Monday, November 23, 2009

Tag, I'm It

It's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S.A., which means it's time for a little maintenance on The Go-Ahead. (If I have to clean up my home office so it's in decent shape for viewing by holiday guests, I may as well clean up the blog while I'm at it, yes?)

I'll be updating the tags over the next few days, so if things go wonky, you know who to blame. Can't promise my updated tags will be as witty as those on my favorite procrastination website, Go Fug Yourself, which boasts categories such as Fugging Through Verse, Look Into Pants, Illusory Baby Bumps, and the ever-so-popular Various Kardashians, but I'll endeavor to make the tags here at The Go-Ahead more consistent than what's currently in use.

In the meantime, may you all have many, many things for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

P.S.: I thought I'd add a fun clip-art photo of a feather duster to today's entry, but when I searched for one online, it brought up Charlize Theron in a horrifying feather dress. Consider me grateful for my laugh of the day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Anyone catch this video on the news?

This is University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert. Before I go further: I don't want to pick on Ms. Lambert specifically. She's certainly not the first athlete to behave this way on the field, and sadly, she probably won't be the last. But she did get caught on video, which is what has sparked the intense coverage of her particular case. Well, that and the fact that she's female. I don't agree with those who think when a woman does this, it's somehow worse than when men do it. "Unsportsmanlike" conduct isn't limited to men; violence in sports knows no gender.

Whether the aggressor is male or female, I believe players who act in this manner should be suspended, if not outright banned from their sport. It's no longer a game when one player intentionally throws another to the ground in a way that risks breaking their neck. No one wants to play against a player like that. And frankly, no one wants a player like that on their team. There's a world of difference between being a competitive player (one who works hard to help a team win, which is a good thing) and a violent player.

Now, Ms. Lambert did apologize, stating, "I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation. I take full responsibility for my actions and accept any punishment felt necessary."

But--another rant--does an apology like that really make it better? There was no "I'm sorry." Saying those two words (and meaning them) is very different than saying, "I accept responsibility." And again, this isn't just Ms. Lambert. I hear this phrase a lot, both on television from athletes, celebrities, and politicians who've found themselves in hot water, and from run-of-the-mill folks I see in everyday life. It's become a catchphrase for, "I screwed up big time. Now let me off the hook."

Think about it. What does it mean, exactly, that someone "accept(s) responsibility?" It's an admission that someone actually did what they're being accused of (which, in Ms. Lambert's case, is on video, so duh.) And that someone is going to accept whatever punishment is doled out for their actions (and in Ms. Lambert's case, does she have a choice?) But that's not saying you're sorry for your behavior. "I accept responsibility" doesn't mean that you regret the actual action you took, as opposed to regretting the situation in which you've found yourself afterward.

In Ms, Lambert's case, she says that emotions got the best of her in a heated situation. Really? I don't think so. When a player acts that way repeatedly--punching one player, kicking others, then throwing yet another to the ground--it's not a heat-of-the-moment response to some unexpected event that happened in the game (not that that's excusable, either.) When one player strikes out repeatedly, that's a conscious decision. And it's not just Ms. Lambert. It happens all the time.

When did this become okay?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Different Writer, Different Process

There was an interesting article (interesting to writers, anyway) in Friday's Wall Street Journal called How To Write A Great Novel. It's not a true How-To so much as a Here's-How-Others-Have-Done-It.

While I've never written in the bathroom or gotten dressed up as one of my characters, over the years I've found methods that work for me. They're not the same methods that work for others. I know one author who writes all her books while sitting in her bed with her laptop on a foam lap desk. She gets lots of work done this way, but if I tried it, I'd fall asleep. On the other hand, I frequently manage to hammer out sticky plot points while gardening, but a lot of writers I know consider weeding a hellish activity.

The thing is, you only know what works for you by trying different methods, and you can't do that without actually WRITING, which is hard work. Read the article and you'll see what I mean. The gist of the piece is:

1) No one process works for everyone; the writing process is as individual as the author
2) Writing is hard work
3) Writers--yes, even the best--must be willing to revise to be successful, sometimes throwing away big chunks of their hard work in the process

All three are good lessons for any writer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Teen Fiction 101

I frequently get questions about writing fiction for teens--how to get started, how to find an agent, etc. I have answers to several of these questions on the Frequently Asked Questions page of my website. (And if there's a writing question I've missed, e-mail me and let me know. I update the FAQ page regularly!)

However, if you're working on a project and are looking for something more in-depth than what's on the FAQ page, I'm teaching a class starting TOMORROW via It runs the entire month of November and will be conducted exclusively online. I post lectures twice a week, so you can go at your own pace (in other words, if this month is tough for you, you can download it now and wait to read everything in January!) There's a more detailed description of my class--and many other writing classes--on the website. Registration is there, too.

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paris: The Good, The Bad, and the Smelly

Okay...the laundry is done. The mail is read/filed/recycled. On to the Paris recap!

First, the Good Stuff (and with Paris, you know "the good stuff" is REALLY good!):

My hotel was across the street from not one, but TWO chocolate shops. I didn't know this when I booked the room, so talk about a pleasant surprise! Needless to say, I popped right on over, taste-tested--yum!--and left with a sizeable bag of goodies:

After that, we made a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. The line was so long--over a three-hour wait--that we decided to try another day. We crossed the Seine to the Orangerie, a fabulous little museum containing Monet's famous water lillies. The eight large paintings go all the way around two oval-shaped rooms that are otherwise white. I wish I had photos, but I was too afraid of screwing up, accidentally having the flash go off on my camera, and being escorted out and/or arrested on my first day in town. (As you might guess, no flash photos of Monet's masterpieces are allowed, and with good reason!)

"Stunning" would be an understatement when used to describe the water lillies. I could've remained parked on the benches in the middle of those two rooms for an entire day, staring at the layers in those eight paintings. (The husband, however, was done faster than that.) If you have the chance to go to Paris, do not miss the Orangerie.

Other good things?

1) People watching at the Trocadero (best done at lunch, panini in hand) or under the dome at the Galleries Lafayette department store:

2) Music in the Metro. I've always loved going on the Metro in Paris for this reason. You never know when you'll turn a corner and hear a cello or a steel-drum band, or find yourself sitting across the tracks from a guy with his harmonica and guitar:

3) The views. (Okay, Views. They're so good in Paris they should be capitalized.) First, the indoor views. I have lots of shots of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and other cathedrals. But my fave is tiny Sainte Chapelle:

Being inside Sainte Chapelle gives you the sense you're walking around inside in a glass jewel box. Surreal.

And I love looking up at the Louvre from inside its glass pyramid:

Then there's what you see when you're outdoors. For instance, from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night:

Or alongside the gargoyles atop Notre Dame:

Of course, those views are where the Bad Stuff of Paris comes in. There are a LOT of stairs! Over four hundred to get to that perch atop Notre Dame. And this was the staircase at the Arc de Triomphe. (No, it's not just the photo, you CANNOT see the bottom when you look down!):

Though maybe stairs are a GOOD thing, since they help balance out the accumulated chocolate shop, crepe stand, and bakery excesses?

