Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Fives with Paper Hangover: Banned Books

A fantastic topic, and if you've read the ALA's list of frequently challenged books, it's hard to not find a book you love.

How are we still challenging books like Brave New World, Huck Finn, and Of Mice and Men? It blows my mind. I thought we were waaaay past that as a society.

It also makes me realize that people can't be reading some of these books, because if they actually read them from cover to cover, they would understand the topic in context, and context is simply everything.

What are my top five?

1. Go Ask Alice An exceptional cautionary tale. (Though I was sad to learn it was fiction, not a diary as originally purported.)

2. Brave New World I haven't read this book since my junior year of high school (1991, people) and I still think about it pretty often.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird. Breaks my heart, and the film is just as good as the book.

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany One of my favorites of all time.

5. There are not enough numbers on my list, because I'm having trouble picking from The Outsiders, What My Mother Doesn't Know, Speak, Crank, and The Handmaid's Tale, but it's going to the ultimate classic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

And if you haven't seen it, check out this article on teenage brains from National Geographic. Very interesting!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RTW: Best Book of September/ I Dig Reading

September was all over the place in terms of reading. In addition to a LOT of reading for my classes, I read four books for fun:

Holes by Louis Sachar. I'd seen the movie, but not read the book. EXCELLENT! I can't recommend it enough.

Making Waves by Tawna Fenske. If you read Tawna's blog (Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing) you know that she is truly funny. Hilarious, even. My expectations were high for her debut Making Waves, and this book met them all. A big dollop of romance, a cool mystery, and lots of laughing out loud along the way.

Chasing Vermeer. I picked this up when agent Amanda Lewis called me about my own book-- I  had to read a book she represented before meeting her. I loved this book. It was so good that I'm already reading the others in the series. It played a big role in my decision to sign with Amanda, because this book is in many ways what I aspire to: a smart MG book full of mind-bending puzzles, great characters (smart girls, FTW!), a fast-paced plot, and a suspenseful mystery.

Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCaffrey. This snarky protagonist manages to tell it like it is while remaining lovable and endearing. You can't beat that!

Don't make me pick.

I won't.

As for my I Dig Reading Challenge, four books for the month will go to another donation for Gilead Community Services (they have a fundraiser in October, so I'm saving up!)

Visit YA Highway to see what others loved reading this month!

Monday, September 26, 2011

TWO awards: 7 X 7 and TAG I'm it

For the 7X7 Award I share seven past blog articles that fit the superlative and THEN share the award with seven other bloggers.

Thanks to the effervescent Katy Upperman for passing this award to me. 
Most Beautiful: I still love this post featuring some of my son's art. I'm a mom. That's my thing. 

Most Helpful: My post on creating tabs in blogger. 
Most Popular: Inexplicably, this posting of a story about a painted bunting has twice the hits  of any other post. 

Most Controversial: Have I had a controversial post? I try not to... if I've blanked on one, let me know. 
Most Surprisingly Successful: I love this post where I tell a scar story from junior high. The response was so positive I wrote it up as an essay and sent it to a real live magazine. Even better: the Dude in question sent me a nice email lamenting that he hadn't come out to help me.
Most Prideworthy: I'm still crazy about Tiny Punk and the Machine a mini-steampunk odyssey featuring my kids and some of their friends. 

And for the TAG, I'm it, which was passed to me by The Contemplative Cat. 
I must tell 10 random unknown things about me, then tag five other bloggers. 

1. My middle name is Amory
2. I've eaten a bug on purpose
3. I once attended a conference dedicated to learning about composting toilets
4. I lived in the Netherlands for 5 years
5. I lived in a caravan park in the Netherlands (I could tell some stories!)
6. I have two older sisters
7. I always wanted a little brother
8. I was a camp counselor and taught riflery (i.e., shooting targets with guns)
9. I love tomatoes
10. I can take a nap almost anywhere
Well it's only fair that:

I TAG Katy for the Contemplative Cat post, and

pass on the 7x7 award to the Contemplative Cat!

And I'd like to double-tag some of my favorite bloggers!

Laura Hughes
Sophia (My fleet-footed self)
Joanne (My brain on books)
Alicia (who has already done at least one of these)
Pam and Quita

Participate if you like, no pressure if you don't!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Fives with Paper Hangover

I'm typing this surrounded by piles of cold and sinus products I picked up at CVS this morning. The school year is upon us, and in our family that means four separate sets of germs culminating in regular colds.
But, I'm fighting it with the probably-toxic combination of cold and sinus meds, sinus wash, fresh ginger, and tea.

