Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mini (Audiobook) Recommendation! FAT KID RULES THE WORLD by K.L. Going

FAT KID RULES THE WORLD came out in 2003, but if you haven't read it yet, you definitely should—and here's why!

The plot (from Goodreads): Troy Billings is seventeen, 296 pounds, friendless, utterly miserable, and about to step off a New York subway platform in front of an oncoming train. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless, high school dropout guitar genius, the stuff of which Lower East Side punk rock legends are made. Never mind that Troy's dad thinks Curt's a drug addict and Troy's brother thinks Troy's the biggest (literally) loser in Manhattan. Soon, Curt has recruited Troy as his new drummer, even though Troy can't play the drums. Together, Curt and Troy will change the world of punk, and Troy's own life, forever.

Like many YA contemporary novels, the brilliance of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is in its voice. Troy isn't a happy guy, and life has taught him to be cynical, but his sarcastic sense of humor shines through his narration and makes you root for him. Troy's one of those fictional characters you wish you could be friends with, and it's awesome to see him become more confident in himself and see the world differently. 

That transformation is largely because of Curt MacCrae, who's up there with Tiny Cooper as one of the most entertaining and standout best friends in YA fiction. (Actually, Curt came first, so Tiny's in his club!) I also love the portrayals of Troy's dad and brother, who become increasingly more nuanced as Troy begins to see them differently.

Lastly, if you like audiobooks, this is definitely one to check out. Matthew Lillard does a fantastic job narrating!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Baby is Coming! Giveaway o' Awesome

In celebration of the upcoming birth of the first FNC baby (yayyyyy Sara!), we're hosting a giveaway! The stash below is just the beginning of what we're giving away, and we'll be adding more books until Sara's baby arrives!

Sara's fully baked! Sara & baby at 37 weeks.
The Prizes!
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (signed!)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (ARC) and Days of Blood and Starlight Chapter Sampler, by Laini Taylor
Ten (ARC) by Gretchen McNeil
The Land of Stories (ARC) by Chris Colfer (Two available!)
Paranormalcy and Supernaturally by Kiersten White
Born Wicked (ARC) by Jessica Spotswood (signed!)
Across the Universe (ARC) by  Beth Revis (signed!)
Legend (ARC) by Marie Lu (signed!)
Nightshade (ARC) by Andrea Cremer (signed!)
Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince (both signed!) by Cassandra Clare
Abandon (signed!) by Meg Cabot
The Infinity Ring (ARC) by James Dashner 
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (signed!) 
Narc (ARC) by Crissa-Jean Chappell
How to enter:
This giveaway is baby pool-style! Meaning, guess the date and time of the baby's birth, plus the baby's gender, weight, and hair and eye color via our uber-swanky Official Baby Pool***. The people closest to the accurate birth information win two three books of their choice!
Read and Sara's super-cute maternity shoot!

Helpful hints from Sara and Read, the soon-to-be parents:
  • Official release due date: Friday, July 13th
    • Sara was a few days late; Read was a few days early
  • Time of birth
    •  Sara was born a little before 4 a.m.; Read was born around 12:30 p.m.
  •  Eye color
    • Sara has hazel eyes; Read has dark brown eyes
  •  Hair color
    • Sara has light brown hair; Read has dark brown hair ... but both had only peach fuzz at birth! 
The FNC at Sara's baby shower!
(The books: Are You My Mother?; Goodnight, Moon; & The Hobbit!)

What are you waiting for?! Sara's baby will be here before we know it, and the giveaway closes when the baby arrives!

Enter the giveaway HERE!***
(giveaway is now closed)

*** PLEASE, PLEASE include your EMAIL ADDRESS or a FIRST AND LAST NAME in your entry in order to insure that we can correctly identify the winners! (The name doesn't have to be real, it just has to be distinctive. If we have three "Christina" entries with no email addresses, we'll have to pick a different winner.)

The fine print: Open only to people with U.S. addresses (sorry, babies are expensive!). Must be 13 or over to enter.

