May 2008

Today’s guest blogger is the incredibly awesome Maryrose Wood! She is the author of Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, How I Found the Perfect Dress, Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall In Love, and My Life: The Musical.  And today’s winner, of an audiobook of Liz Gallagher’s The Opposite of Invisible, is book~adorer. Please email me with your mailing address to claim your prize! And now, without further ado, today’s fantastic guest blog.

What makes a “perfect dress” perfect?

Who hasn’t dreamed of finding the “perfect” dress? A dress that makes you feel like the most confident, irresistible creature on the face of the earth. A dress that is pretty, but not too frilly or little-girly. Sexy, yet sophisticated. Stunning, yet affordable.

Does such an item exist? I wish I knew! Personally I’ve always found it a struggle to choose clothes for special occasions. Sometimes I get my act together, go shopping in advance and have an outfit ready and waiting for me in the closet.

Then, on the day of the big event, I put it on and it mysteriously looks all wrong. Or I realize I don’t have the right shoes to go with it — or the right bra! This is not a good discovery to make when you have to be someplace in an hour.

One time I bought a chic little black number specifically to wear to a memorial service. When I put it on, I realized it showed WAY too much cleavage for the occasion. Why hadn’t that been evident in the dressing room at Loehmann’s? I’m not sure, but at the last minute I had to scramble to find something else. (Fortunately, the cleavage dress was just the thing for a film premiere a month later!)

One solution would be to always bring someone you trust when you go shopping. Someone with the twenty-twenty vision to tell you, “I’m seeing way too much ta-ta!” before you head to the cashier! One of my favorite scenes in HOW I FOUND THE PERFECT DRESS is the one where Morgan and her former best friend, now somewhat-on-the-outs pal Sarah go dress shopping together. Sarah thinks they’re searching for dresses for the junior prom, while Morgan’s searching for a clue that will help her undo the enchantment that’s threatening to turn her true love Colin into a permanently exhausted wreck. As fate (or the faeries) would have it, her search takes her straight to the mall.

Before Morgan finds the “perfect dress,” she rediscovers what it means to have a real “BFF”-style best friend like Sarah. A friend who roots for you harder than you root for yourself. One who knows all your excuses and isn’t afraid to call you on them. Best of all, she knows how to make you laugh until it hurts, even when you’re dealing with major problems, like figuring out how to take a nasty spell off the guy you love!

When Morgan does find a magically “perfect” dress, it’s everything a girl could wish for. “It’s the nicest dress in the store,” the bewildered clerk tells her, “but it didn’t fit anyone until you walked in.” It’s even on sale!

But looking like a goddess in a knock-out dress doesn’t solve any of Morgan’s problems. In fact, the “perfect” dress she buys isn’t even the dress she ends up wearing to her junior prom. An unforeseen disaster means she has to come up with a new outfit at the last minute (gosh, who does that remind you of?). But she ends up having a pretty “perfect” evening anyway, albeit in a totally unexpected way.

What would your “perfect dress” look like? How would it make you feel? Would it be one that made you look a different size or shape than you think you really are? Older, maybe? More fashion-forward? More elegant — or more edgy?

Whatever quality you imagine a “perfect” dress could reveal about you, don’t forget: it’s already in your power to bring all those wonderful, complex and contradictory aspects of yourself forward so the world can see them and celebrate the many facets of who you really are. That’s true no matter what you’re wearing.

But when you do find a knock-out dress, learn from my mistakes! Make sure you have the right shoes (and bra!) to go with it, okay?

Thanks to Jocelyn for inviting me to guest blog! Don’t forget, one random commenter gets a signed copy of HOW I FOUND THE PERFECT DRESS. So tell me what’s in your closets, people! Tell me your best shopping-with-your-BFF stories! Your worst fashion disaster stories! What was your most perfect outfit ever, and why?



I’m really, really behind on my blog reading, so I’m sure I’ve missed some great stuff, but I have found some stuff recently that I thought might be of interest to you guys.

First of all, here’s an interesting post about spoilers (specifically about the Twilight series and the lack of ARCs for the third and fourth books).

This is absolutely disgusting: a picture book to explain to kids why mommy needs plastic surgery to be beautiful.

And while Jordyn’s definition of fluff is different from mine if she’s including The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, what she has to say is still something I agree with, and it’s interesting and thought-provoking even if you disagree.

And here’s a review that made me really want to read this book, though I’d not heard of it before. As this is the purpose of a review, kudos to Story Siren on great reviewing skills.

Check out this awesome contest where you can win an autographed copy of Gaby Triana’s latest novel, a cute tote bag, and a Starubucks gift card!

Find your pen name! Link via various other blogs. I couldn’t really pick one because I have lots of favorite authors and lots of favorite characters, but the first one that I came up with was Rachel Abby Stargirl. Which is stupid and if I were to choose a pen name in reality that would not be it.

Justine Larbalestier’s post on YA books is awesome.

And that’s it for the moment.

Twelve Long Months could have had a better title. And a better cover. But the book itself was great! It’s about Molly, who has a huge crush on her lab partner, Mark Dahl. He’s not interested, though, in that way. This is understandably upsetting to Molly, but she’s still thrilled to find out that they’re both moving to the New York City area after graduation, Molly to attend Columbia, and Mark just to move, though he’s staying with relatives and painting houses to make that dream a reality.

Molly is ecstatic when Mark suggests they hang out in NYC, as they will be each other’s only links to home in Minnesota. She is, however, really far from ecstatic when she discovers what has been Mark’s long-hidden secret which he has successfully kept from everyone back home. There’s a big reason that Mark never fell for her, and it’s nothing against her personally. Mark, shockingly, is gay. Which I don’t think is a big spoiler because anyone who reads the flap copy will know. Molly’s more than a little clueless, though, and is devastated when she finds out. It doesn’t change her feelings, though, as much as she’d like them to change, and she still promises to be a friend to Mark. That relationship is more than a little complicated, though, by Molly’s inability to fall out of love with him.

