July #writemotivation Check In Week 1

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Another month, another chance to work on those writing goals and cheer on my fellow participants of #writemotivation. If you missed the sign up, you can still follow along with the hashtag on Twitter any time you need some encouragement.

For me, I’ve cleared the decks of all distraction and I’m keeping it simple this month. Less stress, more focus.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Here are my goals for July:

1. Work on requested project until completed! Work in progress, full steam ahead. Yay, progress!

2. Plan out blog posts for month and publish weekly. Posts are planned out and on track. 🙂saveyou_bg

3. Read & review at least two books this month – catch up on TBR Challenge. I’ve started my first TBR Challenge book of the month, I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña. This is his self-proclaimed “sad book”, which should be quite different than MEXICAN WHITEBOY. I really enjoyed that book. So far, I’m hooked on this one, sadness and all. 

So how is your month progressing? Any goals for your writing?

A Discussion About Diversity – What Comes Next After the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign?

H2cWxknS_400x400There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s literature brought on by the wonderful campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. In the beginning of May, there was an onslaught on all forms of social media where people came together and proclaimed the need for diverse books.

BRIEF HISTORY:

Just in case you missed what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is all about, this campaign began after a group of writers reacted to the announcement that BEA’s BookCon would consist of exactly zero diversity with 30 white writers as guests. The dam broke and the internet exploded in outrage. The campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks was launched. Of course, this lack of cultural diversity, lack of sexual diversity, lack of diversity of any kind in the publishing industry on the whole has been going on for years, and many have voiced their concern at different times, but nothing has ever sparked quite the inferno of action like this movement. As of this week, the BEA decided to respond to the voice of the people and add a panel on diversity to their line up entitled: “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks”. The panel will include five key people from the WNDB campaign – Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed, Marieke Nijkamp, Lamar Giles, and Mike Jung – and three best-selling authors well-known for tackling diversity head-in in their own writing – Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, and Grace Lin.

It’s so fantastic that the conversation finally caught on in a big way. The idea now is to keep the momentum going.

How can we do this?

SUPPORT:

We can put our money where our mouth is and BUY these kind of books. Also consider supporting the small publishing houses that already publish diverse books, like Lee & Low , Just Us Books, Arte Público with its Piñata Books for Children, and Cinco Puntos Press, just to name a few.

The world isn’t made up of one kind of people. And I personally don’t like reading only about people that are just like me. I want to learn about new and different cultures, different lands, different planets, and have new experiences by meeting a wide range of characters when I read.  I know I am not alone in this.

RECOMMEND:

We can talk about great books dealing with diverse characters and/or written by diverse writers. Review them, recommend them; get them into the hands of hungry readers. Let others know what’s out there. Here are just a few of the fabulous books I’ve read recently that I think are worth the read:

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

mexwb_tp_cvr

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.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sun

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.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.

What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.

In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying.

Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.

Follow Holly on Twitter here.

Follow Holly on Facebook here.

CREATE:

As a writer, how can you help? Think about your own novels. How diverse are they?

Do you feel uneasy writing outside your own comfort zone? Are you worried that writing about a person from a different culture other than your own will be frowned upon?  If so, here’s a fantastic blog post by Lisa Yee you should consider entitled A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing. She starts out discussing how she herself has written outside her race multiple times. She states that she is a writer who is Asian, not an Asian writer. And that there is a difference. I beg you to read this post. It is fantastic.

A PARTING THOUGHT:

I know a little something about diversity. My son has autism. He’s 19 years-old, but many ways he’s still very much younger. He has make-believe friends that live on Sesame Street and in Disney movies and he has conversations with them all the time. I’m free to join in at my leisure. I see how people react to my son’s “diversity” every time we go out in public. People know he’s different as soon as they interact with him or see him make strange hand gestures. For my son’s part, he doesn’t notice that other people are different. He’s very friendly and likes to say “Hello, sir” or “Hello, ma’am” or “Hello, officer” (be it security guard or police officer) to everyone we see. He will repeat this, sometimes, until he gets an answer. On those occasions, I answer. Sometimes as the people, sometimes as an imaginary friend. My son doesn’t grasp the concept of people being rude.

