Wednesday, December 25, 2013


     So The Real John Green very favorably reviewed A.S. King's REALITY BOY in this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review.  Hello?  What is the big surprise here?  Have I not been telling everyone who will listen that A.S. King is an exceptionally talented YA author whose game only gets better with each book she publishes?  Yes, I believe that I have been doing exactly that, loudly and often.  So why doesn't anyone listen to me???  Because, let's be totally honest here: whether or not I ever get any of my own books published, I have always been blessed with excellent literary taste.  IF I TELL YOU A BOOK IS GOOD, IT IS, OKAY?  But, clearly, I am chopped liver at best, because for some obscure reason A.S. King is gobsmacked when John Green reviews her book in the NYT, but seemingly unmoved when I do so in this blog.  Go figure.  But by the way: A.S. King is not just humblebragging and pretending to be gobsmacked.  She is simply humble.  Don't you wish humility was spread around more fairly in this world, concentrated heavily in people who actually deserve to be humble?  I know I do.
     Oh, and Holly Schindler's debut middle-grade novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, is going to be released in a little over a month from now, and has already garnered some stellar reviews, including from Kirkus.  Now, have I TOLD you to keep an eye on Holly Schindler?  Hmmm???  Yes, I believe that I have.  But have you been following her the way you should have been as a result?  I dunno - have you?  Well, in case you haven't, will these reviews and trailers convince you to run right out and preorder SUNSHINE AND LUCKY immediately?  I sure hope so.  If not, I have taught you nothing.  And another thing: are you going to check back in with me on January 25th, when Holly will send me a vlog about SUNSHINE AND LUCKY to post here?  The answer had better be yes, that's all I can say.  Don't make me come after you.
     I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas are having an extremely merry and bright one, surrounded by people you love and a pile of newly-gifted books.  And for the rest of us, and in honor of the late, great Roger Ebert: I'll see you at the movies!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


     It's my second blogiversary, more or less. I started this blog on December 19, 2011, four days after my Dec. 15th birthday, to announce to the world my despair with getting horrifyingly old yet never getting any of my books published, and to provide myself with a writing outlet so that I could experience something other than feeling like I was shouting down an empty well.
     Two years have passed, and I've come to love this blog like the true friend it's proven to be. I'm still not published - that hasn't changed. It's my birthday that has changed irrevocably for me instead. Last year it arrived the day after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, and every year for the rest of my life, it will be inextricably bound up for me with that event. Gone is the luxury of spending my birthday wallowing in self-pity because I haven't achieved everything I've wanted in life. My children are alive and healthy. I've never had to rip out a piece of my soul as the result of kissing my kindergartener goodbye for a few hours, sending him or her off to school, and then learning later that day what goodbye really means.
     Kindergarteners. Babies just learning to tie their shoes and zip their jackets. Gone for a year and a day on this birthday of mine... and so on... and so on, through the years. Now, my birthday brings me new responsibilities, because although I've changed, America's gun culture hasn't. Our federal gun laws haven't. The NRA's ludicrous suggestion that the Second Amendment's reference to a "well-regulated militia" means that virtually any person in America who wants a gun should be able to get one almost effortlessly hasn't changed. One year after Newtown, we have learned exactly nothing, and the school shootings keep coming.
     When I told my husband tonight that I'm going to donate the birthday money that both my mother and my mother-in-law gave me to, he told me that I'm very generous. He could not be more wrong. What I am is very, very fortunate, unlike so many parents across this country whose children one day happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
     I feel helpless and infuriated about Newtown and all the other school shootings. I feel helpless and infuriated about the daily "gun fails" around the country that David Waldman, as a true public service, tweets about at @KagroX. A sickening number of them involve small children finding their parents' unsecured guns and accidentally killing their siblings or playmates.
     I am not generous. I really believe that my December 15th birthday has laid a responsibility on my shoulders, and I am trying to do what little I can to meet it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


     Remember I told you guys about National Portfolio Day?  Well, it paid off!  My daughter just got an email that she's been accepted into the School of Visual Arts in New York, her first-choice art school!!!  What a HUGE accomplishment.  My husband and I are bursting with pride.  For a long time I doubted that Amy would ever work hard at anything - her low self-esteem has always made her afraid to try because she was so afraid to fail.  But, beginning less than two years ago, she finally found something she truly wanted, and she went after it.  And she WON.  For a crucial year and a half, she had the benefit of private lessons with an exceptionally gifted and inspirational art teacher.  Look him up online: Julian Tejera, who worked with Amy until he moved to California at the end of this past summer.  If you'd like to help me thank him by, say, commissioning a portrait from him, please do!  His depth of knowledge is vast for someone in his late 20's, and it's matched by both his talent and his kindness.  I expect that he'll be in great demand as a portraitist one day, so why not get in on the ground floor now, while it's still a bargain?  Tell him I sent you.
     Anyway.  I digress.  Yes, Julian is awesome, but my daughter earned every bit of her success by dint of her own hard work and dedication over the last couple of years.  She lifted up her grade-point average, worked diligently on her drawing and painting skills, and wrote an awesome college essay about - who else?  Julian.
     Seeing how proud she is of her achievement - well.  This is one of the best days I've had in a very long time.

p.s.  Don't worry. My kids are still idiots.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, December 8, 2013



