Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Listen to Yo' Mama: How Every Sex/Dating Truism My Mom Ever Told Me Ended Up Being Just As True For Writing. (Who'da Thunk It?)

So, I'm just going to come out and say it: My mom's a friggin' genius. Now this kinda stands to reason – the woman had five kids and I, as the oldest, am hands down the dolt of the family. And no, I'm not being modest, nor am I trolling for compliments. My younger siblings are walking brains and they kindly tolerate my intellectual sluggishness. It would be impossible for my mother to produce people like my sisters and brother without having a few IQ points to spare.

But that's only a smidgen of my mom's genius. I have discovered now at my advanced age of 36 that my mother, with her sagely and pointed advice about boys, the pants of boys, the ill-thought desires of boys, and how to keep myself from getting dragged down into the the gutter by, well, boys – all have proved to be uncannily prescient and timely and inexplicably applicable to my chosen career as writer. Did I think her advice was out of line and idiotic when I was fifteen and hot under the collar? Yup. You betcha. Still, I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I had followed her advice when I was young, and to make up for it, I've begun to apply her advice to my work now and the results have been.....promising. Let me show you what I mean.


Rule #1 Don't date boys until you're sixteen.
Did I follow it? Unfortunately, yes.
Career Applicability While this rule was grossly unfair (though, truth be told, it's not like the phone was ringing off the hook anyway. I was a late bloomer. Still, it was the principle of the thing that chafed.) what my mother was actually telling me was this: Settle down; don't rush; don't enter the fray until you have the confidence to protect yourself. I wrote before about my many, many mistakes I made in my early career, and how important they were at the beginning. Still, after a bunch of false starts, I stopped submitting for a while. I re-assessed my relationship with writing. I learned to trust myself and honor the work I did, and insist that I find markets that would treat my work with dignity and respect. My mother's rule was all about giving me a grace period in which I could learn to assess my own worth – as an individual, as a person worthy of love, as well as a sexual creature too. I needed to know my own value before handing my heart to the first schmo that came along. Which brings me to rule number two:

Rule #2 Don't Go Home With the First One Who Asks You
Did I follow it? Unfortunately, no.
Career Applicability Now, this is just good advice, and is routinely unfollowed by the girls of the world. If you listen carefully, you can hear a girl's heart breaking somewhere on earth every 0.000001 seconds. I could write volumes on how my Misspent Youth would have been drastically different and likely improved if I had only followed my mother's advice. However, years later, when I was first sending query letters for my book (which comes out next year! Squee!) I thought long and hard about my mother's advice. I even wrote those words on a huge sign and hung it over my desk. And you know what? When I got my first offer of representation, I didn't take it. And I didn't take the second one either. I wanted, more than anything else, to find an agent who believed in me one hundred percent. I figured, if I have that in my husband, I should have it with everyone I work with. Other writers I knew thought I was nuts. Still, it paid off. I got an offer of representation with an agent who was madly in love with my work. And love, my dears, makes all the difference.

Rule #3 If You Think Your Panties Might Be On Fire, It's Best To Leave The Room
Did I follow it? What do you think? (sigh)
Career applicability My mom's a big believer in “yoga breathing” she calls it. Or, in other words, when the excitement rises, the best thing a person can do is to breathe through it, find that one calm spot in the maelstrom, and greet passion with a sigh. This business is not for the faint of heart. There are dizzying highs and crushing lows and people breathing down your neck wanting things yesterday and people who get pissed at you for your inappropriate use of the word “scimitar” or an apparent cruelty to bunnies, or your shoddy dialogue or whatever. Whenever I find myself being pressured into a decision – either by myself or by someone else – I think about my mom's advice. And, because I didn't follow it when I was young (with, alas, disastrous consequences) you bet your sweet arse that I follow it now.

Rule #4 Sex is about today. Love is about tomorrow.
Did I follow it? At first, unfortunately, no. And then, yes, yes, and forever yes.
Career applicability After a while, we do almost nothing for immediate gain: We save for our kids' education; we scrape a downpayment on a house; we slice our budget down to the barest of bones to keep from going into debt. We do this because we believe in the power of tomorrow. We try to make each day good and each day beautiful because we trust that tomorrow will be even better. Love is like that, you see – it's work. But it's good work - the kind that you fuss and fashion and sweat over – it's back breaking, muscle straining, dirt-under-the-fingernails satisfying work. Building a career is like that too. You sacrifice, you plan, you work until all hours of the night, and labor over page after page after blessed page. You do it, because you believe in tomorrow. And you trust yourself to do it right.

So now I have a question for you: what's your universally applicable advice? And since we've established that I really am just flying by the seat of my pants, what advice can you offer me – little messages in a bottle for a girl lost at sea......

Monday, March 29, 2010

Young Adult Lit, How Do We Love Thee

I read an article recently that Oscar winner Diablo Cody, screenwriter of the hit film JUNO is penning a film called, YOUNG ADULT! I had a chuckle then a strange reaction when I realized after reading the description that the premise was not in fact about Young Adults--necessarily. It follows a thirty-something author who WRITES YA books. She returns to her hometown to chase the one that got away but also happens to be married! Gee--sure sounds like the story of my life but the play on the title to capitalize on the "hot" genre and the fact that it is being "fast-tracked" --that's Hollywood for "they want it out yesterday" tells me that they think the title alone will draw interest from potential fans of the genre.

And so, it got me to thinking. What ARE they thinking? Seems like it could've been a cute story regardless. The title for me is distracting. But maybe I'm too sensitive. I absolutely LOVED JUNO and I'll give this film a shot too--title aside.

