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Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Website & Book Giveaway!

If you’re here on my blog, it’s probably because you just visited my new website, so THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! So, what do you think? I love it! It’s whimsical, bookish, and a little bit Gothic, all of which are perfect for a trilogy about a girl who keeps getting lost inside the books she’s reading. First off, a few shout-outs:

1.     To my web designer, Denise, at Biondo Studios, thank you so much for all your hard work and for a website that I want to live in! Not only is the site gorgeous, but you were so professional, creative, and easy to work with. I’d recommend you to anyone!
2.     To my brother, Phil, who has handled so many of the technical aspects of my website and blog and has just generally been one of my biggest fans, thanks for everything you do for me!
3.     To my publisher Kensington Books/KTeen, for donating some fantastic new books for my giveaway! (KTeen now has a Facebook page. Please check them out!)
4.     To anyone who’s here on this page right now, thank you so much for putting up with all the shameless plugs and Facebook messages. I wish I didn’t have to do it, but you make it all worthwhile.

To celebrate, I’d like to give away the following brand new KTeen titles, courtesy of my publisher:

1 signed ARC of the not-yet-released TOUCH OF FROST by Jennifer Estep

2 copies (one signed!) of TORN by Erica O’Rourke


All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, but you’ll get:
+1 extra entry if you become a follower of my blog
+1 extra entry if you post a link to my website on your Twitter, Facebook page, or blog

Contest is open until Thursday, July 7, at noon EST.
The contest is open internationally.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Love Letter to My Husband of Fourteen Years

About sixteen years ago, I was living at home with my parents, going to grad school, and feeling generally uninspired about life. My younger brother and I were fond of coming up with “big plans,” like the time we thought we were going to buy an RV and travel around from campground to campground in order to avoid adult responsibilities for as long as possible. I guess you could say I was going through a period of post-grad angst. Who am I? What am I going to do with my life?

On one particularly angsty night, my brother and I were watching a movie—a terrible movie—I believe it starred Elle McPherson. Enough said. About twenty minutes through, we both looked at each other and said, “Screw it! Let’s get out of here and DO SOMETHING!” Our options were fairly limited, given that we lived in boring suburbia and my little brother was still in high school. So we decided to go to Barnes and Noble to browse for books; i.e. to see if anyone adorably bookish was sitting in the café reading something impressive. In those days, I was more of a book snob than I am now, having come to realize that what a guy reads in public is most likely not what he enjoys reading at home. In other words, the more impressive the book, the more pretentious the guy. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it tends to prove true more often than not.

Unfortunately, in our rinky-dink town, Barnes and Noble closes at 10:00 even on Friday nights, so we headed up to that dreaded of suburban wastelands: The Mall. We were both feeling hungry and bored and ready to people-watch. TGIFriday’s seemed as good a place as any, so we walked up to the restaurant, which has a glass-enclosed porch facing the parking lot. Through the darkened windows, I noticed a guy sitting at one of the tables on the porch. I didn’t get a good look at him, just enough to see he was cute—dark tousled hair, brooding expression—you know, that guy. The one you always imagine you’ll see when you’re randomly at the bookstore or mall, but never actually do. Well, here he was, sitting in the alcove of TGIFriday’s on a Friday night. Alone.

I thought to myself, “I sure hope the hostess seats us near him,” and without saying a word to her, she sat us in the table directly across from him so I basically had a front row seat to watch him nursing his drink for the next half hour. My brother and I looked over the menu and talked, but I was completely preoccupied with this guy, even cuter now that I’d seen him up close. I eventually whispered something to my brother along the lines of: “What’s the deal with the cute guy sitting all alone? Surely his girlfriend must be coming, right?” One didn’t routinely find handsome guys sitting by themselves at a chain restaurant in Bumblesville, PA.

My brother kept joking with me, saying I should talk to the guy, invite him to our table, buy him a drink, anything so I’d stop babbling. Being extremely shy, I knew this was unlikely to happen. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I didn’t say something or do something, I’d never see him again, and that would be a tragedy. At some point, I left to use the restroom (i.e. make sure I had no food in my teeth in case Sexy Mystery Guy by some chance ended up at my table), and lo and behold, when I emerged from the bathroom, there he was. Sitting at my table chatting with my brother. Sexy Mystery Guy. 

Feeling a jangle of nerves, I approached the table and sat down, only to meet this soft-spoken guy with crinkly hazel eyes and great hands. Really, I loved his hands. Face to face, he looked intelligent and kind and sort of sad. He asked if it was okay that he was joining us—apparently, my brother had leaned over in my absence and asked him to—and I imagined the little light bulb that must have appeared over his head when he heard the word “sister;” it hadn’t occurred to me that my brother and I might look like a couple. He then explained that it was his birthday and that his girlfriend was supposed to take him out, but when he got home from work that night she was already asleep. Forlornly, he had headed out alone to one of the few restaurants within walking distance: TGIFriday’s. It was fate!

Wait a minute. He’d said, “girlfriend,” hadn’t he? Crap!

Even though I was immensely disappointed, the existence of a girlfriend took all the pressure off. Now I could relax and not make an idiot of myself. We sat chatting for another hour or so, about everything from books to movies to our goals for the future. My brother and I took him out to a billiards place and played a few shameful rounds of pool, then took him back to the apartment he shared with Insensitive Narcoleptic Girlfriend. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to hang out again soon, but honestly I never thought I’d see him again. This made me inexplicably sad.

