Friday, September 30, 2011

OctoberPalooza: Celebrating a Month of New Releases and Indie Bookstores

I tried.
I tried to come up with a super-clever title for this contest/giveaway. I love words like "extravaganza" and "gala". But those words make me wary, because they sound like sparkly events that require high heels and big hair. I don't do heels or big hair.
So then I looked up "lollapalooza"--spelling varies--and it's actually a word in its own right, not just the name of a major music event. According to a reliable online dictionary:

lol·la·pa·loo·za   [lol-uh-puh-loo-zuh]
noun Slang .
an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance.

Well. There it is. So I ditched the "lolla" and kept the "palooza" and, Bob's your uncle, there it is.

Details to follow.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why What Andrew Smith Writes Matters

     I haven't met Andrew Smith face to face , but I've read all of his books.  All of them matter to me.
     The first one I read was The Marbury Lens.  I didn't know anything about the book, because even though I belong to Goodreads, I don't rate books or read reviews. If someone I trust recommends the book, I get the book.
     So I dove right in to Jack's world. Disturbing, real, gritty, anxiety-inducing, absolutely riveting, and--the best part--totally un-categorizable.  Reading this book was a wild ride that made me uncomfortable in my skin and got into my DNA.
I loved it.
     So then, through a happy sequence of unexpected events, I got my hands on a digital copy of Stick.
     I was honored. It's a sacred trust, having someone trust you with a copy of a book that's not out yet, someone they don't know.
I felt awe. I looked at it. And I read the first line and I was a goner.
I cried at various times throughout the book, and, as I have mentioned before, crying isn't something I do a lot. I cried because I love Stick, the main character. My husband got worried that I was all teary. I read parts of the book to him. I read parts of the book to my mom. I'm going to read parts of the books to my students next week.
     And Stick is a completely different kind of book from The Marbury Lens. This is amazing. And yet it is so clearly a book by Andrew Smith. Real. Beautifully written. Intense. Just like the story was something that had to come out of him. I love this book fiercely. I show the book trailer to my students. They want to know Stick, and I am glad.
     So then I had to read Ghost Medicine and In the Path of Falling Objects.
     And here's the thing: these books are different wild rides of their own. I loved Ghost Medicine because the depiction of innocence and longing is so true that it echoed in my bones. I've never read a book like this before.
     And when you read In the Path of Falling Objects, the combination of violence, brotherly love, loss, and friendship will put your hair on fire.
     I don't think about anything at all when I'm reading Andrew's books. I have to read. I am grabbed by these stories and taken on these journeys and I read like my soul is going to get sucked out if I don't. And when I'm finished, then I think about the books, and they stay with me.
     Here's how I see it: Andrew writes  because he has to, like stories pour out of him, with blood and sweat and joy and sorrow, with never a thought about audience because the story has to happen. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's how the books read. I love that.
     Because you always hear people say they write because they have to. I don't know if Andrew says that. I do know that I believe it of him, and his work.
And I love that his books defy categorization. I'm sure they get labeled for marketing purposes or whatever, but I like that when a student asks me about Andrew's books, what kind of book it is, I just say, "It's a story. You should read it."
And when they persist,asking what kind of story, I say," The best kind."
And that's why what Andrew Smith writes matters.

Stick comes out on October 11, 2011.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How Sara Zarr Changed My Life

