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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dear Santa: All I Want For Christmas Is a Telemarketer on a Stick

For Christmas, some people want a Wii, or a diamond, or maybe even a Major Award Leg Lamp (no really, they sell them). Me, after the past few weeks, I think I would like a telemarketer to come over with a big red ribbon on her head so I can tell her to @#%! (insert Clark Griswald rant here).

Okay, I’m not really that violent. Actually I’m pretty much a wuss. I think the last person I told off was probably in middle school. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have fantasies about telling these “market research” people who incessantly call my house while I’m working exactly how to shove their headsets up that holiday turkey’s behind. (Nice image, right?)

For starters, I’m on the National Do Not Call List, which I’m sure in 2008 looks a little something like this:

So to avoid being snagged when I ask who’s interrupting my workday, these tricky telemarketers say, “Jessica” or “Bob.” As if they think I can’t hear the other telemarketers in the background, and they can pretend to be some long lost friend calling to chat about Robert Pattinson in Twilight.

So, I ask, “Jessica from where?” And every day, without fail, the response is “MPI.” Well, I did my research. And since I have a blog, I thought I’d spread the word about this wonderful organization who’s so dedicated to repeatedly calling my house. I mean really, I’m doing them a favor, right? I’m giving them exposure.

So here it is: MPI stands for Marketing Plus Inc. They call on behalf of various companies so they can do the annoying solicitations for them. And despite how many times I’ve asked to be removed from their list, it seems to translate into “call me when I’m writing.” And apparently when I tell them that I’m on the “Do Not Call List” that means “Call me tomorrow.”

So I made an official complaint with the FCC. I also sent MPI a direct complaint via email. Because, you know, my mom taught me right. I try to follow the chain of command and complain in the proper manner. But you know what I’d really like to do?

I’d like to get “Jessica’s” home phone number. And I’d like to call Jessica during the Dancing with the Stars finale and tell her all about my day. I’ll chat with her about the troubles of writing dialogue in a British accent. I’ll go on and on about the many different ways to write “walk” (stroll, saunter, strut, swagger, meander, race, speed, wander…).

I’m sure she’d love to hear about internal monologue and colloquialism. And if she doesn’t? That’s okay. I’ll call her back tomorrow. And the next night. And then maybe at around 3am, just for kicks. It’s the beauty of not having to get up any particular hour (dontcha love working from home?).

In all seriousness, I know it’s not Jessica’s fault. Jessica probably hates her job. She’s probably counting the minutes until she gets to go home. But my problem with Jessica is not her lot in life, it’s her inability to follow through with a request. When I was in college, I used to call alumni and ask them for donations (yay, BU’s Telefund!). But at least those alumni went to my school; they had a reason to be on the list. And if, for whatever reason, they asked to be removed. I did it. And that’s all I’m asking from Jessica in return.

Because if this poor girl doesn’t remove me soon, I’ll find a way to include an evil corporation in my next book with the name MPI. I might even add a horrible incident with a lightening bolt and a telephone cord. Because, thankfully, that is my job.


I love how Brad and Jen were on Oprah within weeks of each other, and how Oprah acted like this were not the case. “So you seem really happy, Jen!” “Oh, Oprah, I am!” “Brad, I’ve never seen your happier.” “Absolutely, Oprah!” Wouldn’t it have made for better TV if she asked Brad about the interview Jen gave Vogue where she complains about Angelina’s remarks being “uncool”? And wouldn’t we have loved to have heard Jen’s reasons for making such comments? I mean, if Oprah’s going to claim she’s giving interviews, I think she should at least ask celebs a few real questions rather than just gushing about how every film they make is the best movie ever.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Will Edward Sparkle? This and other important Twilight questions

I haven’t seen the Twilight movie… yet. I’m planning on waiting until Black Friday—I’m going with my mom and my sister (it’s a family affair!). But that doesn’t mean I’m not pondering the movie’s important questions. So here it is…

My Top Ten Twilighter Wonders That Make Me Say Hmm:

1. First and most importantly—will Edward sparkle? And if so, will it be CGI green-screen sparkle or just lots of body glitter? Because he seems kinda pale for the Dancing with the Stars type of sparkle.
2. Will Kristen Stewart safely be able to trip over her own feet repeatedly, or did the studio need to hire a Bella-tripping stunt double?
3. How much Paul Mitchell product is needed to keep Robert Pattinson’s fro frizz-free in the Washington State humidity?

