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Thursday, February 25, 2010

JUSTIN CASE, read aloud

I've been invited to my son's 5th grade classroom today. They have been reading the proof of JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters and today they are coming to the end -- I am going to read the months of May and June.

I am really excited, even though it is snowing really hard which makes me want to take a nap (nothing like napping while the snow falls), and even though I am writing and rewriting a really fun book and like the reading nerd I so deeply am, I can't wait to see what happens next.

I know that sounds weird since I am the one who's writing it but trust me, it's a big reason I write books -- I have these characters in such intense situations, and the only way I know to find out what happens is to write the darn books. If there were a more efficient way, I would definitely try it. The answer, btw, to how is it going to turn out? is always: not the way you think it will. People always ask me if I plan out my novels before I begin them. Yes. Absolutely. I always know how it ends before I begin. My sixteen and seventeenth novels are coming out this spring. So far I have known the ending of all but one (the one I wrote with my friend Avi, which was a lark) before I started, and so far I have used that ending zero times. I am always sure, and I am always wrong.

But still, I am excited to take a break from my current book about a girl who is living in a blended family which includes the boy she has a horrible, enduring, explosive crush on. (Any guesses which book this is a sequel to????)

I am excited to go to class 5C today because, well, for one, I am very nosey and love to see what goes on (socially) in my kids' classrooms. I actually love eavesdropping/spying on classes even when my kids aren't in the class -- it's one reason I love doing school visits!

Another reason I'm psyched is, honestly, I really love this book. I love Justin and all his worries and his sense of humor and doom, I love the way Matt Cordell did the drawings (see the adorable sketches above -- and the final art is, believe it or not, even CUTER). I love how the book is turning out as it heads toward publication. I particularly love reading this book aloud -- and this gang is the first group of kids who will be experiencing JUSTIN CASE. I can't wait to hear and see their reactions. The book focuses on a boy (Justin) who is in third grade -- I am wondering what these fifth graders think of his dilemmas, his choices, his struggles. I wonder if they will get jokes that third graders might not, or get them differently. I also want to know what questions the kids will be left with...

My son had some words of advice for me:

Him: "Don't worry, you'll do great. Everybody loves the book and you are pretty good at reading it."

Me: "Thanks! Hmmm..." (looking out unhappily at the snow, thinking of naps, realizing my kids' boots are in CT and we are in NYC, at the start of yet another blizzard; and the Bad Mommy Award goes, again, to ME!) "What should I wear?" (subtext: you have no boots, again)

Him: "Nobody will be dressed all that elegantly, so don't wear something fancy."

Me: "You don't think I should wear a gown, then?"

Him: "Mommy. Maybe a casual dress, if you want."

Me: "Okay. Any other advice for me?"

Him: "Don't be all loving toward me. And NO KISSES."

Me: "At all?"

So now I am going to find a casual dress that will match my snow boots, since I am the only one around here who has boots in town (Bad Mommy). Maybe then I will write for a little while longer to see at least what happens when my narrator wakes up in the middle of the night and HE IS UP TOO (ack!), and then head out to read aloud the conclusion of JUSTIN CASE.

Wish me luck.

As always, I can't wait to see what's going to happen.

Rachel Vail

Monday, February 22, 2010

More on Winter Escapes!

Yesterday was my big day! But there's still more to read, do, and win this winter (even for those of us who prefer to stay cozy inside instead of adventuring onto frozen lakes like these crazy people, some of whom claim to be related to me)...

Just found this on twitter.com in fact:

We got another #28daygiveaway winner! Congrats to Reagan N. from OH. She won a signed copy of Gorgeous. Enter now! http://bit.ly/ajLS2c

Hooray for Reagan N from OH!

And good luck to all of us who enter... and, btw, to all the Olympians, especially those whose outfits are not horribly tacky.

Rachel Vail

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just One More

Today is the 52nd day of the year. You know how I know this? Because this morning I did 52 push-ups and 52 sit-ups.

Why? You may ask.

Well, I had this idea, back in December. It was a pretty simple idea, one day when I was staring at a blank screen wondering what should come next in the book I am writing. Sometimes when I am (not) writing, I berate myself a little, until I realize that is what I am doing and stop myself.

I was in the midst of thinking, not only do I not know what happens next in this book, I am not even sure what is happening in this chapter. I don't even know how to string words into a sentence. I can't even do a full set of push-ups!


So what?

Who cares if I can do a full set of push-ups? What even is a full set of push-ups?

I wonder how many push-ups I can do.

