Thursday, April 29, 2010

The tea I'm drinking right now smells like a grandma's house

I'm in a coffeeshop right now, it's a favorite haunt. I know special secret stories about the back room and am currently in the midst of a feud with an unknown person who keeps stealing the zombie stickers I put on the wall. (I shake my fist at you, Zombie Sticker Stealer!)

I try to come at least once a week to write for a few hours. If I'm lucky, some of my writing pals are here, too (Shout out to Jessica Lee Anderson, E. Kristin Anderson, and our own illustrious PJ Hoover.) PJ will set her timer to make us all stop talking and we will write write write until it's time to order lunch or pick up a kid from school.

(Side note: it's very upsetting that my tea tastes like a grandmother's house today. I tried something new and it was a big fat FAIL. It's distracting me. Very distracted today. Look! Something shiny!)

So I'm here this morning, in the booth in the coffeeshop (with a fresh zombie sticker on the wall) and I'm not writing. I want to be writing, but I can't. I can't because two days ago I went a little insane and I wrote just over 10,000 words. That's almost 40 pages, I think. I just kept telling myself that I was almost done with my draft. Almost done. Almost done! And then suddenly, it was a million o'clock, my elbows were tingling, my fingertips were buzzy and I WAS done. Then I fell face forward on my kitchen table and didn't wake up for two days.

Not really. I managed a nice five hours of sleep and then spent the next day chasing around my kids and doing all the stuff I was supposed to be doing when I had been finishing my manuscript. I thought I'd be recovered by today, after an actual night of sleep, but it appears I am still trending towards the fried brain end of the spectrum.

I'm not actually sure what point this post has other that to say, writing is awesome. And scary. And mind-numbing. And exhilarating. And I hope that those of you who are reading this, and who are writing, and who worry about time constraints and real life wandering into your path like cranky, slow elephants - I want you to know that on some days you're able to just bypass all that elephant crap. I don't know how it happens, or even how to MAKE it happen, but here and there the stars align and you have a 10,000 word day.

I think all of this writing has somehow how given me brain itch, though, so watch out. I can't concentrate on anything anymore. I'm surprised this blog post is this long.

Maybe I'm just trying to keep myself busy so that I don't drink more of this horrible tea.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dorkus Interuptus

So, I'm just going to come right out and say it: I, Kelly Barnhill, am a total dork. I was a total dork in Middle School; I was a total dork in High School; and now, at venerable age of thirty-six, I am a performance artist of dorkdom: I ooze dorkiness, radiate dorkosity. In Platonic terms, when humanity sees the shadows on the wall – the flickering hints of the Essential Forms that exist outside of our universe, then I, ladies and gentlemen, am the Platonic Ideal of Essential Dork.

Now, the question is this: Did my history and identity as a socially awkward, self-conscious and terribly shy outsider kid shape my current identity as a fiction writer? Or, to put it more plainly, can dorkiness be of use in terms of life paths, career choices and possible success in either? Or, in more specific terms to you, dear readers: If Kelly was able to put her Inner Dork to good use, could I, possibly, do the same.

The answer is yes.

But before I explain why, let me back up a bit. I want to explain for a minute why and how I came to write fiction, because I certainly didn't start out in that arena.

I started out as a poet. And I loved being a poet – and not so much the writing of poetry, you understand (though I loved that part too), but I loved calling myself a poet. I loved being a poet. I loved my torn black jeans and my combat boots and the nicotine stains circling my fingers like rings. I loved writing love poems for the boys that I loved, the transmutation of passion and longing into rhythmic sounds resting on the tongue and rattling the teeth.

I loved being a poet because being a poet gave me permission to be an outsider. It gave me permission to be strange. Poetry does not require a specific social sphere: Poetry is its own social sphere.

I had spent my entire school career slightly out of step with my peers, always three moves away from acceptance. I had friends who appreciated me, sure, but only after I first unnerved, then exasperated them. After a while, they shook their heads and just got used to me. I was.....odd, you see. But, I was the person they could count on, the person who would listen, the person who wouldn't judge them. Hell, it was conventionally impossible for me to judge anyone. Everyone knows dorks don't judge.

Poetry justified my oddness. Poet, I decided, was just a fancy word for dork. It was a paradigm shift and I ran with it.

