Thursday, December 06, 2012

Introducing The Yuckiest Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever

It's a book! 
December 6, 2012
14 oz.
32 pages

Please join me in welcoming to the world The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever! This baby was conceived ten years ago by me and has been lovingly brought to life by Tedd Arnold, Kathy Dawson, and all the brilliant folks at Dial Books for Young Readers.

The reviews are coming in...

"Get ready to enjoy a laugh-out-loud, fast-paced adventure involving a secret crush, a runaway valentine with an attitude and lots of candy. Get this now - it's better than candy." Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Arnold's full-page, boldly colored, digitally created cartoonlike illustrations are dynamic, bringing the chase to life. With its creative story line and upbeat writing, this picture book is a must for holiday collections." School Library Journal

Want to help me celebrate? Here's how you can:

Buy a copy for yourself, your kids, and your kids' teachers. (Support your local independent book store if you are lucky enough to have one.)
Add your own review at Amazon.
Share this page on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, wherever.
Check out the yuckiest, stinkiest, best activity kit to go along with the book.
And mark your calendar for one of these fun events.

Bringing a book into the world is not as painful as childbirth, but the gestation period is way longer, and the hopes and dreams for a bright future are quite similar. Though I'm not expecting this book to get into college, find love, have a fulfilling career, and stay healthy, I am hoping it will work its way into as many readers' hearts as possible. And for that, I need your help.

Thanks and Happy (Early) Valentine's Day!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Delicious Potato Pancakes

I've been hosting our family Hanukkah party for the last 20 years or so, and that means I've been making potato pancakes, or "latkes" as they're called by Jews, for two decades. I have tried lots of different recipes during that time, and my cookbook has notes to myself scribbled all over it. I must admit, I dread making the latkes, and every year I consider buying them instead. But I never do. I always make them, and my family always loves them. Today, with the help of my daughter, I documented exactly how to make these delicious, traditional, labor-intensive, fattening, (did I say delicious?) treats.

Ingredients to make about 40 potato pancakes (allow 2 hours from start to finish):
5 lb potatoes
1 sweet onion
4 eggs
1 T salt
1 C flour
Canola oil for cooking

Note: If you're going to double or triple the recipe for a large crowd, I suggest making one batch at a time. You can make the second batch while the first batch is frying.

1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of cold water. (Do not put the peels down the garbage disposal unless you want to spend a couple hundred dollars on an emergency plumbing visit. Yes, that happened to me. Twice!)

2. Grate the potatoes in a Cuisinart and put the grated potatoes in a bowl of cold water. (The potato water will turn a little orange as it sits and the starch comes out of the potatoes. Don't panic.)

3. Strain the grated potatoes and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. 

4. Chop the onion in the Cuisnart until it is onion-mush. Add the flour, salt, and eggs.

5. Add the onion-egg mixture to the grated and strained potatoes and combine well.

6. Heat about a 1/4" of oil in a pan over medium heat. Put spoonfuls of the potato mixture in the hot oil and flatten a bit to make pancakes.

7. Cook for about five minutes per side. They are ready to turn when they're brown around the edges. 

8. Gently lift the golden brown pancakes out of the oil and squeeze between two spatulas to get some oil out.

9. Cool the pancakes on paper towels, where more oil will come out. 

10. Serve with apple sauce and/or sour cream. 
Or better yet...
11. Freeze in ziploc bags and defrost the day you plan to serve them. 
12. Reheat on cookie sheets at 350 for about 10 minutes. 
13. Blot and serve. 
I much prefer making them in advance because the kitchen is a disaster after this project. I can clean it all up, and the day of the Hanukkah party, it is very easy to reheat the latkes on cookie sheets. No mess.

Homemade latkes are a ton of work, but they are so worth it and way better than store bought! Hope you enjoy. Happy Hanukkah!!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn Beauty

Walking with Ozzy on a glorious fall day.

I couldn't help but stop and appreciate the beauty around me.

