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.