Friday, July 29, 2011

Author Spotlight

Today I'm being featured in an "Author Spotlight" on Lydia Kang's blog, The Word is My Oyster. Here's the link. Be sure to check out her Medical Monday posts. They are always fascinating.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Poison Rings

According to my research, poison rings were originally used for carrying messages, perfume, mementos, or a lock of hair. Eventually, they were put to more nefarious uses. Hence the name “poison ring.”

In Screwing Up Time, a poison ring plays a role in the plot. Here’s a photo of my poison ring, which is very much like the one that Mark has.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Screwing Up Time, Blurb and Excerpt

About the Book

Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life. He’s a senior at New Haven Prep, has a great friend, and after graduation he’ll get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t.  She has come from Bodiam Castle in the Middle Ages and demands a secret ingredient and a book of recipes for traveling through the treacherous colors of time. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

Screwing Up Time, Chapter One

“Mark, she’s crazy.” Brian pulled into the driveway and stopped the car. “You know that, right?”
“Ms. Patel is an English teacher—crazy goes without saying. But I agree with her. Hamlet must have seen something. And he claimed it was his father’s ghost. Is that so unbelievable?”
“It’s a play, Mark. Not a treatise on the undead.”
I smiled. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ uh, physics textbook.” I tapped the calculator in Brian’s blazer pocket. We were both wearing navy blazers since it was Tie Day at New Haven Prep. Boys had to wear ties and coats; girls had to wear plaid skirts. I called it “Noose and Knees Day.”
“You actually did read the Hamlet assignment,” Brian said.
“I watched the movie version.”
He groaned. “Cop out.”
“It’s more real that way.” I unbuckled my seatbelt and grabbed my backpack. “Hamlet was meant to be watched, not read.”
“I guess that’s true.” Brian pushed his glasses up. He had rectangular rims that always slid down his nose.
“Want to come inside and get something to eat?”
“Thanks, Mark. But I’ve got to study.”
“For what?” I asked. “The physics exam isn’t until next week.”
“I need to review the optics equations.”
I opened the car door. “You wouldn’t want to miss any points—they won’t let you into Harvard if you miss a point or two.”
Bri threw a can of Coke at me. I ducked. It sailed into the front yard. He hated Harvard.
“Aren’t you supposed to be studying to retake the SAT?” Brian asked.
I climbed out of the car. “Thanks, Bri. It’s not like one mom’s enough.” I grabbed the Coke from the middle of the lawn and popped the top, holding it away from me while the soda fountained on the grass. I drank a swig and waved as Brian drove away.
Walking into the house, I tossed my hat on the console table. Mom hated my fedora. She thought I wore it because I wanted to look like Indiana Jones. She was wrong.
Nothing else was on the table. Not mom’s purse or Kate’s coat. No one else was home yet. I snagged soy chips from the pantry—what I wouldn’t give for a bag of Dorritos—and wandered to my bedroom.
My SAT prep book lay in the middle of my bed. A post-it was stuck to the front cover. “Study! (I promised Dad that I’d remind you.) Love, Mom.” I crumpled the note and tossed it in the trashcan. Right. I’d already taken the test three times. It wasn’t as if one more time was going to make a difference. But I picked up the book, turned on my iPod, and collapsed on the bed. At least this way, I could tell her I’d studied.
I’d made it through the English section when a flicker of blue appeared in the corner of my eye. I glanced up. A strange girl stood in the middle of my room, her back toward me.
I jumped off the bed. How did she get in my bedroom? I must have fallen asleep. She was gorgeous, even if she looked like an escapee from a Halloween party with her knee-length blond braids and laced-up medieval dress. Except it was already November.
She sifted through the papers scattered across my desk.
I took out my earbuds. “Uh, who are you? And how did you get in my room?”
She turned and gave me a toothpaste commercial smile. “My name is Miranda.”
She had to be a friend of my sister Kate. Who else but a friend of Kate would be in the house?
I’d seen Kate and her friends wear a lot of bizarre clothes, but nothing quite like this medieval get-up. Maybe Miranda was a theater major. She was pretty enough to be an actress, and it would explain the clothes. I waited for her to say something more, but she turned back to the papers.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I am only perusing your papers.” She glanced at me. “Do not fret.”
Perusing and fret? I was surprised any of Kate’s friends would even know what either word meant. “Hey, this is my room. I don’t know how you got in here or what you think you’re doing. But—”
“Forgive me. I did not mean to offend you.” She shrugged. “I am unfamiliar with manners here.”
“I’m not offended.” Maybe Miranda was in one of those improv theater groups, and she was practicing on me.
“May I have permission to look around this chamber?”
Okay, this whole episode was weird, very weird. But she was also hot, so I said, “Sure.” Besides Kate would owe me for playing along.
“Thank you.” She wandered across the room to my bookshelf and pulled out a DVD case. “You have many of these.”
“I’m a movie geek.” I sat on my bed. “If you want to know which film Bogart first made with Bacall, I’m your man.”
“Ah.” She drifted over to the wall next to the book case and rubbed the paint with her finger. “It gleams.”
“It’s a semi-gloss. The beige paint, I mean.” That sounded stupid. What was I, a Sherwin-Williams salesman?
“May I ask where this place is?”
“You mean my house?”
“Yes.” She pushed her braids behind her shoulders.
Maybe she was a theater major who was also an exchange student. My explanations were getting unbelievable, even for me. “We live in North Haven.” Her eyebrows drew together, and her forehead wrinkled. So I said, “Connecticut—you know, just a couple of hours from New York City.”
“Ah.” She walked to my dresser, and the hem of her blue gown dragged along the carpet. Shirts and pants hung out of my drawers. She flipped a leg of one of my jeans up and down like a flag. “This chamber belongs to you?”
“It is quite untidy.”
“I gave the maid a year off.” I cringed. That was too flippant. So I smiled and mentally thanked my mom for plugging in a room freshener last week. At least my room smelled like “rainwater” and not “I-haven’t-cleaned-since-Christmas.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
 “I told you, my name is Miranda.”