 My most recent book giveaway produced three contestants: my friend Yvonne V, who (I'm sure) commented briefly to help me start things off  (and whose debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, can now be pre-ordered from Amazon and will be buyable in brick-and-mortar bookstores in May, and I insist that you do one or the other because it will be brilliant);  BookNut, the winner, a most welcome second member of my blog's Pakistan Fan Club; and Sharksmart, who didn't win, but who did such an admirable job as runner-up that I decided to send her a consolation prize out of my stash of YA and MG novels I've already read.  After some consultation with her, I guessed that she would like Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW (which, as you've probably heard, is currently being made into a movie), so I sent her my copy, and Eureka!!  I was right!  I've been emailing back and forth with Sharksmart, who is really a recent college graduate named Dana, and she sent me an unsolicited review of the book, and I liked it so much that I decided to post it on my blog. So, voila! My first guest review post! And I believe that in future, I'll offer this option to all winners of my book giveaway contests, because it's very nice of you to read my blog and all, but you probably wouldn't mind hearing from someone else once in a while, am I right?  I'm a firm believer in spreading the love. Thank you, Dana, for helping me kick off something newish!  Without further ado:


“How I Live Now” begins with 15 year-old Daisy’s father and stepmother shipping her off to the England to live with her aunt and cousins on an isolated farm. Just as she’s starting to embrace her eccentric cousins and feel loved, World War III breaks out and changes everything.
The plot of “How I Live Now,” isn’t all that original or complex, but what this novel lacks in plot is more than made up for in stunning writing and characters. The narrative is an enthralling blend of stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences and a conversational tone that makes it seem like Daisy is sitting with the reader and telling them the story—and she’s the type of story-teller where her voice and her story flow so well that you don’t want her to stop (i.e. this book is hard to put down!). Unusual capitalization made the writing unique and more expressive by creating proper nouns (“She stared at me with the Family Stare, the one that normal people don’t ever do…” pg 61), and by adding emphasis (…”I got another one of those feelings you’re not supposed to get from your cousin and I wondered What Was Happening Here...” pg 44). The descriptions are always vivid and often poetic, such as when Daisy experiences “a feeling flying between us in a crazy jagged way like a bird caught in a room” when she sits next to Edmond with her leg against his (pg 44).
Daisy is great as a character. She has a lot of snarky and witty lines, and doesn’t “get nearly enough credit in life for all the things [she manages] not to say” (pg 77). She also genuinely sounds like a young teen when she thinks about things, such as how fun it is—despite a war going on—that her aunt has left her and her cousins with no adult supervision. The cousins were great too: Osbert is the self-important older brother. Piper, the youngest, is an adorable pixie. Isaac and Edmond are twins, the former quiet with a special connection to animals, the latter sweet and caring. The three younger cousins have a telepathic-like ability, and Daisy and Edmond form a telepathic-like bond as they grow closer.
I read some reviews for this book where people were grossed out by, or didn’t understand the author’s inclusion of, Daisy and Edmond’s sexual relationship since they’re cousins, but it didn’t bother me. Daisy herself recognizes that it's something they're not supposed to do, but says that she was “coming around to the belief that whether you liked it or not, Things Happen and once they start happening you pretty much just have to hold on for dear life and see where they drop you when they stop” (pg 47). I think the author’s point was that, in certain situations, such as in the midst of war, you don’t always control what happens, and you just need to go with it and do what seems right at the time even if it isn’t “right” in the usual sense.
When the war starts to encroach on their isolated farm and ultimately separates the cousins (Piper and Daisy are sent to one farm, Isaac and Edmond another, while Osbert gets some sort of military job), life quickly goes from inconvenienced-by-the-war to dire and desperate. Daisy and Piper end up surviving in the wilderness on their own while trying to find the farm Edmond and Isaac were sent to. One night, they’re woken by screams in their heads which, because of the telepathic connection between the kids, is an obvious indication that something horrific is happening around, or to, Edmond and Isaac. The rest of the story deals with finding out who survives and what happened in the aftermath of the war. The last few chapters are a very poignant and heartbreaking demonstration of how war affects people and their relationships, though the novel does end on a hopeful note.
Overall, a very powerful story with characters who stay with you even after you’re finished.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


     So I'd finally kind of gotten myself into a blog rhythm: don't worry about it during the week; mull things over during the weekend; do a post on Sunday nights. But did I follow that routine last week? No, I did not, because Life intervened. Not Life in the form of Thanksgiving weekend; Life in the form of my actual job (the one that brings me paychecks).
     Trying to avoid going into too much boring detail, I'll say that I discovered last Wednesday that, dating back to the beginning of April, I had somehow managed to miss a major development in one of my cases, which in turn led to my being many months late if I was going to try to file a brief. And then on Friday, after consulting with colleagues, I reached the conclusion that I kind of have to file a brief, which meant that (1) I had to figure out what I wanted to say and to write it within a ridiculously short window of time, and (2) I was going to have to provide an explanation to the Court of why the brief was being filed so crazy-late, and this was going to entail my confessing to my idiotic mistake (see above). And if any of this sounds to you like a good time, then I'm a little worried about you, to be honest.
     So, I spent much of the weekend just trying to read enough of the material to begin to get myself up to speed and formulate a game plan, and since then I've basically spent 8 hours a day at work trying to run a marathon. Reading/highlighting/thinking/scribbling notes/writing. Rinse. repeat. And I kind of hate the intensity, but a part of me kind of loves it too. My goal was to finish it today. Now my goal is to finish it tomorrow. I lie awake in bed composing devastating arguments in my head.
     The bright side is that this is something real, and that being completely absorbed in it keeps me - for a few days, anyway - from obsessing about not getting responses to my outstanding queries to agents.  The bad news is that my presence on social media, which barely has a pulse under the best of circumstances, has slowed to nothing. And that I've already lost my blogging rhythm, so early into the game. Will try to do better after the brief has been filed. And if anyone has actually missed me: thanks. I've missed you too.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


