April 2008

The randomly chosen winner of Luisa Plaja’s book Split By A Kiss is Elaina! Elaina, please email Luisa at chicklish@googlemail.com. Thanks to all of you who entered!

This week’s guest blogger is Tara Altebrando, the author of What Happens Here and The Pursuit of Happiness. Tara has written about how she got into writing young adult books. Thanks to Tara for this awesome post, and thanks to all of you for reading! Without further ado:

Hey, Jocelyn. Thanks for having me! I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk a little bit about how I came to write for teens. Where better than Teen Book Review to do that, right?

Many moons ago now, I had a sort of permanent freelance job at a big publishing company, writing flap copy for books of the grown-up variety. I was pretty sure it was the best, most reliable freelance gig to ever exist. But then at the end of the year one year, the big boss said they’d run out of money in the budget to pay me and I was cut loose for the months of November and December. I was told I’d be hired back in January, but still…Merrrrry Christmas!

It would’ve been nice to just take off and spend a month on the Italian Riviera or carousing in Paris, but I needed money, so I started to put out some feelers. And as my father always says, “When God closes a door he opens a window.” Someone was going on maternity leave and a proofreader/copyeditor was needed in the production department of HarperCollins Children books.

So a photo badge was made and my commute changed by a few stops and there I was, spending my days reading proofs of children’s books and all sorts of marketing materials, too. One day, a young adult novel came across my desk and I read it with bated breath. It was a marvelous book, the very sort of book that I hoped The Pursuit of Happiness would be…only I hadn’t written it yet. I’d published a novel for grown-ups, and was supposed to be writing my second one, but suddenly, when I got to the last page of those proofs of that fantastic YA book, I thought, “THIS is what I should be doing.” Writing YA! I’d already written the first chapter of Pursuit. What was I WAITING for?

So now that Pursuit has been out in the world for a few years and my new YA book, What Happens Here, is being released, it’s sort of neat to start to contemplate an actual career in young adult fiction. There is, I think, a great fear among writers of being a one-trick pony so it’s nice to know that I’ve officially got two tricks. And I hope that readers will find in What Happens Here everything they liked about Pursuit-uh, if they did, that is-but with some new stuff, too. Like a bit of glitz and adventure! I’ve moved the action from the colonial village of Pursuit to Vegas, and even better…to Europe!

Oh, and that fantastic YA book that got me to thinking? It was The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson. Which is sort of funny because back then her name meant nothing to me. So little, in fact, that I completely forgot it. And once I started to get to know the YA world, her name kept coming up and we were even at a bunch of the same parties and I kept thinking, “You really need to read some Maureen Johnson,” not even realizing that I already had! And that it had made all the difference!

So big thanks to my ex big boss for giving me a most unexpected Christmas gift that year, to the woman at Harper for having a baby, and to Ms. Johnson for unwittingly handing me the key to my own future.

Oh, and I can’t forget. We’re giving a copy of What Happens Here away! Comment below to enter!

Several people had recommended I read this book, but for some reason I’d never gotten around to it until this week. And I so wish I had picked it up sooner! I’m now on the second in the series.

When Mary Faber’s parents and sister all die one after the other, she is left with no one and nothing, and so falls into the life of a street urchin in London near the turn of the century (1800 or so). She grows tired of it all, though, of the death and danger and starvation, and when the leader of her little gang of orphans dies, Mary dresses in his clothes, adopts the name “Jack,” and sets off to make her own way in the world.

Dressed as a boy, she is able to get work on a ship, as a ship’s boy, and is clever enough to keep up the Deception, because she enjoys life at sea and the companionship of the other boys and some of the older sailors, and, really, could a street urchin say no to three square meals and a place to sleep at night?

And so begins the life of Bloody Jack, ship’s boy, adventurer, semi-reluctant pirate hunter, and world traveller.

Bloody Jack is, I believe, L.A. Meyer‘s first novel, and the first in this series, which currently stands at five books with another on the way this fall. It is quite a captivating tale! There’s adventure and romance and interesting history and so much wonderfulness! I enjoyed the characters, the story itself, everything, really. I loved Jacky’s very distinctive voice, and Jacky herself was just so fantastic and bold and entertaining. L.A. Meyer is a talented author, and I expect to be devouring this entire series within a very short period of time. It’d be shorter if I didn’t keep getting distracted by things like studying for exams (which start May 5 and which explain my lack of recent posting). Anyway, I can’t recommend this book enough, so go and get a copy today!

