SCBWI Oklahoma February Twitter Chat Guest – Megan Beatie

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our next Twitter chat session is Tuesday, February 25th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


Megan Beatie is one of the first guests who will also be a faculty member at this year’s SCBWI Oklahoma spring conference April 3rd-4th in Oklahoma City. For details on the conference and how to register CLICK HERE.

Here’s an introduction to Megan:

FEBRUARY 25th – Megan Beatie – Book Publicity and Marketing Agent

Megan Beatie is a veteran book publicist with more than two decades of experience. She has designed and executed publicity campaigns for a wide range of books, including literary and commercial fiction, mysteries & thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels, as well as nonfiction covering the topics of pop culture, film, entertainment, health, lifestyle, parenting, and relationships.

 

Some of the esteemed writers she has represented over the course of her career include Marcia Clark, Nicholas Meyer, Maria Goodavage, Dr. Nina Shapiro, John Lahr, Barry Eisler, Lee Goldberg, Leslie S. Klinger, Aimee Liu, Tembi Locke, and Attica Locke, among others.  She has a specialty in children’s book publicity and has worked on picture books, middle grade books and young adult books by authors including Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, Ibi Zoboi, Elana K. Arnold, Maureen Johnson, Melissa de la Cruz, Amber Smith, and Alexandra Monir.

The fifth generation of a farming family from Southern California’s Ventura County, Megan lives and works in Los Angeles.

Learn more about Megan by visiting her website: www.meganbeatie.com

Her Twitter handle is @MBeatie

This is a great opportunity to get to know the conference speakers before the conference. I hope you’ll join us for our conversation with Megan!

***Missed our chat with Megan? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

2020 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chat Season Begins! January Guest – Traci Sorell

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it an agent, editor, author, or illustrator. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our 2020 Twitter chat season starts on Tuesday, January 28th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


I’ve had the pleasure of meeting our first guest, Oklahoma Children’s author, Traci Sorell, and she is having an amazing debut year!

Her first picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, is such a delight and has won critical acclaim. She followed that up with a double book launch for two more amazing books and then traveled all over the country promoting her wonderful work. We are truly privileged to have her as our first guest.

Here’s an introduction to Traci:

JANUARY 28th – Traci Sorell – Children’s Author

Traci Sorell grew up immersed in stories. The ones her mother told at bedtime and the accounts of her ancestors’ lives mirrored her Cherokee heritage. Books she brought home from the library and selected during her school’s annual Reading is Fundamental (RIF) Day showed a world beyond her life in rural northeastern Oklahoma.

As an adult, Traci has lived in four U.S. time zones and abroad in Madrid, Spain. Her early writing reflected the Native American history, law, and policy focus of her educational and professional background.

Now she lives back inside the Cherokee Nation with her family. She started writing for young people when she wanted more contemporary fiction and nonfiction children’s books featuring Native Americans to share with her son. Traci’s first nonfiction picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA (Charlesbridge, 2018), features the universal spirit of gratitude as experienced through modern Cherokee culture across the four seasons. Her other works include: AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE (Kokila, 2019), INDIAN NO MORE with Charlene Willing McManis (Tu Books, 2019), and POWWOW DAY (Charlesbridge, 2020).

Traci’s debut picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: Otsaliheliga, was awarded the 2019 Sibert Medal Honor Award, the 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Award, the 2019 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, and was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist.

Learn more about Traci by visiting her website: https://www.tracisorell.com

Her Twitter handle is @tracisorell 

This first #okscbwichat of 2020 should be an exciting one! I hope you’ll join us for our conversation with Traci!

***Missed our chat with Traci? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

Book Review – SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

I adore everything about Laurie Halse Anderson, from her kickass attitude to her uncompromising writing to her posts about weird Scandinavian breakfasts when she’s on vacation and fully embracing the hygge philosophy.

I absolutely loved her book SPEAK, and this more personal, more intense follow up, SHOUT, I loved even more.

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Poetry

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

I almost cried just from reading the dedication page.

“for the survivors.”

This book may hit a little close to home.

But then, we are all survivors, right? We’ve all survived some kind of hell. Not all of us are brave enough to explore it so thoroughly in our writing and put it on display for others to see, to share, to learn from.

I had no idea before I started reading this book that SPEAK was based on Anderson’s own experience of being raped as a teen. This book, SHOUT, is a response to SPEAK, and it talks a lot about what she went through at the time of her assault and how it shaped her life afterwards.

