Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tattoo Me Pink

Behold my love child with Shakespeare
Hey people, have you heard the news? ROMEO & JULIET & VAMPIRES is out in stores TODAY!!! I'm so excited I can barely even breathe. There are a bunch of other great teen novels that share my release date, including Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (also from HarperTeen), so you should get to an online or brick-and-mortar bookstore as soon as you possibly can.

But after you buy a copy of R&J&V, I want you to ponder something for me: what should my commemorative tattoo be? Okay, I can see you're a little confused: a commemorative TATTOO? As in permanent ink on a part of the body? Is this lady serious?

Pisceans rule!
Oh yes, I most certainly am. Back in May 2000, I started this little ritual of getting a tattoo to celebrate big milestones in my life. I got the first one when I graduated from Hofstra University's Master of Arts program with an American and English Literature degree. The tattoo is the medieval sign for Pisces (my astrological sign) and it's located on my lower back, on the right side.

The tattoo that never quits
Then in March 2007, I got the number 607 tattooed on the inside of my left ankle. 607 is my hometown area code (Binghamton in the house!!!) and the month/year that my first book, IN OR OUT, was being published. I never expected it to get the response it has--I'm always stopped in the elevator or on the subway and asked what the number means. It's kind of the perfect promotional tool--I have it on me all the time! Also, I think I should mention that once a construction worker used it to cat-call me. "607? Hey baby, that your address?!" Sadly, I was too flustered to think of a comeback, so I just ignored him.

Anyway, so what's next?! I've been trying to come up with cool ideas for designs and placement, but I'm really stumped. Which is why I am begging for help via cyberspace! Please post your thoughts in the comments section, and let's keep it PG, folks. I do not want to be walking around town with a naked woman on my bicep (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Before I peace out, I just want to thank everyone at HarperTeen for doing such a great job with ROMEO & JULIET & VAMPIRES. I'm so proud of the book and how the packaging turned out. I hope it finds a lot of readers, and that people enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!!!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Winners of the Romeo & Juliet & Vampires/Blog giveaway

Congratulations to the five lucky winners of a vampire gift bag, courtesy of moi!

Miss Jill
Miss HardyGirl
Miss Cory
Miss Krista
Miss Music Luffler

Contact me with your mailing address and I'll get the prizes out to you asap. Thanks to all who joined my blog in recent weeks, and stay tuned for more chances to win cool stuff!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flashback Friday! 12/5/88

Will to Power
On December 5, 1988:

Shuttle Atlantis launched the world's 1st nuclear-war-fighting satellite

*Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley by Will to Power was on top of the U.S. music charts (seriously, I checked)
*The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad was playing at theaters everywhere
*Ross Johnson, then CEO of RJR Nabisco, was on the cover of TIME Magazine for spearheading the biggest corporate take over in American history.

I also wrote in my diary that day! Once again, here's a window into my 13-year-old life (for better, or worse).

Dear Diary,

Hello! Yesterday was our first game* and we lost, 52-29. Not that bad, but not that good.
Today I went to a skating party,* It was alright, but the best thing that happened was this 6th grader Donnie* told me he liked me and gave me this real cool bracelet.* He is cute, and nice, but he is two years younger than me and it would be so difficult. I told him I wanted to be his good friend. I hope he isn't upset with me. I guess I do like him. OKAY! I LIKE HIM ALREADY!*
I don't know what to do! Tell ya what happens with him tomorrow. 

PS: Help me! I want to go out with Donnie but it will ruin EVERYTHING!*

*When I was in 8th grade, I was a cheerleader for our middle school basketball team, who for some reason were called the Knicks--like we had some kind of affiliation with the NBA. I love that even though we lost by nearly 30 points, I considered that a mediocre outing for our team, rather than a miserable failure. 

*Oh my God, remember skating parties? The pop rock music blaring, the disco ball twirling above, the moonlight skates for couples! Ah, it was all so magical, wasn't it? Most skating parties in my town were held at this roller rink called Skate Estate. Believe it or not, it's still open, and you can skate as long as you want for 5 freaking dollars!

