Friday, October 29, 2010

The Allure of Standing in Line at Midnight

This has been a crazy-hectic-awesome week, so this post isn’t the greatest work I’ve ever done, but please forgive me! In return, I should have some exciting news to share with you next week.
A few years ago, everyone said there would never be another book release like HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. At the time, I totally thought everyone was right. I couldn’t imagine that I’d go stand in line for hours to get a book at midnight ever again. Then BREAKING DAWN came out, and everyone went to stand in line again.
While this feeling of wanting to stand in line at midnight occurs infrequently for me, I am looking forward to some great books in 2011. I know my fellow YA-5-er Emily was lucky enough to score an arc of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and my cool friend Rebecca (she runs the official HUSH, HUSH fansite) got her hands on an electronic galley of DELIRIUM. And of course Emily and Rebecca said these books are fantastic. And I got incredibly jealous and pouted for a bit.
At this point, I would knock people down to read both of these books. And that’s a great thing, no? J
What do you like about standing in line for books? The camaraderie? The excitement? Fear that people will give away the plot before you can read the book?  
What 2011 books are you looking forward to most? Are there any you’ll go stand in line for?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fainting goat cats: discuss

Today is a super busy crazypants day. A day where I might like to be able to pass out a moment's notice. It is also a day where I have to make sure I have all the necessities for creating a minotaur, a zombie (who is against face paint), and a cowboy (who is against hats). In the midst of all that, I have prepare for a school visit tomorrow. (Shout out to Mrs. Holton's 7th grade classes at NYOS!) AND I have to finish revising a big ol' book so I can email it to my agent in the morning.

SO. Instead of bringing you an enlightened post about books and writing and things like that, I instead bring you a video of fainting kittens.

Sad? Cute? Hilarious? Discuss amongst yourselves....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The CYBILs So Far...

In case you didn’t know, I’m a judge for the CYBILs, which is an awesomesauce award given every year in various categories. I’m a round one judge for young adult fiction, which means I get to work with the other panelists to identify those books that make it to the next level.

I’ve read about thirty books so far, but here are the ones that stood out for me:

By the Time You read This I’ll be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

Synopsis: Daelyn Rice is broken beyond repair, and after a string of botched suicide attempts, she’s determined to get her death right. She starts visiting a website for “completers”— www.through-the-light .com.

While she’s on the site, Daelyn blogs about her life, uncovering a history of bullying that goes back to kindergarten. When she’s not on the Web, Daelyn’s at her private school, where she’s known as the freak who doesn’t talk.

Then, a boy named Santana begins to sit with her after school while she’s waiting to for her parents to pick her up. Even though she’s made it clear that she wants to be left alone, Santana won’t give up. And it’s too late for Daelyn to be letting people into her life…isn’t it?

My Thoughts: This is a powerful book that doesn’t try to preach to readers, but very clearly lays out one girl’s path to suicide. I didn’t always agree with the character, and there were several points where I rolled my eyes, but Peters does a really good job of creating a very believable and broken character, one who still has her sense of humor. I liked the story in the end, even if the message was a little ambiguous.

The Brothers Story by Katherine Sturtevant

Synopsis: Teenage twins Kit and Christy have grown up amid grinding poverty in their Essex village. As Christy has been “simple” from birth, Kit is literally his brother’s keeper. But the latest hardships visited upon their country home by the Great Frost of 1683–84 bring Kit to frustration and despair, and he abandons Christy to make his way to London, seeking to better himself. There he finds work as an apprentice to a struggling artist and much else to take his mind off what he has left behind. But the time comes when he can no longer ignore the problem of his brother.
A fascinating portrait of a young person struggling to balance family and freedom, The Brothers Story is also a frank depiction of Restoration London in its bawdy, raucous glory.

My Thoughts: Historical fiction is very hit or miss for me. I have a degree in history, so I tend to get pulled out of a story when the inaccuracies pile up in favor of romantic developments. This story was refreshingly true to the time, and I really liked that it revolved around a time period not often explored. I also liked that it took the typical “issue” book format and gave it a new perspective.

The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

My thoughts: I love, love, loved this book. I have a lot of issues with all of the blank page heroines running around, not just in YA but across the reading spectrum. Bianca was not a flat character at all, and I found her inner struggles to be realistic and pretty effing funny. The romance was also satisfying, but didn’t bog down the rest of the story. Definitely a must read.

Stay tuned for more…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Panic! Here are some random things!

UPDATE: I fixed the fracking link. WHY DID NONE OF YOU TELL ME I WAS A TOOL?! :|

I seriously need to be working on my revisions right now. I have just a couple chapters to go and I absolutely must finish today. So when I remembered that it was Monday and therefore my YA-5 day, I sort of freaked. Like, OMG, now what do I do?

So, I present you, with a link to an interview I did for recently. Weak, I know, but I MUST get back to these revisions.

In case you were wondering, yes, I often forget what day it is. And as you will learn in this interview, I also often forget to eat. Fear not, I also just remembered that I haven't eaten yet today and ordered a pizza.

