Monday, April 24, 2006

Uncovering the Gherkin~Welcome to E. Lockhart!

Today it is my pleasure to host the well-known YA author, E. Lockhart, here in Martha-Land. Lockhart is the author of the successful The Boyfriend List as well as the brand new novel, Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw EVERYTHING. Welcome, E! So glad you could be here.

I haven't read all the books whose authors I host, but E sent me a copy of this one. It was unputdownable. This is just the kind of book I'd have picked up as a teenager. Check out the advance praise!


Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything is about a girl called Gretchen Kaufman Yee who goes to a wacked-out art school in New York City. She's a collector of plastic Chinese food and odd figurines, a passionate comic-book artist, and a crazy Spider-man fanatic. She's also completely freaked out by the opposite sex -- in particular, the Art Rats, a group of guys in her drawing concentration. One day, she wishes she could be "a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room," just to find out what the heck guys really talk about.

And the next thing she knows... she is.

A fly.

On the wall of the locker room.

E. Lockhart is the author of The Boyfriend List and its forthcoming sequel, The Boy Book.

“A super-smart, super-sweet, and super-fantastic read.”
-- Sarah Mlynowski, author of Bras & Broomsticks and Milkrun

From The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
"The stylish text (rendered nearly multivocal by the periodic font changes) combined with Gretchen's frank fascination with the oddity and then the humanity of the male body and psyche are a rare treat."

From Publishers Weekly:
"Narrator Gretchen Yee will grab readers from the first page with her snappy commentary."

MO'C: How did you get this idea for this book? Please describe how the book grew from a glimmer of an idea into a whole novel.
EL: I had a few titles I was tossing around in my head. Sometimes I find it useful to begin with a title. I liked "fly on the wall" because it had some energy -- some action. It forces you to ask a question: Where?

Then I went to take a shower.

Naturally, I was naked.

I write mainly for and about teenage girls, so I thought -- where would a teenage girl want most to be a fly on the wall?

And the answer suddenly seemed clear: the boys' locker room.

I don't know if being naked affected the direction my imagination took. It was my first naked writing experience.

MO'C: Is Gretchen at all like you? How and why?
EL: Gretchen is half-Chinese-American, half-Jewish; she's also half-human, half-insect. I am half-WASP, half-Jewish, and I was interested in writing about split identities; I think we feel those splits especially strongly when we are teens, trying to figure out where we fit in the world. Like Gretchen, I also went to an arts high school (though not in New York and not for visual arts) where I felt painfully ordinary. But her anger, her pack rat behavior, her comic book obsession, her problems with boys -- all of those are rather different from who I am in real life.

MO'C: I have to ask about this whole gherkin thing. By the way, I think it's brave and brilliant to reveal the mysteries of the gherkin, as teenaged girls everywhere will attest. But I'm wondering, is this slang used a lot? We used the more... traditional terms in my high school. Heh.
EL: You know what I wanted the subtitle of this book to be? Fly on the Wall: or, How I Learned the Mysteries of the Gherkin.

But no one would let me call it that.

As for the word, I made it up! I thought it was funny.

Then I looked it up on and found that people did in fact employ the definition I was attributing to the word. I got the term "milkshake" off urban dictionary (it's from a song... "my milkshake is betta than yours...."), and for "biscuits" I downloaded this enormous list of boob slang (like way over 100 words; the boobs really do seem to fascinate people) and picked the one I found most amusing. I also made up the homophobic slang in the book. Mary Poppins, Bottom Feeder, etc.

MO'C: I love how you deal with the issue of homosexuality among teens. Seems to me a lot of books either ignore the issue entirely or turn it into a Movie of the Week kind of deal. Can you discuss this topic a bit?
EL: Thank you. I think more and more books are being published which find a way to portray gay teenage characters without any movie-of-the-week qualities. David Levithan's lighthearted gay romance, Boy Meets Boy, for example.

