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Monday, September 28, 2009

In Memoriam: My Editor At Kensington, Kate Duffy

I may be too stunned to write this. But I feel like I should. My editor at Kensington, Kate Duffy, has passed away. I knew she had been ill for some time, but I honestly never considered the possibility that she wouldn’t pull through. I guess maybe you would have to have known Kate to understand why, but she was just so strong. She had a strong personality, a strong work ethic, a strong point of view. She was the type of person you felt certain could beat anything.

I know many people in the publishing world knew Kate as the Queen of Romance. And she was. But I knew her as the woman who took a chance on my young adult manuscript. I was her first young adult author, and I remember when I met her she was so excited to be working in a new genre. She had spent decades editing romance, and I sensed that she had developed a fresh spark for delving into the unfamiliar. And she didn’t just take a chance on one of my novels, she bought three. Three books from a previously unpublished author. We launched my series together.

I have a lot of memories of her that I’d like to share, but here are just a few:

Kate called my agent to make an offer on Fat Tuesday 2007. I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans at the time, and that phone call will forever go down as one of the greatest moments of my life. Kate gave that to me.

It should also be noted that Kate had only had my manuscript for four days before making an offer. I now know that isn’t the typical speed at which editors read submissions. But that’s how hard Kate worked. She made it look easy.

In our first ever phone conversation, I was standing in the stairwell of my former office shaking with nerves. And the first words she said were, “Diana, I’m so thrilled to be working with you. You’re brilliant, absolutely brilliant!” I don’t know if this was a standard thing she said to all of her new authors (though she was not one to mince words), but I remember being so overjoyed that someone of her caliber would even read my book, let alone compliment it (or buy it!). Throughout the ups and downs of my publishing journey since, I’ve often returned to those words to cheer me up—Kate Duffy thinks I’m brilliant. Smile.

Many people don’t know this, but Kate came up with the titles of my first two novels, Amor and Summer Secrets and Amigas and School Scandals. Who knows what they would’ve been called if I was left at the helm. Titles aren’t my strong suit. But Kate felt certain these were the titles that would work. And she was right.

When I first met Kate, she took me to lunch with my art director so we could discuss the cover of Amor and Summer Secrets. Afterward, the three of us walked around Barnes & Noble in Midtown scanning the YA shelves commenting on what we liked and didn’t like. They listened to every idea I had and treated me as an equal, though I had no experience with marketing a book. We came up with a collective concept together, and I now know that that experience is uncommon among debut authors. But Kate never acted as if this were out of the ordinary for her. And I suspect that it wasn’t.

Kate always responded to every email I sent her within about ten seconds. It seemed as though she was always working and she’d answer any newbie question I had. She once even explained the entire process of how a book gets acquired by a book store, and she never sounded frustrated for having to go over this for what was probably the millionth time in her career. She always had time.

Kate told it like it was. If she disagreed with you, she had no qualms in telling you why. She had a few decades of experience to back up her opinions, and with that came a bluntness that took a little getting used to. She didn’t sugar coat the truth, she didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, she gave it to you straight. You could take it. And now having been around this business for a while, I’ve learned to appreciate this style. There aren’t a lot of people who will tell you the honest truth, and Kate was one of them. And I think this is one of the reasons she commanded so much respect.

So as I said, I’m still stunned to think of her passing. To me, losing Kate is losing the first editor who looked at my writing and said, “Hey, kid, you got something here.” She gave me the career I have now. And it saddens me to think of the writers out there who won’t be able to get that chance from her. She made authors. And bookshelves won’t be the same without her.

Kate Duffy left her mark with me and with readers everywhere. She will be missed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Feel A Sudden Need To Misuse Punctuation!?!!

In honor of National Punctuation Day (yes, it’s really a day and I was surprised too), I’d like to delve into the punctuation pitfalls that irk me most. Don’t worry!!! i wont go, crazy w/over-used inc’rrect punctuation; just to make my “point” so: let Me "get it" all/out NOW!!!??

Okay, that’s over. Whew. So let me dedicate the rest of this blog to the two most annoying punctuation offenders: the misused “quotation” marks and the overused exclamation point!!

You know what I’m talking about. Our world seems plagued with people who don’t understand that quotes are either used to indicate dialogue, the title of an artistic work, or (most importantly in regards to this blog) to indicate irony or sarcasm. If you want to emphasize a word, italicize it. Otherwise, you get some very funny interpretations. And thankfully, there are some blogs out there to show us all how unintentionally funny some of these misused quotes can be.

So from the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks, we have:

I don’t know about you, but I read that as kinda dirty. What type of “tips” are they looking for? It seems like a sign that should be in a strip club.

