Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Cutest Blog on the Block

I love having a blog. It's great for communicating with fans. Sometimes it's like having a therapist I can call any time of the day or night just to get something off my chest. And it often takes the role of a best friend who allows me to annoy her by telling her every little thought that pops into my head--like the fact that a couple of nights ago, I had a dream that I was at work and my boss told me that my new job was watching soap operas all day. So I'm at my desk in front of this gigantic flat-screen TV watching Days of Our Lives while my coworkers are answering phone calls and filing paper. Crazy, right? And why was there a swimming pool in the middle of the office? I mean, in the dream it seemed perfectly normal, but...

Huh? Oh, sorry. Got a bit off track there. My point is that while I love my blog, I do realize that it is, for the most part, pretty self-centered. What did I do today? What do I like? How are my books doing? Who talked to me today? I, I, I. Me, me, me. [Shaking my head sadly.]

Well, here's what I have to say about that: It won't be changing anytime soon. Ha! You heard me! I, I, I, ME, ME, ME!!! Being this self-absorbed might be completely socially unacceptable in real life, but in here? Well, it's almost a requirement!

I kid. But the reason this even occurred to me is that I've been reading a lot of YA blogs lately--blogs that were started by book lovers who spend their free time writing about something besides themselves. Sure, there's some talk about the books they liked and why, but even that is serving to help others. They spend huge amounts of their own time organizing book giveaways (I'm looking at you, Princess Bookie!), writing reviews, interviewing authors, promoting other people's blogs--all in the name of the love of young adult books. And some of these bloggers are young adults themselves! It's impressive and inspiring. It makes me want to be a better, less self-obsessed person.
...        (<---quiet reflection)

That said, check out Ashley Suzanne's blog right now. I thought I had the cutest blog on the block, but I was wrong. She's got the title. Says so right on her homepage. Oh, and who did she just interview? And which author's books is she giving away? Who is currently in her spotlight? ME ME ME!!!

Ahem... I'll work on it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo Time

Hey, everybody! Long time, no see. I know, I know. But I won't waste time on apologies this time. Just know that whenever there's a long stretch of quiet from me, I have my reasons. And some of them are pretty good! (Yes, sometimes it's just laziness, but not usually.)

This time it was mostly that I was working on a couple of writing projects, both of which fell through in the same week, believe it or not. One was a result of some corporate restructuring--que sera sera. But I don't mind telling you that the other really shook my confidence as a writer. No one likes to hear that her writing wasn't good enough. And as I mentioned before, I live on gold stars and pats on the back. So to get the opposite of that, well... How can I describe it? Ouch. OUCH! I spent a few silent days curled up on my couch, eating nothing, listening to sad music, and questioning my entire career--followed by a few days of eating everything in sight, watching lots of happy movies, and getting pep talks from my friends and family. (Shout out to Oprah Winfrey and her Life Class. It sounds corny, but hearing her talk about how she had been demoted from doing the evening news, and how that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her, really helped me get past this.) I'm happy to say that I did eventually come out of my funk and even found the silver lining in the whole situation:

After several months of toiling away--and putting pretty much everything else on the back burner, including trivial things like laundry and leaving my house once in a while--I find myself with free time again. More important, I find myself with time to write for myself again! I've spent so long trying to realize someone else's vision, but now I get to come up with one of my own. I'm excited. I feel free! And yes, a little nervous. Will I be able to do it on my own? Will I be able to write something that will get an agent's attention? Or am I about to face another year spent writing something that will earn me a mountain of rejection letters? Well, there's only one way to find out, right?

And what better time to start than November, which, if you don't know already, is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Everyone is welcome to participate in this. You don't have to be a published writer. You don't have to have taken any classes. And you don't even have to pay. All you need is a bit of creativity and the willingness to spend a solid month trying your hand at writing a novel. And to support you in your efforts, the fine people at have developed all kinds of handy tools on their website, including a word count calculator and a place where other writers can give you encouragement. Why have I never done this before? Even if I don't finish a whole novel, it will be great to just focus on the joy of writing--something I'd almost lost.

I've also recently gotten reacquainted with my other literary love, poetry. About a month and a half ago, a friend of mine from high school, Pura Fernandez, invited me to see Beau Sia perform at a little spoken word spot on 1st Avenue and 1st Street called the Nexus Lounge. I've been a huge fan of Beau Sia's ever since I saw him perform on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, and again in the Broadway show featuring some of the best Def Poets around. His poems are hilarious, thoughtful, angry, refreshing--just so, so GOOD. But his real claim to fame is his in-your-face delivery. So of course, I high-tailed it over to the Nexus Lounge, and I was not disappointed. Before Beau went on, they had an open mic segment. You could tell that some people in the crowd were regulars, there every Tuesday and Thursday night, with notebooks full of poetry in their hands. And some, like me, were there for the first time. Pura was one of the first to take the mic, reading from her BlackBerry a poem she had written on the train that morning. It turns out my friend, who I hadn't even known wrote poetry, had been a regular for a while too, and it showed.
Pura getting down with her poetic self. 

