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.

Michael Grant‘s Gone reminded me of an old favorite from about fourth grade, The Girl Who Owned A City, because this, too, is a strange new world free of adults. In Grant’s novel, everyone aged fourteen and above in the town of Perdido Beach (which, aptly, as you will later see, means Lost Beach) vanishes suddenly, just, poof, dropping whatever they were doing, their suddenly abandoned cars crashing. All of the kids are left alone, and there is almost immediate chaos.

Somehow, after taking control in a dangerous situation, Sam becomes a leader of sorts, though he is challenged by local bullies. Sam, Astrid, Little Pete, Quinn, and Edilio work together to survive inside what they discover is a ten-mile radius around the nuclear power plant that is bounded by a barrier they cannot see any end to, see through, or even touch without feeling quite a bit of pain.

That’s not the only strange thing, though. There are talking coyotes, seagulls with talons, and snakes with wings. Mutants–but not the only mutants around. Some of the kids may not be exactly normal themselves…

After a few days, the rich, troubled kids from Coates, a boarding school outside of town, come in and take control of the situation. At first, Sam might be glad to be relieved of the pressure of being the leader, but something is seriously wrong with the situation, and by the time he comes to realize it, it might be too late to save himself and the rest of the kids–especially if, as the others who turned fourteen have done, he vanishes on his birthday, which is a scant few days away.

Gone is a huge book, over 550 pages, but the time passed so quickly while I was reading it, and I just couldn’t put it down! Last night, taking a break from my history homework, I picked it up, intending to read a chapter or two and then get my brain back on track. Instead, I read two hundred pages. That’s how absolutely engrossing this book is! And as for the writing? The book is so fast-paced, and I don’t even need to add this qualifier to that statement: “for a 550 page book that takes place over the course of only a handful of days,” even though it’s true. I didn’t even notice the writing, except for a few mistakes that I’m sure will be corrected in the finished book (I read an ARC), so it flowed well.

For the most part, I quite enjoyed the characters, although they were a bit simplified for my taste–psychotic bully, leader who can do very little wrong, saintly girl caring for small children (although she did have issues of her own), etc. I also thought that the characters sometimes acted older than they were supposed to be (thirteen, for most of the main characters), but I guess that being stuck in that situation would make them grow up fast, out of necessity. Still, though, it bothered me a couple of times. And those cover models don’t look like thirteen-year-olds, either, do they?

Now, this is not a literary masterpiece or anything, but it’s certainly worth reading, especially for fans of apocalyptic sci-fi, or Lord of the Flies. Which, actually, I hated, but they both have groups of kids fending for themselves. Also, heads are smashed in both, and there are warring factions. Anyway, I certainly enjoyed the characters in this book, and the premise, but really, the best part was how it was just a pleasure to read, absent of any brain-rotting quality. Not to say that it was a difficult book, but it was for reasonably intelligent readers, even if they are reluctant to pick up a giant book, as many are, and actually helped me once on FreeRice (where my highest vocab level is now a 47!).

The ending disappointed me, though. Certainly, there was some semblance of an ending (that is, it didn’t just randomly stop), but absolutely no questions were answered, and the central dilemma of being stuck in the FAYZ was in no way resolved. I would imagine there is a sequel on the way, in which case this is annoying but forgivable, especially if the sequel is good, but if there is no sequel it is an absolute disaster. However, unless something dreadful happens to Michael Grant or HarperCollins, there’s got to be a sequel, with the way this ended. And I’ll definitely be reading it!

*Edits for those who don’t read the comments: This will be a six-part series, coming out every summer, so look forward to that! The characters’ ages have been changed to fourteen, so my comments about them acting too old are negated (even though it’s just one year, I feel like it makes a big difference).

Okay, so, yeah, Juno is a movie, not a book. But it’s a fantastic movie, and, well, a fantastic movie and a fantastic book have a lot in common. Great stories can be found on both screens and pages! This is my justification for talking about a movie on a book blog, but, in all honesty, I think it’s a movie that a lot of fans of YA books will love. As you probably know unless you live under a rock, Juno is a pregnant sixteen-year-old. She’s funny and smart and, like any sixteen-year-old, just working on figuring out the world and her place in it. I love the whole cast of characters here. The script is amazing, and the awesome actors really bring it to life. I love Ellen Page as Juno. And another YA connection: Michael Cera is Nick in the movie of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a wonderful book written by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Anyway, the next paragraph contains spoilers. Just a warning, although most of you have probably already seen it. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? It’s out on DVD now!

