Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where'd You Go?

Obviously, we haven't been in for a while.  Let's face it, when the weather is nice it's hard to sit down and talk about anything but how awesome sunshine is.  And really, you're probably out realizing the same thing.

But never fear!  We will be back!

For now, enjoy this old school clip of My Little Ponies.  Because they are awesome and rainbow-y.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Okay, so I haven't posted here in, I don't know, like a half a century or something. And I have excuses! Lame ones! Or mostly lame. I have been rather busy with this, and this, not to mention the continuing adventures with my evil-genius kids and my cheats-death-once-again dog. Also, writing a new book. And revising said book. And re-revising it. And re-re-revising it.

And it's killing me.

You'd think this sort of thing would get easier with time, but let me tell you: it doesn't.

It doesn't at all.

But I wanted to write a little bit about waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

You see, a few years ago (way, way back in 2008) I finished a book. This book:
I worked on it for about nine months, and I worked very hard, and when it was done I was so proud of it and happy with it, that I sent it to some agents. And then I waited. A lot. And heard no. A lot.

Finally, I found an agent liked it, who found an editor who liked it, and I was happily ensconced in the Little, Brown family, and all has been wonderful.

Still.

The waiting.

From selling the book in October of 2008 to finally seeing it in print in 2011, is a long time to wait. It's slightly longer than what one might expect (my book was moved twice due to editorial constraints and concerns, so I had an extra year tacked on in there), but only slightly, and still within the range of normal. And while at first the thought of such a very long wait from the writing of a book to the release of the book chafed slightly, I started to see the value in a long, slow wait. I started to see the good things that waiting was building in my work.

I am now very good at waiting. Indeed, I'm something of an expert.

There is something lovely, you see, in an extended waiting period. I had the chance to get used to thinking of myself as a novelist. I had the chance to take a ton of notes and run thought experiments on around fifteen different novel ideas - books that will likely keep me busy for a good long time, which is a comfortable place to be. I was able to learn how to use social media to connect and interact and truly love a bunch of writers and librarians and readers and booklovers from around the globe (I'm still not all that adept at it, mind you, but at least I've learned how to participate in the conversation).

I wrote a book while waiting, called The Final Exile of the Insect King and another one called Iron-Hearted Violet, and I'm currently revising two other books called Witless Ned and the Speaking Stones and The Firebirds of Lake Erie.  And while Violet is currently scheduled, the other three are still floating. I am comfortable with floating. Waiting takes the pressure off. It lets me write the thing I feel like writing with no pressure for its entrance into the world.

When I wrote JACK, I had absolutely no idea how to write a novel. And that worried me. Now I still have absolutely no idea how to write a novel, and I still allow myself to keep going. Now the stories spin and spin, and every time, I learn a little bit more.



Now, here's the thing about waiting: Even though it's really, really, reeeeeeaaaaalllllly hard, I think it's one of the best things to happen to a person who seeks to make a living telling stories. Here's why: Panic is murder on a person's muse. 

Indeed, I do believe that my Muse has been well and good murdered. And what is left is a vaguely ambulatory, moaning, rasping, decaying, limping version of itself. What I'm saying, ladies and gentlemen, is that I'm suffering from Zombie Muse. I've heard of the condition before. I thought it was a myth. But as my release date gets closer and closer and the time in which I can call my book mine gets smaller and smaller, and the day comes ever nearer to having to relinquish my book to the world, my productivity has gone to hell.

In a handbasket.

And I am not pleased with this development at all.


Now every morning I wake up and it's one day sooner until my book goes into the world. (That was true before, of course, but since it didn't feel true, it didn't matter if it was true or not. In the end, we believe a thing, and it is,  and I chose to believe that I would wait forever for my book to reach the air, and as far as I was concerned, the forever waiting was true.) Now, I must accept the fact that the story that was mine, that I fully controlled will no longer be mine. It will be the reader's story, the reader's book. It will become new again and again and again, in whatever imagination shapes it. And while that is a lovely thing, and was the reason why I started the book at all, I let go not without a little bit of sadness.

I imagine I'll feel something similar when my kids head off to college.

In any case, once the book is out, my attentions will return to Iron Hearted Violet and I can relax into a nice long period of blissful and productive waiting. Until this time next year when I will, once again, transform into a nervous wreck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Please Don’t Feed the Trolls

In the past couple of weeks there have been several articles by people, so called concerned adults, about what they see as too much darkness in YA.  I told myself I wasn’t going to post a response to this, since it’s obvious these are just people fishing for their fifteen minutes, but it seems like the topic that won’t die.  So I figured I’d go ahead and throw my two cents in.
This “such and such is ruining our youth” mentality is nothing new.  Just like rock and roll in the 1950s and heavy metal and rap music in the 1980s, people have been pointing at trends they don’t like and bemoaning the plight of the children.  “Think about the children!” they wail.  “They’re all going to end up sex-crazed criminals.”*  The general consensus is that YAs shouldn’t be reading that crap. They should be reading the classics.
Yeah, the classics.  As though a book written fifty years ago is automatically without darkness.  So here’s a list of “classics” that would put even the raunchiest YA to shame.
Lord of the Flies:  A bunch of boys shipwreck on an island.  There’s a dead pilot decomposing on a mountain top, boys running through the woods hunting pigs, oh, and a boy beat to death while he has a seizure and another smashed by a boulder.  Just the kind of heartwarming story kids should be reading.
Native Son:  As if marginalization of a slow-witted black man wasn’t enough, Richard Wright throws in murder, a body in a furnace, rape, and some more murder.  Classic literature at its best.
A Clockwork Orange:  Just a bunch of boys out for a night on the town that includes drinking, joyriding, rape and murder, and state-sponsored brainwashing.  The kind of classic writing you’d never find in today’s offerings.
The Great Gatsby:  Drinking, adultery, more drinking, more adultery, violence against women, murder, and a murder suicide.  How is this better than what is one the YA shelves today?
The Bible:  Oy.  I’m not even going to touch that one.
The point is that there is darkness in any grouping of literary works if you’re looking for it.  Broad generalizations backed up by cherry-picked examples just makes you look like you have an axe to grind.  Or like you’re bashing the fastest growing sector of publishing in order to get your fifteen minutes.
Let’s all agree to try and ignore these folks in the future.  After all, they’re just the trolls with a platform, and won’t even be relevant in a year or so.