I love the changing seasons, the constant cycle. Makes me appreciate each fleeting moment. Wherever you are, whatever the season, I hope you're seeing the beauty and enjoying it.

Friday, September 21, 2012


My kids went skydiving for their birthday, and no, I don't regret letting them do it. And I certainly don't regret not jumping along with them, even though my husband does.

To be honest, there isn't much I regret. I believe life is all about the journey. You have to look at all the mishaps and missed opportunities and wrong moves and bad choices as part of the great adventure of life. And yet...

When I was a junior in high school, I was supposed to read The Scarlet Letter and write a paper on it. This was one of those assignments outside of the regular class assignments. There was no discussion or help. It was just, "Read this book on your own when you're not busy with all the other assignments I'm giving you, then write a thought-provoking essay." Huh? Seriously? Do high school teachers still do things like that?

I did not, in fact, read The Scarlet Letter. But I was a grade-focused student. So I opened up my Cliff's Notes and copied. I didn't think long and hard about what I was doing. I didn't consider getting caught. I didn't care that I was plagiarizing. I was a teenager... completely and totally invincible and doing what I had to do to survive.

When I got the paper back, there were some lovely comments about my thoughtful and well written essay, along with a respectable A-. That grade and all the comments were then crossed out with a thick red marker, and in angry writing below, my teacher had scrawled, "See Cliff's Notes pages 23-27. The Scarlet Letter for you is an F."

The shame I felt from that F flattened me. This was junior year. This was English, my favorite subject. This was the teacher in charge of the National Honor Society. How could I have been so stupid?  I was never able to look my teacher in the eye again. This must have been how poor Hester Prynne felt. Or was it? I honestly didn't know since I hadn't read the book.

Ever since then, whenever The Scarlet Letter has come up in conversation (you'd be surprised how often that is) I've thought about that big red F, and I've felt regret. Not for having plagiarized, because really, my teacher's response was so perfect that it almost made it worth it. I mean, would you ever again pull a stunt like that after getting a scarlet F? I wouldn't. Lesson learned. Thank you. My regret is for not pushing myself to read a challenging book. The book was too hard to understand at the time, and I didn't want to put forth the effort. I took the easy way out. Then in college I chose not to major in English because I was afraid of coming up against difficult books like The Scarlet Letter. That is regretful.

So now, close to thirty years later, my son is reading The Scarlet Letter for school. And guess what I took out of the library yesterday?

I'm going to read it without a teacher's help, without classroom discussion, and without, thankfully, having to write a paper.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Skydiving and College Apps

Anticipating an event is more exciting and more anxiety provoking than the actual event itself. That's the premise behind building suspense in movies and books. And it holds true in real life as well. The difference is that in fiction, the author will do everything she can to make you feel tense about the upcoming event, whereas in real life, we do everything we can to remain calm. My Pilates teacher often says, "Strengthen your core. Maintain your balance." I try to take that notion into everyday life. I dream of being one of those zen-like individuals who doesn't get rattled by anything.

My twins are seniors in high school. They are turning eighteen this weekend, and to celebrate, they're going skydiving. Yes, I will be watching as two of my three perfectly healthy children jump out of a perfectly good plane. For some strange reason, this is not bothering me. I'm actually excited for them. They've been talking about skydiving for ten years now, and they're finally doing it. So I'm psyched for them and praying for good weather.

What is freaking me out is that they're applying to college. Do you have any idea how much there is to do to apply to college these days? It's so much more complicated than when I did it. I thought I'd be able to stay out of the process. I thought if I repeated my mantra, "They will find their place," enough times, I would sidestep the parenting stress I've witnessed with practically all my friends who've gone through this before me.

