Thursday, July 28, 2011

Christa Talks To The Teen--The July Edition

You've all been waiting for it...the time for questions to my teen beta Aliya has finally come. But first, a little bit about Aliya. From her blog (A Story to Love), she is a 17 year-old book fanatic. She was homeschooled and couldn't read until she was 11. She's now taking college classes. Her blog includes fabulous book reviews and she loves to meet other fellow book lovers. 

As a beta, she is about the fastest teen reader I've ever met. She is also adorable, funny, and has lots of great suggestions and ideas. I hope to keep her as a teen beta reader forever (although I guess the "teen" part may go by the wayside fairly soon). 

So on with the questions...

From Christa: Do you or any of your teen friends own ereaders (Nook, Kobo, Kindle, iPad)? Do you get more books from the bookstore or the library? Where do you hear about most of your books?

Aliya: a) not one of my friends own an ereader, but my mom owns the Nook and I'm about to get an iPad specifically for reading ebooks. b) I get nearly all of my books from the bookstore now. I used to get a lot from the library, but I like rereading and pretty much buy them all now. Plus, I have a goal to own 800 books. c) Usually books that bloggers rave about, books by familiar authors (author websites), and my most used is When I look at a book on Amazon I often check the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" and from the next book I click on I discover even more similar books I'll want. 

From Jen: What would make you want to put a book down, or rather, throw it against a wall?

Aliya:  Love this question. Sometimes I won’t be in the mood for that particular type of book, or I’ll find it boring and not want to finish it. Other times a book will be so aggravating/intense/unsatisfying/powerful that I feel I can’t finish it, and, sometimes, want to throw it in frustration. I know that those are the most powerful books. However, the most common is when I’m so excited for a book that every time I pick it up I have to put it back down.

From The East Coaster: Do you read authors blogs, or do you just hit up their websites and/or Twitter? My (dark and twisty) website isn't mentioned at all on my blog...just wanting to know if I should keep it that way.

Aliya: Usually author websites and Twitter, but I think that’s mostly because I don’t stumble upon the blogs very often. When I do find them I follow them.

From Stephsco: Do many of your friends read? Do your guy friends read or is mostly girls?

Aliya: My friends do read, but, honestly, most of them don’t read that often. The guys used to read as much as the girls, however, only a few of my guy friends still read.

From Bruce: Why do those boys walk right down the middle of my street instead of using the sidewalk?

Aliya: Since I’m a new driver that is one of my two biggest pet peeves! There is a perfectly decent sidewalk right next to the road for them to walk/run/bike ride on! Use it! They’re not cool like they think they are; they just make drivers nervous! If you ever find out the answer, please, tell me.

And finally from Christa again: How many f-words do you think I can get away with putting in MANHOLE?

Aliya:  Around 40 maybe. I get that teenagers swear a lot, but most of the time it isn't appealing to read it.

Aliya, thanks for joining us today. We look forward to seeing you here again next month. If any of you have questions for Aliya, throw them in the comments and we'll add them to next month's pile. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Rock That I Live Under

I have three small children so I don't watch the news. I have 17,865 manuscripts to read so I am not great with reading the paper (except for the articles about books that friends and family send to me as links from the NYT and the Guardian). I follow AP, NYT journalist Nicholas Kristof, and Roger Ebert on my Twitter feed. Because of the organization I work with, I know every action in the global community that impacts rape victims. It is a very crazy and distorted view of the world. It's a bit like hearing all the news about what's going on in Walnut Grove from Mrs. Olson in the General Store.

My most recent Google searches included: Who is Amy Winehouse? Who is Casey Anthony? Who is Donald Draper?

I live under a rock.

In other news...

I'm almost at 35,000 words on MANHOLE. I sent a note to my mentor mentioning my fear that in adding more words, I have lost the boy voice. She recommended I read this one.

Josh Mendel has a secret. Unfortunately, everyone knows what it is. Five years ago, Josh’s life changed. Drastically. And everyone in his school, his town—seems like the world—thinks they understand. But they don’t—they can’t. And now, about to graduate from high school, Josh is still trying to sort through the pieces. First there’s Rachel, the girl he thought he’d lost years ago. She’s back, and she’s determined to be part of his life, whether he wants her there or not.Then there are college decisions to make, and the toughest baseball game of his life coming up, and a coach who won’t stop pushing Josh all the way to the brink. And then there’s Eve. Her return brings with it all the memories of Josh’s past. It’s time for Josh to face the truth about what happened.If only he knew what the truth was . . .

