This blog post does not promise any form of transcendence.

Sometimes you gotta fall apart to put yourself back together again  – just a little bit better than you were before.

Man.

Today I was tired.

Mentally really tired.

Spent.

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I’m a really private person (a strange quality in a blogger – I know). But if you look at my blog, it’s mostly about other people. I rarely shine the spotlight on myself.

The last few days I’ve felt really out of sorts. I really needed to open up to someone, and I just couldn’t quite find my way. Today after getting the boys out the door, I picked up the phone and called the best person I know to speak with when you’ve lost your way a bit: Mom.

My mom would have been a formidable psychologist. When I was younger, and I was hit with some foggy, undefined blues, she would ask me, “If it could be anything that is upsetting you, what might it be.”

That always opened up a big can of healing, cathartic worms.

Today I had a good cry with her. I am too private to go into the foggy details of what was upsetting me – really would underwhelm you anyway -but after we spoke – I felt clear. I didn’t exactly feel better – but I felt clear. Hopeful.

We spent last week in Tahoe - all that beauty - so good for my soul.

We spent last week in Tahoe – all that beauty – so good for my soul.

One of the things we hit upon was my need to CREATE. My old therapist told me that I am an extremely creative person, and that if I am not making art or writing, I will be a cranky, bitchy person to be around. Yes! She actually said that.

I went out and bought some new sketch books and different types of water colors . A really gentle, easy way for me to break into some art making without a  lot of judgement stopping the whole process.

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I went to Whole Foods and just that air conditioning and all that organic goodness made me feel better. Yes, if you know me – Whole Foods to Marissa is like Tiffany’s to Holly Golightly.

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As I drove home with a small bag of goodies, I realized that my meltdown paved the way to make some little changes. The little cracks running through my body and psyche were like little paths of light and new breath.

I have lots of mean voices that says, “You should always get it right!! The first time!” They hurt! I push them away. I am going to feed the good wolf. (My new favorite podcast:The One You Feed.) So, yeah – I’m feeling better and have a new list of things I want to do.

I feel  refreshed from crying and stewing and mucking around a bit the last few days. I couldn’t have gotten these ideas (and have recognized the need to make some art) without this mood.

It’s really important that this post sends the message that if you are a closet psychological perfectionist like me -it’s okay to break down, or slow down or sputter or whatever you need to do. Maybe you can open up to a friend. Maybe not. But it’s okay.  I’m not trying to talk about transcendence here or heavy duty change. Just a little breath. A little move to the right or left. A little play space. Or breakdown space. Whatever you need.

After Whole Foods I went home and made a sun dried tomato basil hummus from my new food muse: Deliciously Ella and my best friend and I emailed and she made me laugh both happy and straight to the heart sorts of tears.

Sending love and light out there, peeps!

Marissa

My Chat with Mary McCoy – author of y/a noir novel – DEAD TO ME – If you love Los Angeles history – you’ll want to read this.

My son and I love the Los Angeles Public Library. Recently, we were chatting with the librarian at our local branch, when she told me about Mary McCoy‘s debut novel, DEAD TO ME. Mary is the head librarian for LAPL’s downtown Teen’Scape (the young adult department at the Los Angeles Public Library). (And she was kind enough to put The Family into LAPL back in October.)

Swoonworth cover, no?

Swoonworth cover, no?

DEAD TO ME is a film noir-inspired YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood. If you are a noir fan, a fan of LA’s architecture and wild/sordid history – you cannot miss this read.  I read it in two days and found myself inspired. I haven’t read any teen noir before – brilliant idea.

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1947 public transit map from the Los Angeles Public Library map collection

Let’s talk to Mary. This is one of my favorite interviews! Her answers are so provocative and fascinating! The interview is dotted with the cool imagery Mary was kind enough to share. Without further ado – I introduce you to the lovely Mary McCoy.

I believe you grew up in Western Pennsylvania – how did you become interested in L.A. stories? (Those of the Black Dahlia persuasion, etc.)

I happened to get really into film noir and true crime right around the time I moved to Los Angeles, which was a happy coincidence… or an unhappy coincidence given the subject matter. I started writing for a blog called the 1947project. Every day we’d write about a different crime that had happened on that day in history in Los Angeles, and I learned about many of the tragic, scandalous, and hair-raising stories in the city’s history. Sometimes it was something well-known like the Black Dahlia, while others it was something more obscure or minor – such as this one where a pair of bored tween girls terrorized a Glendale neighborhood by leaving notes in mailboxes that said things like, “You are to be killed tonight at 10pm sharp” and “Beware of the goat.”

Tell us about your job! How did you land at LAPL’s Teen’Scape or did you help create it? (For those of you who don’t know – Teen’Scape is the young adult department at the Central Library, providing teens with a place of their own to work on computers, study, read, and relax.)

I’ve worked at the Los Angeles Central Library for my entire career in librarianship. I took over Teen’Scape in 2011, but before that, I was a history and genealogy librarian, which was also a job I loved. (Among the many reference questions I answered, I once helped someone working on the show Mad Men figure out what a phone in a Roman hotel room, circa 1963 might have looked like.)

