Monday, August 30, 2010

Heading back to school could be way worse, I promise.

Yeah, I hear it's that time of year. You're donning your backpacks weighed down with textbooks and homework and bidding your beach gear goodbye. Woe! I mean, I bet you're kind of excited to see friends you haven't seen in a while, right? Or maybe that crush you meant to call all summer but never actually, um, got up the nerve? (Totally been there.) I get it, though. School can be a bummer. I don't think I know anyone who likes homework, even for their favorite class. So I thought I'd share a few reads with you that could lend a little perspective. At least you're not starting the school year in one of these books.

SHADOW HILLS by Anastasia Hopcus (Egmont 2010)
Persephone "Phe" Archer has been having dreams since her sister died. Nightmares, really. And when she found out that her sister had been having them, too, Phe knew where she had to go: Devinish Prep in Shadow Hills. Her sister had written about it in her journal, had even requested information from the school. And Phe just knows that there are answers there, answers she can't find at home in California. But as soon as she steps foot on campus, she knows this isn't your average boarding school. For one, the nearby cemetery is just a little too nearby. As is the hospital. And when she meets Zach, a strange, beautiful boy who seems to attract metal like a magnet, Phe falls hard -- and her curiosity is intensified. When Zach finally confesses what Phe already suspects -- he's different, descended from the people who survived the epidemic that wiped out Shadow Hills in the 1700s -- he puts her in danger. But Phe isn't exactly average either, and as her visions -- and her feelings for Zach -- intensify, she realizes that even if it kills her, she's going to uncover what's going on in Shadow Hills. This paranormal mystery will have you guessing until the very end, and while I wouldn't want to go to school in Shadow Hills, I absolutely can't wait to visit Devinish Prep again in a sequel. (Please?!)

MY SO-CALLED DEATH by Stacey Jay (Flux, 2010)
Karen Vera has been transported from her fabulous position atop a cheerleader pyramid to DEAD High. She'd known there were risks to being a "flyer," but she didn't imagine that she'd die -- let alone become "genetically undead." Now Karen has to deal with things like her weirdo roommate who mostly cries and performs goth-y rituals under a blanket. And then there's the snacking on animal brains to prevent rot. And, oh yeah, someone in school has been harvesting her fellow student's brains and way too many signs are pointing to crushworthy Gavin. This hilarious mystery will have you hooked from page one, with its fabulously imagined world in which the teenage undead can play, complete with plenty of zombie puns. I'm really hoping that Stacey Jay will continue Karen Vera's story as a series, even if I'm not inclined hang out at the DEAD High campus any time in the near future.

CANDOR by Pam Bachorz (Egmont 2009)Candor is the perfect city where perfect teens live perfect lives and make their perfect parents proud. Oscar knows why -- his father, the founder, developed technology that makes even the most rebellious teens conform. Oscar gets kids out…for a price. Then he meets Nia, an artist and a rebel, and he finds himself smitten. Oscar wants to change – he wants to save Nia, whether that means getting her out or hiding her in plain sight. But the powers that be are stronger than even Oscar realized, and soon he is asking himself what sacrifices he is willing to make for love. Candor is terrifying and heartbreaking, a story that clearly resonates a Stepford vibe and keeps the reader guessing through the last page. It will make you feel a little crazy. There is nothing in the world that could make me register for classes at a high school in Candor. But this book is gripping, stunning, and the twisted sort of read that makes you want more.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hindsight is 20/20

Or so they say...

Writing is like life--in that there is a beginning a middle and end. While working on my latest book, it became quite apparent about midway through the story that past tense wasn't the best way to tell the story. Well, not quite midway but about a third of the way. Still--it was a significant chunk of the way in--36,000 words.

The previous 3 books I'd written were done so in past tense and they all made perfect sense. However, this particular book did not. It begged for the present. I read from it aloud in the middle of chapter ten in the present tense--just to try it on. It flowed so much better. I knew then what I had to do.

It got me to thinking about life and do overs. How often do we think about our lives and the things we could possibly change that would make our it flow better? Simple things that if we took a minute to say out loud to ourselves, "hey, this isn't working," perhaps maybe we could go back and change it--make it better.

In writing, as in life--you can go back and change things. You can recognize mistakes, missteps or minor tweaks that if altered even slightly can make a huge impact on the overall outcome. You can have a do over. You can change it. Revision is a bitch. It takes time and a lot of patience. But it can be done.

So if there's something you're thinking about changing about yourself or your life--think about this: you can do it. It'll be hard and it may take some time. But you can do it. And while you're working on that, I'll be here revising 36,000 words, changing each sentence from past to present tense.

Talk amongst yourselves.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mockingjay? SQUEEEEE!!!! MOCKINGJAY!!!!! *spoiler free*

So, I downloaded a copy of Mockingjay at 430AM Tuesday (I have a kindle and start work EARLY) even though I'm expecting my copy of Mockingjay ANY DAY NOW.  Most likely, I will be finished with the book before the hardcover arrives, but I'm one of those people that likes to buy hardcovers for my keeper pile (and this is a definite KEEPER!).

