Saturday, November 19, 2011

2012 Debut Author Challenge

So, I'm excited to participate in The Story Siren's 2012 Debut Author Challenge. I'm challenging myself to read at least 12 debut MG or YA books in 2012.

I'm most excited about two books debuting in February.

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

















and Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SCBWI Brazos Valley Writers' Conference

As previously mentioned, I can be very awkward, and no where are my minimal social skills more tested than at a writers' conference.  But I'm happy to report that I did not make a TOTAL fool of myself at yesterday's SCBWI Brazos Valley Craft and Connections Conference, well at least not compared to the last conference I attended.

Well, I did walk in late to the pre-conference dinner just as Kathi Appelt, our gracious hostess, started a mini-speech, so everyone stopped, turned around, and stared at me as I stood there grinning and clutching a bottle of wine. And I did manage to stutter and mispronounce words almost every time I spoke to Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, Claudia Gabel.  My brain was like, "Ah! She's an editor.  Quick, forget how to use English!" Thanks brain.

I also made one mistake. The night before the conference, I knew I needed to figure out how to summarize my book in a sentence.  I started to come up with a one-line pitch and memorize it, but then thought, "Nah, I know this book so well, it's SO easy to talk about it!" Big Mistake.  When Claudia asked me what my book was about, I think I said, "This girl has powers and stuff." Great.

But overall the conference was pretty fantastic and I learned a lot. I was pretty impressed with the quality of presenters for our little SCBWI chapter and a small venue.

Claudia Gabel started off with a keynote craft lesson on plot structure, characterization, and the importance of outlining.  She explained the difference between crisis and conflict in a way I wish I would have heard back when I taught English. She also flashed a bit of the proposal for Elusion, a book she's co-writing with Cheryl Klam and sounds Ah.Ma.Zing.

Next, Brian Floca, author/illustrator of some amazing picture books, did an awesome visual presentation about how he got where he is.  He included a hilarious Spiderman picture book he wrote and illustrated when he was a kid.

Local author Doris Fisher talked about breaking into the magazine market and another local writer, Molly Blaisdell gave a workshop on how to write a paragraph synopsis of your story.

Newbery Medal winning author and local legend Kathi Appelt did a gerat audio/visual presentation about the blues and how we can learn to write a character's emotional arc and sorrow by studying blues songs.  She discussed and showed examples of spirituals and the call and response structure.  She posed the question, When your main character calls, who responds? She also pointed out the role of the devil in a lot of blues music and asked, What does your main character want so badly she'd sell her soul to the devil for it?  Both questions gave me a lot to think about in terms of my main character in my WIP.

Finally, up-and-coming super star agent Elena Mechlin at Pippin Properties talked queries and answered the attendees' burning questions.  We finished off with an entertaining panel with all the speakers.

We went to dinner at Cafe Eccell after the conference and I think was the cause of only 2 awkward pauses and I'm pretty sure only said 3 stupid things, which is a total record for me.  Very proud. :)

I think it helped I already knew some the Brazos Valley writers and this wasn't a high stakes conference for me. I wasn't there to pitch anyone and I didn't get my work critiqued. I'm not an author with a book to sell, but I'm also not asking questions about queries. I felt like a writer in a murky middle area which allowed me to relax and do what I could to help out at the conference.

I can't say it enough, if you have a chance to go to a writers' conference, do it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday...and Thursday, and Friday, and...well you get it

So Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where bloggers discuss books they're anticipating.  And I'll get to that. But first I wanted to talk about waiting.

It's no coincidence there's only a one letter difference between writing and waiting.  Any writer seeking publication knows waiting is just part of the process.  I've experienced a bit of waiting myself recently and had a chance to reflect on the waiting process.

I did a lot of waiting and obsessively checking emails while querying agents and I heard published writers say the waiting doesn't get any better once you have an agent.  I didn't believe them.  I thought I did. I tried to believe them, but lately I've still found myself thinking, "OMG! This waiting is torturous, it's worse than querying! Why did no one warn me?" They warned me.

I've come up with some tips to help you with waiting, but this is more of a "do what I say, not what I do situation." While waiting, my day looked like this: Check email.  Check facebook.  Check twitter.  Read blogs on google reader.  Check email.  Email friend to make sure email is working.  Check facebook.  Check twitter.  Check facebook.  Check for new blog posts on google reader.  Check email.  Reply to friend. And so on.

Waiting Made Easy! Less Excruciating

1. Stay busy.  Waiting is easy if you don't have time to check your email.  The days fly by and you can't spare a second to think about it.  So take on new tasks at your day job, write like crazy, and spend time with friends and family.

2. Change locations.  I don't know why, but it helps. Sleep in a bed not your own, get away from your computer, and the days fly by. I spent last weekend at my parents and although
it wasn't a particularly exciting or eventful trip, I didn't obsessively check my email.

3. Connect with other waiters writers.  You feel like things are taking forever? Try talking about it with someone who doesn't understand the publishing industry.  My husband is constantly outraged it could take someone a month to reply to an email.  He'll say, "Just call him."  Because in his job, that makes sense.  You want an answer from someone?  You just call and ask. So talking with someone who does understand is great.  Reach out to other writers and no matter where they are in the publishing process, chances are, they're waiting too. Whine about it together.  Trust me, it helps.

4. You're not the only one waiting. I like to think of the process of making a book as a whole.  When you think about it, agents/editors have probably waited over a year for you to write the book.  So it's only fair you wait one or two months to hear back from them.  And they wait for you too!  My waiting ended yesterday and now the ball is back in my court and someone is waiting on me. Also, I try not to think of people in the publishing industry as the super-smart-speed-readers they are.  I'll ask my co-workers how long it takes them to read a book and adjust my expectations.

5. Write something new. Seriously.  There's nothing better to distract you from the last book than to get excited about the next one.

6. Magic makes everything better.  If all else fails, I like to think of NYC as this magical place, like the land of Faerie or...space, where a single day there is the same as three months here.  We're writers.  Without our imaginations to comfort us, what do we have?

Speaking of Waiting...
Here are the two books I'm most excited about in 2012.  I can't wait!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Not only am I fascinated by John's signing psychosis, but this book sounds amazing!  I read the first chapter here and I can't wait to get my copy!

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood.  Isn't the cover gorgeous?  I've heard so many great things about this book.  I can't wait to read this beautiful story.

Give Away!

What book are you waiting on?  Tell me in the comments before midnight CST Wednesday 11/9/11 for a chance to win.  I'll choose one random commenter to win either a pre-order of a book not yet released or a copy of a book released in the last 2 months.  (U.S. only, sorry)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Charlotte Shines in A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL by Suzanne Young

So I want to gush and tell you about how beautiful this book is, but I have this strict No-Spolier policy.  Actually it's more of a moral-code than a policy, but still.  The ending is one of my favorite parts of this story, but I'm not going to tell you about it, except to say I loved how Suzanne Young didn't wimp out in A Need So Beautiful.  She set up a battle between light and dark and followed her own rules.  I might have already said too much. I'll stop.

Ok, so since I'm not going to talk about the ending, I'll tell you about my other favorite part of A Need So Beautiful-- Harlin.  See what I did there?  We just switched from a meaningful spiritual ending to a hot guy on a motorcycle.  I'm not the type to usually develop crushes on fictional characters. First, it makes me feel pervy to crush on minors, and second, even though I'm still waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter, I DO remember they're not real. Most of the time.

