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Friday, May 28, 2010

A Big Beach Bag of Questions for GCC Member Jennifer Echols

So I’ve been in the Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit (GCC) for more than a year now, and I think it’s about time I ask some new questions. So Jennifer Echols, the author of the fabulous new book ENDLESS SUMMER which was released this week through Simon Pulse, has agreed to be my guinea pig and test out the new Q&A. And what better book to start with than hot beach read right in time for Memorial Day weekend?

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

The Boys Next Door and the sequel, Endless Summer, in one volume!

Two irresistible boys. One unforgettable summer.

Lori can't wait for her summer at the lake. She loves wakeboarding and hanging with her friends--including the two hotties next door. With the Vader brothers, she's always been just one of the guys. Now that she's turning sixteen, she wants to be seen as one of the girls, especially in the eyes of Sean, the older brother. But that's not going to happen--not if the younger brother, Adam, can help it.

Lori plans to make Sean jealous by spending time with Adam. Adam has plans of his own for Lori. As the air heats up, so does this love triangle. Will Lori's romantic summer melt into one hot mess?

Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

Q: In AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS, Mariana takes a road trip to Cornell. What’s your funniest road trip story?

Jennifer: I took a very eye-opening trip out west right after college. I grew up in central Alabama, where the landscape is forested hills and you rarely get a glimpse of the lay of the land. Driving through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado was like visiting another planet. At one point I looked out on the horizon in Arizona and realized I was watching a train. An ENTIRE train, not just one boxcar at a time disappearing into the forest. At another point I was driving toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. I could see the white sand, so I figured we were almost there—because in Alabama, if you can see something behind the trees, you ARE almost there. We drove for another three hours before arriving.

Sounds amazing! I would love to drive cross-country.
Q: I often talk about how I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a writer. Did you? Or did you have other plans when you were little?

Jennifer: I knew I wanted a creative job. I thought I might want to be an artist, and my first major in college was actually music, but a career as a novelist was always in the back of my mind.

Q: Throughout the AMOR series, Mariana and her friends celebrate their Sweet 16s (and 15s). What did you do for your Sweet 16 or Quinceanera?

Jennifer: I was drum major of my high school marching band, and we had a football game that night. So I spent my birthday directing the band, which was my favorite thing to do anyway!

Q: I wrote the AMOR series organically, no outlines. My new manuscripts, I’ve outlined extensively. How about you? Are you an outliner?

Jennifer: I do start with an outline. I write about 150 pages organically and not in order! It drives me crazy! Then I go back to my outline, straighten things out, and finish the book.

Q: Where were you when you found out that Endless Summer was going to be published? Tell us the story.

Jennifer: I was standing in my bedroom, staring at my closet door, pacing the hardwood floor, on the phone with my agent. I’m not sure why I remember this so clearly! I had revised the proposal quite a few times and I had really fallen in love with the first chapter narrated by the hero, Adam, so I guess I remember it along with the feeling of such relief that I would have the chance to write this book.

Thank you, Jennifer! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where Are The Polar Bears? My Take on the LOST Finale

I hated to see this “good book” come to an end. I’m sure we all did. But as a writer, I did not envy the LOST creators who faced the monumental task of wrapping this epic phenomenon in a way that would satisfy those who were dedicated the character’s (love) stories and those who were gripped by the island mysteries. But, they done good, folks.

While I am in no way a Ph.D. on the series capable of analyzing every reference and allusion presented (for that please, please read the mind-boggling informative posts of Entertainment Weekly’s Doc Jensen), I would like to give you all my opinion from the writerly perspective.

It goes without saying here, but….SPOILER ALERT. I will be discussing the ending in detail, so stop reading if the show is still sitting in your DVR queue .