Don't forget to leave some love and well wishes for Sara, Read, and the baby in the comments! And let us know what book(s) you're most hoping to win!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tackling the beast of backstory, in real life and in fiction.

A couple months ago, I threw out many thousands of words in my WIP because of an unfortunate thing called backstory. My character had a whole lot of horrible things happen to her for almost ten years prior to the start of the novel, and my attempts to incorporate that pre-chapter-one life into the narration with finesse ... failed.

A lot.

Despite my best efforts, it was rambling and clunky and in big chunks of "telling" and oh-so-boring that it brought the forward momentum of my plot to a grinding halt.

(Which I didn't know until Frankie, Janine, and Sara sat me down at a critique meeting and told me. This is why you need crit partners!)

Anyway, I started thinking about the backstory of my own life. As of today, I've been married for one year.

But previously, when anyone asked me how long I've been married, my answer was always the same:

"Almost a year, but we've been together for eight years."

One year just sounded so paltry. I mean, SEVEN ADDITIONAL YEARS of love, of hard work, of commitment, of memories and milestones — basically became nonexistent. If I said "almost a year," we seemed like total newbies. Those seven years were a badge of honor to me, and it was frustrating to see them disregarded that way.

But it was ok that they were disregarded. As a wife and a as writer, this was the lesson I needed to learn.

I needed to embrace the one year. To acknowledge that, for people meeting my husband and I, all they wanted to hear was "one year."

Sure, they (maybe) cared about the seven years prior, but not like I did.

And I had to recognize that OF COURSE these people knew we'd been together for longer. It's not like I met my husband Friday and married him Saturday. We had started a new chapter in our lives together, and it began one year ago. Those other seven years had to be condensed into a sort of "greatest hits" to be revealed in pieces, over days and weeks and months.

I had the same problem with my main character. I knew every detail of her life, every struggle she'd been through, ever obstacle she'd surmounted, and I wanted those recognized on paper. But they weren't her current story. The story that I was telling was a new chapter of her life, and everything that came before it had to be summarized and told over time. long have I been married?

One year.

(And darn proud of it.)

Have you had struggles with incorporating backstory? Who are the best backstory-including authors you know of? Share them in the comments!

(And Sara, you're right. Writing really does relate to everything!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS has the Jane Austen Triple Threat.

Diana Peterfreund's FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS was pitched at BEA as a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen's PERSUASION. I've never read PERSUASION, but I'm quite the sucker for anything based on or inspired by a Jane Austen novel, especially when it's done well.*

Description from Goodreads: Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot’s estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret—one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

In short: DARKNESS didn't disappoint in the least.

You know how some books just give you feelings? I mean, all-caps FEELINGS?** This one did.

It took me about thirty pages to become fully engrossed and fall in love with the story***, but when I did, I fell hard, and I finished the book in two sittings.

For me, Jane Austen novels are so fantastic because they have her trademark Triple Threat:
  1. Characters you connect to and care about SO MUCH.
  2. A world that immerses you completely.
  3. Romance that makes you clutch at your heart in torment.
DARKNESS had the Jane Austen Triple Threat, no doubt about it.

1. Character Connection

When Elliott felt flustered or embarrassed, I cringed. When her heart ached, mine ached for her. When she defended herself, I felt proud. You get the idea. Throughout the book, Elliot's torn between her responsibilities and her dreams, between what she's been taught and what she believes, and it made her completely relatable as a YA heroine. She rocks, flaws and all, because she tries so hard to do right by the people who depend on her.

And it wasn't just Elliott who is well-developed. There's a large cast of characters, and they are all written with depth. Even minor characters are so well-nuanced that I remember all their names, which never happens for me. Plus, there's a distinct class hierarchy among the Luddites, Post-Reductionists (Posts), and the Reduced, which enhanced each character's background and point of view.