What do you think? If you don't comment, we can't dialogue.


Friday, March 26, 2010

YA Round-Up

So we thought it might be fun to see what other YA team bloggers were talking about this past week. Here's a quick run-down from a few of our friends from around the web!

Old People Writing for Teens
Querying Blunders Take Two: Agent Stories

Diversity in YA Fiction: Guest Post by Writer Jennifer Walkup

First Novels Club
Sourcebooks Fire Launch Party Recap--From NYC

YA Highway
Character Description: The Art of Just Enough

The Five Protagonists You Meet in YA

We'd love to know what you think about this feature so please leave a comment below! Have a great weekend!

The YA-5

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You would never guess it's YA!!!

Yesterday evening, I was busy cleaning up scraped knees, putting together a spontaneous dinner, griping on the phone to my husband - all those things you do at 5 pm (well, all those things that *I* do at 5 pm) when I saw a tweet pop up in my Tweetdeck. It was an RT from @randomhousekids. I'll leave out the name of the original tweeter because I think she's a busy mom just like me, and probably didn't realize what she was saying.

Here's the tweet:

"Reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's YA but I swear you don't even notice."


Right? And even ouchier is that it was RT'd by Random House Kids, all, "Yay!"

It brings to mind a NYT article written by YA author
(and fellow Austinite) Margo Rabb a few years ago about the derision that's often foisted upon YA (and children's book) authors. I'm not sure a lot of people know that it's incredibly common for a YA author, after telling someone what she does for a living, to get the response, "Cool! So when are you going to write a real book?"

Margo got a lot of guff from both sides of the argument after her article, including a charming offer to "punch her in the face". I think that, obviously, shows the strong feelings out there about the YA vs. Adult debate. (You can read Margo's response to the brou-ha-ha here. And you can read her fantastic interview with Markus Zusak about YA vs. Adult here.)

So what is it that makes YA different from adult books, other than the age of the character? When I write YA, or middle grade, do I think, "Whew! Thank goodness I write for kids so I don't have to research or write complex characters!"? Of course not. My books may not have 150,000 words, and they may not cause death and concussive potholes when dropped from a three-story window, but they are still books that were ached over. Just because a book stars a middle school kid who runs around a spaceship trying to figure out if his parents are sabotaging a mission to terraform Mars doesn't mean that the science behind the fiction wasn't painstakingly researched. There are obvious (and subtle) character arcs. There is a desire to help children fall in love with everything from physics and e.e. cummings - by creating an exciting story and a fully realized world for that story to take place in.

Sometimes (when there are less spaceships and 6th grade classrooms involved) it's hard to pinpoint why a book is YA vs. Adult - especially a book like The Book Thief. Often, it's a sales or marketing decision. What I'd like to know, though, is what do you, as a reader (and/or writer) think? What attracts you to YA? What turns you off? If you're an adult, do you go out of your way to find YA to read? Is it embarrassing to hit your local bookstore and go directly to the YA section to sniff out new reads? And if you're a teen do you think adults who read YA are skeevy? Do you have friends who skipped over YA and went directly to adult books?

I'm just curious, because I'm, you know, biased.

Tell it to me straight! Just don't ask when I'm going to write a real book. Or I might find Margo Rabb and have her punch you in the face.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My TBR Pile is Trying to Kill Me

Don't move too quickly.  If you do it'll know you're watching, and then we're all doomed.  What am I talking about?  My TBR pile.

What is a TBR pile?  It's an affectionate shortening of the term To-Be-Read Pile.  You know that stack of books you keep around to read when there's nothing else occupying your attention?  Well, I've recently learned the hard way that pile can be DEADLY!

Although I have a Kindle that I am madly in love with, I still buy regular books as well.  Why?  Well, sometimes new release books just aren't available in electronic format for awhile (ahem, I'm looking at you Egmont, and you, too, Scholastic).  So I buy the books when I see them because, well, I have zero patience.

But back to the TBR Pile trying to kill me.

I had just walked into the room where I store my TBRs, a room affectionately referred to as the fish tank room in my house (it has a fish tank, duh) when the attack happened.  I was reaching up to grab a book from the shelf (a borrowed book, not even one I owned) when the pile attacked.  Twenty books, stacked haphazardly (I'm not the neatest person in the world) all came crashing down upon my head!

But that's not the worst part.  That was the SMALL pile!  That pile upset a larger pile of about thirty books, which knocked over a stack of library books I was supposed to return.  Al of these books came crashing down off of a high shelf onto my enormous head.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

If I Stay

An Abundance of Katherines




City of Bones (hey, I didn't know I had that)


...all came crashing down onto my head. 

I screamed in dismay, not because I was about to be killed by several dead trees pressed into attractive pages (This is why you should embrace the ebook, people!!!  Trees are evil!!!) but because my lovelies were falling onto the floor.  Noooo!!!!  My Precious!!!  OH THE HUMANITY!!!!

Gasp, gasp, gasp.

It wasn't until the dust had cleared and I had a knot on my head (well played, Incarceron, well played) that I realized my TBR pile was trying to kill me. 

I wasn't sure why my TBR pile would try to kill me, but then it slowly dawned on me:  I have too many books in my TBR pile.  How many books does the average person keep on hand?  I have about fifty.  Partly because I buy almost every book that looks even a little good, and partly because I have a real, serious problem:

Not enough time.