That said, this is my theory on what I think happened in the last twenty minutes. I’d like to get this out of the way so I can tell you my impressions of it from a writer’s standpoint:

Everything that happened on the island really happened, in the real world. Jack died on the island after plugging up the evil cork. Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, et. all flew off the island safely and went on to live lives back in the real world. I think Sawyer and Miles must have remained close in their “post island lives” because their “purgatory/sideways” selves were partners in the police force. Same with Kate and Claire—they must have stayed close, raising Aaron together, because their purgatory selves were also bonded. I believe this purgatory was created when Juliet detonated the hydrogen bomb, that is why her ghost said, “It worked.” And as the Losties died—either on the island or post island—they went to this purgatory reality until the entire “crew” was assembled (ie. dead).

I’m guessing Hurley and Ben were the last to “arrive” because they were the new Jacob and Richard, thus immortal. And Hurley said to Ben, “You were a great No. 2,” implying they spent some time together that we didn’t see. Given that Season Six opened with an image of the island under water, I think another battle must have occurred at some later date that did sink the island and kill Hurley. Once he arrived, they could all move on to “heaven” together.

There, that is my interpretation.

Now here is my writerly reaction:

1. The LES MIS ending. Obviously, the creator’s made a brave choice by having a full cast of dead people in the finale. But kudos to them for managing to keep it uplifting. I think it was a wise choice to show them all so happy and smiley in the final church scene.

2. Montages.
Viewers expect to see favorite season moments in a finale, and I think the writers were unbelievably clever by giving us the “Island Enlightenments.” It satisfied that itch, and really provided the heart of the finale, without going into a total montage “Time of My Life” cheese-fest.

3. Cheap shot. Vincent was in Jack’s death scene? As if we weren’t upset enough, they added a yellow lab? Really? Why not a baby polar bear? Or a Dharma bunny? But... at least Jack didn’t die alone.

4. Inconsistencies.
I find it odd that Desmond and Penny were the only non-Oceanic plane crash survivors going to heaven with the group. Not that they weren’t essential characters, but why were they the only ones? It seemed a bit inconsistent. Why not Miles and Faraday too? And what about Walt?

5. Loose Ends. While writers in no way need to answer every question, I was surprised that Widmore and Eloise didn’t play more heavily in the sideways portion of the finale. We never got a true understanding of what motivated these characters (good or evil), how they knew so much, and why Eloise wanted to keep them in purgatory (ie. stop Desmond’s reunion). That's more than just a dropped Easter Egg, in my opinion.

6. Religion.
As if anyone was unclear as to the show’s Christian roots, they ended it in a church, going to heaven, after their Christ-figure sacrificed himself for the good of mankind. In my opinion, that laid it on pretty thick. They were just shy of beating us over the head with their message like an after school special.

7. Love stories.
I think they excelled here. Kate officially “chose” Jack. Sawyer’s true love was Juliet. Jin & Sun were reunited (they even remembered that now parentless daughter who didn’t warrant a mention in the submarine). Hurley got Libby and oddly Sayid was reunited with Shannon (who we all forgot he loved for two seconds in between his Nadia phases). It’s not easy to make such a dense mystery be more character-driven than plot-driven, but this finale showed us how much the writers succeeded in this effort.

8. Arbitrary Non-Heaven-Bound Losties.
Clearly, we saw Ben choose not to go to heaven with the group. This makes sense to me, and I wonder if Faraday, Miles, etc. did the same. But why did the writers choose to have Michael be the only soul condemned as a “whisperer” on the island? Why not Ana Lucia, who got no redemption? Why not Ethan? Or some of the Others we saw in purgatory? I found these character endings arbitrary. If you need redemption to go heaven, shouldn’t they all have been given that chance in purgatory—including Michael? Why was he the only one whisper-screwed?

9. Seemingly pointless plot lines. I’m not just talking about Nikki and Paulo here, but in retrospect what did time travel really have to do with this series? How was the “source” of all good and evil in anyway connected with time travel? It was an exciting plot while it lasted, but I’m unclear as to what it had to do with the end game other than serve as a plot device to separate our characters. Same with the “Temple.” We spent a lot of Season Six at this location, which now seems to have had no real connection to Jacob, the source, the mythology, or anything.