But Harlin? It's hard not to crush on the bad boy with a good heart.  Charlotte and Harlin's romance is so perfect because not only is it hot, but I beleived they're truly in love.  So often YA romances are either about two people who fall in love and know each other well but never touch, or two people who get hot and heavy but never talk.  Charlotte and Harlin's relationship is a realistic blend.  They care about each other and share hopes and fears, but also share some smokin's scenes.

Young started out as a contemporary writer and her strength there shines through.  Although I liked the unique paranormal element, the realtionships are the strength of this story.  And not just between Chralotte and Harlin.  Charlotte's relationship with her troubled best-friend is both heart-breaking and inspiring.  I also might have gotten a little choked up at the scenes with Charlotte's foster family.

I'll definitely be reading the sequel, A Want so Wicked when it comes out this summer.

Give Away!
Oh, and I haven't blogged for two weeks, so to make good on my promise, I'm giving away a copy of A Need So Beautiful.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post before 12pm Central time on Friday 11/4/11 saying you want a book  and I'll randonly pick one lucky winner to receive a copy.

Winner!  Random.org chose #1, so that means Karen is our winner!  Congratulations, Karen!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Paolo Bacigalupi writes real women in SHIP BREAKER

You don't need me to tell you Ship Breaker is an amazing novel.  It won the 2011 Printz Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.  A lot of people much smarter than me agree Paolo Bacigalupi has written a masterpiece.

Ship Breaker has some of the best world-building I've ever read.  You might expect an epic post-apocalyptic sci-fi pirating novel to be a little far-fetched, but the world Bacigalupi has created felt so real, gritty, and complete I never questioned any aspect of the complex setting.

Nailer is a perfectly flawed hero.  He's loyal and kind, yet fierce.  I was swept away by the story and captivated by Bacgalupi's prose.  The danger and desperation of Bright Sands Beach and Nailer's life of poverty and abuse felt so real, I ached for him to escape.

But more than just an excellent story, I was impressed with the women in this book.  Bacigalupi created a stark dichotomy between rich and poor, or swank and ship breaker, and in doing so he was careful to craft whole and mutli-faceted female characters.  So when Nailer meets Nita, their differences aren't about gender, but about economics and culture.

So often stories that follow the hero's journey have oversimplified archetypal females: the mother, the witch, and the sex-object love interest.  Bright Sands Beach is full of smart, tough, hard-working women who are fleshed out as complex characters.  There's smart and loyal Pima, Nailer's best friend.  There's Sadna, who acts like a mother to Nailer but also beats the crap out of the villain.  There's Sloth the betrayer, and Blue Eyes the crafty cult-member.

Even Nita who is weaker than the other girls because she's grown up in the lap of luxury and needs to be rescued a few times, is awfully tough and pretty smart.  She helps to save herself like any self-respecting heroine should and she has an awesome line at the end basically telling Nailer to suck it up.

I also loved how Bacigalupi crafts the romance.  Nailer's culture values hard-work and the ability to earn a living, so we know he's falling for Nita when he compliments her ability to skin eels.

Ship Breaker is a dark adventure with some tough chicks who hold their own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Middle Grade That Makes You Think: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

When I told  my critique partner, Kate Karyus Quinn, that I was rewriting my YA urban fantasy as middle grade, she recommended When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  She asked me if I'd read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle because it would help to understand When You Reach Me.

Had I read A Wrinkle in Time?  Only about five or six times. It's one of my all time favorite books.  It's the book that made me want to be a writer.  So with that caveat, my expectations were set pretty high for When You Reach Me and it did not disappoint.

A Wrinkle in Time is Miranda's favorite book too and she carries it with her everywhere she goes through New York City in 1979.  Miranda is a latch-key kid of a single mom who works hard and is competing to strike it rich on the $20,000 Pyramid, a popular 1970's game show.

The book starts off slowly, but Miranda's authentic voice drew me in immediately.  When You Reach Me reads like a quiet mystery, but when Miranda receives a note that could have only come from the future, the science fiction elements to the story unfold.

I love time travel, I love intelligent twelve-year-old girl protagonists, and I love smart books that give you all the little pieces to a large puzzle that fit so neatly yet surprisingly together in the end.  Stead has created a masterpeice of a smart but simple story.  Miranda's voice and her experience feel so real and honest that the speculative aspects of the story feel real as well.  This book made me think hard about paradoxes and the theories behind time travel without it ever feeling like a science fiction book.

If you liked A Wrinkle in Time or any time travel story, or are thinking of writing middle grade, I couldn't reccomend this book more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Give Away! Because I'm a Slacker

Edit to update:  Thank you so much to those who participated in my little give away.  I really appreciate it.  The contest is now closed, random.org has chosen and the winners are...Kate and Amanda!!!
I'll email you for your addresses and send you your books. Thanks so much!

I want to blog, I really do.  It's just...I forget.  Or get busy.  Or it's been too long that I'm embarrassed to start again and all The Doubts creep in and tell me no one is listening anyway, so why bother.

But no more.  I have a plan.  We writer peoples need plans to conquer The Doubts and here is mine:  From now on, every week that I don't blog, I will give away a book to one of you.

Give Away!
Because I've been especially naughty and I'm just now starting this new motivation/punishment system, this week I'm giving away 2 BOOKS!

How to enter:
All you have to do is leave a comment.  Tell me which of the books I've reviewed so far (or their sequels) you want and why.  The contest is open until midnight CDT on Thursday 9/22/11.  On Friday I'll have random.org pick two winners.  Sorry, open to US only.

Easy, yes?  Yes.

Ok.  So of all the books I've reviewed, which one do you want?

Monday, September 19, 2011

IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma

Hello my Junkies, how I've missed you!  Check back tomorrow for a book give-away in apology/punishment for my absence.

Have you read Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma?  Have you?  Hmmm? 

This is one of those stories that's difficult to summarize or even place into a genre without giving too much away. Nova Ren Suma classifies it as magical realism and that works for me.

The book is narrated by Chloe and she is the protagonist, but the story isn't so much about her as much as it's about her older sister, Ruby.  Actually Chloe's whole life, her whole world, is not so much about Chloe as much as it's about Ruby.

Chloe idolizes Ruby and is convinced Ruby can do anything.  And Ruby does.  She has the whole town wrapped around her little finger.  Chloe loves her for it and Ruby would do anything for her.

This book has a surreal, dream-like quality to it.  But much like the reservoir in the small town, danger lurks beneth the calm surface.

Ruby terrifies me.  Chloe loves her and trusts her, but Ruby is a little too powerful and too unstable for me to be comfortable.  And that's what's so great about this story.  We swim along, floating on Suma's beautiful writing, but in the back of our mind we know darkness is closing in.

Imaginary Girls has some of the things I love most in books: an unreliable narrator, a dysfunctional family, and a touch of magic.

It's a great read.  Check back tomorrow for a chance to win a copy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kaede kicks ass in HUNTRESS by Malinda Lo

The ancient world in Huntress is dying.  The seasons won't change, the sky is a constant shade of grey, crops are dried up, and people are starving.  Kaede and Taisin are two teenage girls in an academy training to be sages.  Taisin is a gifted sage from a humble birth, while Kaede has remained in the academy despite any magical ability because she is the chancellor's daughter.

