Saturday, August 31, 2013

Children's Author Blog Hop: In Which I Reveal What I Am Working on Now (Sorta)

This week I am participating in the Children’s Author Blog Hop. My friend Holly Schindler, the extremely awesome administrator for our group blog, YA Outside the Lines, invited me to be part of this interview hop in which each author answers four questions and then invites three other children’s authors to participate.

Sad truth: I'm not having very much luck with my invitations. YA Writer Colleen Clayton, author of the brilliant and heartbreaking debut novel What Happens Next and Tracy Barrett, much-acclaimed historical fiction writer, are my only takers at the moment. So I am going to promote the heck out of them TIMES 3 (see below) and leave it at that--

because I do love these interview questions.

My book Thin Space is days away from being released but my head's been in another story entirely, and all of the questions relate to that. So, without further ado:

1. What are you working on right now?

A rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite--is the short answer.

The longer answer is that back in 2009, when I was first submitting Thin Space and trying not to get sucked under the waves of despair that accompany the querying process for me, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month--where writers pledge to write a novel during the month of November). NaNo is how I'd written the first draft of Thin Space the year before and that had worked out for me, so...

Flash forward to Dec. 1, 2009, and I had another finished 50,000 word manuscript. I use the word "finished" in the very loosest definition of the word.

When you write a book in the floundery, digressing, jumping around, trying-to-figure-out-the-story kind of a way that I write, the real work comes later.

a few versions of this mess (and note the grocery receipts. I am BIG on scribbling stuff down on grocery receipts.)

Not to get into too many boring details, but the revision I'm fiddling with now is at least version number four. I wrote three other novels in between and did heavy revisions on Thin Space during this time too. AM I THE ONLY WRITER WHO WORKS THIS WAY?

2. How does it differ from other works in the genre? 

Good question. This book, which I'll call "YA Fantasy," is the most complicated thing I've ever tried to write. It's got multiple points of view. It has two major plot lines and extensive back stories that had to be hammered out. There's some stuff from Greek mythology sprinkled around in it. Also, gritty and horrifying environmental disaster elements.

I don't think it's like any book out right now. (This is how weird it is, and this is the thought that sometimes wakes me up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.) Something I read recently and loved--and I don't in any way assume that my book is even in the same LEAGUE as this--is the brilliant Maggie Steifvater's The Raven Boys. That's also got multiple povs and strands of magical realism and mythology...

3. Why do you write what you do?

Jeez. Who knows.

4. What is the hardest part about writing?

Here's a fun quote: "I hate writing; I love having written."

Not sure who said it, but it is so damn true some days. Most days. WRITING IS HARD. I don't know why. I mean, you're just sitting there. You're tapping on the keyboard. You're making stuff up. What's hard about that?

And yet every damn day, I have to psych myself up to sit down and open up my file and start tapping. Within minutes I fall into a spell and disappear. This is the magic part of writing that is so difficult to explain. It feels strange and good but also it saps your energy, and when you climb out blearily at the end of the day, you feel like you've run a mental marathon.

Maybe this is what is hard about writing--the intense focus and concentration required, never mind the emotional wringer that often accompanies that bizarre spell-like realm.

I have no idea why I do it. As difficult as it is for me every damn day, I have learned over the years that the days I don't write are much harder than the days I do.


And now here are my shout outs to my writer friends:

Colleen Clayton--
I read Colleen's novel What Happens Next before it came out and had no idea what I was picking up. I immediately loved it. On the surface this is a problem novel--a girl is drugged and date raped--but the book is about so much more than that.

This is every girl's story to come to grips with a tragedy, to make sense of the unthinkable, to emerge on the other side okay. The book's theme is dark but there's humor too and painfully real interactions between friends, between a mother and a daughter, and an unfolding romance between two damaged people who deserve to have love in their lives.

Since I reviewed What Happens Next, Colleen and I struck up a correspondence. She was kind enough to read my book Thin Space and her blurb figures prominently on the first page. We've met since that time--we're both Ohio authors--and she's become a mentor and a friend.

She told me recently that her second novel is finished and I am so looking forward to reading it.