Finally, to make all of you smile, I am including my favorite line from my editorial intern letter written over the weekend:

"If you are going to tie someone up, you better be all in."

What's on your bookshelf this week?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Knew All Those Jobs Would Pan Out One Day...

So you may all not know, but I've had about 247 jobs in my life. This is because:

1. I started working when I was 12 (a friend and I were hired by a craft fair woman to tie tiny ribbons and hot glue them on to napkin rings---in retrospect, this is a little like the young Chinese girls in the silk factory, burns and all, but we'll pretend I wasn't paid pennies for each piece bc I didn't know any better).

2. I never fell in love with anything long enough to stick with it for long (which is why my life is so exciting right now bc I'm so in love with writing/editing/publicity).

3. I love working.

These jobs have included: kickboxing/aerobics instructor, Blockbuster employee, bookkeeper, dental front desk assistant, feminine hygiene product copywriter, secretary, Weight Watchers employee, forest preserve construction worker, barista, waitress, camp counselor, office manager, producer, talent negotiator, house painter, stage manager, box office manager...well, you get the idea.

Add to this my interest/volunteer/hobbies: Sunday school teacher, homeless shelter overnight volunteer, rape crisis counselor, gifted education supporter, knitter...blah, blah, blah.

The point of all of the above is not to show you how capricious I am (cough, cough) or how I am a Jane of All Trades, Mistress of none, but rather to let you know how critical researching your manuscript material is. Because I certainly can't be the only intern out there with information about the inner workings of myriad businesses. And yet this lack of research happens ALL THE TIME. I've read enough manuscripts to know when writers have no idea what they are talking about and have gotten information from sitcoms instead of real facts.

My best friend Rebecca is a pediatrician. She won't watch doctor shows unless they are completely unrealistic (i.e. Off The Map) because all the inaccuracies of "hospital" shows annoy her too much. I worked in advertising for almost ten years. The movie "What Women Want" bugged me to no end because first, no one has a chance to land the Nike account (ahem). Also, you don't come up with commercials that way. The whole process was absolutely wrong and I couldn't stand it. It is one thing for us to accept Bewitched as the model for how advertising works, but in an age of research and information access, I thought it was downright irresponsible for "What Women Want" to perpetuate a false model.

So too is the case with writing. If you are writing contemporary, make your stuff plausible. Make your problem be a real problem (not able to be solved if the MC just did one very obvious thing). Do your research. Because I guarantee, your readers will call you out on things. And you'd rather not be rejected for something easily solved by a trip to               .

How do you do your research???

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Writing Community

First, I want to thank everyone for weighing in on my query letter. Wow! That was a truly amazing experience and you all had such helpful things to say. This query process has been so much more seamless than the last one. Partially because it's an easier book to write a query for and partially because of all the thoughtful suggestions from writers.

I've been (officially) writing for almost 18 months now, but have really only been tapped into the writing community since January of 2011. And what an amazing community it is. There are so many people out there willing to share books, share thoughts, share resources. I love when you are in a place where there are so many people who are "for" each other. Writers want me to succeed and I want other writers to succeed. And yes, there are times when I get jealous of other people's success, but then I realize that they have worked hard for what they've gained and I feel happy for them. And it makes me dig in and work harder.

And if anyone asked me to describe the perfect life for me, I would describe the one I'm living (well, maybe it would be okay if I was a published author!). I have so much gratitude for the people around me (family, friends, writers). And honestly, there is not one thing in this journey that I regret. Everything I've done, everyone I've met, has brought me a step closer to this life I love. So thank you.

And I hope that I am able to repay all that you have done for me. I hope by reading extra chapters of your books (to give you more of a chance) or beta reading your next book or offering suggestions to your queries or plugging your blogs/books, I am doing my part to pay back all that has been given to me.

You are all made of awesomesauce.


P.S. I hope you are all looking forward to my new blog segment "Christa Talks to the Teen" with Aliya. My first batch of questions will be answered by her here on July 29.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Help Me With My Query Letter

I'm doing Deana's Gearin' Up To Get An Agent Blog-o-Rama this week which involves getting helpful feedback on my MANHOLE query letter. Feel free to weigh in on what works and doesn't work for you. (You may not tell me that my manuscript is too short. It is a conscious choice on my part.)



