I’m really excited for the Boston Teen Author Fest, which takes place at the Cambridge Public Library in just a couple short weeks on Saturday September 27th from 11-4! (These are photos from last year’s event)
If you’re a Boston person, I’d love to see you. Better yet, if you’re a Boston middle or high school teacher, you should tell your students to come. And of course any and all YA lovers are always welcome.
Besides yours truly, there’s the amazing opportunity to hear from authors like M.T. Andersen, Francisco Stork and A.C. Gaughen! Click here for a full list of who’s attending.
I’ve been a bit busy lately. Blah -dee, blah, nothing worth blogging about or I would be blogging. It’s been a good kind of busy the kind where you’re certain you’re learning something even if it will take months of processing to figure out what it is. In the mean time I feel very lucky to have the friends and family I have. I may have mentioned it before but it’s been incredible how many people have reached out to tell me, in one way or another, how much they enjoyed The Other Way Around. It’s really the best part.
So here’s a little gift back. This is not meant to be a comprehensive must read of YA fiction. It’s totally skewed to my tastes (mostly contemporary, a wee bit of light fantasy and sci-fi). These are ten YA books I think have real punch and literary merit and are amazing page-turning reads to boot. I hope you’ll enjoy. I did.
Short silly blurbs are my own. Links are to Amazon/Goodreads, but you should buy them at your local Indie if you can -or check them out at the library!
Scorpio Races– (Maggie Stiefvater) mythical carnivorous horses, a race to save one’s life, a slow simmering love story.
Winger – (Andrew Smith) Rugby, prep school, puberty, and love for the unreachable girl.
Everybody Sees the Ants – (A.S. King) heart-breaking bullying laced with magical realism. This book made me want to be a better grown up person. nuff said. Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell) -Incredible misfit love story. On The Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta)- A boarding school at war with itself, a parent’s myeterious death, a girl left to sort out the pieces. Will Grayson Will Grayson – (John Green and David Levithan) One is gay, one is not. The intersection of their lives is incredible entertainment. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks – (E. Lockhart) More prep school pranking madness. In Darkness – (Nick Lake) Set in both present day and colonial Haiti, a boy trapped in the earthquake rubble imagines he is Touissant Louverture. Feed – (MT Anderson)Best first line of a book ever. “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” Frighteningly prescient science fiction. Story of a Girl – (Sara Zarr) The fall out, with friends and family, from one girl’s first sexual experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes YA, YA and not just an adult book with a teenage protagonist or narrator. It’s fodder for a future post but I think it has something to do with layers and density (uh oh science teacher overlap here). I hesitate to use the word complexity because each of these books is beautifully complex and yet still definitively YA. More on that later. In the mean time, start reading! Or add your own “must read” in the comments.
I love my birthday. And even on a more “low key” year (2 or 3 small celebratory events) I still rejoice in it.
Highlights from this year’s event include:
The most fabulous dark chocolate cake dessert courtesy of Fore St and David Lacy.
Hiking a modest mountain in my 6th month of pregnancy.*
Beautiful flowers from friends.
Warm windy beach days.
Ah, the sigh of contentment. In honor of my birthday I’m running a giveaway right now on goodreads where you could win one of 3 signed copies of my book. Because it’s really fun to give presents too. Which brings me to another “best thing”. On goodreads it’s possible to see how many people are currently “reading” your book in their status update. I can’t even tell you how this makes me feel. I don’t even know these people -mostly. And somewhere out there they have picked up my book and are reading it. THAT is the most incredible gift. It’s like I’ve sneaked into their house and I’m telling them one of my favorite stories. It is a treat and a privilege; one that I don’t take for granted.
*Apologies if this is how you are finding out we’re having a second kid 🙂 I’m not much for blasting these things on social media…so SURPRISE!!!
I got tagged by the awesome Megan Frazer Blakemore and Maria Padian -fellow Maine authors -as part of a blog tour on your writing process. You can click their names to see their responses to the following four questions about writing process.
Here are my answers!
1) What am I working on?
I have just finished a first draft of YA novel about two boys in their senior year of high school, their friendship and the role it plays in their lives when dark secrets from the past come to the surface. It’s really a book about loyalty and self-worth and how those things affect the relationships that are most important to us.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, I think that the YA I write is primarily for high-schoolers but that doesn’t necessarily differentiate it from other contemporary realistic YA. I think what sets my writing apart is the degree of frankness and emotional honesty with which I write my characters. I hope it does, anyway. Also, I like to write about bodily effluence perhaps a shade more than the average author.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Ah, this old question. I write because I like to tell myself stories. I write because I would be doing it anyway in my mind and writing it down makes me feel productive and purposeful. Also, I really enjoy making other people laugh and feel things. I write these specific stories because these are the stories I enjoy telling myself. Sometimes I come up with a really cool story idea but then it quickly becomes apparent it’s not a story I can tell -I want someone to tell it to me. That’s when I go to the bookstore and see if anyone has.
4) How does your writing process work?
My mother asked me a similar question at my book release party and I said something about prescription drugs. My writing philosophy and process is all about the phrase “small chunks” -which is somewhat unfortunate because it contains the word “chunks” in it, but it’s the most accurate verbiage I can come up with. (Small bits sounds like a genital reference.)
