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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stone faces that crack me up (and appear in Ruby)...

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Hello dear friends,

Two more weeks until the release of The Ruby Notebook!  In celebration, I thought I'd post some pics of endearing stone faces that appear above doors and windows in Aix-en-Provence.  As you'll notice when you read Ruby, these faces inspired some of the faces in the book...

bushy-eyebrowed jester guy...

lewd-yet-stern guy who ate something less than appetizing...

pleasant, mild-mannered guy (or gal?)...

scaredy-cat lion...

clueless lady (huh? wha-?)...

devilish-yet-desperate-to-please guy...

pin-headed bald guy (pigeon-poop-deterrent)...

jailed-yet-jovial guy...

Mr. Grumpers...

mischievous laughing guy...

catchin' flies guy...

That's all for now!  Stay tuned for more photo posts about Ruby inspiration...


Monday, August 23, 2010

Starred review for THE RUBY NOTEBOOK!

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 Ruby got its first professional review... and it's a starred one from Kirkus!

* "Thoughtful, intense Zeeta and her free-spirited mother return in this follow-up to The Indigo Notebook  (2009). Perennial travelers, the two have now settled in the atmospheric city of Aix-en-Provence. Zeeta eagerly anticipates the arrival of her boyfriend Wendell from Colorado, but when he changes the terms of his visit, Zeeta is hurt and confused. Their relationship is further strained by her involuntary attraction to Jean-Claude, a member of a street dance troupe. At the same time, Zeeta begins to discover strange notes and items left in her bag. Weaving bits of magic, city lore and bittersweet romance into each of the many plot lines, Resau has again crafted a complex and satisfying novel that is both a mystery and a tender, wise meditation on love and self-identity. Characters are rich and vibrant, each of them bringing their own past to bear on the story at hand. Readers will want to read the first before starting this one and will likely be clamoring for the third, the groundwork for which is nicely set up here." (Fiction. 12 & up)

Thank you,  Kirkus!  I have to give you background, though, to my state of mind when I read this review for the first time. I'd been attempting to exist more in the moment, to find joy in simple, immediate sensory pleasures (Lil Dude's laugh, light through leaves, the river, sun-warmed fresh-picked cherries)... instead of fretting about the future or past or things out of my control. 

And as far as reviews specifically,  I'd been telling myself not to pay too much attention to them, because ultimately, they're out of my control.  All I can do is write the best book I can at the time, and then launch it into the world and wish it well.  I shouldn't let any review-- good or bad-- affect my mood too much. If you put too much stock in good reviews, then, when a bad (or even mediocre) one comes along, it can be crushing. 

Anyway, back to the point.  So, that was my philosophical state at the time.  I wasn't expecting Ruby reviews yet (this happened at the end of July, and Ruby comes out in mid-September).  I remember opening my email account and telling myself, okay, Laura.  You won't let any of this affect your mood.  I was thinking my inbox would be full of responsibilities I'd need to attend to... and then I open it and see an email from my editor with the subject heading STARRED REVIEW! 

And I just started laughing.  I didn't let myself open it right away.  I reminded myself that good news comes and goes, just as bad news does, and the things that give me true joy are my family and friends and nature and traveling and creative writing.  Then I opened the email and read the review... and despite myself, I smiled.  I felt happy.  Jubilant! I might have even danced a little jig. 

Ah well, I tried....

A few other newsworthy items:

I broke down and got professional author photos taken for the first time ever!  Well worth it, I think-- Tina Wood (whose studio is just a few blocks away) did a great job disguising my wrinkles and zits.  The photos have special meaning to me because they're taken at one of my favorite places-- Lee Martinez Park, which I walk through daily. I got to scramble around on some river rocks for this one...

Another bit o news: I got the hardcovers of The Ruby Notebook in the mail the other day.  They're beautiful and shiny, and THICK! It's the longest book of mine out there so far at 373 pages (The Queen of Water is a bit longer).  As you'll glean from the acknowledgments, Ruby was a doozy to write!  During one angst-filled revision, my mom came to the rescue and helped me see the big picture and showed me what to prune and expand to make the 373-page story come together. (Her advice for The Jade Notebook?  "Keep it short, Laura!"  Hehehe... I'm trying, but all these intriguing little subplots keep creeping in...)

So, Ian just updated my website with this full summary of Ruby.  I realized I'd only put the short blurb up before.  Here's the whole thing, in case you're curious:

Sixteen-year-old Zeeta and her flighty English-teaching mom, Layla, have traveled the world together, settling in a different country every year, making a whole new set of friends and adopting new customs. This year, they've chosen to live in Aix-en-Provence, France, an enchanting city full of fountains, creamy yellow light, and a fascinating group of scarlet-clad street performers.

Zeeta soon begins to receive mysterious notes and gifts from someone she calls her fantôme, or ghost. But she is expecting her boyfriend, Wendell - the love of her life, as her friends call him - to arrive in Aix for a summer program very soon. Zeeta brushes off her curiosity about her fantôme, and her simmering attraction to one of the street performers, Jean-Claude, until Wendell arrives and she begins to fear that her feelings for him have truly changed. Perhaps - like Layla - she's simply not made for long-term romance.