2. Another World

When you hear "post-apocalyptic" and "Jane Austen" in the same sentence, you have one of two reactions: "come again?" or "that sounds awesome!"

I wasn't sure what to expect. Would DARKNESS feel super-modern a la Clueless? But the premise worked perfectly. Peterfreund's future, post-apocalyptic world feels almost historical because it's run by Luddites, who shun the technology and scientific advancements that led to the Reduction.

The class structure, strict rules of conduct, formal speech, and old-fashioned clothing also echo Austen's world, as do the shifting social norms and the desire for something more than what the societal limitations allow. (Wow, did that sound like the sentence of someone who's written a LOT of English Lit papers.)

An apocalypse brought on by genetic engineering is eerily plausible, and I loved the hints of the world's pre-apocalyptic glory. Overall, the worldbuilding is deft and detailed, without overloading the reader. I'd love to see the Post-Reduction world beyond Elliott's island, which is a neon blinking sign of quality storytelling!

3. Bringing the Swoon

Elliott and Kai have a complicated past and, after a four-year separation, an even more complicated present. Like with Elizabeth and Darcy, sometimes you want to reach into the book and shake them until they wake up and smell the swoon. But that's what I went into the book hoping for, and that's what I love: the torturous "Oh my God you're perfect for one another so please notice and do something about it!" feeling.

Peterfreund developed their relationship like a pro, both through childhood letters and especially through their present-day interactions, fraught with tension and conflicted emotions and old anger and misunderstandings. It's the most delightful kind of romantic torment, and it's executed perfectly.

So that's the DARKNESS Triple Threat! Just in case you weren't sure, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. If you've also reviewed DARKNESS, leave a link in the comments!

The Austen Question: I chose what my Austen Triple Threat is. Any Austen fans think her writing Triple Threat includes something different?

BEA Moment o' Awesome: I chose this book at BEA because Diana Peterfreund is one of those authors I've been meaning to read but never had the chance to. Now I'm looking forward to delving into her other novels!

Extra, Extra!
Want more DARKNESS? Download the free prequel story, AMONG THE NAMELESS STARS!

* See also: Clueless

** Awesome new blogger friend Jen described the book as leaving her a "mass of flails," which is spot-on.
*** If we want to be precise, page 44 was when I knew there was no turning back. I felt my first moment of full-on, Austen-worthy, heart-clutching swoon. I was done for.

Monday, June 11, 2012

BEA by the Numbers!

Total Days: 2
I arrived in NYC Monday night and left Wednesday night because I had work Thursday. Honestly, I don't know how people functioned on that third day, because I was zombified by Wednesday night!

Number of times I had to hold back the fangirling: 2
On Wednesday, I met both John Green and Lois Lowry during signings after the Children's Author Breakfast.

When I got to John's table, I wanted to gush about how I love his books and his Vlogbrothers videos and that I tell my students "Don't forget to be awesome" when they leave... but I also wanted to maintain some dignity and not say what he's heard a billion times from fans.

Instead, I told him how excited I was when I got the very last ticket for his signing that morning. Better? Worse? Who knows. I'm just happy that I met him, and that he's just as friendly and approachable as he seems!

For Lois, I wanted to ramble on about how THE GIVER and NUMBER THE STARS are two of my all-time favorite books, and I've kept and re-read my copies for the past 15 years. Instead, I used my 10 seconds to ask her to sign an extra promo-poster-thing for the teacher who introduced me to those books, a woman I adore and still meet with every few months for lunch. She graciously did!

Number of celebrities spotted: 4
Celebrity signings at BEA always come with epic lines, so I avoid them, but it's always fun to see the celebs signing or wandering around Javits! (This year's exception was for Mike Holmes, who I adore from his show, and whose book THE HOLMES INSPECTION will be totally useful!)
Chris Colfer from "Glee"
Mike Holmes from HGTV's show "Holmes on Homes"
Stacy London from "What Not to Wear"
The "girl" from "Sh*t Girls Say"
(Stolen from Frankie's recap!)

