiice. So I should be able to get lots of work done, write amazing things, extricate adverbs, and solve the problems facing whatever line in the Canucks offense/defense that made them go into a dangerous overtime period last night against the LA Kings. (Princess and I watched Vampire Diaries, so we only heard the hoots and hollers coming from the basement where Husband was watching the game. I guess it was a close one.)

Now I've spoken too soon. My Best Work, otherwise known as Bueno, has emerged from the bedroom. One down, two to go. But he's a good boy, so he'll find something quiet and perfect to do while I finish rambling. But first, coffee! 

I started reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--bought it last year, the movie comes out today, no time like the present to start nibbling on it. Did you know the author died, though? Dude, that sucks! That totally freaks me out! What if I see my book(s) through to the end of edits and then die before the first one hits the shelves? That would blow. And I worry about stuff like that. In fact, I obsess about it. Do other people do this? Do you obsess about dying too young? My doctor laughs at me. I go in to see her and ask a million questions--and I know way too much about medical stuff from years of being in the medical field--and she giggles. She says I'm not overweight, my cardiac risk factors are low, I don't eat a lot of red meat, I don't drink or do drugs... But I also despise exercise. And vegetables. Ewwww. If someone held a gun to my head while I sat in front of a plate of broccoli and gave me the choice, "Eat or die," I'd tell them to pull the effing trigger. Not. Gonna. Eat. It. I had an evil stepmother once who force-fed me cold stew and broccoli, and I thanked her by promptly puking it all over her kitchen sink. :o)

But back to the dying stuff--I go through the (dead) people in my family and try to figure out when and how they died, how old they made it to before kissing the ring of fate. And it's a crapshoot. Who knows, dude... I try to do that "live for today" garbage, but it makes falling asleep at night really hard. I get panicky with worry. I don't want to get old. I don't want gray hair and wrinkles or saggy boobs. It's super hard. Does anyone else do this? Am I just getting old? I think I need to get a new tattoo or something.

What I really need to do is the dishes in the kitchen sink so that I don't feel guilty when Princess comes up and sees them--I told her I'd do 'em last night but I didn't, being the lazy cow I was embodying--and then I need to get back to reworking the third draft so I can move onto putting more pages down for Book Two. I miss my old schedule: kids to bed, Husband to bed, leave the house for my favorite coffee shop parking lot, write (long-hand...horrors!) for a few hours, watch the periphery of the car through the electric side mirrors to make sure the Resident Schizophrenic isn't coming too close to ask me for money (again), watch the young Persian guys with their souped-up cars and slicked back hair (it seems around here that the Persian kids are like the Guidos/Guidettes of "Jersey Shore"), watch the Korean kids in their all-nighter study sessions, some with tutors, all with mothers asleep in their leased cars in the parking lot while waiting for their kids to finish up, watch the naughty Korean kids (girls usually) sneak around the side of the building and power-puff their way through a cigarette, turn on the car to warm up the interior (remember, I'm in Canada--it's COLD at night), write a few more words/scenes, blush if it's a scene with a smooch in it, make some notes for later research, swallow the last of my now-cold tea, drive home with a smile of satisfaction and a feeling of warm-and-fuzzy in my belly (which has nothing to do with the peppermint tea and occasional doughnut I consume while in said parking lot), and fall right to sleep. Maybe that's why I'm an insomniac now. Maybe not putting down fresh words is making me crazy, like my brain is constipated or something. My brain needs an enema. Eureka! 

I like this: "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."  ~E.L. Doctorow 

Wow, that makes me feel so much better. Now my voices and I can go do the dishes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If it were easy...

...everyone would be doing it, right? That's what they say.

But when I walk into Chapters/Barnes & Noble/etc., it feels like everyone IS doing it. Are they? So many stories, so few publishers. Yeah. I know. There are assloads of books and shitloads of writers, and only a lifeboat-sized space left on the shelf. I know.

I was listening to the Terry Brooks interview again today (see the link to the interview transcript in the sidebar). Fun guy, he is (and no, I'm not calling him a mushroom, although mushrooms did come up in our conversation, right around the time that we (Terry, his amazing wife Judine, and I) were joking about buying children from gypsies and selling the naughty ones on eBay). The interview is pretty unconventional. We ended up gabbing about politics and corn syrup, and I was an idiot, asking idiot writer questions about a genre I knew far too little about--HIS genre, I might add. But he was really quite gracious and affable. Of course, if I had to do it over again, yeah, I'd be smarter. I'd ask smarter questions. I'd talk less about myself and listen more. I'd stop trying to channel Baba Wawa and stop trying to sound more intelligent than I am. I'd break down and buy the book and read it waaaaayyyyy in advance of the interview instead of relying on the comp copy to arrive and rather than using press handouts and IMDB to get me through. I'd get a clip for a mic so I could hear him better.

