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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Off to LA

So, I'm off to my first big SCBWI conference in LA. I don't know if I'll be blogging before I get back, I'm not taking my big laptop, just a teeny tiny one that makes life very difficult. Very excited about the conference, never excited about the travel. I guess it'll be one more opportunity to read over my manuscript/read a few good books!

More blogging in about a week!

Monday, July 26, 2010

There are People who don't read YA!!!?!

Yes indeed, there are people who don't read YA. This is incomprehensible to me because, I read YA because I work with teens all day. I read YA because I write YA. I read YA because I love it. And if you took any of these things away, I would still be a reader of YA.

I'm thinking of it because my Young Adult Literature elective was so popular at scheduling time that they had to add three sections into the schedule. Only problem is with my English classes, my creative writing, my new Speculative Fiction class, I can't teach all of them!

The guy who is teaching the extra YA Lit class is a good English teacher. But he doesn't read YA. I use Hunger Games and Speak with my 10th grade classes, he uses The Hobbit. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I worship Tolkien. Nonetheless, I would not teach The Hobbit as a class book.

So this brings me back to...there are people, readers! who don't read Young Adult! My mom reads it because I pass books along to her. My husband reads it, though he loves MG more. My friends read it. But some adults, particularly those my age and older, don't.

I guess because it's not for them. But, like someone on Absolute Write pointed out in a recent thread about adults reading more YA, everyone (every adult, I should say) has been through the trauma that is adolescence.

I just feel so lucky to be in contact with the world of YA literature so completely, otherwise I would have missed some fabulous books.

Anyway, because I want those kids who signed up for the Young Adult literature class that I created to have the best possible experience, I'm working on my curriculum and book list, even though I'm not teaching it until second semester.

Picking the right selection of books is hard. There are a lot of variables, for class books I pick books that appeal to a wide variety of students. For a literature class I can pick books more specific to a certain type of reader.
I don't give absolute choice because part of the goal of the class is to expose students to new books. I give a list of 30-40 books and they have to pick 3. (this is for a 9 weeks class). My hope is to find books that appeal to all the students, and also introducing them to different books that appeal to them. Last year we were wildly successful, with kids who had only read sci/fi, fantasy, and Manga falling in love with 13 Reasons Why, with kids who refused to consider non Sarah Dessen type realistic books loving Wicked Lovely.

I'm working on my list, will post it tomorrow. Any suggestions that you think HAVE to be on the curriculum for a Young Adult Literature class?

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Best Books of the Summer

I don't really do reviews. A. I don't think my brain works that way. B. When I read something I like I try to make everyone I know read it and I don't like to spoil anything. At the beginning of the summer I gave my friend Doug two books, Ender's Game and The Hunger Games. I didn't tell him anything about them, just, "Have I ever given you a book you didn't like?" He loved them both, of course, and has already read Catching Fire. C. I don't feel qualified to say bad things about other author's books because so much of my reading is dependent on mood, setting, screaming kids, whether I'm on an airplane or waiting in front of the school to pick up my kids, whether I have a headache...but today I'm going to blog about the books I couldn't put down this summer.

1. Hate List by Jennifer Brown

I enjoyed the structure of the book, I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and I enjoyed how conflicted the characters, particularly the main character, but other characters, too. I will be adding this to the reading list of my YA Literature class, and I've already told our library to order at least two copies.

Warning, you will want to read the sequel and it isn't out yet in the states.
I have to say I love this cover, I have this one on my personal shelf, but since I'm using it in my Spec Fic class (also told the library to order this right away) I'm afraid that my copy is going to get grabbed up by students. It's hard to say no when they really want to read something.

I loved the setting and the mystery of this. The characters were interesting. And the biggest indication that it was a good book, was that when I got to the end I was like, wow, I have to get the sequel!

I'm going to be doing a lot of reading the next week or so, particularly flying to California and back, so I expect to have some favorite books of late summer, soon. What are your favorite new books?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sibling Relationships (in My Books)

So...Siblings! In my house the siblings are beating each other with miniature Louisville Slugger baseball bats. My husband was right when he said those were a BAD idea.

It seems to me, as a person who grew up without brothers or sisters, that maybe siblings are something that shapes your whole outlook on the world. Your personality...or maybe not? Like everything, I believe you have a mix of nature and nurture, so how a person reacts to a sibling with ADHD will be a mix of their own genetic predisposition and how their family/environment is shaped by that sibling.