I really enjoyed Brian Malloy’s first young adult novel. Molly is a realistic, relatable protagonist, struggling to adjust to a new city that’s a big change after her life in Minnesota, and life as a college student, all while mending a broken heart and trying to be a friend to the boy she thought she was destined to be with. Molly’s just trying to figure out her life and her independence. I was entertained by the whole cast of characters, though they didn’t have much depth. I wasn’t really bothered by it while reading, though, as caught up as I was by Molly’s story. Still, the secondary characters could definitely have used some work. Brian Malloy’s writing was not noticeable, which meant it flowed nicely, not painful to read or anything, but wasn’t remarkable. This review is making it sound like I thought this book was mediocre, which I guess maybe on a purely objective level it was, but it really drew me in, and I loved it. I loved the subject, I loved Molly, I loved that it was set in New York City. I’ve got to recommend this book, even though I’m not sure why!

I’d not read one of Brian James’s novels before Thief, somehow. I remember seeing them and thinking they looked interesting, but I’ve never read his other books. And after reading this one, I will have to quickly change that!

Thief is about Elizabeth, known mostly as Kid, a foster child living in New York City with a woman called Sandra, who makes her foster children earn their keep–by stealing. Elizabeth has been trained by her older foster sister, Alexi, as a pickpocket, and that’s how she spends her days. She doesn’t mind too much, because what better option is there? And this way, she’s with Alexi, and the girls have come to care a lot for each other. This way, she’s not alone. So even when she doesn’t like the way she has to live, she doesn’t question it, either.

That begins to change, however, when Sandra takes in a third foster child, this time a boy, named Dune. Dune is new to the system, and doesn’t understand the way Elizabeth’s life works. He wants to go back to a normal life, not be a pickpocket. Elizabeth takes him under her wing, training him so that Sandra will be happy and let him stay, and helping him out. She starts to care for him–but Alexi doesn’t like that. Alexi, though in her own way she does love her, is manipulative and controlling of Elizabeth. She tries to make sure that Dune and Elizabeth don’t get too close, because Elizabeth is hers, in her mind. It becomes clear to Elizabeth that she will have to make some tough choices to find her way out of a difficult situation, but can she do it, and will she do it right?

That might not be the best summary, but this is a really fantastic book. Brian James is a brilliant writer. I loved the premise of this book, and the almost-at-the-edge-of-reality writing style, if that makes any sense. It’s not really surreal like, say, Francesca Lia Block, by any means, but it’s not quite as immediate and, well, normal, as a lot of other books. It’s a lot more interesting than that. Thief is an amazing story, gritty and real and honest and, in its own way, beautiful. Thief is a bold, smart, engaging, and fascinating novel that I can’t recommend highly enough.

As promised, this week is extra-special because we have a second guest blogger, Elizabeth Scott! Elizabeth is the author of three fantastic books, Bloom, Perfect You, and Stealing Heaven (there she is on the left with Perfect You). One lucky commenter on today’s post will win a signed copy of Stealing Heaven! This contest closes a week from today. Don’t forget to enter our other current contest, for an audiobook of The Opposite of Invisible, and stay tuned for more contests, including an extra-awesome contest sometime next week. And now, on to our guest blogger:

I’m writing this on May 2nd, and I have to tell you, I’m a little nervous. It’s my first ever “guest blog” and I feel as I should have something profound to say about writing. But you know, I don’t. I still have so much to learn about how to write–not just the mechanics of it, though I’m quite certain I’ll never know enough about grammar, but about the heart and soul of stories themselves.

And that, I think, is the beauty of writing. It’s always surprising you. You start a story, you think you know where it’s going–maybe you’ve even taken notes–and all of a sudden, BOOM! Your characters aren’t telling your story anymore–they’re telling *their* story, and that moment…it’s one of the most amazing feelings. I mean, how often do you get to peak into someone else’s life, to see what their heart truly desires?

It’s also terrifying, because a lot of writing is about learning to let go, to not force what you want and to just wait and see what happens. And it can be hard, and whenever you think you’re done, it almost always turns out that you’ve just gotten started.

That’s what keeps me writing, though. I love the rush of an idea, I love the moment when I sit down and start to type. I love it when the people I’m writing about do what they want, and let me come along for the ride.

This week’s guest blogger is Liz Gallagher! Thanks to Liz for doing this. I also have another special treat for you all this week–I’ll have another guest blog on Friday! So stay tuned for a double feature this week. Anyway, Liz has written a fantastic post which I have for you below, and one lucky random commenter will win an audio book of Liz’s fantastic book The Opposite of Invisible. Please be as awesome as last week’s commenters and weigh in on the very interesting questions Liz raises in her blog post! Last week’s winner of a signed copy of Song of the Sparrow is Megan. Megan, please email me your mailing address at And now, on to Liz’s blog post:

When I think about my work as a young adult author–a genre that I fell in love with as an adult–I keep coming back to the same food for thought. I call it food for thought because it’s not a thesis, an assertion, a lesson, or anything else that I’m sure about; it’s a question. Here it is: What makes a young adult book different from an adult book about a teenager? And are YA books only for teens?

To me, a novel is a novel. I think. There are books being pubbed as YA that I definitely think every human should read – MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing, for example, or Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Those books are on the literary end of the YA spectrum, though, which raises another question. What are the categories of YA? And do some have more crossover appeal than others?

I used to think that we might find some kind of rule in this: lots of books about teens that are published as adult books have a tone of looking back at teenhood (such as Curtis Sittenfeld’s runaway hit of a few summers past, Prep, in which the narrator is a wise old twenty-three, if I remember correctly), while most books about teens that are published as YA have an immediate, in-the-moment tone. That idea sounded like a decent rule of thumb ’til I found lots of rule-breakers; a notable exception is Marc Acito’s How I Paid for College, an adult book told in the now of  eighties teendom.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this food, but–to stick with the metaphor–I’m still hungry. I’ve nibbled extensively on the idea that where we classify and subsequently sell a book about a teen is largely a marketing decision (and, tied into that, obviously depends on who’s publishing it). The crux: Teens will find books in the adult section, but most adults won’t shop in the YA section. Therefore, a book with crossover appeal will find a larger audience (of both teens and adults) in the adult section.