Now this can be read a variety of ways, but my first reaction was that the sign belonged outside Area 51. Or maybe a prison. You know, anyplace where you wouldn’t want to disturb the “neighbors.”

And from Flicker’s “Quotation mark” abuse pool, we have:

Be careful, I think that sign may lead to open elevator shaft.

That’s just openly dirty. Is anyone else picturing a “massage” parlor, or do I have my mind in the gutter?

Now, for the exclamation mark abuse. You’ve all seen it— those emails from friends or coworkers that seem to have multiple exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

“Lunch in the conference room!!”
“I can’t wait for the weekend!!!!”
“OMG!!!! She said what????!!!!!”

These emails hurt my eyes. They’re almost worse than CAPS lock (which I didn’t mention in this blog because it’s a grammar misuse not specifically related to punctuation. But don’t worry, I hate CAPS just as much).

Why must you shout at me from your computer? One exclamation point is enough. And please use sparingly. If it’s a legitimate question, no need to add the extra exclamation point at the end. The simple question mark works fine. That's its job.

Really, stop doing it. Or next year, I’ll have to repeat this whole lesson and won’t be able to get into how people think they know how to use semi colons, but really don’t.

I know I may gain a few enemies with this post, but can I just say to radio broadcasters everywhere that I get it. You like Kings of Leon. You like the band so much that in a ten-minute drive I hear their song played at least three times on every station from Rap to Easy Listening. I mean the band’s okay in a better-than-Nickelback kinda way, but does it really need to be in rotation every half hour? And don’t even get me started on the fact that I listened to their entire CD at the hairdresser’s and I couldn’t determine when one song ended and another began. So to Kings of Leon: congrats, you have been beaten into my brain. Now can we go back to beating that Taylor Swift song to death? Anything else, please.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month, Get Your Latino TBR Lists Ready

It has officially been a year since Amor and Summer Secrets debuted. Can you believe it? Wow. The years shall run like rabbits as the poet W.H. Auden said (or more recently, Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise). But coincidentally, my book birthday happens to fall right smack in line with Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15th – Oct. 15th), and in honor of this often overlooked celebration, some fabulous bloggers have compiled lists of must-read young adult novels featuring Latino characters. I even made the cut!

So check out the below list compiled by Color Online. Thanks for including me! It’s amazing to be in the same company as these other authors.

1. Rogelia's House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood
2. The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans by Carmen Tafolla
3. Voices in first person edited by Lori Marie Carlson
4. The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
5. White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez
6. I Wanna be Your Shoebox by Christina Garcia
7. Invisible Touch by Kelly Parra
8. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
9. Who's Your Daddy? by Lynda Sandoval
10. Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena
11. Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos
12. The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees
13. Gringolandia by Lyn Miller Lachmann
14. Down To The Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
15. The Meaning of Conseulo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
16. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
17. Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino's
18. The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
19. Leaving GloryTown by Eduardo F Calcines
20. Petty Crimes by Gary Soto
21. Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
22. Haters by Alisa Valdes Rodriquez
23. Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros
24. Sofia Mendoza's Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico by Malin Alegria
25. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
26. La linea by Ann Jaramillo
27. The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle
28. Adios to My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer
29. Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
30. Gamma Glamma by Kim Flores
31. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa
32. Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz (MG)
33. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz (MG)
34. So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez
35. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
36. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
37. Jaguar by Michele Dominguez-Greene
38. The Whole Sky Full of Stars by René Saldaña Jr
39. Cubanita, Riding the Universe by Gaby Triana

Who gets to vote for these things? 'Cause I think they need to liven up the voting pool with some fresh faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mad Men and I love 30 Rock, but again? Why bother to watch these things if they could save time by mailing half the statues to Tina Fey. And seriously, I love her. But share the wealth, people! I would have liked to have seen How I Met Your Mother take best comedy. And don't even get me started on NPH and Jim Parsons (Sheldon, Big Bang Theory), they were so robbed! Someone needs to send me a ballot next year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Guiding Light: Why We All Love A Good Happily Ever After

Call me a sap. But I find it sad when a long running television show comes to an end. I tuned in for the (bloody) last episode of E.R., though I hadn’t watched it in years. I still remember the lights going out on Cheers. And I got choked up when Monica packed up that unrealistically large Greenwich Village apartment on Friends. And after all that, I for one like to see those characters go off with some sparkly fireworks and cheery fanfare.

I don’t want to watch Seinfeld wither away in a stupid prison cell. I don’t want some character to “wake up” and discover it was all a dream (or an autistic fantasy). I don’t want the main character to die of a brain tumor (a la Prison Break). I want a happy ending, damn it!

So that’s why I’m thrilled to see that the writers of Guiding Light, the longest-running soap opera (at 72 years), did just that. It may have taken nearly a century, but finally happiness has come to Springfield!