Michael J. Fox, lookin' fine
*Thinking back, Donnie was a pretty adorable kid. He was short and skinny and had lots of freckles. In fact, he was the spitting image of Michael J. Fox in the first season of Family Ties (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite sit-coms). For someone his size, Donnie had a whole lot of swagger, and I think that's what made me like him. He thought nothing of standing on the outskirts of the rink and grabbing me when I rolled on by so that he could say, "I really like you" and then give me a gift. That boy had mad courage!

Friendships were built on these once.
*So this "real cool bracelet" was actually one of those friendship bracelets that were made out of thin pieces of woven yarn. Every girl in my class was obsessed with making them, and we'd try to sneak in some craft time during our classes to braid as many as we could. If a boy gave you one these bracelets, he meant business, and if you took the bracelet and wore it, that meant you were middle school married. Alas, I took the bracelet from Donnie, but I didn't wear it to school, apparently because a relationship between us would be "so difficult" because we were two years apart. (Please note that my boyfriend Ben is 6 years younger than me--my 13-year-old self would be appalled!)

*"Okay! I like him already!" I really enjoy how I act as though my diary is a person, forcing information out of me. What an imagination!

*But nothing compares to the post-script in this entry. Being with Donnie would ruin EVERYTHING? Let me set the record straight. "Everything" back then was not a whole hell of a lot. Despite being on the cheerleading squad, I wasn't the most popular girl at school, and I had no kind of reputation to protect. In fact, if I was to quantify "everything," as in the most important things to me at the time, it would have amounted to Capri-SunJoradache jeans, and NBCs Must-See TV. Sadly, I would give none of those things up for Donnie's love. 

Hope you tune in next Friday for another flashback! :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pub Day Paranoia

The last book in the Hunger Games trilogy, MOCKINGJAY, officially released today, and this is all I can think about:

How is Suzanne Collins feeling right now? With the midnight madness parties, media scrutiny, interviews, and Twitter-craze, one would assume that she's thrilled that there is so much excitement for her book and extremely grateful for all the support she has received from her fans.

But is she worried at all? Is she scared of what the reactions and reviews might be? Is she fearful that Mockingjay won't live up to people's expectations? Does a part of her wish she could hide under the covers instead of doing the publicity tour?

I wonder because this is exactly how I feel, one week out from my ROMEO & JULIET & VAMPIRES release date--and I'm not even a big deal!

Sure, it's only natural to be nervous, and I bet all writers--even smash bestsellers like Ms. Collins--must go through a bout of anxiety before their books hit the shelves. But much like I did with my IN OR OUT series launch, I'm in danger of letting my pre-pub day agita color the whole experience, which would be such a shame, because I am proud of what I've accomplished and very happy with how the novel turned out. I mean, I went from writing about teenage girls in Poughkeepsie to classic Shakespearean love stories with a huge supernatural twist. That's quite a leap!

God, I hate to admit it, but I'm probably still as concerned about what people think of me as I was when I was a teenager. Okay, that might be an overstatement, but what I'm trying to get at is: I've never liked the idea of disappointing anyone, and the thought of a reader not liking what I've done can be kind of terrifying. In the case of Ms. Collins, any similar type of angst would be magnified by a billion, because she has a gargantuan following that has been counting down the minutes until Mockingjay arrived.

So in light of that, I should just CHILL THE EFF OUT, and GET OVER MYSELF, right? 

Yes, absolutely, I should. And I think the best way to accomplish that is to close my eyes and remember the large chest filled with notebooks that sits in my old bedroom at my mother's house--notebooks filled with stories that I wrote when I was twelve-years-old. Some of them are good, and some of them are horrid.

But regardless of what anyone might say, all of them are a collective preamble to a dream come true.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Courage and Grace

Grace and me, Pentwater, MI, 2009
Just wanted to give a shout out to my boyfriend's younger sister, Grace, who is about to do something very admirable with her life. For the next year, she will be working in Kenya through the Presbyterian Church's Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) ministry program. As an intern at the Change One Life foundation, Grace will be helping initiate and coordinate health-focused retreats that will promote HIV/AIDS education for adolescent Kenyan girls, as well as revitalizing their Mother’s Milk project at Kikuyu Hospital and assessing the needs of COL's rural clinics in Ndiwa and Lawanda. What a courageous task to take on at the age of 21!