But something interesting is going on right this moment! A trend! A new item on the menu, if you will. Last week’s Entertainment Weekly (May 16) included an interesting article, “Teen Nation” by Jennifer Armstrong. It’s starts like this: “Anyone who’s a teenager — or one of the many adults whose pop culture tastes lean in that direction — might want to blow off that summer job.” Teen entertainment out there that’s super-popular, and not just among teen audiences.

The article breaks it down into TV (Gossip Girl, THEWB.COM showing old faves, the forthcoming Juno-esque The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the re-envisioned Beverly Hills, 90210), Movies (American Teen, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants sequel, the forthcoming film adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite  Playlist,and –hello?! — Juno) and Music. I’d argue that music is the last to bleed over (Do any adults out there actually listen to Miley Cyrus, Jesse McCartney, or the Jonas Brothers in the absence of young people? The article thinks so . . . I think they’d do better to point out how many of us watch American Idol.) In any case, the article points out that we’re in a new teen-entertainment boom and that it might not dry up any time soon, as past booms have been forced to say bye-bye-bye.

It’s odd to me that an article with mention of Gossip Girl, Nick and Norah (which they call “the Micahel Cera comedy,” with no mention of it’s basis in the Levithan & Cohn book), and Sisterhood doesn’t begin to examine how books play into this trend. Guess we’ll have to do that ourselves!

Here’s the most interesting quote in the article, from Leslie Morgenstien, who helped develop Gossip Girl from “the popular book series” (the only mention of books I remember in the whole article) into the tv show: “Thing have shifted. Children are better informed, more sophisticated. There used to be a trickle-down effect: Properties would start for adults and then trickle down to teens. I think now it’s reversed.”

That’s almost the equivalent of adults shopping in the YA section, isn’t it? Will this phenomenon spill over to the book world? And will it say in the pop culture — “properties”– arena? Or bleed over into less effusive books, too?

Let’s talk! Adults, how do you feel about the questions? Do your adult friends seem more open to teen entertainment than they once were? Or are only those of us who are already YA-minded watching Gossip Girl? Do you know anyone who’s read the books because of the tv show? And teens, what do you think? Will you stop shopping the YA section once you’re “grown up”? Where do you hear about books? Why do you read  YA? Who do you think it’s for?

Despite being way behind on my reviewing, I absolutely had to write about this one. I finished The Host late last night (in fact, I stayed up late just to finish it), and since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Wanderer, Melanie, and the other characters.

In The Host, earth has been invaded by a species of aliens who cannot live on their own, and must take over host bodies to live. They’ve already colonized other worlds, but earth has some of the best hosts–humans. Humans feel emotions and experience things like no other species that Wanderer, who has lived on more worlds than any other “soul” she knows, has been.

On earth, Wanderer is given the body of Melanie Stryder, a young woman who was part of the fading human resistance. This is expected to be a difficult body to inhabit, but Wanderer is shocked at Melanie’s strength. Most hosts just fade away, erased from their own minds, as the alien soul who is attached to their brains takes over. Melanie refuses to go away, though, over a period of long months over which it is believed that any other host would be subdued.

Why? Well, Melanie’s strong, of course, to have survived human for so long, but much of it is love, longing, and a promise she can’t break. Jared, the man she loves, and Jamie, her younger brother, were Melanie’s only company for a long time, and she loves them both too dearly to let an alien take possession of her without a fight. Melanie promised that she would come back to them, and so she will. She fills Wanderer’s thoughts with her love, especially for Jared, until Wanderer, too, is consumed with the desire to return to these people she has never met. It changes Wanderer, but will that change be her destruction or her salvation? And what of Melanie, who refuses to stop existing? And of Jared–the man they both now love.

I’m a fan of Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight series, so, while my enjoyment of those books doesn’t quite reach the obsessive levels I’ve seen in some readers, I had some high expectations for this book. When I first started reading, I thought, this is good, this is interesting, but I wasn’t blown away. By the time the first 100 pages had passed (this is a really long book, over 600 pages), I was completely drawn into the story, completely involved and invested in the outcome, unable to put the book down even for things like, well, sleep. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but this book captured me and had me reading late into the night.

The Host is a wonderfully original, imaginative, and well-written novel that is different from Stephenie Meyer’s previous novels, and shows what a range this talented author has. While aimed towards adults, teenagers will love this book as well. I know I did. I cared so much about all of the characters, and what would happen to them all. Melanie and Wanderer inhabit the same body, a body with room for one mind, so there really is seemingly no hope for things to turn out well for both of them, but I couldn’t help but wish for it. I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win, if it came down to that! Conflicting emotions are felt by the reader of this book just as strongly as by the many wonderfully-drawn and believable characters.

By the time I finished, I’d laughed and cried and held my breath and felt a full range of emotions–appropriate, as the range of human emotions is one of the things Wanderer struggles to deal with as she comes to earth. This book actually reminded me a bit of the Animorphs series, but far more grown-up, in content and just in attitude–the world of The Host is light years away from black-and-white, and the Animorphs series, being aimed towards children, is relatively simple. Nothing here is black-and-white, just as nothing in the real world is as clear as we might hope sometimes.

Elizabeth Scott is the author of Bloom, Perfect You, and Stealing Heaven, all of which are really fantastic books. I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her, and here are her wonderful answers for your enjoyment! Stay tuned–soon we’ll also have a guest blog by Elizabeth and a giveaway. For now, though, here’s the interview:

I’ve been told it’s like choosing a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books? If not, what do you particularly love about each one?

I don’t have a favorite, but here’s what I like about each one:

I like Bloom because it’s my first novel, and I didn’t think I could really write one until I wrote Bloom.

I like Perfect You because it was really hard to write–sounds strange, I know, but I really learned a lot about myself and writing when I wrote it.
I like Stealing Heaven because it was so much fun to write–the research alone was a joy.

What do you and your main characters have in common?

I don’t know that we have all that much in common actually, except for one thing–Lauren, Kate, and Dani all have to make a choice about what they want and who they really want to be, and having to do that is universal, I think.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

I actually never wanted to be a writer–I fell into it by accident when I was 27, and decided to try writing a short story at work one day when I was bored out of my mind. Before that, I actually *loathed* writing fiction and actually went out of my way to avoid taking classes where I’d have to do it. It wasn’t until I wrote for fun–and realized that hey, it was fun!–that I fell for writing.