When the King receives an invitation from the Fairy Queen, Taisin's visions and a prophecy determine that Kaede and Taisin  must accompany Prince Con into the world of fairy.  Taisin's only worried about one thing: in her vision, she's in love with Kaede and sages must take a vow of celibacy. Taisin wants more than anything to be a sage and is determined to not let any feelings get in her way.

Huntress by Malinda Lo is a splendid fantasy full of both intense adventure and a sweet romance.  The love story in this book feels so genuine and pure.  I kept reading late into the night just to see more interaction between these two girls.

Huntress is technically a prequel to Ash, Lo's retelling of Cinderella.  Although I loved Ash as well, I feel like Huntress is the stronger book and is easy to read completely on its own.   If you like Graceling by Kristin Cashore ( I love it!) then I think you'll enjoy Huntress as well.

And for you writer-types, Lo does something interesting with point-of-view.  Huntress is told in 3rd person omniscient-ish.  We see inside several characters' heads.  I hadn't read a contemporary book that pulls this off until now.

So, check out Huntress and let me know what you think!

Ooh, also.  I just read this epilogue-ish short story by Malinda Lo here.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From bimbos to badasses in BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island.  It's an awesome premise, but in Beauty Queens, Libba Bray does so much more than give us Lord of the Flies in heels.

Bray's smart and hilarious writing takes us deep into the psyche of our ensemble cast of teen beauty queens.  Each girl has her own reasons for entering the pageant and each girl has her own demons to conquer on the island as she comes into her own. It is a truly ensemble cast, but Petra is my favorite.  She might be the one with the biggest secret, but she is also the girl who has the clearest sense of who she is.  Beauty Queens is somehow both campy and deep, it delivers a strong message and yet is light-hearted and hilarious.

If you took LOST, James Bond, Glee, Clueless, The Heart of Darkness, added some feminist-flavored rum, and put them in a blender, Beauty Queens would be the fruity cocktail you'd enjoy by the pool.

I loved Bray's use of footnotes in the novel and many of them had me literally laughing out loud.  Example: "Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who later became a best-selling t-shirt icon."

Although they might start off as superficial pageant contestants, Beauty Queens is full of strong heroines, some of which become pretty bad-ass.  It's great fun to see the girls use their beautifying skills to survive on the island and confront any dangers that come their way.  I love this book and I think anyone who's ever seen an advertisement for a beauty product should read it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Holly Black knows how to make readers feel smart in RED GLOVE

I read because I like to feel smart.  Sure, I read as an exercise in escapism.  I read to step into someone else's shoes and to learn about the world around me.  I read to laugh.  I read to cry.  Sure, whatever.

I love books that make me feel smart.  I'm not talking about reading Plato's Republic and then annoying my friends with Socratic quotes.  Not that kind of smart.  I love figuring things out.  I love that "aha!" moment, when I'm pretty sure I've solved the mystery.  I love that light bulb moment so much, that I'll sometimes put a sticky note on the page where things finally came together.  That way, later when someone asks "When did you figure out the BIG MYSTERY?"  I can say, "HA! I knew all the way back on page 98."  (No one's ever asked, but you know, just in case).

BUT! Here's the thing.  As much as I love feeling smart, I also love being tricked.  And this is where Holly Black is most brilliant.  She's weaved so many mysteries, twists, and turns into Red Glove that while I'm patting myself on the back for figuring one thing out (sticky note ready) BAM!  Someone sneaks up behind me and whacks me on the head with a shovel.  (Not literally, you know what I mean).

Red Glove is the second book in Holly Black's magical mobster Curse Workers Series.  But Red Glove is so much more than a sequel to White Cat.  As Kiersten White eloquently points out, Red Glove avoids all the second book pitfalls and is the "perfect middle book."

Cassel's brother is murdered and he has to figure out who killed him, while hiding his powerful curse, and shaking off both the mob and the feds who are breathing down his neck trying to recruit him.  The thing is, Cassel is a pretty screwed up guy.  With an emotion-worker for a mom, he doesn't trust his own feelings, let alone those of others.  His family is full of criminals and killers, and although he doesn't want to be like them, he doesn't know how to be anything else.  He doesn't trust his own sense of right and wrong.  Lies come more easily than the truth.  His self-loathing is so complete, he can't believe anyone would like him unless they're being conned, worked, and/or lied to.

Black does a brilliant job of letting the reader figure some things out long before Cassel does.  He's so lovably screwed up, he can't see what's right in front of him.  But at the same time, Cassel is so busy lying, hiding, and conning, we never see the end coming.  Dark and heartbreaking, with thrilling set-ups and cons, Red Glove's best con is the one Black pulls on the readers.


**Ok, so I know I'm breaking my own rules by raving about a book with a male protagonist.  But, I wouldn't mess with ANY of the women in this book, they're all pretty kick-ass in their own right.  And, they're my rules and I can break them if I want to.  So there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fancy is Wicked in SLICE OF CHERRY by Dia Reeves

Hello! So, a few weeks ago Blogger was doing funny things and ate my post on Divergent by Veronica Roth.  But I've been too lazy  incredibly busy to rewrite it.  So, I'll sum up. You should read it. Divergent crawled inside my head and stayed there for days.  Fans of The Hunger Games will love it.

OK then, onward and upward!

I loved Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and I was excited about Slice of Cherry.  I'd heard it was darker, bloodier, and even better than Bleeding Violet.  And guess what?  They were right!  These people who say these things: so smart!

It's not a sequel, but Slice of Cherry takes place in Portrero, the same town as Bleeding Violet, and Hanna and Wyatt make a cameo.  Slice of Cherry is about Kit and Fancy, daughters of an incarcerated serial-killer known as the Bone-Saw Killer.  And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  The girls can't fight the desire to cut and kill (well, it's not like they try hard).

All Fancy wants is for her and her sister to be together and be allowed to be themselves, even if that means an occasional homicide.  Reeves has this way of combining blood, murder, sex, and a light-hearted playfulness into a book that is difficult to put down but creates this uncomfortable squishy spot inside you.

I'd find myself rooting for Fancy and her murderous desires, only to be disgusted with myself for doing so.  Through their special abilities in the dangerously magical world of Portrero, Kit and Fancy turn murder into a game.  Although it made me squeamish at times, I loved how remorseless Fanny is.  She doesn't apologize for who she is.  Ultimately this is a book about being true to yourself, sticking by your family, and searching for what it means to be "good."

There are some books where you love the world and the characters so much, you want to dive into the book and live the characters' lives.  This is not one of those books.  Reeves does an excellent job of making Portrero and the girls' world feel disturbingly real, but I'm really glad it's not.

If you want to read a book you can feel in your gut, I highly recommend Slice of Cherry.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Conference Tips from a Social Dweeb

So, it's conference season in the publishing world and now that I've attended a handful of writers' conferences, I thought I'd share what I learned.  Now there are plenty of blogs and interviews from agents and other publishing peeps with advice on conferences.  Except for some great tips about how to pitch, most of the advice out there comes down to this: Don't be crazy.

Now chances are, if you're reading blogs looking for advice about attending a conference, then you probably aren't the type to pitch in the bathroom or get irate at rejection.