This should give you an idea of how that went:

“…too many grown-ups tell kids to follow 

their dreams

like that’s going to get them somewhere

Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead

cuz when you figure out what’s eating you alive

you can slay it”

Fucking powerful.

Here’s another passage that stopped me in my tracks – probably because it  was way too relatable to me.

“…the overlap of my stories and my life

is a garden courtyard, sky-strung with stars

and scars where planets were torn

from their orbits

the courtyard where that stump grows

is surrounded by stone walls

three miles high, carved

with thousands of locked doors

and secrets that bloom open

in the moonlight”

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

But don’t get me wrong, this book is not all sadness and pain. There is definitely hope and strength and joy.

I absolutely loved this poem called “yes, please”. I think it should be distributed far and wide to all, especially those confused about consent.

yes, please

“yes”

sounds like heaven falling from the sky

yes smells like hot, hot

sweet apple pie

yes dances hip to hip, eye to eye

sober, yes

demands very sober, cuz yes shares this body

touch me

with permission only, yes–signed, sealed

deliverance from evil, no sin to be

tempted, but only with yes in the sheets

yes in the backseat, yes to a condom

yes, please go down on me until yes!

because yes is not swipe right, yes is hello

I want to get to know

you because maybe we

might yes, but the dance comes first, yes

the interplay of hey, flirt, hey, the pounding heart 

of questioning yeses and not, let’s go

slow revolyestionary notion

that behold, this body and soul

that yes welcomes yes embraces yes

that taste of someone who has proven

worthy

of your yes

is worth the questing, slow beckoning

interrogating, interesting, conversating

adventuring yes is ongoing 

yes enthusiastic 

yes informed

yes free-given

yes the truest test

of sex

the consent of yes is necessary

Every woman human should read this book.

Young, old, and in-between.

Period.

Thank you, Ms. Anderson for having the courage to Shout about this important issue and to share your story with us.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

 

Whitty Books – Say Hello to a New Indie

 

As an author, I love supporting independent bookstores. Just a few short years ago, there was quite a drought of indies here in the Tulsa area, and now I am happy to say quite the opposite is true!

I want to introduce you to one of the newest indies in our area, Whitty Books. This little jewel opened its doors in July, 2018, in the Kendall Whittier District – just around the corner from the nonprofit Circle Cinema theatre.

The collection found in Whitty Books focuses on small publishing houses, diverse titles, #ownvoices authors, and under-the-radar releases.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Victoria, when I attended the double book launch for fellow SCBWI OK author Traci Sorell. She said after a year of being open, she really has a feel for her customers and what they want. THAT’S one thing I love about an independent book store!

Oklahoma author Traci Sorell at Whitty Books during her book launch in September.
Traci reading from her gorgeous picture book AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, published by Kokila.

 

I loved all of the artwork on the walls in the store and the friendly atmosphere. Books titles were easy to browse on the shelves – nothing felt overcrowded or uncomfortable. Victoria was approachable and friendly.

They have several book clubs at Whitty Books, and Victoria actually invited us to attend one the very next day, for a book by Joy Harjo – our current Poet Laureate, who just so happens is from Oklahoma. ( I do love her writing! If you haven’t checked her out, she’s amazing.)

The book clubs are held at the store – about one a week – all with categories like Sci Fi/Fantasy, True Crime, Native American Lit, Truth and Reconciliation, and Women in Horror. Visit their Facebook page to see what’s on the calendar this month.

Victoria ringing up my purchases.

The next time you’re thinking about buying a book, BUY LOCAL! And why not stop in and check out Whitty Books? Tell Victoria I sent you!

 

Book Review – STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A.S. King

 

I am a huge fan of A.S. King and have been ever since I read her novel PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. The voice was so authentic and gut-wrenching. Part of me WAS Vera – at least, my teen-self floating close to the surface could really relate to the heavy shit Vera was going through. (Honestly, you should stop whatever you’re doing and go read this awesome book right now. Seriously. I will NOT be offended.)

Each book of hers that I have read has been just as stellar as the first. And did I mention that she always adds a dash of magical realism just to make things even more interesting?

STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

Published by: Penguin Young Readers Group

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism, Contemporary

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall.

After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.

Sarah’s crisis starts when her art teacher tells her that there is no such thing as an original idea and that’s it. She can no longer create. That “truth bomb” explodes her entire world and she starts spiraling. But is that really what happened? Is that really where the problem started?

