Oh, San Francisco! Don't ever change.

Let's talk about how much I love this city.

I've been scratching my head over this post for the last several days, because there's not much I can tell you about my trip to San Francisco. Despite the fact that I publicly announced it (oops), it was a SECRET trip. Filled with EXCITING THINGS that I CANNOT TALK ABOUT.

Just kidding.

It really, truly, honestly was a secret trip, but unless you count hanging out in hallways like this EXCITING:

Doo dee doo. Don't mind me. I'm just taking notes about this DOOR. Look! It has a handle!

Then you are not missing much.

I'm not even going to tell you about the time I got caught taking pictures in a public restroom. (I HAD A REASON.) Or tell you about the look on the woman's face who caught me. (I HAD A REASON, LADY!!)

The trip coincided with my ten year day-we-met anniversary with Jarrod. And since we still consider San Francisco our city — we met online while living in different cities, but we moved together to SF — it turned out to be a perfect celebration.

A perfect celebration of taking secret pictures of public restrooms.

Well. We also did a few non-secret things. For instance, WE ATE.

We couldn't afford the Fog City Diner when we lived there (Ramen Cup Noodles were more our budget), so it was wonderful to finally taste their famous gourmet diner food. Like this lemon meringue pie:

Hello, meringue! WE LOVE YOU.

And then there was this . . .


My husband is seriously (seriously) addicted to the Food and Travel Networks, and Boccalone has been featured on multiple programs, so it was a must-visit. We especially loved their sign:

And to answer my family and longtime friends' question, NO. I did not partake in the tasty salted pig parts. (True story: I gave up pork when my mother read me Charlotte's Web as a little girl. I don't care how delicious he is, HOW COULD ANYONE EAT WILBUR??)

But there was still plenty for me to snack on. Like . . .

Jalapeño gelato!

And chocolate orange macarons from Miette!

Is there anything more heavenly than a macaron?


But enough foodage. How about . . .

Elvis Pinball!

This dastardly machine combines two of my husband's great loves, the King and pinball. Of course he couldn't resist.

And I always love the window displays in Chinatown:

Like these pretty shoes.

And these cool plastic insects.

And this, um, random crap.

And this . . . WHAT THE HECK IS THIS??

Seriously, you guys. If anyone can tell me what's up with that, I'll mail you a present.

Here's another reason I love Chinatown. While walking down the street, we found this Large Frog:

And then, only half a block later . . .


Here are two more awesome non-secret things found in (non-Chinatown) window displays:


Have I mentioned lately how much I love San Francisco?

But it was not all SECRETS and FOOD and WINDOW DISPLAYS. I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with fellow 2010 YA debut authors and Bay Area residents, Heidi R. Kling (author of Sea, coming out next June) and Daisy Whitney (The Mockingbirds, next fall).

Not the best quality picture, but it totally doesn't matter when we (L to R: Heidi, Steph, Daisy) look this cute!

I've said it before, but it's always worth saying again. Being a writer is a strange, lonely business. Any time I'm given the chance to spend time with other writers — writers who understand exactly what I'm going through — is the equivalent of a child's birthday party at an American Girl store.


We met up at Bittersweet, a chocolate café. Okay. Maybe a *little* food was involved. But LOOK:

Spicy (pepper, cinnamon, & rose) drinking chocolate.

We talked non-stop for two hours, and it felt like two minutes, and I cannot wait to do it again. Daisy and Heidi were both amazingly kind, hilarious, and FUN. I'm excited to read their books next year!

[2010 . . . so close, but so far away.]

It's time to wrap up, so I'll leave you with one final picture. There are hundreds of reasons to love this city. But this? This is one of the best:

Thank you, San Francisco.


Two Newsy Bits


Challenge #2?

I did it.

Fifty thousand words, thirteen days early.

And the words are good, and I love these characters, and this draft is so much better than last year's. So I'm rethinking that whole, "I'm over NaNo" thing.

Maybe I'm not.

And I wish this announcement were exciting or funny, because it's a BIG DEAL. But I'm drained — of energy, of emotion. Of everything.

Thank you, EVERYONE, for your support, and an especially enormous, grateful, and overwhelmed thank you and I love you to Kiersten White. There are no words to describe the gift you have given me.

I am back.


I'm off to San Francisco.

A little business, a little pleasure, and a lot of delicious food. San Francisco is my favorite city in America, and it's been far too long since I've hiked her hills.

Talk to you all next week!

Jarrod and I were engaged at the bottom of this hill. The Coldplay puppets were not in attendance that day.