But now I work with teens, which is much more amazing! Every day I am impressed by their dreams and ambitions, and I love doing my little bit to help them achieve those things. It takes a village, and your local librarian is just one small part of the village.

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Mary and a book loving teen at the DEAD TO ME launch party

Have you always wanted to write a y/a novel? What was the inspiration for Dead To Me?

I didn’t set out to be a YA writer, but every book-length idea I’ve ever had has been YA. I like YA because it respects the reader’s time. YA fiction can be very literary, but it also tends to be resourceful and lean and gripping in a way I appreciate as a reader.

My film noir and true crime habit played a part in me writing Dead To Me, but I was also inspired by the movie, Brick, which is a contemporary noir set in a high school. I thought that the heightened emotions and drama of noir fit in to a high school setting so well that I was determined to write one myself!

This picture from a 1944 issue of Life Magazine was the inspiration for Mary's heroine Alice

This picture from a 1944 issue of Life Magazine was the inspiration for Mary’s heroine Alice

The Dead To Me cover is so gorgeous and art deco and just swoonsville. Did you have any input? Who was the artist and what was the process like? It’s such a great fit with the book and aesthetically beautiful.

Love, love, love that cover. My editor came to me with a mock-up of the design. It was nothing like I expected. I was SURE I was going to get something black and white, so when I saw all that color, those palm trees, that blood stain, I was totally blown away. The final design was almost identical to the mock-up, only they doubled the size of the blood stain, which I thought was a classy touch.

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1951 menu from the Musso & Frank Grill from the Los Angeles Public Library menu collection

Annie and Alice’s codes are so fun and imaginative! Are you a code person? How did this part of the story come about?

People say write what you know, but I prefer to write what I’m obsessed with, and I find codes and ciphers endlessly fascinating. Once I found out that something called a nihilist cipher even existed, I knew I had to find a spot for it in the book.

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Spoiler alert: Alice’s relationship with Annie remains complicated right up to the end. Without saying too much – the love story is non-traditional as well. How did you decide to make these decisions? I found these dynamics refreshing and unusual. Very real.

There are no sequels in noir and no happy endings. I wanted to write an ending that was satisfying to the reader, but not entirely happy. It’s just what felt right given the tone of the book and what all the characters have been through. I didn’t give the characters everything they wanted, but I hope I gave them just enough.

As for the love interest, when a book is set over three days and packed with kidnappings, chase scenes, and near-death experiences, how does the main character have time to fall for someone? Trying to answer that question was totally challenging, but those scenes ended up being some of my favorite ones in the book.

Do you have any advice to new or aspiring y/a writers?

Finish something. I did National Novel Writing Month in 2010, and it was a life-changing experience. Before that, I’d always started projects and abandoned them, but NaNoWriMo forced me to see something through to the end, and I learned so much in the process. I also wrote a book blog for awhile, and reading and writing with a critical eye was also useful to me as a writer. It made me think about what made a story work for me and helped me learn to write the kinds of books I loved to read.

Is there a new book in the works?

Yes, I’m working on another YA novel right now, but it’s a secret. The one thing it has in common with Dead To Me is that it’s also set in LA.

How do you manage being a mom, work and make time for inspiration and writing?

Someone once told me, “Want something to get done? Ask a busy person to do it.” Maybe it’s that?

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Any words of wisdom for teen readers?

Find creative ways to deal with boredom.

Ms. McCoy

Ms. McCoy

Learn more at http://mary-mccoy.com/ or follow Mary on Twitter at @MaryElMcCoy.

Giveaway in honor of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone’s Upcoming Release

A super fun giveaway from my publisher! My new favorite debut y/a novel!

Den of a Book Dragon

I wanted to share with everyone, the wonderful giveaway my publisher has put together in the lead up to THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE’S release on May 20th. Lots of great prizes to be had and lots of ways to enter so check it out!

Two winners will get a $10 Amazon gift card, 3 ebooks and Alexandra Gastone Swag
Two winners will get 3 ebooks and Alexandra Gastone Swag
Ten winners will get Alexandra Gastone Swag

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SPYlicious! A sneak peak at a can’t put down debut novel!

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Are you looking for your next read? The search stops here.

Today I have a very special surprise –  (A sneak preview! The book debuts 5/20!) – the prologue of T.A. Maclagan’s slammin’ debut novel, They Call Me Alexandra Gastone.

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It’s SALT meets Gossip Girl in the best way. I read it in a day. Couldn’t put it down.

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When you’re done reading – go pre-order it on Amazon and visit T.A. Macglagan and become a member. She always has amazing interviews and book recc’s.

Without further ado…meet Alexandra!

Prologue

Seven Years Ago

I stared at the video screen. At the girl with my eyes—one blue and one gray-green. I’d seen this video hundreds of times, so I knew it by heart. It was of Alexandra Gastone walking home from school with a friend. I knew every laugh, smile, and eye roll. I knew when she would play with the locket around her neck and when she would swipe a piece of hair behind her ear, twisting it at the end of the motion. I swiped my own newly shorn hair behind my ear, once, twice, three times, always taking care to twist at the end. The action felt natural now. After months of watching the video, it was ingrained. I smiled into the mirror at my side. Alexandra’s smile was crooked, and mine now echoed hers, the left side dipping down. I had to strain to keep the smile in place. Seeing a face in the mirror that was not my own jarred me every time. I let the smile fade and brought a hand up to trace my new jaw, studying the stronger angle. I ran a finger down my new nose. It was smaller now, and more refined. The changes might have made me prettier, but I missed my old face. A part of me had been stolen.