And, because the least I can do is offer you a dose of cute, here are my cats:

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Love Letter to Stephenie Meyer

Dear Stephenie Meyer:
I’m going to be honest. I don’t remember much of anything that happened in THE HOST. Aliens were involved, right? Didn’t they invade Earth and take over our bodies? And didn’t the characters play soccer in a cave?
I don’t remember any of your characters’ names. Where did the book take place? What time period?  (I have NO IDEA.)
So now you’re wondering what I actually remember about your book. Mostly the feelings I felt when reading it. Pain, longing, fear, and most of all – true love.
When I finished the book, I thought, “Wow, I really loved this. It made me feel something.”
I still feel the same way now, a couple years later.
I remember more things that happened in ENDER’S GAME. Aliens (“buggers”) were involved. After having survived a horrible attack, Earthlings were preparing to defend against the buggers by training kids to defeat them. It takes place in the 22nd century. I think.
What do I remember most about the book? The feelings it invoked. Confusion, stemming from questioning authority. Paranoia. Jealousy. Fear. (Okay, okay, I remember those damn cool anti-gravity battles, and Peter’s and Valentine’s scheming.)
I remember lots of things that happened in the HIS DARK MATERIALS series. I loved those books. I can see many scenes in my mind, even though I haven’t picked up the books in years. Those books made me think. A lot. And yes, I remember the stakes were high and I cared what happened to the characters, but looking back now, I don’t feel much. Certainly not love or longing. If I had to describe those books in one word, I’d say complex.
I can describe lots of books in one word:
HARRY POTTER: Friendship
1984: Fear
How would I describe your books in a word? Human.
That probably sounds silly, but the soul of every book you’ve written is love.
All humans want love. We crave it. We want to be wanted. I bawled when reading NEW MOON, and my husband looked at me like I was a bugger.
You’re a master at creating those feelings that make us feel like our guts are dissolving. John Green once said this about TWILIGHT: “Teenagers don’t want to read books. They want to read that book.” 
I *might* just name my first kid Renesmee. *Might*
I digress. All I’m saying is that while I don’t remember what happened in THE HOST, I like how it made me feel. That’s what counts, right?

When you think about books, do you mostly remember scenes? Or do you mostly remember how you felt? What do you want to remember about a book?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Texas Book Festival Extravaganza of Awesome Part The Second

OK! Thanks to Emily for the exciting and envy-inducing recap of the Saturday events at last weekend's Texas Book Festival, here in lovely Austin, TX.

Now, I bring to you a quick summary of the fun times that were Sunday.

First: The Best Part

I went alone. That's right. Absolutely alone. I was free to wander the Capitol grounds, visit publisher booths, chat with friends, go to the bathroom when I wanted to go, etc. It was great.

Second: Justin Cronin is a Machine

The first event I went to was to see Justin Cronin, author of THE PASSAGE, in the Senate Chamber in the Capitol building. I got there about 30 minutes early and STILL had to wait in a huge, winding line to get in. When my part of the line finally made it to the doors, you can imagine my dismay when, at about five people in front of me, the volunteer person-wrangler was all, "Stop. The chamber is full." At any moment, fistfights were going to break out among irate librarians and booksellers behind me. (Well, not really, but that would have been kind of awesome.) Instead, the kind person-wrangler lead us all upstairs to the peanut gallery where we were able to watch the goings-on with ease.

The next 45 minutes raced by. Justin read us all an excerpt of THE PASSAGE (which you need, must, HAVE TO read if you haven't yet [the book, I mean, not the excerpt]). He explained how he created the story with his then-8-year-old daughter as they walked around their Houston neighborhood in the evenings. Now, if you've read THE PASSAGE, this may cause you to pause for a second and go, "Wait, uh..." because THE PASSAGE is a crazy epic tale of vampires and the humans who hate their undead guts.

He assured us, though, that no harm came to his daughter as they plotted out the early draft of the book, and at the time they were making up the story, he didn't even really know it was going to be a book.

Yet, a few years later, he had a 1400 page manuscript on it way to his agent, and a belly full of butterflies as he finally broke the secret that award-winning, literary fiction writer Justin Cronin, was now a literary genre writer with cadres of vampires filling 300,000 words of terror.

His agent loved it - as do we all now - and he's currently working on the next two books, as well as assisting the Ridley boys in H-town on figuring out how to make a kick ass movie version of the first book.

THIRD: There is Room for Everything in YA Fiction. Yes. Everything.

My next stop was to drop by the panel: "Is the World Ready for My Book?". Authors Matt de la Peña, April Lurie and Varian Johnson eloquently elaborated on questions posed by Jennifer Ziegler and the audience. Hard core topics like religion, teen sex, and depression were discussed with zeal. I just can't say enough about how impressed I am with everyone on this panel - not just with their books, but with the passion they bring to writing. I know that sounds ridiculously cliché, but it's true. These are the kinds of events I go to, not just to learn about authors and about their books, but to get all fired up as an author myself.

Sometimes, heck A LOT of times, being an author is isolating. You forget that there are other people like you who are out there writing everyday, trying to tell a story. And even if you don't forget you're not alone out there (ugly first half of a sentence, sorry), there's a chance that you, like me, put other authors on a pedestal of awesome. Not that they don't deserve to be on the pedestal, but it's nice to be reminded that all authors - even very successful ones - are people just like you and me. They get embarrassed and have writers' block and find themselves heckled by 8th graders just like the rest of us. It makes writing so much more approachable, when you see that we're all in it together, you know?

PART FOUR: MT Anderson eats like my son

My next stop was to listen to MT Anderson talk about the trials and tribulations of traveling when A) you have no aptitude for learning foreign languages and B) You only eat, like, four things. This culminated in a tale of Nepal during the height of the Avian Flu scare, all meat being forbidden by the government, MT Anderson nearly crumpling into a hypoglycemic pool of starving-ness, a whole bunch of cats fighting him over the last chicken in Nepal, and a decision to stop traveling and, instead, write books about the fantastical things one might see when one travels.

