Tuesday, November 30, 2010


So, I guess it's confession time.

Today is November 30th.  It's the last day of Nanowrimo.  I should be typing my 50,000th word sometime today, and uploading my novel for verification and that awesome sense of accomplishment completing something like Nano gives you.

Except, I'm not.

Because my final word count came in at a little over 15,000.

So, like Donna, I failed.  I did not complete Nanowrimo.

But you know what?  I think that's okay.

Because even though I didn't win, here's what I learned through Nanowrimo this past month:

--Nanowrimo isn't for everyone.  And that's not to say that there are some people who have the willpower to do it and some who don't.  I mean that it really isn't for everyone, because not everyone writes the same way.  Some of us sit down and can write for hours.  Can write 10,000 words in a day.  And some of us can't.  I've found, if I have literally NOTHING else to do in a day, I can write about 3,500 words in a day.  And on an average day, I can write between 600 and 900 words. And I've learned that's okay.

--Nanowrimo isn't always healthy for your writing.  I wrote about 15,000 words this month, which is the most I've written in a month in a really long time.  But what I found happened is that I was so focused on the word count that I lost sight of my personal writing goals, my subplots, and a lot of logistics that needed to go into my story.  For example, I was writing an escape scene.  It needed a lot of different elements--a diversion, guards, a getaway, and a lot of different characters during different things at the same time.  I wrote that scene during Nanowrimo.  And then promptly realized that it didn't make much sense, because I'd been so obsessed with the words on the page that I forgot about everything else.  I'm not going back to fix it just yet, but I know it's something that wouldn't have happened if I wasn't rushing.

--I think the most important thing that Nanowrimo taught me was how to make my writing more of a priority.  This was the first month that I tried to write every day.  I came home and didn't just flop onto the couch and get swallowed into Twitter or Facebook.  I wrote almost every single day.  Even if it was only 100 words, I wrote often.  And that was great.

Maybe I'll try again next year.  Hopefully by next November I'll be finished with my current project and it'll be the perfect time to throw caution to the wind and barrel out 50,000 words of something random and new.  But until then, I think I'll keep plugging away, 100 words at a time.

How about all of you?  Did you succeed?  Did you fail?  What did you learn from Nanowrimo?

Friday, November 26, 2010

StumbleUpon: Welcome to your new addiction.

I credit one of my staffers for opening my eyes to the (new) best procrastination tool EVER.

I give you: StumbleUpon

Tagline: Personalized recommendations to help you discover the best of the web.

"But, Donna, what does that MEAN?"
This brilliant little gem of a website asks you what areas of life you're interested in (as specific as "Board Games" and as fuzzy as "Chaos/Complexity"), and then you "Stumble" from web page to web page of AMAZINGNESS.

My friends now hate me because I constantly spam their inbox with links that I got from StumbleUpon. But they love me, because did I mention they're links of AMAZINGNESS?

And I'm not the only one who thinks so! This blogger compiled a whole set of StumbleUpon addiction-related images, like this one:

And since this is a writing-related blog, I had to pretend that there was a legitimate reason I posted about this site. So, yeah, maybe you'll Stumble right on out of your writer's block or into your next plot ... but if not, who cares? It's kinda like randomly surfing the web, except 98% of the pages you find are made of awesome.

Side Effects: You may find yourself with a condition known as CTS (Compulsion to Stumble), so make sure you start when you have at least a free hour to roam the Internets. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Some of my favorite Stumbled links:
For funny - http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cook_home
For art - www.womansday.com/Articles/Family-Lifestyle/12-Cool-Colored-Pencil-Sculptures.html
For travel - http://opentravel.com/blogs/fairytale-destinations/

Have you tried StumbleUpon? Is anyone NOT a fan or has been wholly disappointed by their Stumbling results? Any recovering Stumblers out there?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: The Quad-Review, Part 2

Yesterday we brought you the first part of our epic Anna and the French Kiss quad-review, when we talked about ANNA's general awesomeness, the characters and friendships, and sexy hobbits.

Today, part two!


Donna: As silly as it sounds, you really feel like Anna enters a world that has already fully been existing before she came on the scene. That's strong world-building.

Sara: Definitely.

Janine: Paris makes everything better.

Sara: And I love how Paris becomes more than a setting, it's almost a character too.

Frankie: So does French kissing! And the food--I told Janine that if we ever get to Paris, I might have to go non-vegan for a bit.

Janine: She really captured the essence of Paris, I think, without being too or over descriptive. I really felt like I was there, but it was truly a feeling, not an image in my head.

Sara: It was a taste in my mouth.

Frankie: In my heart!

Sara: Every page FEELS like Paris.

Donna: Anyone can research details of a city (she hadn't even BEEN there when she wrote this!), but she got the heart of the city -- from the perspective of an outsider who becomes an insider. What I also loved was that, though Anna was in Paris, it wasn't like her pre-Paris life ceased to exist. She still had complications at home, and when she went home for break, life hadn't stopped without her. 

Frankie: Oh yes, that feeling of coming home again after you've been away--and you're heart and soul feel like they're somewhere else and nothing feels right anymore!

