“Make Kindness Your Superpower”: An Interview with Jo Knowles

If life were a teen movie, Jo Knowles would be the kind, smart, somewhat shy girl in the back row who offers the new kid half of her sandwich at lunch, then stands up to the bullies who try to take his hat. (She’d get that hat back without ever throwing a punch.) Then later, she’d bust out a poem in English class that had everybody going, “Whoa.”

In her career, Jo has faced down book banners and fought for intellectual freedom. She’s also been writing beautiful, quietly powerful books, which are testaments to humanity in all its flawed, impossible, hopeful glory. In case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of hers, and not just because she makes a mean chocolate chip scone. 

Jo’s new book, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S, comes out today.

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it, “pitch-perfect…Prescient writing, fully developed characters and completely, tragically believable situations elevate this sad, gripping tale to a must-read level.” Word, Kirkus Reviews, word. You can also enter to win a free copy of SEE YOU AT HARRY’S simply by leaving a comment in the comments section. Winners will be selected by random number generator. Think of it like the claw game in Toy Story.

I sat down with Jo to talk about her new novel, her writing process, censorship, and compulsive hair touching. These were her answers.

(*Note: Sorry for the formatting issues. It has taken me 1 1/2 hours to try to format this %*&* thing. LiveJournal sucks. Also, I am the least tech savvy person on the planet. Please do not leave me irritated comments about the crappy formatting. Those comments will NOT be chosen by the Loving Claw of Possible Book Winning. You have been warned.*)  

LB: This book should come with a warning about the tear-shedding quotient. I mean, seriously—I went through a lot of tissues, Jo. There was a small snot-rag mountain by my bed. Why do you like to make us sad? Why? And what do you think your punishment should be for this?

JK: I do not like to make you sad! I promise!!!

Read more Jo Knowles…

Interview with Robin Wasserman, THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW

On Tuesday, April 10th, Robin Wasserman's most excellent THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW comes out. It's a riveting novel of centuries-old secrets, murder, friendship and danger that globe-hops from the ivy-covered halls of American academia to the streets of Paris and Prague. http://www.robinwasserman.com/bloodshadow.html

I had the good fortune to interview Robin this weekend, and by that I mean, I forced her to answer these questions by bribing her with baked goods. She likes baked goods. AND…one lucky winner, chosen at random, has won a free copy of THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW. (No peeking!) So, without further ado–take it away, Robin!

Continue reading

An interview with the amazing Franny Billingsley

Sometimes, there are writers whose skills with words leave you awestruck and not just a little bit green with envy. Franny Billingsley www.frannybillingsley.com/ is such a writer, and I’m thrilled to get to interview her and take a peek into her latest, CHIME, which arrives in bookstores TODAY! (You were looking for something to read next, weren’t you?)

When I was first working on what would become A Great and Terrible Beauty, Franny graciously agreed to read my very rough first draft and offer critique. Her advice was spot-on, and I’ve always been grateful for her sage counsel. Franny takes her time with her books, crafting and thinking and rethinking and polishing every word. It’s been over a decade since her last novel, THE FOLK KEEPER, came out, so those of us who are Franny fans have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of CHIME. And it was well worth the wait. 

CHIME has already received SIX starred reviews (Holy Awesomeness, Batman!) with Publishers Weekly calling it “a darkly beguiling fantasy” and School Library Journal hailing it as “…both lushly sensual and shivery.” CHIME is certainly all of that. Set in the English Fenlands in a fairy tale-worthy town called Swampsea, CHIME feels like a haunting trip to some Gothic otherworld where the locals carry Bible balls into the swamps to protect themselves from the wrath of the Old Ones, and witches are tried and hanged to see if they turn to dust (proof of witchery). Parson’s daughter Briony Larkin knows she is a witch and a wicked girl responsible for the death of her stepmother and for the accident that left her twin sister, Rose, in a mentally childlike state. Now, the delicate Rose has been cursed with the dreaded swamp cough that has killed many in their town, and Briony might be the only person who can cure her by making a bargain with the Old Ones. But how can she save Rose and still protect herself from the hangman’s noose? Can she untangle the threads of their mysterious past? Could Briony escape the clutches of the Swampsea altogether? And what can she do when the handsome, smart, and witty Eldric moves to Swampsea and makes her wonder if she might just be lovable after all? CHIME is moving, creepy, intense, sensual, and absolutely exquisitely written.