Thus, the PALS IN PERIL books were born, and we were all introduced to the wilds of Delaware. Anderson told us of the strongly worded letter he received from the governor of Delaware, calling him "buster" and chastising him for ostensibly ruining the reputation of a fine state. He then detailed his visit with said governor, and his escape down a Delawarian highway while a sniper was hunting people down on that same stretch of freeway.

Obviously, MT Anderson lives a very dull life.

PART FIVE: Holly Black Teaches How to be Con Artists

My final session for the day was to hunker down in an auditorium and listen to Holly Black explain the minute details of pulling off a con on an unsuspecting barista. Using a leashed octopus.


She also told us a very detailed fairly tale about a white cat, that I will not repeat here for fear that it will spoil WHITE CAT, her latest book. I'm about 50 pages into said book and I think I have it all figured out because I heard the white cat tale on Sunday. It's such a weird story, though, that I'm not sure I'm right, but if I am, I don't want to potentially spoil anything for you.

Holly was hilarious and gracious and she had a fantastic presentation including the aforementioned leashed octopus, and a tantalizing reading of WHITE CAT.

PART SIX: I Go Home and Collapse

At this point, I could have probably sat through a million more sessions, but I hadn't eaten in like 9 hours and I had abandoned my husband at home with our kids, so I had to go. It was a wonderful, wonderful day of books and authors and inspiration, and I encourage all of you who live anywhere near Austin, or Texas, or the United States, to try to make it to next year's fest. It's always free and it always, unfailingly KICKS MAJOR BUTT.

The end.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

So I was Going to Post

But I have been seriously swamped.  I have a serious case of the sniffles and I'm a round one judge for the CYBILs, and trying to get through all of the books nominated has seriously pwned my time. So no posts yet, but look forward to lots of insight into the mountain of books that were nominated.

But for now, here's a glimpse into my happy place.  English bulldogs on skateboards.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Books that Should Be Taught

There are no better months to be living in Minnesota than October. The leaves turn brilliant colors before swirling around you, the apples are tart and crisp and abundant, the days are warm, the nights are cold, and your neighbors are plying you with food and conversation as we prepare ourselves to go into hibernation once our temperatures dip into the 30 below zero range.

But what I really love about October is school. Now, I know all of you know a thing or two about school: September a month of transition, a month of getting into the swing of things and feeling your way. But October! Now that's the month when the real work begins. Back when I was a teacher, October was the absolute best month of the year. The students were primed, tuned and ready. They were at the top of their game. They produced fantastic work, asked fantastic questions and pushed themselves with wild abandon.

It's in October that I miss being a teacher.

But my thoughts on teaching invariably lead me to thoughts of books, particularly the books that were taught -the ones taught to me when I was in school, and the ones I taught. And it makes me start to wonder: 

If I was teaching this year, what books would I choose?

Now, when I was a bright-eyed sophomore in high school, I had the great pleasure of reading the books that still call out to me to this day. We read The Grapes of Wrath and The Jungle which, combined with my own natural inclinations, helped to build my political Self. We read Jane Eyre which fostered my sense of independence, a lifelong refusal to live my life by anyone else's terms. We read The Scarlet Letter which taught me how to be really, really pissed off. 

Later, when I was organizing my own curriculum, I tried to choose books that my students would enjoy, but that would also resonate with their experience. My kids read Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, and Holes, by Louis Sachar, both of which explore issues of justice, guilt and redemption, of the holes in the judicial system and in the inherent power of the individual. They read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Because of Winn-Dixie and The Things They Carried and  The Invisible Man. These books were tough, affecting and meaty, and the discussions they engendered will ring in my ears forever.

Now, this October, I've been thinking about the books that I'd like to teach, if I happened to be teaching this year. Firstly, I would be the happiest little teacher on earth if I had the chance to teach a new novel that's just about to debut called The Mockingbirds, a deeply affecting novel that tells the story of a group of teenagers who seek justice after one of them is the victim of a date-rape. What I love about this book is not its lovely, wounded, and ultimately very tough narrator, but its exploration of the nature of justice - and how true justice is built by particular communities as a way of tempering the inclinations and behaviors that could ultimately divide us. How just the fact of people seeking justice makes our communities better, stronger and more fair. I'm sure that some lucky teacher somewhere is getting ready to teach this book right now, and I'm insanely jealous.

Another is Swati Avasthi's debut novel Split, a novel that beautifully, tenderly, achingly describes the aftermath of terrible domestic violence and abuse, and the necessary pull towards healing, reconciliation and making amends. I friggin' loved this book, and if I was Queen of Everything would make it required reading for....I don't know. The world.

And lastly, a book that I've often used in excerpts when I've taught my workshops in schools, I would love, love, LOVE to teach Sherman Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, one of the few books in YA that I've read to so explicitly and gracefully deal with issues of poverty - particularly poverty in opposition to those who have everything they need and want, as well as the unspoken (unspeakable?) shame of racism. This book changed how I read YA, and more importantly, it changed what I expect from YA. A gorgeous, tender, and heartbreaking read, (and hysterical, and bawdy, and unflinchingly true) and I would LOVE to teach it.

So here's my question for you people: What were the books that were foisted on you as high school students? Did any of them change your thinking, your attitude or your life? And what, if you were writing up the curriculum lists in your school districts, are the books that you think ABSOLUTELY MUST BE TAUGHT? What books would you like to see in the classroom?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Texas Book Festival (PS, teens totally get it.)