In all seriousness, my goal when I sit down to write is always to write 2 pages, 2 pages of dialogue, exposition, word count doesn’t matter to me but that 2 page amount is my arbitrary marker. I always read over my 2 pages from the previous day and I try not to go more than a few days without writing. Sometimes that’s possible, and sometimes that’s not. As a full time teacher, and a human with friends and a family I enjoy seeing, it all has to stay in something closely resembling balance.
I usually have a separate document where I have a table set up with a general outline and scene-by-scene sense of where I’m going. That’s usually only used when I’m writing the first half. That last third of a book is the part I struggle with the most. I’ve set up most of the conflict and now it’s time to hit those climactic moments and unravel things in a way that’s neither too rushed nor too drawn out. It’s the hardest part for me and the time when I experience the most feelings of “what if this all sucks?”
Once I complete a first draft I reread and try and identify the obvious major revisions needed before sending it to my first readers. If I went on about my revision process I’d be here all night so I think I’ll save that for another post/day.
Thanks for reading and for more posts on the writer’s process check out fellow agency sister Valerie Cole’s post or my fellow OneFour Maria Andreu -her book The Secret Side of Empty debuted this spring as well.
Warning -some cheesy content, and evidence of my hippie upbringing to follow.
You are perhaps familiar with this little bit of pseudo-spirituality? If not, no matter. It’s good advice if a bit over used and awkward. I mention it because last weekend I spent 72 solid hours at the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. It was my second time attending the conference and once again I found myself completely, and quite pleasantly, immersed in the world of words. The theme of the conference was being brave and making one’s mark. My personal takeaway this time was a message I heard several times over the course of the weekend but perhaps most effectively communicated by Laurel Snyder in her keynote.
Laurel emphasized the importance of writing the book that only you can write, ignoring trends and whatever other voices are in your head telling you what you should write. She encouraged us to consider the reader, but only one reader at a time; the one reader you reach when your book is opened, not the massive snarling throngs of fickle and hairy public opinion. And she reminded us that the act of writing a book is brave in of itself, that books matter because they are important not because they are published. It was a great keynote.
Tonight I sat down to work on the last 30 pages of a book I’ve been struggling to finish. Where the first 180 pages really came quite easily, this last bit has been like pulling teeth. And I think I realized that part of that reason is because I’ve had the ghost of publishing sitting on my shoulder as I write. I’ve been writing like someone -someone very judgmental – is watching. I’ve let my fears that the book won’t be marketable, or good, or liked creep into my consciousness and judge me as I’ve struggled to finish a first draft. A draft, which according to Annie Lamott, most writers, and just plain common sense should be messy and terrible by its very nature.
Tonight I pushed through the doubts and wrote a few more pages, getting to the end of a critical scene and writing at least one sentence that made me damn pleased with myself. Ha! I thought, that sentence has never been said or thought in quite the same way before. That sentence is a sentence that only could have come from me. I was quite pleased sitting all alone in my writing cave with no one at all perched on my shoulder.
I wonder sometimes if John Steinbeck sat around obsessing about whether or not F.Scott Fitzgerald had more twitter followers than he did. Or if more people added his book on goodreads. But I jest, because these weren’t the problems of authors even twenty years ago, much less fifty.
And they don’t have to be a consideration for authors today either, except that they kind of do. Children’s authors (YA included) have a huge social media network including twitter, tumblr, blogs, and probably a whole lot more I’m unaware of because I’m not young or techy enough. (Full disclosure; when my students use a noun as a verb or a verb as a noun, I generally keep quiet and assume they’re talking about something on the interwebz.) A social media presence is pretty much an expectation for authors trying to reach a younger audience.
And it’s not all bad. Being part of social networks as an author can be an incredible community builder and a great networking and promotional tool. It’s also a slippery slope for the green-eyed monster. You have instant access to everyone’s book deals, promotions, festival appearances, etc. And because you have that access you have the ability to compare yourself and your success to that of everyone else in the kidlitosphere. Not so helpful.
What I would like to share this evening is the best piece of feedback I’ve gotten since my book hit the shelves just a few weeks ago. It comes from a friend who sent me this email about her teenage son who was reading my book. And it reminded me of why writing and telling stories is so powerful and so important to me.
“I heard my son laughing to himself up in his room tonight on my way up to say good night and saw that he was reading your book. As I walked toward his bed he looked up from the book with a huge grin and said, “How did she write this? It’s like…she knows what boys think..how does she know what it’s like?”.”
And that my friends is big success – suck it F. Scott.
The book launch party was a blast. I’m so grateful to everyone who came out -I think we had fun! And to Chris and Bill and everyone at Longfellow Books who helped make this happen. And yes, that was my mother scraping the poster with my face on it off the front of your store so she could keep it -more on her later.