Despite the cold I didn't want to miss this week's Friday Fives, where Paper Hangover asks

I'll go with a few actual and a few fantasy writing locations.

1. I write in my home office, which is cozy and perfect for me.

2. Some days, due to circumstance, I write in the den, but it is often at night or during nap time when the boys are asleep upstairs.

3. One thing I love about writing is that all you really need is a piece of paper and a pen. Sometimes I take my notebook along and try to squeeze in time for ideas and scenes at the playground, in the backyard, or anyplace else I can.

Now, for the fantasy picks:
4. I wouldn't mind writing here one little bit...

5. and I'm in talks with my husband to build me a standing desk like this one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BIG news

I have an agent, the lovely Amanda Lewis of Doe Coover agency!!

The story is long, but here goes. :0)

I wrote my MG STUNG (about a girl who loves bugs and solves mysteries) almost two years ago. I've been re-working it ever since. I spent some time this spring rewriting it and sent it out to a few agents. But honestly, I'd decided to trunk it after that, because I feared (as my first book), that maybe it wasn't meant to be.

Two agents liked it, but both suggested it was neither firmly MG or YA (it was YA at the time). I pondered what to do about it, and then struck out to write THIRST. I finished THIRST, got feedback from my lovely critique partners, and started querying it.

I was sure that THIRST, a dystopian, would be a winner... but that was because I didn't realize that dystopians sold really well... 2 years ago! THIRST, a YA about a post-climate-shift world wasn't unique enough. I had several requests for partial and full manuscripts, but I didn't have a lot of hope for it.

Cue the freak out.

I was angry with myself for using time to write THIRST when I could have been writing something else. I tried to be open-minded about it: to consider what I learned in writing THIRST as a benefit, no matter what the outcome.

But that is so difficult. We toil over a project because we want it to see the light of day.

So I turned again to STUNG, and thought the smartest move would be to take the feedback I'd been given to  rework it into a MG book. I finished it and sent it to one of my fantastic crit partners.

At about that time, an agent held a contest where you could submit your query and she would tell you the truth about it. I entered  a new query of STUNG, hoping for feedback. She requested pages.

I quickly sent it out to two other agents who I thought were a great match for the book, and my work in general. Three agents.

...and that's when I got "the call".

I can say that I feel, without a doubt, that I've found the right agent for my work.

I went to meet Amanda this week, and spent several hours talking with her, getting to know her, and discussing working styles, books, and many other topics.

It was fantastic, and I couldn't be happier.

I'd like to thank the Academy... but really, it would not have happened without Erinn Manack, Holly Dodson, Alicia Gregoire, Marquita Hockaday, Pam Harris, and Maryanne Fantalis, my excellent crit partners + the Weekend of Awesome crew.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The challenge of saying WHY

I am not an expert at this whole writing thing.

They could fill books with what I don't know. (They have, actually, and they're at the library. I will go check some of them out as soon as I finish this post.)

I do pride myself on learning quickly. I can and have made the newbiest of newbie mistakes, but I know I have a steep and steady learning curve.

The first time I queried, lo many months ago (February of 2010, to be precise) I made several errors. One was going through websites like query tracker and finding every agent that covered my genres of interest.

Now, that's not a bad thing, I still think that's a good start, but at the time, that was all I did. I put those names in a spreadsheet, I read directions for what each one wanted, and I started querying.

I wasn't a horrible offender.

I didn't send a group email to twenty addresses with the opener "Dear Agent".
I didn't refuse to write an honest to goodness query letter.
I followed directions.
I acted professionally.
I thanked authors who sent me advice or suggestions, but I didn't clog the in-boxes of those not interested with multiple follow up emails.

But if you had asked me WHY I'd picked the agents I was picking, outside of genre of representation, I'm not sure I could have answered that question. At the time, I didn't know HOW to find out more specific information about agents, if they didn't readily provide that information on their blogs.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't take the time. I thought, "the agent that likes my book is the right agent for me."

More recently, I geared up to query again, and as I prepared, I challenged myself to say why.

Why would I want to work with this agent?

Why do I think they would be a good fit for me?

I'm not saying there was a mind-blowing-we-are-cosmically-destined-to-be-agent-author response for every one, but I felt I HAD to answer the question of why, if only for myself.

The website Literary Rambles' agent spotlight series proved INVALUABLE to me this time, in delineating from agents who (as far as I could tell) were a good match as opposed to those who were not.

Of course, for some agents you can get a better feel for what they like and how well you mesh based on their online personas. Others do not have a cache of articles, comments, blogs, and tweets that can give you insight into their tastes and personalities.