So this past Saturday I went to the Texas Book Festival, an annual event, that for book fanatics and writers is like Christmas wrapped in bacon with a cherry on top. I mean, famous authors from all over, converging on my hometown like flies to honey. Flies who write and make awesome books and say cool things and inspire us.

Damn, I am just so eloquent today. DISCLAIMER: my allergies are flaring up super horribly and I may or may not have taken cold medicine. Wheeeeeee! I was going to call in sick to this blog, but, like, whoa. The idea of calling in sick to a BLOG exploded my brain and decided to tell you about Saturday instead.

Back to your regular transmission.

So anyway, I went to a bunch of panels featuring lots of authors whom I love and admire. I saw Laurie Halse Anderson who talked about all the different types of books she writes -- from issues books for teens like SPEAK to historical fiction like CHAINS and FORGE to picture book biographies. She mentioned a lot of interesting things on the topic of writing historicals -- she thinks that we try too hard as a country to bury our past, that in Germany they are still very very aware of the Nazi regime, and that was ONE generation. For several generations Americans OWNED OTHER PEOPLE, and yet we continue to ignore it, gloss over it in history books and move on. While I don't know how I feel about all the points Laurie made -- and maybe, like she said, it's just very uncomfortable for young white people to think about these things -- it definitely raised an awareness in me. And that is one thing that I love when I read about books from other points of view -- be it historical or even a contemporary book where the characters are from a different background. Reading opens doors for us to experience and share things that we might otherwise never feel or know.

Also, Laurie remembered me from the last time we met. SQUEEEEEEEE.

One of my favorite panels of the day was called "True Grit," moderated by Austin author Bethany Hegedus and featuring Sara Pennypacker, Carolyn Cohagan, and fellow Austinite Lisa Railsback. All of these authors write middle grade books about girls who tell it like it is, who are unabashedly themselves. As a reader and a writer, these are the sort of characters I cling to. All of the authors said that it wasn't so important for them to write strong girls so much as it was important to write authentic characters. And I think that's cool. I'm really excited to read Lisa's book, NOONIE'S MASTERPIECE, which I picked up at the festival. Noonie sounds a lot like me when I was a little girl -- she is sure she is a genius that no one understands yet. And, um, maybe she's a lot like me as an adult, too.

I also really enjoyed a panel with Heather Brewer, Andrea Cremer, and Kirsten Miller, moderated by Austin author Mari Mancusi. They talked all about their various paranormal themes, and one thing that really resonated throughout their talk was how the paranormal is just another reflection of our reality. I think it was Andrea who said something along the lines of how these themes allow us to explore very human feelings and realities through the lens of magic and fantasy. Heather also touched on bullying and how important it is that we stay on top of this problem. All of the authors said that they were either bullied or afraid of being bullied in school. Kirsten said her revenge is being able to rewrite history -- sometimes she bases her villains on her bullies, and portrays them in a less than flattering light.

Of course I'm still thinking about the JANIS JOPLIN: RISE UP SINGING talk that author Ann Angel gave after being introduced by Austinite P.J. Hoover. I loved how Ann talked about Janis, how real this rock star was to her as a teen, and how she thoroughly researched the singer's personal and professional life to bring her to today's readers. What got me, though, was how many adults in the audience asked her if she really expected teens to be interested in Janis, or whether or not/why she wrote about Janis' sexuality and the drugs, sex and rock & roll of the 60's in a book for teens. Um, hello? Teens know more than you think! I was in high school in the late 90's and my best friend listened to Janis and the Beatles and the Stones. And there are so many kids today who do, too. Not only that, but, like Ann said, Janis is a figure that so many teenage girls can relate to, who serves both as an idol and a cautionary tale. I think that teens are going to love this book, whether they pick it up on their own or are gifted it by someone who grew up in the 60s.

Oooh, and I finally got to meet the fabulous Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, who are so lovely and gracious and asked to take a picture with me which made me feel so special! If you haven't read their books yet, get on that!

I could write an entire post on the Zombies vs. Unicorns panel. It was a blast. I was there so so late, and it was so fun to see friends and local authors like April Lurie, Brian Yansky, and Varian Johnson shine alongside fantasy writers from out of town like Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. Perhaps the best thing I took from this panel was Justine's argument for team zombie. Justine says that zombies could make a huge impact on green energy. All we have to do is put them on treadmills, hook them up to a generator, and dangle some meat in front of them. They'll shamble for eternity while powering our cities. Brilliant!

I'm pretty psyched to read ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS. And I'll give props to Scott Westerfeld, Dana Reinhardt, Matt de la Peña, Meg Cabot and the whole crew, who made me laugh really, super hard.

So anyway, I had a pretty awesome time at the festival! I heard a rumor that K.A. Holt is going to tell you all about Day Two of TBF on Thursday, but she might also get eaten by a pack of wild children or, like, el chupacabra between now and then, so anything is possible!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Does Hype Affect Your Reading Enjoyment?