I'm not mad at the books, though.  The way I see it, it was most likely a cry for help (why do you need those books from the library, you have US), and I have learned my lesson. 

Less stacking of my books on high shelves.  Oh, and no more buying new books until I read the ones I already have.

Unless it's for the Kindle.  My Kindle still loves me (so many samples....pretty, pretty books...)

So...what's in your TBR pile???

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Zombie Hipster Novel

Last week, as I drove through the SXSW-clogged Austin streets, I sent a couple of tweets that would become by far my most popular and re-tweeted messages to date.

Driving through downtown has made me realize how perfect and terrifying a hipster zombie novel would be.

They're wearing ironic sunglasses and they're coming to eat your braaaaains!!

Obviously I had struck a nerve. I was immediately besieged by pleas to write this book.

But since I’m lazy and a little bit busy with another book at the moment, this will have to do:


We’d all encountered one before.

I’d seen one just that morning, the barista who’d made my mochachino before school. He was wearing Elvis Costello glasses and had a thin little mustache. When he asked what I was listening to on my iPod and I said Snow Patrol, his furry lip curled up into a snear.

Sure, he was irritating. But he was harmless.



The picture shook and lurched wildly before the cameraman found his shot. Josh and I, alone for the weekend while our parents “reconnected” in Vale, had been glued to the news ever since they’d broken in with a special report about a killer mob roaming the streets of Brooklyn. This was the first piece of live footage.

“Oh my God,” my brother whispered as the picture came into focus.

The throng was at least two hundred people deep. They all had sickly pale skin that seemed to hang from their bones, and the whiteness of their faces made the red bloodstains across their mouths all the more vivid. They lurched down the street to some demented beat they all seemed to hear, smashing windows and knocking over trashcans with limbs they could barely control.

The newscaster’s voice was hushed. This army of monsters had been growing under our noses for years. It looked like one shuffling organism instead of the individual people that made it up.

“They all the look the same,” I said in horror.

Josh’s eyes were wide as he nodded.

“All those skinny jeans,” he said.


I told Josh not to leave the house. We’d barricaded ourselves inside when the growing mob reached our neighborhood. We were six floors up, but we could still hear the crashes and gunshots and screams from the street.

But we were out of food and wouldn’t last much longer. The power had died a week ago, so we had no way of knowing what was going on outside our apartment, but the streets had been quiet for days. Josh kissed my forehead, dug his old baseball bat out of a closet, and told me to bolt the door behind him.

I waited for him for two days, hope fading every hour.

On the morning of the third day I was jolted awake by a crash in the next room.

I ran into the living room to find my brother swinging his bat at our parents sound system. Slivers of smashed CDs littered the floor.

“Josh!” I cried, rapturous with relief at the sight of him.

He didn't turn, and a prickle went up the back of my neck.

“Josh?” I repeated. He took another swing at the CD player. “What are you doing?”

He turned slowly to face me.

“From now on, we only listen to vinyl.”

I screamed and ran for the door. Josh’s pale face transformed into a howl as he lunged after me.


A hand shot out of the alley and grabbed me. Before I could scream, the hand was clapped over my mouth and my back was pressed up hard against it’s unseen owner’s chest. The pack of zombies on my trail lumbered past us and down the street.

I turned to my savior, barely able to make out his face in dimness of the unlit street.

“Thank you,” I breathed.

His voice was low and rough. “We better move.”

His hand wrapped around mine, and he began pulling me through the maze of dark Brooklyn streets.

“Who are you?” I said.

“Just a friend.”

He was so mysterious, so incommunicative! My heart pounded in my chest.

He led me to a basement apartment near an abandoned subway station. The windows were blacked out, but the inside was aglow with candles and battery-powdered lamps. A half a dozen people of all ages and types turned to look at us when we entered. One was heating soup on a camping stove, while the others sharpened knives or spoke in low tones over a map in the corner.

“Everyone, this is Sarah,” my protector said. He turned to introduce me to the group, and I got my first good look at him.

A v-neck tee and cardigan, worn Converses, and dark hair that was artfully sculpted to look like he’d just rolled out of bed.

I gasped and scrambled back towards the door.

“You’re one of them!”


Damien turned his face away from me, his eyes hidden behind the sweep of his emo-bangs.

“You shouldn’t care for me,” he said. “I’m no good.”

“Of course you are!” I put my hands on his cold cheeks and forced him to look at me. “When we went looking for supplies and stumbled on that nest of zombies arguing about Nietzsche, who distracted them with a question about Thus Spoke Zarathustra and gave the rest of us time to get out?”

“Me, but—”

“And when Stephen was bit, who was the only one of us who had the strength to put him out of his misery before he could put on that tweed fedora?”

“I was.”

I pulled his face closer to mine, resting our foreheads together. Damien was a noble zombie. He wasn’t like the rest. I just wished he could see it as clearly as I did.

I leaned forward to kiss him, but he jerked away.

“Don’t touch me, Sarah,” he said. “I’m a monster.”

Tears sprung to my eyes. “Don’t say that!”

“It’s true! I’m dead and cold and starting to decay a little.” He brushed back a piece of his hair. “I had to super-glue this ear back on yesterday.”

“I don’t care!” I sobbed, even though, yeah, that was a little gross.

“All I care about is indie rock and post-modernism!” he continued. “And I don’t even really know what that means! You deserve better.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I love you, Damien. Now kiss me before anything else falls off.”


“It’s the only way!” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks. “The whole country has been taken over, and the rest of the team is gone. This was always how it was going to end. I don’t want to fight it anymore.”