I love Suzanne Collins with all of the breathless giddiness that I loved Santa Claus with as a kid, and so far Mockingjay has been everything I'd hoped it would be. 

Don't have the book yet?  Waiting on a library waitlist?  Well, here is a great link to occupy you while you wait for your copy of awesomeness.  is a fan site, and will warn you of spoilers before you navigate too far.  Still, there are some links to great videos.

If you've finished the book and can't get it out of your head or you don't like surprises and want to know the end (lame), here are some great links about the book that might make you think about things in a different light, or share some reactions.  *****WARNING:  The splashpages may be spoiler free, but digging any deeper may result in major spoilage.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!*****

UPDATE:  Since I've posted this, the Hogwart's Professor Page has turned a bit spoilery, so this is your possible spoiler warning.  The other link is a chapter by chapter reaction guide, and is still safe.  Still, if you want to aooid spoilers it probably best if you avoid the internet. ;)

Boys are Freaking Insane

Alright, so it's eleven at night, and I'm back after packing up a campsite, paddling twelve miles (with four portages) (and three kids) and driving seven hours. I'm dirty, smelly and my house is littered with camping debris.

Still. Must post.

Given my short attention span and limited brain activity, I'm going to talk briefly about boys (because boys are fun to talk about). Now any of you who happen to follow me on twitter will have some background regarding the many (and infinitely crazy) exploits of my son, Leo. When he was nine months old he climbed to the top of the refrigerator. When he was two, he climbed to the top of the garage. He is intensely curious, creatively out of bounds and absolutely knows no fear.

He is one of the main reasons why many of my characters are boys. He is the reason why I take particular delight with my boy characters. This is not to knock my daughters (because they freaking rock) but I was completely unprepared for the roller-coaster ride that defines raising a son.

Which brings me to book making.

I'm writing a new book, tentatively titled Witless Ned and the Speaking Stones. It started with a story I told to my son while we were hiking through a thick, humid forest in Virginia and I needed to keep him going. I asked him what should happen next, and he told me - and his plot points were like his behavior at home: unexpected, out-of-bounds and utterly, utterly wild. Half the things he insisted that Ned would do I regarded with some skepticim. No boy would do that, I said. Oh, but he would, Leo insisted fervently. And many of those things, Leo did. Later. This summer. With gusto. Which is why I am only slightly insane right now. Which is why I am writing the book.

So. As I mentioned. We were camping. Near to our campsite was a latrine - a deep pit, dug by an earnest young park ranger, and about halfway full of - well, you know what it was full of. My son, after using the latrine, accidentally dropped the hand sanitizer deep down into the dark pit. It rested on a pile of slowly decomposing human excrement.

Now, do you remember that scene in Slumdog Millionaire, when the little boy jumps into the gigantic pile of poo after getting stuck in the latrine while trying to get an autograph from his hero? Here's the video: And remember how we all watched with utter incredulity. No way, we thought, would any little kid jump into a vat of crap for something as silly as an autograph.

My little son, in hopes of retrieving a little bottle of Purel, climbed into the toilet, hooked his arm around the seat, and lowered himself down into its skanky, putrid depths.

When I became a parent, did it ever occur to me that I would one day be scrubbing layers of the poo of strangers off the feet, ankles, shins and knees of my blue-eyed, cherubic little boy? No, ladies and gentlemen. No I did not. Now that I am a writer, will this moment of boyish fearlessness, innocence of consequence and wild abandon one day show up in one of my stories?

Ladies and gentlemen, you can count on it. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Under the Sea! (la la la la) Under the Sea!

Ohmygoodness it is a scorching 102° here in Austin, Texas. And, being the master procrastinator responsible adult that I am, I just got back from running errands. I'm a pedestrian with a rockin' carbon footprint, which is all fine and dandy when it's, like, May or April. But in August, I mostly want to just go jump in the ocean every time I leave my house.

Oh wait, I live in AUSTIN, TEXAS where there is no Ocean. Woe! Fortunately, I've noticed a new trend in YA. Watery mythologies are all up ons, and I'm so psyched to read some of them.

For example, there's SIREN by Tricia Rayburn, a recent release from Egmont USA, sitting in the large stack on my bedside table. this book takes place in my home state of Maine so I am so so so psyched to read this one. (Maine people are like that -- we cling to all things Downeast.) With a tragic series of deaths on the coast, a supernatural twist, some steamy romance and all that ocean-y goodness, what's not to love? From Booklist: Rayburn’s modern-day, edgy spin on siren mythology combines suspense, dark drama, and romance. Vanessa is an appealing protagonist, whose detailed narrative incorporates well-drawn issues, from grief to relationship complexities…[Siren] will appeal to fans of contemporary supernatural novels, and the lingering ambiguities and loose ends will leave readers wanting more.