A few months ago, I read a highly-anticipated novel that shall remain nameless. I was super excited about NAMELESS, and the minute I got my hands on the ARC, I dove into it. The narrative/plot immediately sucked me in. But then NAMELESS started to go off the rails… and it made me upset. Overall, I enjoyed about 50% of the book. A few friends who’d read it said the same thing (they were also lured by the hype).
Last month, I decided to read a book that no one liked. HATED BOOK had gotten so-so reviews, and all my friends who’d read it didn’t like it, but I read the first few pages at the library and got hooked. I took it home, emailed my dad that I was reading it, and he wrote back, “I just finished HATED BOOK! I’d never heard of it and then I found it on the new shelf at the library and it looked interesting. I loved it.”
Well, I ended up loving HATED BOOK, too. But, it made me wonder, because I went in with such low expectations, was I expecting terrible and thus pleasantly surprised when I found out it wasn’t?
I just don’t know.
When I was teenager, a teacher forced me to read Ivan Turgenev’s FATHERS AND SONS. When I saw it was about Russian nihilism, I thought I would die. Just die. But I ended up adoring the book.
Reading is subjective, but I really do wonder if pre-conceived notions affect enjoyment.
What say you?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Look at me, remembering to post!

You'd hope that remembering to post would also mean that I have a fabulous idea for a well thought out post. One with, like, photos and diagrams and links and stuff.


Here's the thing. One of my children has developed a shrewd hatred for my computer. He sees me on it and starts screaming. Or he does something more insidious.

See there? Well you can't, but I had to take a five minute break because when he saw me on the computer he grabbed my computer bag and ran off with it. He then began ripping and tearing out the first 100 pages of my line edited manuscript. So when I jumped up to save the manuscript and put the bag up where he can't reach it, he ran around me, climbed on a chair at the kitchen table and shut my laptop. Just as he was about to toss it off the table, I caught him.


My other children, when they were two, also hated my computer, but they were not this... intense. I mean, he has this bait and switch act down perfectly.

And so, when I sit down to write a post, or work on my book, or check my email, he freaks out and develops these Rube Goldbergian ways to lure me away from my cherished macbook so that he can destroy it.

I understand that he's jealous of the time I spend on my computer. And believe me, if I was able to figure out some kind of harness wherein I could wear my laptop around my neck like a cigarette-girl tray, I would type on the run. He could chase me and yell and I could tappity-tappity tap as I round the corners in the house at 80 mph.

This is not a cigarette girl, this is a dude with a bagel.
He showed up when I did a google image search for "cigarette girl tray".

So this is my long ass excuse for not having a proper post for you guys today. I will tell you, though, that I should have something AWESOME for you next week. This weekend I'm headed out to the Texas Book festival where I will be seeing folks like Laurie Halse Anderson, David Wiesner, Scott Westerfeld, Lisa Railsback, Sara Pennypacker, Carolyn Cohagan, Meg Cabot, Heather Brewer, Kirsten Miller, Andrea Cremer, Justin Larbastelieralsterraila, Holly Black, Kami Garcia, Justin Cronin, M.T. Anderson, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brian Yansky, Ingrid Law, Chris Barton, Heloise, AND my kids will get the chance to learn magic, create a luchador, write a book and have an adventure with the Cat in the Hat. AND, I will go to the Unicorns vs. Zombies panel and sit squarely on the zombie side. AND I might have the chance to drive some of the aforementioned authors around in my car (and now that I know how to work the doors on my minivan, I won't lock them out like I did to Ally Carter last year).

This is going to be a weekend of Adventure and Awesome and Books and Authors. I might have to shoot my youngest kid with a tranquilizer dart so that I can go, but I know it will all work out.

Just kidding about the tranquilizer dart.

Don't you wish you lived in Austin? I do. Because then you could babysit.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I will not forget to post tomorrow

I won't forget to post tomorrow.

I won't.

Forgetting? I'm not going to do that!

No way. No forgetting to post for me.

Totally not going to forget.

I'm remembering already!

Don't let me forget, you guys.

There's something I have to do tomorrow.

Hang on, I'll think of it....

Shameless (Self) Promotion for October!!!

All right authors and readers, this is your chance to talk about the books you love that came out this month, or will release at some point in October, or even something that's been out that just recently blew your mind.  Leave info and links in the comments.

Remember, you can promote yourself, a friend, whatever! 

Wondering what promos you missed from last month?  Here's the Link to September's Shameless Self Promotion.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy National Coming Out Day!

In the wake of some recent tragedies, maybe it seems weird that I'm posting about having the courage to come out. Especially because, as a straight woman, I've never had to deal with the pressure that GLBTQ youth must feel when it comes to this topic. But you know what I can say? I applaud each and every person who has come out. And I want to provide as much support as one little blogger can to anyone who is thinking about coming out today. It's a big deal. I know that.

So in honor of this awesome initiative, I thought I'd tell you about some of my favorite gay characters in fiction.

Of course there's Tiny Cooper from WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan. Tiny is unabashedly himself. I've read a few things lately about how a lot of gay characters in coming-of-age stories don't seem to think about anything but think about being gay and how rough it is to be gay and how being gay affects their lives. What I love about Tiny is that being gay is just a part of who he is, and he's such a huge character who lives his life up to eleven. I think we can all take a page from Tiny's book, even if we're not up to writing and producing musicals about ourselves.

I also adore Ash from Malinda Lo's ASH, and part of that of course is her strength and courage as the Cinderella character in Malinda's retelling of the classic fairytale. But part of why she's one of my favorite gay characters is the fact that in Malinda Lo's universe, being gay isn't weird or different or alternative. It just is. So when Ash falls for The Huntress, yeah, we know she's gay. She knows she's in love with a woman, and not a man, which perhaps isn't the most common love in her world, but it isn't all scandalous and frowned upon. I'm totally looking forward to reading the sequel to ASH, HUNTRESS, which comes out next spring.