And now, without further ado, here’s Franny. (I lied. There is further ado. I sent these questions to Franny via email. I decided that rather than try to craft this into a perfectly flowing narrative, I’d leave her notes to me intact. After all, writing is a less-than-linear process for many of us, and this just proves it.)

1. You are a spectacular world-builder with a singular voice like a Tim Burton, Jonathan Carroll or Kelly Link, so that, when reading a Franny Bilingsley novel, I immediately feel as if my own world has fallen away and I am somewhere strange and wonderful and somewhat menacing. In CHIME, Swampsea is an early 20th-century English town that feels slightly Victorian, slightly modern, slightly not-of-this-earth, and wholly original. How do you go about constructing your worlds? Is there some magical Franny wisdom you can impart to us mortals?

Libba, it’s interesting that my answers to many of your questions are tangled up in and with other questions you asked. This question about world-building, for example, is connected to the question about the genesis of Chime (below):

You and I were at Cynthia and Greg Leitich-Smith’s wonderful WriteFest workshop in Austin, TX, in 2005, where I had a first draft of GOING BOVINE and you had a first draft of CHIME. It’s astounding to me how much CHIME changed in those six years. What was the initial inspiration/seed/spark for the novel and can you tell us about the changes and the process of revision you went through?

I do have to talk about that initial spark to explain how I ended up in the Swampsea. The kindling for the spark was handed to me by my daughter, Miranda. When she was about five, I read her “A Fair Exchange,” a changeling story from the collection The Maid of the North, and when I had finished, she said she wished I’d make a novel of that story. I wanted to, as well. It’s a wonderfully gripping story, about a mother willing to do anything to retrieve her baby from Fairyland. But I was then still finishing The Folk Keeper, www.frannybillingsley.com/folkkeeper.htmland so I tucked the idea away in the back of my mind.

Like the woman in the story, I had a baby, too. Miranda’s baby brother was then about six months old.

A year passed, two years, three . . . The baby brother was pretty darn perfect, except for one niggling worry: He had not yet started to speak. I started taking him to see doctors of various kinds, doctors who saw only his weaknesses but not his strengths, which were prodigious. It was those doctors—damn them—who put a match to the kindling Miranda had handed me three years earlier. My idea was this: There’s a girl, like Miranda; maybe she’s about twelve. She has a little brother; maybe he’s about six. The brother doesn’t speak but he’s prodigiously talented in other ways: He’s very musical, for example, and this talent shows up in all kinds of ways when he fools around on the piano.

Enter the fairies: They don’t care about talking; they care about music. They steal the brother away to fairyland and leave in his place, a changeling—a fairy child, magicked into a perfect resemblance of the brother. The parents (dumb old parents) are delighted that their son seems to have turned the developmental corner overnight. But the sister, who knows the brother best, knows he’s not the real brother. There are many clues, but the biggest clue is that the fairy child has no music inside of him: He can’t fool around on the piano. It’s up to the sister to find her way into Fairyland and rescue her true brother.

It’s a great plot—I thought so then and I still think so today. But I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t write it because I couldn’t figure out the physical nature of Fairyland. I knew it wasn’t a place with enchanted forests and white stags and jeweled fruits. I knew it was a sinister sort of place, but that’s all I knew. I tried to superimpose various landscapes upon it—a volcanic landscape, bright with flowing lava; a labyrinth of twisted stone spires. But however intriguing each landscape might be, I knew I was simply imposing it upon my book. The geography of Fairyland needed to spring organically from the needs of the book itself—the characters, the plot—and I never could find that organic connection. That’s the book, Libba, you read in Austin.

