Tag Archives: books

Fellow Fifteener: Alison DeCamp–My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)

22318393As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Alison DeCamp’s middle grade historical novel, My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (2/24/2015; Crown Books for Young Readers). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: It is 1895. Stan is on a mission to find his long-lost father in the logging camps of Michigan. And he’s embellishing all of it in his stupendous scrapbook.

There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan’s missing dad isn’t “dearly departed” after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan’s fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama’s suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow’s peavey is at risk.

It’s a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, “augmented” with his commentary and doodles.

Stan’s tale will leave readers in stitches, but not the kind that require medical attention.

What I liked about it: I love Stan. How can you not? He’s funny, charming, and vulnerable all wrapped up in a super manly package. Just look at those muscles on the cover! Seriously, Alison DeCamp had me laughing from the start and throughout the novel. I stopped writing notes in the ARC because I would have filled the page with LOLs and smiley faces. Really. Reading DeCamp’s debut novel is like a master class in “voice” because she Stan’s is distinct and doesn’t waver at all throughout the novel. This is a sweet, fun story about a boy trying to become a man that will be loved by many. If you are a middle grade parent, teacher, or librarian, this one should definitely be on your shelf.

About the author (from her website): Alison grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where people say “Yah, eh?” and “Youse guys” and dress in many layers for seven months of the year. Unlike Stan, the hero in her book, Alison had indoor plumbing and more than two pairs of pants. However, she might have worn the same sweater every day in fifth grade.

The daughter of a hardware store owner (and reluctant, occasional employee) Alison spent too many school breaks attending ACE Hardware conventions and not enough at Disney World. After graduating from Michigan State University, Alison began teaching middle and high school English. Here she dealt with students chewing tobacco during one of her amazing lessons as well as a questionable principal who once pulled her out of class just to get Alison’s opinion on her new skirt.

Alison admires teachers greatly.

After eight years, Alison quit teaching to stay at home with two babies who are now two teenagers. Babies and teenagers require almost the same amount of work. During this time she taught herself to make glass beads and jewelry which she sold at local galleries. She now can occasionally be found “working” at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs or grocery shopping. Her people like to eat.

Fellow Fifteener: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

19547856As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Becky Albertalli’s young adult novel, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (4/7/2015; Balzer + Bray). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

What I liked about it: I love this book for many reasons. Becky Albertalli’s debut novel is funny, romantic, heartbreaking at times, and filled with diverse characters you instantly love. The teen boy voice is perfect. I laughed out loud many times and even “awww”ed in places as Simon and his mysterious online crush, Blue, fell in love via email, from the inside out, as Simon says. One particular thing I loved about Simon is, while he struggles with coming out, it’s not because he hates himself for being gay. He’s not battling against familial or religious beliefs to accept his own sexual orientation. But, still, coming out isn’t easy. It means sharing a new, huge piece of personal information that must be absorbed by friends, family, and classmates, and then bracing for the responses that range from “no big deal” to mean-spirited acts. I loved when he says we should all come out, that heterosexual should not be the default. Later, I loved when friends and family reveal aspects of themselves, and Simon notes that everyone is always coming out in different ways. We slowly reveal important aspects of our lives to the people close to us. It’s always a risk and nerve-wracking, but necessary for personal growth.

About the author: Becky Albertalli was born and raised in the Atlanta suburbs. She attended college in Connecticut and freaked out about all the snow. She majored in psychology, moved to Washington, D.C., after school and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. She worked for seven years with an incredible group of gender nonconforming kids in Washington, D.C. She currently lives in Roswell, Georgia. with her husband and toddler son. She spends her days writing about teenagers and reading board books about trucks.

Fellow Fifteener: Aisha Saeed–Written in the Stars

21793649As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Aisha Saeed’s young adult novel, Written in the Stars (3/24/2015; Nancy Paulsen Books). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

What I liked about it: Books can act as mirrors, reflecting one’s self, or as windows, allowing us to look into another culture or world. Despite all my years as a student and teacher, my knowledge about certain parts of the world remains limited. Aisha Saeed’s novel gave me a window into Pakistani culture and the issue of arranged marriages in particular. Saeed, who is happily married through arrangement, shows us another possibility through Naila, a teen who has both Pakistani and American values. She respects her family and her culture, but she wants to make her own decisions when it comes to her future husband. Any reader with immigrant parents or grandparents could easily relate to being pulled between two cultures, trying to make room for both. But, when Naila’s family takes her to Pakistan, she slowly realizes this is will not be a temporary vacation. Naila’s new reality is brutal, heartbreaking, and representative of what some girls experience, as Saeed notes at the end of the novel. Naila’s story ends on a hopeful note. We can only hope for a similar outcome for real girls in the same situation.

About the author: Aisha Saeed is an author, mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is also the Vice President of Strategy for We Need Diverse Books™. Aisha has been blogging for over a decade and her writing has also appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazine, and Red Tricycle.She is also a contributing author to the New York Times acclaimed anthology Love InshallahHer debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency. You can connect with Aisha at her website, or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, orTumblr. You can also reach her by e-mail at aishacs@gmail.com

Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been tagged! Writers across the blogosphere have been tossing a particular Q&A around the writing community. It’s the Writing Process Blog Tour. Lila Quintero Weaver published her responses last week and tossed it over to me. First, here’s some info on my tagger.

DarkroomI haven’t met Lila in person yet, but I consider her una amiga nonetheless. We have been collaborating on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site since July 2013. Lila has been an enthusiastic blogger for the site, posting great book talks, Q&As, and personal stories. An author and illustrator, her debut novel was Darkroom: Memoirs in Black and White. She is currently working on a middle grade novel.