But I've learned there are so many more subtle ways you can screw up at a conference.  So here's some of my mistakes and what I've learned.

Start Early
  • It's intimidating to attend an event in different city with people you don't know, and all that possibility and potential hanging in the air.  And if you're like me, you might like to take a moment, or a day, to sit back, observe, and figure out how these things work before plunging in.  This is a mistake.  Don't wait until the closing cocktail party to pitch that agent or talk to that author. 
  • At the last conference I attended, most of the agents came to the first hour of the closing cocktail party and then left.  People have planes to catch and if no one is pitching them in the first hour, they figure they might as well go drink and talk amongst themselves somewhere where there's not a bunch of drooling writers staring at them from across the room.
  • So, if you see that agent you're dying to pitch hanging out by the coffee the first morning of the conference, go pitch him/her! Everyon waits until the last event of the conference to gather their courage, but then you'll have to fight off the other vultures or you'll be disappointed when the agent has to take off to catch a plane, or go get a tattoo, or whatever.

Socialize
  • Ha!  How I wish I could tell you how to do this well.  I'm terribly awkward person with this huge, looming fear of social rejection following me wherever I go.  I'm timid and shy at first but once someone actually makes eye contact with me and starts talking, then something kicks over in my brain and I can't be stopped.  Once I realize I won't be rejected, I just talk and talk, getting louder and louder, making weird noises, flailing my hands about and knocking things over.  It's awful.  But I do it anyways.  Force yourself to talk to people.
  • The same start early advice applies here.  As soon as you have the name badge around your neck, start introducing yourself.  don't know what to say?  Here are the basics:
    • "Where are you from?"
    • "What do you write?"
    • "How's your conference going?"
    • "Which panel did you/are you going to attend?"
  • Found yourself awkward and alone? Go stand by the food or coffee, people will come to you!  Then hit them with one of the abover lines.
  • Also, don't be clingy.  Once you've broken the ice with that first person, don't follow her around all day.  Branch out and keep mingling.
  • Exchange contact info and follow through, it's easy to shoot someone an email or follow thier blog or twitter and say, "It was great to meet you at the conference."
Talk to the Published Authors
  • If you've read an author's work and loved it, tell her.  I've made the mistake of trying to give authors meaningful looks at signings, hoping they'll remember me.  Or I think, "Why should I say I loved their book?  They must hear that all the time, if I can't be original, then I won't say anything at all."  Stupid!
  • Also, it's ok to talk to an author if you haven't read their book.  I still quite haven't learned this one.  At my last conference, an author stood behind me in line at a signing and we just stood there in silence, awkward.  If we were at the grocery store, I would've talked to him, but I felt ashamed or embarrassed that I hadn't read his book.
Pick your Panels Wisely
  • I know you're probably attending conferences in hopes of getting an agent.  But there's also tons of other opportunities for learning and meeting other writers.  Don't attend a panel simply because the agent of your dreams is on it.  Giving strong looks from the audience will not make them offer representation, I promise.  And a lot of the time, the agent panels are usually about how to get an agent or trends.  Both of which agents usually don't like talking about and both of which you can learn an ENORMOUS amount from this thing called the internet.  Don't get stuck in a How to Query panel with the blue-haired lady asking, "What's a query?" and "Don't you just love rhetorical questions?"  You'll smack yourself in the head, wanting to scream, "HOW CAN YOU SPEND $300 ON A CONFERENCE BUT HAVE NEVER READ NATHAN BRANSFORD"S BLOG??!!"  Ahem.  In other words, try to attend panels where you'll learn something you can't find bu googling it.
So, I'm incredibly awkward and have made lots of mistakes, but I've managed to attend a few conferences without being blacklisted from publishing.  I've learned tons and met lots of great people.  If you're a social dweeb like me and the only thing holding you back from going to a conference is fear of going alone, then I say, forget fear, and go for it!  Be awkward with other writers!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Amelia predicts you'll love THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell

I'm usually not a fan of historical fiction.  It's difficult for me to care about problems that don't exist today, like tight corsets and strict courting rules.  But Saundra Mitchell's writing is so pure and so real, I was sucked back in time.

Within the first few pages of The Vespertine, we know Amelia is "ruined."  Then the story jumps back a few months and we watch her ruination unfold.  I found myself (even with my staunch apathy towards courting rules of the past) constantly worried about Amelia's reputation.  Each time she bent the rules, I'd think, "Amelia!  Your virtue!  Protect your virtue!"  Somehow Mitchell's amazing words turned me into a Victorian grandma.

I think that's what I loved most about this book.  Mitchell creates a world so solid, so complete, that I was both shocked and exhilarated by Amelia's daring when she touched a boy's bare hand or asked for his address.

And really, I don't think the story would work as well in any other time period.  Amelia sees the future in the sunset.  She doesn't know when or where the images she sees will unfold, only that they will.  In a time when spiritualism was all the rave, Amelia's gift makes her very popular in Baltimore....until she's blamed for the tragedies she foresees.

I love how the characters readily accepted the supernatural occurrences in the novel.  And that makes sense, really.  There was so much we didn't know and didn't understand about our world in the Victorian era.  Now, we'd be concerned with the hows and whys, but back then, not knowing was just part of life.

Mitchell somehow manages to write both a beautiful and fast-paced story.  She also doesn't pull any punches, this is truly a gothic novel with its fair share of devastation.

I see in the vespers...you'll love it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

WLT YA A to Z conference

This weekend I attended the first ever WLT YA A to Z Conference in Austin, Texas. I guess it was also the first ever conference that focused only on YA, which is pretty awesome.

The conference was great.  There were panels Friday and Saturday, an opening cocktail reception on Friday, a keynote lunch with Tim Wynne-Jones on Saturday, and a closing party on Saturday night.  You could also sign up to pitch to agents, consult with editors or authors, and/or get your work critiqued by an editor or author.    I didn't partake in any of the consultations, I was just there to meet other writers and learn as much as I could.

Kay, I'd be totally lying if I didn't tell you that the absolute highlight of my conference was meeting my idol/agent-sister Carrie Ryan.  I'm pretty sure I did something stupid and embarrassed myself each time I talked to her, but I'm just proud of myself for not jumping up and down and screaming, "OMG, CARRIE RYAN!  I LOVE ZOMBIES!"

I also met many awesome Texas YA writers.  Haley, Sian, Donna, Zana, Jaimie, Sian, Tori, Yasmine, and Kayla, it was so great talking to you!

OK Junkies, I also took NOTES on all the lovely tidbits of KNOWLEDGE floating around the conference.

From a panel about the MARKET

  • YA historical is easier to sell to school and library market than commercially  
  • Agents and editors are still looking for men writing YA for boys (there was some good discussion about what that looks like)
  • Agent Regina Brooks said she and the editors she works with are looking for YA mysteries.
From a panel about writing Fantasy
  • Carrie Ryan explained her brilliant world-building believability points system.  Basically, since she asks her readers to suspend their disbelief and just accept that zombies exist, she has to work hard to make sure she's not asking them to suspend their disbelief on too much else.  So she works to make everything else as TRUE as possible, including the NY subway system.
  • Remember the kryptonite! All powerful characters are boring.
From a panel about writing for tweens
  • Greg Leitich Smith said (roughly), "Although I wish every child in America would read my book, I know that's not the case.  We're not writing for every child.  We're writing for the child who reads, and the child who reads is probably much smarter than the average adult."
And I wish you all could have been there for Tim Wynn-Jones's brilliant key-note address.  He discussed the writer's inner genius, or subconscious, or what he likes to call, Brenda.  He talked about how our minds put little gifts on the page for us to find later.  He said, when you're writing and come across a problem, the first place you should look is your own text.  We subconsciously leave a road map within our own stories.  Varian Johnson also touched on the idea of inner-genius in his workshop on metaphor. Metaphors and symbols shouldn't be forced, we should find things already in our own text and simply expand and refine them.