And then there's REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOERINGS by Hélène Boudreau, coming out from Sourcebooks later this year. It sounds absolutely fresh and sweet, a quirky coming of age story complete with first periods and bumbling dads. Of course there's also that oh-crap-am-I-actually-a-mermaid? twist, which plunges me right into the cool, watery depths of summer (which will be nice, since it hits shelves in December). And I love that the heroine, Jade, isn't your typical mermaid material. She's a big girl, and since her mother drowned, she's terrified of water. Since it sounds like Andersen's THE LITTLE MERMAID meets ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME MARGARET, I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this book.

SELKIE GIRL by Laurie Brooks is also sitting in my TBR pile. It takes place in an island community near Scotland, and the main character is an outcast with physical deformities she can't understand or conceal. The grandfather character seems lovely and intriguing, encouraging our heroine to discover her heritage and find out why she's so different. And of course we've got a hearty dose of romance. SELKIE GIRL sounds like a refreshing, ocean-y read, and I love the eco-angles. From Booklist: Although the flowery pink-and-turquoise cover art suggests a sweet, girly mermaid story, Brooks’ brooding, romantic tale of a shape-shifting seal-girl is drawn straight from Celtic folklore. Her mother is a selkie (a seal/human shape-shifter), her father is human, but Elin Jean belongs nowhere. Celtic mythology? Heck yes I'm on board! SELKIE GIRL is out now in hardcover from Knopf Books for Young Readers, and it hits the shelves in paperback with a new cover this fall.

Coming in October from Houghton Mifflin is THE MERMAID'S MIRROR by L.K. Madigan, and I am just itching to get my hands on this sea-rich story that appears rife with magical realism. With a character dying to surf, and a father forbidding her to do so, you know this is a novel filled with secrets and suspense. And the magic! Something is luring our protagonist to the water, and she's seeing things that she knows can't be real. This take on mermaid lore sounds refreshing and exciting, and I can't wait to read it this fall while pining away for my coastal homeland.

AAAAAAAAND You couldn't possibly think with all this mermaid love I hadn't already started in on some seaside stories! In case you haven't picked up your copy of FORGIVE MY FINS by Tera Lynn Childs yet, now's the time. FORGIVE MY FINS (Katherine Tegan Books at HarperTeen) is the story of Lily, a girl from Thalassinia -- the mermaid kingdom off the coast of Florida. She's not just any girl either, she's a princess, daughter of the king and heir to the throne. But being half-human, she's embracing her land-lubbing side and attending high school where she falls in love with Brody, a friend from journalism class. Lily doesn't think she's all that pretty with her wildly frizzy blonde hair and freckled face. That hasn't stopped obnoxious neighbor-boy Quince from harassing her for as long as she's known him. And when Quince tries to do Lily a favor and ends up setting off a series of events that Lily considers life-ruining, the romantic drama is more than enough to drown in. FORGIVE MY FINS is irresistibly cute, with sweet romance and a fun mythology, a perfect beach read or a great book to curl up with in bed on a warm summer night.

What do you guys think about the mermaid trend? Any ocean-y books y'all are looking forward to? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Friday, August 20, 2010


WOOOOOOHOOOO! Big congrats to Manar, aka Twitter user @thelastgoodkiss! Here is her winning #brainsforlunch haiku:

Rotting flesh, so sweet.
My zombie haiku, a tweet.
I want to eat you.

I think this really has both the spirit of BRAINS FOR LUNCH and our blog, The YA-5. There were a lot of great entries, but this one takes the cake! So, Manar, send me a DM on Twitter with your address, and I'll get your BRAINS FOR LUNCH ARC to you ASAP! Hope you enjoy!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview with Cyn Balog

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Cyn Balog at the NJSCBWI conference last June, and I thought she was pretty awesome.  My hypothesis was proven correct when she agreed to do an interview for the YA-5.  Her newest book, SLEEPLESS, is currently in stores.  It's about a sandman who falls in love with a human girl, and if the awesome premise doesn't sway you, then the yummy cover definitely will.

And without further ado, Cyn Balog!

Me:  Okay, so your most recent book is Sleepless, about a sandman who falls in love with one of his charges. Where did you come up with the idea?

Cyn:  I was driving home from work and listening to I'm A Little Teapot or some other mind-numbing tune because my daughter was in the back of the car, and I was probably really sleepy because all of the sudden I imagined a guy sitting outside a girl's bedroom, waiting to lure her to sleep, because he was a sandman and that was his job. He'd been with her since she was young and had fallen in love with her, but she didn't know he existed.

Me:  That's pretty cool.  So far you've had two books come out, both Young Adult.  What do you like most about writing YA?

Cyn:  The readers are so passionate about it. I'll get emails from readers who are so excited about the book, but I don't think adults would be so interested. The YA world is a world of firsts, of freshness and excitement. The adult world is all been-there, done-that. Pretty dull. I've tried writing adult stuff and it's never been as fun.