In Parker Prescott, I wanted a character who appeared to be snobby but was really very vulnerable. I also wanted a middle child, a kid who seemed the easy well adjusted one, but in the end, wasn't. Having a "perfect" older sister like Paige set up the dynamic of appearing snobby, without Paige peers might have thought Parker was just quiet or shy, but following her popular older sister gave people preconceptions about what she might be like. And having Preston, the younger brother with ADHD just meant that her parents would be that much more distracted, that she would feel that much less important, but because she really loves Preston, his presence makes her more likable, I guess. I like snarky characters so I had no problem loving Parker!

Greedy, my book that may never be published, I started out writing a story about a bisexual character, and ended up writing a book about sisters. The difference was that in some ways their roles were reversed from Handcuffs. Molly was the extrovert, and the one who had to realize that her behavior affects her sister... I think that the sibling relationships are the heart of the book, as well as the conflict.

Sibling relationships, albeit screwed up ones, are also at the heart of The Fall. In writing it I started with what Poe had given us, isolated twins suffering from a malady. Poe's narrator was a childhood friend who had never visited the House of Usher, so I assumed that Roderick Usher had been away at school. The twins, Madeline and Roderick, had a relationship based upon intense devotion, made all the more intense by long periods of abandonment. They are also the only people who have (even a small chance) of understanding one another. This is the first thing I've written with twins or a male/female sibling dynamic.

Obviously, sibling relationships have found their way into all of my stories, and in really important, not just peripheral ways. Maybe it's fascination on my part, maybe it's plot necessity, I don't know. I also haven't noticed that I find books featuring an MC with siblings particularly more compelling that books with an only child. I guess it's something I'll be paying attention to in the future, as both a reader and a writer.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Only Children

Confession 1- I have never written a character who is an only child
Confession 2 - I am an only child

What's up with that?

Time Magazine's cover story this week, discussing the myths around only children, made me think (and not for the first time) about my propensity for writing characters whose sibling relationships are extremely important in their lives. Since I have virtually no experience at being part of a sibling relationship.
Now a short explanation of my experience is that I do have a brother, he was born a month after I graduated from high school, when I was 18. So, my childhood/adolescence was free of siblings, without a hint that there would ever be a sibling. While, I'm pretty sure that my existence in no way defined my brother's life, he at least (while also raised as an only child because I was already out of the house) had the experience of always having a sister, albeit a much older one, so he is sort of a quasi-only child, and I couldn't say if he was any more spoiled selfish or solitary than he would've been without my part in his life.
Because those are the myths Time is debunking. From Time "The entrenched aversion to stopping at one mainly amounts to a century-old public-relations issue. Single children are perceived as spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. No parents want that for their kid."
Read more:,8599,2002382,00.html#ixzz0tkOy55Hk
I'd hazard a guess that quasi-only children are becoming more prevalent with second families, fathers who have nearly adult children and start new families, or step families. And, the article says that families with one child and no plans for more are on the rise, as they rose during the Great Depression. Interesting.
When I thought about it, I realized that the main characters in the two biggest (YA) Literary phenomenon of the last zillion years have been only children. Yes, Harry Potter, and Bella Swan. I don't know that anyone could call either of them spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. Or could they?
There have been times in my life when I was all of the above. But my own children, less than two years apart, have also been spoiled, selfish, and yes, I have one who could be called a solitary misfit. (I'm sure there's creative genius in there!)
So, what's the deal with only children in literature? Holden Caulfield was a spoiled, selfish, solitary misfit and he had siblings.
And, as fun as the alliteration is, (spoiled, selfish, solitary, spoiled, selfish, solitary) Time, and many sources in the past say that these are complete B.S.
There might be plot based reasons why a character is an only child, like Voldemort killing your parents, leaving you an orphan, and stopping your parents from producing any more children. Or divorce...I don't remember how long the Swan family had been divorced. As a plot device, having another sibling hanging around might have been inconvenient (or interesting).
I'm going to scour my bookshelves for YA only children (Pudge in Looking for Alaska, Melinda in Speak) and see how comprehensive a list I can come up with.
For tomorrow I'm preparing a post called The Sibling in YA literature. That sounds nice and official, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday again?