Sarah starts bumping in to her past and future selves who have a few things to say about Sarah’s crisis. At first, she thinks maybe she’s hallucinating, but other people can see her other selves, too. Her other selves have memories she can’t remember and opinions that rub her the wrong way. Will she listen to them or continue to self-destruct? (Even though self-destruction isn’t an original idea.)

That’s the other thing I love about King’s books, they are deceptively deep. You’ll be seeing things from the perspective of a pagoda, learning how to build an invisible helicopter, sending passengers love as they fly overhead in airplanes, or having conversations with different versions of yourself then BAM! You realize she’s hit you across the brain with some heavy philosophical shit out of nowhere that makes you disoriented for days. (In a good way.) She tackles heavy issues in a fantastical way like no one else.

Trust me, once you read one of her books, you’ll want to read them all. You can start with this one. It’s amazing.

Learn more about A.S. King here.

 

Great Literary Dads – a TGNA Post

tgnalogorevampToday is my day to post over at The Great Noveling Adventure, so I took the opportunity to give thanks to some of the most inspiring dads in literature. I find that dads can often be under-appreciated in novels and take a back seat to moms many times, but as I had a fantastic dad who had to go it solo in the parenting department for most of my childhood, I want to give a shout-out to all the great dads and other father-figures in our lives who helped shape us from the nebulous blobs of mess we started from into the creative amazing people we became.

Thank you, Amazing Dads, everywhere!

If you know of some great stories with phenomenal dad characters or want to see which books I selected, hop on over to the Great Noveling Adventure blog and join the conversation.

SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap – Part One

Last weekend there was a convergence of the sublime in Oklahoma City as the SCBWI Oklahoma chapter held its annual Spring conference. Great company, great speakers, great weather. Ah! I had so much fun and my brain was crammed with so many good ideas, it took me all week to process everything. And as two of my manuscripts were chosen for top speaker picks at the very beginning of the day, I did have to struggle at times to stay focused on being present, to listen and take notes, instead of sprinting down the revision tunnel express.

First speaker of the day was the lovely Tricia Lawrence, an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia LawrenceI do apologize for missing out on most of Tricia’s talk as my face-to-face critiques were scheduled during this time. I did get to speak with Tricia during the weekend and I gleaned information about her talk from those who were able to hear her talk. First of all, I loved Tricia right from the start as we both share Pacific Northwest roots. I spent some of my formative years in her neck of the woods and I still hold a special place in my heart for that part of the country. (A friend of mine swears this is why I don’t sound like I’m from around here, even though I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost without interruption since I was about four.) Tricia talked at length about how her career path was guided by the need to stay on the West Coast. She spent years working as a freelance editor among other things before breaking into the agenting side of the business. Lucky for us, her stars aligned at the right moment when she came to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

During her talk, Tricia discussed how important it was to really get to know your characters before you start writing, to sit down and have therapy sessions with them. Put them on the couch and get them to spill their guts. She said they may not want to open up at first, they may much rather run outside and ride bikes or go play video games, so you have to keep digging. Ask them about their biggest fears, their most hidden secrets, what they want more than anything. Keep asking until they crack; until you know your characters inside and out. Hey, therapy isn’t easy, folks.

It was a very stimulating talk that got several writers thinking of ideas all weekend. At least, I’ve never heard so many people eager to go into therapy. As a big proponent of self-exploration, I love this idea. I plan on putting my main character through some serious couch time starting this week.

Tricia, like all of the speakers, mentioned some books that showed great examples of the ideas she wished to convey. All of the speakers mentioned how important reading was to the craft of being a writer. I know I say it all the time, but it never hurts to remind you guys that the professionals say it as well. You gotta READ!!!

Tricia’s book recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

Next to present was the spunky and adorable Colleen AF Venable, Art and Design Editor at MacMillan’s First Second Books and author in her own right with her fabulous GUINEA PIG, PET SHOP Colleen AF VenablePRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. When she made the conscious decision to have her main character – a female guinea pig named Sasspants – NOT be drawn with over exaggerated eyelashes or a big bow to show her gender, “Because guinea pigs don’t have giant eye lashes or wear bows in nature”, I wanted to bow down at her feet or jump up and scream, “YES!” (I’m a huge believer in realistic role models for girls, obviously.)

Colleen took us all to school on graphic novels and taught us about what they were and were not. Simply put, graphic novels are defined thusly:

Visual story-telling using sequential images.