Janine: The aspects of adjusting to international life--and life back home--were very realistic.

Donna: Yes! All four of us have been there, and I agree.

Sara: The reverse culture shock over Anna's Christmas break was perfect.

Janine: It's very disorienting, and I could relate to what Anna was experiencing.

Sara: Me too. It reminded me so strongly of my winter break during my Junior year abroad in England.

Donna: And when I came home from my semester in Australia.

Frankie: It just reminded me of every break I had at Cornell. I was a state away and still...

Sara: How you think your home life was on pause for the past three months because you weren't there.

Janine: I found myself thinking of my first flight home from Japan and parting with my traveling partners at the airport. I was so happy to see my family, but they had no idea what I had experienced.


Sara: Oh, and can I say how much I love that a) Anna has interests outside of pining over a boy and b) that college was totally brushed over and not a big deal?

Donna: The novel really was about her YEAR in Paris, not just the OMG CUTE BOY part of her year. Like Frankie said, she and Etienne were real friends.

Janine: And that Anna, as much as we loved her from the beginning, she really does grow as a character from beginning to end, and Paris and Etienne were a part of that growth.

Frankie: I'd want to be friends with him, too!

Janine: "Friends"?

Frankie: Lol--well....no. But yes. But he was also just a NICE guy!

Janine: It's okay, Frankie, we all crushed on him, I think.

Frankie: And funny, and easygoing, and someone you felt you could talk to and trust with all of your secrets and problems.

Sara: Oh, and I felt like Perkins really captured Etienne's British-ness.

Frankie: She did! His voice sang off the page, you never forgot he was British, but she didn't overdo the slang, she got it right.

Donna: He just FELT British.

Janine: Perkins knew when to put the British touch in. Not too little, not too much.

Sara: How does she do it?!

Frankie: I want to go to the Stephanie Perkins School of Writing.

Hi, Stephanie! We think you're wonderful.
Donna: Me too!

Janine: Can I come too?

Sara: Can we make it our next road trip?

Frankie: Hahaha! Stephanie...we're coming over.


Janine: I was relieved to learn there will be more of them, and I like that they will be companion books rather than sequels.

Sara: Anna, je t'aime!

Janine: Oui!

Sara: C'est tres bien. (Go high school French, go!)

Donna: Te amo, Ana! (I took Spanish.) 

Janine: I love this book. My heart is still racing a little from finishing it yesterday. Read it! Read it!

Sara: Right. Now. 

Donna: Buy it for your friends, too, because they'll steal your copy.

Sara: It's the perfect Holiday gift! Hanukkah is early this year!

Frankie: Anna Oliphaunt, I like you very, very much. Were you real, you'd be my friend. Were Etienne real, sorry, my heart belongs to him. Etienne St. Clair, you short little man, I LOVE you!


So... have we convinced you to pre-order ANNA yet? Anyone else out there read it already?

- ANNA on Amazon
- ANNA on IndieBound
- ANNA on Goodreads
- Stephanie Perkins' website

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: The Quad-Review, Part 1

We were lucky enough to get our hands on the most-coveted Anna and the French Kiss ARC, and after we all took turns reading it, we agreed on one thing: it deserved a quad-review.

And this quad-review was so epic that we split it into two posts, lest you get overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of this book.

About ANNA:
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

We give you: PART ONE!


Frankie: This review is easy: I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT

Janine: I couldn't put it down. And when I had to, I couldn't think about anything else but picking it up again. And I want to go to Paris. And I want to study French. And I want to eat macaroons and sandwiches with drippy Fontina cheese. And maybe even wear uncomfortable shoes. And any book you can say all that about--including that it makes you WANT to STUDY something, must be pretty good.

Donna: I read ANNA in one sitting --- and it's not a short book!

Sara: No! But it doesn't feel long.

Janine: It flies by--which is the only sad thing about--that it ends. :(

Donna: Well some of us, (coughFrankiecough), just pick it up and re-read it. That's kinda the only cure, til Stephanie Perkins' next book comes out.

Frankie: You HAVE to read it twice!

Sara: Can you believe this was Stephanie’s debut?

Janine: Um...no. I cannot believe that. It is so perfectly paced and the tension is so just right.

Donna: It kinda makes me hope there are like 17 imperfect novels in a Perkins house drawer somewhere. Because there has to be SOME explanation for this.


Donna: So let's talk about the details of ANNA --- Anna is an American teen who gets sent to a Parisian boarding school. Sounds pretty tame. The brilliance is in the execution.

Sara: Like the characters. Anna is anything but boring.

Janine: I agree with Sara--but she's also so normal. Ya know? In a writerly sense, she is very realistically written. In a character sense, she's a normal highschool girl with her own interests, opinions, quirks and insecurities. I LOVE that. She just felt so real.

Sara: I thought Anna was a lovely balance between shy and outgoing--It would be really easy to write a wallflower character, considering the crazy circumstances she's put into. But Perkins let Anna's personality shine through on every page.

Janine: Not contrived at all.

Sara: She didn’t feel like an overly dramatic reality TV version of a teenager.

