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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hollywood and a John Green Story Come to Town

by Jenny Ramaley

From Sisters of the Traveling Pants to Harry Potter to Twilight to Hunger Games, Hollywood loves kidlit fiction. Hollywood also loves Pittsburgh. Did you know that?
My out-of-state sister and brother-in-law were visiting the day I read in our local paper that film crews would soon start filming John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, right here in our area. We were all in the living room when an older pickup truck stopped in front of my house and watched two lanky young guys lope up my sidewalk. Turns out they were scouting locations for the main character’s home, and thought my house looked homey – but more importantly – noticed our flat front yard, a rarity in the hilly Pittsburgh area. Could they take a look at the inside of my house?
Hmmm. Normally that answer would be “are you out of your mind, buddy”, but ‘Greg’ volunteered his driver’s license while my brother in law slipped out and photographed his license plate, so I let him come in. He went through every room taking pictures – he was a real nice guy. Since my sister was visiting, some rooms were picture perfect – while other rooms were piled with all the detritus from the neat rooms. Greg swore he could see past the mess and assured me he’d seen a whole lot worse. It was kind of . . . exciting. But having had some past brushes with Hollywood from my screenwriting days, I knew not to get my hopes up that Shailene Woodley would be roaming my hallways with an oxygen tank anytime soon.

Not to go on and on, but our house just wasn’t what they needed. We heard later that they found a house about a half hour away with flat terrain that better suggests the Indiana location where the story is set.  Cynthia, a Route 19 Writer who lives on my street, had her bathroom scouted – yep, they just needed a specific bathroom layout – but she didn’t meet the location needs either. She did, however, sell the services of her environmental company to the location scout, and a few days later was overseeing water sampling in a mucky pool that was being used for a different film project - a horror story where 'bodies' were floating in the water, and they needed to make sure the water was safe for cameramen to stand in. Ah, Hollywood.

Although our houses didn’t meet the bill, the church at the top of our street did get the nod for filming the scenes where the teens’ cancer support group meets. The crew is keeping things low-key, but I suspect they’re filming today – street parking is blocked off with orange cones, and guys were off-loading crates that look like camera equipment in the back corner of the parking lot.

Best of luck to the film project – John Green does such a great job capturing teen angst, and this story has the added challenge of intertwining cancer and the specter of early death into the characters’ lives. Shailene Woodley did a great job with George Clooney in The Descendants. I can’t wait to see how this story is brought to the big screen, and how hilly Pittsburgh is transformed into suburban Indiana.


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Geography of Place

by Cynthia Light Brown

I have been re-reading some of my favorite books lately, including mysteries by Tony Hillerman. Hillerman’s stories are almost all set in the American Southwest. For Hillerman, setting really is a character. To get there, he truly understands geography.

Geography is the interaction of people and the physical setting. Everything from geology to topography to climate comes into play, and it shapes human culture. In Hillerman’s setting, the dry, open landscapes are never far from the action of the novel. But even more, it affects the main characters, and particularly the Navajo culture that is central to the mysteries.

In most Hillerman books, he establishes early on that Leaphorn and Chee, two of the main characters and both Navajos, have a different cadence of interaction than is typical in white culture. The pattern of interaction between people is slow, depending on large amounts of listening and small amounts of talking. It is rude to interrupt, and long pauses are both common and comfortable. This pattern of conversation is then used throughout the book to continually call the reader back to the different culture, without banging us over the head.

Even more, this culture of conversation fits perfectly with the American Southwest setting. The huge vistas, long distances between people’s homes, the intense dryness with rare downpours—they all contribute to a meditative presence in the region. I have spent much time there, including long hours on a bicycle, and it does indeed engender quietness.

So Hillerman calls us back to his special setting not only by describing the physical setting, but also in people’s interactions. There is never a moment in his books where we could imagine ourselves anywhere else.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's All in the Details

It's All in the Details
"He...held up his trigger finger and daubed Tabasco sauce into his eyes to stay awake." 
                  Kevin Powers, from The Yellow Bird

It is "truer than true" that reading makes you a better writer.  I just finished The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, a first time novelist, and was blown away by his writing.  He was able to communicate the horrors of war more clearly than perhaps I wanted to know, but with dead-on in-your-face sickeningly specific details.  This got me to thinking about other favorite authors of mine and their amazing ability to let you see a character or a situation instantly with just the right words; those specific details:

"...and then a dented blue Cadillac, driven slowly by a dignified old gentleman in a bow tie the same blue as his car."