*Let’s be honest, it’s the sex people are worried about.  No one ever bemoans the fact that a book is too violent.  Look at the Hunger Games.  One of the most violent books ever, but because it avoids sex people overlook its content.  Honestly, shouldn’t we be more worried about people bashing each other’s heads in rather than someone getting their swerve on.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

That thing just happened wherein I read a book and now can't decide if I loved it or hated it.

It feels like such a weird reaction, you know? Like, isn't it black or white? You love it or you hate it. The end. But I'm finding more and more that I can read a book, finish it, pull up Goodreads to add some stars or write a review, and then have to close the tab because I'm not ready.

Is it a sign of a well done book if I have to let it settle in my brain for a few days before I know if I loved it or hated it? Or is it a sign that I need to read it again? Maybe it's a sign that, if it didn't grab me and shake me and make me woozy (in a good way), that it's never meant to be?

(photo borrowed from sodahead.com)

Right now, I'm working on a quiz to help me figure things out.

If I read this book again tomorrow would it make me:
a. dance around in ridiculous circles of joy
b. want to punch someone's face
c. sigh dramatically
d. write a satire of it for McSweeneys

If I saw someone about to buy this book at the store would I:
a. slap it out of their hands like a live grenade
b. shake my head, but say nothing
c. Engage them in a confusing discussion about love/hate relationships
d. point out better choices

When I put the book on a shelf in my office, will I:
a. Hide it behind a snowglobe
b. lay it on its side on top of other books
c. laboriously make space for it by moving other books around
d. forget to shelve it and leave it on the kitchen counter

When my friends read it and discuss it, will I:
a. jump into the conversation
b. sit back and listen to what they have to say
c. base all my opinions on their opinions
d. ignore them and post a Facebook status about how I'm ignoring them

If the author comes to town, will I:
a. skulk around the bookstore, spying on him/her
b. wait in line for hours for an autograph
c. be overly polite and say things like, "Wow. You write words."
d. not care

If this book was a condiment it would be:
a. fish sauce
b. BBQ sauce
c. spicy mustard
d. mayo

Maybe this quiz will help you decide if you love or hate a book, too. I'm still so confused I can't answer my own questions. I feel like I'm leaning towards hating the book right now, but I don't know... it's becoming kind of like the fish sauce of YA to me. People tell me it tastes good, that it can even be transcendent at times (if mixed with the right stuff), but I can't quite get there. It smells a little off and I'm worried it might be poisoning me.

Please don't poison me, Book I Kind of Hate, But Might Have Loved At First. Maybe we just need some time away from each other to sort out our feelings....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Examining the Excerpt

One of the things I love about the internet is that it has made book buying a lot less painless than it was ten years ago.  Back in the dark ages, before the internets and social media, I had to schlep down to the mall hoping that the book you’d heard about a year ago was finally in, if you even remembered you wanted it.  Most times you were stuck with whatever crap Waldenbooks or B. Dalton decided to stock in their tiny, tiny, mall store.
That’s assuming you didn’t stop on the way there and buy a cinnamon roll and iced coffee and blow half the money you had. *sigh*
One of the things I love about Amazon (yes, I know it’s evil, and as soon as Indiebound syncs to my Kindle and develops an app for my phone I will use them instead) is the wish list and the excerpt.  Mostly the excerpt.  I can have the first chapter or so of any book sent directly to my Kindle, allowing me to preview the book without buying it.  It’s something I never did in the stores for fear of the employees judging me, but something I can do now in the comfort of wherever I am.  I love that.
But I also like people posting the first chapter or so of their books online, and reading it there.  See, there are way more books I want to read now than there were ten years ago, or even five years ago (GO YA!).  And in the first chapter I can immediately tell whether or not I’m going to want to read the book.  Here’s what I look for in an excerpt:
1.       Voice-this is the way the character communicates, or the way the character is communicated in a story, if it’s third person.  I’m not a big fan of third person (unless it’s high fantasy, it’s a staple there), and I have to like the character to want to spend the next two hundred or so pages with them.  Chances are if they’re whining on page one, we aren’t a good fit.

2.       Movement-I need a plot to move.  I don’t have a lot of free time, and if what I’m reading spends three pages describing the sunset, I’m outta there.  Things have to happen, and they have to happen NOW!

3.       Logic-There’s nothing more irritating than when characters start acting CRAZY.  And I mean seriously crazypants crazy.  Sorry, folks, love is not an excuse.  You can act a little irrational, but if you throw yourself in front of a train on page one because a boy you think is cute is in danger, we aren’t a good fit.  I will allow some crazypants activity in the name of TWU WUV a little later in the book, but if your character is the Mayor of Crazytown in the first chapter, chances are it’s only going to get worse (caveat is if the character is actually, certifiably insane.  In which case, I can make an exception).

4.       Freshness-Like bread and milk, stories have an expiration date.  Some tropes have become so commonplace that even killer writing can’t save them.  If your story reminds me of a million other stories just like it, I’m going to find something else to read.  Because there is lots out there. 

5.       Too Stupid to Live Characters and Mary Sues-I’m sorry.  If your character is perfect or has a non-flaw like she’s clumsy or a little goofy (a real flaw is something like your character likes to kill people) or if your character rushes into a situation with no plan (even crazy plans are better than none), I know I’m in for a few hundred pages of eye-rolling, and the story isn’t my thing.
So what do you like about excerpts?  What do you hate?  Do you read excerpts on the internet, and do they make you more likely to buy books?

