Category Archives: Young Adult Literature

My Novel in Word Art

This is a quick post to show off my novel in word art form. In the past, I have had my students run projects through Wordle to create a “word cloud.” The actual size of each word in the cloud is based on the number of times it is used. It’s a great way to have students analyze key words and phrases that may have been overlooked during a first read.

I wasn’t surprised by the results for the characters’ names. Emily and Elizabeth are the main characters, and Ms. Diaz, Kevin, Tommy, Sarah, and Abby are supporting characters. I was surprised at how small “Dickinson” was (to the right of Elizabeth) considering Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry heavily influence the story. I also have a thing for body parts, it seems: face, eyes, hands, head. Hmmm.

Anyway, I’m a visual person, so I thought this was fun and cool. Try it! If you do, take a screen shot and share it in the comments.

Wordle

What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2013

My blog has been quiet because, if you read the last post, you know I had my hands on a keyboard all of July and some of August. Since I’m a full-time teacher, summer is key writing time. This was more true than ever because I was revising my novel based on my editorial letter. Although my official deadline wasn’t mid-August, that was my personal goal to avoid additional craziness when school started again. So, this is what I did this summer:

Summer2013

We had to draw a picture to represent our summer on the first “teacher” day back to school. This is me writing on my bed, with Rusty sleeping on the floor. My daughter Maria is at day camp. This also proves that my sister inherited all of the family art genes. In the end, this is what I accomplished:

Book and Contract

The most recent version of my manuscript (left) was completed and sent to my editor. It clocked in at 41 chapters, 230 pages, 59,487 words. I also signed my contract with Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA! (right) YAY! My editor will read the latest version and let me know what I need to do next.

This summer, I also started to prep for my new job at my old middle school and my new adjunct position at Tunxis Community College. I also worked with four authors to create a new site/blog (details coming soon).

So, I worked a lot.

I did some fun things, too. I went to the Clinton Outlets and the Water’s Edge for dinner, and I took my daughter to see Turbo and a dinosaur exhibit. I visited Boston twice, celebrated my brother’s birthday, and hung out with good friends.

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My daughter at the dinosaur exhibit in Hartford, CT

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Beautiful Boston!

Still, in the end, I definitely worked more than played. I’ll admit that I was a little sad when I saw my colleagues’ pictures of their summer vacations–beaches, camping, parks, international trips, and visits to Disney World.

All day, I grappled with guilt of the “I’m a horrible mother and should have turned the computer off and went to the beach with my daughter instead of sending her to day camp” variety.

Ultimately, though, I reminded myself this summer had to be a working vacation. Two months of open time is a golden opportunity for writing, and this wasn’t any old job I could have turned down to spend more time having fun. This was dream-come-true work that will result in my first published novel.

I am a rabid overachiever by nature, but reality has reminded more than once that I can’t do everything well and remain sane. I couldn’t have started two new teaching jobs with a unfinished revision hanging over me. I had to be Writing Mom instead of Super Fun Mom to move one step closer to my publishing goal/dream and maintain my overall emotional and mental health.

So, this summer I worked more than I played–and that’s okay. I believe lots of good will come of this–the book, yes, but other things, too. My daughter often “wrote” in her notebook and chose big books, like Great Expectations, from my library to “read.”

Isn't she adorable?

Isn’t she adorable?

Still, I don’t want to be an “all work, no play” person. When my advance money arrives, I will definitely spend some of it on having fun with my baby girl!

My New Facebook Page!

Earlier this week, I found out that my debut novel, RESURRECTING EMILY, will be on Walker’s Fall 2014 list, if all goes according to plan. This may seem like a long time from now, but it really isn’t. So, I’m now panicking…I mean, preparing…and trying to get my name and face on as many social media sites I think I can handle (which isn’t many. Pinterest is so tempting, but I can’t! Not yet!)

