Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books read in 2008

Books read in 2008:

Goodbye 2008!

Really, for a long time I've been looking forward to writing my farewell to 2008 post.  This has been such a fantastic year for me!  So many milestones with my debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  Plus I got engaged, got a new puppy, left my law job to write full time.  Honestly, I think that 2008 has been the chips. 

But unfortunately I have a head cold.  And a deadline.  And I have to tidy the house for potential game playing tonight.  So alas, I must beg for an extension on writing my 2008 wrap-up post!  I promise to get to it in January!

I will say one thing though... of the many things I'm proud of about 2008, one I'm most happy about is that I really did live in the moment during a lot of it.  I really enjoyed all the milestones and accomplishments and recognized how great things were going and how happy I've been.  I think that too often we don't step back and realize how great things are and I've been trying to smell the roses a lot more.

How were y'all's 2008?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reading more

So thanks for all the wonderful links and comments to my post (below) responding to the recent New Yorker article about the YA market. There have been some excellent posts around the blogosphere and I really enjoyed the discussion on all levels.

But there is something else it's made me think about as well. I think it's clear that YA novels can be just as deep, complicated, complex and challenging as adult novels. And I also think it's time that people stopped assuming that just because a book is classified as young adult that it's some-how lesser than. However, I felt like one of the comments that popped up a lot on various blogs was that sure there's a lot of great YA out there, but just like any other genre or section of the bookstore there's a lot of cr@p as well.

Here's the thing I'm coming to realize: I'm tired of placing ANY kind of judgment on books. Or rather, I'm tired of placing judgment on people based on what kind of books they read. Because you know what? We need all the readers we can get. And if people want to read what you might think of as cr@p, that's okay! At least they're reading! Reading ANYTHING is great!

And so even when I'm defending that YA can be just as complex and deep as adult books I'm also wondering what the point is -- who cares if it's deep or complex so long as it's being read? Yes, books that make you think and explore and question are wonderful, but I argue that almost any book can make you think and explore and question. Every book is a glimpse into another life, another world, another way to approach decisions. It's a way to expand what we know.

I guess I really started thinking about this the other day when I realized the number of people who will go to a movie versus the number of people who will buy and read a book. An announced print run of 100k or higher for a book is excellent and is usually reserved for the bigger books in a season. Now think about the number of people who have gone to the bigger movies this season! I'm guessing WAY more than 100k. Think of how many people watch any television program. We're talking millions in one night. Compared to other forms of entertainment, books aren't ranking that high. Even though these days a movie ticket is about the same price as a book (and the book usually lasts longer!)

Why aren't we reading more? Why are we so wrapped up in reading the "right kind of books" rather than any books?

I think there are a lot of barriers that we throw up making it harder to read and I'll save those for another post. But I do think that one of the things that we should be thinking about is how to make it easier to read more. Encouraging reading of any kind. Maybe taking the emphasis off judging what kind of books we pick up, we should just focus on the fact that at least we *are*picking up books.

PS: I might be blogging little more irregularly over the holidays as I travel home. Happy Holidays!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Revisioning and Ranting (on the YA/adult divide)

As anyone who has talked to me or seen my facebook updates recently knows, I'm in the process of revising my second book for Delacorte Press (which is a loose sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and will be coming out Spring 2010).

Thankfully, with the help of this article in The New Yorker, I know what I was doing wrong with the first draft.  I was trying to be complicated.  I was trying to be challenging and have complex themes.  I wasn't stuffing it full of morals (hard to fit in a "no drinking and driving" message when there aren't cars and driving, but now I know I must find a way.)  It's a shame I'm just learning these things now because it's too late to fix all of this in FHT!

But honestly, the greatest relief came when I read this line:

Surely we demand of "adult" writers (or perhaps what I really mean is "great" writers) higher moral and philosophical stakes?

The relief comes in knowing that I can lower my expectations for myself and my book.  I'm not an adult writer, therefore I don't have to strive for higher stakes.  Whew!  Talk about a load off! 

Of course, my hope is that Mishan said "adult writers" and then realized that this was too narrow of a category and decided to broaden her description to mean "great writers."  However, I think this phrase can also be read to mean "adult writers = great writers."  Take your pick of interpretations (and notice that some prominent YA authors gave their own thoughts in the comments to the article).