The trouble was that poetry, with it's images so sharp you cut your fingers on them, and an economy of language so spare you feel like the world is holding its breath, wasn't providing me with the voice I needed. I needed expansion, nuance, multiple voices and perspectives. I had spent a young lifetime out of step, outside and out of synch: I was close enough to see in, but just outside enough for some perspective and distance. I had been, you see, collecting stories on the sly. Catching bits of personalities and histories and filing them a way the way an entymologist catches and catalogs dead butterflies. And while the label of “poet” gave me all kinds of leeway in my own personal oddities, I was ready for something more. I was ready for narrative.

I started writing stories. They sucked at first. Actually, they sucked for a while. Slowly, though, they got better.

And really, I don't think that the stories that I write would have been possible without my dorky past nor my dorky present. I was a lonely kid; a bullied kid; a strange kid; and sometimes an unlikable kid. My loneliness made me observant: I spent years watching the kids whose social circles were simply weren't expansive enough to include someone like me. My status as a bullied child made me compassionate: I learned how to watch for infinitesimal alterations in behavior and mood, to see who was hurting and who was looking to hurt. I learned how to put myself into the self of another. I did this partially out of self-preservation, and partially out of a need for community – if there were other bullied kids anywhere, I knew how to find them, care for them, seek solace in numbers. And yes, I was strange, and sometimes unlikable. And both of those play out in my fiction now. I delight in the Strange because I am strange. I delight in unlikeable characters because I was once unlikable.

Is all fiction ever writing simply the efforts of the Dorks of the World to find ways of justifying themselves, of finding a place where they belong? Is Literature simply a Dork Cabal?

Perhaps. Perhaps all writers are, were, will always be dorks. Perhaps we do what we do to finally achieve some kind of acceptance or approval or love. Or, maybe, in order to make art, in order to really see the world around us, we have to be out of step. Maybe we chose to be dorks. Maybe I chose. And, just maybe, by choosing loneliness, by choosing to be odd, strange and choosing to not belong, it allows us to create the things that make us all belong to one another: a story, a poem, a painting, a song.

Sometimes I think there is no inside or outside when it comes to art. It unifies. It claims us. Art makes us belong to each other.

(Oh my god, someone whispers. Did she just say that? What. A. Dork.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Super Heroes V. Super Villains

When I received and in the mail I had no idea what to think. It was two books in one--an ARC (advanced reader copy)--one of those one book on one side and flip over and turn upside down (or upside right) for the other book dealies.

I was not all that impressed.

But then I read the premise. "What if there was a website that let you download super powers? Which ones would you choose? Who would you save? Who would you hurt? In this new super-charged action series, adventure is just a click away."

That was all I needed. I was hooked! Sign me up. I mean, who wouldn't want to down download super powers from the internet? I order pizza online!

The heroes of Rise of the Heroes Tom, Pete, Lorna and Emily stumble upon the website which allows them to download cool abilities like flying, x-ray vision and teleporting. Suddenly, life just got a whole lot better.

Of course, the good times don't last long. A super villain kidnaps Toby and Lorna's mom and they must work together to save her. What the kids don't know is that is out there recruiting kids for the other side--the evil side.

Laser vision and super strength can be had for a price.

Which side would you choose?

Author Andy Briggs creates an awesome and totally believable world in Rise of the Heroes and Council of Evil. All of a sudden Sci-Fi is fun again and kids are having a blast. He's also managed to turn this amazing world into an online playground with an accompanying website where visitors can choose sides. Undecided? Take a survey and let the computer decide if you're good or evil! With stunning high-end graphics and video, the site truly mimics the feel of the books.

Also, writers, take a look at the vlogs Andy has posted on his site. Most interesting to me is the book signing done on the day of the release. Andy is a master at hand-selling books to kids who have never heard of the books. He is sitting there passionately selling the concept of his companion books to these kids who are eating it up. He is obviously pumped, approachable and easy to talk to. Its a great lesson on how to do signings and talk up your book.

I enjoyed these so much, I'm giving my copy to a promising student I met on a school visit recently. He is very into Sci-Fi and was super active in the classroom on the day I visited. This is his reward for participation and I really hope he enjoys the books as much as I did.

Visit the website!

Buy the books!

Follow Andy on twitter or myspace.

Which side which YOU choose?!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Ask A Teen

Q: Which authors are you most interested in meeting and why?