Being nothing if not stubborn, I held onto the changeling/fairyland idea for just a little longer—just a few years, just a few long years of my life. Meanwhile, my son grew, learned to talk, and in third grade, was reading the Lord of the Rings. He was okay, more than okay, and the initial situation that had fueled the story, drizzled away.

Finally, I sat myself down for a serious talk: I was never going to succeed in finding a Fairyland organic to the story, and even if I did, I’d lost interest in the story itself. “Franny,” I said, “what about finding another setting for the story? Perhaps other story elements will emerge because plot and setting are, of course, inextricably enterwined.”

“They are?” I said.

“Just kidding,” I said. “I knew that.”

How did I come to choose the swamps? I have no memory of how I got there, but it was the right decision. The sinister creatures arose organically from the swamp setting rather than my planting the fairies in a setting not their own. And although the details changed, the plot was essentially the same: the sister (Briony) had a sibling (a twin sister, this time), who was threatened by the creatures of the swamp. Briony’s job was to save her.

Same plot, different geography. And now I circle back round to your question, Libba—now many paragraphs ago? How did I come up with this world?

It was handed to me by history and folklore. The British wetlands had been drained again and again, so often that folk stories had grown up around it. They were, often as not, stories about the chief spirit of the swamp who objected to the draining of his water, which meant he had a nasty tendency to kill the people who came to drain the swamp—engineers and other workers. I used these stories and I used the history: The people who dwelt in the wetlands (the real people) were stuck in the past; they resisted the pull and romance of technology, of the future. But the future came upon them of itself: The swamp was drained, and the folks of the wetlands had to find another way to live. There was no more fishing, no more weaving of reed baskets. They were forced to race after the future in order to survive. And so it became clear to me that Chime would be set just then, at the fulcrum of history, when the balance shifted, when the folks of the wetlands were forced to embrace the future. And had the swamp creatures really existed, what would have happened to them—what? They would most likely have died. It’s not that I made any of this up. It’s all in the folklore and history of the wetlands.

Maybe there’s a shorter answer to this question:

I steal from history and folklore. It doesn’t seem to me as though I’m building a world. I take what already exists and stir my characters into the brew. That’s why, in the swamp setting, there was never any question about the setting and plot being organic to each other. The history and folklore that pre-dated my novel made them so.

I take; I steal.

I recommend it.

2. Language always plays a huge part in your novels. There are turns of phrase and word choices that are so unusual and unbelievably beautiful that I have to read them again just for the sheer enjoyment (and jealousy!) of your craftsmanship. Has language always been important to you? Is it a way for you to discover the voice/feel of the novel? How did you come to be such a wordsmith?

The answer to this question is woven into the answer to the question below:

I know you’ve talked about the importance of ballads and fairy tales in your life. Can you tell us a little more about that and about how they came to shape CHIME?

It’s not so much about how ballads and fairy tales came to shape Chime as about how they came to shape my voice as a writer. It was the ballads more than the fairy tales, and it was the nursery rhymes and, later, the poems my father read me. My father sang to us (us kids), sang lots of songs, American folk songs as well as British ballads, and he read to us aloud, starting with Mother Goose. He started when I was young—young enough to have a sponge-brain that could soak up the poetry and the melody, soak up the rhythm and the rhyme—young enough so that later, I could speak this language without an accent.

I won’t say that the language comes to me easily—I write as many shitty first (and second and third) drafts as the next writer. More, probably, because I happen to be slow. That’s just wiring, I think, nothing existential. It doesn’t come to me easily but it comes to me naturally. It has its limits, though. I think I would have an accent were I to try to write a Western, say, or try to assume the voice and manners of the American South.

Which leads me to this question:

3. There is a great deal in CHIME about the importance of storytelling. The Old Ones beg Briony to write their stories again. And, without getting spoilery, the telling of stories, of getting down to the bones of truth, plays a crucial role in the plot. What sort of power do you think storytelling has for us now? Like the old world magic versus industrialism in CHIME, is storytelling changing for us in the wake of e-books and social networking and what-not?

