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Call for Scav Hunt Essay Submissions

If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than ten minutes, you’ve probably discovered that I’ve spent years involved in the University of Chicago’s Scav Hunt, that it is one of my favorite things in the world, and that I can talk about it endlessly. So, after nearly 15 years of being involved in Scav, it brings me so much joy to announce that I am going to be editing a collection of Scav Hunt stories, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in the spring of 2019. And we are now open for submissions! So if you’re a U of C alum with a Scav story to tell, read on…

You are invited to send in your 500 – 2,500-word personal essay on the topic of “My Craziest and Most Memorable Scav Hunt Experience.” All stories must be true. Each essay should be focused on one particular item or event, and should include the year and item number. So we’re not looking for general philosophical musings on Scav, or the history of Scav, but rather concrete stories about cool things you’ve done–the sorts of stories you would tell friends to try to explain to them how amazing Scav is.

I will be selecting about 25 essays for the book, and I’ll be looking for a wide range of experiences (road trips, showcase items, small personal labors of love, etc.) and a wide range of years.

Please submit all essays to leila@leilasales.com no later than July 15, 2017. If your essay is selected for the book, I will send you editorial feedback and request some revisions in the fall. No Scav points, but if your essay gets included in the book, you’ll get paid $175 capitalism points for your contribution. Plus you’ll have your name in a book about Scav, which is priceless.

Let me know if you have any questions, and please share this call for submissions with all your Scav friends!

xo Judge Leila

Desert Island Discs

I’m trying to put together a list of my Desert Island Discs (i.e. the albums I’d want to have with me if I were stranded on a desert island indefinitely). I have never come up with a final and complete list, and I’m certainly not going to do so tonight, but here’s what I’ve got at present:

Graceland, by Paul Simon
Tapestry, by Carole King
Yourself or Someone Like You, by matchbox twenty
The Stone Roses, by the Stone Roses
If You’re Feeling Sinister, by Belle & Sebastian
The “Chirping” Crickets, by Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Okay I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to lock myself into any choices I might regret later. TO BE CONTINUED, MAYBE.

How to Win at New Years Resolutions

I am a big believer in New Years resolutions. I am also into birthday resolutions, Rosh Hashana resolutions, and summer resolutions: basically I will take any opportunity to try to be a better person.

For 2008 I resolved to get more sleep. For 2009 I resolved to make my writing more of a priority. For 2011 I resolved to get in shape. For 2012 I resolved to be more charitable. For 2013 I resolved to cook for myself. For 2014 I resolved to do something about my anxiety. Not only did I take steps toward all these goals in the years that I resolved them, but I have continued to work on all of them ever since then.

A successful self-improvement regimen takes discipline and willpower, but it also requires a smart approach. Here’s what I think about when crafting resolutions:

1) Operationalize it. This is my best piece of advice and I am very serious about it. Always ask yourself HOW? HOW am I going to achieve this goal? What is my PLAN for putting it into action? It’s all well and good to say “I’m going to be more productive at work” or “I’m going to be more respectful to my parents.” But those are not good plans, they are merely good intentions. And the minute your focus wavers, your intentions get away from you. You need to create measurable, achievable steps. I didn’t say, “I’m going to get more sleep”: I said, “I’m setting an alarm for 11:30pm every night and when it goes off, I will drop whatever I am doing and go to bed.” I didn’t say, “I’m going to prioritize my writing”: I said, “I’m going to set aside one night every week to come straight home from work and write.” Every day, or every week, I could look back over it and see whether I had done my plan or not.

2) Be realistic. If every meal you currently eat is takeout, or crackers and peanut butter, or Annie’s mac and cheese, you are not overnight going to turn into a person who cooks for yourself seven nights a week. And if you resolve to turn into that person, you will find it impossible, and you will feel overwhelmed and give up. Set a goal you are capable of achieving so that you don’t set yourself up for failure and quitting. For my “cooking for myself” resolution, I created a google doc listing meals I’d cooked, and my goal was to add to the list at least twice a month, so by the end of the year I’d have 25 meals I had made. Maybe I ate cereal for the other 340 days that year, but it was a start–and it gave me the foundation to do even better the next year.

3) There’s no time limit on becoming the person you want to be. If you don’t actually join that gym in January, do it in February. If February gets away from you, do it in March. I didn’t get around to my 2014 resolution until October, because at that point I was like, “Shit, this year is almost over, and I haven’t yet fulfilled the promise I made to myself.” So I did it then, still got it in before 2015: it still counts.

