Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Writing: Fear

Project: the sister story
Status: editing Piper

F is for Fear
Honesty time! I've gotten almost zero editing done this week. I could blame it on LIFE STUFF, and it is true that this week has been a bit exceptionally stressful, but what's really holding me back is the fear of messing up. Of not getting things right. This isn't a first draft or a second draft, but a I-don't-even-know-what-number draft, and I'm incredibly attached to the story as well as the character at the center of it. There are events and moments within Piper's story that I just beyond love, and I'm scared of messing them up. I'm scared of making things worse. And most of all I'm scared that, at the end of all this editing, the book as a whole (not just Piper's half, but the two halves together) won't be as good as I want it to be, or even as good as it was a few drafts ago.

When I did my guest post on Nova Ren Suma's blog, on my (rather, one of my) turning point(s) as a writer, I talked about this novel. It's one that's been loosely in the works since I was fifteen or sixteen years old and I love it so much and I want to get it right and there's this fear that it might not happen.

So I've been putting off diving into the story. Sure, I edited the first two chapters but aside from one short scene, all that meant was changing a couple of character's names. Now I'm at the third chapter and knowing that I have to take a hacksaw to this thing has me stalling. And this is weird because fear is not something I'm used to dealing with where writing is concerned. Blank pages don't scare me. Knowing I have 50k or so ahead of me doesn't freak me out. But having a story I love? One I have to edit and re-edit, one that's good as-is but still needs to be so much better? That gets my attention. And I don't have any brilliant ideas on how to handle that, so I'm asking you -- any tips for dealing with the fear that comes with writing and/or editing?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A More Grown Up Perspective on Bloomability

The first time I read Bloomability, by Sharon Creech, I was in middle school or maybe junior high. I was in the habit of absolutely scouring the shelves of my school library and the public library. And I'm not positive, but I think Bloomability might have been the first Sharon Creech novel I read.

I absolutely loved it. It was one of those childhood books that at once reminded me of myself and also showed experiences and realities so different from my own. The main character of Dinnie was one I could easily relate to, mostly because in many ways her family reminded me of my family and the way she felt after being whisked off to attend a boarding school in Switzerland seemed to be, probably, the exact same way that I would have felt in her shoes.

I'm 22 now. It's been a decade, maybe more, since I first read this book and I'll admit that I was a little worried going into this reread. There's the fear of what if I don't love it like I used to? What I don't see what was so brilliant about it? What if I've outgrown this book that impacted me so much?

Luckily, this book is just as wonderful as I remembered it and reading it as an adult gave me an additional perspective. Not only did I see what I loved about it as a kid, but I also saw the little ways this book has influenced and stayed with me throughout my life. There are small things, like the fact that even though I know the right phrase is "drop dead beautiful," I always think of it as "dead drop beautiful" and even though I know I'm messing the words up, I didn't quite know why. And then I reread Bloomability and saw that one of my favorite characters, Keisuke, says it like that. It's just one line but as soon as I read it the origin of how I got the phrase confused in my head clicked into place -- oh, so that's where it came from!

And then there are the bigger things: the week the characters learned about disaster (war, famine, refugees, diseases, storms) and it hit me, again and again, that I was so damn lucky to be alive and be safe and have a family that loved me. The thoughts on struggle were similarly captivating and even more influential -- when Dinnie's teacher tells her that struggle is what makes people interesting, I mulled it over in my head. And I have mulled it over, every so often, for so long, finally coming to the conclusion that it may not be struggle that makes a person interesting, but as long as you are struggling at something, as long as you are fighting that fight whether internally or externally, you haven't failed. You are still going. You haven't stopped, and that alone is a good thing.

Aside from the influence on my life, I just love the characters in this book. Dinnie, the outrageously optimistic (and awesome) Guthrie, Keisuke and Belen ("Romeo and Juliet"), and even stubborn Lila. As a kid it was so easy for me to slip into their world and as a (sort of) adult, it's similarly easy -- partly, I think, because of my connection with this book and partly because the book is just that good. I love it so much.

(One of my favorite quotes from the book):
Before our [final] English exam, [Mr. Bonner] told each of us, "Don't worry. You'll do fine," and it seemed as if he wasn't just referring to our exams. It seemed as if he meant forever, in our whole lives.
Click here to see my rereading list, and here to read my intro to this year's rereading.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

All The Books: April 28, 2012

I've had some questions about this, so if anyone else wants to "borrow" this feature, feel free to use/adapt it however you like (although leaving me a comment/link would be awesome so I can read yours!) For me, All The Books is essentially going to work as a round-up of every sort of book news and book excitement I've had over the week: what I've read, what I'm reading, new books I want to read, any events I've gone to or new covers/book deals I'm jazzed about. I'm considering setting up a linky for next week, so let me know in the comments if a linky for this feature/meme would be good or not. Also: I'm using Saturday as my day for this one, but that's just me -- really, any day of the week is fine.

I was so excited this week to finally read Siobhan Vivian's The List. A review is forthcoming, but suffice to say it's well worth reading. One of the more powerful books I've read in a long time and a perfect example of why those who look down their noses at YA are wrong. I also reread Bloomability, which I love just as much as ever. My first Adventures in Rereading post about the experience will be up soon. At the moment I'm (finally) reading The Rivals, which is the sequel to The Mockingbirds. I'm not very far into it but already so interested.

After reading Forever Young Adult's review of 172 Hours On The Moon, I absolutely had to add it to my wishlist despite it's creepy/gross eyelashes cover.

Even though I haven't ordered it yet, I'm mega-happy about Terra Elan McVoy's newest book, Being Friends With Boys. I'll be hosting a giveaway of her books (yep, all of them!) in the next week and you can gain an extra entry by commenting on my interview with the author.
I'm also really excited about The Selection and also the TV show based on it, which I just found out stars Aimee Teegarden. AIMEE. TEEGARDEN. I want the book and I want the show and I want them both now, please.