Wow, Tuesdays come fast...

This is the opening of the book I wrote right after Handcuffs. I rewrote it three times, and I'm doing a bit of looking over it, as a writing exercise (and because I love it).
The soft cotton lining of the protective gloves catches on my fingernails as I pull them slowly over my hands. I angle the pruning shears. Snip. The rose falls. I lean forward, pinch the thorny stem between my too-thick gloved fingers. The cotton snags against my left thumb nail, the one I gnaw the most, as I drop the red rose-bud into my mom’s wicker basket. There’s a rose-shaped indention on the almost-black soil. I smooth the earth with my foot. Potting soil and little bits of mulch are dusted from my ankle down to my toes. I push my hair back from my face and feel something sticky smear across my forehead.
Tomorrow is the first day of school, the first day of my senior year. I need to trim back the roses in this walled garden behind my father’s church. Once school starts I might not have so much time, they might get overgrown, wild. There isn’t much that I can do for my family, they’ll barely notice when I’m gone, but this garden, I’ve cared for it over the years. It provides fresh flowers for the sanctuary. We can all agree that flowers are nice, even though when I look at the roses I see stems and pistons and the glorious bright green of chlorophyll absorbing sunlight during photosynthesis. They see something different, a miracle, I guess.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Current Slang

So, one of the most common questions for authors of Young Adult literature, especially Contemporary Realistic like Handcuffs, is how do you sound like a teen?
The answer is NOT slang. Okay, some slang works for establishing certain characters and their speech patterns, but I'll admit there's a bit of slang in Handcuffs that actually makes me cringe and hide from the book, and I use any type of slang very sparingly.
But I do find slang FASCINATING. Because it's part of language, and how language changes is so...have I said fascinating? Yeah.
I also find some of it annoying. Here are some of the slang phrases that I hear constantly. Remember that I'm in middle America...the northernmost part of the south and the easternmost part of the midwest, so what one hears in other places may be very different.

Gotcha- as a teacher I hear this all the time, said in a good natured way, to indicate, I understand.

I know, right? I think I first heard this one on Juno, but I could've missed some other pop culture reference. I really can't say this with the right intonation, so I don't use it irl or online.

It is what it is - Meaning this is the way things are, or accept it, or some variation of that. I really hate this one because it seems very meaningless to me.
I haven't heard any words for cool that are newer than Sick (which I had heard on the internet 5 years ago, but hadn't noticed irl until 2 years ago.
What slang words are you guys hearing?

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fantastical Horror

The next few posts will be related to my Speculative Fiction class, which I am planning for right now...
The class is going to be split into four (overlapping) categories, Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy. So, I'm working on the Horror section first. Believe it or not, I'm not that big a fan of horror. Yes, it's true. I get completely grossed out by anything gross. I particularly don't like horror that could really happen, like serial killer type stuff. On one level I would say this is because it truly scares me, and yeah, it does, but on another level, I think I just invest more in stuff with a fantastical element. So, I do love horror that deals with a fantasy type setting, or fantasy type creatures, just not...realistic horror? (though I do think characters have to be particularly realistic and sympathetic to work in horror).
Now, when I was in middle school, V.C. Andrew's books were placed in the horror section, and I read those, but I think the first true horror book I ever read was IT by Stephen King, and it remains one of my favorite books, one of my favorite books by King (though his only horror book that would go on that list) and one of my favorite horror books.

My all time favorite horror book, though, is Shadowland by Peter Straub.

This is the cover I had when I was in middle school, possibly early high school. The silver part was extremely shiny, and I think I wrote my name on it with an orange marker-pen (the precursor of the gel pen, I suspect). And, here is the copy I have now, just purchased a new one to see if I still love it as much...
So far, I do. One thing I remember about this book is the mix of real horror, the sociopath kid who is morphing into something else, and the fantastical. In fact, I have to admit that I'm not at all sure what happens at the end, just that I was so invested in the characters and the world that I couldn't put it down.
Now I'm trying to choose a short selection of horror books for the course I'm teaching. These will either be YA books, or fairly short books, since the students will have only 3 weeks to read them. There will be some exceptions, and I plan to have a supplemental list with books like IT, that will take longer to read, but will be interesting to some students. They only have to choose one from the list.