This may seem odd, but April Lurie's murder victim, Will, speaks volumes despite his being dead for most of April's book THE LESS-DEAD. Will is part of a string of hate-crimes, which protagonist Noah decides he must solve. Noah feels somewhat responsible for Will's death, since he freaked out when Will came out to him, and they never got to reconcile. Noah's dad is the evangelical radio personality "The Bible Answer Guy," and Noah is convinced that the killer is one of his dad's regular listeners. Will was a street kid, someone Noah meets by accident but befriends out of genuine love for the guy. And I think that this is an important representation of how non-protagonist characters don't have to be 2-D -- something that plagues secondary gay characters in a lot of fiction. If April Lurie can make Will speak so loudly without even being alive during most of the book, we all can give our gay characters their own voices. (PS, Truth: April is one of my favorite people writing YA. Hi April, you rock!)

So these characters -- and stories -- pretty much run the gamut. Which is sort of like how people are, right? So maybe if you're seeking some inspiration to come out today, pick up one of these books -- or one of the many books out there featuring fab queer characters (some great resources are Pinkbooks and The Rainbow Project) -- and remember, there are people out there who support you and are ready to hear what you have to say!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Timeless Stories, Puppies and the Future

First off, thanks to the great ladies of YA-5 for asking me to be a permanent blogger on the site.
I’m excited to brainwash young minds – I mean, I’m excited to talk about the books I love.
When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than a couple of dogs. Two Golden Retriever puppies. Every Saturday morning, I’d wake up and grab the The Tennessean newspaper and scour the classifieds, looking at the puppy listings.
I had pretty bad asthma growing up (still do), so I wasn’t supposed to have pets, but I loved imagining going to see a big litter of puppies and getting to pick a couple out.
I was obsessed with puppies. Posters of puppies covered my walls, I drew pictures of them, I wrote short stories about dogs.
Nearly twenty years ago, when I was about eight years old, I read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. And of course I loved it because I shared a love of dogs with the main character.
Here’s where it gets weird: My obsession with dogs faded away by the time I was twelve or so, but the book still moves me to this day. I love that the main character worked so hard to buy those coonhounds, and then he trained them, and then he beat all the odds when he took those dogs out coon hunting.
So a few weeks ago, I happened to be talking to a coworker who’s in her fifties. She told me how much WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS affected her as a child, and how she still thinks about the book. Still loves the book. 
Forty-plus years later!
I just checked a few bookseller sites online: The book is still selling fabulously.
Which makes me think: Are there any books I’ve read in the past few years that might still affect me in another twenty years? Forty years?
A few come to mind: Terry Pratchett’s NATION, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and M.T. Anderson’s FEED.
What books do you still think about, years after having read them?
What books have you read recently that have deeply affected you or made you think? Do you think they’ll still affect you in forty years?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Forces of evil on a Bozo nightmare

The other night, some writing friends and I decided to have an all night write, wherein we would virtually encourage each other on The Twitter while we stayed up all night long to write our faces off.

If you are so inclined to see what happens when I stay up past 11pm, I invite you to search The Twitter for #allnightwrite. You will not be disappointed.

Unfortunately, #allnightwrite only lasted until about 1:30am. Yes, we were flailing wimps, but some writing was accomplished, much hilarity ensued, and an important fact was discovered.

FACT: Some writers enjoy rocking their faces off as they write their faces off.

OTHER FACT: Some writers enjoy listening to things like Gregorian Chants, even though they are mocked by the writers in the previous fact.

I fall into the first group, choosing to really enlouden things up while I'm working. This rarely poses a problem, unless I'm forced to wear ear buds, and then there's a lot of complaining and less writing because I am afflicted with tiny, shrimpy ear holes and I can't find ear buds that don't, basically, try to dilate my ears open wider in a painful ear gauge kind of way, except, you know, a painful ear gauge kind of way - in the wrong hole. It is unpleasant, and it hurts, and I might have to start a foundation in support of those of us with tiny ear holes so that the ear bud industry will be forced to provide miniature ear buds that conform to our hideous features.

ANYWAY. I like to rock my face off with a variety of noisy music. Sometimes I go old school with Metallica or Marilyn Manson. Sometimes I enjoy Bear McCreary's Battlestar Galactica drumming. Sometimes I continue to go old school and whip out the Nirvana.

Well, who am I kidding, really? I predominately listen to 90s grungy type stuff while I'm writing. Though I allow Pandora to widen my horizons away from just Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Jane's Addiction. Though not much wider. My horizons, they are small and familiar.

To wit: Pandora chose this lovely offering for me this afternoon:

Heaven Beside You, Alice in Chains
Lump, The Presidents of the United States of America
Aneurysm, Nirvana
It tried to throw in some Wonderwall, but I refused to allow this travesty.
Loser, Beck
Longview, Green Day
Some Postman, The Presidents of the United States of America
Learn to Fly, Foo Fighters
Lithium, Nirvana
I Alone, Live

Excellent writing music, and also excellent driving music.

(Do not judge, lest ye be judged. Once you have been to a million concerts where you get kicked in the face with Doc Martins on purpose so that you can see Eddie Vedder/Scott Weiland/Layne Staley (RIP) up close, sweating on you, then you can be all, "Ha Ha, she's so old.")

So, lovely YA-5 readers, what music do you like to listen to when you write? The noisier the better? The chantier the better? The nothing the better?