The room was full, but it felt intimate and supportive. And you didn't even have to be a poet. There were musicians and comedians. One girl did a monologue from Rachel's Getting Married. Then a hip-hop/spoken word group called People with Teeth went on and blew me away. I ended up buying their CD and loved it.

Here are two members of People with Teeth along with
my friend, Pura.
Finally, Beau Sia took the stage, and everyone could see right away that he wasn't his usual explosive self. He was quiet; he wore a pair of dark shades the whole time (in what was already a dark room); and he seemed exhausted. It turns out that he had been in a serious car accident not too long before and had  been struggling to recover ever since. Even the dim light of the spotlight hurt his eyes. He'd thought about canceling his appearance, but he didn't want to let anyone down. Plus, even though he was in pain, he still loved to perform and he had a lot to say. He read us poems about getting hurt and how vulnerable it had made him feel. He wrote about Facebook and how overwhelming and isolating it can be, and how chasing fame had gotten in the way of his writing. And he talked about how frustrating it was to not be able to perform the way he usually does, not to be able to give people what they want. But personally, I found this Beau Sia even more compelling than the ball of energy I'd see on HBO. At times he was downright tender and philosophical. He wasn't just trying to entertain; he was trying to figure something out about the world and about himself. I became even more of a fan.

After the show, Pura and I hung around, waiting to talk to him. Pura had taken a writing workshop with him years and years ago (before he was who he is now) and wanted to reintroduce herself. She assumed he wouldn't remember her. But as soon as she walked up, he took her in for a moment, pointed at her, and said, "Pura Fernandez." Beau Sia is awesome. They talked for a while and then she introduced me to him. I told him how much I loved his work and that it was an honor to meet him. He seemed genuinely appreciative, and he shook my hand, giving me his undivided attention for a few minutes. These are the kind of people for whom I become a groupie--as you can see from the crazy look in my eyes in the picture below.

Me and Beau Sia.
(I promise, he was friendlier than he looks here.)

Anyway, I left there that night inspired. I needed to get to writing! At the very least, I vowed to come back and become one of the regulars. So the very next Tuesday, I went back--this time by myself, since Pura couldn't make it and none of my other friends are into poetry, really. I always feel beyond awkward going to do stuff like this alone, but as I often tell my mom, if I were to wait for someone else to go with me to do everything, I'd miss out on a lot. I would never have gone to Penn State. I wouldn't have seen tons of movies. I wouldn't have gone to Greece! So I went, and long story short, I performed.

Unlike the last time I was there, it wasn't a packed house. That night it was pouring rain outside, so only a few brave souls showed up--about 10 people total. But Mike Geffner, who runs the Inspired Word nights, and the host, Nathan P., were there and made it seem as if the room was overflowing. I read a poem I'd written in Greece, and a couple I'd written years ago. I hadn't done that in so long. I'd forgotten how good it felt. Even better was listening to everyone else who took the stage that night. They were incredible! And yes, one of the Def Poets was in the house and set the stage on fire (not literally).

This is everyone who read at the open mic night. The gentlemen in the pin-striped suit and fedora is the super-cool host, Nathan P. And the man in the black shirt to my left is Mike Geffner, who puts the whole thing together. 

Anyway, I am now inspired, ready, and willing to write something new. And I've gotta tell ya, I can't wait to get started.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fame Is Fleeting, Ya Know?

If Kathy Griffin is on the D-List, then I'm hovering somewhere around V or W. I'm giving myself credit for having published a few books, for maintaining my very own blog and website, and for once appearing on a Game Show Network game show and losing miserably. (No, I won't tell you the name of the show, but if you've ever watched that channel and saw some poor girl looking like a deer caught in  headlights and saying "round head" when the answer was clearly "redhead," um, yeah, that was me.)

I've actually never aspired to be famous, at least not on a Kate Middleton or Oprah level. Okay, it would be pretty awesome to hobnob with the other rich and famous folks, some of whom are just dreamy. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to be invited to a party with the likes of James McAvoy (I heart you, James!), Jesse Williams (I heart you sooo much), or the cast of Glee (yes, I'm a die-hard Gleek)... And I'd gladly take a celebrity's bank account balance, and their ability to raise awareness and obscene amounts of money for charities. But the rest they can have. The rest seems like kind of a nightmare. I mean, who can take that kind of scrutiny? That total lack of privacy and pressure to be perfect all the time? Not me.

