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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RTW: Best Book of July


Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: What's the best book you've read this month?

I’ve been binging on contemporary YA books this month (starting here), mainly because I don’t write contemporary novels and I’m not as well-read in that area. And if I didn’t count big books—think If I Stay and Anna and the French Kiss—my bookshelf was sorely lacking in that department.


Enter Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. From Goodreads:
According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie---she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

My thought process went something like this:

1.     Girly cover.
2.     A girl wants to hook up with 20 boys on vacation? Pass.
3.     But it got such good reviews.
4.     And it also sounds like the book version of a Demi Lavato film.
5.     But look at all those five stars…
6.     Fine, I’ll read it. But I don’t have to like it.
7.     Ooohhhhhh.
8.     *tears up*
9.     I get it. I totally get it.
10.  Is there a box of Kleenex around here?
11.  *tears through book*
12.  Sleep is for the weak.
13.  *finishes book*

Guys, this book is about so much more than a girl looking to hook up over summer. It’s about a girl mourning the death of her first love. And what I enjoyed so much was that we didn’t meet Anna when Matt was already dead. The death happens early in the novel, but by the time it does, we know enough about Anna and Matt to really feel the pain.

The love and loss were so real here, at times I felt like my heart was breaking with Anna’s. Because it wasn’t fair that Matt died. And I knew from the beginning that this couldn’t have The Happy Ending, the one where she gets the guy she loves. It’s the same thing Anna knows going into the summer. The result is a beautiful struggle between holding onto the past and the guilt of moving forward.

What’s the best book you read this month?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Young Adult Reader Assistance Questionnaire




Journal of Impossible Research, July 2011 issue

Introduction
It’s important, when making book recommendations to family or friends, to spend time choosing the most suitable book. Considering the number of books currently occupying shelves in libraries and bookstores and (virtually) online, one does not want to suggest a book that may waste a person’s valuable time. As such, careful consideration should be a part of the book recommendation process.

The most reliable way to judge previously read books is to follow an easy and thorough questionnaire. In a study of 500 Original Readers and Readers, the six-question Young Adult Reader Assistance Questionnaire (YARAQ) made positive recommendations 98 percent of the time.

Methods
YARAQ: Young Adult Reader Assistance Questionnaire

1. How long does it take for the main character and the handsome gentleman she courts to reveal their lust with a kiss?
A. One week or less
B. One month or less
C. Longer than one month

2. How long has said main character known said hot gentleman before one (or both) announces undying love?
A. One week or less
B. One month or less
C. Longer than one month

2. How did said main character and said sexy gentleman meet?
A. He moved to her school and began stalking her
B. He moved to school and became the bad boy with cuddling potential
C. They have been friends or acquaintances for at least a year

3. How many love interests are there?
A. More than two
B. Two, a perfect love triangle
C. One

4. What makes the main character special?
A. He or she was born into the right family*
B. He or she became special after doing something courageous and/or selfless
C. He or she is not special but must work hard to become special

5. How many characters in the book are extremely beautiful?
A. All of them
B. All but one
C. Most of them, but there are a few ugly geeks thrown in there

6. Why is the villain evil?
A. There is no reason
B. Because of trauma done to him or her 20 or more years ago**
C. For a personal reason that the reader can relate to

Points are scored as follows: For each A, add 1. For each B, add 2. For each C, add 3.

*Add two points when completing the YARAQ for Harry Potter
** Add one point when completing the YARAQ for Harry Potter

Results
Once added, books with a rating under seven should not be recommended to friends or family unless said friend or family member a) angers, b) embarrasses, or c) otherwise annoys Original Reader.

Books rated between seven and twelve should be recommended with caution. Original Reader should never use words such as “loved,” “best,” or “favorite” when recommending a book in this category.

Original Reader is safe to recommend those books rated twelve and above. However, phrases such as “this is the best book I’ve ever read” and “I love this book more than my children” may elevate a Reader’s expectations to unattainable levels and, thus, result in what scholars have termed a “let down.”

Conclusion
Prior to recommending a book, all Original Readers should take time to fill out the YARAQ form. The risk for friendship suspension can be lessened by ten percent for each form filled out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

RTW: Help, I’m In Love With a Villain!


Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: Who are your favorite literary villains/antagonists, and why?

So there’s this book I read this week and even though I was going to write up a review for it on Friday, it just so happens to fit with today’s Road Trip Wednesday. When stuff like this happens, I’m tempted to by a lottery ticket.

Anyhow, I figure everyone will probably have Voldemort covered and this villain is unlike most others. And here’s why: By the end of the book, I kinda sorta really wanted him to win.


I read Lucy Christopher’s Stolen earlier this week and, well, I think I have Stockholm Syndrome. Here’s what it’s about, from Goodreads:

Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don't exist - almost.

First, and this has nothing to do with the villain, I need to mention how the Outback becomes another character in this story. It’s so well-written that I can still visualize the sand and heat and miles of nothing that surrounded the little shack. You can learn a lot about atmosphere and creating vibrant, almost living, settings. I should also note how well the characters were developed and their histories revealed.

So there’s that. There’s also the fact that the entire book is one long letter from Gemma to her kidnapper. Before I tell you why I’m picking him as my favorite villain, let’s review some of (non-spoilery) things Ty did to Gemma:

1. Kidnapped her from an airport.
2. Drugged her.
3. Brought her to the Outback where no one would ever find her.
4. Told her he’d never let her go.

As you can imagine, the guy’s crazy, obsessed, and delusional. But still.


Christopher’s story is so well done that as Gemma begins to empathize with him, we as readers do too. So let me tell you a few other things about our kidnapper, Ty:

1. He doesn’t hurt or rape her.
2. He opens himself up to her.
3. He has a past and present and future. He’s not a nameless bad guy but one full of pain and hurt and longing.
4. And something he does at the end of the book that I won’t mention because it’s all sorts of spoilery.  

What Christopher masterfully does is play with the reader’s mind so much that we understand Ty. And sort of like him. Here’s why this is my favorite villain: Because at the end of the book, I wanted Gemma to end up with Ty. I wanted him to get what he wanted, a relationship with Gemma. And I wanted it despite the fact that I knew it was wrong.

So there you have it. Read this, get Stockholm Syndrome, and plead for the villain to win.

Who’s your favorite villain?

Monday, July 18, 2011

What It Really Means to Write What You Know



There’s a saying out there, written by experts and read by wannabe authors, that success comes from writing what you know. I think the idea gets distorted a bit as it makes its way from one end of the Internet to the other, which is understandable considering how vast the world inside the computer is.

Anyhow, the phrase gets screwed up into the idea that you shouldn’t write about dismantling a bomb or performing brain surgery if you’re a student and amphibian enthusiast. Of course, that’s a lie. I’m not ready to say it’s a conspiracy, but there are signs certain websites may be conspiring against us. (Don’t worry, I already checked and this blog isn’t bugged. Give me a little credit.)

I think the idea is more about understanding how to use your experiences to bring the story to life.

Parenthesis

When I was writing the first draft of my current WIP, I learned that my main character loved astronomy. Before I go on, you should know two things: 1) I know nothing about astronomy, and 2) I can’t explain how I “discovered” my character’s hobby. If you’re a writer, you’ll understand.

Close parenthesis
 
There was one scene, on top of a cliff that overlooked a lake. My main character was sprawled out on the ground, staring up at the sky. Without thinking about it, I described the experience. Only after I finished did I realize I wasn’t making anything up. Though I didn’t have the same understanding of the stars as my main character, I described the feeling based on a past experience.

When I was studying abroad in New Zealand, me and a few friends went to an All Blacks rugby game, which was miles outside Auckland, the city where I was living. On the way home, the road was so dark that through the car windows we could see millions of stars dotting the black sky. Having lived in a city for all of college and another six months while abroad, most of us hadn’t seen so many stars since we were in grade school, and even then I don’t think I ever experienced the sky as I did that night.

We pulled off to the side of the road and got out of the car, craning our necks to stare at the sky. I don’t think we even spoke because seeing it like that, without light pollution or trees to block our view, the galaxy felt so huge and so full. We were in awe of it all.