Me:  What are you working on right now?

Cyn:  Well, I am procrastinating, an art I have perfected. I am the world's best procrastinator because even though I do it all the time, I still manage to hit my deadlines (knock on wood). Anyway, I have the first draft of my fourth book, LIVING BACKWARDS, due to my editor in March. That's about a boy who remembers his future. And I just finished a proposal for a new book about paranormal happenings during a whitewater rafting trip in Maine. Which incidentally, is based on a harrowing whitewater rafting trip I took when I lived in Maine.

Me:  Note to self, avoid whitewater rafting.  So back to Sleepless, in the book Eron can communicate with people through their dreams. Whose dreams would you stalk if you had that power?

Cyn:  My daughter's. She always comes into my room in the morning and tells me about all these wild dreams she has, but they're always happy, involving rainbows and princesses. They sound nice and unthreatening.

Me:  Aww, you're much nicer than I am.  In your first book, Fairy Tale, Cam is a fairy. So, would you rather be a fairy or a sandman, er, sandlady?

Cyn:  A fairy, probably. It's actually a chore to have to put people to sleep night after night, and you have all these rules you need to follow. Fairies have cool magical powers. At least my fairies could heal people and do all sorts of neat things.

Me:  Okay, so the age old question: What's your favorite Ben and Jerry's flavor?

Cyn:  Karamel Sutra.... yum. Caramel and Chocolate is the food combination of the gods. Urgh, now you made me hungry.

Me:  Yeah, I'm pretty good at that.  Any books you want to rave about?

Cyn:  Oh yes, I just finished reading Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus and it was delicious. I probably just said delicious because of question #6. Now I must go raid the freezer. :)

Thanks a lot, Cyn!

Make sure you run out and buy SLEEPLESS or Cyn's first book, FAIRY TALE.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Censorship Sucks

When my daughter was a year old, I was struggling my way through my first year as a public school teacher.One of these days I'll actually blog about that year (one of the best, worst, and insane years of my life so far) but I'm not going to do that today.

Today, I'm going to talk about censorship. Because during that year, I stared censorship square in the face for the first time.

Now, it almost seems quaint to talk about the stink people made over the Harry Potter books a decade (or more!) ago. There were phone campaigns and demonstrations and well-meaning public radio hosts who were misguided into thinking that balanced reporting meant having a bunch of illiterate book-haters spewing nonsense on their show about how a single book was going to turn Our Nation into a bunch of tree-hugging, goddess-worshiping (though still godless, right?) hippy-freak magic addicts. One page of Harry Potter, and it's off to Hell we go!

I mean, sure, there's still people out there stinkin' it up like it's still 1999, but mostly it's all water under the bridge, right?

Or, maybe not.

Ten years ago, I was teaching a leveled reading class, and the kids had six weeks of literature circles - two weeks per book, and the kids would rotate from table to table, choosing the books and groups that interested them. There was one table devoted to Harry Potter. I'd say about twelve kids in all read it.

And oh! The Stink was mighty.

What killed me was that the parents who complained didn't even have kids who chose to read Harry Potter. I designed the course specifically so that there were more stations than there was time to read it all. Best to allow the kids to hear other kids talking about different books. Create a culture of reading. A multiplicity of books! (See how young I was! How brimming over with optimism and hope!)

Still, there were parents who didn't want their kids in the same room as other kids who were reading Harry Potter. Apparently, immorality and magic can spread like lice, and book cooties are epidemic.

I remember having a conversation with a parent, trying to reason my way through a forest built by un-reason. She was concerned that having the book in the same room as her son would make him lose his faith. (Yeah. I know.)

"Listen," I said, "I'm a practicing Catholic, a Theology major and a general Acts-Of-Christian-Mercy type, and I'm noticing all kinds of themes in this book that are actually friendly - and largely in sync - with our religion."

"Well," she said. "I wouldn't know anything about that. I haven't read it, and I never will."

Which seems to be the theme with those who seek to censor.

Later, when I was an on-the-road fiction instructor with the Writers in the Schools program, I had a principal get in my face for just suggesting that the students read a copy of Kelly Link's amazing short story "Flying Lessons". He'd heard there was a scene where the main character shoplifts (there is). "The last thing we need is an epidemic of thievery around here," he said.

Another principal had an issue with my recommendation (!!!!!) of a Jeff Vandermeer story called "Dradin In Love". (He'd heard it was sacrilegious. "Do you have any idea what the god-fearing types would do to me if they heard I allowed that in the school?")

Again, these are people who hadn't read the works in question.

Which brings me to this mess in Texas. Here's the story: This amazing lady, was invited to present at the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas. Why? Because her books are incredible, raw and brave. And important.  And then, when a small group of people felt that she had too many Edgy cooties and Dark cooties, raised up a Stink the size of Texas and dis-invited her. So some of the other invitees have disinvited themselves, thank you very much, and we now have ourselves a Texas-sized to-do. 