I still find it a little strange when someone I've never even met before invites me to come speak to a group of kids, some of whom have actually read my books. Even though I've now done seven book signings (including the two that were attended only by my friends and family), I'm pretty shocked when people who aren't blood relatives actually show up to see me. The most recent occurrence was on May 14th at the Montclair Public Library. Thanks to a recommendation from Tonya Johnson, the same woman who invited me to participate in the Watchung Booksellers panel last year, the head librarian, Matilda, asked me come visit as part of their mother/daughter book club. Of course I said yes. But the closer the day came, the more nervous I got. Was I supposed to be entertaining somehow? Should I have prepared a speech, peppered with just the right amount of jokes? Would I be expected to be wise and witty, saying things these girls could take with them for the rest of their lives? More important, what should I wear??? I swear, I don't know how actual celebrities do it. If I have this much angst over a friendly visit to the library, I'd surely have a full-blown panic attack on a red carpet.

But once I got there, I felt kind of silly for being worried about it at all. Matilda welcomed me with the warmest smile, even though I got lost on the way there and ended up arriving right when the event was scheduled to begin. She told me to relax and breathe. She showed my mom and me to the third-floor room where about fifteen people were waiting patiently for my arrival--a bunch of young girls and their mothers, and some teachers and librarians. Tonya was there with her daughter, Bria, and Bria had brought her friend Gina, who I'd met at her birthday party. And my friend Maria was there with her baby. Smiling faces everywhere! I immediately apologized for keeping them waiting and told them about the evil GPS that had nearly sent me to Newark. They all laughed, and almost instantly I felt like I was among friends.

I started by telling them a little bit about myself. (Right away I got a "Me too!" from one of the girls, Jayla, when I said that I was born in the Bronx.) Then I did a short reading and chose Jayla to take the first quiz in the book. In case you haven't read Your Life, but Better yet, the book begins with a  girl who is at the mall with her friends being approached by a model scout who offers her the chance to be in a photo shoot. The first quiz is meant to determine if you will go for it or not. When I asked another girl in the audience if she would try to be a model if given the chance, she totally surprised me by saying, "No." When I asked why, she said, "Because fame is fleeting, ya know?"

Wow! Not the answer I'd expect from anyone, let alone a nine- or ten-year-old girl. Everyone laughed, but I think we were all impressed. How refreshing to find a young girl who recognized that fame was not the be all, end all of existence. I have nothing against models, and I can't say that if I were a foot taller and few dress sizes smaller that I wouldn't be one of those America's Next Top Model hopefuls, begging Tyra for a chance at the big time. But I don't think the message of some of these shows is getting through in quite the way they intended. I heard once that there was a teenage girl who got pregnant on purpose in hopes of being cast on an MTV show about teen moms. How unbelievably sad! I thought. Did this teenager really think that fifteen minutes of fame was worth a lifetime responsibility that she most likely wasn't ready for? Or had she simply not thought beyond the thrill of seeing her face on TV? In an age when the more outrageous your behavior, the more likely you are to score a reality show, I can understand why kids might be confused. The message seems to be that fame is the most important thing in life and you should try to achieve it by any means necessary. So it was nice to hear a kid acknowledge that while fame might be nice, it can also be brief and there are more lasting goals to shoot for.

For the next half hour or so, I signed books for the kids and talked to the adults about possible future events. One girl hugged me and thanked me for coming. And we all took pictures together. If this is what being on the V or W list is like, it suits me just fine.

I don't remember why I had that look on my face. 

Matilda, Bria, and Gina getting their snack on 

Me signing a book for Maura

Most of the people who attended. The one who told me that fame is fleeting
is on the left in the green striped shirt. 

Baby Aida. Isn't she a cutie? Look out, Angelina Jolie!

Matilda, one of the nicest librarians I've ever met. 

Matilda and me. I'm holding the flyer she had made for the event. 

My mom, me, my friend Maria, and the adorable Aida

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Career Day

Once, when I was a junior in college, a fellow student asked me what I was majoring in. When I said, "Creative writing," she tilted her head and looked at me with these big, sorrowful eyes, as if I had just told her my dog had died.

"Aw, you're going to be homeless," she said. What? "I mean, what are you going to do with that?" she continued. She was a psych major, secure in the belief that there would be a million and one job offers lined up for her once she finished grad school. (Not necessarily true, by the way.)

"What do you mean?" I countered. "I can do lots of things with that."

She eyed me skeptically. "Well, I guess you could teach," she said dismissively, "but that's about it." She made a "tsk tsk" sound and patted my hand.