I do not think it would be accurate, interesting or responsible to write a book about a boys' locker room in high school without addressing homosexuality and the kinds of language people use to disassociate themselves from it. So the subject of Fly on the Wall naturally lends itself to some exploration of those issues, as well as Gretchen's heterosexuality.

I'm heterosexual, myself. But look, I just think it's all good. Whomever you love, you love. I have a lot of gay friends, male and female. I had even more back in college. I lived in Chelsea for 7 years. It's part of where I live, whom I know, what I care about.

MO'C: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
EL: Get an internship at a publishing house, if you can possibly manage it. This is a business based on connections and understanding how the industry works is extremely helpful, too.

MO'C: What's your writing day like? Any tips or tricks for getting organized?
EL: I write every day for about 5 hours in the morning. Real concrete writing time is probably 4 hours. Once a project is going along, I find it useful to set word-count goals -- 1000 or 2000 words a day. I push.

MO'C: What's been the most exciting thing about publishing? The most frustrating?
EL: I love to see the actual book. I want to kiss it! A real object that has my words in it! I love the Fly cover.

Most frustrating? I suppose when a publisher doesn't get behind a book. It comes out, but it's not in stores and it's not reviewed. That's happened to me more than once.

MO'C: Do you think you might write a sequel to this novel? If not, what else is in the works?
EL: No, no sequel to Fly on the Wall. What would Gretchen turn into next, a pteranodon? a kitten? blech.

But my fall book is the sequel to my book The Boyfriend List. It's called The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors plus Techniques for Taming Them, and it comes out in September. The book I'm currently working on, called Dramarama, is about theater-crazy teenagers and bad behavior at summer drama camp.

Thank you so much for visiting the blog, E! Check out her book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the best choice, an indy bookstore.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tip-o-Rama ('Kay, just one, but still...)

I had SO MUCH more I wanted to tell you, about diabetes, our TERRIFIC holiday break, how the Corte Madera Creek DIDN'T flood this time despite a close call... but I am pressed for time. Rather than silence, I decided to share this Random Writing Tip from Nowhere.

*Always leave off in the middle. It’s a proven fact that your brain settles more quickly and easily into a task partially completed than one where you’ve completed a section or chapter. Here’s where I left off in the Novel-in-Progress before rushing off to a Brownies meeting (today is the day of MANY meetings… Sometimes I don’t know WHY I sign up for this stuff… but I digress.):

"Deaths and suicides occurred in all kinds of..."

See? That sentence is just BEGGING to be completed. No, it’s not the greatest sentence on Earth. Sure, I’ll edit it later… maybe even cut it.

The important thing is, it exists, and it is UNFINISHED. What’s more, any idiot could finish it with a noun or noun phrase. Right?

Sometimes, when I dive back into a book… I am just that. Any idiot. I have the lack of confidence, the self-doubt, the sheer conviction that I will never produce anything of value.

This helps. An easy-to-complete sentence launching me into what I’m going to show next.

Today, when I return to my chapter in the library, where I write for about an hour after school while the kids are doing homework (another tip—kids can concentrate in the library! Quiet kids=completed homework=writing time for me), I will have NO CHOICE but to finish it. And THAT sentence will lead me to the next one, and so on, and so on.

More later. Camporee planning beckons!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tears for Autumn...

I don't know her, and don't know much about her, other than that she was fifteen years old, Type 1 Diabetes, and died on Sunday of a diabetic coma. I am not sure if it was Dead In Bed syndrome, or something else. I do know that Autumn Rose attended diabetes camp and lived in Keller, TX.

I have a beautiful photograph of her--a sweet, blonde girl with a big smile and a gorgeous face peeking out of a fluffy, fur-rimmed jacket hood. Looking at her just breaks my heart. I am not posting it since I don't know the family directly, but I'm sure the obituary will go online.

Since I heard this horrible news, I've been thinking of Autumn all the time. A life cut short by this monsterous disease. I can't imagine the pain and grief.

It's a slap in the face-this disease can be and is fatal. And a lot of times, there's not much you can do to prevent things like this. If it WAS Dead in Bed, it strikes suddenly, with no warning.