Frankie: Yes! And she was so relatable--I can't think of one moment or feeling she experience that I couldn't relate directly to my own life

Donna: And she was someone I wanted to be FRIENDS with. Whereas many YA characters that I love, I know I'd never be friends with them in real life.

Sara: Yes!

Janine: I wanted to be her friend too!

Frankie: I didn't! I wanted to be her! Because I wanted Etienne St. Clair, the best love interest ever.

Janine: Oh, ok, yah. good point

Donna: I love the development of friendships and relationships in the novel. Because Anna joins in with an established group of friends in Paris. And though she becomes one of them, she still feels separate.

We love it too, Stephanie!
Sara: And she isn't everyone's best friend.

Frankie: Yeah, what made Etienne and Anna's relationship work so well and feel so tense was because they really were friends, within a larger group.

Sara: In fact, there's even some tension between her and other group members.

Janine: Which I think is a very real part of highschool.

Donna: The push-pull of friends, the tension of girls liking boys who like a different girl, and vice-versa.

Frankie: You don't always know who to trust, sometimes you feel like your friends don't like you and it's all in your head--she totally captured that. But in Paris!



Frankie: Never in my life have I fallen for a shorty! THAT is how great he is.

Sara: The shortness made him more British. Like a hobbit!

Frankie: He'd be a perfect hobbit.

Janine: Not at all like a hobbit!

Frankie: Hobbits are cute!

Sara: Like a hot hobbit.

Donna: Oh, ladies.

Frankie: He'd be the hobbit all the other hobbits were in love with.

Janine: I love hobbits, but I do not envision hairy feet on Etienne!

Sara: Haha. True. He'd been much more well-groomed.

Stay tuned for part two of the quad-review tomorrow, when we talk about Paris, culture shock, and English French American Boy Masterpieces!

Monday, November 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo LOSS. NaNoExerciseMo WIN!

Suffice to say, I lost NaNoWriMo. I mean, I FAILED in an all-caps, bold, italics, and underline-worthy way. I know, I know: "November's not over yet! You still have time!"

It's not happening.

And I know why I lost: My heart wasn't in it. Good intentions do not 50,000 words make.

Am I a little bummed that I didn't make better progress on super epic awesome new novel? Yes. Most definitely. But am I happy with what I accomplished in November? You betcha.

I totally dress like this when I exercise.
November included three huge achievements for me:
1. I began regularly exercising (3x/week) for the first time in 14 months.
2. I relaxed.
3. I sat down and read books. Plural! (I've only been listening to audiobooks, because it's multitasking while driving.)

Ok, to non-freakish-overachievers, this might not seem like a big deal. But there's a REASON I hadn't relaxed or worked out in 14 months: I finished a novel, revised it, planned a wedding (ahem, still planning), and bought and renovated a house (actually, I moved twice in that time period).

November was all about getting my life back in balance. I needed it. I needed to sleep a smidge more, sit down for an hour and watch TV without feeling guilty, I needed to read more, and my body craved exercise. And NaNoWriMo is all about imbalance, that crazy tilt toward writing wayyyyy more than is natural in a 30-day period. This was not the November for that, at least not for me.

So if I consider November my personal NaNoExerciseMo --- even (gasp) NaNoRelaxMo --- then hell, I succeeded tenfold.

And that, I'm proud of.

Sure, I wrote a little bit in November --- I blogged (as you know), and wrote a couple thousand shiny new words --- but now that my life resembles something close to normal, I want to throw some serious writing progress into that mix.

So DECEMBER, I declare thee: DonnaMakesSeriousProgressOnHerNovelMo.

But I'm going to relax every once in awhile, and keep exercising (especially considered we're entering the month of constant delicious food temptations!). Buff wedding dress arms, you're mine!

You tell me: Are you going to lose or win NaNo? Any alternative November goals you achieved?

PS - If you're wondering, I'm not a big fan of exercise (or gyms), and my preferred workout is Turbo Jam. I'm obsessed, and I actually find it enjoyable!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We're just wild about Harry

You've probably noticed that it's Harry Potter week here at the FNC. We love Harry Potter and all things related, and we're looking forward to tonight's opening with as much excitement and anticipation as anyone, even if it does signify the beginning of the end.

Unlike Donna and Frankie, and perhaps unlike you, I'm not going at midnight tonight. I haven't pre-ordered any tickets for the weekend. I'm not sure yet when I'm going--my family members and I are trying to align our schedules for an epic family night out. I'm have five siblings, and some of them have spouses, and one of them has two kids, and two of them are still kids themselves, so getting our calendars to cooperate with each other is tough. But you can be sure, I am going, and I can hardly wait.

To help hold me--and all of us over--until we get to see the movie, my 10-year-old brother shared some treats with us from the trip to Florida that my dad and step-mom recently took him on.

My little brother went to Hogwarts at Universal Studios!!! And, yes, those are Every Flavor Beans!!!

They really are every flavor: tutti frutti, popcorn, coconut, cinnamon, pepper, boogers, earthworms, dirt... The gross ones really were gross, and the flavors were accurate.

"This tastes like dirt!" my sister said about one. We checked the card, and indeed, it was dirt.

He was so generous to share these with all of us--they were gone by the end of the night, though some were spit out rather than swallowed.