Finally, I must mention the Smelly. If you're in Paris, hold your nose and take the Sewer Tour. It takes less than an hour, and you'll learn more than you ever thought possible about the history of Paris sanitation (trust me, it's more interesting than it sounds.) We climbed down into the sewers near the Pont de l'Alma to see how the system works now, and learned about what Parisians did with their--stuff--way back in the Middle Ages, then through King Louis XIV's time and Napoleon's. Believe it or not, we found it fascinating (though vile.) Fun observation: There were a ton of kids and teenagers taking the tour. I got the sense most of them liked it more than the museums.

So...what would you tour if you had the chance to visit Paris? Or if you've been there, what was your fave part? What didn't you like? Comment away!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Because It's Not Happening

I received an e-mail yesterday that went like this:

"Hi Niki! I read all your bks and luv ur blog. How come u haven't blogged about the world series? I am a MAJOR phillies fan and would like to know what u think.

pls keep making great books! K."

Well...hi, K! First, thank you for letting me know you enjoy my books. That's always the way to my heart! I'm very happy for you that your team made it to the Series. I assume you won't get much sleep for the next week or two, as you'll be busy watching TV.

As to why I haven't blogged...imagine if your beloved Phillies had gone out early this year. Well...make that times two. You'd probably feel a tad sour, right? Cough-Red Sox-cough-Rockies-choke-choke-choke. Yep, my teams blew it. The Yankees did not. I decided that the World Series is not happening this year, simple as that.

Okay, not as simple as that.

I went to Paris! France is a sure cure for baseball-related illness, don't you think?

Pictures will be posted here ASAP....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Night Baseball

For the last three weeks, I've been taking a boot camp class. While it's very good for my muscles (I can do more pushups than ever!), and I'm having odd-yet-entertaining flashbacks to high school sports (jumping up and down bleachers and running suicides will do that), my knees feel like they were the actual part hit by a boot. I'm going through ice packs the way I usually go through ice cream. (Which brings me back to why I need boot camp. Research says ice cream is addictive, you know.)

Of course, balancing ice packs on my knees requires me to sit, which means watching even more heart-attack inducing baseball games than usual. (The fact I ponied up for MLB Extra Innings means I can watch them ALL.) The Rockies are making me happy lately, but could the Red Sox create any more drama? Coming back from being down 8-2 to make it an 8-7 game at the bottom of the ninth tonight, for the freakin' WILD CARD SPOT?

With one out, Pedroia comes within a couple feet of hitting it out, but it's caught. (No!!!) Ellsbury steals his 67th base of the season to get into scoring position. (Yay!) Martinez walks (Yippee!) Youk gets up with two on...and strikes out looking to end the game (ARGH!)

I know they'll pull it out, but sheesh. I don't need heart palpitations at the same time I'm balancing monster ice packs on my knees.

Tomorrow, my Red Sox. Tomorrow. (Pretty please?)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Turning Off The Light

The summer I turned fifteen, I got my first official job, cleaning an Army bowling alley. I scrubbed chairs, ball return machines, and even the snack bar's floor. It wasn't easy work. The best hour of the day, however, was from 12:30-1:30pm, when the televisions mounted over each lane showed The Young & The Restless. (You're probably surprised that a soap could be bowling alley fare, but this was Germany, and there was only one TV channel in English.)

Those daytime soaps changed my life, for I was quickly sucked into the show's story. I couldn't wait to see each day's episode chronicling the love triangle between Victor, Nikki, and Kevin. All these years later, I still watch, and there's still an on-again, off-again romance between Nikki and Victor.

To me, this is the magic of daytime drama. The writers are masterful at building communities full of complex characters who viewers care about, and then incorporating endless emotional plot twists to keep the story fresh. For years.

As much as I've loved Y&R over the years, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for another CBS soap, Guiding Light, and have tuned in often enough to keep up with the action. The characters are engaging, the storylines deftly plotted. And not only is it the longest-running daytime drama in the United States, it's the longest running broadcast program of any kind, anywhere in the world, having been on air (radio and TV) since January 1937.

I've learned a lot about writing from watching soaps, and many other writers I know have, too. In fact, I've learned so much, I decided it'd be fun to set a book on the set of a soap. I could play with dual storylines of the characters as they appeared on-screen, as well as lives behind the scenes. Unfortunately, as much as I knew about the on-screen lives of characters, I knew squat about what happens behind the scenes.

Thankfully, the phenomenal Jill Lorie Hurst, head writer of Guiding Light, was kind enough to spend a day with me and author Hope Tarr on the New York set of the show. It was one of the most entertaining--and educational--days of my life.

Jill gave us an overview of what it's like to be a writer on a daytime drama, then gave up most of her day to show us around. I was amazed at the efficiencies they'd created to get the show produced for as little money as possible while still maintaining the show's quality. Writers' and producers' offices converted into sets--Jill's office was the "seedy motel", while others worked in the Springfield nail salon and Reva's living room--walls would slide back to reveal the interior of a hospital. On a separate floor, an entire maze of rooms was constructed, with one set leading to another. If Reva stormed out of a restaurant, she might end up--in reality--in Josh's living room or the Spaulding study, even though it'd appear she was headed outside.

I had my photo taken in the Spaulding study...

then I snapped one of Hope a whopping thirty feet away, at the Company restaurant:

We also had the opportunity to meet some of the producers and directors--like the multitalented Ellen Wheeler, who let us hold her beautiful Emmy--and spent a good amount of time with the actors. Frank Dicopoulos hung out with us in the hallway near the actors' dressing rooms, talking about how his character has evolved over the years. His behind-the-scenes stories had us rolling until actor Lawrence Saint-Victor, who plays Remy, came up behind Frank and attempted to refute them all (before telling us he was about to surprise his wife with tickets to see wrestling at Madison Square Garden--he wasn't sure it'd be a good surprise!)

One thing made abundantly clear both to me and to Hope was that the cast, crew, and everyone else involved in Guiding Light love their show. They've worked hard to provide viewers with an escape from the stresses of everyday life (you know, the folks stuck cleaning bowling alleys.) They were grateful for the opportunity they'd been given by the network, and by each and every viewer.

I'm sure when the news came (shortly after Hope and I visited) that the show had been cancelled--and that tomorrow, September 18, would be their last day on the air--they were every bit as heartbroken as the viewers. They didn't want to see their stories end, either.

So to everyone at GL (and especially to our tour guide, Jill): Thank you. You've taught hundreds of writers about the art of story, you've entertained millions upon millions of viewers, and you've done it well. You'll be missed. And I know tomorrow's finale will be riveting television.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Party In The U.S.A....Or Schwerinborg

Fan mail is one of the best things about being a writer. I've had thirteen books and two novellas published, but never fail to enjoy the "squee!" moment of opening each day's fan mail.

Lately, however, a huge percentage of my mail has contained various forms of the same question: When will there be a movie based on the Royally Jacked books?

