Sunday, December 22, 2013


The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson #1, Bongo Comics

If you read this blog, you most likely know me for my young adult novels.  But there's more to Miss Smith than meets the eye (well, that's not true.  If your eyes ever meet me, they'd figure it out).  I also write comics! Bongo Comics, to be precise!  They are the good folks that kept Futurama alive for years in print, and who bring you *original!* *funny!* *stories!*  of America's favorite family.

Miss Lisa is a personal favorite of mine, being the bookish young lady she is.  So I was thrilled to have a chance to add to her story with my own offering, "Lisa's Lending Library."  You can find it now in the newly-published stand-alone comic book "The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson" (there's a great review here!). 

Chuckle-worthy stories from the likes of Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey), Heather Nufher (My Little Pony) and myself, with delicious art by the eye-bending Nina Matsumoto, the amazing Pia Guerra (Y, The Last Man!) and the etheral Kassandra Heller (I was totally lucky to be teamed with her!).

You can find more of my work with the Simpsons in last year's "Milhouse #1,"

 Milhouse 1.png

And, if you dig deep, in several Bart Simpson Comics individual issues, or trade paperbacks like this one (note the literary theme of my work.):

Simpsons Comics: Get Some Fancy Book Learnin'

There are a dozen or so stories scattered over the years, and a few comic strips too, from when The Simpsons made the funny pages in the London Times (that's right, I'm big in TWO languages-- English, and American).

Remember, comic books make a perfectly good stocking stuffer, too.  Especially if the stocking is made of mylar and includes a backing board.*  So shop your favorite comic book place this week (You can find one near you by calling 1-800-COMICBOOK.  Seriously.), and have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

*Hence the title of this post.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Happy Smugglivus! (A holiday for the rest of us!)

The Book Smugglers

Boy, talk about a day late and a dollar short!  The lovelyAna and Thea at The Book Smugglers invited to me to share my list of favorites from 2013 and what I'm looking forward to reading/watching in 2014.  The post went live yesterday, and here I am running to catch up.  It's been that kind of a year.  Please do check it out, along with all the other great Smugglivus postings from your favorite and soon-to-be favorite authors.  You'll get some great ideas for your holiday shopping, and you might even win a copy of ORLEANS!

Monday, December 2, 2013

What I Did On Saturday - Indies First!

I was so busy drooling over hand-selling books at Skylight Books on Small Business Saturday, that I forgot to take pictures.  Lucky for me the lovely Wendy Werris from Publishers Weekly was there!

Photo: 3 of the authors who were guest booksellers at Skylight today for the Indies First day: novelist Attica Locke, young adult author Sherri L. Smith, and caterer/food author Jennie Cook. (they talked with customers about some of their favorite books, and sold a bunch, helping make it a record day!)
(L to R) Kerry Slattery, owner of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, with three guest booksellers: novelist Attica Locke ("The Cutting Season"), YA author Sherri L. Smith ("Orleans"), and caterer/food writer Jenny Cook ("Who Wants Seconds?"). Skylight's Mary Williams stands at the far right. Photo by Wendy Werris

I love bookstores (I've said it before, and recently, too).  Skylight is one of the best of them.  Beautifully curated by people who know their stuff and want to share it with readers.  What more could an author ask for?  Oh, right, an Indies First bag.  I stuffed my with picture books for the little ones in my life.  Where else am I going to get a picture book bio of Toulouse-Lautrec?

Want to know which books I was recommending?  Here's a short list of favorites.  You might want to keep them in mind for your holiday shopping list:

  1. For the young adventurer - Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge
  2. For the history buff or young journalist - Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  3. For the Francophile or fashionista - Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross 
  4. For anyone too young for Lord of the Rings - The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
  5. For myth lovers and Anglophiles- The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper (start with Greenwich!)
  6. For the indie, artsy girl - anything by Cecil Castellucci
  7. For EVERYONE - Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  8. For teens who are too plugged in, or refuse to plug in - Feed by M.T. Anderson
I also recommended a few books for adults, including:
  1. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides (compelling)
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (fascinating)
  3. The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo (Don't let the purple prose stop you-- it's a great true story!)
  4. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (gorgeously written)
  5. Phryne Fisher Mysteries #1 - 19 by Kerry Greenwood (fun!)
I read a rule on family gift giving for the holidays on some wise blogger's site last year.  Everyone gets three gifts;  one you need, one to read, and one for fun.  I think books can fit the bill for all three!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving Thanks

I'm doing it.  Twelve people, one deep fried turkey and a boatload of sides.  This year it's all about family, friends and two-- possibly three-- kinds of stuffing.  Four if you include the "your face" variety.

How are you spending your Thanksgiving?

I'm grateful for so many things this year.  Grateful I can walk without crutches or a giant leg brace.  Grateful I write things people want to read! And so very glad to have loved ones to share the day with me.  I hope you are equally blessed.