Getting published was basically due to a lot–A LOT–to luck on my part, and to the encouragement of my friends and husband. In late 2004, after a few years of some friends trying to talk me into sending things out, I did, and had a few short stories published. Then, on a whim,  in April 2005, I saw that an agent whose blog I read was discussing query letters, and thought, “Hey, if I email her, I’ll get a rejection super fast, can say, “Look, I tried!” to everyone and that will be that.”

The agent ended up signing me–which came as a total–and very pleasant!–surprise. After that, I met an editor from Harper at an SCBWI conference, where she looked at the first ten pages of STEALING HEAVEN, and eventually made an offer for it and another book (LOVE YOU HATE YOU MISS YOU, which will be out next year)

Dani, in Stealing Heaven, has been raised by her mother as a thief. This is definitely not a typical lifestyle! What inspired you to write this story, and how did you go about it–what research was involved?

I got the idea for STEALING HEAVEN after reading about a group of thieves–and started thinking about what it would be like to have that be your life. From there, I knew I wanted Dani and her mother to steal something unusual–something valuable that people don’t usually think about–and thought about how people all always asking for really expensive silver place settings when they get married. And then I looked into antique silver, and let me tell you–there’s a lot of money in it! So I decided to go with that, and then I did a lot of reading about silver, thieves, alarm systems, locks, and law enforcement–basically, for a while, all I read was books that had to do with either stealing things–or finding people who do!

In Perfect You, Kate’s father quits his regular job to follow his rather bizarre dream of selling infomercial vitamins. Would you or have you ever left something dependable behind to follow a crazy dream?

At first I was going to say no, but I think I actually have! In April 2005, before I signed with my first agent–before I’d even queried that agent–I left my job to try my hand at full-time writing for a little while.

Dani and her mother move and travel constantly. Do you enjoy travel, or do you prefer the comforts of home? If you are a more nomadic sort of person, what’s your favorite place that you’ve been, and favorite place you’d like to go?

I don’t mind travel, but in all honesty, when given a choice, I’ll always pick the comforts of home. (I mean, that’s where all my books are!)

Who are your writing influences?

All of my writing friends–they’ve been with me since I had no idea what an em dash was, and they’ve taught me so much about writing!

What are you writing right now?

I’m looking at a couple of ideas and seeing if any of them grab me.

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

I’ve had a lot of jobs! Let’s see–I’ve sold hardware, I spent a summer working in a warehouse, I’ve sold pantyhose (yes, really!), I was an editor, and I even once spent three days at a now-failed as a “software specialist” which meant that I burned cds ALL DAY LONG.  That what the worst job ever.

What is a book that you wish you had written? Why?

I’ve never actually wished that. When I read something amazing, I’m just grateful the author wrote it, and that I’m able to read it.

What are five things not related to books or writing that you couldn’t live without?

You know, there’s really one one thing–one person–that I truly couldn’t live without, and that my husband. Everything else—yeah, I’d miss tv and fritos and the internet if they had to go, but I’d be okay. Very whiny (VERY), but okay.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

Ketchup or Catsup?


Thanks so much, Elizabeth!

Last week’s guest blogger was Paula Yoo, who gave away a copy of her book to a random commenter. The winner for last week’s contest is The Page Flipper! Please email me at with your mailing address and I’ll forward it to Paula. This week’s guest blogger is Lisa Ann Sandell, author of Song of the Sparrow. Thanks so much to Lisa for her fantastic post about books! Speaking of fantastic, and of books, you’ve got to read Lisa’s book if you haven’t yet done so. Lisa is also giving away a copy of her book; read on for details.

On Books and Reading…

My husband accuses me of being a silly romantic for elevating books and reading to some foolishly glorified state. After all, so much of our reading time is spent finding out what celebrities are wearing or what the candidates are feuding about or what the tabloid headlines are. And there’s nothing elevated about reading that stuff.

So what is it about books?

Well, I like the smell of a book, of its paper and ink, the perfume of the printed word. I love the feel of a book, especially if it’s squat and heavy and fits in my hands just so. And I get a kick out of the fact that the book is a technology that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years (although, I’ll admit the future of the book seems somewhat uncertain in this electronic age).

But best of all, I love the way I can curl up in bed, in a comfy chair, or on a blanket in the park and geLisa's living room is so overflowing with books that they've started to grow on the walls!t lost in a book. Lost in a new and different world, lost in someone else’s view of the world. I love slipping on somebody else’s shoes and going for a nice, long tromp. The greatest thrill in reading, for me, is entering into a stranger’s head and looking out on life through different eyes and learning something about myself in the process.

For as long as I live I will never forget the first time I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and met Meg:

“Go back to sleep” Meg said. “Just be glad you’re a kitten and not a monster like me.” She looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror and made a horrible face, baring a mouthful of teeth covered with braces. Automatically she pushed her glasses into position, ran her fingers through her mouse-brown hair, so that it stood wildly on end, and let out a sigh almost as noisy as the wind.

It was electric. Meg embodied all of the ugliness and pain I felt when I was younger. She felt the same despair I did, the same sense of awkwardness and loneliness and hopelessness I felt. Her closest friendship was with her younger brother, as mine was with my younger sister. I identified with Meg in every way, and that connection was profound for me. Because I realized, for the first time, that if someone in a book could feel the same way I did, then maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe I wasn’t the freak I thought I was.

Then, as I followed Meg on her adventures and saw the courage and intelligence and grace she brought to the subsequent stories, I began to feel hopeful. And throughout the course of L’Engle’s series, as Meg grew up and grew into a beautiful swan, I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t doomed to ugly ducklinghood for the rest of my life either.

So, if you ask me what it is about books that I like best, I can tell you: A famous writer once said that “You can’t see around your own corner.” Books allow us to do just that. It is inside of a book that we can sometimes discover what is best about ourselves. Even in a flight of fantasy, we can read a good story and be reminded of what makes us human and what brings us together as a species.