The answer is: I don't know. I am a writer living in Boston, not the head of a movie studio. However, I do have an agent who handles these sorts of things, so you never know! A movie or TV show is always a possibility. And it's definitely fun to think about.

I'm not sure what spurred the recent deluge of When-Is-Val-Going-Onscreen mail (do you know something I don't?), but it's been fun to read all the suggestions you have for casting.

Judging from your e-mails, the number one pick for Valerie is Miley Cyrus. I can see that--she has that clean cut, yet edgy vibe you get with Val. And, of course, there's the whole relationship with her dad (which is a huge part of the Royally Jacked series.) So that gives Billy Ray a role, too.

Miley's not the only name to hit my in-box, however. Here, some of the suggestions that have been made recently:

Valerie Winslow: Ashley Tisdale, Taylor Swift, Shailene Woodley, and Jennette McCurdy (quite a range there!)

Prince Georg: Joe Jonas (LOTS of e-mails for Joe), Daniel Radcliffe, Daren Kagasoff

David Anderson: Chace Crawford (the top suggestion), Jesse McCartney, Jason Earles

Christie Toleski: Taylor Swift (nearly as many e-mails for Taylor to play Christie as for Miley to play Val!), Emily Osment, Dakota Fanning

Jules Jackson: Kristin Stewart, Selena Gomez, Taylor Momsen

Natalie Monschroeder: Demi Lovato, Emma Roberts, Vanessa Hudgens, Miranda Cosgrove

Ulrike: Abigail Breslin, Dakota Fanning

Steffi: Minka Kelly, Nikki Reed

Fun, huh? But the one that made me call my husband to the computer with a "Watch this!" was a YouTube video trailer. Apparently, it's been posted to YouTube for several months, but I only heard about it last week.

(If that's not working, check it out right here.)

So what do you think? Who would you cast? And what about other romantic comedy books--any you're dying to see on-screen?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Favorite Writers

I'm often asked about my favorite writers. I've always put Larry Gelbart near the top of the list, so I was sad to see that he passed away this weekend.

Even if you haven't heard of Larry, you've no doubt seen his work performed on screen or stage. M*A*S*H. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Oh, God! City of Angels. Tootsie. The man possessed an immeasurable wit.

If you want to learn about writing, watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H. Study how Gelbart develops his characters, making you love them, flaws and all. Learn from his brevity. Every word moves his stories forward; nothing is extraneous. I still watch M*A*S*H with an eye to learning the craft from the best in the business.

Thank you, Larry. You'll be missed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Take That, Labor Day Picnic Pounds!

Ha. You can eat all you want on Labor Day and it's HEALTHY for you! Check out this article:

Skinny Thighs Could Spell Your Doom

Okay, maybe not HEALTHY. But not as bad as you'd think. According to Danish researchers, people with the skinniest thighs (you know, the thighs you wish you had), have the highest chance of heart disease.

I'm not sure I believe it. There are skinny thighs that are the result of starvation (many runway models) and skinny thighs that are the result of hard work (Dara Torres.) I'd take the Dara Torres skinny thighs any day of the week over a runway model's. And I can't imagine that Dara has double the risk of heart disease as the result of her workouts. (Seriously...check out her milk ad at

All that being said...don't feel quite so guilty about the Labor Day picnic consumption. Maybe your inability to fit into skinny jeans means you'll live longer!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Little League Lessons (A Rant of Sorts)

The Washington Post ran a thought-provoking article yesterday about the state of Little League in the U.S.

While I disagree with the article's premise that televising the Little League World Series pushes kids to grow up too fast (though it may be a contributor), I wholeheartedly agree with the article's opinion on the current state of the League. Kids are being pushed too hard, too early, and at a high cost. Injury rates are skyrocketing, with kids facing orthopedic surgery at a younger age than ever before, specifically due to overuse of their still-developing arms and shoulders. As a coach myself, I've watched it happen.

Personally, I blame overzealous parents who hope to see their kids make the bigs (much as overzealous parents push their kids too hard to excel academically, in other sports, in music, etc. with the hope their child's success will eclipse their own.) I also find many coaches at fault. They forget about the joy of the sport in their focus on the joy of a win. These attitudes corrupt the sport. These attitudes also corrupt the players, who come to believe that wins (or, at least, chalking up good personal stats) are the be-all, end-all of the game.

So what do you do if you're a parent? How can you ensure that your child's Little League experience is a good one--a safe and rewarding one--in light of the current environment? What if you're a coach dealing with an overzealous parent? Here, a few tips:

If you're a parent:

1) When you register your child for baseball, take the time to peruse your town's/League's website. Get familiar with the safety guidelines. When should helmets be worn? Where can your child safely swing a bat? Insist that your child follow those rules, even if the coach's enforcement is lax. An important guideline concerns the number of pitches a child may throw during any given game or week. These pitch counts are the maximum a child should throw in order to prevent injury. Know your child's number. Respect it. Keep track during games. If you feel your child's coach is pushing the limits, speak up. If your child is playing in multiple leagues (say, Little League and a private league), talk to both coaches about balancing the number of pitches your child throws.

2) Talk to your child early about good sportsmanship. While some major league players are role models, others are not. Encourage your child to follow the former rather than the latter (even if the swagger-and-spit styles of the latter get them on SportsCenter more often.) Remind your child that those players who set a good example earn more respect over time than those who don't.

3) Find out your child's coach's philosophy on the game as soon as possible during the season. If you have a choice of coaches, opt for those who emphasize safety, skills development, and fun over a win-at-all-costs mentality. Your child will be a far better player--and a better person--in the long run. Don't be afraid to question a coach if you feel safety is being compromised. A good coach respects players' parents.

If you're a coach:

1) Know your League's safety guidelines cold. Always, always, always err on the side of safety, whether that's clearing the field if lightning threatens, keeping kids from swinging bats near others, calling an ambulance if a child gets hit in the head and acts disconcerted (even if the parents insist the child is fine because they want their kid back in the game), or when dealing with pitch counts. Personally, I'd rather have a parent yell that I'm deep-sixing their eight-year-old's MLB dreams (go right ahead, parents, I can take it) than risk an injury to a child.

2) Set expectations with both parents and players on day one. When you introduce yourself, let them know your philosophy. Many parents and players will appreciate knowing you value safety first, skills development and fun second, and winning games third. While winning is wonderful--it boosts morale, helps gets kids into the playoffs, etc.--winning alone will never, ever satisfy a player the way they'll be satisfied by a simple love and appreciation of the game itself. (As an aside: in my experience, the teams whose emphasis is on safety, skills development, and fun play better as a team than those whose coaches and players focus on improving personal stats and notching wins.)

3) Watch pitch counts. Respect them. Remember that some kids may be pitching in more than one league and adjust accordingly. And don't forget to keep track of all the throwing that goes on off the mound. If a child will be pitching, don't have them throwing hard the day before. Don't have them throwing around with friends for a half-hour before the game. Limit the number of warmup pitches they throw. It may not be "on the record" but their shoulders and elbows feel it.

