Monday, January 24, 2011

You know how sometimes you read a book and you're like HEY AUTHOR GET OUT OF MY HEAD? Yeah. That thing.

Ever been just minding your own business, enjoying a good book, when you realized the author has clearly been stalking you? Or perhaps even tapped your phones? Or implanted a microchip in your brain?

You're like, holy crap, how the frick did you know that about me? Because, there is no way that moment could have been captured without a direct link into your cerebellum.

Yeah. It's a little unnerving. But it's also kind of cool. It's one of the best things about books, really.

One of the books that does that for me is HIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby. It was one of the first books that I connected to as a young adult, even though it's not a YA book and it's totally about thirty-somethings. What does this say about me? Well, there's the fact that the narrator has a certain sense of self-importance, worked in a record store, and defined his life in terms of the pop culture around him. He made top-five lists (I used to make top-tens obssessively), mix tapes (check), and big mistakes in his relationships (oh yeah). And, okay, he was totally a dude, but he got me. Nick Hornby got me.

I still go back to that book as a home base. I look at passages and smile. I'm still angry at one of the characters. I'm still nostalgic for Championship Vinyl. And I watch the movie that was based on the book as if I'm sitting down with friends. It's just that cool.

What books feel like that to you? Is there anything that just boggled your mind when you read it, like the author might even be yourself in a parallel universe? I need to know. Because, apparently, I've been exactly like a 34-year-old, male record shop owner since I was about 19.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't Forget to Pay it Forward

I hope this post doesn’t make you think I’m a tremendous *&#^(#*. I’m not, I promise. Okay, most of the time I’m not a tremendous #*)&#%&#.

I’m lucky. Very, very lucky. I have a great agent, a great editor and publisher, and lots of 
great writing friends.

When I started querying my first book, I didn’t quite know what I was doing. I wrote a query letter that is absolutely terrible and didn’t get much attention from agents, even though people had read and enjoyed my book.

So I started studying. I went to like a billion agents’ websites and learned what to do and what not to do. I bought Guide to Literary Agents and devoured the entire book.

I basically got a PhD in query writing.

Then I rewrote my letter and started talking to a couple published authors I know through friends. These are not small authors by any means. One is huge in the non-fiction world, and the other is truly a god of steampunk and sci-fi.

They both agreed to read my letter and give me feedback.

Both authors RIPPED my query apart. I felt lower than plankton. For about five minutes. Then I re-read their critiques, decided what advice I agreed with, and decided what changes to make.

But first – I THANKED both authors for their time. Profusely thanked them.

After I got an agent, I started agreeing to look at query letters and sample pages, because I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to give back, because other people had helped me.
I wouldn’t be where I was today without the help of friends, critique partners, beta readers, etc.

I really don’t mind critiquing work. I love helping people out. But if I spend an hour or two (or more) reading people’s work and critiquing it (I give honest, constructive advice), it would be great to get a thank you. Or even a response.

So basically all I’m saying is, even if you don’t agree with something someone says about your work, please make the time to thank them for theirs.

We all start somewhere.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Being Uppity

So here's a weird thing about Kelly Barnhill: little old men totally dig me.  I can't explain it, but I know it's true. I've always been very, very popular with old dudes. I think maybe I remind them of their favorite granddaughters, or the girl they wanted to marry. I've often been told that I'm "perfect daughter-in-law material" (though, strangely, not by my own father-in-law, who I'm pretty sure feels otherwise, but never mind).

Now, for the past few years, I've been a teaching artist with a local arts organization that sends musicians, visual artists and writers into the schools for week-long intensive residencies. It's a pretty cool job and I enjoy doing it. When they send me to the tiny towns in outstate Minnesota, I make it my habit to have dinner each night in the local bar, where I'll sit, munch on french fries, talk to locals and write in my notebooks. Invariably, I'll end up with about a half a dozen or so old dudes at my table, their collective breath laced with whiskey and cigarettes and cheap beer, swapping story after story after story.

And they all say the same things to me (always accompanied by the classic Minnesotan "arencha", one of my favorite idioms):

"Yer a sassy one, arencha?" they say.
"Yer a spunky one, arencha?" they confide.
"Oh, yer a pistol, arencha?" they whisper with a knowing smile.

"Um," says I. "I guess so."

