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Thursday, December 22, 2011

What I Am:

                                                               ... making cake pops.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Listen in...

Here's the mp3 of me and the wonderful Judy Blume on the phone last week. Did I get your question in? Thanks again to booktalknation.com and Bank Street Bookstore!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Busy Day

I think my new Tortoise, Lightning, may be starting to write a book. 

Judge for yourself:

Hiding from the world
                                                       nobody here but us shoes!

                                                Seeming to do nothing but soak up the light

And, occasionally, bathing.
                                                             what was that thought again?

Tell-tale signs for sure. Waiting to see if tomorrow he makes tea and then stares at the blank-screened laptop for a while before he decides the refrigerator needs alphabetizing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

good news/bad news

Today some good news and some bad news:

First the bad:
I have been lying flat on my my back like a lox at a brunch buffet all day, because my back is in a spasm. So I'm missing my older son's chorus concert right now. Which he says is fine but it is not. also I'm in pain and mostly mad at myself because this is what ALWAYS happens to me if I don't do a few easy, specific stretches every day. And I haven't done them in a week. So it's even my own damn fault.

But now the good:

1. The phone interview I did last night with Judy Blume through BookTalkNation.com was so much fun and went off without a hitch. Thank you so much to all of you who emailed comments and questions, and also to those who wrote afterwards reassuring us that even though we made each other cry, in a good way, it all came through okay. Judy Blume is such a wonderful writer and an amazingly generous role model and supporter of so many of us, readers and writers alike -- and is also completely honest, smart, interesting -- and FUNNY. 

2. My new tortoise, Lightning, did some good sunbathing today. Welcome to December in NYC!

3. My new JUSTIN CASE book with Matthew Cordell was selected by the Junior Library Guild!

Hooray for JUSTIN CASE: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip_Flops of Doom -- and for everybody at MacKids.com -- and for the Junior Library Guild!

and 4. I think for dinner tonight we will have Ice Cream Sundaes. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Look what came yesterday!

My new book!

 And our new tortoise! His name is lightning. Which should be ironic for a turtle.

But this guy has so much GO in him, it actually suits him!

Oooo! Breakfast!

I am an awesome mesclun mix chef, clearly.

Thanks for breakfast!

I am getting NO work done today, just watching lightning explore. But tonight -- I am back on the phone with Judy Blume! Do you have anything you need me to ask her?

Uh-oh, Lightning just climbed onto his empty dish. What might he be trying to communicate?

Better dash. More later.

Rachel Vail

Friday, December 9, 2011


We're back!

Judy Blume and I will have a Do-Over of our phone conversation this Tuesday, December 13, at 7PM.

If you already signed up, you are still in, and should have received an update email.

If you weren't in already, you can sign up here.. Why not? The more the merrier.

Also, to celebrate those moments when life allows you a Do-Over -- I will send somebody, chosen at random, who is signed up for the chat, a free signed copy of my book Do-Over.

Rachel Vail

Do-Over; signed books

I will have an announcement to make very soon about the do-over interview with Judy Blume. If you tried to be in on that call and thought you were just technologically-too-challenged to manage, good news! It wasn't your fault!

It also wasn't mine, or Judy Blume's, or Booktalk Nation's.

As I tell my kids, assigning blame is irrelevant. (It was a glitch in the recording software!) What matters is learning from experiences and moving on with as much grace as you can muster. (It wasn't my fault! Yay!) And then doing better the next time. (That glitch has been so fixed it will NEVER have puppies.)

So -- more on that as soon as I have the green light.

But meanwhile, in the spirit of the season:

If you are planning on giving ANY of my books as gifts this holiday season (and I highly recommend giving books, especially if you can get them from your local independent bookseller -- you'll be doing so many good things ALL AT ONCE and who doesn't want to multitask these days?) I would be happy to send you a signed, personally inscribed bookplate to go with it. Just email me at rachelvailbooks@gmail.com and tell me: your name and address; which book this is for; and to whom you'd like it signed.

An alternative: you can order any of my books from my local wonderful bookstore, Bank Street Bookstore. They will yank me in off the street and point me at the books and then send them off, signed, to you right away. (and send me back out onto the street.) Click here to go to Bank Street.

