What are the Lists of 13, you ask? Ever since I wrote The Thirteenth Summer, I’ve been a big fan of the number thirteen. I guess you could say it’s my lucky number. So several years ago, I started writing lists of thirteen things, and now every month, I send out a new one in the LizzyLit Newsletter, along with news about life in the land of LizzyLit. (You can subscribe to the newsletter in the little box on the left.) If you want to see all the lists of 13, click the image below. But while you’re on this page, here are a few of my favorite past lists of thirteen. Enjoy!


Thirteen Things Christmas Catalogue Models Can Do that Normal People Can’t

1. Make plaid flannel pajamas look sultry.

2. Run gracefully along the beach on a grey winter morn wearing boots, and not get that “Ohmigosh I’ve got sand in my socks, and I just twisted my ankle” look that normal people get.

3. Wear hats without getting staticky hair.

4. Gaze out of a frosted window beside their fake spouse, both wearing matching turtlenecks, and somehow look cozy, not corny.

5. Sit around the house in matchy-matchy pj’s and look romantic and festive, not disheveled.

6. Wear belted mom jeans and tucked-in button-downs and look . . . well, not great, but certainly better than you or I would look. I imagine a lot of trick lighting and safety pins are involved.

7. Wear flimsy, sequined dresses with leg warmers and boots, and somehow make it work. (Exhibit A: The Nordstrom catalog. Exhibit B: The J. Crew catalog. Exhibit C: Me. I rest my case.)

8. Pose for a photo alone in front of a Christmas tree, and not get labeled “That Poor Girl Whose Date Ducked Out of the Party Early.”

9. Grimace or growl at the camera. This is not socially acceptable in other settings—only models can get away with it.

10. Wear ear muffs and look cute. (Okay, NOT. I’m not sure anyone looks fantastic in ear muffs—except maybe those platinum blonde Swedish models who pose on ski lifts and such. I guess if you’re Swedish, and have ice-blue eyes, and ski lifts are your native habitat, you were genetically designed to look good in ear muffs.)

11. Jump and kick their heels in the air while walking through random Christmas tree farms and scenic meadows. Non-models end up arrested or medicated for such behavior.

12. Wear 16 ethnic necklaces, 13 bangle bracelets, 5 watches (and perhaps even a Santa hat) and not look over-accessorized.

13. Drink many mugs of what appears to be steaming coffee, and yet maintain a mouthful of blindingly white teeth. (Perhaps the secret is to lovingly caress the mug as models do in catalogs, but never actually sip the coffee.)


Thirteen Love-Hate Relationships

1. Love the hello, hate the good-bye.

2. Love the chocolate, hate the guilt.

3. Love the dog, hate the shedding.

4. Love the beach, hate the stickiness.

5. Love the rain, hate the mud.

6. Love the snow, hate the plow.

7. Love the holiday, hate the letdown.

8. Love the Band-aid, hate the removal.

9. Love the unexpected sale, hate the buyer’s remorse.

10. Love the buff husband, hate the workout laundry.

11. Love the yoga, hate the Weird Yoga Instructor Voice and Even Weirder Vocabulary.

12. Love the book, hate the movie.* (*With a few notable exceptions, including The Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, and most of the Harry Potter films.)

13. Love the mystery I can’t put down at night, hate the alarm clock in the morning.

Thirteen Songs that Don’t Mean What They Sound Like They Mean

In honor of Rage Waters and the Fellas and their twenty-five fictional years of epic rock ballads . . .

1. “Hey Soul Sister” by Train—The most colossally disappointing song lyrics of all time. You hear the song, and it rocks. Everything in you wants to get up and dance (even if you are rhythmically challenged, like me), so you start listening closer—then you hear him talking about his untrimmed chest hair, and you start gagging. Violently.

3. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”—A Christmas classic masquerading as a sweet, innocent duet, but which is actually pretty shady. I mean, really, the girl needs to smack that boy! What a skank! But speaking of shady . . .

2. “Every Breath You Take” by the Police—Otherwise known as “the Theme Song for Stalkers.” Seriously creepy. Helpful hint: If your boyfriend or girlfriend ever sings this song to you, run to the nearest police station. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

4. “Mahna Mahna” by the Muppets—I know I don’t speak Muppet, but I’m pretty sure this song doesn’t mean what we think it means. I’m not sure it means what anyone thinks it means . . . even the Muppets.

5. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins—Rumor has it that this song is about how Phil Collins, when he was a kid, witnessed another kid drowning, while an adult did nothing to save him. So years later, Phil tracked down the guy, invited him to a concert, and busted him by singing this song just for him. In some versions of the urban legend, the distraught man kills himself later. I’m sorry to report that the song is actually just about Phil Collins’ divorce—which must have been unusually nasty. Phil Collins and Taylor Swift definitely shouldn’t date and break up. The aftermath would be apocalyptic.

6. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley—One of those songs that’s so deep and steeped in biblical references, it’s almost awesome, but ends up convoluted. But I could still listen to it all day long. Especially to the version by Amici, which has been known to make ecstatic listeners levitate off the ground. Who cares if some of the words don’t make sense? With soaring harmony like that . . . they could sing the telephone book and I’d sob with joy.

