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Sunday, September 23, 2012

First review of my KISS ME AGAIN

Just got the first review of my new book -- and it's from Kirkus:

Author: Vail, Rachel

Review Issue Date: October 15, 2012
Online Publish Date: September 26, 2012
Pages: 256
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.99
Price ( e-book ): $9.99
Publication Date: December 26, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-06-194717-9
ISBN ( e-book ): 978-0-06-220288-8
Category: Fiction

Middle-class girls in early adolescence will love this book—as will their mothers.
Ninth-grader Charlie Collins has lived with her mother, a divorced Harvard professor, for many years. Now Mom’s new husband, Joe, has moved into the spacious house, along with his sweet 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, and his notoriously flirtatious ninth-grade son, Kevin. From the first page, readers are sucked into a story both angst-y and funny, as Charlie copes with a mutual crush on Kevin; an increasingly tenuous relationship with her best friend, Tess; her first paying job; and other trials and triumphs of growing up. The theme of adjustment to stepfamilies is integrated into every facet of the story, including homework: “There was no way I could settle down enough to read about Hamlet’s scheming stepfather and how awkward it was for Hamlet to deal with a blended family. Uh, no.” Charlie tells her story in the past tense, but the vivid, awkward conversations and Charlie’s constant editorializing—both wittily humorous and earnestly serious—make it clear that the events are in the recent past and that Charlie’s tale will continue to unfold. Vail shows emotional development in the characters introduced in If We Kiss (2005) and liberally sprinkles their lives with such contemporary activities as texting, while sheltering them in a world where French-kissing and finger-lacing are their limits of sexual intimacy.
An enjoyable romance that eschews smutty for sweet. (Fiction. 12-16)

Friday, September 21, 2012

They Rise

Sometimes, like just now, when I've got banana muffins in the toaster oven, I catch sight of them right at the moment they are starting to rise. You can actually witness their dome rising, if you happen to be pouring yourself a cup of tea at the exact perfect second, and you can linger, witness to the change. They bloom right there in front of you.

Maybe I'm not the most confident or experienced baker; maybe I am either an optimist or a pessimist; but I do find myself thinking, whenever I catch that moment -- wow! They're doing it! How do they know -- not just HOW to rise, but that they SHOULD RISE?

(A joke my older son told me: Two muffins are placed in the oven together. One says, "It's starting to get kind of hot in here. Maybe we should get out." The second muffin replies, "ACK! A talking muffin!!!!")

I'm not ascribing intelligence to my muffins, though they are some pretty smart looking muffins.

(Muffins is such an excellent word.)

I know that they rise not because of any decision to rise but because of what they are made of, the interaction of the ingredients, after the stirring and mixing and measuring I did just a few minutes ago. They have no choice, those muffins. Even still, catching them in the act feels like witnessing something magic.

Same with catching a glimpse of my kids, some days lately:

If I stay still and keep watching, they are growing right there in front of me.

And, of course, I must remind myself -- they have no choice; I have no choice -- it is what they're made of. There's a natural chemical thing going on, but there's also a lot of stirring that went into it...

And it does, oh it does feel like witnessing something magic.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New CONTEST/ Book Giveaway!

We gotta have another giveaway.

This time I will give copies of JUSTIN CASE -- there are two, so if you already have one I will send you the other. Tell me which you have, if either, or if you have both and would like a copy of one of them sent to a kid you love, tell me that.


tell me your six-word memoir of this past summer.

Good luck! And congratulations to the winners of the KISS ME AGAIN give-away (your books are on their way to you right now!) but also to all you awesome 6-word memoirists. It is so inspiring to read how powerful, meaningful, funny, and surprising six little words can link up to be...

Winners will be chosen (at random) one week from today, Sept 27. Link to this or post it on your blog or twitter or facebook page (and let me know you've done so!) -- because every time you repost, you're entered again into the contest.
ALSO: I will make a one dollar donation  to FIRST BOOK for every six-word-memoir of last summer posted for this contest. Let's raise some bank for a really worthy cause, while we're at it!

Here's mine: 
July:  laid flat; August: popped up!

Rachel Vail

Friday, September 14, 2012

How's it going?

