Straw Wrapper Sculpture: 450% of your Daily Allowance of Sodium


LJ thought he was being a wise guy when he challenged me to sculpt an Applebee’s. I think we all know the winner here – the twelve-year-old who enjoyed his still-hot butter noodles while the feverish artist’s veggie burger hardened into a compact disc.


The Writing Process Blog Tour: in which I pretend I have a process

These questions are on tour, so I’m letting them stay for a while after their sold-out performance at my talented critique partner’s blog: Just Another Writer’s Blog. Check out Jilly’s internet space – she’s an established humor writer (seriously – Google that lady’s name) and she should be on your up-and-coming YA author radar.

This post also serves as a pathetic writing update after a year of blogular hermitism.

What are you currently working on?

I’m writing the eleventy billionth draft of THE FINAL DAYS OF THE VILLAIN ETHAN JAMES, my third novel (if I told Past Me that I’d someday write several drafts of three unpublished novels I’d be really depressed, but I’m not currently depressed – really, Past Me, really). It’s a contemporary YA set in a Wild West theme park (scroll down to discover the inspiration). My agent says it’s “about a broken boy finding redemption in a summer shared with equally lost people,” and I happen to like that description.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t know. The genre YA contemporary is a diverse, exciting place to be writing because it’s growing and its boundaries are stretching, and I’m not really sure where this book falls within or without. Which may be a problem. I’ll get back to you on this one.

Why do you write what you write?

I write because there are stories in my head. There have always been stories in my head. I don’t sit down to write to teach a lesson or spread an idea or address a particular audience. I write because I love hearing and reading stories and I want to tell my own, and I want people to like them, too.

How does your writing process work? 

I do a lot of thinking before I even plan a page – by the time I sit down to plan the book (and I do a lot of planning), I’ve probably been stewing over an idea for months. (My best thinking happens on long drives, preferably with the windows down. If you were wondering.)

My planning consists of a series of outlines, character maps, setting maps, more outlines – general outlines, outlines of chapters, replacement outlines, and notes notes notes.


A. I write scenes/chapters/the whole book REALLY FAST.

B. I force myself to reread whatever I wrote, because it’s really, really bad at this point, and I need to fix it before I’ll let someone else see it.

C. I send it to a person in hopes that they’ll tell me what’s still bad about it.

Then, repeat steps A, B, and C forever and ever. I’ve repeated them five or six times with this current manuscript, which I’ve been working on since May 2013.

And that’s it! I’m tagging another talented critique partner, Kassel, otherwise known as A.K. Fotinos-Hoyer. Although she’s been on internet hiatus, she’s been writing like crazy (she wrote her book on an iPhone while she fed her newborn, people – that’s dedication), and I’m really excited about her newest work, SAVING SNOW. It garnered some attention at her last conference, and I think it’s going to on bookshelves before we know it. Her most recent blog entry is a summary of the plot – go check it out!

Summer Reads 2013

Last summer, I read nothing but the Game of Thrones series…and I LOVED IT. This summer, I set out to read another long, engrossing fantasy series, but, alas, t’was not to be (reasons below). Instead, I read an interesting mix of Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Adult books. Some were good. Some were bad. Juicy details to follow.

pendragon machalePENDRAGON – D.J. MacHale – MG

Recommended to me by a student, PENDRAGON hooked me with the believable, humorous voice of Bobby Pendragon, even though! He does! Use a lot! Of exclamation points!!! I am always hooked by an unlikely hero finding his/her inner strength, so I liked that story line of an 8th grade jock finding the courage to accept his identity as a hero in a fantasy land. Less engaging: the third-person narrative of his best friend. I did enjoy this book from beginning to end, but I didn’t continue to the second book because it didn’t have that “crossover appeal” we hear about all the time in publishing. In other words, it didn’t have that second layer to engage adult readers – this was 100% middle school kid, 100% of the time. Which is exactly why, even though I didn’t continue with the series, I’m going to buy the first few books for my classroom bookshelf. I think some of my students will enjoy this.

Jane LinderJANE – April Linder – YA/NA

This retelling of JANE EYRE made me so angry, I initially considered writing a whole blog post about how much I disliked the book. But that feels like bad author juju, so instead, here are my bad feelings, in a nutshell: JANE EYRE features a strong, smart heroine who challenges social norms and refuses to be pinned down by a man, even though she loves him. JANE features a soggy, weak narrator who falls in love with a rich rock star and wanders around like a waif when things aren’t going well for her. Po’, po’ Jane. Gag. If you’re into indulgent romance novels, enjoy. If you’re into good literature, just read the original.