7. “MMMBop” by Hanson—Remember this one? Crazy fun song. Way back when, I read the lyrics and everything, and still I was confused . . . but once you accept that it was composed by long-haired, uber-talented preteen boys who made up a word just for kicks, you can sort of go with it, ’cause, just like Hanson’s fame, “in an mmmbop it’s gone . . .”

8. “Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Sheep”—If you listen closely to the words to this song, it’s not a nice children’s song. It’s gruesome, actually. I mean, all those poor sheep, missing their tails? And in some versions of the song, they never do find their tails, so those sad little sheep go baah-ing through life, tailless and forlorn, presumably being mocked by all the other sheep for the rest of their sad little lamb lives. Heartbreaking, really. I refuse to sing it to my children.

9. “Rock-a-bye Baby”—While we’re on the topic of sadistic nursery rhymes, listen to the words to this song: “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall/And down will come baby, cradle and all.” Seriously? A baby falling out of a tree in its cradle? Who wrote this evil ditty? And who hangs baby cradles in trees to begin with? I’m thinking this was a song written by the world’s first serial killer, and young mothers, fooled by its innocent melody, have traumatized their babies with it for generations. Well, the torment stops here.

10. “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson—Killer beat, awesome video with the light-up sidewalk . . . weird, kind of uncomfortable topic.

11. “If I Had a Hammer,” by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes—Crystal mentions that her mom loves this song in The Thirteenth Summer, and I agree with Crystal’s assessment: Great melody, but what in the heck is this song about? Do the singers long to work for Habitat for Humanity, or do they just love HGTV? I’m all for hippie peace and love and idealism, but I just can’t figure out what a hammer has to do with social justice, unless you are seeking violent revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Which isn’t very flower-child-like.

12. “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie” by Don McLean—Awesome riffs, and I’m with the lyrics for two verses, but by the time you hit the third verse, it’s like, double huh? Although you gotta love the line, “And I knew if I got the chance/That I could make those people dance/And maybe they’d be happy for a while.” I think every writer feels this way.

13. “The Hotel California” by the Eagles—But really, I’m not so sure even the Eagles know what their song means. Which is why (as Stoner and Rage could tell you) you shouldn’t write songs while under the influence. Or about being under the influence.

Thirteen Words that Don’t Mean What People Think They Mean

1. Olympics—You might think this word means, “event in which athletes from around the world compete in thrilling displays of flexibility, strength, acrobatics, and skill, with the overarching goal of promoting harmony and goodwill among the nations.” But you would be wrong. It really means, “addictive televised athletic event that will keep you up until midnight every night—eating doughnuts or some other junk food which will assure that you yourself will never qualify for the Olympics or look like the gods and goddesses competing on TV—and make you exhausted, unproductive, and basically useless for three weeks.”

2. “athalete”—I don’t know why, but many English speakers feel that the word athlete lacks a vowel between the H and the L, and so they add an A. This mysterious affliction has been known even to affect journalists at the Olympic Games.

3. “triathalon”/”triathalete”—See #2. People give in to the same temptation with the words triathlon and triathlete, pronouncing them “triathalon” and “triathalete.”

4. sick—If someone says, “When Gabby Douglas does her bar routine, she is just sick,” you might think that poor Gabby—so adorable she’s almost edible—is vomiting all over the uneven bars . . . but you would, according to modern slang, be mistaken. It means that Gabby Douglas flies like—well, some would say a squirrel, though I’d pick a more majestic animal—over the uneven bars, taking the world’s breath away.

5. albatross—I’ll give myself a hard time with this one.
Word-for-word conversation that happened in my house a few years ago:
My husband, aka Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome, exclaimed: “Wow! Tiger Woods just hit an albatross!”
Me, gasping in horror, picturing a gruesome Death By Golf Ball for an innocent bird: “Oh no!”
Mr. TDH: Hysterical laughter at my expense.

You might think, if you are a girl who doesn’t watch golf unless forced—and it appears that we will all be forced to watch it in the 2016 Olympic Games—that albatross is simply the name of a bird. But you would be wrong. Embarrassingly wrong. (In my defense, I was picturing that legendary moment in 1980s baseball when the pitcher hit a bird with a fastball, and the poor bird exploded in a feathery mess, right there in the air above home plate. It was horrifying.) Albatross, in a golfing context, means a score of three under par.

6. ironic—This is one of those words that is misused all of the time. We say things are ironic, when really they are inconvenient, or unfortunate, or just a serious disappointment. For example, we might say, “Isn’t it ironic that McKayla Maroney, aka The Best Vaulter of All Time, fell on her second vault and had to settle for a silver medal?” That’s not ironic, just heartbreaking. To give a non-Olympic example, remember the Alanis Morrissette song from the 1990s, “Isn’t It Ironic?” My English teacher had a cow over the misuse of ironic in that song. Really, that song should have been called, “Isn’t It a Bummer?” Rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic, just a supreme bummer, especially if you’ve got an outdoor wedding with no backup plan. (My favorite correct usage of ironic, by the way, is in You’ve Got Mail—the scene where Tom Hanks is on the boat with his dad, discussing his dad’s marital history. Pitch-perfect.)