But I managed to get some good stuff in the 96 minutes. He said something that struck me as particularly poignant, especially at this stage in my life--nearing 40, obsessing about wrinkles and cholesterol levels and dying too young and missing my shot at the "big time." I'm actually 38.7 years old, and I still have people in my life who don't believe I'm capable of doing anything really important. It's like they get off on projecting their own failures onto me, and they're realllllly good at it. "Oh, yeah, Jenn writes. It's a little hobby." What I've discovered in the last little while is that those people suck. Hard core. Maybe it's a test to see if my Emergency Broadcast System is working. You think I'm just a little hobbyist, writing lusty supermarket bodice rippers or canned mysteries or vampire knock-offs? 'Cause when you tell people you're a writer, that's what they think. And then they ask what your preferred shift is at McDonald's.

Terry said, "You need to be in your forties before you can really enjoy things. That's my theory. The first twenty years are kind of a warm-up." I'm gonna cling to those words like a life raft. And I'm going to continue to write, even if it doesn't see the light of day or the ink of the press, simply because I don't know how to do anything else. I don't! What am I going to do if this big lifelong dream doesn't pan out?

They say that when you've done something that garners attention, you're not supposed to give thanks to those people who've been asses to you; you're only supposed to thank those people who were good to you, who supported you, who believed in you. Otherwise, you give the mean people your energy. It's like my mother says--if you itch the mosquito bite, the mosquito wins. Sounds a little New Agey to me, but I suppose it makes sense. Right? And yet, I can't help but fantasize about an Acknowledgments page that would include a comprehensive list of the people who've made sure I knew my place in the social hierarchy. I'll admit it. I was (am?) a nerd. I made the kids on "Glee" look cool (and they ARE because they can sing!). I got the highest grades in the highest English classes because I was just that big of a dork (well, that, and I'm a Virgo, so everything had to be as close to perfect as possible). I'm a kick-ass speller, I hate adverbs, I have a six-inch version of William Shakespeare's signature tattooed on my right forearm, and I worship the Chicago Manual of Style. NERD!

So higher road be damned: all of the girls who made my life hell in junior high and high school, all of the boys who told me I was as flat as the highway between Dallas and Fort Worth (Is it really flat? Does anyone know this?), the people who said I had good childbearing hips and no common sense, the people who told me I should just go home and have babies, and those who've ridiculed my unorthodox lifestyle and career know who you are. Stop being so mean. And know, if I have any modicum of success, you have a small part in it. You told me I couldn't, that I wouldn't, that I'd fail, and I've proved you wrong. I wonder what my shrink is going to have to say about that... It's probably not healthy or good for my karma to be vindictive, but it sure is succulent.

Parting quote from Terry, about the writing life: "You really have to have a lot of belief in yourself, because there are going to be a lot of people prepared to tell you why you can't do this, and what the odds are, and you have to ignore all that. If you think you can't do it, you probably can't." 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blast(s) from the past

I spent 2006 interviewing authors who had books hitting the market and were thus on publicity junkets. A few of the interviews made it into the tiny publications I was writing for, but for the most part, they went unread, unnoticed, and unappreciated. But because the interviewees were so brilliant, I think it's high time I put the words out there so that anyone who cares can have a look-see. My interviews are not conventional--I don't just ask the boring, crappy questions--I like to just chat, feel 'em up (well, not really--there was no physical contact involved)

I lunched with Terry Brooks, Marian Keyes, Anne Perry, Mark Billingham, Steven Galloway (yeah, him again), Guy Gavriel Kay, Kevin Patterson, William Bell, and others. Note: I'm supposed to be unbiased, but Terry Brooks is my favorite. He was awesome. We had a delightful human conversation about everything from buying our children from gypsies, the evils of corn, and oh, yeah, some stuff about writing and the book he was promoting at the time, Armageddon's Children.