As Zeeta tries to draw away from Wendell, however, circumstances seem to force them together. Zeeta's friendship with a local antiques dealer and his reclusive artist friend leads to a dangerous adventure. When Zeeta and Wendell join forces to find a secret underground spring whose water is rumored to bring immortality, they are forced to reconsider their own desires, and their beliefs about true love. Yet as soon as Zeeta decides that her mind has cleared, she's confronted with the biggest shock of her life: the incredible true identity of her fantôme.

Vibrant, warmhearted, and evocative, The Ruby Notebook is a remarkable novel about learning to accept love in all of its wondrous and imperfect forms.

Thanks for reading!  Fort Collins friends-- be sure to check the events section of my website for my upcoming release party on Oct 2 and a fun library presentation on Oct 9!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Grown-ups who love young adult books

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 Hello dear readers!

I had a fabulous evening with a "grown-up" book club last week.  They read The Indigo Notebook and invited me to talk about the book and join in their discussion.  So much fun!  I love hearing readers talk about what was most memorable for them, what made them think, which characters they connected with, what scenes gave them a lump in their throats... This feedback gives me fuel for writing the third book-- The Jade Notebook. Knowing that readers feel attached to Layla and Zeeta and Wendell-- that these characters live on beyond the end of the book in readers' minds-- that is HUGE inspiration for me to finish Jade.  (Um, of course, there's that little thing called a legally-binding contract, too, but the real push for me to write the book comes from the enthusiasm of readers.)  So thank you!!  And thank you to these ladies for the delectable appetizers (another perk of these book club meetings!)

Sally outdid herself with these yummy alfajores cookies-- a specialty in the Andes.... they melt in your mouth!  I've eaten these in bakeries in Otavalo... mmm... great memories.

I visit with several adult book clubs each year, usually in the Fort Collins area.  There was an essay by Pamela Paul in the NY Times Book Review last week about the popularity of young adult books among adults. Here's an interesting statistic: 47 % of 18 to 24-year-old women  and 24% of same-aged men buy mostly young adult books.  Nearly one in five 35 to 44-year-olds buy mostly YA books for themselves.  I've noticed that about half my reader mail is from adults... and I see I'm not alone!

The quotes from people in the book industry echo what I've heard from adult readers of my books and other YA books.  I'll give you a smattering of some of the quotes I appreciated:

"A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart... but good YA is like good television.  There's a freshness there; it's engaging.  YA authors aren't writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people." -- Amanda Foreman, historian

"A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot... I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives." -- Lev Grossman, book critic

"There's an immediacy in the prose [of YA books]... I like the way adolescent emotions are rawer, less canned... There's a timelessness to the period [of early teenagehood].  These books are far from you, yet are also the same as you." -- Darcy Steinke, novelist

"When you talk to people about the books that have meant a lot to them, it's usually books they read when they were younger because the books have this wonder in everyday things that isn't bogged down by excessively grown-up concerns or the need to be subtle or coy... when you read these books as an adult, it tends to bring back the sense of newness and discovery that I tend not to get from adult fiction." -- Jesse Sheidlower, editor

(Hi-- me again!)  I agree with all those quotes.  I am often asked why I've chosen to write YA instead of adult books.  My answer is usually that the books that had the biggest effect on how I understood myself and life and the possibilities of existence were books I read as a young teen (like A Wrinkle in Time and Tuck Everlasting, to name just two.)

So, apart from writing Jade and perusing the NY Times, I've been doing fun summertime things...

discovering weird insects on mountain-river hikes with Ian and Little Dude...

not to mention elegant flowers...

 and little butterflies..

and rainbows (since we live near the mountains, we often have magical multiple rainbows during sunny afternoon rainshowers)...

Hope you're having a whimsical summer... Thanks for reading!


Check out Sally's cool hat she got in Peru years ago!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Fried Bologna to Pistou...

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Hi guys!

I recently discovered this little piece on "Becoming a Gourmande in Aix-en-Provence" which I wrote a few years ago (it was hidden deep in folders inside folders on my computer). It's about how my year in France changed my whole concept of food, and I thought it would be fitting to post now, a month before The Ruby Notebook comes out (the book's set in Aix and full of yummy food and fresh-air markets...) Hope you enjoy it!

Until age twenty, my diet consisted of hamburgers, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, pizza— come to think of it, anything you’d see on a kids’ menu.  Fries were my vegetable (I was so picky I didn’t even like ketchup), Coke my beverage of choice.  I thought spinach grew in little rectangular green cubes and that all soup came from a Campbell’s can.  I had never sautéed anything (unless you count fried bologna), and certainly not garlic; in fact, I probably couldn’t pick garlic out of a lineup.  That was my sorry state when I left Maryland to spend a year in Provence.