7. apart—People often write “apart” when what they really mean is “a part.” The difference in meaning is—well, they are opposites. So if you say, “I am apart of the Missy Franklin and Other Tall Swimmers Fan Club,” you have actually just announced that you are not a member of this club. You are not a fan of Missy Franklin, aka the Smiling-est Swimmer of All Time (you heartless soul, you), nor do you root for other tall swimmers. But if you say, “I am a part of the Missy Franklin and Other Tall Swimmers Fan Club,” then you are a card-carrying member of this noble organization, and a defender of tall swimmers everywhere.

8. nauseous—Technically, nauseous means “inducing a feeling of nausea.” So when we say, “I’m nauseous when I watch synchronized swimming,” what we’re really saying is, “When I watch synchronized swimming, the expression on my face makes everyone around me want to vomit.” Which could be true, I suppose, but even if it were—is it wise to go around telling that to people? You’ll doom yourself to solitary Olympics-watching and junk-food-eating for the rest of the Games. The word we’re looking for is nauseated, as in, “Watching synchronized swimming makes me nauseated.”

9. literally—Literally means “in actual fact; this is really and truly what happened.” But we like to use this word just for dramatic emphasis, and in so doing we end up betraying the meaning of the word and robbing it of its power. For example, a doughnut-eating Olympics-watcher might turn to a fellow doughnut-eater and say, “I literally had a heart attack and died when the US women’s soccer team scored the winning goal over Canada in the final seconds of overtime.” To which Doughnut-Eater Number Two might respond, “Oh my goodness! Are you a god? You have risen from the dead—where is your house of worship?”

10. inflammable—In one of those weird English language quirks designed to torment non-native speakers, inflammable is not the opposite of flammable, as you would think. Believe it or not, the Olympic torch is both flammable and inflammable at the same time. Somehow—and you’ll have to take this up with the dictionary people if you have issues with it—inflammableactually just means flammable (capable of being set on fire). Go figure.

11. “laxadaisical”—I hear people say this all the time, and I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not a word. For example, they might say, “In the 2008 Olympics, Usain Bolt finished the one-hundred meter dash in a laxadaisical way, and irritated the stew out of every other sprinter in the whole world, plus not a few doughnut-eaters.” Lackadaisical is the word you’re looking for . . . and it is indeed a fantastic one, so definitely use it, minus the nonexistent X.

12. awesome—A fantastic word that has been rendered anemic by overuse. This word means “expressing or inspiring awe.” So what does awe mean? “An emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” Sacred and sublime—now those are Big Deal Concepts (think God, the powers of the universe—really big powers like that). I confess, I have occasionally been guilty of using awesome to describe such mundane things as dougnuts or Justin Beiber’s hair (okay, I’m kidding on the hair thing, but I do love a good chocolate-covered doughnut . . . anyway, you get the idea). I’m sorry, but contrary to popular prepubescent opinion, Justin Beiber’s hair is not a divine object worthy of worship. Henceforth, I plan to reserve this word only for things related to actual deity. Won’t you join me? I have to say . . . it might almost be okay to call Michael Phelps’s Olympic career awesome. If his career isn’t borderline sublime . . . well it’s close.

13. “on behalf of my team and myself”—Okay, so this is a phrase, not a word, but it’s a phrase you hear every coach of every team say at every thank you speech. They love to say, “I’d like to thank you all on behalf of my team and myself . . .” Beloved coaches of the world, there’s no need for complex pronoun gymnastics here. Just say, “My team and I want to thank you.” I won’t bore you with a technical explanation of how to use reflexive pronouns correctly, but . . . well, when in doubt, don’t use them. And now, on behalf of my blog and myself, I’d like to thank you for reading—oh, wait . . . you get the idea. Thanks for reading.

Thirteen Myths About the Writing Life

1. If you write mysteries, especially whodunits involving murder, then you will somehow become embroiled in all kinds of scintillating local mysteries, and will become an expert police consultant. I blame Hollywood for this myth—Castle, anyone? (Love that show, by the way.) Or cast back a little further to Murder, She Wrote . . . I have a secret theory: Jessica Fletcher is the ultimate serial killer and con artist, and she herself committed all the murders she supposedly solved. There’s just no way one sweet little old writer lady could witness that many murders—I mean, come on, she lived in a teeny little town in Maine! How could she always just “happen” to be around when all those poor people got killed? Coincidence? I think not.

