Sunday, June 29, 2008

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

I remember talking about books with a friend one day many years ago. She was raving about this hilarious book called Me Talk Pretty One Day. I assumed it was about . do I say this...a mentally challenged person. "You HAVE to read it!" she yelled. So....I checked it out of the library and didn't get past page one. I'm a tough audience. I'm hard to make laugh. I'll smile politely at a joke, offer a giggle but to solicit a guffaw, it just doesn't happen too frequently. I guess I imagined the book would be like a collection of knee slapping jokes.

Sooooo when I heard about this book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I figured I'd try it. I do have a soft spot for funny gay men. And funny gay men writers? Love them.

I began the book last night and am already halfway through it. Its so ...funny! Entertaining. And I did laugh out loud a handful of times. Its an amusing and fun read and I can't wait to finish it up tonight. And now I'm going to have to go back and try out Me Talk Pretty One Day and all the other books in between.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs

The Friday Night Knitting Club author Kate Jacobs, is back on the scene with a new novel Comfort Food. You will love it. Here's what it's about:

Cooking with Gusto! host Augusta Gus Simpson, a widowed mother of two adult daughters who's about to turn 50, is tiring of her many obligations, which include throwing an annual birthday bash for herself. That trial pales, however, in comparison with the introduction of saucy former beauty queen and YouTube star Carmen Vega as Gus's cohost. Click here for the full Amazon page.

I am so into everything cooking these days. Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, reading cook books, and magazines like Taste of Home and Cooking Light...I wonder how I can take a cooking tour of Tuscany to culiminate my latest obsession. It's no wonder that I devoured Kate Jacobs's newest novel in a day! She has a easy, page turning style and the story flows. You want the best for her characters because they become your friends. As with The Friday Night Knitting Club, I was sorry to reach the end of the book. So now I anxiously await another Kate Jacobs masterpiece!

This book centers on food and cooking. Are you much of a cook?

I’m not a gourmet, that’s for sure! But yes, I like cooking. And I am addicted to Food Network. I get all excited when I see they have that darn cake special. Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss cakes? In my own home, I enjoy experimenting and I love to have people over to dinner, but I tend to stay within a comfort zone. If I can make a dish and have it turn out well then I like to try it again (and again and again). Ask my husband how many times I’ve served tenderloin and roasted veggies. But, when I was younger, I really didn’t want to know anything about cooking. For me,the process to enjoying the domestic realm has been evolving, as I’ve gotten older and as I’ve discovered that I can enjoy being homey while still spending most of my time focusing on work. For my mom, it’s highlya musing that my debut novel was The Friday Night Knitting Club and nowI’m writing about cooking in Comfort Food. When I was a kid, you could barely get me in the kitchen unless it was to eat…or bake cookies. I break all rules for cookies.

I love to bake and I think I'm pretty good at it. What is your specialty n the kitchen?

Chocolate chip cookies, with a mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate.I get out the ingredients whenever I need a bit of a stress relief. Writing Comfort Food was one long cookie: I baked, I snacked, I wrote, I baked. And then I did it all again. Plus, when I’m really grouchy, I do all the mixing by hand to burn off a little of the tension!

How are you alike/different from the main character of Gus?

Well, Gus is this wonderfully elegant hostess. I’m a bit more harried. Or maybe a lot more harried! She’s older than I am, and a mother. Though as she is surprised by turning fifty, I must admit that I am shocked – truly – to realize I am going to be 35 this year. It’s not that I feel old. (Well, maybe a little.) It’s that I am amazed at how quickly life is moving. Just the other day, I swear, I was arriving in Manhattan to go to grad school. Except that was 13 years ago! Her best friend’s last name is Levine, and so is one of mine. That was a little intentional thing I threw in there.

There is one thing Gus and I do share in a deeper way, though, and that similarity really helped me into herc haracter. It’s not something I talk about very much but right before myf irst novel went on sale my husband was seriously ill and hospitalized. He experienced what’s known as a mini-stroke, or TIA, and it was very frightening. We hadn’t lived in California for long and I realized, once I got to the hospital, that I didn’t have the phone numbers for anyone we knew nearby. I wasn’t able to call anyone to come and be with us. (Of course I called our families, who began arriving the next day. But they live long distances away.)