Amy, 7th grader: “Sarah Dessen and Jodi Piccoult. Because Sarah Dessen’s books are really interesting and realistic. Joki Picoult because she can make me cry and not many books can do that.”

Caitlin, 7th grader: “I just finished a book by Sarah Dessen and I’m reading one now. And I think she’d be a great author to talk to.”

Becky, 9th grader: “I really enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult and I have questions about it. Like, why did the one sister have to die at the end?”

Monica, 12th grader: “JODI PICOULT!!!” “Her books bring together conflict and different psychological aspects and perspectives, plus incredible characterization. I just finished House Rules today and I’m in a LITERARY COMA!”

Jack, 9th grader: “Neil Gaiman. I’ve never read any other author who can do so many varieties of stories.”

Katie Rose, 9th grader: “Tamora Pierce. One- she is so hilarious and has the best anecdotes ever. Two! I absolutely adore her books and writing style. She overlaps her books and it’s really cool.”

Lawson, 7th grader: “I forgot the author’s name, but the guy who wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse.” “Oh yeah, Jared Diamond. I want to know how he comes up with his theories. His books are amazing.”

Patrick, 7th grader: “Jim Butcher, the author of The Dresden Files series. He’s the bestest author ever! He compacts a lot of action into one book and still has a lot of character development.”

Rachna, 7th grader: “I’d want to meet Rachel Cohn. Her books are kind of different—her characters are unique.”


Do these answers surprise you? They were provided by REAL students in Palatine, IL!

Which authors are YOU most interested in meeting and why? Want to know what's really going on, instead of what "they" want you to think? Just Ask A Teen!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Epic TLA post

Last week I had the opportunity to spend three days at TLA - the huge Texas Library Association conference. It was the first conference I've been to. It was freaking amazing, you guys. I posted the following pictorial on my blog and I thought I'd cross-post it here. It was a kick ass experience, not just as an author, but as a book lover. And on the Friday I was there, the place was swarming with teens who had been sponsored by librarians and received badges to the exhibit hall. They were everywhere, ravenously gobbling up ARCs and swag. You could feel their excitement, it was truly palpable.

Anyway, here's my post about the whole shebang (and I apologize that the youtube videos are not embedded. Blogger and I are having a fight. You can either click the URLs to see the videos, or click here and see them embedded in the post on my personal blog):

I should really start this post off with a picture of my bruises and blisters. Showing off your war wounds is a good way to measure the success of an event. And, you guys, my feet are going to FALL OFF. Also, I have mysterious bruises all over my legs. My right shoulder is a good three inches lower than my left shoulder now, and I have to drag one leg behind me when I walk. Basically, TLA has turned me into Quasimodo.

(Very tired, blistered, wet feet)

But this is OK.

Over this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I've had the chance to talk with librarians and booksellers not just about my books, but about books in general. About the industry, about censorship, about budgeting and school visits. We talked about what ARCs we're excited about, what the trends seem to be, which books teens and kids like... and these were just random conversations with strangers on the exhibit hall floor.

Seriously. Book nerd valhalla.

(Please note the made-up Klingon in this video. Thanks to Jenny Zieglar for coming up with that. Hilarious. t'LAH, nerds! And also thanks to E. Kristin Anderson for shouting the Klingon and braving my driving on an early, rainy Saturday morning.)

AND, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing authors. Ellen Hopkins, Mary Pearson, Lisa Schroeder, Helaine Becker, Kathleen Duey, Matt de la Pena, Rick Riordan (though I stalked him from a distance at a cocktail party). Plus so many more that my addled brain will think of later. The Austin contingent of authors was there in full force, too, with kick ass panels and plenty of signings.

(In this picture: Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, Jennifer Zieglar)

We were our own little (friendly) mafia, running into each other, comparing ARCs and stories, introducing each other to out of town authors, collapsing from exhaustion and blister attacks... it was a great time.

(Jenny Zieglar and Bethany Hegedus getting a little punchy)

Plus - and this really blew my mind - it was so stunning to be walking the exhibit hall floor, peeking into publisher's booths, and to have people point at me (random people!) and say, "Mike Stellar! The blue book!" Or, before I could even introduce myself, "Brains for Lunch! Roaring Brook!" And I would just stand there like an idiot with my mouth fish-gaping until I could stammer out, "Yes, yes, that's me!"

(we did not stage that. nope.)