I was really lucky this past week to get to attend two different book events -- the LA Times Festival of Books and the San Diego YA or Bust tour stop at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore. First, the LAFoB. I sat in on a panel on Realistic YA with Blake Nelson, Siobhan Vivian, and Jessi Kirby. They discussed writing contemporary/realistic versus more fantasy-based books and how the stakes, though different, can often feel just as high in a realistic YA novel because it's the sort of things teenagers actually go through. Jessi Kirby in particular made an excellent comment about how Vivian's newest book, The List (about eight girls who have been labeled the prettiest or ugliest in their grades), has, in a way, the highest stakes imaginable for a teen book. Blake Nelson mentioned how, in conversations between teenage girls that can sound mostly vapid and bubble-gummy, there will be occasional bursts of pure genius. I was lucky enough after the panel to meet Siobhan Vivian, get my books signed, and talk to her about multiple POV books (since my last first draft has five main characters). She's a total sweetheart and I absolutely loved getting a chance to talk writing with her for a few minutes. Though I didn't get a picture with her, I did get some fuzzy shots of the panel as it was happening.
L to R: Blake Nelson, Siobhan Vivian, Jessi Kirby
I also managed to find John Corey Whaley's signing booth at the LAFoB, which was quite a trek because ohmygosh, that place was nowhere near the rest of the YA things. John Corey Whaley, for those who don't know, is the incredible author who won both the Printz and the Morris Awards this year for his debut novel, Where Things Come Back. I got to meet him (and actually remembered to get a picture) and this was awesome not only because he's such a great author but also because he remembered me from Twitter and remembered this long-ago post I wrote about his book.
John Corey Whaley and me (Jordyn)
The second event I went to this week was the San Diego tour stop for the YA or Bust tour with Gayle Forman, Stephanie Perkins, and Nina LaCour. This was especially exciting because these three ladies are three of my favorite authors. They've each written one (or more!) book(s) that I really love and that has really stayed with me. Kirsten Hubbard hosted the panel they did where they described each other's newest books, talked about what's next for them (I'm so excited for Gayle Forman's next two books, which come out only like six months apart!), and the music that helped inspire their books. Gayle Forman played us part of the song she listened to while writing If I Stay, and also the Heart song that's talked about in Nina LaCour's latest, The Disenchantments. You guys, I got SIX books signed at this event and was so happy to get to talk to the authors. I actually met Gayle Forman ages ago when If I Stay came out and she did an event in LA -- to this day what she wrote to me when she signed that book is one of my favorite-ever book signing messages. So it was great to talk to her again (and she remembered me!), as well as meet Nina LaCour (so nice!) and Stephanie Perkins and get a chance to talk to them a little bit. They were super-encouraging as far as my own writing (yes, I told them how my "publishing journey" is going) and seemed so happy to meet everyone. (Also, I got one of the posters for The Disenchantments.) Here's this fuzzy picture from the event. (Oh, also I ran into Cindy Pon there -- hey Cindy!)
L to R: Kristin Hubbard, Nina LaCour, Gayle Forman, and Stephanie Perkins

Friday, April 27, 2012

Q&A with Terra Elan McVoy

I'm so glad to be posting this Q&A with Terra Elan McVoy, whose upcoming book Being Friends With Boys is one I can't wait to read considering how much I liked two of her earlier works. Next week I'll be hosting an awesome giveaway of her books and you can comment on this post for an extra entry.

Photo Credit: Jamie Allen

Broadly, what are your books about?
I'd say in general my books tend to be about figuring out who you are and what you really want out of life: finding and asserting your own voice in the cacophony of other voices around you. (Friends, romantic interests, teachers, family, bosses, society, etc.)

What is it that inspires your writing?
The drama of Real Life has always been incredibly inspiring to me. I just find the complications of human relatinships, and the nuances of daily life, endlessly fascinating. The challenge of figuring out how to articulate a specific emotional experience in a way that someone else can feel it too --  a stranger far away whom you've never met, but who is reading your book -- is also a bit part of what inspires me to write. To accomplish that is an enormous task, and I'm constantly searching for how to do that best.

Are there any authors or books that specifically influenced you as a writer?
Every book I read is an influence on me in some way, because I'm always reading to learn more about the craft of writing -- how to do it well, how not to do it, what's out there in the conversation, etc. Reading is so enormously important, if you want to be a writer, because it's always teaching you. But writers who have really struck me and made me go, "Oh gosh, I wish I could write like that" include Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Pat Conroy, MFK Fisher, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Irving, Carson McCullers, and Raymond Carver.

What was your favorite thing about writing Being Friends With Boys?
The writing process of Being Friends With Boys was actually pretty difficult, and I had to do a lot of extensive editing, so I think my favorite part is that my editor and I managed to transform a book that was originally pretty messy, into something we are both very excited about. Collaborating with her (my editor) is always a lot of fun, but this time around, it was particularly so.

Why do you write stand-alone novels instead of series? And would you ever consider writing a sequel to one of your novels?
I have such huge admiration for people who are able to pull off a series, because to me it seems so overwhelping! Arcing out a single novel is difficult enough -- I can't imagine what it takes to successfully arc out a series, and then the books within them. I also just have so many different issues and situations that interest me, so I jump around a lot in terms of subject matter. I think that's harder to do in a series. Maybe one day, when I have some more experience, I'll think about a series, but for right now it's not in the plan. I will say, however, that there are some characters from my other books who remain interesting to me and maybe one day I will continue or revisi their stories.

Do you read a lot of YA? What are some of your favorite books?
I do read a decent amount of YA, though I'm not the book-in-a-couple-of-days reader that I used to be! There are so many great voices out there right now and such good writing, so it's really hard to choose, but some of my very, very favorites include Nothing Like You by Lauren Stasnick; Take A Bow, by Elizabeth Eulberg; Lola And The Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins; Love Is The Higher Law, by David Levithan; Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin; Accomplice, by Erieann Corrigan; and Feed, by M.T. Anderson. There are about six books on my To Read list right now that are all YA, and it seems like I can never keep up!

Other Favorites:
Movie? It's cheesy, but I love "You've Got Mail."
TV Show? Mad Men
Song (currently)? I am obsessed with the Gorillaz right now, particularly "On Melancholy Hill."
Thing to do on a rainy day? Read or write (ideally both), and maybe bake something!
Terra Elan McVoy has been reading and writing avidly since she first learned how, and has had many jobs that center around those two activities, from managing an independent children's bookstore, to teaching writing classes, and even answering fan mail for Captain Underpants. Terra lives and works in the same Atlanta neighborhood where her novels After The Kiss, Being Friends With Boys, and Pure are set. She is also the author of The Summer of Firsts and Lasts. To learn more about Terra's life, visit You can also like her Facebook author page, and follow her on Twitter at @TerraMcVoy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Plagiarism, Reactions, and In My Mailbox

I've liked participating in the In My Mailbox meme for the simple fact that I get to tell you guys all about the books I'm excited to have gotten over the week. But a couple of things lately have me rethinking my participation.

The big one, of course, is the plagiarism accusations and scandal levied at The Story Siren blog, which hosts In My Mailbox. Cuddlebuggery has dubbed this "Sirengate" and has an excellent explanation of why it matters and why this is a big deal to the blogging community. In my earlier post on the plagiarism, I stated that due to Kristi's second, much clearer and more heartfelt apology, I stated that I would have no problem continuing to participate in the IMM meme. However since then, having seen the extreme reactions to this incident, I've rethought my position and my actions. Most of the book blogging community seems to be divided into two very different, very extreme camps. There are those who are going after Kristi (The Story Siren), deriding not only her plagiarism but also her reviews, other posts, and her general demeanor. There's a feeling of jealousy or at least comeuppance, in all of that. And then on the other side there are plenty of bloggers and readers who are treating what she did extremely lightly, pointing out that everyone makes mistakes, praising her for her apology, and saying that they will continue to support her as they always have.

