Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to Play Remember When

I participated in my first author visit the other day. It wasn't my YA book. I have yet to sell a manuscript. Plus, I can't read my work out loud in the presence of an audience without (a) cracking myself up; (b) stressing out and reading too fast; (c) getting so discouraged at the runny poo on the page, I crawl into a hole; or (d) all of the above. So I promoted a published book instead. My personal fav read of last year, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

I suppose now's the time to also confess I was at my mom's 70th birthday party rather than a bookstore for my fake author appearance. But I did accomplish the goal of a real author visit. After I read a five page excerpt from Lied, all twenty partygoers exclaimed they couldn't wait to buy the book. But could I tell them the title again? So I smiled and repeated the title and author. And confirmed to one concerned citizen that no, the bookseller ringing up her purchase will not laugh at her purchasing a book about a 15-year old. Even though concerned citizen is 50-years older than the book's main character, Evie. Because that's the beauty of YA. It touches heart, no matter what decade you're from.

Anyway, my mom's party was a no gift soirees. Your presence and a nice card is enough. But I never can do what I'm told. Which is why I started shopping for a little something to mark the occasion above and beyond the required Hallmark greeting.

First, I entertained the idea of buying a DVD that contained news footage, movie gossip, and other notable events for 1939, the year my mom was born. But such an item requires her to operate a DVD player, advanced TV skills beyond her trusty TiVo remote. Plus, she doesn't remember the events of 1939. She was a newborn who spent the majority of her first year sleeping in my grammy's bottom dresser drawer. Because my grandfather Chuck couldn't afford a crib back then. Not after he purchased the family's 2 bedroom 1 bath bungalow for the outrageous sum of $5,000.

No, my mom's stories about the "good old days" of East Marysville span the years 1945 to 1958. A baker's dozen decade where a quarter pound burger at Chuck's Drive-In, my grandfather's restaurant, sold for a mere nickel. And Chuck used real ice cream in his shakes. Oooh, and his fries were served up with a healthy dose of mmmmmmm . . . gravy.

Yeah, I had to add that last bit of history in. This is Drea's Diner and all.

I wonder if the waitresses at Chuck's asked diners if they wanted brown or white gravy with their fries. Now that's a hard core grease shack.

Okay, back to my story. After I rejected the idea of giving the DVD about 1939, I experienced a stroke of brilliance. This party would be all about playing what I like to refer to as Remember When. So I better be ready to play Remember When, too.

Remember When my mom lifeguarded at the old Marysville public pool. And she gave swimming lessons for the Red Cross in the morning before the pool opened. For FREE.

Remember When my mom drove her new Chevy convertible to school every day. Even though she lived across the street from Marysville High School. But she didn't dare walk to school. Her grandfather owned the town's Chevy dealership for goodness sakes. So she played chauffeur to her friends so they, too, can experience the thrill of her new pink Chevy. Because that was advertisement for the dealership at its finest.

Remember When the DDT trucks sprayed down the residential streets to kill the mosquitoes during the hot summer months. And the neighborhood kids ran after the truck, playing in the mist?

So wrong, that last example. Yet so true of the 1950s.

But, see, here's the thing. My mom and her friends spin the stories so muchbetter than me because they were, you know. There. That's why I decided to play my own version of Remember When. Only, I used pages from Lied. The book takes place in 1947, giving me juicy Remember When details. And the story is written in first person, a voice I do rather well.

At the party, I waited until cake and ice cream to do my read aloud. In my mom's circle, dessert is the most important meal of the day so silence at the table prevails. In other words, it was the only time during the entire party this animated group was quiet. And after I shocked my captive audience with the FYI that yes, 1947 is indeed considered Historical Fiction in the publishing world, I enamored them by reading my selected pages. Every sentence I read, my audience nodded their heads. Or pointed their frosting covered forks in the air while blurting gems like, "I used to practice smoking with candy cigarettes, too!" Or "Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce was the best!"

So, thank you Judy Blundell for making my mother's 70th a memorable celebration. Not only did I give my mom and her guests a new taste of the "good old days." But I gave myself a taste of creating exciting vibes otherwise known as Book Buzz. Now, if I can only write my own National Book Award For Young People's Literature winner so that buzz is over my book and not yours . . . . .

