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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.
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Posts Tagged ‘Anna’s boring life’

Updates and extras

Posted on January 14th, 2014 by annakjarzab

Happy 2014 everybody! Just dropping by to give a few updates on what’s been up with me, since I realize I have not posted here in a while. Let’s get started!

Thing 1: Books

tandem cvr quote

Last year, Tandem came out! Which is very exciting! Also, The Opposite of Hallelujah is in paperback now, if you like that sort of thing (by which I mean books that are cheaper than they were previously). I also managed to completely rewrite Tether (Many-Worlds Trilogy Book 2) and it just came back from copy editing, which means it’s like 95% done (she says, having not looked at the copy edits yet). It’s currently scheduled for the very vague Spring 2015, which for a Random House book can mean anywhere from January to June (here’s hoping it does not in fact mean June); as soon as I have a firm date, I will make sure to post it everywhere.

2013 was a hard year for me in many ways, but not in the sense of writing productivity. Not counting the two very different versions of Tether I wrote last year, I wrote two other full-length novels. One is adult contemporary fantasy (I don’t know why but I like that term better than “urban fantasy” even though this book, which we shall give the code name FM, is in fact set in New York, and partly in New Orleans) along the lines of, like, The Magicians. The other is contemporary YA in the vein of If I Stay, and I am OBSESSED with it. We shall call that book BYSA. I got the idea for it in very early November. I’m a weird half-insomniac; I usually wake up four hours after I’ve gone to bed and toss and turn for the next four or so hours, which is obviously very annoying since I have a day job to get up for.

Anyway, I was tossing and turning per usual that morning, and then I just got hit with this idea. I got up and went to my computer, jotted down a paragraph of notes, titled it “Might be something”, and went back to bed. First thing in the AM I started reading books for research, taking copious notes, and writing. I finished in early December. I don’t usually write that fast, but this was one of those situations (it happened with The Opposite of Hallelujah, too) where there was no writing friction to slow me down. I’ve revised it once since then, and am letting it sit and settle for a while before going back to it (plus I still have more research to do). But I’m really pumped about it!

Other than FM and BYSA (and Tether), I wrote a Many-Worlds Trilogy short story last year and half of another one (which I’m throwing out and rewriting because…reasons? Even I don’t actually know why), and about 200 pages of a novel called Red Dirt. Which leads me to Thing 2…

Thing 2: Wattpad

In my professional life, I am the digital and social media manager for Penguin Young Readers Group. So if you’ve ever interacted with Penguin Teen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., it was probably me. I don’t talk about this a lot in these parts because it feels like a weird conflict of interest of sorts? But actually lots of publishing professionals are secretly or not-so-secretly aspiring or published authors, so it’s not that big of a deal. Anyway, I was on a Digital Book World panel yesterday talking about teens and social media and I met a woman from Wattpad, Ashleigh, which reminded me I’ve been meaning to get on Wattpad for some time now. So I went home and started playing around with it. For some reason (insanity), I decided that I was going to post the first three chapters of an original, work in progress novel called Red DirtRed Dirt is unpublished and uncontracted and unfinished. I got the idea the first time I went to Oklahoma for Memorial Day, and started writing it when I got back from Oklahoma the second time I went there. So I assume that after I come back from Oklahoma this year, I will finish it. The WIP document on my computer is 200 pages, with probably about 50 or 100 pages left to go, and while I doubt I’ll be sharing all of it on Wattpad, I decided to put up the first three chapters for fun. This is sort of what it’s about (this is not great marketing copy, but it’s what I came up with yesterday):

Sammy Lester’s had about enough of her life in back of beyond Oklahoma, but family loyalties and uncertainty about the future are holding her hostage. She’s got her ex-con, ex-addict father take care of, and her five-year-old sister, Decca, to think about. And then there’s Brayton Foster, a rich boy just arrived for the summer; for some reason, Sammy can’t resist his charms, no matter how hard she tries.

Then the unthinkable happens–Sammy’s father disappears. She believes he’s been murdered; the police and her older brother, Denver, aren’t so sure. As the summer marches on, and there’s no sign of Billy Ray Lester, Sammy is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about the people she loves, and to wonder whether it’s even possible to get justice in a place where the very ground is red as blood.

You can read the prologue and the first three chapters of Red Dirt on Wattpad. If people like it (and I’m comfortable) I might post more! But I did make sure to post enough so that you meet the boy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Speaking of Wattpad! I also posted the prologue and first three chapters of Tandem up there, plus a little bonus essay called “A Brief History of the United Commonwealth of Columbia”, which is probably only of interest if you’ve read Tandem. I have a bunch of extra stuff like this for the series, I just need to find it and make sure it still makes sense since these books have changed a lot over the years. But I will post more when I can.

I also have a The Opposite of Hallelujah short story about Hannah that takes place before the events of The Opposite of Hallelujah called “The Girl in the Well” that I’m going to post, but I need to re-read it for continuity. TBD on that!

I think that’s it. Oh:

Thing 3: I turned 30 yesterday.

I think that’s self-explanatory.

Thinking about 2012

Posted on December 29th, 2012 by annakjarzab

My old roommate, Eesha, and I used to do this thing at the end of every year where we’d tell each other, “Next year, banner year!” Meaning that next year would be better than the one we just finished, that we were going to look back on the upcoming year with fondness in our old age and think, “Now,2011, that was a great year!”

2012 was not a banner year for me. Like most years (all years?), it was kind of a mixed bag. At the end of 2011, my boss went on maternity leave, and two other people in our very small department quit, leaving my work twin, Emilie, and I to carry the entire burden of the work that was previously being done by 4.5 people (we shared an assistant with another department). I had some enormous projects delegated to me at the end of 2011 and ended up working 8 hour days throughout the Christmas holiday, which was, frankly, exhausting. I learned a lot, and accomplished some really cool stuff, and earned, I hope, some respect for making the best out of a tough situation (I also got promoted, which is no small thing). But I never quite got back on track after my boss returned and we got a new person on our team (our intern-turned-temp during the Bad Months, now our indispensable assistant–do internships in college, kids!); my work load didn’t really diminish, and I spend most of the year tossing and turning at night wondering just how I was going to get everything done. I think I did a pretty good job, but as someone who is always striving to do the most and do it the best, I do wonder sometimes.

