Archive | May, 2011

Interview + ARC Contest: Don’t Stop Now, by Julie Halpern

31 May

You guys, I am so excited: today we have two first-ever events here on the blog!

The first first-ever event? An interview with fan-freaking-tabulous author Julie Halpern, whose books I love.

The second first-ever event? A CONTEST! Julie’s third YA novel, Don’t Stop Now, hits shelves NEXT WEEK (June 7)—luckily I have an ARC and am willing to part with it (but only because I have a hard copy pre-ordered). Be sure to check out how to enter, right after the (long but fabulous) interview.


What inspired you to write Don’t Stop Now? I knew a girl who faked her own kidnapping, actually, and I was the only person she told.  I lied to the police and the FBI; it was ridiculous.  The girl and I never really talked about things after I eventually turned her in, but I thought it was bizarre to fake ones own kidnapping.  That inspired the opening and the catalyst for the road trip in the book.  In real life, I’m a huge road trip planner, so it was a nice excuse to write a road trip book with a little mystery on the side.

I’ve read all three of your YA novels—Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, Get Well Soon, and Don’t Stop Now. I LOVED these books! Do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why? Get Well Soon is probably my favorite all around, since it was my first and it is based on my actual life.  However, that doesn’t mean I want to read it again.  I had to reread it to write the sequel (my fourth novel, which will be out in fall of 2012), and it was hard to see all the imperfections of a first novel.  So far it has reached and affected the most people, so that also makes it special.

It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into other writers’ processes. Do you prefer the first draft phase, or the editing phase? I enjoy the first draft phase, since I’m not a huge planner and writing the draft is almost like reading someone else’s book; I rarely know what is coming next.  I am always terrified of the first round of revisions when they come back from my editor, but that usually ends up being pretty fun and not as painful as anticipated.  I handwrite my books, so my least favorite part is typing up the pages.  It takes forever, and I’m not the best typist.  It’s a big revision, though, so I get that out of the way.  My last novel was 400 handwritten pages.  My fear is that I’ll lose the first, handwritten draft in a fire.

Aaaaaand, now for a few out-of-nowhere questions that are basically just fun to read…

Did you ever write fan letters to your favorite celebrities? I TOTALLY did this—mine were Ariana Richards (the girl from Jurassic Park) and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I am a firm believer in writing letters to people you love, and I still do it (with mortifyingly few results).  My biggest letter was to the band on the Nickelodeon show “Don’t Just Sit There.”  My favorite band member wrote me back twice.  It was love.  At least on my end.  I’m facebook friends with him now.  Not that we write, but I like knowing he’s still there.

Do you smuggle candy/snacks/lattes into the movie theater? (Yes, lattes. It can be done. I know this from much experience.) Always.  Usually a bottle of water (or an environmentally friendly thermos) and a box of Dots.  But my husband and I always buy popcorn, too.

What’s your position on karaoke? In the past, I was insanely into karaoke.  There was a club in Chicago called Lounge Ax.  It’s actually the club in the movie High Fidelity, where John Cusack goes to see Lisa Bonet.  I was an extra in that scene, and you can totally see me, by the way.  The actual club used to have karaoke the first Sunday of each month, and it was hosted by Fred Armisen, now of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia fame.  He was insanely funny and would dress up as different characters each month.  I became a regular, which gave me the perks of going up as often as I liked.  I was rather incredible, if I do say so myself.  Someone was filming a documentary, either about Lounge Ax or karaoke, I’m not sure, and I remember saying that Lounge Ax karaoke changed me as a person.  It gave me an immense confidence and showed me I was a decent public performer. Then the club closed.  So sad.

Don’t Stop Now features a road trip. Let’s say you can drive over oceans and, if you need to, even into outer space. What’s your dream road trip? I guess it would be an unlimitedly funded trip across and around America.  I have already been to 46 states, and I never tire of the weirdness that is the U.S.A.  I also lived in Australia, so I would love to take the time to road trip around there with my family.  Also with unlimited funding, of course.

And now, for one last writing-related question…

When you hit rough points with your writing—whether in the drafting, editing, or waiting-to-be-published phase—what inspires you to keep moving forward? I talk to other people in the writing business to remind myself that those feelings are normal and experiences are shared.  My biggest issue is feeling like I’m a loser and no one likes my books or cares about me as a writer.  Hearing from other authors about the pace at which they also experience things in the biz is helpful.  As far as writing roadblocks, I either stop or push through.  It all depends on my mood.  And what’s on TV.