Tracy Barrett
First, I must tell you that Tracy has been pretty much a mentor to me since I met her years ago at a regional SCBWI conference. We struck up a conversation and I invited her to visit the school where I was teaching. My book club students had read her novel Cold in Summer and were thrilled to meet Tracy and ask her questions about the writing and publishing process.

This was actually MY first encounter with a visiting author too, and Tracy's presentation that day and her insightful responses to the kids got me seriously thinking that being a working writer might not be such an impossible/pie in the sky/day dreamy life after all.

Tracy's written 19 (probably more!) books for middle grade and YA readers. Most of these are historical fiction, but some are twists on classic myths. My favorite of these is Dark of the Moon about Theseus and the Minotaur.

And now Tracy's got several projects in the works that are sure to be awesome: The Icarus Complex, which uses the Icarus myth as a basis for a contemporary story set at a skydiving center, The Stepsister's Tale, a retelling of Cinderella, and Mirror, a twist on Snow White. I am so looking forward to getting my hands on these!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Searching for a Thin Space

Writers often talk about how important it is to trust the process. "Trust the process," they say. "Trust the process." As if the words themselves are magic.

We whisper to each other our stories of perfect timing and dumb luck--about frustrating plot holes that are solved after a night's sleep or a hot shower. Book deals that click together right when a struggling writer is about to quit. People who meet at conferences in line at a port-o-potty and end up being long time critique partners/writing soul mates. The book you need for research that appears on a library shelf.

The first three things actually happened to me. The last happened to a writer I know. His first book was set in Japan in the 1890's. His editor loved the story but felt that it could be beefed up with a bit more about the main character's experiences in school. The trouble was that my friend didn't know anything about schools in Japan in the 1890's.

He knew he'd have to do research and he wasn't sure where to start. (This was pre-internet days.) Anyway, he walked into a library, grumbling about the work that lay ahead of him. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a book out there with exactly the information he was looking for?

He looked up, and there on the shelf was a book titled something like: "Schools in Japan in the 1890's."

When I was writing my novel Thin Space, I did research on the Celtic idea of thin places, places where the veil between this world and the spiritual world is thinner. I discovered that there really isn't that much information out there--mostly religious or New Age-y websites, some discussion of how the idea of sacred spaces may have evolved over time, yadda yadda druids, blah blah stones.

But nothing about how to make a thin space. Nothing about how to find one. Nothing about what it would feel like to step into one.

Remembering my writer friend and his Japanese schools in the 1890's experience, I started thinking how awesome it would be if I found the book I needed. Curious Accounts of the Thin Space is what it would be called. And it would contain interviews with witnesses who had stumbled upon and stumbled into thin spaces...

Since I'd already scrolled around online and browsed in the local library, I took my research quest on the road.

First stop: the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. Because I happened to be on campus and the building is freaking amazing.

(This picture was NOT taken in the rare books library. But I thought these old card catalogs were cool. Fun fact: they were all empty. Which just seems sad on some level.)

Here's the outside of the rare books library. Those "windows" are made of very thin marble so light can get through, but not enough light to damage the 500,000 rare books...

Now I am inside and looking at the marble windows. Directly behind me is a Gutenberg Bible.

But I was not looking for a Gutenberg Bible. I was looking for a book about thin spaces. I found something that sorta fit the bill...

And something else that was even better. Unfortunately, it was out of my reach. So close and yet so far away.

But I TRUSTED the process. And the next day while meandering down a side street in Boston, my daughter and I practically bumped into a rare bookstore.


Exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pathways to Publication: Interview with Bill Thomas

Have a manuscript you think might be worthy of publication and not sure what to do next? Maybe you're wondering if you need an agent and how to go about finding one. Or you're confused about what kind of money is involved--does someone pay YOU or do you have to sink some of your own savings into this venture? What does an editor do? Will you have to market this book yourself?

Last month I wrote about my first feeble attempt at publishing a book. Now I'm interviewing other writers on their SUCCESSFUL pathways to publication--from self-published to traditional, debut writers to a writer who's published 130 books, and everything in between. 


Bill Thomas on finding a niche in the education market

Jody: What steps did you take that led to the publication of your first book?

Bill: I can describe my “path to publication” with a single word: luck. Really. It was sheer luck. But as Seneca noted, some 2,500 years ago, luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Jody: So, not sheer luck then. Tell me a bit about the preparation part...