So many friends, colleagues, former colleagues, cousins, former roommates, teachers, students and of course family. I read two short pieces from the book. One as reader’s theater with the incomparable Liz Hardcastle who was not at all intimidated by the three pages of notes on her intonation that I gave her, and one on my own. Afterwards I was so excited to be done I tried to grab a cupcake and run. But then there was my mother -who stood up (I’m not making this up or exaggerating) and demanded that I answer some questions. Because being a mother is never done and sometimes when your kid tries to turn and flee you have to stop her.
“Was I too obtrusive?” she asked later. We all know what the right answer is don’t we? In all seriousness, I couldn’t be more grateful. Everyone had incredible questions and answering them turned out to be my favorite part. Because I was talking about something I love with people I love.
So many of you who aren’t lucky enough to live in Maine have been so supportive -posting pictures of the book as it arrives at your door and sharing your excitement as you read it. Everyone of those messages is like a big old hug and makes me feel even more blessed. I’d like to share with you what I said as an introduction on Thursday night -so it can be just like you were there. That and a few photos.
Thanks for the love.
The only thing I knew when I was seventeen and applying to college was that I wanted something different from high school and didn’t include fraternities or sororities –which seemed to me at the time like an extension of everything I disliked about high school.
My tour guide at Oberlin College was named Bony. He was a very large, purple haired gay, dance major from the Philippines. And I remember thinking to myself as he toured us through a student cooperative where the people threw food at us –if this guy can be comfortable here to be himself, I’ll have no problem.
I ended up living in that very same cooperative my sophomore year. My roommate and I were far and away the preppiest people to live there, maybe ever. But, And, I loved it. I loved being a part of something that seemed so dangerously different from everything I’d been told was important about being a grown up. The Other Way Around is a little bit of a love letter to that experience. It’s about finding a group of people that make you feel at home, even if they are very different from you and everything you’ve known before.
I don’t pretend to live some radical anarchist vegan lifestyle. I never have and probably never will. But I know that it’s out there. I have sat through a conversation where people argued about whether or not eating honey was exploiting the labor of the bees. And somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was taking notes, probably with a bemused look on myself. Someday, I must have told myself, this will be useful to you.
I am so grateful that you are all here tonight to celebrate me and The Other Way Around. It really means everything that you’re here to share in the story and the sharing of the story. Because, as Lance who frequently accuses me of embellishing the truth for the sake of comic timing can attest to, or my parents who made constant trips to the library or book store know, I do love a good story.
Yesterday I stood up in front of 800 middle school students and told them I would not show them the dance I did when I learned that my book would be published because, well, they don’t know what “the running man” is and that’s best for everyone.
Today my book is in the world -like really in the world and that is very exciting. It’s exciting mostly because I have an excuse to celebrate with my wonderful friends and family here. It’s exciting because awesome readers like Lucy at The Reading Date will write really cool reviews that make me feel known and understood as a writer. And that is really cool and different from your friends and family reading your book and knowing you as a writer (which is also very cool).
Yesterday I stood in front of 800 middle school students and told them that the first line of my book is “When do girls fart?” As you might imagine, this got a good reaction. Including the one from my principal who was standing in the back and shook her head and gave me a little eye roll and a warm grin. “Oh Sashi,” her eyes said.
A student asked me somewhat skeptically. “What made you think to write a story about people who are dumpster divers?” I could tell from the way he asked the question that this was one of the weirdest most unlikely things he could think of to write or even think about. So I said something along the lines of , “Just you wait. The world is even weirder and wackier than you could imagine and it’s full of stories that are too strange to be believed.” And I felt lucky that I could tell someone about a book that I wrote that maybe, just maybe might expand someone’s ideas about what it means to be an adult.
In the mean time, until you can rip into your brand-spanking new copy. I offer you this.
This Friday I’ll be hanging out with some awesome children s and YA authors at the Nerdy Evening with Authors and Illustrators at the McArthur public library in Biddeford this Friday evening from 6-7:30.
So in addition to seeing my smiling face you can check out the following who will be there to hang out and sign books. (Books will be available for purchase too!)
Ed Briant Megan Frazer Blakemore Gail Donovan Kate Egan Cathryn Falwell Kevin Hawkes
Cynthia Lord Lynda Mullaly Hunt Lynn Plourde J.E. (John) Thompson Lisa Jahn-Clough
If you can’t make it to Biddo I have a few guest posts and interviews up right now.
A post I wrote about the dangers of writing what you know is here.
And I’m interviewed as part of a series on YA releases in 2014 here. There’s some fun info about the book and the writing process in general.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to hang out with approximately 6,000 other English teachers. I was attending NCTE or the National Council of Teachers of English conference which was in Boston this year. I had a grand old time! More conference details in a later post.
By far the highlight of my weekend was the author signing I got to do with my publisher Lerner Books. Lerner gave away 100 copies of my book and I got to sign them all and chat with all the really cool teachers who took time out of their conference to wait in line.
As if that wasn’t enough I got to share the stage with one of my favorite YA writers who was signing copies of a Lerner anthology called Losing It -which features short stories about, yup, you guessed it; losing your virginity. I always hope an author who’s writing I admire will also be a cool human and in Amy’s case my hopes and dreams were wildly exceeded.
I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story:
Here I am, very excited about the shiny poster with my head on it. I always try and control my emotion in photos.