Hiatus Is Over

Well, kids, summer is just about over, and I am *this* close to finishing a rough draft of my next book. That’s just a draft, mind you, and I’m not above throwing it all away and starting over again. But at least I have something to work with.

And my course syllabi are almost ready to roll. When school begins on August 22, I might actually have everything done that needs to be done. (Might is the operative word here. I never completely rule out the possibility of a Mad Libs-style syllabus, so if you’re enrolled in one of my classes, come on the first day prepared with ten verbs, ten nouns, three adverbs, and a gerund :) )

If you live near me (Salt Lake City), I’ll be doing some book signings in September when The Predicteds releases. Come out and say hi. I’ll be mortified if my only attendee is my husband. (He’s handsome, but he doesn’t talk much.)

Thursday, September 1 from 11:30-1:30 at Westminster College Commons (The King’s English will have books for sale there.)
Wednesday, September 7 at 7:00 at the King’s English (1511 South 1500 East)
Saturday, September 17 at 7:00 at the Jordan Landing Barnes & Noble (7157 Plaza Center Drive
in West Jordan)

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Blog Interviews

Thanks to the lovely Jaskirat for posting an interview with me over at her blog. Check it out.

I also did an interview over at Safari Poet, a brilliant blog chock full of book news, interviews, and reviews. You can even win a signed ARC of The Predicteds over there! Go take a look. That’s my last ARC, follks.

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Book Readers

The best thing about writing a book is hearing from readers. I luuuurve to talk about books with anyone who will participate in the conversation. And there’s a lot of conversation out there. I can’t believe I just discovered book bloggers! Where have I been since 1998?? The only downside is that I never get anything done anymore. It takes me all day just to keep up with everyone’s reviews and discussions. I need an assistant to do my actual work. (Anyone want to teach my class this summer? Takers?)

Every day I discover a new great blog. Today’s great find is Amanda who just reviewed The Predicteds. I love that she mentions the themes that I was wrestling with as I wrote the book.

You should go read her blog.

Then you should really consider teaching my summer class for me.

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I’m doing a little series of videos (produced by one of the most talented professional communicators out there, the lovely Anita Boeira). I’ll be answering questions about writing, reading, and probably The Jersey Shore. What do you want to know? What should I talk about? Submit your questions here, and I’ll make sure to adress them!

Videos will be posted here and on my Facebook page throughout the summer.

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Spring Semester 2011–> Done

The Good: Final exams and papers are all graded!
The Bad: I feel brain dead.
The Good: Spring term is officially over.
The Bad: Summer term started yesterday.
The Good: I have some time to recover before my summer class begins.
The Bad: I have neglected my own writing this semester.
The Good: I am going undercover to write until somone comes looking for me.

See y’all then!

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In Which I’m an Idiot

I just learned that a flash mob is not a mob of naked people. I’m not sure where I came up with that definition, but that’s what I thought.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the students at the college where I teach participated in a flash mob. I was concerned because it was cold that day! When nobody disrobed, I figured that either a) they did it wrong, or b) my definition was way off.
Turns out that “b” is the correct answer.
Please enjoy this video of fully clothed people dancing to Lady Gaga in the courtyard of our very lovely college.
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Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

So a lot of people ask writers where the ideas come from. I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, the ideas—the good ones, the ones I want to pursue—come from questions I can’t answer. Everything springs forth from there.

My first novel, The Predicteds, is due out in September, and I’ve been reading some bloggers and Goodreads folks who are wondering what it’s about. I’ll post more about that later. For right now, there’s just a tag line: What if your boyfriend was destined to commit murder? That’s not the original question I had when I started, but it morphed into that, eventually.
My original questions went something like this: What if you knew someone was going to end up a murderer?  What would you do? Could you change that person? Could you change yourself?
The questions arose from a tragedy that happened here in Salt Lake City a few years ago. A high-school student walked into a mall and opened fire on a crowd of shoppers. It was a tragedy unlike any Salt Lake has known, yet it was hardly unusual. It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another shooting somewhere in the U.S. that looks just like this one.
The Predicteds isn’t about a mall shooting. It’s not even about murder  or crime really. It’s about what makes us who we are. Are we born into our destiny? Or do we make one for ourselves?
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I Give This Topic Two Stars (Or Maybe Twenty-Seven)

I’m a big Goodreads user; I would not even consider reading a book before I put it on my virtual currently-reading shelf. I set reading goals and meticulously keep track of what I’ve read and what I liked (or disliked) about my books. And keeping track of everything is really easy with Goodreads. (In the olden days, I had to chisel my notes on a slate tablet).