“I got that the first time. I meant, what do you want?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she laid a hand on my Mac and watched as j-pegs of Uruk-hai and tortured elves paraded across my screen in a slide show. Last month, I’d tried an Irina Shayk screensaver, courtesy of Sports Illustrated. But my mom had seen it. Now I was back to the same LOTR files I’d had for years.
Miranda touched the screen and pulled her fingers across it, leaving trails in the dust.
“If you want to check your email, use Kate’s laptop.”
“Check email?” She shook her head. “I am sure I do not need to do that—whatever it is.”
“Whatever what is?”
She smiled at me. “Your eyes are almost the same color as my dress. Sky blue.”
Was she flirting with me? I wasn’t in her league.
“May I make a request?” She rubbed her chin with a finger.
I noticed she had a small dimple in her chin.
She looked at me expectantly.
“What? Oh, right, a question. Go ahead and ask.”
“May I sit on your bed, please?”
“My bed?”
She stiffened. “Pardon me.”
“No, hey, come on.” I moved over.
She straightened the folds of her skirt. “You would need to remove yourself from the bed first.”
“Of course.” I moved to the chair at my desk. What was it with her weird way of talking? She sounded like someone trying to fake Shakespeare. Was it all part of whatever scene she was playing?
She sat on the mattress and bounced. Like a three year old. Maybe this was Kate’s idea of a practical joke.
“What is inside of this?” Miranda asked.
“Inside the mattress?”
She nodded.
“Is that like hay?” She stopped bouncing. “I sleep on feathers.”
Feathers, right. If this was a practical joke, the girl was good.
Miranda pulled a red ribbon off the end of her braid and ran her fingers through the long strands. With a frown, she crossed her ankles and re-braided her hair. “My father and his wife want me to marry a wealthy man, but I have never met him. Though they have told me that his Christian name is Bernard.” She tied the end of her braid with the ribbon and met my eyes with her blue Basset hound gaze—please, feel sorry for me.
This wasn’t fun anymore. Why couldn’t Kate leave me alone? Everything was a fight with her. I sighed. Maybe this Miranda thing was an initiation rite for some pledge at Kate’s sorority. Fine. I’d go with it. Kate wasn’t going to win this round.
“Huh. That’s too bad,” I said. “Are you from one of those Eastern countries, where they make you marry a stranger? Or maybe an Arab one, though I don’t suppose he’d have a Christian name in that case.”
Miranda shook her head. “I am from England. I live at Bodiam Castle.”
“A castle?” I rolled my eyes. This was ridiculous. “Listen, go find Kate. I have SATs next week, and my parents say I need to study. Apparently, the scores from my last three SATs aren’t good enough.”
“I have no desire to marry the man. In fact, I find the idea reprehensible.”
Reprehensible? Perused wasn’t enough? No doubt she’d scored high on the verbal section of the SAT—hey, that was it—she was a drama student. But at Yale. Except, how would she know Kate? Kate went to Southern Connecticut State. Whatever. It didn’t matter. I yawned. “Then don’t marry this Bernie guy.”
“It is so simple for you.” Her eyes narrowed. “Men always have a choice. When you want, you will marry a beautiful woman.” Her voice quivered. “But I have to marry some foul, old stranger.”
I was afraid she might start crying. I hated it when girls cried. I reached out to her.
Miranda jerked away. “Do not touch me.”
“Why not?”
“Your touch will force me to leave.”
I shook my head. “I have better things to do than play games with you and Kate.”
She dabbed the corners of her eyes. “Who is this Kate that you keep mentioning?”
“My sister. Your partner in let’s-haze-the-high-schooler.”
“You make no sense. I told you I am from Bodiam Castle in England.”
“And how did you get here?”                                                
“I journeyed through time.”
I waited for her to laugh, but she didn’t. Was I supposed to call her bluff? She sat on my bed, watching me. Her poker face never slipped. Either she was the greatest actress of my generation, or she believed what she was saying. Could one of my dad’s patients have slipped into the house?
“Do you know my dad?” I asked. “He’s a psychiatrist.”
Miranda shook her head. “I do not know what that is. But I can assure you I do not know your father. You are the only person from this time I have ever met.”
Her gaze didn’t waver. “You really believe that you traveled through time?”
She cocked her head. “It is not a matter of believing. I did it. You saw me arrive.”
“I didn’t.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I think I must have been asleep. When I looked up, you were already here.”
“When I leave, I shall slip into time, and you will see it.” She stood. “I must leave soon.” A blue pen lay on a pile of homework at the foot of my bed. She picked it up. “May I have this?”
“You want a Bic?”
“I apologize, but I must return with something. If this Bic is the only one you own, perhaps I could take a book.” She put the pen down and picked up my physics textbook. “You have so many books. Surely you will not miss this one.”
“Hey, I have a physics exam next week. You need to give it back.” I picked up the pen. “Take this instead.” I tried to put it in her hand, and the tips of my fingers brushed against her palm. She faded. The pen fell through her hand to the floor.
Miranda sucked in her breath. “I told you not to touch me!” 
The colors of her dress, hair, and skin all bleached.
I grabbed her hand. I wouldn’t let her vanish. But she turned lighter and lighter until she went transparent. Then she was gone. Just like she said.
I looked at my hand. My fingers and palm were curled around nothingness. The room started to spin, and I realized I was holding my breath. I inhaled and exhaled again and again.
A moment ago, a beautiful girl stood in my room. At least, I thought so. I waved my hand through the empty space. Nothing. I checked the ceiling for a camera lens. Maybe Miranda had been a projection. But my ceiling was the same as always. White with a few spider webs, which my mom always hassled me about cleaning.
Or maybe Miranda hadn’t really been here. After all, I’d only slept three hours last night.
The pen I’d tried to give her lay on the carpet. I picked it up. Near the pen, the carpet was crushed. It had to be an indent from her shoe. The area around the toe was pointed. Definitely not from one of my shoes. I shivered. Maybe Miranda was real. Or maybe I was losing my mind.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.” Even if she was real, I’d probably never see her again.
But if she’d gotten here once…  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Author Interview