(Mike Stellar!)

As an author who spends much of her time in a corner on the couch, hammering away at a laptop and never leaving the house, these kinds of encounters really put everything into perspective. I had an incredible discussion with a young man, who had seen me at a school visit earlier in the year, about the Mike Stellar cover art and some discrepencies with the text that he wanted to point out. For me to get out in the world and meet people who've read my books, or want to read my books, or who have heard of my books, it really makes me want to work harder and be better, and get out more to keep meeting people. Brian Floca and I were talking about this when we were signing at the Texas Authors Table (or selling puppets at the Texas Authors Table - it depends on who you talk to about this) and he was saying how it's such a shot in the arm. I can't think of a better analogy.

(Taking a break from the puppets)

And so, I think by now you have all figured out this was my first conference. I was truly blown away. Exhausted, bruised, rained on, but also uplifted and amazed. For a few days the rest of the world disappeared and everything was about books. Is there anything better than that?

Here are a few more videos from the conference... you can see how I conducted myself as a professional AT ALL TIMES.

(Driving in with PJ Hoover and Jo Whittemore. Who's excited?!)

(Author Chris Barton signs Shark vs. Train and acts WAY more professional than me and PJ Hoover as we heckle him)

(The Texas Sweethearts prove that librarians love books. And brownies.)

(Super dork!)

(Super dork, part II)


So. Who's sponsoring my trip to ALA? Anyone? Ah, that's OK. I have books to write!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rate This Book

I'm not a big fan of censorship.  I tend to think that people can self-censor, that is, if they don't like something just put it down (in the case of a book) or turn it off (in the case of everything else).  Whenever someone brings up the tired "But what about the children?!?" I usually snicker and say that's what parents are for.  Adults should try to censor what their kids are exposed to until the kids are smart enough to sneak around and do it without getting caught.

Not that I advocate sneaking around, but that's how it usually goes, so whatever.

But last week I had an event happen that got me thinking about censorship, and what it might mean to writers in the future.

The incident was at my local library.  I was checking out two books:  Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan and Blood Promise by Richelle Mead.  As I checked the books out the librarian looked at me and said "We don't recommend this book for children younger than fourteen."  Because I was totally checking the books out for a little kid, not myself.

Yeah, right.

Anyway I nodded, thinking she was talking about Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  I live in a pretty conservative area, so censorship isn't unexpected, especially if the g-word is involved (and I don't mean grape).  But then I realized she was talking about Blood Promise.


If you haven't read the book I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say if it were a movie Blood Promise would get at most a PG-13.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson, while amazing, starts swearing on the second page.  How does kissing compare to liberal use of the f-bomb?

I don't know, but it makes me wonder why the warning for the Richelle Mead book and not for the Green/Levithan.  Maybe it's because Blood Promise has been out longer than Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  Maybe kissing is more offensive than cussing.  More importantly, who gets to decide, and why?

I am firmly anti-rating and pro-chucking the book across the room in disgust if it offends.  But how do you feel?  Do you want warnings on your book like the recording industry (warning: this book is chock full o' awesome)?  Or are the age ranges usually posted above the UPC enough (note:  not all books have these age ranges)?  Our is this just another way adults try to control what everyone under the age of eighteen does?

Does anyone even care as long as Rose and Dimitri end up happily ever after?

Leave your angry ramblings after the beep.  :)


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bookstore Guerilla Strikes Again

Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Yep. I went to the bookstore again and made a fool of myself stalking teenagers around until I found one who'd talk to me.

And guess what?? I found a boy! That all-elusive male teenaged reader.


What are you looking at?

He holds up Ender's Game and The Hunger Games

What gets you to pick up a book?

Mostly I come in knowing what I want. Like my mom has been telling me to read Ender's Game forever, so I finally came in to buy it. But if I'm just browsing, it's the cover. I know they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I usually do. That's why I picked up [The Hunger Games]. It looks different.

And not super girly?


What makes you decide to buy a book?

The amount of time my mom's been nagging me to read it. Or if friends I trust say something's good. I also really like series, so I'm always checking to see if the next book is out.

Most YA writers are adults in their thirties or older. Do you think they get the teen experience right?

I don't know. I don't read a lot of normal YA, like about high school and dating and stuff. Mostly what I read is science fiction or fantasy, so the teens in those books have a completely different life experience from me. I don't know what it's like to be, like, an teen alien caught in some intergalactic war, so I couldn't tell you if the author was writing it right or not.