One other thing I'm doing, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  It's called:

Author Sherman Alexie said, "hey, let's help out independent bookstores by handselling books on Small Business Saturday."  (That's what they call the Saturday wedged between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Sunday being a day of rest.)  And "Indies First" was born. 

Now, some authors do this sort of things all the time.  I know of at least one who haunts her local bookstore like a well-read, benevolent Miss Havisham-- but with fresh cupcakes instead of stale wedding cake.  (Hmmm.. maybe that sounds like an insult anyway, but that's the image that came to mind.  That or Edward Mulhare in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," but I'm dating myself.)

I used to haunt my own bookstore, big box variety that it was.  Until it became an even bigger box drugstore.  Then I moved on to the next, slightly smaller big box store.  Until it became a discount clothing store.  Now I shop in airports and go to the library.  And, much worse, I download books on my secret love, the Kindle.  (Some decadent ladies lie in bed eating bonbons.  I lie in bed buying books!) 

Which is a shame, because I love bookstores.  I LOVE THEM.  As evidenced by my post about Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights (still gives me shivers, just typing it!).  I like to bury myself into corners with stacks of potential (read "inevitable") purchases.  I like to make eyes at the other shoppers in the SF/Fantasy section when they get close to picking up any of my favorite books.  It's an open invitation for a conversation, a recommendation, a connection in the tunnel-like aisles of Storyland.

So, I'm all for joining the Indies First! movement.  Lucky for me, Skylight Books, that gorgeous independent, well-lit, beautiful bookstore on the other side of town is willing to have me.  So, mark your calendars if you live in Los Angeles and its environs.  The details are below.  Join me.  I haven't lurked the aisle in a while.  This is going to be fun!

Sat., 11/30/13, Noon to 2PM – Indies First!Skylight Books, Los Angeles

Meet the author and help put independent bookstores first.  Do your Small Business Saturday shopping with Sherri at Skylight Books.  I’ll be making recommendations for your holiday gift giving along with several other authors.  Join us!

Gosh!  That reminds me.  There's one other other thing I'm doing the weekend after that,.  Another shop local event, but this one is not book related.  Remember me talking about Tired Girl Collective, my craft booth with friends?  Well, we're at it again, this time we're back with
Unique LA, December 7th and 8th.  Won't you come by and see us?  We've got gingerbread men rings, and fascinators, and a more adorable stuff, I promise! 

Clearly 'tis the season to be thankful and busy.  Hope to see you out there.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Touring the Backlist: SPARROW

Stop #2 on the backlist tour is Sparrow.  This is where I hit my sophomore slump.  Lucy the Giant had been well received and I was worried my second novel wouldn't be good enough.  I had two projects in mind-- one was an historical fantasy, the other was a contemporary called Sparrow.   The thing about Sparrow is, the heroine's grandmother dies.  My own grandmother was alive, but not in the best of health.  A bit of magical thinking had me afraid to write the death of a grandmother, for fear that it would happen.  So I didn't do it.  The book sat there, and my editor wondered what I was up to, and I Did. Not. Write. 

I pushed the book aside and life happened.  A year went by.  My grandmother passed away in her own time, and my family mourned.  Still, I avoided writing, until my publisher called me and asked if I had another book like Lucy.  The trouble was, they wanted exactly the same book.  Something about a girl with self-image issues (but not weight issues!) who goes somewhere and does something etcetera, etcetera.  All I could say was, "I already wrote that book."  But they were confident I would think of something.

I didn't.

Then my boyfriend said, "What about that Sparrow thing?"  I wrung my hands, and explained it wasn't up to snuff because of a million things.  He asked to read it.  When he was done he said, "This is it.  This is what they want."  Turns out he was right.  So I married him.  (Well, not right away, but that's another story.)

Writing death in YA is difficult.  There is so much romanticized (or ignored) death in kid lit.  It's either a matter of course-- Cinderella's an orphan, so is Snow White.  In fact, it's a requirement in fairy tales for one or both parents to die before anything interesting can happen.  But by the time you reach the teen years, there's a good chance someone close to you has died-- be it a grandparent, a teacher, a pet, a classmate.  As an author, you are faced with telling the truth about death, about how empty and helpless and angry and numb it can make you feel.  Because, face it, if you haven't experienced it anywhere but in a fairy tale when the real thing comes along, it's like a freight train.

So, when I lost my grandmother, I tapped into what that felt like.  In return, I got a letter from a reader who said it helped her feel less alone when her own grandmother died.  It made me glad I'd written the book.

Now, remember that other book I'd considered writing?  The historical fantasy?   That's what I'm working on now.   It's called Drosselmeyer.  I've struggled with this idea for years off and on.   The mother dies before the story starts, and I could not write it.  And then I lost my own mother, and I thought, "Maybe now I can write this book."

