Young House Love by John and Sherry Petersik

Extreme love: That's the best way I can describe what I'm feeling for John and Sherry Petersik's book, which Matt got me for Valentine's Day (after some not-so-subtle hinting on my part). Over the past month or so I've become addicted to their hilarious, well-written blog, and I devoured the book in about five hours.

Oh yes, and I went a little crazy with the blue flags.

What I'm reading...

I've been thinking a lot about the structure of a good contemporary YA romance novel... you know, since I'm writing one. Here are a few great books that have been helpful to me over the past few weeks as I've really tried to hammer out the overall arc of my project. And, other than being studies in novel structure, they're all also really good reads! Which is a bonus, even though I read them strictly for research *cough.*

Back from paradise

Well, I'm back from a week in Florida with my some of my favorite writer friends at Writers in Paradise. The week of workshops, readings, lectures, and conversations was exactly what I needed to get going on my novel again. Hopefully I can finish this draft in the next six weeks or so... at 34,000 words, I'm about halfway there.

Highlights/Funny Moments from the Trip:

1. Seeing a dolphin in the bay outside our hotel one afternoon

2.  Bonding with my shuttle bus friends during early morning and late night drives

3. Watching the inauguration and commentary with my roomie, Erica

4. Forcing down an entire Bud Light in order to not look like a wimp in front of someone I just met

5. Going into downtown St. Petersburg at 11:00 at night and being able to get a full meal at a sit-down restaurant

6. Using my hair dryer to heat up the leftovers from that meal the next morning

7. Carrying a jar of peanut butter around and making myself impromptu sandwiches the whole week

8. Hanging out with the lighting/sound guy, Anthony, who plants root vegetables at midnight during the full moon

9. Boiling myself in the hot tub at the hotel

10. Meeting Ann Patchett, Daniel Woodrell, Andre Dubus III, and other talented writers and classmates

Clearly, it was an awesome week. And now I feel like I need another week to recover. But there are dishes to wash and books to edit... sigh.

P.S. The weather in Illinois sucks. Let's all move to Florida.

A moment

Did you know that Facebook filters messages from people you aren't friends with into a secret "Other" folder? Yeah, neither did I until I read something about in on the Huffington Post tonight. So I dipped into my Other folder to see if randos had been sending me any messages... and I found an outpouring of acknowledgment and congratulations from when I had an essay published in the New York Times last year.

Reading these comments from people I don't know who had taken the time to seek me out on Facebook and drop a few lines of encouragement brought the whole NYT experience rushing back. It was definitely one of the coolest and most overwhelming things that has ever happened to me. And, on day two of my four-day weekend, when I have done anything and everything to avoid writing (cleaning, quilting, redecorating, etc.), it reminded me of what I love about writing in the first place.

There is nothing more humbling and exhilarating than to know that something you written has created an emotional connection between you and a reader, whether that person is someone you see on campus every day or someone who lives halfway across the world. I had the extraordinary opportunity to connect with an enormous number of people, and some of them reached back to let me know that my words had been heard. I am so grateful, and so mortified that I didn't receive their messages until 18 months after they were sent. 

So, tonight, I am going to respond to each of those wonderful strangers. And then I am going to open up a blank Word document, turn on my brain, and try to write something new, to hopefully reach them again.

Drinking Diaries

More than a year ago, Leah Epstein and Caren Osten Gerszberg of the excellent blog Drinking Diaries contacted me after reading my NYT Modern Love essay and asked if I would be willing to contribute to their upcoming anthology about women and drinking.  They encouraged me to write about drinking from a college woman's point of view, and I obliged by writing an essay about my experiences balancing my social life and job as an RA at St. Olaf, which has a dry campus policy. 

Drinking Diares: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up is due out next month from Seal Press and I am so excited and honored to be included in this anthology that features essays from writers that I admire so much, including Elissa Schappell and Ann Hood.

There is even going to be a launch part for the book at the Strand Bookstore in NYC, which I am so sad to not be able to attend. I hope we'll be able to organize one in the Chicago area as well, because I would love to meet other contributors and share my excitement about this project. I'm hoping for big things... and we even have a pre-pub blurb!

"Thought-provoking and poignant, Drinking Diaries will inspire readers to consider the role that drinking has played in their own lives--for good and for ill." --Gretchen Rubin, the NYT bestselling author of The Happiness Project

Meeting Jodi Picoult

Today I took myself on a date to a Jodi Picoult book signing sponsored by Anderson's Bookshops and North Central College. The book that Picoult is currently promoting, Between the Lines, is a lot different from her usual social issues-driven fare. She collaborated with her sixteen-year-old daughter, Samantha Van Leer, to write this book, which is a fairy-tale driven novel about what characters in books do in their spare time when no one is reading their story.

I'm not a diehard Jodi Picoult fan (of which she has many), but I do like to take her books on vacation or check them out from the library on occasion. I have a very, very removed personal connection to her, so I like to bring her name up in conversation so I can tell people about my friend's daughter's friend who met Jodi Picoult. Great conversation starter, right?

Now that I've met her in person, I can definitely say that Jodi Picoult is awesome. And Between the Lines is gorgeous! Can't wait to start reading.

Kristi Yamaguchi at work

One of our top children's books authors just happens to be former Olympic figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi. Her second book, It's a Big World, Little Pig!, just debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, making it our first NYT bestseller in 2012. Kristi visited the office on Monday and signed books for all 80 of us. It was so fun to meet her, and she looks exactly the same as when she won the gold medal 20 years ago.

World Book Night

Oh, hey. Have you heard about World Book Night? It's only the COOLEST THING EVER, and it is premiering in the US on April 23rd!

World Book Night is an entire day (not just a night) when libraries, bookstores, and booklovers from all over unite for a common goal: to get more people to read books. They do this by giving away free copies of some of the best books of all time. And I'm going to be a volunteer!

I selected A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving as my top choice for which book to give away, so I should be receiving 20 copies of it to distribute around town to the non-reading public. A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it for the first time when I was an exchange student in Italy, and after the first four pages I turned to my friend and said, "I'm going to love this book." I was right.

Bring it on, WBN! 

At Random: The Reminisces of Bennett Cerf

The world of three-hour lunches with authors and parties with New York's rich and famous comes to life in the autobiography of Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House publishing. Definitely a must-read for any aspiring writer, editor, or publisher-- although, in many ways, the changing publishing industry no longer resembles the industry Cerf helped to build.

At Random is more a collection of delightful little anecdotes than a true autobiography. Cerf steers the focus away from his personal life (he mentions his wife only a handful of times, and usually in passing) and zeroes in on all his publishing adventures and mis-adventures. Most interesting is the number and variety of famous people he works and socializes with, including William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Ayn Rand, Frank Sinatra, FDR, George Gershwin, Truman Capote, J. Edgar Hoover, John O'Hara, and dozens more.

While Cerf's writing style is sometimes dated and he occasionally comes off as pompous or self-promoting (I probably would too, if I was so wildly successful!), I enjoyed this little book a lot more than I had expected to. It is almost a little fairy tale of publishing, equivalent to stories of courtly love and heroic knights-- times that are long gone, but remembered fondly.

That awkward moment when...'ve just written a really great scene about the attack of Pearl Harbor where your protagonist's older brothers find him at school and calm him down while everyone else is freaking out. Then you do a quick Google search and realize that Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday.

I nearly cried. Bye-bye, 2000 carefully chosen words and my hour and a half of writing time for the day. Nice knowing you.