     I met Jennifer Hubbard at an SCBWI conference this past June, and in August I interviewed her for this blog.  There, I noted that Hubbard's third published YA novel, UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP, was due to be published by Viking in September 2013, and that I couldn't wait to meet Maggie, its protagonist, when that happened.  I must confess that it's taken me until the end of November to meet Maggie (my fault, not hers!), and the pleasure it brought me exceeded all my expectations.  In fact, this book was not only a gripping read; it dealt with the topic of bullying in such a deep and powerful way that I think it should be on the required reading list at every high school in the country.
     Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cameron was bullied mercilessly in junior high school by Raleigh and her posse, apparently targeted for no better reason than that Raleigh had sniffed out her vulnerability.  All through seventh and eighth grade, Maggie lived her school days in a constant state of terror, never knowing when or how the next attack would strike.  Her intensely vivid flashbacks illustrate that for her, she had survived the equivalent of two years in a war zone.
     Maggie's reprieve arrived in the form of Raleigh's family's relocation to Italy after her eighth-grade graduation.  In the years since, Maggie has been able to relax her constant vigil - but only to a degree.  She is not about to win any popularity contests, but she's managed to form two close friendships: with Sylvie, to whom she can talk about almost anything, and with Nick, whose stepfather has taught him and Maggie hiking and mountaineering skills.  Over the past few months, Nick's stepfather has dropped out of their increasingly ambitious hikes, due to problems with his knees, and Nick and Maggie's solo outdoor ventures have brought her a kind of joy she's never felt before.  Now, she's tentatively beginning to try to sort out how much of the joy stems from the sense of accomplishment and power that climbing a mountain can bring, and how much stems from being with Nick.  But what good does it do to try to decipher how she feels about Nick when no boy could possibly ever be attracted to her?  Because if there was one thing Raleigh and Company made crystal clear to Maggie, it was that she was permanently, incurably unlovable.
     And then.. Maggie's worst nightmares comes true.  Raleigh is suddenly here, back from Italy, attending Maggie's high school, and Maggie's fragile new sense of safety and security is swept away like a mountain climber halfway to the summit being overpowered and swept to his death by a deadly gust of wind.
     Every word of dialogue in this book rings true, from the kindness and compassion Nick and Maggie show each other, to the cruelty Raleigh once inflicted on her hapless victim, to everything in between.  Because Hubbard gives us plenty of nuanced and conflicted secondary characters: Adriana, who used to be Raleigh's sidekick back in the dark days, but who now seems to want to be something different; Vanessa, who's girly and popular but whom Maggie would probably like anyway, if she weren't much too interested in Nick; and Sylvie, who pulls back from Maggie just when Maggie needs her most.  And, because it's actually not all about Maggie, we learn that Nick has his own personal Raleigh - one even harder to fight back against, because it's his emotionally abusive father, no longer a part of Nick's household but still very much a part of Nick's psyche.
     Hubbard told me in her interview that she wanted this book to explore, not so much bullying itself, but its aftermath, and that's indeed what it does.  No one is spared.  I've heard it said that when people become addicted to drugs or alcohol, they stop growing emotionally, so they remain arrested at the age at which their addiction began.  In a similar way, Hubbard suggests, victims of abuse become so traumatized that their development is arrested too.  Perhaps because Maggie has loving and supportive parents, she doesn't respond to her victimization by identifying with her tormenter and becoming one herself.  She does, however, discover to her horror that because of the trauma she's experienced, she seems not to have developed a normal level of empathy.  Her damaged view of the world is polarized between Me - the one everything is wrong with - and Not-Me - the people for whom life is smooth and easy, and whose inner lives therefore don't require much attention.  It's only when Maggie unwittingly jeopardizes both her friendship with Sylvie, and the possibility of having something more than friendship with Nick, that she must face the fact that no one goes through life without having to deal with fear, loss, and insecurity, and that from time to time everyone needs a helping hand.
    I plan to get in touch with my local school board to recommend adding UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP to its high-school curriculum.  It not only conveys truths about relationships and power that would benefit all teens; its characters are utterly believable, its story line is memorable, and the writing is so good that it's almost invisible.  This is Hubbard's best book yet, and the most wonderful part of it all is that I feel absolutely certain that there are even better ones still to come.  Maggie finds her power in this book, and so does Jennifer Hubbard.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


     You are sworn to secrecy, okay?  Because, while my husband and I were permitted to accompany (i.e., drive) our daughter to National Portfolio Day in New York today, and were (amazingly) even granted clearance to see what was in her portfolio, I am obviously forbidden from sharing any of it with outsiders.  But I'm going to anyway, so DO NOT betray my trust!
     So. National Portfolio Day, for anyone who does not have artistic offspring, is a day when representatives from 40 or 50 art schools show up at a mammoth convention center to review the portfolios of the senior-level prospective art students who bring them to be critiqued.  There must have been a thousand kids at the Javits Center today, maybe more, and an equal number of accompanying parents, most of them standing in line at one school's booth, holding a place for their kids, while the kids stood on line for another school.  This is how I learned that behind every accomplished young artist stands at least one awesomely supportive parent, swallowing his  fears about how the hell his kid is going to support herself, and doing everything possible to just help her achieve her dreams.  Here is my lovely daughter, turning her back on me when she saw me trying to take a picture of her:

     Okay, now here comes the really Top Secret part.  You remember that you're sworn to secrecy, right?  Well then, here are a few of my favorite items from her portfolio.  A still life:

A sketch entitled "Scream:"
And the aptly titled "Me Picking My Nose:"
     Uh-oh.  She just walked into the kitchen.  Gotta go!  But if you tell anyone about this, you're gonna swim with the fishes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


