Saturday, April 30, 2011

Help us stop dangerous practice of "weight grades" on report cards - and enter to win a copy of PURGE

I've struggled with distorted body image for most of my life, and was actively bulimic as an adult in my thirties. My novel, PURGE, while a work of fiction, is based on my very real struggle to overcome the voice in my head that told me that I was fat, ugly and worthless.

The response to PURGE from both teens and adults has told me that I'm not alone in this struggle. So many of us struggle with negative body images and issues with food, even if it isn't at the stage of being a full blown eating disorder. Young teens are especially susceptible; eating disorders and body image issues (including self-harm) are on the rise.

Dr. David Rosen of the University of Michigan says epidemiologic studies show the numbers of children and adolescents with eating disorders increased steadily from the 1950s onward. A recent analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality says hospitalizations for eating disorders increased most sharply -- 119 percent -- for children age 12 and younger from 1999 to 2006.

Now there’s something that will make this worse – many states are now sending “weight grades” and BMI scores home on students’ report cards. Can you imagine the affect that will have?

Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars and I were having a discussion about this on Twitter and we were both so upset about it that we had to take action. We decided to start a petition. We hope you'll join us in fighting this very dangerous practice.

To help encourage you, I'm giving away two copies of PURGE. To enter, sign the petition and tell me you have in the comments. For extra credit entry, tweet about the petition and tell me you've done that, too. I'll give away the first book on May 31st and the second book on June 30th.


Now you can win 1 of 2 signed copies each of Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, Purge by me, Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum, and I’m Not Her by Janet Gurtler just for signing the petition! Let us know on here or on Cheryl's blog , and we’ll be picking winners May 31 and June 30.

Thank you for caring!

Live Strong and Be Healthy...


Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebrating National Library Week: Why Authors LOVE Libraries

It's National Library Week and what better time to celebrate the places that are havens of learning and community for all citizens and the wonderful,incredible librarians who make it all possible.

Libraries have been a beloved part of my life for as long as I can remember. Being able to go to this magical building where kindly, people would hand me books, encouraging me to discover new worlds, opening my young mind to new ideas, but best of all, making friends in the characters who stay with me to this day.

Now, especially, when library funding is under threat, we need to be vocal and active in our support for this beloved and necessary institution.

I recently joined the ALA's Authors for Libraries The ALA asks each author who joins to write a quote about why they love libraries. Here's mine:

Libraries are an essential cornerstone of our democracy. But my love of libraries began as a young girl, before politics held any meaning for me, when these wonderful people helped me find books where I explored new worlds and made lifelong friends. Libraries made me a writer, but more importantly, they made me a thinker."

The ever energetic Katie Davis has worked incredibly hard to put together an amazing Podcast O'Love for National Library Week. I forgot to say my name, but I'm the one who talks about the Marylebone Road Library in London.

Please help spread the word about National Library Week - and support your local library however you can!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Typing the 10K

Every time I start a new project I go through the same panic. That same sick feeling of dread and insecurity, that same voice in my head that asks: "What if the previous book(s) was just a fluke? What if I can't actually DO this?"

At first I thought it was just my second book blues - and boy did I have a dreadful case of them, probably not helped by the fact I was going through a lengthy and horrible divorce.

But despite the fact that I've now written and published three, soon to be four, novels there's still that anxiety whenever I start a new one that I won't have what it takes to pull it off again.

I heard the incredible Laurie Halse Anderson speak about writing a while back, and it gave me comfort when she talked about finding the right tools for each book.

I've kept those words close, because for me they're so true. When people ask me about my "writing process", the honest answer is that it changes with every book. There are certain things that have evolved and are consistent. I've learned to try to write the first draft as quickly as I can - I aim for 1,000 words a day when I'm in the first draft stage. I've started trying to outline more or at least write a synopsis - something I had to do for the books I've sold on proposal.

Today I hit the 10,000 word mark on my latest WIP, the one I'm calling The Funny YA for now. I'd been struggling to hit my 1,000 word a day stride on this one, partly because of family craziness and partly because it's told from four POV's and it took me a while to get a handle on the voices. But in the last week, as I approached the 10K mark, my characters started to come alive. And they started misbehaving, the rotten miscreants. I went back and looked at my outline and realized that they've already deviated in a big way, but I like where they're taking me, so I'm just going to hitch a ride for now and see what happens.

