Sunday, February 27, 2011

ShineI read Shine by Lauren Myracle on the bus to New York City for SCBWI. Which, really, if you're reading on a bus and totally into the novel, no longer noticing that you are ON A BUS,  you know it's a good book.

Shine is a very good book.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

The plot is actually a lot more complex than that - while Cat is trying to solve the crime as her childhood friend fights for life in the hospital, she also has her own dark secrets to face as she learns to shine again. She hasn't been a very good friend to Patrick, something that haunts her after he is viciously attacked. We slowly learn the reasons why Cat has tried to become invisible, even though that's meant abandoning Patrick. The mystery in Shine is very well-done (by which I mean, I didn't see it coming ;)), but I think the characterization and the complexity of those characters was what I really loved.  The bad guys aren't all bad and the good guys aren't all good - I really appreciated that ambiguity.

I don't want to tell you too much about the book because I don't want to give anything away!  It releases May 1st and is available for pre-order now; I recommend you don't miss this one!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Here Lies Bridget (Harlequin Teen)I had the chance to read Here Lies Bridget on my Kindle, which was convenient, but I missed out on that gorgeous cover. I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and I really love this one!

Here's what this YA paranormal is about (from Amazon):
Bridget Duke is the uncontested ruler of her school. The meanest girl with the biggest secret insecurities. And when new girl Anna Judge arrives, things start to fall apart for Bridget: friends don't worship as attentively, teachers don't fall for her wide-eyed "who me?" look, expulsion looms ahead and the one boy she's always loved—Liam Ward—can barely even look at her anymore.

When a desperate Bridget drives too fast and crashes her car, she ends up in limbo, facing everyone she's wronged and walking a few uncomfortable miles in their shoes. Now she has only one chance to make a last impression. Though she might end up dead, she has one last shot at redemption and the chance to right the wrongs she's inflicted on the people who mean the most to her.

And Bridget's about to learn that, sometimes, saying you're sorry just isn't enough…. 

This was a fun, fast read. Given that it's miraculously in, like, the 70's right now here in February, I'm thinking it'd be a great book to read while laying out in the sun.

Bridget's not a very nice person - she lies constantly, she gets other students into trouble, she plays on others' insecurities. But more than anything, she's endlessly self-absorbed and chooses to overlook others' problems so she can continue focusing on herself. I thought Paige Harbison did a nice job of making Bridget an understandable bully, even though sometimes it became frustrating to read page after page of Bridget being an obtuse witch.

I liked the secondary characters and her interactions with them. Her friends are nicely drawn and so is the love interest, Liam - it helps that when Bridget walks in their shoes, we get to know these characters from the inside out, too.

At times I felt like watching Bridget be mean dragged a little - perhaps because it's just frustrating as a reader. One wants to grab Bridget and shake her.  But, once Bridget crashes her car, the story picks up and the second half of the book is well-paced and hard to put down. I liked that Bridget's redemption isn't entirely easy and it's bittersweet -- not everyone is willing to forgive her the damage she's done.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stephanie over at The Writer's Cocoon is hosting the Show Me The Love blogfest.

This is a fun one where we're just sharing the answers to a few questions with each other... I'd love to know what your answers are!

1- What is the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?  

MJ moved across the country for me. We dated in college and planned to break up when I joined the Marines, but we failed at breaking up! So we were in a long-distance relationship, until he followed me out to California - sent his stuff out in boxes, sold his old car, and jumped on a plane to be with me.

2- What is your favorite love song?
Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are".  It was the first dance song at our wedding, and I think the lyrics capture what love truly is. Don't go changing, to try and please me, you've never let me down so far. I take the good times, I take the bad times, I take you just the way you are.

3- Do you have a favorite romantic movie or book? 
My favorite romantic movie is Ever After. Best take-off on the Cinderella story ever. My favorite romantic book is probably Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - a believable story about love's trials, eventually conquering all.

4- Do you have any romantic plans for Valentine's Day this year?

I know this is a little off-beat, but I'd like to go snowboarding after work! We both love to board & I love that we have this shared hobby. The drive to the mountain is a long one, but we always pick up Starbucks at the beginning of the journey and spend the drive talking, which makes it fun too.

5- What's your favorite romantic treat? 
A long massage or flowers. I love having flowers in the house - it makes me happy every time I see them - so they're always much appreciated.

I hope you all have a fantastic Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Living Dead GirlBy now you’ve probably seen the controversy over Bitch magazine’s list of 100 YA Books for the Feminist Reader. Basically, Bitch magazine put out a list of 100 books, a few readers complained about some of them, and they removed three from the list and replaced them with other books. Which made many more readers angry.

This blog post is not about that, because frankly, I’d be about two weeks late covering the topic and many other bloggers have already done a great job discussing it. I'm going to write about something positive I saw in it, personally.

One thing that fascinated me about the topic was that some commenters were shocked that readers were so worked up about the books being removed from the list. So emotionally invested. Reeling with perceived unfairness.