And the beans weren't the only treats he brought back.

And earlier that same day, my sister received a letter from him in the mail. One he had sent while at Universal. They have a bona fide post office in the middle of the Hogwarts exhibit, and it is registered as Hogsmeade!

All these things certainly fed our enthusiasm for this weekend, but they have given me just enough Potter pleasure that I feel I can hold off for a few more days while we try to get our plans together.

Whenever you get to the theater, be it tonight or another day like me, I wish you a wonderful time.

Enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Sorting Hat: YA Edition!

The release of the first part of the seventh Harry Potter movie is upon us!  In honor of it, the FNC is celebrating all things Harry Potter this week.

Something I always thought was genius about the world of Harry Potter is the four school houses and the sorting hat.  Throughout the series, the four houses almost become their own character.  You can learn what character is in and immediately know what type of person they're going to be.

BUT, Rowling didn't let her writing get lazy.  Even though all house members share personality traits, there is some interesting variation.  Neville, for example, doesn't look like your typical Griffyndor.  And while Cho Chang might be in Ravenclaw, she seems to be lacking that common sense so many of them have.

My favorite part about the sorting hat, though, is that it gave me instant access into Harry's world.  I decided what house I thought I would be in, and then poof, I could imagine what being a student at Hogwarts was like!

And then about eight million people did the same thing.  There are countless quizzes on webpages, widgets and facebook to figure out just what house is perfect for you.

I put myself in Ravenclaw.  I'm shy, smart, bookish...it was an easy choice.

But then I started to wonder.  Where would some of my favorite characters be?  Would I be sharing a house with them, or would we be natural rivals?

What would the Hogwarts houses look like if they were filled with other kid lit characters?

You'll be hanging with Lizzie Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) and Jo March (Little Women).  They might bring a book to the Quidditch match, but they'll definitely be the one to ask for help with your Potions homework.  Also make sure you get to know your housemate Violet Ambrose (The Body Finder).  She'll be the first to know if there's trouble afoot!

No worries if you're not a fan of the dining room food, because you'll be in Hufflepuff with Peeta (Hunger Games)!  Fresh, cooked over-an-open-fire food every day.  And you'll be sure he'll be finding new plants to work with every day in Herbology!  You'll probably be spending a lot of time with him too, since your other housemates will be Sam and Grace (Shiver).  Yeah, they're sweet and could be fun to hang out with...if they'd ever stop holding hands and staring deeply into each other's eyes.

There will never be a dull moment in your day, because your housemates will be Katniss (Hunger Games), Katsa (Graceling) and Rose (Vampire Academy)!  Just be sure you remember your invisibility cloak, wizard chess, and a good pair of running shoes, because they're going to keep you on your feet.  Also be sure to pack a broomstick, because it won't be long before you'll be off to save the day with them.

If you're in Slytherin, you'll need to make sure you keep your wits about you.  You'll be housemates with ultimate bad-boy Patch (Hush, Hush) and the infamous Edward Cullen (Twilight - like you don't know).  You'll also share a house with Greg Heffley (Wimpy Kid).  Just don't let him copy off your homework!

So, who's in your house?  What house do you think you belong in? And what characters did I forget?

Previous Harry Potter posts this week:
Mourning Harry
Fantasy Quidditch Game - Disney Style

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fantasy Quidditch Game: Disney Style

All month while I've been waiting for Deathly Hallows Part 1 to finally BE in theaters...come on midnight Thursday, come on...all I can think about is how much I really REALLY want to play a game of quidditch.

And I've learned something--it's really hard to find a good quidditch team to play for in your area!

So I figured I'd create my own fantasy league and let them have a match. And WHO better to be on my team than the...

DISNEY PRINCES AND PRINCESSES!!!!!!!!!!! And because dating teammates is frowned upon in our fantasy league, we've had to split up most of the happily ever after couples!

Team 1: Weasely is Our Lion King

Keeper, Beast: Because let's face it....NOTHING is getting past this hulking piece of fury love, unless Belle makes a play...
Chaser 1, Pocahontas: She's light and quick and has very good aim, just as long as she pays attention to the game and not the colors of the wind.
Chaser 2, Aurora: She'll be light on her broomstick, so an ideal player. Just be careful she doesn't splinter her finger on the broom and fall asleep.
Chaser 3, Cinderella: We know she's handy with a broom...let's see how she rides one! Just hope she doesn't pause midgame to sweep up a mess of bertie botts in the stands.

Beater 1, Anastasia: Ok, we know she's not REALLY a Disney princess but she's awesome and you know she'd make a great beater, she practically broke Dimitri's face! But she'll have to be careful she isn't disqualified for sending her bludgers below the belt...
Beater 2, Snow White: She knows how to keep 7 little men in their place and bake a mean apple pie. Why not beat a bludger too? Her only problem will be accepting food from strangers after games.
Seeker, Ariel: Because she's really good at finding treasure. But she might get distracted and think the snitch is a fork someone tossed onto the Quidditch Pitch to confuse her.