The issue I wanted to bring up, though, is the fact that Juno is sixteen years old and pregnant, but this is not a “lesson” movie. To me, this was a positive. To a friend of mine (who is very religious, Southern, and socially conservative), this was a negative. He said it didn’t teach the horror of an unwanted pregnancy as a teenager. And, yes, Juno didn’t die or anything. She turned out okay, her life turned out okay, and her relationship turned out okay. She gave the baby to a woman who really wanted a baby. Not that being a pregnant sixteen-year-old was a picnic for her; far from it. But she got through it okay, and, to me, that is the best kind of lesson.

The message I got out of Juno, if I were to search for one? That everything will be okay, no matter how much your life may suck, you can get through it and be stronger for it. I don’t think that’s a message anyone would disagree with, and my friend conceded my point there. My question for you all: in a book or movie for teens, what does having a good “message” mean to you? What importance do you place on it, positive or negative? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts, because I, personally, am not a big fan of message-heavy stories, but apparently some people (like my friend) are, and in fact put the whole value of a story on whether or not it teaches the right message (he hadn’t even seen the movie).

So, I planned to do guest blogs every Wednesday, but, in my excitement, I announced this and posted the first one before having anyone lined up for the second! So today, sadly, there is no guest blogger. I now have many wonderful authors signed up, and in the next few weeks you will be hearing from fantastic people like Paula Yoo and Lisa Ann Sandell and Tara Altebrando! Also, any authors out there whose books I have read (which you know for this year because of the list, and from previous years because of the reviews) who are interested in a guest blog, email me. But for today, in lieu of a guest blog, I have links to entertaining and interesting blog posts from authors on their own blogs! Enjoy.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes has posted about Starbursts, and whether or not they really have different flavors. I do not eat Starbursts because they have gelatin in them, but this is still an interesting experiment.

Meg Cabot posted on her blog about some of the incredibly strange foreign covers of her books, which have been translated into many languages.

Maureen Johnson tells many hilarious stories, such as these involving cars, breakdancing injuries, and Catholic school.

Here’s the first in Stephanie Kuehnert’s series of five posts about the regulars at a bar where she worked.

Today, I have a real treat for you all. An interview with the incredibly funny, fantastic, and talented author Maureen Johnson (not the real estate agent Maureen Johnson). Maureen is the author of such wonderful books as Suite Scarlett, Girl At Sea, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Bermudez Triangle, and others. She also keeps a hilarious blog. In short, she’s awesome, and she had great answers to my interview questions, so here they are!

Some of your books have travel in them (such as 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Girl at Sea), and you go to England quite a bit. What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been? What is your most memorable trip or moment traveling?

I think one of the best trips I ever took, and probably the one that most fueled 13 Little Blue Envelopes, was the summer I lived in London with the person who is now my agent (known as Daphne Unfeasible on my blog). That entire summer was an event. The memories come in flashes: hiding under a bridge to escape a cast member of Riverdance, taking a 5 AM boat to France after a night spent throwing Pringles into the Thames, breaking in to our own apartment through the window over the trash cans because we couldn’t get the door open . . .

You often write in the company of many other fantastic YA authors, like Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray (and you’re sometimes lucky enough to get sneak peeks at the books fans would give an arm and a leg–I say that figuratively, I hope–to read early!). Do you think that having this circle of writer friends has influenced your own writing?

The YA community is unbelievably supportive. And it really is a community–the friendships are real and strong. You get a little crazy and wall-eyed when you’re in the middle of writing a book. It’s a fantastic experience, but you go through it alone. So it’s been a huge help to have people to turn to at three in the morning, when your brain has gone all wobbly and you have covered yourself in cryptic post-it notes and you would seriously considering EATING your manuscript rather than letting anyone see it.

It’s also just an exciting time to be in YA. There are a lot of exceptional writers around. I feel very, very lucky. And getting the books early? Yeah. That IS excellent. I won’t deny it.

