Thursday, March 4, 2010


I got a freakin' dot com! So hold onto your hats and head on over to!

Appropriately enough, one of the first posts over there is going to be about the EPIC giveaway I'm having for UNSUNG YA. So, seriously, don't miss that. Tell your friends, update your RSS feeds and your Google Reader. Eat vegetables. (That last part only if you want to. I'm currently eating a whoopie pie for breakfast.)



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

There will be a giveaway on this blog!

Yes, you read that right. I will soon be doing a giveaway on this blog, based on the fabbity fab Unsung YA Heroes Project! I am looking to feature some authors here, so if you or a friend are one of the authors featured in my previous post and want to help me out, leave me a comment and I'll send you an email!

If you're a reader of this blog who just wants in on the giveaway action (duh, that's what I'd be interested in), keep watching The Tart. IT WILL COME. In the mean time, check out these videos, as I am now addicted to video blogging:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vlogging is still not a word. I swear.

So. I decided to pick video blogging back up, mostly inspired by my friends K.A. Holt and P.J. Hoover (the latter of which is a CAMCORDER NINJA) who do fabulous vlogs. Here's my first, it's long-winded, but James assures me it's "funny." We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Distractions are my friend. That's what I'll keep telling myself.

Okay. So I've been neglecting this blog again and I 'm going to tell myself that it's because I've been in my revisions cave. Funny how my revisions cave looks EXACTLY like my living room. And who put these cats here? Jeez.

But you know, it's hard to stay in the revisions cave. Sometimes really shiny things come up. Today I spent a good amount of time working on the playlist for the main character in MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF (formerly called HISTORY) so that I could revise when I was done. But what did I do when I was done? I IMed my friend James to tell him what I was doing and then when he said he wanted to see my awesome playlist (it is awesome) I told him I would put it up on And when I finished putting that one up, I put all my project playlists up. And uploaded art. Fun!

Oh yes, it is super fun to procrastinate by making pretend cover art for your books. I shared some for previous projects in a past blog post, but here is my mock cover for 1999. Look! It's so colorful and cute! I used free stock art from sites like and

I also counted all the swear words in MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF. Why? Because I can. Scrivener -- a writing program that, incidentally, changed my life -- has a text statistics option that lets you count how many times you use certain words. MYSELF BEHIND MYSELF drops 28 F bombs in it's third draft. There are 31 variations of shit and 7 instances of taking Jesus' name in vain, including 3 where Christ is included. I am sad to say, right this second, there are no douches. I will work on that.

This option also allowed me to tell my mother, upon sending her the first draft for 1999, that this book has much more swearing than my previous manuscript and that I didn't want to hear about how offensive it is. She claims she can handle it. But you'll be happy to know it has 3 creative uses of douche/douchebag. My characters, apparently, have potty mouths. Unlike ANYONE I know...

I've been watching Olympic hockey games and telling myself that I can totally watch and revise at the same time but OH NO WE ARE SLAUGHTERING RUSSIA GO TEAM USA. Right. Women's hockey rules, and instead of actually getting any work done, I'm generating ideas for new books while screaming at the television. Also, this week my buddy Kyle explained curling to me in such a comprehensive manner that I mostly understand it and can now watch the sport with interest. Crap.

And of course there's one of the best excuses in the world: my cat is sitting on my manuscript. I know, this is right up there with "my dog ate my homework." But, you know, sometimes the truth is the truth. I mean, look. Turkleton is a very needy cat. He spends a lot of time vying for my attention, always in contention with this strange laptop machine that I'm always staring at and clicking on. When he can actually, physically PWN his rival, he's going to do it. (Telemachus, for those of you wondering, doesn't care if I'm writing, as long as I give him his own pen to chew on. Much easier to deal with.) Let's also take the time to note that, in his spare time, Turkleton also likes to sit on my phone, my keys, books I have open and am trying to read, and my arms while I'm trying to type.