I jerked as a cold hand rested on my shoulder.

“What is your name?” asked Mistress.

“Alexandra Gastone,” I replied, dropping my voice to match Alexandra’s deeper alto.

“What is your age? Who were your parents? Where are you from?”

Unlike many kids who liked to mumble, Alexandra spoke with great elocution, the movements of her mouth a lip reader’s dream. “I’m eleven years old,” I said, molding my mouth to each word. At Compound Perun, Oline—my native language—had been forbidden within months of my arrival. I now spoke with a perfect American accent. “My parents were Gregory and Tabitha Gastone. I lived in Topeka, Kansas.”

“Who is your guardian?”

The video screen went black for a second, and then a different face appeared. It was a new video I hadn’t seen, although I recognized the silver hair, weathered face, and intelligent blue eyes. I glanced over at my friend Varos, who controlled the feed. He offered a smile, his chubby face pinched. I could tell Varos was equally as nervous. I wasn’t the only one about to embark on a new assignment.

“My grandfather, Albert Gastone,” I said, turning back to the video. Back to the man whose life I was about to infiltrate.

“Where does Gastone work? What are his hobbies?”

“He works for the CIA. He’s one of the their public liaisons and an analyst specializing in the Southern Caucasus. Albert likes to read, travel, and play strategic games like chess. He has a gun collection.”

“When was the last time you saw your grandfather?”

“I was five years old. He was at my birthday party and gave me a chess set.”

Mistress squeezed my shoulder. I stifled a shiver as she kissed the top of my head. “Very good, my little silver fox,” she said, her icy hands coming to my cheeks. She turned me to the mirror, her face dipping to within millimeters of my own. I could feel the wetness of her breath, smell the stench of vodka. My skin crawled, but I remained still. We gazed at the mirror’s reflection. “You must think strategically at all times. Gastone has lived alone for years. It may be hard for him to accept you. Show an interest in his hobbies, and do not disturb his quiet lifestyle. Position yourself as a protégé. Outside of your life with Gastone, you are to assess the strategic value of those you meet. Befriend those of worth, and discard the rest.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Milena Rokva is dead. You are now Alexandra Gastone. Remember that, every second of every day. Albert Gastone may not have seen Alexandra in years, but he will inherit all the photos and videos that have ever been taken of her.”

I studied Mistress’s cold blue eyes. They were daring me to prove myself. I smiled Alexandra’s crooked smile. From deep within, I pulled out a laugh, letting my breath catch almost immediately on it as Alexandra always did, as if shocked by her own amusement. “I’m Alexandra Gastone, the girl next door. I like to play soccer, swim, and read. I like school, and my favorite subject is math.” I brushed my hair behind my ear, twisting it at the end of the motion. “I have a crush on a boy named Peter.”

Mistress nodded and flicked a hand toward Varos. In response, new images flooded the screen. They were a visual torrent, a deluge to which I’d become well accustomed. The American flag, mansions, fancy cars, fat people living fat lives, money, money, money…the inundation continued driving deep into my psyche…American soldiers in Olissa, their tanks on our streets, their army base on our land. The images flew by…a reel of horrors…and then…without warning, they stopped. The image that remained would echo in my bones, forever and always. My mother—dead, a shot to the head.

In the photo, she lies on the ground, muddy with blood, and I’m next to her, streaked in crimson, hugging a body that life left long ago. My eyes are hollow. Haunted.

I can feel it rush back to me, the crack of the gun, the sound of my mother’s body dropping, the warmth of her life seeping away as night fell. One bullet, less than a second, and everything changed. I was broken, and she was gone. A week later, I was at Perun.

The image was a knife carving my insides, but I couldn’t look away. It slowly dissolved into the next slide, and I wished the memory of that day would fade as easily. A map of Olissa replaced the shattering photo of my mother.

A small country of ten million, Olissa had suffered centuries of oppression because it was nestled between world titans. On the animated screen, the great country of Olissa began to shrink as it was devoured by powerful neighbors. The video said it all. I served so Olissa would not disappear. So it would not be forgotten. Entranced, I actually flinched when the image vanished, replaced again by the picture of Albert Gastone.

I glanced at Mistress.

“A reminder,” said Mistress, “of why you serve. What you are about to do won’t be without its trials. Every day you must remember why you do this. Why you fight. It is for Olissa and her people.”

“I will remember. For Olissa. Always.”

For my mother. Always.

Mistress kissed my cheek and stepped away. “Very good. Now it’s time to prepare you for the accident.”

Despite my anxiety, I wanted to laugh at Mistress’s words. They sounded so casual, like I was simply going to take a bath or pack a bag. I wanted, with all my heart, to serve and honor my mother, but I was still frozen with fear. I’d only just healed from the plastic surgery, and now there would be far more pain. I had to look like a girl who barely survived a car crash. Two men waited outside the door for Mistress’s orders. Trying to see past the pain looming, I glanced at the video screen and the man named Albert who would soon believe he was my grandfather. He looked like a good man. His face was gentle and his smile warm. I wondered briefly if he would come to love me but then pushed the idea from my thoughts. His love didn’t matter, only his name. It was a name that would get me into a good college and then into the CIA, the very agency where he worked. One day, I would be positioned to pass strategic intel back to Perun.