"The menu was a multi-page laminated thing almost as big as the tabletop."

                 Lee Child

"Mr. Lamb's car was a dull-green Maverick with one orange fender and a coat hanger antenna."

"Ian...was tearing down the sidewalk on his tricycle with a miniature license plate from a cereal box wired to the handlebars."

"The grocery smelled of store bread and waxed paper."

"They had to rush through breakfast with faucet coffee and cold cereal."

"Rosemary tossed something into the red plastic tote.  Women like Rosemary never purchased their   groceries by the cartload."

                   Anne Tyler

"A duck with its head drawn deep inside its plumage drifted across the pitch-black surface of the lake."

"There was a thin, shrill tone of horror in his voice that she couldn't recall hearing since he was a little boy jammed between them on the sofa in front of the TV with his hands over his eyes."

"His collarbone stood out under his skin like a clothes hanger."

                    Jo Nesbo

"He worked in a butcher's shop for a Mr Malone, who was the most decent man ever to wear shoe leather."

"She refused a sherry or glass of wine, asking instead for a glass of plain tonic water with ice and lemon."

"...and when he was sixteen he got his first job working in a sandwich bar.  Corry soon caught everyone's eye...it was the way he remembered who liked peanut butte and who liked low fat cheese..."

                   Maeve Binchy

These are just a few of my favorites, though I could have gone on and on. I am sure our blog readers out there could add many, many more.
As with any skill, I know that perfecting writing is done with practice, practice, practice.  But I also feel that when you read great writing, it also engenders a sensitivity and mindset for these things.  As has been said before in our blog, observation and attention to detail are critical.  So I guess we have to just keep reading, writing and noticing- what was that one detail that jumped out and grabbed us?
Submitted by Andrea Perry

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Too Jewish??

Growing up in a household that never celebrated a religious holiday nor belonged to a church or synagogue, I profess ignorance of bible stories, prayers and all the rituals that go along with being observant. That being said, a few years ago I decided to write an early chapter book about a detective  named Pinky Bloom whose family is observant Jews. It's basically a mystery story about Pinky's best friend, Michael Chen, whose family owns a Kosher Chinese restaurant where strange things are happening and Pinky is asked to solve the mystery.  I think I did a pretty good job describing Pinky's over-the-top grandmother who possessed a prized "Kiddush" cup and his family who observed "Shabbat." I made sure not to make it too much of a "Jewish" story but the first publisher I sent it too was a Jewish publisher. I received a rejection from the editor with the standard form letter saying it just wasn't the right fit for their list. Next I tried sending it to an editor who was looking for "Jewish" stories. I received a rejection from her, also with no explanation. So I decided to send Pinky to a mainstream publisher who after several weeks replied that it was "quirky" but not right for them. Is "quirky" code for too Jewish? I'll never know since Pinky Bloom has been put to rest in my ever-growing pile of rejected manuscripts. My next foray into religious-themed stories is a picture book I'm working on about Noah's Ark. I suspect this too will be a hard, if not impossible, manuscript to sell. But the good news is that with all my research I'm getting a long over-due religious education!

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Permanent Record

by Leslie Stella

Permanent Record (release date March 5, 2013, from Amazon Children's Publishing
Leslie Stella

Inspiration for the novel:

      I was inspired by several related concepts when I began to write Permanent Record. The escalating amount of school violence in our country, especially since Columbine, is horrifying. You see the faces of these killers all over the news with little to explain how they got there. I couldn’t stop thinking about it: How did they get to that point? Bullying, mental illness, lack of love, lack of family?  I wanted to explore several themes that don’t fit neatly into talk-show soundbites or the ticker on news programs: 1) Bullying, and the fine line between standing up for yourself and taking revenge, 2) the cyclical effect of bullying and school violence, and how they feed off each other, and 3) the perpetrators themselves, and the idea that someone who fires back at those who have hurt him may not in fact be a monster, but a wounded human being. 

1)  What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

       Life was easier when I connected with no one. Easier, but empty. Now I’m wildly caught up in other people’s lives and my own feelings, and it’s crazy and intense and it’s scary as hell, too—to be so human, so alive.

2)  What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

      The section break in chapter 20, after the anonymous note is found in the school lockers, threatening violence on Halloween. At this point the three main characters suspect each other and, I hope, the reader begins to distrust the unreliable narrative of Badi.

