June 2008

The Class of 2k8 has done a great series of interviews with book reviewers, reversing the usual order of things where we review then, and I’m happy to have been included. You can read my interview here, and comment to win a copy of Lisa Schroeder’s I Heart You, You Haunt Me!


Today I have an extra-special guest blog: One by a fellow book blogger, Book Chic! Oh, and before I forget, a winner of Love, Meg (last week’s guest blog giveaway). And the winner is….(imagine the drumroll here)…girljordyn! Jordyn, please email me your mailing address to claim your prize. This week, we’ll have but not one but two winners, thanks to Book Chic! The prizes will be copies of Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling. I’ve decided to make this contest a little harder than the others. One winner will be chosen at random, and the other winner will be the best comment–the most thoughtful or thought-provoking or funny or interesting or creative…Whatever you like. But relevant, please, something about your life with books or YA books. And now, without further ado, Book Chic:

When I first agreed to do this guest blog, for a very short second, I thought to myself “This will be so much fun! I can write about whatever I want, and it’ll be great! People will bow down before me when they read all about my wisdomosity!”. Then it all came crashing down when I realized that I suck at coming up with my own topics, let alone actually writing about said topic. This is exactly why I decided to do an interview for Harmony Book Reviews rather than the other option, which was a guest blog. See, questions I can handle because all I have to do is answer someone else’s thoughts and I’m good at that. Coming up with my own stuff is a bit harder, although if you’ve noticed, I’ve got a whole paragraph now! Rambling really works, and that’s pretty much all that you will get from me.

But I decided to bite the bullet and do a guest blog when I saw that the lovely, amazing, and smart Jocelyn had TONS of guest blog spots open during the summer months. I felt like I needed to help her out, so I agreed (to myself-she had no idea of this yet) to do it. Now, I’m not a drinker or druggie of any sort, but I’m starting to think that I must have been on something when I voluntarily (key word there- I actually INITIATED this whole situation) said that I would write a guest blog for her site. She seemed very excited about it though, so hopefully I met her expectations of guest blogs.

Now, I’m supposed to talk about something book-related, which I suppose I will, should my rambling take me in that direction. And that direction starts now: Reading has always been a part of my life. My parents read to me when I was little, I read books on my own, and-I always loved to do this and actually still do, haha-I would even read books to my parents. Usually, it would be Dave Barry for my dad and Terry Pratchett for my mom whenever I’d be in the car with them. They fostered this love of books and reading in me, as well as the inclination to be completely surrounded and overflowing with books. Almost every room in our house has books in it. When my sister left for college, my dad moved a bunch of his books into her room, taking up her bookshelves that had been used for other things when she was there. So it’s really no surprise that I ended up running my own site dedicated to reviewing books and talking about them. However, it probably might not have happened if it weren’t for one thing.

As I got older, like into the 8th grade or so, I lost touch with books. I wasn’t like shunning them by any means, but I read very little. And then when someone recommended a book to me, like my friend Tyler did with Terry Pratchett’s books, I ended up focusing on that one author and reading nothing else. I did this for a couple years with Terry Pratchett and V.C. Andrews. Then, in late summer of 2001, the Princess Diaries movie came out and, being the total gay boy that I am, I absolutely LOVED it. I found out a bit later that it was based on a book and so I started reading the series (starting with the second book because I thought, for some reason, that the first book was written in straight prose rather than diary format and that it would be exactly the same as the movie, which I’d already seen, so why bother reading the same thing?), which I also loved. Meg Cabot became my newest author fad, creating this fun little trifecta thing.

Now, it wasn’t just the Princess Diaries movie that immediately spurred on my love of all things YA. It just led me to Meg, who fostered my love of YA and chicklit. I started reading all of her books shortly after reading all the Princess Diaries books that were out at the time. But it still took several years before I even thought about other authors. When Meg started up her book club in 2004, I started branching out to read other authors that Meg was having as her Book of the Month. Because if Meg liked it, it obviously must be very awesome. I started reading these books to participate in the monthly chats with Meg and the author of the monthly book. Then, it actually happened- I started reading other YA books that Meg had NOT recommended, and finding other books on my own that looked interesting. I devoured them all, loving each story, paragraph, and word.

I was so excited because it was like I’d finally found my niche-the section of the library or bookstore where I could just keep finding amazing books to read. Several years later, I ended up turning that unconditional and immense love for all things YA into a fun and informative book site, which I’ve been running now for just a little over a year. It’s fantastic to be working on the site and chatting with YA authors and other YA readers about not just books, but anything that comes up in conversation. It’s such a great community, and I’m glad that I can be a part of it.