Looking back, it's about this point - I think it was 11,000 words - that I realized that I needed to completely rewrite WANT TO GO PRIVATE? from third person to first person. Something wasn't working, but the minute I made that decision and started rewriting in 1st person, the book came alive and suddenly I figured out a structure that made sense and added tension and suspense.

During my Second Book Blues phase I used to feel really bad about myself, because I'd hear about authors getting three book deals on a two page proposal. (That was back in 2006. Maybe things are different now.) But I need to write to figure things out. I spend a lot of time researching, thinking and taking notes before I start writing. I can try to make outlines. But it's not till I get my butt in the chair and struggle through those first ten thousand words that I have any idea where the novel is really going.

This is the one thing that's consistent through all my books, and I've learned to accept and embrace it as an essential part of my process.

How I end up getting from the 10K to the end is a another story, which I'll save for a different post.

Monday, April 4, 2011

And we have a winner!

Congratulations to: "Moriah D" (hylianvampire at and Natalierisk04 at! You are the two tributes from District 10 who will receive copies of THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest. You all had such great books and now my TBR pile is even longer than it was before! You should be hearing from either me or SmartPop asking for your address shortly!

Why I disagree with Cory Doctorow - Thoughts on the ALA/OIF Youth Privacy Conference

Is privacy dead, or do kids just use a different vocabulary to describe it? How can we as adults help to give kids the information they need to make informed choices about privacy, and encourage them to think critically about privacy issues in all aspects of their lives, both online and offline?

These are some of the issues we grappled with at the ALA/OIF Privacy and Youth Conference, held in Chicago March 24-25th. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed the stream of #youthprivacy tweets.

The conference was the kickoff to a new phase of privacy initiatives from the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom following the success of the annual Choose Privacy Week (May 1-7, 2011). For over three years, ALA/OIF, assisted by two grants from the Open Society Institute, has been focused on creating a national conversation around privacy. The Youth and Privacy conference came from the following realization:

The future of privacy advocacy and protections in the United States really depends on young people’s awareness of the long-term importance of personal privacy protections (particularly regarding use of the Internet and social media), and how government surveillance of citizens’ activities poses a chilling threat to our nation’s future. Libraries are ideal places for youth to learn about privacy and see it in action, given our long history of protecting the freedom to read.

David Levithan suggested I go (thank you, David!) because I've written extensively about the Patriot Act and FISA in my political columnist life, and also because my upcoming book WANT TO GO PRIVATE? is about a high school freshman who develops a relationship with an online "friend".

When I was at Scholastic for the NY Teen Author Festival, the On Our Minds Blog asked us me why kids (and adults) should read every day. This was my answer:

That was an important part of this conference for me. It was also how I got into an argument, via Skype, with Cory Doctorow. Yeah, *that* Cory Doctorow.

So here's the thing. I have used monitoring software on both my kids laptops since 2006, which I found out that my daughter had been the victim of a cyberbullying incident. One of her 5th grade friends was mad at her and created a website called "Ihate_______"(insertdaughter'sname). I didn't find out what was going on until the situation had been going on for well over a month and a half, and my daughter had responded to the friend with a serious of emails.

When I did find out, I had a long talk with my daughter, and even though she had initially been the victim, I revoked her Internet privileges for several weeks. Why? Because I told her by retaliating instead of coming to me, she hadn't used good judgment and further, the way she'd responded in those emails wasn't the way I'd brought her up to behave.

I'd expected a fight when I took away her computer but she handed it over without a peep. I honestly think she was relieved.

What blew my mind, after talking to the parents of the other kids involved, was the level of denial. One mom said, "Oh, but they're such good kids, I can't believe they'd do anything nasty." I wanted to forward her some of the emails her little darling had been sending, filled with foul language and vitriol - IN FIFTH GRADE!

I'm not saying these weren't good kids. They are all "good kids". What I am saying is what we all know - that even "good kids" can behave badly online. Look at the way adults behave on any newspaper comments section.