4. What does Jenny Garth’s husband look like with Carlisle’s blond hair?
5. In exactly how many scenes will Bella be carried like an football by a vampire?
6. Will my husband’s “stupid shiny Volvo” suddenly become cool after this film?
7. When did Laurent become a Rastafarian? And will we get to see the Bob Marley past led him to this dread-locked point?

8. For what percentage of the movie will Bella be asleep and unaware of what’s going on a few feet away from her?
9. How dramatic can a director make a kissing scene? And will the movie theaters rewind the scene at least three times before proceeding with the rest of the film?
10. Will men everywhere learn how to play Bella’s lullaby on the piano to turn their vampire-obsessed girlfriends into hypnotized love slaves?

I know I can’t wait to find out the answers. I’ll give you all my review after Thanksgiving weekend. But until then I’m just going to have to imagine the meadow scene in live-action. I know it’s going to be dazzling.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sorry, But I’m Not Writing After-School Specials Over Here

I’ve found that a misconception exists in the young adult genre. Not from the writers who create it or the teens who read it, but from adults who think they understand it. Specifically, I’ve encountered people who think that “writing for teenagers” means dumping a bunch of cheesy morals onto a page as you step onto your writing soapbox. Yeah, that’s kinda not true.

Now, young adult (YA) novels span a huge spectrum. You’ve got your squeaky clean books—like Meg Cabot, who’s fabulous—and you’ve got your more taboo novels—like the Gossip Girl series, which is also fabulous. I personally think my Amor and Summer Secrets series falls somewhere in between—actually, I thought my books leaned closer to Meg than Cecily. There’s no cursing, sex or drugs in my stories; in fact, my main character, Mariana, has her first kiss at age 15.

But I’ve still gotten my fair share of criticism, like whether featuring a gay adult cousin is controversial (since when?). And whether my series depicts a “casual treatment of eating disorders.”

It’s true that Mariana’s best friend, Madison, is a ballerina who’s obsessed with every calorie she puts into her mouth. No one outwardly discusses Madison’s eating habits with her, and she never ends up in a hospital with a feeding tube down her throat. So I guess that could mean to some that my portrayal is “casual.” I, however, think it’s realistic.

I have plenty of friends who, unfortunately, struggled with food in their teen years. And for most of them, their eating habits (or lack there of) went relatively unnoticed by their parents. They never got counseling, and they ultimately found a way to turn their mindset around. It doesn’t mean I’m condoning eating disorders, or that you shouldn’t get help if you need it. It means that I’m trying to create a realistic character based on my life experience, and not force a message into my story that doesn’t belong. Amor and Summer Secrets is not a book about eating disorders.

Nor is it a book about underage drinking. Mariana has her first alcoholic drink in the novel. During that time she is with family, at her uncle’s house, in Puerto Rico where the drinking age is 18. No, Mariana is not 18. But she’s spending the summer immersed in a culture that doesn’t view alcohol the same way we do in the states. Spend time with my family in Utuado, and you’ll see what I mean. The culture is almost European in that way; and if I forced our laws and beliefs into a story where they clearly do not fit that would make me a pretty crappy writer.

Same goes for Mariana’s brother, Vince. The story starts off with him complaining that he can’t spend the summer traveling with his friends. Why can’t he go? Because he got arrested when he was 16 for underage drinking at a party in suburban Philadelphia. His father no longer trusts him the way that he used to. Now, I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. I know that that storyline is realistic. But it doesn’t mean that I’m condoning underage drinking. It means that I’m creating a character, Vince, who is consistently portrayed as irresponsible while also intelligent and athletic.

Characters are layered. They have flaws, just like people. They face very real problems, just like people. And they don’t always handle them the way that priests, doctors, or policeman would like. But I’m not writing an After-School Special where every girl who has sex gets pregnant, and every teen who smokes a cigarette gets lung cancer.

Not that dance fights are not an effective way to get your message across (in the above case, I think the message is don’t wear purple?).

I don’t feel it’s my job as a novelist to preach about social issues. My job is to write an entertaining and realistic story that teens will relate to and will want to read. I purposely avoid injecting any message that will ring false while treading a line of social responsibility that I feel comfortable with.

And I don’t feel like there’s anything happening in the YA genre, even the most scandalous books, that’s not occurring on TV or in movies. Yet, I feel we’re held to a different standard, and often that standard leads to censorship. And if there’s anything I will get on a soapbox for, it’s the right to free speech. There’s an issue I’d like to see tackled in an after-school special.


