Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Excerpt From My Secret Project

I have a problem. It's a problem I know other writers have, too, which makes me feel less terrible about my habit, but still doesn't make my life any easier. I'm one of those people who always has to be working on multiple projects. I don't know if I just get bored with only one thing to write, or if I need to have something on the side I can work on when I'm stuck on the other. But that's life, and I've gotten used to it.

As you know, I posted an excerpt from SCARRED a few weeks ago, and now I'd like to share a little bit of my other project, my Secret Project. So here you go!



Life ends when I pull the trigger.

But that’s what I want, so I do.


It’s sunny today. Ironic, when I consider how the day’s going to end. A picture of us sits on my bedside table, and I stare at you, the way I do every morning. Your hair looks tangerine in the sun, and the ice cream sandwich in your hands forms a white river of molten sugar as it trickles down your arm. Mine isn’t faring much better. There’s barely any ice cream between the two cookies, but I don’t notice because I’m watching you with a wide grin on my face.

The picture was taken in July of 2002 – the summer you moved in next door. I remember how excited I was when Mom told me there was a kid my age moving into the old brick house, the one Mr. Buchard died in. Heart attack, they said. There hadn’t been kids in our neighborhood for years, and I thought you’d be a boy who’d want to watch spy movies with me, or play sports, or help me dig a hole to China. Turns out you were a girl, but at least you didn’t mind playing in the dirt all day. Since you had an older brother, you didn’t mind watching football with me, even though you liked soccer better. You even offered to be goalie. It was love at first sight.

My mom snapped the picture of the two of us during the annual neighborhood block party. We have one every summer, and even though half the neighborhood doesn’t get along, they all pretend to be friends for a day. While the dads talked football and drank Miller Lite, and the moms chatted about drapes and the latest community gossip, you and I sat on my trampoline eating ice cream. It was the day I told you I thought you were pretty. You thought I was lying and when I insisted that I was telling the truth, you ran away giggling. I remember the way your pigtails bounced as you skipped across the lawn, two spiral curls dangling from neon scrunchies like the icicles that sometimes hang from my house in winter. I’d never had a friend who was a girl before, so I had no idea boys my age weren’t supposed to say things like that. I was vaguely aware of cooties, but it was only a periphery concern. For about half an hour you acted as if I were the plague, but eventually got too bored with the adults and came running back.

My fingers curl around the edge of the frame as I pull it closer. I want to stay lost in the memory forever, but I can hear someone coming up the stairs. The sound of Mom rapping on the door makes me flinch. “Jordan, get up!” Her nasally voice booms, causing the dogs downstairs to start barking. I wish we’d just gotten a cat.

“Fuck off,” I grumble, shoving my face into the pillow. It smells of cigarettes and stale bread. I flick a few crumbs onto the floor.

“Fuck you. You’re going to be late.”

And I don’t want to be late today, so I tear my eyes away from the photo and force myself out of bed. I’ll be seeing you soon enough. I stumble down the hallway, my feet barely avoiding tripping over one of the dogs. Buster looks up at me and growls, the sound rumbling in the back of his throat. He’s never liked me. Before he can start nipping at my ankles, I duck into the bathroom and slam the door.

“Fucking dog,” I grumble, yanking my shirt over my head. My hand fumbles for the faucet and I jump in the shower, water pounding against my back as steam billows up around me. I realize this is probably the last time I’ll see the inside of this bathroom, and take a few extra moments to savor the salmon tile and dingy walls. It’s ugly, but it’s home.

Mom bangs on the door after a while and claims she needs the bathroom. I know she’s just trying to rush me, so I stay where I am, hunched against the steady stream of water. My fingers and toes already look like prunes, but the heady scent of body wash and the curling tendrils of steam has me closing my eyes, leaning against the tile as my mind wanders.


I watch as your back disappears into the crowd. You glance back at me, just once, to see if I’m following, but I’m still on the trampoline, a soggy dessert crushed between my fingers.

Flinging it away from me, it lands somewhere in the grass nearby. Mom sees and shoots me a disapproving look before turning back to the pudgy woman in lime green pants and Hawaiian top. She looks like the wallpaper in my grandma’s living room, the stuff that always gives me a headache. They’re both waving their hands as they speak, and I wonder what’s got them so riled up. Taxes, maybe, or the new neighborhood watch program. We started it a few months ago, after one of the houses was vandalized by a group of rambunctious teenagers. Everyone woke up one morning to see a naked lady spray painted on Mrs. Wayland’s garage door. Mom covered my eyes for a week, whenever we’d drive past.