"I'll be just fine," I assured her. And I felt sure that I would be--even though truth be told, I hadn't thought much about my future career beyond "I will write." When I chose my major, I wasn't thinking, This will make me loads of money, or This job is in high demand. I simply thought, This is what I love to do and if someday someone pays me to do it, great. 

All these years later, it gives me great satisfaction to say that I was right. Not only am I being paid to edit other people's books (thanks in part to the skills I picked up as an English major), but I've been hired to write and to simply sit around with other people and be creative. The idea I pitched at the first brainstorming meeting with my editor was well received. Meanwhile, I'm slaving away on a new book. And this past Saturday I was asked to come to the Montclair Public Library to read from one of the Your Life books for their mother/daughter book group. (More on that later. It was sooo much fun.) I've even gotten to teach a class at NYU, all thanks to the "useless" degree in English I received. I'm not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I had the means to take myself to Greece and Prague last summer and to Barbados this past March. Not too shabby in my book. Bottom line, creativity and a love for the written word has not only kept me from winding up on the streets but has allowed me to live a life I actually enjoy.

And I'm not the only one. I now have lots of friends who have taken it one step further and quit their day jobs to fully commit themselves to their art. My friend Jo is making movies. My friend Kanova quit her job at an advertising agency to pursue her Broadway dreams and is now auditioning and performing. My buddy Doug is now a published author and one of his books is being made into a movie! I was recently  on line at the Kelly Cutrone book signing at the BookMark Shoppe with a woman who told me that she had quit her high-powered finance job in order to start her own business that offered makeovers and style tips to women and young girls. She is working on her first book and is happier now than she ever was crunching numbers. The point is, it can happen. There are other roads to success besides becoming a doctor, lawyer, or accountant--not that any of those things are bad things to become. They're great things. They're just not for everyone.

So when my cousin Ines invited me to the school where she works in the Bronx to participate in Career Day (which I'll be on my way to in about an hour), I jumped at the opportunity. I look at it as a chance to tell the kids there who may think there are only five possible careers out there for them--or that going into anything even remotely artistic is at best a long shot, at worst a big waste of time--that that is simply not true. There are a world of careers out there and definitely more than one way to success. And if you're a creative type all hope is not lost! There are ways to follow your passion AND eat three square meals a day. And if you're really lucky, you won't even have to take four part-time jobs to do it.

I don't know what ever became of the girl who told me that I'd end up destitute and on the street. Maybe she became a renowned psychologist with her own private practice. Or maybe she became a circus clown with the Big Apple Circus. Whatever she did, I hope she's learned what I've known for a while now: Do what you love and the money will follow. Hopefully.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Caution: Sick Girl Writing

I held out as long as I could. I made it through I don't even remember how many storms this winter. I shoveled my car out of countless piles of ice-cold snow, some of it finding its way into my coat sleeves. I sat on a ridiculous number of trains next to people who were hacking and coughing and sneezing, almost never covering their mouths to keep their germs to themselves. I have left my umbrella at home, only to find myself running in the rain to the subway station. I've bypassed the OJ in favor of tea. And yet somehow, I never got sick...until now.

Really, I hate to even admit it because it has always seemed to me that once you actually acknowledge a cold, it only gets stronger. Like saying "I'm sick" out loud feeds the cold's power somehow. Well, not admitting it didn't stop me from coughing myself to sleep last night or constantly feeling like I had a lump in my throat. Ah, well. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I guess I should just be grateful that it's happening now and not next month when things are really going to hit the fan for me. I already told you about the mother/daughter book club I'm doing at the Montclair Public Library on May 14 and the story meetings I'll be doing every two weeks from now on. (I had the first one last week and it went well. I pitched an idea that got pretty good responses. We'll see if it goes anywhere.) Now I've also been asked to participate in Career Day at an elementary school in the Bronx on May 18. And then there's the following week...

I assume you guys have heard of American Idol, yes? Well, guess who's going to the finale? THIS GIRL! I actually won two tickets (including airfare and hotel) to the finale shows on May 24 and 25 in Los Angeles. Did I or did I not tell you in an earlier post that I win stuff like this all the time? Seriously. I think the only reason I haven't won the lottery yet is because I hardly ever play. And believe it or not, this isn't even the first time I won a free ticket to L.A. When I was in fourth grade I entered a United Negro College Fund essay contest and won two tickets to anywhere in the world that TWA flies. Anywhere in the WORLD! Of course, if I won that today, I'd be off to Australia or New Zealand or Japan or something. But back then, I had just moved to New York from Los Angeles and had never even gotten to say good-bye to my friends. I was 9 years old and homesick. So Los Angeles it was. My dad came with me, and later on my mom had to go to L.A. for work, and we were all there at the same time. We had so much fun going to Venice Beach, Sea World, Disneyland, our old neighborhood... The only thing missing was my brother. So this time I'm taking my brother with me.