Tied for first fave is Marian Keyes, Irish writer--LOVE her!--she's had two more books come out since I interviewed her in Victoria, BC, for Anybody Out There? (This Charming Man in 2008, and The Brightest Star in the Sky in 2009). It's chick lit, not for everyone, but she's adorable. And oh so tiny! Dude, she wears a size 3 shoe! And, after our interview, she sent me a DVD of her favorite show: Father Ted. I kind of understood the British/Irish humor. Then again, I'm sorta dense. Humor for me means farting and Family Guy. Hey, I live with three boys.

Second fave: Mark Billingham. IF YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO SEE THIS GUY, you must. He's a horror writer--scary shit, seriously--but he was a stand-up comic in London for years and years, and the dude is effing hilarious, and his reading was like an excerpt from one of his stand-up shows. What a contrast. Billingham is a perfect coin: comedy on one side, tragedy on the other.

I will post these interviews, once a week or so, over the subsequent however many weeks until I run out of material. Perhaps one of these days, I will get enough guts to get in touch with the publicist again (I pissed her off when I was late for the most disastrous author interview I've ever done--Canadian writer, goes by the name McLean--let's just say I'm not a huge fan of vinyl or cafes and leave it at my defense, however, I was given the name of the WRONG hotel, so, yeah, I was late!). Anyway, Generous Publicist Diva took me off her list. Then I did the Writer's Studio at SFU in '07, so I didn't have time to interview anyone, anyway. I was too busy spewing out crappy, shock-value fiction and avoiding submitting stuff to my critique group because I was afraid to hear their opinions. (I have a delicate ego.)

The weird thing is, when I was writing that crappy fiction in 2007, I never imagined I'd ever do anything fantasy. And the project I'm working on (Book One is done; Book Two is in progress) is, from a purist standpoint, classified as urban fantasy. (Just for the record: there are NO vampires, werewolves, fairies, shapeshifters, or new world orders. Just sayin'...) I didn't mean for that to happen; it sort of just did. Fast forward a few years--in listening to the interview recording with Terry Brooks, so much of what he said really makes much more sense to me now. I was an idiot, a rube, an un-initiate.  And he was remarkably patient with me.

Watch for Terry Brooks. He'll be first up. Coming soon to Planet Jenn. And he, and his amazing wife Judine, are definitely going to be invited to take their places in the Planet Jenn governing body, the Cool Kids' Cabinet. They're too bloody cool not to.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm not your bitch, Mr. Adverb, sir...

I can't say anything funny because I'm sitting here with a clarifying mask on, feeling it suck the life out of the pores of my skin, and if I laugh or smile, the mask will crack. Is this what Botox feels like? (How can people inject that crap into their face? Don't they realize that Clostridium botulinum is, uh, super scary shit?)

I should be editing. I'm so stuck on adverbs--what is this hate/hate thing I've got going on with those little words that modify verbs? Why so much hate? Why do I tell anyone who will listen that one of *the* most popular contemporary writers in the world today loves her adverbs like she loves her three children? I mean, c'mon, who am I to judge when her books, stuffed with more adverbs than there are pine beetles in BC forests, have sold over 20 million copies worldwide? Why must I be stalked by nightmares of adverbs chasing me through dark alleys, their "-ly" endings threatening to undo the last shreds of my sanity?

Because adverbs = shoddy writing. A few are okay, but there are purists in this realm of books & such (and not just any folks but those with impressive writing creds and published books on shelves) who have cast adverbs out of their vocabularies and who argue "real" writers should endeavor to do the same.

But it's soooooo hard! Seriously! <---See what I mean?

I'm not trying to be a grammar nazi, although I sort of am. I just want to construct, and read, cohesive sentences that aren't entangled by unnecessary crap. Is that asking for too much?

And yet, as I sit here editing, the same 467 pages again, I am underlining too many adverbs. I feel less than worthy, like Steven Galloway would shake his head for spending all that time trying to make us better writers, and for me to run out and inject more "suddenly," "immediately," and "softly" into the work.

I made the mistake of getting too cheeky in a recent email exchange with a potential agent--I challenged her to find more than two typos in my entire manuscript (she asked for the MS; I didn't just willy-nilly send it to her, folks). I'm a copy editor--I'm good at finding boo-boos--though perhaps not. I've begun anew the process of trying to remove 35,000 words or so (not gonna happen) to make the first book more aligned with industry norms, and I've found more than two errors. Not typos, per se, but grammatical missteps. I'm so ashamed.

I have to go wash the mask off my face. It's bringing too much clarity.