Alas, last night I couldn't sleep, and today I spent a good portion of my morning making a seven-page to-do list for my kids. I'm worried they won't finish their applications on time. I'm worried they won't get into their first choice schools. I'm even worried they won't be accepted anywhere. And then what? Community college? Looking for a job in a terrible market? Living at home? Oh man, I can't even go there. Clearly, my core is weak and my balance is off, way off. I need to breathe. I need to stay calm. I need to picture my kids jumping out of a plane, screaming from the adrenaline rush, laughing like crazy, and floating safely back to earth.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When You're Down and Troubled

Today was a down in the dumps kind of day. I woke up with a headache, and everywhere I looked, I saw frustration and disappointment and annoyance. I didn't want to write. I didn't want to run errands. I didn't want to meet up with friends. I didn't want to do anything.

So I didn't. I just let myself feel my blue feelings. I gave them their due. I journaled a bit about what was bothering me. I took a nap. And then I went outside. My next door neighbors were having a lemonade sale, so I bought a cup and sat in the grass and chatted with two preschoolers while petting my sweet dog. And you know what? I felt better.

People see me as the ultimate optimist, as a positive person who handles whatever life throws at her. And I try to be that person. But even optimists get into bad moods every once in a while. I'm glad I didn't fight my bad mood or deny it or ignore it. Acknowledging it and letting it run its course definitely helped me to move right through it. And now I'm feeling fine and looking forward to tomorrow.

Here's to naps and journals and lemonade and preschoolers and puppies!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

5 Nuggets of Advice for Your Teens (since mine won't listen)

Lately, everything I say seems to get translated to my kids as "Blah blah blah blah blah." Here's what I wish they would hear:

1. Don't let virtual relationships take the place of real relationships. If you're texting someone, there's a false sense of security. You say things you would never say face-to-face. Here's a good rule of thumb (adapted from my friend Jenn's theory for adult dating, which is "e-mail, e-mail, phone call, date.") This is the teenage version of that: Text, text, skype, date. See each other face to face! Go out for ice cream. See a movie. Go bowling. Kiss each other. Real relationships happen in person.

2. Do your homework. Seriously. This is not just another nag. If you do your homework, your grades will be better, and you will have many more choices when it comes time to apply to college. I know it can be boring. But deal with it! Life isn't always a party, but if you work hard, I swear you will have more opportunities for fun.

3. Try your best. In everything. Don't be afraid to look uncool. Just try. Because otherwise you'll never know what you can do.

4. Fail a lot. But learn from your failures. Failures are actually steps to success. Ask anyone who has ever accomplished anything. It's true.

5. Be kinder to your siblings. Friends will come and go, but siblings are forever. Who else will ever understand your childhood and family the way your siblings do? And know this: your parents love all of you differently, not better or worse. They love each of you for the unique person you are.

Now here, for your viewing pleasure, is a clip from Spring Awakening. It's the "blah blah" ending to "Totally Fucked." I get it. It's not just my teens. It's all teens. I remember. I was a teen once, too.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Fun of Creating Characters

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Deerfield High School's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It's heartwarming and hilarious, and if you're free tonight, tomorrow, or Saturday night, you should definitely go see it. My son was Leaf Coneybear, a home-schooled kid from a hippie family. His family makes fun of him for not being smart, but really, Leaf is just in his own world.

The Original Broadway cast of Spelling Bee. Leaf is being played here by
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell from Modern Family!)

Watching Sammy become this character was such a joy. Of course I loved when he was in the spotlight, singing "I'm Not That Smart," and I loved all the funny and sweet lines he delivered. But the thing that really blew me away was how at every single moment of the production, Sammy was Leaf. From his facial expressions as he watched the other spellers, to his choices in movement (laying his head on his mother's lap, freezing in the middle of a sneeze, swinging from a rope during "Pandemonium", snapping his fingers in appreciation of the other spellers), he never once broke character. I caught myself looking over at Sammy during random parts of the play (after all, I'm his mom), and each time, I was entertained by a small character choice he was making.