I didn’t have to be an astronomer. I didn’t need any knowledge of the stars or planets or solar system. I could find the facts online. But the research wouldn’t have resulted in the same description. And that, I believe, is what “write what you know” means. Write the emotions you know: fear, anger, love, betrayal, compassion, awe.

The reason we connect to characters that live such completely different lives than us isn’t because we know what it’s like to be homeless or a victim of abuse or tortured. It’s because we all have experienced those characters’ emotions. Whether we can identify with someone living in a dystopian society or not, we’ve longed for freedom, know how to love, and have felt loss.

Don’t overlook past experiences when you’re writing. Even unrelated events in your history can enrich a story.

How do you write what you know?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Launch: Born to be a Dragon

Guys. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the reasons I love being part of the children’s writing community is the, er, community. (Please don’t laugh at my inability to come up with another word for community. It’s early and I haven’t hooked up my coffee IV yet. The community twins are staying.)

And there’s no time I more enjoy it then when I get to cheer on a friend. This week, the lovely Eisley Jacobs is launching her book BORN TO BE A DRAGON, a middle grade novel about a legend that keeps humans and dragons apart and the unlikely friendship between Meia, a young girl, and Deglan, a 10-year-old dragon.

Instead of just telling you about the book, I dragged Eisley all the way here to chat. (So you know, we live about 1,660 miles apart; that’s how much she wanted to be here to talk to you guys.) (You in back, shut up about the Internet.) So, let’s get started.

Tell us about yourself using four adjectives, one adverb, a plural noun and a proper noun. (Then proceed to throw a rotten tomato at my head.)
Haha … okay. Well here we go: Hyperactive, Imaginative, Extroverted, Busy! Animatedly! Kids! Eisley (which means strong)!

You write MG and YA novels. Aside from the obvious differences (MC’s age, etc.) what are the differences between writing MG and YA for you?
The big difference for me is the level of conflict needed to pull the reader forward. Middle grade is much easier to write because the conflict is very internal; doing the right thing; fitting into the crowd; social situations. Whereas young adult is mostly composed of external conflicts that are part of a bigger picture. It requires more planning and more twisting the plots together in the right manner so it is a little harder to weave, but no less rewarding.

Tell me what your book’s about in two separate tweets.
A dragon. A girl. A legend. Things are about to change.

What was the writing process like for this story?
The idea for this story came strolling through my head when I was writing the third book in a YA Series called THE RINGS OF TIME. I tried to ignore it, but the blue dragon would not relent! So, I gave in and began. The story came out chapter by chapter as I wrote and then read to my children gauging their reactions. It all came together so quickly that when I was done, I had to read it all over again just to make sure I’d really written everything down and in the right order. Then came the question of what to do with it next. I’d written four other novels that hadn’t seen the light of day yet, but BORN TO BE A DRAGON screamed that it needed to be out there first. And so it was.

Has anything in this process been harder than you imagined?
You know, the hardest part of this process is putting yourself out there for public criticism. I have to remind myself that there will be someone sometime that just plain hates it. It happens to every book, even the New York Times bestsellers. As long as I can continually remind myself that if I make one child smile and believe they are meant for so much more, then the journey has been worth it!

What are the top two pearls of wisdom you’ve learned from writing this story?
That you don’t have to be defined by what society says you are. And that you are meant to live for so much more then you can ever imagine! 

Once the book was finished and polished, what were your next steps for getting it published?
Professional editor came next. Then the painstaking process of revisions, once again. Then more revisions in between cover art creation and changes. Then more critiques. Then maybe some more revisions. Another editor pass. And then victory! The final file was uploaded and I could rest (ha!) well. 

In the book, everyone believes dragons find humans crunchy and delicious, especially when topped with ketchup. If you had to eat dragon, what would it taste like—and would you eat it with ketchup or pick another condiment?
Definitely a ketchup kinda girl ;)

Tell me about your villain. If Lord Edric had an evil laugh (as all villains do), what would it sound like?
Hmmm, good question, but unfortunately he doesn’t laugh. It’s more like a cackle or grunt. He doesn’t really find the situation very comical. However, if I had to choose someone I would have to say it sounds a bit like Tai Lung from Kung Fu Panda.