Both of these positions make me feel just the slightest bit sad at the blogging community. To quote from Cuddlebuggery's post:
It's very likely that Kristi from The Story Siren will never truly receive any comeuppance for her theft. I would probably bet that, ultimately, she will continue to grow and prosper. The moral high ground is not as high as it was before this scandal. While the majority of bloggers will continue to agree that plagiarism is wrong, the severity of the social stigma has officially waned for us.
Their entire post is wonderful and well worth reading as they bring out lots of necessary points.

In light of all of this, and also the fact that by tweeting and blogging about "Sirengate" I've sort of opened myself up as a public voice about it, I feel the need to clarify just where I stand and what my actions will be going forward.

First of all, the fact that this wasn't a straight-up copy-and-paste case of plagiarism, as well as the fact that the topics of the blog posts lend themselves to similarity anyway, makes the whole thing less black-and-white than many would like to think. However, I did read the original posts and the screenshots of Kristi's posts and in my opinion it's obvious that while she didn't steal the words, she did steal the content -- almost as if she used their posts as a template or outline for what she wrote. If Kristi had linked back to the original blogs, stating them as inspiration, or better yet asked the bloggers if she could use them, this would be a completely different story for me. But yes, what she did was plagiarism.

I accept Kristi's second apology. Not because it was a super-great apology or anything, but because I think she honestly is regretful of what she did and how it has impacted the blogging community at large. However, apology or not, damage has been done, and a good amount of it. The fact that she probably won't be as tarnished by this as much of the blogging community will be (not only the collective reputation hurt by what she did, but also and especially by how we have reacted to it) worries me. It's not just one post she plagiarized, but six posts, and the fact that it was so much seems to be a little overloooked here. This was not a one-time occurrence: she stole content from multiple websites, for multiple posts -- it was ongoing plagiarism.

I feel the need to take some sort of stand, not against Kristi, but against what she did, how it was handled, and how the blogging community has reacted to it. This is the reason for my posts on the subject and this is (part of) the reason that I've rethought my personal participation in IMM. The other reason is that while most of the books I end up getting are ones I'm really excited about, there are some (sent randomly by publishers) that I don't have much to say about and in some cases might not even read -- often because the books are a genre I don't read/review or for whatever reason the book just doesn't appeal to me. And really what I want to talk about are the books that I'm excited about.

Which brings me to the point this super-long post: I will no longer be doing IMM. Instead I will be doing my own feature, All The Books, where instead of listing the books I've received in the past week I'll talk about the books I got and am excited about, the books I'm planning to read soon, new editions to my wishlist, as well as book deals and covers that I'm excited about. So as the title says, any book-related excitement that I'd like to share on the blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cover Talk: Amazing Books With Sad Covers

Continuing from last week's critique of YA covers and inspired by one of my favorite books, I wanted to bring attention to some of the books I love most of all (in YA especially) with less-than-stellar covers. I'll be the first to admit that I put a lot of stock in covers. More than I should, probably. And it's sad because if I'd judged these books by their covers I never would have picked them up in the first place. But one caveat: what I like/dislike as far as covers go certainly isn't the same as what everyone else likes. I know there are readers who love some of these covers that I don't care for.

Cover #1: serafina67 *urgently requires life*, by Susie Day
This is the book that inspired this post. I love love love love this book, but the cover isn't great for me. Though I do like the whole internet/blogging aspect that's going on, the colors are bright and kind of clashing (more so in real life than in this online picture) and it doesn't give much idea of the story inside, aside from the internet aspect. There's little idea of characters or plot here and it's sad because this book is so sweet and funny that I wish it had a much more awesome, less bright-and-blah cover.

Cover #2: Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings, by Sophia Bennett
Like serafina67, this is another UK YA with a not-so-great cover. The image and color scheme gives the book a fluffy, everything-everywhere-is-pink-and-frou-frou treatment that doesn't mesh well with the story. Because while there's a huge fashion element here, there's also lots of humor and heart that don't quite make it to the cover. The way the model is dressed is fairy generic and I don't think it's very representative of either the main character or her unique friends.

Cover #3: The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
This one isn't limited to just one book, sadly. Dessen's novels on the whole seem to usually be wonderfully-written stories wrapped in vaguely pretty packages that may or may not have anything to do with the story at hand. I'm picking on The Truth About Forever because it's my favorite of her books and just what does that flower have to do with the story? What do most of her covers have to do with the stories within? Not much, usually. And though I don't love the UK cover for this book, at least it has a heart instead of a flower on it -- much more related to the story, I think.

Cover #4: The Naughty List, by Suzanne Young
Okay, this cover is a little cute and at least related to the plot of the book, which is about catching cheating boyfriends, but still something about it feels really off to me. Maybe it's the pairing of the photo with the fake window, maybe it's the photo itself -- I don't know. But something about it I just am not a fan of.

Cover #5: Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
I was disappointed when for the paperback of If I Stay they changed the cover from this (artsy and hopeful/bleak) to this, but then even more disappointed that the hardcover of Where She Went matches the paperback's cover. It's pretty, but it's also such a generic and melodramatic YA cover. Plus, the fact that this book is narrated by a male character isn't reflected at all (even though I definitely think the model resembles what I think of as Mia). I like this slightly changed paperback cover so much better -- it still has the windy-haired girl, but the addition of the city in the background is huge to me. (Also check out this German edition.)

Once again I have to say that I love all five of these books. They're all very awesome and very different and I'm sure plenty of people love the covers I'm not such a fan of (my sister adores the Where She Went cover). Still, in talking about judging books by their covers, I have to say that I'm so glad I didn't make the decision to read or not read these books based on their covers. (Or, in some cases, their titles.) What book do you love despite a not-so-great cover?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Story Siren & Plagiarism Post

Thinking about writing this post makes my stomach hurt. The things I found out yesterday morning have me sad and angry, but this is one case where -- drama or not -- I feel like I should talk about what's happening because even though I'm not directly involved, I do feel that as a YA blogger it affects many of us. A quick summary, for those of you who may be out of the loop:

Back in January, a couple of fashion bloggers noticed that a YA book blogger who had been visiting their site had quite a few posts that were remarkably similar to their own. Most of these posts were in the vein of blogging self-help stuff, like the importance of Klout and other helpful-to-bloggers posts. They contacted the blogger (Kristi, from The Story Siren) and the issue was handled privately. They didn't feel, for whatever reason, a need to make it public. Which is fine and was probably the right way to handle it at the time.

But now the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has gotten the story and they are making it public, which I'm glad about. They have a fantastic post with a round up of relevant posts. READ IT.

Now, I've gone through and read all of the relevant posts from all bloggers involved, and at first I'll admit that I was... wary. Hesitant. One of the posts that was allegedly stolen is a post on the importance of Klout and, to be honest, many of the similarities I found between Kristi's post and the original post are similarities that I could easy imagine in any helpful post on the topic. They're just the topics that would naturally come up.

But I kept reading. I read about how the plagiarism was discovered, read the original posts and the screen shots of the (now deleted, at the request of the fashion bloggers) the screen shots from The Story Siren's posts. And, you guys, the evidence is... well, it's pretty damning actually. Though the posts aren't word-for-word the same, nearly every point that the fashion bloggers made was reiterated in Kristi's posts, so much so that I sat here shaking my head as I read. It was as if she used their posts as a template to "write" her own posts. And the story of how the theft was discovered is pretty amazing.