    I love A.S. King for many reasons. Here's a partial list:
     1. She writes wonderful, gripping, hilarious, quirky, deadly serious YA novels about extremely real characters dealing with very important issues, without ever letting the issues overshadow the characters.  I've talked about her and her books a lot on this blog.  She is unique and fearless, and her books have earned many starred reviews and won many prestigious awards.  She is on her way to the top of the profession.
      2.  When I (Nobody from Nowhere) asked her, just out of the blue, she let me interview her for this blog last year and was very patient with my questions, as obtuse as she seemed to think some of them were.  And before the interview actually happened, she emailed back and forth with me for a while, taking the time to ask me about my own writing and to offer me writerly encouragement.  I mean, who does that??
      3.  She doesn't watch television.  So I'm not the only one.
      4.  She chose me as the winner of a limerick contest that she ran on Twitter a few months ago.  About virginity, as a matter of fact.  And as a prize, she sent me a book called "Losing It" which contained one of her stories.
      5.  I own a great recipe for corn chowder that she once posted to her blog, or Facebook, or Twitter - I don't remember which one, since I stalk her on so many media.  Used the recipe today, in fact, only quintupled (I won't bore you with the story of how I ended up getting 40 ears of corn for free).
      6.  I met her two nights ago at the very cool Clinton Book Shop, and was not surprised to learn that she's as warm and down-to-earth in person as she seems to be in social media.  (Did NOT get my picture taken with her, though.  Nobody else was doing that there, and it seemed like it would have been really inappropriate for me to ask.)  One of the things she mentioned is how thrilled a young girl had been that day when she'd replied to her on Twitter, "as if I were John Green or something!"  See, A.S. King doesn't even know that she is John Green.
     7.  She has the same first name as my daughter.

     I'll stop the list there, though I could go on.  But there's a point here: A.S. King's latest novel, REALITY BOY, has just been released (Little, Brown, 2013) and is already clad in starred reviews, and I am giving away a freshly-autographed hardcover copy to a lucky contest winner.

     I'll quote here from some of the starred reviews.  Publishers Weekly: "A nuanced portrayal... This is a story about healing."  School Library Journal: "King's trademarks - attuned first-person narrative, convincing dialogue, realistic language, and fitting quirkiness - connect effectively in this disturbing, yet hopeful novel."  Kirkus Reviews: "Heart-pounding and heartbreaking... A compulsively readable portrait of two imperfect teens learning to trust each other and themselves."

     To be completely honest, I'm sort of hiding behind the starred reviews as a way of avoiding reviewing the book myself.  It's deceptively simple to describe the plot: 16-year-old Gerald Faust's whole life has been defined by his family's stint on a fake-nanny reality TV show a decade ago, and by his own role on that show as the designated family-wrecker.  Due to his unique form of response to this situation, highly popular as it was among TV viewers, Gerald is still known to his peers as The Crapper.  Due to his more recent activities, he's also known as someone occasionally capable of acts of horrendous violence.  Now a high school junior in special ed classes, he possesses an anger management coach; no friends; and a lifelong belief that everyone on the show was right about him.  He's going to end up either in prison, or dead.  And then he meets this girl.
     But what is the book about?  That's what I'm struggling with.  Is it about healing, as PW says?  About the power of love, a la Kirkus?  About our society's obsession with celebrity and our schizophrenic attitudes toward the celebrities themselves?  About the dangerous unreality of "reality" TV, and the false perceptions it creates?  About what happens to kids who grow up subjected to parental neglect as well as to physical and emotional abuse from a sibling?  Is it about how victims of violence often end up being perpetrators? Or is it about all of the above?  And if it's all of the above, isn't that approximately 30% too many themes for one YA novel?
     Despite this quibble of mine, REALITY BOY is a great read.  I also believe that it's an important book, in large part because it was written by an important author.  I would like people to read it and figure out what they think it's about.  And in furtherance of that goal, I'm hereby sponsoring a contest, with an autographed copy of this book as a prize.   SO: in order to enter the contest, which will run from now until next Sunday, Nov. 17th, at midnight Eastern time, leave a comment to this post answering the following question:  Name a literary protagonist who possesses at least one truly ugly trait but whom you nonetheless care deeply about, and explain why you do.

     P.S.  And by the way, in honor of Veterans' Day: In EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, A.S. King engages in one of the strangest and most moving discussions of the impact of military service on future generations that I have ever seen.

     P.P.S. And here is what Laurie Halse Anderson has to say about honoring veterans, including her father.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


     Now, I know there are some haters who don't think of New Jersey as The Great Outdoors. My post tonight is for their benefit - and for yours, because I have every confidence that YOU'RE not one of the haters, right? A couple of hours ago my dogs began looking out of the window and going absolutely berserk. I let them out in the back yard, and they proceeded to go even more berserk, so I followed them out to see what was going on. And there, on my next-door neighbors' front lawn, a flock of wild turkeys stood, utterly ignoring my dogs, looking casually around as if they were the property's new owners.
     I was too stunned at first to do anything but stare at them and call my husband out from watching football to come stare at them too. It wasn't until the turkeys began to mosey off the lawn and down the street that it dawned on me to grab my cell phone and follow them. Here's what happened:

They crossed the street -

And found another neighbor's lawn -

Where they made themselves at home -

Until they decided it was time to move on -

Up the block -

And beyond.

     FYI - when a wild turkey who's been daydreaming suddenly realizes that the other members of his flock have started to move on without him, he chases after them, squealing "Eeee!  Eeee!" and sounding very much like a preverbal human child.    
     Yeah. This all happened. So the next person who makes a "Which exit?" joke around me better be hungry for a knuckle sandwich, you know what's I'm saying?