I'm just haunted by this.

On a housekeeping note, posting will be light this week, as we're on holiday break.

Please pray for Autumn and her family.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Bad Boy To Start Your Weekend

Hello, Blog-ites! I'm here to tell you about Tanya Lee Stone's new, edgy YA novel called A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. This book sounds positively groundbreaking!


Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva are three very different girls who all meet the same bad boy with an irresistible knack for getting into their blood and under their skin.

Will the choices they make and the paths they take lead them where they want to go?

Meet the Girls
Josie "I'm not stuck up. I'm confident. There's a big difference."
Nicolette "Why should I sit around and wait for some guy to call me? It's all about the power. Who's got it and who doesn't."
Aviva "I'm what you call a Criss-Crosser. I've got friends in pretty much all the cliques. I think it's because I'm pretty, but not cheerleader pretty, and smart, but not brainiac smart, and artsy but not freak-show artsy."


Like many writers, Tanya Lee Stone has been making up stories since she was a kid. But her first series, Henry the Happy House, was never sold. She even drew the pictures. It's a mystery why nobody wanted to publish it!

Her writing improved as she studied English at Oberlin College (and Music at Oberlin Conservatory. She might even sing if you offer her chocolate.). After graduation she moved to New York to be an editor.

Tanya was as an editor of children's books for 13 years. During some of those years, she also earned a Masters Degree in Education. But when she got her chance to write her first book, she got hooked on stories all over again. She has published nearly 80 books. A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL is her first novel for teens.

You want to know more? Okay, it's a little-known fact that:

* Tanya has a passion for Wild Berry Skittles.
* And chocolate-covered pretzels.
* Francis Crick once slept in her bed (she was not in it at the time).
* Mandy Patinkin once showed her his Inigo Montoya sword (keep it clean, people!)
* She hates the word "tasty." Don't say it, especially when out to dinner with her. Appetite-gone.
* Like Aviva in BAD BOY, Tanya was a Criss-Crosser in high school. She likes to think it's because she was irresistibly popular, but really it was because she spent half the time at MHS and half the time at performing arts high school--so nobody had time to get sick of her!
* One of her favorite sounds is an orchestra warming up before a show.
* She likes winter because she gets to wear her favorite purple (faux) leopard coat. Well, duh! Who ever heard of a purple leopard!


This is not a book that will sit quietly on any shelf; it will be passed from girl to girl to girl."
- School Library Journal

"This amazing first novel is one of the most honest treatments of teenage sexuality to be found in YA fiction...This will be much talked about, and every reader who has been swept away in a love affair will recognize its truth."
- Kliatt

"...the kind of tell-it-like-it-is wisdom that comes from your best girlfriends. It's irresistible."
- Libba Bray, New York Times best-selling author

"Sure to be the new Forever."
- Award-Winning Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

"candid free-verse novel...electrically charged."
- Horn Book

"Stone's novel packs a steamy, emotional wallop,...The lessons learned here are important."
- Booklist

"every high-school age girl in the world needs to read this book, before they meet the proverbial bad boy."
- Teens Read Too!

"3 smart girls + 1 slick senior boy = 1 sharply observed novel about sex, sisterhood, and self-respect."
- Reading Rants!

Elle Girl magazine's Dare to Read book club picked Bad Boy!

MO'C: How did you get this idea for this book? Please describe how the book grew from a glimmer of an idea into a whole novel.
TS: The title hit me first and I was off and running, full steam ahead. Once I started writing in the voice of Josie, I had a lot to say. I added each girl one at a time, and with each of them I was propelled forward by their voice.

MO'C: Do either Josie, Nicollete, or Aviva remind you of yourself? How and why?
TS: I'm a little like Josie in that I had a strong sense of self from a young age, but I liked to test the boundaries (who didn't?), and a little like Aviva because I had interests like music and theater that kept me a little on the fringe, but I was able to have friends in all the different groups in my high school.