Fast forward two months later, to another night when I was sitting at home, or rather, moping at home, lamenting the state of my love life. The phone rang, and my brother (who is the real hero of this story) answered it, and I listened to the following brief exchange: “Hello? Sure, I remember you. How have you been? We’re good. Yeah, she’s right here. Hold on a sec.” Little bro then explained that it was him—Sexy Mystery Man calling—two months late.

I took the phone from my brother, determined to sound like Serene Ice Queen rather than Pissed-off Spurned Chick. Because I had known he had a girlfriend; what had I expected? We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me how the girlfriend—ex-girlfriend now—had found my number and jealously thrown it away so he couldn’t call me. But his birthday debacle had made him realize that his current relationship wasn’t working anymore. And he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about me. He had broken up with the girlfriend a few days after his birthday, moved out of her apartment and into his grandmother’s house, got his act together, and really wanted to see me again. How had he found me? I asked. He remembered my last name and the town where I lived, so he’d gone through the phone book calling every listing, relieved to find that my father’s first name begins with a “B.”

We went out on our first date that very night, and I was so wary of him being on the rebound that I vowed not to let him kiss me. That promise lasted all of two hours. Two years later, we got married at a tiny chapel by the sea. And over fourteen years of marriage, we’ve had our share of heartache and struggle, joy and triumph. But the one constant throughout is that my husband has been my best friend and my biggest supporter. While the last few years have been immensely challenging for him personally, he is starting a new chapter in his life this fall when he will be teaching college-level English for the first time. And I hope to be as much of a friend and supporter to him now as he has been for me. I am so proud of him and so in love with him. I still believe that fate played a part in getting us together, but I also know that a good marriage is not an act of fate; it’s an act of choice, a decision to share your life with someone else, for better or for worse. It’s an answer to a question: “Will you?” And on this day, fourteen years later, I still say yes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Trilogy Trauma

A friend of mine recently noticed that I’d been describing my upcoming book as “the first in a planned trilogy,” so she asked me, “How does one plan a trilogy?” Funny question…

First off, I will admit that I wrote A BREATH OF EYRE as “a stand-alone novel with series potential.” That basically means that while the first book leaves some plot threads unresolved, the story is self-contained with no cliffhangers. However, when I finished writing the book and began thinking about what my next project would be, I realized I hadn’t let go of those characters yet. They were still knocking around in my head, begging for their story to be continued. After all, my protagonist, Emma, is only 16 at the end of the first book, in which she “travels” into her favorite novel, Jane Eyre. I started wondering how Emma’s love of escaping into books might both cause her problems and continue her growth as a character over the next two years of high school.

And thus, “series potential” was born! I quickly wrote up a brief synopsis for two more books that would continue Emma’s literary adventures, choosing The Scarlet Letter and The Phantom of the Opera as the books Emma would travel into in the sequels. My agent sent the first book out on submission to publishers with synopses of the sequels attached, and the trilogy sold to Kensington/KTeen last November!

Since I hadn’t written a word of the sequel back then, I always referred to A BREATH OF EYRE as the first in a “planned trilogy,” as planning was all I had done to that point. Now, I am about twenty thousand words into the sequel, and I’m beginning to realize sequels are particularly nasty beasts. Here are a few reasons why:

1.     A sequel should have the same “feel” as the first book, but it should be significantly different to offer readers a new reading experience.
2.     New characters should be introduced, but you must also continue to focus on the characters from the first book.
3.     Resolve most story threads from book one, but introduce a boatload of new conflicts to drive the third book.
4.     Your protagonist must continue the character growth initiated in the first book, but leave some room for growth in the final installment.
5.     Try not to let your sequel fall into “sagging middle book” syndrome. Keep the energy and action high!

Phew! I don’t know how J.K. Rowling did all this over SEVEN books! (Possibly because she’s a genius?)

While I am definitely in the writing stages of the sequel now, I find I am still planning as I go, taking a look back at events from the first book, analyzing character motivations, anticipating major plot points that will happen in the third book, and trying to incorporate all of this into my outline for the second book, tentatively called A TOUCH OF SCARLET. For anyone who had to endure reading The Scarlet Letter in high school, you’ll probably remember that underneath Hawthorne’s laborious prose is a pretty gripping story about sex and sin and shame, but also about pride. I hope it promises to be a fun adventure for both my characters and for me!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

YA clichés

Since the young adult fiction market began to boom, certain conventions have woven their way into the fabric of YA literature, for better or for worse. Some of these elements are not unique to YA, just perhaps exploited or overused since the break-out success of franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games. But now, readers might grumble or groan when they hear that a new book incorporates a love triangle or any other once-effective but now-trite plot device. This can make it difficult for a YA author to navigate the already treacherous terrain of plotting a first draft, because now she must also avoid these deadly pitfalls, even when they might seem integral or organic to the plot. It’s almost impossible to avoid them all, particularly if you are basing your story on an archetype like the hero’s journey. I suppose the trick is to avoid making one of these devices feel clichéd by investing it with a new twist or by writing so artfully that your audience never even realizes that you’re using a common trope.

Here are some of the more egregious offenses I’ve heard people rail against lately:
1.     the love triangle
2.     an impossibly beautiful paranormal love interest
3.     absentee parents
4.     the wise-cracking best friend
5.     the blonde mean girl
6. the love interest who initially acts like a jerk

Gah! (Guilty on some counts, here…) YA author Joelle Anthony has a much more comprehensive list that’s actually quite funny. But I’m curious, which YA clichés irritate you the most? Are there any that are so overused you won’t even pick up a book that incorporates them? For fun, take the quiz at the top right corner of my blog or comment below. Which YA cliché must go?