4) Respect parents' and players' concerns. If a parent feels their child is being pushed too hard, listen. If a child mentions that their arm is sore, take them at their word and inform the parents so they can discuss it with a doctor. In other words, act appropriately. When your star third baseman says it hurts to throw to first base, don't put him out there, even if it means losing a game.

4) Teach good sportsmanship. If your players start badmouthing the opposing team, nip it in the bud. If the opposing team gets rough during a game, speak to the other coach ASAP. Don't permit your players to retaliate. If your players exhibit bad sportsmanship, bench them and talk to the parents. The parents of the benched player won't be happy, but the other parents will appreciate that you're enforcing the rules--and all the players will learn from it.

5) Lead by example. Be encouraging. Give kids opportunities to try things they haven't been able to do (pitch, catch, play a new position, etc.) Do your best to improve your own skills--both game skills and teaching skills--so you can give your players the best experience possible. Reward good sportsmanship. Make practices fun. Let your own love of the game become contagious.

This season may be over for all but those in the Little League World Series. But by thinking ahead, you can make next season even better--and ensure the next article in the Washington Post is about the positive attributes of Little League.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nine Pounds

Most writers I know reward themselves after finishing a book, mailing out a proposal, or working through a particularly tricky part of their work-in-progress. It's a great incentive to keep going when the writing isn't easy.

Some writers buy themselves a gift (jewelry, shoes, and handbags seem to be popular amongst my friends.) Others go get a manicure or a massage. Some take a day (or a week) away from the computer to get fresh air and/or travel before diving into the next project. I think rewarding yourself for a job well done is always a good idea, whether you're a writer or not.

Since I wrapped up a new proposal last week, I went to Holliston, Massachusetts (one of the towns featured in Sticky Fingers) to go blueberry picking.

Ever wonder what nine pounds of blueberries looks like? Me, too. Mostly because I picked nine, but only seven and a half made it to the counter for this photo by the end of the day. I was eating them like one might nosh on a bowl of popcorn. and a half pounds of blueberries:

Think this isn't a great writing reward? Three words for you: Homemade blueberry cobbler.

Aw, Becks

Another weekend, another sporting event. This time, my view was different than the usual third base line at Fenway Park:

Yep, that would be David Beckham. The LA Galaxy were in town to play the New England Revs, so of course I got to Gillette Stadium for the game. But lest you think I was staring at Becks and ignoring my own team, I'll make it known that he stared at me first:

Oh, I'M KIDDING. There were a bunch of guys yelling at Beckham from the front row, so that look was meant for them, not me. And while I did take a few gratuitous Beckham photos, the rest of the time I had my eyes on the game, which was tight from start to finish. (Though, sadly, the Revs lost.)

If you haven't been to a MLS game yet, GO. They're tons of fun, easy to follow, and unlike baseball and football, you know it's going to be over in 90 minutes so you can get your beauty sleep for work the next day. No overtime, no extra innings. And a major bonus: tix are cheaper!

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Too Good For Words

Here's what happens when you start playing around on the internet when you should be writing: You come across the website for your Dutch publisher, and you get to see what your titles become when translated.

So if you were to go shopping for my books in Amsterdam anytime soon (lucky you...ride a bike on cobblestones while you're there!), be aware that Royally Jacked is actually Prince Charming:

Spin Control becomes Confusing Love, which I understand, since the phrase "spin control" doesn't exactly translate:

Ditto Scary Beautiful, which the Dutch publisher titled Too Good For Words:

And finally, Do-Over becomes Second Chance? (with the question mark in the title):

Which title do you like best? Foreign titles better than the originals? (While I like the sound of Too Good For Words, it makes a pretty big promise as a title! Is ANY book too good for words? Wrap your head around that one....)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Curve Ball

Treated myself to a mani/pedi yesterday as a reward for getting a lot of writing done the last couple weeks. Usually, I spend a few minutes perusing the shelf of colors before selecting a bottle. However, one leapt out at me right away, so I handed it to the nail tech without a second thought.

The color was spot-on perfect for me. So much so that I asked the nail tech what color it was so I could buy a bottle, and I never do that. She flipped it over to show me. The color name? Curve Ball.

Yep. Perfect.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All That's Good In The World

After whining about all that's wrong with baseball, I figure I ought to balance that with all that's good in baseball. Or--hey, why not?--things that are simply good in the world.

In baseball land:

Mark Buehrle's perfect game. Doesn't matter if you're a White Sox lover or hater, whenever a pitcher pulls this off, it's something to cheer.

• The Rockies are moving into positive territory. I don't believe their sudden uptick in the win column is related to firing Hurdle (sorry, I'm still grumpy about that.) Whatever it is that's going right at Coors Field, I hope it keeps right on going.

• Matt Holliday is now 1,000 miles closer to me, having been traded from the A's to the Cardinals. As I've previously stated, Matt is My Next Husband After Jacoby Ellsbury (and, presumably, after my actual husband.) It may be time for a road trip to St. Louis. Plus, St. Louis has the added attractions of a great ballpark and Albert Pujols. What's not to like?

• I got to add another ballpark to my Been There, Done That list this month! While visiting D.C. for the Romance Writers of America's annual conference, I managed to hop the Metro to catch last Saturday's game between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. Beautiful, easily accessible ballpark, friendly employees. I saw lots of players tossing balls to kids in the stands, which earns a team serious brownie points. And best of all, I had great seats, right behind the Nats' dugout.

• Tonight, I'll see the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles at Fenway. Any day at Fenway is a good day. (Assuming the Sox win, of course!)

And in the real (aka: non-baseball) world:

• I've been writing like mad (thus my relative silence on the blog front.) I've gotten TONS of e-mails asking me what I'm working on. As soon as it's in the can, I'll spill. Until then, I'm superstitious. But suffice it to say that I'm in a happy place with the writing, and I hope readers will be excited about the results.

• Writing has also been happy for Hakeem Bennett of Brooklyn. His essay about heroes won the Stone Arch Books national essay contest, landing him a spot in a Superman comic. I think it's incredibly cool that DC Comics rewards great writing this way. Congrats, Hakeem!

• I had the chance to meet LOTS of readers last week during the Romance Writers of America's booksigning for literacy in Washington, DC. Thanks to all of you who turned out. I love getting the chance to talk about various characters (Val and Georg from the Royally Jacked series still generate the most questions) and to hear what books you're carrying around with you right now. Huge thanks to author Jennifer Echols, who not only stopped by to chat, but who took this shot while I was getting set up for the event:

If I had proper cropping skills, I would. But there you go. It was still a lot of fun, even with those exhibition-hall type ceilings!

Got more happy news? Cool stuff happening in your neighborhood? An AAHHHHH moment you saw on TV? Put it in the comments! It's finally summer at my house (in other words, the rain has stopped at long last!), so I'm in the mood to hear all about your Big Happy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Wrong With Baseball These Days?