So that night, it was just me and Jon, except he couldn’t speak intelligibly or move his limbs. There was a pervading fear of not knowing where we’d be the next morning and it was horrible. Now, he recovered fully. He’s great. But what a scare! Talk about putting things in perspective. I was excited to have that first book published but a heckuva lot more excited to still have my husband around. I just felt sort of stunned for months afterwards, even as I was on tour promoting the book. And then later, when I sat down to write Comfort Food, I made Gus around the same age as I was when Jon was ill. She became a widow – my big fear that night – but then I balanced it out by giving her children, which we realized then is one of our deepest and as yet unfulfilled wishes. Comfort Food is my own comfort, in its way.

What research did you do while writing Comfort Food? I'd guess a lot of time spent watching the Food Network!

Absolutely. I watched a ton of TV and, of course, many hours of Food Network. I’m so glad someone started Food Network because it is just sosoothing. How can you not be happy watching someone simmer away? I’m also a big fan of Top Chef though that’s not soothing at all! More exciting.I’m always very invested in Judges’ Table and enjoy reading the blogs. For me, in general, I don’t go overboard with the research – I prefer to stay within my imagination. Because my background is as a journalist I don’t want to get caught up in feeling I have to report what goes on in the real world. I’m writing fiction here! So I wouldn’t describe Comfort Food as a blueprint of how a cooking show operates. It’s more an imagined behind-the-scenes story of the tensions and relationships that go on in aworkplace – only this “office” happens to be a kitchen!

Your first novel was about knitting and this one features food. What will your next book be about?

People. That’s actually the core element that unites my stories. Iwant to write about emotions, about relationships, about getting to know each other and getting to know ourselves. And through writing The Friday Night Knitting Club and Comfort Food I have learned many new things about myself. Each of those novels, in their own way, has surprised me by providing me with a deeper understanding of some of the experiences I have had. Now, that said, will my third book have a domestic element? It very well could. It doesn’t have to, of course. But it might.

What is the last book you read?

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper. Loved it. I also just read I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley, which was also great. I read so many books that I literally FedEx them back to my house when I’m on the road on a book tour – right now I’m out and about promoting Comfort Food-- so I can lighten up my suitcase and make room for a new one.

Has there been movie interest in Comfort Food? I know Friday Night Knitting Club was optioned and I can easily imagine this book as a movie too.

Well, there is some interest. But nothing I can talk about yet! I’d love to see Comfort Food as a movie; I think it would make a hilarious romantic comedy. As for casting it, I leave that up to Hollywood…

What are the best and worst aspects of having a book hit the bookstores?Do you get nervous about reviews, critics, book sales?

I’m a worrier. ‘Why wait until tomorrow what I can worry about today’is my motto. So, on the one hand, it’s tremendously exciting to have a newbook hit stores. Especially, with Comfort Food, I feel a certain joy that I didn’t with FNKC because that one came on the heels of Jon’s illness. On the other hand, who knows what will happen? You work hard on your craft and throw the book out there and who knows? Some reviewers love a book and others don’t, and that’s just real life. Opinion is subjective. You know,I aim to create fun, easy-to-read stories that offer a bit of respite during a busy, stressed day. I’m out to entertain.

How do you like going on a book tour? It must be exhilarating and exhausting! How do you unwind at the end of a busy day?

Book tour is a peculiar thing for me. I love meeting readers; everyone is always so kind and welcoming. But the truth is that I hate to leave home. I am very much into my comfortable space. I like being with my husband and our dog; we’re a little pack. And was I ever nervous when I first went on the road with Friday Night Knitting Club! But now I’ve eased into it a bit. Without exception, I meet great people on tour. What more could I ask for? And I really enjoy staying in hotels, for example, and trying out all the little soaps and shampoos. I tend to have a little collection of bottles by the end of my travels and that’s neat. It’s like bringing home a goodie bag.

What’s next for you?

Two books are in the works, and I have pages written in each of them. Neither has a title yet but I’m working on that, too!

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Amazon Top Picks for June

Out of all the top picks from Amazon for June, there are only two on this list that I want to read. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris and Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich. Two books which I am anxious to dig into are The German Bride by Joanna Hershon and Janelle Brown's All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

I suppose I'll get around to reading The New Earth but after seeing everyone and their mother reading it, I got sort of turned off. Like when you hear a song on the radio and you like it and then suddenly its playing so often that your ears feel like they are being violated after the three hundredth time you hear it. When I see people toting The New Earth, I'm thinking...can't you find another book, one that Oprah hasn't read yet? Is there not another book on this planet that you can find? Yes, there are so many choices.