3)  Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

      Nikki Vrdolyak. She is a strong young woman, but capable of great kindness and empathy. She is true to herself and not swayed by popular opinion in a way that is unusual for most teenagers—for most people, period. She is ignored in her own family, she is called “lesbo” at school simply because she doesn’t buy into traditional gender roles, she stands up for Badi when she sees him being attacked, and she speaks her mind, consequences be damned. I think she is a great role model for girls. Definitely the kind of girl I wish I’d been more like as a teen.

4)  What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

      Badi’s brother Dariush was in a band and wrote a song about his experiences working in a car wash. The lyrics are my favorite passage in the book because they’re funny but also because they express Dariush’s frustration with entering the workforce with a brain and an education and no ambition whatsoever.

      I walk through the valley of the car wash of death
      I’ll punch the clock till my last dying breath
      A dark-skinned stranger with an engineering degree
      Wipes down your car, his diploma is a chamois
      Use the pre-soak to loosen crap from the road
      I aim the foam brush like a gun and reload
      Now get the soap off, rinse and repeat
      Spray wax like bullets till I’m dead on my feet.

5)  What is your favorite line of dialogue?  

      After Badi’s disastrous first morning at his new high school, a classmate lifts his hand to him in the hallway. Badi admits, “I try high-five him, but miss.” Haven’t we all felt like that? It’s so indicative of Badi’s personality: trying, trying, always trying, but always falling short, at least in his own estimation. A small thing, maybe, but the small things add up. 


Author Bio

      Leslie Stella is the author of three previous novels of contemporary adult fiction, Unimaginable Zero Summer (Crown, 2005); The Easy Hour (Crown, 2003); and Fat Bald Jeff (Grove/Atlantic, 2001). She was a founding editor of the Chicago-based politics and satire magazine Lumpen, and her work has been published in The Mississippi ReviewThe Adirondack ReviewBustEasy Listener, and anthologized in The Book of Zines: Readings from the Fringe (Henry Holt, 1997; compiled by Playboy editor Chip Rowe), a collection of essays and articles from the obsessive, frequently bizarre world of zines. Leslie was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Prize in short fiction, and Permanent Record is her first novel for young adults.

You can find Leslie at:

Twitter: @leslie_stella

Permanent Record is available in hardcover or for Kindle at:

      Permanent Record was published in March 2013 by Amazon Children’s Publishing/Skyscape. My agent had originally sold it in 2011 to Marshall Cavendish Children’s Publishing, but soon after they were acquired by Amazon Children’s, and forthcoming titles like mine as well as the entire backlist went along too. Please visit my website for impending information about my next novel!

Friday, September 6, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz &

Marcy Collier

Permanent Record (release date March 5, 2013, from Amazon Children's Publishing

Welcome to September's version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Leslie Stella, and her novel, Permanent Record. There's so much good to say about this novel. Hopefully, you'll enjoy the excerpts we've chosen below, follow the links we've included to read what others are saying, and ultimately, check out the book for yourself.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – In this scene Badi, a.k.a. Bud (you need to read for yourself why the names are different) has given up trying to fit in, trying to be normal. This passage gives you a little insight as to the reason why, but you will need to read the book for yourself to see what is the result of the decision.

The real reason I can't talk to Nikki is because I've moved off the path to sanity and fitting in - even with the misfits - and where I'm headed now, she can't follow. I love her and that hurts. Even Reggie, the type of guy I've always admired - cool-geek, comfortable with himself, smart, antiauthority - I can't be friends with him anymore because I'm giving up on trying to get better. There are all those people who stand in my way, who haunt me, dog my heels, from Leighton to Magnificat. The shit just never ends. I'm giving in to being who I am now.

Marcy The main character, Badi (also known as Bud) has never had any real friends. He goes to this new school and faces one disaster after another. But through all of the disasters, he makes a few friends along the way. But then he questions if these people really are his friends. He doesn’t feel he deserves to have friends. This is the point in the story for me that was pivotal. One of his good friends Nikki tells him exactly how she feels, and he finally starts to realize that he does have people who care about him.

 I cross my arms. I knew it would come to this. “You’re against me,” I say.

“Against you? Dude, I am against you back-to-back, surrounded by infidels,” she says. “I am for you. I want you to succeed and be happy, even though being happy seems completely unrealistic for people like you and me. I’m getting concerned here. Scared. I’m afraid something bad is going to happen to you. It’s making me not see things clearly, and I’m sorry.”

The meeting is due to start, so I go in and leave her behind. I hate to do it.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

DaveThere were a few chapter endings that I really liked, the end of chapter 1, chapter 15 and 16, as they all really made me think, really brought me closer to the main character, made me want to read more. In the end though, I chose this one. To help you understand the scene, you need to know that King Sargon is his cat and that "Car Wash of Death" is a song his brother made up about wasting away working at a car wash.