How's the writing going, a friend asked me earlier today.


I'mma let me finish, but Tom Stoppard (in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) had one of the best answers of all time -- to the question of how my writing is going today:

Rosencrantz: Incidents! All we get is incidents! Dear God, is it too much to expect a little sustained action?
    And on the word, the PIRATES attack.

How's your day going?

Rachel Vail

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Burning

This is awesome.

Thanks to Neil Gaiman for posting it.

Books + irony + politics = can't lose.

(well, that and clear eye/full hearts, of course.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

September 11

Two pieces I want to share today, before we go back tomorrow to books and contests and kissing stuff:

This one horrifies me because maybe the attacks could have been stopped before they started, and so many lives could have been spared. Though I have never been a fan of GWB, I can honestly say that I am shocked. I am sitting here on my couch 11 years later feeling kind of mugged with the shocking details of the failure of our government to protect us. It was not just sometimes bad things happen, and not even a great leader or team can prevent all bad events. No. That is what I have believed, all this time. Say what you will about many of GWB's policies -- still, I thought, he was just a guy doing what he thought was best; a determined, focused bad guy can sometimes land a punch against anyone, even someone vigilant and wise. Blaming GBW for 9/11, I thought, was unfair and an overly partisan interpretation of events.

But in truth, it turns out, the Bush administration had been briefed extensively. There were career Intelligence officers ready to resign their jobs in protest that the neocons in the administration were stonewalling -- ignoring the facts the intelligence officers were presenting in hair-on-fire style levels of alarm. And these guys, we all know from movies, are not hair-on-fire guys. They are Houston we have a problem calm cool and collected guys, even under duress. They have short neat hair and deep quiet voices. Nothing causes them to lose their shit. When these guys jump up and down yelling YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS IT IS AS SERIOUS A THREAT AS CAN EXIST you really do have to pay attention.

But the Bush administration did not. Why?

Because the facts those Intelligence guys were presenting clashed with the administration's preconceived narrative that the real threat was Saddam Hussein, and that therefore Osama Bin Laden was either in cahoots with Hussein or a distraction but in either case not a major threat himself/as a leader of al Qaeda.

Our leaders willfully ignored thoroughly vetted facts and warnings. It wasn't an Intelligence failure that doomed the lives of my friends and neighbors on that amazingly blue day 11 years ago. Or at least it wasn't a failure of the Intelligence Community to gather information. As scary as that possibility is -- that there may be unforeseen threats out there that even the best and most extensive Intelligence Community cannot pick up -- this is worse, and my mind reels.

The failure was a failure to accept facts and Intelligence because reality wasn't fitting neatly into a stubbornly held world view.

That's different -- and worse. It's not an Intelligence failure but a failure of intelligence.

And it was willful.

It is scary to think that people in charge would be stubborn enough to choose to ignore truth and facts in favor of belief. Understandable, maybe, but really scary. I have often thought that it's easier to change your hair color than your mind. It's a huge challenge to be able to say to yourself hmm, this new information means that the way I have been thinking about everything might be seriously off. It's really fun in a movie or book, like in Star Wars or Fight Club or The Sixth Sense or Gone Girl or Atonement, when you hit that point like 3/4 of the way in, where suddenly your mind goes wait -- what?! and you have to rethink all your assumptions. But in real life, it's not fun. It's actually about as hard as it gets. The friend you insisted was really on your side, or the relationship you knew would work even though people you love seem so weirdly freaked out by it... and then the moment comes that you think, uh-oh. Maybe I missed some now obvious hints. Maybe I have to change course.

It take massive moral and psychological courage to change your mind, or your mind-set, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. Most of us fail at that test many times. But that moral courage is exactly what we require -- what we should and must require -- of our leaders.

Our leaders failed us.

The results of that failure are still playing out, still devastating us. Big stakes, the biggest there are. Which is why science, the scientific method, facts, reality -- must form the basis of our political discussions and compromises. Not just what I believe vs. what you believe -- but what IS, what is demonstrably so, what works and what doesn't -- what is actually going on, not just what we wish or believe or what I think God may have told us vs. what you think God said. There's no place for that in discussions of governance because there is no way to test or prove it. Religion and belief and stubborn adherence to a prefab set of ideals may have their place, maybe a very important place. That place just isn't in a laboratory and it isn't where geopolitical decisions are made.