I'm so proud of Grace for making such a selfless commitment to the people of Kenya, and while I'll miss her dearly (as her whole family will!), I can't wait to read her blog and hear all about her journey, which will be life-changing, without a doubt.

To learn more about the YAV program, or to make a donation, click here.

Best of luck, Grace! Have a safe trip, and an amazing time in Africa! XO

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flashback Friday! 9/16/88

On September 16, 1988:

*The Grateful Dead played a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden (see the set list here)
*Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N' Roses was the number one song in America
*Moon Over Parador, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Sonia Braga, and Raul Julia, was raking in 11 mil at the box office
*The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, were about to begin.

I also wrote in my diary that day! Here's what was going on in my 13-year-old life (with footnotes, of course).

Dear Diary,

(actually written in all caps) FRED* IS A JERK! I WANT TO KICK HIM IN THE ASS! You see, I'm mad at him. He thinks I prank his friends just because I gave Rob's # to Michelle*. I GIVE UP ALREADY! Maybe if Fred's attitude changes, I'll like him again. Until then, he's a jackass. We are NOT speaking to each other, except Hi.* Now, I like my buddy Chris George.* He is soooooooooooooooooooooooooo CUTE! DAMN CUTE!

Today, Chrissy, Michelle and I went to a restaurant called The Carousel.* The roast beef chopper guy was cute. Then we went to the mall. We made a music video at Soundtrax.* It was fun! Well I gotta run.


PS: I <3 Chris George

PPS: The roast beef guy was at the mall, too!

PPPS: The song was "Angel" by Madonna

*Fred was one of the boys in my neighborhood, and I was in love with him for like, four years. If I were to compare him to one of today's teen heartthrobs, I'd say he looked like Leonardo Dicaprio circa his Growing Pains days, but a lot more of a jock. Fred and I used to hang out a lot in the summer, and his wardrobe was practically all surfer-wear from OP. He wore a Swatch, and would take it off three times a day to monitor his tan line. He also was a bit of a troublemaker and rode a skateboard. Are you in love with him yet?

*Michelle was Fred's younger cousin, and I was pretty tight with her. She was a little shy, but very sweet, and Fred picked on her relentlessly. For some reason, that never changed my opinion of him. Until this big incident with Rob that is! I guess Rob was Fred's friend, and Michelle liked him a lot, and I had Rob's phone number somehow so I gave it to Michelle. Then Rob told Fred he was getting a lot of crank calls, and this was blamed on me because I gave Rob's number to Michelle. Dah! The travesty!

*I'm really glad that even though I was pissed at Fred, I was still courteous enough to say Hi to him. I was such a classy chick!

*Chris George was another boy from the hood. Instead of a skateboard, he rode a Schwinn. He was really tall and way too old for me, but he was super adorable and very crush-worthy. He didn't have the same edge as Fred did, though. Heart-throb comparison: Chris Klein in Election. Chris George never saw me as anything but a little kid, but watching him ride his Schwinn around was the highlight of my life back then.

*The Carousel was basically Old Country Buffet. The food spun around in circles under these bright heatlamps, and apparently they hired cute teenage boys to cut meat there and flirt with preteen girls. Not a bad idea, I guess. Just look at the dudes from Abercrombie & Fitch!

*Soundtrax was basically this recording studio at the mall where you could either get an audio cassette tape made of you singing a song, or record an actual video of you, pretending to be in a band. My friends and I saved up a lot of allowance money to make a video. I think we chose Angel by Madonna because I was going to be lead singer and the key of the song was in my pathetically small range. Anyway, we dressed up in boas and danced around and laughed hysterically.

God, I wish I still had that tape! I wonder how many YouTube hits it would have recieved.  :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Announcing Flashback Fridays!

To quote the wise, insightful lyrics of Bon Jovi's monster ballad Never Say Goodbye, "Remember days of skipping school? Racing cars and being cool? With a six pack and a radio, we didn't need no place to go."