Also, Scott asked me if I wanted to go on a zeppelin ride with him and Justine in Germany. I mean, how often do you get offers like that?

What’s your writing process like?

I start with a rough sketch of what I want to do, which usually gets tossed once the book is sort of on its feet and toddling around a little. After that, I start tracking the plot by means of a series of notes or cards, which I used to put on a wall or floor. I use Scrivener now, which has a built-in bulletin-board feature with little notecards. This is perfect for me! I can bring my little wall of notes with me wherever I go!

When I start writing, I don’t go in order–I write sections from all over the story, which I sew together bit by bit. I move things freely throughout the whole drafting process. Because of all of this, it’s completely impossible to read one of my drafts until its done, just because it’s in so many pieces.

Suite Scarlett is going to be the first of your books to have a sequel! Why did you decide to write a second book about Scarlett and not any of your other characters?

Scarlett showed up in my head with several books worth of story. It’s never quite happened that way before. This may be because she didn’t show up alone. She arrived with three siblings–Spencer, Lola, and Marlene–all three of whom have a lot going on. (Spencer alone could fill a book.) There’s also Mrs. Amberson, and the hotel itself. I just had a lot of story, right from the start.

Also, Suite Scarlett (and the Subsequent Scarletts) are based, not exactly on real experience, but on a kinda/sorta version of my real experience. I like the scrappy New York of actors trying to get a break, broke writers, insane survival jobs, the mix of rich and poor. It’s also a magical New York, where you can see things just before they go supernova. Anything can happen. That’s where the awesome is.

If one of your books (you pick) were to be made into a movie, who would you have in mind to play your characters?

I really have no idea. I think the characters are so set in my head that I have a hard time snapping them loose and dropping them on to an actor or actress–it’s not a mental exercise I do. HOWEVER, if a movie is ever in the works, I will certainly bend my mind to the problem.

If you were stuck on a deserted island and could bring one book, what would it be?

How to Get Off a Deserted Island for Dummies.

You have many now-amusing stories about your time in Catholic school (although some of them may have been less amusing at the time). Would you share one with us that you haven’t told on your (often outrageously hilarious) blog before?

To get into my high school, you had to take a test, and if you did well enough on the test, they called you in for an interview. I got called in for one, and I showed up at the front step of the school for the first time on a bitterly cold and dark January night. I was thirteen years old. I had never spoken to a nun before. I wasn’t Catholic. I was generally a little freaked out by the whole process, but was going through with it anyway.

So there I was, on the front step of the school. The school is half convent, half classroom building. The convent part is housed in an old mansion. This was the special front door, the one you never use again until you graduate. When you are an actual student, you use this industrial door in the bunker-like annex, where the classrooms are. But I didn’t know that then. I went in through the fancy door, which opened on to a marble hallway, lit by candles. The throughway doors were all open, so I got a clear view straight in to the chapel, which was ornate, frescoed, and full of statues of tortured saints. I turned to speak to the nun who was checking us in, and I noticed that above her there was a massive oil painting. The painting was of a group of nuns standing in a line . . . in front of a mass grave . . . being mowed down by Nazis with machine guns. Really.

I felt myself starting to wobble. I gave my information, got my folder, was assigned by student escort, and walked a few steps deeper into the gloom. Then I turned again to look in through an open door, to a completely unlit room. In the shadows, I saw nuns in various habits lingering in the dark, as if ready to spring. This room, I would discover soon after, was the “stuffed nun room”–a small museum about the order, full of mannequins in various states of repair. But that night, it was just pure, unadulterated terror. Pretty much the last thing you expect to see as you bumble through life is a dark room full of nun mannequins in action poses. It was all I could not to scream.

I went to my interview white as a sheet, with a “please don’t kill me” look on my face. I am pretty sure that the docile state I was in helped quite a lot to secure my admission. That was the start of high school for me.

You live in New York City–a dream of small-town teenagers everywhere (like myself)–and your latest novel, Suite Scarlett, is set there. What’s your favorite place in New York or your favorite part of living there?