I never wanted to be blindsided by a situation like that again. A few years previously, I'd taken part in the Citizens Police Academy run by Greenwich Police Dept, so I called the Detective who'd talked to us about Cyber Crime and asked him for advice. He recommended the monitoring software that I've been using ever since.

I told both my kids I was putting the software on their laptops. It's never been a matter of me being sneaky and conducting secret surveillance. I just said that it was a condition of them being on the the Internet until they were legally old enough to take responsibility for their own actions. Because let's face it - I'm the Parent with a capital P. I'm the one who is legally and financially responsible for anything that they do until they reach majority.

At the conference, I met two representatives from the National Youth Rights Association, Jeffrey Nadel, President, and Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director. Alex was part of my discussion group, and it was from him that I got first shocked, horrified, expression when I said I used monitoring software. That was the start of the belief-challenging exercise.

It continued the next morning when Cory Doctorow Skyped in from London to address the conference. Cory went so far as to say that when parents are using monitoring software on their kids computers, they're giving them the message that privacy isn't important, and thus this leads to a generation that accepts government surveillance as "good for them".

Well, it's not easy to get up and argue with someone like Cory Doctorow, but at that point I was mad enough to do it. Because, frankly, I think that's bunkum, and I still do. Maybe it's true if parents are secretly using spy ware, but my use of monitoring software has always been part of the wider conversation about online use, etiquette and safety. It's helped prevent at least one potentially dangerous situation and created countless teachable moments about what is and is not appropriate to do online.

My son is turning 18 soon and he's getting a new computer for college. He knows that the new computer will be monitoring software free, and we had a conversation about what he's learned from the talks we've had. He also knows that he will now be legally accountable for himself. No Mommy to fall back on.

One person at my table asked me if I'd ever read my daughter's diary. "Of course not!" I answered. Alex asked me what's the difference between reading my daughter's diary and using monitoring software.

Here's the difference and I think it's REALLY important: My daughter's diary is in a notebook somewhere in her disgustingly messy room. But that room is contained in my house, which is protected by a security system that is linked to the Greenwich Police Department, and I know personally everyone who comes in and out of that room.

BUT: The minute she turns on her laptop the situation changes. The entire world gains access to my daughter's room. Any stranger can enter. And because my daughter feels safe because she is in her room, in our house, she'll feel more comfortable interacting with them than she would if she were at a shopping mall or on a city street or in a dark alley.

Hence the monitoring software. I view it as the online version of the burglar alarm I have to protect my home, until my kids are 18.

For those who would say that this destroys my relationship of trust with my kids, I cannot tell you how wrong you are. The opposite is true - because I've always been open with them, because we discuss things and have these important conversations, we trust each other implicitly.

As for Cory Doctorow's argument that it's teaching my kids that government surveillance is okay, that's where I get really pissed off.

I'm a political columnist and my kids have heard me railing against the Patriot Act since the day it was passed in 2001. I've read them the hate mail I've received from angry readers after some of my columns were published, the ones that called me an "America-hating Terrorist lover", or telling me that I was "using the American Way of Life to Destroy the American Way of Life and the Rest of Western Civilization in the Process". They've had to deal with us having an unlisted phone number because I started getting nasty letters at our old house and I didn't want people to know our address after we moved.

I truly believe that it's false argument that a parent who openly monitors their child's Internet activity because they want to keep them safe (not to mention that they are legally responsible for their child's actions until the age of 18) is teaching them to accept government surveillance. Because it's ALL ABOUT THE CONVERSATIONS. It's something I say over and over again. It's called PRO-ACTIVE PARENTING. Monitoring the kids has allowed me to be proactive rather than reactive, like I was when the cyber-bullying incident occurred. There are plenty of fires happening offline when you have teenagers that you have to deal with re actively on a day by day basis - but the Internet is just too big of a risk to take. It's like an elephant. It never forgets. And one little mistake can travel worldwide.

Let my kids make their mistakes in their offline lives, where they have the privacy to do so.

And Cory - your child is still in day care. Let's revisit this argument when she's a teenager. I'll be interested to see if you're quite as sanguine as you are now.