Now, a lot of people have written about it with more clarity and understanding than me. Ellen Hopkins, for starters.  It was her book that raised the ire of a small group of parents and a single librarian, who somehow had the power to overrule every other organizer who felt that Ellen's contribution to the festival would be a positive impact for books, for readers, for librarians, for teachers, but most of all, for kids. Pete Hautman, one of the writers who disinvited himself in solidarity with Ellen (and in solidarity with books), has also written on the subject, and his piece made my blood run icy and cold. (side note - Pete was a teacher of mine way back, and is a kick-ass writer, teacher and thinker and is generally a righteous guy)

Look. I'm a parent. I get it about wanting to protect a child from the world's agony and pain. And wickedness. And greed. And hatred. And everything. It don't make it right. In fairy tales, the kings who locked their daughters at the tops of tall towers were likely just trying to be good parents. They were idiots, of course, and their little schemes backfired. So, too, will the little scheme in Texas and every other bone-headed censorship attempt.

The point is this: Children do not belong to their parents (as much as we'd like to think otherwise); children belong to the world. You belong to the world. And it is up to parents and teachers and librarians and kindly neighbors and any other adult that's important in a kid's life to give that kid the tools necessary to exist and understand and thrive in the world. Their world. Your world.

Books are a tool. So is talking. So is listening.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Get creeped out. Learn some history. Support small publishers.

So last week I read this book DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick. My mind was blown.

Like, BOOM, there goes my mind. Blown.

Christian Cage lives with his uncle, the town sheriff, since his parents disappeared when he was young. He's an outsider, picked on at school for being the weird kid. He's socially awkward and his only release is his art. He's an amazing artist, but he has a secret -- he believes his art is responsible for some of the bad things that have happened to him and his family.

Lately Christian has been having vivid dreams, so vivid that they almost seem like visions. When he sleepwalks himself out to the town jillionaire's barn and vandalizes it with swastikas, he has an inkling that his dreams are trying to tell him something. His town, Winter, Wisconsin, seems to have swept a lot of its history under the rug. And when Christian dreams, he becomes a boy, David, who is witness to some of Winter's long-forgotten secrets. Secrets that may be surfacing when a mummified baby turns up in the wall of a recently-purchased house.

As Christian finds himself deeper and deeper into this mystery, he finds himself both fascinated and terrified by the prospect that his ethnically German neighbors may be descended from Nazi prisoners. He struggles to control his ability to slip back in time, while maintaining some semblance of sanity and maybe even getting closer to his only friend -- and, yeah, cute girl -- Sarah. He feels a responsibility to David, to tell his story, discover the origin of the baby in the wall, and find out why there are no longer any Jews in Winter. And he wonders if his new-found ability can help him find his parents in "the sideways place" where he believes they might be trapped.

With so many threads of story, DRAW THE DARK is an absolutely ambitious novel. But it is artfully woven together, piece by piece, and I'd love to see it mentioned for the 2011 Edgar Award in the Young Adult category.

DRAW THE DARK is with a smaller press, Carolrhoda Books, and for that reason, if you're not paying attention, you could miss it. Some of the big chain book stores in your area might not have DRAW THE DARK and this makes me crazy because, whoa, mind-blowing books belong on the shelves of all the stores. ALL THE STORES!

So I hereby challenge you to go into your local bookstore -- be it an indie or a Barnes or a Borders -- and ask for DRAW THE DARK. Be all like, "Sup, do you have that new book by Ilsa J. Bick?" And if they say "no" you can be all like "THIS IS A TRAVESTY! Please order me a copy. I will come pick it up when it comes in. And, btw, you must read it if you like creepy awesome smart YA books." And then when it comes in, you pick it up, and you read it, and you get your mind blown. Whoa.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Cover Envy (and Joy)

If you're a writer, there are many writerly type emotions you experience. Some experience writer's block or the inability to work through a difficult scene or story line. Some, the pain of rejection of their work by the so-called "gate keepers" of the industry--agents and even editors. Others elation and joy when the call arrives from an agent or editor with offers of representation or publication. Still others feel the sting of jealousy or a pinch from the Green-eyed Monster when writer friends find the success they seek.

Today, I feel something else. Something I have no right to feel--book cover envy. Why do I have no right to feel it this way you ask? Its not as if my own book cover sucks in comparison. I have no book on which to place a sucky cover. I haven't gotten to that stage yet. I'm still on submission to agents. Further, my own book (on submission to agents) has a dark red-headed protagonist named Grace--just like this book and I'm darn jealous.

There. I said it--out in the open in front of everyone. Waaaah.

ENTANGLED was chosen as a Waiting on Wednesday by Jean, one of our teen book reviewers from Scotland (yes you read that right--an awesome 15 year-old teen book reviewer who lives in Scotland). According to Jean's blog--The Magic Bean Review, here's a synopsis for ENTANGLED.