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's in a Title?

Recently my lovely publisher Sourcebooks decided to change the name of my book SCORE to CATCHING JORDAN. (I love it!)

But when I first heard we needed to find a new title, my heart stopped a little. I said to the intern in my office, "I need a new title asap. I'm supposed to brainstorm!"

Intern replied, "I'll get right on that!" and strutted off like he was going to war. An hour later, he sent me this email that I just have to share with y'all. And no, I'm not sure what all of these titles mean.

Dear Miranda:
Fear not! Despair not! I have many titles for you.

(Some are stupid, some are punny, some are innuendic (hehehe), some
are sexist kitchen/food themed, some are football jargony)

1.      10 Guys, 1 Girl
2.      Down, touch
3.      This gridiron ain’t in the kitchen
4.      Through the Uprights
5.      Her First Down
6.      All Four Downs
7.      Tightest End
8.      Punting and Receiving
9.      Little Miss Pigskin
10.     Hashbrown marks
11.     Sports Bra(wl)
12.     Quartrix-back
13.     Facemasque (cover art:  head on shot of girl in helmet, with
avocado masque-peel and cucumbers on her eyes)
14.     Homegirl Team Advantage
15.     Pre-season Dame, Post-season Fame
16.     Coached (cover art:  girl in football gear, carrying a Coach purse)
17.     Curves of Scrimmage
18.     Little Black Playbook
19.     You Can Put Lipstick on a Pigskin
20.     Pigtails and Pigskins
21.     Pigskinny Jeans
22.     Defensive Womaneuvers
23.     Pigtailgate
24.     Hometown Heroine
25.     Hail Jordan Pass (like Hail Mary, but the character’s name)
26.     Mixing Bowl Games
27.     Apple Turnover on the downs

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just a Few More...

So, on Tuesday I wrote a guest post for Stacked of my fav contemporary YAs that I thought ended up overlooked. Of course, no list is ever truly complete, so here are some additional contemporary books you should check out.


But you don’t have to take my word for it:



Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

The Set-Up: Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

My Thoughts: This book is BRUTAL. The story is probably about as close to noir as YA gets. Regina is a despicable character, as she reveals through flashbacks that she was a willing member of the Fearsome Fivesome. You won’t want to like her, yet she’s still likeable enough that you’ll find yourself overlooking her past behaviors. There is so much tension in this book that reading it gave me a stomach ache, and I still get a little queasy thinking about the book today. Amazing book, and once you won’t want to miss.



Sweet, Hereafter by Angela Johnson


The Set-Up: Shoogy left home with all her jeans still in the washer because she couldn’t think of a reason to stay. She’s not sure where she belongs, until she meets Curtis. Curtis knows for certain where he does not want to be and that’s to be back in the army. He is happy to be in Ohio, where it is quiet and he can spend time with Shoogy. But when Curtis gets orders to return to Iraq, will belonging with each other be enough to keep Shoogy and Curtis together?

My Thoughts: This book is short and bittersweet, and although it’s part of an interrelated trilogy (Heaven and The First Part Last), it’s such a gorgeous book that it stands on its own. It’s a tiny book, but so impactful that you’ll want to go back and reread it once you’re done.



North of Beautiful By Justina Chen Headley



The Set-Up: As he continued to stare, I wanted to point to my cheek and remind him, But you were the one who wanted this, remember? You're the one who asked-and I repeat-Why not fix your face?

It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper.

She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob's path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that, like Some Girls Are, physically hurt to read. Terra’s such an insecure character that she makes you ache to comfort her. Her father is loathsome, and her mother is on the pathetic side. But through it all, it’s Terra’s pain you feel, her sense of insecurity, her fragility. Still, there’s a strength to her that will pull you through the story.


All right, it's your turn!! What must contemporaries have I missed? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An open letter to a frightened mother and her bookless teen.

To: Amy Freeman
CC: Meghan Cox Gurdon
Re: Darkness Too Visible

Dear Ms. Freeman,

I am disheartened to know that you did not find any books for your 13-year-old daughter at your local Barnes & Noble. I mean, the saddest part of this whole fandangle is that you went home without a book! Or maybe the saddest part is that there were, indeed, a bazillion choices for a) a younger, more innocent YA reader and/or b) a conservative mom to share with the aforementioned teen who may or may not be as innocent as you believe.

The bookseller in question, well, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was new to the store and specialized in cookbooks and didn't know who to tag in. Either way, a GOOD bookseller could have helped you. Since I am a former bookseller who was TOTALLY badass at her job, I'm going to help you out. The following are a list of books that I would have suggested. Some might be too saucy for your tastes. You might object to a few titles because of purported violence or swear word or vampires. But, ho! I will be letting you know why they are good books for your girl! And all of them are light reads that I feel completely comfortable selling to an 11-13 year old who enjoys reading OR to a conservative family with a parent willing to answer her daughters questions should she have some. Here goes:

1. I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter
Yes, the word "kill" is in the title of this book. But Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series is about butt-kicking smart girls in an academy for spies. SPIES! There're hints of romance, action, and adventure, but you won't find over-the-top violence or sexual themes here. Bonus: readers will SO be inspired by the overflow of girl power!

2. DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK by Marlene Perez
Again, this might look like a "dark" book. But I swear, it's not! I don't even think it has any swear words. Yes, it's a paranormal. The main character is from a family of psychics and her mom works with the police department. Yes, this series has murder mysteries. But at heart, this is a comedy. Think Nancy Drew meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So if your girl is aching for something ghostly with a side of werewolf, fear not. The DEAD IS series will sate her passion for the paranormal without putting too much of the dark, sexy stuff on her plate.