King Sargon sits on my desk and looks out my bedroom window. I close the door and play "Car Wash of Death" ten million times on Dariush's turntable, lying on my bed, staring up at the darkening ceiling and picking at my mole. I don't fall asleep though I'm beyond tired, and I can't eat - not that anyone calls me for dinner and I can smell that it's orange chicken koresh again, my favorite - but my stomach is blocked by a trapdoor that closes whenever the depression hits. And it is hitting hard. The only thing that gets me through is the thought of what I will do to that school on Saturday night.

Marcy – This happens toward the end of the story. I don’t want to spoil the novel so I won't give specific details. Bud struggles with mental illness. Throughout the story, he tends to bottle up his feelings and thoughts, but toward the end, he finally makes a big transformation and begins to see life differently. He makes a tough decision and a plea for help:

God help me out of this don’t leave me alone abandon me alienate me hate me destroy me – floor rushes up to me – my little brother and sister are crying, everyone’s crying but me. I can’t cry because I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe because everything inside me shuts down.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave – Dariush, Badi's (Bud's) brother, is my favorite secondary character. He so confident and comfortable with himself, even though he, like Badi (Bud) is a total disappointment in the eyes of his parents. Also, he's not opposed to telling it like it is. Following, is an example.

He stretches and gets up. "The thing you have to understand about people," he says, "is that most of them suck, and you don't want to be like them anyway. Just get through high school. I won't lie: people suck after high school, too. But you'll be older then and will have given up, so it won't be as devastating."

Marcy –  I was honestly torn between Dariush, Bud’s brother and Nikki. I ended up choosing Nikki, but was happy to see that Dave chose Dariush.

Nikki is one of the few characters that not only accepts Bud for himself, but also accepts others regardless of their problems. She’s not scared off by Bud’s crazy stories or his problems like most people. She is the one person (other than his brother) that he feels comfortable enough to allow inside his world.

Nikki’s bus is coming. She says, “I want to know it all. One day. When you want to tell me everything.”

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

DaveI had a list of about fifteen passages to choose from after I read through the book, but in the end decided this passage was my favorite because it showed Badi's (Bud's) humanity (and I almost used this section for my favorite character growth) and the fact that he is not, as he says himself, a total monster. I also picked it because the scene is so visual, yet still evokes so much emotion.

I see the douche bag Trevor. He came with this girl from the newspaper staff, and he pulls her chair out for her and then gets her a cup of lemonade, and she takes it without looking at him and sets it on the table, and then takes out her phone and plays around with it. And he sits there with this miserable expression on his face, and he fixes his tie and leans in to say stuff to her every so often, and she is not into him, and it's the kind of thing that happens a million times a day, but when you see it happening to someone in front of you, even someone as revolting as Trevor, you would have to be an absolute monster not to feel some vestige of sympathy.

Dylan and his buddies and their dates pass by, and with them is Dylan's little sister, the freshman he pointed out to me on my first day. She has very bad skin and is not pretty - I'm sorry to say it and I'm not judging, but there it is; and she's apparently dateless and tagging along with them - probably their mother made her go because Dylan is Mr. Popularity - and he has his hand lightly on her shoulder when she says something to him, and her whole face is a study in misery, and he replies and pats her back, like, human, and his sister's posture, hunched and defeated, embodies the last fourteen months of my life, when things begin to misfire in my brain and the whole universe decided it was out to get me.

(The scene goes on with more astute observations, but I ended it early in an effort not to give away too much of the plot. So please, read for yourself to see what happens).

Marcy – I love the descriptions in this paragraph! I have a crystal clear snapshot of the images that Bud describes – so vivid. And this scene also gives us a look through Bud’s eyes about Nikki.  

Being that I ride public transportation every day, I see my fair share of crazy, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Like the lady who brings the baby carriage on the Western Avenue bus, but it’s holding Duraflame logs and bottles of orange pop, not a baby. And there’s always a guy peeing on himself. Always. It’s like a rule. Homeless people who yell at the bus driver; homeless people who are trying really hard not to seem like homeless people, but they are dragging kids with them and taking suitcases onto the bus and their money is always carried in some complicated contraption tied to their belts. That’s how I know Nikki is a decent human and not just a rich girl who lives in a nice house in the city: she takes crazy in stride. You could just get up and move away from the crazy people, but she stays put.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave – This quote comes from Nikki, Badi's (Bud's) friend. She's supposed to be a misfit, too. I love how this line makes you think, or rethink what, and whom, are normal.