I'm not saying it's always easy, but I do think it's worth it.

Do you challenge yourself to answer the why question?

How do you decide an agent might be a good candidate for querying?

Do you read their tweets? Their blogs? Have you ever found that alters your desire to be repped by a given agent? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Read for Relief!

If you're not already aware, there's a wonderful event happening right now, sponsored by Erin Bowman, Tracey Neithercott, Sarah Enni, and Caroline Richmond called Read for Relief.

Many excellent prize packs are up for bid, but I'm only pimping one here:

6 YA writers and critique partners come together to give you a critique package that will make your manuscript submission-ready.  (NOTE: Manuscript must be YA and ready for critique by March 30, 2012.)

The package includes:

  • 1 query critique: Pam Harris
  • 1 synopsis critique (1-2 page limit): Holly Dodson
  • 1 first pages critique (10-15 page limit): Marquita Hockaday
  • 1 first 50 pages critique: Alicia Gregoire
  • 1 full manuscript (up to 90K words) “in-depth” critique: Katharine Owens
  • 1 full manuscript (up to 90K words) “big picture” critique: Erinn Manack
About the critiquers: 
  • Pam Harris is a school counselor by day and YA writer by night. She is a contributor to Paper Hangover and is represented by the lovely Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Holly Dodson is Super Mom, YA writer, and eater of many Sweettarts. She is a contributor to Paper Hangover. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Marquita Hockaday is 20-something, constantly reading or writing YA, throwing in time to teach history to our youth (saving them essentially) while stalking the finest literary agents and Hollywood actors. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Alicia Gregoire writes edgy YA fiction while combating the machinations of her two cats. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Katharine Owens is a YA and MG writer, mom, professor, environmental nerd, amateur naturalist, and lover of all things bug. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Erinn Manack is a YA writer, middle school teacher, and a contributor to The Patch. She’s written five books but has beta read many more. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.

Bidding ends Friday, September 16th, 2011 at 10:00 PM EST. Click here to bid.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book clubbin'

I feel kind of fortunate to be wallowing in book-club goodness right now.

I am joining Tracey Neithercott's Fall book club (You should, too! Click on the orange box on the left hand sidebar.)

AND I've been working with my local elementary school all summer to develop a middle grade book club!

Our neighborhood school is amazing!

Here are just some of the ways it rocks the casbah:

  • Though this community has had many issues in the past, we have been one of our state's fastest improving schools for the last several years. 

  • We have wonderfully dedicated staff and faculty. When our summer school programming was cancelled this year due to budget cuts, parents and teachers volunteered to lead a half-day summer program just to keep our kids' minds sharp over the break. 

  • There are monthly assemblies attended by most of the community, where they give out awards to kids for being good citizens of the school. At the assemblies they sing their school song, Knowledge is Power, and I tear up every time. 

  • Free books! They never miss an opportunity to provide free books to the kids at our school. 

It's a wonderful school. So, I knew that if I was able to volunteer this year, I'd like it to be through a middle grade book club.

We're setting up the program right now and I am bursting at the seams.

I hope I don't frighten the children with my excitement for reading!

Here's where I need YOUR help.

What good middle grade books have you read recently, that you would recommend for a group of 4th and 5th graders? This is a mixed group of both boys and girls.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Fives with Paper Hangover

Time for another post!

This week, the folks of Paper Hangover ask:

It's not easy... but here are the top five , make that four, picks:
No Passengers Beyond this Point by Gennifer Choldenko
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead

and after staring at my list (below) for a full five minutes, I can't pick ONE more from it. 
There are too many that are excellent. 

Here's what I read from May until August:
Gathering Blue and The Messenger by Lois Lowry
A Clash of Kings by George R. R.  Martin
Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams
The Half Life of Planets by Brendan Halpin and Emily Franklin
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
On Writing by Stephen King
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wind at the Door by Madeline L’Engle
Phoenix Rising (Beta) by Alicia Gregoire
No System At All (Beta) by Erinn Manack
Happily Never After (Beta) by Holly Dodson
Pederwick’s 1: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy Jeanne Birdsall
Jenna and Jonah’s Fauxmance by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
The Book of Time Guillaume Prevost
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
and The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Exile Diana Gabaldon
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Aaron and Ahmed, Jay Cantor and James Romberger
Shug Jenny Han
Leviathan Scott Westerfeld
Flutter Erin Moulton

And you? What are your five fave reads from this summer?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Road Trip: Adult character as YA

Today the intrepid ladies of YA Highway ask: 

What non-YA character would you love to see star in a YA book as themselves?