TO ENTER: simply leave a comment.

DEADLINE: Monday, June 6, at 11:59pm. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 7. [Side note: sorry if there was any confusion over the deadline date—it originally said June 5. I've updated it now to reflect the correct date!]

EXTRA AWESOMENESS: for every 12 people who enter, I’ll add another prize—a non-ARC, actual hardback copy of Don’t Stop Now.


+1 if you put a little effort into your comment and tell us about your dream road trip, given unlimited funding and the ability to drive on water/to the moon/etc. (I really just want to read where everyone would go, but didn’t want to make it an actual requirement, hehe)

+1 for re-tweeting this post (I’m @olsonkayla)(And, if you don’t have Twitter…why not? It’s awesome!) If you don’t include me in the tweet, at least include #dontstopnow so I can find it!

For more information on Don’t Stop Now, here’s the link to its Goodreads page. For Julie’s blog, see the links in my sidebar.

On Conflict

30 May

My grandmother nearly died at our family reunion yesterday, but did not want any medical attention. Three of her four children were present, along with five of her six grandchildren, her husband, and everyone who has either married into or been born into our family.

My grandmother is an incredible woman.

We all love her. We all express that love in different ways; we all feel passionately about caring for her in the ‘best way possible.’ We disagree on what the ‘best way possible’ actually is.

This sort of passion, and love—even with the best of intentions, and especially focused on issues of life or death—can lead to some intense conflict. It can be exhausting.

Perhaps it’s weird that, at the end of the day, my thoughts turned to my novel-in-progress. Or, perhaps it was just a way to think of something else. Whatever the reason, I drifted off to sleep with thoughts about the following:

My novel-in-progress: Emotion, and the various ways people express themselves, is at the heart of this new story I’m writing. I know that sounds übervague, since emotional expression is a huge part of any story, really—but I’m exploring it more heavily than usual for this idea.

As excited as I’ve been about this new project, it’s hard to start from scratch after investing so much in Speck Hawkins. Lots of my heart and soul went into that novel, and this new idea…well, so far, it’s just been a good idea to pursue.

Yesterday made it personal; themes and thoughts that were merely hypothetical somehow made their way into my real life. As exhausting as it was, now I know: my heart and soul WILL be in this new project. I feel more closely tied to it now. For a big idea like the one I’m exploring, I think I needed to have that connection in order to push past the rush of merely starting it.

On conflict, and writing it: I have decided the following are true: 1) conflict—especially the intense, exhausting sort—is not fun to experience, and 2) if you must experience it, at least that means you can come from an honest place when writing it.

Also: how odd is it that we writers put ourselves willingly into the position to create (and, therefore, experience vicariously through our characters) conflict on a daily basis, even though it’s such an exhausting thing to actually go through, you know? There must be something therapeutic to it.

I don’t usually tread into waters so personal here on the blog, but I know I’m hardly alone when it comes to family drama—I think it’s safe to say that any person, with a family or without one, has been affected by it at some point. Prayers for my grandmother’s health, and for any lingering tension certain family members might feel, would be greatly appreciated. ♥


17 May

Sometimes I wish I could do everything at once:

Hurry up and finish drafting Meren, my new work-in-progress.

Hurry up and finish drafting Tokyo, my *other* new work-in-progress.

Read all the amazing books on my shelf, both published-and-acclaimed and yet-to-be-published-and-acclaimed.

Do another pass and polish for Speck Hawkins, my beloved novel I’ve worked so very hard on this whole time you’ve known me—it needs to lose at least 10K (more than that, if I’m honest) before I continue querying agents.

Give feedback for my crit partners, whose works-in-progress are freaking awesome and leave me hungry for more.

Sometimes I want to do it all, and do it all at once. Today. Now.

But then, I remember: it’s not simply about getting to the other side of goals. It’s about loving what I do, taking joy and pride in doing it with as much excellence as possible, loving the experience. It’s about being patient and diligent, working hard and not shooting myself in the foot by rushing things. That doesn’t mean it’s about ignoring goals, or discipline, or deadlines—those things are essential for anyone who wants to make progress, professionally, and I take them seriously. It’s just that they’re not the only things that matter.

It’s about being a writer who loves to write, not about being a writer who simply loves having written.

Enjoy today, wherever you are. Don’t wish it away.

Late Night Random Thought…

9 May

You know you and your husband are Harry Potter nerds¹ when you suggest the seemingly normal name ‘Brian’ for the Possible Names We Could Name Our Son list…

…and your husband assumes you got the idea because you were thinking of Dumbledore.

