SCBWI OK Spring Conference

Some wonderful writing opportunities and gatherings are fast approaching, especially for those of you in the Oklahoma vicinity, so I thought I’d share my favorite one with you. I’m a giver, what can I say?

SCBWI OK Spring Conference OnceUponAtime
Marriott Tulsa Hills, Tulsa, OK
April 20,2013
9:00am to 5:00pm

I was first introduced to the world of SCBWI at one of these Oklahoma conferences about eight years ago. That one was held in a church basement in a small rural town halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Even though it was small, the speakers were excellent and the fellow writers were extremely friendly. I met one of my future critique partners for the first time at that meeting. She was the only one I had the courage to speak to that first time out. Since then, I’ve become much better at introducing myself to strangers. These conferences get bigger and better each year.

One of the best perks of attending is being able to submit to each speaker, even if they belong to a closed house. Another nice perk is being able to chat with the speakers, either during the catered lunch or more informally after the conference when we all meet up for dinner. This last event is optional and is not covered in the conference fee, but it’s always well attended and great fun. If you don’t live in Oklahoma, but think you could make the trip and you’d like to attend, fantastic! We welcome you with open arms. (Even if you’re from Texas.) ha!

Here’s this year’s phenomenal speaker line up:

If that weren’t enough, you can also get a written manuscript critique or a verbal portfolio critique for an additional fee. These slots are limited and the deadline for turning in your manuscript to get one of these coveted slots is February 15th.

Check out the SCBWI OK website for more details.

New SCBWI Oklahoma Scholarship – Attend the LA Summer Conference!

I wrote a post a few months ago about the passing of our oldest member, 97 year-old Nita Buckley. Recently a scholarship was started up in her name to help send an Oklahoma SCBWI member to the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. This conference is a major investment for any writer, but well worth it. I attended my third LA Conference this past summer and shared a plethora of knowledge I absorbed during those three days right here on this blog, starting with this post. If you think you’re ready for this next step in your writer’s journey – and you’re an Oklahoma SCBWI member – but funds are a hindrance, consider applying for this.

The winner of the scholarship will be chosen from entries submitted to a writing contest and announced at the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference on April 20, 2013.

TO APPLY FOR THE SCHOLARSHIP:

Send the first 250 words of a picture book, middle grade, or young adult novel using the following prompts:

Picture Book: Ellie found the book on a table in the back room of the old library. Running her hand over the shimmering cover, she thought she saw something move. “I’ll just take a peek inside,” she said. But when she opened the book?

Middle Grade Novel: A twelve-year-old boy or girl from a poor family receives a scholarship to an elite private school where he or she will go to school with kids from very wealthy families.

Young Adult Novel: You’re a teenager with a secret. Last night when talking with a friend, you admitted a terrible secret in confidence that had been weighing heavily on you, keeping you up at nights. Your friend reassured you, and you felt better after your confession. This morning when you arrive at school and notice everyone pointing at you and whispering, you soon discover that this same friend had recorded your conversation and posted it online for everyone in school to see.

Send your entry with your name and the type of book to Anna Myers at: amyers_author@yahoo.com.  Type Contest in the subject line. All entries must be sent between March 1st and March 20th only, not before or after those dates.

Good luck! And I hope to see some of you at the spring conference!

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Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary…Challenge Accepted!

ImageWhile stumbling through the blogosphere, I found this literary challenge that was too tempting not to accept. This year marks the 2ooth anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. I’ve been reading my way through Ms. Austen’s works this one is still my favorite. I can’t think of any other nineteenth century character that’s as feisty and fabulous as Elizabeth Bennet, can you?

One lovely blog site, Austenprose – A Jane Austen blog, is celebrating this momentous bicentennial with a very fitting challenge. There will be prizes for participants – one given out every month and a grand prize giveaway at the end of the year. Check out the site for some reading suggestions and television viewing opportunities coming up this year. I am committing to the beginning level and planning on re-reading the original text by Ms. Austen. I thought about re-reading my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I don’t think I could stomach a second go. The first time was interesting, if only to see how the writer was able to weave in the different elements. Frankly, it just made me want to read the original again. My daughter loved it – the little heathen.