In Drosselmeyer, I'm trying to pay attention to the way I felt after losing my mother, the strange sense of denial that she's just in the next room because she always is, and the renewed shock of remembering that she is not.  Shortly after she passed away, I had a conversation with someone who had lost his mother a few years before.  He told me I would feel better over time, and then it would hit me all over again and suddenly, there I'd be, sitting in traffic, crying, even though it had been years since the funeral.  Grief is an emotion that is always fresh, it turns out.  But, over time, the crushing weight returns with less frequency, and for shorter durations.

Can you think of a book that depicts grief in this way?  The unwanted visitor that smothers you, then goes away for a little while, only to return again?  There's a place for that book.  But Drosselmeyer is not about grief.  It's an adventure.  It's about saving the world.  It's about first love.  It's about clocks and mice and the mysteries of the planet.  But it's also about how you face up to all those things when you are grieving, and how a young man saves himself from despair while saving the day.

If you are curious and want to learn more about Sparrow, you can read a synopsis on my website, or hunt down a copy of your very own.  If you want to learn more about Drosselmeyer, you'll have to wait.  I'm writing as fast as I can!

Monday, November 4, 2013

One Hundred

This marks my one hundreth blog post.  Given that the blog is called "The Middle Hundred," I should probably say something important.  But really, this is just the first hundred, and I've done a lot of writing lately, so I have nothing to say.  Let's save it for the two hundreth posting, when I promise I'll be witty and sage.  Today, we honor the centry mark with a tour, one that celebrates finding those first hundred pages.

Let's walk down this street.

And stop at this store.

And go in...

...choose a book from the tub...

...and sit by the fire.

And read.

This is Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England.  Let's just say that again, slowly:  Emporium. Of. Reading. Delights.  (I want to go to Bath).  Isn't it lovely?  And even better, they have a reading spa.  Take note, you British gift givers.  In this holiday season, what book lover wouldn't want to:

...visit our gorgeous shop in Bath for a one-on-one book chat in our sumptuous Bibliotherapy Room with one of the Mr B’s team over a mug of tea or coffee and a delicious slice of cake. Your bibliotherapist will then gather and introduce you to a tower of books specially selected to suit your reading tastes. Each Reading Spa voucher includes an amount to spend on books, so that you can pick your favourite recommendations and take them away with you.

Tea! Cake!  Tower of books!  I don't work for Mr. B's and they didn't ask me to write about their store.  I just stumbled across the website on one of my internet rambles (what I do when I should be writing) and fell head over heels in bookish love.  They also do a reading year subscription (the very thought makes me weep!).  Since I live in a neighborhood with no bookstores, independent or big box, this is balm to the soul.

Have any of you been to Mr. B's?  Tell me about it.  In detail.  Squee!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Reason to Celebrate

I finished my draft late Sunday night.  And then I did this:

... although, admittedly without the splits or the shaming at the end.  I have no shame.  And then I went and stood in front of the TV and made my husband watch me dance.  It feels SO GOOD to be done!

Now, before I get the Grumps, I have a few things to tell you about:

First of all, I mentioned possibly being on a panel at Comikaze this weekend.  Unfortunately, that will not be happening this year, so I apologize if you were planning on swinging by to see me.  Barring something cropping up in the next few weeks, I believe I'm done with public appearances for the time being.  Stay tuned right here for updates.

Secondly, LitCrawl.  Last Wednesday, I joined a bunch of lovely writers to do "Book and a Movie" at the Republic of Pie in North Hollywood, CA as part of the inaugural LitCrawl NoHo.  The Los Angeles Review of Books sponsored our YA event, and it was fun! 

Right before we went on, the management pointed to the room full of 20-something art school students and other people-- not one of who was under the age of 18-- and said "this is a family establishment, so keep it clean" in a stern voice. Which lead some authors to literally say "bleep" during their readings, and had me explaining violence doesn't count in a movie if it's toward a zombie.

Aside from some technical difficulties (um, if you don't have sound, why are there microphones?) which were quickly cleared up*, we had a decent roomful of folks and some hilarious movie/book combos:

1.  Cecil Castellucci's First Day on Earth - Close Encounters of the Third Kind
2.  Gretchen McNeil's 3:59 - Donnie Darko
3.  Lauren Strasnick's Then You Were Gone - Skins (the BBC show)
4. Orleans - Doomsday (the world, not the story!)
5.  Sarah Skilton's Bruised - Haywire

A scene from the movie of choice was played, then the writer took the stage and read the scene evoked by the movie, and then the movie trailer played.  I confess I was hesitant at first, but also curious.  The first scene started to play and a woman sitting next to me asked "Why are we watching these clips?"  I said, "Hold on, it's a thing..." And it was a thing!  A fun thing that totally worked out and made people clap.  It also made them want to see Doomsday, which I can't really recommend as a "good" movie but hey, I watched it, so why shouldn't everybody?  And I've been meaning to see Haywire.  Now I can imbue that decision with literary purpose!

Thanks to the fabulous Cecil Castellucci for making me show Doomsday to the world!  Litcrawl is still getting it's legs under it (ha!) but it looks like it will be a fun annual event!