Okay, gotta run -- in the midst of everything else, I am investigating the possibility of buying a pet for my kids. Can you guess what type????

And then, clearly, it is banana muffin time again. These bananas are practically jumping into the mixer bowl by themselves, despite looking all innocent -- it wasn't OUR fault! Somebody threw us in there! We were just hanging out and then WHAM, the sugar and butter were in there with us, and those eggs were totally cracked, we were all dancing this crazy whirling dance with the beaters and...

Rachel Vail

Monday, December 5, 2011

JUDY BLUME -- tonight!

Tonight at 7PM EST I am going to be interviewing Judy Blume on the phone.

And you can listen in.

It's free.

All you have to do is sign up here:  booktalknation.com/author/blume

Also, if you want a signed book, personalized for you or somebody you want to get a really cool, special, one-of-a-kind gift for (the holidays are lurking just ahead, rumor is) -- you can order it through this website too!

If you have a question you've always wanted to ask Judy Blume, or something Judy Blume's books taught you, email it to me RIGHT AWAY. I'm collecting such great questions from readers from all over -- I can't wait to discuss all this with Judy tonight.

But first I have to run out and buy oaktag and markers for my 12-year-old.

Here's the link again:  booktalknation.com/author/blume

Back to you when the oaktag crisis has passed!

Rachel Vail

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Who that blogger reminded me of

I always worry when reading a review of YOU, MAYBE because readers tend to have pretty strong, not always positive reactions to it. So when I saw this review posted by a facebook friend on my page, I braced myself. I was blown back anyway, utterly unprepared. I love this kid and the power of her reaction to this book. What a reader! 

I kept feeling like she reminded me of somebody, and then it hit me -- Tom, from John Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN -- in this, one of my favorite descriptions of character in all of literature (in so few words, you know so much about these two men and how different they are, without either being good or bad -- both readers, even -- but in describing how they read, in an incredibly economy of words, 3 lines, you know SO MUCH):

Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among the ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

I have always kind of had a secret crush on both Samuel and Tom, and have wondered which is more like me. I think most passionate readers I know are more like Samuel. But today, I got reviewed by a girl who reads the way Tom reads.

Here's her blog, the first entry she ever wrote, and she comes out guns blazing, with the book all over her face and hands:

Amen to that, honey, indeed.

And, thank you.

Rachel Vail

telling it like it is when it comes to love: You, Maybe.

Just read this blog. I think it's the best-written, most passionate review I've ever gotten! Can't say it's a complete rave, but it is a RANT and she lived this book, read it so hard I think she scorched the pages as she went. Wa-hoo!

telling it like it is when it comes to love: You, Maybe.: Hi! This is my first blog so um... bare with me. haha Today, I went to a Boston Public Library near my school for a meeting…there I picked...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wanna do something cool?

Eavesdrop as 2 greats talk books and writing -- and get a personally inscribed book from an independent bookseller while you're at it...

Details at the link:


Just found some great writing advice

For those who are in the last hours of NaNoWriMo -- and for anybody else searching for tips and prompts and good writing advice -- I just stumbled upon this cache of brilliance from agent Donald Maass at his Maass Agency website. Before I click over to twitter to begin following him (join me there -- I'm @rachelvailbooks) I will share them here with you:

what we're looking for this month

Writers often ask us what we’re “looking for.”  Excellent fiction, of course, but what does that mean?  This page is designed to tell you.  Of course, we're open to any fiction that draws us in, but this page gives examples of what might pique our interest.  We’ll update it regularly, so visit again.