4) Prioritize yourself. A commitment that you make to yourself is every bit as meaningful and binding as a commitment you make to someone else. You wouldn’t cancel dinner plans with a friend because at the last minute you were kind of tired and didn’t really feel like going out in the rain, so you sure as hell can’t cancel on your own plans to go to the gym or write 500 words. To make it easier to hold yourself to your promises, make a list of every time you do the thing you’re supposed to do, or a calendar where you give yourself a star sticker for every day you do it. In 2012 I made a list of every month of the year and then wrote in which charity I donated to each time. I put an appointment in my calendar for each month: “Give to April charity.” An appointment is a real thing, and you can’t ignore it–even if the appointment is with no one but yourself.

5) Doing something is better than doing nothing. Every soda you don’t drink, every cigarette you don’t smoke, every day you do go for a run, every email you do respond to quickly–give yourself credit for every one of those. Yes, there will still be the soda you DID drink, the day you DIDN’T go for a run, the email that’s been languishing in your inbox for four months, but so what? It’s fine if you don’t get all the way to the person you want to be. All that matters is that you’re taking steps in that direction.

That’s basically it. At the end of the day: have a plan. Put it in your calendar. Do what your calendar tells you to do. Trust the strategies you laid out for yourself more than you listen to whatever it is you “feel like” doing when the actual moment comes. 2016, let’s do this.

Read an excerpt from Once Was a Time now!

My first middle-grade novel is coming out with Chronicle Books on April 5, 2016. It’s called Once Was a Time, and here is what it looks like:

Omce Was a Time cover

Newbery Award winner Katherine Applegate called it “unforgettable.” Anne Ursu called it “boundary-breaking and timeless.” Courtney Sheinmel called it “elegant and heartwrenching.”

Are you thinking, “I don’t want to wait until April to start what sounds like such an amazing book”? Well, now you don’t have to. The first few chapters are available for you to read right here.

You may have to wait until April to find out how it all ends. But you can find out how it all begins right now.

Happy holidays and much love,
Leila

Tonight the Streets Are Ours blog tour starts today

Hard though this is to believe, Tonight the Streets Are Ours will be in bookstores exactly two weeks from now! So today we’re kicking off my blog tour. Here’s post #1: http://readeroffictions.com/2015/09/blog-tour-interview-giveaway-tonight-the-streets-are-ours-by-leila-sales/

Because my new novel is about a blogger, I’m doing something a little different for this tour. Not only are the bloggers asking me questions about my life and writing, but I am asking them questions right back. So this is a great opportunity for you not just to get excited about Tonight the Streets Are Ours, but also to learn more about some of the Internet’s best and sharpest YA tastemakers.

I’ll be tweeting each day’s guest blog post from @LeilaSalesBooks, and I’ll post some of them here, too. Enjoy!

This Song Will Save Your Life paperback release is coming!

This Song Will Save Your Life comes out in paperback on April 14. That is really soon!

This Song paperback cover FINAL 2015

Here are some things that paperback edition includes that the original hardcover does not:

1) An awesome new cover!
2) A revealing interview between me and my editor!
3) Brand-new Elise-curated playlists for everything from “Best songs for doing homework” to “Best songs to get over a breakup”!

Pre-order your copy now:
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
BAM
Powell’s

I’ll be doing a couple events in California to celebrate the paperback launch:

3pm, Saturday, April 18: panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books with Tommy Wallach and David Levithan, moderated by Aaron Hartzler

7pm, Monday, April 20 (a.k.a. my birthday): Not Your Mother’s Book Club discussion and signing at the Books, Inc. in Palo Alto.

Come celebrate with me!

Upcoming events and appearances for 2015

I already have a number of book events lined up for this year. I’ll announce even more events down the line, but for now I wanted to tell you everything I know. I would love to see you at any of these bookstores, libraries, and festivals!

Wednesday, March 18, 7pm
The Astoria Bookshop in Queens, New York

Launch party for Jenn Marie Thorne’s debut YA, THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT. Jenn and I will be in conversation, discussing how she wrote such a fantastic novel.

Friday, March 20, 3:55pm
The New York Public Library in New York, New York

Part of the New York City Teen Author Festival, I will be moderating a panel called “The Fame Game,” featuring the delightful YA authors Alison Cherry, Sarah Darer Littman, Maya Rock, Rebecca Serle, and Alecia Whitaker.