Well, after this weekend, I sure am inspired and motivated to write!  I've been floundering a little lately, but after some good advice this weekend, I have a clear idea of what I need to be working on.

If you get a chance to attend the WLT YA A to Z conference next year, I highly recommend it!  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Houston Teen Book Con

On Saturday morning, I popped on over to Houston Teen Book Con.  Ugly traffic and poor planning made me late, but I made it just in time to grab my free ARC (woohoo!), find a writer-friend, and watch the author introductions and Deb Caletti's awesome keynote address.

It was so great just be around that many teen readers.  Yes I'm surrounded by teenagers five days a week, all of whom are forced to read, but this was different.  My heart warmed at the collective sighs as Deb Caletti described her love of books.  The cheers and applause for authors and their books, as if they were rock stars, thrilled me.  Somehow, watching awkward teens milling about, clutching books to their chests, inspired more hope for humanity than my daily view of teenage swagger.

I attended the panel titled, "Where there be ghosts...and werewolves, and everything else!"  Rachel Hawkins, Saundra Mitchell, Stacey Kade, Joy Preble, and Andrea Cremer were funny, insightful, and incredibly open and honest in answering questions.  Saundra Mitchell discussed how paranormal creatures in fiction reflect the attitudes and general consciousness of the writer's society.  All the authors spoke candidly when asked, "What YA book do you wish you had read as a teen?"  The panel was great and over entirely too quickly.

Unfortunately I couldn't stay for any more panels or for the signings afterward.  But the Teen Book Con was a blast for the short time I was there.  If you ever have a chance to attend something like this, I highly recommend it.

P.S. I tried taking pictures with my phone, but they didn't come out well, so I'll spare everyone pics of blurry authors.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Annah is a fighter in THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES by Carrie Ryan

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan is by far my favorite book in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series. And Annah is my favorite of the three heroines.  She's the strongest, but also the most damaged.

While Mary and Gabry both grew up in relative safety, Annah has been fighting to survive since she was five years old.  Both Mary and Gabry took risks while figuring out what they wanted out of life.  (Sometimes these risks made me want to yell at them and say, "No!  Just stay put!  There are zombies out there!  What are you thinking?!!! Ahhh!!!")

Annah, on the other hand, is less reckless but her world is so much more dangerous.  Everyday is a struggle to survive.  She doesn't need to take stupid risks to decide what she wants, she already knows.  She wants to be safe and she wants to be loved.  But in a world consumed by death, where even the living have lost their humanity, this might be too much to ask for.

I found The Dark and Hollow Places to be significantly darker and more terrifying than The Forest of Hands and Teeth or The Dead-Tossed Waves.  Ryan explores the cruelty of human nature and what we're capable of once order is stripped away--ideas just touched on in the previous two books.  At times, I didn't know if I was more scared of the Unconsecrated or the Recruiters.

And boy are there some scary scenes!  In real life, I'm totally scared of the dark.  Who knew that reading about the dark would make me so terrified?  I had to stop and catch my breath a few times, I was gasping and panting while reading, I was so scared.  (Note:  I'm a wuss)

Don't worry, though, it's not all doom, gloom, and fear.  I also think the love story in this book is the best of all three.  Unlike with Mary and Gabry's romances, it was clear from the start who Annah belonged with.  And there's nothing more satisfying than watching two characters learn to love themselves so they can begin to love each other.

I loaned my copy of the book to a student and when she finished, she told me, "And I'm so glad she fell in love with him because...well...yeah."
"Yeah," I said.
Sometimes sixteen-year-olds say it best.

You will not be disappointed in the conclusion to this amazing series.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Eve of April Fools...

I love this holiday.  What?  April 1st isn't a real holiday?  Well it is for me.  I think humor is one of the best parts of being human, so a day that's all about the funny?  Love it!

My family loves some April foolin' too.  One year my mom put plastic wrap on the toilet.  Do you know what happens when you put plastic wrap over the toilet?  That's right, you end up peeing all over yourself.  Hilarious.  Disgusting, but hilarious.  I thought it was so funny that I brought the plastic wrap to school and covered those toilets too!

In fifth grade, I convinced my teacher to write me a suspension notice saying I pulled the fire alarm.  My mom didn't believe it for a second.

When my sister was about twenty, she called my mom and told her she was pregnant, and oh my God, she couldn't handle it and won't my mom raise her baby?  When my mom said no, she even started crying.  April Fools!

I love pulling pranks on my students, too.  I've gotten them good with the fake high stakes district test that I forgot to warn them about.  I've even passed out tests and watched them struggle through it for a few minutes.

Last year, two female students really got me.  They started bickering and it escalated until they were cussing and then jumped at each other as if to fight.  I ran between them, shouting, red in the face, and the whole class erupted in laughter.

I also love all the shenanigans on the internet on April 1st.  Absolute Write is always a fun place on April Fool's Day.  The best part of the online foolery is the people who haven't quite caught on and leave confused or even angry comments on foolish forums.

Really, the key to a good April Fool's joke is to get 'em early.  Because most people, once they're fooled once, will not be fooled twice--at least not in the same day.  I won't believe anything anyone tells me tomorrow.  Last year a friend emailed saying he was engaged. I just thought, what a weird April Fool's Day joke.  It wasn't.

I was thinking about pranks and April Fool's Day in terms of this whole writing game.  Agents and editors hold so many dreams in their hands.  I wonder if any of them are tempted to play a prank or two? OK, if my agent called and said "You have a mega 3-book deal!....April Fools!"  I'd be devastated, that would be totally cruel.  But the other way around?  "Sorry, I just can't sell your book....except I just did!"  Might be kind of cool.....Ok, just kidding.  I'm way too fragile when it comes to this publishing dream to be toyed around with.  I bet most writers feel the same way.

What about you?  Any good April Fools Day pranks?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just keep writing...(or why manuscripts are like ex-boyfriends)

One of the best pieces of advice you'll find on this whole journey towards publication is: write another book.  Now this advice can be either incredibly helpful or incredibly depressing, depending on where you are in the writing process.

Once upon a time, I wrote a middle grade adventure/fantasy.  There was a secret magic school and sinister bad guys who forced the students to eat avocados!  I made a lot of classic mistakes in the manuscript and in the querying process.  I queried way too early.  I'd do a little research, send a batch of queries, refresh my email, more research, refresh email, get rejections, revise the manuscript, do a little research, send another batch of queries, refresh my email....on and on and on.

About six months passed between when I sent my first query and my last.  My manuscript changed dramatically during this time and my body of knowledge about the publishing industry grew exponentially.
 