I’ve always liked cities. When we would drive to see my grandmother, who lived in a not-very-nice section of Philadelphia, I would stare out the car window in absolute wonder, looking at the graffiti and the sneakers hanging from the telephone wires . . . and I would say to my parents, “I want to live here! In the city! It’s pretty!” And my parents, who intentionally left the city because of these kinds of things, said, “Of course, small, dim child of ours. Whatever you say.” Then they took me to New York for my seventh birthday, and I was done. Done. I knew where I wanted to live.

I don’t have a favorite part of New York. I love the city as a whole. I never get tired of living here. And I decided it was about time I wrote a book that featured it.

You have a well-known love of zombies. What’s your favorite book or movie with zombies in it?

Without question, Shaun of the Dead. Shaun teaches us both to fear and love our shambling, undead friends.

I hear you have a book coming out that is a collaboration with John Green and Lauren Myracle. What can you tell us about it? How was it to work with two other great authors?

I do! That’s Let It Snow, which will be coming out in (I think) September. The book is a collection of three novellas, each one taking place in the same town, over the same sequence of days. My story opens the book on the 24th, John takes over early on the 25th, and Lauren ties it all up on the 26th. The stories are all about separate groups of people trying to make it through one monster winter storm, but we worked together to cross the stories. So you’ll see all of our characters walking around through the whole book, in the town we worked together to make.

We had a lot of fun creating the problems in this story–the crashes, the swarms of rabid cheerleaders, the miniature animals. A tiny detail in one story may be the thing that sets off a disaster in another. The reader will know what’s going all over town.

John I know well, and I got to know Lauren while working on the book. Having done this book, I can now see why multi-author books are so much fun. I laughed a lot writing this book with them.

How is the second Scarlett book going?

Very well so far! There are some big surprises in store. It’s a little pointless to even hint at these, since the first book is just coming out right now. So I have to sit on all this information. I even have gossip on book three . . . but that’s REALLY useless right now.

Thanks so much, Maureen!

I loved the first two books in this fabulous series, Secret Society Girl and Under The Rose, and also quite enjoyed Rites of Spring (Break), though I’m not sure that it’s quite as good as the first two (but my love of Secret Society Girl in particular would be difficult to match!). In this book, Amy will be spending some of her spring break on her secret society’s private island, along with some of the other past and present members of Rose & Grave. Many of the delightful and colorful cast of characters from the previous two novels return in this installment, including my favorites, Poe and Malcolm. Amy is having some relationship troubles, with Brandon, an ex who currently has a girlfriend but is spending suspicious amounts of time with Amy, and with a new fling as well. She is also being subjected to vicious pranks by a rival secret society, dealing with intra-society dynamics, the disgrace of a Rose & Grave patriarch, possible invaders on the island, and everything else that goes with being a member of one of the most untraditional clubs of one of the most notorious secret societies at Eli University.

I loved every second of the time I spent reading this book! Diana Peterfreund has a way with words that will have you spending hours devouring this novel when you only meant to read a chapter or two. I love all of the interesting characters present in this book, although there were some who I wished were a little more present, and, really, Rites of Spring (Break) has so much awesomeness in it that you can’t help but love the book. There’s romance, secret society rivalry, mysteries, a vicious prankster, a private island, conspiracy theorists–basically, everything you need for a delightfully fun pageturner. I love Amy’s voice, too, funny and smart and witty and just awesome. If you’re a fan of the first two books, you’ve got to read this one, and if you haven’t read those, then what are you waiting for? Go get them, now! Rites of Spring (Break) will be out in June.

Suzanne needs some extra cash, so she gets a job at a hair salon every Saturday. It’s nothing exciting, but nothing too difficult, either, and she doesn’t think it’s too much of a price to pay for some pocket money… until she finds out who the junior stylist is.

Karenna Sheldon used to absolutely terrorize Suzanne when they went to school together. For years, Karenna and her friends, two years older than Suzanne, were unbelievably cruel to the younger girl for absolutely no reason. And now, Suzanne is going to be spending her Saturdays with Karenna. Her friends don’t know that it’s a problem; Suzanne never told anyone about the bullying that was going on. So what’s she to do? Quit her job for no apparent reason? Or can she finally stand up for herself?

Read the rest of my review at Chicklish.