MO'C: Your book's been called the new "Forever." How do you feel about that comparison?
TS: Are you kidding? I LOVE it! That book was a major part of my life at 13.

MO'C: It's clear to me that YA fiction is becoming edgier and more daring. How does your novel fit into that zeitgeist?
TS: I certainly think the climate helped me be able to publish what I wanted to write. I think part of our culture is becoming edgier and more daring and YA fiction has good reason to address that. The feedback I'm getting from teenage readers tells me they appreciate it; they thank me for being honest.

MO'C: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
TS: It's cliche, but true. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. And don't be afraid to experiment.

MO'C: What's your writing day like? Any tips or tricks for getting organized?
TS:I wish someone would give me tricks for being organized! I write or do writing-related things from about 10-2, and then often again either late at night or early in the morning.

MO'C: What's been the most exciting thing about publishing? The most frustrating?
TS: I'm about to go on a 2-week tour for this book, so other than getting it published, I'd say that's the most exciting! The most frustrating has been fielding criticisms that come from people who think they know what's in my book, but haven't actually read it. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you have to read a book first, then discuss it.

MO'C: Do you think you might write a sequel to this novel? If not, what else is in the works?
TS:I don't know. I've tossed around a few ideas. In the meantime, I'm working on another novel, a creative nonfiction project, and two biographies.

Thank you so much for joining us, Tanya! Tanya's book is available at your local Independent Bookseller (BEST CHOICE), Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stay Ahead of the Curve and Prevent Complications

Hi everyone! Public service time. :o) I'm writing to tell you about a groundbreaking study that is underway at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) by Stephen Gitelman, MD and Eric Huang, MD. The study is following adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes who take a vitamin supplement called Alpha Lipoic Acid. Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant which has been shown to prevent, and in some cases even reverse, diabetic complications in patients with Type 2 Diabetes (Evans, Goldfine, Maddux & Grodsky, 2002; study results printed below).

Drs. Gitelman and Huang are testing whether Alpha Lipoic Acid has similar benefits to patients with Type 1 Diabetes. Although the results aren't all in and the study hasn't yet been published, the results are quite promising. I'd hate to print any further details and be wrong... BUT... I was convinced enough to go out and buy a bottle at our local pharmacy. You can also buy this supplement at any vitamin store. The adult dose is 1 capsule daily, but you can easily break the capsule and sprinkle half the contents into a bowl of cereal or a cup of yogurt. The contents of the capsule are flavorless, so your child will be unlikely to notice it. It is not a drug, only an antioxidant, so you do not risk ANYTHING by adding this supplement to your child's (or your own!) diabetes regimen.

Have a great day, everyone! :o)


1. Endocr Rev. 2002 Oct;23(5):599-622.
Oxidative stress and stress-activated signaling pathways: a unifying hypothesis of type 2 diabetes.
Evans JL, Goldfine ID, Maddux BA, Grodsky GM.
University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.

In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the late diabetic complications in nerve, vascular endothelium, and kidney arise from chronic elevations of glucose and possibly other metabolites including free fatty acids (FFA). Recent evidence suggests that common stress-activated signaling pathways such as nuclear factor-kappaB, p38 MAPK, and NH2-terminal Jun kinases/stress-activated protein kinases underlie the development of these late diabetic complications. In addition, in type 2 diabetes, there is evidence that the activation of these same stress pathways by glucose and possibly FFA leads to both insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion. Thus, we propose a unifying hypothesis whereby hyperglycemia and FFA-induced activation of the nuclear factor-kappaB, p38 MAPK, and NH2-terminal Jun kinases/stress-activated protein kinases stress pathways, along with the activation of the advanced glycosy ation end-products/receptor for advanced glycosylation end-products, protein kinase C, and sorbitol stress pathways, plays a key role in causing late complications in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, along with insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion in type 2 diabetes. Studies with antioxidants such as vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, and N-acetylcysteine suggest that new strategies may become available to treat these conditions.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Success OR Sucks-Ass?