With my son’s sensory issues and problems communicating, these trips aren’t always easy. Sometimes they are beyond stressful and embarrassing, but we don’t give up or retreat into self-proclaimed exile. We’ve learned that the more we go out, the more our neighbors get to know our son and the more they begin to include him as part of their community. And the better quality of life he leads. In fact, there are some places, where people greet my son by name the minute we walk in the door. If I go in alone, I don’t get the same star treatment. They are still friendly, but not as enthusiastic as when my son lights up the place.

I love that there are books with characters that are essentially doing this same hard work. Showing the humanity of these kids while telling a great story. Taking the stigma out of a confusing disorder and allowing their “neuro-typical” peers a way to experience what life is like for them. This is the road to understanding. Knowledge. Sharing. This is why we need diverse books.

 

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?

Let’s Get Motivated – September #writemotivation week 3 (or is it 4?)

I may have lost some time from losing consciousness when coughing my brains out and then during the drug induced haze that followed, but I’m very much back in top form as we head toward the end of the month. I love it when a deadline approaches; it means it’s time to really get to work.

Here are my  #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I did a fair job with this goal. I visited my #writemovitation friends’ blogs and hopped on Twitter from time to time, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I worked revising on my middle grade novel this week and it is going very well. Some of the major changes I’ve had to make turned out great and actually increased the tension and added to the mystery element perfectly. I should have made those changes so much earlier.

Why are we so resistant to the changes that are the best for us? Hmmm.

For extra credit, I made some headway on critiquing my friend’s manuscript that I’ve put off forever. I hope to have that done by the end of the month, even though that wasn’t an official goal. It’s just way overdue.
3. Keep on freaking exercising. I actually picked this up again and did well this week. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

4. Read, read, read. I’m almost done with my second book for the week. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy. It also fits into Banned Book mexwb_tp_cvrWeek as it was challenged by an Arizona school for its racial issues, which I find so ironic. This book is about struggling to find your way in the world when your biracial. I didn’t see it as racist in the least. It’s a very important book for a huge section of the population; kids who can identify with the main character and understand the struggle of straddling two worlds and know what it means to feel the guilt of striving for success, of trying for a better life while leaving your parents and relatives behind. It’s also about baseball. It’s a heavy book.

I had the pleasure of seeing Matt speak again this week here in Tulsa. One of the things I took away from this talk was how a single book can change a person’s life. He talked about how the right book at the right time can do that; change lives. For him, it was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. A professor at college gave it to him because she thought he would get something out of it. He did. It was the first time he really connected with the characters of a story. He thought his life, his childhood, had been awful.  This story opened his eyes. This book changed his course and he became a writer.

Then, while he was in his MFA program, his dad was laid off from his job at the San Diego zoo, where he’d worked ever since dropping out of school when Matt was born. It was a devastating blow to his sense of identity and he was depressed for a long time. One day, when Matt was visiting, he asked what Matt was reading. It was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His dad asked him if he could read it. Matt had never seen his father read a book in his life, but he said of course. His dad read it and then asked for more books. Eventually, his dad started checking out his own books from the library, then secretly got his GED, went to college and is now a third grade teacher.

Wow. I love that story.

Books change lives. That’s why I’m a writer.

We’re taking a break from #writemotivation in October and will return in November, just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll probably have one more update for September. Meanwhile, some exciting things are coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned!

Exercising Patience – A Few Words from Matt de la Pena

scbwi2013

I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

-Resources-Image-1Matt de la penaH175W175A1

And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

First Impressions from the LA Conference

scbwi2013I love being a part of the SCBWI tribe.

And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.

As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.

I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.

Here are some of my favorites from this year:

David Weisner  “Plastics”

Richard Peck  “Surveillance”

Jay Asher  “Subtlety”

Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.

Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)

Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”

Ari Lewin “Bacon”

Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.

After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)

LiveImage.ashxAfter several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)

I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:

“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”

I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.

“Books are proof humans can do magic.”

Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.

I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.

I think I see Jerry's bald head somewhere in the back.
I think I see Jerry’s bald head somewhere in the back.

I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.

The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?
Jerry, The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open...
Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open…
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

I may have gone overboard with the books.

too many books

(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)

I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.

As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).

Here are my #writemotivation goals for August:

1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me. I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.

I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!