“Disgusting,” she’d mutter, her nails digging into my skin. “You’d better not turn out like those miserable hooligans.” She’d wave a warning finger in my face as we pulled out of the neighborhood, and I’d just nod. I’d never seen a naked woman before, and while I doubted my talents with a can of spray paint, I was intrigued by the graffiti nonetheless.

I watch Mom’s arms swing around in circles, her fingers pointed at Hawaiian Shirt Lady like a gun. I decide the neighborhood watch program is probably correct, and wonder when I’ll get to help guard the people on my block. Dad said when I’m older, but whenever I ask him how old, he never gives me a solid answer. The way I see it, I should get to patrol with the adults now, since Dad’s usually away on business. When he’s not, he’s out patrolling with the other parents. That’s what he tells my mom, anyway; I know it’s a lie because I saw him sitting in Mr. Bailey’s garage drinking beer.

I blow out a sigh and lick away the sticky residue on my fingers. The party’s in full swing, and I can’t see you anymore. You’ve completely disappeared. I think about going after you, so I don’t have to spend the next few hours by myself, but eventually you come back. Grownups are boring, you say, and hand me a granola bar obviously stolen from my pantry.

There’s a long, awkward silence that fills the space between us. It’s never been there before, and I don’t know where it came from. Maybe because I said you were pretty. But why would that matter? I’ve been taught to always tell the truth, and you look nice. Your mom curled your hair, and I like the pink and white checkered dress you’re wearing. I can tell you hate it, and would rather be in shorts, but I think it looks nice anyway. Mom’s always saying girls should wear dresses more often. I agree.

“I’m so itchy.” You tug at the dress’s frilly sleeves, your lips turned down in an exaggerated pout. “I wish I were a boy.”

“No you don’t,” I say, wiping my hands on my khakis. “Mom’s always yelling at me to clean up after her, and Dad tells me I need to be more like him. I’m supposed to be the man of the house when he’s gone.”

“That can’t be that hard. You’re already a boy. What else are you supposed to do?”

“Take care of my mom. But whenever I try, she tells me to leave her alone, and when I don’t try, she yells at me to try harder.” I shrug. “I bet your parents don’t yell at you.” Mr. and Mrs. Monroe are the nicest people I know. I wish I had parents like yours. Whenever I go over to your house, your mom bakes cookies and gives me one right when they come out of the oven. My mom’s definition of cooking is heating up a TV dinner.

“They yell at me when I don’t clean up my room,” you say, and shove the toe of your sneaker into the dirt. “I hate cleaning.”

I hate cleaning too, but I don’t say anything. I’m not sure what to say, now that you keep looking at me funny. Like I’m a perfect stranger, and not the kid you’ve been playing with for the last few weeks. Maybe ten-year-olds aren’t supposed to tell girls they’re pretty; most of the kids in our grade still believe in cooties and Jordan-germs-no-returns. Do you think I have germs? Is that why you won’t sit next to me now?

“I don’t have cooties,” I blurt. I can’t lose my one friend on the block, who has parents kids would kill for, and the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen.

You finally look up at me, but I can’t read your expression. You don’t look angry or disgusted, but you aren’t smiling either, and I hate it when you’re not smiling, since it’s a pretty rare occurrence. I don’t think I know anyone happier than you, and I want to be friends with the girl who’s never sad. I want to be just like her, but the way my life is, I think I frown a lot more than I smile. I only smile when I’m around you.

“I don’t think you have cooties.” You take a step closer to prove it, and then another, until you’re standing right in front of me. I’m still sitting on the trampoline, and you’re standing between my legs, and I can feel the itchy tool of your dress as it tickles the back of my shins. You reach up and ruffle my hair, and I catch the way the corners of your mouth turn up, and the way your cheeks glow ruby red. “I actually kind of like you.”

Magical words to a quiet, sullen kid like me. I can feel my smile straining against the boundaries of my face, and when you rise up on your tiptoes and kiss my cheek, I realize I can’t feel my body. It’s like I’m floating. I can’t remember the last time my mom kissed me goodnight, and am mesmerized by the way your lips feel on my skin. They’re not silk, like I imagined, but kind of rough. I can feel the scab you got when you ran into the tree last week, but somehow the texture of your lips is more endearing than the softness of a mother’s ever could be.