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chickenfoot - Not Just Dim Sum Anymore!

I laughed when I heard about the new supergroup Chickenfoot.

Serious. Are-You-Kidding-Me (say that last part like Tony Soprano) laughing. Because, really. Sammy Hagar. In a Supergroup. With Joe Satriani? What, did Sammy and Joe find themselves in line together at Whole Foods. Correct that. Whole Paycheck. In Mill Valley? And when they struck up a confab about the cost of groceries in this day and age of lost rock, they vowed to make an album because they both needed more butt loads of cash? Or maybe, Sammy dared Michael Anthony to call up Eddie and Alex to get the band back together. But Eddie refused to do a reunion for no less than a billion dollars. And Alex couldn't commit. Again. So Chickenfoot was born.

Okay, so fast forward to the present. After I laughed, I became curious. So I logged into Amazon and snuck a listen to the tracks off the Chckenfoot album. Lo and behold. The following day plus a Super Saver Shipping week later, I had the Chickenfoot CD in my hot little hands. Because O. M.G. Chickenfoot is not just Another SuperGroup . It's the Super Friends of Supergroups. As in the Wonder Twins secret knuckle whack that electrified when Zan and Jayna exclaimed "Wonder Twin powers, activate!" The album may be by Chickenfoot. But the sound screams Van Halen.

When the Chickenfoot songs danced into my ears, I flashed back to the Van Hagar concert at the Cow Palace on Halloween, 1986. Yep, that's right. The Crap Palace, 1986, when VH's album 5150 was all the rage despite the absence of Diamond Dave. Which explains my previous crack about Tony Soprano. You do realize DLR was one of Tony's poker buddies on The Sopranos, right?

Back to my 1986 flashback. My girlfriend and I were Very Excited about scoring tickets to such an anticipated event. Until our dates showed up. Dates who were. Ahem. Face painters. As in their faces were painted black and orange. But, to Steve and Ernie's credit, they did manage to slip a disposable camera past security. Probably because the gate goons were too embarrassed to pat down grown men with their faces painted like a Halloween Hallmark card.

So, dear diners. This post is your reminder to use flashbacks. It doesn't matter how blocked or stuffed away your character's memories might be. Create the perfect storm of a situation where your MC is faced with a place, feeling, smell. Something teeth sinking worthy that will pry open your protag's most secret memories. Because when that memory floodgate opens, we, the reader will understand your character better. We'll know how and why the character acts the way they do. What makes them really tick.

For instance, another flashback I had while listening to Chickenfoot was the US festival. A huge, 4-day music fest that occurred Memorial Day Weekend 1983 in the heat of San Bernardino. Each day featured a different category of music - "new wave," "heavy metal," "hard rock" and "country." But the Big Day was Heavy Metal Sunday featuring Van Halen back when David Lee Roth fronted the band. Well, not only did I tape the "heavy metal" and "hard rock" days of the US Festival on a gazllion 120 minute cassette tapes because the entire festival was broadcasted live on the radio. But I captured bits of music history. Like Ozzy's set featuring this new guitarist named Jake E Lee. Or when Bono from that one Irish band announced "Music can change the world, because it can change people." But see. I forgot those tapes existed. But now I'm hell bent on digging them out of the boxes in my garage for a little spin in my ancient cassette player. So I can remember that Memorial Day weekend. Me, curled up next to my stereo, waiting for Van Halen to hit the stage Sunday night. Silently wishing I was there. Live and in person. Instead of being me. Fourteen and well. Boring. At least that was my self-image at the time. Most other people thought I was obnoxious.

No avoiding it. Flashbacks are cool if not downright annoying embarrassments. In fact, I think I'll go change into the VH baseball jersey from the US Festival I stole from my brother thirty years ago. And then give Chickenfoot another listen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coincidence or Fate?