I’d love to hear what reading means to you. And here’s an incentive: One lucky commenter will receive a signed copy of my latest book, Song of the Sparrow!
(Excerpt from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, New York: A Yearling Book, Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1962. p. 6.)

Surely fans of young adult literature who do not live under rocks know John Green, and most probably love his books, so expectations for his latest, Paper Towns, will certainly be high. I adored Looking For Alaska and loved An Abundance of Katherines almost as much. So I was a little uncertain about reading this book, because I’d be seriously disappointed with anything less than totally brilliant with John Green’s name on it.

But Paper Towns does not disappoint! It reminded me of both of John Green’s previous books, and I know there are people who loved one and not the other, so everyone should find this book to be amazing (as it is).

In Paper Towns, Quentin Jacobsen has lived next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman in the same Orlando subdivision since they were two years old. As children, they played together, until one day when they were nine. That day, Margo and Quentin discovered a body in a nearby park. Neither of them knew this man, Robert Joyner, who killed himself in a public park leaving a body for two children to find, but this discovery changed their relationship. That night, Margo came to Quentin’s window, and they stood there for a long time. After that night, though, they took divergent paths in life.

Now Margo and Quentin are high school seniors. They still live next door to each other, and Quentin still thinks Margo is amazing and gorgeous, but they don’t speak. Their lives do not overlap. Margo is beautiful and popular and impulsive and adventurous. Quentin is something of a nerd, too analytical to be spontaneous or adventurous, and he continues to love Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So many crazy stories are told about Margo, too crazy to be true–but with Margo, they all turn out to be real.

One night, a few weeks before their high school graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window again, and before he knows it, they’re off on a crazy night of revenge and adventure that involves dead fish, blue spray paint, blackmail, and breaking into Sea World, among other things. (Fun fact: I was actually reading this book (rather obsessively) on the night that these events supposedly happened!) It’s certainly a night to remember, and Quentin is certain that things between him and Margo will be different now–but when he gets to school the next day, Margo is gone. Nobody knows where she is. But all hope is not lost–Margo has left clues for Quentin, and he hopes they’ll lead him to her. In the process of searching for Margo, though, Quentin realizes that she wasn’t who he always though she was–and maybe he’s not who he thought he was, either.

It’s kind of hard to summarize this book, because, really, there’s little else like it and it doesn’t follow a prescribed formula for plot or anything, but Paper Towns is nothing short of brilliant. The only thing I didn’t like were the covers, but that’s hardly John Green’s fault, is it? There are two covers for this book, and they do reflect both sides of Margo’s personality, I guess, but I just don’t love them. I also don’t think they really reflect the whole story. But, other than that, I completely adored this book. It’s an intelligent, interesting novel that I literally could not put down. Oh, I forgot to mention–there is also a road trip! A crazy, intense road trip! I love books with road trips.

I couldn’t get enough of these fantastic, often quirky characters. They were real and three dimensional and diverse and fascinating, from Radar, an obsessive editor of Omnictionary whose parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas, to Lacey, who turns out to be far more than she first appears to be. I wanted to spend more time with all of them than these 300 or so pages.

Paper Towns is a smart, thoughtful, funny, and hopeful novel that really epitomizes John Green’s brilliance. It has razor-sharp wit, fantastic writing, originality in spades, truth, and, well, everything that makes for a truly unbelievably wonderful novel. It will be out in October, at which point you must do everything in your power to get a copy immediately.

Generation Dead is a book you should not judge by its cover. I hate the cover; it makes the book seem like stupid meaningless zombie fluff about dead cheerleaders. First of all, as far as I could tell, none of the main characters were cheerleaders in life or death, only a tiny insignificant alive character. Second of all, this is not meaningless fluff! It’s seriously awesome. But, yes, there are zombies.

In this book, there is a strange new phenomenon discovered in American teenagers. Some of them have started to come back to life after dying. Not all, and only Americans, and only teenagers. These “differently biotic” people (as is the politically correct term) are slower to move or speak than they were in life, but they’re still sort of alive. They don’t need to eat and their organs don’t work, and they are officially dead (and therefore not able to have library cards or driver’s licenses or vote or anything). Nobody knows why this is happening, but these kids, as anyone does who is in some way different, face a lot of prejudice, everything from being called names like “corpsicle” to being burned alive–or undead, as the case may be–something there are no laws in place to prevent.

Phoebe Kendall is a living student at a school with a comparatively high number of differently biotic students. Some of them can hardly walk and function, while others could practically pass for living, but no one knows why these disparities exist. As with everything else about the differently biotic, it’s a mystery. Anyway, Tommy Williams is something of a leader among the dead kids, or zombies as they sometimes call themselves, and when Phoebe starts to notice Tommy, to dare to speak to him and then tell him he’s brave when he goes out for the football team alongside all the living kids, she has really opened a can of worms. Her friends Margi and Adam can hardly believe it. Phoebe, with her goth wardrobe and tendency to be a little anti-social, was already on the outskirts of her high school’s social order, but she’s seriously becoming a target if she keeps hanging out with the zombies. Because of her, Phoebe and her friends get involved with an organization whose purpose is to help integrate the differently biotic into society, as well as with many of the dead kids themselves. This organization might be a little fishy, though, and hanging out with a bunch of zombies could get them into more trouble than they bargained for…

Okay, that might not be the best summary ever. But I think it’s better than the summary on the back of the book, which is nearly as bad as the cover. Anyway, I adored this book! It’s really original and witty and interesting, and seriously unputdownable. I loved the characters, living and undead. This book is quite thought-provoking, too; it brings up some serious issues about the treatment of minorities. Daniel Waters‘ first novel is funny, smart, and just plain awesome. It’s got romance and zombies and great writing and fantastic characters and, best of all, it seems like it’s set up to have a sequel! Read this book as soon as possible. It’s available in bookstores near you right now.