ImageWILDLIFE – Fiona Wood – YA

I read something you can’t read, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! The rights to WILDLIFE were just sold in the United States, so it’s not available for purchase in the old U.S. of A. It will be soon, though, and when it is, you should absolutely pick up your copy. The cover and blurb made me wary – teenage girls? kissing popular boys? at summer camp? – so not my kind of read. But once I started reading, I knew WILDLIFE was a good find – such real characters, unconventional, beautiful prose, and a great sense of humor all temper the darker aspects of the book. It was simultaneously a light and heavy read. I’d bring it to the beach, but I’d also bring it to a book discussion. And that’s my kind of book.

ImageTHE WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY – Suzanne Palmieri – Adult

Online reviews for this book frequently use the word “enchanting,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s a contemporary book with just a dash of magic (much like the Amore family’s Sunday evening meals). Readers journey through several generations of the Amore family – all of whom you’ll love – to uncover a secret that will either save or destroy the main character. I found myself struggling to get a grip on the main character, Eleanor, but her personality seems less important than her place in the family’s history, and the drifting quality of the narrative enriches that magical feel for a charming, sweet read. BONUS: Suzanne Palmieri will be in NJ for a book signing on September 13! Who’s coming with me?

ImageMISTBORN TRILOGY – Brandon Sanderson – Adult

Engrossing Fantasy Read, Take 2! The good: an interesting cast of characters, an intriguing fantasy world with a unique form of magic, and a barren, exotic setting. The bad: after a while, the characters became predictable, and it was clear the author wasn’t going to take them beyond their stereotypes. They remained flat – even the main character, whom I never really loved, or believed she was who other characters said she was. And the writing felt lazy – each character must have rolled his/her eyes 20 times. I was still interested in the plot, but since I wasn’t enjoying the ride, I put Book 1 down and read the Wikipedia synopsis for Books 2 and 3. Bad me! Bad!

Magicians GrossmansTHE MAGICIANS – Lev Grossman – Adult

Engrossing Fantasy Read, Take 3! This one did the trick, but it was no beach read. THE MAGICIANS touts itself as literary fantasy – a natural step up for fantasy-loving adults – and it sometimes feels a little too proud of its Ivy League status. I imagine it will border on pretentious for some. But, just like I love Vampire Weekend despite their lyrics about champagne, golf, and the Kennedy family, I loved Quentin, the jaded Ivy League-bound teenager who can pass any test in the world but just can’t seem to be happy. Grossman’s prose had me doing that swoony, sighing thing I do – if someone was nearby, I was going to read them a slice, and if someone wasn’t nearby, I was going going to sob about how I’d never write so well. But, more importantly, for a summer read, this was both a beautiful piece of escapism and an interesting piece of commentary on escapism. How meta. Again – a book I can read for pleasure and for the thinks. Doesn’t get better than that.

ImageIMPOSTER – Susanne Winnacker – YA

If you’re a current or future student of mine, get ready for me to “sell” you this book, because the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking, My students are going to LOVE this! It’s a fast-paced whodunnit with a supernatural twist – “variations,” or genetic tweaks. The main character’s variation is that she can become any person she sees. In this case, she has to solve a girl’s murder by becoming the dead girl (convincing the family she made a miraculous recovery). I especially enjoyed the exploration of the psychological effects on the main character, a sort of orphan who, through her assignment, gets to experience familial love.

NEXT UP: The sequel to THE LAST POLICEMAN, COUNTDOWN CITY. THE LAST POLICEMAN was my favorite book of 2012, so I’m a little disappointed I missed the release of COUNTDOWN CITY. Here’s hoping it lives up to the original.

Thoughts? Questions? Recommendations?

10-Minute Write: Surrealism

NOTE TO READERS/POTENTIAL WRITERS: You may see some of my former students responding to these, but it’s not exclusively for them! I invite everyone to write – anonymously, if you’d like. 

“Surreal” is an adjective used to describe things that have a dream-like quality. Take the following pictures, for example:


I love surrealism! I spent ages looking at surreal images on Google images (try it yourself – Google “surreal.” Enjoy the nightmares!) and had to limit myself to a “bridge” theme…otherwise, this post would have eleventy-two pictures (and take eight hours to load).


In 10 minutes, write something surreal. It could be a description of a dream or it could just feel like a dream. Use one of the pictures above as inspiration.


And please comment on each other’s work, if you feel so inspired!

10-Minute Write: Amethyst


Where is this door?

Where does it lead?

Why is the doorknob purple?

Is that a reflection in the doorknob? What do you see?

Who’s about to open it – or close it? Or refuse to touch it?

Using the picture as inspiration, write a piece entitled Amethyst. It could be a story, a poem, a vignette, or just your thoughts. Spend no more than five minutes thinking and ten minutes writing. No cheating!

You can answer all or none of the questions above. 

Post your writing in the comments section below!