But I could not satisfy my curiosity because I have a writing rule that says I have to keep my butt in the chair (I have a lovely acronym for it that goes after the phrase "writing is a ..." but will not share that because it is not appropriate for all audiences. If you have guesses, you may email them to me, and winners will get free signed bookplates.)

Anyway, that got me to thinking about if I can do x push-ups today, surely tomorrow I could do x + 1. And that was the genesis of JUST ONE MORE.

On New Years Eve I told some friends my idea. They are good enough friends that I knew they would be supportive but also tease me if I failed, which they good-naturedly assured me I would, before the end of February.

On January 1, I did one sit-up and one push-up. It was kind of funny. So my husband joined me. On January 2, we did 2 sit-ups and 2 push-ups. And on through January. By the second week in January, my right shoulder started aching. It occurred to me that I might have to give up the push-up part. But I watched my husbands push-ups, saw that his hands were spread further than mine, and tried his stance. It felt better. I persevered. Ha! Take that, friends!

So here we are, at day 52. I had decided I was not humiliating myself by going public with this dare I've given myself until I passed day 50. My son pointed out that I am 1/7th of the way there (easy math -- 52 weeks a year, 7 days...) so that's pretty good. We'll see.

I HATE push-ups, btw. But, I guess, I love a challenge. If I can do this, I will be so strong by summer, to say nothing of next year. But more than that, it's this idea of starting slow and just building that appeals to me. Seems like a metaphor. Maybe a metaphor for writing a book -- which seems, from the start, every single time to me like an absolutely impossible goal. But every day you chip away at it, make it a little better than yesterday... I don't know. Maybe not a perfect metaphor.

I just deleted about 30 pages, after all.

The push-ups and sit-ups, once they're done, are done. No deleting.

Maybe that's the fun of it. Getting something absolutely done, every day.

Have you taken on a challenge yet this year? Want to join me in this one? Start at one today. And let me know. We'll cheer each other on.

(The pictures are not of me. Those will come soon. Results may vary.)

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Getting "shot"

So, I had my photo session -- and it was not at all like the photo shoot in GORGEOUS! Thank goodness. It was actually fun. The photographer, a great, smart, sweet guy named Gary, talked me through what to do, where to focus my eyes and how much to move between shots... I felt a tiny bit in control, empowered, even. And that, to me, makes all the difference.

I have to ask permission to show you the top contenders for my new author photo -- but until then, here is the scene from GORGEOUS when Allison has a photo shoot. It was a little bit based on a disastrously un-fun photo shoot I had, a few years ago -- so you will know why I was NOT exactly looking forward to the festivities this time. Hooray for surpassing expectations!

Here's Allison, in GORGEOUS:

That was the good news, I told myself – out of a thousand pictures there’s got to be good one, right? Even the Fascist would look good in one out of a thousand, especially shot by (supposedly) the best photographer in all of New York City.

The bad news was pretty much everything else. Apparently the girl who was there just before me was much better. She really knew how to do it, according to Filonia. She had so much energy, that other girl; she was alive in every picture. I, obviously, was dead. The girl Friday afternoon, Filonia called to Seven and Nico – what was her name? Siddhartha. She was wild. They all exchanged knowing glances, and murmured things like “accessories” and “spicy” and then laughed happily together while I shrunk on the stool.

But that’s not all. Apparently the spaces between my fingers are frighteningly pale. Filonia needed Seven to put makeup on them because they were wrecking the pictures. Oh, joy, the one aspect of myself I had never thought of obsessing over, the spaces between my fingers and their pallor. Also my knuckles were red. (You’d think they could get together with the spaces right there beside them and do a little pigment barter, but no.)

“Your hair looked better a minute ago,” Filonia said at one point. Seven didn’t come to fix it and I didn’t know how my hair had changed in the past minute so I smooshed it, trying to get it to revert to whatever it had just stopped doing, but then Filonia said, “No, you’re making it worse. Why didn’t they tell you to get highlights? Dull, dull, dull. Now, try not to blink so much.”

I became a blinking machine. I had never before in my life been so aware of my blinking and suddenly I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than three seconds at a go. It gave the room a strobe effect and I started to run a serious risk of falling off the stool.

“Why are you moving that way?”

“Can I stand up?” I asked.

“Just try to smile naturally,” she instructed.

I could not summon a single muscle memory of how my face normally smiled. Had I ever smiled normally in my life? Filonia sighed and stepped away from her cameras.

“Let’s try something else,” she said. She set up a chair with a table in front, hoisted my backpack on top, and told me to sit down and lean forward over it. I didn’t know exactly what she meant to do but I tried and, shockingly, did not succeed.

“Look a little more left and a little more right,” she said.