This week’s guest blogger is Paula Yoo, whose first novel, Good Enough, is something of a must-read and available now. Paula is also the author of a picture book and writes for television. In this fascinating blog post, Paula talks about writing for television and writing novels, and how the two compare. For those of you who haven’t yet read it, Paula is also giving away a signed copy of Good Enough to one commenter below! You have until next Wednesday to enter. Last week’s guest blogger, Tara Altebrando, gave away a copy of her book What Happens Here to a random commenter as well! The winner of that contest, chosen by a random number generator, is Steph (Reviewer X). Steph, please email me your mailing address at and I’ll forward it to Tara! Without further ado, now, Paula’s post. Enjoy!

By night, I’m a children’s book writer of YA novels and picture books.

By day, I’m a TV screenwriter.

So? you ask. What’s the difference?

Good question. Sometimes, there’s no difference at all. In both genres, you are simply trying to tell an original story with interesting characters. Other times, the difference between screenwriting versus novel writing is so wide that I have trouble bridging the gap when I’m working simultaneously on a novel and screenplay deadline.

Like right now. Tonight, I’m preparing to embark on a ten-day book tour through Seattle, WA,  Cinncinati and Dayton, OH, and Ft. Thomas, KY. Aside from packing dilemmas (yes, yours truly INSISTS on bringing five, FIVE pairs of shoes for 9 1/2 days!)… I’ve also had to juggle a book project and a script deadline.

My book project is a new YA Novel that I’ve been doing a ton of research on. I finally started writing it and have been pleased with the 30 pages I’ve produced so far. But I’m also frustrated because I know I have at least another 200 pages to fill…

But as I work on this novel, I also have a script deadline looming in the near future. This script requires me to switch gears and think about how to cram several characters and storylines into a mere 50 pages.

So that’s one difference between novels and screenplays: LENGTH.

I’d say that’s the biggest difference, and the most important one. See, in a novel, you can meander and go off course for a bit. You can take more time in letting a character reveal himself or herself to the reader. The story unfolds gradually, revealing layer upon layer, like peeling an onion, until you reach its core.

Of course you can’t meander too much – you have to make sure the reader never loses track of who the main character is, what  he/she wants, and what obstacles they have to overcome in order to get what they want in the end.

With a screenplay, specifically hour-long TV dramas, you have a fixed amount of pages – between 45 and 60 pages, tops – to tell a story that has compelling and interesting characters and an interesting plot where the stakes keep increasing.

Story in TV form is often told and shown through dialogue and characters’ reactions. Everything else – wardrobe, scenery, etc. – is often decided upon by committee. TV Screenwriting is a very collaborative format where the props and art department and director and a whole CREW of people interpret your words. For example, you could write that a character lives in a “rundown bungalow in a tough neighborhood.” In a novel, I’d expand upon that description and show what it’s like to live there. But on a TV show, the location director and art department interpret your basic description and bring that setting to life. As a TV writer, your job is to concentrate on what the characters are saying and doing.

The best part about being a TV writer is that it teaches you the economy of language because you don’t have a lot of time to tell a story. It also teaches you how to structure a plot so there is not one wasted scene – everything happens for a reason – one action causes a reaction which causes another action which in turn causes a reaction… before you even write a script, you MUST write an outline which lists the main “story beats” for each scene of each act.

That skill has helped me immensely when I get stuck writing a novel. For example, this new YA novel I’m writing has been difficult because it has a more complicated storyline with more characters than my first novel, Good Enough. I found myself using TV writing techniques to plot out the new novel, figuring out what the basic story beats were for each act.

That, in turn, helped me finally write those first 30 pages. Only 200 or so left to go! :)

I’ve also been asked what it’s like to write for TV versus writing a novel.

For novel writing, in a nutshell, it’s a lonely life. You’re mostly by yourself, sitting in front of your computer, writing. Sometimes you socialize with writers’ groups and have friends read and critique your work, but for the most part, being a novelist is lonely, lonely work.

For TV writing, you are in what they call a “Writer’s Room.” It consists of anywhere between three to 12 people. The hierarchy is Staff Writer, Story Editor, Executive Story Editor, Co Producer, Producer, Supervising Producer, Consulting Producer, Co-Executive Producer, and Executive Producer. The person who created the show is known as the “Showrunner.”

No two shows are alike but most shows tend to follow this general pattern:

1. The writers sit in a big room and eat a lot of junk food and gossip and eventually figure out what’s going to happen to the characters every week. This includes funny minor storylines, often called “runners,” to the big main plot of the week, to figuring out what serialized elements need to be updated every week (for example, if two characters are dating, you have to figure out the natural progression of their love story for the entire season etc.).

2. Once ideas are pitched and accepted or rejected, the writers summarize these ideas on a dry erase board.

3. These ideas are pitched to the Showrunner who either approves or rejects or revises these general ideas.

4. Once the ideas are given the greenlight, the writers then “beat” out the story by listing the order of events for each act. Most TV dramas have a teaser and four acts (that’s the traditional format). The latest trend has been anywhere from five to six acts! But basically, a TV show is divided up into several act breaks. Each act break has to have some sort of cliffhanger, and each cliffhanger gets more “dangerous” as you get closer to the final act.

5. Once the story beats are figured out, then the producers pitch this to the network. The network execs give their opinions, the writers tweak/revise their pitch, and then finally the writer of this episode is given permission to write a detailed outline explaining each scene of the show.

6. Once the outline is written, it goes through another lengthy revision process with approval or rejection from the network. Once the outline is finally approved, the writer has a certain amount of time to write a full script.

7. When the script is written, it goes through many more revisions until the episode is scheduled to shoot. There are still more revisions throughout filming, and even in the editing room after everything has been filmed!  (I haven’t even described all the pre-production work that goes into preparing a script for the shoot – from the props and art department figuring out the look of the episode to the casting of the actors in the minor roles etc.)

8. And then the show airs! But the writers are huddled back in the writers’ room, eating more junk food and figuring out next week’s episode.

Please note, this is a very, very simplified and rough version of what happens in TV. Not all shows work this way, and I’ve left out a ton of details. But at least you have a basic idea of how much work and revision goes into the writing of a TV show… and how collaborative it is!