10. Full circle.
If there is one thing the writers did fantastically, it was bring us all full circle. Jack died in the same field with a close up on his eye, Kate delivered Aaron in purgatory, Jack got a wound in his side, Locke stood up and walked into the church, Ben got to be a co-caretaker of the island. It was an impressive big red bow, and I commend the creators for tying it.

So as a pop culture junkie, I must say:

Thank you, LOST, for six great seasons! I can’t wait to see you rake ‘em in at awards’ season.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Un Pocito Puerto Rico En Philadelphia

I had an event over the weekend at Taller Puertorriqueno, a nonprofit community center and bookstore in north Philadelphia that celebrates Latino artists and authors. Lots of friends, family, and fans showed up and asked some wonderful questions, so I thought I’d give a recap of some of my (paraphrased) answers.

1. What am I working on now?

I am currently working on two books. The first book is my White Whale, otherwise known as my “middle school book.” I’d tell you it’s almost done (because I’m near the end), but given that I’ve thought that numerous times over the past five years, it would probably be a lie. But I am almost done this version. That counts for something, right? The second book is the prequel to the spy novel that I love with all of my heart. “Anastasia” will see the light of day even if it’s published posthumously like Confederacy of Dunces (only without the suicide part).

2. What was my favorite character to write in the Amor series?

Vince, hands down. I love writing the bad or mischievous characters—way more fun. Same is true for my “middle school book;” my favorite character is Allie, a quietly devious girl who’s pulling all the strings.

3. What are my tricks to writing dialogue?

First, it helps that I still speak like a teenager. If I were a serious academic, I doubt I’d find it as easy to write, “Seriously? Shut. Up.” Also, I read all of my dialogue aloud without any of the tags (“…said Tina”) or paragraphs in between. Just read the conversation as it would be spoken and see if you think anyone would respond the way you have your characters responding.

4. How do I find the motivation to finish a novel?

Truth is, it has to be in you, folks. You can’t teach motivation. The only way you’re ever going to finish that novel in your head is if you sit in front of your computer and do it. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Don’t keep going back to the beginning of the manuscript and reading from there before you start writing for the day. Just WRITE. You can edit for months (years) afterward.

5. Did my journalism background provide me with connections to get an agent?

No. It did not. I queried cold just like everyone else. But I do think working for a daily website taught me how to write lots of copy very quickly. And I’m also a firm believer that getting paid to write all day, everyday is only going to improve your writing—whether you’re reporting on hotel rooms or homicides. So don’t snub your nose at that trade magazine job, but don’t expect it to introduce you to the president of HarperCollins either.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I utterly ignored their entire hockey season. I was actually under the (somewhat correct) assumption that the team was not meeting fans’ expectations. Then, they surprisingly made the playoffs. Then, they made it through the first round. Then, they came back from an 0-3 deficit against the Bruins to win four straight and make it to the Eastern Conference finals. Holy crap. It’s like Rocky on ice. So as a Philadelphian, I have jumped on the zamboni bandwagon and even watched a retrospective of the “Broad Street Bullies” on HBO. Let’s Go Flyers! And don’t worry, the miniature William Penn my sister-in-law got me for Christmas is displayed in the highest point in my house. Anything that helps.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Top Ten Things I Learned While Moving... Again

It’s official, “Those Who Will House Me ‘Til Then” have been relieved of their generous roof-over-my-head responsibilities. The DH and I are now, once again, housing ourselves. This of course means I am back in Philadelphia listening to construction crews and police sirens as we speak. Ah, home…

So in honor of my last two weeks of packing, moving, painting, unpacking, and cleaning, I’ve decided to compile a list of lessons learned during this stressful transitional period.

Top Ten Things I Learned While Moving Twenty Miles

1. When it’s your own stuff you’re hauling, you can somehow find the strength to lift a car off an infant, because that’s how determined you are to get that dining room table into your house.

2. Moving can stress a cat out to the point of acne. And I’m not kidding. I took my feline, Lupi, to the vet because of what looked like a sore on her chin, only to learn she had a giant stress pimple and needs kitty Proactive.