And if our understanding of something changes -- whether it's about Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within USA or about quarks or epigenetics or the value of early childhood education or the role of fiscal policy in a recession -- we ought to have the courage to change what we do about it.

My husband is a doctor and two of the most important lessons he learned in Med School he has shared with me and our kids and I share with you here:

1. If things don't make sense, if something about a patient's labs or exam or story doesn't fit with other facts you are seeing -- stop. You are missing something. Keep looking at all the available information, keep searching for answers and insights, until you understand what is going on. Don't try to make the lab results fit your preconceived diagnosis. Stay open to the possibilities that every bit of new information adds to your understanding.


2. Don't just do something; stand there. In other words -- don't rush to act; first think about what is going on, what needs to be done, and what the possible ramifications of that action will be. Aim before you shoot -- and make sure you are shooting at the right target.

When our government chooses to ignore what is going on because it doesn't fit their world view, it endangers us. It fails us. They failed us. I am heartsick about it. Whenever I think of what happened on September 11, 2001, I always think about the phenomenal courage and community so many heroes showed. They deserved to have that courage matched by those we trusted to lead us.

The second piece I want to share with you is about that day, about courage and resilience and community. It's from my wise and hilarious and always awesome friend Meg Cabot. Here it is.
You should make time today if you can to watch the video she embedded. It's powerful and beautiful. It recalls so vividly communion we all felt that day when the terror was colossal -- but way overmatched by the goodness, the all-in-it-togetherness, and the courage. 

I was already crying but when the boat captain said, "everybody helped everybody," I started full-out weeping. The way I explained what was going on that week to my then-six-year-old was that there were some bad guys who attacked us, but that there are so many more good guys than bad guys in the world, and that the good guys will work together to catch the bad guys and more generally to keep us safe. I was telling him the truth. People like these boat captains and others Meg discussed in her piece and thousands of New Yorkers and people across the country and across the world who opened up their hearts and arms and wallets in the weeks that followed -- first responders who rushed into burning buildings and military people who rushed to serve and teachers who protected their students that day and beyond, and doctors and nurses and just strangers on the street -- so many, so many brave and generous people. So many more good guys than bad guys.



Looking out my window tonight, I saw the two columns of light shining up into the clear night sky. I love New York so much, especially September in New York, especially days like today when the air is perfect, the sky is blue, my kids are psyched, and their notebooks are full of clean white paper and everything is possible. 2001 seems simultaneously minutes and lifetimes ago.

Sending love and wishing comfort tonight for all who mourn, and all who need it.

Hoping for courage and resilience, for all of us.

Much love,
Rachel Vail

And the winners are:

I could not possibly pick based on the merit of your 6-word memoirs. They were too awesome.

So, two things:

First -- the randomly chosen winners are:

Nicole Hackett
Camilla Corcoran
Jennifer (Jenrenae)
Fausto Umanzor
Hannah Monaco

To the winners: Please tell me (by email or facebook private message) your address and to whom you would like the book signed. I will go to the post office with your books as soon as I get all the responses.


I have to do another contest. This was too much fun.

This time I will give copies of JUSTIN CASE -- there are two, so if you already have one I will send you the other. Tell me which you have, if either, or if you have both and would like a copy of one of them sent to a kid you love, tell me that.


tell me your six-word memoir of this past summer.

Good luck! And congratulations to the winners but also to all you awesome 6-word memoirists!

Rachel Vail


Sometimes cleaning -- and running contests to give away ARCs (of KISS ME AGAIN) -- are just what must be done before writing begins for the day, or the week.

It is not procrastinating, not really.

It is more like, well, it's ...

Okay, it's kind of proccrastinating. But not as much as making a plum torte might be, later today, if I can't figure out the next step in the story...

Contest winners to be announced TODAY. (So there is still that.) I promised myself one solid hour of work, first.

Rachel Vail

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sir. Please.

