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.