Grace meets enigmatic Ethan the night she’s planning to kill herself. The next morning she wakes up in a strange room with a table, chair, pens and paper. There’s nothing to do but write, and as she writes, Grace remembers the things she’s tried so hard to forget.

The hazy memories lead Grace into a dark place where friendship, heartbreak and betrayal tangle together…

Congratulations, Cat Clarke! Love your cover and hope the book does well. it not only LOOKS amazing but sounds so. From one red-headed Grace to another, rock-on!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Congrats to our very own K.A. Holt!

Hey YA-5 Readers! Today is normally K.A. "Kari" Holt's day to post, but seeing as she's out of town and super busy being a supermom and saving the world and stuff, I thought I'd post a little somethin' somethin' on her behalf. You see, Kari has a fabbity fab book coming out NEXT WEEK called BRAINS FOR LUNCH from Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Books, featuring illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Gahan Wilson. And it is (imagine Zoolander voice here) ridiculously good.

Yeah, I know. You all are screaming NEPOTISM in your heads, right? Because, duh, of course YA-5ers love K.A. Holt books. Or maybe you're not as cynical as I imagine. And you all are like GIVE ME MORE, GIVE ME MORE! Well, in either case, I'm not the only one who loves BRAINS FOR LUNCH. In fact, I am so proud of and excited for Kari, who just got a STARRED REVIEW in Publisher's Weekly! In case you're unfamilliar with PW, basically it's a magazine that industry professionals, booksellers, librarians, etc. read to find out what's going on in the book world. And a starred review is KIND OF A BIG DEAL. It says, HEY, LIBRARIANS! BOOKSELLERS! EVERYONE! YOU NEED THIS BOOK! And, no lie. Everyone does need BRAINS FOR LUNCH.

In case you STILL don't believe me, I'm giving away my very own ARC (advanced reader's copy) of BRAINS FOR LUNCH. What you have to do is Tweet a kick-butt zombie haiku, and then follow AND @reply me (@emilytastic) AND the YA-5 (@YA5updates) to let us know you have completed your mission. By this time next week, the very best zombie haiku gets BRAINS FOR LUNCH.

In case you missed it when Holteriffic posted the trailer last week, here it is, in all it's ridiculously awesome glory:

PS, here is a unicorn, because K.A. Holt loves unicorns. Woooo!
Here are some rules, as per some questions! One submission per person, and the haiku are 5-7-5 haiku like in BRAINS FOR LUNCH. Also, feel free to use the #braisnforlunch hashtag if you have room! Any other quessies, leave a comment or @emilytastic on Twitter!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from YA Books

I read. A lot. And like any proper bibliophile I like to think that I learn something from every book I read. So here, in no particular order, are the things I have learned from reading YA.

A single party can change your life. Same with a makeover, a dress, or a dance. Use sparingly.

The mean girl in your school might just be the most sensitive person around. Or not. Either way, try getting to know someone before you judge them.

If you have a ditzy best friend, s/he will inevitably blurt out something embarrassing in front of your crush. If you are the ditzy best friend, you will blurt out something embarrassing in front of his/her crush. Either way, it’s best just to keep ice cream on hand.

Ummm, aren't you kind of old to be in high school?
The moody hot guy who slinks through the hallway might just be a very nice, sensitive werewolf. Or an undercover cop.  Or a serial killer. You’ve been warned.

The prettier a girl, the less chance she knows it. Unless she’s the evil high school cheerleading mega-bitch. Then, her beauty will be completely shallow somehow.

A hot guy will be completely sweet and amazing unless he happens to be a serial killer. Or wants to pressure you into sex.

 The bigger a secret, the more people that will somehow find out about it. It’s much easier to be honest and upfront with people. You know, unless you happen to be a werewolf. In that case, keep your mouth shut.

There are consequences for every action.  Sometimes it's having to sit by yourself at lunch, sometimes it's having a 3000 year old vampire trying to kill you.  Either way, think things through.

So, which ones did I miss?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Showdown..... Or Smackdown?

Well, I've been fussing about this post all day because I realized that my brain is empty - empty, I tell you! Between wading through the proofs of my novel (the last time I get to mess with my words before they head out into the world! I feel like my kid is graduating and I'm panicking that they'll never be able to survive without me) and drafting a new novel in which my main character (a boy named Ned who I love, love, love) is dealing with a rather nasty band of bandits, my brain is now oozing out of the corners of my eyes and pooling onto the floor.

(What, you don't believe me? Fer serious! It totes is!)

Too many thoughts. Not enough brain.

Anyway, I was about to give up on posting all together, when the internets came through for me once again! Just when you thought that there weren't any more awesome on the internet to distract you from the eight million things you need to accomplish on a given day, it shows up at your doorstep with EVEN MORE AWESOME!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you


Seriously, this is the coolest thing I've seen in a while. To celebrate the upcoming installment of Suzanne Collins's brilliant trilogy, a group of some amazing writers and bloggers decided to see what would happen if some of our favorite characters in YA fantasy duked it out. Kasta vs. Edward Cullen? (oh, please, please, please let it be Kasta!) The Wizard Howl vs. Eona? Katniss Everdeen vs. Tally Youngblood? (I'd put my money on Katniss). I had way too much fun reading through their little literary mash-ups. In fact, it kind of inspired me to write a few of my own.