Whenever I have read normal YA, there's usually something that feels off about it to me, but I've never really been able to put my finger on it. Like the author thinks teens my age are a lot more grown-up than we really are, or like we're a lot more childlike, but at the same time. I don't know. Being a teen can be really complicated because you're right in between being a grown-up and being a kid, and I'm not sure a lot of books can really get that across.

Are you sick of vampires?

I don't read those kinds of books. I don't really read any books with hot guys on the covers, because they're always just about how perfect and hot that guy is.

Do you ever have trouble finding YA books you're interested, what with the glut of hot guy covers out there?

Yeah, it can be hard. I definitely feel like there are more 'girl' books around than 'guy' books, which sucks. Guys read too. Lately it seems like it's gotten better, though, I've been finding more stuff.

How much do you read?

It depends on how busy school is I guess. I'd say about a book a week.

What do you think about e-books?

I've never read one. I think it'll probably be like music was, though. At first everyone was all upset because they liked having the actual CD with a case and the liner notes and stuff, but then everyone got an iPod and realized how much easier it was to just download music, so now we don't miss CDs at all. You can still buy them, but hardly anyone does.

Do you ever read book blogs or search out favorite authors online?

I've never read a book blog. When I was younger, I used to go to this message board for fans of this certain book...

What book?

He shakes his head. I'll never tell.


Anyway, we used to talk about the book and stuff and that was fun. But I think I'd have to really love a book to do something like that. Sometimes I'll look for an author's website to see what else they've written if I really like their books, but that's usually it.

What's the one book you've always wanted to read and never found?

I always thought the Grandfather Paradox would make a really good book. Something about time travel and all the timelines start to get mixed up, and the two main characters could be the same guy except from different timelines. It'd probably be really confusing, but I think it'd be cool.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who Says Teens Can't Rule the World?

Okay, so maybe I don't know the answer to that question. But I HAVE heard complaints about YA book characters not acting or sounding "teen" enough. Sometimes I've even read YA novels and have wondered whether or not a teenager would really be able to do what they're written into. Alright, that's happened like once, but still! Never again. Not after last weekend.

The weather was beautiful here in Virginia. My husband and I, along with a group of friends, wanted to take advantage of the sun and went on a tour of several Virginia vineyards. The first one, Chrysalis Vineyards was the most interesting.

Outside, just passed the pavilion, there's a stand of trees surrounding a single grave. The name on the tombstone read Sarah Girtrude Lynn. She was born in 1839 and passed away (from tuberculosis) in 1855. You don't have to do the math, I'll tell you: she died early, at the age of 16. Which is really sad.

But here's what struck me the most: Sarah's parents were the owners, but apparently, from the age of 13 until her death, Sarah ran the property.

That's right. A 13-year-old girl ran an estate of 209 acres. And she's so well remembered for the way she ran it that the Vineyard, over 100 years later, named two of its wines in her honor.

Just something to think about. Teens can accomplish incredible things.

♥ Sara

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ask A Teen

What do you think about all the “teams” in YA book promotions lately? Team Edward/Team Jacob… Team Gale/Team Peeta (The Hunger Games series), etc.

A discussion followed that was insightful and thought-provoking. Here are some excerpts:

Caitlin, 7th grader: “Seems like you get people to buy books more, because you care about a character more.”

Jack, 9th grader: “Teams are a great marketing tool, but it’s also really annoying. It divides people unnecessarily.”

Becky, 9th grader: “Fan loyalty to one character over another is probably not going to change what the author is going to do with a book or series, so why bother?”

Thanks to the teens at the Palatine Public Library in Palatine, IL for their time and insight! And next time you want to know what's really going on, just Ask A Teen!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Library Appreciation Day!

So, my buddy Shelli Johannes-Wells turned me on to Library Appreciation Day (today) --part of National Library Week--and I'm so glad she did. I'm one of those dorks who just loves the library. The idea that I can go and check out books, movies and magazine for FREE any time I want has got to be greatest invention ever!

Libraries have evolved from the quiet, barely above a whisper hurry and get your books and get out places of the past to hangouts for people from toddlers to senior citizens. They compete for our interest with events, classes for the community and support for writers of all kinds.