Varos stood and cleared his throat, drawing our attention. “May I have a word in private with—” Varos looked to me. “With Alexandra. As her handler, I have a few final things to discuss.”

“Of course,” said Mistress, her words of agreement not matching her heavy scowl. Mistress liked Varos as much as she liked me, which was to say not at all. Seven years my senior, Varos was a chubby asthmatic. Despising physical weakness, Mistress would have loved to crush Varos into shape or watch him perish in the attempt. Fortunately for Varos, he was exceedingly smart with high-ranking parents in the movement. Because of this, he was groomed for an advisory role at Perun instead of an operative position and was kept out of Mistress’s clutches. Only eighteen years old, he was about to be the youngest handler and operations leader in the field.

Mistress turned to me before leaving, “For the blood of the fallen. For the blood of the living. For Olissa we fight.”

I stood, bringing my hand up in a salute. “For Olissa we fight.”

Mistress left without another word, her hard-soled boots tapping out a steady rhythm on the floor.

I turned to Varos as he walked over and our eyes locked. I could feel myself shaking and was trying to regain control. All I wanted to do was race across the room and throw myself into his arms for one last moment of comfort, but I made myself stay rooted in place. To Varos, I was the little sister he never had, someone to watch over and protect, and I…well…I thought of him as more than a brother. I would have shared my fears with him as I’d done so many times over the years, but as my handler, our relationship had to change, become strictly professional. Varos told me so himself. Not friends, not brother and sister, not anything but handler and agent. He would keep his distance in order to remain objective about my performance.

Varos reached me after what seemed like an eternity, time moving slowly but also coming too quickly. Behind the door, a beating awaited. I ran my fingers over the bell-shaped burn on my wrist—one of Mistress’s punishments. At Perun, I was no stranger to pain, but I knew those instances were nothing compared to what was only moments away.

Varos put a hand on my shoulder. Unlike Mistress’s, his hand was warm. Inviting. He pulled me close and wrapped me in a big bear hug, a hug reserved for me and no one else. I surged with relief he could be my friend for just a few more seconds. “Albert Gastone is a kind man, Little O,” said Varos, using my father’s nickname for me. “And I’ll be there to guide you. You were made for this. You have all the skills you’ll need.”

The door hinges whined as two of Perun’s enforcers entered the room—Negar and Raykom. Raykom was my Sambo instructor, Negar weaponry. I’d never dreamed I would one day face them alone in a room. I’d never dreamed I would be expected to take their hits, offering none of my own in return. They carried several props to aid in their work: straps, a glass window, a two-by-four. My injuries needed to mirror those of a car accident. A bribe to a well-placed doctor would make sure no mention was made of my plastic surgery, but that was as far as a bribe could take me. For the rest of the hospital staff, and for Gastone, my injuries needed to be authentic. There were no shortcuts.

Varos pulled away after kissing my forehead. “For Olissa we fight. For your mother,” he said, offering his own salute.

Unable to speak or coordinate my actions, I only nodded in response. The pain was for a greater cause, and because of that, I would bear it with pride and dignity. I would do anything for the cause and for my country. It was an honor. Varos smiled weakly. “See you on the other side, Little O.”

I watched each step Varos took in leaving the room. Fifteen in all.

It took Raykom ten steps to reach me. Negar only eight.

Y/A Scavenger Hunt Puzzle 2015 – Rules of Engagement! – Let’s play!

Let’s do this! Time to hunt and play! Have fun, meet new authors, win prizes! Good luck, loves!
SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE
 
Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the ORANGE team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by DATE, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
Today, I am hosting the lovely and talented author duo, Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!
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Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.
(I heard when they met up for those once a month dinners, at least images hungry, debut authors, begged them to review their books!)
 
Abi is a registered nurse with a passion for novels, the beaches of St. John, and her Philadelphia Phillies. A talented singer, Abi loves to go running and spend lots of time with her family. She currently resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, triplet daughters and two very spoiled dogs.
 
Missy received her bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in 2003. She married, had two boys and currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Aside from reading and writing, her interests include running and mixed martial arts. She also remains an avid Cleveland sports fan.
Find out more information by checking out the author website or find more about the author’s book here!
Now for the juicy stuff…the sequel to their debut novel, BRANDED! I know this cover makes you want to look!
hunted cover
Fans are going to swoon for HUNTED  – the electrifying sequel to the bestselling debut BRANDED, A Sinners Series, by Abi  and Missy.
Check it out…

It’s been three months since the revolt against the Commander’s fifty-year-old regime failed.Under a new ruler, things were supposed to change. Get better.

But can anyone really be trusted?

Lexi and Cole soon find out, as life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

In this ever-changing world, you must hunt or be hunted.

Lives will be lost.

Dreams will be crushed.

Fears will be realized.

Secrets will be exposed.