3. ANGUS THONGS & FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by Louise Rennison
I love this book. I love that the most salacious thing about this book is the title. And I love that the protagonist Georgia Nicolson is such a real girl, and in this diary-formatted series, she says everything she thinks. And like so many girls her age, she thinks she knows a lot more than she does. What really shines through is a lot of her naivete. I mean, all she wants to do is kiss boys and play pranks! And while she might be a bit boy crazy, she's a good sister, way supportive of her family, and (albeit at times reluctantly) a good BFF. I guarantee this book will make your daughter laugh her butt off, and it won't put any ideas in her head that she isn't ready for.

4. CLOVER TWIG AND THE MAGICAL COTTAGE by Kaye Umansky
This is a book that you will probably find in the middle grade section, but I think most 11-13 year olds read a decent mix of YA and MG. Clover Twig is a precocious young lady who has taken a job as housekeeper for a witch. Little does she know that the witch's sister has a major case of jealousy, and that she has a nefarious plan to steal the magical cottage that Clover is currently in charge of. This book is a completely silly fantasy and I don't know anyone who's read it -- of any age --and not enjoyed every minute. I swear!

5. DEALING WITH DRAGONS by Patricia C. Wrede
I love love love Patricia C. Wrede. One cool thing about her is that she's a very prolific author with books for all ages from young readers to adult, so if your daughter becomes a fan of PCW, you'll be able to stock up! DEALING WITH DRAGONS is another of my fave girl power books -- it's about a princess who doesn't want to be a princess and runs away to live with a dragon instead. It's hysterically funny, rife with fun feminism, and full of magic! It's also the first in a four book series which I read and reread many times during my own tween years. I was so inspired by the main character, Cimorene, that I truly believe she had a part in making me the confident woman I am today. This series definitely straddles the line between MG and YA, making it a solid tween title. Your girl will love it.

6. FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF by Jo Whittemore
Another book that straddles MG/YA, this tween comedy from Jo Whittemore tackles the middle school issues of popularity, competition, and crushes with a serious sense of humor. I love that the main character is a smart girl with absolutely no intentions of toning it down. I love that this book made me laugh out loud when I was reading it on the bus. And I love that it's a book about competition for control over the school newspaper. If your 11-13 year old likes a good, girly comedy, this one hits the spot and then some.

7. THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA by Bianca Turetsky
Once again we have a book that fits easily in either the teen or kids section of the library (though you will probably find it with the middle grade books), this is a fun, girly book with a touch of sci fi (time travel, hello!) and history (it takes place on the Titanic. Yes, THAT Titanic). When Louise Lambert puts on a dress at a mysterious vintage sale, she slips backward in time into the body of a teen actress on board the aforementioned doomed ship. At first she's having the time of her life, but when she figures out that, you know, she might drown, everything changes. Louise has got to find a way to save herself -- and her new friends -- before the ship sinks. And she wouldn't mind getting back to the future either. The first in an upcoming series, this one is sure to delight any burgeoning fashionistas and it will absolutely spark an interest in history as well!

8. GIVING UP THE GHOST by Sheri Sinykin
Yes, it's a ghost story. Yes, it's a southern Gothic, taking place at an old Louisiana plantation. Yes, there are some, er, questionable deaths on the part of the ghosts. And it's not like the elderly aunt that our protagonist, Davia, is taking care of is going to survive the book (I promise, this isn't really a spoiler). But the cancer-survivor mom is inspiring, and the fact that this book is, at its heart, about overcoming fear really hits home for almost everyone. I love the idea that Davia has to help the ghosts at the plantation in order to help her aunt. GIVING UP THE GHOST isn't about death, it's about finding strength, about forgiveness, and about facing the things that scare us the most. If your daughter wants a more serious book, this would be a good one to start with.

9. OYMG by Amy Fellner Dominy
This comedy about a Jewish girl at a Christian summer camp has a bit of a serious side, but that doesn't make it any less fun to read! I mean, who doesn't love a girl who loves to argue -- and does it so well that she's a candidate for a debate scholarship? Who doesn't love a grandpa who speaks Yiddish and encourages his family to be strong in their faith and to be proud of their culture? And while the protagonist of this story does have to face antisemitism while in pursuit of her scholarship -- and her crush -- I think that the message of the book is a good one: being true to yourself is worth more than any boy, OR any prize.

10. ZITFACE by Emily Howse
If your daughter loves stories about teen Hollywood, this new YA/tween novel from Emily Howse is a sure-fire hit! It's about a teen actress who has just landed a job in a major commercial campaign. She's also just landed the boy of her dreams -- the new kid at school who is just completely crushworthy. But everything goes awry when she breaks out. And one breakout leads to another and she's diagnosed with every actress' nightmare: acne. She goes from being popular to picked on at school, and her agent is none too pleased either. But this is how she learns who her true friends are, how she learns to persevere and pursue her Hollywood dreams despite her condition, how she becomes a stronger person. ZITFACE is funny, cute, and a great read for younger readers looking for a new YA title.


11. DRY SOULS by Denise Getson
Dystopian novels are a major trend right now, and if your daughter is interested in reading about a not-too-distant future in which things have gone awry -- but she's not quite ready for some of the harsher, more violent titles -- DRY SOULS is a great choice. It's about Kira, a girl who, in a world where water is beyond scarce and controlled by the government, discovers that she can generate water herself. Kira runs away from the orphanage in which she grew up, hoping to find a way to share her gift and replenish the world's water sources. But it's not long before she realizes the government is on her tail, and they have other plans for Kira. In this book about friendship, ecology, and survival, there's nothing I would feel uncomfortable sharing with an avid reader as young as 10.

13. MY SO-CALLED DEATH by Stacey Jay
Stacy Jay has written a lot of books about zombies, and this is one of my favorites. It's about a young cheerleader who falls during a stunt, dies, and comes back as the undead. But while the topic seems grim, I'd hardly classify this as a dark book. I mean, it's about a cheerleader, right? It's not long before the girl is whisked away to a secret academy for the undead, where she'll learn all about being undead along with, you know, math and reading and all that jazz. Of course, no zombie book is complete without a little brain harvesting, and this is where our heroine comes in to help solve a mystery and perhaps even save some of her classmates from a sinister power using forbidden magic to steal her friends' brains. No, seriously, this book is funny, sweet, and a great book for kids and teens who want to read about zombies but still want to sleep at night. And, on the sexy front, there's nothing more than crushing and kissing!