2. Writers get to go hole up in beautiful, secluded resorts with stunning vistas while they pen their masterpieces. Um, maybe this is true for a lucky few (except that poor writer in Misery, for whom the secluded resort was a horrible idea), but most of the writers I know are scrambling to find ten free minutes, and we’ll take them anywhere we can get them. I’ve been known to scribble on scraps of paper in the bathroom in the middle of the night, to be sure I don’t forget an idea before morning. Most of us are on a first-name basis with the baristas at our local coffee shops—my children think I work at Starbucks! And day in and day out, most of us end up sneaking time on the laptop at the kitchen table—we sit down, tune out the shouts of the children, and ignore the damp Cheerios as they crust over and glue themselves to the table, and our story whisks us away, wherever we’d like to go.

3. Writer’s block. Do writers occasionally get stuck during the writing process? Sure. Do we sometimes need to take breaks from our stories? Of course. Do some stories turn out to be dead ends—at least for a while? Yep. But I’ve found that “writer’s block” is an exaggerated, borderline mythical phenomenon that makes writing sound more agonizing than it actually is. It’s like, if a writer claims, “I haven’t slept in days; I’ve stopped paying my bills; I’ve behaved like an ogre toward my family and friends,” and their friend asks why, as long as the writer answers, “Writer’s block,” the friend’s eyes will widen in sympathy and all will be forgiven. (But having said that, I still reserve the right to claim a whopping case of writer’s block, should I ever need a romantic-sounding excuse for why I’m not writing, or why I’m stomping around in a horrible mood.)

4. Writing is miserable. I think we writers, being the dramatic type, sometimes enjoy making our work sound torturous and darn-near impossible—perhaps because we have so little to show for the countless hours we labor at our beloved projects, and we want people to admire and appreciate our efforts. But for me, writing is my happy place. If I don’t write, then I’m miserable. Writing is an escape, a thrill, a joy—the thing I’d rather be doing than anything else in the world. And I think most writers—at least most writers who stick with this crazy career long-term—would give that a hearty “amen.”

5. Writers are angsty. Okay this one is kind of true, but not always. But I prefer the words “ponderous,” “sensitive,” “insightful,” “creative,” “artistic,” “talented,” and “soulish,” thank you very much. Many of us are drawn to writing because we are captivated by people, by the difficulties and intricacies of relationships, the deep questions of life . . . and so we experience life in neon, where others may see only primary colors. But does that mean we’re all self-absorbed drama queens? Only when we have writer’s block.

6. Writers are emotionally fragile people. Most writers I know exhibit a fascinating dichotomy: They have extra strings on their sensitive emotional guitar, and this helps them to experience chords of emotional nuance that others may miss—and yet they’re tough. It takes courage to write about real life without glossing it over. It takes even more courage to write the truth about yourself, and lay it out there for the world to see—even in fictional form. And if all that doesn’t do the trick, the competitive nature of the writing industry makes us resilient and forces us to develop thick skin—although when we get those lovely rejection letters and bad reviews, we reserve the right to cry and throw the angstiest of fits. But you know we can’t help but crawl back to the computer a few days later . . .

7. The writing life is glamorous. This one’s actually true—of course we writers lead the coolest lives on the planet. I mean, what do Brangelina and their 18 kids have on me and Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome and our adorable 3.5 children and dog and snail, I ask you? I mean, I sometimes wear sunglasses and black clothes and no makeup, too. Where’s my paparazzi?

Okay but seriously: Again I blame the movies here—and not just for the existence of Brangelina. Movies offer us this iconic stereotype of writers, hanging out in Manhattan in their cliques of well-dressed writer friends, imbibing liquids that children’s writers should not publicly admit to imbibing, and hobnobbing with intellectuals who bluster with large vocabulary words about such elusive concepts as existentialism and postmodernism. I’m sure there are such writers, but they’re the minority.

Mostly, we work like crazy on our books as we juggle family life and several other jobs—not exactly a glitzy lifestyle. And when my beloved writer’s group gets together, we hang out in our little coffee shop and critique each other’s chapters, in between admiring pictures of children and grandchildren. And yet somehow . . . it’s glorious.

8. Writers are rich. Ha! HahahaHA! I mean, some of us—I should say them—are, but most of us don’t write The Hunger Games or Twilight. Many of us work for years without seeing a paycheck. And here I have to give an enormous shout-out to all the husbands and wives and parents and friends and babysitters who support us in our pursuit of our writing—who choose to see it as an investment, not a money pit—because they believe in our talent and embrace the insanity of our dream, and give us the time and freedom to pursue, not just what we love, but who we are, whether we ever get paid or not. They understand that if we don’t do this, we shrivel up and die—so who cares if we ever make a dime? (Although a few million dimes in the bank would be nice.)

9. Writers naturally excel at grammar. I’m a total grammar geek myself, and yet I have to acknowledge that on some level—that’s what editors are for! Some writers easily “get” grammar, but others, for whom grammar is a challenge, are great storytellers—and they should still tell their stories! (The editor in me can’t help belaboring the obvious: Every writer should work to improve in the technical aspects of our craft, and should always submit manuscripts that are as clean and polished as possible. Duh.) I heard Henry Winkler (a.k.a. the Fonz, of Happy Days fame) speak at a conference this January, and he shared that because he has dyslexia, he never thought he could be a writer. But write he has! He’s written (in collaboration with coauthor Lin Oliver) seventeen novels about a dyslexic hero named Hank Zipzer. How great is that? But let me finish this point by saying this: Every writer needs an editor, no matter how grammar-savvy you are. If you’re going the self-publishing route, please hire a great editor to help you produce a professional product.