There's probably some, thought not much, overlap between the fashion blogging community and the book blogging community. The fact that this didn't come to light for months shows that, I think. And the fact that the fashion bloggers didn't make a bigger deal of it reflects, possibly, the fact that they aren't (or weren't, at least) aware of just how huge Kristi and her site are in the YA/book blogging world.

But as you probably know, The Story Siren is one of -- if not the -- most popular and certainly most respected YA blogs. At this point fellow book bloggers seem to be divided between those who (a) either don't believe Kristi plagiarized or are willing to overlook it, or (b) think what she did was very, very wrong.

Personally, I think ignoring the issue or saying that it's okay is a mistake. I'm definitely not advocating any sort of bullying or "mob mentality," but ignoring the issue, thinking that it's okay because it's been resolved between Kristi and the fashion bloggers, is wrong on a couple of different levels. It's a sort of quiet compliance with content-stealing. We're saying it's okay for one of the most respected creative blogs out there to be, at least partially, built on posts that were stolen from others. I think it's a huge conflict of interest for readers and authors to support a blogger who has spoken out against plagiarism while at the same time stealing content from others. I don't like to think that this sort of conduct is okay because the blogger in question is "popular" or "nice" or "has a big following." It breaks all kinds of blogging and writing ethics and honestly, it feels like a betrayal of not only those bloggers who look up to her as an example of what to do, but also (and more importantly) the many readers, authors, and publishers who support her blog in one way or another.

I'm not sure what happens from here. As of now, Kristi has made a statement regarding the entire debacle, but honestly it's so vague and non-commital that it doesn't seem to be much of an apology or an explanation. As a fellow book blogger what I was really hoping for was either an admission or denial, as well as a real explanation of how this came to be. You can read her statement here. As for me, I'm no longer going to be reading her blog or linking to her posts from my own blog as I've done occasionally in the past. In My Mailbox is one of my favorite community memes (hosted by The Story Siren), but I'm going to have to do some thinking on whether or not to even continue taking part in that. I do think everyone concerned or interested in this should look at the posts and decide for themselves whether the content is too similar to just be coincidence. (And once again, a link to the Smart Bitches post that has links to the other relevant posts, and then Kristi's statement.) (If you want the opinion of another blogger, WORD for Teens has a nice post up, and this post from Dear Author is well worth reading.)

ETA: Kristi has since posted a much better apology in which she admits what happened and clarifies her earlier apology -- I now have no problem continuing to participate in IMM though I still don't feel quite right about reading/linking to her blog in the future. It may not be fair, but in my opinion a certain amount of damage has already been done and can't quite be un-done.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Writing: Editing Must-Haves

Project: sister story
Status: editing piper

Editing Must Haves

Editing is one of those things that I know I can do and I know I need to do, but actually doing it is so darn difficult. There's so much more pressure when I'm editing because I have this voice in the back of my head that's like, "well, you already messed this scene up the first three times, so probably it's un-fixable!" I go through I-don't-know-how-many edit/rewrite rounds of a project. And since sister story is told through two first person POVs it makes it that much more difficult -- I have edit rounds for the book as a whole, and then edit rounds for each of the two halves. 

It's making my head go all ughhhhhh.

But also! Also I'm really really excited about this book. It has the potential to be absolutely wonderful if only I can fix all the broken parts. And with that in mind today I want to talk about my editing must-haves -- they might not be what everyone else needs when they edit a novel, but I love them.

Notebook(s) and Pen(s): I use these spiral-bound notebooks that you find in the bargain section of Barnes & Noble. I can't seem to find them online, but they're big and hardcover, which makes them great for taking notes in. As far as pens, anything that writes well -- cheapo Bics are good. I take copious editing notes as I read the novel as the first stage in the editing process. I have 4.5 pages of notes on half of the novel right now.

Time: It's a sad fact that I can't do my editing in 15 minute bursts the way I can (sometimes) write. I need at least a good solid half hour to really get anything done. Hours work best for me. Like, long hours of uninterrupted time. This usually comes in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep and thus not bugging me. I have a feeling that with this book I'm going to have to switch things up a bit though, and find a way to get my editing done both (a) during the daytime and (b) in smaller stretches of time. I'm hoping an hour a day will work. 

Kindle: Ever since I got a Kindle its main use has been to be totally invaluable when it comes time to read over my writing. It's so much more eye-friendly than the computer screen, and more planet-friendly than printing off hundreds of sheets of paper. So I use it whenever I can.

Post-Its and/or Index Cards: I know that Scrivener has an awesome corkboard feature, but when I'm editing I go old-school and write relevant scenes/details/notes on post-its and index cards that I can shuffle around. This is mainly used when I have to reorganize scenes (which is, sadly, often, because apparently I pretty much never know the order in which things should happen).

Whiteboard Calendar: For getting the timeline straight in my head. Seeing how much time the book covers and when the big events happen.

Writers, what are your editing must-haves?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In My Mailbox (Apr. 22, 2012)

Bought: I had such a blast at the LA Times Festival of Books yesterday. It was awesome. And also! I bought some books. Two of which I've already read, but that's okay. I'm hoping Everything On A Waffle stands up to how great I remember it being. And my favorite YA book, serafina67, I managed to find in hardcover. You can only imagine my excitement, especially since the book is so difficult to find at all. It's used though, and the jacket is all gross and messy, so I may just take it off. ANYWAY I HAVE A HARDCOVER OF THIS BOOK NOW AND IT IS SO EXCITING. The only book I bought that I haven't already read is Beth Revis' A Million Suns. Which is awesomely exciting.

Gift: I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. You guys, Sharon Creech sent me a signed hardcover of Bloomability. IT IS SO WONDERFUL, SO SO WONDERFUL. Bloomability is one of the most imaginative and impactful books I read as a kid and every time I reread it I seem to love it just as much. It's my April reread, so I'll be blogging about it later on as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Everything (Apr. 21, 2012)

Let's try this out. I like having specific topics to post on specific days, so today I'm doing a round up of book/writing-related things. If it goes well, this may become a weekly Saturday thing.

Links for Readers:
Middle grade and YA author Lisa Schroeder has a wonderful blog post about sequels that I wholeheartedly agree with. What I took away from it: in a book planned as a stand-alone title, often the characters end up in the place they're supposed to -- or at least on the brink of that place -- and introducing a second book could mess that up.

HelloGiggles has a nice article about one of my favorite middle grade novels - Sharon Creech's Bloomability (more about this book in tomorrow's post).

Also, to celebrate the release of her debut YA novel, Pretty Amy, Lisa Burstein is having a huge giveaway and three readers will win a prom dress. So click over there.