So…this is a quick post to let people know that I now have a Facebook Page that can be liked. I added an icon thingie on the sidebar of this blog, and I’ve programmed it so that whatever I post here will go to my FB page and my Twitter account. (Let’s see if all of this actually works.)

My hope is that my original FB account will be more personal and the page will be all things book-related. I’m sure there will be some cross-pollination, but in general, I want to post pictures of my daughter, dog , etc. on my personal account, not the public FB page. (Although Rusty is an attention monger and would love his furry mug posted everywhere.)

See, there he goes again! But, isn't he cute?

See, there he goes again! But, isn’t he cute?

So, go ahead and “like” me if you want ongoing book news. The page is bare-bones right now, but I promise to post all sorts of scandalous stuff there soon (not really).

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Jenny Torres Sanchez

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book ClubVamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Jenny Torres Sanchez. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from the author’s website and her author page on Amazon.com.)

Before writing her debut novel, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories–many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children.

In addition to writing, she likes to paint, take pictures, and listen to music. Her taste ranges from The Smiths to Violent Femmes, to the Beastie Boys, to Lila Downs, to a band called Los Tigres del Norte.

YA NOVEL: THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared–again–and his dad won’t talk about it.

Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to  hold his head above water in the meantime?

MY TWO CENTS: Charlie is a high school senior who is returning to school after having shed thirty pounds but few of his social insecurities. He has a hip best friend, a crush on the hot new girl (who is not good enough for him, in my opinion), a mom who is mentally unstable,  a distant dad who is having an affair, and a caring photography teacher who helps Charlie develop his talent and find something good about himself. He also has an eating disorder. He binges and purges in an effort to feel better during highly emotional moments. There’s a lot going on in the novel, but Sanchez does a good job of blending the issues and capturing a struggling male teen’s voice. If anything, I wanted more of the bulimia issue. It’s rare to see a male MC in a YA novel with an eating disorder; it’s worth exploring even more.

TEACHING TIPS: English teachers could obviously pursue themes, characterization, and external and internal conflicts, but this novel also has great cross-curricular potential. An art teacher wouldn’t have to read the entire novel with a class, but could pull out and explore the chapters that deal with Charlie’s photography and how it helps him to address what’s going on in his life. Students could create a similar photography project. Also, health teachers could use parts of the novel to address eating disorders, bulimia in this case. Mixing non-fiction with fiction is a good way to engage students in such topics and fits right into the Common Core State Standards.

LEXILE: N/A

LINKS for more information: Find THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

Jenny Torres Sanchez also has a new novel being released soon, on May 28, 2013, called DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA. I’ll be sure to check this one out!

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

The Calm Before What Comes Next

So, it’s been almost a month since my novel RESURRECTING EMILY was bought by Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury/Walker, and I have been……exhausted. Weird, right? I mean, I screamed and danced and told just about everyone I spoke to, and then I was like, Whew! (wipes brow), and I’ve been  napping a lot since. I like to think I’m recharging during this calm before what comes next.

When I think about it, I tend to work this way. I push  myself for an extended time, and then when a goal is reached, I crash. I remember once coming home from college after finals and a year as managing editor of The Daily Campus. I fell into a dead sleep for so long that my mom came in and put her finger under my nose to check if I was still breathing.

Now, I work full-time as a teacher, I’m raising a 6-year-old daughter and caring for a 15-year-old mutt, I’m writing and attending my monthly critique group, and I’m doing a mediocre job with Weight Watchers (stuck at 11 pounds). So, yeah, I’ve got a lot going on, and I’m generally sleep-deprived.

On top of all this was the brewing book deal. When emails were being exchanged about the acquisitions process, I thought I was cool, but I was so not cool. I was freaking out inside. So when the deal was done and the excitement was released, I settled into this post-news calm and have allowed myself some time to crash, just like I did each summer after college.

After spending a significant amount of time on a project that required loads of emotional and intellectual energy, I’ve cleared a major hurdle. But the race isn’t over–not even close.