I just found out that October Road was canceled and will not return with a new season this winter (late to the news, I know). I’m disappointed. I liked watching about a novelist who’s my age and who wrote a story about his high school classmates, struck it rich, and has Bill Bellamy as a publicist. Now I’ll never know if his high school girlfriend’s son is really is, and if he goes on tour with U2 to promote his novel (because yes, that last one was an actual plotline). R.I.P. fictitious novel guy. I hope you’re reading your book on stage with Bono somewhere in Never, Never, Land.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Plan to Turn the World into Neurotic Writers One Teenager at a Time

Remember back when you were in high school, and you had guest speakers come into your classroom. You were like, “Jackpot, I don’t have to talk about Moby Dick today!” Not that there’s anything wrong with Mody Dick (ahem, I hate it). Well, did you ever realize that those guest speakers were scared of you? Like eye-twitching, OMG-what-if-they-hate-me, scared? Yeah, that was me yesterday.

But you know what? My workshop totally rocked! (Yeah, I said that.)

I did a creative writing workshop with a classroom of 11th graders at Kensington High School in Philadelphia. Let me start off by saying that this isn’t some fancy schmancy private school. It’s is one of the big, neighborhood public high schools (one of the ones I fought for when I worked for a nonprofit). And if there was any doubt that public schools create awesomeness, this puts the argument to rest. Because I could not have had a more creative or enthusiastic bunch of teens.

In about 50 minutes, we outlined the start of an amazing, somewhat spooky, young adult story. All of the twists and turns came from the students, including the creeptastic ending, and by the end of class all of them were raising hands and shouting out ideas.

We started off with the premise of a girl receiving anonymous phone calls and gifts, and we somehow ended up with that girl having killed her ex-boyfriend and buried him in the basement after having gone so completely mental that she was sending herself the anonymous gifts to convince herself that her boyfriend was still alive. Phew.

How cool is that? And how absolutely perfect for a cold, gray, rainy, spooky day in Philadelphia?

With any luck I’ve inspired them all to join the ranks of the neurotic eye-twitching novelists!

I’ll be going back to visit the class again in two weeks, and I’m going to help them further develop our character and create new stories of their own. This teaching thing is kinda fun. Who knew?

In separate news, fabulous ReaderGirlz Diva and YA author Melissa Walker (Violet in Private) sent me this picture of Amigas and School Scandals on a display right alongside Amor and Summer Secrets. Don't they look pretty?

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital

They are reviving the Liz-vs-Sam wars. Just when you thought the plot had moved on, right? And while they are beating a dead horse for Sweeps, I sadly have to admit that I still giggle every time I see Liz get all snotty and self-righteous. Something about that character irks me. And truthfully, these past few months I was getting over her yuckiness. But now Liz and I are back on square one. I can’t help but route against her. And I’d sort of love to see Jason end up alone and miserable. Since when is a hit man a prize to be fought over?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Awesomeness: My Kindergarten Teacher Showed Up At My Book Signing

On Friday night, I had my first signing for Amigas and School Scandals, the young adult sequel to Amor and Summer Secrets. I was hoping for a good turnout—the local paper ran an article on me that I received plenty of emails about, friends and family spread the word, and some educators passed out flyers on my behalf. I expected to have a few former teachers there—my high school English and Spanish teachers have been very supportive. But I never in my wildest dreams expected my kindergarten teacher, who’s long been retired, to show up because she saw my picture in the paper…and recognized me.

First, kudos to all the teachers out there. The fact that any educators would take the time to come to a book signing for a student they taught more than a decade ago is downright commendable. Just to be remembered is humbling.

But high school wasn’t that long ago. Sure Kurt Cobain was still alive and I was crowd surfing at Green Day’s Dookie concert, but it doesn’t feel like ancient history. Kindergarten, however, does.

I was five years old, living in my parent’s old house and sporting a Dorothy Hamill cut. Trust me, it was not a good look for me. (Unfortunately those photos are buried in my in-laws basement collecting dust. Maybe one day I’ll find the courage to dredge them up.)

Mrs. Sewell is a veteran of my former elementary school. She not only taught me, but also my brother who’s ten years older than I am. I learned the alphabet from her (I didn’t go to pre-school), and for some reason I have a distinct memory of being able to recite the alphabet backwards. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of young minds she shaped over her decades as a teacher, and it amazes me that she saw my photo (hey, I look slightly different now then I did back then) and remembered me.

I may not have gone to the richest school district. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that “Ridley chick” has a connotation that tends to incur laughs from locals who grew up in the wealthier Main Line suburbs. Sometimes, I smile along with them. I know the reputation.

But what they don’t know is that somehow a district with seven elementary schools, that educates nearly 6,000 students per year, manages to create an environment so close knit that decades after a student graduates, she’s still remembered. That says a lot more about the district and its teachers than it does me.