By the way, I'm really hoping one of the ladies wins it this year. I'm pulling for Haley or Lauren. Although I wouldn't be too upset if Casey took it home either. And how is it that they're letting Scotty get away with singing a country song every single week? I'm just saying. That would never fly if Simon was still around.

But I digress... I'll be in Los Angeles for five days. As you can see, it'll be a busy, busy couple of months for me, so you may not hear from me much, but I'll try.

In the meantime, send me any and all advice you can give me for that book club thing. It'll be my biggest crowd yet, and I'm nervous. Gulp. So tell me what you would want to talk to me about if we were in a Your Life, but... book club together. Also, congrats to the three winners of my books in Princess Bookie's Contest Craze. It's so nice to know that I've got fans in Texas and California. You'll receive your prizes soon!

All right, I'm off to my parents' house. I'm hoping they'll feed me and give me orange juice and a warm blanket. You're never too old to be babied when you're sick, am I right?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Long Time, No See

Hey, everybody! Once again, sorry for being such a stranger. But I have good reasons, I swear.

For starters, I've been waaay too busy reading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Oh my God, so good! If you haven't read these books yet, get on that immediately. Not since Harry Potter have I read a series of books that I literally could not put down. Fair warning: Steer clear if you're squeamish. It can be pretty violent. Also, don't start reading them if you have something more important to do, like sleep.

Let's see...what else have I been up to? Oh yeah. I went to Barbados! Hey, a girl can only take so much snow and rain and bitter cold before she has to pack her bags and head with some friends to an island paradise for a few days.
Looks like a postcard, right? 
Yours truly in paradise. At this point, I was seriously considering
ditching my life in NY to move here and sell oil paintings by the beach.
Now, if only I knew how to paint...

Flying fish, macaroni pie, rice and peas, and salad at the Oistin's fish fry.
Yum yum yum.

There were a few stray cats who basically lived at the resort where we stayed.
One of them had three little kittens. Look how cute!

Here I am at the little marketplace at Oistin's. The bowl I'm holding is partially
made from the gills of a fish that is native to Barbados. 

This dancer was part of the entertainment at the resort. He is
representing the spirit of life. 

Some delicious banana dessert I had at Pisces Restaurant.

The rest of the time, I spent on the beach, on a catamaran cruise, snorkeling with sea turtles, kayaking, and just generally having a great time with my friends. So yeah, Barbados was amazing. (Okay, so I'm leaving out the part when I almost lost my laptop at the airport, and my friend got stranded in Barbados since she was flying standby, and I left my coat--and house keys--in the hotel room, and we almost missed our flight... But those are just details, details...)

Anyway, as soon as I got back, it was back to the cold, and back to work. (Hey, these trips don't pay for themselves....) 

I'm still spreading the word about the Your Life books. On May 14 they'll be the subject of a mother/daughter book group at the Montclair Public Library. (Thanks to Tonya Johnson, who recommended me to the head librarian there.) And I've been invited to participate in BooksNJ2011--a book festival sponsored by the Paramus Public Library, celebrating books and the readers who love them. It sounds like I may even be on another panel of some kind. I'll give you more details when I have them.  

Also, if you haven't heard about the blogger Princess Bookie's Contest Craze, get over to right away. She'll be giving away a bunch of books (my own included) to some lucky winners. But the contest ends on April 10, so hurry up! 

Finally, a bit of sad news has lead to some good news: My editor on the Your Life books, Stephanie Elliott, has left Random House. Even though she left because she got a great opportunity, I was sad that she wouldn't be around anymore and we wouldn't be working together. But she invited me to be part of a brainstorming group there to generate ideas for new books and series. Exciting! Not only do I get to do something creative and fun, but I get to work with my friend again. Can't wait. And who knows? It could lead to even more writing opportunities. If there's anything I've learned through this process, it's that you should take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way because you never know what door it might open next. 

Oh, and Samaya, who I met at the Columbia University Bookstore, has actually kept in touch with me. (Hi, Samaya!) 

Well, that pretty much catches us up. I'm off to go work on what really pays the bills around here: proofreading. I've got two books on my desk, and now that I finished The Hunger Games, I can actually concentrate on them! Until next time... 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hostess with the Mostest

What is a struggling author to do when her book has come out, but no one seems to realize it? Throw a party, of course!