Annie, my French maman

My exchange program assigned me to Annie and Alain, a middle-aged couple in Aix-en-Provence who hosted students because now that their boys were grown, Annie needed someone to appreciate her five course meals.  That first dinner with her, I was confronted with endives (whose very existence I was entirely unaware of), stinky cheese, duck paté, and cous-cous (another first) topped with ratatouille—a whole intimidating mound of tomatoes and eggplant and peppers and unfamiliar spices.  After loosening up my taste buds with red wine (from a bottle they refilled daily at the wine shop for the price of a can of Coke), I dug in.  And, as the infamous Sam of the green eggs and ham discovered he liked that delicacy, I discovered  I liked—no, loved—Annie’s sumptuous dishes.

Sometimes, between classes, I ran into Annie amidst a chaos of colors in the plaza’s market, as she filled her woven bag with fresh courgettes and aubergines.  Finally, I understood the pleasures of vegetables.  I discovered what tomatoes were supposed to taste like—firm and sweet and juicy.  As Thelma  (or was it Louise?) said after her tete-a-tete with Brad Pitt, now I understood what all the fuss was about!  After school, as I wove through narrow medieval streets, past boulangeries and pâtisseries housed in ancient stone buildings, my mouth started watering in anticipation of dinner. 

Once home, I perched on a stool in Annie’s compact kitchen (everything in the apartment was typically European in size-- a tiny table with tiny stools, a tiny washing machine stacked efficiently over a tiny drier, which she forwent to hang the laundry on the tiny balcony.)  While golden evening light spilled across the room, I watched her cook, and little by little, became immersed in a savory world of olive oil and garlic and cream and butter and rosemary and thyme…  Every evening offered a new realization, like, Hey!  Salad dressing isn’t born in a bottle!  You can make it yourself with olive oil and dijon and salt and pepper and lemon. 

Food was, undeniably, central to life in Aix-en-Provence.  When I bumbled through French small talk, asking new acquaintances about their hobbies and interests, many, if not most of them answered, unapologetically, “Moi, je suis gourmand.”  They would follow up with, “How do you say gourmand in English?”  This was a tough one.  My dictionary said “glutton,” but that was obviously missing the mark.  “A person who likes food” was the best I could come up with-- a translation as bland as the mashed potatoes of my childhood.  “But you have no single word for it?” they asked, appalled. 

Dinners began with an anis or mint aperitif on the tiny balcony and lasted hours.  Conversation was always animated, involving political rants, family tales, outrageous jokes (Alain was quite a comedien).  Conversation stretched on and on, lingering over the wine, while I’d have another slice of stinky cheese, tear off another hunk of bread, cut another sliver of tarte au citron (and another and another.)  And that was for regular old weekday dinners. 

Alain (my French pere) and my (real) mom having aperatifs

Weekends and holidays were even more spectacular.  For Easter Sunday, some eccentric friends of Annie and Alain invited us to their artistically renovated farmhouse by a vineyard.  The meal lasted all day, from our arrival when the sun had only been up a couple hours, into the wee hours just before dawn the next day.  The piece de résistance was a whole lamb, basted generously in butter and herbes de Provence and turned on a spit in the old stone fireplace.  Between courses, we took walks along the vineyard and drank wine and aperitifs (or were they digestifs? Were we aiding digestion of what we’d just ate or preparing our digestive tract for another round?) 

Toward the end of my year in Provence, the harsh realization sunk in that I would never eat so well again in my whole life, not even if some day in the distant future, I could afford five star Frenchy restaurants.  So one afternoon, I took my little notebook, (Euro-style, graphed, not lined) and asked Annie for her recipes, which at that point existed only in her head.  My notes are a mix of English and French, using either the metric system or vague measurements like “a yogurt container of oil.”  (We ate tiny yogurts that were so rich, I’ve never been able to stomach low-fat Dannon since).  Baking times were,  “Oh, je ne sais pas, maybe three quarters of an hour, or an hour, just watch it and you’ll know.”

When I said au revoir to Annie at the end of the school year, we hugged tearfully, and she sent me off with a huge bag of herbes de Provence, wishing me well.  Back in Maryland, I pored over the recipes, trying to figure out how to convert one of those yogurt containers to cups, and how many degrees Farenheight equaled 205 degrees Celsius.  Calculator in hand, through trial and error, I more or less figured it out.  Ratatouille and cous-cous became a weekly staple.  Tarte aux pommes became my easy dessert of choice for potlucks.  And I grew brave enough to play with the recipes.  When I was out of apples, I used raspberries, and voila, tarte aux framboises.  The courgettes in Safeway looked limp and peaked?  No problem, throw in some summer squash instead.

Even quick, simple lunches underwent a paradigm shift—instead of bagels and cream cheese, I had a baguette topped with gruyere, olive oil, herbes de Provence, and tomato slices, and sometimes even a glass of wine.  As I ate, I could almost see Annie and Alain lifting their glasses in a toast and laughing whole-heartedly with what can only be described as pure joie de vivre. 

 Seventeen years later, I still have the small, graphed sheets with the jumble of French and English, now thoroughly stained with oil and chocolate and butter and batter and berries.  I cherish those little bits of paper.  With every recipe I make, I remember sitting in that tiny kitchen as Annie cooked and my mouth watered in blissful anticipation. 

  Coming September 16-- just a little over a month away!

Thanks for reading!

Laura      P.S.  Sometime soon I'll post a few of Annie's recipes!