13. FORGIVE MY FINS by Tera Lynn Childs
Everyone loves a mermaid tale! (Tail?) And in this coming-of-age novel a teen is torn between her new life on land (an experiment to see if she would ever want to leave her mermaid heritage) and her old life at sea. Of course, everything gets completely messed up when she's tricked into kissing the annoying guy next door instead of the boy of her dreams -- because in the world of mermaids, when you kiss a boy, you're choosing him for life. So now she's on a mission -- to ditch annoying neighbor boy and get back to her life -- whichever she should choose. But what she can't predict are the sparks of romance in the last place she'd ever expected. FORGIVE MY FINS is a totally adorable and safe pick for teens looking for the paranormal, magical element without anything too dark or sexy. I think your daughter would love it!

Hopefully this list is helpful. If not, feel free to write me for more choices. I'd be happy to reply! I mean, I could go on all day.

And if you're looking for, you know, well-written, heart-felt, and intelligent replies to the article in the Wall Street Journal, I hope that you will look here, here, or here. Or, like, Google it -- everyone in YA has something to say about the bias in the article, the anger, the ignorance, and the hate. I'm choosing the let the other voices say what I'm thinking about this part of your complaint, because they've already done it so well. I'm offering you my book shopping help instead. Because YA is so big. Kidlit is enormous. We have books for everyone!

Warm Wishes! (For real!)


Thursday, June 2, 2011

I just want to say hello

I'm still here!

I have not forgotten you guys!

I remember what blogs are!

They are for writing down thoughts and interacting with other people!

These are things I forget to do on a regular basis!

So today I will forget that I forget how to write things down and interact with people and I will talk to you about things that are whirling around in my brain - talk to you in written form!

1. I'm reading Greg van Eekhout's THE BOY AT THE END OF THE WORLD to my kids in the evenings, and it is a fantastic, exciting, action-packed middle grade novel. Also, I really, really, love speaking in a robot voice when I read. This book has my 9yo son completely entranced. And me, too. (Not just because of the robot voice.)

2. Lenny Kravitz! What?! (I kind of love it. Can't wait to see how it plays out.)

3. Previously mentioned 9yo son won't stop narrating his Spore gameplay right now and I am about to GO CRAZY.

4. I bought a Kindle (or Kangle, as the 2.5yo calls it), much to my own chagrin, and now I can't figure out what to read on it other than the newspaper and the first chapters of pretty much every book ever. When I find a book I really like, I can't stand the idea of downloading it, because I want to go to the store and buy it and smell it and ruin it in my bathtub by accident.

4a. Help me learn to love my Kangle.

4b. What books can I buy to read on the beach with my Kangle? Will I always be sad I'm not buying them in the store? My book spending is going to skyrocket because I'm going to start buying all my books TWICE. (#Iamdoingitwrong)

5. The Spore narration has ceased, but now the almost 5yo is pretending to be a baby. Very loudly.

6. When you have a book out on sub and you want to just sit and check your email every five seconds waiting on word from your agent, what's your favorite thing to do to distract yourself? Write something new? Read trashy things? Play Spore? Insult your Kangle?

7. I dislike it when I read a book that is purportedly from a young man's point of view and he says things like, "I stepped beside the bougainvillea and picked up the teak bracelet that was half buried in dirt." Do I not give boys enough credit, by thinking they don't know what specific plants and wood types are? Am I boy-ist? Or is this a ridonk thing that also drives you crazy?

8. I just had to pause to explain to my almost 5yo that Xavier starts with an X and while that is the name of the guy who invented cabbage path dolls and ALSO the name of the guy who started Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, they are not the same Xavier.

9. Today is the first day of summer vacation. So far it appears one child has croup, one child just busted his knee falling off the ottoman, and the girlchild is intent on contradicting everything I say. "Do you want some cheese?" "NO, I DO NOT WANT CHEESE. [pause] Can I have some cheese?"

10. At this point you are probably glad I haven't been blogging in a while.

OK. You are reprieved now, at least until some future time when I am also trying to ignore the kids and look busy.

I bid you adieu.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In which I Talk about Stupid Amazon Reviews and Possibly Piss Some People Off

I'll confess it. I am the person that reads the reviews on Amazon. I can’t help but read a couple of five-star reviews and one-star reviews before buying a book. Part of it’s because I’m nosy, but part of it is also because I love a good train wreck, and there’s nothing funnier than a typo filled rant about the quality of a book.

But recently I’ve been noticing a trend that I find a more than a little irritating, and it follows the line of thought that this review of Bleeding Violet did:

Bleeding Violet feels like a bondage smut book toned down for teens, and it doesn't work. Movies have ratings and books have genres to prevent children from reading or seeing what may not be good for them, and I think Bleeding Violet should definitely not be in the YA fiction genre. It has too much unnecessary sex, drugs, swearing, violence, self-violence, stealing, lying, and hatred. There is a place for these issues, but it's not in the teen sci-fi/fantasy section, and they need to be treated appropriately.

Here’s another one for the Duff:

I was really excited to read The Duff after hearing so many good things, but I was sorely disappointed after reading. I thought the book would be about a girl coming to grips with her self esteem issues, and negative outlook on life. Instead it's about angry sex, and emotional abuse. Honestly, there is so much sex, and gratuitously described, that I felt like it belonged on the romance shelf. Definitely not in YA (and the sex scenes aren't even that great). I am not a fan of censoring things for kids, but this has so many incredibly bad messages there's no way I'd let my niece read it.