Check out The Painter from Shanghai, Comfort Food, Away, Swim to Me.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
What Happened by Scott McClellan
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich
The Shack by William P. Young
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebook Gift Set, 4th Edition (what!?)
The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
oh and if you are bored, check out where I write about celebrities and beauty. I am running a contest right now for one lucky reader who lives in New York City so scope it out. Drop by and say 'ello.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Writing and agents and screenplays...

A must for every writer, Screenplay by Syd Field
Growing up I dreamed of three things. Finding my soul mate, moving to California and being a writer, preferabley for the big screen. I wanted to write novels too but felt that I needed life experience to actually type out a full length novel. Sometime in my twenty-nineth year I decided I had enough observations and details accumulated so I pounded out a four hundred page missive. I was positive it would be published within a year. I sent off a round of query letters. I re-edited the book and sent off more queries. I waited. I sent more letters. I tooled around with the book again. But no bites. Mind you, I must have sent off about two hundred and fifty queries and received back almost as many rejection letters. Prone to depression, its very easy for me to get down and negative but hey, I read The Secret. I knew all I had to do was be positive...right?
Marilyn is a character in Fifty Cents for Your Soul
Over the next several years I went on to write more novels with female lead characters. My hook was that every book was somehow either about life in Hollywood or set in Los Angeles, entertainment capital of the world. I always felt somewhat confident that somewhere in this great country was the perfect agent for me. I just had to find him or her, like a needle in a haystack. I remained hopeful- for a while. It has not happened. I want to say I've sent off a total of maybe six hundred query letters, shouldn't that be a record? Is there a prize? I don't know if there is an agent alive who represents womens fiction that hasn't heard from me.

When I finished with A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, I was so fed up with looking for agents and sending letters and emails and waiting, and waiting and receiving those cold, brutal rejection letters, that I decided to go with a small publisher and just get my book out into the world. The publisher did not do any marketing or advertising and left to do it myself, I truly didn't know what to do or where to do. Calls to magazines to review the book went unreturned. Book Soup told me basically that since I was a nobody and couldn't bring in five hundred guests, I was not permitted to come in for a book signing. I persevered.
Another must read!
After writing my Marilyn Monroe book, Fifty Cents for Your Soul, I was determined to edit and revamp and perfect the novel before the giant agent search took place again. At this point, I felt like a true pro at not only crafting a query letter but writing a synopsis and researching agents. A very smart and successful novelist read my book, suggested a few changes so I rewrote the book.

Another round of queries and another round of rejections- although most query letters go unanswered. I'm beginning to think its me. It's not going to happen, is it? At what point does one give up, throw in the towel and say, screw it. But I can't give up because somewhere I do believe there is a person who will love my writing and my stories.

Sooooooo, having always dreamed about writing a screenplay, I am now finishing up on the screenplay version of my novel. I thought maybe if I can do both novel and screenplay, that would make me so much more valuable. But of course there are queries to send and agents to find....

The thought of sending out even more query letters and waiting fills me with a dread as heavy as cement boots. I figured surely when I hit five hundred query letters sent, statistically, the odds were in my favor, right? My writing is good, fun and light novels. My (unpublished) book got rave reviews from those novelist-friends who read it. What more can I do but keep moving forward?

In my mind, the movie of Fifty Cents for Your Soul is already cast. Rachel McAdams as a young Marilyn Monroe. Amy Adams as the main character of Barrett. Isla Fischer as Carly, Barrett's rap talking sister. Carol Kane as the mom, Lydia. Shirley MacClaine as Letty. It's just what female actresses say they want- an emsemble cast of strong females.

When I was nineteen years old, I started persuing my dream of being a writer. I wrote children's books and sent them to Harper Collins in a white envelope, saying Dear Sir or Madam...In my twenties I wrote and illustrated books and I learned more about writing and the whole query letter and agent deal. In my thirties, I wrote my celebrity gossip blog and tried vigorously to parlay that success into a publishing deal like so many other bloggers before (and after me).

I suppose if you want something bad enough, which I do, you just keep going and you don't give up. And if you hang in there long enough, maybe you will reach your goal. I don't know. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Twilight movie trailer. Bite me.