Well, gee, that could be anything, you might say. I mean, I’ve seen some picture books that might even qualify by that definition. And you would be correct. Still, they are NOT all about tightly-clad radiated people with superpowers. (Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of graphic novels.) Here are some examples of graphics novels that may surprise you:

 

Monster EndPigeon

flotsam

The Arrival

 

 

 

 

 


Friends with Boys

RapunzelLaikaTo DanceLone Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

bk_floraLewis and clarkSmileGiants BewareHereville

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an enlightening talk and I must say, it made converts out of many of the participants. What struck me most was how many non-artists have written graphic novels: Shannon Hale, Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black, and don’t forget Stan Lee, (totally not an artist!). Rainbow Rowell, author of ELEANOR & PARK, has a graphic novel series in the works with First Second Books right now. How exciting is that?

Colleen discussed how you can add an extra layers of depth to your story with the visuals in graphic novels. Even by just manipulating the layout of the panels and how you use the spacing between the panels – the gutters – you can create completely different pacing styles to the story, similar to how traditional writers use sentence and paragraph structure. Fascinating. She suggested that if you were interested getting started in graphics novels, as a writer, you should read lots of plays and comics to help you get the flow of graphic novels. Script writing especially can aid in learning to think more visually about how you tell your story.

Colleen gave us a comprehensive reading list hand out (another perk of coming to such a fabulous conference), broken down by age groups, so I won’t list all of her recommendations here. Some of them are pictured above. I will list others she mentioned by name.

Colleen’s book recommendations: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, BENNY AND PENNY by Geoffrey Hayes, SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD by Bryan Lee O’Malley, THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci, OWLY by Andy Runton, BABY MOUSE by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon, ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Learn more about Colleen here.

Follow Colleen on Twitter.

Andrew HarwellAndrew Harwell, Editor with HarperCollins came back to Oklahoma for a second time after doing such an amazing job for us at our Novel Revision Retreat back in 2012, and was christened an honorary Oklahoman. (That’s just how it goes, if you come back, we claim you as one of our own. Our list of these lucky conference alumni is steadily growing – Laurent Linn, Krista Moreno, Alexandra Penfold, all honorary Oklahomans.)

Andrew wanted to talk about something new this go around, so he delved into how the family dynamics in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing help to create richer characters. Strong central families are common in all the stories he is drawn to. He said that when he gives an elevator pitch for a book, he realized that he always begins by discussing the relationships first. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, whether it’s a fantasy, mystery, paranormal or whatever, you have to get the reader to care about the characters first, right? In order to do that that we have to get to know the character, and what better way to do that than by using the family. After all, Andrew asked us to think about this:

You are most yourself around your family.

Who else sees us at our most vulnerable? When we are exhausted, pushed to the limits, cramped in a minivan for hours on a road trip to Aunt Bonnies’s with nothing to do but listen to each other breathe and your brothers won’t stop farting or touching your side of the seat? Oh yeah. You really get to know a person in those circumstances.

There are all kinds of families. You have to ask yourself what your character’s family history is before you begin your story. This is your character’s beginning, after all. No matter how much of this history you decide to show, YOU as the writer need to know it. Knowing whether or not your MC is friends with everyone in his family (or not) or whether your MC is supported or misunderstood at home will determine how s/he interacts with the world at large. It will also add more emotional depth to your story.

Andrew showed examples from many different books to highlight the different ways that family dynamics can create amazing stories. Whether you use these dynamics to create empathy, as in THE HUNGER GAMES (whose heart didn’t break when Katniss volunteered to go into the death match in her sister’s place?) or to create conflict as in FANGIRL (what does it mean when your twin sister doesn’t want to be your roommate?) or to create a villain in the family as in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Does Lyra’s mother love her or is she evil through and through?) bringing family dynamics into play can be the best thing for your character and your story.

Andrew’s book recommendations: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, PANIC by Lauren Oliver, IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, CASE FILE 13 by J. Scott Savage, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz, FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, THE JUPITER PIRATES HUNT FOR THE HYDRA by Jason Fry, REALITY BOY by A.S. King, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux, ALMOST SUPER by Marion Jensen, UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryne Erskine, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder, ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Can you believe how much sage wisdom was imparted in this morning session alone?

It knocked my socks off.