And as a reward for telling me what you listen to when you write, here is a picture of me when I was a junior in high school, taken by my boyfriend at the time - a young man who was very serious about educating me in the ways of... music. I'm sorry you can't see my flannel. It was awesome. And warm.
Me, possibly musing about the world, but most likely wondering if there is somewhere to go get coffee.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Case of the Insidious Stereotype

Wait, I'm a sterotype?!? It can't be!
I hate stereotypes. And not in a “Wow, that kind of sucks” way, but with the burning fury of a thousand suns. Even more than facing down stereotypes, I hate when I watch them on TV or read them in books.

I REALLY hate them in books.

We hear it all the time, right? You can’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge another person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, yada yada yada. So why do we still use stereotypes? I’m not a big marshmallow, but stereotypes hurt. It sucks when people form an opinion of you before you even open your mouth. And it’s even worse when people try to sell a book to you based on what they think you’ll like.

And it really bugs me that I’ve been seeing a lot of stereotypes in the books I’ve tried reading.

Sure, sometimes stereotypes are supposed to be funny, a sort of “Ha, ha, I know what you were thinking, but this character is NOTHING LIKE THAT!” Most often, the author throws in a stereotype without even thinking about it, because stereotypes are so easy to write. Cheerleader? Well, she must be blond and easy. Smart girl? Glasses and bookish, awkward around boys. Black girl? Sassy best friend. Same with the gay guy. I could go on all day. But I won’t, because I don’t want to give anyone any ideas. Because stereotypes are dangerous.

Hey, everybody, look! I found a stereotype.
One of my favorite shows, even now, is Scooby Doo. Me and my kiddo watch the new ones on Cartoon Network, and the old ones on BOOM, which is the moldy-oldy cartoon channel. Last night I watched an episode with a mummy and an Arab Egyptian expert, Dr. Najib. As if the sharply pointed nose and bad accent weren’t bad enough, they drew the dude with a fez. Which is a Turkish hat, not Arab. When I looked it up, to make sure I wasn’t turning into a conspiracy nut, I read this line on Wikipedia:
In tourist hotels in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, porters and bellhops often wear a fez to provide local colour for visitors.

That made me realize why stereotypes are so very scary. When we here it often enough: Asians are good at math, blacks can really dance, white people loooove mayonnaise and so on, we start to believe it about ourselves. Then it starts to enter our social consciousness, and we perpetrate the stereotype we’re told we fit.

I spent half of my high school career thinking I was good at basketball. Until I realized I really, really wasn’t. No one was more disappointed than the girls basketball coach.

But when these stereotypes enter books, which are supposed to tell us some higher truth about the world (at least I expect them to. Even Twilight had a higher truth: if you get preggers by a vampire your unborn baby might kick out your spine), it subtly skews our worldview without us realizing it.

I. Don't. Care. I'm rich!

And I’m tired of the same flat characters in movies, where actors can make an entire career out of being a stereotype (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Samuel L. Jackson. You too, Michael Cera.) It smacks of laziness, like no one could bother to go back and give a character depth. Look at the new TV show Outsourced. Wow, really NBC?

I’m not going to call on all authors to stop writing stereotypes, because that’s just silly (I find myself doing it sometimes, and then I have to rework the character until they have some sort of depth). But I think we all need to be cognizant of the stereotypes we encounter, and question the stories we read that rely too heavily on stereotypes to carry the plot through. The best movies and stories are the one that turn stereotypes on their heads, and teach us something about ourselves in the process.

Even Scooby-Doo.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In Which Kelly Does Not Post About The Thing She Was Going To Post About

Or something.

Look, I had it all planned out: my son and I have been reading the Code of the Jedi before bed as a guide to Good Behavior for High Spirited Kindergarten Boys. And it's been effective. And I was all set to do a post on the problems of passion for the budding young Jedi and how that relates to fiction.

But you know what? I'm not gonna.

Because sometimes our brains and hearts get sidetracked on something so huge that it leaks everywhere - into our fiction, into our blogs, into perfectly ordinary conversations with sweet little old neighbor ladies named Eunice who had thought that we were just going to be chatting about the weather.

But I didn't want to chat about the weather. Or passion. Or the Jedi Code. What I want to talk about today is the sex trafficking industry and its exploitation of homeless kids.

I know. Heavy. But bear with me.

A few years ago, I took a job working as a GED teacher at a drop-in center for homeless youth in Minneapolis. It was a ridiculously cool job. I got to hang out with teens who were really in a tough spot in their lives - I wrote with them, played pool with them, recommended books, watched their kids, and helped to fill in the gaps in their education so they could earn their equivalency degree. I was a sounding board for a lot of kids. I listened. A lot. They yelled at me, and confided in me, and cried with me, and told me jokes.  For many of my students, I also helped them navigate through the labyrinth of community college applications and financial aid. It was a tough job, frustrating at times, and I worried day and night for my students.

These kids slept in a different place every night. Because we didn't require them to be under the care of social services (we preferred the 'gentle nudge' approach) we had a lot of kids who came for meals, and came for the safety, but still didn't know where they were going to sleep that night. They slept in abandoned houses, or a friend's couch, or in the park. And by doing so, they were terribly terribly at risk - not for violence or for accidental death (though those certainly happened) but many, many of them fell victim to sex traffickers.

He're the ugly numbers. In the state of Minnesota, there are 20,000 kids under eighteen who are currently homeless. I'm just gonna let that sink in. That's ten high schools full of kids, all without a safe place to sleep. Most homeless youth (we're talking in the range of 90%) are approached for sex-for-hire within 48 hours of becoming homeless (this according to an attorney general report in Minnesota). Nationwide, the average age (average) for entrance into prostitution is 13. And lastly, and most upsettingly, in our country, there are 300,000 boys and girls under the age of 18 who are currently working as prostitutes.