I am not a horror fan. Not a vampire fan as you know. But I mentioned that our book club has chosen Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and I have not cracked it open yet. While looking for books to movie news and trailers, I found this one of- ta-da- Twilight. Check it out.

Have you read City of Ember? Yet another book to movie!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Books to Film, Sex and the City

I just love going to the movies. There's something exciting about sitting in the dark theater, watching the trailers for upcoming films, waiting for the feature to begin. The title credits roll, the action starts and hopefully if the movie is good, you will be transported to another place for about 120 minutes.

Last week I saw Don't Mess With The Zohan. What could have been really funny turned about to be over the top, crossing the line of what makes me laugh and what disgusts me. This had potential to be laugh out loud funny for everyone but I think the laughter came from the teenage boys in the audience. Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel needed a woman's touch when it came to writing the jokes. Mentions of hummus in every scene and Adam Sandler with a hugely padded codpiece? Not so hysterical. Neither is Adam's character having sexy times with all the old women whose hair he styles. Eh, skip it and watch it on dvd.

I saw Sex and the City this past weekend and loved it. Over two hours long, its like an extended episode of the show. It made me nostalgic for the life I always thought I would have- a writer in New York City with a tiny apartment filled with great shoes. There were funny parts, sad parts and happy endings all around. I've read mixed reviews about the movie but if you enjoyed the show, there's no way you won't walk out of the theater wishing you were friends with Charlotte, Miranda, Carrie and Samantha. Based on a book by Candance Bushnell, Sex and the City is a must-see film with your best girlfriends.

During the previews, there was this trailer for He's Just Not That Into You. I'm marking my calender now for this film which comes out in October. An all star cast based on the book of the same name, this movie is for any girl who ever dated, period.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Books! and more...

I am online everyday but my time is dedicated to researching the most fuel efficient automobiles because my 4Runner is not cheap to fill. The Prius tops my list even though it looks like Judy Jetson is going to pop out with Elroy.

I feel like I haven't been on the ball with this site lately and here's why: I'm deep into adapting my modern day Marilyn Monroe novel, Fifty Cents for Your Soul into a screenplay. After taking a class this past winter, I was very inspired to take the sequel to A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, and turn it into a script. I hope that being a writer who can complete both novels and screenplays will benefit this writing career I am trying to get off the ground. My literary agent search continues and sometimes I feel like giving up on trying to find one but I don't, I keep going.

Adapting the novel has proven to be a wonderful project but one that requires a lot of time and attention. Not to mention taking care of two young kids, running Hello Dollface and keeping up with my reading plus family and friend committments. Im planning a trip to San Francisco in July and I read reviews on TripAdvisor every day as I look for hotels and restaurants.

I have an interview to post with the author of Comfort Food (Friday Night Knitting Club), Kate Jacobs. Be sure to get your hands on this enjoyable novel!

Another noteworthy book is Love The One You're With by Emily Giffin. I read this a while back and liked it a lot. The premise is this: a woman reconnects with an old flame and wonders if he's the guy she should have married. It's a light summer read which Emily's fans will certainly enjoy. Her writing is so smooth and easy that you can get through the entire novel within a couple of days.

The next novel chosen in my book club is Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Let me tell you that I am so NOT a supernatural, science fiction or vampire fan. I really liked Marta Acosta's books but that's because the author writes with such humor. I am anxious to read Marian Keyes newest, This Charming Man.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Congrats to Allison Winn Scotch!

As I always talk about, it's been a dream of mine for a long, long time to have my books adapted into screenplays and made into major motion pictures. Someone who is living my dream right now is Allison Winn Scotch. Many writers who have appeared on this site have gone onto have books made into films! It's so exciting. Allison's is a huge, major deal and I expect to read all the juicy details every step of the way on her website, Ask Allison.

I am beyond thrilled for Allison. This must be the most amazing time of her life! I want to give you all the details (below). It gives hope to those of us who keep ambitiously pursuing our own dreams. Sharing in Allison's joy is such an honor. You go girl!


Project to Serve as First Collaboration between TWC and Producer Meryl PosterNEW YORK, NY (June 3, 2008) -- The Weinstein Company announced today it has acquired the worldwide film rights to Allison Winn Scotch's second novel TIME OF MY LIFE. Book was brought to TWC by Meryl Poster of Superb Entertainment. Poster, former president of production at Miramax, has a long-standing relationship with the Weinsteins having played a key role in classic adaptations such as "Emma," "Cider House Rules," " Chocolat" and "Cold Mountain."