When Cole is once again faced with losing Lexi at the hands of a monster, one encounter will change everything.

Forever.

Connect with BRANDED fans on Instagram at:
#abiandmissy
#Sinnersfandom
#Sinnersseries
#Colexi
#Sinnersseriesbranded
#Brandedofficialfanpage
#Brandedfandom
#Lexihamilton

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT ALERT!
Here’s a total treat! A trailer of their upcoming book, Hunted.
 I’m giving away 5 copies of the FAMILY – leave a comment below to enter to win!
ALSO!
CONTINUE THE HUNT
 
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! Lynne Matson.
Her book NIL UNLOCKED sounds really cool and she’s a sister TEAM ORANGE member!
 
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YA Scavenger Hunt

Hi! I am SO excited about the YA Scavenger Hunt and SO psyched to be included. Here’s your 411. Play!!
Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!
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Go to the YA Scavenger Huntpage to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of theORANGE TEAM–but there is also a red team, a gold team, an orange team, a red team, and an indie team for a chance to win a whole different set of signed books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

My Talk with Author James Frey

Happy Friday! Here’s a little TGIF treat! James is my publisher (FFF Digital), and I have known him for over ten years. Today he’s been kind enough to give us a little peek into his writing process, tell us about books he loved as a teen, share some thoughts on his latest best seller, Endgame and more. Hope you enjoy! I found this interview very inspiring. It made me want to get up and write! Hope you feel the same.

James, you genre hop. I once had a conversation with an agent where he adamantly told me to pick a genre and stick with it. To do other wise was to kill your commercial career. You have obviously chosen to not follow this advice and have achieved great success. Can you speak to this (possibly outdated) adage?

I’ve heard that as well. And in many cases it works, and is good advice. But I would get bored writing in one genre. Writing a book is a challenge to me. Something I always challenge myself to do. If I was writing in one genre, it would be less challenging for me.  It would become something I do for a job instead of something I do because I love it. I always admired Stanley Kubrick, the film director. Nobody genre-jumped more than him. And nobody was better than him. When I was young and getting started I wanted to do what he did, but with books. Tell the story I love, regardless of genre. Tell the story that gets you excited, and you’ve never seen anyone tell before. Stay fresh, stay hungry.

How is your process different when you write for adults and when you write for children/teens?

It’s not at all. I have a story I want to tell. I figure out the best way to tell it. I sit down and work until I believe I’ve gotten it right. I don’t write with demographics and markets in mind. I write because I want to do something and have a story I think is worth telling. The only real difference in the writing is that Endgame has fas less profanity in it than my other books.

Why did you choose to engage with the young adult space? What intrigued you about it?

It wasn’t a choice about specifically engaging YA. I dig YA, and I read it, but it was about the book. And after discussions with my agent and publisher, we decided the best market for it was a younger market. I want everyone to read my books, from teenagers to people in their 90’s. The best books find wide wide audiences, reach readers of all ages, and that is always what I want to do.

You love art. What is it about art that gets your juices flowing?  Do you imagine the creative process for a painter is similar to yours as a writer?  What artists are on your radar currently?

Art makes me think and feel. Makes me smile. Awes me. Art, books, music, film, they can all do it. Art is just another form of expression. I think I approach writing in the way many artists do in that I have little or no respect for rules or convention. I do what I want to do, I do it how I want to do it. I don’t believe I have to follow all of the supposed rules of grammar and punctuation, or fiction and non-fiction, genre, or formatting on the page. The goal is to express myself in a way that feels right to me. How someone else thinks I should do it is irrelevant. And that spirit is much stronger in art than it is in writing.

Does the business of selling books inhibit your creative process at this point in your career or have you overcome that? If you have overcome – share share!

I’ve been very very lucky. I’ve always written whatever I wanted to write, and somehow it’s worked out. So I still do it. I create things I wish existed in the world, things I wish I had gotten to read or see, things I wish someone else had done. Nobody has, so I do them. Selling books and having commercial success is a weird combination of hard work, luck, doing the right thing at the right time. If I knew the secret formula I would share it with you, but I don’t. Just keep working and have faith in yourself and what you do.

Taco Bell. Please comment.

The greatest fast-food restaurant in the history of existence. No further comment required.  

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Your latest young adult novel, Endgame, calls for engagement from readers. How is this going?  Is it sparking the sort of response you had hoped for? Is this something you would have gone mad for as a teen? Were you a big reader as a teen? Favorites of yore that stick out?

It’s been great. We hit bestsellers lists in 12 countries and readers seem to be digging it. I always want to do better and sell more, so I’m hoping it continues to grow and find readers. Yes, like I said earlier, I write books I wish existed in the world. I def would have gone berserk for Endgame, and it’s amazing when I hear from readers who love it. I did read a ton when I was a teen. I loved Tolkien, Stephen King and Alexandre Dumas as a young teen, and got into Kerouac and Bukowski and Herman Hesse and Baudelaire when I was a little older. I’ve always loved books and reading, and always will.

What is the role of reading and writing in your house? Does everyone – kids and parents – love to read? Do you read together? What’s knocking the socks off the Frey’s right now?