What's interesting is that my friend Diana Peterfreund sent me the link to this article because this is something we've been discussing and is something that she's blogged about recently.  I'd mentioned to her that sometimes when I talk to people about my book I won't call it a YA but might call it a crossover instead.  I've seen way too many times that people will perk up when they find out I have a book coming out only to go "oh," and have their faces fall when I mention it's young adult.  Maybe they're expecting sparkleponies or something and don't understand what YA has become today.

Even my mom admitted feeling a little weird the first time she ventured into the YA section of the bookstore.  I told her to get over it since that's where my book would be (and trust me, come March 10 I have a feeling she'll be setting up a tent in the YA section and shoving FHT into every hand that passes by... actually, she'll prob just take over the loud speaker and say "My baby wrote a book!").  In fact, I think most of my family were a little taken aback when they read my book because I don't think they know what YA has become and so they didn't know what to expect.  

And maybe that's part of what's going on.  Maybe that's why you have Caitlin Flanagan saying "I hate YA novels; they bore me" in a review that says two paragraphs later "Twilight is fantastic."  I couldn't tell from the article what YA she's read recently.  Can she really say that The Hunger Games bored her?  Graceling?  Uglies?  The Book Thief?  Skin Hunger?  The House of the Scorpion?  Little Brother?  And if it's vampire romances she finds fantastic, what about the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead that's been hitting the NYT list?  

When someone says something so qualitative as "I hate YA novels; they bore me," I just have to wonder what YA novels they've been reading.  Because honestly, I think YA novels these days are the best they've ever been!  To me YA novels are incredibly complex and dynamic and daring.  I feel like I see YA authors take more risks than adult authors.  

I don't have as much of a problem with someone hating YA novels or calling YA books "facile" or "having uncomplicated themes and morals" or "boring" or merely "light and fun reads" and having lower moral and philosophical stakes if they'd actually read enough YA to form an opinion.  Of course, perhaps the people in the article *have* read tons of YA and legitimately feel that way and perhaps I should give them that benefit of the doubt.

And yet, I cannot honestly believe that anyone could read Hunger Games or Looking for Alaska or The House of the Scorpion or any other number of YA novels out today and think that YA is facile, uncomplicated, light and having low stakes.  Instead, I think most of the opinions expressed in that article are born out of ignorance, of hazy memories of what they read back in high school and what they *think* YA is like today based on a few ads for Gossip Girl on the CW. 

I feel as though some people feel the need to denigrate all of YA as somehow being "lesser than."  And yet at the same time, if you ask these same people to distinguish between YA and adult, they rarely can.  Just look at the abovementioned article to see how difficult it is for them to decide what makes something YA.  Take for example this distinction:  "I assume that anything branded 'young adult' needs... to be not too long or challenging"

Really?  Really?  Really?  I'm just agog at this one because at the very least you don't have to read any YA but just glance at a YA shelf or two to realize that length is not the dividing line between YA and adult.  Or remember that teens are reading Faulkner and Shakespeare (and Faulkner ranks up there in the challenging spectrum).

You know what divides YA and adult?  Which shelf someone decided to put it on.  And you know how they probably made that decision?  They put it on whichever shelf will help them sell more copies.  There are lots of books being published as YA today that would have been published as adult books 10 years ago because YA is doing well and sales have increased while adult sales have decreased.  

I wear my YA badge with pride.  But I also know that some people are going to write me and my book off the minute they hear it's YA.  I'm fine if they write me and FHT off, I'd just rather they do it after they've read my book rather than jumping to conclusions based on a marketing label or where it's shelved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Favorite Barbie Memory

Apparently there's this ad going around asking people what their favorite Barbie memory is.  Naturally it got me thinking and my first thought was that I was allowed to watch WAY too many soap operas as a child.  My second thought is that it's no wonder I grew up to be a writer!

To be fair, my sisters and I only watched soaps during the summer and, as far as I can remember, we would sneak into the kitchen and watch them with the babysitter.  One of my sisters would have to correct me, I can only vaguely remember summers spent with Patch and Kayla.

So, it should surprise no one that some of my Barbie memories are a little... er... odd and complex.  Let's just say that I remember one time when Barbie and some Kens went camping (naturally in the Barbie dream motorhome which I think my mom still has down in her basement) and one of the Barbies was kidnapped and when she came back she had amnesia and was pregnant but no one knew who the father was.  

It probably never helped that one of our Barbies was the "kissing Barbie" where you could press a square in her back and she'd make kissy noises (when we needed a Barbie to move in on a married Ken, she was usually our go-to girl.)  Of course, she did lose most of her hair in some sort of tragic incident that probably also included amnesia...