I think we’ll always need stories and tell stories—the vehicles may change but the essence will not. I don’t worry about that. The one thing that perhaps I do worry about is whether people read nursery rhymes and poetry to very young kids. Whether they sing to very young kids. My bookstore experience leads me to believe that they (mostly) do not. Certainly, kids get exposed to rhythm and rhyme and melody when they’re older, but are they too old? Are their brains still sponges? The cut-off age for learning a foreign language perfectly—to be able to speak it as a native would–is terrifyingly young, and I feel that the same is true about learning the poetry of our language. But generally, I’m not in despair about the state of civilization: I don’t believe that the snow was deeper and colder when I was a child than it is today. (Well, okay, maybe it was cleaner.)

4. Briony is a fascinating character. Haunted by guilt and self-loathing, she is by turns hard, witty, arch, vulnerable, and unflinchingly honest. She is not trying to win friends and influence people. She is not concerned with being “likeable.” What drew you to tell her story? Were you concerned that you would catch shit for writing such a take-no-prisoners sort of girl? And do you think that we are, in subtle ways, encouraged to make our female characters more “likeable”? (There is no Holden-Marie Caulfield. I’m just sayin’.)

It never occurred to me I’d catch shit for writing a Briony type of girl. But then, a lot of stuff never occurs to me.

I do think we’re encouraged to make female characters more “likeable,” whatever that means. Beauty is certainly part of what it means. I know I haven’t yet broken the beauty barrier. If my protagonist isn’t beautiful (which Briony is), then she’s sort of exotic and interesting looking, which is much the same. I really admire Philip Reeve in the Mortal Engines books for creating Hester with her knife-scarred face. Do we love Hester despite the scars, or because of them? Or do we love her simply because she’s Hester? I think the last is true, but I haven’t been brave enough to test it out.

5. There is, of course, a romance in CHIME between the witty, affable Eldric and Briony. I really enjoyed the ways in which they complemented and challenged one another. And Briony thinks quite a bit on both lust and love. In your estimation, what makes for a satisfying romance? Are there romances you particularly like?

One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, and I love your saying that Briony and Eldric complement and challenge one another, because that is exactly how I perceive Jane and Mr. Rochester. He’s longing for someone to be honest with him, he’s longing to shake off his jaundiced view of the world, and that’s exactly what honest, straight-talking Jane does. Eldric does the same for Briony in Chime. He’s playful, irreverent, non-judgmental, and once he comes into Briony’s life (Briony, who does nothing but judge herself), she can’t help but view herself differently, take life less seriously. Briony, who thought herself incapable of either lust or love, mixes them up but gets a healthy dose of each. Although I love a little lust and steam in a romance, the romances I go back to again and again are mostly the complementing and challenging sort. I love Robin McKinley’s Beauty (which is really Jane Eyre in disguise), and I Capture the Castle, and The Perilous Gard. And although not a true romance, I love David Copperfield. I love it that David who—although he initially makes a mistake in love—finally realizes that Agnes (whom he’s known for years) is the complementing and challenging life partner he’s been yearning for. I guess I can sacrifice steam for that.

6. Of course I have to ask: What’s next from the fabulous Franny Billingsley?

As I was finishing Chime, I had a sort of epiphany: The two most interesting story ideas that had come to me as I was writing Chime actually belong to the world of Chime. They’re companion books, not sequels; they’re related thematically. The first is tentatively called Shadow, the second (again tentative) Cloud. I’m hoping and assuming that because I know the world, I can write these rather more quickly than I did Chime. Perhaps I need no longer worry that I’ll die of old age before I can publish another few books.

Guest Post: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Happy New Year…on, um, January 25th. Yeah. Been stuck in a wormhole. I have much to catch you up on in another day or two! But for now, I am nursing a lulu of a sinus infection. Ugh. So instead of hearing me whine about my mucus (yum!), you have the pleasure of spending time with today’s guest blogger: the fabulous Ms. Cynthia Leitich Smith.