Keeper, Prince Eric: Of all our princes....Eric is maybe the least athletic...face it, Ariel does all his fighting, so we thought it was safest to keep him on defense. Let's just hope he manages to block better than he handles staying on his ship.
Chaser 1, Belle: She's smart and quick with a good head on her shoulders, perfect for dodging bludgers and other players,  while carrying the quaffle, but she's so nice, she might not want to score a goal on Beast.

Chaser 2, Prince Charming: Not only is he good at returning glass slippers to their owners, but he can return the quaffle to the goal, over and over again. His only problem: throwing it into the right goal (he didn't exactly slip those slippers on the right feet the first...100 times)...
Chaser 3, Dimitri: Yeah ok, not an actual Disney Prince but he's awesome, fun to look at and... good at chasing...things. Unfortunately, he spends so much time gaping at Anastasia, he might take a bludger to the face.
Beater 1, Prince Philip: He took on Milificent and barely knew Aurora, so we know he's tough, but he does have a tendency to break into awkward songs at inapropriate moments.
Beater 2, Mulan: If anyone was going to give the beat down on the opposing team, it'd be her! Just remember that your beater is NOT a weapon Mulan!
Seeker, Aladdin: The boy is quick, one jump ahead of the bread pitch line... But may attempt to keep the snitch for himself and run off at the end of the game.

So what happens?

The Match:

Team Captains Ariel and Belle shake and...oooooh gross! Ariel had some seaweed on her hands and now Belle is sliding around on her broomstick. Yikes!

The Quaffle's in the air and the Snitch is released and immediately Ariel and Aladdin are off tracking it down. Ariel zooms and Aladdin follows! Has she found the snitch!?!? No...just a plastic spoon. Better luck next time, Ariel.

Mulan beats her first bludger and it's heading for Aurora. All she has to do is fly off to the side to avoid it. She's not avoiding it! WHY is she not avoiding it?!?!? Crap, she's asleep! Chaser down! Chaser down!

Anastasia is pissed! She's sending the bludger right back to the  Beauty and the Beaters and...OOOPS! She hit Dimitri!

"Sorry, honey!"


"Men are such babies."

But wait...it looks like there's some real action happening, Belle is heading right for the Beast and...she scores! One point for Beauty and the Beaters! Weasely is our Lion King is going to have a tough time catching up, especially with one sleeping player.

And then...Pocahontas has the quaffle and she shoots and SCORES! Prince Eric...who had you distracted? We have a tie! The match is heating up.

Prince Charming nearly takes a bludger to the head, but Prince Philip beats it away. Just in time! And now Cinderella has the Quaffle and is attempting to score...but wait...she's...she's sweeping up some chocolate frogs that jumped into the game. And now...

Ariel is zooming! She sees the snitch! Aladdin is off too and they're neck and neck. But Ariel pulls ahead! She's lighter on her broomstick on account of having no legs. She makes a dive and grabs...and...and it's a spork! Not the snitch. But Aladdin has the snitch and....he's dissapeared from the pitch with it.

So it's a draw?

What do you think? Would Weasely is our Lion King win the Quidditch Tournament or Beauty and the Beaters? Who would you put on your fantasy Quidditch Team?

Special thanks to my pal Chris Sasiadek--he named the Quidditch Teams:-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mourning Harry

Donna: Every fan has a Harry Potter story. Some people read from the first book. Others joined in at Prisoner of Azkaban, or Order of the Phoenix, or even at Deathly Hallows. Some people (gasp) saw the movies first, then backtracked.

I bought my tickets to the midnight show of Deathly Hallows part 1 last week, and though most of me was squeeing in anticipation, a small part of me wanted to sell those tickets back. It's the beginning of the end for Harry Potter as we know it.

Handpainted sign outside London bookstore in March 2005.

I felt a similar mourning when the Deathly Hallows book released, but heck, I was dying to know how the series ended, so I devoured each page with relish. And knowing there were still movies to come that would bring the incredible story to life made it a little easier to bear.

Now... what's left? In July, I'm likely to be a blubbering mess during the final credits of Deathly Hallows part 2. Sure, I still can go to the theme park, but Harry's been a part of my life since I was 15 years old and picked up Chamber of Secrets at my school library to see what all the fuss was about. Plus it counted toward a general reading requirement. (Yes, I started with book 2 and had to backtrack! It's unfathomably sacrilegious to me now.) And then I bought and read every new book on its release date; I was addicted. And in awe. I'm going to miss Harry and his world so much.

In London my freshman year of college, at Platform 9 3/4.
Sara: I remember going to the bookstore my sophomore year of high school (Back in the NINETIES, people!) and picking up the first Harry Potter book. I had--like usual--about $200 in Christmas gift cards to spend. But I wasn't so sure about the book. I mean, a boy who's a wizard? It sounded kind of silly. Plus, I was all about the kick-butt girl main character.

But I had some money left over after I found some other books, so I picked it up. Three days later, I made my mom drive me around to six different libraries to find copies of the second and third books. I was hooked!

Since then, Harry has been part of some of the best adventures I've had with my friends. I went to 4 midnight release parties for the books. The party for the seventh book actually made it into my maid of honor's speech at my wedding!