As I sit down today to work on my novel, I'm keeping that in mind. Every character should be fully developed and interesting, even in moments when they're on the sidelines. That's what adds depth, texture, and authenticity to a story. And the other thing I'm keeping in mind is how much fun it is to immerse yourself in creating a character. Actors and writers are not that different, you know. We're all just goofing around, playing make-believe.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just For The Love Of It

I only have ten quick minutes this morning before my day will be busy busy busy, so I'm setting my timer to see how many reasons I can come up with for loving being an author even when the industry is so crazy and it's more difficult than ever to get published or noticed, and everyone seems to be complaining all the time. Yet, still we try. So we are either crazy or we love what we do. Or maybe a little of both.

Two minutes down. Here goes...
1. Taking time to search for that big idea
2. Finding one you think might work
3. Imagining characters and voices
4. Searching through baby naming directories for that just right name
5. Outlining, pre-writing, sketching, crossing out
6. Pondering.
7. Spending your day thinking
8. Spending your day reading
9. Spending your day writing.
10. Cutting
11. Doing it better the next day
12. Daydreaming about these characters that seem so real to you
13. Daydreaming about ridiculous amounts of success
14. Being alone
15. Meeting with critique group
16. Going on writing retreats
17. Finding the just right word
18. That point where the character you've imagined becomes so real you expect to run into her at the grocery store.
19. Laughing while you write.
20. Crying while you write.
21. Figuring something out.
22. Surprising yourself.
23. Getting to the end.
24. Starting all over again, knowing you can do it better.

Time's up. Notice I didn't list anything that relies on anyone but me. I can't control whether or not what I write gets published or critically acclaimed, and although I do love when that happens, I love all of this, too. Something good to remember.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Jemma Hartman Lookalike x2!

I never tire of finding Jemma Hartman lookalikes, and these twins from Maryland made my day! That's Alicia on the left and Lauren on the right. Their mom wrote to tell me, "We found your Jemma!! My twin daughters look just like her. My daughter was so excited when she borrowed the book from the library, and all her classmates could not believe the resemblance! She LOVES the book and can't wait to read more!"

How sweet is that?

Props to Greg Swearingen, the illustrator who created such an endearing cover image for my book. He not only captured Jemma exactly as I imagined her, but he made her so relatable and realistic that readers are finding themselves in her before they even read a word of the story.

I'm off to the post office to send these fabulous girls an autographed book and some Jemma Hartman swag.

Want to see some more lookalikes? Check them out here and here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Back to Work...

I recently took two months away from my work-in-progress. My kids had a hard time understanding that I was not procrastinating. I'll admit, it looked like procrastination. I read a ton of books (My faves - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Read them now!), baked a ton of treats (homemade strawberry shortcake is definitely worth the effort), tried new recipes (must admit I hate cooking), cleaned out cabinets (and I hate cleaning even more), finished gigantic to-do lists (but you know, there is always a new to-do list growing), visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (so much fun!), cruised the Caribbean Sea (ahhh!), and even got my daughter settled into a new school (Good luck at DHS, Faith!)

I loved my time off, but by the end of it all, I was itching to get back into the fictional world I've been creating for the last year. Truth is, being an author takes a ton of perseverance, but it also takes patience. You can't just zip through from beginning to end, revise, submit, and sell. That's not how it works. At least not for me. Everyone knows you have to be patient when it comes to submissions and sales. But you also need patience when it comes to the writing. Two months away from this project gave me the time and distance I needed to see my story and characters with fresh eyes. That's the first piece of advice I give anyone when they ask me how to revise. Find fresh eyes.

Yesterday I met with my critique group, and they gave me a gentle push in the direction I need to go with this manuscript. The good news... I've written a fast-paced story with action and high stakes. That's actually great news for a writer like me, who normally writes character first, plot way way second. What they all want me to do, and what I know I need to do, is to develop my characters. Really find the voice and depth of everyone in the story. This is sort of backwards for me, but I like it. The pressure of figuring out the plot is off, and now I get to sort of play at being a psychologist. I'm delving into my characters' childhoods and experiences. What makes them tick? What makes them unique? What makes them relatable? How can I connect with each of them?

This is the fun stuff. This is why I'm an author.