I’ve been having some interesting discussions with other writers on the issue: what is success? Some see success as selling a bunch of copies of one’s book, and producing a book a year. Some see success as something less quantifiable—a personal best, if you will, an art-for-art’s sake kind of endeavor.

My view is this: If a writer who consistently remains on bestseller lists is automatically a better writer than one who doesn’t, then that means Dan Brown is a better writer than Marilynne Robinson. In which case, I have to drink bleach.

If quality is all about monetary success, then Britney Spears is a musical genius. If success=money, then Coldplay is actually the best band in the world right now. GUH.

It’s appeal. The DaVinci Code is popular because of the plotting. If you’re wondering whether there are any humans left who haven’t read this book, the answer is yes. Me. I did buy it at a used book sale to benefit Hospice of Marin, so I don’t feel it was wasted money. BUT I didn’t make it past the first chapter, because the writing to me was HORRID.

Yet the novel is an international sensation. I’m told it deals with sex, God, and money. Those are three irresistible elements in storytelling. Oh, and it’s blasphemous. That always helps.

It’s no secret this book was marketed to the hilt. A bookseller friend of mine (I won’t name the chain) told me that booksellers at her store were instructed, by management, to walk around the store carrying a copy of The DaVinci Code. When customers were browsing, they were to point the customers to this book and tell them how much they, the booksellers, were enjoying it.

Even now it seems there are endless features on CNBC and elsewhere about The DaVinci Code. It’s like a commercial for itself.

Commercial Success=Appeal+Packaging


Awhile back, I read the book of a romance author who’d crossed to a different genre. The cover reflected the author’s new genre, but when I opened it, it was still the same author’s voice. I still saw the writer behind all of it. It seemed like the same sort of book, even though it was being sold as something else.

When I first read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, it was the Mass-Market-Paperback version. There’s something about that particular shape and size and smell of book that automatically gives me certain assumptions. That is: it’s quick, it’s plotty, it’s cheap, it’s disposable. The Tartt cover even had a John Grisham blurb right in the front. And although I KNEW this was the brilliant Donna Tartt—something about that novel still made me internally dismiss the novel as “just another thriller.” I tell you it was that MMPB smell, shape and finish. Now, I was blown out of my chair by that book. But seeing it the way it was packaged, I didn't approach it the same WAY as I read The Little Friend a few years later, as a trade paperback.

Which tells me: It’s all about the package. Or a lot of it is, anyway.

Artistic Success=Talent+Inspiration

This is so difficult to quantify it’s not even funny. So I won’t even try. But I will give you a few examples of artistic success:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
Music for Torching by A.M. Homes
Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Veronica by Mary Gaitksill

My opinions only, of course.

Often artistic success intersects with commercial success. Sometimes, as with Gilead, the commercial success only really comes after the artistic success has been acknowledged. Movie tie-ins can help books that are highly artistically successful reach commercial success. Sometimes books that are artistically successful just strike a nerve and make big bucks that way, like Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, which came out during a string of missing-young-women cases and, by the way, was highly pushed by the buyer for one of the big bookstore chains.

And lest you think I am knocking genre fiction, there are genre writers whose work I never miss, Lee Child's and Dennis Lehane's being two of them. There are several genre writers who have successfully married artistry and commercial success. And boy, wouldn't we all like to have some of what THEY'RE having...

So artistic success and commercial success are not mutually exclusive. But they definitely aren’t the same.

Think of it this way, if artistry were reflected by sales then McDonald’s would be the VERY BEST RESTAURANT in the world. Who needs filet mignon or lobster bisque when you can have a flippin' QUARTER POUNDER?

I rest my case.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Double Feature-Michelle Richmond & Johanna Edwards

Hello, blog readers! I’m sorry I’ve been away for a bit, but I’ve been in writing seclusion!

At some point, there are two lovely gals I would love to interview for the blog: Michelle Richmond and Johanna Edwards. However, their schedules are full at the moment, so you’ll have to content yourself with these teasers!