10. Writers can only write when they’re inspired. We all love those “aha” moments when our creative Spidey Senses are tingling—for me, these hyper moments usually happen when I have significant amounts of caffeine zinging through my veins, so I suspect that they may be deceiving me with a coffee-fabricated, imaginary sense of brilliance and creativity—but if you want to be a writer who actually finishes a project, you’ve got to learn to discipline your creativity. I learned this about a week after I started writing The Thirteenth Summer, when the initial rush of inspiration had worn off, and I realized it was time to buckle down and write the whole book . . . and it was going to take a long time. When you sit down and start to write—something, anything, no matter how awful you think it is—if you do it enough times, day after day, the creativity starts to come when you call it. You may not feel inspired, but once you start putting some words on the page . . . they’re usually not as bad as you think.

11. “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental . . . ” You know this disclaimer at the beginning of books? Yeah, that’s a bunch of legal baloney. (But if a lawyer asks you, you didn’t hear it from me. My blog was hacked.) Of course writers watch people and incorporate their personalities and traits into our characters. But actually, most of our characters are an amalgam of our own selves and many different people we know—so they’re not direct representations of a single individual.

12. Writers sit down, and out pops poetry. Every once in a while, you write a zinger of a line the first go-round, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Comparing your first drafts—or even second or third drafts—to polished, published work is just not fair. First drafts are just that: first drafts. Practice words. A way to get the story out and get to know the characters. Most of us don’t get a beautiful line until we’ve wrestled with it for a while. Revision is where the magic happens.

13. Writing is a solo sport. One of my favorite things about writing is the community: the way we all work together to advise, inspire, and even commiserate with each other. Writers are team players—especially children’s writers. We share ideas, tips, advice. Some of the most generous-spirited people I’ve ever met are seasoned writers who gladly share their wisdom and experience with new writers—or who give newbies a pick-me-up when self-doubt starts taking over. I have to close with a big shout-out to my favorite fellow writers: my writer’s group, which has stuck with me even after I’ve moved—Emma, Gail, Muriel, and Susan; and to my first and forever writing companion, who taught me to love language in the first place—my dad. Thanks for making my writing life a joy.

Thirteen Things I’ve Learned from Senior Citizens

I can’t wait to be an old person. Really. I think senior citizens are the coolest—I could hang out in retirement homes all day and have a blast. (Crystal Waters and I are alike in that way—it’s one of my favorite things about her.) I think that adoring my own grandparents the way I do has taught me to admire and appreciate and just thoroughly be delighted by the generations that have come before us. I could have listed a hundred things I’ve learned from senior citizens, but . . . sigh . . . you only get thirteen.

1. Laugh a lot. You’ll live longer.
2. Eat dinner at home. You’ll save money and stay married.
3. Save hotel soaps. You might need them in case of a hurricane or soap shortage. (And bar soap never goes bad, so you can save it for years. Really.)
4. Write letters. Real ones, with pen and paper.
5. Make friends with your neighbors.
6. Good advice is priceless. When you find someone who gives good advice, be quiet and listen.
7. All senior citizens in America are secretly required to attend water aerobics. You will not be arrested if you don’t go, but you will risk total social annihilation. The good news is, your fellow water aerobics participants will become best friends with each other and go out for coffee after class, so really, water aerobics is THE place to be after age seventy-five.
8. When it’s time to get a hearing aid, go for the good ones. The cheap ones just don’t cut it. And you should always, always keep hearing aid batteries on hand, just in case. You don’t want to miss a word your water aerobics friends are saying.
9. You can freeze almost anything.* Really. Even milk, and shredded cheese, and damp laundry that needs ironing, and wax spilled on fabric, and stamps that you want to pull off of envelopes that you didn’t mean to stamp so you can reuse the (unused) stamps later. (*You cannot, however, freeze sour cream.)
10. A little bacon never hurt anybody, but a lot of bacon did.
11. Those chain emails that warn you that you’ll be horribly mangled in a freak accident if you don’t forward the email on in the next five minutes to fifty friends . . . well, they’re probably not true, but you never know, so you should go ahead and forward them, just in case.
12. Cool shoes are overrated, and oftentimes ridiculous—especially uber-high heels. Comfort is where it’s at if you want to be a mall-walker all the way into your nineties. (Which I definitely do. Exercising AND window shopping, all at the same time? I don’t know why the whole world doesn’t exercise this way.) Three cheers for Aerosoles, anyone? I’ve totally bought some before, and they were surprisingly adorable.
13. If you are a single man over the age of seventy-five, and want to find the love of your life, volunteer to drive the church bus on all the adult field trips. You’ll be married in less than a year. (Corollary: If you are a single woman over the age of seventy-five, and want to find a husband, go on field trips with your church. Smile at the bus driver. I must warn you: the competition will be fierce, so bring your A game, and wear a little lipstick.)