So, here’s the condensed and numerically ordered version of my guest blog (i.e. what you should have learned while reading it):

1) Rambling is good- go with it, embrace it, take it out to dinner, play around in the hot tub with it, etc. It gave me almost two pages for a guest blog-you can’t beat those results (but feel free to slightly maim them)!

2) You never know what event will trigger a series of future events to put you where you are today. It’s actually kind of fun to think about too, and imagine a “If this didn’t happen to me, then I wouldn’t be doing or thinking about <insert fun new thing you wouldn’t be doing or thinking about if it hadn’t been for that one past event>.”

3) YA books rock and are made of awesome, but if you’re here on this site reading this guest blog, then you know this already (I hope).

4) I have no idea how to really end a guest blog, but I can’t really ramble on because this is already long enough as is, so I will try the patented, wonderfully effective plan of just randomly stopping in the middle of the sente-.

Today’s guest blogger is C. Leigh Purtill, author of Love, Meg and All About Vee (which is great, by the way, and will soon be reviewed here). Last week’s winner of a signed copy of The Adoration of Jenna Fox is Megan! Megan, you have one week to contact me with your mailing address. This week’s randomly chosen winner will receive a signed hardcover copy of Love, Meg. All you have to do to put your name in the metaphorical hat (really it’s a random number generator) is comment! And now, without further ado, I give you C. Leigh Purtill!

Recently I was chatting with my very good friend CG Watson (who wrote the fantastic YA novel “Quad”) about authors who tell the same story over and over again, who use certain elements and themes repeatedly.  Perhaps, we thought, these people had been profoundly influenced by certain events in their past and had to work them out through their writing.

Then we wondered about that in our own writing – do we tell the same stories?

In my case, I would have to say yes.  Certainly in the books I have had published and those that I’m currently working on, I use the element of a character being a “fish out of water.”  Now, this is not a new thing.  Writers have been doing that for years!  You take your character and throw her into a completely unknown environment – a new school, a new town, a new country, a new world! – and see what happens. It’s a very common theme.

In “Love, Meg,” Meg Shanley moves all over the place with her sister so she never feels like she has a real home and then, to make matters worse, she moves to the other side of the country to live with people she has never met before.  In “All About Vee,” Veronica May moves from a tiny little town in Arizona to the big city of Los Angeles where, again, she doesn’t know anyone – except for her rotten friend, Reed, but that’s another theme entirely.

After CG and I spoke, I thought about that fish thing.  Am I trying to work that out for myself?  Do I really feel that way?  And again, the answer is yes.  (I don’t know why I bother to ask myself these questions when I already know the answer.) But I began to dig deeper: what is really going on in my stories?

And then I realized the common element was not being a fish out of water, but one of friendship.  I have long been trying to work out for myself the notion of friendship: what does it mean to be someone’s best friend?  What does lifelong friendship really entail?  Could I possibly be someone’s best friend?

When I was a kid, my parents moved me and my brother around an awful lot, from school to school and state to state.  I made friends fairly easily but gave them up pretty easily too.  I knew I wouldn’t be around very long so I never got too attached.  In fact, I used to feel sorry for some of the girls I befriended: I could tell they were expecting me to be around for a long time and I knew they were only going to be disappointed when I left.

When I got older and went off to college, I did the same thing.  I spent a year at one college, took a year off, then transferred to another college.  After I graduated, I worked for 2 years in one job in one town, 2 years in another job in another town, went to grad school for two years, moved to New York…well, you get the picture.  I just kept moving.  So in that sense I was a fish in water – they never stop, never sleep.  I had established a pattern for myself that was really hard to break.

And along with the moves came the question of friendship.  I continued to make friends – and then leave them – but it was getting harder and harder to do.  I wanted to have a best friend, someone I could count on and who could count on me.  I truly wanted to be a person other people considered stable and trustworthy.  The only way I could do that was to stay put for a while.

If you look at my books about Meg and Veronica, you’ll see their common element is much more than being new to a place.  In both, I am searching for the meaning of “best friend.”  Meg calls Jennifer Aniston her best friend; Veronica calls her Vees the same thing.  Meg yearns for the stability of a close friendship while Veronica uses hers as a source of great strength.

My husband and I have lived in LA for almost ten years and although I often get the itch to move and have new adventures, the main reason I stay is for my very dear friends.