A month or so into this process, I read some statistic, or maybe it was just anecdotal evidence, on an agent's blog (either Janet Reid's or Kristin Nelson's--both are INCREDIBLY helpful for queriers), but basically she said that writers hardly ever--like never--sell their first book.  I was devastated.  I was working so hard!  How could this be?  Digging around on author's blogs, you'll find almost all of them have at least one (if not five) books they've written and are "trunked"  or "shelved."

I called my mom with this horrible news.
Me:  "Mom!  I just read that, like, no one gets their first book published!"
Mom: "So, write another book."
Me: "But it's my baby!"

At the time I was pissed off and horrified.  How could she just tell me to write another book?  She just said it in her cheery tone like it was nothing!  I've just spent almost two years of my life on this and she says write another book!  

I honestly felt like my child had died and my own mother was telling me, it's ok just have another one.

Well, guess what happened?  I wrote another book.  Because in this whole writing game, there's an awful lot of waiting.  Just to keep myself from refreshing my email too many times, I started something new.

So I wrote while I waited and eventually this rebound story started getting exciting.  I saw how much BETTER it could be than my first book.  So by the time my last partial rejection came in, I was so wrapped up in this new story that it didn't hurt quite so much.  It was ok.

Now, I don't think of that first book as a lost child.  I think of that book like I think of my 8th grade boyfriend.  Sure it hurt A LOT when we parted ways when I was 13.  But now?  Do I think of him as the one-who-got-away?  Do I fantasize how things would be different if things had worked out with us? NO, definitely not.  I learned a lot from that first relationship and I might have looked him up on facebook, just once, but that's it.

Giving up on or shelving a manuscript is a lot like a break up.  It hurts like hell at the time.  But as long as you keep putting yourself out there, you'll find someone new.  And after a while, this new person is so great, you can't even remember what you saw in that last story.

So now that I'm back at another waiting stage in this whole process, I have a little song I like to sing to myself.  You know Dory, from Finding Nemo?  She sings "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..." Well, whenever I'm tempted to drive myself crazy refreshing, I sing to myself "Just keep writing, just keep writing."
  

Monday, March 21, 2011

I love Donia in DARKEST MERCY by Melissa Marr


So, it's like really hard to talk about the last book in a series without spoiling the preceding books.  So, if you haven't read them yet, go read the first four Wicked Lovely books by Melissa Marr, like now.  Of course I won't spoil Darkest Mercy, because that would be sick and wrong.

Now, Donia was one of my favorite characters from Wicked Lovely, so I was super excited to see her on the cover of Darkest Mercy.  I have to admit, though, I was a little nervous to read the last book in this awesome series, because I knew war was brewing and I feared a blood-bath.

Also, when I read Radiant Shadows many moons ago, I screamed at the last line of the epilogue.  Devlin tells Seth, "Try not to die, brother." Ahh!

I love Seth!  And really, he is near and dear to so many faeries that he's the perfect target for Bananach to start some trouble.  So yes, I was worried, but once I started reading, of course I couldn't stop.

Melissa Marr blew me away once again with her brilliant prose.  What I loved about this final book, was its sense of humor.  We know these characters so well now and Marr slipped in all these inside jokes and great one-liners.  And Niall--oh how I love Niall--even when he's on the brink of madness and overwhelmed with grief, is pretty darn funny.

Marr uses so many point of views, I lost count.  But because we know almost all the characters so well, it was never dizzying.  We are introduced to two new faeries, Far Dorcha and Ankou.  And in the way only Marr knows how to craft characters, they are both dark and frightening, yet likable.

Darkest Mercy focuses a lot on forgiveness.  And as a reader I felt like I had to forgive some characters, for their actions in the previous books and for their trespasses in the course of this final installment.

I loved this book.  Donia was as strong as ever and Seth continued to serve as the moral compass for the faerie courts.  But there were some devastating parts.  The senseless death of war was deeply felt.  There were bloody battles and grief.

But Marr also has a marvelous knack for bringing her characters to the brink of doom and then getting them out of it in a way that feels natural.  Darkest Mercy is dark and bloody, but it's also the most hopeful of all five books.  I love the emotional ride of Darkest Mercy.  Read it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not so little-- SISTERS RED By Jackson Pearce

My, what big eyes you have!

I loved Jackson Pearce's modern retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood."  In Sisters Red, Scarlett March lives for two things, hunting werewolves and protecting Rosie, her younger sister.  Rosie owes Scarlett her life and forgoes school and all the trappings of a normal life to join her sister in the hunt.  But unlike Scarlett, who feels most complete when she's sinking her hatchet into a wolf's belly, Rosie longs for more.

The book alternates between the two sisters' perspectives.  At first Scarlett was my favorite.  She's the strong one, the fighter.  But as I read, I kept rooting for Rosie's happiness, even if it was at the expense of her sister's.

It took me a second to adjust to the world Pearce created.  The story takes place in our world, in Atlanta, Georgia.  But Scarlett and Rosie aren't really a part of the world you and I know.  They live in a cottage in the woods, and walk everywhere, and don't work or go to school, and have a woodsman for a neighbor, and hunt werewolves, and don't have cell phones.  (do you have any idea how many of their problems would've been solved if they had freaking cell phones?)

But, once I figured out the whole fairy-tale world within our world thing, I was hooked.  And that's a huge part of the story.  Rosie wants to be part of our world so badly, while Scarlett is stuck in her own world of the hunt.

Sisters Red is bloody and ferocious as the two heroines kick some major wolf ass.  Oh, I wish I could tell you my favorite ass-kicking part!  But it's at the end. And a big spoiler.  So, read it and you'll see.

I also loved the romance in this book.  I liked how the love wasn't TOO forbidden.  It felt right for the characters to be together and they didn't get all dramatic about the reasons they *shouldn't* be.  I liked that.  Their love felt real.

Ooh, and also, Ms. Pearce, you are the Queen of red herrings!  I'm very impressed.  At first, I knew.  Then I was, oh wait, I'm wrong.  But it turns out, I was right!  Sneaky, sneaky.  (Sorry Junkies, if you're confused, just go read it already).

So, if you like books with girls hacking up evil werewolves with hatchets, sisterly love, hot romance with kissing in the rain, and kick-ass girls who say, "I won't wait for the woodsman to save me."  Then, what are you waiting for?

Oh, and have you seen Jackson Pearce's amazing blog?  She does these great videos that are both funny and informative.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Don't judge a book by its...

Hello my lovely Junkies!  It seems like I've spent this week admiring the beautiful new covers of books I can't wait to read.  Which is really torture for an addict, like myself.  They're pretty! I want to read them!  Now!  But they're not out yet!

So, I figured I'd share my torment with you.  Don't you just want to pet the pretty pictures?


I'm so excited for Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey.  Not only is Mary amazing, but her book sounds so dark and sexy.  And isn't this cover gorgeous?





Oooh, isn't this cover seductive and creepy?  Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs is about 3 girls who are descendants of Medusa and must fight mythological creatures.  How awesome is that?  I love the simple beauty of this cover with the subtle snaking of the hair.


OK, now I'm sorry Mary and Tera, but the cover that tops them all was revealed today.