I'll make a list:

1) I am in 10th place in my league in the ESPN Baseball Challenge. While tenth sounds good when there are dozens of people in the league, in this case, I'm tenth out of twelve. And I am actually trying, whereas the guys currently in the eleven and twelve slots gave up. Or else they are sitting back to see if they can beat me without changing a single player all season. (Give it up, Geralyn Dawson. It won't work.)

I cannot choose a pitching staff to save my soul. What was with the Twins last night? And how did I get so lucky as to pick the Giants on the one night Tim Lincecum blows it big? Apparently, I have a knack for these picks. If the Tigers' pitching staff flails in both games of their doubleheader today, you'll know you should take me to Vegas with you and bet the opposite of everything I do.

2) The Texas Rangers took two out of three from the Red Sox this weekend. I had to sit in the rain to watch the first loss, and man, was it painful. (Geralyn is now laughing at me, as she is also a Rangers fan.)

3) The Colorado Rockies were so stupid as to fire one of my all-time fave managers, Clint Hurdle. I guess the guys who fired him forgot that, OH YEAH, they traded away Matt Holliday. And OH YEAH, Jeff Francis has been hurt all year. Maybe, just maybe, the Rockies will have trouble winning games in that situation. (Geralyn is not to blame for any of this. I don't think Hurdle should be blamed, either.)

Do the guys who fired Hurdle remember this?

That would be the World Series. And that would be Clint Hurdle on the right, leading the team. Yes, the Rockies lost to the Red Sox (I was screwed on that of my fave teams was going to lose either way!) But the fact the Rockies made it at all was due in large part to...well, you know who. The Rockies were suckin' wind that year, but came back to win 20 of their last 21 games.

I'll feel better about baseball tomorrow. (Especially if the Tigers' pitching staff does well, or if someone hires Hurdle.) In the meantime, I think I'll console myself by reading a good book.

Maybe I'll make it one of Geralyn's. At least I know it'll be good!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part V (The Conclusion!)

Was so, so sad to leave the Disney Magic, as I blogged about earlier (just click on the labels for "Disney Cruise" at the bottom of this post if you'd like to read Parts I - IV and to see the accompanying photos of alligator heads. Or Stitch.) But when the ship docks, you're outta luck. If you refuse to disembark because you're having too much fun, you deal with the port authority, and that's not my idea of a good time.

I headed home--briefly!--because I had Red Sox tickets. (And really, isn't THIS in the running for the Happiest Place on Earth? I think so! Especially when Josh Beckett's pitching.)

After the game, however, I headed right back to Logan Airport and made nice with the folks from JetBlue, who took me back to Orlando, where author Elizabeth Boyle and I spoke to librarians at the annual Florida Library Association conference. Even though we had an early-morning time slot, our room was PACKED. (Not only because we are us, and naturally entertaining, but because we primed everyone with coffee and distributed massive goody bags. We never assume our witty banter is enough to rouse folks from their comfy beds at 8AM.)

We had a load of fun discussing low-cost strategies for making their libraries teen-friendly, ways to use their romance novel collections to draw in readers, and gave them info on attracting fantastic speakers. We also did a lot of Q & A about writing (and the life of writers) in general. If you're a librarian and would be interested in a copy of my handout on Five Ways to Encourage Teen Patronage, just e-mail me. I'm happy to send it along. (And by all means, if you organize library conferences and are interested in having us speak, ask! We love meeting librarians.)

After our talk, Elizabeth and I drove all over the Orlando area signing books. If you'd like an autographed book, check at any of the following stores (call first, just to be sure they're still in stock):

Winter Park, FL

600 North Orlando Ave

Orlando, FL

5498 Touchstone Dr

Barnes & Noble
Colonial Plaza Market Center
2418 E Colonial Drive

Barnes & Noble
Waterford Lakes Town Center
481 N Alafaya Trail

Barnes & Noble
Florida Mall
8358 S Orange Blossom Trail

Altamonte Springs, FL

Barnes & Noble
Altamonte Mall
451 Altamonte Drive

880 W State Road 436

Casselberry, FL

S Hwy 17/92

I'm now home from Florida for awhile. Tonight, I'm heading back to Fenway to catch the Red Sox and the Texas Rangers. Brad Penny's on the mound for the Sox, so it should be a great game.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Yep, I've finally joined Facebook (thanks to those of you who've e-mailed me and said things like, "Why aren't you there? It's EASY!" or "Seriously? You're not on Facebook? WHY?")

So if you'd like to be my Facebook friend, do a search for Niki Burnham. I think there are five profiles that come up with that search, but you'll know which is me. I promise.

One nice thing about Facebook? I found this phenomenal review of Flirtin' With The Monster, with some really flattering comments about my essay, "Role Models." Made my day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This Just In: A New Book!

Excuse the commercial interruption, but big news. There's a new book out, with a contribution from Yours Truly, that I'm excited to recommend.

If you're a fan of Ellen Hopkins, whose amazing books include CRANK, BURNED, and GLASS, check out the all new FLIRTIN' WITH THE MONSTER, a collection of essays about Ellen's work. The very first essay, titled Role Models, was my contribution. Other authors include Terri Clark, Gail Giles, Micol Ostow, and even "Kristina", whose real life story is told in CRANK and GLASS.

Interested? I'll have all the details on my site in the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out an excerpt right here.

Let me know what you think!

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part IV

Next stop: Castaway Cay!

Imagine you had Disney's deep pockets, two cruise ships, and a wild imagination. An island in the Bahamas comes up for sale. And hey, you have those Pirates of the Caribbean movies in production and you'll need a place to park that monster prop, The Flying Dutchman, afterward, unless you plan to tear it apart. What do you do? Hmmmmm...

How'd you like to wake up to that view on a Friday morning?!

Disney bought the former Gorda Cay in mid-90s, dredged enough sand to allow their cruise ships to dock, and has been maintaining the space for its cruise ship passengers ever since. After days racing around Mexico, Grand Cayman, and Key West, we were ready for serious lounging. We spent the morning doing exactly that--with plenty of sunscreen, of course--right here on the shore:

I read a big chunk of Elizabeth Boyle's latest Regency-era romance while sitting in one of the chairs. Bliss!

Disney rents snorkeling gear, floating tubes, and bicycles for anyone who's interested. We opted to rent bikes just before noon, and explored the abandoned runway before heading off down this gorgeous bike path. Hard to believe, but we had it all to ourselves:

Off to the left of the bike path is an unspoiled expanse of rocky beach and blue, blue water. I stopped to take this photo at a gap in the trees:

After lunch, we went fishing (Disney offers several excursions, and since I love to fish, I signed up for bottom fishing the minute it was available), then had a little more time on the beach before heading back to the ship. The end-of-day view is my current desktop wallpaper:

Next, in Part V: The Other Happiest Place On Earth

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part III

Third stop on the Happiest Place Adventure: Cozumel/Playa del Carmen/Tulum.