In a further attempt to stave off the Grumps, I went to the bookstore tonight and came home with a giant book on Victorian Households (did you know a widow was expected to wear mourning clothes for two years or more?), and The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhejll.  Looking forward to tea and text tonight!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reasons to Celebrate

Tonight, we celebrated the publication of the Hedgebrook Cookbook, a compendium of delicious recipes from Denise Barr and Julie Rosten, two of the magnificent chefs at the Hedgebrook retreat. (That's Denise laughing next to Julie in the upper right hand photo on the cover.)  A group of alumnae and friends of Hedgebrook both new and old gathered at a gorgeous home in Brentwood to eat from the cookbook, to talk about Hedgebrook and its mission of supporting women writers in bringing their voices to the world. 

We ate lavender shortbread and asparagus tart, drank Cedar Deep wine name for one of the hidden places in the woods above Hedgebrook's cottages and garden.  The amazing Mayda Del Valle performed some of her gorgeous poetry.  It was a wonderful night.

Yesterday, we celebrated For Women Only, a charitable organization helping homeless and at-risk women stand on their own two feet and succeed.  I was joined by Carol M. Tanzman (Circle of Silence), Jennifer Bosworth (Struck), Erin Fry (Losing It), Gretchen McNeil (3:59)and Kathy McCullough (Don't Expect Magic), signing books and talking to the most interesting people!  Many thanks to Penny Armstrong and the Manhattan Beach Barnes and Noble for organizing a fun Saturday afternoon for such a worthy cause . For Women Only's current initiative is to help young women from underserved communities finish high school and get on a path to college.  A portion of our sales went to support the organization, and it doesn't stop there.  Please visit their site and, if you are in LA, turn out to support them.  FWO will be doing holiday gift wrap at several Barnes and Nobles around the LA area as part of their fundraising efforts.  As much as this weekend was about celebrating two amazing organizations, it was also about raising awareness.  Both Hedgebrook and  For Women Only need our help to keep their good works alive!

This weekend was about writing, books, and counting my blessings.  I know such amazing women!  It serves as a reminder to celebrate every day.  We have voices.  Let us use them well.
Hollyhocks in the Hedgebrook Garden this August!
Oh!  Don't forget to join me this Wednesday, October 23rd for LitCrawl in North Hollywood!  I'll be doing "A Book and A Movie" at the Republic of Pie on Magnolia from 6pm to 7pm with the fantastic Cecil Castellucci (The Year of the Beasts), Lauren Strasnick (Then You Were Gone), Gretchen McNeil and Sarah Skilton (Bruised).  Just one more reason to celebrate!

Lit Crawl LA: NoHo

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saturday Last and Next

Last Saturday's Teen Book Fest at the Central Library in Los Angeles was phenomenal.  I started the morning out chatting with Cornelia Funke in the green room (we had a green room!  And Cornelia Funke was in it!).  If you haven't visited her website yet, please click her name and do it now.  It's wonderful, clever, interesting-- all a reflection of the woman herself.  From the green room it was on to my first panel, moderating a discussion on Historical Fiction with Patricia McCormick (SOLD, NEVER FALL DOWN) and Elizabeth Ross (BELLE EPOQUE).  What charming, intelligent ladies.  It felt like a day at a literary spa with girlfriends.  Patricia shared the fascinating true story behind the her novel, while Elizabeth delighted us with images of 19th century France and the birth-of-the-Eiffel-Tower-as-metaphor (trust me, it works). 

After our well attended (thank you everyone!) panel, I sat in the audience for the Middle Grade Book Panel, featuring Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson (The OH MY GODMOTHER series), Kristen Kittscher (THE WIG IN THE WINDOW), Jenn Reese (ABOVE WORLD), Ned Vizzini (HOUSE OF SECRETS) and Cecil Castellucci (LAST DAY ON EARTH).  This panel
made me want to write for middle grade.  I'm drawn to YA because I think those are the books that shape the adult you become, but the panelists all seemed to agree Middle Grade readers are at an age when magic is still possible and self-confidence has yet to be shaken.  That would explain SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS and how a bunch of kids can just sail off and live on a island for days on end without their parents calling the cops or anybody crying for no good reason.  I dig that! (And thus date myself beyond even my extensive years!)

The afternoon found me on the Other Worlds Panel, with Cecil Castellucci , Tom Leveen (SICK), Gretchen McNeil (3:59), Mary E. Pearson (THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX), and Marlene Perez (DEAD IS JUST A DREAM).  It was like a mini-reunion of writers I've met this past year.  We had a blast talking about our books and the challenges of world-building.  All in all, the day was a success.  We're hoping it becomes a regular event, so please do keep checking back here and I'll let you know if we can do a repeat next year!

So, that was last Saturday.  NEXT Saturday you can find me at the Barnes and Noble in Manhattan Beach, CA from noon to 4pm for the- Inspiring Authors for Teen Girls Author Fair.  This event is a fundraiser in support of For Women Only whose education program, “Passport to Life: A College Bound Project” is an Education Program helps prepare young women aged18—24 to pursue their academic goals.  Come on down and say hello!