As far as my personal life, my roommate (and one of my best friends) moved away from New York in May, which meant I had to break our lease and find a new apartment in, like, three weeks. I did it, though! And now I have a nice little studio to call my own, which I returned to last night after a week in California with a surprising amount of relief and happiness. I realized this Christmas that while I love California, love seeing my family, and have the pretty good fortune to have my best friends from high school live in New York (which means that we see each other all the time in NY and in CA), this little apartment in Harlem is my home now. It belongs to me, it’s all mine, it’s got all of my things in it…California is where my parents live. New York, for all its flaws and my reticence about it, is my home. It only took five years, but we got there.

Other than that, I took the best vacation of my adult life in 2012, spending five days on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller with my best friend Cambria, our very good friend Nikki, Cambria’s parents, and Cambria’s parents friends, Karen and Wayne, who are the best hosts EVER. I’ve never been so relaxed and happy on vacation as I was in OK and can’t wait to go back this year. My friends Eric and Jenny, who I introduced back in 2008, got married in San Diego in September and I performed the ceremony! I met and surpassed my 100-book reading goal for 2012, including Outlander and its six sequels, which are LONG but highly recommended. I spent two separate weeks at a vacation house on Fire Island that I rented with my friends. Lots of great stuff.

When I think about where I am, writing-wise, at the end of 2012, I’m not as thrilled as I would like, but there are some good things that came out of this year. First, obviously, I had a book come out–The Opposite of Hallelujah–which has been quiet but did earn me my first starred review, from Booklist, and another really great review from Kirkus. The Opposite of Hallelujah was also one of Booklist‘s Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books for Youth, which is a lovely and appreciated honor. In terms of actual writing, I finally, after a long, arduous fight throughout 2011, wrestled Tandem, the first book in my Many-Worlds Trilogy, which comes out October 8, 2013, into the shape I wanted it to be. I also wrote a solid first draft of Many-Worlds 2 (the sequel to Tandem), which I very much love and am proud of. Since the Tandem I turned in to my editor was a complete rewrite, this means I wrote two full-length novels this year (and they’re long, 115,000-120,000 words each), which is not bad! I also wrote about 150 pages of an adult novel this year while working on another, messily incomplete YA; this was probably one of my most productive years, if I look at it in terms of words on paper.

But, of course, I don’t look at it that way very often. For me, it’s always about how I feel about my writing, regardless of word count or pages written or novels completed. The question, “Was it a good year or a bad year?” always comes down to whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze*, despite how proud I am to have finished something or made progress on projects. And on that level, I just don’t know yet how I feel about 2012. 2010 was a bad year. 2011 was a so-so year–on one hand, a full 12 months of toil on draft after draft of Tandem, but on the other hand the magnificent triumph of finishing and turning in The Opposite of Hallelujah, which I felt sort of redeemed the epic awfulness of 2010.

I’m hoping it was worth it. I worked very hard in 2012 to balance my vision for Tandem with other people’s feedback and expectations, but at the end of the year I find myself wondering if I’m still on a different planet than everyone else. I’ve never felt more alone in my writing than I did this year (and that includes awful, no good, very bad 2010), than I still do today. This year above all others–and this book (Tandem) in particular–reminded me just what a solitary pursuit this writing business is. No one else can be there inside your head, and, inevitably, no one else will care even a tenth as much as you do about your work. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

I think my 2012 takeaway is that I have to stop caring what other people think, what they say and don’t say, entirely and unequivocally. This doesn’t mean that when people give me feedback I won’t respond or take it into account or do what is asked of me, but I do have to stop thinking, “Well, this person or that person doesn’t seem excited/doesn’t seem to get it/isn’t convinced/doesn’t think it’s worth very much, so therefore they must be right, I must have failed, I’m worthless” (which is the shame spiral I’ve been caught in for the last two and a half years). I have to believe, without faltering in that belief, to the point of ridiculousness if necessary, that what I’m doing is the right thing, that what I’m creating has value, and to behave that way going forward. I can’t dismiss my own faith in myself, or allow myself to be talked out of it or ridiculed into a more modest view of my talent/achievements, because fortune favors the bold, and if I don’t believe in myself, nobody else is going to, either.

There’s an old piece of writing advice: Protect the work. Do that which you need to do to make sure your work (and the part of yourself that is a writer) doesn’t suffer. For some, this might mean having a part-time job instead of trying to build a career outside of writing (really, I should be doing this, but I’m far too practical and vain). For others, it might mean, I don’t know, not reading within the genre you’re writing in so as not to be influenced with other people’s ideas. For me, it’s probably going to mean a couple of things, none of which I feel are necessary to detail here, as they are specific to me and the people in my life and are probably not, at this stage, universally applicable as advice. But “protect the work” is pretty solid, so I offer it to you as a belated holiday gift. If you’ve already heard it, well, I forgot to get a gift receipt so you can’t return it, but it’s one of those things where it doesn’t hurt to have two.

I think I’ve blathered on long enough. 2013: banner year!

*I was really hoping to find the clip where Kelly says this to Matthew, but it wasn’t on YouTube. Anyway, you should watch The Girl Next Door, it’s a really great movie.

We’re all mad here

Posted on May 11th, 2012 by annakjarzab

I believe it was Bridget Jones who said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”

Maybe spectacularly to pieces is a bit of an exaggeration, but literally not a few days after my editor called to tell me she loves Tandem (cue huge sigh of relief here!), my roommate told me that she was moving to Atlanta. Then the monumental task of breaking my lease, finding a new apartment, and moving into that apartment lay before me. Moving in New York is basically an awful experience from soup to nuts. You really can’t start looking until about three weeks from the date you need to move in, and your options are…limited. Also, every one is a Shady McShaderson. Brokers are expensive and difficult to work with, apartments go in the blink of an eye, prices are high and apartments are tiny (you should see some of the places I looked at; the whole thing is absurd). I’ve done it twice before and it was a nightmare both times. I’m not looking forward to doing it again, and I’m feeling a little maddened by the enormity of the task.