And just in case you think that the publishing company pays for things like that, let me tell you right now that is not the case anymore. A friend of mine asked me once before an author appearance I had in New Jersey if the publishing company was sending me there in a limo. HA!!! That's hilarious. No, I drove myself and paid for my own gas and tolls. I attended a panel discussion of Latina writers a couple of months ago and they spoke about all the challenges they have faced in the publishing business. One of them, who used to be an editor, revealed that the publisher's budget for an author--especially a new, unknown author--is very small. They can spend anywhere from $500 to $5,000 on promoting you. (Most new authors are in that $500 slot, and that includes stamps, labels, envelopes, everything!) And once they've spent that...well, that's pretty much all the promoting they can do. The moral to this story? Authors these days are responsible for their own promotion, and if that means spending some of your own money, so be it.

And so, with promoting my book in mind, I put together a Your Life, but Sweeter launch party on February 4 at Characters NYC, which has a private, spacious back room and the nicest staff ever. Characters provided the mozzarella sticks, buffalo wings, vegetarian spring rolls, sliders, and quesadillas. Dylan's Candy Bar provided the fresh popcorn machine. And Magnolia Bakery provided the "sweet" part of the Your Life, but Sweeter party: an assortment of cookies, brownies, and lemon squares, two dozen cupcakes, and a glorious red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. And I bought big swirly lollipops from a tourist shop on 8th Avenue. My mom helped me out by printing out small copies of the book cover so we could glue them to the lollipops. Everything looked mmm mm good.

And my friends at Mobile Libris once again provided the books. Sharon Preiss herself, who runs the company, came this time to help train her new employee, Casey. As always, they set up a great display, using the poster the Columbia University Bookstore had made for my appearance there last month.

A bunch of my friends and coworkers came out, as well as my wonderful parents. Also in attendance, Tonya and her daughter, Bria (whose birthday party I wrote about in a previous blog). We also had a battle of the cute babies going on. My editor, Stephanie, and her husband, Dan (who took the author photo featured in the books), brought their adorable new daughter, Maggie. My coworker Evan and his wife brought their new little one, Caspia. And my best friend brought her one-year-old, Arielle. Cuteness all over the place, I tell you. (I'll add more pictures later.)

It was a short party, but by the end of the night, I'd sold 37 books, all my guests were loaded up on sugar and popcorn, and everybody had a good time. So was it worth the expense? Without a doubt. It felt great celebrating the books with all these people I care about and who have been so supportive of me and my writing. And to be honest, I'm proud of myself. True, I spent almost all of last year working my tail off, but nights like this make it all worthwhile. Thanks for the love, everybody! 

I also found out some pretty exciting news (at least to me): One of the professors at my alma mater, Penn State-Behrend, contacted me to let me know that she is using Your Life, but Better and Maya & Miguel: My Twin Brother/My Twin Sister as part of the curriculum for her English class. How cool is that? She even invited me to come by the campus to speak to the writing students there. I have also been invited to do a book signing at the Montclair Public Library in New Jersey this April or May. I continue to be amazed how one thing leads to another and another. But I'm still learning about how to get my books out there more. I've been told I have to actually contact schools and ask them to invite me to speak. (Who knew?) And I just entered my first two books to be considered for the NY Book Festival this September. Eh, it's worth a shot, right? Bear with me while I try to get myself off the D-list in the publishing world.  

Have a safe and happy long weekend, everybody. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Audience of Two

So how are all of you dealing with this crazy winter? For those of you living somewhere warm, I am jealous. Here in New York, it has been snowy, slushy, rainy, windy, icy, and just plain yuck!

I got a spot in this outdoor lot when I first moved into my building during the summer.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
OK, this guy was pretty cool. Wish I could take credit for him.
Anyway, it has been COLD! (And that's coming from a girl who spent three years in Erie, PA, during college. I'm talking lake-effect snow, people!) So it wasn't much of a surprise to me that no one showed up to my reading this past Saturday at the Columbia University Bookstore in Manhattan. (Awww...)

But wait, before you go feeling too sorry for me, I hear this is something that happens even to A-list authors, so at least I'm in good company. Besides, I did have some dear fans show up--two to be exact: my mom (naturally) and my friend Camille, who'd come down from Inwood just to support me. The store manager felt bad that there was no audience for me, but I was actually relieved. Even though I've done a few of these now, it's still nerve wracking every time. So I was kind of okay with having my audience of two. :)

However, we wanted my trip there to be worthwhile (we had braved the snow and cold, after all), so Camille brought me every copy of my books they had and I signed each one. While I was doing that, a customer in the store let me know that his daughter, Samaya, wanted to meet me. She lives in California and wants to be a writer when she grows up. (I love that she is in 3rd grade,  the same grade I was in when I decided that I wanted to be a writer.) She asked me how I went from being her age to becoming a published author. I actually get that question a lot. Camille, who is a copy writer by day and a fiction writer by night, and I gave her the following advice:

1. READ! Really, I think there's no better way to learn how to write well then to read everything you can get your hands on and get a feel for how its done. (Samaya is reading the Harry Potter series right now. Excellent choice.)