Because you see, viewers (and readers) invest in characters. The drama, angst, sadness, silliness, ridiculousness, of any story is secondary. We care whether Buffy will continue to save the world at the expense of her own happiness. We care whether Sydney and Vaughn will finally find love on Alias. We care whether Felicity will choose Ben or Noel. We don’t care about the Hell Mouth, or Rambaldi, or Med School. In that final episode, we just want those characters to be happy. For once.

And I think it’s because we associate ourselves with these shows. I was in middle school when 90210 started. I was in elementary school (in my old house!) when Alyssa Milano debuted on Who’s the Boss. I entered college with Felicity. And my roommates and I used to rush home from evening classes to watch Ally McBeal.

Their lives intersect with our lives whether we like it or not. And I think there’s a crazy place in all of us that believes that if Brandon and Brenda Walsh can find happiness after all that madness, then maybe so can I.

So, RIP Guiding Light (and RIP Alan Spaulding). A little piece of my childhood memories with my grandmom goes with you. And you know what? I think she would have liked this ending. It catered to the vets, bringing back characters from Holly, to Fletcher, Mindy Lewis, to Michelle Bauer & Danny, to Dylan Lewis, to Ed Bauer. And finally all of these characters in her “story” got to be happy.

So there was this interesting article on CNN about the decline of the soap genre being connected to the rise of reality TV. Because, really, why do you need JaSam when you’ve got Speidi? And I can see the reporter’s point. But honestly, isn’t it preferable to know that the crazy angst of soap operas is fictional? Whereas, the stupidity of reality TV stars is real (at least to some degree)? I don’t know. I’m admittedly not a reality TV fan. I prefer my drama to be openly fabricated. And I prefer my celebrities to have some actual talent. And yes, I think soap stars have talent. Just ask all these actors who started on Guiding Light: Hayden Panettiere (Lizzie Spaulding), Kevin Bacon (TJ Werner), Mira Sorvino (Julie Camalletti), Taye Diggs (Adrian “Sugar” Hill), Calista Flockhart (babysitter, Elise), Christopher Walken (Mike Bauer), James Earl Jones (Dr. Jim Frazier). Long live the soap!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Strange Things You Learn on a Girls' Weekend

Seriously, we should have filmed this past weekend. It would’ve gotten more hits on YouTube than any cat playing piano. Because when you get a bunch of 30ish women together for two nights without the hubbies, reuniting down the shore at the scene where we spent a summer together after we graduated high school, antics will ensue. We talked so much my throat hurts.

So, after my weekend with the ladies, I realized I’d come away a wiser person, and I thought I’d dispense some of that wisdom onto you. Here it is:

Top Ten Things I Learned On My Girls' Weekend

1. Lemonade goes very well with blueberry vodka. Not so much with coffee.

2. Pregnant ladies can hang until 3am.

3. Celebrity is the greatest game ever. And it goes to show, all you need is a sheet of paper and a couple pens and you too can be Milton Bradley.

4. iPod playlists can make the night, especially if they include Biz Markie.

5. You can never eat too much Sweedish fish.

6. By 3am women will delve into conversation topics that could make strong men beg for mercy.

7. If you leave your husband to handle your first open house alone, you may receive a frantic phone call about your wild-eyed hissing cat scaring the potential buyers in a manner worthy of Pet Cemetery.

8. A fully grown person can fit comfortably into a toddler car seat.

9. You may want to consider who is looking at your pictures online, because they may unintentionally provide hours of entertainment.

10. Having close friends who’ve known you since you were a silly teenager is awesome. They’re not only way fun, but in some ways, I think we all helped shape each other into the intelligent women we are now. Plus, we knew what we all looked like during our awkward stages, and you can’t get more bonded than spiral perms and Sun-In highlights.

POP CULTURE RANTS: Philadelphia Eagles
This is my first Monday-morning quarterback rant of ’09, and it’s nice to start off on a high note! The Eagles crushed the Carolina Panthers in what felt like a million-to-zip beat down with about a thousand interceptions, which unfortunately led to McNabb breaking a rib for a touchdown we didn’t really need. Don’t get me wrong, teams can come back, the game’s not over ‘til it’s over, yadda yadda. But if you’re winning by a million points, I don’t think a QB needs to be diving into opposing players for the score (even if it was a late hit). Take the slide. Take the win. Heal quickly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If Selling My House Were a YA Novel, This Would Be The Plot

So this Sunday officially marks the first open house for the little place I’ve called home for the past six years. And so far I’ve learned that the process of preparing a house for sale, well, it pretty much sucks. There are rubber gloves involved. And paint brushes, and mops, and grout cleaner, and spackle (lots of spackle). Exciting, right? But it is my life, and since this is a blog about my life, I’ve decided to spruce things up for your reading pleasure by giving you some imaginary YA-esque plots centered around the concept of selling a 175-year old home.