Once, a guy said to me, "I've never much cared for uppity girls, even when I was a young thing. But you're all right."

And I said, "Uppity?"

And then I thought about it for a while, and I decided that "uppity" was the best compliment I've ever gotten. I think that a certain amount of uppityness is required for the writing life (probably all sorts of other kinds of life as well - politics, law, corporate espionage, and what have you. But writing is what I know.). We need to be uppity.

It is an uppity notion for me to assert that the story in my head is one worth telling. It is an uppity notion for me to want you to read it. It is an uppity notion for me to want to put my book in the hands of readers, on the shelves of libraries, on the tables of bookstores, in the musings of blog posts and reviewer columns. Writing books is uppity, so I'll embrace it, and I won't apologize.

So, here's my question for the rest of you: After spending our formative years being praised for adhering to specific norms and admonished when we abandoned them, what sorts of personal negatives turned into positives for the rest of y'all? At what point did the world's admonishments become points of your own personal pride?

I'm sure there's a few.

Now don't even let me get started on sassy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss: yes, you need to read it!

There's another YA romance around every corner. And whether you love or loathe the genre, sometimes it feels like it needs a little kick start. Like you've read that story a few times and want something new.

Let me be the first to tell you that ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS is not just another anything. It's a romance, and it's an adventure, and it's a comedy, and it's a coming-of-age story. It makes me want to spend all day at a cafe in Paris. It makes me want to go back in time and go to boarding school. It makes me want to go on silly romps with my friends and take my boyfriend to arthouse theatres. It is a story in which you feel like you know everyone, and when you close the last pages, they're a part of you.

It's the story of Anna, sent by her rich father who writes melodramatic cancer romance novels to a French boarding school. She soon finds herself in a tight group of friends including the charming St. Clair, an American boy who grew up in Britain but has a French dad. And Anna has never met anyone like him. Not even the cute boy she is almost sort of maybe dating from the theatre where she works back home. As she and St. Clair -- who is dating a college freshman -- get closer and closer, Anna has to push back her growing feelings for him. And, ultimately, this school year abroad in France could either be the best year of her life, or lead her to self-destruct. Either way, it will change her forever.

If you like John Green, Maureen Johnson, or Simone Elkeles, you'll love Stephanie Perkins. Pick up ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS right now.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion for January

Have a book releasig this month?  Here's your chance to tell us all about it!

Read an awesome book that we must read NOW?  Let us know!

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The ALA Youth Media Awards and You

So today many of us were up early watching the live webcast or following closely on Facebook and Twitter as the American Library Association announced its award winners.

Boy was I off. I managed to predict one Alex award winner (THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell) and a Coretta Scott King Author honor (YUMMY by G. Neri) in my predictions post. Librarians are always surprising me.

I'm psyched about the Printz honor for PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ (Knopf, 2010) by A.S. King -- it was already going to be my next read, and now I'm even more excited to curl up with it. I've read the first page, and that alone is worthy of acclaim.

After the awards were announced, I decided I could buy a book. One book from the list. And I picked NOTHING by Janne Teller (Atheneum, 2010), which not only garnered a Printz Honor but a Batchelder Honor for excellence in translation in children's literature. It sounds freaking awesome and I love reading books that were translated into English -- there's something really different and interesting about that experience, both culturally and literarily.

Admittedly, I'm already thinking of breaking my rule and buying THE FREAK OBSERVER by Blythe Woolston (Carolrhoda LAB, 2010), which won the William C. Morris Award, which is given to a debut novel. How cool, that it went to an author with a small press, too! I'm on the lookout for this title, for sure.

So what did you think of this year's winners? Any surprises? Are you eager to read/buy any of the titles? I'm especially wondering if teens are affected by awards like this, or if they ignore the shiny stickers and the press and just buy what they like. Tell me!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Miranda's Hierarchy of Publishing

I'll admit it. I have a real hard-on for sociology. Forgive me for this dorky post. :)
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
(Click on image to enlarge)

I definitely have gone through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in my lifetime. You know, in college I was mostly concerned with finding my next meal, e.g. Ramen and Easy Mac. I got next to no sleep, because I was working ALL the time. And on top of that, all I could think about were boys. (See lowest rung of Maslow's Hierarchy above.)