Links for Writers:
This Figment article by Siobhan Vivian is of special importance to me since I just recently finished a first draft with five (five!) main characters. Here, Vivian talks about writing The List, a book that has eight different main characters, and how she handled the plethora of voices, outlooks, and identities. For anyone struggling with multiple POV I think this is a  must-read. It shows that this sort of book can be done, and also gives some helpful tips for keeping everything organized.

Links for People Who Are Super Interested in Books/Publishing:
Maureen Johnson, in her inimitable style, wrote a thing about the current ebooks situation -- the lawsuit against Apple and quite a few publishers because they allegedly did some sketchy stuff with the pricing of ebooks. A very interesting post even if, like me, you still don't totally get it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: 7 Clues to Winning You

Kristin Walker
When Blythe's family moves across town mid-semester, she's forced to go from her wonderful, academically-driven high school (Meriton) to the lower-class high school (Ash Grove) where her dad is the principal. Blythe, who isn't used to not getting her way, dreads the school switch for plenty of reasons, not least of which is the embarrassing nose-picking picture of her that went viral (thanks to her new school's yearly scavenger hunt) two years ago. Within the first week at her new school, Blythe gets revenge on all those who keep calling her "Booger Girl" by getting the beloved Senior Scramble scavenger hunt cancelled. When this makes the student body hate her even more, she quickly teams up with senior hotshot Luke Pavel to take the forbidden scavenger hunt underground, knowing that if they get caught it'll be her taking the fall.

What I got from this book was exactly what I expected going into it: a cute teen romantic comedy that's enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. None of the characters have much depth to them, but instead quirks that elevate them from the stereotypical roles they inhabit. (For instance, popular, preppy Blythe quotes Shakespeare.) The fact that none of these characters are fleshed out makes it difficult to really care about them or become invested in their lives and relationships. Of course, as this book is primarily a light, slightly-goofy comedy, maybe we're not meant to care much about the characters? I don't know. But personally, as a reader, I like caring about the characters. I love becoming invested in their lives and I wasn't invested here.

While the story is cute and predictable, with a few secondary stand-out characters (like Jenna and Cy, the sort-of-goth couple Blythe befriends), the majority of the characters were bland and I had issues with Blythe herself. One of the bigger themes running through this book is Blythe's unhappiness with her dad's goal to become superintendent. Because of this job opportunity, her family has to sell their house and move to the school district where her dad works. She has to switch schools. Both her old and new schools are fairly close to one another -- close enough that she still gets to meet her BFFs for coffee and shopping -- but for Blythe, the move and school switch is nothing short of life-ruining and she hates her dad for how "selfish" he's being. This is one of those rare instances where I think to myself, hey, maybe I'm too old for this book. Because all I see here is Blythe being selfish and ungrateful and thinking that she's better than those around her, that she knows better than everyone else does. (This thinking sadly doesn't change much throughout the course of the book.) And maybe if I were younger I'd have more sympathy toward her (but then, probably not).

However, my issues with Blythe's attitude didn't stop this from being a cute and humorous book. There were few LOL-worthy moments, but the situations Blythe found herself in and the choices she made were entertaining. Her love interest, Luke, is one of the more bland love interests I've come across, with his main attributes being that he's cute and can quote Shakespeare just as well as Blythe can (honestly I loved the nerdy/intellectual sides of Blythe and Luke and wish those aspects of their personalities had been able to shine a little more). He serves his purpose as The Crush, but as a character in his own right he's lacking. Luckily, the story itself -- Blythe's goal to keep the Senior Scramble going and win the respect and admiration of her new classmates -- is entertaining enough even with lackluster characters.

7 Clues to Winning You will be out Apr. 26th.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

YA Cover Critiques

My plan for today was to write a response of this Huffington Post article and discuss all the things I disagreed with in it. But there was so much I didn't like and since the writer's intention was to stir up some "controversy," I've decided to go in a different direction and instead look at some recent YA covers and discuss them. These are all books I've read this year, though some of the books were published earlier. I'm looking at a few different things in these covers:

1. Are models used on the cover? And if so, are the models a good representation of the characters within the book?
2. Font. This is one of my BIGGEST THINGS in covers and something that I always think is the most overlooked aspect of many YA book covers.
3. Do the different elements of the cover come together? Are they cohesive; does the cover have a finished, polished look?
4. Is the cover a good representation of the story?
5. Does the cover make me want to pick up the book?

Cover #1: 7 Clues to Winning You, by Kristin Walker
This is a contemporary YA novel. It's told in first person from one girl's perspective and the characters are juniors in high school. The models on this cover look a bit young to me and the amount of people on the cover makes me think that it's a multiple POV story or at least a novel with a large cast of characters, neither of which are true. On the whole, I'm not impressed by the cover; it gives no indication of what the story is about (a girl who starts at a new school where her dad is the principal and ends up running an underground scavenger hunt to earn the respect of her peers) and definitely doesn't make me want to pick up the book. It feels and looks like a bunch of different stock photographs photoshopped together. I like the font, but the colors and arrows don't fit the mood of the story at all.

A better cover: I'm horrible at graphic design, but in my head I imagine a Geek Charming-ish cover for this book. Pretty, preppy girl, preferably with a head and maybe a backpack instead of a purse. Also, the cover needs pink.

Cover #2: The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder
This is another contemporary YA told in first person from one girl's perspective. And I love this cover. There's very little I can say critically against it. The font is incredible, as are the colors, and the feather against the sky sets up the idea of "miracles" really nicely I think. If anything, I wish the model looked a bit less vibrant and healthy since the protagonist of this novel is living with incurable cancer. This is one book where I love the cover more than the story itself; it's just the right mix of artsy and current.

Cover #3: Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
This first-person futuristic sci-fi-ish novel is more along the lines of what many think of as far as YA novels are concerned, which is why I want to talk about it. For much of the story the protagonist, Juliette, is very much a broken girl and this model has such a fierce look that I really don't think it's a very good representation of her. Though the shiny and embossed cover effects are awesome, overall this is a cover that, while technically pretty and well-put-together, just doesn't make me want to pick up the book. The colors all go together and the font is pretty good, but it gives absolutely no idea of the story inside and doesn't do the book justice. 

A better cover: Honestly, I'm not sure, but I'm thinking a darker, more drastic and less generic cover. Get rid of the fierce girl in the wedding dress for starts. I'd love a cover with the color scheme of Restoring Harmony, or maybe something like this foreign cover for Neva, which is still a little generic but I feel like would fit the mood of Shatter Me  so much better.

Cover #4: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Another sci-fi novel, this one a science-fiction-y retelling of Cinderella. Mostly I really like the cover. The font is great -- both fairytale-looking and futuristic. And I love the translucent leg with the robot parts inside. If there's anything I don't love it's the fact that the shoe is red instead of glass, but that may just be because my vision of Cinderella is the Disney version. Still, I like this foreign cover just a teensiest bit more.