Here's what I've come up with so far...if anyone has some great suggestions please let me know.
I think these two will cover basically any person who wants to read about zombies. Very very different books, but the idea is to give students enough options to find something they will enjoy, while few enough that I can have some control of the content and discussions.As I look at these titles, some of which I like better than others, I think the element that it comes down to for me in horror, (besides liking the characters, which is crucial) is suspension of disbelief. So what makes good horror for you, and what horror books would you recommend?

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SUMMER and the Joy of...A Schedule?

Summer days are lazy and my memory. I remember those days when I was like the four kids in Stand By lazy that I would've given anything for a chance to go check out a dead body...

There's something about that movie that encapsulates the boredom of endless summer days with nothing to do. Now, I spent plenty of summer days watching movies, but my real memories of lazy summer days are mostly centered around reading in various locations, and wondering through river bottoms, and finding more books and even more places to read them. I have a strong memory of lying on the porch swing with a book, feeling the roughness of the creekstone porch beneath my feet, as I pushed off over and over. In the end, I'd get motion sick every time! I also remember lying on my bed, having an oscillating fan blowing on me, eating microwave fudge, and reading books that transported me, like this one...

After the glorious free reading time of summer, I hated the rigidity of school, it felt very restrictive to me.

But as an adult, I find that I have to have a schedule. The problems with schedules in summer is that as soon as I get used to one, things change, but...yeah, since I've had kids my life is a series of schedules.

Although I love spontaneity in theory, I find myself needing some guidelines for my time. In summer, as a full time mom, I definitely plan each day around certain activities, and during the school year I'm super-scheduled.

As a writer, I think this actually helps me. The reader in me loves long lazy days. The writer in me craves a time to sit and just create/write/revise/think.

How about you guys? Memories of summer? Spontaneity or schedules?

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Monday, July 5, 2010

A Brief Moment in my Day

So, at 11:30 this morning did you know what all of your minions (ahem) beloved responsibilities were up to? I decided to keep track of mine (took more like 5 minutes because my camera, it is slooooow)

Exhibit A Sphinx, Age 16, my first baby


Friday, July 2, 2010

Pictures=1000 Words?

Since I talked about music earlier this week, I'm going to post pictures today. Awesome, awesome pictures! So...are they worth 1,000 words?

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Fears and Phobias

Okay, just a word to the wise...if you are afraid of snakes, don't do a Google image search for fear of snakes. I'm, um, not going to use a picture for this blog entry. Sorry!

The Definition from Webster

Main Entry: 1fear
Pronunciation: \ˈfir\
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English feren, from Old English ̄ran, from ̄r
Date: before 12th century
transitive verb

1 archaic : frighten
2 archaic : to feel fear in (oneself)
3 : to have a reverential awe of
4 : to be afraid of : expect with alarm

Main Entry: pho·bia
Pronunciation: \ˈfō-bē-ə\
Function: noun
Etymology: -phobia
Date: 1786

: an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.

There are certain things that scare a lot of people. I, for example, am terrified of snakes. My mom read The Swiss Family Robinson to me as a kid, and the scene where the snake swallows the donkey...lets just say that I had nightmares for the next decade. Not all related to that book, I'm sure, but reoccurring nightmares about snakes.

I'm slightly afraid of heights, but more from a...I could fall off of here...perspective, rather than a just I'm afraid of being high up fear. Like, I'm not afraid of going up on The Sears Tower or the Eiffel Tower, but afraid of looking off the side of the Grand Canyon where there's no guard rail. I do know people who are just scared of heights.

I'm slightly claustrophobic, besides my snake dreams I also suffer from a reoccurring dream where I wake up and I can't move. Then I fight my paralysis and realize that I didn't wake up, I woke up in my dream, and wasn't really awake...see what I mean? It's a terrible dream. I think that writing my last book brought out my claustrophobia a bit.

The last thing that I'm afraid of is contagion. I am terrified of cancer. Terrified. And terrified of other diseases, particularly that my kids could catch. I'm getting ready to use this fear in a book, and I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it.

I'm not sure that any of my fears are (on the surface) irrational...but the amount of nightmares, night terrors, and anxiety that I've suffered at different times in my life makes me think that I might be a neurotic mess.

So, what are your fears, and what do our fears teach us about life, and what does literature teach us about what these fears and phobias teach us about life?

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