As I got older, I started moving up the pyramid, and I can definitely say I'm at the "Self-Actualization" stage of my life, meaning, I spend a lot of time contemplating my place in the universe and the evolution of humankind (when will we have biochips in our heads?!) and my carbon footprint and whatnot.

The highest level of the pyramid = You've run a marathon, and now you're going to run another one to beat your previous time. To grow as a runner.

So I was looking at Maslow's Hierarchy and got to thinking about my publishing journey. If I were to apply Maslow's Hierarchy to my publishing life, I'd say I'm still on the middle rung. I have a fancy book deal and I love my agent and editor, and I have lots of fabulous authorly friends. Yay for life!
Miranda's Hierarchy of Publishing
(click on picture to enlarge)

I'm hoping to move up to the fourth rung. So now of course I'm thinking, "HOLY SHIT what if Kirkus reads and hates my book? What will I do?!?"

I'll write harder. Keep moving up the rungs of the hierarchy.

You know the best part about the publishing journey? Even if I by some one in a million chance I were to get on Oprah or win the NBA, my writing can always grow. I will always have the opportunity to become a better writer.

Pretty cool, eh?

Where are you at on Miranda's Hierarchy of Publishing?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Synchro-what? or What I Read for the Past Few Months

synchronicities: 1. the quality or fact of being synchronous

2. the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

--Merriam-Webster Online

So, for the past few months I've curiously silent (very unlike me) whilst I was reading my way through 182 of the finest Young Adult fiction readers cared to nominate.  That part of my life is now, sadly, over.  But, some loose ends remain!

This list of similarities and coincidences that follows was taken from the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction nominations and was compiled by the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction Panel. It is no way to be considered completely exhaustive, as we are certain nominated books may have been missed. This list was originated out of amusement as the seven panelists as we read our way through the 182 titles. If you know of a nominated title that should be included in one of the synchronicities below, please feel free to submit it in the comments! To get the entire list, you’ll have to visit all seven of the panelist’s blogs.
42.  Parents Called by First Name: Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, Nothing Like You

43.  Pepperspray: The River; Tension of Opposites

44.  Photography is DEEP and MEANINGFUL: Faithful; Jumpstart the World; Hellie Jondoe; Hold Still, Split

45.  Pissing Outdoors: City of Cannibals; Compromised; Folly, Jump; Stringz; When I was Joe

46.  Poetry as a coping mechanism: Sorta Like a Rockstar, The Sky is Everywhere, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs

47.  Preacher’s Kids: Saving Maddie, The Less-Dead

48.  Pregnancies: Dark days of Hamburger Halpin; Every Little Thing in the World; Folly; Stranded; Tell Me a Secret; Three Rivers Rising

49.  Quoted Keats: The Life of Glass, The Secret to Lying

50.  Rainbow Positive: f2m; Jumpstart the World; Love Drugged; A Love Story to My Dead Best Friend; Hold Still; The Less-Dead (ok, ultimately positive); Rhythm and Blues; Will; Will Grayson, Will Grayson

51.  Red Hot Chili Peppers: A Little Wanting Song; Friend is Not a Verb

Wanna read the rest? Visit these blogs:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Apparently, I Was A Very Bad Girl This Year

Every year my friends and family ask me what I want for Christmas. Every year I say the same thing: good books; wool socks. Not necessarily in that order.

This year, I got some good stuff - tea from England, oranges from Florida, money from my mom - but none of it was what I asked  for.

"Wool socks are so boring," people said.

"Nobody wants to give books to a writer," a relative told me. "It would be like we were setting up unreasonably high bar for your book." And then, I swear to god, he patted me on the head. Which, for those of you watching at home, is how Midwesterners participate in the soft tyranny of low expectations. (Also, I would like to say yet another prayer of thanksgiving that none of my relatives know how to work the internet.)

So I really wanted to write a post-holidays post on the really cool books that I received this year, but instead, I'm gonna talk about the books that I'm excited about - the books I can't wait to read.

1. I don't know if any of you have been reading the first two installments of the Prophesy of the Sisters, but book 3 comes out this summer:

 And holy smokes, does that cover look pretty. I'll fully admit that I judge a book by its cover - at least at first. Also, by its font, the texture of its pages, its smell. All love starts with lust. Or at least it does with me. But these books are worth that first flush of desire. They're sly. Meaty. Heartbreaking. And I can't WAIT for the next installment.