One of my favorite libraries is the Palatine Public Library in Palatine, IL. Their Teen Advisory Board, made up of teens from 7-12th grade, contributes to The YA-5 blog! They are some of the most engaged group of teens I've had the pleasure of working with. Below are two of their latest reviews!

If you can, please make time this week to visit your local library. Let them know how much they mean to you and the community in which you live. At the very least--return those overdue books! :-)

Also check out the other awesome library posts this week!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with Lise Haines!

Today I bring you, fresh from my inbox, an interview with Lise Haines, author of GIRL IN THE ARENA (Bloomsbury 2009).

Ta da!

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today! I admit to being unabashedly in love with GIRL IN THE ARENA, so I will try to hold back most of the fawning and ask hard-hitting, 20/20-esque questions. (Or, wait. Is 20/20 hard-hitting anymore? Ignore the comparison. Hopefully the questions won’t suck. We’ll stick with that.)

Thanks so much, Kari! It’s great to have a chance to talk with you.


Your daughter was very involved when you were hashing out the ending of your book. Did anything in your original story change dramatically because of things she said or suggested?

Yes, Sienna was critical in helping me develop the end. Along the way, I ran things by her and she’d either give them a thumb’s up or down. I guess you could say I was the author in the arena. She understands subtleties of character and plot, and she’s almost sixteen, so I appreciate her sensibility. I loved talking with her about how it was going.

As a mother and an author, how do you balance your time?

Balance my time? Can you hear me laughing? : -] Did I say I also juggle a fulltime teaching load? I have to find time to exercise, get out and do readings, wash the dishes, balance my checkbook, and all the other things that a head of household does. Yet, with the help of the college where I teach, I manage to pick my daughter up from school each day. I guess you could say I have a lot of discipline, I’ve learned to flex, and I take things one day at a time.

And as a tag-a-long to that last question – do you have time to read? I’ve read that you didn’t necessarily enjoy reading when you were young. Do feel more drawn to it now? What books do you enjoy? What books did you enjoy when you were a teen?

I actually loved reading, I just had a great deal of difficulty learning how. So I was very slow. And even today, I hear every word aloud in my head…which in many ways is not such a bad thing if you care passionately about language. As a teen, I read some of the classics, or books that eventually became classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. I also read some T.H. White—he was good for fantasy. I enjoy such a wide range of authors. Two of my favorites are Tim O’Brien and Lorrie Moore. I read a lot of short stories because I teach short stories primarily. Today I was talking with my students about a very dark story by Antonya Nelson.

Do you talk to a lot of teens about your book? What is the number one question they ask?

I’m just getting started on school visits, so most of my conversations have been with bloggers. I think the first question is: How did I come up with the idea for the book? Then I have to say that I didn’t start with an idea at all. Some people don’t realize that I sold the book before I had heard of Hunger Games—so there’s some curiosity about that. The next question is whether or not I’m going to do a sequel.

Is there a particular teacher (or two or three) who helped or hindered your growth as a writer?

I’ve studied with some of the best writers in the country like Rick Moody and Amy Hempel. There’s really nothing like having the right mentor. But I also remember that first creative writing teacher in high school. She went through my writing with such care. And one Sunday she invited me over to her house for tea. High school was a tough time for me, as it can be for a lot of people. She helped me to have faith in what I was doing and that was a powerful experience. I’m not sure anyone realizes how hard teachers work unless they themselves go on to teach.

How do you feel about the comparisons between GIRL AND THE ARENA and the HUNGER GAMES?

It’s an interesting thing to watch bloggers compare and contrast the two. I think both of them stir some great conversations about girl power, authoritarian societies or corporations, what we fight for, what we’re capable of doing as women, what the impact of violence on young women is like today. I think we’re at one of those pivotal times where dystopian fiction has a lot of meaning and resonance. It’s possible it’s the next big wave after vampire culture.

What do you want people to get from reading GITA? The satire sometimes just seethes off the page. (And I mean that in a good way.)

When I think about what really does it for me when I consider a novel, a piece of music, a painting, or movie—it’s the ability to live inside the work for a while, inside the characters. And when something really captures me, it comes back in a rush of thought or emotion, in fascinating ways, long after the initial experience is over. This is what I hope people walk away with when they read GITA.

What inspired you to not use quotation marks? I love this part of the book, but I know some readers have a hard time with it. Would you like to take a bow and/or defend your choice?