Saturday or Sunday April 18-19, time and day TBA
Los Angeles, California

I will appear on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Exact date, time, and topic of my panel to be announced in the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out.

Monday, April 20, 7pm – a.k.a. my BIRTHDAY!
Palo Alto, California

Paperback launch event for This Song Will Save Your Life at Not Your Mother’s Book Club at Books, Inc.

04.20.15PA-Leila-Sales-NYMBC-HIGH-RES

Tuesday, September 15, 7pm
Brookline, Massachusetts

Boston-area launch party for my forthcoming YA novel, Tonight the Streets Are Ours, at Brookline Booksmith. September 15 is the very day the book comes out, so we will be celebrating intensely.

Thursday, September 17, 7pm
New York, New York

NYC-area launch party for Tonight the Streets Are Ours at McNally Jackson.

Whew. That is a lot. And watch this space, because there’s even more to come!

Happy Thanksgiving from me (and from the Mostly Good Girls)

In celebration of Thanksgiving week, I’m posting here the complete Thanksgiving chapter from Mostly Good Girls. I hope your Thanksgiving celebrations are much more enjoyable than Violet’s are here. If not, then may this post keep you entertained while you read it under the dining room table, or while you sit in holiday traffic. Enjoy!

Thanksgiving is a tough row to hoe

Thanksgiving is always a golden opportunity for my parents and me to sit in a car for four hours, battling our way through holiday traffic, until we eventually arrive at my Uncle Rick’s house in Cape Cod, where we are treated to overcooked turkey, limp carrots, and my aunt and uncle’s unwarranted bragging about their two sons.

Noah and David are the sons. Noah is 12 years old and David is a year older than I am. Their parents think everything their sons do is brilliant, even though the only thing Noah does is watch TV, and the only thing David does is be an asshole.

Uncle Rick is my father’s little brother. Katie theorizes that he has an inferiority complex from always being compared to my dad when they were growing up. “I’ve seen it all before,” she says wisely.

Whatever the deep-set emotional causes, Uncle Rick never misses a chance to point out how he is better than my dad. Sometimes he likes to talk about how he makes more money (because my dad is a professor, whereas Uncle Rick is a sell-out). Sometimes he likes to point out how his wife is a better cook than my mom (which is false but has never been put to the test, since we always celebrate holidays at Uncle Rick’s and never at our own house). Sometimes he likes to mention how he owns a purebred golden retriever, whereas my dad has no pets at all (the idea, I think, being that my dad is such an incompetent that he would be unable to keep a pet alive).

But mostly, Uncle Rick likes to mention how his sons are better than my father’s children (i.e. me). This line of commentary can take on many forms. Like when David became quarterback for his high school football team — “A first for this family,” Uncle Rick commented archly, like I should have tried harder to become a football quarterback at Westfield. Or, a couple years before that, Uncle Rick just couldn’t get over the fact that I had to have braces while David did not. “Tough row to hoe, eh?” he kept saying to me with evident delight. Coincidentally, Thanksgiving dinner that year consisted almost entirely of corn-on-the-cob and saltwater taffy.

That’s why this year I was thrilled when, after creeping along I-93 at approximately two miles an hour, we at last arrived at Uncle Rick’s and the door was opened by none other than 12-year-old Noah, sporting a brand-new pair of — yes, that’s right — braces.

“Hey, Noah!” I greeted him enthusiastically since, in the grand scheme of Uncle Rick’s household, Noah is a lesser evil. He grunted before darting back to the living room, so as not to miss any more precious seconds of television airtime. My parents and I hung up our own coats.

“Hello, hello!” Aunt Cynthia emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “Rick!” she called into the living room. “They’re here!”

“We-e-ell!” Uncle Rick came into the front vestibule, too, and gave us all big hugs. I tried not to squirm against his fleshy gut. “The prodigal son, at last!” he said to my dad.

“You all must have gotten trapped in that horrible traffic,” Aunt Cynthia fluttered, which was just her passive-aggressive way of pointing out that we were late.

“You still driving that Toyota?” Uncle Rick asked Dad. When Dad nodded, Uncle Rick widened his eyes and exclaimed, “Really!” which was just his passive-aggressive way of pointing out that Dad hasn’t bought a new car within the past five years.