When I saw this question, I knew my answer immediately. 

And it's not just because Matt Damon is so easy to watch! Seriously! 

It's because I've been toying with the idea of a character who is a "sleeper" and suddenly realizes he/she has been trained for something (like spying/terrorism), but doesn't know what or for whom. Something like Jason Bourne meets Little Nikita (c'mon River Phoenix fans, tell me you remember this one?)

It's one of those ideas that I feel an itch to outline and write a synopsis on NOW, and I just don't have time NOW. Must squeeze it in, because I love this idea. 

What about you? What adult MC would you like to see as a YA protagonist? 

Check out the highway and join in the fun. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not just evil for evil's sake: What I learned from Long John Silver

Let me clarify. I'm not talking about this Long John Silver...

I'm talking about this one:

Do you remember the basic storyline of Treasure Island (perhaps you know better the steampunk version from Treasure Planet)? 

The premise is the same. Young Jim Hawkins is the recipient of a treasure map from a dying pirate. He takes the map to a local authority, who decides to take him on an incredible adventure to seek out the treasure. This gentleman allows Long John Silver to find him a crew, and they set sail.

Our suspicions are aroused about LJS from the very beginning (because the dying pirate warned about someone matching his description), but LJS works hard to win over young Jim (and us, as readers). LJS becomes a sort of mentor and friend to Jim... and then betrays him. 

Though I grew up watching the 1950s version on VHS, I hadn't watched it in at least 20 years. While I watched the newer steam punk version with the kids a few months ago I was struck by how likable Long John Silver is. 

He's such a compelling villain, because yes, he's an evil pirate who wants to overthrow the ship's captain to steal the treasure, but he is also Jim's friend. I haven't watched the 1950s version or read the book lately, but in Treasure Planet, it's clear he loves Jim. 

It got me thinking about evil for evil's sake, or better yet, avoiding evil for evil's sake. 

I think it's quite natural to paint our 'bad guys' (or even 'mean girls') as caricatures. 

Whether it's a greedy bank robber or a snotty cheerleader, it's easy to fall into the trap of creating a two-dimensional villain.

I don't think it works in every story to have such a compelling or likable villain, but I love the idea of this. 

Have you ever written a likable villain?

What tricks do you use to create antagonists with multi-dimensional motivations? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

For the holiday weekend: I Dig Reading Challenge, August

What a great month of reading! I read eleven books. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost
The Tale of Desperaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Shug by Jenny Han

Happily Never After (Beta) by Holly Dodson

Aaron and Ahmed by Jay Cantor and James Romberger
The Exile by Diana Gabaldon
and Flutter by Erin Moulton

If you forced me to pick ONE of these as a favorite, it would probably be When You Reach Me, because it kept me thinking for days after... but please don't make me pick. There were so many good ones. 

I read The Book of Time, and the two Kate DiCamillo books with my boys and we enjoyed them so. The Book of Time was probably pitched too old for my kids, but my older son liked it, and the premise, of a time-traveling kid, was super cool. Kate DiCamillo's books were perfect my my kids' ages, and we loved reading them together.  

I picked up the two graphic novels at the Borders sale and they were quick and interesting reads. I'm a huge Gabaldon fan, so I enjoyed The Exile, but it's also hard to "see" a book's characters who you think you know. Almost like when they cast the film and you have to adjust. 
Aaron and Ahmed was a cool concept, but I wanted the author to push it a little farther. It was an interesting build up, but I wasn't satisfied with the ending. That being said-- it's about terrorism and the creation of jihadists, and I like a good sweet story. This was obviously not going to end that way. 

Beauty Queens was a relentless, witty satire that never stopped making fun of corporate America and our culture. Bray did not let convention hold her back. This would make a great movie. 

I thought Shug would be a light MG read, but it had much more depth than I realized-- there was so much going on there, and you might not pick that up from the cover description. It was great. 

I'm basically the last person to read Leviathan on the planet so you probably already know it rocks. It sets the bar for funky, creative, conceptually solid steam punk. 

Flutter was a heart-pounding MG adventure story. I LOVED the way Moulton pulled in themes of nature and the outdoors. The sisters in this book were sweet, but also realistic siblings. Their adventurous were truly riveting, and there was a little mystery/magic woven in that was lovely. 

My donation for August, based on the number of books read, will be to a Juvenile Diabetes Walk that a friend is participating in. 

What's your favorite book of your recent reads? Have you read any of these? What did you think?