What We’re Looking for in 2011
This year Don's been Tweeting (@DonMaass) a series of Breakout Novel prompts.  You can search #Maass on Twitter...or just look here.  Below are the prompts in reverse order.  A new one is added weekly.  Use them to power your WIP to Breakout level--and then keep us in mind when you're done.
(WIP = work in progress, MC = main character, POV = point of view)
The prompts:
58 What’s one way your MC tackles the big problem? Find another character who can do the same thing, or the opposite. Add.
57 Find a dramatic event in your WIP.  Create a smaller version of it for another spot in the story.
56 What’s the most wonderful thing about your story world? Find ten new ways and spots to delight in that.
55 What do you like best about your MC?  How soon can we see that on the page?  How often?  Add more than you think needed.
54 You are you MC’s best friend. Whether big or small, what is safe for your MC to share with you right now? Add immediately.
53 In your current scene, who’s against your MC? What’s that character hiding? Let your MC intuit, guess or see the truth.
52 In your current scene, what’s the outcome? Work backwards until the reader is sure that the opposite will occur. 
51 In your current scene, what’s the sharpest line?  Structure the scene to make that the *last* line. 
50 At the top of your current scene what’s the mood? And at the end? Find words to sum up both, give them to your POV character.
49 In your current scene pin down the moment when things change. How does your POV character’s self-understanding also change? Add.
48 What greater issue or question does your MC puzzle over? Plant it, apply it three times, then find the moment when wisdom arrives.
47 What does you MC know about himself/herself that’s true?  What does he/she *not* see that’s even more true?  Hit ‘em with it. 
46 What can your MC do that no one else can? What’s one unexpected benefit? What’s the biggest cost? When does it not work? Add.
45 What’s a foundational attribute of your MC? Create an odd tic or habit that implies the opposite. Add six times. VoilĂ : a quirk.
44 What’s the worst thing your antagonist must do? Make it against his/her principles. Make it unthinkable. Then make it imperative.
43 What does your antagonist believe in? Who else shares those values? Why are they actually right? When does your MC see that too?
42 Find three new ways and reasons for your protagonist and antagonist to come face to face. 
41 What does your antagonist most want? How is it truly something that everyone wants? Explain & add.
40 What’s the best thing about your MC? Show that in a big (or small) way in Chapter 1, or your MC’s first chapter.
39 What makes your MC unique? What makes your MC exactly like anyone else? For each, show in five additional spots.
38 What miracle does your MC pray for? Make it impossible...then make it happen.
37 Your MC’s worst quality: let him/her struggle with it, provoke it 3 times, make it cost something big, then allow change.
36 Strongest emotion in your current scene: How does it change your POV character? How has the world changed too? Elaborate. Add.
35 Strongest emotion in your current scene. How does your POV char think it looks from the outside? What is now lost or gained?
34 In your current scene, what’s the strongest emotion? Why is it welcome?  Why not? What’s good about it?  What’s utterly wrong?
33 Find a small hurt someone suffers. What’s the big principle or hidden injustice it represents? Stir your MC to anger over it.
32 Find a corner, crossroads or dark object in your story. Invest it with eeriness, unknown portent or dread. Go there three times.
31 What’s the very worst aspect of the main problem your MC faces? Find one way to make it still worse.
30 What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.
29 What’s the emotion or experience you’re most afraid to put your MC through? Go there. Do it. Now.
28 Set off fireworks between two characters. What’s the biggest skyrocket you can explode for the finale? Go ahead…kaboom!
27 What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.
26 Whom is your MC afraid to let down? What is the sacred trust between them? What would cause your MC to break it? Break it.
25 Before a new character debuts, give your MC an expectation or fear. Make the reality three times better or worse.
24 Find a strong emotion and replace it with a secondary one; find a throw-away moment and infuse it with rich feelings.
23 What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.
22 In the last inner monologue you wrote insert one insight, question or worry that hasn’t hit you (or your MC) before now.
21 In the last dialogue passage you wrote double the friction, disagreement, overt hostility or hidden agenda.
20 Cut 100 words from your last 3 pages.You have 5 minutes. Fail? Penalty: cut 200 words.
19 What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.
18 Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it.
17 Who in your story has an ironclad, unshakable belief? Shatter or reverse it by the story’s end.
16 What’s the precise turning point in your current scene? Make its trigger more dramatic—or less obvious.
15 What’s one thing your MC hates as the story opens? By the end have your MC love that same thing. (Or vice versa.)
14 In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.
13 For your MC, what are the best things about these times? The worst? Create a passage of his/her take on this era.
12 During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again?
11 Find a small passing moment in your manuscript. What big meaning does your MC see in it? Add that.
10 In your current scene, what’s a setting detail that delights or disgusts your POV character? Why? Elaborate & add.
09 What’s a place in your story where something significant happens? Switch two other story events to that location too.
08 Over what does your MC disagree with his/her boss or mentor? When does the boss/mentor prove to be right?
07 What does a sidekick or secondary character see about your MC that your MC denies? Force a showdown over it.
06 How does your POV character change in your current scene? Work backwards. Make that change unlikely, a surprise or impossible.
05 What should your readers most see, understand or be angry about? At what story moment will that happen? Heighten it in two ways.
04 Choose a middle scene: What does POV character feel most strongly? Evoke that feeling without naming it, through actions alone.
03 Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.02 What’s the most selfless thing your MC does? What good change or effect does that have on someone unexpected? Add that in.
01 What’s the worst thing your MC does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Just looked up from my manuscript and saw it was 11:11. In my first book, that was the narrator's favorite time. I later learned she was not unique in that, and that people make wishes when they see that time pop up.