So it’s been a little PANIC!! At the Disco in my headspace lately. At this point, the only thing keeping me moderately sane is the thought that Tandem, on which I have labored almost without ceasing for the last year and a half, is going to be a real book that you can read and hold in your hands by the fall of 2013!

Anyway, the good news is, it’s almost over. I move a week from Saturday, which is NOT A LOT OF TIME, but oh well. I’ve got an apartment now (a 5th floor walk-up, unfortch, but it’s a big studio with a great kitchen, close to many train lines including three express trains, and it’s alllllllll miiiiiiiiiine), the movers are hired, the super for my old apartment is showing my place to new potential renters, and it looks like it’s all going to be okay.

Below are some photos of my new place, if you’re interested. I’m sure those of you who live anywhere but New York are totally laughing right now at what I consider a “big studio”, but this is a town full of madness, and the real estate market is one of the best examples of that!

This one’s a bit fuzzy. That’s my broker in the upper left.

My new kitchen. It’s got a dishwasher and an actual fridge (you have no idea how many apartments I looked at with “efficiency” kitchens, aka mini-fridges).

Oh, God, in my head it looks so much bigger. Don’t worry, those are the only two windows in the entire apartment.

I’ve got another picture, but I don’t think you care to see the bathroom. I’ll take pictures after all my stuff is inside and arranged, so that you can see what it looks like when I’m all settled. As for now, trying not to freak out about how completely unpacked I am at this moment (like, I have NOT. PACKED. A. THING.) and telling myself it only looks small here because the pictures are tiny and from my iPhone. And that if it sucks and I hate it, it’s only for a year and then I’ll move to Brooklyn.

Seriously guys, New York sucks, don’t move here.

Hey there stranger

Posted on June 7th, 2011 by annakjarzab

I’ve been avoiding this blog. Every time I come over here and open up WordPress, I feel like I should be recapping the final episode of Make It or Break It! But I haven’t watched it yet, if you can believe that. There were a few weeks there where it’s like I completely forgot TV existed (except for Parks & Rec, which, get ready, you guys, I’m sure I’m going to talk about that soon), and I’m still not all caught up on my stories. I wrote a post last week about that Dear Sugar column re: authorly jealousy, which sort of got under my skin, and maybe I’ll publish it later this week, although I’m always wary that things I say online can be taken out of context. But anyway, if you’re curious as to what I’m doing, I’m just chugging along in the background. I’m waiting on notes for my new manuscript from my agents and notes on The Opposite of Hallelujah from my editor, so basically I’m bored, writing-wise. So, of course, I started a new manuscript. It’s contemporary again (the one that’s with my agents right now is a soft sci-fi series), and the characters have the best names. Actually, the book was inspired by the names, which is why it, um, doesn’t have a plot, really. But I’m not worried about that because I’m just playing around with it for now. It’s written in the third person, which I’ve only tried once or twice in the past, and I”m enjoying that. It also gives me the opportunity to think up some really awesome, off-the-wall band names.

That’s all! I wish I had more news, and will probably in the near future, but for now I’m just waiting on notes (how much do you want to bet they come at the same time–when it rains it pours) and fooling around with this new manuscript and catching up on TV and researching for the continuation of the sci-fi series and generally bopping about New York doing weird things like speed dating (you don’t want to know).

The dead girl on the cover

Posted on May 13th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Recently, I was talking to an editor (not my editor), and she was telling me that she was using the cover of All Unquiet Things as a comp title for the art form for one of her upcoming books. She was saying that the cover of AUT is the perfect direction for this title also, and, not having read it yet but knowing a little bit about it, that makes sense to me. But she was also saying that now, a year post-AUT and post-Before I Fall, you can’t really do the “dead girl laying sideways on the grass” thing anymore. It’s just too common, probably because the “dead girl” trope in YA lit is also common. It’s something I hear people complaining about a lot on blogs, actually, sometimes in reviews of AUT. “Oh, another dead girl book, how original.” Setting aside the fact that nothing is really original anymore, and hasn’t been since the ancient Greeks, and we’re all telling the same five stories over and over again anyway, it’s true. You do see a lot of dead girl (and, I would argue, dead boy) books in YA lit. (You see them a lot in adult lit, too, but let’s focus.) And there’s a reason for that.

People die in high school.

All of the time.

Recently I was having dinner with three of my friends, and one of them (my roommate) mentioned that a friend of a friend had recently died. My roommate’s birthday was several months ago, and she’d bought a pretty, blank notebook and brought it with her to the party for her friends to write notes in, since it was her 30th and she wanted a tangible reminder of that night. This friend of a friend had come to the party and wrote in the notebook and a few days ago she’d been going through the notebook looking for a gift card she remembered leaving in there and came across the friend of a friend’s note. This reminded me of going through my junior high school yearbook in which there is a note from my friend Rebecca, who died about a week after she wrote it, right before finals week. I was moving to California, and she wrote, “Don’t forget me!” I haven’t looked at the yearbook in a long time.

The conversation segued on to the (slightly morbid) topic of people we knew who died in high school, and everyone had a story to tell. Some had several. I couldn’t help thinking of my aunt, whose best friend died from illness when she was fifteen, or my brother, whose baseball teammate had died in a car accident when he was fifteen. One of my friends knew several girls in high school who lost their lives to violence. As common a trope as it is in YA, it’s actually more common in life. If you’ve listened to the exclusive interview on the All Unquiet Things audio book, I think (I recorded that a loooong time ago) I mentioned that about a year before AUT was published (way after I’d written the thing) I was doing some Googling around and found out that a murder not unlike Carly’s had happened in one of the very towns I mention in the novel. It was, of course, entirely coincidental and completely heartbreaking. But this stuff happens, every day in fact, which is why we write about it. That was very clearly driven home to me at dinner with my friends.