Damien’s grip on my hand was bruising. “Please, Sarah, don’t give up! I can’t live – er, you know – without you!”

I tried to smile. “This way you’ll never have to. We’ll always be together. And, hey, we’ll finally have some common interests!”

I picked up the oversized pink Ray-Ban Wayfarers and put them on with shaky fingers.

Damien began to cry. “No, Sarah, please. I love the person you are now. Please…”

I couldn't say anything. His tears hurt me, but I knew I was out of options.

“You’ll start to like Belle and Sebastien,” he continued with increasing desperation. He grabbed my shoulders. “You’ll shop at Whole Foods!

I nodded and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “I know. But I have no other choice. Now, will you help me or will I have to find some guy off the street to do this?”

He closed his eyes and finally said, “I’ll do it.”

We cried and kissed as we said our goodbyes, and then Damien sunk his teeth into my arm and my vision went black.


When I woke up, he was beside me, his eyes wide and anxious.

“Damien?” I said, sitting up. “Is it over?”

“Sarah!” He grabbed me into a fierce hug. “Is it really you?”

“It’s me. Of course it is!”

He laughed and kissed me. “Thank God! Oh, thank God!”

I swallowed uncomfortably. Dying was dehydrating.

“How about some coffee?” I said. “I’d kill for a free-trade vanilla soy latte.”

I turned to search for something suitably ridiculous to wear and missed the dawning horror in Damien’s eyes.

--The End

... or is it?

Dun dun dunnn!!


Like my hipster zombie novel? Check out my list of other books that have never been written.

What's a book you wish existed that doesn't?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Judging Books By Their Covers

I like to pretend that I buy books based only on literary merit... but I don't think I'm fooling anyone. I'm a sucker for pretty covers - how about you? (Pictured right is the Australian cover for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han - my favourite cover right now.)

I quizzed some teens on their favourite book covers (and got very different responses!), and whether they buy a book based off the cover alone...

"I'm incredibly easy influenced by shiny things, so a book cover is really make or break for me," says Helen, a 14-year-old private school student and book lover living in the US. "A favorite one... The cover of Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. Look it up, find it at a bookstore, and stare at it. Just keep staring. Then read the book, and look at the cover again. It's so lovely and intricate and light and... fairy."

Precious, an 18-year-old university student in the Phillippines, says: "Whenever I step inside a bookstore, the first things that I see are the covers – not the titles, not the summaries. I tend to buy a book just by the cover. The covers should be given attention. They aren’t just plain things that you place on top of a creative work. They reflect what’s inside the pages.

An example of a book cover that I love love love is the cover of Hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Upon seeing the cover alone, I already knew that the novel is dark and mysterious. The guy in the cover (Drew Doyon) showed the fall of Patch. It wasn’t just his being cast out of heaven. It also showed how he lost his power, his status and his home."

"It is natural for humans to see someone or something and judge them/it. Even if we don’t say what we are thinking out loud, it is human nature to judge a book by its cover. If I like the cover of a book or a CD, I’ll definitely pick it up and try to learn more about it," says Robby, a 14-year-old aspiring writer and musician (and blogger!). "A book cover I really love is A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian. Four Polaroids of four different girls, all different and all similar. The cover relates to the story more than I thought it would. I saw the book cover and automatically picked it up and bought it. It’s one of my favorite books, hands down."

So, What are your favourite book covers?

Do you ever buy books based off the cover alone?

What makes a great YA book cover?

Friday, March 19, 2010

This week's burning question is--What movie did you see last?

Kelly Barnhill

Steph Bowe
Slumdog Millionaire.

I missed it at the cinemas, and just got it on DVD - it's brilliant and I recommend everybody who hasn't already seen it go out and get it NOW. Seriously.

K.A. Holt

Pretty creepy and enjoyable. I wanted to know more about the back story, though. I'd love to read a book about the world and the time in which Moon takes place.

(I don't like saying "in which". Sounds weird. Unless you read that sentence in an vaguely European accent. Then maybe it sounds better.)

Justina Ireland

Zombieland. I know it's a couple years old, but I rarely get to the theaters anymore (helloooo, TBR pile!)

I liked it. I laughed, although I kept expecting the lead actor to turn into Michael Cera.

Georgia McBride

Percy Jackson: The Lighting Thief.

Sara McClung
Alice in Wonderland. LOVE LOVE LOVED this movie!

Cristin Terrill

Percy Jackson. I took my nine-year-old sister, and she promptly declared it to be her favourite movie of all time.

We'll be back soon with more burning questions. In the mean time, tell us what you think of the above films or add to this list by telling us: What movie did YOU see last?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stalker Sara Strikes: the Metro

The scene: Sara, on the metro, on her way to see Harland Williams at the DC Improv. She see's a teenage girl reading The Dark Divine, by Bree Despain. She, clearly, feels the need to chat with said teenager.

Aaaaaand, ACTION!

After she's uncouthly changed seats to sit across from the girl reading:

 Hi, I know this is weird, but that's one of my favorite books you're reading!

 Oh. Okay.
Girl begins reading again.

Sorry, do you mind if I ask you what drew you to this book?

I liked the cover.

Girl goes back to reading yet again.
But Sara doesn't know how to take a hint:

So how are you liking it so far?

Girl holds up book, pages facing Sara, to display the page number.

I'm on like the seventh page. But yeah (possible sarcasm in tone, Sara wasn't sure) it's great so far.