     This is a true story.
     I don't think Sara knows it, though.
     So I'm working on a novel, and my crit partner said that I needed to read this book, Once Was Lost, by Sara Zarr. At the time I didn't know anything about Sara Zarr. But my crit partner is really smart and gifted, so I usually take her advice. So I bought the book.
And I read it in one sitting, in one night, and a school night to boot.
     And I thought about it, and kept thinking about it, because it isn't just what Sara writes its something about her How. How she writes. And I couldn't put words to the How, but I knew I liked it a lot.
     And when I read this book I was in Hard Times. You know. We've all been there.
     And then I signed up for a Children's Writing Conference. I admit, I wasn't really sure if I belonged there. I was nervous and full of self-doubt and glad I was Doing Something With My Writing.
     Being new to the conference scene, I didn't check out the faculty. I just showed up. And I get my schedule of crit groups. And I also get a fifteen minute session with a faculty member to go over my query.
     And my eyes just about fell out of my head. Because my query time is with Sara Zarr.
     I don't know anyone at the conference. My heart is pounding. I run outside and call my husband, and I say, "I'm going to meet Sara Zarr." And my husband, who is an architect who reads architect-y stuff, says, "Who?" And so I tell him--remember when I stayed up and read that book? And he kind of does. But he does get that I am thrilled and excited. And nervous.
     So I do my crit groups, which were great, and I stay up really late revising, and periodically the thought "I'm going to meet Sara Zarr" pops into my head and I just know I blanked out and stared at stuff for a minute or two each time.
     So as my time nears I have a folder with my query letter, and I'm pacing, and my stomach is all kerfuffled.
     And then it's time and I Meet Sara Zarr.
     I almost cried.
     And we talked about my book and her books and she was this real, amazing human being and when I left the meeting my head was spinning.
     I called my dad. "I met Sara Zarr."
     I called my mom. "I met Sara Zarr."
     At this point, if you are still reading, you might be thinking I'm a little crazy.
     I don't think I'm crazy. I think I'm grateful.
     Because Meeting Sara Zarr meant a lot to me. Here is this writer whose books are like Vermeer paintings. Quiet, intense, full of light and jewel tones and real life.   And I don't cry a lot, but Story of a Girl had me crying because of the story and the joy of reading the story.
     And I periodically look at my husband and say, "I met Sara Zarr." Full of wonder, still.
     So yeah, Meeting Sara Zarr changed my life because when I get bogged down I remember her and Vermeer and my spirit feels renewed.
     And Sara's new book, How to Save a Life, is coming out October 18. And somehow that title seems apropos to me, because sometimes changing a life means saving it.
     Thanks, Sara.

Monday, September 19, 2011

YA Confidential: A Proud and Gleeful Promotional Post

     Okay, I know. There's a lot of shameless marketing on blogs and on Twitter. And I am dutiful in following these blogs and Tweets, because supporting fellow writers is important to me. I learn a great deal from my fellow writers, and someday I intend to be among their published ranks.And then I will be in an even better position to support the writing community. These are all happy thoughts that spring from happy actions.

     So by dedicating  an entire blog post to the YA Confidential contest, I am helping myself by adding five points to my overall contest total. This is an entirely selfish action, and I cop to it without a blush. Because even as it helps me, this post helps a host of other people, too, including a cadre of "teen spies"--which is admirable--and I have no problem competing for free books, and getting the word out about these books, because I.Want.Them.All.

     So check this out.

     You can be in the running to win a query critique from Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd.  I don't know about you, but writing query letters is, for me, a plunge into a circle of hell that Dante never imagined. Dante never had to write one, or he would have included it as one of the bolgias. If you read Ms. LaPolla's website, you will see buckets of trenchant insights. If you win, imagine those trenchant insights applied to your anemic, sad, pathetic, totally inadequate, utterly risible query.
Trust me. You will want to enter this contest.

     Also up for grabs is a five page critique by Vickie Mottar of Andrea Hurst and Associates. A critique of this length by Ms. Mottar would make the angels weep, if they had critiques.Ms. Mottar's blog is here. She has serious mad skills.
You really want to enter this contest.

     And then there are the books. Yes, go ahead. Gaze wistfully at this list. Which would you pick, given the choice?

  • ARC of Shatter Me, by Tahera Mafi
  • ARC of Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • ARC of Legend, by Marie Lu
  • ARC of Crossed, by Ally Condie
  • FINISHED COPY of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin (Which has to be one of the coolest titles ever!)
  • FINISHED COPY of Fateful, by Claudia Grey
  • Both of these FINISHED COPIES were donated by Diana Fox of Fox Literary Agency
So. All of this info, and more, is available at YAConfidential.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