So let’s look at the reviews. They both have the same overall message: this is not appropriate for YA. Okay? But why? The first review states that Bleeding Violet has “too much unnecessary sex, drugs, swearing, violence, self-violence, stealing, lying, and hatred.” The second review states that in the DUFF “there is so much sex, and gratuitously described, that I felt like it belonged on the romance shelf. Definitely not in YA.”

So my question is: where do they belong?

The first reviewer seems to be hinting that those kinds of topics only belong in what most people call “issue books”. That’s great and all, but sex and lying and drugs don’t just happen to kids dealing with a friend dying or being raped. They kind of happen to everyone (the sex and lying and drugs, not the raping. Although the statistic on that is pretty depressing). In my high school (many moons ago), people were having sex and a few girls even got pregnant. There were drugs and drunk driving and all of the general stupidity that you see in the “real” world. You know, because high school IS a microcosm of the rest of the world.

You kids quit reading those books!
Look, YA means Young Adult. These aren’t books for children. I know that gets confusing because publishers like to lump YA in with middle grade and chapter books and picture books. But YA books are books for adults trying out their independence for the first time. Teenagers make mistakes, just like adults do. They make different mistakes because they're new at the whole making-their-own-decisions thing. But that doesn't make them children.

By reading about the consequences of other people’s mistakes teens can relate to a character that is more like them, that may or may not be going through the things they do. YA should be relatable, it should have flawed characters, and it should have violence and sex and lying and hateful people. Because all of those things exist, whether you like them or not.

And who decides what is appropriate and what isn’t for someone? I’ll tell you who: the person reading it.

If YAs are adults, then we should treat them as such. We should trust them to pick something up, say to themselves “Ugh, this is so not for me,” and put it down. If they don’t do that, then maybe they aren’t ready for YA, the same way they aren’t ready for the regular adult market. Hell, there are some sections of the adult market I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for. And that’s okay.

And if someone’s not ready for YA, well, there are a lot of really awesome middle grade books out there. Just because someone reads at a twelfth grade level doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready to experience twelfth grade. And that’s okay. But let’s not try to redefine what YA is or isn’t because we don’t like a book. Because, really, that’s just being selfish.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Your Truth Isn’t Necessarily Someone Else’s Truth

So getting straight to it, let me ask you, what’s the biggest challenge you face as a writer? Is it coming up with the hook? Is it finding a distinct voice? Is it figuring out who your main character really is – what they want most, what they fear most?

I discovered my arch-nemesis a long time ago, and I’m still having problems overcoming it: It was learning that my truth is not necessarily someone else’s truth.

I thought that because I believed something, everyone else would understand where I was coming from.
For instance, I once wrote a story with negligent, somewhat-mean parents.  Someone else read my book and said, “Miranda, I just can’t believe anyone’s parents would treat them that way!”

And I just didn’t get that. I feel like I see stories about neglectful parents in the news every day. Then I started thinking about where my reader comes from: A good stable home and a solid upbringing.

The truth is, not everybody comes from the same place, so everyone’s “reality” is different.

So how do you bring readers in so they “buy” your story?

This is where setting and background are crucial. If you want your readers to believe your main character’s circumstances, you must show a complete picture.  

Let’s look at Harry Potter. From the very first page, J.K. Rowling made it very clear that Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are quite conservative and set in their ways. Mr. Dursley is described as wearing “his most boring tie.” His main concern in life is a shipment of drills. Young people who dress funny get on Mr. Dursley’s nerves. We also find out that Mr. Dursley doesn’t like his wife’s family – because they are wizards.

Even if they weren’t wizards and were punk rockers, Mr. Dursley would dislike the Potters.
Based on this set-up, the reader should “buy” how the Dursleys treat Harry after he gets left on their doorstep. As he grows up, they make him live in the cupboard under the stairs and make him wear hand-me-down clothes.

When you’re writing, how do you work to “show” your main character’s circumstances?

As a reader, what sorts of details help you to “buy” the story?   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Got Nothing

So, here's a little bit of boy band awesomeness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Recommendation: Bleeding Violet


The Set-Up: 
Love can be a dangerous thing....
Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna's tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.
But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she's far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.

My Take: 

I loved this book.  Seriously. I. Loved. This. Book.  This is one of those books that I picked up and wondered “Why the hell didn’t I get this sooner?”  Hanna is such a fun character, and even though she‘s bipolar her mental illness isn’t really what defines her.  Neither does being biracial.*  She has so much going on, and her self-confidence leaps off of the page.  Even though she’s thrown into a completely strange situation she goes along with it, convinced that she can make the grimmest of situations work.  She’s optimistic without coming off as a Pollyanna, and that’s really nice to see.
I usually have one or two things that I take issue with, but the only thing that even gave me pause was Hanna’s attitude towards sex.   It gave me pause not because I had a problem with it, but because it isn’t very often that YA features a character who’s sexually active and not because she has some sort of problem she’s trying to escape.  Hanna is as matter of fact about sex as she is everything else, so the romantic scenes in the book quickly become more matter-of-fact than scandalous. 
I also loved that the romance in the book was so realistic, yet satisfying.  Wyatt is a bit of a jerk sometimes (like most guys), and despite his jerky tendencies he was still a decent romantic lead.  I’ve gotten spoiled with reading YA, I tend to expect some sort of romance at some point, but the romance between Wyatt and Hanna was satisfying without feeling forced or unnatural.
The town of Portero was hands down my favorite part of the entire book.  I look forward to reading more books set there, and meeting more of the residents.  While I was reading all I could think was “What kind of insane person would willingly live in such a place?” I look forward to finding out. J
I guess I should give a warning here that the book has some pretty graphic bits.  Nothing that I found offensive, but I have a pretty high tolerance for gore.  But this book is probably not something you would want to give younger readers.  The violence is probably on par with the Hunger Games, but with the addition of sex I think some Amazon reviewers were a bit more scandalized than they would’ve been if the two hadn't coexisted.  However, I think books should be about pushing boundaries, and I love how Bleeding Violet does that while telling an intriguing story.
So if you like your YA on the older side with a bit of the dark, this is definitely a book you should check out.
*I was pretty annoyed that one Amazon reviewer complained that “Hanna herself is biracial, but comes across as a generic white girl, who just a bit on the slutty side.” So, she should act all conflicted because she comes from two different cultures? Or should she be a little ghetto, but still dig tea parties?  Pffft. This is why no one should take Amazon reviews too seriously, but more about that later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It’s Not You, It’s Me (Okay, It’s Mostly You)

