quantifying happy

I was one of those teens who hated their small town in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t wait to live in the big city.  People would say how pretty my town was, with the hills and the woods and the cows and blah blah blah, but I was so over it.  (Funny how I’m into all that now, though).  Even so, there were a few things I liked about growing up in the country.  Fireflies.  Visible stars.  And mourning doves.

Mourning dove

Mourning doves make a really specific sound that you would recognize.  And here in New York, mourning doves have set up shop.  Luckily, some mourning doves like to chill in my courtyard.  My bedroom windows are right above them and I get to hear their hooing in the morning.  And lots of other times during the day.  But they like to do their hooing sounds at dawn and it’s a very Zen moment.  Except for the other morning, when a mourning dove pressed himself up against my window screen in a tizzy and was all like, “Hooo-OOOHH-oooh!” with some serious volume.  I jolted awake in a panic that I’d have to deal with a bird in my apartment, but that wasn’t the case.  Now he and a friend like to perch on the fire escape.  When I stare at them, they just stare back.

How much I love hearing mourning doves made me think about happiness in general.  Like how some people are all about the little things (me), while others are into large-scale fun times (still me).  And how happiness can actually be quantified.  Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a happiness course at Harvard and offers six tips for happiness.  His research shows that the most important factor in being happy is friendship, followed by health.  Which is so true, since we all know that material things do not make us happy for very long.  Well, maybe except for the sexy iPhone, but I don’t have one so how would I know?

A happiness equation has been formulated, which can be basically represented as HAPPINESS = REALITY / EXPECTATION.  Jodi Picoult references this in her brilliant Nineteen Minutes.  I’m one of those people with really high expectations.  Maybe they’re too high.  But I like how my expectations drive me to always be working toward the next goal, always be creating something better.  I never forget that anything is possible.  And that makes me happy.

top 3 questions

Here are the top three frequently asked questions readers have been asking me.

1.  Are you going to write a When It Happens sequel?

It’s possible.  I’d love to write a sequel, but there are a few obstacles in the way.  For starters, young-adult novels usually feature characters who are in high school, and Sara and Tobey have already graduated by the end of When It Happens.  I’ve read a few books that take place the summer after senior year or move from senior year into college, but these are the exception.  So I’m not sure if that would fly.  Another thing is that I’ve already planned the plots for my next five books and I’m really excited about writing them!  I guess this is one of those questions that never really gets answered completely.

2.  Will there be a When It Happens movie?

I hope so!  That would be so freaking awesome I can’t even tell you.  While I was writing the book, I visualized the scenes like movie scenes, and a lot of readers tell me that the book feels like a movie playing in their head when they read it.  That’s hot.  So we’ll see – my agent is working on selling the movie rights now.  It’s such an exciting time for teen movies, with the most excellent Juno and Paranoid Park out, plus the upcoming Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Twilight, so there’s hope.  The ultimate would be if Evan Rachel Wood played Sara.

Evan Rachel Wood

3.  Was it difficult to write from a boy’s perspective for the Tobey chapters?

Not really.  Although girls and boys are definitely different in some ways, we’re all human and share basic similarities.  We all want to be loved.  We’re all looking for someone to connect with, that one person who gets us better than anyone else.  And we all want to be happy.  So these fundamental common emotions are true no matter who you are.  The main differences that make Tobey’s voice sound different from Sara’s are how he speaks and interacts with his friends.  I find boyspeak to be choppier, while girls like to talk about their feelings more.  Of course, Tobey is not a typical boy.  He’s introspective and sweet and confident and sensitive.  Oh, and really, really cute.  I wanted to create the ultimate teen boy character who girls would fall in love with, so it was super fun to write his scenes.

viking turns 75!

Susane Colasanti and Jon Scieszka

Viking Children’s Books 75th Anniversary Party was fan-freaking-tabulous!  Here I am with Ambassador Jon Scieszka.  I was going to bring him a crown, but I felt like everyone probably does that and I didn’t want to be a lame copier.  But according to Jon, everyone does not do that.  So I got you next time, Jon!

Any event where I get to speak with Laurie Halse Anderson is a magical time for me.  She has been such an amazing source of inspiration and is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know.  I wish that her books would have been available when I was a teen, but I’m happy that she is saving so many kids in countless ways now.

Susane Colasanti and Laurie Halse Anderson

So many friendly neighbors were in the house, there was just not enough time to visit with everyone.  My incredible editor, Anne Gunton, was awesome about taking care of me, even in her very pregnant state.  Impressive!  I am extra lucky to not only have a wonderful editor, but also to have the best publisher a girl could ask for, and that’s Regina Hayes.  Regina will be my editor while Anne is on maternity leave starting next month.