Monday, October 7, 2013


Okay, so movie reviews aren't my usual thing.  Well, don't worry, this is not a movie review.  I'll go ahead and say SPOILER ALERT, which isn't really needed.  I don't give anything away, but if you want to see the movie without any inkling of what it's about (other than what I just gave away in the poster) then cease reading here and come back later.  For the most part, this is a genre discussion. 

Alfonso Cuaron's new movie GRAVITY came out this weekend.  I just saw it and I confess, as much as I love Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN, come on!), I was reluctant to see this one.  I take issue with Man versus Nature stories.  Ever since being forced to read "To Build a Fire" in grade school, I've shivered at the thought of the futility of man in the face of the great big insert-here (world, universe, everything).

So, a movie about two astronauts trying to survive in the vaccum of space?  Kind of awful.  I just think of Jack London's protagonist and those damned matches.  And then I think of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" and those damned matches and it makes me want to stay home forever in footie pajamas by a warm fire with a cup of cocoa.

The thing is, Man versus Nature is such a stripped down format, but it's so darned effective.  It's just Man (or Woman or Child) with nothing more than the clothes on their back-- if they're lucky-- and maybe one or two not-so-impressive tools.  And then there's Nature, red in tooth and claw, with all of her glory suddenly gone not-so-glorious for said Man/Woman/Child.  What more do you need?  These stories are about tension, hope and hopelessness, and digging deep for the will to live.

It gives me a stomach ache.

So, SPOILER ALERT (again, not really, unless, etc.)

What's impressive about GRAVITY is the way the ante, which is already literally sky high, gets upped, and upped along the way.  "The Little Match Girl" and "To Build a Fire" are short stories.  They both have one villain, manifested in one simple way-- the cold gets colder.  In GRAVITY, there's more than one way to die.

So, I'm sitting in the theater with my stomach clenched and my feet flexing at the ankles, like I'm trying to pump the brakes from the passenger seat and I come out of the theater more stonyfaced than entertained (appreciative of the effects, the camera choices, my belief in Cuaron as one of the most talented, thoughtful directors of our time, yes) and it occurs to me:  I wrote ORLEANS.  And I've been told that its given some readers the same tension tummy.  And yes, it is in some respects a Man versus Nature story in which there are many ways to die.

What was I thinking?  So, this is my apology for making any of you guys feel oogie while reading ORLEANS.  Hopefully it will stay with you, the way Andersen's and London's stories did with me.  It's funny how what you read as a child influences what you write as an adult.  It's also interesting to create something I considered "fun!" (ORLEANS, to me, is dark, difficult, but a romp with a badass heroine aka "fun!") from a place of childhood fear.

Maybe I should write something set in space?  Truly, just the thought makes me cold.  Which probably means it's worth looking into.

Hey, don't forget, I'm at the Teen Book Fest on Saturday, 10/12/13 at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.  Come on by and say hello!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Meet the Author - Booktober 2013!

Can you believe it's almost October?  Time has flown, and that brings us to a whole new page on the calendar and a few new chances to meet in the real world.  This October, you'll find me at the following events:


Sat., 10/12/13 - Teen Book Fest – Los Angeles, CA
LA Public Library Central Branch, 630 W. 5th Street Los Angeles, CA 90071

  11 - 11:45 AM - "Historical Fiction" Panel - I'll be moderating a discussion with
  2 - 2:45 PM - "Other Worlds" Panel

Sat., 10/19/13, 12 - 4 PM - Inspiring Authors for Teen Girls Author Fair – Los Angeles, CA
Barnes and Noble, Manhattan Beach, 1800 Rosecrans Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
This event is a fundraiser in support of  For Women Only whose education program, “Passport to Life: A College Bound Project” is an Education Program helps prepare young women aged18—24 to pursue their academic goals.

Wed., 10/23/13, 6PM - 7PM - LitCrawl YA "Book and A Movie" - North Hollywood, CA
Republic of Pie, 11118 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood CA 91601
Join me and my fellow YA writers for this Los Angeles Review of Books hosted portion of the new, exciting LitCrawl as we team up our books with movie trailers, clips, and a reading from our latest novels.  Includes:
What's LitCrawl, you ask? 
"The nationwide phenomenon known as the Lit Crawl debuts in Los Angeles’ North Hollywood (NoHo) Arts District this fall on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Mark your calendars now!
Restaurants, bars and other hip NoHo venues will host an evening of thrilling readings with the best of L.A.’s writers in a sampling of some of the greatest ongoing readings series from throughout Los Angeles County. Multiple literary genres will be represented spanning fiction to poetry. It promises to be a magical, vibrant literary night for all!
Los Angeles is home to one of the largest, fastest growing, and most diverse literary scenes in the world. An incredible array of local reading series and literary organizations are expected to participate in the first Lit Crawl LA: NoHo Arts District for a uniquely Los Angeles literary night."---
Phew!  That's a lot.  And there will be more.  Look for a panel at Comikaze the first weekend in November.  But for now, 'nuff said.  See you out there!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fried Egg On Teflon: Holding a Story