Naturally there's also this classic distraction, the internet. Between micro-blogging on Twitter and this long and rambling post I'm writing right now, the web is a fun distraction that sucks up a lot of time. Of course, it is useful procrastination, right? Twitter is a great resource for meeting and chatting with other authors and industry professionals. And this insight into the glamorous life of being a yet-unpublished-YA-author is sure to, uh, help someone else along, right? And sometimes I even research things like chupacabras and 1990s pop culture items that have escaped my memory.

Hey, at least I haven't turned on my TV yet today. And it's not like YOU'RE writing right this second, are you? That's what I thought.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing for Young People is NOT a Lesser Art Form

This evening I have been participating in a hashtag conversation on Twitter: #whyYArocks. This was tarted by the illustrious Ellen Hopkins in response to a review of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. (Psst, here's Margaret's take on the whole fandangle.) The review is generally lovely and positive. However, the reviewer implies what a lot of our society echoes: readers of young adult literature are lonely people, that they aren't as discerning as adult readers, and that young adult books aren't so much literature as they are something fluffy we give to teens to tide them over until they can read "the big books."

It's a trend I've seen in a lot of other articles over the past few years, and it saddens me as both a writer and a reader of young adult books. For one thing, teenagers are some of the least casual readers I've met. They can tell me exactly what plot point an author forgot to follow through on, what sort of continuity errors are in the third book of series X, and specific reasons they'd vote for a character for president. They read in many different genres, whereas many adult readers limit themselves to one type of book, or even just one author.

This trend, looking down upon books for young readers, is also disturbing because it implies that a writer of young adult or kids' books is less of an artist than a writer of adult books. It is a different, art, yes. In some ways, it could be argued that writing for young adults is even more important than writing for adults. But, nonetheless, young adult (and kids') books run the literary gamut just as much as adult writing. There may be "fluffy" romances and "generic" thrillers, but there are also thoughtful dystopian novels, hearty historical fictions that many adults wouldn't tackle reading, hard-hitting books about real issues and mind-bending high fantasies that give Tolkein a run for his money. We have vampire fiction that touches on everything from Romanian mythology to social class and elitism to classic literature. We have novels that cross political lines and address social taboos and don't apologize. I've included an example of each of these types of YA literature in this post.

YA writers are not writing with a handicap. Our work does not need to be judged on a different scale.

YA books can be as sophisticated or as light as any adult novel, yet adult reviewers and the literary elite look at the books (and their readers) as second class citizens. I have talked to countless authors who claim that they have been asked by friends and family "Yes, it's great that you sold your children's book. Now when are you going to write a real novel?" That breaks my heart.

As someone who sits on both sides of the fence -- I'm both a "snotty" poet and a "lowly" YA writer -- I just want to see this end. If Rowling and Meyer are any indication, the market for books for young readers has evolved over the last decade in a way that makes juvenile fiction accessible in a whole new way. Not only are children buying books and thinking of authors as other generations have thought of rock stars, but adults of all ages are choosing to include young adult and children's fiction as part of their literary diet. It's not going away. And it's about time this huge section of your local library is given the props it deserves.

I challenge you, whomever you are stumbling across this blog, to go to your local library or bookstore and ask the staff for a literary YA novel. They won't laugh or sneer or even puzzle over it, if they're worth their salt. They'll give you a whole stack of options. And when you've somehow managed to choose which to read first, when you've taken the plunge and devoured this novel, I guarantee you this: If you weren't on board to begin with, you'll be ready to join the YA Revolution.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things I've been reading, plus whacky dreams of David D.

It's a gross, cold, rainy day here in Austin so I thought maybe I'd finally come through on some promised reviews for my blog readers. I've mostly been reading contemporary YA lately, while taking breaks to read ten or so pages each night from CRYPTOZOOLOGY A-Z by Loren Coleman (from Maine!) and Jerome Clarke. Yes, it's research for a book I want to write, but, let's be honest -- the book was on my Amaz*n wishlist for like two years before my novel idea gave me an excuse to buy it. Let me just tell you: it's fascinating.