So I crossed my eyes. She snapped the picture.

“Can you do something more fun with your left hand?” she asked, causing my left hand to feel as if it had magically grown to twenty times its normal size and weight. I could barely lift it. The one fun thing I could think of to do with it would have been rude. I splayed the fingers on it out, which caused a whole pale spaces emergency again.

When that was resolved, I propped my head on top of my backpack. Filonia snapped a few half-hearted frames. “Turn.” I turned. “No, the other way. Your nose starts right up by your forehead on that side.”

I didn’t ask where it started on the other side, just turned my head and tried in vain to stop blinking.

“Don’t do so much of that,” Filonia instructed. “What you were doing just now. Maybe a little more something else. Now you’re blinking again.”

“I can’t…” I started and then stopped and tried to smile naturally.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t know how to do this,” I said.

“Do what? Just relax.”

“I’m not sure why I’m here. I don’t even like to have my picture taken and I am obviously bad at it and I should be in math class and my mother is going to kill me.”

All three of them started reassuring me that I was doing a great job. Which made it that much worse.

“No, I’m not,” I insisted. “It’s okay, I’m not as spicy and not as energetic, not as alive as those other girls. Fine, I get it. I have pale spaces and red knuckles and too dark hair and nose that starts in the wrong place and an oddly unwitty left hand.”

(A hint: this photo shoot, in the book, is about to take a weird and unexpectedly wonderful turn, which will lead Allison to heights and decisions she never, ever expected...)

(My photo shoot, OTOH, led to my discovery that my eyes are not, as I had thought, brown.)

Rachel Vail

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Winter Escapes!

Are you ready to be done with winter?

I am. My toes are so cold, and even my new cozy slippers are not enough...

But here's some fun news: I'm going to be featured in this month's HarperTeen Winter Escapes! Every day there's a new book featured -- with quizzes, prizes, free stuff, and fun ways to avoid doing your homework (or writing your book, whatever -- not that I am procrastinating there, asking the magic snowglobe to predict my future or anything. No way! It's... it's research. Yes, really, that's what it is.)

My big day is February 21! Please make sure to come on February 21. Go ahead and write it down in your planner -- Rachel Vail day at the WInter Escapes site, Feb 21. Seriously, go ahead. We'll wait for you.

Back? Okay. But here's the thing -- you can also go visit today, and every day this month -- there's a lot to check out. And it is really fun!

(Not that I was loitering there or anything.)

There will be info on LUCKY and GORGEOUS and some hints about BRILLIANT, which is coming very soon... and lots of other stuff, too -- games, quizzes, prizes...

Here's the link: http://bit.ly/bsFd9e

More soon -- I keep meaning to tell you all about my recent shopping spree (thanks to Hannah and the terrific crew at Intermix -- you guys are great and so are my new "jeggings" -- who knew such things even existed?) and my upcoming photo shoot (!!! -- anybody have tips on how to look gorgeous in photos? send them -- quick! All advice-givers will be entered into a contest to win a free signed book!), but I am also in the thick of writing my new book so I keep procrastinating on my procrastinating (you have to be a master to do this. Don't try it at home, or until you've had years of serious procrastination training.)

The writing, I will just briefly say, is getting to the fun part, where I am fully sucked in and therefore a danger to myself and others because it is hard for me to keep track of things like boiling water in pots or, like, gravity's effects if I forget to continue holding the stuff in my hand... I love this part.

You'd think that a person who wrote the book GORGEOUS, about a girl who sells her cell to the devil and becomes gorgeous, and accidentally ends up a model despite (or because of?) a horrendous photo shoot with a world-famous photographer... would know a lot about looking gorgeous. You would be wrong. Because while I am not a world famous model by a long-shot, that horrendous photo shoot in the book was based on an actual, real-life, horrendous photo shoot. (Yes, the photographer told me those things: the spaces between your fingers are too pale. Look a little more left and a little more right. Do something more natural with your left hand; your left hand looks terribly awkward. Why is your hair like that? etc.) So I am slightly photo-phobic. And wide open to suggestions. What should I do to look great in photographs??? Or at least not look like apologetic? All those pictures posted here are possible looks my cool niece suggested... what do you think?

In exchange for sharing your wisdom, remember, you could win a free signed book...

To do to day:
* go to the Winter Escapes Site: http://bit.ly/bsFd9e
* have fun, enter contests, win stuff
* post in comments your tips for how to look great in photos -- and you will be entered to win a free signed book!
* bundle up -- in NYC, anyway, the forecast is for MORE SNOW tomorrow.
* have fun (why not? but if it's on your to do list, you can fully justify it)

Rachel Vail