Okay, faithful blog readers, I know I haven’t been the best blogger lately. I haven’t been a great reader, either. There’s a long string of excuses, but I think it will suffice to say that life has gotten in the way, which I’m sure you can understand. I’m writing now to tell you that this is not going to change during the summer, because I’m about to leave for six weeks. It’s a great opportunity, but I’m going to be far too busy to have much time to spend on reading and blogging. I’ll have internet access, so I’m still reachable, but blog posts will continue to be only a couple of times a week. I’ll still be reading–that’s easier to squeeze into spare moments–probably more than I have been, but blogging will be difficult. I’m also still looking for guest bloggers. The 25th of June, the 2nd of July, and any time after July 9, are all open dates, and if you have a week that you really want even if it’s already taken, I can squeeze you in. Authors, librarians, anybody involved with books who would be willing to do a guest blog-email me at teenbookreview@gmail.com for details.

Today’s guest blogger is Mary E. Pearson, author of such wonderful books as The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Scribbler of Dreams, but before I get to her great guest blog, I have not one, but two winners to announce! The winner of Maryrose Wood’s book two weeks ago never contacted me, so I’ve selected a new winner–Lucile, please email me with your mailing address. And the winner of a signed copy of Daphne Grab’s debut (last week’s contest) is Grace L.! You each have one week to send me your mailing address at teenbookreview@gmail.com. This week, up for grabs is a signed copy of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, to a random commenter. If you’re a writer, I’d be interested to know where your inspiration comes from.

Mary E. Pearson on Inspiration

You know, I am probably certifiably NUTS to choose this topic, but it’s the question that writers are asked-hands down-more than any other question.  What inspired your story?  And most writers I know, including myself, absolutely dread the “idea” question.  More than dread it.  They secretly melt inside at the thought of retracing the path that led to the story.

And yet, the wicked irony is, that’s exactly what I’m always curious to know too.  When I’ve read a book that I love, I want to know!  How did the author do this?  Let me inside your head!  How did this story come to be?

Stephen King calls stories found things, “like fossils in the ground.”  This analogy works well with the way I write.  I am a bone hunter, and as I am writing, I am searching for the bones of the story.  Yes, that initial spark gives me one of the larger fossil bones, perhaps the spine or thigh bone, but I still don’t know what the whole animal will look like.  I discover it day by day, as new inspirations-from the largest bones to the smallest-are uncovered and help piece together the story.  And when it is done and I step back, I am as surprised as anyone.

I think when most people ask what the inspiration for a story is, they are usually wanting to know what the initial spark was-what got the gears going in the first place.  Even that can be tricky to answer, because a spark does not a whole book make.  And sparks come in all sorts of forms from the subtle, to the dramatic.  With A Room on Lorelei Street, the spark was simply an image of a tired house, a tired girl, and a few opening lines-subtle but intriguing for me-and when this image and voice wouldn’t go away I decided I wanted to learn more about this girl.  With The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the spark was more dramatic-questions I had asked myself when my own daughter had faced a life-threatening illness.

But with both of these stories, I was still faced with a whole book to write beyond the initial spark.  A long, whole book. The spark was not the whole story.  Where to go from here?  There is a Jack London quote that says, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”  And that’s where the rest of the inspirations come in.  Writing a book is a long process.  More often than not, you do not feel inspired.  But you show up for work.  You face the blank page with your club in hand.  And the inspirations, large and small, come between the dry, keyboard-pounding daily effort of trying to find your way.  For instance, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, would not exist without each and every one of these inspirations that followed the initial spark:

1.  Image of girl looking out at water recovering from something (a character!)
2.  Awareness that she has no memory (okay, now I am intrigued)
3.  She is recovering from an accident (hm, what kind?)
4.  Snippets.  Where did those come from?  The character is talking to me and I have no idea where these passages will go, but I write them down anyway. (Blind faith)
5.  Research.  (Oh my.  My head is spinning.  The near future is way ahead of my imagination.)
6.  Frustration.  The power of language.  Without it we are isolated. (Empathy with character)
7. More characters!  Where did they come from?  Now where are they taking me?
8.  Observations: Pressure on children, especially “miracle” children.
9.  More observations: Over scheduling our kids.  What’s up with that?
10.   In the news:  Organ transplants.  What will they be able to transplant next? (midway through:  a face!) 11. What makes us human?  Is it in our flesh?
12.  A Cotswold.   A crumbling Cotswold.  Finally the perfect house. (I can move forward!)
13.  The human soul.  Will science one day map it out too?
14.  Lily loves her.  She actually loves her.  Life is too precious not to have hope.
15.  Suspense.  Distrust.  Oh?  Is this how the whole story will go?
16.  We all have our demons.
17. Conscience.  Why do some people have more of it than others, and some seem to have none at all?
18.  Do any of us really know how far we would go in an impossible situation?  Is it fair for us to judge others who have been there?  But is it our responsibility to draw a line? (Hm, looks like I am back at another version of that initial spark.)