Okay, maybe I should have used a different image.  Picture a bear scooping salmon out of a stream.  Or rather, picture a bear trying to scoop salmon out of a stream.  That was me yesterday and today, trying to grab hold of pieces of a story that has been swimming through my mind for a couple of years.  You see, I started a project about three years ago.  My lunch time project, I called it.  No matter what other book I was working on (ORLEANS, as it turned out, for much of that time), I also worked on another story.  But I only wrote it long hand, and I only wrote at lunch time.  You could find me sitting outside a fast food Mexican plate eating way too many chicken nachos, and scribbling on a yellow legal pad.  I wrote without an outline (unheard of for me, like parachuting without a parachute!), and just asked myself "what would I do next if I was her?  If I was him?"  And I wrote a book.  I typed it up, patted myself on the back, and gave it to a friend who pointed out it wasn't a book so much as a novella, and what did I mean by this, that or the other?

Clearly, she hadn't been eating the nachos.  So, my brillance was just a diamond in the rough.  And I worked on it some more and at the end of a while I had my version of a noir novel.  It excited me and I thought, why not write a cycle?  Why not write an American Gothic novel to go with it, since it had some of those undertones?  Only this time I'd go whole hog and have it all-- the big spooky house, the characters drifting into madness, the heat, the confusion, the violence.  I even have a title.

But I don't work that close to the nacho place anymore, and I can't seem to find my legal pads and, if you read this blog you know I'm supposed to be working on Something Else.

But, yesterday, I found myself on the freeway driving past my location and I thought about the story.  A lot.  And decided I'd outline it this weekend.  If only I could get a grip on more than just the idea of it.  A gist is not a story.  It's a gist.

Sometimes you see images of a story.  At least I do.  Pictures flash in my head.  If I'm very still and have a pen and pad (or a receipt or gum wrapper) I can capture those images and coalsce them into a story.  And then, sometimes, you get the flashes, you have the pad, and all that comes out is a shopping list of what you want the story to be.

So, instead of an outline, here it is Sunday night and I am left with an image of an egg sliding out of a teflon-coated frying pan.  This is my brain.  It's empty.  Maybe that's a sign.  Time to replenish the creative well.  I will try to look at art this weekend, and hear music, and maybe read ABSALOM! ABSALOM! again  (that Faulkner, what a nut). 

And maybe one day my brilliant cycle of Southern Californian Gothic Noir will be a real live salmon/egg/story on a plate in front of you.

In the meantime, back to that Something Else.  I swear, it's coming along.  (It is!)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Exercises, Deep-Fried, On A Stick.

There's this writing exercise in Natalie Goldberg's innovative book on, Writing Down the Bones.  Part memoir, part workbook, there are lots of great prompts and exercises to get the creative juices flowing.  The one I'm thinking of asks the reader to make a random list of items, then choose a profession and write down verbs associated with the profession.  Now, use the verbs with the nouns.  The goal is to find innovative descriptions.  Her example uses chef-related cooking verbs, resulting in a sentence about dinosaur bones marinating in the earth.

The L.A. County Fair (yes, we have one) is going on this month.  It is a magnificent land of carnivals, games, pig races, living libraries, craft villages... and every food you can imagine, dipped in batter and deep-fried on a stick.  (For a complete list, click here and choose the "fried food" category.  There's deep fried cereal for cryin' out loud!)

It's like a culinary school drop out played madlibs with the phrase, "Deep-fried (noun) on a stick."  For example (and these are real things), insert:
  1. Watermelon
  2. Cheesecake
  3. Pineapple Upside Down Cake
  4. Bacon-wrapped pickle
  5. Snickers Bar
  6. Reese's Peanut Butter Big Cup
  7. Ribs (okay, not on a stick, unless you count the bone.  They are described by a new word, "fry-b-que.)
The game has also been played with "Bacon (noun)":
  1. Cotton Candy
  2. Nutella Bun
  3. covered in chocolate, sprinkled with sugar
And "Krispy Kreme (noun)":
  1. Double Cheeseburger
  2. Sloppy Joe
Now, the list is not as shocking broken up like this, but when you say:
  1. Deep fried watermelon on a stick
  2. Bacon cotton candy, or
  3. Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe
... it hits you like a heart attack, or heartburn, or worse.

If you could put any random food items together and deep fry them, what would you pick?  And how would you describe the flavor? 

I watched a young woman take her first bit of watermelon on a stick.  It looked like a giant, triangular chunk of battered fish drizzled in streaks of red (presumably watermelon) sauce.  Her first bite was all batter, which she said she liked.  The second, deeper bite resulted in something resembling a fried raw meat pocket as the pink interior fruit was revealed.  She began to laugh, covered her mouth to keep her tasty treat from escaping, and stopped laughing long enough to say, "It's good."  I asked if the watermelon was still cold.  Nope.  "It's hot... and that's weird.  I like cold watermelon.  But it's good."