Panels attended: 4
YA Editor Buzz
I didn't get to stay too long here because I had to get in line for another signing, but I loved what I heard, and it cemented my determination to get Gennifer Albin's CREWEL. (Success!)

Children's Author Breakfast
Walter Dean Myers introducing, Chris Colfer emcee-ing, and John Green, Lois Lowry, and Kadir Nelson speaking. 'Nuff said. But if you want more, here's an excellent recap from Publisher's Weekly!

Chris Colfer, John Green, Lois Lowry, Kadir Nelson
Teen Author Carnival
Tuesday night was the Teen Author Carnival at the NYPL. Loved hearing from and meeting such awesome YA authors!

Panel 1 - "From a Whole Other World"
(L-R) Gennifer Albin, Jeri Smith-Ready, Leah Clifford, Scott Tracey,
Lenore Applehans, Aimee Carter, Michelle Zink, Courtney Moulton
(not visible: Victoria Schwab)
Panel 2 - "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger
(Kick Ass Characters)
(L-R) Gretchen McNeil, Barry Lyga, Jeri Smith-Ready, Jackson Pearce,
Eliot Schrefer, Courtney Moulton, Aimee Carter, Michelle Zink
(not visible: Lauren Oliver, Siobhan Vivian, Stacey Kramer, Valerie Thomas)

Hours spent standing in line (approx.): 18
Frankie and I arrived at Javits at 7:15am both Tuesday and Wednesday, and we left at 4:30pm.

Awesome bloggers, authors, agents, editors, and marketing mavens met: lots and lots and lots
(I stole all of these pictures from Frankie's recap because that's what Writing Wifeys are for!)
Prepping for Day 1!
(L-R) Lindsey Culli, Sara McClung, Cristin Terrill, Claire Legrand, Diana Fox,
me!, Rachael Stein, Frankie, Kelsey, Jessica BS

Pre-Teen Author Carnival dinner!
(Gabby, Britney, Bethany, Kelsey)
The other side of the table!
Frankie, me, Lindsi, Farrah, and Liz
Frankie, Jackson Pearce, and I were awesomely coordinated.
Post-Teen Author Carnival drinks!
At Children's Book and Author Breakfast!
(L-R): Liz, Claire, Britney, me, Natalia and Frankie
Plus a shoutout to Christina from A Reader of Fictions, who made the CREWEL line totally fun! And Katie of Bookishly Yours, who kept me company while Frankie shipped her books during the DIVINERS line. And the lovely publicity/marketing folks at the Bloomsbury, Egmont, Soho Teen, and Flux booths, who were more than happy to chat with me about upcoming titles!

Reunions o' awesome: 6
(I also stole these pics from Frankie's recap.)
(Who's showing off her ARC of LEVEL 2 and
her skills of hiding a flash drive in her bra when she's sans-pockets.
Because she's awesome like that.)

Tessa Gratton, gorgeous as always!
Jordan Turgeon, who we met at the 2011 Writer's Digest Conference
(at the Teen Author Carnival)

Plus Maggie Stiefvater, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Rachael Stein, who I sadly didn't get pictures with.

Fave Philly-area locals spotted: 3
Kate (KM) Walton (CRACKED, EMPTY)
Jenna (An Avid Reader's Musings)

Approximate weight (in pounds) of suitcase upon leaving: 65
Since there were zero cabs available during Wednesday's rush hour, and I needed to get to Penn Station to catch my train home, I had the delightful experience of lugging my 65-pound rolling suitcase-o'-books (plus three tote bags) down two flights of stairs and along twelve blocks of busy NYC sidewalks. It felt like a LOT more than 65 pounds.