We’re all readers, me, my wife, our kids. Reading is def a big part of our home and family life. I read every night for about an hour before I go to sleep. We have the kids read before bed as well. My wife reads all the time, and probably more than all of us combined. We all have a love for it. For books, for stories, for finding writers and burning through their work.

How do you carve out creative space with your busy life as publisher, dad, etc. 

I have mad ADD. So I jump from one thing to another throughout the day. I always go back to work. Make a call, work. Write an email, work. Watch some dumb video on the internet, work. Run around with the kids for a little while, work. Work is always in the back of my mind, and I always go back to it.

Meditation. Yes or no?

I have at times in my life. I did zen, which is hard and painful and rewarding, and Taoist walking/living meditation, which is simple and beautiful and incredibly serene. Currently no. I probably should, though, would mellow me the fuck out.

My Chat with Jessica Almon Galland, Razorbill Editor

Jessica Almon Galland

Jessica Almon Galland

Sometimes life gives you a big, fat present. Meeting Jessica Almon Galland, young adult and middle grade editor at Penguin’s imprint Razorbill and having her influence in my life and writing was one of those gifts. Working with Jessica made me a better writer. Period. I am sure everyone that has had the pleasure of working with her feels the same way. Today we have the honor of hearing her thoughts on editing, the publishing industry, love and a handful of other goodies. This interview just brims with her warmth and smarts. I am also touched by her honesty as she describes her journey to where she is now.

Jessica, what do you think makes a good editor? Do you think it is an innate gift or something that can be learned? Has your style changed over the years? Do you find the better the writer, the better the editing experience? Or do you like the challenge of a complete overhaul?

This may sound like I’m downplaying an editor’s role but I really do think the ability to put ego and intellectual opinions aside and tap into the experience of the average reader is the most important piece of being a good editor. Without it, the other things that make a good editor — a strong sense of rhythm, communication skills, empathy — are directionless.

So I don’t think my style has changed over the years. When I’m editing, I’m flagging things that would distract me or disrupt my reading experience if I had picked the book up at the library, or at my favorite bookstore. I actually think editing can be more difficult when I absolutely love a manuscript the very first time I read it. Because that in itself is a bias, and I have to figure out how to shed it. (It’s always a bit of a bummer to shed the love bias!)

When a writer isn’t – how shall I say this – up to par…how do you get them to give you what you need? It must be tempting to just write it yourself sometimes. I would imagine it takes heaps of patience. Do you consider yourself a patient person?

I do consider myself patient — until I’m not. Ha! Everybody has a limit I guess. I’ve been pretty fortunate to work with talented writers all around. But there are certainly styles of writing that aren’t exactly my taste, which doesn’t make them bad or wrong. In those cases, I have to train my eye and my gut to respect that style and hunt for things that ACTUALLY aren’t working — things like redundancies and gaps in logic — as opposed to things that I maybe don’t relate to or love, but that are by no means problematic.

It didn’t take long for me to learn not to fall into the trap of rewriting. It’s like pulling a thread on a sweater. And the truth is, you’re not making it better. You’re just making it different. It’s not worth the effort, and the author’s bruised ego!

When did you know you wanted to be a part of publishing? How did you get your start? Did you imagine yourself working as an editor when you began?

Oh my God, I had NO idea. I never thought of myself as an editor. But a lot of my day is spent examining characters, their childhoods giving way to (something like) adulthood, and if I look at the story of my life, my path to becoming a Young Adult editor started, probably, when I was just a kid.

I didn’t like to read. I had attention issues, and found it impossible engage with a written story. I was kind of bullied about it — I went to the same school from kindergarten through high school and am pretty sure some of the people I grew up with are STILL surprised I’m not a total dumb-dumb! It’s a difficult thing to explain, the feeling of knowing things, of understanding them, but of not being able to express or  communicate that because I’m not hitting the milestones of everyone else around me. So, I had something to prove.

My escape was always films, and as a teen I became a big cinephile cliche, smoking cigarettes with a VHS tape of LA DOLCE VITA under my arm. I studied Modern Culture and Media with an emphasis in film at Brown, and when I graduated, I wanted to be in that industry. But after a year working in motion picture marketing, I was a bit less certain. The movie industry was all in LA, and I wasn’t ready to move.

Someone suggested I apply to positions at full-service agencies, and by some miracle I landed a job as the assistant to the head of the book department. I knew nothing and was terrible, so God bless her for sticking with me and giving me my start in publishing. I learned to truly love books during that year and a half, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I never had that chance.

How has the landscape of publishing changed since you’ve been in the business?

Well, the obvious answer is that e-readers have become ubiquitous, and digital sales are now a significant piece of the pie. I also remember when Oprah’s Book Club picks would make a publisher’s year. They’re still a big deal, but without the show, it has slightly less of an impact.

 What attracts you to young adult literature?  Do you see yourself staying in that space long-term or are you open to moving into different genres?

There’s a lot of freedom in Young Adult lit, I guess because you’re dealing with characters experiencing a range of things for the first time, and so there’s this tremendous sense of possibility. I like living vicariously through that. I think I am open to staying in Young Adult long-term, but also open to other areas. I read a ton of adult nonfiction, for instance, and sometimes I think about working on those types of books.

Do you ever just get tired of reading and just want to cuddle up on the couch with Netflix? How do you overcome?

