Authors TP the BEA

Simmons and Tafoya - up to no good

Okay, this is too hilarious not to share.  We’ve all heard the story of the author who followed the agent into the bathroom at a conference and slipped a manuscript under the agent’s stall. Well, at this year’s BEA conference a group of authors decided to take this one step lower.

Authors who are members of the Liars Club (a group that I’m a proud member of) thought they’d have some fun toilet papering the BEA bathrooms with rolls they had custom printed with their group’s logo and website.  Also, napkins printed with the group’s info and clever pick up lines like “Is that a two-book deal in your pocket?” were slipped beneath cocktails and coffee cups at several BEA events.

Participating in the shenanigans were authors Kelly Simmons (Standing Still, and upcoming The Bird House, Washington Sq. Press), Merry Jones (Zoe Hayes mysteries including The Borrowed and Blue Murders, St. Martin’s Minotaur), Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief, and upcoming Wolves of Fairmont Park, St. Martin’s Minotaur), and New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry (Dragon Factory, St. Martin’s, and upcoming Rot and Ruin, Simon & Schuster).

Simmons, Tafoya and Jones lurking

The Liars Club is a group of 13 authors who basically lie for a living, and who work together to share their work and their love of writing. “We thought this would be a hilarious way to get our group name out there,” said Simmons, the TP criminal mastermind. “Of course it didn’t work out exactly as we’d planned.  First of all the lines to the women’s rooms were so long, that mostly we had to place the rolls in the men’s rooms.  Women use more TP than men, so this bothered me from a marketing standpoint…”

“It all felt very cloak and dagger,” said Jones. “Napkin-wise, we ultimately voted on the Starbucks napkin stand as having the most traffic.  We lingered a bit, trying to be cool, waiting until no one was around, then artfully fanned out the napkins there. But no one arrested us. Hey, we weren’t stealing, we were giving.”

“We got some interesting reactions,” said Tafoya. “One literary agent, seeing us taking pictures of the mayhem with the TP, said ‘Of all things to document, I can’t believe they are photographing the bathroom!’  I got the feeling he thought we were tourists.”

There was one particularly dicey moment when Simmons unwrapped a roll and shrieked “Oh no! It’s only one ply!”  Mostly, though, their prank went well, and was taken in good stride, with some of the TP getting stuck to conference attendees’ shoes.

“The whole experience was a riot,” said Maberry.  “Now we have to wonder how we’ll top this next year.  Maybe Liars Club hairspray and mouthwash near the sinks?”

Is Maberry plotting the next caper?

Book Review: Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: You know that obnoxious cocky guy? The one that is cute and he knows it?  The one that can’t help but make you laugh even though you really don’t plan on giving him the satisfaction of doing so?  Well, now imagine that this guy is European royalty, and that he shows up in your small Pennsylvanian town. Oh, and he’s a vampire.  Let’s add to that…It turns out you are a vampire too, but you didn’t know it.  And you were betrothed at birth to said arrogant vampire royalty dude.

Well, that is the entertaining premise of Beth Fantaskey’s debut young adult novel Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  I know. More vampires. But like Suck it Up by Brian Meehl (you can check out my review of that by clicking here), Fantaskey fully embraces the ridiculousness of the situation to make us laugh out loud frequently.

Throughout the novel there is the enjoyable banter of anger laced with attraction between Jessica and the imperious Lucius. Well done throughout the book.  But the parts that I most enjoyed were the moments when Lucius comments on American teen life, and even gets involved in it.  One of my favorite moments occurs when he’s writing to his very scary uncle back at the homeland about his progress in sealing the deal with Jessica.  If the wedding between him and Jessica doesn’t occur, then the two ruling vampire families will go to war and most will be killed. No pressure, eh?  Anyway, Lucius concludes his rather solemn letter with

Your nephew, duty bound,
Lucius Vladescu
P.S. I’ve been recruited for basketball. The coach thinks I might start!