3. When opening boxes that have been sealed for six months, look back and marvel at the fabulous bubble wrap, taping, and packing job you did when the whole “moving” thing was still fresh and exciting.

4. Painting a wall uses more muscles than any gym could possibly strain.

5. Not having curtains when a construction crew is outside your windows can lead to some interesting moments.

6. All those times you’ve helped friends demo a bathroom, move cross-town, or lift heavy furniture really pay off when you look around and realize that eight friends and family members generously showed up on a Saturday to help you out.

7. Furniture delivery men will take their shoes off when asked.

8. When you leave “Those Who Will House You ‘Til Then” don’t forget to look under the bed. All of your Spring clothes might be there, just sayin’.

9. You can go a week without logging onto a computer. I don’t advise this routinely, but it can be done.

10. You’re very lucky to have family who will graciously put a roof over your head, cook you Sunday brunches, and put a Christmas tree in their Jewish living room while you wait for five months to have your house just built already. Thanks for housing us!

Side Note: I will be holding a reading with Taller Puertorriqueno at the Julia de Burgos Book Store in Philadelphia (2721 North 5th Street) this Saturday, May 15th, at 3pm. The event is free and open to the public and will include a reading from Amor and Summer Secrets, a Q&A, book signing, and refreshments.

Hope to see you there!

Why did I not know this show existed when it was on television? I’ve recently discovered it on OnDemand. (It’s free! Check it out!). And I’m now completely obsessed. I even like the theme song. My only complaint? Why doesn’t Comcast load the episodes faster? I have to wait an entire week for another new show to air on a series that ended years ago. Though I do love out-of-date pop culture references—it’s like a little time capsule. And I imagine that somewhere out there in my perfect TV world, Veronica and Buffy are hanging out at a bar with Angel and Logan punning their heads off.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ghosts Stories And More With GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready

Sure, a lot of fictional characters claim to be able to talk to the dead, but how many of them have dated the dead. Adds a whole new twist to the after life, huh? And that’s exactly why I’m so intrigued by GCC Member Jeri Smith-Ready’s new novel, SHADE, just released through Simon Pulse.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

Love ties them together.
Death can't tear them apart.

Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan's band playing a critical gig and Aura's plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend's life. She never thought it would be his last.

Logan's sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He's gone.

Well, sort of.

Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.

It doesn't help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding—and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.

As Aura's relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura's heart…and clues to the secret of the Shift.

Here’s what Jeri had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jeri: I’m a secret vault. Last year I took my husband on a surprise trip to Vegas for his birthday, and he never suspected a thing, even though I’d been planning it with our friends for almost two years. The key to not spoiling the surprise, of course, was to not tell anyone who wasn’t directly involved in the covert operation. Well, them and complete strangers.

Q: What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jeri: This is a tough one, because I love to travel, too, and I’ve been to a lot of cool, out-of-the-way places. But one of the most beautiful moments of my life occurred when I was twenty years old. Two friends and I were staying at a farmhouse/B&B outside of Anstruther, Scotland (a fishing village near St. Andrews). I took a walk alone outside around midnight, but even at that late hour the sky wasn’t completely dark, because it was June. The sky was this gorgeous, otherworldly periwinkle. I walked into a field of heather and crouched down so that my eyes were at the level of the long, swaying flowers. It was totally silent, except for an occasional cow lowing in the distance. Magical.

Okay, I just love the idea that you can walk through a field alone at midnight in Scotland. You can tell I live in cities, right?

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jeri: I’ve been to one psychic who was kind of a letdown—all of her predictions were kind of vague and generic. But about a year ago I had an incredible tarot reading. All three cards in the spread were Major Arcana—the odds of that are pretty small. The reader was stunned at how positive it was. It basically said that if I applied the full force of my creative energy and didn’t let myself be distracted, great things would happen for me. I went home and brought up the descriptions for the first two cards (the Magician and the Chariot) in a web browser. I then kept those browser tabs open to inspire me every day while I worked.