I made friends in college by drawing the dark mark on each other's arms. I went to see the second movie and got stuck in New York City at 3am. I went to see the third movie at midnight and had my car towed! While in England, I sojourned to King's Cross and found platform 9 3/4. And I've read more Harry Potter fanfiction than I care to admit :)

Image source.
 Donna: J.K. Rowling mentioned in her Oprah interview (article, full video) that she'd never say never to writing more Harry Potter books. I'm honestly not hoping for book 8; I think Harry's story has been told.

What do I want? Prequels. James, Sirius, Lupin, Snape, and Lily in their last year of school. Or the original Order of the Phoenix (with Neville's parents!) fighting Voldemort, ending with Harry's birth. I'm praying to the novel gods for these books!

Until then, I'll reread my books, listen to the whole series on audio, and buy the 8-movie box set. And wait, fingers crossed.

What's your Harry Potter story? Any (gasp) non-Potter fans out there? Any other people going to a midnight showing of Deathly Hallows? Do you want more Potter books, or is it better left as-is?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

10 reasons I watch Vampire Diaries Season 2 because of Caroline Forbes

Caroline was a hilarious side character in the first season of The Vampire Diaries, but Damon (and his eyebrows) ran the show. Now in Season 2, she's stolen the spotlight -- it's Caroline's world now, and I couldn't be happier! Time to show the best newbie vamp on TV some lovin'.

10 reasons I watch Vampire Diaries Season 2 because of Caroline Forbes

1. She tells it like it is.
To Elena, about Stefan: I’m sure that you two will beat the odds. Not that there’s any study to pull odds from. What is the ratio of success for vampire-human couplings? I’m guessing nil. [...] You're gonna be seventy and in diapers and he will still be smokin' hot. (Memory Lane) 
On killing Katherine: She killed me. Fair’s fair. (Masquerade)

2. Best. Vampire. Ever.
- She's come a long way since being Damon's personal blood bank/sex toy. In half a season, she's embraced her vampiredom and (mostly) controlled her cravings.
To Stefan: You want me to eat bunnies and I'm kind of freaking out. [...] Isn’t killing cute, defenseless animals the first step in becoming a serial killer? (Bad Moon Rising)
What, do I have something on my face?
3. She kicks some serious butt...
- Damon, Mason, Tyler, and even the uber-evil Katherine have all felt her wrath. Could she be more awesome?
To Mason Lockwood: “I can take you.” (Kill or Be Killed)
Ok, this isn't a picture of Caroline in kick-butt action. But the Lockwoods are a fine-looking bunch of were-men.

4. ...And looks great doing it.
- From cheerleader to Miss Mystic Falls contestant to badass (but stylish) vampire, Caroline's done it all -- with amazing hair!
"I don't get to choose the ring I have to wear the rest of my life?" (Bad Moon Rising)
5. She provides a welcome break from the Epic Epicness of TVD.
- The fate of Stefan! Elena! Mystic Falls! the WORLD! might be at stake, but perky Caroline keeps it fun.
"Werewolf Road leads straight to Vampire Boulevard." (Rose) 
Caroline: “Why are you looking at him with your serious vampire look?"
Stefan: “My what? My serious vampire look?"
Caroline: “I mean, it’s different from your worried vampire look, neither of which stray too far from your ‘Hey, it’s Tuesday’ look." (Bad Moon Rising)
6. Her self-awareness.
- She's flawed. She knows it. We love her for it.
"So you're saying now I'm an insecure, neurotic, control freak... on crack?" (Bad Moon Rising)
7. Wait... she has depth?
- She's grown a lot from Season 1's vapid, clueless Caroline. Her most tear-inducing moment was when she compelled her mom to forget she was a vampire ... after the truth had made them bond for the first time in years.
"You’ll remember you got sick with the flu. You had a fever, chills and ickiness. But I made you soup. And it was really salty. And we bickered. And you got better. And then your selfish little daughter, who loves you no matter what, went right back to ignoring you. And all is right in the world." (Plan B)
Getting Matt to break up with her for selfless reasons was another sweet moment.


8. Her impulsiveness.
- Telling Tyler she's a vamp wasn't exactly in the plan. And she might've been all noble making Matt break up with her for his own protection ... but she's still Caroline.
"I just stopped by to gawk and quasi-stalk Matt." (Masquerade)
But really, who wouldn't quasi-stalk Matt?

9. She's not Bonnie.
- Unlike Elena's downer of a best friend, she's not a whiny, miserable ... witch. Instead, she's sassy and made of awesome.
"God bless Elena, but she does NOT understand the word ‘fabulous.’" (Brave New World)
10. Team Tyroline... um... Team Cyler...?
- So what if werewolves and vampires are immortal enemies -- she and Tyler should get together! I mean, she's the only girl who can keep him in line AND understand his "OMG I'm a paranormal freak" anxiety. They might not be OMGsoulmates, but their relationship would be so. much. fun. Just no love nibbles!

Hi Tyler. You're much nicer this season.
In conclusion? Caroline's Season 2 transformation made her the best character in the series -- which is pretty impressive, considering this season is epically awesome and TVD is one of the most fun hours on TV.

Tell me tell me tell me! Who's your favorite Vampire Diaries character? Why do you love Caroline? Or what shows do you watch because of one awesome character?