Just read this nugget on Huffington Post:

Girl's got some spunk.
Newly minted Democratic star Sandra Fluke shared a moment with former President Bill Clinton backstage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night.
According to the Washington Post, Clinton requested to meet Fluke after she finished her prime-time speech.
He reportedly praised her for doing a great job and then confided that he was nervous about his own speech. Fluke's response? "Sir. Please."
Clinton went on to give a 48-minute speech, in which he offered a full-throated defense of President Barack Obama's record.
No signs of nervousness from the former president were evident.

I love that. Love Sandra Fluke even more now -- cool under pressure, honest, forthright, right. Excellent. That is gonna be my new go-to phrase. Sir. Please.

Rachel Vail

I am WORKING. Seriously. I just got distracted for a minute. By the INTERNET. Does that happen to other people?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Free ARC giveaway -- KISS ME AGAIN!

Look what I just got! ARCs of KISS ME AGAIN.
Gotta give some away. To enter: tell me your six-word memoir of your first kiss.

Here's mine:

 Onstage. Curtain call. Dad filming. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


My friend Deborah Heiligman just asked: at what age did it occur to you that grown-ups weren't perfect. Here's my answer -- what's yours?

Me: I remember watching Nixon resign, in my (shag-carpeted, wood paneled) den. I had just turned 7. I said to my parents "He looks like he is lying." They nodded. My mind reeled. I wondered for the first time what it meant that even powerful grown-ups could LIE, and then, further, how far up the corruption of the adults went -- if the president could lie, perhaps even Mr. David Johnson, the principal of my elementary school, could lie. But each time I had that horrible thought I pushed it away. No way. Not Mr. Johnson. No. It couldn't go that far.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The real first day of school is tomorrow around here. Today's just orientation. 
 Heading out to eighth grade...

And senior year of high school.

The last first day they'll have together.

Ugh, can't start with "lasts" already or this year will pummel me senseless.
Anyway, there's too much to do around here to stop and sigh, for more than a moment.

Though that moment, it needs the stopping and maybe one quick sigh...

One time, as my then-toddler younger son and I were dashing from one thing to another, running late, hurrying, he tugged on my hand, slowing me down. "What?" I asked impatiently.
"Mommy?" he asked. "Do we have time to stop and smell these flowers?"

We didn't have time.
Of course we had time.
Was he teasing me? Was he making a weirdly astute and sagacious observation about priorities and pace and values? Or was he just sincerely interested in smelling the flowers? How many cliches could he possible have heard? He was still such a newcomer to the planet.

"Sure," I answered, warily, and didn't tap my foot or check my watch while he bent his face over the flowers and sucked in a big sniff. Then another. And another.

"Smell them, Mommy."

I bent down, a knee on the dirty sidewalk, to the raggedy flowers in the tiny patch of dirt fenced in near a scraggly tree. They didn't really smell like anything.

I turned to my son, his face now level with mine, his red lips wet and smiling. "Nice, huh?" he asked me, and threw his arms around me, planting soggy kisses on  cheek. He, unlike the flowers, smelled wonderful.

I scooped him up. "Really nice," I said.

He grinned.

Then we rushed off to our next thing, and the next, and ten minutes later, it seems, here we are. His last year before high school. His older brother's last year at home. Holy crap. Let me stop and breath this in for one honking second. Do we have time to stop and smell these flowers?

Seeing my boys smile, still -- getting those kisses even now that they are teenagers and I don't have to kneel down to be face-to-face (quite the opposite in fact), watching their strong straight backs as they walk away from me toward their next adventures... sometimes my heart is too exploding for my body. I have so much going on right now, so much to do, no time to stop -- and yet the stopping is up there near the top of my list of to do to day, too. Catch my breath, and my breath catches: look at where we are. Wow. Oh, my babies. Oh.

Last weekend, my mother-in-law described pulling up recently to a wonderful fancy birthday party for a friend of theirs, not sure they'd arrived at the correct entrance -- but then saying to my father-in-law, "Look at all these decrepit, fashrunken, fakrimpt people: we must be in the right place!"

Even in the stress of firsts, lasts, fashrukens,  and rushes, it is good to feel like we're in the right place.

Are you?

I hope you are, or heading there. (And on your way, don't forget to, you know, stop and...)

Rachel Vail