Just wow.  It's similar to the Paranormalcy cover, but is darker, sexier, and more mature.  Just like I hope Supernaturally will be!  What?  You haven't read Paranormalcy?  You don't read Kiersten White's hilarious blog?  I'd really recommend fixing that, ASAP.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gateway Drugs

So as part of my day-job, I teach a remedial reading class to 11th graders.  Many English teachers would be disgusted with such a task, but I like it for a lot of reasons.  I get to play matchmaker with teens and books.  The class I teach is all about pairing students with high-interest books at their level.  The program comes with loads of great books, but students also find themselves attracted to all those other books on my shelves.

I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've recommended and that have been successful with my reluctant readers.  Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list and I'm not a librarian.   The ALA has a complete list of YA for reluctant readers which is much better than my silly anecdotes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I pitched the book to my class and then started a sign-up sheet for who wanted to read it first.  A few tried but it was too hard for them.  But one student was determined.  He was hooked by the concept and every day he'd check in with me to make sure he was understanding it.  "So, she goes in her sister's place?"  "So, Peeta is the boy with the bread?"  "So, Haymitch is drunk?"  I would nod, and smile and my heart would swell with pride that he's understanding a book above his level and at the same time I'd get to relive the amazing story with him.

anything by Sharon Draper
I had three girls who read Romiette and Julio, Tears of a Tiger, and Forged by Fire.  Whoever read a book first would then ask the other one "so, where are you?" and the other girl would yell at her not to spoil it.  One of these girls hated reading, hated me, hated the class.  she'd never even read a picture book (or so she said) but she loved sharon Draper's books.  She wanted to write her a letter.  So we wrote Sharon an email and she wrote back!  This student smiled for the first time all year when I handed her the printed out email from Sharon.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Draper got those three girls hooked and they wanted more.  I figured out they liked the edginess and readability of Draper's books, so I told them about 13 Reasons Why.  Of course I prefaced it with a worried face and said, "hmm, I don't know, it has some language, and some sex, maybe I should ask your parents first..." that really got them clamoring.  To girls fought over who would read it first, so they alternated days and each had a post-it note to save their place.  They'd get mad when the other one had read farther than them.  The book is short, the chapters are short, and the emotions are raw.  Perfect for reluctant readers.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I had a student who read at grade-level but said she just didn't like to read.  Twilight was the only book she'd ever finished.  I handed her City of Bones and she gobbled up the series.  She wanted more.  She said she wanted darker.  I handed her Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.  She made a face when I told her it was about faeries.  "Trust me," I said.  She came back the next day and handed me the book.  "What you don't like it?"  I asked.  "No.  I finished it.  Is there another one?"  Yes, yes there is.  I knew then that she was hooked (insert evil laugh here).  She's read half the books on my shelves.

Wake by Lisa McMann
The lyrical style and time-jumps can be tricky for some readers, but the short sections are much less an intimidating than a 30 page chapter.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkes
The Draper girls are seniors this year and no longer my students.  But sometimes they stop by and ask "got anything good?"  (I really do feel like a drug dealer)  They devoured Perfect Chemistry.

When I first started trying to push books on teens, I'd just try to get them to read my favorite books.  but that's not how it works.  I have to figure out what THEY like and find something easy enough.  Not all YA is accessible for emerging readers.  Many of the books I LOVE are too subtle, require the reader to make too many inferences, and are just plain too long to keep the attention of a reluctant reader.  But that's ok, I love the challenge of finding something for them.

What about you junkies?  Which books have you seen start an addiction?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I want to smooch ANNA and the FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

I don't read much contemporary YA.  I mean, I'm not a teen, and I spend ALL day in a high school.  So I get my share of the drama, the awkwardness, the gossip, the cattiness, the bullying, the bad decisions, and all the icky coming-of-age-ness.  I generally don't want to read about that stuff unless there's a decent dose of magic, paranormal creatures, dystopian societies, and/or zombie apocalypses.

But enough of my fav authors who write about all those speculative things raved about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins that I had to pick it up.  I'm so glad I read this book, because I'd forgotten about all the exciting things about being a teenager.

Secret crushes!  First kisses!  Delightfully awkward throat-clearing while your leg brushes his and you pretend you're paying attention to the movie and not stealing glances at him in a dark movie theater!

Perkins does a brilliant job of filling us with the tingly ache of falling in love.  I held my breath along with Anna as she shared her boarding school bed with Etienne.  (oh, not like that!  Remember that feeling?  That 17-year-old feeling that if you could just sleep, JUST SLEEP, with him then your world would be complete? Sigh)

I was afraid Anna and the French Kiss would be too light and fluffy, but I was relieved to find genuine characters with real problems and a wonderfully believable romance.  And even though she didn't beat-up vampires or kick zombie-ass, Anna is still a strong heroine who holds her own.

So, my challenge to you junkies:  What other YA contemporaries do you recommend?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

So, what does it all mean?

First of all, I want to thank you all so much for the support, the congratulations, the confetti, and the exclamation points when I announced my news the other day.  Thank you.  You're awesome.  You're writers.  You get it.

The reactions from my family and friends when I told them I have an agent, have been pretty interesting.  To be fair, most people didn't know I'd written a book, let alone that I was querying agents, so it's not like I'd really discussed the process with them before.

But one friend said, "Wow.  That's great.  I wrote a book in 1st grade.  Do you think it could get published?"   (no joke)

Another friend said, "Well, just make sure they don't screw up the movie version of your book.  Learn from JK Rowling and keep control over the movie.  Because you really don't want them screwing it up like they did with Percy Jackson."   (noted)

A family member immediately started lamenting what a failure she was in life and how she's never accomplished anything.  (awkward)

But most people ask the same question, "When can I buy your book?"

And my response is usually something like, "Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here."  or "I'm just trying to take it one step at a time."

But people don't get it.  They think I'm being defeatist or self-depracating or pessimistic by not telling them the publication date of my book.  So then I try to explain the publishing process and their eyes glaze over.  So, I've come up with an analogy to help you out, when your time comes to tell your non-writer friends your good news.

Being an unpublished, un-agented, amateur writer is like being stranded on a desert island.  You don't bathe, you eat nothing but nuts and berries, and you spend your time talking to volleyballs.  All you want is to go home and sleep in your warm bed (to be published).

So, you light signal fires and spell out "HELP" with rocks on the shore (you send out query letters).  But most of the time, you feel like the world is too big and you're too small and you'll never be rescued.

An agent is your rescue.  It might be a speedy helicopter or a slow foreign fishing boat with people who don't speak your language, but it's rescue!  You're off the island, you're on your way home!  You could never get home without this rescue.

Now, just like all rescues are not the same, not all book deals are the same.  It might be all you've hoped and dreamed of and you'll sleep soundly in your own bed for the rest of your life.  Or you might go home to discover the love of your life has married someone else.  Or you might go home only to discover that the island NEEDS you and you have to go back, but when you go back, you go back in time, and the smoke monster kills everyone, and you find out you were all dead all along. What the hell, LOST?  I'm still pissed.  Anyway, you get where I'm going.

Your agent is your rescue, your life raft, your Coast Guard helicopter.  It's not where you want to be yet, but you cant go anywhere without him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I fell in love with THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff

OK Junkies, I'm breaking my own rules to tell you about how awesome The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff is, even though the main character is a boy.  But the girls in this book kick so much ass that I really think it makes up for it.

Mackie Doyle isn't like the rest of the people in Gentry, his small and gloomy town.  Actually, Mackie isn't even human.  His parents know it.  His sister knows it.  His best friend knows it.  Half the town might suspect it, but NO ONE talks about it.