So as the ship pulled into the dock at Cozumel, I was watching CNN, where the topic of the morning was the H1N1 virus. They were going on and on about how awful things were in Mexico City, and saying that perhaps Americans shouldn't go to Mexico. There seemed to be a general panic on CNN, but we weren't worried. We were already in Mexico, for one, and for two, Mexico City is a LONG way from Cozumel.

Our fellow cruisers weren't worried, either, because none of them had bothered to watch the news and the whole Swine Flu Insanity was just getting started. They'd been far too busy with cruise activities to bother with CNN. (We didn't tell them to run to their stateroom televisions, either.) Another reassuring sign: the U.S. Coast Guard parked alongside us.

The crew waved to all the kids disembarking the Disney ship, which thrilled the kids to death. We heard more than one kid ask something along the lines of, "Hey, Mom, are those REAL AMERICANS on that Coast Guard boat?"

I think most people on our cruise headed to the various bars, beaches, and resorts on Cozumel. We opted to take the ferry across to Playa del Carmen, then catch a bus headed for Tulum so we could tour the Mayan ruins. Of course, we soon learned that the ferry between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen is frequently referred to as the Vomit Ferry. While we were fine, we did see several folks go for the barf bags, and one poor kid was still giving up the better part of his breakfast after we docked in Playa del Carmen. (Don't linger near the bushes at the top of this hill, should you visit in the near future.)

Thankfully, he seemed fine before we boarded the bus for Tulum. Though it took nearly two hours to get to Tulum from Cozumel (ferry-walk-bus), it was well worth it. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the ruins weren't crowded at all. I've been to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza before, and was told Tulum wasn't as good, so I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

This is NOT underwhelming:

Best of all, the ruins at Tulum are perched high above a beach! After we toured the ruins and got a crash course in Mayan culture, we took the stairs down to the beach and swam for an hour. I waded into the surf with my camera to take this shot:

I tried to wait out Speedo Man before taking a picture. Really, I did. I finally gave up and figured the beautiful scenery balanced out the not-so-beautiful Speedo Man.

Once we were back onboard the Disney Magic a couple hours later, we went to our room and were tickled to find that the room attendant had put my sunglasses to good use when he'd come to clean:

And though I couldn't get a picture of it, just after dinner we hit a highlight of our cruise: fireworks at sea. I nabbed this photo from Disney, because to leave fireworks out of the blog due to my cruddy nighttime picture-taking ability would be a crime:

Tip of the day: Pack Bonine if you're prone to seasickness. Chew one an hour or so before you get on a boat (or the Vomit Ferry.) It works.

Tomorrow, in Part IV: Eat Your Heart Out, Gilligan!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part II

Next stop: Grand Cayman.

Woke up early and hustled off the ship when we docked at Grand Cayman. First, because I'd never been there and I'm always excited to see a new place. Second, because I'd lined up a day with the wonderful folks at Fat Fish Adventures and couldn't wait to get going.

Peter, from Fat Fish, met a group of us at the Hard Rock Cafe in George Town, then drove us across the island (which is small and very, very flat) to where he'd moored his jetskis. Lemme tell ya, Peter owns some sweeeeet jetskis. We hopped on and followed a boat piloted by his friend Neil, who spends part of his year in Grand Cayman and part of the year running a dive operation out of Spain (yeah, I'm thinking Neil has it way too hard.)

As soon as we hit the open water, I thought, I'd better not do something stupid, or Neil will be fishing out my cell phone from the remnants of this SeaDoo, looking up my parents' number, and explaining to my mother why I'm fish food and how it's all my own fault. Then, of course, I went faster. The water was so blue and clear and smooth, how could I not?! Plus, Neil told me it'd be more fun if I hit the gas harder, so I gunned it.

Our first stop was Stingray City, a natural sandbar off the coast of Grand Cayman where stingrays have congregated for years, lured by food from tourists and locals alike. The stingrays--mostly female--are tame, as they've become accustomed to human interaction. When I cut power to the jetski, this beauty swam right up:

I think that particular stingray was about 7-8 feet down, as she was a good twenty or thirty yards away from the sandbar. The water was just that clear.

We hopped off our jetskis and swam the last few yards to the sandbar, since the water's shallow enough to stand there. The stingrays immediately congregated all around us, searching for squid handouts. They'd swim all around your ankles, up your back, along your elbows, you name it. You'd think it'd be frightening, but it's not. It's more like being attacked by giant portobello mushrooms (friendly mushrooms, of course!) Check out the ray Neil and I are holding (grainy photo being the result of a cheap-o, disposable underwater camera):

This one only liked me for my squid. I fed it a couple handfuls--which was something akin to feeding lint to a vacuum cleaner--then off it went, in search of another meal.

After Stingray City, we snorkeled off Rum Point for a little while (Neil came up with a huge conch shell), jetskiied some more, then headed back to shore, where Peter was waiting to take us back to the Disney Magic. I took a shower, then headed to the top deck in search of fresh fruit and shrimp. I'd just gotten done telling my husband how happy I was we'd decided to take a cruise and how it was so much more fun than I expected it to be, when this guy sat beside me:

Do you think Stitch is allowed a glass of wine now and then? (My guess is no.) We finished off the night hanging out on the verandah, watching the sunset as the ship left Grand Cayman. Gorgeous!

Tip of the day: If you are ever so lucky as to visit Grand Cayman, book an excursion with Fat Fish Adventures. Huge thanks to Peter and Neil for making my first visit to Grand Cayman so incredible!

Tomorrow, in Part III: The Vomit Ferry

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Happiest Place On Earth, Part I

Disney claims it's Anaheim, but I figure Orlando is close enough, in Disney-speak.

I've spent the last three weeks on the road, with multiple stops in Orlando, Florida. While I'm typically not a Florida person (despite being born in Key West, I've lived most of my life in colder climates), I've truly enjoyed the last three weeks.

First adventure: A Disney Cruise!

I travel a ton, but have always balked at the idea of a cruise. I like to be flexible with my plans, seeing whatever interests me most on a given day. If you're vacationing at a hotel and don't like it, you can go somewhere else. You can eat in whichever restaurant catches your attention at whatever time of day you please. But if you're on a ship? You're stuck with their food, their schedule, their rooms. However, after watching a Travel Channel show about the Disney Cruise Line, I thought, "Hmmm...that looks pretty cool. And they go to Key West. And Grand Cayman. And I can take in the Mayan ruins in Tulum. Not bad!" And though I like Disney as much as the next person, I've never wanted to spend a vacation with Chip and Dale. But the Travel Channel show made it clear that you can see Disney characters...or not. There are lots of things to do on the ship that do NOT involve Mickey. (Spa, anyone? Late-night sports bar?)

So off I went to Orlando, ticket in hand to board the ship at Port Canaveral. And within two seconds of stepping aboard the Disney Magic, I knew I'd made the right decision. You tell me, is this not spectacular?

I love the elegant, Art Deco lines. And the interiors were just as gorgeous. Check out these shots, taken inside a suite:

(Note the officer demonstrating proper use of the life vest on tv. Reassuring, huh?! "Welcome to our ship. Here's how NOT to drown....")