O Miracle

I admit it.
       I'm late to the party.
       Book trailers have been on YouTube for a long time. And yet here I am, chuffed as little mint balls, thinking of the myriad possibilities Book Trailers offer to authors, kids, parents, and educators.
       Teens+YouTube=A Focus In the Classroom That Makes Angels Weep.
       I'm not exaggerating. My wiggliest wiggle was transfixed by The Knife of Never Letting Go trailer. This book is part of the remarkable Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, and, if I can editorialize here--which I can--I think this work got unfairly overshadowed by The Hunger Games. We watched that trailer too. Also the trailer for Andrew Smith's new book, Stick, which comes out in October. Trailer made just by kids, by the way, which is awesome.
       For the last two weeks I have taken a few minutes to read out loud to my high school students, mostly ninth graders. I read to them from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. I've read from Andrew Smith's books and Gone by Michael Grant and I have a slew of others--just a page at a time.
       They love it. Almost old enough to drive and they love it.
       Or they're just pretending really well. They're nice kids, and very polite.
       But that's okay, the just pretending. Because I am crafting a plan.
       Like all crafty plans, this one started as a dream, the kind of dream born of desperation and longing from what ifs.
       What if my students could read books that they chose to read, and could get credit for them?(And get thee behind me, Accelerated Reader; you slouch towards Bethlehem with other Misbegotten. There will be a reckoning.)
       What if my students could get credit by hosting a book chat, or discussing the book informally with someone who loves the book, or created some product that inspired them(no.dioramas.)
       What if a student or a group created trailer?
       What if a student invited a parent/guardian/trusted adult to read the book with them? Or asked the parent/guardian to allow them the stretch of a book by authors who are alive and writing and opening worlds upon worlds?
       What  if the student emailed the author, or left a comment on a blog for the author, and the author responded?
       That thought gives me goosebumps. That a kid, a kid who may/may not feel invisible, alone, alienated--what if that kid felt seen by the person who wrote a book that changed that kid's life?
       It's a lot of What Ifs and Tall Orders, especially in a world that scowls at teachers, is driven by test scores, and implements soul-crushing programs all "for the good of the whole child."
       Like there are any.
      At least by the time they are thirteen or fourteen and get to my classroom. Because by the time you've made it to high school you are wounded. You're wounded because you are human and growing up and you've been raised by people who may or may not be doing their best, but since they are human too wounds are going to happen. And if you are reasonably whole, you could still use a big dose of empathy and compassion. We all could use more of that.
      And I believe something: I believe that we can learn from pain and move on from pain by reading good books. Like Stick. Like Story of a Girl. Like Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly.
       So I have a dream. And a plan.
       Stay tuned.

Pass the Nimbus

     So a few weeks ago I'm driving up to San Luis Obispo to visit my mother and I have to pull over in Buellton because my insides are humming because I am thinking about Sara Zar rand Andrew Smith.
See, I just finished reading Andrew's new book, Stick, and I cried because it was real and beautiful and true. I hadn't cried over a book in that way since I read Sara's Story of a Girl.
And the thing is, I cried because these books possess a grace. Because I said Yes. I said Yes to these questions:
Does this book make me a better person?
Does this book make me a better writer?
Does this book make me a better teacher?
Is my soul bigger because of this book?
Because when I say Yes it's like this:
Sparks fly from my fingertips and stars shoot from my eyes.
Imagine this:

You are lying on your back, looking at a black black sky. Then stars start to appear, and it's like you are hearing Ode to Joy for the first time. You are a swirl of color in a Chagall painting, you are the light that comes in Vermeer's window, you are Van Gogh's stars. You are a shine and a glory endowed by the blessing in that book.
And saying Yes to these questions also means that you are lined up against the wall in a Goya painting, you are Saturn's child being devoured.
But that pain and those wounds, you own them,  and that dark makes you human.           
And if you listen, the blessings are all the sweeter and pierce more.
So I let myself hum and glow and store up how this feels, because when the dark comes and despair beckons, commands, I can close my eyes and say, I know your name. You have no power over me. Begone.
  So if you have a nimbus and people freak out about it, share it. Hand them a book. There are a lot of nimbus-granting writers out there: Sara and Andrew. Ellen Hopkins and Laurie Halse Anderson. Matt de la Pena and Patrick Ness. There are many and more. 
Find them. Read their books.
And when you get to your Yes, if you are so moved, thank them. 
And pass the nimbus.