Seriously, these were the stories we came up with.  And just to implicate her, my middle sister (older than I am) was totally involved in helping come up with these plot line.   

One year, as my Christmas present, my dad finished off the little attic under the eves to be my own private playroom.  It was a secret playroom that you could only get to through a secret door at the back of my closet (how cool is that!?).  And what was at the end of the room?  

It was a total Barbie paradise.  There was room for everyone, the Barbies without hair, their horses, the Kens, the Barbies with their ball gowns.  Oh... the ball gowns.  My mom would pick out the most exquisite gowns for them as Christmas presents.

So those are my Barbie memories off the top of my head.  I'm sure my sister remembers more of the juicy stuff.  Ah, good wholesome family fun :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Staying up all night with dragons

So sometimes I get into these moods where even though I have tons of books in my TBR pile, nothing feels quite right.  I start books, put them down, wander around the house staring at my shelves.  Sometimes I'll pick back up a book I'd started a while ago, sometimes I'll find a book that I'd forgotten about.  And recently, I've been in that kind of mood... nothing really fitting what I want to read.

One book that's been sitting in my TBR pile has been EON, DRAGONEYE REBORN, by Alison Goodman. I've heard great buzz about this book and have had the ARC for a while now.  I can't even explain my reticence in not having read it already.  Part of it is hesitance to jump into a bigger book when I have SO MANY books I want to read -- I'm not sure I want to spend the time on just one big book rather than a lot of smaller books.

But another reason was that when it comes down to it, I haven't really read a lot of straight up fantasy.  And EON seems like a straight up fantasy to me (I know that sounds crazy since most of my recent reading has been YA fantasy!!).  I've never read a book with dragons.  I wasn't sure if it was my cup of tea.  Even though a letter in the front of the ARC states clearly that lovers and loathers of fantasy will love this book.

I cracked it open, discussed the opening line or two with JP, still feeling very hesitant about the book... and promptly stayed up ALL NIGHT to read it.  For real, I read the last few pages as JP's alarm went off in the other room (I was banished to the living room cause of the light).  And let me tell you, this is a fantastic book to get lost in and boy did I lose all track of time and place... just read and read and read, falling deeply into the world, the words whizzing by on the page.

It's been a long time since I just utterly indulged and read a book in one sitting and it was glorious.  Clearly this is a book I loved and I do think the buzz is warranted.  It's a fantastic world that's easy to be in (I find some words are so complex I get lost) with rich details and fantastic and complex characters.  

When I pick up a book in a new sub-genre or type of world, I always wonder if some of my awe with the world is over conventions that everyone else who reads those types of books knows but me.  I remember being entranced at the creativity of the world in one book a few years back and explaining it to JP only to have him laugh and say that they were all well known tropes -- the author hadn't made any of it up at all.  

EON felt different to me, utterly whole and unique.  It's rooted in cultural aspects of China and Japan and in my mind while reading it I saw over and over again the pictures from JP's recent trip to China.  Maybe someone else will read it and say "bah, all tropes" but that didn't matter to me last night when I just lost myself in the book.

I can't wait to see what happens when EON, DRAGONEYE REBORN hits the shelves at the end of the month!  And I can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bottled Water - Going Greener

This will sound very very odd, I recognize that, but soon after I left law and was writing full time I started getting headaches in the afternoon.  It didn't take me long to realize what my problem was: I wasn't drinking enough water.  I tend to be the type of person who experiences dehydration headaches pretty easily and at work getting up to get water was always a good excuse to stretch my legs, rest my eyes, etc.  At home... well... I don't need so many excuses.  

Plus, there's no handy ice machine with the pellet-type-ice that I loved at work.  I never said I was entirely rational.  I just am not good about drinking water at home.  Usually I just leave a glass by the sink and chug a bunch of water every now and again.

Anyway, so I was at the store and realized that I could buy a whole cardboard pallet of bottled water for about the same price as a twelver of diet coke.  And we all know that I'm trying to cut back on the diet coke and yadda yadda yadda.  So I got it and was merrily chugging away on water when I saw a commercial showing a woman running on the treadmill.

"Thirty minutes on the treadmill" it said and I thought... hmm... I really should look into doing that one of these days.  And then, totally unexpectedly, it focused on the water bottle sitting on the treadmill and said "forever in the landfill."  