All the polished wood was to die for. Far more swank than 99% of hotels. But the best part of a Disney cruise is OFF the ship. As we left Port Canaveral, a group of dolphins jumped alongside, escorting us out to the Atlantic. (I asked my husband how much Disney had to pay dolphin trainers to pull off that particular trick.)

From there, the ship went to Key West. I took the Trolley around the island, then toured Truman's Little White House. And yes, I did eat a Key Lime pie on a stick. For all of a minute, I wondered how many laps it'd take around Deck Four to burn it off. Then I decided it was so good, I didn't care. (Plus, it was so overwhelmingly sweet I doubt I'll ever eat it again!)

I had the chance to see where I was born, in a barracks building at the Navy health center. Very fancy, isn't it? I bet everyone on the cruise ship would trade their rooms in a cold minute to stay here. The barbed-wire fence gives it quite the prison ambience:

I also had the opportunity to see alligator heads for sale. If you've ever purchased an alligator head, please enlighten me. What does one DO with an alligator head? Put it on the mantel? Make a lamp out of it? Hide it inside your mailbox to scare the mailman? (No, I didn't buy one. The photo was enough for me.)

Finally, I wrapped up the day by engaging in some Mallory Square people-watching from an amazing vantage point (namely, my verandah!) Doesn't this look like the best place to hang out at sunset?

Tomorrow, in Part II: Nic vs. The Stingray.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


No Red Sox fan should ever use the word "cursed", but whatever. I couldn't sleep last night, so at 2 AM I wandered downstairs to the tv and was surprised to see the Sox game in the 12th inning. Couldn't resist watching, plus Matt Holliday--who SHOULD still be on the Rockies--was at the plate for the A's, and I love watching the guy bat.

Sadly, the minute I tune in, it happens: a couple batters after Holliday and the Sox lose. I'm sure it's because I turned on my tv. I cursed them.

Other evidence I am cursed:

Saturday: I decide the family room carpet is disgusting. Book the cleaners to come on Monday.
Monday: Carpet gets spiffied up, looks brand new.
Tuesday: I decide to water the plants in the family room.
Immediately afterward: Dog decides wet dirt is the PERFECT place to bury her chew toy, spraying mud everywhere in the process. When I see her and tell her, "No!" she runs through it (and all over the carpet.)
Immediately after that: Discover vacuum cleaner is broken.

Now I'm waiting to see if bad things really do come in threes. (And I'm hoping that "plant dirt everywhere" and "broken vacuum" count as two separate incidents!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Perfect Ten

Ten strikeouts, one win. Thanks for making opening day rock, Josh! Made me soooo happy to see the Sox win the first one at home. Homers from Tek and Dustin Pedroia sealed it. Can't wait until I get to go to my first Red Sox game of 2009 when they play the Yankees at the end of this month.

In other happy sporting news, I took second place in my ESPN NCAA basketball pool (not bad, since I picked Memphis to win it all), and I will likely take third in my Geek Pool. Should find out about that one soon.

How about all of you? Were your brackets well-chosen? Are you amped for baseball? (Me, I honored the day by forking over $9.99 to get the app for my iPhone. Next time I'm traveling, I can get the game day audio, live scores, and all the other info I usually miss!)

Yes, I'm a bit obsessive!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wichita, KS: The Friendliest Place On Earth?

Ever been to Wichita? What do you think?

I spent the last three days hanging out in wonderful Wichita at the Kansas Library Association/Midwest Plains Library Association joint conference with my good friend, author Elizabeth Boyle. We gave a workshop to the librarians on using their romance collections to build patronage at their libraries through various displays, programming, teen advisory groups, etc. A HUGE thanks to HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, and the Romance Writers of America for providing all kinds of swag, including fabulous tote bags and copies of Breaking Up (Is Hard To Do) and Elizabeth's brand new release, Confessions of a Little Black Gown. We had a great turnout and a lot of fun.

What Elizabeth and I couldn't get over? How NICE everyone is in Wichita! The guy working the desk at Enterprise Rent-A-Car was cheerful and informative when we arrived, even though it was ten pm and he was probably due to get off work. We kept talking about how nice he was...then everyone else we encountered turned out to be just like him! From the helpful folks at Walgreen's (who helped me find face wash after I left mine at home), to the smiling booksellers at the Maize Road Borders (where Elizabeth and I stopped by to sign stock) to the friendly waitstaff at River City Brewery, every single person we met in Wichita was exceedingly kind. Elizabeth and I decided that it's probably the friendliest city on Earth.

We also need to give a huge shout out to everyone at the Bradley Fair Barnes & Noble, located at 1920 N. Rock Road. Elizabeth held a booksigning there on Thursday night, and the staff went above and beyond to make it a fun, relaxing event. If you want an autographed copy of any of her books, or if you'd like an autographed copy of either Royally Jacked or Scary Beautiful, stop by the store and grab one! They have a ton of signed stock. If you're not near Wichita, but would still like an autographed copy, give them a call at (316) 315-0421. They can make arrangements to ship you whatever you need. (See, told you they were nice!) Huge, huge thanks to Brad, Karina, and Bob for organizing the event and treating us like royalty. We wish all bookstore employees were as friendly as you.

NOTE: If you're a librarian, Elizabeth and I will be giving our presentation again next month at the Florida Library Association's annual conference in Orlando, Florida. Introduce yourself if you're there! And if you're organizing a library conference and are interested in having us speak, just drop either one of us a line. Librarians are some of our favorite people, so we'd love to come and meet you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What NOT To Get At The Ballpark

I try to keep my eating healthy. Really, I do. I eat a lot of veggies, fish, and fruit. Red meat is a rare thing. But occasionally, I grab a Fenway Frank at the ballpark. There's something about the atmosphere that seems to make it okay. (And no, please don't tell me what's in them. I don't want to know.)

But this is something I can't understand at all:

This is the Fifth Third Burger (named after the Fifth Third ballpark) served up at the minor league West Michigan Whitecaps games. Yee-gads. Nearly 5000 calories and who-knows-how much sodium and other ick. It's 1 2/3 lbs of beef (get it...five thirds), nacho cheese, lettuce, corn chips, salsa, tomatoes, and chili on a bun.

Any takers?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's On!

Must say...I LOVE March. While I'm no hockey or football hater, they're just not sports I follow that closely. On the other hand, I LOVE watching baseball. Caught a pre-season game last night on NESN and it gave me a huge spring-is-here mood lift. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees down in Florida, and--horrors--the Yankees won (they had a stellar eighth.) But who cares? It's BASEBALL! And I refuse to believe that this signals anything for the upcoming regular season. Can't wait to see the Sox up here at Fenway in less than a month (whoo-hoo!)