After an entertaining lunch where I hosted a table with Tricia Lawrence, who was ever so gracious with her precious time and insights. I met some new writers, one was attending her very first SCBWI conference and was so enthusiastic about everything, it was delightful to see. There were so many writers there with teaching backgrounds at my table; I may have been the only one without a teaching degree. After lunch, and a brief (and humorous) commercial for our Fall Retreat, we returned for our remaining three speakers.

Stay tuned for PART TWO to hear what they had to bestow on our eager minds…

Book Review – Wintergirls

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  – body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

March #writemotivation Bring on the Spring!

writemotivation_header1

Why did mention that I was feeling about 65% back to normal  – ALMOST FREAKING HEALTHY!!! – on my last #writemotivation check in? It must’ve sounded too much like a brag or something because the gods of health decided to slap me with one more wave of the sickness. Of the dreaded sinus infection variety.

Blech!

Oh yeah, but they couldn’t let me be completely done with that lingering cough that kept me from ever getting a good night’s sleep. You know, the one that started at the beginning of February? So the was fun. Brain exploding with sinus pain while still coughing until I wanted to take a power drill to my head and open up some breathing holes. I am so done with coughing, sneezing, aching, etc. I think I’ve eaten my own body weight in cough drops this year already. I loathe the taste of tea and honey after the oceans I’ve consumed. I’ve blown through so many boxes of tissues I should replant a small forest on the next Earth Day to decrease my carbon footprint.

Godfather Gif

This week, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stating that I’m over the worst of everything. I may have sacrificed a pomegranate in the light of a full moon while singing a medley of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus tunes. I think that appeased the gods of health. Either that, or they were afraid I’d sing again. Either way, my voice has finally returned to normal and I haven’t had to take any cold medication for several days. No more Emma Stone voice, but I’m grateful that things can start returning to normal.

This month always brings so much more promise. March, don’t tell February, but I like you more. Our SCBWI OK spring conference is at the end of the month and it’s always fantastic. This year it’s in Oklahoma City so I get to run away from home for the weekend and spend it with my favorite writing friends. It’ll be a smorgasbord of literary goodness and I can’t wait to gorge myself.

In the midst of all this healing and fruit sacrificing, I have finally been able to get back to the work of writing and related things. Let’s take a look at this month’s goals to see the damage progress made thus far.

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. The smallest of starts, but progress has begun. I am so excited about this project, I can’t even tell you. The only hint I’ll give this early is that it will deal with gender politics and the riot grrrl movement.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Two is better than zero but far from my goal. Need to ramp this up next week with more submissions sent out.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) Three books finished already and another one halfway done. Looks like IMG_20140315_221040there’s one goal I will actually make. What’s really surprising is I just finished reading my first YA book of the year, and it was phenomenal. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a little more special because it was my copy I had autographed in LA this past summer. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and not just because she write so damn well.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. This was the most painful goal to accomplish. After not exercising for over a month, I did manage  to go for a walk three times. My pace was horribly slow, and I felt like death after the first two times, but goal accomplished. yay. (hack, pant, moan.) I have no idea when I’ll even attempt to get back on the elliptical.

How are your goals coming along this month?

Do you have any exciting spring break/writing conference plans in your immediate future?

My Favorite Reads of 2013

Ah, the books of 2013! Wasn’t it a great year? Okay, so not all the books I read actually came out last year, but still the choices were overwhelmingly wonderful. I have a giant To Be Read (TBR) pile from books I accumulated throughout the year. I read close to 65 books in 2013, which was only about ten shy of my reading goal. My list was more diverse this year with more middle grade, historical fiction, and adult books, and even some fantastic picture books thrown in, although the bulk of my reading remained firmly in the young adult category.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order:

EleanorPark_cover2-300x450Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Young Adult Contemporary
(although set in 1986, which seems like borderline historical fiction to me)

My daughter picked this book up at one of our weekend trips to the bookstore. Then she left it untouched in her TBR pile. I’d see it every time I went into her room and eventually it planted a seed. “Read me.” When I started seeing so much chatter all over the Twitterverse about Rowell’s current novel FANGIRL, I mentally put it on my list of books I wanted to read. Then my brain finally clicked. I already had one of her books in the house. I moved it to the front of my own TBR pile and started reading it next. I then promptly fell in love. Ms. Rowell has such an unusual style of writing, of describing things, yet it’s completely accessible and you totally get what she’s saying. Having lived for a time in stark circumstances and knowing how this reflects on the teenage existence, I could really relate to some aspects of Eleanor’s life. Some a little too closely. Her characters aren’t perfect or beautiful by conventional standards – all without apology, which I loved – and yet, their story is still divine. After I tore through this book, I told my daughter she had to read this next. She did and she loved it just as much as I did.