What can I tell you about Cyn? Well, I don’t know if Everyone Loves Raymond, but everyone really does love Cynthia Leitich Smith. She’s an awesome Austin writer, teacher, interviewer, blogger, and cheerleader of other people. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels TANTALIZE and ETERNAL (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include HOLLER LOUDLY, JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins). She is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her website at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. She makes a bitchin’ spread of snacks and she has been known to take pals to Austin vintage shops to purchase yard gnomes. Just sayin’. (I am forever indebted to her for forcing me to write a weird little book I was scared to write called GOING BOVINE.)

If you haven’t yet discovered Cyn’s wonderful Gothic/Romantic/Funny/Offbeat/Scary/Sexy paranormal trilogy, well, now’s the time. ETERNAL introduced quirky Texas teen, Quincie Morris and her wolf-boyfriend, Kieran Morales, as they battled vamps (and cooked up linguini) in “Keeping It Weird” Austin, Texas. ETERNAL upped the Goth “to eleven” in a thrilling tale of vampires, werewolves, and fallen angels in Chicago. Now, Cyn’s back with the third novel in the series, BLESSED, which pulls together the casts of both TANTALIZE and ETERNAL into what she calls, “your basic sorta funny, kinda girl-powered, rescue-the-boy, kill-the-monster, save-the-world story.” I’m sold. But why just take our word for it? Kirkus Reviews calls it: “Wild and ultimately fascinating”…”..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren’s] attraction to one another.” The Horn Book cheers: “A hearty meal for the thinking vampire reader. Bloomsbury Review says, “Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rice for teen readers.”

All this and she manages to use the word “coulrophobia” in her post. (Yeah, I had to look it up, too. And then I realized I also have this. In the extreme. No. I’m not going to tell you. Look it up, as my mother would say.)

If you want to catch Cyn on tour (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s the schedule: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2011/01/blessed-by-cynthia-leitich-smith.html

There’s also a giveaway: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2011/01/blessed-grand-prize-giveaway-truth-be.html

And while you’re on the Intramanets, why not watch some trailers?
TANTALIZE: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1205455452400
ETERNAL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaBIoUEMWrg
BLESSED, here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pieAazPg_b0

And now, without further ado, here’s Ms. Cynthia. Take it away, Cyn.