A boy, somewhere within the same age-range, snickers from the seat behind the girl.
Girl closes the book, her finger marking the spot she left off, and turns her head to roll her eyes at Sara.

Sorry, my brother's an [insert expletive that sounds kind of like apple].

Boy laughs. 
Sara notices the resemblance. Decides not to remark upon it.

You read books just because they have pretty purple (said in baby voice) on the cover.

Boy laughs again.
Girl turns around to her brother.
Sara watches, wishes she had popcorn.

Whatever (definite sarcasm in tone this time). I found my book (taps TDD) in your bathroom yesterday. 

Boy scoffs.
Sara's head swings back and forth as though at a tennis match.

You read all four Twilights over the summer.

I did not.

Girl looks at Sara.

Yes, he did.

Girl begins reading again.
Sara looks at boy and tries to make him feel comfortable. She winks conspiratorially... realizes belatedly that she shut both eyes instead of one, so all she's actually done is blinked dramatically.

I loved those books

Boy stares out metro window--at the tunnel walls flying by.

Crickets chirping... 

Sara rfinally gets the drift to stop bothering them--thinking, instead, about the best way to blog this information.


Commentary: I would have loved to dig deeper, especially because I really did love TDD, but I know a cold shoulder when I feel it (er... them). So, make of it what you will.

Don't worry, I'll be out in full stalker phase again as soon as I find a teen who's reading.

Until then,
♥ Sara

PS. Did you notice that I forgot to give my name when beginning the conversation? Awkward (said in singsong voice).

PPS. Harland Williams, whom I was on my way to see, is HYSTERICAL, and if you ever have a chance to see him do stand up, GO. He played the trooper who drank pee in Dumb and Dumber, and he also played the crazy hitchhiker in There's Something About Mary--you know, the one who came up with seven minute abs? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Praise Of Cluelessness

I have a confession: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Now, I get it that lots of people say they don’t know what they’re doing as they’re skillfully making detailed five-year plans and executing them to perfection, but I’m not kidding. I’m just winging it and hoping for the best. I do things that I shouldn't and I've shot myself in the foot, and have had plenty of steps backwards for every step forward. I've worked wildly, organically and without much planning.

And you know what? I’m glad I’m clueless. Cluelessness has come in handy. Because with the amount of mistakes I’ve made (and I’m talkin’ huge, ginormous gaffes) I now have a nice, detailed list of what NOT to do, which helps, in part, to determine what I should do.

And to illustrate my point, I, Kelly Barnhill, am going to come clean. I’m going to tell the world – and when I say world, I mean you, dear internets – about the lame, silly, bone headed and just plain ignorant things I have done since I first decided to start writing in earnest, six years ago.


  1. I once sent unproofed short stories (notice how I just said once. Honesty, Kelly. We’re being honest. Fine. Three times) to the fiction editor at The Atlantic ……on purpose. I had some kind of theory that the unproofed script was closer to soul of the artist or some such bollocks. Needless to say the stories were rejected. To his credit, dear Mr. Curtis sent unpersonalized rejection slips and not what I richly deserved: a hand written note telling me to stop being so damn unprofessional.
  2. I, alas, more than once, sent over a short story, misspelling the editor’s name in the salutation. I actually did this recently with an editor who had already bought another one of my stories. Obviously, I smacked my head upon the desk again and again and again.
  3. On three separate occasions, I sent stories with cover letters in which I tried to B.S. the editor into thinking that I actually read the publication in question. Once, the editor actually wrote back totally busting me. I shall never live down the shame. I will also never live down the shame of not possessing a deep understanding of every market I submit to – the lesson that really pushed me towards actually producing readable short stories. I now read short fiction obsessively, and my brain is better for it.
  4. On at least eight separate occasions, I sent query letters to agents with the wrong agent’s name in the salutation. I know this happens all the time, but it filled me with such shame, I nearly stopped writing forever. On behalf of clueless writers everywhere, dear agents, I apologize. I really do. You people deserve better.
  5. I once sent a single story to not one, but two publications that don’t accept simultaneous submissions, and then was placed in the very uncomfortable position of explaining to one of them why they couldn’t have my story. Obviously, after that experience, I will never again repeat the mistake.

There are more, but given the repetition of the number 5 on this blog, I’ll limit my self-immolation. I will say this though – there is a magnificent power in cluelessness. I think I benefited from my own lack of foresight and professional skills because I didn’t know to be afraid. I didn’t know to be careful. I was able to be brash, and bold and to try out markets that I had no hope of breaking and query above my station and contact editors who normally would not have ever seen my stuff. Because by doing just that, I sold my first short story for the equivalent of two months rent, and I sweet-talked a small children’s publisher to take a chance on an untested writer for a series of nonfiction titles, and I convinced a magazine editor to allow me to write some articles, despite my obvious lack of magazine experience. By being a total and complete clue, sure, I embarrassed myself, but I did things then that I’d hesitate to do now, and by taking action and by acting with freedom and wild abandon, I built the foundations of my career. And despite the red cheeks and the occasional facepalm, I don’t regret it.

Be clueless, people. Be na├»ve. Don’t be afraid to screw up. You will screw up – we all do. Try anyway. And someday, we’ll meet for beers somewhere and we’ll toast to our shared mistakes. I’ll be looking forward to it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Just Do You

As a YA writer I read a lot. I listen to what important people in the book business have to say about books--which ones are selling, which ones are not and what will be the next BIG trend.

It got me to thinking about my time in school and how everyone I knew was chasing the trends. Music, fashion, movies. If you weren't listening to this band or that singer, you just weren't cool.