In Gentry, babies sometimes get sick and die.  But the bodies in the tiny coffins aren't really the grieving parents' offspring.  They're replacements.

The creatures who live beneath the slag heap steal human babies and replace them with their own sick children.  The replacements all die in their cribs.  All except Mackie.

Thanks to his sister's love, Mackie has survived and grown into a teenager.  But he lives in fear that the town will learn his secret and persecute him.  He does his best to blend in, to be invisible.  He doesn't want to think or talk about the truth anymore than the next citizen of Gentry.

But when Tate's younger sister dies, she knows the corpse is not her sister.  Tate challenges Mackie to acknowledge who he is and how he can help.

One of the things I love about this book is that Mackie is not a typical hero.   He's not brave, or strong, or selfless, or any of the things we expect our heroes to be.  Mackie is sickly, poisoned by the iron in the world around him.  Sometimes he can barely walk into a room without swooning, let alone fight off bad guys.  Also, all Mackie wants is to blend in, be left alone, and survive. He stonewalls Tate to protect himself and at first he won't stick out his neck for anyone.

So that's where the girls come in.  Erin, Mackie's sister, will do anything to protect Mackie.  She puts herself in danger to save him and her strong love is what has kept him alive in a world his body rejects.  And Tate definitely earns the title of kick-ass heroine.  I don't want to spoil all the ways she kicks ass, but let's just say she's not afraid to hurt someone in order to protect herself and save her sister.

Tate is fierce.  She won't keep quiet, she won't put up with Mackie's crap.  She won't back down.  I love her.

The Replacement is a dark, creepy story.  I mean, how much creepier can you get than dead babies?  But there are also tons of universal themes.  I think every teenager has felt the urge to just fit in and be unnoticed, the strong desire to be just like everyone else.  And I know I've definitely felt like an outsider in my own family and maybe even wondered, was I replaced at birth?

Read The Replacement.  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ummm so, I got THE CALL!!!!

Squeee!!!!  I have news!

I am now represented by Jim McCarthy from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management!!!!

Ok, I really have to stop with the exclamation points, but !!!!!
so, how did this happen, you ask?
Well, let me break it down for you.

For those searching for an agent, a piece of advice we often hear is "query agents who represent books you love."  Can I just say that this is the BEST advice ever?

As you know, I LOVED The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan.  So, I queried Jim McCarthy, Carrie's agent, on 1/2.  Jim requested the full manuscript on 1/10 and I got The Call on 1/19.

Being the studious agent-stalker, ahem, I mean researcher I am, I mean was, I knew Jim usually read manuscripts in about a week (he's super fast).  So, when a week had passed since I'd sent the full and I hadn't received a rejection, I was hopeful.

My cell phone rang on 1/19 in between 5th and 6th period (I teach high school).  I glanced at the number, saw the 212 area code and thought, "Is that New York?  Maybe it's Jim McCarthy calling to offer representation.  Oh, hahahaha, Alyson you are SO funny."  I declined the call.  My students were walking in.

When I finally listened to the message, my head nearly exploded.  It was like slow-motion.  I kept looking around waiting for someone to say "just kidding." But all the message said was to call him back and I was completely unprepared.

I stayed after school helping a student.  I went home.  I paced, I had a snack so I wouldn't throw up.  I looked up the right questions to ask.  I called back.  Voicemail.  I don't know how, but I slept that night.

The next morning, I had an email from Jim saying he was sorry he missed me and when could we chat?  I called him during my off-period.  I locked my classroom door and closed the blinds.  I paced among the desks and stammered.

Just hearing Jim say my title and how much he loved it, hearing him say my characters' names, hearing him talk about my book as if it was just that: an actual book, was such an enormous validation.  I was no longer some crazy girl with people in her head, mumbling to herself in a corner with a laptop.

I was a blabbering idiot on the phone.  "Umm, yeah, oh my god, yeah, thank you, umm, I'm exited, umm," but I tried to ask my list of questions.  When he offered representation it took all my strength not to jump up and down and scream.  Two other agents had the manuscript.

I emailed the other 2 agents, letting them know of the offer and that I wanted to make a final decision in a week.  One of the other agents offered and I spoke with her on the phone, but it was never a difficult decision.  I mean OMG, I have the same agent as Carrie Ryan!  OK, I also have the same agent as many really amazing writers whose books have now moved to the top of my TBR pile.  But like, I totally want to be Carrie Ryan when I grow up!  (oops sorry, does that sound stalkerish?  I'm not a creeper, I swear).

OK Junkies, thanks for letting me share my news!  Good luck to all those queriers out there.  It can happen, don't give up!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

MATCHED by Ally Condie lives up to the hype

I don't know why I'm always surprised when I fall in love with the latest hyped-up, buzzed-about YA novel.  I guess all you bookish people on the interwebs are pretty awesome and I should really learn to trust you.  And because y'all are so awesome, one of my goals for the new year is to spend more time with you and blog more.  I really feel like the guy at work who calls in sick EVERY Monday and then on Tuesday in the lunch room, everyone asks if he's feeling ok and he just looks away, nods, and changes the subject.

Soooo anyways....Matched!  It's awesome!  You should read it.

Ally Condie creates a dystopian world reminiscent of the classics.  The Society incinerates history, art, and literature a la Fahrenheit 451.  Similar to A Brave New World, citizens are controlled through extreme division of labor, regimented recreation, and mandated drugs.  The pervasive technology, misinformation, a mysterious and far away war, and the ever-present sense of being watched reminded me of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But Matched leaves the classics in the dust and gives us what they don't: a strong heroine, passionate romance, and hope.

We meet Cassia on the eve of her Match banquet, where she'll find out who the society has matched her with for marriage.  The other 17-year-olds meet their matches from other cities and provinces via video phone.  But Cassia's screen is black because her match is in the same room.  It's her best friend, Xander.  She's thrilled, but when she takes her microcard home to learn more about her match, another face flashes on the screen.  Cassia confides in the only person she can, her grandfather, and he asks if she ever wonders...

Cassia's rebellion starts small and is thrilling to watch as it grows.  In the beginning, she honestly believes the Society knows best, but slowly she pulls back the curtain to catch a glimpse of the man behind the wizard.    

The Society differs from other dystopian governments in that it seems to actually believe it's acting in its citizens best interests.  For me, a good-intentioned but misguided fascist government is way more terrifying than a malicious one.  Cassia is savvy, intelligent, and tough enough to outsmart the oppressive Society.  And it's so much fun watching her do it.

Cassia experiences her first real choice and gets a small taste for freedom, which leaves her willing to risk everything for more.  Classic dystopian novels present characters with a life in which happiness and fulfillment are impossible.  Matched is wonderfully brave in that contentment is easily attainable for Cassia within The Society's walls.  Cassia knows she could have a loving marriage, a job she likes and is good at, and a happy healthy family if only she shuts up and goes along with The Society's plan for her.

But she's courageous enough to not settle and want more: true love.  And isn't that what all the best stories are about?  The battle for true love?

I read Matched during my ski vacation and I found myself on a chair lift, anxious to get back to see how Cassia will get herself out of trouble.  Matched is hard to put down and I recommend it to any fans of YA and/or Dystopia.