Okay, I lied. Here are five more things I’ve learned, but since I’m not numbering them, I consider them bonus lessons, and so this isn’t really a list of eighteen things. Think of it as “read thirteen, get five free.” Like a pre-Black Friday special, only in life lessons disseminated via blog.

—You don’t need new stuff. Old stuff works just fine. And redecorating? Forgeddaboudit.
—If you like having real teeth, you should floss. (Ahem, Mr. “I Have Good Teeth So I Don’t Need to Floss”—nudge, nudge. You know who you are. You have been warned via blog post. If you think flossing is time-consuming, word on the street is, denture care is a beast.)
—Buy cars the size of boats. Sure, they’re hard to park, but everyone else on the road will get out of your way.
—Pay attention to politics, even when it drives you crazy.
—And one of my favorite lessons of all: A good book and a comfy recliner are all you need for a thrilling evening. You can travel the world without ever leaving your living room.

Thirteen Things I Wish I’d Known (and Believed) When I Was Thirteen

I’m not saying people didn’t try telling me these things when I was thirteen, but I wish I had believed them. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. I know you tried.)

1. Those kids who look at you funny in the hallway are probably not thinking about you or mentally mocking your outfit. They’re probably worrying about why you are looking at them funny. Or maybe they just have intestinal issues. Anyway . . . most people that you think are looking at you or thinking about you or talking about you . . . aren’t.

2. You’re not as weird as you think. Maybe a little bit weird, but that’s actually normal. That weirdness is what makes you interesting—what makes you you.

3. Models and celebrities don’t look like magazine pictures in real life. They spend hours in the makeup chair being worked on by world-class makeup artists to look the way they do . . . they definitely don’t look that great when they wake up every morning. They don’t even look that great after slapping on five minutes’ worth of drugstore makeup like normal teenagers do. And even after all that professional beautification, the pictures are still doctored! A lot of magazine pictures are really—and by really I mean almost completely—fake. Seriously, they do all kinds of wacko alterations—they can even erase people’s fat and add in killer abs! It’s just not fair to compare yourself to someone in a magazine. If you ever look at a model in a magazine and think, “I could never look like that,” don’t worry—the model doesn’t look like that, either.

4. Everyone is insecure. It doesn’t matter if they’re a model or cheerleader or athlete or class president or class clown—everyone is insecure sometimes. (This was one of my dad’s favorite lines for me in middle school. I tried to believe him, but now I know he was right.)

5. Speaking of parents: Parents are people, too. They have feelings, and they do not exist solely to make their kids happy and drive them places and feed them and pay their cell phone bills and listen to their complaints and buy them things.

6. When you finish middle school, you might hang out with a few of your middle school friends in high school—but you won’t be stuck with all of them. I’m not saying you should give up the friend search or anything—I’m definitely a believer in perseverance—but if you’re not finding the world’s greatest friends in middle school, don’t worry about it too much. In high school you can start over, friend-wise, if you want to. And if you aren’t loving the high school environment, never fear: When you graduate from high school, you will never see most of your classmates—people whose opinions you’ve spent years obsessing over—again. Really. If you’re lucky enough to have made real friends in high school, you might stay friends with a few people, but that dude in your math class who always gave you the creeps, or that girl who always seemed like she was laughing at you with her friends (even though they were probably just laughing at some random YouTube video) . . . you never have to see them again. Ever. Not even on Facebook, if you don’t want to. So if you feel out of place in middle or high school, don’t worry . . . this isn’t your forever life. You get to start over in a few years—so just hang in there.

7. Getting a bad grade on a test in middle school is not going to destroy your future. (Nor is flunking two tests in a row in calculus in twelfth grade, by the way—though it might cost you being the salutatorian, darn it. But you get over it, and thirteen-year-olds don’t take calculus, so you don’t have to worry about that one till high school, so forget I even mentioned it.)

8. Corollary: Turning in a homework assignment late will not kill you. I’m not saying you should do it all the time, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, then you might need to hear this.

9. Alternate corollary, if you are the slacker-procrastinator type who regularly turns in homework assignments late: Turning in a homework assignment late will kill you (through the vehicle of your parents and their murder-your-social-life-cell-phone-take-away powers).

10. You are probably not going to meet the man of your dreams when you are thirteen. I know, this one’s kind of depressing, but do you know anyone who married their middle school boyfriend? High school, maybe—and that’s a big fat maybe—but middle school . . . not so much. So when your parents tell you not to obsess over the fact that boys are not paying you much attention yet . . . they might actually have a valid point. (Sorry.)

11. Back to the good news: If you don’t like how you look when you’re thirteen, you’re not going to look that way forever. First of all, you probably look a lot better than you think you do; but even if you’ve got braces and wacked-out teeth, or if you haven’t grown into your nose or your feet yet, don’t panic—just give yourself a few years, and watch what happens.