For more Vampire Diaries entertainment:
- Check out Frankie's hilarious recaps
- Check out last season's "10 reasons I only watch Vampire Diaries because of Damon Salvatore" 

(The teeny tiny print: All images/video property of The Vampire Diaries/CW TV.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Agent Interview! William Clark of William Clark Associates

Check out the GLA blog for my interview with William Clark, literary agent extraordinaire!

Find out which books truly excite him, how technology is shaping the future of agenting, the one piece of advice you should know, and more!

(Keep an eye out for more GLA interviews by yours truly in the coming weeks!)

Previous agent interviews of mine on the GLA blog:
Elana Roth 
Andrea Somberg 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Social Media - Novel-selling magic dust or huge waste of time? (GUEST POST!)

There are tons of aspiring authors (including myself) blogging and tweeting because we love to write and share information and talk to strangers. Also, there are rumors that it's what we "should" do to increase our chances of getting published and, later, selling more copies of our novels. But does it work?

Today the FNC is turning over the blog to debut author Matt Stewart, who released his first novel ... on Twitter. And then got a lot of press. And a book deal. (It's an adult novel, but we won't judge. It sounds pretty awesome.) Plus, he's a marketing/PR guru by day. Who better to weigh in on the question?

Pay attention people: he knows what he's talking about!

Aloha first novelists (and first novelist readers) – I’m Matt Stewart, a first novelist (surprise!). My debut novel The French Revolution came out on Bastille Day (get it?) and I’m thrilled to say it’s been warmly received by critics. You can read the reviews here.

I’m mildly infamous for first releasing The French Revolution on Twitter in 2009. Hang on—release a book on Twitter? How the heck does that work—and who’d want to read a book on Twitter anyway? There’s a long story behind my Twitter gambit, which you can read here, but the short story is that nobody wants to read a book on Twitter. However, most people won’t read long form anything—short story, novel, whatever—when they don’t think it’s a reasonably good use of their time. They will, however, read a text message or tweet, because they’re short. I think I write attention-getting sentences that might encourage you to learn more, or even buy the whole book. Think of it as watching a few minutes of a TV show before ordering the whole season.

My Twitter experiment was covered in media around the world, and I later landed a book deal--a hardcopy version was released this year. (NOTE: The French Revolution is much easier to read in traditional book form.) Victory!

Time and time again, you’ve heard that social media like Facebook and Twitter are the wave of the future. If you’re tech-savvy enough to read this blog, you’re likely on one of those platforms, and maybe even both. Stories like mine support the idea that social media can build a readership that translates into successful novel releases. But don’t get the idea that social media is some sort of magic pixie dust—there’s a lot of hard work behind translating social media into meaningful reader relationships. Here are a few lessons from the road:

Social media lets you break rules to build buzz. Want to put your book out on Twitter? Post chapters on Facebook? Release a book trailer video? Some call those ideas gimmicks that circumvent standard book promotion; I call them hooks that help demonstrate that you’re an interesting person worthy of fifteen bucks and ten hours of reading time. Social media makes it easier than ever to test out new ideas that might just grab you new fans.

You call the shots. Anybody can open up a Facebook or Twitter account—you don’t have to be an expert, or endorsed by mainstream publishing. With a good idea and some elbow grease, you can make magic happen on your own right away. In an industry that often feels painfully slow, that's a liberating experience.

Social media takes time. We’re not talking a ton of time – call it a half-hour a day. But that adds up. And to learn to be truly effective in building a fan base through social media, authors have to learn to not only participate, but also be relentlessly interesting and assertive in reaching new people. Like anything, there’s a learning curve.

Traditional media still does way more than social media. Nobody would have noticed my Twitter story had I not been covered in the likes of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN. For better or worse, old media has a much bigger reach. You don’t have to be a professional PR expert to get the attention of old-school media—but it sure does help. (Disclosure: my day job is in PR/marketing).

Credibility counts most. Ultimately, people buy books that they believe are worth the time and money, and that usually means they have to be exposed to a book several times before they buy. Quick social media gimmicks won’t get you that kind of credibility—you’ll have to grind out the long haul of being interesting, going to events, and even writing guest posts on first novel blogs.

Long story short? Try it. While social media isn’t book-selling magic dust, it IS good, reliable fertilizer to grow a fan based over time, making for an impressive weapon in any author’s arsenal.

Matt Stewart’s debut novel, The French Revolution, has been called “wildly imaginative,” “brilliant,” and “an excellent achievement,” and was named a Notable Debut by Poets & Writers. He’s mildly infamous for releasing the novel on Twitter first. His stories have been published in Instant City, The Millions, McSweeney's, Opium Magazine, and more, and he blogs for The Huffington Post and The Nervous Breakdown. Grab his free French Rev iPhone app on http://matt-stewart.com. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Matt!

Your turn! Do you think having a social media presence increases an author's chance of selling more books (or even getting a book deal)? Whose book have you added to your TBR or bought because you loved the author's blog/Twitter feed/website?