Or maybe, being in the school production of King Lear simply wasn't cool but you wanted to anyway.

Maybe your parent hit you and you didn't want anyone to know so you tried to hide it by wearing you hair long over one side of your face. And THAT made you an outsider.

Maybe reading unless it was on the assigned list wasn't considered cool either, but you couldn't resist the latest release from Meg Cabot. Wait? When did reading become cool?

Maybe you had a crush on your best friend who just happened to be the same gender as you and you didn't want anyone to know so you hid yourself behind dark clothes, blue hair and black lipstick.

Maybe you were smart but being smart got you beat up in your neighborhood so you hid your intelligence behind baggy clothes, slang and fights to prove you were a tough guy.

Maybe you didn't have the right jeans on. Or maybe you did but had no idea that you were supposed to wear them with holes in only ONE knee not two-IDIOT.

You see, when I was in high school, I knew someone like all of the above. I befriended kids like all of the above. I genuinely cared for someone like all of the above. I didn't care about trends then and I don't now. I didn't care about being popular then and I don't now. Funny thing is however, I was popular. I was because I didn't judge people. I accepted them. I accepted them for who they were, what they wanted to be and that was all I cared about. That's what made me popular--I wasn't trying. Not what I listened to, what I wore, what I read or what I looked like.

As a writer, I tell stories that I hope will resonate with readers on a personal level. Because I write books based in the paranormal and urban fantasy genres, there will always be otherworldies in my books. However, look and you will always find yourself there too--because at the end of the day, we are all the same inside!

Don't chase the trend, don't try to be like other people. Just do you.

And for book industry looking for the next trend, take a lesson here. The trend isn't angels or elves or mermaids. It's feelings. Belonging. Love. Loss. Acceptance. If you can find a book that speaks to teens at the heart of these feelings, whether the main character is a chicken or a cow (or has fallen deeply in love with either)--it won't matter.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

I had to take a break there to stomp my feet and yell at my kids and generally freak out

But now I am finished with all of that. And since my vlogging attempt has been THWARTED by EVIL non-recharging batteries and MALEVOLENT memory cards. And since my children insist on screaming BLOODY MURDER for no reason, and also climbing over the edge of the sofa to dump GALLONS of distilled water all over medical equipment (don't ask), I am going to keep this short.


I forgot what I was going to blog about.


I have several observances from this week:
  1. I read GIRL IN THE ARENA this week. Well, I finished it this week. I highly enjoyed it for its scary kind of satire, and I was very surprised to read some of the negative reviews on Goodreads. People don't like dashes to introduce dialogue. Who knew? I actually loved that part of the book. It was really interesting, and combined thought with voice. It was a unique choice on the part of Lise Haines and I enjoyed it very much. Along with the story. I liked the story, too.
  2. I cut 38,000 words from my manuscript. Ouch.
  3. Whenever I type "ouch" I type "ounch" first. What gives, extra N?
  4. Right now, I'm using my kitchen table as a desk. Along with my laptop, this "desk" contains an open copy of THE BOOK THIEF, a Mr. Mom DVD, a packet of freeze-dried eggs and bacon, an Entertainment Weekly magazine, my youngest son's portable suction pump (he has a trach that needs suctioning here and there), Gerber lil' Crunchies Mild Cheddar puffs, enrollment paperwork for my daughter's preschool next fall, a paper towel, Eric Carle's DO YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND, and several explanation of benefits papers from our health insurance (that neither explain anything, or benefit me)
  5. Did I mention I cut 38,000 words from my manuscript? Ounch.
  6. I now have two bound galleys of my next book BRAINS FOR LUNCH. The launch date has been announced: August 17th 2010!
  7. I need a sugar daddy to buy me a Flip Mino HD
  8. I also need a sugar daddy to cook me dinner and send me away for a weekend at the beach
  9. My oldest son just told my youngest son that "even though nipples have little circles on them, it doesn't mean you should twist them."
  10. My oldest son offers sound advice
OK, the list has helped. I feel much less shouty now. Maybe a little manic, but quietly so.

I think I've just misplaced one of the children. That is always a sign it's time to end a blog post.

Hey! I just realized I can use my computer's camera to make a video instead of my ancient Canon. I think I knew this already.

Now I'm feeling shouty again. STUPID BRAIN.

I can't seem to stop writing this post, even with the misplaced child and the aforementioned stupid brain.

Oh, I just heard him. He's in the living room.

My child. Not my brain.

My brain is a girl.

At least I'm pretty sure.


OK. I'm going to stop typing now.

Stopping now.

No more blogging for the day.


My battery is dying anyw

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The eBook Evolution: Be Here Now

With the launch of Apple’s IPad (could they have picked a worse name? Survey says: no) the chitter chatter about ebooks has picked up like the last three episodes of a season of Lost. There are those who have embraced the ebook trend (The convenience! The portability! The privacy!*) and those who have declared themselves anti-ebook (my books! My lovely books! How dare you fiddle with perfection!). The truth is, you should embrace the ebook, and here’s why:

It’s evolution, baby.

When I was a kid the only thing I wanted was a Walkman. One like the the girl has here, only red:

Now that is the epitome of cool.

Not convinced?  Check out the tape player I actually got once I was "responsible" enough for such things.


By the time I was in high school, tapes had given way to CDs (okay, they did that in junior high, I was just a late adopter) and this was the bad boy to have:

Notice the anti-skip assurance? Those portable CD players skipped like you were creating your own remix.