Gotta figure that's a relatively new thing, since for example my grandfather never would have thought of the time being 11:11. He'd see, on his analog watch or Grandfather clock, that time as "ten past eleven" or maybe "not yet lunch."

My small wish for today (you know, wouldn't want to waste a big wish, if something were available, on something less than, like, world peace or universal literacy or civility between/among all or cures for diseases or that my kids will lead long happy productive healthy extraordinary lives -- but if only small wishes can be grated for the coincidence of spotting a digital clock on my stove at a particular minute:

Please let this manuscript be good, funny, compelling, and meaningful.

Because I have to send it to my editor on Monday, and, as the clock would say if it weren't digital: tick tock tick tock.

What do you (small) wish?

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CONTEST for TEENS! plus a sure thing...

YALSA is running a very cool sounding contest. All the details and rules are here: http://ow.ly/78l3g

But here's an added twist:

If you decide to use one of my books for your entry, send a copy of your photo to me. You will automatically win a signed copy of one of my other books (let me know which book you are hoping for in your email and if I have a spare copy, it is yours!) and a signed bookplate to place in the copy you used in your photo. It's like one of those carnival games -- everybody's a winner! I love those.

Except the ones with clown heads.

Yesterday I got this in the mail:

Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters won a prize! It is a kind of heavy glass thing so I couldn't figure out quite how to get a photo of it. That's my floor, beneath it.

Anyway, I decided that winning stuff is awesome. Also, getting something in the mail.

So I think I am going to have a contest as often as possible so you can win stuff and get something in the mail.

You know you are probably a much better photographer than I am (see above.) Go win the YALSA prize.

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Books, bans, and George Clooney

A great and informative post from Meg Cabot on her blog today discusses all kinds of interesting stuff... including the horribly elegant book banning strategy I was just discussing with Meg the other day -- and also there's such a gorgeous pic of George Clooney you should not miss it.

Back to work for me -- yesterday was my son's birthday so we of course celebrated all weekend, and then tonight my husband and I are going to the taping of the Colbert Report!

So I have to get my work done right now and stop reading about censorship and George Clooney and instead get you to do it.

Rachel Vail

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Like Rivers

Whether I am  working on a book or real life -- especially when (like right now) I am faced with making choices that test who I am and what my values are (as myself or as my character) -- it helps to keep this quote from Tolstoy in mind:

One of the most widespread superstitions is that every man has his own special, definite qualities: That a man is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc. Men are not like that… men are like rivers… every river narrows here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is the same with men. Every man carries in himself the germs of every human quality, and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man often becomes unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.
We change, we flow. Sometimes we're shallow and mucky. All of us -- me, her, him, you. Putting yourself or somebody else in a box, with a label on it, is both stifling and untrue.

My yoga teacher talked about it yesterday in a different way -- about striving for union, or balance: trying but accepting; fortitude in working on what needs to change but serenity about what can't be changed; strength and flexibility.

Walt Whitman said, "I contradict myself? Very well, then; I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes."

Everybody wise seems to agree with this basic idea. So why is it so difficult to accept how complex we all are? I guess the fact that we need to learn it from so many teachers in so many ways shows how hard it is for us to learn it.

We are all so miraculous, and so flawed.

My character is shocked by her own passion, her jealousy, her weakness AND her strength, none of which she recognizes as authentically her, though they all are. Me? I am trying to flow -- to evolve and yet remain true.

How about you?