And the thing about teenage death is that, while it is never, ever easy to lose someone who is close to you, or even to tangentially experience the death of someone in your peer group, everything is heightened in high school. It all seems more immediate and intense and of-the-moment, because you’re so young and you’re so promising and you’re so alive. Not to quote myself, but allow me to quote myself:

“Murdered.” It was a ludicrous word; it didn’t make any sense when used to describe Carly. How could Carly be dead? She was so alive.

Poetry, I know. But anyway. That stuff sticks with you long after you’ve graduated, when your life is nothing like what it was in high school, when your life is not anything like you even imagined it might be in high school. When other memories have faded, or you feel like all those events happened to someone else whose memories were implanted in your head (this is how I feel all the time about my high school years, for no particular reason), you still remember your deepest losses and brushes with death. And they still come up, years later, over glasses of chilled wine on the patio of a tiny bar in Hell’s Kitchen.

I guess I don’t have a very clear point to close out this post, which is probably pretty frustrating to everyone who managed to read through to the end (but! if you did! you can use the comment tool now! so you can comment! if you want! no pressure!!!), but I’m just saying…death is not a cliche. Or maybe it is, maybe it’s the biggest cliche there is, but that doesn’t make it less scary or less mysterious and it certainly doesn’t make people less inclined to talk about it.

I think people who follow the publishing industry find “dead girl/boy books” exhausting because they (the people, not the books) are jaded; there are so many books, and they all get lumped into categories because that’s the easiest way to process them. And I’m not saying I’m not jaded. I’m totally, 100% jaded! But I also know that All Unquiet Things and, say, Thirteen Reasons Why and Before I Fall and If I Stay (to use some random examples that I can speak to because I’ve read them) are completely different books. They all happen to have a dead girl in them (or, in the case of If I Stay and Before I Fall, girls who are neither dead or alive but in some sort of ‘tween state which eventually resolves itself), but other than that they’re not at all alike. The writing styles are totally different–my voice and Jay Asher’s voice and Gayle Forman’s voice and Lauren Oliver’s voice are all distinct–the characters are different, the plots are different, etc. I think saying, oh, just another dead girl book, is a disservice to all of those stories, because they’re so much bigger than that. And furthermore, I think teens like them (no joke: Thirteen Reasons Why, Before I Fall, If I Stay–all HUGE bestsellers) because their themes are so relevant to the lives they’re living.

I, for one, am looking forward to more “dead girl” books, because I actually haven’t figured out how I feel about my own approaching death, or that of my loved ones (because obvs we all die eventually). Reading books and engaging with the ideas they contain is how I process my own fears and dreams and feelings. The work is not yet done. By anyone! I’m not just talking about YA fiction here. I just finished A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer prize winner, current ladyfic lightning rod) which was ALL ABOUT death! (At least, I think it was. I’m not sure I totally plugged into Goon Squad and therefore may have slid over some of its Very Important I’m Sure themes.) There was even a dead girl (actually, he was a boy, but same diff in this context). Now I’m reading One Day and I’m pretty sure that one’s going to be all about death, too. All books are about death (talk about a cliche). Now I’m just spiraling away from my central point. End of post.

Things that are brand new!

Posted on May 10th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Okay, so big news–Eric was able to fix the comment tool! For now I’m still going to moderate, so if your comment doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry. I’ll probably take it off moderation eventually, but since it’s a new tool I’m going to try it out like that for now. And you guys aren’t seeing what I’m seeing, but the back end of my website is all slick and shiny and updated. I logged in (after being locked out for a little while, as you may have noticed if you follow me on Twitter) and was literally like, “Whoaaaa.”

Other things that are new: the All Unquiet Things paperback! It went on sale today, and you can get it…well, you can definitely get it online in a bunch of places, but also I think at the chains? I’m not sure yet because I haven’t gone in to check, but you can probably get it at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books a Million…basically any place that stocked the hardcover. And the paperback has a new cover! Okay, so it’s only slightly new. The photograph of Carly no longer wraps around, and it has a lovely blurb on the front from Nancy Werlin, New York Times bestselling author of Impossible!

Otherwise the cover is the same. I can personally attest that the paperback looks great in person. My editor sent me one, which I then stupidly mailed directly to my parents (where they can add it to what my siblings derisively call the “shrine to Anna” in their office, where two hardcovers plus the galley of AUT are on display) before taking a picture, so I guess you’ll just have to imagine what it looks like. It basically looks like a paperback, but with the above cover on it. When I get my author copies I’ll give some away on Goodreads, to spread the love a little.

Third new thing: the anti-Kindle policy at Yankee Stadium. I’m going to the Yankees v. Royals game tonight and my friend Nikki emailed this morning to warn me not to bring my Kindle–last time she went to a game, she saw a man and his daughter prevented from entering the stadium because she had her Kindle in her bag. What am I supposed to read on the train now? J/k, of course I always carry a real flesh and blood book with me, I’m not a robot! But I have a bunch of fun manuscripts for work on my Kindle that I was hoping to get a jump start on. Boo, hiss, Yankee Stadium! I think they’re just being ornery. I really cannot think of a single reason why they wouldn’t allow you to bring a Kindle into the stadium. It does less than an iPhone! It literally does only one thing. Mysteries.

For those of you who actually read my Make It or Break It recaps, I’ll have one for you today or tomorrow. I will say this about MIOBI–if that’s really how they’re going to leave Damon and Emily forever (not sure if Chelsea Hobbs is returning post-having her actual baby), they did a really terrible job of wrapping up that storyline, because at this moment I totally hate Damon after loving him for two seasons. I’m sure that’s not what they want, so I’m hoping the couple will be back.

