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Month: August 2016

Revisiting My Backlist: SUCH SWEET SORROW or, “What Came First: The Characters of Such Sweet Sorrow or The Idea to Retell R&J and Hamlet?”

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CW: This post talks about Shakespearean tragedies that feature suicide.

If you’re looking for some great YA reads (Like A.L. Davroe’s Nexus, for example), Entangled Publishing is promoting their YA retellings of classic stories. Guess who’s included?

A banner with an image of a woman blowing glitter from her palm, assorted book covers, and the words "Get Back-to-School Ready with these YA Retellings!"

Since Such Sweet Sorrow is on-sale this week for 99¢, I told the folks at Entangled that I would share exactly where the idea came from, specifically, in what order did such an unlikely story even became a thing? Did the concept come first, or the characters?

If we exclude the fact that Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet already existed long before my version of them did, then the idea definitely came first. A few years ago, I teamed up with an incredibly creative guy, Nick Harris. He wanted to explore the idea of what happened after Romeo & Juliet, and what would happen if the titular characters of the play met another disenfranchised teen from Shakespeare’s works. He felt my writing clicked with the concept–Romeo and Hamlet as Ghostbusters. The first time we talked about it, I hung up the phone thinking it was the most bonkers idea and it would never, ever work.

As we started to hammer out the plot together, I felt a bit like I was playing with someone else’s dolls. Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, and their supporting characters were written by one of the most celebrated and legendary authors of all time. They’d been brought to life on stage by countless actors, made into beloved pieces of cinema, and been retold by storytellers so often that it seemed like there was no place else to take them. Hadn’t everything already been said? How was I supposed to bring anything new, anything my own, to these characters?

I started to think about them in terms of the criticisms that have become so popular over the years. Romeo and Juliet are stupid, they shouldn’t have killed themselves for love, they were so weak. Hamlet is a whiny, spoiled prince who can’t stand to have things not go his way. These criticisms had always felt wrong to me; when I started to get into their heads, I figured out why.

Juliet wasn’t stupid. She didn’t kill herself just because Romeo died. The plan was never to kill herself at all. She didn’t want to marry Paris, so she married someone else. When that plan didn’t work, she agreed to be interred alive in a crypt to make her escape. And when that didn’t work, when she was backed against the wall and in a position where she was free to marry Paris once again, she took her own life. Juliet wasn’t weak and stupid, she was tragically desperate. I mean, she was willing to face the possibility of waking up in a grave full of rotting corpses in order to save herself. Once I figured that out, I felt like I had a responsibility to return that power to Juliet, to remind people that she was witty and sarcastic and brave. So, I had to put that into the book.

Romeo, on the other hand, was reckless. He threw himself head-first into love with one girl only hours after being rejected by the last one who was supposed to be his great love. The premise of Nick’s idea included Romeo venturing into the afterlife to save Juliet, which gave me the chance to strip everything that caused Romeo’s downfall away. He wasn’t strong anymore, he wasn’t as handsome, the poison had weakened him. He still had his pride, but it was badly wounded, and his temper, which he couldn’t really back up. And just like with Juliet, I started to feel like I could get to know Romeo and put my own stamp on him.

The character I most enjoyed writing, though, was Hamlet. By the time he meets Romeo, Hamlet has come home from college after the death of his father, only to learn that he’s been passed over for the throne, and his uncle is now the king–and his stepdad. There’s not a lot standing in Hamlet’s way in terms of eventually getting the crown, and he believes that his uncle poisoned the late king, so the castle isn’t a safe place. The paranormal element of Hamlet made it feel totally natural to me that Hamlet is a medium, and that being paranoid and constantly surrounded by the dead was probably going to make him a little gloomy and weird. That made total sense to me.

Bringing the three characters together and figuring out their tests and trials in brainstorming sessions shaped the main players a little more with every phone call. So I guess it wasn’t necessarily that the characters came first or the idea came first, but that they came very close behind each other and continued to play off each other and build and grow into what is hopefully a fun, clever book.

Read on for a chance to win a great books from Entangled TEEN!

Dick Slap: A Romantic Interlude

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JENNY TROUT, a brilliant young writer with the face of an obese Bernadette Peters sits on the bed beside her husband, MR. JEN. People often tell him he reminds them of Seth Rogan, and he is terrible at remembering names. Mr. Jen is sprawled out in bed, pantsless. Jenny pretends to slap him in the dick and makes various explosion sounds and hand motions.

Was that a fucking mushroom cloud?

Yeah. That’s how hard I slapped your dick.

You slapped me in the dick so hard–

That I split atoms and shit. Right.

So, you slapped me in the dick so hard, you split atoms?

(miming a spreading cloud with her hands)
Yes. This is the fallout. Look how far it’s going.

Okay, if you hit me in the dick, if the explosion happened where my dick is, we would be at ground zero.


So we would be instantly vaporized.


The kids are dead.

That’s right.

The dogs are dead.

Oh, everything is dead. Most of Michigan, definitely, is dead.

How big was this explosion?

(still indicating with her hands)
This is the fallout. This is where the fallout is…you know, this is the exclusion zone. It’s most of Michigan.

You slapped me in the dick so hard that it destroyed all of Michigan–

Most of Michigan.

It destroyed everything, Jen. If the blast was so big that it destroyed most of Michigan, it destroyed the Earth.

That’s not true. That’s not true, the blast wasn’t that big, but it would be big enough that the exclusion zone covered most of Michigan. We would have to sell the top half of Michigan–

Oh my god, you are so high.