2. Keep a diary. It's great writing practice. Plus, it helps you remember experiences that you might use later on in your writing. I've kept one since I was 13 years old.

3. Take as many writing classes as you can. It sometimes bothers me that people seem to think writing is easy and anyone can do it. Not true! When I started taking writing classes in high school and college, I realized how much I had to learn: character development, pacing, plot, themes, structure... Natural talent is great, but learning a little technique really makes it shine. I still have a lot to learn and hope to take more classes in the future.

Also, I think it's important to share what you write and get feedback. Don't just hide it away under your mattress. Seeing how somebody reacts to what you've written, and sometimes even hearing criticism, can help you grow as a writer. I may have mentioned this before, but my favorite writing professor in college gave me a C- - - (yes, three minuses) on my first paper, and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Until that moment, I thought my writing was perfect. Being told that it wasn't did sting, but in the long run it helped me improve.

And once you feel you have gotten the hang of it, why not try to put your writing out there in any way you can? These days it's a little easier with the Internet. But back in the day (yikes, I was a teenager before the Internet took off), I just entered every writing contest I could, and I sent poems and short stories to literary magazines. I wrote letters to the editor in hopes of being published in the school newspaper. I participated in open mic poetry nights at local cafes and made friends with other people who like to write. (You can learn a lot from other writers and you can share opportunities and information with one another.) The point is, keep writing and sharing your work!

Anyway, after we talked with Samaya  (who is adorable, by the way), we took this picture together and I gave her one of the key chains I'd made.

Me and Samaya at the Columbia U. Bookstore.
January 15, 2011
Samaya, if you're reading this, don't forget to stay in touch and let me know how the writing is going!

So after the signing, my audience of two and I headed to Havana Central and got some lunch. (Yum, yum, and might I add, yum!) If you ever go there, have the corn on the cob. No, seriously. Best thing ever.

Camille and me at Havana Central. 

My mom is the best. Love you, Mom!

So what's next? I've been asked to participate in the Montclair Library's Black History Month celebration on February 26. Should be fun! And of course, I'm still working on my next book, getting the first couple of chapters under way.

At the risk of making this blog post the longest one in history, I have to add one more thing: I was watching BET recently and they had an event called Black Girls Rock, where they honored trailblazers in the community. (It was an amazing show featuring Keisha Coles, Jill Scott, Nia Long, Missy Elliott, and many others.) Anyway, one of the honorees was Adele Taylor, who founded Adele's Literacy Library when she was only 13 years old. Her goal is to get everyone in the world reading. She spends her time traveling around the country, reading to children, donating books, and advocating for literacy in children and adults. She is amazing! I was so impressed with her that I emailed her to tell her so, and decided to donate ten copies of Your Life, but Sweeter, as well as a pile of Random House books that my editor helped me assemble. Adele is such a class act that she responded personally to my email. We now hope to meet the next time she's in New York. (Not that that will be for a while. You see, Adele is also busy attending conferences to promote peace. Love this girl!) If you want to help Adele in her efforts, check out her website: You can help by donating money, books, or time. Keep up the great work, Adele!

And now, I have to finish packing. My parents and I are off to see my grandparents in Florida today. I'm hoping it will be at least a little bit warmer than it is here in New York! See you when I get back.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Heart You, PS 22

I just had to tell you guys about my new obsession: the choir of PS 22 in Staten Island, NY. Have you heard these kids sing yet? I just came across them by accident recently, only to find out that they've already been on Oprah, the Today Show, and will soon be performing at the Oscars! They've performed with Queen Latifah, Common, Crowded House...the list goes on.

Anyway, I think they're amazing, and their director, Mr. B., has got to be one of the coolest teachers ever. They sing everything from Passion Pit and The Cure to Jill Scott and Alicia Keys. He's had some soloists in there (I'm talking 10-year-old kids) who have blown me away with their talent. They obviously work hard, and they love what they're doing, and as a result, they are getting some well-deserved recognition.

So I just wanted to use today's blog to put one more spotlight on them and to say how extremely proud I am of all the kids involved. This illustrates for me once again that the arts are SO important in schools. I know that when I was in school, being in the chorus, playing violin, getting to draw and write short stories and poetry--that's the stuff that really made me love school. And teachers like Mr. B make it possible.