Now we have the IPod, which is probably the best invention EVER (Yes, even better than penicillin). Why is it so great? Because it’s convenient. The IPod allows you to carry around your entire CD collection in a tiny little package. Don’t travel a lot? It gives you the ease of switching between CDs, and you never have to worry about scratching it and ruining your music.

Plus, look at all the pretty colors:

Ooooooooooo, rainbow-y.

ITunes also streamlined the music buying ability of millions, letting you buy just the song you like instead of that song-from-the-radio-you-love-and-eleven-other-tracks-that-suck. The IPod was faster, skinnier, and just plain sexier than its predecessors.

The ebook is the same way. An ereader (or ereader software downloaded to your computer or, yes, IPod) gives you the book buying power of anywhere, anywhen, anything. You don’t have to buy; download the first thirty pages to see if the story holds up to the cover. Better yet, you don’t have to go to the bookstore if you don’t want to. You can sit at home in your sweatpants and peruse the new releases before you buy them.  Better yet you have them to read a few seconds later.

As you can see, I'm a big proponent of ebooks.  But what do I know?  I'm still rocking out to my Discman like it's 1999 (kidding...sort of).

How do you feel about ebooks?  For?  Against?  Don't care as long as you can get the Dead Tossed Waves NOW?!?!   Leave your thoughts below.

*Privacy is up for discussion after Amazon's 1984 faux pas earlier this year.  Still, when using an ereader you never have to worry about that annoying "Oh hey, whay are you reading?" convo.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Best Friend Sneak Attack

Recently on my blog, I wrote about how blond vampires have more fun and wondered why these guys didn't ever pop up as the love interests in YA vampire novels. That got me thinking about a well-known phenomenon in television aimed at teens: The Best Friend Sneak Attack.

The Best Friend Sneak Attack occurs on shows that are built around the relationship of the central destined! soulmate! couple. Buffy and Angel, Dawson and Joey, Veronica and Duncan, Elena and Stefan, I could go on and on. Almost invariably the hero on these shows is a Good Guy, often one who has risen above his surroundings in some way. He's solid and kind and noble.

His best friend is not. He's mischievous, volatile, maybe even dangerous. He's funnier and more troubled, usually at the same time. He's even *gasp* less conventionally attractive!

Things are rolling merrily along with our soulmate couple until everyone begins to notice that Best Friend is waaaay more interesting. His chemistry with Heroine is more exciting, their interactions more dynamic.

Fans soon jump the Soulmate Ship for HMS Best Friend, and the Sneak Attach is complete.

I've always wondered why this is so prevalent on television. Is it just a fluke of actors chemistry that somehow keeps happening over and over? Are best friends more likely to be interesting because there's less narrative weight on their shoulders? I suspect this has something to do with it. When you're the screw-up best friend, you can have more flaws and quirks than a lot of writers would be comfortable giving their leading man.

Or maybe the open-endedness of television as a medium just means that we, as viewers, get bored of the same old couple. And maybe the characters get bored too. This is a much more common trope in teen television than it is in TV aimed at adults, and maybe that's because it mirrors teen life so well. Sixteen-year-olds aren't looking for a husband. Their soulmate (!!) in tenth grade may be a distant memory by eleventh while they've moved on to someone else in their social circle.

This doesn't happen in books, though. Rarely does a book -- or, more comparably, a series -- end with a couple other than the One True Pairing we were led to expect from the get-go. (Ironically, the epic, if ultimately unsuccessful, couple of Nate and Blair from the Gossip Girl books suffered a swift Best Friend Sneak Attack by Chuck when the books were made into a TV series.) Authors don't have to deal with unexpected chemistry between actors, they get to plan their full story arc from the beginning, and there are fewer cooks in the kitchen to interfere with their vision. TV show-runners have to contend with a room full of writers, network execs, and studio execs who all have their own opinions and some degree (sometimes a large one) of creative control.

The rumor has long been that this is what cost Kevin Williamson his job. From the beginning of Dawson's Creek, it was his vision that Dawson and Joey were the OTP, the destined couple. Despite the network, studio, and fans screaming at him to get Joey together with Dawson's far more interesting best friend, Williamson stuck to his vision. No one was happy. Soon Kevin was out, Greg Berlanti was in, and everyone (but Kevin) got what they wanted: Joey and Pacey together.

Interestingly, Kevin Williamson is now working on The Vampire Diaries. And although the fans have been clamouring for nothing but Elena/Damon interaction for months, he insists that Elena and Stefan are soulmates and the raison d'etre of the show. Hmm.

So, what can we take from this as writers?

  • Don't get married to the idea you started with. Characters and relationships may evolve, and you should let them.
  • Try to write your Hero as if he was a Best Friend. Let him have faults and layers, even if they aren't all nice and heroic. Don't worry, readers will still like him, and they'll probably like him better.

And as consumers of teen media?

  • Spike is waaaay more interesting than Angel.
  • Duncan sucks, and Veronica obviously belongs with Logan.
  • Seriously! Elena/Damon! COME ON!

Best Friends forever!

So, it's obvious where my loyalties lie. I'll take snarky over noble almost every time, but I'm willing to be persuaded. What do you think makes a good love interest?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hey YA-5, Whatcha Reading?

Kelly Barnhill

Steph Bowe

K.A. Holt

GIRL IN THE ARENA by, Lise Haines
THE TITAN'S CURSE by, Rick Riordan

(I know, I know, too many books at once.)