12. More good news: Chocolate probably isn’t giving you pimples. Neither is pizza (unless you are deliberately smearing its grease all over your face). I’ve tried doing without these foods, and my face still had major issues. The trouble is your hormones, and you’re going to get your share of pimples even if you become a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, salt-free, flavor-free fruit-a-tarian. I’m no dermatologist, but I have been to the dermatologist many a time, and as an Expert Dermatologist Visitor and Payer of Co-pays, here’s my take on the whole pimple problem: If you’ve got a huge zit (or, heaven forbid, many zits), don’t deprive yourself of chocolate and pizza while you’re already miserable. That’s just torture. Go ahead and chase your sorrows away with a little junk food . . . while your youthful metabolism can still handle it.

13. Being thirteen is hard—but it’s crazy fun, too, in a wacky, hormonal, roller-coastery, “sheesh what a crazy ride,” laugh-your-head-off-and-dance-around-in-your-pj’s-while-you-still-can kind of way.


Thirteen Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together

I am painfully aware that not every girl is lucky enough to have a dad in her life, but if you are, it’s a gift not to be squandered. And we all know that most dads are better at doing than saying. With those truths in mind, this List of Thirteen is in honor of Rage and Crystal, and all the dads and daughters who fight to form a relationship, no matter the obstacles.

Thirteen Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together:

1. Ride roller coasters. What girl wouldn’t love seeing her dad scream like—well, a little girl? (Sadly, this is the only one on the list I can’t do with my dad. Just looking at roller coasters turns him a lovely shade of puke green, with an emphasis on the puke part.)

2. Go see a movie at the last minute. This is one of my favorite things my dad and I used to do when I was in high school. We’d be standing around the kitchen after dinner when he’d get a mischievous look in his eye and slowly lift one eyebrow—I already knew what was coming—and he’d say, “You wanna go to the movies?” We’d both tear upstairs to grab our shoes, then speed across town to the theater—five minutes late every time. (P.S. Random Helpful Hint for Dads that you’ll thank me for later: Spring for the tickets and the popcorn, every single time. If you’re a gentleman, your daughter will look for a gentleman in a boyfriend, too. See what I mean? You’re welcome.)

3. Be stupid together. Sure, ladies, it eventually gets embarrassing when your dad tries to be the cool dad who makes all your friends laugh, but deep down, you kind of like it. At least he’s trying (and that’s better than the alternative).

4. Cry together. I’m not saying you have to turn into a Hobbit or anything (Is it just me, or do the Hobbits cry a lot in The Return of the King?), but sometimes, it’s a good thing—the right thing. I still remember the day my beloved cat Puff died, and my dad sat on the bed and cried with me.

5. Dance together. One of my favorite scenes to write in The Thirteenth Summer was the one where rock star Rage, after a lifetime of being an absent, distant father, decides to finally bea dad to Crystal in one of the only ways he knows how: He teaches her to let loose and dance. It’s a bummer that he hasn’t passed on his rhythm to Crystal, but at least he can pass on some of his confidence.

6. Work out together. My dad always helped train me for cross country, and I’ll never forget the simple joy of pounding along the pavement, side by side, not saying a word—just running together, breathing the same air.

7. Have private jokes. There’s nothing like making your dad laugh across the table, and only the two of you know why.

8. Talk about religion. A girl wants to know what her dad really thinks about the big things in life.

9. Arm wrestle. Dad, you don’t even have to let her win, because a girl likes to know her dad’s a stud. When I was three, I told my dad, “Daddy, the Incredible Hulk is big like YOU are!” He has adored me ever since.

10. Do something nice for her mom together (even if Mom and Dad aren’t “together”). It’s good for a girl to see her dad treat her mother well.

11. Talk about books together. My dad and I don’t always read the same kind of books, but he taught me to love words. Clearly, the lesson stuck.

12. Go out to dinner, just the two of you. Definitely get dessert.

13. Be a little dangerous together. My dad took me out on his Harley once—he probably doesn’t realize this, but it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life (and yes, my own fear is reflected in Crystal’s terror when Rage tricks her into riding his bike), but I’m still glad I did it. The point is: There’s nothing like sharing an adventure with the first man in your life to teach you about being brave for the rest of your life.

Thirteen Celebrity Kid Names that Are Even Weirder than Crystal Waters

If you’ve read The Thirteenth Summer, you know that Crystal Waters’s name is a source of constant humiliation for her. But Crystal is far from being the only kid inflicted with a bizarre name by her famous parent. Check out these real life celebrity kid names—some of them are so out there, they make Crystal Waters sound like the most normal name in the world:

1. Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson: daughter of Uma Thurman and Arpad Busson.
Well, with parents named Uma and Arpad, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by this one. But I have to say: This is Uma’s third child, and most parents start to run out of names after the third or fourth kid—but not Uma! Almost makes you wonder if she’s going to crank out another five or six babies, just for the joy of naming them . . .
2. Zowie: David and Angela Bowie.
This one sounds like one of those bubble comments in comic books: Bam! Zap! Zowie! Perhaps this kid will be a superhero one day.
3. Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, and Petal Blossom Rainbow: Jamie Oliver and Jools Oliver.
Crystal’s best friend Alexis has the only appropriate response to these names, so I’ll borrow her word: Double-wow.
4. Tu Morrow: Rob Morrow.
Now that’s just wrong. Kind of like naming your kid Crystal Waters.
5. George Jr., George III, George IV, George V, George VI: George Forman.
No, this isn’t a joke. Leave it to a boxer to need all five of his sons to be named after him. Somebody buy that man a Baby Names Book!
6. Blue Ivy: Beyonce and Jay-Z.
I had no idea ivy could be blue, but perhaps there’s a celebrity-only hybrid strain.
7. Harper Seven: David and Victoria Beckham.
You know how hard it is for celebrity kids to find their own identity in their famous parents’ shadow? Let’s hope this kid is confident enough to appreciate being partly named for her dad’s Manchester United number.
8. Reignbeau: Ving Rhames and Deborah Reed.
Get it? Rainbow? Spelled all funky and celebrity-ish? What is it with celebrities that they can’t settle for the spellings that the rest of us normal people use? They just have to invent their own creative celebrity version.
9. Kahekili Kali: Evangeline Lily and Norman Kali.
So I read that Kahekili means “Thunder” in Hawaiian. Given the choice between being called Thunder or Kahekili . . . um, I don’t know what I’d pick. Good luck, kiddo.
10. Happy Hinds: Macy Grey and Tracy Hinds.
I don’t dare comment on this one.
11. Daisy True Ryan: Meg Ryan.
I have to say, this one’s pretty cute. If you have to be named by a celebrity parent, this isn’t so bad.
12. Bingham “Bing” Hawn Bellamy: Kate Hudson and Matt Bellamy.
I just don’t know how this boy is going to feel about being called “Bing” his whole life. I’m concerned that he might start to feel like a doorbell after a while. But then again, the name worked for Bing Crosby (of course that was a different era) . . .
13. Ocean, Sonnet, True, and Autumn Whitaker: Forest Whitaker.
Now THAT’S a set of sibling names for you.

 I write lists of 13 things for my blog. Here are a couple of lists of 13 about me!

13 Book Worlds I Want to Live In

  1. Hogwarts: I want to turn mice into teacups in Transfiguration, stuff myself full of strange Britishy foods like treacle tarts in the Great Hall, get lost on the moving staircases, hide from Peeves in the Room of Requirement, then climb through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room to curl up with a book in a squashy armchair before finally going to sleep in a four-poster bed in a tower room overlooking the lake.
  2. Mary’s garden, so full of wonder and mystery and beauty, from The Secret Garden (Francis Hodgson Burnett)
  3. The almost-magical attic in A Little Princess (Francis Hodgson Burnett)
  4. Prince Edward Island, especially Green Gables, White Way Delight, the Lake of Shining Waters, and the little schoolhouse from Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
  5. The Realms from Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty
  6. The London Institute with Tessa and Will and Jem from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series
  7. This isn’t a geographical place, but an emotional one: I want to be the fifth member of the sisterhood in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
  8. Forks, because a) it rains a lot, and I adore rain, and b) even though I’m not a vampire/werewolf kind of girl . . . well, lots of exciting things happen there
  9. The time-traveling house in Tom’s Midnight Garden
  10. The black and white circus in The Night Circus
  11. Amsterdam with Hazel and Gus from The Fault in Our Stars (John Greene)
  12. I want a magic treehouse in my backyard like they have in the Magic Treehouse books (Mary Pope Osborne).
  13. Genovia, Mia Thermopolis’s kingdom in The Princess Diaries books (Meg Cabot).

13 Things I Love

  1. A rainy day, a comfy armchair, and a good book
  2. Going to the movies and sharing a ginormous popcorn and Cherry Coke with Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome, and squeezing his arm at the scary parts
  3. Grande decaf nonfat light whip mochas from Starbucks
  4. Cats with squashy faces, dogs who double as foot warmers
  5. Baby giggles and kid snuggles
  6. Fuzzy socks
  7. The smell of old books
  8. Sweatshirts on the beach
  9. The first time we turn on Christmas music for the season
  10. Organizational bins and cute calendars (You’d think this meant I’m super organized. Really it just means I fantasize about being super organized.)
  11. Swimming laps till my heart’s about to burst out of my chest
  12. Telling the same funny stories and quoting the same stupid movie lines over and over again with my brothers and sister
  13. My dishwasher filled with sippy cups, my laundry baskets filled with baby socks


13 Favorite Authors (in no particular order)

  1. My writing partner, Emma Stephens. Seriously the best writer I’ve EVER READ. (And she’ll be really, really embarrassed that I wrote that.)
  2. My dad, Sam Laing
  3. Shannon Hale
  4. Maggie Stiefvater
  5. J.K. Rowling
  6. Cassandra Clare
  7. Libba Bray
  8. John Greene
  9. Lauren Oliver
  10. Winston Churchill
  11. Maya Angelou
  12. William Shakespeare
  13. Ann Voskamp