Is it?  Really?

Now, you're probably wondering, where does the writing come into this?  Here, a simple exercise:  What non-food item can you insert into the above phrases to come up with a new way of expressing things?

  1. Jed left Marla with nothing but an old sock and a case of deep-fried heartache on a stick.
  2. It was what Stevie called a bacon blind date-- started out good, got even better, 'til you wondered if it was too much of a good thing.
  3. She wrapped him up in one of those Krispy Kreme hugs, soft, sweet and a little nauseating.
Hmm.  Not too bad.  Like the deep-fried watermelon.  Now, if I can use "hot watermelon" in a sentence, you'll be the first to know.

Oh, wait:  Turns out kissing your best guy friend after discovering he has a crush on you is kind of like eating hot watermelon-- weird, but you know, still pretty good. 

Thank you, and good night!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where I've been

I've been missing from the blogosphere for a couple of weeks now.  Want to know where I've been?

In Seattle.

Being a tourist.
Getting down to the basics:


My inner self.

 And the things that really matter.

 I've also been at Hedgebrook.  Celebrating 25 years of the most wonderful place.* 


Oh.  And I've been writing.  In the woods.

*In 25 years, Hedgebrook has housed, fed and inspired over 800 women.  Won't you help them continue their amazing philosophy of "radical hospitality?"  Somewhere, thousands of women writers will be saying "thank you" from the bottom of their hearts. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Touring the Backlist: LUCY THE GIANT

I've been feeling nostalgic this week, thinking about the other books I've written.  Mostly, I've been wondering how the heck I did it.  Yes, I'm still up to my elbows in a rewrite and while I'm not entirely in the weeds, it feels like a long hike back to the clubhouse (A weird golf metaphor, I think.  I don't play golf, but I watch TV shows where they do.).  No matter how many books I've written, I suspect I will always reach a point where I think it's impossible/horrible/terrible/no good.  And then I remind myself, "You've done this before," and I try to remember how so I can do it again.
So, this week, I'm taking a look back at my very first novel, LUCY THE GIANT.  This one was a doozy because I had never written a story longer than 30 or so pages before.  I remember having the idea and feeling driven to complete it.  Then I drove right off a cliff, down the wrong road a few times, and final found my way to a satisfying "The End."
The hardcover dust jacket
I learned to persevere when writing LUCY.  I learned that despair is just a bend in the road before reaching hope.  That it was okay to not really know what I was doing, as long as I knew what I meant and stayed sincere about it.  Which meant not quitting.  And loving the characters.  And seeing, I mean really seeing the world they lived in-- taste it, touch it, smell it, feel it in my bones.
The paperback
That's something I forgot to do early on in this current manuscript-- really feel the world.  I had an idea of it, knew what it looked like and just threw it on the page.  I was more interested in getting it down than I was in breathing life into it.  It's a common problem with my earlier drafts.  I am too busy telling the story, rushing from A to Z, to really stop and smell the roses.  So I'm smelling the roses now (and dashing around in the new scenes... I promise I'll smell those roses later).  I spent a long afternoon in the study carrels Central Library with a stack of books on history, costumes, toymaking and the clockmaker's guild.  When in doubt, I say, do some more research.  The little details you stumble across give your story depth and a sense of veracity that is difficult to just "make up."

Wandering those shelves, sitting at the long tables with other silent readers, I remembered there is a whole world happening around my little story.  It's a fantasy, but it's historical, which means Napoleon and war and the Congress of Vienna and all sorts of things are happening at the same time as my guys are trying to figure out how to open a nut.  Which immediately sounds like a writing prompt to me.  And it was.  I came home, and I wrote.  And I'm still writing.

And I learned that from LUCY THE GIANT. 

Sadly, Miss Lucy is out of print for the time being.  You can probably find her living in the warm dusty arms of a used bookstore somewhere.  It's a fun, sad, moving little book about a man-sized girl finding her way in the rough world of Alaskan crabbing.  There's a pretty good feast written into that story, and a version of a dress I used to own (or maybe just wished I did).  And there's crab.  I love crab.  And Alaska, which I also love.  LUCY is a thank you letter to the Last Frontier State because, while I always knew I wanted to be a writer, it was a trip to Alaska that made me one.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Teen Drama Queen

Yesterday, I lead a writing circle with the theme "Teen Drama Queen" for a local Hedgebrook fundraiser.  (Hedgebrook, you might recall, is the Shangri-la of writing retreats for women in Washington State.  Applications are open now, check it out!)

Seriously, this is part of Mount St. Mary's Doheny Campus.
Classes were taught in and around a Victorian mansion on the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary's.  So beautiful!