And guess what I got for my birthday? FANGIRL. Can’t wait to read it! I know I will be reading everything Rainbow Rowell publishes from now on.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.

Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.

Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.

Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.

book_messengerI am the Messenger by Markus Zusak – Young Adult Contemporary

Another book choice influenced by my daughter. I read this book at her insistence because she loved this book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoiling it for me. She especially wanted to discuss the ending so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not just because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this book still managed to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey. I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

mexwb_tp_cvrMexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña – Young Adult Realistic

I heard Matt speak at the SCBWI La Summer conference this year and he was one of the few this year that made me want to stretch myself and be a better writer. Truly inspiring. I met him at the autograph party and he told me he’d be coming to Tulsa to speak in September. I saw him then, too. When I reminded him at that event, he couldn’t believe I came. He said he’d told three people that day in LA about the September talk in Tulsa and I was the only one that showed. That shook him up so much, he mislabeled the book he was supposed to be signing to my daughter. He tried to salvage it, but it was obviously messed up. I thought it was hilarious, but he described it as a train wreck and apologized profusely. So endearing. (FYI, my daughter loved it.)

He’s such a down-to-earth guy and a fantastic writer. I loved this book for its honesty and its heart and its spot-on voice. De la Peña is also a huge fan of A.S. King – not to mention friends with her. (So jealous!) He predicts that King will soon be much more appreciated for her amazing talent. I whole-heartedly agree.  For all of these things, I recommend de la Peña as an outstanding author in his own right.

Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

cnv paperback USCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Young Adult Historical Fiction

There was so much positive buzz flying around about this book that I had to pick it up. Young girl pilots and spies in World War II? Yes, please. I’m all for the empowerment of our young women and showing them that they can doing anything. I have fond childhood memories of wanting to be like Amelia Earhart. And what girl doesn’t secretly want to be James Bond instead of a girl who’s just a pawn that Bond uses?

I remember thinking the minute I finished this book, “Maybe I’m too stupid to write something this good.” It was that fantastic. I can’t think of a better compliment. I look forward to reading the companion book, ROSE UNDER FIRE, this year.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

HarrysFinalCoverSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles – Middle Grade Realistic

I had not read a book by  Jo Knowles before. I follow her on Twitter, so I vowed this year that I would.

WOW.

There are books that have sad moments, there are books that have funny moments, and then there are books that touch you so deeply, that ring so true they stay with you forever. This book is all of these in one. I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Even after I set it down, I was crying. I have never had a book move me like that before. The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable. I ached for this family, It was never overdone, just real. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Jo Knowles here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

invisible-monsters-us-trade-3Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk – Adult Contemporary

A friend of my daughter’s handed this book to me and said this was her favorite author. She checked in on me from time to time to see if I’d read it yet and then to see what part I was reading. When I finally read the first page, I had to send her a message. It was something like, “Holy shit!” My mind was blown in the first page and it didn’t change much during the entire ride. That’s what this story was, a wild, time-jumping ride. Palahniuk, who also wrote FIGHT CLUB, if that gives you any sense of what level we’re working on, broke so many rules of writing it was unbelievable. But unlike someone like, say, oh, I don’t know, Philip Roth for instance, who does it in a pompous look-what-I-can-do kind of way, Palahniuk actually does it with purpose and skill. He twists the plot in on itself so many times, you’d think it collapse on itself, but instead, it connects to the very beginning forming a nicely flowing loop. This book isn’t for everyone and there are explicit discussions of sex that might put some readers off, but I for one loved the book completely and did not find the discussions over the top at all, but realistic glimpses of the characters’ worlds. I can see why this young woman has read this book many times. I think you’d need to in order to glean the subtleties out of it. This wasn’t your ordinary road-trip with transsexual drug addicts and disfigured ex-models in need of a healthy dose of self-discovery, after all.

One more time, please. This time with a little less face.

Invisible Monsters initially unnamed narrator was once a beautiful fashion model. But only to draw the attention of her parents away from her brother, Shane. The narrator has it all until the fateful day of the accident where the bottom half of her face gets completely blown off leaving her with nothing more than top teeth and a tongue that hangs out of the gaping wound.