Where did you get the idea for Screwing Up Time?

I’d written a young adult novel several years ago, and it won the Tassie Walden “New Voices in Children’s Literature” Honorable Mention award. But I was frustrated by my experience finding a publisher. So the next book I wrote was a literary fiction. That novel had left me exhausted, and my intention was to take a break and write a short story for adults. But Miranda didn’t let that happen.

She waltzed into my life just like she did into Mark’s. I sat at my computer to write and Miranda appeared in my mind. At first I thought she was a ghost. But she wasn’t. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was a time traveler. And, even though Mark was the main character, Miranda told me the story. Mark filled in the details—and corrected the bits where Miranda was wrong.

Will there be a sequel?

I’ve already begun one. But I’m a bit of a slow writer, so I can’t tell you when it will be available. I’ve also had some ideas for short stories involving Mark, Kate, and Granddad. Though I can’t make any promises yet, I suspect I may write some stories to tide my readers over until I finish the new book.

What was your favorite part of the book to write?

That’s a hard question. I loved the chapters with Granddad. But writing Mark’s snarky lines (things I think, but would never say) was such fun. And then there’s the traveling through time. I let my imagination run wild—it was a rush. Above all, writers are addicted to the thrill of creating.

Did you plot out the book before you wrote it?

Usually when I write a book, I know where it’s going, though not always how I’m going to get there. This book was different. This was Miranda’s thrill ride from beginning to end.

Where do you write?

A better question might be where don’t I write. I write at my sons’ piano lessons, at my desk, on my bed, on a scrap of paper, etc. Any time and any place is a good time to write.

If you could travel through time, would you?

Absolutely. In fact, if anyone knows where I could get some unicorn horn, I’d love to give it a try.

Is that really Miranda’s ghost on the tower?

I really want to tell you, but I can’t. You’ll find out more in the next book.

Can I bribe your kids to find out what happens in the next book?

You could try. They are very good at breaking my passwords.