When you pull back, your face is red, but you’re grinning. I think I’m still smiling; I can’t tell because my face has gone numb.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” you say, and before I know it, you’re gone.


I haven’t seen you since the barbecue. I’ve considered hopping the low stone wall separating our yards to see if you want to play, but every time I decide it’s a good idea, I change my mind a second later.

Today, however, I am so bored out of my mind that I can’t take it another minute. I have played video games, tried to read a book, and even played a game of Chinese Checkers with myself. I’ve exhausted every option, and you’re all I’ve got left.

“I’m going over to Laura’s,” I call to an empty house, and grab my football from the hall closet. You’re sitting on my curb when I open the door, scabby legs and holey tennis shoes stretched out in front of you. I can’t help but grin, and after a moment’s hesitation, your lips part in a smile. I notice you’ve lost a tooth. You ask if I want to play a new game today, and I say sure. I leave the football on the front step and follow you into the woods behind your house.

“It’s called spin the bottle,” you tell me, and I learn pretty quickly that playing with two people is infinitely better than playing with a group.

We play all afternoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Contest Winner!

I woke up this morning to an email telling me I'd won a contest over at the BookEnds blog, which was incredibly exciting! I'll be getting a copy of Gina Robinson's Spy Games. Here's the description, in case anyone else might be interested in snagging a copy:

Spy Games offers hope, encouragement, and the possibility of empowerment to women, especially those coming from abusive or unhappy relationships. Not all handsome men are controlling, wacko stalkers. You can find one of the good guys—the hot hero who will defend and protect you against violent ex-boyfriends, power-hungry Hollywood producers, mafia bosses, and overzealous jewelry salesgirls. His love and loyalty may even make you want to go deep undercover.

I'll be sure to post a review once I'm back in Wisconsin, and have the book in my hands. (I'm having to ship everything back home because there's no way my suitcases are going to close with all the books and crap I've picked up this summer.)

Coincidentally, we also have a contest winner HERE today! Congrats to my 53rd follower, Lipsmacked! You can email me at I need to know what your reading tastes are, and if you've read any of the books on this list. I'll send you a surprise book at the end of August, once I'm back home and can actually get to a post office!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Linkage and Things

Today is all about Linkage and Things, which is similar to Linen and Things, but infinitely better. As in, I share with you some amusing links, both publishing and non-publishing related. No matter what you click on, you know it'll be goooood.

SlushPile Hell: If you haven't already peed yourself over the massive amount of query fails this agent shares with the world, you clearly are missing out.

Hyperbole and a Half: It's in my sidebar, but I'm putting it here too because it's just too awesome for words. Another pee-your-pants-worthy blog. Particular favorites would be "Dog," "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult" and "A Better Pain Rating Scale," but everything is equally hilarious.

The Rejectionist: More lol-worthy fails in the world of publishing. Amongst other things.

Passive Aggressive Notes: You know those annoying notes your roommate leaves you when you forget to put the dishes away? These are way better.

Improv Everywhere: This makes me so happy I'll be moving to NYC in a year. I need to see Darth Vader on the subway.

Nathan Bransford's Blog: He's just really witty and I kind of want to be him.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Remember the days of your childhood where long car rides were spent doing madlibs? Well, Simmy and I found an empty madlib book, and I'm here to present one to you now.

How To Make a Fire Without Matches

Every good Boy Scout lives by the motto "Be blue" and learns basic nacheleing skills, like how to make a fire without matches. It's not quite as sexy as it looks in those cartoons of cavemen lovingly rubbing two cows together. First, you'll need to fashion what looks like a bow out of a curved Iker Casillas about 9 feet long and a piece of Sergio Ramos; a shoelace will work in a pinch. Next, wrap the bow around a dishwashing liquid that fits into a notch on a wooden lion. Swimmingly move your foot back and forth to make the bow run. Soon, you should see a hot pink ember emerging. Move the ember to the small bread-shaped pile of dried vitamixers, called a "nest" because of its resemblance to a panther's nest. Once the nest catches fire, you can begin adding forks and other kindling. In no time, you'll be roasting cauliflower and singing camp songs around your shocking fire.

In other news, my Secret Project is coming along nicely! I'm not giving out ANY information yet, because I don't want to jinx it. But I think this one is It. The next It, anyway; TANGO is still being looked at by agents while I work on these new pieces.