Today I’m jazzed to tell y’all about the Texas teen who’s the hero of my latest novel, Blessed. She’s a smart, sassy, hard-working redhead with a rockin’ job at a hip Austin eatery. She’s also funny, upbeat, and a sensualist who loves….
At this point, you’re probably wondering: is it the story of a teen Libba Bray?
Alas, no, though raise your hand if you’d like to read that! We’ll all pay the big money, Miz Libba, please keep that in mind.
That said, my protagonist is Quincie P. Morris, from Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011), a romantic Gothic thriller that picks up right where my 2007 novel, Tantalize, leaves off.
My Gothics feature diverse (defined broadly) casts, mix humor with passion and spooky-ness, and take place in a multi-monster-verse populated by vamps, a variety of shapeshifters (werearmadillo anyone?), angels, ghosts…. You get the idea.
Some back story: Back in late 2001/early 2002, I was known to readers as a Native American children’s author. I’d been taking the advice that folks often give to beginners—write what you know. For me, that meant stories of middle class, mixed-blood Indian families in the mid-to-southwest.
I love Native lit (and still write it), but the time had come for me to build new creative wings. So, I latched onto the second piece of advice, pros give to beginners: write the kind of book you love to read. And I’ve always loved a spooky story.
I fault Stephen King for my coulrophobia and treasure my tattered copy of V.C. Andrews’ Incest in the Attic series. I was a Whedonesque slayer in a former life.
Beyond a handful of paperback series, the existing books that grabbed me were M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty, Vivian Vande Velde’s Companions of the Night, and both Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss and Blood and Chocolate.
They were terrific, but pickings were slim. Back then, spooky-story lovers were seriously underfed. Edward wasn’t even a sparkle in Miz Stephenie’s eye, and my biggest concern was convincing a national publisher that girls would read books with monsters in them.
Then there the people who told me that Indians didn’t write horror novels. Ha.
I did my homework, studying Gothics for grown-ups, clear back to the 1800s, and the old oral stories that inspired those. I got stuck on Abraham Stoker’s classic novel Dracula.
What’s Dracula about? An unattractive, undead Anglophile with bad breath who wants to take over the world, and the heroes—including one Quincey P. Morris (a Texan)—who fight to stop him. I decided to gender flip that gallant gentleman, creating my own Quincie P. Morris, and brought the mythology “home” to Texas—specifically, artsy-techy-hippie-weird-neon-blue Austin, Texas, which is where I call home.
That was a start. But what’s the novel Dracula really about? A lot: invasion, the “dark” foreigner (which back in the day meant “Eastern European”), orientation, and gender dominance. Meanwhile, in present day, the news was all about war, the immigration and gay marriage debates, and…. Okay, let’s pause on the ladies a minute.
Stoker’s Mina Harker is a modern woman of her time. She’s the one who organizes all the information to track the monster. She’s the one who pulls together the weepy mess of guys after her own best friend dies. And she’s the one who can work that newfangled gadget, the typewriter. Granted, at one point her husband tells her to go to bed to protect her delicate sensibilities and she does. (Memo to my husband: good luck trying that.) But for the most part, given the era, she’s a hero to cheer.
Go Bram. At the same time, according to the mythology, if against his or her will, a victim is penetrated (by fangs) and/or bodily fluids are exchanged, that victim is damned. A monster in the eyes of humanity and the Lord God Amighty and, therefore, must be destroyed.
Harsh. Wrong.
But in our own real world, what too often happens to victims who—against their will—face the basic equivalent? Who’re attacked against their will? Do we as a society too often blame them, too? Um, that would be a big yes. Which is seriously lousy.
All of which is to say, that I wanted to talk back to Bram. It wasn’t that I disagreed with the dark master on everything (go, Mina). But I had my own point of view.
That said, a point of view isn’t a novel. Fortunately, my evolving characters quickly yanked the story away from me. I’m practically irrelevant to them at this point.
The first book sold in late 2004, I think (maybe early 2005?), and was released in 2007.
(I was working on YA short stories and books for younger kids at the same time, but yes, I’m doing my level best to write at least as well—and faster.)
In Tantalize, I drew on my own memories of being a teen waitress to create the fictional Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant, on Austin’s South Congress Avenue. It’s a vampire-themed restaurant, kitschy, all in fun, until some real bloodsuckers show up.
Then I jumped from Austin to Chicago in Eternal, a love story/political thriller, which zeroed in on a “slipped” (not “fallen”) guardian angel and the assignment/true love he failed to save.
Now, the two casts crossover in Blessed. It was a treat to revisit Quincie in this latest book. On the other side of her transformation, her red cowboy boots are more firmly on the ground.
Where Tantalize was an exploration of her losses, Blessed is a celebration of hard-earned gains.
Or, put another way, it’s your basic sorta funny, kinda girl-powered, rescue-the-boy, kill-the-monster, save-the-world story.
On second thought, Quincie may be Libba after all.

NYPL Battle of the Bands

Well, hello! My. Don’t you all look simply smashing. YOU got taller. And YOU are growing out your bangs (looks great). YOU went away to college–study hard, enjoy eating Top Ramen. And YOU got a new tattoo of a llama superhero. Uh-huh. No judgments.
Good to see everybody.

Yeah. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? 