Anyway, go and place your bets.....I mean votes!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I love being a DIY-er.

I've been sewing since I can remember. My mom taught me when I was really little, and when I was in high school I started modifying my own clothes. In college I began to design, and though I've always been a little rock-n-roll about following directions, I managed to come up with some fabulous garments.

But my favorite DIY trend is reconstructing T-shirts. Last week I posted about making a shark dress (which I wore last night to see JAWS with my honey -- seriously I have the best boyfriend ever) and I used this tutorial from the site as inspiration. Here is the best pic I could manage to take of it with cat #2, Turkleton, underfoot.

I had a great time watching JAWS. It was Boyfriend's first time seeing it and he loved it, too. I'm probably going to go into an in-depth post about my favorite shark movie on my own blog later this week, but, let's just say, this is a must-rent. And if a local theatre happens to show it on the big screen, RUN, don't walk!

Anyway, the books I want to let you know about this week aren't YA. They're not even fiction. It's my favorite book series on T-shirt recon: GENERATION T by Megan Nicolay, and its follow up GENERATION T: BEYOND FASHION. These books will teach you how to put some no-sew corset lacing into the back of your fave tee (see MySpacey-looking pic at left), how to turn a bunch of oversized roadtrip tees into a rockin' sundress, how to make scraps into earrings and coasters, and it will give you the inspiration and teach you the skills to put together some of your own patterns. Like this swimsuit I designed and made based on one of Nicolay's patterns, but modified to fit my style.

Nicolay's books are great for beginning sewers AND seasoned seamsters, with patterns and ideas for girls, guys, kids, and families. And, let's be honest, who DOESN'T have a drawer full of T-shirts just sitting there, waiting to be something spectacular! Check out GENERATION T and GENERATION T: BEYOND FASHION like, right now. By the time school starts, you'll be stylin'.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Thanks to everyone who entered during our Spooky Relaunch. Here are our winners:

Aurora M.

If you see your name on the list, check your email. We'll need you to reply with your physical address so we can send you the awesomeness.

We actually had some prizes left over, since we didn't have enough eligible entries (remember, you had to follow/friend us to win a prize). So look for some more prizes in the future.

Thanks to everyone who made our relaunch awesome!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vampires Suck (for real this time)

So you had to know this was going to happen. My husband who devoured the Twilight books and loves the films said he would pay for my ticket AND hire a babysitter. I must admit, it looks like it might be funny for about five minutes. Check out this parody of vampire movies (aka all things Twilight). Should be fun for all you Twilight haters.

If you haven't yet scene the trailer for the VAMPIRES SUCK film, take a look. It releases August 18. VAMPIRES SUCK is the story of Becca, an anxious non-vampire teen who is torn between two boys. Before she can choose, she must get around her controlling father, who embarrasses Becca by treating her like a child. Meanwhile, Becca's friends all contend with their own romantic issues--all of which collide at the prom.

Would love to know what you think--leave comments below.

Visit the official website for VAMPIRES SUCK.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Further Proof that Hollywood Ruins Everything

I have a total hate/more hate relationship with books to movie/TV and vice versa. I never read those books that are based on the characters of a TV show, and I loathe movies based on books. So much, that I refused to see the movie Shutter Island after someone told me how great the book was. Didn't want to ruin it.  I almost cried when I saw Golden Compass. And not good tears. Angry, I-want-to-punch-someone-in-the-head-why-is-Lyra’s-mother-blonde-for-godsakes tears. There’s nothing worse than a great book ruined by an awful movie interpretation. Even baby seals agree.
How could you not trust that face?

And so far my expectations have held true. I’ve never really watched a movie adaptation of a book that was better than the book (well, except for the Lord of the Rings, but I have an unreasonable dislike of Tolkien. I blame my elementary school librarian). So I’m really nervous that the Hunger Games is being turned into a movie. The trilogy is probably my favorite of all time (yeah, I just said that. Suck it, Tolkien and the librarian whose name I can’t remember) and I haven’t even read the last book yet. But I’m already losing sleep over the fact that some overly tanned director with too much ego will turn Katniss into some simpering female more worried about her love triangle than surviving tracker jackers.

Yeah, I know, I need a hobby.

What do you think? Do you like books turned into movies? Or, like me, do you prefer to retain control over the story (because BOOKS are like MOVIES in your HEAD)?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Indelible Marks.

Hello everyone!