2. Deathless, by Cat Valente
Cat Valente’s Deathless cover

I've loved that woman's prose for years, but this? Russian folklore? Revolution? Mythology? Love, death and everything in between. Yup, I'm there. With bells on.

3. Native Star, by M.K. Hobson

Ah, steampunk meets the wild, wild west. Mine-dwelling zombies, a down-on-her-luck witch, and a fancy, Eastern warlock with something to hide. Snake oil salesmen, the expansion of the railroad, fast-talking cowboys, and a healthy dose of magic. I absolutely cannot WAIT to read this book, and I'm staring at the mailbox RIGHT NOW, waiting for Amazon to hurry up and bring it to me.

4. Mechanique: A Novel of the Circus Tresault

I mean, come on. Look at that cover! It's so pretty, I want to take it places and buy it things. But, even more, inside the covers is Valentine's sly, deft, luminous prose. (Full disclosure: I've already read this book, but it was a pdf. I want the real deal, baby. No internet-dating for this book lover!)

Now I realize that only one of those books is specifically YA, but one of the things that I love about the YA reader is that they refuse to balkanize themselves. They read across genre, across age groups, across culture and time and modes of reality. I'd really like to see a day in which books are no longer shelved according to type. The more we try to separate books, the more limited the conversation becomes. Books need to talk to one another. They need to influence one another. And they need to do this broadly - not only on the shelves and not only in classes or review pages, but in the brains of their readers.

So, here's my question: What books are you  itching to read? What books do you REALLY FEEL that you should have gotten....but didn't?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! Let's talk about our loot!

Hi everyone! Long time, no see. Well, you know. Blog-wise.

Before I go off and give the rest of the 5-ers a kick in the butt (I've been looking at that angry velociraptor on the top of this page for far too long. Is it going to eat me or what?) I thought I'd check in with everyone. And, before you get too groan-y and moan-y, fear not. I'm not going to talk about New Year's Resolutions. I don't know about the rest of the YA-5, but, personally, I feel that making an effort toward awesomeness daily is way better than declaring a major change in January that you'll forget about by the 31st.

No, today I want to talk about awesome presents we got over the holidays. Specifically, BOOK-SHAPED PRESENTS. Or, you know, books.

Here's my loot list:

PERSONAL DEMONS (Tor Teen, 2010) by Lisa Desrochers
I've been aching to read this for a while and I know I read a review somewhere -- possibly by someone here. Justina, was it you? -- that said that the protagonist was just so relateable. So real. And that's one thing I have a hard time with in some paranormals -- not that I don't read a jillion paranormals, I just often end up feeling like the MC was a little too...unreal. So I'm psyched for this one. I got it from my grandparents on my dad's side.

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS (Dutton Juvenile, 2010) by Stephanie Perkins
My brother brought me to an indie bookstore and told me to pick something out two days before Christmas. This is what I picked. And I started reading it on the plane back from Maine to Texas. It's amazing. I have about 100 pages to go, but, still, I can't imagine this book starting to suck anytime soon. I mean, even if there are velociraptors parachuting in from outer space, I think it will still be one of my favorite reads of the year. Romance, and real people, and funny anecdotes and...well...I'm sure you've heard the buzz. Let me tell you this: all the buzz is true.

A PASSION FOR BAKING (Oxmoor House, 2001) by Marcy Goldman
Okay, slightly less interesting for those of you who love YA. Or, like, novels. And stories. But I'm a huge baking fiend and my grandmother on my mom's side got this for me and it is big and heavy and I can't wait to try out some of the recipes. Mmmmmmmm.

STRAY (Mira, 2007) by Rachel Vincent
Also from my brother. Inadvertently He got me a gift card to the same indie so I had to spend it before I left Maine. (Who am I kidding, gift cards to bookstores burn holes in my pocket faster than hot coals.) I got a few embarrassing pop albums and had just enough leftover for a used paperback. I've been intrigued by Rachel's SHIFTERS series ever since I read some of her SOUL SCREAMERS books, so for $2.95 the price was right. It's an adult novel, and I hear it's super action-packed and sexy. Looking forward to reading this on a rainy day in the near future.

So what books did y'all pick up over the holidays? Have you read any of the ones I got? Discuss in the comments, I want to know!