We live in a short-form world. Texting, emailing, IMing... We want to cut to the chase but still express ourselves. I’m certainly not the first to use this form, but it’s quick and easy and I enjoy it.

One last question… would it be possible for you to send a picture of your desk (or your writing space)?

To send a picture of my writing space, I’d have to make my bed. That’s where I work mostly, on my laptop. And I’m working such long hours, sometimes that bed never seems to get fully made. I don’t think my daughter minds much, because then she doesn’t have to make her bed too often either. I guess you’d call our household: casual living.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions today!

My absolute pleasure.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Am a Teenager

Except, of course, I'm not. I'm 26, so my teenage days are significantly behind me.

But teenager is, I think, as much a state of mind as it is an age. When people ask me why, as an adult, I read and write for teenagers, my thought is always:

"... I'm an adult?"

Being a teenager is about figuring out who you are and how you relate to other people. It's about finding your place in the world. It can be a brutal process, with lots of ups and downs, and I've got news for you guys: it doesn't stop when you hit twenty.

It doesn't stop when you graduate college, or when you get your first job or start paying rent on your first apartment. I don't know, but I'm willing to bet it doesn't stop when you get married or even when you have kids of your own. I keep waiting for the magic day when I'll feel like a real grown-up -- like I finally have things figured out -- but I'm not sure that day will ever come.

Because here's the secret that no one ever thinks to tell you about life when you're young: we're all just making it up as we go along. Everyone around you - your parents, your teachers, everyone - is only faking being a grown-up. Most of them aren't anymore sure of themselves or what they're doing in life than you are. You just learn to fake it better with age.

So, in the end, we're all teenagers in some ways. Millions of teen readers can relate to books written by adults and millions of adult readers can relate to books written about teens because trying to figure out who you are and where you belong is universal and pretty much unending.

It would have scared the hell out of me if someone had told me this when I was sixteen, but now I find it oddly liberating. At least I know everyone else is in the same adrift and confused boat, just doing their best to keep paddling and hopefully have some fun doing it.

Plus, my perpetual teenage-dom means I'll never have to read/write boring old adult books!

There are no grown-ups. Tell your friends!

Friday, April 2, 2010

What's In Your Cup?

So, this Friday's pressing question is: What's in your cup?

Kelly Barnhill

Steph Bowe
Tea! English Breakfast with two sugars and a splash of milk, please.

K.A. Holt
Green tea. Lovely hot green tea. Just the plain kind - I don't like no fruity crap in my tea.

Justina Ireland

Brass Monkey...
Actually, it's just fruit punch, but whatever.

Georgia McBride
Coffee, probably cold by now.

Sara McClung
Diet Snapple Peach Iced Tea

Cristin Terrill
Diet Coke! It's terrible, I know, but I have an addiction. I'm drinking it right now. It's all chemically and wonderful.

So, tell us, what keeps you going throughout the day or--what’s in YOUR cup?

The YA-5

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Teens Today

Warning: Alliteration, straight ahead...

Today's Trending Teen Topics

Think you know what they are? I did too. And then I did some basic research and discovered... 

Yep, I do in fact know what teens think about. I'd like to say it's because I was a teacher and worked with both middle and high schoolers. But that isn't why. It's really because not much has changed since I was a teen myself.


Clearly, that information was from a very macro viewpoint. Just because teens are thinking about most of the same things I was as a teen (way back in the day, sigh) does not mean that they're reacting to those thoughts in the same ways. But that's for a different post for a different day =) 

Just as clearly, there are tons of other things teens face/think about. Romance, sexual orientation, sex, drugs, breakups, jealousy, friends, popularity, music, fashion, hygiene--the list could go on and on. I would have added everything I could think of to the vlog, but I wanted to stick with the things teens actually wrote about (most recently) at the sites I visited.

So if you're a YA writer, does this mean you have to write those topics into your plots? Of course not. But I really believe you'll capture a more accurate teen Voice if you stay aware of the things they're facing/thinking about today.

What'd you think? Anything surprise you in the vlog?

♥ Sara

PS. The sites I researched for today's video were: 
  • national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums.  Students must be age 13-19 to participate
  • website/magazine by, for, and about teen girls.
The music in the vlog: David Garrett playing Smooth Criminal. Isn't he amazing???