Now, I bring this up for two reasons. First of all, I'm sure all of you have been following the resultant campaign in response to a rather misguided idiot who wanted to ban Laurie Halse Anderson's magnificent book Speak. What I found so compelling, so heartening about what came out of that was the resounding voice of a broad reading public who all agreed that there is a place for advocacy in fiction. Speak is an important book, not only because it is well written and a stark, clear-eyed view into a teenager's life, but because it forces the reader to feel the consequences of sexual violence. Because the reader empathizes with that level of pain, violation and humiliation, we come away from that book feeling that this must not happen.

This must not happen!

And then we act.

I recently read a book called Dirty Work, and another called Chloe Doe, and another called Sold  all three of which deal explicitly with the reality of both teen prostitution and sexual slavery, both alas, alive and well throughout the world. These books crawl into your skin. They do not let you look away. Because it would be way too easy to look away. And then we must act.

In my city, some friends of mine have started acting. The recession, they say, usually results in a spike in exploited kids, so they are attacking the problem by creating safe and loving spaces for kids who need a way out. An organization called the Source is raising money to buy a building to use as a transitional housing for young adults who have been victims of sex trafficking. They're doing good work and important work and I'm as proud as can be of all of them.

The point is this: books have tremendous power to give voice to those who have been silenced and to give hope to those whose spirits are crushed. Books force us to experience the pain of those at the margins of our culture. They force us to see that which we'd rather be blind to. I think that's the reason why small groups of small-minded individuals seek to ban books - not to protect children, but to protect themselves.

But here's my question for you, dear readers: What book inspired your "road to Damascus" moment? What book forced the blinders off, pulled the scales from your eyes, and made you realize that you needed to stand up, you needed to take action, and you needed to shout as if your life depended on it:

This must not happen!

And again, louder.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: JEKEL LOVES HYDE by Beth Fantaskey!

Retelling of classic literature and fairy tales seem to be all the rage right now. And I've gotta admit, I love a retelling, too. And that's initially what drew me to Beth Fantaskey's new book, JEKEL LOVES HYDE. But here's the thing -- it's not a retelling. And it's not a sequel either (not a fan of newly published sequels to classics -- though if you show me a good one, I could change my mind). JEKEL LOVES HYDE builds on the ideas that Robert Louis Stevenson used in his novel, and uses the novel as a pivotal theme in Jill Jekel and Tristan Hyde's story.

And it's such a good story!

Jill Jekel thinks of herself as the mousy nerd-girl, lucky to be friends with a cheerleader who might only be using her friendship as a path to homework help. Since her dad was killed, her mom has been a wreck. In fact, Jill takes care of her mom most of the time, making sure she doesn't have another breakdown. The fact that her dad's murder was never solved doesn't help her family situation, but Jill is determined to move on and make the most of what's left of her high school experience.

Tristan Hyde is a loner, an outsider whose father is a prominent British psychologist who recently moved to Pennsylvania to work with local colleagues. With a workaholic dad never home, Tristan grew close to his grandfather. And on his deathbed, Grandfather Hyde told Tristan a secret: he'd committed murder, his family was cursed, and Tristan would be affected, too. He then gave Tristan a first edition copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, saying that in those pages was the only chance Tristan might have to save himself. Now that Tristan has started having the dreams, he believes his grandfather might be right.

Both students who excel in Chemistry, Tristan and Jill's teacher offer them the opportunity to compete for a scholarship by developing an original experiment outside of class. He suggests Jill and Tristan work together, believing that it will give them a better chance at the money, especially given that a "Jekel and Hyde" team will intrigue the judges. At first, neither is interested. But when Jill realizes that her dad spent her college fund on secret research she realizes she might not have a choice. And as Tristan's dreams -- and his attraction to Jill -- get more intense, she realizes that she might be the key to solving his curse. They will recreate the experiments that the original Dr. Jeckyl conducted and look for a cure. Jill, of course, is skeptical, but the attraction to Tristan is there -- has been there, in fact, since the day he approached her at her father's funeral and offered her a comforting hug right when she needed it -- and her lack of college money is more than enough incentive to take up Tristan on his offer.

Of course, it won't be easy. There's the fact that Jill's mom is on the verge of another meltdown, that Tristan's Dad is acting more and more erratic, that the truth about Jill's father's murder is painting him in a less-than-flattering light, and there's the regular school drama of catty girls and nasty football players, one of whom Tristan pummels. This book runs the gamut of emotions, creatively weaving in the mythology Stevenson's Jeckyl and Hyde to tell the story of two star-crossed teens doomed to deal with chemical reactions that they'd always supposed were fiction. JEKEL LOVES HYDE is science-y, romance-y, and mysterious, a great read for any reader looking for something a little different with a heroine who could be the girl next door and a bad boy who has to actually work to win her over. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up on your next trip to your library or bookstore. You won't be able to put it down.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Big Welcome to Miranda!

So, as you probably know, our dashing leader Georgia McBride has left to catch up on the craziness that is her life.  So we here at the YA-5 have scoured the internetz for a new member.  We have found...


Uh, no, wait, that's Miranda Cosgrove.  You know, the girl from iCarly.  Wrong Miranda.  Let's try this again...


Welcome to the awesome, Miranda!

Miranda is a YA writer and pretty funny, or at least we think so.  Don't believe us?  Go give her a visit:

She'll be blogging on Fridays, and we know you'll think she's as awesome as we do.
So, show Miranda some love in the comments below!!!!