Now unable to speak and constantly wiping drool from her mouth, the narrator still gets attention, but only because she is a hideous monster. So here comes Brandy Alexander, the queen of overly coifed hair and heavily painted face. Only one surgery away from being a “real” woman, Brandy takes the narrator under her awkwardly large wing and equips her with the things she needs to be beautiful again. At least as beautiful as she can be with only half a face.

When Brandy isn’t giving our narrator hats with face veils, new clothes, “speech” lessons, and completely new identities, she is finding houses for sale. Not for purchase, but for prescription drugs to steal.

There are drugs, wounds, blood, fire, and new identities. Palahniuk delivers a dose of jilted beauty queens, messed up transsexuals, and twists on top of twists on top of twists. Invisible Monsters will only leave you wanting. Wanting what, I’m not sure. But you’ll want something. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.

Follow Chuck on Twitter here.

toprow-03-onOkay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Middle Grade Historical Fiction

This is the companion book to THE WEDNESDAY WARS. The book that made me an instant fan of Mr. Schmidt’s. If that hadn’t done it, his outstanding keynote speech at last year’s SCBWI LA conference would have cinched it for me. He is the kind of writer I want to be. So much heart. Talent and heart. Ugh! I could go on gush about him for days. The way he writes – like a young kid with limited emotional expression thinks and talks – man! So natural it hurts. You can feel the emotions being stuffed back down so the character doesn’t show the hurt. Freaking brilliant. LOVE IT!!! If you’re looking for a great middle grade book for boys to read, try this one.

As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

You can read the first chapter and watch an interview of the author on his website.

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sunAsk the Passengers by A.S. King – Young Adult Contemporary/Magical Realism

I am in platonic forever love with A.S. King. She has surpassed herself with her latest novel which begs the question, if I give all of my love away to strangers and leave none for someone – something real – does that mean no one and nothing can hurt me? Does that mean I don’t have to define myself or answer the uncomfortable questions I have about myself? And don’t forget that King always adds her own little cosmic/kismet twist to her stories that blend seamlessly into the real.

READ THIS BOOK!

Let it expand your mind and your heart. Your teen self (hell, your adult self, even) will thank you for it.

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

gone-girl-book-cover-homeGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Adult Thriller/Suspense

I’d heard so many great things about this book. Krista Marino, an editor I heard speak at the SCBWI LA Conference  recommended it as an example of an adult novel with great tension. She wasn’t kidding. I loved how Flynn slowly revealed who the main characters were and who they became throughout the story –  the misleading bits that had you later rethinking what you knew. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there. I did lose sleep a few nights, staying up to read just one more chapter, and then another, and then another…

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.

Like Gillian’s Facebook page here.

Perks of a WallflowerPerks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Young Adult Realistic (also should be historical fiction to some degree)

I had several people recommend this book to me before I picked it up. Two of them thought it was reminiscent of how I wrote – or at least there was a similarity in the voice. After reading the book, I can only say that I am truly flattered by the comparison. Before reading the book, I’d seen the trailer for the movie and I was intrigued. The story did not disappoint. I loved the 90s setting and the letter format. I never thought I was missing anything vital from the scenes, even though everything was being told this way. I had to see the movie after reading the book – this couldn’t have been easy to translate into film, but it must have been fun to try. The movie was nothing short of nostalgic for me and had me reminiscing back to my high school/college days. It was such a delight, and one of the few film adaptations that I’ve seen that was on equal footing with the text. And so well acted. Loved it.

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.

since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture.

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. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Follow Stephen on Twitter here.

I’m in agony because there are so many great books I still have to share that must be left off the list. All in all it was an excellent year in books. My TBR pile has only continued to grow this year as has my reading goals. I hope to share more fantastic books with you throughout this new year. There’s the sequel to Libba Bray’s Diviner’s series LAIR OF DREAMS, Laurie Halse Anderson release her new novel this month, entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY (Can’t wait for that one – and what a title!) REALITY BOY, a new A.S. King book I have yet to read (and another one due out this fall called GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE – zomg!!!), and I still need to catch up on Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. Oh! And Jim butcher is finally releasing his next Harry Dresden book, SKIN GAME, this summer. And will there be a new John Green book released? Hmm. That would be awesome. I haven’t even mentioned the most exciting bit – several friends have books releasing this year. I will no doubt drag them over here to the blog for intensive interviews right before their books launch so you can join in the celebrations.

What were your favorite reads from 2013? What are you looking forward to reading this year?