But isn’t that exactly the sort of passion that literature should evoke, ideally?  I understand when someone doesn’t like the same books that I do. I love the idea that there’s no one Universal Reader, that different stories and techniques work for different people. But when someone bashes a book I love?  It hurts my feelings.

When you find a story that moved me small, it rather implies the things I care about in real life are small, too.

Someone called Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, which I blogged about last year, ‘torture porn’, to justify its removal from the list. Now, that book was very hard to read, due to the subject matter. But I found it worthwhile. I consider to be an incredible piece of fiction about the triumph of a girl’s spirit over terrible suffering and depravity. It’s a feminist work, but it’s also a powerful, relevant piece of literature. We force ourselves to read about suffering, unpleasant as it is, to better understand the human spirit, and perhaps to recognize the plight of our fellow humans. To me, that's true whether we're talking about a heartbreaking work of non-fiction like Elie Wiesel's Night or a work of (all too realistic) fiction like Living Dead Girl.

When you suggest people read that sort of thing because they like to read about the torture and sexual abuse of a young girl, though, that becomes just a might offensive to me.  And that, I think, is the sort of thing at the heart of why readers became so inflamed about books being removed from the list once they’d been so honored. Don’t tell me the books that moved me, that I love, aren’t worthy after all. 

To me, wherever you fall in the Bitch magazine debate -- even if you find the debate itself silly, as some do -- you can’t deny that passion about books is a beautiful thing. It means people are engaged with their literature. That these authors wrote stories that touched people deeply, enough to be personally angered on their behalf, protective of these stories.

Personally, I think that's pretty cool.

Friday, February 4, 2011

 So far the year has been full of writing adventure - from the fantastic SCBWI conference held in NYC last weekend to the focused insanity that is Write 1 Sub 1. This month was the first month of Write 1 Sub 1, a year-long project to write (and submit!) a short story every week.

I wrote five short stories in January:
  1. Pomegranate Soda, about the challenges coming home from Iraq;
  2. All We Know of Heaven and Hell, a sci-fi story about a woman who joins a dangerous space mission to earn the money to save her young daughter's life from leukemia;
  3. Why Peter Came, a horror piece of flash-fiction where there's trouble at the Darling residence (I love this story but feel guilty turning my beloved Peter Pan stories into something darker);
  4. Alien Lands, another realistic contemp story about life in Iraq;
  5. Every Other Sunday, about family and grief.
I subbed out seven stories altogether to fourteen different markets.  Which allowed me to garner my first three rejections of the year (well, from that batch; there was another that came in on the 1st of the year, which was an especially nice touch).  I'm not too bothered by those numbers, though. Like many short story writers I sub to the top journals that seem appropriate and then work my way down the list.

I made my way about 1/3 of the way through this round of revisions on my novel The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes. Sometimes I'm overcome by despair of the revision process, but usually I'm full of excitement about this story and the process of making it even better.

Aaand my YA mystery work-in-progress now has a working title: Recovering Sara. Love love love this thing, even in rough draft. I'm at about 13k and taking a break from writing to go through revisions - I was experimenting with first person present tense and I've decided first person past fits the tale a bit better. It was fun for me as a writer to do first person present, but I think it reads more accessibly this way.

So yeah. That's January. What are you guys up to this month? What's coming up in February?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I just typed that title and then realized that LOLcats has had a serious impact on my quality of life. Anyway.

I have no photos to show you, because my camera charger is missing in action. However, you can check out lots of awesome photos and commentary of the conference at the official SCBWI conference blog. I think all the writers on the blog did an impressive job of conveying the fun and excitement of the conference!

Here were some favorite parts on the conference for me:
  • Running into other folks from the D.C. area! I got all excited like we were long-lost cousins or something, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with them now that we're home.
  • Lois Lowry's keynote, which brought tears to my eyes when she spoke about her sister dying and inspired me when told us to "Give sorrow words". And which made me laugh many, many more times.
  • Sprawling an idea in my notebook every 10 minutes while also trying to take notes on all the great advice we were hearing. I don't think you can go to a conference and not be inspired.
  • Breakout with Jim McCarthy, agent at Dystel & Goderich. He just let us ask any questions we had about the industry or trends or how we works as an agent - it was so helpful and awesome.
  • The 35 book recommendations I came home with. You know what's cool, too? Hearing how excited agents are about the books they represent. It just never really hit home for me before how much they LOVE these books, and it made me happy.
  • Sarah Zarr's powerful, powerful speech on developing a sustainable, joyous creative life. Honestly, everything she said was exactly what I needed to hear that morning.
  • Giant, fantastic cupcakes around the corner at Crumbs. Because you can't write without cupcakes.
I really want to attend the LA SCBWI conference this summer. I came home and told MJ how much I wanted to go, but added, "I don't think it's reasonable for me to spend that much money on a second conference in one year, though." And he said I should go.  Which made me wish I'd brought him home a cupcake instead of eating it.

It was just such a fun, inspiring weekend, which went by much too quickly. I came home so excited to write - and even excited to query.  Which is why I'm signing off now to continue revising The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes so I can query the damn thing when it's finally As Awesome As I Can Be.

Sooo... anyone else want to do the LA SCBWI conference?