Nested part deux

Posted on April 23rd, 2011 by annakjarzab

This is embarrassing, but I realized this morning, as I was filling my Brita filter (New York living–Glamo-R-US!), that I had forgotten to include one last (but not least) matryoshka item I own. Is it sad that I have so many that I forgot about one? It’s quite possibly one of the best ones, too, because it also filled a strange hole in my kitchenware. My friend Maggie visited around my birthday this year, and she brought me a pair of matryoshki salt and pepper shakers, which I love love LOVE. But since I wrote the last post in my room and I don’t usually keep my salt and pepper shakers in my room (although it has been known to happen on occasion), they weren’t right in front of my face and I forgot about them.

So, there. Now you know the depths of it. Nothing has been kept from you.

Nested

Posted on April 22nd, 2011 by annakjarzab

If you’ve ever been to this website (you have), or you’re a fan of my book (YOU ARE, RIGHT?), you know I have a little bit of a thing for matryoshka dolls (a.k.a. babushka dolls, a.k.a. Russian nested dolls). The funny thing is that I didn’t even care much about nested dolls until my parents came back from a Baltic (not to be confused with Balkan–good thing I fact-checked this post) cruise five years ago. They’d brought my sister–not even me!–a robin’s egg blue matryoshka and I was so taken with it that my sister gave it to me (or did I steal it? I don’t remember). I then wrote it in to All Unquiet Things, which started this whole matryoshka business in the first place.

For a long time, that little doll was the only matryoshka I owned. And then people started reading the book and I started to get matryoshki as gifts, and occasionally buying them for myself. At current count, I have:

  • Three real matryoshki–the original one from Russia (i.e. the one that started it all), one shaped like a Santa Claus that my friend Kim brought me from Denver, and one that I bought for myself in old town Sacramento (where, btw, there is an entire store of matryoshki run by a very friendly Russian woman). That Sacramento one is smaller than the rest of them but has ten dolls inside–the smallest one is about the size of a grain of rice.
  • One set of ceramic matryoshka measuring cups that are too fragile to actually use, so they sit on my shelf with the regular matryoshki. Perhaps I should invest in this plastic set as well. They were a gift from my friend Cambria, and I believe they came from Anthropologie.
  • One 8×12 print of a matryoshka family that is sort of hard to describe here, but will look great on the wall of my next apartment with the other 8×12 prints I’ve been acquiring (mostly from 20×200, although I think this particular one is from Etsy) which I fully intend to frame and hang French salon style.
  • Two matryoshka Christmas ornaments that are not at all Christmassy, and thus hang on my wall year-round. I got them a few years ago after Christmas from–I think?–Anthropologie. They originally retailed for something insane like $24 each (you know Anthropologie), but I got them post-holidays for $5 each. They’re really cute, though. They’re like little puzzles that have removable pieces. Again, hard to describe, but I adore them.
  • A cute fabric business card holder that my friend Jennifer (sister of Kim, who I sometimes mention here) gave me this past Christmas.
  • A matryoshka necklace (this one, but without that second charm hanging off).
  • Another matryoshka necklace, although this one is made of–I think?–papier mache and hangs on a ribbon. It was a free gift with purchase from that store in Old Sacramento, because I bought two dolls, one for my editor and one for myself. I don’t wear it because it’s so light that it hangs oddly, but I still love it.
  • A bunch of matryoshka buttons and magnets that I bought to use with AUT giveaways here on the website and then…never got around to it? Well, the book comes out in paperback May 10, so maybe I’ll do some prize pack giveaways on the AUT Facebook page I’ve been neglecting. They’re really cute, and were from Etsy.
  • A matryoshka doll throw pillow, again off Etsy.
  • A matryoshka doll tote bag, a gift from my good friend Mary Dubbs, the source of all the best blurbs I ever got for AUT.
  • A small matryoshka doll reporter-style notebook, gift from Kim.
  • Two–count ’em, TWO–pairs of matryoshka doll socks. The first pair was a gift from Mary Dubbs, and the second pair were a gift from my roommate, Eesha, just a few weeks ago. I may be the only person in the world who owns two pairs of matryoshka doll socks.

Okay, I’m sort of embarrassed, now that I’m cataloging all of this stuff for you. I knew I had a lot, but I had no idea I had this much. I’m not even counting the four little dolls I got after my grandmother passed away–they’re not real matryoshki because they don’t come apart, but they’re sort of shaped and painted the same and my aunt Kika insisted I have them because when she saw them she “thought of me”, so maybe we should throw that onto the pile, too. Oh, and I didn’t count the little matryoshka pin I bought at a Regina Spektor concert in 2007 that I just noticed was affixed to the strap of one of my tote bags. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

And, yet, I would buy more matryoshka stuff. For instance, this water carafe my friend Shannel just linked me to on Facebook, despite the fact that its very existence is a little bizarre. First of all, what? What’s wrong with just using a glass at bedtime? Do you need a carafe? Also, the picture of it with the head separated from the body: Gold. Not to mention the ad copy: “You’ll wonder how you used to sleep without this sweet little lady by your side” More like, “You’ll never get another night of sleep again with this creepy glass doll watching over you each night like a translucent Edward Cullen.” And yet, I added it to my cart. I mean, I still regret not buying one of those adorable matryoshka coin purses off Fredflare (there’s a lot of matryoshka stuff on Fredflare) when I had a chance, or the little dessert plates, and I know I’ll regret not buying the nested glasses or this matryoshka cosmetics case from Belgium. But I suppose you have to put a limit on your own crazy, especially when you finally recognize it after it’s been sneaking up on you for years. So maybe I don’t need the carafe; or the glasses; or the cosmetics case. Maybe, in the end, it’s best if the dolls find me.

Although, if you’re interested in becoming a weird doll lady yourself, by all means consult this helpful six-step guide on how to collect matryoshka dolls. Or you could give my one-step method a whirl: write a book with a matryoshka doll as a plot device. You’ll acquire more of them than you ever dreamed.

(No offense to anyone who’s ever given me a matryoshka item. I LOVE THEM! Seriously! And I also give matryoshka dolls as gifts, most notably to my editor and agent. Actually, I bought Joanna’s matryoshka from a nun at the Union Square holiday market a few years ago, which is oddly apropos considering the premise of The Opposite of Hallelujah.)