So the other day, I picked up a book beloved and lauded by many on the interwebs as being the next best thing since egg salad on whole wheat (Yum!).  After five pages in I set the book aside and went to get a snack.  After twenty pages I opted to watch the People’s Court I’d DVR’d instead.  By page fifty I decided to move on to something else, since it was either that or rip the book apart because the characters were so frustrating and unlikeable.
And then the guilt set in.
There is something very difficult about hating a book that everyone else loves.  It’s a little like telling a room full of vegetarians that you really love bacon.  You find your self hemming and hawing, and when friends press you about whether you liked a book or not you shrug, give a half smile, and murmur “It was okay.”
WHY?!?  Why are we so afraid to say “I hated that book with the burning fury of a thousand suns going supernova?”  Instead, we demure and make excuses, and pretend to be glad when a friend gives us the next book in the series for our birthday. Yay.
Look, it’s okay to not like books.  Just like egg salad on whole wheat, not everyone is going to like every book.  It’s not your fault or the book’s fault (okay, sometimes it’s the book’s fault, but that’s a subject for a different post).  If you didn’t like egg salad you would say, “Ah, no thanks, I don’t really care for it.”  We should be able to express our dislike of books the same way, without being afraid to express our opinion but also not becoming that loud mouth jerk that slams the book, either.  Surely there has to be some happy medium.
So feel free to tell me you don’t like egg salad on wheat, just do it with some tact.  It’s cool.  More for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: DRY SOULS by Denise Getson

There are a billion dystopians out there right now.  And a lot of them are based on ecological premeses.  But it's been a while since I read one so compelling as debut author Denise Getson's DRY SOULS.

DRY SOULS follows Kira, a teen girl who can hardly remember her mom, and has grown up at an all-girls orphanage.  She's never quite fit in with the other girls, and when she finds a flower -- something no one has seen in years, since the water is too tightly regulated to support purely aesthetic plantlife -- Kira is compelled to protect it.  It feels like her safe place, her one thing that she has in the world.  And it could have been the key to friendship, with a girl named Mary.  Together they water the flower by saving their rations -- it's their secret.  But on the day that Kira discovers she can conjure water on her own, Mary freaks out, tells the headmistress, and is on the outs again. 

So Kira strikes out on her own, as a traveler, with little direction except to maybe go to the town of her birth, Slag, in an area once known as the Great Lakes Region.  Meeting up with fellow runaway J.D., things seem to be going okay, and Kira is feeling good about her choice to leave the orphanage.  Little does she know, the goverment -- the Territories -- is out to find her.  They know about her power, and have no interest in her filling the lakes and rivers and bringing water to the people.  The Territories have managed to keep control over the population by keeping control over the water, and to them, Kira is an enormous threat. 

Part adventure, part coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable, DRY SOULS is an elegantly written addition to the dystopian genre.  One that presents its stark future with an element of hope, with relateable characters, and without the pretense of a forced romance.  And, at just under 200 pages, it makes a great pick for reluctant teen readers.  Make sure you go to your local library or bookstore and ask for DRY SOULS, stat!

And, fyi, DRY SOULS is with the small press CBAY books.  So if you can't find it right away, make sure to special order it!  Gotta love the small presses, y'all!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Think Your First Draft Sucks Major and You Should Just Quit? Don’t! Why Revising Does a World of Good

Every time I start a first draft of something new, I want to cry. I moan to myself, “Oh my writing sucks! Why am I even doing this?! I suckkkkkkkkkk……….”

But then I remember that my best work happens when I revise (especially after draft #85 or so), so it’s important to just get the first draft down, and deal with cleaning it up later.

I just recently finished up copyedits on SCORE and pretty soon my book will be off to the printers so ARCs can be made. Woo!  As I was doing my final readthru, I started wondering how much this book has changed since I first started writing it back in 2009.

And boy has it changed! Wow, the first draft was choppy and didn’t flow and had no personality. Now, I think it’s much better.

So, without further ado, I present the first page of my very very very first draft of SCORE, before I ever even had a plot! But before you read the crappy version, read the first page as it is now. Enjoy!

FIRST PAGE NOW:

I once read that football was invented so people wouldn’t notice summer ending. But I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to end. I couldn’t wait for football. Football, dominator of fall—football, love of my life.

“Blue forty-two! Blue forty-two! Red seventeen!” I yell.

The cue is red seventeen. JJ hikes me the ball. The defense is blitzing. JJ slams into a freshman safety, knocking him to the ground. The rest of my offensive line destroys the defense. Nice. The field’s wide open, but my wide receiver isn’t where he’s supposed to be.

“What the hell, Higgins?” I mutter to myself.

Dancing on my tiptoes, I scan the end zone and find Sam Henry instead, and hurl the ball. It flies through the air, a perfect spiral, heading right where I wanted it to go. He catches the ball, spikes it, and does this really stupid dance. Henry looks like a freaking ballerina. With his thin frame and girly blond hair, he actually could be the star of the New York Ballet.

I’m gonna give him hell for his dance.

This is my senior year at Hundred Oaks High, and I’m captain, so I’m allowed to keep my players in line. Even though he’s my best friend, Henry has always been a showoff. His antics get us penalties.
Through the speaker in my helmet, I hear Coach Miller say, “Nice throw. This is your year, Woods. You’re going to lead us to the state championship. I can feel it…Hit the showers.” What the coach actually means? I know you’re not going to blow it in the final seconds of the championship game like you did last year.