Sunday, October 27, 2013


 I've previously reviewed Meg Rosoff's novel WHAT I WAS in this blog, after having heard her speak at last winter's SCBWI Conference. I called Rosoff "ferocious and terrifying." None of that has changed with her newest young-adult book (Putnam, 2013).
    The first thing 15-year-old Mila tells us is that she was named after a dog. "It helps if you know these things," she says. But I, the reader, don't feel helped; I feel mystified. Aha! In the opening paragraph of this novel Rosoff has already succeeded, once again, at her devilish game.
     Mila, not the reader, is the one who's helped by the information about her name, because Mila, like her parents, works as an interpreter. Her mother, a violinist, interprets musical notes on a page into living music. Her father, a translator of books, interprets the nuances of one language into the nuances of another. And Mila's expertise is in interpreting human behavior. Whatever the reader might make of the fact that Mila is named after a dog, Mila knows the truth: that her name is a symbol of the deep love her parents have for her, and for each other.
     Reading a Meg Rosoff novel is like attending a master class in writing. This, for example, is how Rosoff tells us that Matthew and Suzanne, the couple whose home Mila and her father are visiting, had a child who died:

          Now that I am fully awake I scan the room - a small desk, a metal swivel chair,
          two pairs of sneakers neatly placed in a corner. A bookshelf holds the Guinness
          Book of Records from a few years ago, a US Army Survival Manual, an ancient
          copy of Treasure Island with a worn leather cover, a tall pile of school notebooks
          and sports magazines. Just above is a shelf on which silver swimming trophies
          stand side by side and I realize with a start that this is Owen's room. There's a
          picture in a silver frame of him with Suzanne. He's got his arm round her shoul
          ders and is already a few inches taller. The room has been tidied and dusted,
          but a set of keys, a birthday card and a bowl of coins still sit on the dresser as
          if he will come along any minute to claim them.

     Go ahead, Meg Rosoff. Twist the scalpel in my heart. Or there's this conversation between Mila, whom her father calls Perjuntador (Portuguese for "asker of questions") and her father, whom Mila calls by his name, Gil, about an old friend of Gil's that Mila has just met:

          "How much do you like Lynda?"
          Gil frowns. "Why on earth do you ask that?"
          I look at him.
          "Just the normal amount. It was a long time ago that we were close," he says. "What are you
          thinking?" He peers at me closely.
          I don't answer.
          Then he says, "You don't think I'm in love with her?" He removes his glasses, rubs his eyes
          and replaces them. "I'm not. Of course I'm not." He sighs. "Perjuntador," he says softly.
          "The past is littered with people we've loved, or might have loved. You'll find out in time."
          I say nothing for a while. And then, "Let's go."

     It's Mila's Easter school vacation, and Mila and Gil are about to leave London to visit Matthew and Suzanne in upstate New York when Gil is informed by Suzanne that Matthew, Gil's closest friend from childhood, has suddenly gone missing. After consultation with Mila's mother, Gil decides that he and Mila are going to set off on their trip anyway. So, like all  stories that don't being with a stranger coming to town, this one begins with a journey, ostensibly for the purpose of finding Matthew. But, as Mira observes (and as always happens with journeys), she and Gil keep finding other things.
     I've been finding something myself lately: that reading exquisite books like the ones Rosoff writes spoils other books for me. It's like shining a spotlight on the poor other authors' failings: the plot holes, the crude transitions, the inadequate characterizations, all the places the seams show. Because the seams in Rosoff's books are virtually undetectable. The books themselves fall away, and all that's left is the puddle of lives within the pages. There's no wading into that puddle. You're lucky if you have enough time to catch your breath before you're pulled under.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


That's right - they're MY State Supreme Court, the New Jersey one, and today I'm taking full credit for them.  I've been arguing cases before various permutations of this Court for some fifteen years now.  Some of my all-time favorite Justices are no longer there: booted out by Chris Christie for political reasons (Justice Wallace), recently retired (Justice Long).   But the three depicted in the above photo are some of my current favorites: all deeply principled people, for whom I have tremendous respect.  They're (left to right) Justice Jaynee Lavecchia, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, and Justice Barry Albin.  I like all the other sitting Justices too, actually, but I've never been prouder of all of them as a group than I've been since Friday.  They could have made a wishy-washy statement about gay marriage and still denied Christie's motion for a stay.  They could have said that the public has an interest in postponing same-sex weddings until after the entire substantive case has been decided (it'll be argued in January, and decided some time months later), but that it was outweighed by the interests of the same-sex couples who want to be able to marry.  But that's not what they did.  Instead they said, unanimously, that there is NO public interest in delaying the weddings.  None.  None at all.  Got it?
     Perhaps the bravest of them was the Chief Justice, who will come up for reappointment during what will presumably be Christie's next term as governor.  The Chief is a very, very smart man, who no doubt knows full well that with this ruling, he has just kissed any chance of his being reappointed by this governor goodbye.  But, unlike some Speakers of the House I could name, he did not put his own job security ahead of what he believed to be right.  He voted his conscience. 
      My Court.  I think I'll keep them.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Look.  It's the Milky Way.  Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?
      It reminds me of the end of T.H.White's THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, first published in 1939, on the very eve of the Great War.  Some of my favorite words in all of literature since I was 14 or so, describing the quiet death of King Arthur in his tent in the midst of a fierce battle:
     He saw the problem before him as plain as a map. The fantastic thing about war was that it was fought about nothing - literally nothing. Frontiers were imaginary lines. There was no visible line between Scotland and England, although Flodden and Bannockburn had been fought about it. It was geography which was the cause - political geography. It was nothing else. Nations did not need to have the same kind of civilization, nor the same kind of leader, any more than the puffins and the guillemots did. They could keep their own civilizations, like Esquimaux and Hottentots, if they would give each other freedom of trade and free passage and access to the world. Countries would have to become counties - but counties which could keep their own culture and local laws. The imaginary lines on the earth's surface only needed to be unimagined. The airborne birds skipped them by nature. How mad the frontiers had seemed to Lyo-lyok, and would to Man if he could learn to fly.
     The old King felt refreshed, clear-headed, almost ready to begin again.
     There would be a day - there must be a day - when he would come back to Gramarye with a new Round Table which had no corners, just as the world had none - a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there. The hope of making it would lie in culture. If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.
     But it was too late for another effort then. For that time it was his destiny to die, or, as some say, to be carried off to Avilion, where he could wait for better days. For that time it was Lancelot's fate and Guenever's to take the tonsure and the veil, while Mordred must be slain. The fate of this man or that man was less than a drop, although it was a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea.
     The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to met the future with a peaceful heart.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