Here are a few other things about YA covers: just like YA is more than one genre, so are its covers. Contemporary, historical, sci-fi, dystopia, paranormal, and fantasy cover trends are all a bit different. What I think of when I think of YA covers may not be what you think of, and it definitely isn't what you'd typically see face-out in stores. What types of covers do you think of when you think of YA book covers?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Changes to My Review Policy (No More MG)

After lots of thought I've decided not to accept middle grade novels for review anymore. I enjoy reading the genre and when I find a book I truly connect with it's amazing, but more and more I'm feeling like it's difficult to know what books I'll like without being more immersed in the genre.

If I'm being honest, most of the middle grade books I love are ones that I read originally when I was the target age. (I don't even think it was called middle grade back then -- they were just children's books.) I really liked Shug which I read recently, but it's become more and more rare for me to find a MG book I really love and connect with. I think part of this is that I'm not as immersed in the genre, so I'm not as knowledgeable about it and less able to predict what books I'll really like. And part of it is, I think, that I don't have the same connection to MG (which is often plot/adventure-oriented) as I do to YA (which is often relationship/character-driven). 

I'm still going to be reading middle grade. And occasionally reviewing it. However, these will be books that I have searched out for myself, not ones sent for review. (That said, if anyone has any great middle grade suggestions, please throw them my way!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Blogging Tips

Ah! I love this week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish - top ten tips for new (book) bloggers.

1. Read (and blog about) what you want to.
By this I mean: don't feel like you have to talk about all the books that everyone else is talking about. Just because the rest of the world is reading The Night Circus or The Fault In Our Stars doesn't mean you have to. Trust me, you'll be happier blogger if you don't let others dictate your reading/blogging/reviewing choices.

2. No auto-play music on your site.
This might just be the single most annoying thing on the internet. It's either this or that horrible potato-headed person thing meme on tumblr that I hate (but that's another story). Seriously, guys, auto-play music is a surefire way to get readers to hate your site because there's nothing worse than having music start up when you're in the middle of the library or coffee shop, and not being able to get to the mute button fast enough. It's a quick way to lose readers.

3. Have a regular posting schedule.
Okay, I feel a bit odd about this one because I know I don't always stick to my own blogging schedule but I do think it's important to know what days you'll be blogging so that your readers know what to expect. Me? I try to blog Mon-Sat (and then on Sunday too, if I have any books for an IMM post), or at least Mon-Fri. This doesn't always work the way I want it to, but I do try and I really appreciate other blogs that post regularly.

4. Don't freak out about ARCs!
Let's be honest about it: ARCs do carry some cache in the blogging world. But they are also, often as not, harbingers of envy and drama and all that ugly stuff that can bog you down. Some bloggers get ARCs. Some don't. Some get much less or more than you'd think. It's easy to get distracted by the whole thing of them, but don't. If you want to get ARCs, The Story Siren has some great posts on them. If that's important to you. But don't let them be the be-all end-all of your blogging and don't think that how many ARCs you receive somehow defines your worth as a book blogger, because it doesn't.

5. Don't require a "follow" for contest/giveaway entries.
Not all bloggers run giveaways (I rarely do), but if you're going to, I really suggest not requiring a follow for entries. It's a sketchy way to get a lot of followers. Remember: followers do not equal readers. It's more important in the long run to have dedicated readers who love your blog than a ton of followers who never read it.

6. Find your own review style.
You don't have to give books a star rating. You don't have to use the B&N/Amazon synopsis. You don't have to write your own synopsis. You don't have to write paragraphs upon paragraphs in a review. Do what works for you. I know that in the past four years the way I personally review books has changed quite a bit, and that's a reflection of growing as a reviewer/blogger and consciously realizing the sort of reviews I want to put out there. Find what works for you. If this means only reviewing books you liked, that's fine. If it means lighter, comedic reviews that's fine too.

7. Join Twitter and Goodreads.
Goodreads is great for keeping track of your books (as well as cross-posting reviews) and seeing what your friends are reading. Think Facebook for book nerds. Twitter, on the other hand, is just flat-out fabulous for connecting with bloggers and authors, as well as promoting your blog posts. A good amount of my blog's traffic comes through Twitter.

8. Write up a review policy and give people a way to contact you.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this: if you don't have a review policy, it's a lot harder to reject the books you don't want to read/review. Having a policy makes this so much simpler.

9. Blogging should be fun.
You're not getting paid to do this. It's not going to get you an agent, a book deal, or make you famous or popular. So if you're doing it, it should be because you enjoy it. Otherwise, what's the point?

10. Have a personality.
Okay, I mean -- I know you have a personality. Because you're a person. But you have to also have personality on your blog. This, more than anything else, is what keeps readers coming back and keeps them interested in your blog over the hundreds-thousands of competing book blogs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Writing: Update

Project: sidekicks
Wordcount: 48,000

My Writing Update
For a long time I had the idea in my mind that this story would end up being somewhere between 70k and 80k, but that the first draft (which is always, for me, so much shorter) would be about 60-65k. HA. HAHA! Now, I laugh at myself. Because right now I can't imagine this first draft being anywhere near that. In fact, I suspect it's going to come out closer to 50k than anything else.

This first draft, as I may have mentioned before, is a mess. Just a total mess. It's like if you decided to make a cake so you just dumped all the ingredients in a bowl except maybe you don't have eggs and maybe you only have half as much sugar as you need, so it comes out all weird and gross and like there's something seriously missing.

That's how sidekicks is right about now. I have quite a few storylines that were mentioned in the first third or fourth of the book that just sort of disappeared, and then relationship/character arcs that I know need to be more fleshed out than they are but it's just not happening right now. I feel like I need this thing to settle before I can work out what stays and what goes and what I really, really need to add. So I'm in that place where I just hate the story, mostly. And I'm ready to be done with it. And I don't know why I ever started it in the first place.

But underneath how tired of the story I am and how much I feel like I hate it, I know there's a grain of something else. At the core, there's still the original idea I started with. The idea and the characters that I still love and that, if I keep going -- a second draft, a third, a fourth, until the story is good -- will eventually make the wonderful story I set out to write when I started. And I can't wait for that to happen.

ETA: I have finished the first draft. It is hovering at 50,000 words, about 90% (or more!) of which are just... not good.

Saturday, April 14, 2012




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Authors and Negative Reviews

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that the topic of reviewers, authors, and negative reviews comes up every so often. Mostly it comes up in the context of authors (or aspiring authors) writing reviews and the ethics and problems that come up.

But today I want to talk about something else, and that is the more widespread issue of authors responding (or not responding) to negative reviews.

As a reviewer and a reader, there are some books I don't like. There are books (though not many, thankfully) that I hate. There are plenty of books I don't care enough about to finish. I'm hones in my reviews and if I don't like something, I'll talk about it. I don't usually rant or get too personal/emotional (though I can think of an exception to this). I should also mention that I've never had an author personally get upset at me for a review of their book. I like to think that this is because my reviews are non-inflammatory, but the more realistic option is probably just that the authors I review critically/negatively either don't see my reviews or handle criticism well.

Authors, from a reviewer's POV, that negative review is not about you. It's not. It's about this book that they spent their time and money -- or if not their money, at least their time -- on and that disappointed them or annoyed them or, okay in some cases, even angered them. It's not about you, sitting behind your computer, writing this book that they didn't like.