It’s that type of humor that will have you flipping the pages and thoroughly enjoying this book.  I loved the spoofy  wit surrounding the book Lucius gives Jessica to help her deal with her changes as she becomes a vampire –  Growing up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions. The guide has chapters like: “Your Changing Body.” Too funny.

The novel is full of flirty fun and moments of danger, but my favorite parts are when Lucius is looking down his nose at us all. “And do not even speak to me of ‘Jell-O’ and ‘sloppy joes.'”

So check this book out and enjoy. You’ll find it a great summer read.


Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King

Pirates — scurvy foul creatures with a greed for gold and a thirst for blood.  An innocent girl born into war-torn Ireland, who views the world with caution, who finally finds love, and who then has everything violently ripped away.  A teen in Pennsylvania, biding her time, and hiding her secret.  And a curse.  Oh, and some dog care tips.  If this all sounds like an unusual combination, you are dead on, and this is what makes the young adult novel The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux) by A.S. King a fresh and original hit.

King’s main character Saffron, is a brilliant teen born into a needy family that see’s Saffron’s brilliance as the ticket to a bright future.  But what they don’t know is that Saffron is actually the soul of Emer, an Irish girl who had turned to pirating many centuries ago, and who was cursed to embody the souls of 100 dogs before she finally found herself human again.  Along with teen angst, Saffron must tamp down the savage instincts of her pirating past, and wait just a bit longer until she is 18 and has the money and the freedom to pursue the treasure buried on a Caribbean isle long ago.

The author does an amazing job of grabbing the reader by the throat, and pulling you through this epic adventure.  As we travel with Emer’s soul through her past lives, there is heartbreak and triumph, blood and gore, history and humor.  Because of some disturbing scenes, I would restrict this read to older teens and adults.  It’s a fantastic novel, but there is a rape and one seriously disturbed villain, so be advised.

That said, I now say grab this book and read it.  Share it with others. Channel your inner pirate. Yo-ho!

Book Review: Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, by David Lubar

There are certain times in your life when you know that everything is going to change. You feel disoriented, exhausted, anxious, but also excited. In Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, author David Lubar captures this feeling perfectly.

When Scott enters his freshman year of high school, he knows things are going to be different, but still it’s a shock. He goes from being average sized in middle school to feeling like a dwarf among the high school upperclassmen. His friends go off in different directions. And the girl he was friends with in elementary school has suddenly become hot…and has forgotten him completely. This is a fantastic book with real heart and laugh out loud humor. I loved navigating the halls with Scott, and going along for the ride as he tried to figure out who his friends really were, what truly mattered to him, and if he would EVER get enough sleep ever again.

Readers of My Most Excellent Year will enjoy this book, because Lubar also creates a touching story and reminds us of just how adventurous and magical a life in constant flux truly is.

Don’t miss this one!

Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl: Book Review

I have to admit, I almost didn’t pick up this book. It was the cover. No offence to the artist involved, but this book’s cover just screams bubblegum teeny bopper…in fact, it has two girls surrounded by balloons, blowing bubble gum. THEN I saw the author’s name: Sue Limb. And I knew I had to pick it up and read it and love it.

The book is Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl (Viking, 2008), and the author, Sue Limb, is one of the funniest young adult authors I’ve ever read. If you’ve never read anything by her before, then you’re in for a treat. She’s British, and has a sharp tongue, and her books have the added benefit of being clean, meaning any teacher or librarian can recommend her titles to any tween or teen with confidence. Best of all, she will make you laugh. Not grin. But LAUGH. As in OUT LOUD. As in when you should be serious and quiet, like while sitting in a doctor’s office. Or, in my daughter’s case, when you are sitting at your desk and should really be doing some assigned task instead of sneakily reading a book under your papers.