Make It or Break It: “Life or Death”

Posted on April 20th, 2011 by annakjarzab

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That’s kind of a heavy episode title, isn’t it?

Previously on Make It or Break It: Max is into Payson, and vice versa. Emily can’t have a boyfriend and breaks up with Damon after sleeping with him. Kaylie was in rehab, but she’s in denial about her problem, although it’s possible that she’s on her way to understanding because her friend Maeve from the clinic died of a heart attack brought on by her own eating disorder.

Kaylie reads an article about Maeve and is obviously disturbed. Emily’s still being stank to her mom since finding out that she works as a bartender at a strip club, which is uncalled for. She’s doing her best, Emily! Ugh. Max is taking some “action shots” of people at the gym, “people” meaning Payson. Oh, yeah, I forgot he was a photographer. Lauren, having dodged the bullet of her dad going to Summer about the fact that his evil daughter is the one who leaked the Sasha/Payson tape to Ellen Beales by crying a lot, is back to her old self; she strolls over to the beam to give Emily a hard time about Damon, implying that he’ll probably hook up with other girls while he’s “waiting” for Emily. True!

Speaking of Damon, he’s sitting in front of a computer screen looking at pictures of Emily while singing, I kid you not, the lyrics, “I see your face on my computer screen.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS? At least he agrees, because he crosses those lines out in his notebook. Kaylie walks in, listening to him sing (remember how he’s recording his album in Kaylie’s parents’ house?). Kaylie helps Damon with his song (don’t ask).

So the Dallas club is coming to the Rock. Wait, no they’re not–they canceled. Some corn-fed gymnasts from Iowa are coming instead. Darby’s pretending to be psyched, but she’s pretty transparent and the girls aren’t buying it. Darby tries to make friends with Payson, who’s being polite (barely) but distant, and it’s freaking Darby out. It’s obvious Payson doesn’t think this chickadee is cut out to be a real coach, and she’s not wrong. Darby needs to worry about getting the girls’ respect, not their friendship. She makes a deal with Payson: help her get everyone excited about the Pinewood meet and she’ll help Payson with her gymnastics. Wait, isn’t she Payson’s coach? Isn’t it her job to help Payson with her gymnastics? Where’s Sasha?

Summer and Kim have a convo that twists my gut. Kim asks her if she’s thinking about moving in with the Tanners (I’m assuming this means getting married to Steve, since Summer’s not that kinda girl, if you know what I mean) and Summer says, basically, that Steve and Lauren need her, so maybe. Kim asks what she needs and Summer says “I like being needed.” Oh, Summer, girl, get with the program. Meanwhile, Summer’s new faux daughter, aka Lucifer, is coming on so strong to Max. Yick. Lauren, have a little self respect.

Damon and Kaylie are working on the song and bonding. Maeve’s mother calls. I think she identifies herself as “Musak Benson”, which cannot possibly be right, but anyway she invites Kaylie to speak at Maeve’s funeral. The catch is that she has to talk about how Maeve was recovering from her anorexia, which is not true. Kaylie has a slight mental breakdown because everybody wants her to say what she feels but she doesn’t know how she feels. He advises her to write it down and…sing it?

Max and Payson talk; Payson never called him back after she told him to call her and he did. Also, he wants to take her new headshot for the Rock’s lobby, which is something Lauren asked him to do for her and I assumed she made it up. Apparently it’s real. I guess he, also being a Rock gymnast, would know if she was lying about that. But anyway, he decides to spend time with Payson instead. She’s not super great at posing, but she is “funny”–both haha and dorky. I don’t believe that a pro like Payson can’t take a freaking headshot. Kim invites him for dinner, but he has to take off–I’m assuming to take Lauren’s picture. Kim and Payson have another great mother-daughter moment.

Damon IMs Emily. He tells her he’s got a gig and wishes she would come, but obvs she can’t. She and Chloe have another barbed wire conversation about Damon. Meanwhile, Kaylie writes bad song lyrics and Damon interrupts her. He offers to go to Maeve’s funeral. Interesting. I thought that was Austin at the funeral in the previews. Maybe it is. She refuses his offer.

Lauren is dressed like Britney Spears circa “Hit Me Baby One More Time” while Max is taking her pictures. Payson returns his call. Max asks her out for coffee; she suggests they go for a run, because the whole date thing makes her uncomfortable (she doesn’t tell him that). You know what else is uncomfortable? Lauren has changed into a bra and underwear. She is really the least subtle person on the planet. AND MAX TAKES PICTURES OF HER. YOU DO NOT DESERVE PAYSON YOU PERV! Summer walks in and gets piiiiiiiissssed. She reams Lauren out and Lauren cries in order to get Summer to keep the peep show a secret. AND IT WORKS! SUMMER! I THOUGHT I COULD COUNT ON YOU! Ugh.

Emily’s moonlighting as Damon’s PR girl by putting up posters advertising his gig instead of, you know, practicing. Payson calls her on it, saying she’s not sticking any of her landings, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT EMILY SAYS? “Pinewood sucks, I don’t need to stick my landings to beat them.” Ladies and gentlemen, is that or is that not the attitude of a champion? Spoiler: it’s not. Emily, just quit and go back to Damon. You don’t deserve to go to the Olympics.

Lauren asks Max to go to Damon’s gig. When he asks if Payson’s going, she’s all, why, and he’s like, “She’s a nice girl, don’t you think?” LOADED QUESTION. “Sure,” Lauren says. “I also think she’s a lesbian, so you’re wasting your time shaking that tree.” Someone needs to smack her, pronto. Steve said that you can’t spank a teenager, but I’m not so sure about that.

Kim gives Darby a Kim-talk about setting boundaries for Payson because the girl thinks she’s the bionic woman. Because she’s a coward (not that Kim’s wrong, but Darby’s a marshmallow), she tells Payson she can’t do the high start value vault she’s been practicing. Does Emily do anything but sit on the mats and pine over Damon? Darby calls a sleepover at the Rock. Lauren tells Payson she has a date with Max. Not exactly, but all right.