My thoughts: Having a blog or Twitter presence doesn't generally help OR harm your chances of getting an agent or deal -- your book will get you that! But I definitely think social media can help authors get more readers when their book is published -- I know that if I love a person's blog, I'm much more likely to pick up his/her book!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Real World Recap: Epic Book Signings of Awesome

Five authors: David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Matt de la Peña
One reaction: Squee!

These five incredible YA authors came to Children's Book World in Haverford, PA on Monday night, and Frankie and I were lucky enough to go!
Authors of Awesome (L to R): Emily, Rachel, Matt, David, Sarah
They started off the evening by reading from their latest books -- Sarah read from GIMME A CALL; David and Rachel chose passages from DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES, their third co-written novel; Matt read from I WILL SAVE YOU; and Emily chose a scene from REAL LIVE BOYFRIENDS, the upcoming fourth book in her popular Ruby Oliver series.

The excerpts covered calls from the future, surly Macy's elves, wise and sassy great aunts, the significance of scars, and crushes on guys who aren't your boyfriend.

It. Was. Amazing.

They were all so engaging and hilarious -- and in Matt's case, compelling -- that the drive to Haverford would've been worth it for the reading alone. But then they answered questions!

David (who we'd been lucky enough to meet last November) acted as moderator, keeping us entertained while answering questions from the crowd and posing some to the other authors.

Of course, we took notes! Here's a rundown, with pics interspersed*:

Q: (To David and Rachel, who've co-written three novels) What makes someone decide to write books together?
- Rachel - Ignorance. (laughs)
- David - Well, we both had DWIs, and we met doing community service together... Just kidding. That's our most frequently-asked question, so we always try to come up with a different answer. Actually, it was Rachel's idea to collaborate.
- Rachel - It was dumb luck.
- David - She wanted to write a book with a boy and girl narrating back and forth, and she needed a guy writer.
- Rachel - Previously, I'd written a book with guy characters, and even though I felt the voice was right, I knew that my guy characters' decisions, etc. were more girl wish fulfillment. That actual guys would write it differently.
David reading.
Additional Rachel and David co-writing notes:
Rachel and David felt the pressure was a lot less when you co-write. They're also Pantsers and don't really know where the story is going AT ALL. When it feels like they're finished, they're finished. They also don't edit each other's chapters.

How to Be Bad was tri-written by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle (who the FNC met last November), so Emily and Sarah weighed in on their process:
The authors had only met once (and I think two of them had never met!) before they began writing. They emailed everything back and forth, but VERY opposite David and Rachel's process, they rewrote each other's chapters back and forth in the editing stages. This worked for them because they each edited according to their individual specialties -- Sarah edited for plot, Emily for dialogue, and Lauren for heart.
Sarah reading.
Matt talked about his collaborative experiences:
In January, a picture book is coming out called A Nation's Hope: The Story of Joe Lewis. Kadir Nelson, the illustrator, came up with the idea, and Matt wrote the text. Because it was Kadir's idea, Matt had no problem leaving the illustrations in his (supremely capable) hands!

Matt's first novel, Ball Don't Lie, was also turned into a movie -- and he didn't express any difficulties in relinquishing creative control.

They all seemed to agree that collaborating on projects makes it much easier to handle criticism from the outside world, because it's not just your novel baby. For this reason, David and Rachel found it easy to handle changes to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist when the movie was made.
Rachel reading.
Where did the five of you meet?
Not all of them met at once, but most of them met about 6 years ago. David realized that he often saw other YA authors in random cities at conferences and such -- but they never met in NYC, though many lived there! So he began a monthly NYC gathering of published YA authors, which continues to this day.
Matt reading.
Q: How do you manage to keep teen voices fresh?
- Rachel - She remembers being 16 like it was yesterday. (26 is much more fuzzy.) She writes to entertain her 16-year-old self and finds it easy to tap into that voice.
- Emily - She works on the slang a lot. Checks through UrbanDictionary, even makes up some slang. As she revises, she replaces the adult voice/80s slang throughout.
- Matt - He keeps up to date by talking with teens at various signings/events.
- David - He feels that, thanks to technology, teen culture and adult culture have conflated. The divide isn't nearly as big as it used to be. Also, his "day job" as an editor forces him to edit teen voice/slang in other authors' work, so he instinctively does it for his own work.
- Sarah - She emphasized that, while she does keep current, she also makes a point to not include too much slang, so as not to date her work.

Emily reading.
So that's it for the notes I took! Afterward, the authors spent plenty of time signing books and chatting with the crowd in the bookstore. The bookstore staff even had soft pretzels, apple cider, and baked goods for everyone! (LOVE indies!)

Also, check out Frankie's blog, she took photos of all the signatures she got on her books -- aka Reader Porn!

So now you might be thinking, "Hey Donna, I thought you said "book SIGNINGS of awesome." This was only one signing." You're right! On Tuesday night, Frankie and Sara returned to Children's Book World to see the beyond-incredible Laurie Halse Anderson! (We have a total author-crush on her.) Frankie recapped it on her blog, so go check it out!

* Interspersed! That has to be worth some points.

Your turn! Which author do you most want to meet? Any fave or TBR-listed books here? And can't you just squee over the total level of awesome of this signing?!
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