The problem with Goodreads, though, is that it wants me to publicly rate my books. That stresses me out.  When I rate a book, I do it to remind myself how I felt about that book at that particular time. It’s not a commentary on the book itself necessarily.
 Lots of perfectly great books just don’t resonate with me when I read them the first time; likewise, I often love an unpopular book just because it was the right book at the right time. But online starring systems seem to suggest that however many stars a book has is indicative of the book’s merit. Prep, a book by Curtis Sittenfeld, only received 3.27 stars. That’s one of my favorite books. I’ve read it at least three times. I’d give it more than five stars if I could; I think it’s pretty masterfully done, and I can so relate to the neurotic main character.  
The opposite happens too. Sometimes I hate books that everybody else loves. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has 3.93 stars (even though more than 2500 people have given it only one star.) Count me a hater. Too many descriptions of coffee and sandwiches. Too many sex-starved women throwing themselves at a protagonist who has little to offer, save for coffee and sandwiches.
But even though  I rated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo two stars, that doesn’t mean it’s a two-star book. I just didn’t like it. For one, I’m not a huge fan of crime novels, and I really hate graphic descriptions of violence. Second, I read it while I was in Europe last spring, and my attention was quite divided. Third, I think there was something lost in the translation, and I just couldn’t appreciate what we were presented in English
I get that our responses to books—especially fiction—are very personal responses. So it pains me to click on the little stars, especially if I’m going to give a book only one or two of the measly buggers. If I only give a book one star, will I make the author (or fans of the author) feel bad? Will they understand that my one star simply means that it wasn’t the right book for me? Will it impact sales of the book?

The other problem with stars is that I change my mind about books. I adored Donna Tartt’s The Secret History the first time I read it. I loved it the second time. By the third time, I demoted it to just plain “liked it a lot.” I don’t think the book got worse; I just changed. And the context in which I read it changed. Conversely, I couldn’t make it through The Good Earth when I first tried reading it in grad school. I finally read the whole thing a few years ago, and I thought it was incredible. I know a lot of people hated Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, but I loved it. Part of the reason, I think, is that I read it right after I had foot surgery this fall. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t sleep, so I had long uninterrupted hours of reading time. It’s the kind of book that requires big reading gulps. I think if I had read in sips, I would not have had the same positive response. No number of stars could convey all of that.

All of this rambling was prompted by a book I just finished that I hated. Most readers loved it, but I thought it was really poorly written. Everything about it just rubbed me wrong way: the characters, the plot, the writing. If I had rated it, I would’ve given it one star. But I didn’t rate it because I don’t think any book deserves to be a one-star book. Every book speaks to someone, even if it didn’t work for me.
For all of these reasons, I’m hereby boycotting the star system. I just can’t label books like that. It feels too much like a beauty pageant. Why should I make my books parade around in bathing suits while I give them arbitrary ratings? It’s just plain wrong.

No more stars.

(Unless I can’t help myself.)
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Crisis Mode

I’m really bad in emergencies. I’m the person who starts running around in circles and asking irrelevant questions about family history of heat rash while someone bleeds to death in front of me. Case in point: I once came upon a woman having a seizure in the parking lot of my favorite burrito joint. Instead of calling 911 immediately, I ran inside the burrito store and told my husband–and fifteen burrito patrons–that I was intending to call 911. (I did make the call and the paramedics arrived and she was fine, by the way).

So tonight I’m returning home from a walk with my husband when my neighbor yells for me to come and help her. Her sweet little girl had fallen off a chair and cut her finger very badly. Her two other little girls were understandably quite upset. My neighbor asked me to sit with the kids while she rode in the ambulance and met her husband at the hospital. While we waited for the paramedics, my job was to hold a dishtowel on this poor little thing’s mangled finger. As soon as I saw the blood, I thought I was going to faint. But this kid is five and managed not to even cry really. She even told me–in great detail–how it all happened. By the time she left in the ambulance, I needed a Xanax. (Think of her poor mom!)

All I can say is thank goodness I’m a real doctor and not a medical doctor! (Credit for that line goes to my friend Rulon Wood who taught me that PhDs are way better degrees than MDs).

(Even though we’re all completely useless for the most part.)

(Unless Jane Eyre severs her finger).

Tonight’s coveted courage award goes to my five-year-old neighbor, her twin sister, and their little baby sister, all of whom handled themselves with grace and good sense. Let’s hope they all grow up to be doctors! I’ll stick to PhDing.

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Fudge: The Midlife Crisis Years

I first read a library copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume when I was in second or third grade. I adored it. I managed to get a hold of my very own copy of Superfudge shortly after that. I read it until the cover fell off and I had to tape it back together. (My copy of Blubber is equally mangled; when I was about ten, I found a garage sale paperback that was already pretty tattered. Right before the cover disintegrated, I traced it in the hope of being able to draw my own replacement!) I loved those Judy Blume books more than just about anything else in the world.

Last week I found an audio copy of Double Fudge at the library. It’s read by Judy Blume herself, and she’s a terrific narrator. I want to call her up and invite her over for coffee and apple cinnamon muffins on my patio. At the very least, I want to write her a really long fan letter.  Reading those books again feels like visiting my very best friends from childhood.  And I still love them just as much!
I wish Judy Blume would write just one more novel telling me what Peter and Fudge Hatcher are like as middle-aged men. I assume that Peter followed his dad into advertising. He has two daughters and a dog. Tootsie grew up to be a dentist. Jimmy is a professional hockey player. Fudge is most certainly unemployed, save for a few stints as a game show contestant and a couple of viral videos. I’m quite sure he lives in Peter’s basement.   
All of Judy Blume’s books were instrumental to me. I see the world the way I do now in part because of those books. They weren’t just entertainment to me (though I did find them entertaining); more than anything, they taught me how other people think and live. And isn’t that what literature is for?
If I can write a book that speaks to just one reader the way Judy Blume spoke to me, I’ll feel like a successful writer.
Then I’ll quit writing and just watch more TV.
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