I hope to catch some of the television specials – at least the movie version. I must admit, I usually stop whatever I’m doing and watch whenever it’s on anyway – not a hard bit of the challenge to meet in the end. There is a book on the suggested list, Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange, that sounds interesting. It will also help fulfill one of my Postal Reading Challenge selections. So if you care to indulge in the world of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet, sign up now. It should be a eventful year.

Are There Really Perks to Being a Wallflower? A Contemplative Book Review

Perks of a WallflowerMy most recent WIP deals with some pretty heavy topics – sexual abuse, drug use, sociopaths up to no good, pre-marital what? – and it all takes place in a treatment center for teens. Needless to say, I’ve received some unusual must-read book recommendations from other writers when they’ve learned about the subject matter. I do love reading books that are similar to what I’m writing – it’s actually important to do this for many reasons, but I won’t go into that now; I’ve already talked about why as a writer you should read here and here.

Some of the suggested reads were fantastic, some were okay, and some were totally awful and unrealistic – having worked in a psychiatric facility with teens, it really makes me crazy (no pun intended) when someone who hasn’t done their homework spouts off a bunch of bullshit that a reader might actually take seriously. Sorry, major pet peeve.

I’ve also read so many depressing books over the past few years, that I think I need to write a romantic comedy for my next book. I’m in need of a little lightness of being, if you know what I’m saying. (Hint, hint: Give me some funny book suggestions – please!)

One recent book recommendation that came from several sources was a delightful surprise: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

standing on the fringes of life . . .

offers a unique perspective. but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show.

of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

The voice of this story was so spot on.

We fumble right along with Charlie (whose name isn’t really Charlie, but it’s the only name we’re ever given) as he navigates his first year of high school, hoping to find a friend after his only friend committed suicide. We feel the awkwardness of his first relationship and the heartache of love unrequited. Charlie is such an unusual and memorable character. We can tell from early on that his brain doesn’t work quite like everyone else’s just by the way he describes the scenes of his life events; we as the readers get some of the social cues that he totally misses. We also are left to piece some things together that are too painful for Charlie to talk about. Once we do, his eccentricities and aggressive outbursts make a lot more sense. The music references added such a nice layer of detail and brought back so many memories. I love that the story is set in the 90s – well, it was written in the late 90s, so of course it felt authentic to the time – but whatever, the story still feels relevant for today.

What made this story so intriguing, so intimate, was the letter-writing format. Charlie can’t confide in anyone he knows, but he needs to get some things off his chest, so he writes about his life through a series of letters to an anonymous stranger that he heard others talk of fondly in passing. Somehow he thinks this means the person he’s writing to will understand him. This person is never named, only called, “Dear Friend”. Although some stories written in letter or diary format can lose a sense of closeness when we only “see” events after they’ve happened or learn about them through hearsay, this one does not let us down. I really enjoyed watching how Charlie’s letter-writing evolved throughout the story, once his English teacher tutors him, takes him under his wing, to expand on the innate ability he recognizes in Charlie.

An overall bittersweet, lovely story. Three thumbs up.

I know this was made into a film, recently, and now I can’t wait to see it. If for no other reason, to see how in the hell they translated this into a movie. That couldn’t have been easy.

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Shortly after starting this book, I came across this blog post at The Indextrious Reader’s blog.

She started a fairly painless, yet creative challenge for the new year postalreadingchallenge buttoncalled The Postal Reading Challenge which involves agreeing to read and review books about letters and letter writing; anything with a postal theme will do. You can find links from her blog with beaucoups de postal reading suggestions. You can also find the links list of all the other people participating in this challenge so you can check out their reviews.

There are many levels of participation. I signed up and aimed low so as not to overly stress myself. I hope to read and review at least four books with a postal theme before the end of December.  Why don’t you join us? Sounds like fun.