(Frankie gets infinity amounts of Writing Wifey points for assisting with tote bag-carrying.)
(My suitcase gets infinity amounts of awesome points for not breaking.)
Books replaced all clothes, shoes, and accessories in my suitcase.
This plus three picture books and two cookbooks was my total BEA haul.
YA books brought home: 26
SON, Lois Lowry
THE SPINDLERS, Lauren Oliver
LEVEL 2, Lenore Applehans
SPEECHLESS, Hannah Harrington
THE RAVEN BOYS, Maggie Stiefvater
THE CURIOSITIES, Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff
BETA, Rachel Cohn
INSIDE, Maria V Snyder
SOUL SCREAMERS VOL. 1, Rachel Vincent
CREWEL, Gennifer Albin
BEAUTIFUL LIES, Jessica Warman

Books I missed but will attempt to read via NetGalley or as-yet-unspecified insidious means:
CITY'S SON, Tom Pollock
NARC, Crissa-jean Chappell
RIFT, Andrea Cremer

People kept asking what I was most excited about, and aside from BEA zombification, I was still stumped. I'm excited for every book I got for different reasons—either it's a sequel I know I'll love, a debut I'm dying to read, something I discovered at BEA, a new book from a well-loved author, or my first book from an author I've been meaning to try. I love ALL the books! (And knowing I had to lug them home made me all the more picky!)

Total hours of recovery sleep needed: 20
I started PRODIGY, Marie Lu's ridiculously good sequel to LEGEND, on the train home because I knew the action-packed scenes would keep me awake! (They did.) It took me about two longggg nights of sleep (plus a couple naps) to recover from the BEA hangover.

I was first in line for the PRODIGY signing... Marie's so nice!

Overall, BEA was fantastic. Yes, the ARCs of incredible books are great, but sharing in the excitement for those books with a giant convention center of people who all speak the same book-loving language was the best part.

Check out Frankie's recap HERE!

Share links to your BEA recap posts (or tell us about your BEA fun) in the comments! If you didn't attend BEA, what would've been your most coveted ARC or author signing?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The word that lost me the fifth-grade spelling bee.

Picture me in fifth grade: eagerly nerdy, already a longtime avid reader and aspiring writer. Ready to compete in the annual school spelling bee for fifth-to-eighth graders.

I'd prepared for a week — yes, I was the kid who actually studied the list of spelling bee words — and three-quarters of the way through the competition, it was down to me and four other kids, all older.

My parents and grandmom were in the audience, and onstage, I was given my next word: Macintosh.

I asked for it to be used in a sentence. The proctor said something about a "macintosh yellow raincoat."

"Macintosh," I started. "M-A-C-"
Paused. Began again.
"Macintosh. M-A-C-K-I-N-T-O-S-H. Macintosh."

Macintosh took me down.

To this day, I never hear the word "macintosh" without thinking of that spelling bee.

What was your spelling bee downfall? Any spelling bee champs out there with a winning word?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The ghost of past posts comes back to (semi) haunt me.

You know how we're constantly warned that anything and everything we put on the internet can come back to haunt us? Whether it's a semi-scandalous photo on Facebook or that one cranky tweet, it's all part of an eternal file ready to bite us in the butt.

Last week, I discovered just how random that eternal file can be.

I got an email from someone I'd never met or heard of — the father of a girl whose baby picture I used in this March 2010 post about popular baby names in 2009.

The post pointed out how many of the TWILIGHT characters were in the top 50 most popular baby names, showing the influence of YA lit (and one particular series) on mass culture.

I distinctly remember that, when writing the post, I wanted to add a photo, since I'd read before that people who see a photo in their feed reader are more likely to click on the post to read it.

Marketing maven that I was trying to be, I figured an adorable baby picture would be the perfect addition.

What innocent motivation, right?

I literally Google Image-searched "cute baby" and clicked on my favorite. This baby girl's photo was actually posted online as part of a cute baby contest (meaning the parents were fine with sharing the photo with strangers around the internet), and as a bonus, I noticed that she had a very unusual, science-based name.

It was fate! 

I uploaded the photo, linked back to the contest page where I found it*, and mentioned her unique name (which, honestly, I said I wasn't a fan of, traditionalist that I am with names).