In Zoe and Chloe on the Prowl, the lead characters are trying desperately to find some “real men” to take them to the school’s Earthquake Ball. Of course, none of the infantile boys at their school will do. The solution? Why advertising, of course.  The girls set up ads all over town, not for dates, but for what seems like a respectable job. As the interviewees start to visit, and the girls pose as employers, the wackiness accelerates. Hey, you know you’re in for a hysterical ride when, right at the start of the book, you are introduced to a character named Nigel, who is actually a zit on one of the girls’ chins.  Apparently he’s prominent enough in her life to have a name.  The book is set in England, and the slang only adds to the zany tone. So read this book and try not to laugh out loud. I dare you.

And while you are at it, be sure to check out Limb’s other really hysterical young adult novels, starting with Girl, 15, Charming but Insane.Ever wondered what would happen to a girl when she stuffs her bra with zip-locks full of minestrone soup?  Well, here’s your chance to find out. All of Limb’s novels are smart, and hip, and suited for tweens through teens. Enjoy them all.

On Pulling an All Nighter (and how it saved my novel and my life!)

We freelance writers have it hard. It’s true, we do get to go to work in our jammies. We do get to take breaks whenever we want, even go back to bed if we feel like it! And we do get to bring our moody poodle to work with us every day. Still, we have it hard.

See, I write because it is my passion. It’s what I love. But when you work at home, life can easily take over your productive hours. I’m not talking about the whole gotta watch “Divorce Court” on TV, or gotta yak on the phone with my friends for hours, because that is not me. (Well, I DO waste way too much time playing Spider Solitaire, but let’s not go there right now…) 

What I’m talking about is real life. Like a family member needs minor surgery, so guess who takes them to the doctor’s office, the hospital, and nurses them back to health. That’s right, the person with the stay at home job and endless flexibility. And when my parents come into town because they are in the process of moving into my area, guess who spends an entire week with them driving them to appointments with electricians, and helping them find furniture and appliances. Yup. That’s me.  And when a niece comes in from India that I haven’t seen in years, and spends the week, it’s miss flexible freelancer who takes her to see the sites and shop, etc.

And I’m not complaining about any of that. It was all valid and important stuff to do, and I’m happy to help. BUT that represented an entire MONTH that I did not get to work on my newest novel. A month!!!! Who else but a work-at-home person could do such a thing? Sure, it represents flexibility, but it also represents lost productivity and lost potential earnings. If I were an office worker, I’d pass on much of that time spent. I’d have to. But how do you tell people, sorry, I can’t help you, I have to sit over here in this other room for a while instead. (And it doesn’t help that my office is also the guest bedroom!)

So I’ve got this novel half written, and I’m feeling really frustrated at this point. That’s when I decided to declare I was pulling an all-nighter. Yes! That was the answer. Come what may, I was going to lock myself in my studio, and everyone else would have to manage without me for 24 hours. Ha!

I picked a Saturday, and warned my husband and kids to plan around me. The first glitch was that my husband had a class he had signed up for that morning, which meant that I had to ferry my daughter to voice and piano lessons. Then get her lunch. But that’s okay. That just meant my stint would start at 1:30 p.m. Fine. Before I descended into my cave, my husband pointed out that I didn’t really need to work all night. I could just go to sleep at a normal time. I explained that I couldn’t. In my mind I had a deadline, and my novel was due to my imaginary college professor at exactly 1:30 pm tomorrow. My husband asked me what was for dinner. I gave him a blank stare and closed the door to my cave.

Yes! I’d made it. The funny thing about writing a book is that it is so open-ended. How long will it take? No one knows. What will you write? Anything! But as soon as I began my all-nighter, I started thinking in finite terms. I had a deadline, dammit!  I spent the first forty minutes clearing my office space of all distractions like bills, and pending college stuff for my daughter, and unanswered correspondence, until my desk was clear of everything but my manuscript, notes, and some writing supplies. Wow, was that energizing. It was like saying: This is what matters most to me.

