dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author


Underrated TreasuresToday I’m participating in Alex Cavanaugh’s Under-Rated Treasures Blog Fest, highlighting books, bands, and movies that don’t get the attention they rightly deserve.

I’ve chosen to feature one of my family’s favorite movies – one that we traditionally watch every year on our family ski vacation: Better Off Dead (1985), starring John Cusack.

Northern California student Lane Myers is hit with a double whammy when he’s cheated out of his place on the high school ski team and his girlfriend Beth dumps him for the obnoxious ski team captain. (“Lane, I think it’d be in my best interest if I dated somebody more popular.”) Unable to face the rejection, Lane decides to end his life, but his attempts at suicide fail in various humorous ways while the French foreign exchange girl next door tries to gain his notice and escape her odious host family.

Better Off Dead never seems to appear on any “Best of the ‘80’s” lists alongside Ferris Bueller, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles. But I think it belongs there. My experience with people and this movie is: Either they’ve never heard of it, or like me, it’s one of their all-time favorites and they can practically recite the whole script.

Better Off Dead

“Go that way. Really Fast. If something gets in your way … Turn.”

If you’re one of the latter, please share your favorite Better Off Dead quote in the comments.

And if you’ve never seen it, you can check out the Quote-Along Film Trailer below!


To everyone who reached out to me and sent me well wishes last week – thank you! I did recover from the sinus infection, and I got all my grades turned in on time. I also completed my first pass through THE INQUISITOR’S MARK, making the revisions requested in just over a week … thanks to the patience of my family and a couple snow days. That leaves me another week and a half to read through the manuscript a couple times, tweaking, smoothing, and making sure I addressed all my editor’s issues.
I even got to ski opening day at Jack Frost Mountain with my family this past Saturday. Not all trails were open, and we were confronted more than once with a scene like this:
Hmm … Which trail should we take?
I had to laugh when I saw this, and of course my first thought was how this related to writing. (Everything in life is a metaphor for writing, as far as I’m concerned.)
I worry a lot about my first drafts. I’ve been worrying for months about the first draft of the third book in my series – which keeps getting interrupted for work on the other two books. Any time I build up momentum on it and start getting enthusiastic, I have to put it aside to meet deadlines for proofing Book 1 or revising Book 2. The longer I’m away from it, the more insecure about it I feel. Is it going the right way? Did I make the right choices?
But ultimately, I look at this intersection of ski trails, and I see only one way to go. There’s no taking the other path. (“Maybe, but only with rental skis,” says my husband jokingly.)
My first draft is like that too. For each of my characters, there is only one way to go. It may seem as if they have choices, but they don’t. Not if the story is to move forward. They (and I) have to keep following the path that’s open until we all get to the bottom of the hill.
Later on, the ski resort will open more trails, and there will be alternate routes down this hill. The same goes for revisions on that draft. If I need to change the route a little, I’ll have the opportunity to do so later.
But for now, I need to trust in the process. And gravity. And the fun of getting there.

Thank you to everyone who expressed birthday wishes for my daughter and who wished me an injury-free skiing holiday in Killington, Vermont over spring break.

We all came down from the mountain safe and sound, although I reached the unhappy revelation that I am now the weakest link in the Salerni ski team. I don’t have as much stamina as the others. My knees ache after a couple hours on the slopes. And I have no interest in throwing myself down headwalls like the rest of the family.
So every day, I trudged back to the hotel early while the family went on without me. I iced my knees. (boo) I had a glass of wine. (yay) And I tried to force that brainstorming I said I was going to do. (double boo)
It wasn’t happening. I had no inspiration. If anything, I was more confused than ever. And that depressed me just as much as not being able to keep up with the skiing maniacs in my family.
The fact is, I wasn’t giving myself much of a vacation. I was mad about being out of shape and off the slopes, and I was mad that my ideas didn’t flow forth like … um, wine.
Finally, I thought back to my trip to Mexico last summer. And the one to Hollywood/Catalina Island the year prior. And the one to Disney World the year before that. And I remembered that, although I dragged my laptop along on all those trips, I didn’t get a bit of writing done. I tried. Sometimes I forced it, but that was always a mistake.
After I got home from Disney World, I finished writing THE CAGED GRAVES. And when I got home from California, I finished VOLTAGE. And after Mexico, I sent THE EIGHTH DAY off to my agent. So, I realized – Stop chasing it. You’re on vacation, and you’re supposed to be having fun. Writing is fun, but not on vacation. Stop it.

I let go of my project. I got a massage at the hotel. I may have had some martinis at the hotel bar. I beta read a friend’s manuscript. I got back out on the slopes with the fam every day.