Kaylie and Damon attend Maeve’s funeral. Yikes, Damon, what are you doing? Oh, Maeve’s mom’s name is Musette. That’s not a name, but okay. Musak (I’m still calling her that) is in such denial about Maeve’s death, it’s actually really heartbreaking. Kaylie can’t handle saying a eulogy about how happy and healthy Maeve was. She confesses to Damon outside the church about Maeve, and how she, Kaylie, isn’t getting better, and how she doesn’t want to die. Damon comforts her, and they go to the gig, where Damon reads her lyrics back to her. They helped him finish the song, and he wants to sing it tonight, with her, on stage. I wonder if Emily is going to show up?

More trust circles. Darby wants to psych them up by releasing their gripes and grievances to the universe with popcorn. That is not a metaphor. Lauren uses this opportunity to strongarm Darby into letting them go to Damon’s gig. Payson is so not into it. At the gig, Lauren drops the bomb on Payson about the half-naked photos Max took of her, then Damon drags Kaylie on stage, not noticing that Emily is there. When the song is over they hug, and Emily is bummed.

Back at the Rock, Summer sees that the girls are gone. Of course, Marcus from the NGO comes to check up on Emily. He sees the flyers and realizes that Emily and the rest of the team are at Damon’s gig, which is just wrapping up. He sees Emily and asks her if she’s going to get in trouble. “I don’t care, it was worth it,” she says. Erm…That’s committment, folks! Kaylie tells Emily Damons’ a great guy, she can see why Emily’s in love with him. Why not just stab her in the heart and get it over with? Oh, and Max is there. He bounds up to Lauren like a golden retriever puppy, but Summer swoops in to whisk her away. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I’M AN IDIOT,” Summer says. Word. Payson breaks her date with Max after seeing the photos. Marcus arrives; Emily escapes, but Darby gets caught with a beer. Marcus isn’t pleased.

The Pinewood girls arrive. They’re kicking some Rock ass, and Darby tells Payson to do the high starting value vault she’s been working on, even though Payson’s never done it without the practice trampoline, in order to win the meet. Kim is not happy, and Payson of course misses the vault, landing on her back which, as you may remember, she BROKE last year. Darby is the wuuuuuuurst. Payson gives Darby a lecture about what a “real coach” does and doesn’t do, and Darby runs off crying. Even Lauren thinks she’s lame now.

In her room, Kaylie rips a page out of her notebook, the page with all her calorie and weight counts. “My name is Kaylie Cruz and I am anorexic,” she writes.

Next week: Damon and Emily argue, I’m assuming about Kaylie, and Emily throws some stuff, although I’m pretty sure that half of these scenes are from last season. Also, Emily’s pregnant.

Make It or Break It: “The Buddy System”

Posted on April 20th, 2011 by annakjarzab

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I’ve been very bad about doing these recaps. When the season started (uh, four weeks ago), I was so excited to recap! And then, as things tend to do when you commit yourself to them, it started to feel like work and I was like, meh. I didn’t even watch “The Buddy System”, the third episode this season, until tonight, and there’s ANOTHER EP still left to watch. Not that I don’t love this show–obviously, I love it way more than is really appropriate given my age. Right? But who cares! On with the show!

Previously on Make It or Break It: The Rock girls got a new coach, Darby, who is basically a cartoon so she shouldn’t last long. Payson and Lauren became co-captains of the Rock, inexplicably, because who would ever want Lauren as their captain? Lauren confessed to her father that she leaked the footage of Payson kissing Sasha to Ellen Beales, because she’s a moron. Damon discovered that Chloe works at a strip club (as a bartender, gosh!) and Emily and Damon slept together for the first (and last, because Emily’s not allowed to have a boyfriend or any sort of life outside the Rock per that contract she just signed with the National Gymnastics Organization) time and it was sweet and lovely despite the fact that Emily was involved.

OK, let’s get started! Darby’s gathered the ladiez of the Rock in a “nonheirarchical circle to affirm and support one another”, but Payson’s not buying it. She and Lauren share snarky barbs as they both check out new guy Max’s hot bod. Lauren takes her place in the circle and Darby calls on Emily to give her a warm fuzzy. To her credit, Emily gives it an honest go, but that’s probably because she’s so distracted thinking about how she doesn’t get to be with Damon anymore. Wah wah–tell it to your parole officer, Emily! Payson calls Lauren a slut, sorta. Having struck out with the respect circle, Darby decides that everybody’s going to have a partner (the “buddy” of the episode title) whose routine they have to learn, and vice versa. Lauren and Payson are obviously teamed up for maximum drams.

Emily wants to know who her buddy is. Darby: “Who’s got two thumbs and and choreography that one the Pacific Coast Classic in 2002? This gal!” She points to herself. You are no Liz Lemon, Darby! Stop it, MIOBI writers. You’re not pulling it off.

Elsewhere, in another trust circle, Kaylie is in group therapy, not even trying to act like she’s listening to a girl named Suzanne talk about how she struggles with the pressures to be perfect. After the session, Suzanne approaches Kaylie and tries to bond with her, but Kaylie’s not into it. Maeve, the bad influence from the treatment center, pulls up in a red striped convertible and woos Kaylie into her clutches by speaking those immortal words: “Baby, it’s time to shed some of that rehab fat.” Ugh. If I didn’t have a SNEAKING SUSPICION about what’s about to happen to her, I’d be like, go away. Also, she actually spoke the words, “I die.” Subtle.

Payson’s still bitching about the buddy exercise, and Lauren takes this opportunity to snake her in front of Max. “Are you always in heat?” Payson asks her, and Lauren calls dibs on Max. LOL to both things!

Back at Casa de Monster Child, Steve is watching Payson kiss Sasha on a computer. “Lauren, what did you do?” he says aloud when he realizes that Sasha was innocent. The question is, Steve, what are YOU going to do about it? And the answer, knowing Steve, is cover it up to protect his devil spawn YET AGAIN, I’m sure.