In the meantime . . .

Keep writing, NaNo-ers! GO GO GO! RAH RAH RAH!!


In Which I Am Challenged *THREE* Times

If you follow me on Twitter, perhaps you've heard the news. If not, please pardon me while I gloat my tail off:


Allow me to explain.


So I had an excellent Thursday. I like Thursdays. Good things happen to me on Thursdays. So I'd just had another happy Thursday, and it was midnight, and I was hanging out on Twitter, going "la-la-la, today was awesome," when I realized something.

My Thursday was SO awesome that there was no way Friday could live up to it. It was bound to be a terrible day in comparison, by default! (I have never claimed to be a rational thinker.)

Well. I was not about to lose my Friday.

I decided the only way Friday could possibly top Thursday was if I made another significant jump on my NaNoWriMo word count. Enter Kiersten White. Here's how it went down:

Me: I am happy, happy, happy. No idea how tomorrow will top today. A crazy-huge NaNo word jump? How many words should I aim for?

Ten MILLION. And I would relish each and every one of them.

Me: Okay, that is not a REAL NUMBER.

K: Ten million is too a real number! Fine. Three thousand? But I'd prefer ten million.

Me: 3k? I am better than that number. Try again.

K: WOOT. In one night? Hello Confidence Woman! I like you! My record is 9k in one day. Beat that?

Me: Dudelio, last November I did 10k: http://tinyurl.com/yj3xfew (But we're talking about ALL DAY FRIDAY, not just tonight.)

K: In that case, I want 15k and not a word less! Some days I daydream about how much I could do with one day and no kids...

Me: Should I go for a repeat?

K: No, beat it! At least 13k.

Me: Split the difference? 14k? (CANNOT BELIEVE I AM SAYING THAT.)

K: YES! 14k! 14k!! You can do it!!! Thus the increasing exclamation marks!!!!

Me: IT'S ON!! I hereby accept the Kiersten White Challenge '09. Fourteen thousand words in the next 23 hours and 15 minutes.

And that is how I stupidly agreed to write fourteen thousand words in one day. In a public forum. Thus increasing the embarrassment factor were I to fail. Which was very, very possible.


With fifteen minutes to spare on Friday night, I hit the fourteen thousand word mark. And the amazing thing? They were GOOD words. Like, full sentences and scenes and such!

A few nice people have asked, "How did you do it?"

Er . . . I'm not sure. It feels a bit like a Christmas Miracle. Or like when you put the quarter in the gumball machine, and you get the cool blue gumball (and not the crummy white one). But these things certainly helped:

(A) The public humiliation factor. Not a big fan of it.

(B) I work much better with an impossible deadline. Not pretty, but true.

Amazing friends cheering me on (via Twitter, of course).

I ate full meals to keep up my energy and got a full night's rest. (I sleep at an odd time of day, but yes, I got in eight hours.)

During my waking hours, I aimed for a thousand words per fifty minutes. That way, I could add together my extra ten-minute chunks and use them for stretching and eating and showering. And Twittering, of course.

I just wrote. Whatever scene I thought of, that was the one that came out. Which meant (as Kiersten pointed out later) that of course it was the fun stuff — the kissing and the fighting! It's easier to write fourteen thousand FUN words.

I listened to the Glee soundtrack nonstop. (EMBARRASSING.)

So . . . yeah. I did it. I DID IT!

[And now Amber Lough is making me seal-shaped gingerbread cookies as a prize!
At least, I hope that was not a cheap ploy. Because cookies are the best.]


Can you guess what my problem was the next day? But of course. How could SATURDAY live up to FRIDAY?

I am lame.

And I needed a new challenge.

Re-enter Kiersten White. I'll spare you the Twitter conversation — because half of it took place over email — but it ended with me saying this: DEAL! I hereby accept @kierstenwhite’s NEW CHALLENGE: A complete NaNo draft by this Wednesday at 2:42 AM. (25k down, 25k to go)

Um, yeah.

I agreed to finish this draft early — thirteen days early. My stupidity knows no bounds. So, you know, that's what I'm working on. How about you?

By the way: I LOVE YOU, KIERSTEN!!!

If we were both not already married, and if I didn't have a house filled with Celebrity Boyfriends, I would totally ask you to marry me. We'd live on a remote island with lots and lots of books and a great internet connection, and we'd raise squirrel monkeys as children, until they got to that feces-throwing stage, and then we'd kick them out of our treehouse and get NEW squirrel monkey children. And we'd watch Penelope and Pride and Prejudice, like, every day.