Well, now you do have a place to go, my friends, if you want to recall the days of hair bands and scrunchies and broken teenage hearts. On Fridays, I will be sharing selections from my old diaries and adding some funny commentary, along with stats from the past, like what the #1 song was on Casey Kasem's Top 40 Countdown that week. It will be SO MUCH FUN!

One more thing: you can find the inspiration for Flashback Fridays right here. Thank you, Sarah Brown!

Friday, August 13, 2010

L.A. Woman

I have to say, my four-day trip to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference was a whirlwind of activity and I truly loved every moment of it. When I sat down to write a nice summary of events, I realized how much happened and that I couldn't squeeze it all into a moderately-sized blog post. So I figured, why not just share the highlights? Here goes!

Top Five SCBWI-L.A. Moments

5) Introducing the faculty--The conference kicked-off the morning of Friday, July 31. There was a gigantic event in the main ballroom of the Hyatt, where everyone in the faculty was led out to the massive stage to introduce themselves. It was kind of nerve-wracking, because literally ALL the attendees were there, watching us intently, and we had to come up with a word that would either sum up our feelings in that moment, our hopes for the conference, or the meaning of life. Talk about pressure! Anyway, it was amazing to watch agents, authors, and other big publishing players, greet the aspiring writers. This is a large industry and oftentimes you'll know someone online, or through a colleague, or through an article in Publishers Weekly, but never had the chance to put a face to the name. Also, it was cool to hear everyone's word--from "hope" to "caffeine" to "dude" (that last one is mine, of course).
Me and Michelle Houts, author of

4) Think Like Packager workshop--regardless of how calm I might appear on the outside, I'm always nervous as hell when I get up in front of people. In fact, my neck usually breaks out into a bright red flush when I get close to a podium. Classy, huh? Well, luckily for me, I was able to work through it and deliver a really solid lecture about how packagers develop book ideas for teens and tweens. For a recap of my presentation, visit Ara Burklund's guest post on the Adventures in Children's Publishing blog

3) Meeting one of my former authors--I love telling people about how I came to be award-winning Middle-Grade author Michelle Hout's editor! It's one of those rare stories of finding talent in a heap of contest submissions. A few years ago, Michelle entered the Delacorte Press First Middle-Grade Fiction contest, along with hundreds of other people. I just happened to pick up her manuscript, which was tucked in a large pile of other entries, and I could not stop reading this sweet, charming story. It's about a farm girl named Libby Ryan, who is raising her first pair of steers for the Practical County Fair. The novel was a contest finalist, and after revising her manuscript, I eventually bought the book. Since then, The Beef Princess of Practical County has gone on to win the 2010 International Reading Association Children's Book Award for Intermediate Fiction, and is currently a finalist for the 2010 Buckeye Children's Book Award. I couldn't be prouder of Michelle, who I finally met for the first time at the conference. She's every bit as funny, smart, and kind as the characters in her books! I hope I get to work with her again someday...

2) Running into one of my old friends from college/The Heart & Soul Party--How is this for weird? My former colleague and good friend Krista Marino text messaged me on Saturday night, right before SCBWI's infamous annual dance party. I thought she was going to ask me to be her wing woman for the evening, but I could never had expected this: a girl I knew from my study abroad program in college was not only one of Krista's dearest friends, but she was also at the conference, too! Sarah and I went on a 5 month long group trip to London through Binghamton University's English Department. We had the time of our lives, but we also lost track of one another after graduation. I had know idea that Sarah was living in San Diego and used to work with Krista in California. It was soooo great to see her and catch up. And we had an amazing time dancing the night away with the rest of the conference attendees! I'd heard about all the costumes and the boogie-ing down, but seeing it for myself first-hand was incredible. Despite what you may think, children's books writers know how to RAWK!

