A BLOG FOR READERS AND AUTHORS OF MTV BOOKS
Friday, July 31, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
For those of you who think this book looks vaguely familiar but you can't quite place it...back in the day it was called Five Were Missing, and it's by the same author as I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was later made into the movie starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, but this one is so much better! The last five teens on a school bus get kidnapped for ransom. They include (1 and 2) a perfect couple, (3) the perfect boy's younger brother, who needs to break away and become his own person, (4) some girl I don't remember very well because she is sketched vaguely so readers can identify with her, and (5) a lost soul-type boy. I think he has a shriveled arm? And an attitude. He and the Vaguely Sketched Girl form an unlikely bond and fall in love, and then OMG HE GETS SHOT TRYING TO SAVE EVERYONE OMG and she has to take care of him!!! This book was nearly perfect. All it needed was me, my BFF from high school, and [cute boy's name removed for reasons of extreme embarrassment].
My BFF loved Five Were Missing too. And when we were teens, she had her own crush on [another cute boy's name removed so my BFF does not kill me]. She would spend the night with me and we would stay up most of the night, jumping on the bed, hopped up on Coke (a-cola), rewriting Five Were Missing starring us and [cute boy] and [other cute boy]. We were the last ones on the bus and were kidnapped for ransom, and of course the kidnappers held me in a room alone with [cute boy] and held her in a separate room alone with [other cute boy], and she and I were so much wittier than Vaguely Sketched Girl, and [cute boy] and [other cute boy] had attitude problems but their arms were not shriveled, because what was up with that Jane Eyre nonsense, Lois Duncan? In other words, we were writing fanfic before the internet existed.
This exercise taught me a couple of things. First, I learned so much about how to write a novel. I credit this experience with jump-starting my nascent novel-writing career. It forced me to think about the process of forming a plot. WHY were we kidnapped instead of somebody else? WHY did the kidnappers force me to stay alone in a room with [cute boy], other than the fact that I was fifteen years old with a hopeless crush? WHY did he have an attitude problem even though his arm was not shriveled? My BFF and I had to talk these things out in order to make our version plausible and satisfying--and that's exactly what I'm going to do this afternoon when I sit down to revise the proposal for my next novel.
Second, I learned that the writing business is more fun when you have friends. My BFF and I had been friends since we were three years old, but this exercise brought us closer. Today she is not a novelist, but she's had jobs that she says are sort of like being a novelist, but for an extrovert. She's had one of her indy films shown at Sundance, and currently she's the artistic director of The Moth, a super-cool show at The Players Club in NYC in which five people stand up and tell a true story about their lives. A typical line-up might include Ethan Hawke, a retired pickpocket, Erica Jong, some little kid, and Moby. Nowadays my BFF and I see each other only once or twice a year. We try to talk on the phone more often, but sometimes it's hard to get hold of her because she's playing phone tag with Julia Stiles. We lead wildly different lifestyles, but we remain close friends and really "get" each other's artistic pursuits.
Thank you, Lois Duncan.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
By the time I reached middle school I had exhausted the “teen” selections in our small local library. In order to find new titles—I could only read Nancy Drew so many times—I moved up to adult books. And nearly 100% of the adult books I read belonged to my mother and grandmother. Luckily for me, they loved to read as much as I do, but I was limited by the titles they owned or traded.
Keeping that in mind, here are a few of the books and authors I loved as a teen.
The first one I remember is THOMASINA: THE CAT WHO THOUGHT SHE WAS GOD by Paul Gallico. I was and am a cat lover, and this story of a cat that was wrongly euthanized and came back to life—thinking she was an Egyptian goddess—was one of my favorites. Shortly before I read it, my beloved cat, Old Tom, found his way home two years after my parents gave him away to a farmer. Inspired by THOMASINA, I wrote several stories about Old Tom’s adventures on the road.
Mom and Grandmother were mystery lovers, which is why I grew up on mysteries. I adored Daphne Du Mauier, especially her classic REBECCA with its dark, spooky secrets. And I pored through Phyllis Whitney’s books where young women thrown into exotic surroundings found the courage to face danger and death—and find the love of their lives. Sigh.
One of the few books I read more than once as a teen was GONE WITH THE WIND, even though Scarlett O’Hara annoyed the crap out of me. What woman in her right mind turns down Rhett Butler? Not me. Although I suspect Rhett’s at least partly to blame for my infatuation with bad boys that lasted through my 20s.
Those are my choices. Now that they’re on my mind, I may sit down and read them all again.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Growing up, like many girls, I was a huge Judy Blume fan. But her books were not the only ones that I devoured. One of my favorite books that I read in middle school was The Kidnapping of Courtney Van Allen & What’s-Her-Name by Joyce Cool.
I thought the main character, Jan Travis was so cool. She was off to visit her aunt in New York and was allowed to go sight-seeing by herself! Hello, I was only allowed to walk downtown for pizza, not go see a Broadway play or go horseback riding by myself. Plus she was not afraid to express herself. I admired how gregarious she was as I was very shy in middle school. I thought Jan Travis was living the cool life and I enjoyed every minute of her journey.