Tara Altebrando is the author of the fantastic YA titles What Happens Here and The Pursuit of Happiness, as well as adult novels under the name of Tara McCarthy. If you’ve not read her books, I really, really suggest you do so, and, if you can’t get to the bookstore at the moment, or, you’re already a fan, you can content yourself for the moment with reading her great interview question answers (and, soon, a guest blog).

There’s a lot of traveling in What Happens Here. Have you traveled a lot? What’s one of your most memorable trips, and why?

I would say that I’ve traveled a fair amount. Not compared to some people I know but I’ve been to a bunch of European countries a bunch of times and to Central America and then places like Canada and Mexico and a ton of U.S. states.

I’d have to put a week in Hawaii on the most memorable list. It’s seriously like going to another planet, the landscape is just so unreal. My husband and I splurged on a convertible rental and a helicopter ride and a sunset cruise and even massages on the beach…it was incredible. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as relaxed (as an adult, anyway). It’s a truly transporting place.

Where did you get your inspiration for writing What Happens Here?

If I answer this question too honestly, I give away a big part of the plot of the book. Suffice it to say that the summer before high school, my family took a trip to Europe (my first). When we came back, something bad had happened; actually it had happened before we left but no one told me until after the fact. I modified that experience-a lot-and gave it to the character of Chloe.

You have written two teen novels. You also write for adults under the name Tara McCarthy. What is the same and different about writing for different audiences?

My first response was going to be “the age of the main characters” but in my most recent McCarthy book, “Wouldn’t Miss It for the World,” one of the main characters is a sixteen-year-old who is on a trip to Belize for her rock star brother’s destination wedding. And in “Love Will Tear Us Apart” two of the main characters are seventeen-year-old Siamese twin pop stars. So hmmmn. What IS the difference? I do think the McCarthy books deal with slightly more “adult” concerns. What’s the same about them all is that they’re all stories I wanted to tell and tried very hard to tell well. I learn a lot with each book and bring all of it into the next project regardless of which audience it’s going to be marketed to.

What jobs have you had besides writing? If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?

Well, I used to dress up as a farm girl at a colonial village like Betsy in The Pursuit of Happiness. I also used to work at the Museum of Television and Radio, cataloging TV shows (meaning I had to watch them, then write summaries). But most of the jobs I’ve had have been related to writing in some way. I used to be a music critic for a pop culture magazine in Ireland; I’ve written flap copy for a number of publishing houses; I used to write press materials for a small record label. The astonishing thing is that I’ve lived my entire adult life without ever having a full time job!

If I weren’t a writer, I think I’d like to be an event planner.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what book would you have to have with you?

Right now I would have to say Don Delillo’s “Underworld.” Because I really really want to read it and haven’t had the time. My daughter has taken to crawling over to the book and pulling it off the shelf as if to taunt me. Surely on a deserted island, I could finally get to it.

Setting is a strong part of What Happens Here. Why did you choose to use the two settings of Europe and Las Vegas for the background of the story? Did you get to do any fun travelling research while writing the book?

I knew I wanted to send a teenager to Europe with her family. When I took that first trip with my family, it was a hugely eye-opening event for me and I feel especially grateful to my mother for being so determined to take us there. Even though I don’t think it would become obvious for a bunch of years, I think it significantly altered my view of the world and my place in it. So I wanted to explore all of that through a character.

Somewhere along the way I started to wonder what it would be like if you lived in Las Vegas and saw these casinos modeled after cities like New York and Paris but had never been to the actual places. I started playing around with the settings as sort of mirrors of each other and found that I liked the way it worked.
I took a research trip to Vegas at one point but was newly pregnant and not feeling so hot. So it wasn’t that fun. And right before I wrote the book I’d taken a big trip to Italy with my husband. So a lot of the Venice stuff in the book was very fresh in my mind. I also spent a lot of time looking at pictures of my post-eighth grade trip with my family, and a school trip to Europe I took when I was a senior in high school. Those were some bad hair days but it was neat to try to relive those early trips.

Chloe’s older sister, Zoe, dreams of joining the Cirque de Soleil. This is a rather offbeat ambition, and I was wondering where that idea came from? Are you a performer?

The last time I was in Las Vegas, I went to see Ka. I was already working on What Happens Here and struggling a little bit with the character of Zoe. She was just sort of…there. After seeing Ka, I knew that if I’d seen it as a teenager living in Vegas I would have wanted to be in it so I decided to turn Zoe into an aspiring circus performer.

I’m not a performer now, no. As a girl, I was really into dance and took lessons for years, and then I played the clarinet in concert bands for years, and was also the captain of a color guard in a competitive marching band in high school. So I’ve definitely got some showmanship in my blood. It just has no outlet in my adult life.

What are you writing now?