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jeri: Sadly, with a name like Smith, it’s hard to delve very deeply into geneaology. The only ancestors I have a halfway decent history for are my maternal grandmother’s family, who came over from Ireland during the potato famine. Pretty boring, sorry.

Did you know there's a Potato Famine Memorial in Lower Manhattan? Very random.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jeri: The day SHADE went to auction, I was at home, hoping the publishers would actually show up. This was only five days after “Black Wednesday,” December 3, 2008, when a lot of companies (including Simon & Schuster, who ended up winning the auction), had big layoffs and everyone was very doom-and-gloom.

But it all went well, and my husband and one of my friends stayed with me (my friend virtually, my husband in person) through a nail biter of an afternoon. I don’t have pictures, because I was probably in my PJs and glasses, which is how I look most days.

Thank you, Jeri! Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Get Some Good Karma with GCC Member Jessica Brody

In the age of the THE SECRET, sometimes the universe is just too busy to send everyone everything they’re thinking of in a timely manner. That’s why GCC author Jessica Brody decided to find out what would happen if girls starting taking Karma into their own hands. Not a bad idea, right? And that’s why I’m so excited about her new book, THE KARMA CLUB, which debuted on April 27 from Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers.

As always, here’s a little bit about her book to get you hooked:

When you mess with Karma, Karma messes back...

Madison Kasparkova always thought she understood how Karma works. Do good things and you'll be rewarded, do something bad and Karma will make sure you get what you deserve. But when Maddy’s boyfriend cheats on her, nothing bad comes his way. That’s why Maddy starts the Karma Club, to clean up the messes that the universe has left behind and get back at the people who have wronged them. Sometimes, though, it isn’t wise to meddle with the universe. It turns out Karma often has plans of its own.

Watch the book trailer for even better taste of Karma!

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

Q: In AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS, Mariana discovers a hidden family secret. Are you a good secret keeper?

Jessica:I’d like to think of myself as a good secret keeper. I don’t know though. Tell me a secret and we’ll see how long I can keep it. 

Q: I love to travel. What is the favorite place you ever traveled to, and what was the coolest thing you saw/did there?

Jessica: I do that too! In my two novels before THE KARMA CLUB, there are a few chapters that take place in Paris because it’s my favorite city in the world and because I lived there for a year in college. I try to go back as often as possible! The coolest thing was when my first book released in France and the French publisher brought me out to promote it. That was seriously unreal! I’m thinking of setting some scenes of my next book in India just so I have an excuse to go there. I’ve always wanted to!

Q: I often tell the story of how a psychic once predicted that I would go on to write children’s books. Have you ever visited a psychic?

Jessica: Ooh, I have a crazy psychic story too! I visited one toward the beginning of 2006, when I was trying to sell my very first novel The Fidelity Files and not having much luck at it. I was in the process of rewriting. I went in and the psychic immediately told me I was a writer (which I had NOT told him) and that I was working on something about cheating spouses (that’s what Fidelity Files is about!) and that I would sell it before the end of 2006. I ended up selling it in November 2006 (with a month to spare!). It was totally creepy but WAY cool!

Now THAT is a psychic story I love! Maybe your psychic knows my psychic?

Q: My character Mariana spends her summer in Puerto Rico connecting with her father’s heritage. Have you ever researched your family tree?

Jessica: I joined ancestry.com for a little while and had so much fun building and exploring my family tree. All of my relatives came over to the US from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. I was even able to find the passenger manifest from the ship my great grandfather was on! It was pretty cool.

Q: Where were you when you found out that your book was going to be published?

Jessica: I was actually sitting in my office when I first found out. But I certainly wasn’t sitting for long! There was a lot of jumping and dancing around the room. I don’t have any pictures of that day, but here’s one of the day I signed the actual contract. That’s one big smile!

Thank you, Jessica! And please visit her website because she’s giving away FOUR Flip Video Cameras (as well as TONS of other cool prizes!). Enter to win!

Now, everyone go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Copyright © 2008 Diana Rodriguez Wallach, All Rights Reserved