It's easy for me to say that. I'm not an author.

But from my perspective, there are certain things you can and can't (or at least, shouldn't) do when you get a negative review.

Do not comment on it.

Do not write a blog post about it.

Do not tweet about it.

Because no matter how innocuous and "not mean" you think that comment/post/status update is, the reviewer or one of their friends or a potential reader is going to read it and think you're a little bit crazy maybe and definitely a lot unprofessional. There is no way for this to be a good thing. I know this because I've seen authors do it again and again, many of them having no idea the can of worms they're opening when they respond to or talk about a negative review online.

On the flip side, here's what you can do as an author.

You can cry. Or scream. Or whatever it is you do when you're sad or angry.

You can rant to your close friends, mother, spouse, or another trusted person.

You can decide that reviewer is stupid and ugly and you never liked them anyway. Just don't actually tell this to people. Keep your mean thoughts to yourself and those closest to you.

Additionally there's something else an author can do. I know that different reviewers have different thoughts about this, but if you really feel offended by something in a review -- if you honestly, honestly think the reviewer was attacking you and not your book, approaching them privately via email might not be the worst idea. But if you do this, choose your words carefully. It's one thing to say: I'm sure you didn't mean this personally, but what you said about my looks/beliefs/intelligence/family/whatever came across as personally offensive and saying something like: It's not nice to say [whatever it is they said]; that's not what a book review is supposed to be.

Again, different reviewers have different thoughts when it comes to this type of approach. Personally, I never mean to offend anybody and if I do, even if it's in a critical review that authors shouldn't comment on, I wouldn't be upset at this being brought to my attention. And I have a feeling that many other reviewers probably feel the same.

Reviewers and authors (and everyone!): what are your thoughts on an author responding to a negative review? Additionally, though I didn't discuss it in this post -- when do you think a review crosses the line between being critical of the book and being critical about the author? And is it okay for a reviewer to cross that line?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Disenchantments

Nina LaCour
Dutton Children's Books
Colby and his best friend Bev have a killer post-high school plan. First, a tour with Bev and the rest of her all-girl band, The Disenchantments, then a year traveling through Europe. The plan has been in place for the past four years and by the time they graduate high school Colby's more than ready to follow through. But then Bev confesses that she's not going to Europe; she's going to art school. And not only is Colby betrayed and confused at this change of plans (and the fact that Bev didn't tell him until the last minute), he also has to deal with the fact that he now has no idea what to do with the future stretching out ahead of him.

I completely loved Nina LaCour's debut novel, Hold Still, and this second book didn't disappoint. Narrated by male protagonist Colby, there's a bittersweetness obvious throughout the entire book, on every page. Colby's been in love with Bev for ages and despite the fact that she obviously knows of his feelings, there's no acknowledgment from her. While Colby is an artistic, mostly-honest, and mostly-easygoing character, Bev reminded me a little too much of John Green's Alaska -- defiant, hardened, and beautiful. She'd rather quietly lead Colby on than be honest with him, and this leads to a sharply-felt rift between the two of them that infects the other band members as well. This brings us to Meg and Alexa, sisters who round out the cast of the story. Both girls were quirky, likable characters who, much like Colby, had just enough realism to keep them grounded in reality. However, their personalities were less-defined than the other two and even now I'm having trouble articulating any differences in their personality. I love these characters, but they sort of blend together as one.

More important than the characters in this book is the feeling of it. As they road trip around the pacific northwest, Colby, Bev, and the sisters encounter the sort of uniquely weird cast of characters you really only see in road trip books or indie films -- there's the single mother who collects records, the guy who hosts gigs in his basement, and the tattoo artist just waiting for a chance to get out of his sleepy town. Along the way they also stumble upon a few mysteries: like, who is it that got a tattoo of The Rainclouds' (Colby's dad and uncle's tiny, old-school band) album cover? And, of course, Colby's unanswered question of why Bev decided to ditch Europe for college and why she felt like she couldn't tell him. These characters, the well-crafted settings, and the very essential questions that Colby struggles with (about himself, Bev, and growing up) make this, quite possibly, the best "road trip" YA I've read.

Music is sprinkled all over this story -- from the girls' own band that's loud enough to (sort of) make up for the fact that they sound awful, to the band Colby's dad and uncle had, to the girl bands that inspire the characters. Music is huge here and the book does such an incredibly good job of making it relevant and wonderful and make sense even if you know nothing about the music mentioned.

The development of Colby and Bev's characters as well as their relationship together is definitely one of the book's strengths. While for much of the book I couldn't stand Bev, the slow reveal of her reasons for college and the deeper parts of her personality were done so well that by the end of the book, though I'm still not sure I'd say I like her exactly, I definitely understood her quite a bit better. The characters in this book -- not just Bev, but all of them -- are like real people. They're a little bit broken, a little bit lost, but so full of love and hope and never-giving-up-ness that makes both them and the novel beautiful and heartbreaking and real all at once. I love this book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Deceptive Books

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is about books that were totally deceiving. These are the books that, for whatever reason, weren't what you expected from the marketing/cover/blurb. This is one of the rare lists where I had a hard time coming up with enough books that I felt really and truly fit the bill, so I left it at eight books.

1. Paradise
Jill S. Alexander
Based on the cover here, what I expected was a romance novel. You know. Romance. With the classic romance formula of boy-likes-girl, girl-likes-boy, but there's something keeping them apart and then in the end they overcome whatever the obstacle is and end up together. Like that. But this wasn't a romance; it was much more a story of Paisley's band and her decision to rebel against her mother to be a drummer than a story of the boy she finds herself attracted to. Additionally, the book's ending threw me for a total loop.

2. The Piper's Son
Melina Marchetta
Alright, I loved this book. But it so wasn't what I was expecting. From the summary, I expected it to be about Tom, his music, and his group of friends. I didn't expect it to be just as much about his aunt than about him, or for the rest of his extended family to play such a huge role and his friends (or, ex-friends) would just be secondary characters. I ended up loving it, but it took a while to adjust to what the story was instead of what I expected it to be.

3. After The Kiss
Terra Elan McVoy
This is another book I loved, but the summary led me to believe that the kiss mentioned in the title would be the inciting incident for the book when it reality the kiss doesn't happen until after page 100. So of course the story wasn't what I expected.

4. Across The Universe
Beth Revis
What I expected here was a romance/sci-fi. I mean, look at that cover. And the summary. But what I got instead was more of a sci-fi/murder mystery, with the romance only a (very) small part of the story. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't what I thought it would be.

5. Girl Meets Boy
(edited by) Kelly Milner Halls
Now, this is one that disappointed me. I love the cover and from both this and the summary I expected to find stories of love told from both points of view. In some respects, this is what I go. But more often than not, the romance/love aspect was almost secondary in the stories and many of them were about very different issues, with the romance acting as a sort of backdrop or, sometimes, just a consequence of other events happening. This is one case where the reality of the book disappointed me because I was expecting something else.