Rachel Vail

Friday, September 9, 2011

ten years later

I just spent some time staring at the blue blue NYC sky, thinking how long ago and also how not long ago another bright September day was -- and wondered what to think about the passage of these ten years.

My kids have grown up -- no longer a wordless but intense baby and a soulful, wise little kid; they are now a poetic, charming, eloquent and still intense preteen and a soulful, wise young man. Me? I'm the same as I was, is my first thought. But no, of course that's not true. I'm older too; less certain, more hopeful. A bright blue sky isn't just glorious for me anymore but tinged with memory, now.

Also I stubbed my toe last night. And other stuff, both more and less wonderful than that, has happened, too. I baked some muffins, bought a house, planted some flowers, made some friends, wrote some books, danced a bit, sang a lot, drank too much tea and not enough Champagne. Ten years. It kind of feels like a blink. When I was in 7th grade there were lifetimes between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I'll write more about memories and frustrations and the confusions and heroism of then (and now) soon. Right now there's a book to write and a kid to meet after school, roller blades to buy for the other one and a possibly broken toe to ice (? or splint? Urgh, I have no time or patience for a swelling toe!) -- all the usual and, looked at in the bright but qualified September light of remembrance, wonderfully normal stuff of the day.

For now I'll leave you to Meg Cabot's blog note, which I just read for the third time -- and which brings me back again to the trauma and the resilience of that long/not-long ago day...


Okay, my purple toe is throbbing and my patient, waiting book is tapping its own toes, now.

Be safe, have fun, enjoy the day.

Rachel Vail

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hooray for Justin!

I'm on vacation/at the intense stage of writing my current book, so not much blogging from me right now -- but a friend just sent me a link to this lovely review of JUSTIN CASE with 2 especially wonderful things in it. First, this comment, which made me feel happy all over:

This book is seriously one of the funniest I’ve read in a long time. I laughed out loud while I was reading it, and I thought Justin was totally relatable. (He reminded me a little of myself. I’m a bit of a worrier, too.) I think anyone who enjoys the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books should definitely pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

And also this bit of news:

2011-2012 South Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee

Yay! Hey, anybody in South Carolina: I have never been to South Carolina but if JUSTIN wins, I promise to come visit and celebrate with you. And I will bring gummy worms. Not trying to buy your vote, of course. Just sayin'.

More soon.

Rachel Vail

PS Am thinking I should do a Back-to-School giveaway of JUSTIN books -- what do you think?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

That Moment with the Scissors

I am often asked what to do about writers' block. I have lots of good advice on the subject. I'll list some if you want it later. But anyway, here's the thing:

Last night I did not take any of it.

You know that moment when you are not sure what should happen next in the book you are writing, and then there you are, scissors in one hand and your hair in the other?

Do you know that moment?

Well, so, there I was, and the advice I would give somebody in that position, in that moment, is PUT. DOWN. THE. SCISSORS.

But I clearly was not in an advice-listening mood.

I grew out my bangs years ago, as my (okay, quite subtle) rebellion against my mom, who has always had bangs and who always had my hair cut in bangs.

I cut bangs yesterday as my (fine, equally subtle) rebellion against not knowing what happens in the next scene I am writing. Or against nothing happening, maybe. Or against nothing. Just stalling. Just possessed by an intense need to cut my own hair.

I am not new on the planet. I know this is a bad idea. I stood there actually thinking bad idea don't do it don't do it don't do it until I did it. Maybe even as I was doing it.

My son just woke up, saw me, had a conversation with me and didn't once scream what did you do to your hair? or Why do you look so weird today? And since he is both 12 and extremely observant -- and also therefore on a hair-trigger of horrified embarrassment at the oddness and awful awkwardness of his mother -- I am thinking either I did a good job or it's more subtle than I thought.

Also I woke up knowing what the scene maybe should be.

If I were to meet a girl who is in a fairy tale, and she were to ask me if I had any advice for her, I would definitely tell her: A girl in a fairy tale should never take the short cut through the woods. That way trouble lies.

Of course, that way is also where adventure lies. And story.

So maybe she would be better off not taking my advice. Hopefully I am better off, having ignored my advice, too.

If not, it's just hair. It will grow back. Please don't stare.