The first book I want to tell you about is GIRL FROM MARS (Groundwood Books 2008) by Tamara Bach, translated from the German by Shelley Tanaka. This book has garnered multiple awards and much praise in its native Germany, but the only reason I even know about it is that in my past job as a bookseller I saw it in a catalog. Only 29 people on LibraryThing have it, and to me, that's a travesty. It's a beautiful story of first love, told in the quirky voice of Miriam, a self-described plain fifteen-year-old girl in a small town who dreams, like many of us, of getting out and living a fabulous big-city life. She wishes she were beautiful and popular and spends every morning commiserating in the girls' restroom with her two best friends, Ines and Suse. Then enters Laura, with her wild black hair and carefree attitude, who rolls her own cigarettes and goes to clubs. Miriam is instantly enchanted, and begins to feel something she's never felt before, especially for a girl. GIRL FROM MARS is beautifully written, and rife with genuine emotion. This is a book that should not be ignored, and I urge anyone who can to track down a copy. It will make your heart ache in all the right ways.

I also recently read LEFTOVERS (Orca Books, 2009) by Heather Waldorf, which is also with a small publisher. This one wasn't quite as intense as I'd expected -- one of its core themes is sexual abuse -- and I found the author's treatment of this theme a little too light. However, the story was compelling. Taking place on a small island in the St. Lawrence River (close to Ottowa, Ontario), this is the story of Sarah Greene, who, after stealing and crashing her mom's boyfriend's car, is sentenced to community service at Camp Dog Gone Fun, a charity that treats misfit dogs to a summer of leisure. What her the judge, her fellow campers, and even her mother and her boyfriend, Tanner, don't know is that the reason she freaked out was that having her picture taken freaks her out. So when Tanner got out his brand new digital camera and asked Sarah to smile, all she could think of was the "secret" nude photos her dad had been taking of her up until he choked on a piece of steak and died. At the camp, though, Sarah throws herself into the work, cooking meals for her fellow delinquents and fin ding companionship not only in her special project -- a wild, enormous pup named Judy -- but also in Sullivan, the director's stepson. If she lets herself, this could be the summer that allows Sarah to heal, and her unexpected friendships with everyone at Camp Dog Gone Fun -- four-legged and biped alike, might just get her through. While I would have liked to see more grit in the story, LEFTOVERS ultimately makes a painful story of sexual abuse more accessible for readers who might not otherwise pick it up. Dog lovers will appreciate the canine hijinx and stories of rehabilitation, and Sarah's wacky sense of humor and conversational narrative shine a light at the end of the tunnel. This is a lovely, fast read that will find a place in the hearts of many young readers.

I'll admit it -- I'm obsessed with the show Hoarders. I think part of me is always afraid that my pack-ratty-ness make me susceptible to that extreme. But shows like Hoarders don't always show the human side of this serious, clinical illness, and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010) by C.J. Omololu gave me a real look at what it's like to grow up in a hoarding home. Lucy is a typical teen in most ways -- she goes to school, she has a best friend, she likes music and coffee and has a crush on a boy. But what her friends don't know is that her house is full of stuff -- stuff that her mom has collected over years and years and refuses to throw away. Her older brother and sister have both grown up and gone away, leaving Lucy alone with her mom, who has let the house get so bad that there is no longer hot water, let alone the smells coming from the kitchen. When Lucy comes home one day to find that the unthinkable has happened, she begins a mad dash to try and clean up the mess that her mother has spent years building before anyone can see what her life is really like. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS brilliantly takes place in a period of about 24 hours, utilizing carefully-placed memories to fill in the blanks of Lucy's difficult life in a family that has ceased to function. While I felt the ending came to quickly (sequel, please!) I absolutely could not put this book down and I highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed YA books by Laurie Halse Anderson, Elizabeth Scott, or Judy Blume. (Yes, I just invoked The Judy.) Go find your local indie and pick up a copy ASAP.