"Look, I told them I was covering the bonfire for the paper, Bud. I didn't know it was going to be this big thing with you. They like to take the twins out for wholesome family fun on Saturday nights. I think they're at the shooting range."

Marcy – Another laugh-out-loud line!

You know your family’s got problems when the hippies with the stoned dog are worried about you.

You can find Leslie at:

Twitter: @leslie_stella

Permanent Record is available in hardcover or for Kindle at:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Romance Writer Takes A Leap!!

What do you do after you've written eighteen historical romance novels, books set in Regency England? What do you do when you've made it to the NYT Best-seller list? What do you do after you've won numerous genre awards including "Bookseller's Best, The NJRW Golden Leaf,  the CRW Award of Excellence, the National Reader's Choice Award, the Beacon, and the Holt Medallion?
Why you collaborate with your husband and start writing rollicking, hair-raising, fun-filled adventures for kids, that's what. 

Choosing the pen name EG Foley, the E is for her husband, Eric and the G is for her Irish name, Gaelan, together they embarked on not just writing together, but publishing electronically. Gaelan left the safety of traditional books and decided to let go and do something fun.

First, let me tell you about Gaelan. She is one of the hardest working, most dedicated authors I've ever met. She sets goals for herself that are strict and she stays on track. It takes her about eight months to complete a book and her research is absolutely thorough.

That's why I was curious when I found out she'd done a children's book.
And even more curious when I found out she'd decided to work with her husband.

I had questions.

Kitty: Gaelan, this is so different for you. What inspired this story?

Gaelan: Frankly, I think it was leftover Dickens. All of these romance stories I write, well, they have these orphan kids. I wanted to do something with them. You see, when I finish writing one of my romances I need something to give me a break, so often I'll pick up a kid's middle-grade book. 

Kitty: Your husband, Eric, teaches middle grade, right?

Gaelan: Right. So i wanted to do something, I wanted to do a quest. 

Kitty: You've written quite an adventure, and it's full of lots of creatures. How did that happen?

Gaelan: My novels are Regency novels, well, the sun never set on the British Empire so as I wrote I decided I could use all the magical creatures everywhere.

Kitty: Even an angel?

Gaelan: Even an angel. I decided to do that because I wanted to signal to my readers that Jake's world is within a context of a greater world.

Kitty: And you've done something that children's writers are told to avoid, you've used multiple viewpoints.

Gaelan: Yes, I did. I wrote it in the way that would be enjoyable and I ignored the rules. i thought kids could handle it. I did try to take out some of the different viewpoints and the story lost emotion and texture. 

Kitty: What age do you think this series is for?

Gaelan: Nine to twelve. Most of the fan mail is from nine-year-olds.

Kitty: How about the decision to do it as an ebook?

Gaelan: If readers want a hard copy, that can be ordered. But as far as the ebook, when we started we haired someone to help us format it, but now Eric can do it. It was hard to get used to the difference in sales, electronic versus traditional. When you have a traditional book come out there's a huge push at the beginning. With the ebook it is something that has to build. We've noticed a push in sales since we got noticed in Amazon with the "Also Boughts" that put us with Rick Riordan's books.

Kitty: What about editing with the ebook?

Gaelan: Oh, we have a good copy editor, and that's important. They catch things you just don't see. Sometimes what's in your head and what's on the page need tuning. I have to watch for repeating words.

Kitty: Are you pleased with how things are going?

Gaelan: You bet. We've had the first book optioned and it's on its way to Hollywood to see if a producer might be interested.

Kitty: That's so exciting. What's next?

Gaelan: The second book, "Jake and the Giant" is out and the third, "The Dark Portal" will be out in October.

Kitty: And I see that you're doing a series, "Fifty States of Fear."

Gaelan: These are spooky fun stories, a bit sci/fi, nothing that would cause nightmares for kids. They're short and there will be one for every state in the Union. I call them "Red, White, and Boo!"

Kitty: Fun. And how about your romance writing, anything new? 

Gaelan: I just happen to have a new one, just out. "My Notorious Gentleman."

Gaelan is, as I said, a hard-working, dedicated author. If you'd like to find out more about her romance books go to gaelanfoley.com and to find out about her kid's books go to EGFoley.com
You can download a sample of "The Lost Heir" from Amazon. Try it! It really is a roller-coaster of an adventure!