Rachel Vail

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bath Time with the Debt Ceiling Negotiations

"I have a question about the debt ceiling."


"It needs to be raised, right? The ceiling?"

"Yup. It's not an actual ceiling. But yes."

"Everybody knows it needs to be raised?"


"Because they are bumping their heads on it?"

"Kind of."

"Do they know how to raise it? Like, do they have the tools and stuff?"

"They just need to vote to do it."

"So why don't they?"

"Because, since it would be really dangerous to NOT raise the debt ceiling, some people are trying to get their political agenda enacted as the price of passing it."


"Do you know what that means, political agenda?"

"No. Is it like if you said hey buster don't open that car door while we're speeding down the highway! and I said I am opening it unless I get another cookie?"

"Yeah. Kind of."

"Woah. So did they get the extra cookie?"

"Well, at this point it's like if I said okay fine you can have another cookie just close the darn door. And then you said actually I'd like that other cookie and also my brother can't have any cookies for the rest of the year and I want a whole bag more cookies and no chores and also I want pony."

"Wow. All with the car door open on the highway?


"Are they grown ups or kids?"


"I bet their moms are gonna have a talk with them after this, with very Not Proud faces on."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

the deepest secret nobody knows

I don't really care that much about Roger Clemens's perjury trial but there is something here in this segment of an article just posted on the New York Times website that I absolutely love:

The federal judge presiding over Roger Clemens’s perjury trial declared a mistrial because the prosecution revealed information Thursday that he previously deemed inadmissible.


Keep up with the latest news on The Times's baseball blog.

Major League Baseball



Readers’ Comments

Share your thoughts.

The United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton abruptly stopped the trial and scolded the prosecution for playing a videotape of the 2008 Congressional hearings on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. The part of the tape that worried him included comments made by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, about the credibility of Andy Pettitte, Clemens’s former best friend and teammate, who is expected to be one of the star witnesses for the government.

Pettitte testified that Clemens had admitted to him that he used human growth hormone in 1999 or 2000.

The prosuction also played for the jury a part of the Congressional hearings in which Cummings read an affidavit from Andy Pettitte’s wife, Laura. In the affidavit, she said that her husband had told her about a conversation he had with Clemens about Clemens’s use of human growth hormone.


And he is reading stuff aloud? Into the Congressional record?

See, and I thought I was as surprised as I could get about Congress today.


Rachel Vail

Monday, July 11, 2011

Words, words, words

I just had to figure out (for a character) what the clear membrane covering a fish's eye is called. Nictitating. A nictitating membrane.

I think it's my new favorite word. Nictitating. I'm going to use it randomly, inappropriately, as much as possible today.

That's so nictitating!

Nothing, just nictitating -- how about you?

What's your favorite word?


so far today I ran lines with my younger son (who is in a play and man, he has those lines DOWN), went for a run, paid a bill, posted the link for the JUSTIN discussion guide here and there, and made some tea.

I know there was something else I was supposed to do and tick, tock, the day is getting away from me...

Ack! Was it -- figure out this chapter that is looming ahead of me refusing to divulge the secret of how it wants to be written???

Oh, wait, no. I think it was: put a warm compress on the sty in my eye.

Phew, that was a close one.

What are you doing today?

Rachel Vail

New Study Guide for JUSTIN CASE!

Thank you to all the educators who have been asking for a study guide for JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters.

Let me know if it's helpful to you and your kids...

Rachel Vail

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mission Optimism

My almost-12-year-old son came up with a project for us yesterday.

He said he had noticed that when he was feeling grumpy or sad or worried, it was sometimes hard to rally himself out of the mood. I feel the same way, I admitted. He nodded.

He said that he had tried something recently that surprised him: he decided, mid-bad mood, to just smile. Not to think anything particularly happy, or count his blessings or whatever, just to smile. And he noticed that within a minute or two, he actually felt significantly happier and calmer.

He suggested that we try, for one week, to catch ourselves any time we feel at all crabby or down -- and immediately smile. And see what happens.