1) The critiques--Evaluating an aspiring author's writing can be a difficult task, and not just because of the effort that's involved in reading their pages. There's the face-to-face discussion about their WIPs that can feel as awkward and strange as a blind date! However, I find the one-to-one critique process at conferences to be my favorite part of the experience, mostly because I get to talk with people about their story inspirations, writing goals, and the vision they have for their work. When I read the conference submissions, I never forget that there is a person attached to these words, and if anything, I'm usually pretty intrigued about why they decided to tell this particular story. So when it comes time to meet at a small table in a hotel banquet room, I'm really looking forward to hearing all about them. Sometimes you even find a project and author you connect with, and while that doesn't happen as often as I'd like, it's still worth the trip. Here's why--the writers are (most times!) thankful to have feedback from someone in the industry, even if it's the kind of constructive criticism that requires them to perform major alterations on their manuscript. They are in real need of communication and opinions and suggestions. Honestly, I feel so honored and privileged to provide them with whatever two cents I've got.

Case in point: I received this email right after one of my critiques, in which I told the author to pretty much change the entire concept of her book.

Hi Claudia,

I know you had tons of critiques and I don't expect you to remember mine, but I wanted you to know how grateful I am that my pages were assigned to you. I read over your comments and everything you pointed out made me feel a thousand times better about the new direction you suggested I take my story. I LOVE how clear you were, and I appreciate you mentioning the positives. More than anything, talking to you and hearing your true thoughts on leaving out the time travel really blew open my mind--in a great way-- on where this story could BEST go. Like you said in your workshop, you give editorial feedback in the best interest of the BOOK; I feel so privileged to have gotten that editorial experience first-hand.

I'm glad I waited to query this one out to agents. When I do, if it turns out to be "the one," it will be thanks to you. Seriously. I would never ever have known the best place to take this book without your advice.

Thanks again for the amazing feedback!

~An SCBWI writer

'Nuff said! :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Best. Email. EVER!

For the past week or so, I've been sifting through the mammoth pile in my email inbox, which accumulated while I was on vacation in Michigan and at the SCBWI-LA writer's conference. Well, I'm almost fully caught up--thank God!--and the task was pretty energy-depleting. That is, until I opened the Best. Email. EVER!

Now, after I attend a conferences, I usually come home to a nice note or two from writers who I've met there. But I've never received one that made me smile as much as this particular gem did, in part because the subject line was, "You are awesome."

Um....duh!  ;-)

Anyway, here's the email in full:

Hi Claudia:

Okay, not including the keynoters, you were my favorite presenter at the SCBWI conference last weekend. Why? Because you're such a rock star. Here's what you have and I hope you never forget it: likability beyond all measure. When you stand in front of that podium and do your thing, it's so easy to like you. Some people have it, and some people don't. Then there are those who got it big time. That's you. Your style? Love it. Your humor? Dig it. Your non-use of fancy PowerPoint Presentations? Simply not needed when you're doing the talking.

I haven't read your books yet, but I plan to. I hope down the road we one day get to work with each other. In the meantime, keep brainstorming the next big thing. My money's on you that you'll find it.

All the best,
The Writer

There are no words to describe how thrilled I am to have made such a great impression on this person. Actually, after reading this email, I kind of felt like Corey and D.C. in Say Anything, when they are in awe of Lloyd Dobbler's letter to Diane. Here, I'll break the scene down for you (since I can't find it on YouTube).

COREY: "Dear Diane, I'll always be there for you, all the love in my heart, Lloyd." I've never gotten a letter like this, have you?

D.C.: I dream about it.

Only I no longer have to dream!!!
Seriously, though, this email totally validated the most important reason for editors, agents, and published authors to attend conferences in the first place--to make connections with creative souls and inspire them! Which is why I'll be at the SCBWI-AZ conference in Scottsdale on September 25th. I couldn't be more excited! :)

Well, I must get back to the rest of those pesky emails. I'm planning to post about my wonderful experience in LA on Friday, so until then, don't process anything bought, sold, or processed. (A little Say Anything joke there.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Question: What Have I Been Up to Lately?

Here's the answer--pictorially and with one line captions. (I'm in a rush--more deets next time, promise!)

Lindsey's wedding


Blueberry picking

Boyfriend hugging

Beach bumming (in Pentwater, MI)

Pontoon boat partying (with costumes)

Inflatable swan watching


Cat-vest wearing

View ogling (Michigan)

Hamburger grilling

Seafood chowing

Seahorse-shaped leftovers canoodling

Sunset staring (LA)