Before you buy that sympathy card and figure out whether you should place daisies or tiny animal erasers on my grave (animal erasers, FTW), you should know that I’m not technically dead. I’m not even mostly dead.* I’ve just been very, very busy, every time I would think, "I should blog," the convo in my head would go like this:

Me: I should blog.
Also Me: It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your brain is?
Me: No. Not a clue. Haven’t seen it since it tried to figure out a surgical strike on that scene on p.282. Then it got mad and yelled, "You don’t understand me!" and slammed the door on its way out.
Also Me: ‘s what I thought. So you are operating brainless right now.
Me: Pretty much.
Also Me: Okay. Be honest here. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being "I could blog about whether Rainbow Brite ever gets PMS" and 10 being "I am at that point in the evening where all I can do is stare straight ahead and make up small, wavering songs in which everything has to rhyme with "pee," amusing no one in my house except for me," where would you rate yourself?
Me: 11.
Also Me: (taking computer) Yeah. I’m cutting you off.

But I think my brain is starting to bounce back just a little. At least it’s stopped telling me that a reality show about Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs would be "awesome TV."** It’s been a wild ride the past month. School started for The Boy, of course, which is always a bit like being thrown into DDR if you’re color blind. Getting back into the routine–never pretty, for any of us. But now we’ve all been worn down by the mercilessness of the routine into a fine, chalky powder, and life is good.

But hey! There’s lots of good news! I finished BEAUTY QUEENS! Huzzah! Look, I am using lots of exclamation points! I am! that! excited! I hope to have a cover to post very soon, and, in the coming days, some scenes that didn’t make it into the book. I’ve also jumped into the writing and (additional) research for The Diviners. (Talk about writing whiplash.) I participated in the Zombies Vs. Unicorns throwdown/debate at Symphony Space. Tiger Beat played The Brooklyn Book Festival and the B&N Back to School Bash. And there are some super sekrit projects I’m working on as well. (The next project I should take on is cloning so that I’d have time to catch up on my five DVR’d episodes of "Glee.")

BUT…(In the immortal words of Pee-Wee Herman, "Everybody’s always got a big old but!") here is something I am also very excited about: The Battle of the Children’s/YA Publishing Bands to benefit New York Public Library. As you may (or may not) know, public libraries across America are hurting. Budgets slashed. Librarians laid off. Libraries closed. This at a time when libraries are needed more than ever. (I would argue that libraries are always needed, but in a time of economic downturn, they are especially helpful.) New York Public Library is not immune to these cuts.

It’s time for a fundraiser of epic fun proportions: The Battle of the Children’s/YA Publishing Bands! 
Where: New York Public Library main branch, 42nd Street @ 5th Avenue
When: Friday, October 15th 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM


Featuring The Effin’ G’s, Mr. McGregor, and Tiger Beat. Who will win? Who will almost win? Who will take the mic and say, "I’mma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best NYPL fundraisers of all time?" Who will bite the head off a (plastic) dove and pledge his/her soul to Judy Blume? And…there are celebrity judges: Maureen Johnson, E. Lockhart, Ann Brashares, & Jennifer Belle. People, can you afford to miss this? I ask you.

We hope to fight library-budget-slashing-evil*** with gobsmacking guitar greatness, dangerous drums, bitchin’ bass, and microphone madness. I did it. I pulled out the alliteration. It just got serious. 

So, if you live in the New York City area, and you aren’t washing your hair–and really, your hair could use a break–PLEASE come down next Friday night and rock out with us to support the New York Public Library. You can make a difference. 

See you there!

* It doesn’t get much better than "Princess Bride." It just doesn’t. 
** I actually tried to write this. Why is no one here to stage an intervention?
*** Things that are evil: plaid pants. alarm clocks. Jersey Shore. And slashing at libraries. 

Reminder: Two, two, two great events!

 I hope to have a very special interview up this weekend. A special guest star interviewer. No, I cannot tell you who. I am sworn to secrecy. 

My word is my bond. So I’m really glad my word isn’t superglue. Or toejam. I’d hate to be bonded by toejam. 

Anyhoo, just a reminder about my two NYC events:

94 Avenue A @ 6th Street

Libba Bray, Tiger Beat, and Frank Portman

Now with the power of baking soda!

I’ll be rocking out with Tiger Beat and talking a little Going Bovine. Plus, Tiger Beat will play our first original song! (Let’s hope I don’t screw it up.) Frank will be playing an acoustic show and reading from his new book, Andromeda Klein. 