Justina Ireland

SWOON by Nina Malkin
GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray

I keep putting off Going Bovine because Cameron is so similar to one of my MC's that I didn't want Bray's awesomeness to influence my writing (although I could probably benefit from some of her awesome). Swoon is a little darker than I usually read, and I don't really find the voice very YA, but I like it despite that.

And I'm also rereading the book I'm going to talk about on my next vlog...dum dum DUM!

Georgia McBride

DARKLIGHT by Lesley Livingston
CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder
BEAUTIFUL DEAD by Eden Maguire

Sara McClung

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Cristin Terrill

Right now I'm reading Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters with my little sister. I took her to see the film of the first book last week, and she promptly declared it to be her favorite movie of all time. I'm over the moon, because ever since she was born I've been waiting for her to grow old enough to read the same stuff I read.

Otherwise, I'm on a reading sabbatical. I've got enough of my own voices in my head without adding someone else's. As soon as I get rolling on my edits, though, I'm going to try to make a dent in my growing to-read pile. (I did re-read The Westing Game last night, but I don't count that, since I've read it about nine thousand times and could probably recite it from memory at this point.)

How about you, people of the world? Whatcha reading?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Teen Perspective

Hey guys! I'm Sara McClung and today I'm going to show you why I joined the YA-5. (I mean, besides the obvious--that the rest of the team is clearly awesome.)

Happy Thursday!

♥ Sara
My Blog

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Station Break, Lies and A Contest

Thanks for stopping by! It's our debut week (2 weeks) and we're taking a short break. Be back tomorrow for more shenanigans and Tom-foolery. Who's with me?

In the mean time, if you are a writer AND a fabulous liar, feel free to enter this FABULOUS Fat Fib contest offered by my friend and agent, Elana Roth at the Caren Johnson Literary Agency in NYC.

According to Elana, the Grand Prize winner receives:

-A partial manuscript critique from Elana (who's a great agent--total truth)
-The pride (and shame!) of knowing you are one fantastic liar

However, she could be lying. Never know with this contest. There are other prizes so check out the full details here. (I'm NOT lying)

See you tomorrow!

Georgia and The YA-5

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


My name is Kelly Barnhill and I am corrupting the youth of America. I do not pretend to atone for – nor, indeed, Ladies and Gentlemen, do I regret – my crimes. Each of us has our role to play during our time on earth – scholars, sinners, saints and leaders. I write fiction and teach the writing of fiction. I am the worst kind of criminal.

Let me just say right now that I fully intend to use my position with the mighty 5 to promote and spread my criminal network throughout the world. Each one of you has the power to bring the world to its knees. Each one of you can subvert assumptions with a well-turned phrase, to strangle power with narrative line.

As a writer and a teacher, I've been part instigator, part irritator, part insidious whisperer, and part provocateur. Writing and reading fiction, I believe, is a transgressive act: It openly defies the Cult of the Individual by allowing us to see from the point of view of the Other. We become the Other. We see ourselves from the outside. Fiction works to challenge the assumptions of our elders, our community and our culture, and forces us to think for ourselves.

They killed Socrates for teaching the youth to think for themselves. They banned Salinger and Vonnegut and Lowry and Naylor. Hell, they even banned Judy Freaking Blume. I cannot hope to even shine the boots of these Criminal Masterminds, but I can and will do what I can to spread their doctrine of transformative thinking like a virus in an un-vaccinated population.

As a teacher, I've inspired the ire of parents, administrators, local business owners and, once, a school board member. I've been told that teaching Holes to seventh graders glorified the criminal justice system. I've been told that teaching The Crucible would lead children into witchcraft. I've been told that a single read of a certain Kelly Link story would lead my students into a life of thievery and nymphomania. I struggled mightily to keep a straight face. The next day, I had my students read it again.

Once, I gave a class an assignment: Make a list, I said, of everything that defines you: tall, short, smart, slow, athletic, ambidextrous, whatever. Then, take each descriptor and write it's opposite. Turn that list into a new character, and write a story from that person's point of view.

Six different irate parents called me that night, telling that such an assignment had the potential to make their sons go gay. Which was funny, because all six students identified their “opposite” as straight. Even still, the very idea that their children's attempt to think and feel as someone different from themselves – indeed, as a polar opposite as themselves – would somehow alter them beyond recognition.

This, of course, is completely true. And rubbed my hands together and slowly smiled.

I told them that writing fiction releases the mind from the shackles of the Self. The more we can see the world through the eyes of people not like us, the more we can see the world as it is: multi-layered, contradictory, chaotic, life-giving, and utterly, utterly wild. This is the audacious power of the imagination. This is the transgressive power of thought. We read, we write, we think, all to alter ourselves. And we are changed forever.

Thinking, Ladies and Gentlemen, is dangerous. And therefore fiction is dangerous. Your books make you a marked man, a marked woman, a dangerous individual. They make you a threat. Live dangerously, friends. Live to transgress.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The YA-5: The Beginings

For my first post I figured I had some explaining to do. Like why start a team blog, why so many members and how did it all come about. But, I talk all day long and when I'm done talking, I write. So, I hatched the idea (I do that a lot) to SHOW you. Remember, writers are taught to show and not tell. But before I do, I must give credit to my side-kick. The best any shower-not-a-teller could have. Her name is Megan and she put this vlog together from a series of storyboards, a script and music. Below is the story of the beginnings of The YA-5. Enjoy!

PS:it kinda gets cut off on the right due to the small viewing area. Here is the YouTube link!