I know there are a lot of parents out there stressing about getting their kids into the “right” private school, dropping thousands of dollars on elementary school tuition, and fretting that if their child dare goes to public school, the world might end. Well, I for one would like to say to all the public school teachers who taught me—from Mrs. Sewell to the high school staff—I’m better off for having known you. And thank you for coming out to support me.

And in other news, I’m featured in this month’s issue of Chica Girl Magazine. You can read the article on my website, or view the entire magazine online FOR FREE over at Chica Girl. I’m in Issue Five, page 28 (you need to set up a quick log in before you can view it, but the magazine is very cool and FREE). Enjoy!

POP CULTURE RANT: Saving Private Ryan

This is was just on TV and since it’s Veteran’s Day, I thought I would acknowledge that no matter how many times I see this movie, I cry. Every single time. I even have to mute the scene at the end when the Jewish American soldier is in that beat up house fighting the German soldier they had released the day before—with the weak translator cowering on the steps too scared to help. I still can’t watch it. And people lived it. Hats off to our Veterans and those still fighting for us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Philly's Plan To Cut Libraries, “Amigas” Grand Prize Winner Announced

When the new mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, took office he inherited quite a budget crisis—currently tallied at $1 billion. And with the national economy being the disaster that it is, he couldn’t count on a boost in the local markets to give him the cash needed to improve our city. That’s not his fault and I understand that, really I do.

But it’s still sad to see that when the red pen came out to slash down the deficit, one of the first things to go was our libraries.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mayor Nutter is closing 11 of the 54 branch libraries that comprise the Free Library of Philadelphia. Three other branches will have Sunday hours eliminated, and 220 city jobs will be cut with approximately one third of those layoffs coming from the library staff.

Now I know that the money has to come from somewhere. It’s just sad that when cities—or schools—need to find extra cash, they tend to do so by cutting library services. They wonder why the quality of public education in our country is declining compared to other counties, yet they openly show a blatant disregard for literacy. What do you think a school district would cut first: it’s football team or its library? I’m betting on that library. And that’s just sad.

In happier news….

The Amigas and School Scandals October Giveaway Extravaganza Grand Prize Winner has been selected!

Congratulations….Elaina! Thank you for embedding the Amigas and School Scandals flipbook on your MySpace page!

You have just won:
--A personalized signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals (the final version that’s in stores)
--An Advanced Reader Copy of Adios to All the Drama
--And two exclusive Amor and Summer Secrets bookmarks.

Email me with your mailing address and who you’d the books made out to. Congrats! And thank you to everyone who participated in my contest this month! I appreciate you all reading my blog and my books!

POP CULTURE RANT: Ghost Whisperer

OMG, Seriously? They killed off her husband. Seriously? I understand a show wanting to “mix things up” from season to season, but her husband? I don’t know if it can DVR it anymore. Because despite the ghostly vibe, this show is usually uplifting. It’s simple and sweet with just a little dash of creepy. Now, they’ve turned it into a dismal tearjerker. The relationship between Jim and Melinda was as vital to the show’s enjoyment factor as her ability to see ghosts. And I for one am not about to watch a show about a depressed nutjob who thinks she sees dead people and cries all the time. Thumbs down to the writers who I’m sure are out there jumping a shark somewhere.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's A New Dawn, A New Day, And A New Book Signing in Springfield, PA

Wow. How about that election? The emotion spreading across not only America, but the world today, is inspiring.

To all the teens out there, this is proof that you can be anything you want to be. You will not have the limitations that hindered past generations. You should not only aim high, but aim higher. The election of Barack Obama is proof that the doors of opportunity are open to all of you.

This election is also a testament to the young voters of this country. For decades, Americans have discussed the “youth vote” as an ethereal entity that exists in large numbers but doesn’t have an impact because of a lack of presence at the polls. This generation of young adults proved them wrong. Apathy no longer exists here. And I hope this inspired investment of young people in the political process continues long after Obama’s inauguration, because you’ve already shown the world that you care.

I’m so proud to see that the streets of Boston were full of college students last night celebrating Obama’s victory (yay, BU!), and that students from George Washington University piled enthusiastically onto Pennsylvania Avenue to show support.

Check out this photo from the Boston Globe of students gathered at Boston Public Library. (I also love that they celebrated at a library.)

And on a separate note, I blogged earlier this week that my first book signing fell smack dab in the middle of the Phillies World Series run. Well, I’m happy to report that my second book signing falls days after Obama’s historic presidential run (nice segue, huh?).