It promises to be a good time. It also promises not to wreck your car or call your mom names.

1972 Broadway between 66th & 67th Streets

Libba Bray. Frank Portman. Going Bovine. Andromeda Klein.
Let the awesome awesomeness begin.

Frank and I will be together again, singing, talking, answering questions, making up answers to each other’s questions. Come on down. It’s Tuesday. Nothing else happens on Tuesdays. Tuesday doesn’t even get a cute moniker like "Hump Day." 

Folks, these are two of my only appearances and Tuesday is the official release day for Bovine. I hope to see you at one or both! 

Fantasy Road Trip Contest





Hey, wanna hear about something really awesome? Okay, here it is: I managed to import this logo into my document all by myself! I know! I am, like, in love with myself right now. Oh. You want to know about the actual contest. Yeah. Okay. I guess that’s pretty cool, too. I mean, not as cool as my moment of technical proficiency, but, you know. Whatever. Be like that.


Random House is sponsoring a super-coolio video-making contest for summer. (You know, summer. That stretch between school years in which you down Slurpees till your brain has a perma-freeze headache, and you watch every old Hammer Horror movie ever made while lying on the couch ignoring the people who snipe that you should be “outside, doing something”? Or maybe I’m just describing my ideal summer.)


Here’s the dealio: You make a video that answers the question: If you could do on a fantasy road trip with a character (or characters) from your favorite series, where would you go? What would you do along the way? Would there be Cheese Nips? (I, personally, cannot travel without a box of Cheese Nips. It’s a security blanket. I read about the Donner Party is all I’m saying here.) The video must:  A) mention Florida somehow. See I just did it there. Florida. How hard can that be? B) make a reference to audiobooks. Watch this: Hey, everybody! I’m making a reference to audiobooks! Audiobooks rock out loud—literally! See? So easy.  And C) include a clip of dialogue from the audio you’ve chosen. Okay. I don’t actually know how to do that. It took me ten minutes to import the Fantasy Road Trip logo. Also, I can’t seem to un-bold this section.  But you are all geniuses and you will figure it out.


I know from personal experience that many of you are insanely creative and very talented with a video camera. (Barbie version of The Gemma Doyle trilogy much?) And you can use anything—animation, songs, sock puppets (really, they say you can use sock puppets).  I would suggest staying away from juggling fire unless you’re really skilled and/or highly insured. And getting your cats to swing dance is harder than you might imagine. But other than that, I say go for it.


People, in addition to YouTube fame (or infamy), you can win an 8GB iPod touch AND a collection of audiobooks signed by the authors. The authors in this case being the incredible Tamora Pierce, the just-as-incredible Rick Riordan, and the rather dodgy Libba Bray. (Two out of three ain’t bad, peeps. Also, I can’t help but notice, looking at the side-by-side author photos of La Pierce and me, how much we resemble one another. Same mischievous smirk and everything. And considering that she is descended from “a long, proud line of hillbillies” and my mom is from Appalachia, I am now determined to find out if we are related. Because how cool would it be to claim relation to the fabulous Miz Tamora Pierce? I don’t see a resemblance between Rick Riordan and me. Maybe it’s the beard. However, we are both from Texas. So maybe. Maybe if I grow a beard. Now I have a summer project. Huzzah!)


Anyhoo, here is the link to said fabulous road trip contest. Enter at will. Enter at won’t. Enter through a door that is not locked or you’re going to be very frustrated. But do not break and enter as that is a crime punishable by law. www.fantasyroadtripcontest.com


After I finish my very late short story, I’ll post a recap of the weekend’s BEA (Book Expo America) goings-on, including, hopefully, some Tiger Beat stuff. But that’s later. Now is the time to enter this contest.


And for everyone who chimed in on my last post, thank you for being part of the dialogue and for being respectful toward one another, whatever your feelings. You’re welcome to continue that conversation on that post if you wish.