     So a couple of weeks ago I was at work, chatting with my boss, and he revealed to me that a co-worker whom he knows much better than I do has just self-published a YA novel, orderable online.  My first impulse was to run and accost this co-worker, whom we shall call R (and whom I hardly ever see in the ordinary course of business), and talk to him about writing for kids, and our respective experiences, and what led him to self-publish, and yadda yadda.  And then perhaps I could interview him for this blog.  But then I realized I should read the book first, shouldn't I?  So I asked my boss, who owns a copy but hasn't yet read it, to lend it to me, which he did on Friday, and now I've read it.  Hence the title of this post.
     First off, it's not a YA novel, it's a middle-grade novel.  Which is fine.  Because it's just my boss who used the phrase "young adult," and he doesn't know squat about writing for kids, so I can't blame R for that - there's nothing written on the book itself to indicate grade level.   The premise is very interesting: a young teen boy and his family are in the process of living through a form of apocalypse which I will not specify for fear of identifying said book to anyone who reads this.  But trust me, it's a BAD apocalypse.  And the boy and his family, along with their besieged community, are attempting to survive it as best they can.
     The writing is good.  And so is the setting: R clearly did his research homework.  And he got the voice of the boy protagonist exactly right.  And he's created believable secondary characters.  But there's no plot.  By which I mean: the book begins during the siege, and continues through the remainder of the siege, and ends with the community's rescue by an outside force.  The protagonist does his part as circumstances allow, but his actions effect no change in the overall situation.  Mostly, he reports lucidly and well about the deteriorating conditions in which he's living, and wonders when, or if, the nightmare will end.
     It's not enough.  it's not a novel.  And, reading it, I suddenly stop fixating on my inability to get my own books published, and become aware of how much I really do know about writing books.  Fifteen or so years of attending writing classes and SCBWI conferences and workshops, and working with my wonderful critique group, has taught me A LOT.  I know (and this one is from Sesame Street - I can hear the song running through my head) that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I know that the action must build toward a climax, followed by a denouement.  And I know that in writing for kids, one must have a main character who is not simply buffeted by fate; he or she must, in some way great or small, seize the initiative and make something happen.  And R's main character, whom I like so much, doesn't do that.  The adults do all the planning and organizing; this boy serves as a witness and a reporter.  It's not enough.  This isn't a novel.
     And it makes me feel really depressed.  For one thing: there goes my fantasy of having a fellow YA writer to commune with at work.  Oh, I'll go talk to R, and tell him about all my positive reactions to his book, but I'll be holding back what I really think, because the book is out there already and any constructive criticism from me would be useless at this point, even if he had any interest in hearing it.  And I definitely can't interview him for this blog, because here I've gone telling this blog what I REALLY think, so I can never let R have access to it.
     And okay, here's the other thing I'm depressed about.  After thinking about the book itself, I return to fixating about me me me.  I've written four actual novels, none of which may ever see the light of day unless I, too, follow the self-publishing route.  Whereas R has written one not-exactly-novel, and it's OUT THERE.  Anyone on the planet can buy it and read it.  R doesn't know many of the basic principles of writing a novel, and yet he has something I don't have.  And I can call this emotion of mine sadness, because that sounds so much better than envy, but really, who am I kidding?
     So, to summarize:  OH SHIT.  How come R's protagonist gets a deus ex machina and I don't?  Where is mine when I need one?


Sunday, September 29, 2013


     I see from my lack of email response that my contents entrants probably didn't realize I posted the results, not as a new post, but as a comment to the contest post.  Please check there, and I'm sorry for any confusion.

Monday, September 23, 2013


     It's Banned Books Week here and now, but a few days after my immersive ROSE UNDER FIRE experience, my mind is still stuck in Nazi Germany.  And so I thought it would be fitting for me to post a link to an article that describes Helen Keller's 1933 reaction to news of a proposed Nazi book-burning fest, which I believe was approximately when Gertrude Stein (who was Jewish) was writing that Hitler should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because, after all, if he succeeded in deporting all the undesireables, then there would be peace, wouldn't there?  (Many modern commentators claim that Stein was merely being ironic.  Seems to me like an odd subject to joke about, actually. Other commentators offer credible evidence that Stein was a strong supporter of the collaborationist Vichy government in France. )  Stein had eyes, but she saw not.  Keller, on the other hand, saw more than most.  Read this article about her by Rebecca Onion, published in Slate in May of this year.  Banning books we don't like...  banning thoughts we don't like...  eventually, banning people we don't like.  All links in the same chain.

     Happy Banned Books Week!  (And thanks to Holly Schindler's blog for this fabulous photo).

Saturday, September 21, 2013


     Elizabeth Wein is the author of CODE NAME VERITY, which I've reviewed here on this blog.  As soon as I learned months ago that Wein was following that book up with a not-sequel-exactly, I pre-ordered ROSE UNDER FIRE.  I was mostly through reading it when I wandered onto Wein's website and discovered that she was going to be doing an East Coast book tour and that today she would be at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA.  And since that was her closest stop to where I live, I decided to drive the two hours each way just to be able to see her.  Which I did.