Yup, I will be having the first reading, signing, Q&A for my newly released sequel, Amigas and School Scandals, this Friday, November 7th at 8pm at the Borders Bookstore in Springfield, PA.

This is my hometown, not far from where I grew up in Ridley Township. And I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be a featured author at a store I so often frequented as a youth…chills. So, come on out and see me! I loved to meet some teens in the area!


My girl Tina has announced that she will officially retire her impersonation of Sarah Palin. Sigh. I realize Palin is no longer the hot (pun intended) political figure she was, say, two days ago. But I loved seeing Tina back on SNL, and those Palin sketches kept me watching. I will miss her and her flute-playing, folksy speaking, gun posing impersonation. Tina Fey 2012!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Yup, I Signed Books During the World Series

I lucked out. I scheduled my first book signing in Wilmington, DE months ago. I debated different dates, working around weddings I had invites to (as you know, I have many), family parties and anniversary celebrations. And the one thing I didn’t consider was, “Hey, if I book a signing for the end of October and the Phillies make the playoffs, they could be in the World Series that night.” I’m from Philadelphia; we don’t anticipate for championships.

But by some sheer act of scheduling magic, my first book signing miraculously fell on the day right after Game Two and before Game Three. The publishing Gods were smiling on me, the Phillies had the night off, and I had a wonderful turnout for my first signing.

My parents drove up from Baltimore and many second and third cousins (on my Puerto Rican side, how fitting) drove down from the Philly suburbs. Even my parents’ childhood friends showed up, some of whom have known them since grade school. And I must thank my husband’s coworkers who came out in droves.

It was really nice to see all those friendly faces. They helped to get the crowd going with some interesting questions like, “Do I ever plan to write a book in Spanish?” Right now, no. My Spanish isn’t good enough. But hey, maybe one day I’ll move back to Spain for a year and give it a shot—wouldn’t that be nice?

Also, I was told by the Barnes & Noble store manager that my book sales for the evening “far exceeded their expectations.” Yay! Everyone at B&N was super nice, and look at the lovely the displays they had for me.

Thank you to everyone who turned out! Also, I’m happy to report that Amigas and School Scandals has officially launched! It’s in stores now, and I even have proof! Khyrinthia sent me this photo of the book on a shelf!

In honor of the debut, I’ll be hosting a book signing this Friday! Come out and see me:

Borders Book Store
Springfield, PA
1001 Baltimore Pike (Near the Springfield Mall)
November 7, 2008

I’m also happy to announce the final winner of the Amigas and School Scandals October Giveaway Extravaganza.

The winner is… Liviania! Congratulations! You have won the last ARC of Amigas and School Scandals!

The Final Question was: In my Amigas and School Scandals flipbook, it says that Lilly moves to Spring Mills. Once there, what does Lilly “instantly” become?

The Answer is: Popular

We have now entered the Grand Prize Finale! This Friday, I will announce the winner of the Finale Prize Pact, which includes:

--A personalized signed copy of Amigas and School Scandals (the final version that’s in stores)
--An Advanced Reader Copy of Adios to All the Drama
--And two exclusive Amor and Summer Secrets bookmarks.

To be entered to win, you must send me the link to where you posted my Amigas and School Scandals Flipbook. Post it anywhere on your blog, website or MySpace page, and if you embed the link, you are entered to win FIVE times.

E-Mail me your links via MySpace or my Contact Me form. Good luck!

POP CULTURE RANT: Phillies Parade

This isn’t a rant, but a major CHEERS! Friday marked our city’s first parade in 28 years, and I’m so proud of how well we represented! The crowd was estimated to be in the millions, and I want to give the city mad props (yeah, I used that phrase) for letting the parade spontaneously extend from the scheduled 1.5 hours to more than 5 hours. It was so worth it. My family and I (my dad drove up from Baltimore) watched from Broad and Fitzwater, and then we all WALKED three miles to the Linc (with two kids) to watch the Phillies do another lap in the Eagles stadium.

I also wanted to extend a HUGE thank you to the extremely nice woman who met us while walking home from the stadium (again, three miles) and offered to give us a ride to my house. Seriously. My dad, brother, husband and I got into the car of a complete stranger. She drove us home out of the goodness of her heart because inept SEPTA (there’s my ‘rant’) was too incompetent to have enough trains running to accommodate a few million people. Thank you, random South Philly lady! You saved my legs some major pain! And the next time any of you hear about how rude Philly fans are, remember that random lady. Some of us are very nice. :)

And tomorrow’s election day! Don’t forget to vote! Not like you could with all the commercials and robocalls out there. Go Barack!

Copyright © 2008 Diana Rodriguez Wallach, All Rights Reserved