I know I have read that this has been proven to work, and that cognitive-behavioral therapy emphasizes stuff like this -- but where he came up with it, I don't know. He doesn't either. But I tried it this morning: while I was on hold with Pottery Barn trying to return my non-functional curtain rod A SECOND TIME, I smiled a huge exaggerated smile at my son -- and I actually started laughing. I felt not just marginally better but more like the way your nose feels 20 minutes after a Sudafed -- suddenly open and clear.

The return phone person answered and everything went smoothly.

So I am going to try my son's Mission Optimism for this week. I'll let you know how it goes -- for me and for him -- what our successes and failures are. Anyone want to try it with me??? Let me know if it works or doesn't for you.

Rachel Vail

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How I know it's time to take a break:

I've been writing with the computer unplugged, lately. I write until I am down to about 20% of battery, sometimes less, and then I realize, well, that's it, then. Ought to go run or take a yoga class or a shower or something productive to recharge, while my computer does the same.

The other prompt for break-time is when it hits me that what I have achieved so far in the current draft is the dawning realization that this is not working, and a new draft must be started from page one.

At that point I tend to put on loud music and sing along even louder; make a fresh pot of tea, and sometimes banana muffins or, if I am really tossing more than 25 pages, something stronger. Like cookies. Or a glass of Bourbon. Maybe Janis Joplin.

The other way I know it's time to take a break is if it is time to pick up a kid from someplace.

In that circumstance I generally skip the making of the tea, etc., but not necessarily the singing. Which sometimes scares the neighbors in the elevator, but it's New York. I will not be the weirdest person they encounter that day.

I tend to WANT to take a break when it hits me that I have no earthly idea what to write next, but since that is an experience I have multiple times per minute, at least during the first maybe 20 drafts of a book, I try very hard to resist it.

Some days I think I would be very good at sluggery, and must rage against the temptation toward it.

When do you take a break? What do you do for it?

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I love about summer

How was your holiday weekend?

Mine was great, except that my older son went away to camp and I miss him terribly already.

But other than that it was a pretty wonderful weekend.
I went with my husband and younger son up to CT, where the rivers are flowing full and the overabundance of shades of green put Benjamin Moore to shame.

We went to a concert/picnic Saturday night. Nothing says summer like a Jimmy Buffet cover band and a cold beer on a blanket with people you love, as the sun sets...

Except maybe a boat dock. What is it about being on a boat that brings out the most mellow side of me? Somehow the world feels soothed.
Back to work, now. Trying to keep that mellow feeling but still be productive! I have a book to write...

What did you do over the weekend?

Rachel Vail

Monday, June 27, 2011

Choices, choices

We decided not to get This Weeks Special Flavors.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are you insanely gifted?

Whether yes or no -- you may want to check out this great book trailer by my pal, Dan Elish!

I can't wait to read it...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Aunt Ronnie's blog

The best burritos I ever made were for a Cook-Off competition at my Aunt Ronnie's house.

Aunt Ronnie is, among other things, bitingly funny, a formidably talented cook, a fiery intellectual, and a generously loving aunt and friend. Also, she writes really well. I read her blog all the time and suggest you do too -- and not just because my now-famous burritos are the featured attraction today...


Turns out maybe I have been revising too much?

I don't care if my books are considered "literary" fiction, though I do kind of hate the "YA" designation -- my characters at ages 14-16 may not know everything about themselves but one thing they are all pretty certain about is that they are NOT young ADULTS.

Maybe people in the book world realize that and that's why we don't say Young Adult anymore; we say YA. Which maybe just means YA now, kind of like we're all cool Canadians ironically questioning (Why, eh?) or like the SATs. SATs stopped meaning Scholastic Aptitude Tests a few years ago when everybody had to agree the tests didn't test aptitude. So then SAT was retrodefined and suddenly stood for Scholastic Achievement Tests, but then people were like, wait, do these tests actually gauge scholastic achievement? Urgh! So everybody gave up and said, okay fine, it means SATs. SAT stands for SAT and just shut up and sharpen your number 2 pencils, wouldja, ya smartalec kid thinking you're smarter than other people?