Us, having just ditched a batch of poop-flinging monkey children.


But these were not my only challenges this weekend. Oh no! You'd think with writing fourteen thousand words in a day and agreeing to write twenty-five thousand more in the next four days would be enough.

BUT NO. The challenge gods refused to leave me be.

In my last post, I shared three magical videos with you. Two were funny (I hope), and the third was THE GREATEST VIDEO EVER, EVER, EVER CREATED EVER IN THE HISTORY OF TIME EVER. In case you missed it, here it is again:

That would be HBM Extraordinaire Jim Sturgess and . . . kissing.

I thought the ladies and gents who read my blog and just-so-happen to enjoy a little HBM (Hot British Men) in their lives would be happy, and that would be that.


Mr. Benjamin James Watson, formerly known as "Sir Ben," has been stripped of his title due to THIS offensive statement on his blog, later that same day:

"Stephanie is, admittedly, the HBM Connoisseur and Writer of Good Words [YES, I AM] but apparently expert on best video of all time she is not [LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE].

I am throwing down the children's book blog gauntlet right now. Certainly if ever such a GREATEST VIDEO EVER (etc, etc) existed it would have two components. FIRSTLY, it would have a timelessness to it (sorry Sturgey) and SECONDLY, it would have Christopher Walken in it. And THIRD, wait there was no third, THIRD, it would be THIS video. Which unfortunately I'm afraid you'll just have to click on through the link because the embedding feature has been disabled."

Now. To give The Writer Formerly Known As Sir Ben credit, he did link to an awesome video. It's Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice," directed by one of my all-time favorites, Spike Jonze. If you haven't watched it, you should, and I won't say why, because it would spoil the fun.



I'm sorry, Ben-Who-Is-No-Longer-Sir-Ben. Given the choice between Christopher Walken dancing and Jim Sturgess kissing, well . . . IT'S NOT A CHOICE.

Click! I am watching the Jim Sturgess video.

Click! I just hit "replay."

Click! Replay. AGAIN.

So here is my request, friends. To anyone reading this who happens to prefer:

(A) Hot British Men

Hello! I am so dreamy and well-dressed.

and (B) Hot Steamy Kissing

They're practically EATING each other, you guys.

over Christopher Walken dancing, please (politely, kindly, etc) copy and paste the following message into the comments section of this post:

Dear Mr. Watson,

Walken is cool, but Sturgess is HOT. Here's another vote for:


And if you'd rather watch Christopher Walken dance, that's okay. Just don't tell Ben.

Happy third-week-of-November, everyone!


Quick Update + Thank You Gifts

Friends, you never cease to amaze me.

Thank you for the out-of-this-world supportive, kind, encouraging, and wise comments in my last post. So many new names in there! Thank you for taking the time to say hello. (An especially huge thanks to the anonymous commenter. You made my week.)

Your words mean everything to me, and I'm SO PROUD to show you I've taken them to heart:

As of right now, 12:42 am, I am over ten thousand words.

It feels good.

Thanks, you guys. You're the BEST. And because you're the best, I'd like to give you this video of Tim Minchin singing "If I Didn't Have You." I don't think I've posted it here before:

The song, by the way, is not a message for YOU.

YOU are irreplaceable. It's just something to make you laugh. ("I think you're special, but you fall within a bell curve.")

And juuuust in case you don't think that's any good, how about a CAT VIDEO? I'm not traditionally a CAT VIDEO person, but even I found this pretty funny:

What's that? You aren't into CAT VIDEOS?

You're waiting for the hot British men??

I read you loud and clear, blogosphere. You have earned this.


That would be Jim Sturgess. And KISSING.*

And now you are welcome.

*Gigantoid hugs to Kiersten White for sending this to me. I knew we were friends for a reason.


Frustration + Inspiration

From Michael Ian Black's blog yesterday (I love him):

"If all the birds died tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t even notice. At some point somebody would mention that there was no more birdsong. I would say, 'I didn’t notice because I’ve been inside.' Then I would go back to not doing whatever I was not doing."

I get this.

And there's nothing I can add to that, that won't turn this into a depressing post. But yeah. I get this.

For the last several months, I've had trouble writing. There's been this strange . . . disconnect. I can't get new words down on the page. There are all of these beautiful sentences and ideas and scenes floating through my mind, but it's as if a switch were flipped. I can't grab a hold of them. I can't turn them into tangible words. I can't write down what's in my head.