Um, YES. Overcome? Not so much! Especially ever since “Gilmore Girls” has been streaming on Netflix.

I just do the best I can. I never want to leave my authors hanging, and generally do a lot of editing in what is technically my free time. But I justify certain days and nights off to binge-watch something because I need to be relaxed, rested and happy to stay sharp at work. Anyway, it’s not like I’m paid extra to edit manuscripts on weekends!

What excites you about 2015? What are you looking forward to? Professionally? Personally? Do you believe in resolutions?  I know you are a newlywed (congrats!), married to filmmaker and musician  Jordan Galland. Do you two plan on a co-creative endeavor? How is it having two creative types in the house?

Professionally, I have so many books coming out in 2015 that I have been waiting to unleash on the world, ranging from epic fantasy to bittersweet contemporary to hip nonfiction titles you’d find at Urban Outfitters. It’s always tough to predict how any given title will take to the market, but whether it’s good or not so good there is ALWAYS a takeaway — and I’ll be hunting for it.

Some of my dearest friends are getting married this year — all fabulous destination weddings — so I’m also looking forward to some fun trips to Isla Morada, FL, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Gstaad, Switzerland, to name a few! I may go broke as a result of all this jet-setting, but travel is the one thing worth going broke for, IMO.

As for married life so far, I highly recommend marrying a creative if you, too, are creative. Jordan is like my secret weapon! We are constantly going to each other to talk through problems and flaws in a particular project, or when we’ve hit a wall and need a little inspiration, or when we’re doubting our instincts and need support. I’m not sure we’d ever officially work on something together, but we’re always working together, if that makes sense.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

 Before we say goodbye, any must reads you can recommend? What was the last thing that kept you up into the wee hours?

Lately, I’ve been pretty obsessed with memoirs by women artists and thinkers. Recently I’ve read and loved: COUNTRY GIRL by Edna O’Brien, MINOR CHARACTERS by Joyce Johnson, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham and REDEFINING REALNESS by Janet Mock. I’m currently reading GRACE: A MEMOIR by Grace Coddington and finding it absolutely delightful. 

Meditation is Key. My chat with meditation teacher Jessica Snow.

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I love meditation, and up to now I have been really inconsistent about it. But in all honesty, I think it is right up there with money in its ability to cure most problems. More powerful than money when it comes to stress/anxiety/depression.

I have had the pleasure of taking classes with meditation teacher Jessica Snow, and it is a treat! She is so creative, gentle, soothing and whip smart. Whether you’re hardcore into meditation or have always wanted to try – Jessica will meet you where you are. Personally I am always better when I meditate. Even 5 minutes…

Jessica! Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you come to meditation? Is it something you grew up with? Was it love at first site or did you struggle with it?

I’ve always been a dreamy kind of person, but also kind of anxious. So I’ve always been a “seeker”, very quick to investigate or try all kinds of spiritual practices. In 2002 I began a devoted mindfulness meditation practice and really stuck with it wholeheartedly because it improved my experience of life so much. For a long time I stayed in my little meditation bubble, meditating everyday, reading, studying, journaling. Then in 2011 I went on a retreat and had an epiphany – that I could use the meditation that I love in such a way that I could help others as well as myself. Since then I have become very open in terms of writing my own meditations, adding in techniques from many different disciplines and sharing these more modern meditation experiences with others.

How and why did you start teaching meditation classes? What is your professional background? Did things take off right away? Were there any struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

My professional growth has been very organic, which is another word for slow. I literally started teaching in my backyard. Every two weeks I would invite over a group of friends and treat them to an elaborate evening of meditation and ritual. Everyone loved it and magical things started happening in all of our lives. We became champion co-creators. Then, when my friends started bringing their friends and we needed more space we started meditating at my husband’s work after hours. Pretty soon, I was doing guided meditations in nature (the beach, Griffith Park), and then I was asked to present at a yoga conference and things kind of sped up (a little bit) from there. Looking back, everything did happen in perfect timing, and the pivotal moment two years ago when I met Mark and Martin from Spellbound Sky came at the perfect time.

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You are obviously passionate about meditation. What is it that lights you up about the process? I love how you incorporate crystals, guided imagery, animal imagery.  Who were your teachers and inspirations? How did you come to incorporate all of these wonderful tools into your practice and teachings?

I love meditating, I see the journey into the interior as the greatest and most rewarding adventure. I think what “lights me up” the most is that meditation is such easy magic and it is available to everyone at any time.

This might sound crazy, but everything I do when I create and guide meditations comes from some energy, some intelligence beyond me. When I sit down to create a meditation, I meditate first and receive inspiration about how to guide that specific experience. Nothing really comes from me, and even I am consistently amazed that the inspiration just keeps flowing.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Being with people and getting to breathe and feel the energy of all the hearts in the space we create. The giving and receiving of that heart energy is really what it’s all about. The stories I tell with my words are just to keep your brain busy while we do the real energetic work with the heart and the breath. I also love feeling that moment about twenty or thirty minutes into the practice where I can feel that everyone has suddenly been able to really let go and relax.

Can teaching at times drain you? Is there a lot of different energy coming your way and does that at times weigh you down?