And he’s right.²

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

¹As if this wasn’t the first clue…
²And thus you have the story of how it came to be that our son will NOT be named Brian. (Or Wulfric, for that matter.) I must say, though, the whole four-first-names thing is tempting, given our indecisiveness and long list of possibilities…

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

3 May

If you tweet, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent.

You guys—it’s out today, which means you need to get to the bookstore (whether physical or virtual,¹ it matters not) and buy this sucker. And then, put your to-read lists on hold and dive into it.

This book was incredibly good. Even after all the hype I’ve heard—and, like many people, I’m usually more critical if there’s hype—it sucked me in in a major way. Probably because of the hype, it was sort of a slow build for me…but it just kept getting better and better, all the way through until the very last sentence.

Of the many things I liked about this book, what sticks out most is Tris, the main character. I loved her. I loved several of the characters, actually. That’s all I’ll say. I think the less you know about this book going in, the better—I knew nothing except for the fact that people are raving about it.

I read Divergent in two sittings. It is nearly 500 pages long. Usually, it takes me at least a week to get through a book. Oh and also, I am the girl who falls asleep during half-hour-long TV shows—get me comfortable, and I fall asleep. This book sucked me in, demanded my attention, and refused to let me fall asleep. Need I say more?

Well, I will say more, whether I need to or not. So you know at least the basic premise, here’s the first paragraph from the Goodreads blurb:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.²

Also, for all you writers out there, Veronica Roth has a fantastic blog. Among my favorite posts are this one (on world-building), this one (on some rules she abides by when writing), and this one (on character priorities). I’m truly inspired by her, and I hope you will be, too. Enjoy!

¹For Nooks (B&N page) / for Kindles (Amazon page)

²Here’s a link to the Goodreads page, which has the full blurb.

When Ideas Feel Too Big: From Paralyzed to Productive

2 May

Over the past few days, I’ve filled thirty pages of the book you see here.

New characters, a totally new world, new conflicts, new everything. It’s a weird feeling to be first drafting again, especially on an idea that feels so HUGE. Like, it feels intimidating, almost impossibly huge. Almost.

I’m writing it in the thick, leather-covered journal you see above. In one of my drafts for my first novel, I discovered that writing by hand makes me feel a deeper connection to my characters (probably because I’ve filled 20+ journals in my 28 years—I think the pen-to-lined-leather-book action automatically evokes a feeling of vulnerability in me). Already, I find myself able to focus on their stories. It helps take the this-book-is-way-too-big-for-me edge off of things, an edge that might, otherwise, be paralyzing.

To anyone trying to start, continue, or finish writing a book that feels too big: here are three ways to move from paralyzed to productive.

[one] Think on the page. Not your actual manuscript page—another one. Write out your ideas about setting, character, plot, everything you can think of that somehow relates to your too-big novel. Write, write, write, until someone forces you to make dinner (or eat dinner). Or, if you find yourself feeling oddly compelled to bake a wedding cake or scrub the baseboards of your living room with a toothbrush, set a timer and do not stop brainstorming until it goes off. You WILL end up with ideas to work with, and they will help you start to feel big enough of a writer to write your idea.

[two] Set a timer, then obey it. Even if you are a fountain of words, a timer is helpful. Set the timer for an hour. Put the pen on the page (or the fingers to the keyboard). Write words. Do not stop to check e-mail, or Twitter, or Facebook. Rinse and repeat. Do the distracting things in between timer sessions (and set a timer for that part, too).

[three] Just start writing. Then, put one word after another. In this stage of early drafting, I find myself thinking, “What is the perfect scene I need to write next?” This is great—but it also can be paralyzing. Perfection has no place in a first draft. What I’ve been doing, instead, is thinking, a) what is the logical next step, b) what would I most want to read if I was the reader, and c) what feels creative (as opposed to dull and boring)? I then spend a few minutes thinking of a way to begin a scene and go from there. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a catalyst to some sort of action that meets the above requirements. This method keeps the action moving and often brings new ideas to mind that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.

So, there you have it. Yes, this stuff is common sense, and no, it doesn’t make the actual writing any easier. That part still takes work. It does do something magical, though: brainstorming + productivity + consistent output = control over a larger-than-life idea. All of which leads to CONFIDENCE. That huge idea came from your brain. You can write it, if you put your mind to it and do the work.

Take control of your ideas. Don’t let them control you.


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