Right now I'm reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner, which I'm finding a bit slow to start -- does anyone who read this already want to weigh in? I also would like to state, for the record, that I had a sexy dream about David Duchovny last night, but it was ruined by his MULLET. What?! Also, I've had "Thinking of You" by Hanson (yes, really) stuck in my head since I woke up morning. Mostly it just makes me want to call my sister and reminisce, but I think she's blocked out most of 1998 pretty well.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Austin SCBWI recap. Whoa, longest most awesome day ever!

So on Saturday I attended my first ever SCBWI conference. IT WAS AWESOME! No one made fun of my pimples or roots and I even made new friends and learned things! It was so fun to catch up with a lot of my writer buds, whom I haven't seen in a while, not to mention meeting some of my friends who live in my computer for the first time!

Here are some exclamation points! For good measure!

The whole event, as usual, started with TRAVEL DRAMA. I am still a pedestrian, and getting to remote, busless places like Cedar Park is difficult for me. Fortunately, my amazing friend Jessica Lee Anderson offered up the idea of having a sleepover at her house (okay, it was more of a stay-up-all-night-because-we're-too-excited-to-sleep-over, but whatever) where I presented her with A DOG SNUGGIE. Jess is more than an amazing critique partner, but someone I'm lucky to call a BFF. She gave me great advice on what to expect at the conference and a jillion reasons I shouldn't be nervous. PS, if you haven't read her latest book, BORDER CROSSING, get the eff on that. It rocks. Jess recently gave an interview here, btw, which is a must-read.

We got there at the butt-crack of dawn, and it was COLD out! Not Texas cold, but normal people cold. Luckily, the Austin SCBWI croud is WARM and welcoming, so the second we arrived the chill melted away. The muffins helped. One of the first people I saw at breakfast was Shelli Cornelison who I know from YALITCHAT on twitter. She introduced me to Nikki Loftin and a group of lovely ladies at breakfast. Here is a picture of breakfast that I lovingly stole from Jo.

Former editor and current agent Mark McVeigh gave an opening presentation, in which he explained that the publishing industry is not in collapse, but in transition. He gave several arguments for accepting the digital revolution. "There will always be people who want hardcover books," he said, comparing these people to today's vinyl aficionados. He made the point that most people were no longer buying CDs, especially young people. Whenever people talk about ebooks and the digitizing of the publishing industry, my brain goes right to that scene from UGLIES, where Tally discovers the old library in the Smoke and all the paper books and magazines that are unrecognizable relics to her and her peers. I find it terrifying. But, McVeigh is right. "We are all running scared," he said. "Use that fear." He also suggested writing outside our comfort zones as a cure for writer's block: "Rub your muse the wrong way."

Over there is a picture Jo Whittemore took of Brandi November Lyons and, yes, that's me, looking, supposedly "sassy and cute." Okay, Jo. I think it's a little more "half-crazed, early-morning style." But, whatever you say! We were waiting for our critiques in the "holding cell."

I had my first critique of the day with the adorable Sara Lewis Holmes, author of OPERATION YES, which I am so very looking forward to reading. Sara's advice was practical in every way. She had HISTORY, which is my completed YA contemporary, and I have always felt there was something missing in the first few chapters. With Sara's suggestions (and some from Shana Burg, later in the day), I think I know how to make HISTORY a million times stronger than it is now.

Cheryl Klein, editor extraordinaire from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), was one of my favorite presenters of the day. She gave a lot of wonderful information on picture book writing -- a genre I am just beginning to try. One wonderful bit of advice she gave was that picture books should be centered in a real childhood emotion, like like of power. Delightfully, she added, "You have to get rid of the parents, because parents are like the anti-power." She also introduced us to (Laurie Halse) Anderson's Law: Plot = Compulsion vs. Obstacles.