Also, congrats to Spain for winning the World Cup, and congrats to my wonderful Germans (mainly Ozil) for getting third place! I'm not sure what to do with myself for the next four years.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book Recommendation: Living Dead Girl

I've been meaning to post book reviews on here; however, most of what I've read lately has been for work. And I can't talk about those projects here. I can, however, talk about already published books! I succumbed to the e-reader fad and bought a nook this week, and naturally I couldn't leave it empty for more than an hour. I'd been meaning to pick up this book for ages, and I can happily say it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

LIVING DEAD GIRL, by Elizabeth Scott
Published September 2nd, 2008 by Simon Pulse
170 Pages

Fans of Scott's YA romances PERFECT YOU or BLOOM may be unprepared for the unrelieved terror within this chilling novel, about a 15-year-old girl who as spent the last five years being abused by a kidnapper named Ray and is kept powerless by Ray's promise to harm her family if she makes one false move. The Narrator knows she is the second of the girls Ray has abducted and renamed Alice; Ray killed the first when she outgrew her childlike body at 15, and now Alice half-hopes her own demise is approaching ('I think of the knife in the kitchen, or the bridges I've seen from the bus... but the thing about hearts is that they always keep beating'). Ray, however, has an even more sinister plan: he orders Alice to find a new girl, then train her to Ray's tastes.
Scott's prose is spare and damning, relying on suggestive details and their impact on Alice to convey the unimaginable violence she repeatedly experiences. Disturbing but fascinating, the book exerts an inescapable grip on readers - like Alice, they have virtually no choice but to continue until the conclusion sets them free. 

There's something intrinsically haunting and beautiful about this book. Alice's voice is bitter, broken, devastating, and cuts through you as you read. You can feel her pain. Her fear is palpable. She's someone you want to save, right from the very beginning. Every time Ray laid a hand on her, I cringed. My skin crawled. I think I might have gasped on the subway, prompting odd looks from people. It's a book you find yourself sinking into, deeper and deeper until you're lost within it. You're lost within Alice's mind, and by the time you finish the book, all you can do is sit for a few moments and just be.

Be thankful you are free.

As Amazon's summary says, the prose is sparse, which leaves the reader to imagine a lot of things. Sometimes, what you don't see is worse than what you do. A line as simple as "he touched me" had me envisioning all sorts of horrific things, and made me even angrier with Ray. Which I didn't think was possible. But my hate for him grew as the story went on, until by the end, I wished I could get rid of him myself. I felt as though he was a real person. And in a way, he is. There are Rays all over the world, living their sordid lives undetected. And the thought of that makes me sick, and makes me hate this Ray even more. I think it's a sign of superb writing when you can make a reader feel that strongly about a character you only see for the length of one book. Even after I finished, I couldn't get him out of my head.

The same goes for Alice. I can't stop thinking about her. This book isn't just a story, it's someone's story. It's not just Alice's. Somewhere out there, there's a girl just like her, and what happened in the story is happening to her. The way Elizabeth Scott wrote the book really makes you think. And you realize that while this piece is fiction, for some little kid out there, it isn't. And that added knowledge that sits in the back of your mind, festering while you read, gives the story an added weight you don't find in other novels.

Besides the story itself, the writing is incredible. The tiny details Alice notices stick with you. The way things are described are not your standard combination of adjectives, but the phrases are so beautiful and evocative that you know exactly what the words mean. A flower isn’t just a flower. Silence isn’t just silence. There’s always something more behind it. Alice’s thoughts flow from one to the next with ease, and you really get the sense that this damaged, vulnerable, ruined girl is talking to you. I cried while reading it because I felt so connected to what was going on within the story. And though I won't give away the ending, I can't decide whether my tears at the end were happy or sad. Maybe a mixture of both.

There really are no limits to what can be written about, but I especially applaud people like Elizabeth Scott, who tackle subjects like this one. Lucy Christopher did it, too, with her book, STOLEN. People always ask things like, "Why didn't they try to escape?" "Why didn't they fight back?" But how could you possibly understand if you haven't been in the situation? I feel as though this particular piece really answers that question. Or at least offers one possibility.

If I had to rate the book, I’d give it a 10 out of 10. Without blinking an eye. I said at the beginning that the story is haunting, and it will stay with you, even after you’re done. My only regret is that I didn’t buy it in paperback. I’ll have to do that, because this is one book I want to proudly display on my shelf.

For those of you who are into the gritty, realistic side of YA, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy. And even if you aren’t, you probably should. You won’t regret it.

Also, for anyone who's read the book, I want to hear your take on the ending!