Here's a clip of the PS 22 chorus doing Lisztomania by Phoenix--one of my favorite performances of theirs. If you want to see more, check out Mr. B's blog at

Friday, January 7, 2011


I can't believe it. The busiest year of my life, 2010, is done. When I think about everything that has happened in the past year, I'm really surprised that I squeezed all that into twelve little months. But somehow I managed to have three books published, hold six book signings, and throw two book launch parties. I went to Greece and attended my first writers workshop abroad (and sprained my ankle). I went to Prague in the Czech Republic. I proofread countless books. I taught my first proofreading class at NYU and survived! I was the maid of honor in my best friend's wedding. I traveled to Milwaukee to attend another friend's wedding. I started working on my next book. I went to a rally in Washington, D.C. I spent a weekend in Kansas City, Missouri. I attended a taping of The Daily Show. I threw four baby showers and a bachelorette party. I spent time with my family. And of course I maintained my full-time job throughout all of that.

Phew! Just reading that list makes me tired. But it also makes me really proud. It was an exciting, challenging, and rewarding year and I couldn't be more grateful--especially since it ended on such a high note.

On December 18, I experienced another first: my first book reading at a birthday party! Tonya Johnson, who organized the writing panel at Watchung Booksellers, has been in touch with me ever since that event. And her daughter, Bria, had become a fan. She liked the first two books in the Your Life series so much that they invited me to do a reading of Your Life, But Sweeter at her birthday party. Sweet!

The party's theme was centered around my book in that it involved all things sweet. The girls made chocolate lollipops, there was a deliciously sweet birthday cake, and I brought gingerbread houses for them to decorate together and candy canes full of M&Ms. And what a great bunch of young ladies! Before I got started, Tonya had them all introduce themselves and tell me what they want to be when they grow up. One wants to be a doctor, one wants to be a writer (a girl after my own heart), a few want to be fashion designers, and a few couldn't decide between modeling and sports. Bottom line, they were all ambitious, intelligent, cool, fun, and creative. My kinda crowd.

After I had them take one of the quizzes, I read one of the chapters. And then we just talked a little bit about the process of writing these books and how I got started. We talked about some of the themes of the first two books, and they told me about their brushes with fame and the kind of books they're reading. (They were appalled that I haven't finished reading the Twilight series yet. I guess I'd better get on that!) Afterward, I signed all of their copies of Your Life, But Cooler and Your Life, But Sweeter with my favorite purple pen. And the budding writer of the group let me read the beginning of her very first novel. It was so much fun. Girls, thanks for helping me end the year with such a bang. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BRIA!

And Tonya and Tanya, thank you for giving me and my books so much love. I appreciate it more than you know! Here are just some of the pictures from the party. If you want to see the rest, go to the Your Life, But Better Facebook page.

Tonya even made the girls goody bags to take home.
What a great mom!
From left to right: Tonya, me, Tanya, Shania, and Bria
Bria and Melissa reading along

Marianella, Divya, and Becky working on the quiz

Here I'm explaining how the quizzes work with the book.
Marianella volunteered to be the one to reveal her quiz results
so we could decide which chapter we would read next.

Jacqueline and Shania

Here I am with Tonya (Bria's proud mom and party organizer)
and Tonya's friend Tanya, who she's known for years. 
The whole gang from the top left: Me, birthday girl Bria,
Shania, Marianella, Jacqueline, Divya, Melissa,
Gina, and Becky 

From left to right (front row): Gina, Becky, Divya, and Melissa
(top row): Me, Bria, Shania, Marianella, and Jacqueline. 
Reading from Your Life, but Sweeter

Cheesing for the camera

Bria and Melissa (I hope they were laughing at something
funny in the book!) 

Jacqueline and Shania giving me their full attention

Me laughing at something one of the girls said

Marianella, Divya, and Becky deep in concentration

Tonya, me, and Tanya
You will never meet a nicer pair of women.
Getting to know the girls

Showing the girls my scrapbook. (I started keeping one
when things started to take off with the books.)

Jacqueline and Shania

So glad I brought my favorite purple pen

The line to get their books signed

Marianella, Divya, and Becky

Check out that sweet cake. Mm mm good...

The fashionistas in training striking a pose.
From left: Gina, Bria, Jacqueline, Shania, and Marianella 

It looks like they had so much fun. 

Happy Birthday, Bria!

So that was 2010. What's next, you ask? Well, I'll be spending some time promoting Your Life, But Sweeter--starting with a book signing at the Columbia University Bookstore on January 15 at 1 PM. Pleeease come through and buy a book or two. (Or at least bring enough people with you to make it took like Taylor Lautner is there instead of little ol' me.) I've also started planning the book launch party, which I think will be in the first or second week of February. Details to come! 

Finally, I've started working on my next book. In the meantime, I want to hear from you. How were your holidays? And what are your hopes for 2011? I'm all ears.