I hope the internets are behaving themselves in my prolonged absence. I'd like to point out before I launch into today's topic, that I had to move hell and high water just to land here - in this beautiful old lodge on a lake just outside the BWCA (that's Boundary Waters Canoe Area for those of you who aren't avid canoe/trekkers/Minnesotans) with the slowest wifi connection ON EARTH, with a borrowed laptop. Not only that, I haven't showered in DAYS, and I have a massive spider bite on my left hand - which is black and blue and swollen now. And why am I doing this, oh blogosphere? Because I love you THIS MUCH. Fer serious.

Anyway, the night before we set out, we stayed in a little cabin with no running water or electricity, but what it did have was books - rows and rows of paperbacks that stretched from one end of the wall to the other. Stephen King, Octavia Butler, Madeline L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, James Joyce, Judy Blume, Stienbeck, C.S. Lewis and more versions of the Tolkein tomes than you can shake a stick at.

In short, about three quarters of the books that touched me, moved me, knocked me silly were sitting there on that shelf. Multiple copies half the time. Which got me thinking. Obviously, those of us who write this blog spend a lot of time thinking and working on books written for teens, and those who read this blog spend probably even more time thinking and working on books written for teens, but I realized with a start that I haven't done a lot of writing about the books that moved me. The fifteen year old me. The seventeen year old me. The twelve year old me.

For example, when I was thirteen years old, I read Ray Bradbury's short story "All Summer in a Day", which, if you people haven't read it, I order you to navigate away from this blog AT ONCE and read it. I'll wait.

Anyway, sure the story is about the residents of a human colony on Venus, but really that story was about bullying. And there I was, a bullied kid, a lonely kid, a forgotten kid, and over the course of those nine pages, I was the girl locked in the closet. I was Margot, alone, dested, and an easy mark. I have dreams about that story even now. It was the moment, upon reading that, that I knew I wanted to be a writer. And what's more, that I needed to.

Another book for me was Stienbeck's The Grapes of Wrath", the book that awakened my political self, the one that made me a communist sympathizer, then an activist, then a political thinker. It made me question, rage and act. I still think back to the fifteen year old kid that I was, reading that scene in the barn when Rose of Sharon, after birthing her stillborn child, rescues a man on the brink of starvation with her grief, with her love, and with her own - now useless - mother's milk. What a book! What a moment! What it did to me as a teenager.

I think of James Joyce who made me understand the power of a single moment.

I think of Judy Blume who made me believe that childhood mattered.

I think of C.S. Lewis who made me believe that stories were sacred.

In any case, my black and blue hand is now officially cramping up, so I turn it to you, dear blogosphere. What were the books that changed you? What are your indelible marks?

And what is it like to return to those books, again, and again, and again?

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Inner Nine Year Old is Screaming at Me

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I mean, I also had a dog-eared copy of Emily Dickinson's COMPLETE POEMS, and I'd like to think that that part of my Inner-Nine-Year-Old is okay with my career choices. But the part that wanted to go in the ocean and learn about whales? She's none too pleased that I sucked at high school chemistry, opted out of honors physics, and took the liberal arts path.

And during Shark Week, she is seriously pissed. Like, whoa, grown-up-self, you could be out there cage-diving with Mike Rowe and that Survivorman guy with fancy freaking cameras and satellite shark tagging thingies being all like LOOK AT ME I KNOW SOME SHARKS! Instead, you are sitting back on your grown-up sofa with technology no more advanced than your laptop being all LOOK AT ME I MAKE WORDS.

Yeah, whatever, Inner Nine-Year-Old. I know. Every year during Shark Week I sort of wish I wasn't a writer, too. I sort of wish I was a writer-cum-ichthyologist. Ichthyologists freaking study SHARKS and sharks are the coolest things ever. The other night I was sitting around with my boyfriend being all HEY DO YOU KNOW WHAT SHARK CAN GO IN FRESH WATER AND EAT PEOPLE IN JERSEY? BULL SHARK, BABY! And he was all uh...

Watching The Discovery Channel (and The History Channel and NatGeo etc.) is totally inspiring. I got into cryptozoology via television documentaries. Several years later my fascination with crypdits lead to the first draft of a YA novel that I'm working on RIGHT NOW. And Shark Week? Crap, man. That just inspires me all over the place. For example, here is a picture of a mohawked shark plushie I made in 2007.
I am THAT into Shark Week. And to appease my Inner-Nine-Year-Old, I have no doubt that I will one day have to write a shark book. Shark poems (yes, I've written them) and shark plushies won't do. Later this week I'm making a shark dress to wear to a Shark Week-y event at a local theatre. I'm sure this offering will not suffice, either.

In the mean time, I have pulled the book SHARK GIRL by Kelly Bingham from my shelf. I've wanted to read this book for ages because 1. it's a verse novel and I love verse novels and 2. it is called SHARK GIRL, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. What better time than Shark Week to curl up with a highly-praised novel about a teen shark attack survivor? None, say I.

Anyway, I'd love to know what your Inner-Nine-Year-Old wants from you. Or what sort of shark-related antics you're up to this week. Holy crap, so much awesome!