I can't stop thinking about Michael Jackson. His talent. His music. The fact that "Rock With You" from his Off the Wall album was the best couples skate song EVER played at Cal Skate way back when spending a Saturday at the roller rink was the coolest thing next to playing Tempest, the arcade game. Wait. Did I just show my age? I was um. Really young when I was in my skating phase. And Cal Skate was one of those retro places like the Corvette Diner in San Diego. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I also keep thinking about my encounter with the King of Pop a few years back during a girlfriend getaway trip to Vegas. My girlfriends and I spent our Saturday lounging by our hotel's pool, soaking up the desert sun. We only had a few hours before we needed to get ready for our evening's festivities, the KISS / Aerosmith show at the MGM Grand. A concert, which, as you may know, requires a LOT of hairspray and playing "this is my favorite KISS song" prior to the show. Nevertheless, we decided we had enough time to quickly dash to The Forum at Caesar's Palace to buy our guilty gifts for the kiddies and hubs we left back home. Our first stop was FAO Schwarz. After about an hour of shopping and riding the spiral escalator from the first to third floors over and over again because it's just plain fun, we noticed the store emptied out of everyone but well . . . us. And when we asked FAO's staff what was going on, they told us Michael Jackson was coming to shop so Caesar's security had to lock down the store. And now, we couldn't leave. Because outside the store, The Forum looked like this:

So yes, that's right. I was locked in a toy store with Michael Jackson! Luckily, we had a camera and Michael graciously allowed us to snap this photo of a lifetime near the candy bins:

Of course, having our picture taken with Michael immediately went to our heads. And turned us into goofballs.

What does this have to do with YA writing, you ask ? Well, being locked in a toy store with one of the most famous people in the universe is known as a "coincidence." And far-fetching, unbelievable "coincidences" in a novel's plot supposedly kills the credibility of a story. Agents and editors also, apparently, don't want to hear we, the slush-pile-warriors-yet-to-be-published exclaim to them: "But it really happened that way!"

So my blog post today, dear diner readers, is about being a rebel and breaking the rules. If you want to write a story about a 16-year old misfit character who, in a twist of cosmo weirdness, winds up face-to-face with MJ, run with with story. Create a voice and plot so high-concept, funny-bizarre spectacular, a reader can't Don't-Stop-'Til-You-Get-Enough of your story until the very last period of the manuscript. Maybe your character believes in fate or destiny. Maybe your character despises celebrity chasing because her mom runs with a gossip magazine's paparazzi. Or maybe, your character doesn't shower or put on makeup before she flops from her hotel pool to The Forum. So when she finds herself standing next to a soft spoken, gentle icon that blows all the tabloid junk about him out of the water, she's completely horrified at her personal hygiene. Oh wait. That last example was me.

Rest in peace, Michael. We'll miss you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Hello Diners!

It's a perfect evening for a grand opening here at Drea's Roadside. The sky twinkles with stars. The air promises a Corvette summer. I'm a mere four episodes behind on All My Children.

It's only been a week since I attended the amazing social media class taught by gurus Susan Taylor Brown and Lynn E. Hazen. I've completely embraced this new frontier of online networking with a go-team attitude, too. I've joined Facebook. Created my blog. Updated my Goodreads and Google Reader. Thought about joining Twitter (although tweeting still scares me). Bought something on eBay.

But wait, you ask. How is shopping on eBay part of "networking" and "branding" myself with an online presence? Well, ladies and gents. You are correct. The social media class indeed did not cover the art of eBay. See, the class was sponsored by SCBWI because it was for children's authors and illustrators. But as someone who strictly writes angst-ridden YA, I have to stay hip, ya know. And I'm always a sucker for a bargain. Unless it's a dented can with an expired date on the pop top. Which is probably a good thing to avoid considering this is a diner and all. But when it comes to non-food items, sound the bugle. Let us shop until we drop.

Which is why when my friend and fellow shopaholic sent me a link to a Betsey Johnson leather purse selling on eBay with a OH MY GAWD THIS IS YOU! message, I decided to expand my networking horizons. And let me just say, this purse is freaking stinking capital A-Drea-Awesome. Check it out:

And K-Pow this Betsey Johnson label, baby!

Of course, my shopaholic friend schooled me in the art of bidding on eBay. Like waiting until the final hour of the sale to place my super secret Final Bid. A number so obscure in odd change that no other bidder could possibly win. And that, dear diners, is the strategy I utilized to conquer this purse at 7:30 PM on Friday.

Has my new purchase improved my social online presence and increased my network of peeps? Sure. I've exchanged emails with the seller which seems to me is the same as "friending" that special someone on Facebook. And, I've come up with a new eBay obsessed character for my next YA novel. In fact, I think I'll research my character right now by checking what's for sale on eBay.