I love doing both jobs. I started out as a novelist and I still think of myself primarily as a novelist. But I can’t imagine not working in TV – it’s a fun and exciting world and I’m a very social person, so I appreciate the escape from my lonely novel writing batcave. I feel very lucky and honored to have the privilege of working in both worlds, and even though it’s twice as much work, it’s worth it. I’ve learned and grown so much as a writer, thanks to my experiences in both worlds.

Now, time to see if I can actually shut my suitcase with all those shoes inside it! :)

How I Found the Perfect Dress is the equally fantastic sequel to Maryrose Wood‘s Why I Let My Hair Grow Out. In this book, Morgan is back to her normal life, an ocean away from the faeries and her newly discovered identity as the half-goddess Morganne in Ireland–and away from Colin, the guy she fell for on her bike tour of the Emerald Isle last summer. They’ve exchanged the occasional email, but she hasn’t heard from him for awhile when, rather out-of-the-blue, she gets a message saying that he’s coming to America, and they’ll see each other very soon!

This is not as perfect and wonderful as it at first sounds. Colin has been forced to dance with the faeries every night in his dreams, and he’s exhausted from the lack of sleep, as well as incredibly confused by the cryptic messages he finds in his pockets in the mornings. Even worse? It’s Morgan’s fault, for stamping him with her half-goddess seal of approval. Every night, the fairies dance the night away with her guy–and she can’t even get him to kiss her!

Now Morgan has to save Colin, find a great dress, make her junior prom as awesome as possible (despite the fact that Colin has to leave before that night), and–this one’s really impossible–find a female leprechaun!

I literally could not stop reading this book. It had me in its clutches from the moment I opened it and started reading the first page! I was thrilled to see the return of one of my favorite heroines, and Maryrose Wood’s talent at writing is always a pleasure to read. Even more exciting: there’s going to be a third book about Morgan! I adore all of these characters, and the magical element of this book. Maryrose Wood’s writing is hilariously entertaining, and I certainly had a good number of laugh-out-loud moments while reading this How I Found The Perfect Dress. This is a seriously fantastic book, and I recommend you all read it right away (or as soon as you’ve read the first book about Morgan, if you’ve not already done so).

The Royalty Rules challenge and the Twisted Fairytale Challenge are now over, and I’ll be taking down those pages on the sidebar.

For the Royalty Rules challenge, I read five eligible books, and reviewed three so far, and the goal was 2-4 books read & reviewed, so I successfully completed this challenge. I read Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Princess on the Brink by Meg Cabot, Princess Mia by Meg Cabot, The Bonemender’s Choice by Holly Bennett, and Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

For the Twisted Fairytale Challenge, I most pathetically only completed one book, Haunted Waters by Mary Pope Osborne. I do have good excuses, but, still, it is rather pathetic.

Maryrose Wood is the fantastic author of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall In Love, My Life: The Musical, Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, and How I Found the Perfect Dress, all of which are absolutely fantastic books that you all must read as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her, and, wow, are her answers awesome! Some of my favorites, ever. So go on, what are you waiting for? Read it!

What’s your favorite Broadway musical? Why?

I admit to preferring the brainy dark ones over the Cats and Les Mizzes of the world, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Sweeney Todd is my all-time favorite. It’s just the nearest thing to flawless – perfectly structured plot, gorgeous music, brilliant lyrics, unforgettable characters. Tragedy and comedy, mystery and horror! It’s got everything.

And Merrily We Roll Along is the sentimental favorite, because I was in it! When I was eighteen I was in the chorus of the original Broadway cast of this show, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

Emily and Philip in My Life: The Musical are hugely dedicated fans of the musical Aurora, and of Broadway in general. Have you ever been such a dedicated fan? Of what?

Umm, okay. I think I have never said this in an interview before, but let it be known now and forevermore – I was a MAJOR Star Trek geek as a kid. MAJOR. Like, not quite to the point where I walked around in a Star Fleet uniform, but I watched the show religiously and knew every line of every episode.

I was an ardent Beatles fan, too, and later, Sondheim musicals. I still love Star Trek, Beatles songs and Sondheim musicals, by the way, so my taste hasn’t changed much! Now I love them like everyone else loves them. But I remember very well what it was like to have fandom slip from a reasonable to somewhat unreasonable level, when the object of your obsession becomes the magic portal to all meaning in life, and that’s where Emily and Philip are in the book.

You have a background in theatre yourself. Do you think that telling stories on a stage helped or prepared you for telling stories in the form of novels? How?

Oh, yes yes yes. This is such a good question. Of course, writing plays makes you very practiced at writing dialogue, which comes in handy in novels as well.

But the main thing, as noted in your question, is the insight you get into how to tell a story. When you write for the stage or for a movie, telling the story is your number one job — not crafting fancy language or elaborate descriptions or any extraneous stuff like that.

You have to focus on plot and structure because plays and movies are watched in real time. The audience is trapped in their seats, looking at their watches. It’s not like a novel where you can put it down and come back to it later, or even skip ahead if you get to a boring bit.

So, if you stray too far or too long from the main plot, or if you fail to keep developing tension and making the story move forward at a good pace, the audience gets bored and soon, furious. There is nothing so excruciating as sitting trapped in the audience at a terrible play, and there’s an hour left to go and you know you can never get that hour of your life back again. It’s agony.

The other incredible lesson you learn as a playwright is that the audience does not lie. If you think something is funny, and the audience does not laugh, it is not funny. You are wrong, and you must change what you wrote and make it funny. If you think what you wrote makes sense, and the audience is sitting there scratching its collective head because they can’t figure out what’s going on or why, you are wrong, and must fix things.

It’s the most extraordinary discipline. I really do try to keep myself honest as a novelist, in terms of making funny bits funny and the story clipping along in a coherent and engaging way, and I feel totally schooled by my many years writing (and performing) for live audiences.

Also, I always read my books aloud as part of the editing process, just to make sure the language sounds good to the ear. It’s an old habit from playwriting but one I don’t intend to break. Even when we read silently to ourselves, we “hear” the language in our heads. I think consciously crafting the cadence of language is an essential part of writing well.

In Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, Morgan goes on a bike tour in Ireland. That’s quite an interesting vacation for her! What was your most interesting or memorable trip?