Bill: Well, that was varied. I started out to be an artist, but ended up teaching 5th and 6th grade. I sometimes wrote one-page stories for the kids to enhance math, science, or social studies lessons. Once, I wrote an instructional comic book called "Grok and Rok,” on how to count, add, and subtract in base 5 (using numeric systems other than base 10 was one of the “flavor of the month” math-teaching strategies in the early 1970s).

When the school district cut personnel during a budget crisis, that comic book helped me land a job with a company that produced multi-media vocational programs. From there I moved to a technology company where I wrote software documentation, user manuals (great preparation for non-fiction), marketing literature, and advertising copy (great preparation for fiction).

And then came the opportunity. One of my colleagues attended her college class reunion and connected with a former classmate who was now the creative director for an education-market publisher. She brought the guy in for a tour of our company.

When she introduced him to me, he was excited to see a copy of The Baseball Encyclopedia on my cubicle bookshelf. We talked baseball for a while, then writing, and exchanged business cards. A week later, he phoned and asked, “Can you write kids’ books?” I said, “Absolutely. What do you want me to write?” He told me, and after some questions, answers, and a writing sample, I received a contract and a copy of the company’s style manual.

Jody: I like that--the publisher approached you, and you were ready. Your books with them ended up being part of a non-fiction series. How does a book deal in the education market work?

Bill: My contract specified the length of the book, the number and types of illustrations, and, of course, the payment: one-third in advance, one-third upon receipt of the completed manuscript, and the final third when I completed all requested editorial changes.

Jody: How long does it typically take from finished book to publication? And, with your first book, was it all wrinkle free?

Bill: The process was generally pretty smooth. We had a few disagreements over content – the emphasis placed on one topic versus another – but they were resolved without much rancor. The worst issue, for me, was a photograph – one specific picture that I felt absolutely had to be in the book. But the publisher either could not obtain the rights or was unwilling to pay the associated fees. I never did find out which. And I still wish that photo was in the book.

It was roughly a year - three months of writing, nine months of design and production – until I had a copy of the 48-page book in my hands, a biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Jody: And this book led to others.

Bill: Yes. More contracts followed. The original publishing house was taken over by another. Some of the editors I’d worked with remained; others went to new companies, so my contacts increased. I’ve now written more than 30 non-fiction books for kids and young adults: biographies, career studies, and history.

A four-book series on the American government was nominated for an award by the Association of Educational Publishers. It didn’t win (I was robbed!).

Jody: Hey! Thirty books is pretty impressive. You've obviously found your niche.

Bill: I did, but two years ago, I decided to make the jump into fiction. I’m now working on the third draft of a middle-grade novel. My greatest surprise in making that move was the amount of research required. I figured, “It’s fiction, right? You just make it all up.” Nope. Not even close.

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and began attending meetings of the local chapter. I also visit a “read and get feedback” group of writers in a nearby town.

My biggest boost in the process (so far) was attending a writer’s retreat at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. The week-long event provided time to write without worrying about life's normal distractions. Two established writers-in-residence provided individual critiques and guidance, along with evening “mini-lectures.” And the chance to interact with other writers, both aspiring and published, was invaluable.

Jody: What's up next for you?

Bill: I want to keep polishing and refining the manuscript of my novel. I will soon create my own website, to establish an on-line presence and, eventually, I will have to find an agent.

My intention is to seek traditional print publication for my novel. That is a long, hard, and uncertain road, I know. But middle-grade kids – my target audience – aren't a significant demographic in the self-pub or electronic marketplaces. At least, not yet!