What I’m saying is, it’s not like it’s going to blow Michigan completely off the map. I’m saying it’s going to make the exclusion zone go across, like it goes all the way to Lansing. And people are like, ew, I don’t, I definitely don’t want to drive there so–

The exclusion area isn’t going to be that big.

It’s going to be pretty big. Like, as big as that place in the Ukraine.

Chernobyl. It’s going to be as big as the exclusion zone for Chernobyl.


That’s not really that big.

Okay, what is it, like thirty miles? That would still be… We would have to sell the top part of Michigan, like here’s the UP and here’s the bridge, and you come down and it’s just right there, you have to stop.

For thirty miles.

We would have to sell Michigan to Canada. Because I slapped you in the dick.



Jenny Reads Fifty Shades Of Midnight Sun: Thursday, May 26, 2011, part one or “I don’t care how much tuition you paid! Don’t you dare enjoy your day!”

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In Fifty Shades news, the movies have apparently wrapped principle filming. Did you hear about that? Neither did I. Does anyone else find it comforting that we’re not getting the breathless daily updates from mass media the way we did when the first one was filming? A few blogs have mentioned “anxiously awaiting” the next film, but I don’t see people being anywhere near as jazzed for it as they were for the first movie.

Anyway, let’s recap this.

Let’s Get High and Watch Labyrinth

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When I asked for suggestions for which movie to watch for a “Let’s Get High Movie Night”, over 50% of responses were for Labyrinth. This is one of my all-time favorite movies, but for some people the implied sexuality between David Bowie and a very young Jennifer Connelly is unnerving or uncomfortable. Since teen sexuality is so often discussed with regards to this movie, I talk about that at length. That’s why I’m going to label this with a CW for things relating to teen sexuality that might make CSA survivors uncomfortable.


The original movie poster for Labyrinth, featuring an illustration of David Bowie as the Goblin King looming over a menagerie of various goblins and creatures, with Jennifer Connelly as Sarah in her ball gown from the fantasy ball room sequence, fleeing the castle in a mist.   As always, cannabis consumption is optional, and you should definitely follow your local laws. Download the mp3 here and start when the movie starts and the first title card comes up (it says Henson Associates, Inc and Lucas Film LTD present).

Got an idea for a Let’s Get High And Watch Movie Night? Drop it in the form below:

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S03E08 “Lovers Walk”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone just spent a whole weekend off her meds because she forgot to pick them up before the pharmacy closed. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.
  31. Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
  32. Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
  33. Slut shame!
  34. The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it. WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

How To Build An Epic Cake (A Recipe From A Seven-Year-Old)

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Yesterday, as we grocery shopped, my seven-year-old stopped, put her hands out and said, “I just had a vision.”

The vision was a cake. “The best cake anyone has ever made.” A cake for the ages. And today, we’re going to share her recipe with you.

You’ll need:

A photo of the ingredients, which will be listed below.

  • Red Velvet cake mix (and the eggs and oil to make the cake
  • Two cans of chocolate fudge frosting
  • Birthday Cake Oreos
  • Mint Oreos
  • That weird Betty Crocker frosting in the aerosol can, in blue
  • Read-made chocolate chip cookie dough
  • Sprinkles (here, she has gone patriotic with red, white, and blue)
  • 2 round cake pans

You don’t need the whipped topping. During the creative process, I convinced her that it was a bad idea, as the cake would have to be refrigerated, and our refrigerator looks like the place where leftovers go to die right now.

Preheat your oven according to the directions on the cake mix you’re using and prepare you pans. We greased and floured the pans as per usual, but I also put down a layer of parchment paper, because I had no idea how her “vision” would play out. Then pat down a layer of cookie dough to cover the bottom of the pan.

A round cake pan with a layer of chocolate chip cookie dough covering the bottom.

Add a single-layer of Birthday Cake Oreos on top of the cookie dough.

Two adorable little hands pushing Oreos into the cookie dough.


Once that step is completed, prepare your cake mix according to the directions on the box. Pour half of the mix into the cookie dough pan. In your second pan, pour in a thin layer of cake mix, then put a layer of the Mint Oreos on top of the cake batter. Pour the remaining batter into the pan.

Red Velvet cake batter pouring into a pan and covering a layer of Oreos.


Bake the cakes according to the directions on the box. You might need to give it a little more time, just keep checking on it. This was totally an experiment, so we had no idea how long it would have to go in. I think we did thirty minutes. Your mileage may vary.

Once the cakes are out of the oven, give them a while to cool down. When they’re cool, cover the bottom cake (the one with the cookie dough bottom) with frosting. You’re basically using the frosting to glue the top and bottom cakes together, so you could just do the cop, but I went ahead and slapped a crumb coat on the bottom while I was there. Place the other cake on top of the bottom one:

Two cakes stacked on top of each other. The bottom is frosted in chocolate frosting, the top is unfrosted.

Then, slap a crumb coat on the top, and frost the whole thing.

After frosting, garnish the top with the remaining Oreos and anchor them with the blue icing:

A double-layer chocolate cake with Oreos standing on their sides, propped up by mounds of blue frosting. The Oreos form a circle around the outside, with one in the middle.


She chose to alternate the Mint and Birthday Cake Oreos. You may also add the decorative border around the bottom, if you like.

And of course, you cannot forget the sprinkles:

The same cake, this time covered with way, way too many sprinkles.

So, there you have it. My daughter’s “vision.” How did it turn out, eating wise? Well…let’s just say it’s a complex flavor experience. And you can only eat a couple of bites, or the sugar will overwhelm you. But she’s proud of it, and I am, too. Because if you have a creative vision, whether it’s a book or a film or a painting or a cake, you can see it through and achieve your dreams. You just have to believe in yourself.