I knew the grown-ups would continue in this vein for a while, so I went to watch TV with Noah and the dog. Like I mentioned, Uncle Rick and Aunt Cynthia brag way too much about their sons; however, it is true that Noah is a champion television watcher. He has an uncanny sense for how long commercial breaks are, so he can effortlessly switch between a favorite program and a second-favorite program without ever missing a frame. Of course he has DVR, too, but he hardly needs it — he devotes maybe six hours a day to television watching, so it’s not like he ever “misses” a show because he’s out “doing something else.”

Eventually, Aunt Cynthia called us all to the dinner table. Noah moaned like his limbs were being slowly detached from his body without the use of anesthesia, but heroically he managed to turn off the TV, and we went into the dining room.

“I suppose I should ask David to come down here,” Aunt Cynthia said, looking up the stairs. “He’s been locked in his room all day, and I just hate to disturb him. Homework, you know. He gets so much homework.” She widened her eyes at my parents and me, as if David were the only person in the history of the world to have homework. I almost snorted in her face. Like, come on. I had three textbooks waiting in my parents’ car, not to mention an annotated Macbeth. I’d challenge David to a homework contest any day of the week. I had so much homework, I’d begged my parents to let me skip Thanksgiving this year to stay home and study. Then Mom asked if she could stay home, too, but Dad was like, “Oh, no. If I have to go through this, we all have to go through this.”

Once David came downstairs, Thanksgiving began in earnest. We went around the table and said what we were grateful for. Noah’s list included MTV, VH1, Fox, and SoapNet. Uncle Rick mentioned both his enormous salary, for allowing him to provide for his wonderful family, and his still-thick crop of hair (cue jovial laughter and tousling Dad’s bald patch). I said I was grateful for my family, but actually I am considerably more grateful for mint Milano cookies and highlighter markers.

After we all thanked God/ourselves/TV network execs, the conversation moved on to college admissions. “David has been working so hard on his applications,” Aunt Cynthia informed us all. “Haven’t you, sweetie?”

David shrugged.

“Where are you applying?” Mom asked politely. “Violet will be looking at colleges next year, of course, so I’m interested in hearing about your process.”

“I’m applying early to Trinity,” David said, sounding impossibly bored by the whole thing.

“Just like his old man!” Uncle Rick bellowed.

I glanced at Noah, hoping we could commiserate in hatred for his family, but no such luck. Noah had his iPod out under the table and was half-watching an old Simpsons episode as he methodically shoved mashed potatoes into his mouth.

“Trinity should be no problem for David,” Aunt Cynthia announced, “because he’s top of his class. He’s going to be valedictorian.”

Now, this claim could not have been true, since it’s my understanding that valedictorians are not selected in November of senior year but rather in, like, June. Even if it were true, I’ve seen David’s school, and let’s just say that being top of the class there would not require that much effort. I could probably do it even with massive brain damage. I decided not to share that with the family.

“What about you, Violet?” Uncle Rick asked. “Top of your class? Going to follow in your cousin David’s footsteps to valedictorianism?”

“Uh,” I said, looking at my dad for support. “Actually, we don’t have class ranks at Westfield. And we definitely don’t have a valedictorian.”

There is an old rumor — possibly started by Katie — that Westfield once tried having a valedictorian. They announced her name one week before graduation. Mysteriously, the next day, she turned up dead. The school asked the salutarian to take over delivering the valedictory speech. But the next day, just as mysteriously, the salutarian also died. So the school asked the girl ranked third to take over as valedictorian. But then she wound up dead, too. And on and on until, by the actual day of graduation, the valedictorian was actually the girl who had originally been ranked eighth. Fortunately she was going to Princeton in the fall, so it’s not like she wasn’t worthy of the honor.

Now, is this story true?

No. I think if there were a week in which seven out of fifty 17-year-old girls died, Westfield would not still have its good reputation. But this story is true at heart, and that is why we keep telling it.

I considered sharing this story with the Thanksgiving dinner table when my Uncle Rick said, “No class ranks? No valedictorians?”

“No,” I confirmed, and Uncle Rick narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out whether this made my school better or worse than his sons’.

“Why do you have to go to that special school, anyway?” David demanded.

There is no good answer to this question. People have asked me before — in fact, David asks me pretty much every Thanksgiving — and I still haven’t settled on a true yet uncontentious response. “Because my parents love me enough to spend $20,000 a year on my education” is not a good answer. Neither is, “Because I’m really smart.” And neither is, “Because in sixth grade the other kids teased me for being a ‘nerd’ and I cried all the time, so my parents sent me to a school where everyone is a nerd so that I would be happy.”

Just imagine what Uncle Rick would have to say about any of those statements.