(I'm the doofus on the left with my eyes closed)

Saturday, September 14, 2013


  When I got to CVS my prescription wasn't ready.  The pharmacist said it would just take a few minutes, and for once I had nowhere I had to be immediately, so I sat down to wait.  There was an elderly couple at one end of the row of seats, filling out paperwork, so I sat at the other end.  They were being kind of loud, and I really didn't want to hear their conversation but there was no way to avoid it. 
     "What am I supposed to do?," she asked her husband.
     "Sign your name," he said. "Marilyn Richter." [I've changed the names, of course.]
     Goddamn these old men, I thought, being so condescending to their wives.  Does he think she doesn't know her own name?
     "Marilyn Richter?" she asked wonderingly.
     "Yes. That's your name. You have to sign it."
     "Right here."  Oh, God.  I couldn't help but look over at them, and that's when I saw that he had a cochlear implant.  That could account for the loud voices. 
     She wrote, and then showed him the papers. "Is this right?"
     "Well, yes, you've written Marilyn.  Now you have to write Richter."
     "Here.  Right after Marilyn."
     She went back to work, and showed him the result.  "You're not supposed to print it," he said.  "You're supposed to sign it, like you're signing your name."
     "I don't understand."
     He leafed through the papers.  "You see how you signed your name here, in cursive?  That's what it's supposed to look like.  Not printing, like you did there.  Here, I'm crossing out where you printed so you can write it in cursive."
     Her forehead wrinkled.  "What's the difference?"
     He sighed in exasperation - not with her, but with himself.  "I don't know how to explain it," he said, as if thinking aloud, but then he got an idea.  "You see here how all these letters are connected?  That's what it's supposed to look like.  Write Richter so it looks like this."
     "Okay," she said sweetly, and went back to work.
     Just when it seemed they were finally done, the pharmacist came out with more papers for them.  Evidently they were there to get flu shots.  "You have to sign these too," the pharmacist told the husband, "so that your insurance will pay.  If you don't sign, they won't pay."
     Mr. Richter sighed gently, and the whole process resumed.   It went more smoothly this time, and after he finally handed everything back to the pharmacist, he sat down again, visibly relieved.  His voice took on a jocular tone.  "If I'd have known how complicated this was all going to be," he said to his wife, "I would have shot myself."
     She laughed, in full possession of the joke.  "You would have shot me," she bantered back.  And then they laughed comfortably together, like the two people they once used to be.

(from Google images - not the Richters)

Thursday, September 5, 2013


     That's my advice to everyone.  Especially if you have the chance to do it in the company of the two best dogs in the world...

And there are places there for them to explore...
And maybe some logs to balance on...
And most especially if there's water for them to play in...
See what I mean?  So GO TAKE A HIKE!!!!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013


     I know what my mother would say about the current situation in Syria.  In her usual exquisitely nuanced approach, she would half-listen to the details, shrug, and say, "Let them (i.e., the Arabs) all kill each other."  She would utterly fail to see the connection between Assad's murder of his own citizens by poison gas and the Nazis' use of their World War II gas chambers.  But even when that connection isn't mentioned in public debate about what the U.S. should do now, it feels to me like the elephant in the room.  What is it about gassing people to death that's of a different order entirely than other forms of warfare?  Ask the Jews.  We know.

     There is no good answer to what the U.S. should do about Syria.  On the one hand, how can we as a nation stand by and condone Assad's heinous acts by our silence?  On the other hand, once we get involved in another country's civil war, where and when and how do we get out?  I don't even know what I hope Congress decides.  I only hope that, for once in their lives, our elected officials can act like sober adults with a historic mission to carry out instead of like children squabbling in a sandbox.
     I want to say one more thing.  It's easy to look at the Middle East right now and say that seemingly the only two options in Arab countries are repressive rule by tyrants or chaos that opens the door wide to extremism and violence.  But when in history haven't giant steps forward been followed by regression?  Look at the French Revolution and its bloody aftermaths.  No civilized country can afford to throw up its hands about the Middle East and say, in the immortal words of Sarah Palin, that we should "let Allah sort it out."  We need to remember far wiser words - ones from  a speech whose anniversary we commemorated just a few days ago.  As Martin Luther King said 50 years ago from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: we cannot walk alone.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I woke up early with these lines of someone else's poetry running through my head:

So here hath been dawning another blue day.
Think: will thou let it slip useless away?

But I didn't know the author or the rest of the poem, so I googled it and can now present it to you in its entirety.

                  TODAY  (Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881)

So here hath been dawning another blue day.
Think: will thou let it slip useless away?
Out of Eternity this new day was born;
Into Eternity at night will return.

Behold it aforetime; no eye ever did.
So soon it forever from all eyes is hid.
So here hath been dawning another blue day.
Think: will thou let it slip useless away?

     Wow. How's that for a guilt trip, huh?  Thanks, Thomas Carlyle of Scotland, a.k.a. the Sage of Chelsea, for reaching down through 150 years to seize my shoulder in your Calvinist clutch.
     It really is an intensely blue day today, though. Brilliant sun, low humidity. So I ask myself: What Would Carlyle Do? Based on his bio, I'm guessing he wouldn't have headed for the beach. He probably would have spent the blue day Thinking Great Thoughts while his wife arranged the guest list of Other Great White Male Thinkers for their evening salon.
     Me, I'm going to do my post-vacation supermarket run this morning, and probably go for a short hike with my husband and dogs in the afternoon. And then later I'll make dinner and catch up on some laundry. And yes, Thomas Carlyle, I'm going to try to once and for all finish up my manuscript and stop torturing myself redoing the first few lines for the umpteenth time, so I can submit it to the editor who said she'd love to see it when it's done. And if all of that fails to meet Thomas Carlyle's standards, as I suspect it would, then I have nothing to say in my defense to that eminent, dour Victorian gentleman and possible pre-Fascist. I can only do what is in my power to do.
     Reader: have a happy blue day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


How adorable are my son and his girlfriend?

Scale of one to ten.  Eighty-six?