Bill Thomas is the author of more than 30 books for children and young adults. And here's Bill in his own words:

"I went to several colleges over the years. I’m not certain I learned much of value, but I do have a nice collection of degrees. More, really, than anyone needs. A long time ago I served in the Peace Corps, living for three years on a little island in the Pacific Ocean. The experience changed my life. That was followed by decades of monetary servitude. Three years ago I began writing full-time. “Full time” means when I’m not mowing the lawn, shoveling the driveway, cooking meals, getting the oil changed, or attending to other distractions. I live with my wife and her useless cat in Rochester, New York.
Favorite authors: Barbara Kingsolver, Robert B. Parker, Rudyard Kipling
Favorite kids’ authors: Mercer Meyer, Richard Peck, Linda Sue Park
Favorite YA author: Jody Casella
Favorite movie: Casablanca
Favorite artist: John Singer Sargent
Favorite singer: Pete Seeger
Favorite places to be: the Adirondack Mountains; Paris
Favorite quotation: “Compared to writing books, betting on horses seems like a sensible way to make a living.” (John Steinbeck)

Most rewarding thing I’ve ever done: raising children
Stupidest thing I’ve ever done: climbing up a volcano during an eruption
Coolest thing I’ve ever done: hiking four days on the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu

My greatest weakness: baseball

What I’d rather be doing: sitting by a campfire sipping Scotch whisky"

Oh, Bill, wouldn't we all. Wouldn't we all. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Random Thoughts on Book Signings (with Fun Vintage Pics)

So, I am in the process of setting up three book signings and therefore thinking a lot about book signings.

One thing I've noticed is that book signings these days tend to have titles. Recently, I've attended a Fierce Reads Tour and a Dark Days Tour. Also, a Good Girls/Bad Boys in YA Fiction Tour.

For my "tour" I am toying around with this title: "Places Where Jody Lives or Once Lived and Knows Some People Who Live in Those Places and Therefore Might Show Up" Tour. Whatdaya think?

(For the record my tentative schedule for the "PWJLOOLAKSPWLITPATMSU" Tour is as follows:

Columbus, Ohio: Saturday, Sept. 7 from 2:00-4:00 at Cover to Cover Bookstore

Lexington, KY: Saturday, Sept. 21 from 2:00-3:30 at Morris Book Shop

Memphis, TN: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 2:00 at The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Make a note family and friends! Also, peeps in CT, don't worry, you are on my radar next...)

I like going to author book signings and as someone who used to work at a bookstore, I have attended many. My favorite, back in those days, were cookbook authors. Those signings usually included food, and if we bookstore clerks waited patiently, sometimes we got to have a taste of sample recipes.

I've been to book signings (Louis Sachar, Sue Grafton, Jane Fonda, Madeleine L'Engle, Veronica Roth) where the line snaked out the door. Also, I've witnessed a few book signings as a bookstore clerk where no one showed up except the bookstore clerks. I will kindly not mention who the authors were for those...

The most crowded book signing I've ever attended was a children's author, Mary Pope Osborne of Magic Tree House series fame. My daughter, at age seven, was a HUGE fan, and I promised her we'd buy Osborne's latest book and get it signed. But, I almost reneged on this promise when we pulled up to the overflowing bookstore parking lot (and this is the huge bookstore Joseph Beth in Lexington that has two stories and space for like, 100,000+ books). We waited in line for two hours to reach Mary Pope Osborne, and I must say she was very sweet, taking a minute to smile and chat with my daughter before continuing on with the 100 people behind us.

There is something VERY cool about meeting and chatting with the author of your favorite book. I burst into tears when I had the chance to meet one of my favorite childhood authors Madeleine L'Engle. And I was similarly tongue-tied when I meet Barbara Kingsolver and Meg Rosoff. 

The idea that people might wait in a line to get my book signed kinda freaks me out if I think about it too much.

But then it hit me. I've had some practice signing books before...

Twenty three years ago, when I worked at Davis Kidd Bookstore (now Booksellers at Laurelwood) in Memphis, I got roped into doing a signing. Every Saturday there was a children's story time at the bookstore and for some reason, this one particular Saturday, they decided to add a book signing by a costumed character into the mix.

I played the costumed character Madeline. I remember waiting in the back room as a clerk read the story. You may remember that the book begins like this: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines... the smallest one was Madeline."

After she finished reading, the clerk said something like "And now we have a special guest with us..." That was my cue to walk out.

I was wearing a ginormous head mask, which turns out is frightening to young children. Also, it was false advertising because I was not "the smallest one" those kids had been picturing. A few of the children burst into tears--the terrified kind, not the joyful kind.