I am writing a new YA that is TOP SECRET. Mostly because it’s a bit different from my first two and I want to see it through to the end before I show it to anybody. I hope to be telling you and everyone about it in the not too distant future.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

“Don’t you think it’s a little obnoxious to be all ‘top secret’ about your next book?”

Um, yes. Probably.

Thanks so much, Tara!

Today’s guest blogger is Luisa Plaja, author of Split By A Kiss. She’s written a fabulous post about YA books in the US and the UK, and I know you all will really enjoy it!

Travelling Trousers and Pants on Fire: When YA Titles Cross The Ocean

In suburban London, England, my friends and I grew up thinking we understood what it was to be an American teenager. Actually, I’d go further than that: we thought we were American teenagers. We had Stars and Stripes pens and NFL folders for our coursework. We watched John Hughes films and 90210, we read Sweet Valley High. We knew all about ‘lunch ladies’, ‘principals’, ‘proms’ and ‘graduating’ from high school in a big ceremony, as contrasted with the British experience of dinnerladies (or just vending machines), head teachers, and taking exams before slinking off quietly for the summer, waiting for a scrappy printout of our results to arrive in the post in August and certainly not a whiff of any mortarboards thrown in the air.

British teens of today might not have NFL emblazoned on their iPod skins, but many are just as well-versed in the ways of schools across the pond as I was. They watch films and television programmes set there, they devour books by American authors and they don’t need a glossary to understand that when Meg Cabot’s J.P. says he hates ‘corn’, he means ‘sweetcorn’. (Or at least, I think he does. Someone correct me if I’m wrong!)

When I lived in the United States, I discovered that the same does not hold true the other way round. The teenagers I met in the States did not know very much about life in Britain. Well, why would they? They don’t watch hours of primetime telly programmes (er, television shows) set in Britain, or read masses of contemporary British teen fiction.

But some British fiction has made it to the USA. I’ve heard that Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson comedy series, soon to be released as a film (er, movie), has brought the term ‘snogging’ to the USA, as well as creating a generation of Brit-literate American teens. I believe the books are published with a glossary, but then so are the British versions. Nicolson-ese needs as much translation in Billy Shakespeare land as it does in Hamburger-a-go-go land.

I’ve always thought that you can tell a lot about a culture from their teen book titles. Jaclyn Moriarty (who is Australian, but that’s a whole other post) made me think of this. The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie (USA) is called Becoming Bindy Mackenzie in the UK, and The Year of Secret Assignments (USA) is Finding Cassie Crazy in the UK. I used to think this meant that the US audience demands more dramatic, thriller-ish titles while Brits prefer to ponder their identity and sanity. But perhaps not. After all, you only have to look at Louise Rennison titles to see a certain randomness: And That’s When It Fell Off In My Hand is called Away Laughing on a Fast Camel in the USA, and the USA’s On The Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God is a translation of Britain’s It’s OK, I’m Wearing Really Big Knickers.

Well, I can see that ‘knickers’ and ‘pants’ might not cross the cultural divide, and I notice that Meg Cabot’s Pants on Fire became Tommy Sullivan is a Freak in the UK. But, confusingly, Sue Limb’s Girl 16: Pants on Fire is Girl Going on 17: Pants on Fire in the USA, so perhaps it’s not the pants that are at issue. After all, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants gained an ‘l’ in the UK but did not change its ‘pants’ to ‘trousers’, perhaps because ‘travelling trousers’ sounds faintly ridiculous, though possibly not as hilarious as the idea of travelling knickers. And, back to Louise Rennison, the latest Georgia book has been translated from Luuurve is a Many Trousered Thing to the plainer Love is a Many Trousered Thing, but fully retains its trousers. And both nations are awaiting the imminent release of the same title: Stop in the Name of Pants!

Putting pants, knickers and trousers aside, maybe the truth is that title changes don’t say very much about a culture after all. I recently heard that the prizewinning British novel Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nicholls will be issued in Dutch with a title that translates as “By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead”. I immediately scratched my chin wisely and thought, “Hmm, clearly a cultural difference in attitude to death.” But perhaps not. It seems that the second title just sounds better in Dutch.

If you have any theories on this matter, or know of any interesting UK/US book title changes, I’d love to hear them!

And if you’d like to read a novel about a British girl in a US high school, you could check out Split by a Kiss, available on Amazon UK, or here with free delivery to Hamburger-a-go-go land.

Plus I’m giving away one copy to a Teen Book Review reader. Please leave a comment below for a chance to win! You have until midnight EDT on Wednesday, April 30 to enter.