And when I got home, I sat down and wrote the EIGHTH DAY series plan that wouldn’t come to me in Vermont – in just a few days.
Lesson learned? No matter how much I love writing, I need time away from it as much as I need time away from teaching.
And the best way to catch a breakthrough in your project … is to stop chasing it.

I’ve scheduled this post in advance, so I’m not at Killington while writing this — but I’ll be there when you’re reading it. Hopefully having an awesome time skiing — and brainstorming — because that was one of my goals for this week.

My family has a little bit of history with Killington. I thought I’d share some old pictures with you.

Bob and I went to Killington for our honeymoon in December 1994.

And I came home looking like this.

Yeah, imagine the jokes I had to put up with from my co-workers, returning from my honeymoon in a hip-to-ankle leg brace.

In 2008, we took the girls to Killington for the first time. I can’t get over how little they are!

OMG, Gabbey still wears that coat! Only now it fits her like a fashionable mini-jacket. Okay, that’s it. We need to go shopping.

Before moving on to today’s post, I just want to share that Susan Swiderski posted a lovely review for WE HEAR THE DEAD on Monday and graciously included an interview. If you don’t follow Susan at I Think; Therefore I Yam — you should! Check out her Raising the Dead post and follow her!

Writing is done in the head as much as off the page. There’s the initial idea for the story, the planning of characters and story arc, not to mention working out scenes and plot dilemmas along the way.  Where do you do your best brainstorming?

Taking the dog on a walk is usually good for me, and long car rides are also useful for working out the kinks in the upcoming chapter. (Sometimes I practice dialogue in the shower, where I think nobody can hear me.)
But one of my favorite places to think about writing is HERE, on the chair lift.  I know that skiing and writing don’t go together for most people, but the chair lift is an awesome place to meditate.
Look at the view, after all. (That’s the bluer than blue Lehigh River in the picture to the left. The trail is called River Shot.)  On a weekday when the trails are empty, the mountain is eerily quiet – just the gentle creaking of the cables above your head, the whisper of wind in the trees.
(Crowded weekends are not as creatively motivating. There’s too much of a show going on beneath you: cartwheels, somersaults, people ooching downhill on their bottoms, and the occasional really good skier who makes everyone else look like they’ve got three left feet.)
Nobody’s going to interrupt you on the chair lift, unless you get a chatty seat partner. I usually ride alone or with Gabbey – and Gabbey and I are perfectly content with silence. (She’s probably thinking about her writing, too.)
Did I get some good writing in during my ski vacation last week? Well – not on paper, per se – but in my head? Yes, I did!
Now, with any luck, some of it will actually get written this week.

I had a chance to try out my new electric ski boot warmers last weekend when my husband and I took our daughters (plus two extra teenagers) skiing at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA.

First of all, I have to say the boot warmers were the bomb. Now I need to find out if they make similar accessories for gloves!

Next, I’d like to rant about people who try to “save” a table for themselves in a crowded lodge and expect the table to be left empty all day – reserved for their use only – while other people have no place to sit. In particular, I bear a grudge against this lady …

… who was nasty to my children (and my borrowed children) because we ate lunch at “her” table. She had the nerve to say to me: “I went to some trouble to spread our stuff all over this table so it would be saved for my group. We got here early so we could do that.” Note: My family also arrived early, before the lifts even opened, but we weren’t selfish enough to try to save a table for our exclusive use.

Okay, rant over.

Third item of note: When I get around to writing the contemporary thriller set at a ski resort that is percolating in my brain, it will definitely include this conversation:

You are not wearing that hat.
Yes, I am.
You are so NOT wearing that hat.
Hey! Give me my hat back.
Oh my God, it’s shedding yellow feathers.
Give me my hat back!
Fine! Here!
WHACK! Don’t touch my hat again! WHACK!

Yup. That’s real teenage dialogue, folks. Wouldn’t all you YA writers like to come with us on our next trip so that you, too, can pick up scintillating dialogue?

(Oh BTW, also in my ski resort thriller, a lady who hogs tables is going to fall off a cliff.)

And finally, a plug for a great read: I may be a competent skier, but my stamina was not up to teenage standards, so I quit early and went into the restaurant for a glass of wine. While I waited for the others, I opened up my Droid’s Kindle app and called up my newest purchase, Michael Northrop’s Trapped.

Now understand, I’m in a crowded, bustling restaurant with a glass of chardonnay. My toes are toasty warm. The guy seated next to me is wearing a Rastafarian Dreadlock ski hat and chortling with his buddies. But as I read the opening chapters of Trapped, a claustrophobic sense of impending doom and isolation descended upon me. My cozy surroundings faded away as I was sucked into sharing the plight of seven high school students during the worst blizzard in recorded history.

Yeah, it was that good. When my husband started texting me — Where are you? I give up! — and I saw him clomping around the entrance to the restaurant with snow covered kids – I seriously considered not answering.