It's frustrating and maddening and embarrassing. And it makes me feel like everything is over before it began. Which I know is untrue. But still.

The thought persists.

I'd hoped that NaNoWriMo would be a good kick, that it would FORCE me out of this hole. But let's take a look at my current graph, shall we?

That's me, not winning. My mustard-colored line is parked at 2,373 words. That's only 706 words more than the DAY ONE goal.

Right now, it would be easy for me to give up. To quit. To convince myself that there are better, more important things for me to do (or not do) this month. But you know what?

I'm not quitting.

I am going to win.

It will just take . . . a few adjustments.

In a recent blog-comment conversation, Corinne Bowen recommended Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter. I'd never heard of it before, so I popped over to Amazon. I was expecting to find another basic how-to-write manual, but instead I discovered it's about a how to have a writing life.

A subtle difference, but an important one. It's also something I haven't encountered before — in book form, nor in my own life.

Staying motivated is tough.

Staying in your chair and writing every day is tough.

Staying in love with your idea is tough.

Heather's book is the first I've seen that hasn't just said, "It's tough for all of us." (A good thing to know, but something you'll read often. Like here on my blog.) She explains why it's hard, and how we can make it easier. No magic wands. No crazy diets. Just a solid understanding and consideration of the problems attached with living the LIFE of a writer, and how we can help ourselves overcome them.

The wretchedness of the Second Novel. The disbanding of critique groups. The feeling of failure after success.

This book would be good for beginners, but I think it's even better for writers like myself. Perhaps we're a little (a very little) further down the path, but now that it's actually our career . . . how do we keep this up? Now that something is expected of us — and, more importantly, now that we expect something of ourselves — how do we stay in love with the process? How can we keep it FUN?

This book has turned on light bulbs and flashlights and chandeliers. I have hope again.

[I wish I could take you out for coffee and vegan treats as a thank you, Corinne!]

Vegan Cupcakes for Corinne

So . . . it's an uncomfortable realization, but I'm growing out of NaNoWriMo. I don't need it for what I used to need it for (finishing a first draft), and it's difficult to give it the full attention it deserves with several other projects already underway. This might be my last year.

But I'm not quitting.

Remember how I mentioned adjustments would be required to finish? I've decided to use NaNo for what I DO need it for — to help me fall in love with writing again.

I've decided to stop writing this year's novel as a beginning/middle/end draft. I'm not happy with writing mind-blowingly terrible stories anymore. But I AM happy when I have the courage to squeeze out a new scene, or even a moment in a scene, that feels real.

So I'll write scenes. And when I can't write a scene, I'll write a paragraph. And when I can't write a paragraph, I'll interview my characters. Find out what they're thinking. And if they don't want to talk to me? I'll brainstorm.

Hopefully, when this is over, I will have found my confidence again. And when it's time to tackle Third Novel in a serious way next year, I will have a solid (50,000 word!) base to stand on.

Am I dreaming? Of course.

Do I think this is impossible? Of course not.

And because I'm feeling inspiration-happy, here are two more things that sparked my creative excitement this week:

Number One = Thom Yorke's recent Echoplex show


What I wouldn't give to have been there! I want to crawl into Thom's brain and watch it buzz and pop. He is SO talented.

Thom Yorke makes me glad I'm not a professional musician, because if I were, I wouldn't be able to listen to him without experiencing excruciating bouts of jealousy. Instead, I get to enjoy.

Number Two = Glee

I'm a Glee newbie, and I'm happy — and surprised! — to report that it lives up to the hype. Here are a few reasons to consider tuning in, if you already don't:

(1) Fabulous ensemble cast. I love shows with a lot of characters — so many opportunities for great storytelling. And I appreciate how the teachers and students are equally interesting. Television is often guilty of having cool teens but flat adults, or vice versa. Definitely not the case here.

Jayma Mays' wardrobe. Not quite as fab as Anna Friel's on Pushing Daisies (NO ONE has a better wardrobe than Chuck), but cute in similar monochromatic sort of way.

(3) The music, of course. I'm generally not a fan of musicals (there are a few exceptions like Sweeney Todd, Moulin Rouge!, Dr. Horrible), but the exuberance and talent of the cast — ohmystars, how amazing is Amber Riley as Mercedes? — makes it impossible for me not to grin and hum along.

FUN. It's just FUN. (Even when it's making me cry.) Definitely the best show I've seen on television this year.

Oh! And . . .

Joss Whedon is directing an episode!

Phew! What's inspiring you right now?

And if you're doing NaNoWriMo, how's it going?