I'm actually not a big fan of the "Middle Grade" designation either, which to me sounds more like a type of gas somewhere between Regular and Premium ("fill it up please with the Middle Grade") or a porn category ("No, Aunt Tillie, what I write isn't really Hard Core; well, no, not exactly soft focus romantic either; kind of, well, Middle Grade.") Or, most devastatingly, it sounds like a value judgement -- like, at a dinner party if Jonathan Franzen started declaiming about how what he writes is firmly in the High Art Literary Tradition, and then the host turned to me and said, "Hey Rachel! Are your books in the High Art Literary Tradition, too? Or do you write a bunch of crap just to kill trees and brain cells?" I would have to mumble, well, neither I suppose, my stuff is more, um, middle grade.

Okay, well, maybe that's fair, on second thought. Because that is totally what I would say whether I happened to be writing for kids or not.

Because while I think it's important to write the best sentences you possibly can, and to revise them as much as necessary until they are as good as you can make them (and please, no hiding behind well it's just for kids, doesn't matter if I don't get the exact right word YES IT DOES MATTER!) your words and sentences and characters and most importantly your stories should be sharp and fine and exactly right, whether your intended reader is 10 or 50, a pimply ninth grader or a gorgeous brilliant New Yorker Editor -- I also think it sucks to be a pompous ass.

Rachel Vail

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Catching up

Has your summer started yet? Or are you still finishing up with school, work, etc?

We're hanging out with pals here... enjoying the city...
And the country...

And the longer days...And then, also, getting down to work.

Any wonderful plans for the summer?

I am going to write a book, exercise every day, have fun with friends and family, sit in some cafes, send out books to the WINNERS of the DRAWINGS, and maybe learn to waterski.

Well, those are my goals. Not sure I will achieve all of them. Feeling pretty confident about the cafes and the fun, though... and I WILL get to the post office very soon...

How about you? What do YOU want to do this summer?

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paperback Pub Day!

Product Details

Look inside! (says Amazon) -- it's ready for you today!

To celebrate today, the paperback publication day for JUSTIN CASE, I am heading to a pub.

Well, not really. Or maybe later? Right now I am working.

BUT: today, to celebrate -- it is the last day for you to sign up for the drawing to win a free copy!

You can sign up right here -- all the names are going into a hat (or possibly the popcorn bowl, we shall see) tomorrow, and my kids will pick the lucky winners. You can sign up to try to win a free copy of JUSTIN or of BRILLIANT -- or, what the heck, both if you want.

You can tell a worry you have, or a cause you support, or write a haiku, or tell your favorite color/dessert/song/type of shoes/summer drink... -- or just your name and which book you'd like.

Rachel Vail

PS If you buy a copy of any of my books before June, post a picture of yourself holding the book and I will send you a FREE OTHER BOOK to go with it, automatically.

As long as I am going to the post office, anyway...

Thursday, May 19, 2011


My friend Rima had this odd-seeming game on her facebook page. I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for my editor to call me for a phone meeting, so I tried it -- and found it not just occasionally hilarious and weirdly appropriate for me -- but potentially useful if I took the answers as NOT pertaining to me ME, but rather to my current narrator...

So here I will share it with you, for your own amusement or as a very interesting way to force your writing mind WAY outside-the-box with your current character(s).

Please let me know how it goes for you -- and if you want to be entered into the GET A FREE BOOK drawing, happening NEXT WEEK, you can post your responses here and make sure to indicate if you would rather be trying to win a FREE new signed and personalized copy of JUSTIN CASE or BRILLIANT with your response.

And, have fun with it -- tell the truth!

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.


4. Tag 10 friends who might enjoy doing the same as well as the person you got the same from.


Superboy and the Invisible Girl


The Wrestler (!)


What would happen (!)


Something in the way she moves


son of a preacher man


shining like a national guitar


Racing in the Street


Trailways Bus

WHAT IS 2 + 2?

Terry’s Song


Perfect for You


Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling


Sweet Baby James


Don Giovanni (!) (k-527 Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra)


Requiem - Lacrimosa


Good Man, Good Woman


Seconds and Years


La La Love You


New Years Day




Abdelazer, Or the Moor’s Revenge


Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesus Christ (I Cry to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ)


Shadow of Doubt


Te Deum (You, God)


Rickshaw Riding


Air on a G String (hahahaha, never thought of it as a non musical g-string before!)


Thing Called Love


Somewhere in the Night


Mock Song


Love is Stronger than Justice




Beautiful Boy

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