Next I made a list of the tasks I needed to accomplish on my book. Just putting down these items helped me to focus and plan. I hadn’t done this before because, hey, I’d had all the time in the world!  I began going down my list of tasks. I incorporated edits from comments at my last writer’s group meeting. I reviewed scores of notes I’d jotted on historical elements in my novel, and thoughts about character, structure, etc., culling this pile and organizing it into logical groupings, and finally filing this info. This all took nearly two hours.

I got coffee and a snack, and brought them back to my studio.

Then I faced my biggest task: structure. I have a time-travel story thread in my book, with visits to the past altering the present, and lies in the past which are revealed and altered. Without a sound structure, I knew I was floundering with plot. So I grabbed huge pieces of construction paper and colorful markers, and made out sheets I labeled THE WAY IT WAS KNOWN, THE WAY IT REALLY WAS, THE WAY IT CHANGES, and THE CHANGES IN THE PRESENT ALONG THE WAY. I taped these all over my walls, along with a sheet for each character that displayed their main motivations, their secrets, and their motto.

By now it was 11 p.m., and I’d worked nearly 10 hours on my novel, not adding a single page. But all of this had to be done first.  I crossed out these items on my list. They were done, and I was energized. I could so go all night long like this. I could go days!  The house had become quiet. Downstairs, lights were off, my family was snoozing. I got more food and brought it up to my room again. And began, finally, to write. The ideas flowed, and my book grew. I’d started this night with around 150 manuscript pages. Could I possibly finish with my goal of 300 completed pages by tomorrow afternoon? I had to. If I didn’t, wouldn’t my imaginary professor give me an imaginary failing grade? Unthinkable.

Things whirred along until around 2:30 a.m. when everything went dark and then bright again. For a moment I thought I was blacking out from exhaustion, even though I wasn’t that sleepy yet. Then it happened again, and there was a weird noise downstairs. Huh.

I opened my door, and listened. Nothing. Still, I thought I’d better explore. Plus, I had a ton of dirty dishes on my desk that needed shifting to the sink in the kitchen. So I went down, and turned on another light. There was that noise again, along with the flicker. It sounded like a buzzer from an old-fashioned doorbell, and it was muted. Very weird. I went into the family room, and heard it again, and the air smelled acrid. Like burnt rubber.

My eyes grew wide as I realized what might be happening. I’m no expert, but I know the beginnings of an electrical fire. So I raced upstairs and woke my husband, and we spent the next half hour trying to find the source, and feeling the walls for heat, and finally identifying and shutting off the offending circuit. He went to bed, but I spent the next few hours alert, near the source of the smell with my cell, a lantern and my shoes at the ready for a possible emergency evacuation. I wrote on my lap top, checking every few minutes or so to make sure the air continued to clear and the threat was under control.

So did I finish my novel and make the grade? Well, after a few more hours of writing, I kept nodding off with my finger on the spacebar, adding many many useless pages of nothing, until I finally packed it in around 5 a.m. and conked out completely. I’d completed an additional 50 pages of writing, so, yeah, I failed in the eyes of my imaginary professor, but in my own mind the result was an A plus. See, I’d catapulted my book past boundaries that had ground me to a halt, and the structural work saved my novel.

That next day we had an electrician in. He cut open the ceiling where we’d heard the noise, and found the burnt and damaged wire, repairing the problem. If I hadn’t been awake, we might have all slept through this until the fire really took hold, and then…

So one all nighter. One saved novel. Four saved lives (five counting my moody poodle). Now that’s time well spent.


I’m not complaining, but…

Right after I got my advance for my first novel What I Meant…, I wrote the following essay, and thought I’d post it here. You’ve heard of the Haves and the Have Nots, but are you a Have Barely Enougher? This essay is for all of us currently suffering in these tough economic times. We’re getting by, and grateful, but…

I am NOT Complaining, But…
by Marie Lamba
(copyright 2007 M. Lamba)

I am soaking in money from my book advance.