Meia, a young girl, and Deglan, a 10-year-old dragon, become friends. What’s the benefit to having a dragon for a friend?
You never have to worry about being the meal of a dragon.

On to the lightening round!

Where do you live?
Denver, Colorado

Do you have another job or are you a full-time writer?
I am a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her three children and cares for one to three others … on top of writing.

Favorite MG book:
Hands down, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis. I could read them over and over again.

Favorite YA book:
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

Best book you’ve read recently that you think everyone needs to go read NOW:
DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

You can find out more about Eisley’s writing on her website. To buy BORN TO BE A DRAGON, you can visit Eisley’s site (for autographed copies), Amazon (paperback or Kindle version), and Barnes & Noble (Nook version).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

RTW: Well That Was a Mistake


Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: What’s the biggest writing/querying/publishing mistake youve made?

The one good thing about never having sent a single query is I’ve never made a terrible can’t-take-it-back mistake while trying to land an agent or publishing contract or whatever. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t royally screw up when I do start querying.

Instead, my biggest publishing mistake happened before I’d written a single word. It happened when I let fear get the better of me. Instead of opening a blank document and typing until I reached the end, my thought process went like this:
I really want to write a novel. It’s always been my dream.

I can’t write a novel. I don’t know the first thing about it. I’ll fail.

Ugh, look at that, another book deal. It’s not fair! I want to be a published author!

Shut up and stop whining. It is fair—that person actually wrote a story. I just think about it.

But I have no idea how to go about writing a novel! Are there rules? There must be rules. Rules I haven’t heard about—just another reason why I’ll fail horribly if I try.

I’m okay with just writing articles. I’m published, does it really matter that it’s not a novel?

Of course it matters!

 This went on for, oh, five years. The biggest factor in me not starting the story that was in my head (or the next one, or the next one) was the fear of failure. I didn’t want to write a story that sucked. I didn’t want to find out that my writing ability was severely stunted when it came to fiction.

I waited way too long. Because the fact is, when someone wants something as bad as I wanted to be a published author (I’m sure you can all relate to the feeling), they don’t give up. So I was just delaying the inevitable. And in doing so, I was delaying the good things, too. I couldn’t get an agent or a book deal without the book.

So while I might not have querying battle wounds, I have a feeling it’s not entirely a good thing.


Oh, and in case anyone’s in the position I was not too long ago, you should know: There are no rules. Pick up a pen and paper or open a new document and write. That’s it. Tell the story that’s in your head. 

You can do it because there are no prerequisites to writing a book. You don’t need an MFA or other creative writing degrees. All you need is the ability to write and, more importantly, the ability to revise. And if you write and revise enough times, never giving in to the fear of failure, you’ll reach your goal.

You and you and you and you and you will all reach your goals. I’m certain of it. It’s just a matter of when.

What’s your biggest writing, querying, or publishing mistake?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Punctuation


Following up on this guest post I wanted to say that although grammar and spelling are of course important aspects of writing to master punctuation is—also—critical!

How you punctuate your sentences; whether you use commas or dashes or parentheses is so important, knowing when (to use a) comma or semicolon or “period” impacts the readability of “your” words.

When you’re revising make sure you’re using the right punctuation—does a dash or a comma or a parenthesis better fit grammatically. Does that semicolon really belong there or would the sentence read better split into two. Think about which punctuation mark gets your idea across in the clearest way possible…for the reader.

Punctuation also can change the meaning of your words?

I’ll say it again,

Punctuation also can change the meaning of your words!

See.

(For a great lesson on proper punctuation usage, read Grammar Girl’s posts.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

YA Milestone: The Dessen Date



I feel like I should pop a bottle of Champagne or something, but instead I’ll just tell you that I’ve gone through a YA rite of passage and I have an intense need to share it with my friends.

Remember when we were kids and we’d be at a sleepover divulging our deepest secrets, most of which involve our crush of the moment? It’s like that. (No, not about a crush, though I have met someone in the past week. But we’ll talk about that in a minute.) That is, what I tell you next can’t leave this circle of trust. Cross your heart and hope to die.