My Favorite Reads of 2012

IMG_20121128_163625I read close to sixty books this past year, which was about twenty short of my goal – ouch! As a really lame excuse, I do have to say that I was on track until I got sucked in to reading the first four books in the Game of Thrones series. Those averaged out at a little over a thousand pages a piece. I could have swapped each one out for five short books, easy. Ah, well. They were worth it.

I read more young adult than anything else, but that’s to be expected since that’s what I write, although I did read my fair share of adult novels, poetry, and even some classics. As far as genres, I read mostly fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction this year, which was surprising. There were some fantastic contemporary fiction novels in there as well.

So many beautifully crafted words by some of my favorite authors and some by newly discovered ones.

Here are my favorites:

(In the order that I read them)


will graysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

A book authored by the dream team. Could YA get any better? Well, if Libba Bray and A.S. King ever do a mash up, I might just die.

Some people may think I’m crazy, but I loved this book more than Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Don’t worry, that’s on this list, too. I think that book is mandatory for every favorite reads list made from now on.) I’ve loved John Green since I saw him in LA at the SCBWI summer conference right after his first book Looking for Alaska came out. I think he knows this and he has me on some stalker watch list. As for David Levithan, he pretends he’s an editor but he needs to quit that day job and keep writing wonderfully strong characters that just happen to be gay. His book Boy Meets Boy is not to be missed. He also shows up by himself later on this favorites list.

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. (Plot summary from John Green’s site.)

Learn more about David Levithan at his site here.

Learn more about John Green at his site here.

beauty queensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

I bow down before the queen of teen YA. I never ever thought I’d read a book with such a title or cover, believe me. (Yes, damn it! I did judge.) This may appear to be just your average story about a bunch of  beauty queens whose plane crashes leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman. If you have read her Gemma Doyle series, which I also adored, this is quite a departure from that writing style. It’s more like her Going Bovine, although nothing really compares to Going Bovine, does it?

Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. (Plot summary from Bray’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

TFiOSThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

As promised, TFiOS.

I said before that I am a huge fan of John Green. He had me at Looking for Alaska and I’ve read every novel since. This book is one of his best. Green’s humerus bone must be infused with adamantium because his sense of the comedic is sublime. We even forgive him for following the most hysterical scenes with extremely poignant, heart-wrenching moments that have you grabbing for the tissue box. Always questioning, always thought-provoking in a non-condescending way, always everything I want in a book.

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble).

elegy for trainsElegy for Trains by Benjamin Myers

This is the only book of poetry to make the list and this book of poetry is very special to me because it was written by the son of one of my writing mentors, the ever amazing and wonderfully talented, Anna Myers. Ben is a fantastic writer and poet on his own merits and won the Oklahoma Book Award in poetry last year for this very book. This year, at the Oklahoma Book Awards, I was privileged to hear Ben give a heartfelt introduction as his mother, Anna, received a lifetime achievement award for her 19 published children’s books. Ben’s second book of poetry, Lapse Americana, comes out later this year.

Benjamin Myers’ poems range from Virgil through Shakespeare to Woody Guthrie.Just as facets in gems come to life when light strikes them, so do the themes, images, and tropes in Elegy for Trains when the brilliance of Benjamin Myers’ wit, sensitivity and intelligence illuminate his words. His poems make us see Oklahoma and the world afresh. You will read this book, then want to read it again! book overview from Amazon website.

Learn more about Benjamin Myers here and here.

Divergent

The Divinsurgent-by-veronica-roth-297x450ergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

This is one of the best dystopian series I’ve read. I devoured this debut novel and it’s sequel by Roth. Now I’ll have to wait an entire year to see how everything turns out! ACK!

I believe I picked this one up because of all the positive, passionate word of mouth comments about it out in the twitterverse. I love discovering new writers that way.

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. (Plot summary from author’s site.)

Learn more about Veronica Roth on her website here.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I picked up this book because Sepetys was on the faculty for the SCBWI summer conference in LA this past August and I wanted to have some knowledge of the writers and editors that were speaking. Sepetys was one of the most motivating and moving speakers at the conference. Her passion for writing definitely came through in her work. This is a fictionalized account of her family’s history. She wrote this when she started asking, “What’s my story?” – the whole story.