I’ve reached a personal goal, but there’s lots of hard work ahead of me. My editor said I will probably receive her revision notes by the end of April, so soon enough, I will dive back into this project and dig deep to make it even better.

In the meantime, I’m going to allow myself a little mental break. I’m going to enjoy the glorious weather (finally) and push my daughter on the swings. I’m going to spend time with family and friends, and I’m going to nap every chance I get. I’m going to recharge my batteries so that I’m ready for the next leg of the race.

BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On Monday night, I got the okay from my agent to announce that my first novel, RESURRECTING EMILY, has been acquired by Mary Kate Castellani at Walker Books for Young Readers, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing!

I was all…

Jennifer Lawrence

And then I was all…

happy dancing

I want to say THANK YOU! a thousand times to my agent, Laura Langlie, for being so persistent and supportive. And of course a GIANT SIZED THANK YOU! to Mary Kate for saying yes and making a dream of mine come true!

I’ll post more details as I get them, but for now I’ll be busy doing my happy dance!

SCBWI New York 2013

I would have posted this sooner, but I returned from New York to a sick child and then got a head cold. Ugh. Still, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the 14th annual Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City.

First, if you write or illustrate, you should be a part of this group. Go ahead, join it now. The group offers local critique groups, and regional and national conferences. This was my second national conference, and I can definitely say the people are the coolest. Really. I attended an educational conference not long ago and one of the big-name speakers was whisked away at the end of her talk, leaving me sputtering a question at her back. Nice, huh? But at the SCBWI conference, I was walking around the evening social, and who was at my regional table? Jane Yolen. And then a woman I met asked, “Would you take a picture of me and Meg Rosoff? She’s right over there.” How cool is that?

The speakers were funny and inspiring. A booksellers panel discussed what’s hot in the market. Meg Rosoff was perfectly snarky when talking about the misconception that writing for children is easy and that “real” authors write for adults. Shaun Tan’s work proved how powerful an image can be and how a story can be told without words, Margaret Peterson Haddix said she’s thrilled that her books appeal to reluctant readers since they are the hardest to reach, Mo Willems encouraged us to dream big. Instead of saying your goal is to publish a book, why not say you want to change the world? And Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton were what you’d expect of Mary Poppins and her child: so sweet and engaging.

The breakout sessions had a common theme this year, with agents and editors answering the question, “What hooks me?” Molly O’Neil, an editor at Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins said she has to fall in love with a project since, if acquired, she’d spend more than a year–at least– on it, reading it multiple times and considering everything from cover art to the marketing campaign. She works on all types of children’s books, from picture books, to middle grade stand-alones, to YA series. Jennifer Besser, publisher at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, talked about writing that pops off the page. She read from Rick Riordan’s THE LIGHTNING THIEF, which was her first acquisition as an editor.

In the end, the answer to “What hooks me?” was the same: good writing. Each editor had criteria for this, but in general, they know it when they see it. Timing is a major component, too. Vampire books may not get as much attention now post-Twilight, but they’d never say never.

The best part of the conference was talking to other writers who are at different stages of the writing-publishing process. Some work full-time and write when they can. Others write full-time. Some have an agent and are on submission, while others are drafting their first novel. What we all have in common is a desire to create stories. Everyone I met was friendly and supportive, regardless of whether they were a beginner or a published author. Again, I say, how cool is that?

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Books are not better just because they are written for adults.” -Meg Rosoff

“You don’t get to be an author without a certain amount of persistence.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix

“Fail big if you have to, but go down trying.” -Margaret Peterson Haddix

“Aren’t we lucky?” -Julie Andrews

And finally some photos and a suggestion: if you haven’t attended a writer’s conference, you really should. You leave all warm and fuzzy inside, wanting to throw your hands in the air and shout, “I’m a writer!” Of course, you don’t do this, but you want to. They are that inspiring.

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Me chatting with Meg Rosoff, author of HOW I LIVE NOW

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Me and Meg Rosoff

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Me and Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of AMONG THE HIDDEN and many other novels.

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