Okay, here it goes…

Up until last week I’d never read a Sarah Dessen book.

Don’t look so shocked. Plenty of girls my age haven’t done it yet even though we keep thinking about it every time we look at our to-be-read pile. I wouldn’t have even done it this time if it weren’t for our BFF Jessica, who said that The Truth About Forever was her favorite Sarah Dessen book and that Sarah Dessen inspired her to write YA and all. 


I know, I know. You’re all going to ask, “So, what was it like?”

Come closer. Remember, no one besides us can know. Got it? Okay, so at first I just added it to my Goodreads list and checked up on it once in a while. No, it wasn’t stalking! Give me a little credit, guys. Anyway, one night The Man was working late and I was too tired to write and not in the mood to watch TV or a movie, and The Truth About Forever was just… there. Like it was waiting for me to finally notice it.

One thing leads to another and I’m on page 135, totally engrossed in this guy, Wes, who’s gorgeous and adorable and makes you want to giggle like you’re 12. As the protagonist, Macy, would say: sa-woon.

Call me naïve, but I thought this whole thing would be a one-night stand. Yet after that night, I went back to my Nook and ordered another Sarah Dessen book. We’re planning seeing each other next week. I’m thinking dinner and Along for the Ride.

Meet me at my house afterward to dish over Swedish fish and Junior Mints?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

RTW: Photo Inspiration


Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: Show us your inspiration photos.

So without further chitchat, here are some images that relate to my current WIP:


















And I’m sure none of that seems as if it belongs in one story together. Also, I’m totally joking about the R. Patz photo. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Do you dig around for inspirational photos? And when in the process do you do it?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Today We Celebrate Our Independence Day*


Happy Independence Day everyone. I wish you all hot dogs, burgers, and beer. And red, white, and blue attire for everyone at your barbecue.

Just for you:


See ya back here on Wednesday!

*Why yes, I did just quote the movie Independence Day in my title.  Don’t worry, as penance Ill recite the Declaration of Independence four times.

Friday, July 1, 2011

20 Questions With the Doctor


I went to the doctor’s yesterday which means I had a lot of time to spend reading a book I really loved. I’m not telling you about that book—yet. (C’mon, I thought cliffhangers made all readers scream for more.)

Here’s how the whole thing went down:

The Phone

ME
Hi, I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Soandso.

NURSE
What’s your full name and date of birth?

ME
It’s Tracey Neithercott and my birthday is April 19, 19--*

NURSE
Insurance provider with the ID number and group number?

ME
It’s such-and-such.

NURSE
And your reason for visiting?

ME
(Insert long, descriptive explanation of my latest health woe.)

NURSE
Okay, are you available on Thursday, June 30 in the morning?

ME
That’s perfect.

NURSE
See you then.

The Forms
  1. Full name
  2. Date of birth
  3. Insurance provider
  4. ID number
  5. Group number
  6. Elaborate explanation for visit.
Intermission
Read a good deal of previously mentioned book while waiting.

The Nurse

NURSE looks over file.

NURSE
So, what brings you here today?

ME
Long, detailed description of my latest health problem.

NURSE makes notes in the file.

Intermission
Read even more of said book while waiting yet again.

The Doctor

DOCTOR looks over file. I truly believe he can read.

DOCTOR
So tell me about what’s bothering you.

ME, staring

DOCTOR, staring

ME
Long descriptive, detailed explanation of why I’ve jumped through 402 hoops to sit in that chair for more than a half an hour.

DOCTOR
Let me take a look.

You should know three things:
  1. Time slows inside doctor’s offices.
  2. Despite common sense that would suggest otherwise, nobody reads any of the notes taken prior to an exam
  3. I’ll review the mystery book** on Monday.

*I’m not giving away the year. I’ll let you decide whether I’m usually mistaken for someone younger or older than my age. (And, yes, I realize you can easily find it with a quick Google search but whatever.)

** No, it’s not THE book I've been dying to real for, like, ever. I’m still teasing myself with that. No Divergent until this round of revisions are done. I’m sure they’d go a lot faster if I stopped reading…