This of course, is a very crude and incomplete tracing of my inspiration-add in about another hundred or so micro-molding inspirations and a healthy does of life experience–but that is the way a story goes.  It evolves.  Stories are organic-at least for me-and as I find the bones, flesh grows on them.  Hair.  Teeth.  They surprise me.  They take me in unexpected directions.  And the chain of inspirations melt into one another and it becomes hard to explain one without explaining the next and they all seem necessary to convey how the story came to be.

I think that’s why inspiration can become such a loaded question for an author.  It is daunting to separate that initial spark from all the inspirations it is now connected to and the flesh that has grown around it all.

Of course, knowing the enormity of this question, won’t keep me from asking it the next time I have finished reading a book that I love. I still want to know, if only a few small bones at a time.  And if the bones have all fused together into an answer like, life, that’s okay too.  I understand.

Justine Larbalestier‘s latest novel, How to Ditch Your Fairy, takes place in a world where almost everyone has their own personal fairy. These invisible creatures help/hinder humans in various ways: there are loose change finding fairies, good hair fairies, clothes shopping fairies, all boys like you fairies, and parking fairies. Charlie, a student at New Avalon Sports High, is the not-so-happy owner of a parking fairy. Not only is it useless for someone who can’t even drive, it’s a major annoyance because of all the people wanting her to ride in their cars and get them a good parking spot.

How to Ditch Your Fairy is the story of Charlie’s quest to ditch her fairy, get the guy, keep her demerit total as low as possible, find great clothes with help from her best friend’s clothes shopping fairy, and keep her sanity throughout all of these crazy adventures! It’s a pretty fantastic, really funny book, overall pretty great, although I did have a few unanswered questions at the end. I’m hoping that means there’s a sequel in the works! I sat down and started reading this book as soon as it arrived in the mail, and I didn’t put it down until I was finished; I didn’t even notice the time passing, that’s how caught up I was in the story. It’s fun and interesting and has a main character I absolutely couldn’t get enough of! Charlie is seriously awesome, as is this book, and you should all read it as soon as possible (which is October for most of you).

Last week’s winner of a signed copy of Maryrose Wood’s latest book is bunnyb! Please email me with your mailing address to claim your prize.

Daphne Grab is the author of Alive and Well in Prague, New York, and for those of you who haven’t read it yet, she’s giving away a signed copy to one random commenter this week! I’d love to hear about your favorite books and how you identify with them, and Daphne finds things she can relate to in these diverse titles. And now, on to Daphne Grab’s guest blog:

When I look at my favorite books, they don’t have a huge amount in common.  Like I love Beverly Cleary’s FIFTEEN, a classic and funny romance that is very different from the darkness of Lois Duncan’s THEY NEVER CAME HOME or the revelations of DJ in Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s DAIRY QUEEN, two other top favorites on my list.  But one thing that they all have in common, aside from being great, well written stories, is that they touch on themes that are universal, yet create situations that are unique to their characters.

Like in FIFTEEN: I wasn’t dating back in the fifties when you had to worry about wearing white gloves on a date or not (thankfully- I am a messy person and white gloves would be a disaster for me!).  That experience is all the main character, Jane’s.  But I most certainly had crushes on boys and agonized over whether they liked me or not, as Jane does.

And in THEY NEVER CAME HOME, yeah, my brother and boyfriend never disappeared on a camping trip, but I do know what it is to lose (or think you lose) someone you love and how hard it is to cope with that.

DJ and I do not have athleticism in common: my big physical activity is yoga which is not a sport and I’m not even very good at it.  But have I struggled in my family, worried about boys, had revelations about who I am like DJ?  Absolutely.

To me the best books take you fully into a character’s experience, yet give you a taste of something familiar, that you can identify with.  That way you are sharing in their story and reflecting on your own at the same time.

When I was writing ALIVE AND WELL, I tried so hard to create that balance.  I wanted Matisse to be fully and uniquely herself, yet be a character that girls around the country could relate to and see themselves in.  Did I succeed? Check out the book and let me know what you think!

Sorry that I’m a bit late posting this, but the randomly selected winner of a signed copy of Stealing Heaven is harmonybookreviews! Harmony, please email me with your mailing address.