Plus, when Jan’s world collided with Courtney’s, we were in for a wild ride and I rooted for Jan the whole way. Courtney was a snotty rich kid, daughter of an actress and politician, but I was secretly living vicariously though her lavish lifestyle. One of my favorite details is that Courtney wore a shirt that said, Drop Dead, for 47 days. That detail stuck out in my mind as one of the best things about the book. It’s funny how the small things stick with you.
When I began writing Shrinking Violet for some reason I was drawn back to this book. Problem was that I had forgotten the complete title. I knew it had Courtney and kidnapping in the title. A quick search on the internet brought up nothing but when I visited my parents, I found the book in our basement.
I thought back to what drew me to this book as I was writing my own teen novel. It was a combination of good writing, humor, adventure and a likeable main character. It’s sad to see that the book is now available on Amazon for just a penny but I’m not giving up my copy! One of the blurbs on the book calls it a lot of fun and that’s what it was—a fun, pleasurable read that stuck with me through the years. A book does not have to be a masterpiece to touch you. It just has to provide meaning in some way. This one did it for me and it’s really nice that it was Joyce Cool’s debut novel.
Friday, July 17, 2009
When I started writing teen books I went onto Amazon and bought all of her books again. I wanted to read them and one day share them with my daughter. IT'S OK... was sitting on my desk and my husband picked it up and started reading. He randomly picked the story up in the middle. After a few pages he came to find me, held the book up and said, "Now I know why you're the way you are."
Apparently I'm like a Norma Klein character. Which didn't bother me at all. All of her female characters are smart, strong willed, determined, driven, practical, pragmatic and unafraid to say what they think. Oddly, the guy characters are usually nicer, sweeter, milder than the girls.
Looking at the cover of these books and the titles (with the word "Love" splashed across them) you'd think they were mushy romances. They're anything but. The girls aren't wrapped up in the dream of a guy rescuing them, they don't revolve their lives around their boyfriends, they don't dream of the prince sweeping them off their feet. They're applying to Ivy League colleges, are more interested in science than make-up and live in New York City where they confidently walk city streets without feeling like they should be afraid.
But even if I love the characters, I love the stories as well. Nothing huge - no other worldly creatures, vampires, special powers or dramatic life altering accidents. They're just plain old girls in high school going through plain old girl things, yet they're anything but plain. They were just like me and I felt like they'd be girls I'd have as friends.
Every book I write I strive to be "Norma Klein-esque." Don't know that I'm there yet, but to me she wrote books that spoke so truly to the person I was and the person I would be, that I want to write books that make readers feel like that.
Two years ago I met Judy Blume, who, it turned out, was very good friends with Norma Klein when they both lived in NYC. Norma Klein died some years ago, but I got to learn all about her as a person and writer and it was one of the coolest things ever. Wish I could have met her in real life and told her what a huge impact she had on me as a writer, but mostly as a person.
Probably much to my husband's dismay. He doesn't know what he's in for when my daughter is old enough to read my copies of Norma's books. God help him.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
However, the highlight of my ALA was about to happen. Yes, even bigger than meeting all those authors, including incredible NYT bestsellers like Lisa McMann and Sarah Dessen, more important than that to me was meet book bloggers Chelsea, aka The Page Flipper and Kristi aka The Story Siren and their friend Emili. Book bloggers mean the world to YA authors, or at least to me. They are passionate about books and share it with the world and that seriously rocks. So here I am with Chelsea, Emili and Kristi (I was trying not to get tattoo goo in her hair, but we'll get to that in a minute):
I did a video blog about my new tattoo and posted it on Monday as the kick off to the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party. Check out that vlog here (and enter to win a copy of Ballads!) I hope you will visit my blog daily from now until Aug 14 to meet all of my guests at the Cyber Launch Party. It's gonna be a blast. Just as fun as ALA, but online so everyone can attend!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
With this trip coming up, I've been thinking about my other travels to Washington. When I was 10, my family spent spring break there, mostly in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, because we are a family of nerds. While the rest of America gathered around the TV to watch The Cosby Show, we were watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos. When I was 17 and drum major of my high school marching band, we were part of the Cherry Blossom Festival parade. I still sleep in the T-shirt. Then, 9 years ago, I presented a paper at a the national conference in D.C. for the Rhetoric Society of America.
I was a PhD candidate in English with a concentration in rhetoric and composition. My specialty was genre studies. I'd tried unsuccessfully for years to get a novel published. I figured if I couldn't have my dream job of writing novels, the next best thing was a job writing about writing novels. And maybe, just maybe, in studying what constitutes a genre and how people learn to write it, I would discover how to get published myself.
I never stopped writing during that period. Nine years ago the YA market was in a slump. If you wanted to publish a YA romance, pretty much the only game in town was the Love Stories series. I read a bazillion of these and then wrote my own--a first stab at the idea that would later become Major Crush. The manuscript was rejected, but by that time I had so much knowledge about this genre that it was easy for me to write a pretty cool pop culture paper about what authors could and could not do in this series and why. The Rhetoric Society of America must have thought it was pretty cool, too, because I was accepted as a presenter.