Viking's 75th Anniversary Party

Here we have Lizabeth Zindel, author of The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies, which will be released on May 15; Laurie Halse Anderson (Twisted will be out in paperback on May 15); Doug Whiteman, President of Penguin Group Books for Young Readers; and Sarah Dessen (go Lock and Key!).

Viking's 75th Anniversary Party

These cute boys do a lot more than just go around looking good.  Jack Martin is NYPL’s Assistant Coordinator of Young Adult Services and wearer of the slick stripey pants.  Nico Medina is my absolutely spectacular copyeditor.  He is the author of Fat Hoochie Prom Queen, which how can you not read?

Special shout-outs to Anton, wizard with the contracts and personal photographer.  Thank you for being tall.  Sam Kim wins for best cover design of Take Me There, which will be released on May 29.  And Sarah Dessen had some seriously shiny hair going on.  See, she just dazzles in so many ways…

Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti

earth day celebray

Ah, Earth Day.  The day I used to offer extra credit to my students who carried a garbage bag around with them everywhere to collect all of their personal garbage.  Actually, they had to lug their own garbage around for 48 hours.  After that, more kids understood my incessant ranting about not taking a bag in the store if you don’t need one and letting the deli guy know that you really don’t require a huge freaking pile of napkins for one bagel, thanks.

This Earth Day is celebration time for many exciting reasons, like:

1.  Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key is released today!  I had the privilege of reading a galley and was impressed, once again, by Sarah’s awesome talent for telling stories that touch our hearts.

2.  Season Two of Friday Night Lights is out on DVD.  Tim Riggins in my living room is always a good thing.

3.  It’s Viking Children’s Books 75th Anniversary.  Yay Viking!  There’s a special anniversary party tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some cool photos to share with you soon.

joe zedepski’s ginormous calculator

In When It Happens, Joe Zedepski is this dude who always has to put his ginormous calculator right at the edge of his desk.  His huge, annoying calculator which he has out even on the first day of school when you don’t need it yet, teetering on the edge, just waiting to fall off.

Kayla is a very special reader who gets how funny this is.  She and her friend Kerri were totally cracking up when they found out about Joe.  They even drew Joe’s calculator:

Joe Zedepski's ginormous calculator

Love that!  And Joe would have loved yesterday’s blog post.

When It Happens comes out in paperback on May 1, which is also my birthday.  I love it when the universe consolidates gifts like that.

it’s the little things

I’m all about the little things in life.  Like seeing that the When It Happens page in Penguin’s summer catalogue has The Outsiders on the other side.  If you told me that I’d be on the other side of S.E. Hinton’s masterpiece back in the day when I was sleeping with The Outsiders under my pillow (as part of an osmosis/creative visualization/obsession thing), I would have been like, No way.  Fact:  Energy of the universe rocks.

Here’s a little thing that’s a big deal to those of us who care about punctuation:  Saving the semicolon.  Apparently, the growing influence of English in France is challenging the semicolon’s fate.  Read all about it.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, you can receive Knopf’s poem-a-day e-newsletter.  What better way to start your day than with a poem that makes you happy?  Sign up at their website.

Patchin Place streetlamp
 The oldest publicly operated streetlight in Manhattan resides in my neighborhood.  It was originally a gas lamp in the 1890’s, but was converted to electricity before 1920.  Which totally reminds me of the lamplighter from The Little Prince.  If you’re into the little things of New York with lots of history, check out more cool stuff here.


Here in New York, a lot of places don’t care if you’re short a few pennies when you buy something.  Lots of delis and stores have little penny dishes near the register, so if you’re short a few cents you can take some pennies from the dish.  And if you don’t have three cents, no problem.  But friends who visit say it’s not like this in the rest of the country.  Is this the case where you are?

We’re moving toward a penniless world and eventually the prevalence of so many prices ending in “.99” will be a thing of the past.  But pennies are still money.  So why is it now socially acceptable to disregard actual money?  And where does it end?  Are nickels next?


Seeing – 5th Avenue & Washington Square Park:  Pink flowers on two trees.  The best evidence is evidence of spring.

Also seeing – That grassy area where Miranda and Steve got married:  White flowers on a tree.  More evidence.

Tasting – Crumbs, East Village:  Carrot cupcake.  Which has an iced carrot on it.

Carrot cupcake at Crumbs

Missing – South Beach, Miami:  Happy palm trees.

South Beach palm trees

Admiring – World Financial Center:  The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral ReefThe New York Times calls it an “environmental version of the AIDS quilt.”

Collecting – Facebook:  Pieces of Flair.  They’re just so dang cute.

Pieces of Flair