This project marks their first collaboration with TWC since Poster's Superb Entertainment struck a first look deal with NBC Universal in 2005. Superb Entertainment's head of development, Kate Schumaecker, brought the project to Meryl Poster who passed it on to Kelly Carmichael, svp production and casting at TWC. The announcement was made today by Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company.

TIME OF MY LIFE is the story of a thirty-something housewife who is at an emotional crossroad in her marriage and gets the chance to go back in time to squelch those tiny, lingering doubts that send women googling old friends and exes or wistfully pulling out pictures of days gone by."We are thrilled to be finally working again with Meryl and thankful she has brought us this incredible project," stated Harvey Weinstein, "Scotch's writing is both outright honest and at the same time comically engaging. She provides a strong female voice with characters that easily relate to the screen. Considering our strong track record with Meryl, we are very excited to begin moving this project forward. There is no finer film executive that can single out talent and maximize theatrical potential."Meryl Poster added, "What struck me about this project is that it speaks to women who have reached a very specific and self-reflective moment in their lives. The material is both relatable and romantic with a fabulous starring role for an actress."

"I am honored to be working with Meryl on this project as she is known for her passionate, hands-on approach to filmmaking," stated Allison Winn Scotch. "I am thrilled at the prospect of TIME OF MY LIFE joining her incredible resume. What more could an author ask for? I feel like I died and went to Hollywood adaptation heaven."

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Read it, love it- Driving Sideways by Jess Riley

I read so many good things about this book even before it came out. So you can only imagine how exciting it was when the author, Jess Riley, sent me an email asking if I would be interested in reading it. Did I even hesitate? Not a second. I have piles of wonderful books sitting next to me, books that I can't wait to dig into. But the timing was right and I packed Driving Sideways with me for a weekend trip to Las Vegas and I read it within two days. While my husband was wasting time and money at the Texas Hold Em table, I was sitting in my hotel room, snug in the bed reading. Who goes to Las Vegas to read? Me, that's who.

Jess Riley is as nice and funny as you would want the writer of a great book to be. It's a book about a roadtrip, a kidney disease, a juvenile delinquent and an absent mother. I'm not telling you any more. You just have to read it.

I love to hear how writers find their agents and become novelists. Tell me about your path to becoming a published writer?

Well, Driving Sideways isn’t actually my FIRST novel. My first attempt (what I now call the ‘practice book’) was written before I had any idea what makes a compelling novel: it was all scenery and character, no story arc to speak of, no real hook to make it stand out from the pack. But I secured enough of the right kind of rejections to both keep me writing and more importantly, teach me how to improve my craft. After the idea for Driving Sideways came to me, I wrote a few chapters and entered them in two contests: the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and one sponsored by the Chicklit Writers of the World, which appealed to me because the final judges included an agent and an editor.

Driving Sideways (then called Riding with Larry Resnick) was named one of 8 finalists from more than 600 entrants for the James Jones fellowship and placed first in category in the chicklit contest—I also had a request to see the full manuscript from the editor judge. I chose the contest route because I didn’t have much of a freelancing portfolio (unless you count grant proposals), and I wanted something to put in my query letter that would catch an agent’s eye…like the fact that an editor they know has already asked to see the full manuscript.

I finished the book, this time passing it by a dozen objective readers to make sure it was the best it could be—I subscribed to publishers’ marketplace, looked up every agent who had ever sold to the editor asking to see the full, and queried ten. I ended up being able to choose which agent I wanted to represent me, which I never thought I’d be able to do.

I love the photos throughout the book. How did your pictures make their way into the book?

Thanks! My editor actually campaigned for that addition, and I took the Driving Sideways road trip a second time to get the chapter opener shots and fine-tune the story before copyediting.

Do the feet on the cover belong to you? Because they really look like mine (with a pedicure). Except...I never hang my feet out the window. Dashboard, sometimes. Window, never.

Everyone who has ever seen my bare feet say that the cover toes look like mine, too! But no, I have no idea whose feet they are. They started out with bare toenails, however—I asked them to photoshop in some polish. (Nobody I know is a fan of the naked toenail.)

Why did you chose to write about PKD versus another disease? Do you have a personal interest in the disease?