In better news, I'm tied for first in my NCAA pool on I need Memphis to win it all (so everyone send them some good vibes, hey?) I'm also participating in what my husband kindly terms "The Geek Pool." A group of around 40 of us make our selections every year, but instead of making out brackets, we number each of the tourney teams from 1 - 64. You put 64 on the team you think will win it all, and a one on the team you feel is most likely to go out in the first round. I have two entries, with 64 on Memphis in one, and 64 on Louisville in the other. No idea how I'm doing in that pool yet, so wish me luck! It's a world of spreadsheet fun.

What about you? What sporting events have you feeling upbeat?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oscar Time 2009

Happy, happy, joy, joy. Three cheers for Oscar night!! (Wasn't it WONDERFUL? Love me some Hugh Jackman. But I digress...)

First cheer: I rocked my Oscar pool. Haven't gotten an update as to the winners, but I got 19 out of the 24 categories correct (last year I was an all-time low 13 for 24, and I was 18 for 24 in 2007.)

Second cheer: Anyone mind if I do a dance for Slumdog Millionaire? I LOVED that movie. If you haven't seen it yet, consider this a shove out the door to the multiplex. You'll want to see it in a theater, unless you are so fortunate as to have one of those home theater setups with the wicked surround sound, etc. This is a movie that transports you to India. You won't want to be distracted by neighbors, the phone, or your laundry while you watch on DVD at three in the afternoon.

Third cheer: The GOWNS! This was a prime Oscar year. Very few misses, so I'll get them out of the way right off the bat.

Apologies to the ever-lovely Jessica Biel, but her off-white gown was Not Good. It looked like someone took took care with her hair and makeup. Then, a nasty stylist came in afterward and thought Jessica looked too pretty. In a jealous fit, the stylist wrapped a very fancy bedsheet from the Ritz-Carlton around Jessica, tucked it up with a few folds in the front, and carefully explained (cough-lied-cough) that the sheet-waterfall look was "the latest thing." She then shoved Jessica out the door, stifling a maniacal laugh as JB tripped over the hem getting into the car.

The dress Jessica wore to host the Sci-Tech Awards last week was much better, a multi-colored, but simple strapless number. Though awfully reflective in photos, I bet it looked better in person. And she could walk without tripping on it.

My other Worst Dressed Female for 2009 must go to Whoopi Goldberg. I swear I could see her bra (and part of its contents) peeking out the top while she was presenting. Still, even assuming the girls were tucked away where they belonged, you tell me. I think she could do much better than an ill-fitting, too-low-in-front leopard print.

Of course, I immediately consulted both the E! Fashion Police and my fave Fuggers to see if they agreed. (They did.) But they liked one dress (for the most part) that I just couldn't love. Did you see Heidi Klum in red?

To me, the color worked. The cutout in the back worked. The bow worked. The leg slit worked. The top kind of worked. However, all these things did not work together. It was too much. I say keep the color (Heidi can rock red), keep the back cutouts, keep the leg, but lose the origami top and the butt bow. What do you think?

(Ditto Reese Witherspoon. Either black with the funky cut, or blue with the funky cut. Not all three at once.)

WHEW. So on to all the good stuff (and there was plenty of good stuff!) First, oh, how I loved Angelina Jolie. True, it was black. But it showed off her figure, and didn't look like the matronly swoops of fabric we've seen on her lately.

Other faves: Freida Pinto (fabulous vibrant blue), Best Actress nominee Melissa Leo (great fit, pretty, and the bronze suited her coloring), and Marisa Tomei (funky but classy.) I also LOVED Anne Hathaway's ivory gown, though from certain angles, it seemed loose in the bust, as if someone taller than her could look right down and see everything. However, I doubt too many people are that much taller than Anne Hathaway, especially when she's wearing killer heels.

There were LOADS of great gowns, so it's hard to pick my favorites. But these two topped my list. My  Best Dressed Women were Natalie Portman in her strapless, well-fitted pink and Penelope Cruz in a gorgeous beaded white gown.  I generally don't go for pink, but Natalie Portman's simply rocked. Penelope Cruz's look was a mesh of sultry Sophia Loren and glamorous Grace Kelly.

I'm also going to name a Best Dressed Man this year. Mostly because while I was watching the Oscars, I made my husband come to the TV so I could point out exactly how I think a guy should look on the red carpet.  And I pointed to Robert Downey, Jr.  Even if my husband said something along the lines of, "Um, okay," before going back to whatever he was doing on his computer, I thought his tux, hair, and shoes were spot-on perfect. Downey's wife, Susan, looked amazing, too, in her soft, melon-y orange. (And their happy-to-be-together smiles get them extra bonus points.)

Finally, I must mention Heath Ledger's win. He was a phenomenal, multi-dimensional Joker, and I think he'd have won the Oscar regardless of the attention his unfortunate, way-too-early passing brought to his performance. Valerie (the Oscar-loving, Heath-obsessed character from Royally Jacked and its sequels) would have been doing the biggest happy dance of all.

So what do you think? Who was a hit? Who missed? (And though I won't post it here, did you get a look at Sharon Stone's R-rated see-through dress?! Google it if not. It would have been wonderful if it wasn't transparent. But as is, I howled with laughter.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things Afoot

For years after seeing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, my friends would utter the line, "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K..." whenever odd events popped up in groups. Well, today's not so much filled with odd events, per se, but it's definitely a day in which there are Things Afoot. Things Bill and Ted would deem "Most Excellent!"

Okay, that was a hokey intro. But you know what I mean. It is a HAPPY day!

First: Survivor starts up again tonight! (Collective YAY!) I'm participating in Fantasy Survivor (you can sign up on the CBS site, right here, if you're interested.) However, I will warn you that I plan to win.

Second: I've raved about Alyson Noël's books since I read her first one, FAKING 19. This week, her newest, EVERMORE, is on the New York Times List. If you haven't read her stuff yet, you must must must grab this book. And, frankly, everything else Alyson has written. (Collective YAY for Alyson!)

Third: Yesterday I was perusing the aisles at my local Barnes & Noble and, lo and behold, there's also gorgeous display for my good friend Cynthia Leitich Smith's newest release, ETERNAL. ETERNAL takes place in the same wacky, paranormal version of Austin, TX, as Cynthia's last novel, TANTALIZE. I wasn't expecting to see ETERNAL for another week or thereabouts, so it was truly a happy find. (Collective YAY for Cynthia!)

Go. Read. Watch. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who Wants To Know A Secret?

Today, a reading recommendation! If you're a fan of books where every character harbors a secret, you MUST check out author Micol Ostow's latest series, The Bradford Novels. The first book, Golden Girl, is in stores now, and the other books will be out in the next few months.

This series--set at a fictional school called Bradford Prep--is doubly fun because there's a slew of online content. There's an entire site following the day-to-day events at Bradford Prep that's similar to a site a real high school would have (though there are added blogs by the main characters that give you further insights into events from the books.) Plus, there's a huge blog event (where I'm today's guest!)

Be sure to let me know what you think of Golden Girl. (And if you want more Micol while you're waiting for the next Bradford Novel, check out her other books, such as Crush du Jour and Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa.)