So here it is (imagine a James Earl Jones voice here):

1. In a world… where nothing is as it seems. Seventeen-year-old Abigail moves into a historic house in Philadelphia to find she and her parents are not the only residents. After her radio begins to mysteriously play a classical piano tune every time Abigail is left alone, she discovers her home was once a music school, but the lessons it taught were far from pleasant. Abigail must track down the last living descendant of her home’s vicious piano instructor, or the ghosts that haunt her home may be teaching Abigail a lesson she’ll never forget.

2. In a world… where real estate is wicked. Sixteen-year-old Franklin thinks he’s helping his single mom stage another Philadelphia home for open house, until he unearths the remains of an old outhouse, which is really a portal to another dimension—an alternate reality where his deceased father is still alive and Franklin is an Olympic athlete. As Franklin visits this alternate life where his family is happy and reunited, he must decide whether he’ll return to his own place in the universe or whether he’ll find a way to take his alternate persona’s place—and at what cost.

3. In a world… where selling a house means selling a life. Sixteen-year-old Katie has spent her entire life on the same South Philly block. But when her father takes a job in India, Katie is faced with not only leaving her life behind but also Jesse, the boy she thought she’d marry. So Katie and Jesse team up to make sure no buyer would ever want her family’s home. But between faking hauntings during open houses and spraying the house with animal odors, Katie realizes that preventing this family move may also mean preventing her father’s dreams. Will she put her family’s needs before her own?

So there it is, folks! Three YA plots that sound way more interesting than the endless, stressful ordeal that is selling a home. Feel free to add your own plot suggestions in the comments. I’m always up for a good, fake, YA query.

POP CULTURE RANT: Celebrities on Twitter
I follow a few celebs on Twitter because I initially thought it would be cool to hear these actors, singers, models, speak in their own voice directly to fans. Then, I heard what they had to say—which for the most part is nothing. I don’t want to know that an actor eats six eggs for breakfast and does nothing but work out, or that he/she uses the word “peeps,” or that they watch their own show and critique themselves. It’s like they say, “Don’t sit up close at the ballet. It spoils the illusion.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Very Superstitious, Writing's on the Wall...Sing It, Stevie

I’m a rather superstitious person. Not a “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” kind of superstitious, the kind that believes in “signs.” You know, when you have a dream about someone from high school, then you suddenly run into them on the street. Or when you make a hypothetical soundtrack for your novel, then you hear two of those (rarely played) songs back-to-back on the radio. Or when you’re waiting for good news about your book, and you see that your waitress has the same (uncommon) first name as your main character. I think all of these are good signs.

I often just make note of them, smile, and go on with my day. But sometimes I’ll take it a step further. Like when I dreamt the concept for my first YA novel and then a psychic told me I’d go on to become an author—I quickly sat down and wrote that book.

I mean, if you spent nearly as much time in a Catholic church as I did growing up—or you just watch Oprah—you know the saying “God speaks in a whisper.” So my theory is that if you’re getting beaten over the head with a message that blatantly, you better pay attention.

So that’s how I came to write my WIP. There were a lot of signs leading me to that story. I won’t get into them now (I will soon), but I will say that they trace all the way back to when I was 18 years old. And I believe that means something.

And really is that so much stranger to believe than some magical muse who whispers in writers’ ears? I was never really one to get the whole concept of authors being “vessels” to “channel” divine inspiration, and maybe it was because I was already too busy running around believing in signs. If I added mystical muses to the mix, it might just be enough to push me over the line into crazy town.

But my point is, often aspiring authors ask me how I decide which story idea to work on, which novel to write. And interestingly, this has never been an issue for me. I just follow the signs. But if you’re not a believer, then I’ll say this: write the idea that keeps nagging in the back of your brain. There’s always one idea that nags louder, so pay attention to it.

And if the new guy at work happens to walk in sporting your main character’s name, maybe you want to make a note of it. I’m just saying.

I’m sadly excited for this show to debut. I mean, Fox has been pimping it like it’s the second coming of Seinfeld. I swear the commercials have been running nonstop for what seems like forever. And last night, my hubby and I watched the rerun of the pilot. And at the end when they were singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” he turned to me and said, “Is this supposed to be funny? Because they’re pretty good.” The show must have something if it can get my husband interested in Glee clubs. But, personally, my favorite character is the teacher’s wife who works at “Sheets and Things” and has a Christmas closet. She's on her feet "four hours a day, three days a week!" Classic.

Copyright © 2008 Diana Rodriguez Wallach, All Rights Reserved