Maeve and Kaylie are blissing out in a sauna as they bond over their shared experience in high pressure careers. Maeve offers Kaylie some “over the counter asthma medication” that “keeps her energized, not munchy”, but Kaylie demures, fearing the random drug testing that comes with being an elite gymnast. They talk about Austin, and Kaylie regrets admitting she had a problem, because while it got her out of rehab, her parents are on her 24/7 and actually believe that if she returns to training she might die. So Maeve, Queen of the Brilliant (Awful) Ideas, tells her to turn her parents against the therapist. THIS SHOULD TURN OUT REALLY, REALLY WELL.

Darby is teaching Emily some sort of twist and shout type floor routine that won her a medal once upon a time. It doesn’t appear to have any real gymnastics in it, but okay. Oh, wait, there’s a tumbling pass. Instead of learning anything, Emily asks Darby if she regrets missing out on being a teenager. Darby gives her some tough love about how she has to get her shit together because she’s “running out of second chances.” Couch Darby: master of understatement.

Lauren is doing what basically amounts to a stripper routine on the beam as Payson tries not to get her eyes stuck from rolling them too far in the back of her head. Payson gives it a shot, but it ain’t good. “I’ve got more sass in my little finger,” Lauren tells her. “You know, they’ve got penecillin for that,” Payson shoots back. Gold, Payson. Everything you touch is GOLD.

Except Max, because he’s too busy ogling Lauren’s crotch. “Enjoying the view?” Austin smarms. “She’s like a Vegas show,” Max drools. “All she needs is a headdress and a G-string.” Lauren vamps for them, basking in the attention. I wish Austin and Max didn’t look so much alike. Again I ask: where’s Carter? I miss that curly-headed douche. Speaking of Carter, Austin warns Max against Lauren, who “mangled” Carter–um, not true? Because…what? Basically, Payson’s a lot of work and Lauren’s easy. Boys are gross.

Payson’s attempts to “be sexy” make her look like Frankenstein’s monster. I know she’s more power, less priss, but come on! It’s like she doesn’t know how her joints work! Austin gives her a pep talk and offers to help her. Payson says no at first, but Austin points out that, yes, the fact that sex sells is the patriarchy at work, but, well, you want to win gold medals? Payson wants nothing more.

Chloe gets all over Emily for looking at Damon’s web page. Are they seriously not talking on the phone? Or email? Dumb. Also: unbelievable. Chloe reminds Emily that she’d never been with anyone before Damon and “you went on, what, like five dates?” Oooh burn. Emily takes it personally, of course, and they fight, but Chloe assures Emily she’s just looking out for her and trying to be a responsible mother like Emily wanted her to be.

Kaylie turns her parents against her therapist by suggesting her parents made her feel less than perfect, thus bringing on her eating disorder. It works pretty well since her parents are overbearing hotheads who want her to be perfect! Well, her dad is. Ronnie just seems exhausted by the whole thing.

Steve lectures Lauren about the video, and she has a good point when she says, “Since when do you care about right and wrong?” Since now, I guess. Steve’s having some pangs of guilt about keeping this from Summer after promising her he wouldn’t lie to her anymore, but it’s not like he actually tells her.

“Do you ever get tired of being the ‘mom jeans mom’?” Payson asks her mother. Kim’s eyes bug out and then she parents her daughter with such grace and good-humor I fall in love with her all over again. There are many different types of sexy, she points out, and you don’t have to be good at everything. Payson listens, but also she hates Lauren, so she takes Austin up on his offer to help her. Austin helps her get in touch with her sesssssuality by waving some perfume in front of her nose and telling her to focus on her second shakra. Lol! Then they “walk like Lauren”, which what makes them both look like idiots. If this works, I’m going to die from laughing. He’s making her crawl across the floor like a cat! He calls her “pure of heart”! OMG!

Cruz family dinner with Maeve as a guest. Because the Cruzes are totally self-absorbed, they don’t notice that neither girl is eating. Maeve does some Jedi mind tricks on Kaylie’s parents. Another family dinner, at the Tanners this time: “It’s never too late to teach your children the right values,” Summer says vaguely, not knowing what it is that’s really bothering Steve. She suggests he make her accountable for her actions and it’s like his mind is blown. You are the worst parent ever, Steve!

Lauren nails Payson’s routine and Max compliments her teaching. Lauren clowns Payson in front of him, and Austin tries again to help. They briefly talk about Kaylie, but Austin insists that while he liked her, she has to focus on getting better. On cue, Kaylie strolls into the Rock with Maeve. Darby’s pumped, Austin’s not. I hate the way Maeve talks. “He’s the real deal, lemon peel,” she says of Austin. Man, I’ve got to give this show credit, though. That actress is convincing as an anorexic model.

Emily takes off to confront her mother for working at a strip club. I’m pretty sure Emily would never be able to get into a strip club because she’s a freaking teenager, but whatever. I’m not going to let that be the thing I take issue with here, because Emily is being the worst. “I’m paying the bills and I’m funding your dream,” Chloe rightly says, but Emily is embarrassed. Okay, well, don’t go to the Olympics, then, I don’t know, Emily! GOD.

Payson decides to tackle the Lauren problem the way she tackles all gymnastics problems: with military precision. She does a good job! Too much eye makeup, though. But Max asks her out! Yeeeeeah Payson, get yours.

Steve makes a valiant attempt at holding Lauren responsible, but she cries and he caves. OF COURSE. God, Steve. She didn’t learn anything! Speaking of not learning anything, we’re back at the Cruzes, and they’re arguing, but they decide not to let Kaylie go back to the gym and she flips. They see her total desperation and it looks like it really scares them.

Emily gets a visit from Payson, who channels her own mother when she tells Emily that she has to stop whining, stop thinking about what sucks and focus on her dream. I feel for Emily here, because the actress is really selling this, her confliction over giving up Damon for something that might never happen–going to the Olympics. But Payson tells her she can’t focus on the “what ifs”, only what she wants most. I’ve said this before, but Payson Keeler is my spirit animal. I love her so much.

Oh, and Maeve died. But that’s for next week’s episode!