Some grabbed my legs and almost tripped me. (Fun fact: those ginormous head masks allow no peripheral vision. You can only see out from a 5 inch square directly in front of you. Luckily, the bookstore clerk figured this out quickly and wrapped an arm around me and led me forward before I could trample anyone.)

The signing went fairly well after the crying subsided.

I sat at a table, face hidden and sweating inside my ginormous head mask, and the kids lined up and thrust their books in front of my eye holes.

I nodded and chatted with them and signed

Love, Madeline.

In the storage room before putting on the ginormous mask
and surrounded by (possibly terrified) fans

Twenty three years later I will sign my actual name. Also, I will try not to trip over anyone.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WHO AM I? Guest blog from a teen reader-- On NOT Letting Others Define Us

As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute. Up first, 16 year old Jane from Ohio. 

And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.


Who I Am
By Jane Eskildsen, guest blogger

What defines a person?

I think a better question is who defines a person? So often we find ourselves caught in society letting others judge us for the things we do or don’t do. We let others define who we are, and we listen. As a high school student, I see this happen everyday. People wear the same clothes, do their hair the same way, and use the same slang. We let the bandwagon define us. And why? So that we can have that popular girl or boy like us? How crappy is that?

I feel like I’m allowing this invisible force to squash me into characteristics that I simply am not. I’m letting people who know absolutely zero about me judge and define my life. People set us up for a future that we don’t want to travel to. A future that doesn’t fit who I am. 

Who came up with this system? Who said that if you don’t live life a certain way, you are doing it wrong? There is no right or wrong answer to life or who you are or what you are living for. I think that’s where people like me get lost. 

I’ve taken the liberty of changing my post’s purpose from ‘Who am I?’ To ‘Who I am.’ 

For me there is no question. It is only a statement. There is no right or wrong. There is only me. I’m done molding myself for people who don’t give a damn. I am me and that is who I am.

For 16 years I have been the same person. I’ve learned and grown, and in 16 more years, I’ll still be me. I have no idea what the future truly holds for me. But those decisions are for me to make and me only. That’s who I will be. 

I’m confident, independent, outgoing, funny, tall, awkward, and loving. I have great family who love me and fantastic friends who care about me. My life is my own and could be short or long. But who really cares? I’ve got a life and I am living it.

That’s who I am. Who are you?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dispatches from LA: Random Notes, Inspiring Nuggets, and an Unexpected Brush with the Sharknado Set

Back from my whirlwind trip out to LA to attend the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators International Conference and I am still trying to decompress.

Short version of the trip: I laugh. I cry. I get sunburned. I gulp down coffee. I gape at famous writers and editors in elevators. I schmooze. I gush. I feel immense love for all writers and readers and everyone who has anything at all to do with putting stories out into the world.

Longer version:


I am up at 4:15 a.m. The Starbucks at the hotel does not open until 5:30.

Many hours later my best writing friend Donna and I make our way into the auditorium. Fun fact: 1200 conferees are in attendance, representing 46 states and numerous foreign countries. Lin Oliver, one of the founders of SCBWI, kicks off the conference by telling us that we're all nut balls.

First of the many inspirational and thought-provoking speakers is Laurie Halse Anderson. I write in my notes: Laurie says, be brave. Embrace the sanctity of silliness. We are an antidote to the disappointing grown ups in the world.

Speaker number two, Jon Scieszka, orders us to be subversive and to support subversiveness in kids. Our books should not put kids to sleep, he says. Wake them up, for God's sake!

I go to a break out session on self publishing where I realize it's 4:00 Ohio time and all I have eaten so far are almonds that I've scrounged off the bottom of my purse.

Lunch: I eat a yicky, over-priced sandwich and have a cool conversation with a guy who is my son's age. He pitches me his book idea and I realize that I'm probably conversing with the next Rick Riordan.

Back in the auditorium for more sessions. I don't know if it's the jet lag mixed with the coffee and hunger pangs, but I cry during the next speaker's talk. Later, an editor gives a presentation on digital publishing and all I can focus on is her idea about doorbells. Apparently, the finger we use to press a doorbell indicates how old we are.

I use my index finger. Therefore, I am old.

A session on marketing and a kick ass session on world-building from 5 brilliant and cool YA authors: Veronica Rossi, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Tahereh Mafi, and Ransom Riggs.