Interestingly, teaching energizes me. I haven’t found out the exact mechanism that makes this possible, but I suspect it has something to do with it being my life’s work and that I’ve done it so much that even when I am leading I am meditating too.

I find your style very forgiving psychically. Like, “You’re good. It’s cool. It’s now. Whatever came before – it’s done. Whatever is – is exactly how it should be.” I am paraphrasing!  Were you raised with this sort of gentle attitude? Does it carry into your life, way of mothering, etc? I was raised to always BE BETTER. So I find this especially inspiring, cleansing, energizing – and hope I am raising my son with this new, more gentle messaging.

LOL. I grew up with a very strong internal voice imploring me to always BE BETTER. That’s a big reason this work has been so transformative for me and also why I really encourage that radical friendliness towards ourselves in meditation. I think (and hope) this great gentleness flows into the way I mother my son and find it very inspiring to apply that gentleness over and over again to myself as well as everything and everyone in my life.

CREATEYOUROWNKEYWICE

Tells us about the art on your site! Do you do the graphics? Where did the idea for the images come from? The way you package your meditations is so appealing! “Create your own key” (omg – gorgeous!!) Tell us more!  Your inspiration, how you do it. Also, can you tell us about the necklaces you are selling on your site? I want one! 

Yes, I do all my own art and graphics, I created my own website, I write and record my own meditations. I am a polymath, happiest when I allow myself to indulge all my creative influences regardless of medium. And again, the images and other creative elements all come from the deep wells of inspiration meditation gives me access to.

As for the keys, a while ago I started selling meditation MP3s as digital downloads and then on these really beautiful silver key-shaped flash drives. Recently I got to thinking about how I really believe each of us has our own path, our own secret code, our own brand of treasure to express. You know what’s best for you, I am just here to show you a few things, open you up to some possibilities. You are the one who is going to choose the way that speaks to you and make it your own. To that end I’ve just started offering a new way to pick and choose the meditation MP3s from my site that speak the most to you. For $25 you can now Create Your Own Key, self-curating four guided meditations which I then load onto the key flash drive along with an unguided drum meditation track. These keys obviously also make a really sweet gift for a close friend or loved one.

The necklace sets were born from my collaboration with Melinda Lee Holm who is an extraordinary individual. We refer to them as Adornments for Personal Evolution. Each set comes with a beautiful Melinda Lee Holm crystal necklace (so far we have featured four stones – Citrine, Fluorite, Rose Quartz & Rainbow Moonstone), two matching meditation touchstones, and an 8-page meditation booklet from yours truly. Melinda and I have both experienced the crystal and meditation magical combo so we created a collection of objects that would keep that magic working for you 24/7. In the morning, you meditate using the booklet & touchstones, put your necklace on so you are keeping that mojo going all day (and looking rad doing it), then at night you can meditate again and put those touchstones under your pillow so they work while you dream.

What’s coming up for you in 2015? What are you jazzed about? Or am I getting out of the present moment?

2015 is going to be a year of profound creativity. Now that I’ve found this groove, I am overflowing with ideas. I will definitely be releasing more things to read, listen to and experience. I’ve been recording our live crystal meditations week by week, so I hope to offer a bigger library of new MP3s. Also I’d love to find bigger spaces for live events and hopeful to offer some day-long retreats.

I am so grateful for the vibrant community of people (including you Marissa!) that has formed around this work. It is such a joy to meet and mingle with people under these circumstances.

P.S. I think it’s perfectly ok to get out of the present moment every once in a while as long as you are aware you are doing it. J

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The oh so lovely and talented Jessica Snow pictured above.

Jessica’s website http://jessicasnowmeditation.com/, is chalk full of downloadable meditations, and she hosts wonderful events around the Los Angeles area.

A little bonus for us – Jessica’s thoughts on holiday stress and new year resolutions…

The holidays are an intense time of year and this year especially I sense a lot of magnified energy which can feel exciting or stressful. Also, remember this time of year for our ancestors represented a time when the harvest was done, it was cold and dark a lot of the time and we hoped we had enough to last until Spring. I think the best antidote for this time of year is radical self-care. Taking a little time for the simple things: drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, going outside, enjoying small moments and practicing gratitude. I’m sure we’ve all heard all of that before, but it really is the way to cruise through the season instead of fighting it. And breathe! Don’t forget to breathe.

I do New Year’s Resolutions, but they are unusual in that they are all about pleasure. I already am pretty clear regarding what I need to work on, my inner critic has that on lock-down. So I use the New Year’s Resolution process as an excuse to go ahead and give myself the things that make me feel really good. Because when I feel really good, and treat myself the way I would treat a good friend, that’s also when I’m bringing my A-game and showing up for myself and the rest of the world.

I also have a cool New Year’s Eve ritual. We do a meditation on the morning of Dec. 31st on the beach. We meditate and let the ocean wash away the old year and make space for the new. It’s fantastic, there is nothing like connecting with nature and something as big and grand as the sea and sky on the day before the new year begins.

If you want more information on the Keys, Necklaces, New Year’s Eve Ocean Meditation or to read my little 30-page treatise on this modern style of meditating, you can find it all at Jessicasnowmeditation.com/.