And he’s right. I can’t.

The University of Alabama called last week—on the first day of school—to tell me a recruiter is coming to watch me play on Friday night. And then a very fancy-looking letter arrived, inviting me to visit campus in September. An official visit. If they like what they see, they’ll sign me in February.

I can’t screw this season up.

I pull my helmet off and grab a bottle of Gatorade and my playbook. Most of the guys are already goofing off and heading over to watch cheerleading practice across the field, but I ignore them and look up into the stands.

I spot Mom sitting with Carter’s dad, a former NFL player. My dad isn’t here, of course. Asshole.

Lots of parents come to watch our practices because football is the big thing to do around here. Here being Franklin, Tennessee, home of the Hundred Oaks Red Raiders, eight-time state champions.
Mom always comes to practice—she’s been supporting me ever since Pop Warner youth football days, but sometimes she worries I’ll get hurt, even though the worst thing that’s ever happened was a concussion. Sophomore year, when JJ took a breather, the coach brought in this idiot to play center, the idiot didn’t cover me, and I got slammed hard. Otherwise, I’m a rock. No knee problems, no broken limbs.

Dad never comes to my practices and rarely comes to games. People think it’s because he’s busy, because he’s Donovan Woods, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. But the truth is he doesn’t want me playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps? Well, he does. He loves that my brother Mike, a junior in college, plays for the University of Tennessee and led his team to a win at the Sugar Bowl last year. So what the hell is Dad’s problem with my playing ball?

I’m a girl.

FIRST DRAFT:

“Blue forty-two!  Blue forty-two!  Red seventeen!”
The cue is red seventeen.  The center, my best friend JJ, hikes the ball to me.  I catch it effortlessly.  The defense is blitzing.  JJ slams into a freshman safety, knocking him to the ground.  Nice.  The field’s wide open, like an ocean.  Dancing on my tiptoes, I scan the end zone and locate Sam Henry, a wide receiver, and hurl the ball.  I watch it fly through the air, a perfect spiral, heading right where I intended it to go.  He catches the ball, spikes it and does this really stupid dance.  Henry looks like a frickin’ ballerina.  With his thin frame and girly blonde hair, he actually could be the star of the New York Ballet.  I’m gonna give him hell for his dance later.  This is my senior year at Hundred Oaks High, and I’m captain, so I’m allowed to keep my players in line.  Henry has always been a showoff; his shenanigans get us penalties.   
Through the speaker in my helmet, I hear Coach Miller say, “Nice throw.  This is your year, Woods.  You’re going to lead us to the state championship.  I can feel it.  Take five.” 
The coach means: I know you’re not going to blow it in the final seconds of the championship game like you did last year.  And he’s right.  I’m not. 
I grin, pull off my helmet and walk to grab some Gatorade.  Most of the guys are goofing off, watching cheerleading practice going on across the field.  But I ignore them and look up into the stands.  I spot my mom talking to JJ’s dad.  My dad isn’t here, of course.  Lots of parents come to watch our practices because football is the only thing to do around here.  Here being Franklin, Tennessee, next door to the middle of nowhere.  If you think hanging out at practice is lame, forget movies - games are typical Friday night dates for couples. 
My mom always comes to practice.  I think she supports me, but I’m not sure.  Maybe she’s just overprotective and doesn’t want me to get hurt, but I’ve been playing football since Pop Warner days, since I was seven, and the worst thing that’s ever happened was a concussion.  Sophomore year, when JJ took a breather, the coach brought in this idiot to play center.  The idiot didn’t cover me and I got slammed hard.  Otherwise, I’m a rock.  No knee problems to speak of, no broken limbs.  
My dad never comes to my practices, and rarely comes to games.  People think it’s because he’s busy, because he’s Donovan Woods, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.  But the truth is he doesn’t want me playing football.  You might wonder why a famous quarterback wouldn’t want his kid to follow in the family footsteps and play the great All-American sport.  But he does.  He loves that my brother, Mike, a junior in college, plays for the University of Tennessee, and led his team to win at the Sugar Bowl last year.  So what the hell is my dad’s problem, you ask?
I’m a girl.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Post Is Not A Post

I had every intention of writing a long, thoughtful post today, I really did. But the stomach flu had other plans. So here I sit, silver barf bowl balanced on shaky knees, saying hello, briefly, and would like to provide you, dear Readers, with the following Updates.

1. I read I AM J by Cris Beam and it was wonderful. I shall have more to say about it in the near future, but in any case I am glad that we're seeing more books featuring sexual minorities in major roles, and am looking forward to seeing those books included in curricula and library lists and various awards. Because these voices matter.

2. Have continued my own personal quest to read every Diana Wynne-Jones book ever written. And while her books are like food to my hungry imagination, I've found the process heartbreaking and piteous sad. I do miss that woman - though I never met her. I miss the idea that maybe one day I would. And I miss her.

3. Am teaching currently. Fiction. Fourth grade. And it is marvelous. Seriously, these kids are amazing.

4. We had an issue recently with my Middle School aged daughter, and her consequence was to cut her off from the internet for five days. Five Long Days. Apparently I'm the meanest mother alive. Honestly, from the way she was carrying on, you'd think I was killing her. And then I got to thinking about it. Social media requires a certain level of consistent use before a person's profile - one's electronic personhood - begins to diminish. When we are cut off from online conversations, do we become electronically dead? Did I temporarily kill my daughter, as far as her online use is concerned.

Well, if that's true, then I'm killing all of my computers and cutting the entire family off (ruining your life MY EYE, I said to her) and really, I don't think that we've reached the point at which electronic interconnectedness is equal to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But.

It would make a cool book. And an interesting story. And I think someone around here should write it. (not me, though. I already have too many projects in the works.)


All right. Feeling crummy. Back to bed. More next week, folks!