Night: Donna and I sneak mixed drinks into a wine and cheese party.

The evening ends with me looking like a total goofball. I am alone in an elevator with Arthur Levine and am so flummoxed I forget to press my floor button.


I am up at 4:45! and first in line at Starbucks!

First inspirational talk that makes me cry of the day: Middle grade author Kirby Larson compares writing a book that gets overlooked to bringing a tofu casserole to a potluck.

The creative life can be hard and we should adopt a grandma--a mentor to help us navigate through the low points. The "grandmas" can be other books. She mentions the book of a writer I met at a previous conference, One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I start crying. It just kills me to think about Lynda, this lady I sorta know, sitting at home wherever and not knowing that her book meant so much to Kirby Larson that Kirby Lawson is giving a shout out to it to 1200 people in LA.

Illustrator Mac Barnett is freaking awesome and hilarious and brilliant. Also, he makes most of the audience tear up over his true story about whales.

I go to a break out session where Printz Award winner John Corey Whaley and his editor Namrata Tripathi talk about the process behind the author/editor relationship. Takeaway: when you get the first detailed critique of your manuscript from your editor, give yourself a few days to rage and grieve before responding.

Presentation by Matt de la Pena where he asks us what our POV as writers is. He tells a story of a girl who knows what everyone wants to hear but doesn't know what she wants to say.

I go to Brodi Ashton's session on world building and take pages of notes. Best insightful nugget: The world must be in service to the story and not the other way around. She shares advice about prologues that makes me break out into a cold sweat:

1.Write a prologue with everything the reader needs to know about the world.
2. Write the book as if the reader has read the prologue.
3. Delete the prologue.

I meet my agent for the first time and we have a lovely chat down by the pool and the whole time I keep thinking: Hey! I am having a lovely chat with my agent down by the pool!!!


I sleep in until 5:30. The Starbucks guy, Angel, knows me by name and order.

First panel is a group of high-powered agents. Lee Wind moderates and has the most tweetable bits of wisdom. There are other ways to define success besides money, he says. Like, the impact of a book on a single reader. Also, having your voice out there in the world.

David Wiesner gives us a glimpse into his creative process. His advice: always follow the story. Also, you can't just sit around and think about it. You have to do the work.

Lunch is a big lunch with everyone. Including Henry Winkler. Awards are given out and speeches are made, and I alternate between laughing and fighting back tears.

Richard Peck calls us to action. There are always survivors, he says, and we write their biographies.

The final speaker of the conference is Jarrett Krosockza. He cracks us up by reading a few of his bad reviews. His favorite: "Your book is clever and dumb," which Jarrett decides would be a good blurb for the back of the book.

On a more serious note, he reminds us that our stories can give kids an escape from an atrocious world.

That night I attend a party thrown by my agent in a cool bar on the 17th floor of some hotel. I look out at the smoggy LA skyline and I chat with other writers and artists and editors. I hold my wine glass and pass on scrumptious-looking hors d'oeuvres because I realize that it is impossible to drink wine and hold a plate and eat hors d'oeuvres at the same time. I have no idea where I am and I realize that I have no idea, in many ways, how I have made it to this cool bar on the 17th floor.


The conference is over but I've got an extra day to hang around. I write by the pool. I read. In the afternoon my brother, who lives in the area, picks me up and takes me down to the Santa Monica Pier.

He asks me how things are coming along with my book launch. I give him a rundown--the marketing, the signings planned, the party my neighbors are throwing--and the whole time I am thinking in the back of my head: I'm walking around Santa Monica Pier talking about a book I wrote--this dream I've had pretty much for my entire life--this dream that for years has been so clear, right down to the kind of pen I would use when I sign my books, is about to come true.

We eat dinner and look out at the ocean. I can't shake the hazy, jet-laggy, fish-out-of-water feeling that I have had the past few days. I've never been to the Santa Monica Pier but everything about the place feels familiar. The mountains, kind of Impressionistic-like in the distance. The beach. The Ferris wheel.

I've seen this place before, I tell my brother. I know it. And yet, I know that is impossible too. Until this trip, I have never even been to LA.

Maybe it's the set of a movie, my brother says.

It must be.