This book was a surprising view of  life under Stalin’s rule through the eyes of a people who suffered just as much as the European Jewish population- the citizens deported to Siberian labor camps because of their anti-communist views. Truly moving and endlessly fascinating.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? (Plot summary from author site.)

Learn more about Ruta Sepetys on her website here.

shineShine by Lauren Myracle

I love this book so much, I devoted an entire blog post to it.

Lauren Myracle is another writer I started reading because she had been placed on the banned authors list, and I don’t mean just casually placed on it somewhere near the middle. In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country.  That takes quite a bit of parental ire to achieve. She raises difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse and explores them with characters that respond like real characters would. I loved her response to being asked about her own children’s reading habits. She said, “As a mom, I want my kids to read any fucking book they want! I want them to read.” That is exactly the kind of writer I want to support. I was an instant fan.

A few years ago, I picked up one of her “internet girls” series to see what all the fuss was about. After reading ttyl, a book that was written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. I think it was because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens (and there were enough controversial issues for the fanatics to get their panties in a wad), but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did. Emotional impact achieved. I must now go back and read everything else she has ever written outside of the texting series. She has lived up to my expectations and then some.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author. (Plot summary from Amazon.)

Learn more about Lauren Myracle from Wikipedia here.

year of the beastsThe Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci & illustrated by Nate Powell

I love Cecil Castellucci and not just because she’s quirky and sweet and has a really high-pitched Minnie Mouse voice that doesn’t match her hardcore rocker exterior. I first read her book Queen of Cool years ago and loved it. In her latest book, she joins forces with a fantastic illustrator, Nate Powell, to merge the graphic novel with YA. The result is mildly intriguing at first; you’re thinking, “Oh, what a clever marketing gimmick!”.  Then, as you near the end, (or sooner if you cleverer than I am) you begin to realize that the pictures at the beginning of every chapter actually have meaning; the images make such an overwhelming impact at the end when you realize their significance. Such a completely different kind of story and yet universal at its core. Loved this book!

Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test. Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci on her website here.

Learn more about illustrator Nate Powell on his website here.

Wednesday-WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

This was such a fantastic book with so much heart, I fell in love with Gary Schmidt forever and ever while reading this one and vowed to read all of his other books in the near future. He was one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, actually closing out the conference, and I think he was one of the best. This book came out of an actual experience he had with a teacher who hated him…and he hated her.

He was stuck with her alone one afternoon a week and she made him read Shakespeare to keep him out of her hair. The only thing was, he loved it. The parallels may end there. Schmidt set the story in Vietnam era small town America where conflicts of culture and what to stand up for still creep in and impact everything, including how his main character learns to deal with his own father. Great book. Read it!

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.

He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare…outside of class?

The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gary Schmidt on his website.

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan

The talent poured into this one is just inhuman. It’s almost indescribable. Such a beautiful book. So fantastical, so creative, so touching in such an unusual way. Argh! You should so read this! I love love love everything I have ever read by Levithan.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

David Levithan has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day. (Plot description from author’s website.)

Center of EverythingThe Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Another writer friend passed on this ARC to me because she knew I was such a big fan of Linda Urban’s. We had both just loved her debut middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. This book is just as stellar and is a straight-forward kind of perfect all on its own. I probably cried more than normal having just lost someone dear to me when I read it, but I think it made the book even better. This book comes out in early March.

For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug.  That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control. But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world? (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble website)

Learn more about Linda Urban here.

cover_ravenboys_300The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

What a way to finish out the year! I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, but she topped herself with this imaginative and oftentimes lyrical story. I would sometimes reread passages because they were so lovely, just let them roll around on my tongue and fill my head with imagery. I cannot wait to read its continuance.

Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.

This series has a dedicated website. You can read the first fifteen pages online here.

Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.

What were you favorite reads of 2012? What are you reading now? Tell me! I need some suggestions outside my usual realm. If you want to know what I’m reading right now, check out the tab at the top of the page. I hope to read a more diverse collection of genres this year as well as more authors that are new to me.