Michelle Richmond, lauded by The New York Times as "smart and adept," is the author of Dream of the Blue Room. I won Michelle’s book in a book raffle and WOW. Let me tell you, I couldn’t put it down. It’s utterly transporting, and chilling. Check it out! I met Michelle at the Santa Rosa Book Festival and she is just as wonderful as her writing! I love supporting authors who are not just excellent spinners of fiction, but nice people.

About Michelle

Michelle Richmond is the author of the story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, which won the Associated Writing Programs Award, and the novel Dream of the Blue Room. Her new novel, Ocean Beach, is forthcoming from Bantam. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, Playboy, the Mid-American Review,, 7x7, and many other publications.

Michelle holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she was a James Michener Fellow, and teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at California College of the Arts. She recently served as Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University, and she is currently Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. She is the recipient of the 2006 Mississippi Review Fiction Prize.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Michelle lives with her husband and son in San Francisco. She is the founding editor of the literary journal Fiction Attic, and she serves on the advisory board of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. She is represented by Valerie Borchardt of Georges Borchardt, Inc.

About the Book

“A dreamy, haunting work with a deeply personal feel. Any time a work of fiction raises our sights to higher truths, as this one does, the writer has done her job.” Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Some childhood relationships are so fulfilling they shape our lives and leave us wondering why they didn’t last longer. Richmond captures, explores, and intertwines these bonds so elegantly, you might even think the relationships are your own.” USA Today

“Intelligent, original, complex.” The San Francisco Chronicle

“A complex and nimbly fashioned first novel.” Kirkus Reviews

“The book is finely crafted and compelling, and its emotions resonate true and clear.” Booklist

“With the slow build-up of a mystery, the exquisite pain of a coming-of-age novel, the masterful images of a travel writer, and a darkness that is true to the Southern Gothic, Dream of a Blue Room is a work of wonderfully chimeric form. ” Joanna Pearson, Small Spiral Notebook

Check out Michelle's excerpt, which was printed in USA Today!

I know you will want to read this intense, lyrical novel. It's available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the best choice, your local Indy Bookseller!

My other book feature, Your Big Break, is the highly anticipated new novel from Johanna Edwards, the bestselling author of The Next Big Thing. I knew Jo online from before she was even published, and it is so thrilling to see her book on the Borders 3 for 2 table! It’s fantastic she’s featured like that in such a big chain!

About Johanna

Johanna was born in 1978 in Memphis, Tennessee. She has published over 250 articles in both local and national magazines and newspapers. During her two year tenure as Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Daily Helmsman in Memphis, she wrote dozens of reviews and interviewed some of the biggest names in entertainment including 3 Doors Down, 'N Sync, Carrie-Anne Moss, Kevin Smith, Nick Stahl, Carmen Electra, Seann William Scott, Tori Spelling, Vivica A. Fox, Paul Walker, Jon Lithgow, Ivan Reitman and Steve Zahn (she also managed to weasel a free trip to Los Angeles to interview David Duchovny...but that's another story for another time).

Johanna graduated with honors from the University of Memphis in December 2001. For her day job, she produces WYPL's nationally syndicated radio and TV program Book Talk.

When Johanna is not reading, writing, or working, she's a total travel-addict. She enjoys frequent vacations, especially to England (she's spent close to a year living, working and studying in and around London). Johanna also adores movies and TV, but feels neither can compare to a good book.

About the Book

Dani Myers has become an expert at romantic breakups ever since she was hired to "facilitate" them for clients of Your Big Break, Inc. In other words, she dumps people for money. But company rule #5 (do not get personally involved) is getting harder to obey. One of her dumpees is turning out to be the kind of guy she might just want to pick up on the rebound. and a new client has just walked in, begging for Dani's help breaking up with The Big Jackass, who's been leading her on all this time-and now turns out to be married.

It would be a routine job except for one problem: the so-called Big Jackass is married to none other than Dani's mother.


Read the gripping excerpt at Johanna's site!

Johanna’s book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and of course, your local Indy (and the Borders 3 for 2…)