I actually stumbled across PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease) by accident, because I was working backwards from my story premise on the possibility of cellular memory in organ transplants. When I learned that PKD is actually the most common life-threatening genetic disease in the world—more common than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and muscular dystrophy combined (and there is no cure)—I was shocked.
I’d heard of every one of the other conditions, yet I’d never heard of PKD. So I decided to include it in the story to help put it on the map for people like me who had never heard of it. Since I don’t have PKD, it was critical that I got input from people who do. Two wonderful PKD patients read early drafts of the book and I feel lucky to now call them friends. I have also discovered that other friends and colleagues have family members affected by it, and it’s now one of the causes I support.

If you could fast forward to Leigh's future, what would she be doing?

I like to imagine Leigh smiling more and worrying less…I do think she will be healthy (without giving too much of the story away), and I do think she will be in love. I’m actually thinking of having Leigh make a cameo in my next novel. She may have some good advice for a character at a crossroads in her own life.

What's the most difficult thing you have ever done in your life, so far?

Oh, this is a good one: telling my family that just one year after getting married, my new husband and I were getting divorced. Securing a publishing contract was also very difficult, but on a completely different level.

What is:
the last book you read? Suzanne Finnamore’s Split: A Memoir of Divorce. She writes so well I could weep.

movie you saw in the theater? Ironman, on my husband’s birthday. This was also the first movie I saw without prior vetting (I’m a Rotten Tomatoes addict.) I was very pleasantly surprised!

movie you rented? Oh, it’s been awhile! Lars and the Real Girl?
item of clothing you purchased? Probably a shirt at Target. I dislike my entire wardrobe right now, but I never find time to change it.

your favorite travel destination?
Bayfield, Wisconsin. Some people say Door County is the Cape Cod of the Midwest, but to me, I have to give that nod to Bayfield, way up north on the shores of Lake Superior. Bayfield has a vibrant artist community, no chain restaurants or motels, and dozens of quaint wineries, farms, bed and breakfasts, and shops. It’s peaceful and breathtakingly gorgeous.

Tell me some of your hobbies?

Wishing I could be less ‘class clown’ and more ‘elegantly polished author.’ I swear, some days I feel like the soundtrack to my life is the Benny Hill theme song—like the day I got lost in a parking ramp and couldn’t find my way out, driving around and around. These kinds of incidents always find their way into my stories, probably because I like to imagine someone reading merrily along and then suddenly laughing out loud. (I LOVE those moments in books! My own favorite laugh-out-loud moments were courtesy of Garrison Keillor’s Love Me and Paul Feig’s Superstud.)

But to really answer your question, my hobbies are pretty typical fare: gardening, hiking, reading, watching movies and bad reality TV, cooking. I always talk about taking up running, but that’s usually as far as it gets. One strange hobby I started last year was planting milkweed and raising Monarch caterpillars … and it turns out lots of people do this! They call it “Monarch Ranching.” By October, I’d released about 48 butterflies in my backyard. That was a hobby that got a little out of hand—i.e., “I must save them all!” And then my brother said, “Well, I guess if you want to do that…just don’t turn into the Silence of the Lambs moth dude.”

Ideally how do you want the next ten years of your life to play out?

I’d like to travel more, maybe start a family…I’d like to finish remodeling my house so that potential buyers don’t faint or run screaming down the street when they see the upstairs bathroom. And I will always be writing.

What were you like as a child? Did you like school?

I was a mischievous, talkative child. I loved school, but I was at odds with certain school policies and procedures—such as passing notes and talking during class. I had my name on the board with checkmarks behind it nearly every day. We recently found some of my old report cards, and nearly every teacher wrote this in the comments section: “Jessica enjoys socializing in class far too much.” Oh! And my kindergarten teacher wrote this: “Jessica is a fine student, but I don’t know where she gets the disturbing idea that parents who do not want their children BOIL THEM ALIVE.” (My dear, sweet parents never would have told me such a thing, so I don’t know where that came from, either.) Yes. Precocious. That was me.

If you won the lottery tomorrow, how would you spend the money?

In my current and previous careers (teaching in a medium-security men’s prison and writing grants for public schools), I learned that several states estimate the number of prison beds they’ll need in ten years based on the number of fourth graders failing standardized reading exams. That is a statistic that has always haunted me, so if I had a ton of money, I’d invest it in some kind of literacy programming for young children. I love what Dave Eggers has been able to do with his tutoring programs.

I’d probably also fix my upstairs bathroom.

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