Reading British books is fun! Sometimes I do not quite understand all of the slang, but I quite enjoy the British-isms, and if you are an American I strongly suggest you find some British books of your own to read. Everything is more entertaining when it has fun British words! And wonderful British spelling! Etcetera. I also suggest you visit England. It’s a wonderful place, well, the bit of it I’ve seen, at least. Anyway, about the books, I suppose the reverse might hold true for British readers, but I cannot speak from experience there because I am American. That is all.

Princess Ben is a departure from Catherine Gilbert Murdock‘s previous books, Dairy Queen and its sequel The Off Season, and it is quite a wonderful book! In this book, the author proves herself to be versatile as well as extraordinarily talented.

Princess Benevolence of Montagne is no ordinary princess. She has lived her life free of the constraints of things such as court etiquette, residing outside the castle proper with her parents who let her run wild, playing outdoors with girls from the village, and devouring fairy tales and her mother’s cooking.

Ben’s life is happy and uneventful, for the most part, until one fateful, dreadful day. Both Ben’s mother and the king have been killed, by assassins from the rival kingdom of Drachensbett, it is believed, and her father has vanished on the icy slopes of Ancienne, the mysterious and impassable peak that rises over the valley that is the kingdom of Montagne.

This tragedy leaves Ben under the control of Queen Sophia, at least until Ben reaches her majority and can properly take her place as ruler of Montagne. Sophia moves Ben into the castle and controls her every movement, not even letting her eat properly, in an attempt to turn the princess’s rather rotund figure into a more slender one. Ben is forced to learn embroidery, horsemanship, music, dance–all sorts of things at which she fails miserable. However, when she is locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben does attempt to master one new skill: magic. She finds a secret passageway to a secret room at the top of the tower, a room which provides the tools she needs to become a sorceress of sorts. Perhaps those legends of wizards back when Montagne first came to be had a basis in fact, and Ben, as a descendant of theirs, is taking the tradition back up again in secret.

With her complete lack of grace or skill with a needle, but with a secret magical education, can Princess Ben free herself and save her kingdom from destruction or defeat?

I quite enjoyed this captivating new fairy tale, with its little references to the tales we know and love that made me grin. See if you can spot them! Ben is a wonderful princess, one who needs no prince to rescue her. I loved her even more because she didn’t care about her weight, and realized how many things in the world are more important than appearance. My pet peeve, though? When book characters claim not to care about weight and then lose some weight all the same. Sadly, Princess Ben does not escape this. That is a minor flaw, though, and overall I really loved this book. There is romance (although that is a bit hurried for my taste), adventure, magic, and an independent heroine who takes charge of her own life. Ben really grows as a character, and that was an aspect of the book that I really enjoyed. Princess Ben is written in a style that really fits the story–a bit old-fashioned and fantastical, as well as witty and intelligent. Catherine Murdock really has a way with words, and Ben’s distinct voice makes this story even more of a pleasure to read. Ben is not the only complex, interesting character, though; there were many characters I enjoyed, and the relationships between them were well-done as well. In short, Princess Ben is an extraordinarily well-written novel with all of the elements that make for an enchanting story I couldn’t put down!

Kate’s life is pretty miserable. Her best friend has dumped her. Her father quit his job to sell infomercial vitamins in the mall. Her family, as a result, is having some serious money troubles that can only be resolved by her grandmother coming to stay. Of course, Grandma being around just makes everything more tense and more stressful. Kate is also lusting after a boy who has done nothing but torment her since they met in ninth grade. Will also has a bit of a reputation around school for hooking up with every girl he sees. Kate likes Will, but she doesn’t want to, and when he starts to act like he might be interested, she certainly doesn’t want to be just another name on the long, long list of girls that Will has been with…does she?

I loved Elizabeth Scott‘s other two books, bloom and Stealing Heaven, but Perfect You just might be my favorite! It’s a close call as to which is the best, but Perfect You is in no way disappointing, and in many ways awesome. Kate is an awesome main character, but I loved all of the characters, and the complicated relationships they had with each other. Perfect You is a fresh, funny, and honest story that is everything readers will expect from this talented writer, and more! Honestly, I can’t recommend highly enough this fantastic story about family, romance, friendship, love, life, and growing up.

Next Page »