At this point in the day I had an amazingly helpful critique with local lady P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, author of THE EMERALD TABLET and THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. It was so nice to sit down with Tricia, as she's someone I often talk to about books and writing, but never really about my books and writing. Since I knew that Tricia loves mythology and sci fi, I sent her pages my unfinished paranormal project, HARKNESS BEACH. The first thing she told me was that she loved the story but the voice felt female. This was so important to hear -- my narrator is a teen guy and I need to make him sound more dudely. Tricia also recommended a few books that she thinks share similar themes and will help me figure out my voice and pacing. Yesterday I started writing some new scenes for HARKNESS BEACH, which I've had a hard time working on lately. This book has a whole new lease on life!

I had a great lunch with Kelly J. Holmes of YAnnabe, founder of the Unsung YA Heroes Project! Funny thing: we found each other twittering during a presentation and made plans to meet up at lunch. Oh, intarnets! I also met the fabulous Tessa Burns, who ended up giving me a ride back into town (thankyouthankyouthankyou) and Lynne Kelly Hoenig, another of my YALITCHAT buds. Guys. Seriously. I cannot express enough how awesome twitter is for connecting with other writers in your community, not to mention writers you wouldn't normally get to talk to. GET ON IT.

Another of my favorite presenters was author Kirby Larson, whose book HATTIE BIG SKY is a Newbery Honor title. She was funny and delightful and full of witty advice. My favorite? She told us we had to "write through the bad stuff." Meaning, life gets in the way of writing. Shit happens, but the only way to get to the other side is to slog through it. She also gave us some great quotes from other folks: "Inspiration is not a gift" from Madeleine L'Engle and "Frustration is a sign of seriousness" from Ralph Keyes.

Around this time I had two more critiques. Chris Barton, Austinite and Sibert Honor author of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS and the upcoming (can't wait for this!) SHARK VS. TRAIN, took a look at MOON YETI and knew exactly what it needed: a real plot. Ha! Like I said, picture books are new to me. He asked me some import questions about character motives. I have a lot of work to do on MOON YETI, but with Chris' help, it will get there.

Immediately after my critique with Chris, I got to sit down with the amazing Shana Burg, local author of A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, who always has good writing advice (I loved her presentation at one of the previous SCBWI meetings, during which she shared some marvelous tips on character development). Shana had fabulous advice, and suggested some bold suggestions to the opening of HISTORY. She thinks it should be more spooky, and I totally agree. I'm going to be doing some reworking of this book in the near future before sending out too many more query letters.

Lisa Graff, former editor and author of Texas Bluebonnet List titles THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE and THE UMBRELLA SUMMER (the later of which has been on my TBR list since I first saw it in publisher's catalog) gave a very entertaining talk about how to be a writer and your own editor, and why you shouldn't wear your writer and editor hats at the same time. My favorite tidbit from her presentation? "An author knows what a genius he is, an editor knows you could do better." Basically, as an author, you have to believe that what you are writing as amazing and valuable and world-changing. You have to believe in it, or you'll never get anything done. But when you attack it as an editor, you also have to believe that you have the ability to improve it, and make it the best it can be. At some point Tim's photgrapher caught me furiously scribbling notes and looking out-of-my-mind. I like to call this "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Crazy Person."

At the end of the day we had a short panel with several of the featured local SCBWI authors. My favorite parts? Philip Yates, author of my favorite Christmas picture book, A PIRATE'S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, wrote a poem about getting an agent by name-dropping all the amazing Austin talent. He also confesses that he likes to print out his manuscripts and read them aloud to his cat. And Shana Burg professed that she approaches revisions "like a to any suggestion." She said you have to make painful changes, and, that is one thing I am going to take seriously in my upcoming revision process.

So I've got a lot to do this week. For now I'm focusing on HARKNESS BEACH, but I've always got my crop rotation process to fall back on. It may be time to start revising 1999 (my Y2Kpocalypse novel) in the near future. And of course I have amazing critiques to work with for MOON YETI and HISTORY. I started reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner last night, per P.J. Hoover's suggestion, and I'm super intrigued by it. My next post should have some book reviews. In the mean time, I hope you all have a great week, writing, reading, and otherwise!