6. Deadly
Julie Chibbaro
This is a very science-driven historical fiction that takes place around the time of "Typhoid Mary." Unfortunately, from the cover I was expecting (once again) a romance, possibly a murder mystery.

7. Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance
Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
This book is a little different than the others. While the story itself was pretty much what I was expecting based on the summary, the tone of the story was not. I went into the book thinking it would be a light, cute, fun, upbeat love story and was surprised at how jaded (and often mean) the characters came across. This gave the story a decidedly darker feel that I wasn't prepared for and accounts for a lot of the reason I didn't end up caring so much for the book.

8. Invincible Summer
Hannah Moskowitz
After reading Moskowitz's first novel, Break, I wasn't exactly expecting a light beach read, but even so this one surprised me with just how dark it was. The cover and summary don't allude to how dark the story and characters get.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Writing: Deadline

Project: sidekicks
Wordcount: 42,000

Deadline Attack!
Okay, it's a little funny that I'm talking about deadlines on a day that I'm late with my Monday Writing post. But okay, whatever. I don't usually start projects with a deadline in mind, but somewhere in the murky middle I always feel like I should give myself a deadline. I worry that otherwise it would be too easy to get discouraged, give up on the project, muddle around for a while, and finish it months and months later. With that in mind, my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of sidekicks is the end of this month. April 30. 

I know this is a super short writing post, but my question for you fellow writers is: do you set deadlines for yourself? It's different, I know, when you have actual DEADLINE deadlines, but for those of us who don't (yet), does it help to have a self-imposed deadline?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In My Mailbox: Apr. 8, 2012

Bought: Both of these are books I've been wanting to read for a while, and in the case of My Invisible Boyfriend, much longer than "a while." I'm nervous about reading this one because with how much I absolutely love serafina67, there's a lot to live up to and I'm not sure what to expect. Awkward, on the other hand, just looks adorable.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Reading Goals Update

With the first quarter of the year officially over (hello, spring!) I figure that now is a good time to take inventory of how I'm doing with my various reading goals that I posted about back at the start of the year.

So far this year I've read 32 books, not including those books that I've started and then not finished. Of these 32, three of them (The Hunger Games series) were rereads.

Goal #1: Read more nonfiction. Specifically I wanted to read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and more books along the lines of Odd Girl Out. What did I really end up reading?

So far only one nonfiction title that I've finished -- Liz Pryor's What Did I Do Wrong?: What To Do When The Friendship Is Over, which is definitely similar to Odd Girl Out though aimed at adult women instead of children and adolescents. This book was mostly anecdotal, with a tight focus on what happens when female friendships end and the different ways this event is handled (or, more often, not handled). I really enjoyed it and definitely found some of it relatable, though I felt that at times the focus was a little too narrow in that it was so focused on the end of a friendship and much less so on what leads up to that ending.
(I also started and didn't finish Queen Bees & Wannabes, which was a disappointing read for me.)

I definitely feel like I should kick my nonfiction reading into a little higher gear this next quarter -- maybe finally reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?

Goal #2: Read more adult novels. Specifically I wanted to read Sisterhood Everlasting and The Weird Sisters.

I read three adult novels in the past three months, which I think is pretty good. One of them was Sisterhood Everlasting, which I reviewed here. The other two were Family Album, by Penelope Lively, and Save As Draft, by Cavanaugh Lee. To be honest, none of these books were all that I had hoped for. The family drama in Family Album was tedious and emotionally exhausting, but this is more a reflection of myself and my biases than the actual story, I think. Meanwhile Save As Draft was definitely entertaining and I loved the way it was written (through emails between the characters), but I didn't like any of the characters and this made it difficult to really enjoy the book.

I'd like to find an adult novel I really, really like sometime soon. Maybe The Weird Sisters will fit the bill when I finally do read it?

Goal #3: Make an effort to read YA sci-fi. The books I listed here were Cinder and A Million Suns.

I read two YA sci-fis: Cinder, by Marie Lu, and Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. Honestly, I'm not sure if I *really* consider Shatter Me sci-fi or not; it really walks the line between dystopian, paranormal, and just straight-up futuristic, however the ending of the book definitely pushes it more toward the futuristic/sci-fi label to me. I reviewed both books here -- (Cinder) and here -- (Shatter Me).

I still want to read A Million Suns and there are a few upcoming dystopian novels I'd like to get to, but for this sci-fi category I'm really looking for non-dystopic books. Any suggestions on that front?

Goal #4: Look for sophomore novels. 

Alright, I'm not entirely sure how many of the books I read were sophomore novels, but as far as I can tell at least three of them were. You Are Not Here, by Samantha Schutz (review); Alaska, by Sue Saliba (review); and 7 Clues to Winning You, by Kristin Walker (review to come closer to the pub date). Additionally the book I'm reading now (Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments is a sophomore and so far I'm really loving it.)

Goal #5: Read debuts.

This is an ongoing thing for me and so far this year I've read 8 debuts and I'll just link to them here.
Shug, by Jenny Han
Adios, Nirvana, by Conrad Wesselhoeft
The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Save As Draft, by Cavanaugh Lee
She's So Money, by Cherry Cheva
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
Girl Saves Boy, by Steph Bowe

Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Keep Holding On

Susane Colasanti
Viking Juvenile
In her wealthy-lite high school, Noelle is definitely one of the poorest students. Not only does she not have a new car like nearly everyone else she knows, but she doesn't even have her driver's license and food is so scarce that she often ends up bringing mayo-and-mustard sandwiches for lunch. Her home life is bad enough, but the fact that certain other students bully her for it makes things so much worse. Her crappy boyfriend refuses to be with her in public meanwhile the boy she really likes is way out of her league. For Noelle, every day is a battle.

I'll admit I went into this novel with some bias. While I loved Colasanti's debut novel, When It Happens, her more recent novels haven't had the same impact and the didactic nature of Keep Holding On initially put me off. However, Colasanti's easygoing, straightforward writing style is put to good use here as we're immersed in Noelle's shabby life. With constant bullying and a mother who neglects her to the point of malnourishment, it would be easy to expect everything in Noelle's life to be full of despair. Happily though, there's a light in the darkness; Noelle has a loyal, wonderful, far-from-cliche best friend in Sherae, who never lets their wealth disparity come between them. Julian, the boy she has a crush on, has been showing more interest in her lately, and her super-nerdy, super-peppy physics teacher makes first period bearable even with everything else going on. It's these relationships, along with her introduction to the school's writing journal, that provides a counterpoint for all the gloom in Noelle's story and her life.

The characters here are refreshing: Sherae is one of my favorite YA best friends in quite a while and Noelle herself is surprisingly level-headed with a ton of common sense. And if she sometimes thinks less of herself than she should, well, that's not exactly unexpected considering her much-less-than-ideal circumstances. While the book is heavy-handed on the message of anti-bullying and one of the major plot points falls flat, this book exceeds expectations as a straightforward story of overcoming bullies. It's a surprisingly powerful novel, especially for teens who might be dealing with their own bullies.