My particular workshop was designed to help adults get in touch with their inner teen in order to write YA.  One of the most popular prompts was about high school crushes.  Here it is-- give it a go!  If you are still in high school, think back to elementary school and have at it:


List three to five people you had crushes on

  • Choose one
  • Write a moment when you acted on (or reacted to) the crush from your point of view
  • Write the same scene from their point of view
  • Write it from the point of view of an distant observer
  • Write what you WISH had happened
Have fun!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Post Comic Con Post 2013

This might be a part one if I can get more pictures to post.  Comic Con was crazy this year!  In addition to my usual floor presence as part of the Tired Girl Collective, I was honored to be a part of TWO panels!

The first was Friday night with my fearless former editor Tim Travaglini and the charming Andy Briggs (The New Adventures of Tarzan).  Andy's work with Tarzan has taken him to Cameroon where he is working with Ape Action Africa to help save our fellow primates! 

I moderated the second panel, a jam-packed stage full of awesome writers-- Veronica Wolff (The Keep), Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown), Veronica Roth (Divergent), Marissa Meyer (Cinder), Lissa Price (Starters) and Ally Condie (Matched).  We had a great time talking about romance and the kick-ass heroine.

The view from the podium-- a packed house!
Afterwards, we held a book signing with a line so long, the fire marshal shut us down!  I sat between Lissa and Holly at the signing.  Lissa was giving out advanced copies of the sequel to STARTERS, ENDERS.  In order to win, a reader had to pick a number out of an envelope, flip to that page in their copy of the book, and see if the last letter in the last word on the page ended in a vowel.  If it did, Lissa would shout "We have a winner!" and throw her arms in the air.  It was silly and exciting and a lot of fun.  By the end I was shouting "Ding! Ding! Ding!" like a Vegas slot machine.

Also?  I got to meet Jim Butcher.  Which. Was. Awesome.  Because I heart me some Dresden Files.  I never thought I'd geek out over someone at Comic Con, and I've seen or talked to a ton of "names" at conventions-- Christian Bale, Jason Statham, Stan Lee, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Gene Simmons, etc.  But who does it for me?  Writers.  Novelists.  Jim Butcher!  Squee!

All in all, it was an awesome, exhausting, wonderful time.  If you were there, thanks for coming!  If you missed it, maybe next time?  It's worth the trip.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled deadline...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Comic Con 2013!

It's that time of the year again!  I'm off to Comic Con and I've got an exciting line up this year.  Thanks to ORLEANS finally being a considered genre enough for Con, I'll be doing a couple of panels and signings, in addition to my usual crafty presence in Small Press with Tired Girl Collective.

The Schedule:

·         Wednesday, 7/17 – Sunday, 7/21/13 – TIRED GIRL COLLECTIVE, Small Press Table O-12
Visit Sherri and her pals at their arts, crafts and jewelry table known as the “pinkest booth at Con!”  You can see a preview of some of this year's wares below.
      · Thursday, 7/18/13AUTHOR SIGNING,2pm to 3pm, Penguin Booth 1028/1030

Moderated by Timothy Travaglini (Open Road Integrated Media); authors Kevin J. Anderson(Dune) and Rebecca Moesta (WordFire Press), Cory Doctorow (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother, Boing Boing), Andy Briggs (,, Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy), Sherri L. Smith (Orleans, Flygirl), and Nick Cole (The Old Man and the Wasteland, The Savage Boy), and bookseller Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Books, Inc) discuss impact of the digital age on writing, publishing, reading, bookselling, and the traditional book as we know it.

From The Hunger Games' Katniss to Divergent's Tris, no one knows how to give a solid ass-kicking like a YA novel heroine. But when these young ladies aren't saving the world, overthrowing powerful regimes, or slaying everything from zombies to dragons, they still find time for romance. Ally Condie(Matched), Veronica Roth (Divergent), Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown),Marissa Meyer(Scarlet), Lissa Price (Starters), and Veronica Wolff (The Watchers) discuss the delicate balance between killing and kissing, and what it takes to properly woo a YA heroine. Moderated by Sherri Smith (Orleans).

With When Grrls Fall in Love Panelists Ally Condie (Matched),Veronica Roth (Divergent), Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown), Marissa Meyer (Scarlet), Lissa Price (Starters), Veronica Wolff (The Watchers), Sherri Smith (Orleans).
Now, if you're wondering what Tired Girl Collective is, it's a crafting co-op I started with a couple of friends back in the dark ages of 2006.  Comprised of my odd random crafts and jewelry (as Miss Smith's Miscellany and Bookish Press),
What I get up to when I'm not writing...

... or working....
...or sleeping.  This is a hairclip!
my partner-in-crime Ren of Karen Lucrece's beautiful art (she designed the look of my webpage!),
and a rotating cast of other exhausted women who stay up late making strange things because we think they are funny or cute. This year we have Melanie of Belle Pottery with us. she's got AWESOME jewelry this year.  You must come see it if you can! 
Okay, that's enough self-promotion for one day.  I hope to see you in San Diego.  If not, I'm sure I'll come back with some good stories.  See you next week!