Emily and Philip met at a performance of the Broadway show Aurora, and they’ve been best friends, and completely obsessed with the show, ever since. With loans from Emily’s grandmother, they’ve gone secretly to New York every Saturday since, to see the show, with its glorious story and music and Marlena Ortiz, the star of the show. Real life, when compared with the world of the theatre they inhabit every Saturday, is dull and consists almost entirely of obsessing over Broadway shows, reminiscing about past performances of Aurora, and looking forward to their Saturday in the city.

Emily and Philip are, therefore, devastated when they hear a new rumor: that Aurora is about to close. They’ve got to find out the truth! Another Broadway mystery that they, along with every other Aurora fan, would like to clear up? The identity of Aurora’s writer(s)! Nobody knows who wrote the show, or why.

In My Life: The Musical, Emily and Philip deal with problems in their families, figuring out their friendship and their own identities, and, of course, the possibility that their favorite show may close. It’s a hilarious, heartfelt novel about friendship, theatre, and, well, life, that is as wonderful as is to be expected from the fabulous Maryrose Wood. I laughed out loud when reading this smart, funny book that everyone will be able to relate to, whether or not you’re a Broadway fan, because we have all cared that much, irrationally, about something, be it a musical or a band or a book or a television show, and, as silly as we feel sometimes, it’s a pretty awesome feeling, too! I’m not sure this book will quite inspire JK-Rowling-type fandom, and, as many authors whose books are hailed as the “next Harry Potter,” no one can ever match that phenomenon–but it is a really fantastic and highly enjoyable book that I can’t recommend enough, especially to theatre fans!

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is the author of Reaching for Sun, which I read for the Cybils middle grade fiction panel last year, and other books which I very much want to read. She is a talented writer, a wonderful poet, and a great storyteller, so we’re very lucky to have her here today for an interview. Without further ado:

Reaching For Sun is novel in verse. What do you particularly like and what is particularly challenging about writing in that form?

Oh, I LOVE poetry. It is my most natural voice, my first voice. I have dozens of journals that go back to fourth grade and much of it was written in this form. Not every story should be told in this way though- it should feel justified, I think, by something in the character. Free verse is challenging because you must say so much with so few words. A few select images must stand up for so many left unsaid.

What inspired you to write about a main character with a disability?

I was inspired by the students I taught who had disabilities and who faced middle school (a nightmare without a disability, if you ask me) with such grace.

Josie is physically different from the other kids because of her cerebral palsy, but there are lots of kids who are alienated from their peers for one reason or another. Do you have any advice for them?

Hold On (like that wonderful U2 song) It gets BETTER, I promise.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read and read widely. Eat books like buttered popcorn. Then, write for yourself first. Write the stories you yourself want to read, wish you could find but don’t set publication as your goal. Set pleasing yourself as your goal.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes. Always.

What are you writing now?

A poetry collection but it’s still hatching so I don’t want to crush the egg.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

OHHHH, I love this question! Katherine Patterson, Linda Sue Park, Phillip Pullman, Sandra Cisneros, Valerie Worth, Kristine O’Connell George, Kate DiCamillo, Libba Bray, Sarah Dessen, Helen Frost, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Nelson, Tobin Anderson, John Green, Ralph Fletcher, etc. etc.

Reaching For Sun won the middle grade Schneider Family Book Award, and is on the shortlist for the 2007 Middle Grade Fiction category for the Cybils. Congratulations! Is your reading influenced by book awards, and is there one you particularly like?

THANKS! I’m thrilled that SUN won the Schneider and I’m honored to have that sticker on my book! Yes, my reading is influenced by awards- the Newbery and ALA winners and I love the Cybils, Teacher’s Choice picks and the NBA for teens, especially.

I really appreciate being on your blog, Jocelyn. Thanks for having me!

Thank you so much for doing this, Tracie!

Before you pick this book up, I’ve got to warn you: it is heartbreaking. There is beauty and hope there, too, but there is so much sadness in this story that begins with a car accident in which five people die on the Jellicoe Road. Three survive, though, and one saves them and the bodies of their loved ones. One more is added to their number, and those five friends are everything to each other.

Over two decades later, Taylor Markham is a student at the Jellicoe School. She becomes the leader of her school in the territory wars between the Jellicoe School students, the Townies, and the Cadets, who come in for six weeks from the city. The three factions fight and negotiate and bargain for territory, with an extensive set of rules and lots of tradition and history. That history is personal, too, when it comes to the relationship between Taylor and Jonah Griggs, the Cadets’ leader…

Read the rest of my review on Chicklish

This book will be released in the USA with the title “Jellicoe Road”, to be published by HarperTeen in September 2008.

Check out my review of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca on Curled Up With A Good Kid’s Book.

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