Sunday, August 11, 2013



I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Hubbard in June at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference
when one of my volunteer assignments was to be her "faculty liaison." I didn't know what this meant,
but fortunately, neither did she, so I was able to fake it. I had signed up to attend both of the work-shops she co-presented with Kit Grindstaff, and as soon as they ended I proceeded straight to the Conference book sale, where I bought Jennifer's first two published YA novels, THE SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE. Jennifer describes her work as "minimalistic contemporary realism" (see below), and that's a genre I feel is underrepresented these days in YA. At the book signing, Jennifer graciously agreed to let me interview her for this blog. Fortunately, I'm able to post our interview before the Sept. 12th anticipated release date of her third published YA, UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP (Viking Press). What this means is that you now have time to pre-order!
   1. In each of your first two novels, SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE, the
protagonist has suffered a loss and now feels an impulse to embark on new relationships, but
finds that a longing for something from his past is holding him back. For Colt in SECRET
YEAR, it’s memories of a girl who has died; for Ryan in TRY NOT TO BREATHE, it’s a girl
who has now made it clear that she wants their relationship to stay platonic. Did you
consciously choose to leave both boys in unsettled emotional states as their stories ended? If so,


     In both cases, I felt that a “Hurray, all my problems are solved!” ending would be unrealistic. But
 I also view these endings as the points where each boy has achieved a measure of peace and hope.
 They both are forever changed by what they’ve gone through, but they also have plenty to look
forward to.


   2. SECRET YEAR puts a lot of its focus on class distinctions between the teens who live in
The Flats and those who live on The Hill. Colt makes a point of assuring the reader that his and
 Julia’s story is not Romeo and Juliet’s, because if they had taken their relationship public, no
blood would have been spilled. But is Julia’s name really a coincidence rather than a reference?
 Is it your impression that caste systems still operate as overtly and intensely in American small
 towns as they do in this novel?


  Julia’s name is a semi-coincidence. I originally chose her name just because I like it and thought it
suited her ... but when I realized the connection with Juliet, I was happy to get that additional layer of
meaning from it.

  I do think that divisions in our culture, whether based on income, politics, education, race, religion,
 or ethnic background, do operate this intensely—and often even more intensely. They can be overt,
or subtle and insidious.

  Colt and Julia mostly use the economic division between them as an excuse for secrecy; it’s a self-
imposed limit, an aphrodisiac, an important tool in the particular game they play. Yet as much as they
 mock this division, it affects them in more subtle ways that they don’t fully understand. Where you
live, what kind of future you can expect, who you’ll meet, are all at least partly determined by


   3. TRY NOT TO BREATHE has a teen protagonist who was hospitalized following a suicide
attempt and is trying to readjust to ordinary life. Who is the reader you saw in your mind’s eye
as you were writing about Ryan and his struggles? What aspects of Ryan surprised you by
appearing unplanned on the page while you were writing the novel?


   I didn’t have a specific ideal reader in mind. I just wanted the book to feel true—not that there is
only one truth, but that it would reflect a believable scenario.

   One thing that pleasantly surprised me was Ryan’s loyalty. I knew his bond with Jake and Val was
strong, but I also knew the distance between them was causing problems, and I didn’t realize until
late in the book just how strong their underlying bond was. Ryan would go anywhere or do anything
for them—and they would for him—even if they don’t see each other much anymore.

The fact that he wanted to go sky-diving also surprised me!


   4. Your newest YA novel, UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP, will release on September 12th. Is
there anything about its plot and/or characters that you’d like to share here? How did it feel to
get into the head of a female protagonist after having male narrators in your first two books?
In what ways was it easier for you to write your third novel than your first? In what ways was
it harder?


   The short version of this book is: In junior high, Maggie was an outcast, bullied by her classmates.
Then her chief tormentor moved away, and high school proved to be less brutal, although Maggie has
 never truly let her guard down. She only finds peace when hiking in the mountains—with a friend
who may be turning into more. But just when Maggie thinks she can move beyond her fears and her
sense of worthlessness, her old enemy returns to town.

   When I wrote short fiction, I had both male and female narrators, about fifty-fifty. I have written
 both male and female narrators for novels, too, but it just happens that the first two novels that sold
 had male narrators!

   This book was very hard to write, harder than the first two. Not because of the female narrator, but
because I was balancing the hiking, romance, and bullying plotlines, and finding the balance among
them took a while.


   5. You’re a member of YA OUTSIDE THE LINES, a group of YA author/bloggers whose
motto is “YA Novelists Pushing the Boundaries of the Genre and Writing From the Heart.”
What has that membership meant to you, both personally and professionally? In what ways do
you feel you push the boundaries of the genre?  Are there any ways in which you would like to
do so more?


     I love blogging—I have my own blog, too. A group blog is fun because I only write one post a month, but I get to see all these other bloggers’ variations on the monthly topic. Sometimes the posts are heartrending, full of raw emotion; other times they’re light and funny. I was a regular reader of the blog before they invited me to join.

     As far as boundary pushing, I’m a little unusual in writing minimalistic contemporary realism at a time when long, description-rich paranormal and fantasy books are more dominant.

     I’ve experimented with form and format and unusual point-of-view, but haven’t yet produced a publishable novel from those experiments. I keep trying, though. Try Not to Breathe actually started out as a verse novel.

     I do try to take slightly unusual angles on my stories. Many books about suicide end with the character’s decision to die or not, or they begin after a suicide has occurred. In Try Not to Breathe, I wanted to explore what happens after an attempt; where does the character go then? In Until It Hurts to Stop, I wanted to look at the aftermath of bullying, the way it affects people even after the abuse stops. 

*        *      *      * 
I want to thank Jennifer so much for taking the time to answer my questions to close to the
release date of UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP, when I'm sure she has quite a few other things she
could be doing instead. In addition to her monthly blog posts at YA Outside the Lines, Jennifer does indeed have her own personal blog at (note the middle initial R!) She can be found on Twitter at @JennRHubbard, and her website is, where all her other contact and social media information can be found. Jennifer is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. Thank you for stopping by, and please don't forget to pre-order your copy of UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP! I, for one, can't wait to meet Maggie in September!