29 comments later, the post had a spirited back-and-forth debate on our favorite and least favorite names, and the worst names we'd ever heard of in real life. (Trust me, this baby's name wasn't even close to the worst!)

Screech back to the present, over two years later.

For curiosity's sake, the baby's father occasionally tracks his daughter's photo's whereabouts on the internet He found my post and emailed me about it. You can imagine my surprise reading the email.

My past came back to haunt me all right, but I soon saw that it was a friendly ghost. Whew!

Instead of being upset about my (and others') criticizing his naming choice, he totally understood the subjectivity of baby names. He explained the name and pronunciation (which I actually understood and remembered from high school science, go me!), told me that his daughter is now six years old, and even attached a current photo of her and her younger sister!

(If you're wondering, both girls' names are science-related, but they go by much more neutral nicknames. But the first day of school's roll call must still be an adventure!)

Anyway, I wrote him an equally cheerful response, thanking him for reaching out to me. And Bill, if you found this post, thanks again for livening up my day and giving me new post fodder!

Our exchange reminded me that:
1. Even the smallest, most innocent choices you make can turn into something bigger than you intended, even years later.
2. The internet makes the world a ridiculously tiny place. Treat everyone like your neighbor, because they basically are.

I'd had an experience like this once before, again in the early days of the blog, when I wrote a random post about a funny, duck-related promotional mouse pad. Suddenly, I received a pleasant email explaining the mission of a wetlands conservation group, when I was just being silly and procrastinating from writing my novel. Go figure!

Has anyone else had such an unexpected response to a post? Share it in the comments!

ADDITIONAL LINK: What perfect timing! Here's a related post via on the more serious side of how internet posts can be damaging.

* Updated: Even though I linked back to the source, that doesn't mean I had the legal right to use the photo. My knowledge of licensing and copyright laws has grown a lot, and the photo in this post was found via Creative Commons!

Friday, June 1, 2012

On Finishing

Just a little more than one month ago, I typed two very small but very big words.


The typing of these two words signified the finishing of a really really bad draft. They also turned me--the "token picture book writer" (yes, that's what the other FNCers have called me!)--into a bona fide member. It was an exciting moment, typing those two words, and yes, there were tears. I finally had a full novel, not just a few chapters of different stories here and there, or an almost-novel that I bailed on three chapters from the end. But, after the elation subsided, I remembered, it wasn't just a novel, but a really really bad one.

So, for the last month, I've been working on taking one "really" out of the draft. Before I started the revisions, Frankie gave me some good advice--to revise one aspect of the novel at a time. I've been working on plot-based revisions. Tiny bits of backstory and setting are being tweaked too, but as the days go by, I'm trying to do less and less of anything but plot-related stuff.

I'm finding that novel revision is a whole different kind of hard than picture book revision. In picture book revision, I spend hours upon hours mulling over the ring of one word, the flow of one sentence, and the drape of one paragraph. It's like writing poetry, and I love it.

In novel revision, at least at this point in my process, I must discipline myself to skip that micro-revision and just focus on the big stuff. It's hard for me. I spent much of last week's work time wondering if I really am a picture book writer at heart. But I want to be a novel writer, too. Strike that. I already am a novel writer--I typed THE END, after all. I want to be a good novel writer. And so I will press on.

I began this post with the idea of finishing, and I thought it would be a sort-of post hoc celebration of that weekend when I finished the draft. Instead it turned out to be a mini-meditation on my process. Considering the direction this post has taken, it seems fitting to share my current revision goal. I'm going out-of-town in three weeks and will be gone for two. My goal is to finish this round--the plot-related revisions--before I go away. I can't decide if that's a tight or a generous timeline. My novel needs a lot of work, and I work slowly, so maybe it's tight. Either way, it's forward motion, and I will reach the goal.

Now, I must stop blogging so I can fit a little revising in before going to work. Happy Friday and Happy June! And good luck to you with your current writing goals.


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