A few weeks ago another PhD candidate in English contacted me with a few questions. He's writing his dissertation on how aggressively publishers market certain YA novels versus how well those novels end up selling, and Major Crush is one of his examples. I didn't ask him whether he's a frustrated YA novelist himself, but if he is, two words: keep writing. You never know what 9 years may bring.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
As you can see by the photo, Iowa’s thunderstorms are kicking our butts this summer. First tree limbs crashed into our house. Then our creek morphed into a raging river and washed out the road to our development, stranding residents on both sides of the Great Divide.
Mike and I discovered the washout when we were driving into town for our morning jog. One look into the cavern and I knew my plans for the day would be taking an abrupt detour. Since I couldn’t get to Des Moines, I had to call in on my cell--the phone lines had been washed out, too—and tell the summer school coordinator that I wouldn’t be able to teach my novel writing class. And I lost a day’s pay, which didn’t make me happy.
Washed out road, cut phone lines, stranded people. Gosh, if I were a writer, I might find a plot in there somewhere!
But the defining conflict took place inside my head. You see, one morning not that long ago I drove through water running over that exact spot on that same road. So when I saw the enormous crater where the road used to be, my imagination went wild.
What if I’d tried to drive through THAT running water?
I saw and felt and heard my car plunging into the roaring water. Torrents of water battered the driver’s side window. The glass burst inward, knocking me to the passenger seat and flooding the interior. I flailed helplessly, gasping for air. I pressed my face against the roof of the car while water surged around me. My mouth and lungs filled with water.
The scene played over and over in my mind, so vivid that it made me physically sick. Each time the ending was the same. Survival was impossible.
In the time since the cave-in, the road has been repaired with a shiny new culvert that—according to one of my neighbors—will stand up to a 500-year flood. If he sees water running over the road now, I’m sure he won’t hesitate to drive right through it.
Not me. After being a participant in the dramatic scene my brain invented, I will never, ever, ever drive my car through running water. No matter how great a story it might make.
Monday, July 6, 2009
I was graduating from college and had one month off before I headed back to school to attend Radcliffe’s publishing program. Basically I had half of May and half of June to kill and so did my best friend (who was graduating job-less). So we packed up my car and headed West to drop off all my college belongings at my parents’ house in Arizona before embarking on the classic post-college tour of the country.
We visited Badlands National Park in South Dakota, skied at Arapahoe Basin, CO in shorts and tank tops (my friend got altitude sickness and had to be brought down on a snow mobile), saw Mount Rushmore and slept in our car in Yellowstone lest the big hairy bison decide to snuggle us in the middle of the night. A few times we had to sleep in the car, which sucked for the person up front because my car was a standard and the person ended up spooning a stick shift all night. It was always on deserted roads in the middle of nowhere and thank god I was too young and dumb to worry about the stray serial killer (back then we didn’t have cell phones).
We locked the keys in the car in Eureka, CA, drove through a tree in Redland, took showers in public restrooms and searched a cemetery in Bozeman, MT for my friend’s great grandmother. Our greatest splurge was a foot long sub from Subway, which tasted like the most delicious thing ever, given our diet of PB&J.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
In Shrinking Violet, Tere has a crush on a cute “nice” guy, Gavin. After reading the book, an old friend that I hadn’t talked to in over twelve years, emailed me and said she was dying to know who was my Gavin in high school. Sadly I had to answer that I did not have a Gavin, nothing close to him, but I sure wished I did. Rather I told her that he was created from a bunch of nice cool guys that I’ve meet over the years, including my husband.
So far none of my characters are directly modeled after one person, but I do pull from all directions to shape them into who they are. It’s like a good soup, I take a little spice form here, chop up this vegetable and that one, until I have the perfect combination. If something is too flat or one-dimensional, I just keep on adding more spice until I have it right.
I’d love to hear from other authors how they go about selecting their characters but so far for me, I’ve created mine from bits and pieces of things I’ve learned from or about people over the years. If I meet someone totally outrageous I file that encounter into my memory bank and hope to be able to fit them into a story one day. It almost makes those encounters more bearable because you can say, at least I can use this in my book!
This certainly applies to the crazy lady at the Samurai restaurant tonight. My kids were playing with a few toys on a table in the waiting area of the restaurant, One of my sons walked around the lady to retrieve his toy that had fallen and she barked, “You stay on your side and we’ll stay on ours.” It was our anniversary and my husband and I didn’t want this crazy lady ruining it so we chose to ignore her. Then of course when they called us to our table, we were supposed to sit with crazy lady and her family because it’s one of those restaurants where they cook in front of you and everyone sits together. She immediately complained and got moved to another table.
It turns out, we had a great dinner and my kids were very well-behaved. Much more than I could say for crazy lady. When we got up to leave we walked by her yelling at the manager, “Either the waiter is going to get stiffed or you are. Now take that off my bill!” She left red-faced and angry and we couldn’t help but laugh. And then I thought, to top it off, she’d make a great character in one of my books. For now she’s stuffed into my memory bank but one day she may resurface. So my advice, whenever anyone ticks you off, just pass it off as character research!