I looked at my new disposable Dasani.  At my whole pack of them and knew I couldn't do it anymore.  My new easy habit cut off at its knees.  The water in my town tastes great and even better, during the winter it comes out of the taps ice cold.  Plus we have filtered water in the door of our freezer AND a filter as part of our sink.  So really, I have no excuse not to use a refillable bottle.  

Apparently Americans tend to send 38 Billion water bottles to landfills each year -- that's a lot of oil in making the plastic and a lot of space in the landfills.  So I'm taking the pledge and going greener.  Less bottled water, less waste and hopefully fewer headaches :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For whom the bell tolls

As most of y'all know, JP and I adopted our puppy, Jake, earlier in the year.  Though perhaps "puppy" isn't the right word for him anymore.  Since he's a rescue dog we have no idea how old he is, but we're figuring about a year.  Plus, at 75+ pounds... we sure hope he's nearing adulthood!

Even though Jake seems to have a bladder of steel, house-training him was tough.  Mostly because he didn't have to go out all that often but also because to let us know he needed to go out he'd just go sit by the door for about 15-30 seconds and if we didn't jump up he'd assume he had free reign to go anywhere in the house (he preferred carpets).  This was mostly an issue when JP or I lost track of him because we were brushing our teeth, or going to get a glass of water, or any number of tasks that would take you away from the dog for more than 30 seconds.

I remembered that a friend of mine who I worked with after college had trained her dog, Asa, to ring a bell when she needed to go outside.  And because Jake refused to whine, bark, or scratch at the door, this seemed like the perfect solution.  We tied a few bells to an old shoelace (recycle, reduce, reuse!) and hung it from the back door.  For at least a month, every time we took Jake outside we'd make him nudge or bat at the bell.  

He didn't seem to like it nor did he seem to get the point.
And then one day, I was sitting in the living room writing and I heard the tiniest little "dink" from the other room.  Hallelujah it was the bell!!  Jake had nudged the bell to tell me he had to go outside!!  I promptly shoved his furry butt outside (with lots of praise and encouragement) and called JP to celebrate.

Ever since that moment, things have been great.  Jake rings the bell to go out, we let him out, and he is officially house trained!  Bliss!

Until last night.  Sure, Jake rings the bell when he's bored and just wants to go play but he's a lazy dog so that doesn't happen too often.  But last night after we went to bed there was something outside he REALLY wanted to play with.  REALLY BADLY.  I think it was one of our irrigation pipes.  Because he kept ringing the bell over and over and over again.

And it was no longer the tiny little "dink" of before.  These were massive "HELLO, BELL RINGING HERE! I WANT TO GO OUT" very insistent rings.  Over and over again.  Honestly, there was nothing JP and I could do but laugh as we heard the bell crash against the door over and over again.  

Finally Jake gave up and came to bed.  This morning, he seems to have forgotten that there was any reason to do anything other than lounge around all day.  That's the Jake I know and love :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Free books!

Who doesn't love books?! And with all the doom and gloom going around about the publishing industry these days, it's the perfect time to be buying even more books! Thankfully, the fantabulous Jennifer Hubbard is making that easy (and free for you!) by hosting a giveaway over at the 2009 Debutantes (a wonderful community of MG and YA authors all debuting in 2009).

Here's the link! The rules are in that post as well, including ways to get multiple entries!

So go comment and enjoy the gift of books this holiday season!!

Speaking of books, what's everyone reading these days?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sophomore Slump

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Steph (Reviewer X) asked me about the Sophomore Slump. I'd been blogging about writing Book 2 (the sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and she asked if I was worried about the Sophomore Slump. I promised to answer her and then promptly never did. So here, finally, are my thoughts on writing the sophomore book.

Of course, Book 2 isn't really my second book because I'd already written two books before The Forest of Hands and Teeth. So in reality, Book 2 is the fourth book I've ever finished writing (and trust me, there are literally hundreds of thousands of words of other book bits languishing on my computers).

Even so, one of the feelings I remember most clearly after selling a two-book deal and starting on the second is wondering whether the first was just a fluke. It's not that I didn't think I could write another saleable book, it's just that if felt like suddenly there was this assumption that I'd crossed some sort of threshold and that everything I'd written before FHT was unpublishable and everything after FHT therefore *should* be publishable.

But in my mind, I'd written two unpublishable books before, who's to say I wasn't going to write another one like that? I mean, if we're talking about batting averages (which we aren't and I don't understand batting averages anyway but hang with me here) I'd written two bad books and only one good book so the odds weren't really in my favor. I clung to the idea that with every book we write we grow and so I just kept telling myself that I'd grown as a writer.