Instead I said to David, “It’s a great education,” which is maybe a little snobby, but so what. I was annoyed.

“Don’t see what you need such a great education for.” Uncle Rick chuckled. He is very self-amused. “Your father’s got eight years more education than me, and what’d it get him? Nothing much!”

That did it. My parents lost it. It’s one thing for my aunt and uncle to criticize their car or their cooking or even their daughter, but to criticize the world of academia? Unacceptable. Like, step off, Uncle Rick.

“What did it get me?” My father balled up his napkin in his fist. “It got me knowledge, Rick. Knowledge is the most valuable human commodity. Perhaps you can’t understand: I am one of the foremost experts on Hemingway—”

“On who?” Uncle Rick said with a laugh, even though obviously he knows who Hemingway is. Everyone knows who Ernest Hemingway is; at least, everyone who’s related to my dad knows. Rick was just egging my dad on. And of course it worked.

“That’s it!” my father declared, throwing his napkin across the table, but not quite forcefully enough to hit anyone. It landed in the water pitcher. He stood. “We’re leaving. Girls, get your things.”

So Mom and I also stood up — we could not have been readier — but then Aunt Cynthia was all flapping hands and, “Oh! Oh! Rick!”

And Rick threw his arms out wide, like, “What’d I do?” and he shouted, “Relax! It was just a joke. I was just joking around. Wasn’t I just joking, kids?”

Noah and David nodded like zombies, though Noah’s eyes were still on the Simpsons and David had a turkey drumstick rammed so far into his mouth I expected him to choke.

“I know how seriously you take school,” Uncle Rick said to my parents and me. “I was only having some fun. Heck, school’s great! It’s not the most important thing, of course, but, well, it’s still great.”

We remained standing, waiting for my father to make a decision. Leave! I begged him silently. Let’s burn all bridges, leave in a huff, and never return!

My father sat down heavily. “Not a funny joke, Rick,” he said. “Pass the potatoes.”

Oh, Dad. You so owe me.

Since I was already standing, I took this as an excuse to escape briefly to the palatial marble bathroom. I pulled out my cell phone and texted Katie, “Today I am thankful that Thanksgiving comes only once a year.”

A moment later, she texted back, “My dad is already on his fifth beer of the day.”

Honestly it is a wonder that Katie and I turned out so normal.

When I dragged myself out of the bathroom and back to the dining room, Aunt Cynthia was serving corn on the cob. Noah waved her away, his eyes still fixed on the iPod beneath the table.

“Man,” I said to my little cousin, in what was far and away the best moment of the day. “Braces, huh? Tough row to hoe, isn’t it?”

Remembering Zilpha Keatley Snyder

When I was in middle school, I had a lot of trouble fitting in with my classmates. In hindsight I realize that many middle schoolers feel this way, but at the time I felt like I was the only one. It seemed like everyone else had meaningful friend groups and wore the right clothes and paid attention to gossip, and I was the weirdo who wrote stories in her notebook during class or read Babysitters Club books under her desk and raised her hand whenever the teacher asked a question.

But when I read Zilpha Keatly Snyder’s Libby on Wednesday, I didn’t feel like such a weirdo after all. Libby was like me: she was eleven years old and precocious, smart at school but didn’t understand social rules, and she was a writer, too.

Libby lived in an enormous old house (a dream of mine), where she got the entire top floor for her hobbies. She had rooms devoted to ballet and to various time periods that interested her. This also became one of my dreams. I wanted a room just for my My Little Ponies, so they could be forever spread out in a never-ending make-believe game. (In real life I had to return my ponies to their laundry-hamper home every two weeks, when the house cleaner came, so she could dust my room. In my Libby on Wednesday fantasies, there would be no cleaning ladies, and my pony room would be only one small corner of my enormous old house.)

Six or seven years ago, I was at ALA, and my friend Emily and I saw that Zilpha Keatly Snyder would be signing at the Simon & Schuster booth. We ducked out from the Penguin booth, where we were working, and quickly ran over to meet her. I told her my name and I said, “Without your book Libby on Wednesday, I would not have survived middle school.” Then I started to cry. I just stood there and sobbed. Emily had to take me away. I was really embarrassed at the time.

Today I read that Zilpha Keatly Snyder has passed away at the age of 87. I’m glad that I told her what her writing meant to me when I had the chance. That’s a memory that I think I’ll keep with me always.


(Zilpha Keatly Snyder photo from her PW obituary)