 

 

Here are the questions and my responses:

What am I working on?

aesop

An image of Aesop

I am revising Aesop’s Curse, my second young adult novel. During the school year, I teach middle school reading full time and college composition part time, so my goal is to finish revising Aesop’s Curse this summer so that my agent can review it and submit it to editors. The story is about a high school freshman named Alexandre Hart who learns he is the reincarnation of Aesop, the fable writer. Aesop cursed a village before he was executed, and now Alex has to somehow fix this or things will get ugly. (I don’t want to give too much away). I am also steadily working on plans to promote my debut novel, When Reason Breaks, which will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books on February 10, 2015.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Both of my novels have a literary element. Aesop’s Curse includes information about the author and some of his most famous fables. When Reason Breaks includes Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and the characters represent the poet and other people who existed in her life. For example, the two main characters, Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis, represent Dickinson, and the character Tommy Bowles represents two important men in Dickinson’s life: Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Samuel Bowles. While there are lots of YA books linked to famous authors and/or literary works, there are fewer about Dickinson and Aesop.

Each of my novels also has a diverse cast of characters, which is important to me personally as a Latina, mom, and teacher. I think it’s important to represent our diverse reality in children’s books, and to not consider these “minority” books, but rather books with minorities in them.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what interests me. I fell in love with Dickinson’s work during graduate school, I have first-hand experience with depression, and I have been a teacher for 13 years, which means I have known and learned from lots of interesting, complex, remarkable teens. When Reason Breaks combines these elements. When planning Aesop’s Curse, I again pulled from topics of interest. I found the story of Aesop’s execution fascinating, I have read a lot about the metaphysical and reincarnation, and I have known plenty of young men like Alex who fly under the radar and dread taking risks for fear of failure.

How does my writing process work?

My process is not methodical. I don’t use charts and graphs or color-coded note cards, and I don’t write every day, which is the #1 piece of advice given to writers. I scribble in notebooks and on post-it notes, and I think about my work in progress constantly, plotting scenes in my head. This way, when I have time to sit and write, I’m ready. I do most of my writing during child-free weekends (when my parents babysit), snow days, sick days, school vacations, and when my daughter is doing an extra curricular activity. Marathon writing sessions with days of no writing in between doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

SusanAdrianMay2013_200pxI will now toss these questions to Susan Adrian, the leader of the Fearless Fifteeners, a group of middle grade and young adult authors debuting in 2015. Susan’s debut YA novel is titled Tunnel Vision and will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. Here’s a brief description: A teenage boy who has a power he calls tunneling—he can decipher where anyone in the world is (and what they’re doing) by holding something they own—is brought to the attention of the U.S. government. Sounds cool, right? Susan will tell us all about her writing process next week.

Help Me With A Title

I received my editorial letter recently and have been planning my revisions. Since today was the last full day of classes, my mind is shifting from teacher mode to full-time writing mode. The new scenes are playing out in my head, and I’m itching to get them on paper. One thing that will change is the title.

The working title has been RESURRECTING EMILY. The reasons? you ask.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Well, I have a thing for Emily Dickinson (I love her), and she has a strong influence throughout the story. In some ways, I want to help “bring her back” to the forefront with young readers (most of my students know nothing about her). Also, the two main characters are named Emily, although one always goes by her middle name, Elizabeth. One of the Emilys attempts suicide. Which one? you ask. Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

The title, however, has an obvious religious reference and my novel is not about traditional faith. So, I need a new title, preferably a first line or other phrase from a Dickinson poem since her work is featured in the book. I have some possibilities, and I would love for you to chime in and vote. I’d like to send my editor the best ones.

I was able to shorten the list with the help of my family. If you know them, this exchange will not surprise you. If you don’t, then welcome to my world. (All in good fun here. We’re a tight crew.)

Me: How about A CLEAVING IN THE MIND?

Sister: Cleaving sounds like cleavage and it’s on teens’ minds. No.

Me: How about A PAIN SO UTTER?

Sister: It makes me think of cows. No.

Me: How about A FUNERAL IN MY BRAIN.

Brother: Geez, what kind of book are you writing?

Me: You’d know if you bothered to read an early draft.

Brother: I thought it was about high school.

Me: It is, but it’s not a romantic comedy. It’s about more serious issues in high school–teen depression and attempted suicide.

Brother: I missed that part in high school.

Sister: They covered that in health class when you were skipping.

Mom: How about WHEN PAIN HURTS?

Me: It’s not from a Dickinson poem. And, when doesn’t pain hurt?

Brother: Well, I guess if you’re into that kind of thing.

We all look at my sister-in-law.

Sister-in-law: Don’t look at me.

Brother: Call it FIFTY SHADES OF HIGH SCHOOL!

Me: Why do I bother?

Dad: Come on, guys, when you write a book, it’s like your baby. You put a piece of yourself out there. This is serious.

Everyone is laughing too hard to hear him.

Sigh.

Anywho…..please help me. Here are the ones that survived the family get-together. Trust me–they all “fit” the story. Comment here, on my Facebook Page, or on Twitter. If you could rank them in the order you like them (first being the best), that would be awesome!! Thanks in advance for your thoughts!!

WHEN REASON BREAKS

HOW NOTELESS I COULD DIE

MY LETTER TO THE WORLD

STOPPING FOR DEATH

I STOPPED FOR DEATH

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.

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.

photo

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

photo (1)

Me and Meg Rosoff

photo (2)

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

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