I know what you are thinking. That gloating skank. And I know what you are imagining. Me, naked, rolling around in a room full of $100 bills. You hate me, right?

Well, don’t be hating. I am naked. But that’s because I’m in a tub in a brand new bathroom funded by my book advance. And the new bathroom wasn’t some luxury. It was a necessity.

See, I am a living breathing example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The very day I signed my contract for my first novel (giveth), I went to nuke some tea and found the microwave mysteriously full of water (taketh). The plumber ripped up the wall in the bathroom above the kitchen, but couldn’t find the leak (taketh, taketh). He ripped up the floor around the toilet and found it all rotted away, and later decided that the leak might be beneath the tile floor, involving the tub line. But he wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure, I needed a competely new bathroom, and my check for my book was just about the right amount (supreme taketh, combined with evil laughter).

My whole life has been like this. And, I know, I should be grateful.  Whenever something major has come up, there has been a freelance job or timely tax return that pays just the right amount. I suppose I should view the bathtub (or the microwave) as half full.

And I should be used to this. See, there are the Haves and the Have Nots, and then there’s my family, the “Have Barely Enoughers.” I come from a long exhausted line of them, starting with my grandmother who went from riches to rags during the Depression, then my parents, who dealt with unemployment during my father’s middle age.

In elementary school, I became a Have Barely Enougher in training. When the Lion’s Club delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to our door, there was turkey and rolls, but no pie. At Christmas they brought me wrapped presents, including a sweater that was too big, and pants that were too small. But they also gave me the game Payday (which, I’m sure, was someone’s good-natured way of teaching fiscal responsibility). By junior high, I was surviving the daily embarrassment of handing over state-provided meal tickets to the sneering cafeteria lady for hot lunches featuring gray mystery meat. I’d like to say I was grateful.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why me? Why my family? None of us were lazy. None of us were fiscally irresponsible. We just had bad luck. Medical and employment catastrophes dogged us. Yet through it all we never lost our house, or our sense of humor.

By the time I reached my 20’s, I was an accomplished Have Barely Enougher. My expectations were low, my skin thick. Therefore, it was no huge surprise when, after I got my first real job and put down money on an apartment, the company I was working for abruptly closed. Also not a shocker: the day after my insurance from that job ran out, I broke my leg.

Sure, there was a lot of taketh, but how could I complain? The Lord provide the the unemployment office, where I could collect money that almost covered basic bills. He gaveth me all the TV I could ever watch (until my apartment was broken into and my TV, along with most of my clothes, were stolen).

I’m in my 40s now, and I’ve gotten by. My whole family has. KNOCK ON TONS OF WOOD. Why ask for more? Just think of all those Have Nots.

And yet I can’t help but think, what if God skipped a few takeths just once in a while? Imagine if money actually got to stick around long enough to accumulate interest. The amount my husband and I earned and had to immediately spend over the past 25 years is staggering. What if there had never been a leaking roof (and rotted rafters), or zapped out electrical panel from a freak storm, or totaled car (not my fault), or emergency double root canal?

I sometimes fantasize I’m like those people, the Haves, whose cars are bigger than my living room, and who never have to limit shopping to end-of-season clearance racks. But if I were literally rolling in dough, wouldn’t I still drive a little car and be scandalized by overpriced jeans? Penny pinching is in my blood. Still, it would be nice to have money for my children’s college, or to take a vacation without fear of bankruptcy. I guess my luck could get worse (God forbid), but couldn’t it also get better?

Soon my novel will be out. Will it sell well enough to change things? Will it undo the generations of struggle and transform my family from Have Barely Enoughers to the best sort of Haves? The kind of Haves that wisely use money to improve the environment and find a cure for cancer? (Are you listening, God?)

Actually, I KNOW the book will sell. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way…there are some wet spots blooming on my ceiling, the heater is acting up, there is a strange mold in my closet, and my tooth is just beginning to throb.