Many years ago, when I was still acting professionally, I did an international tour of a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. We toured five cities in India and two in Sri Lanka. It was an amazing experience. I got to see the Taj Majal, ride elephants, and sing showtunes!

One fun bit of trivia about that tour – I had a small part in the chorus of the show and understudied the lead, which was played by the marvelous Jodi Benson. Not long after we got back to the States Jodi was cast as the voice of Ariel in the Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid. How cool is that? I was so glad when my daughter (now a teen!) went through her Mermaid phase as a little girl and watched the movie a zillion times; having Jodi’s voice singing in my house all day was like having a friend over.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

See, my mom would say since I was in second grade, because it was then that I wrote the first piece that earned me some notoriety as a writer. It was a short story about a Christmas tree, and ended sadly, with the dried-out tree out on the curb waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck, reflecting on its brief but glorious career. It was all very existential! Not bad for a seven year old.

But the success of the piece backfired, because I’d simply written a story that had occurred to me, and all of a sudden teachers were asking me questions about where I might have copied it from and so forth. I think an IQ test was administered. Anyway, all the attention made me feel like I’d done something wrong. So, though I kept writing bits and pieces of things and always wrote very well for school, I didn’t entertain the notion of writing as a career until I was almost thirty.

Before then, of course, I was totally involved in theatre! I was an actor from my late teens until mid-twenties, and then I directed and did comedy improv and all kinds of performance-related things. Finally I sucked it up and admitted I just wanted to write. But I spent another decade writing plays and screenplays, many of which, coincidentally, featured teens or kids in prominent roles.

My good buddy E. Lockhart helpfully pointed this out to me, and introduced me to the world of YA fiction, and the rest, as they say, is history. I pitched the idea for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love to an agent, who pitched it to Delacorte, and all of a sudden I had a book deal. That novel, my first, came out in 2006, and I’ve been writing full time ever since. In fact, I’m just starting what will be my sixth book! No wonder I’m tired.

Will there be more books about Morgan, from Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and How I Found The Perfect Dress? What about your other books–any planned sequels?

A timely question! I’ve just committed to writing a third and (I’m pretty sure) final book about Morgan, and I’m so excited. I love her and her world, and of course I adore Colin, her irresistible Irish hottie. I get e-mails from girls wanting to know if Colin is real. I wish, girls! I wish he were real and my age and lived next door!

I have a working title for the book but I’m not sure it’s the right one, so I won’t say it yet. But in this book, basically the whole future of the faery realm gets dumped in Morgan’s lap. And Colin finally finds out about Morgan’s half-goddess nature. Ooh, I can’t wait to write it!

No sequel plans yet for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love or My Life: The Musical, but I never say never. I certainly get requests from readers. One girl already asked me if I would write a sequel to My Life: The Musical in which Emily and Philip really get together. I was like, hmmm, I think you might read the last few chapters a bit more carefully…

What book do you wish you had written?

I’ll pick three. Jane Eyre, because it’s a timeless classic. Harry Potter, because I would be rich. Feed, because it’s so cool and good.

Who are some of your favorite books or authors?

So many! I’ll just pick a couple of things I’ve read and loved recently. In the classic tome category, Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare. In the adult book category, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. In the YA author category, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is superb. Am gnawing on the edge of my desk for the sequel to Octavian Nothing too, by M.T. Anderson. Somebody send me an ARC, please!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

My advice shifts depending on what you mean by aspiring. For people who long to write but find themselves not knowing how to begin, or who begin things and never finish — remember that writing is nothing like reading. When you read a book, it is the end result of many, many drafts, and the earliest drafts are often closer to notes and stream of consciousness than actual paragraphs and chapters.

Writing accrues, like a painting or sculpture. First you whack the piece of rock into the right size and shape, then you kind of rough out the basic proportions of what you’re trying to represent, and then you go back a million times and work each little bit into shape. When it’s done you step back to judge the whole effect, and then you zoom into fix, step back to judge, zoom in, step back, repeat as needed.

I think the people who get stuck imagine that books come out whole, sentence by sentence from start to finish, the same way you read them. Then they get flummoxed and quit when it doesn’t happen that way.

For people who do finish and are struggling to figure out how to get an agent and get published, please follow all the good advice that’s out there. Join SCBWI. Joint a crit group. Make sure your work is ready. Learn to write a query letter. Find the agents that rep work like your book. It’s not rocket science.

Honestly, I don’t believe that brilliant books get ignored for very long. If you’re getting rejections and hearing a lot of the same feedback from a lot of smart people, be honest about whether you’re still writing the three or six books or fifteen books you might need to write to kick your work up to the next level, where you ARE ready to get published.

“But Maryrose! Your first book got sold on proposal! Why can’t that happen to me?” I can hear you screaming through the computer screen. Listen, before my “first book,” I’d written maybe seven full-length plays, two full-length screenplays, two full-length musicals, one-acts and short films and ten-minute plays and so many miscellaneous pieces of various kinds I can’t even remember them all…and we are talking many drafts of each of these. So yes, Kittens was my first book. It was also really something like my fifteenth book, in terms of writing mileage. Are you willing to write fifteen books before selling one? No? Hmmmm…

I think some people fall into the trap of saying, “well, my book is at least as good as a lot of the crap out there, why can’t I get published too?” The right question is: Is your book as good as the best book you’ve ever read? No? Then push yourself harder. Read excellent books and pay attention to why they’re so good. Then hold yourself to that high standard.

What are you writing now?

I just love my current project: it’s called A Beautiful Nothing, and will be my next book for Delacorte. It’s a retelling of the plot of “Much Ado About Nothing,” set in the Bronx’s Little Italy.

I’m having so much fun with this book! “Much Ado” is one of my favorite plays, and Italian is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s like Shakespeare with mozzarella. And baseball too! The Bronx without the Yankees is just not the Bronx, ya know? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Now, ask yourself a question (and answer it).

“Maryrose, you look incredible! How on earth did you lose ten pounds since yesterday? And get taller too? And noticeably younger?”

“No big deal, really! I just tapped my heels together three times! Wanna brownie? Want twelve? With ice cream? That’s all we eat around here now!”

Thanks so much!