When I finished writing FHT I felt like it was the best book I'd ever written. I didn't care what anyone else thought about it, I just knew that in my mind, it was my best. That's one of the reasons I spent so much time revising it because I felt like if I couldn't sell this book that I might not ever be able to sell any book. I had this fear that I couldn't do better.

And then, I read the first pass pages of FHT. It had been months since I'd thought much about FHT or read any of it. Of course I still loved the book, but suddenly I realized that maybe I could do better. That was an increadibly liberating feeling! It let me let go of FHT and move forward and put my all into Book 2.

There were twists and turns in writing Book 2 (which I'm sure I'll talk more about later) and when I was done I honestly had absolutely no idea if it was any good or not which was a little disconcerting. I knew how I felt about all my other drafts when writing "The End" (and yes, I do write "The End" on my drafts cause it makes it feel complete to me) but with this one... no clue. I sent it to a few beta readers and my agent and thankfully they gave me hearty thumbs up so I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Especially with a sequel, I think it's hard not to want to repeat what you think worked the first time. Some readers like to read books that are all similar and some hate that. Hopefully there will be people who love my second book more than my first and there will likely be people who don't.

Above all, when I was writing Book 2 I kept reminding myself that all I had to do was write a story and everything else would (hopefully) fall into place. Once I got a draft done, other people could help pull it into shape (thank goodness for beta readers, agents and editors!). So while there's definitely a lot of pressure involved in writing the sophomore book, I also feel like there's added support: you're not writing in a vaccuum, you're writing with the help of others.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that we just have to try to write the best book we can every time. We can't do any more than that. And then we hold our breaths and wait for the revision letter :) Speaking of which... time for me to dive back into revisions!

What do y'all think about the Sophomore Slump?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Introducing The Warrior

Everyone calls it Turkey-Day, but really I think Thanksgiving should be called Pie-Day. My sister makes the best home-made apple pie (with this really cool peeler, corer, slicer thingy) and I love holidays at her house.

One of the things that was really fun about visiting my sister was hanging with her kids. The youngest (and the only girl) is at that perfect age where she walks around entertaining herself and smiles all the time and flirts and you just want to grab her and hold her. I think the funniest moment was when we were all at the table for the big Thanksgiving meal and my oldest nephew (6 years old) came up and whispered to my sister and I just barely overheard:

"Mom, can you get the Warrior away?"
It took us a minute to realize who he meant by the warrior. Here she is (this was taken the day before and not in her cute T-giving attire):

So now, in my mind, she will always be known as the Warrior. She will one day be sixteen and I will still call her the Warrior and she'll have no idea why. Remember my post on finding the perfect endearments? This is how they come to be -- some random event that sticks a name in your mind for forever.

It really was a fanstastic Thanksgiving with eating, reading, playing games, hanging out, sleeping, movies. I couldn't have asked for a better time! And I'm so thankful for so much in my life that I don't even know where to begin. I'd list them here but I'd be afraid of forgetting someone so just know that if you're reading this, I'm thankful for you :)

Thank you!

P.S. I just saw that Sharon (of Sharon Loves Books and Cats -- which is an awesome blog title) is giving away an ARC of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (link to contest). I really wish I had a few extras to give away here, but this is the next best thing! So if you're looking for an early read, head over to her site! Thanks Sharon!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Title Mojo

Gasp! I have been accused of stealing Ally Carter's title mojo! She of the I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU and CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY and DON'T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER. I mean, this is an author who has commas in her titles! How cool is that to have a comma in your title? And what about the double meanings -- a book about spies and the word "cover" is in the title! Brilliant!

Now granted, I was accused of stealing said mojo a few weeks ago and was given a week to fess up or return it. Clearly, deadlines mean nothing to me, a hardened criminal. But after much pondering (and eating of pie) I've decided that, without admitting any guilt whatsoever, I might be willing to broker a trade. Title mojo for revision mojo. And if Ally will throw in a little "how to get out of PJ's in the morning" mojo then it will only sweeten the deal.

Yes, I know -- revision mojo is hard to quantify. But I've been reading Ally's blog for quite a while now and I know she's got the mojo. I've read her books -- more like devoured them -- and no one could write like her without some good mojo.

So there's my offer. If we have to duel it out in some exotic locale like Ireland... then so be it :)