Eighteen-year old Ben Honorat decides not to go to the party with his girlfriend, Ani. He’s not there when two strangers pour her drinks and brag about the upcoming “ride.” He misses her table dance, her announcement of a plan to hook up with half the guys in the room, and finding her passed out three hours later with no memory of the night.

But when doctors surgically remove a lighter left inside Ani, he's there. When whispers of "Firecrotch" and "Manhole" follow Ani down the school halls, he's there. When Ani begs him to make her forget, but then cries as he whispers, "I love you," he's there. And when his best friend tells him Ani's messing around with other guys, he is there.

Ben doesn't know how to fix Ani. But he is there.  

MANHOLE is a dark contemporary upper YA novel addressing the devastating aftereffects of rape from the perspective of the victim’s boyfriend. Sparsely written in the manner of Beth Goobie's STICKS AND STONES or Chris Lynch's FREEWILL, MANHOLE is complete at 30,000 words.

I have eight years experience volunteering as a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs. I was a quarter finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. I have spent the last six months working as an editorial intern for Entangled Publishing and have recently been hired as a publicist for their YA authors. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

A few notes to my teen self...

I've been reading lots of really good YA books right now. And I have a teen beta who you all will be meeting on Friday, July 29th in my new blog feature "Christa Talks to the Teen" (I know, very original). I thought it might be helpful for YA writers to ask questions to a teen reader so I asked Aliya to help and she's all in. (Side note: she writes great reviews for teen books so if you're interested, you should follow her).

In the meantime, I've been thinking about some things I would say to my teen self if I came across her today and I thought it would be fun to share:

1. "Hey Christa, that guy you're with. Not the right guy. The nice guy who actually likes you is much better."

I believe we've all had that conversation with our teen selves. Mine is particularly painful because I've sadly had to interact with the "wrong choice" ex-boyfriend in the kids' school car pool line 17 years after we broke up. And yes, before you ask, I was holding my carpool #69 up at the time. So humiliating. He's still not the right guy. Trust me.

2. "Hey Christa, you'll regret wearing those shoes to prom one day."

It did seem like a good idea at the time.

3. "Hey Christa, stop taking yourself so seriously. Laugh more and eat more."

I think these words of wisdom still hold today. I was a dark and broody teen (I know, you're shocked). It would have been nice to have spent more time outside than in my room reading The Bell Jar. Really, I don't think anyone needs to read that book more than twice although I still love the poetry of Sylvia Plath.

4. "Hey Christa, you talk too much when you drink. And it always ends badly."

Um, I might need to be reminded of this on a weekly basis. Just saying.  

And finally, because I am watching my daughter on the cusp of tweendom, I offer advice to my tween self....

5. "Hey Tween Christa, it may seem like a demotion to be made the Bulldog mascot after that one disastrous pom pom routine where you knocked the entire squad over like a row of dominos, but really, mascots have more fun."

I'd love to hear what you all would say to your teen or tween selves. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words...

Heather Howland is having a contest over on her blog wherein we need to create a scene in 1,000 words or less for this picture:
As promised, my entry below is not "dark" YA. It's no opus (I didn't have time to revise 127 times), but I hope it makes you laugh a little. 

The Photo Shoot

“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” I yelled as the photographer messed around with the lights for the four hundredth time in the past hour. “Do you even have the first clue how uncomfortable this position is? Not to mention the dried grass that has made its way up my dress and into my butt crack.”
What was with this shot anyway? Seriously. The watch? The boob-enhancing dress? The vacant gaze toward absolutely nothing?
Bogdon, the photographer, had said he was going for contemporary Salvador Dali. Really? Snort.
“Sorry, Katrina,” Bogdon answered in his thick accent. “Just one more minute. Okay, I think I got it.” He stepped back and the entire light fell sideways.
Obviously, my mom had employed a total idiot. I should have known no good would come from finding a photographer in a mall. But she assured me his portfolio was stellar and truthfully, with a budget of $250, beggars can’t really be choosers.
The modeling had been my idea. After Dad bailed on us, leaving a closet full of shirts and a mountain of debt from some dubious investments he’d made, my mom had been forced to ransack my college fund to pay for the house.  Yes, we could have sold it and found a cheap apartment to rent, but honestly, the whole Dad thing was traumatic enough in the first place. Neither mom nor I were super psyched about losing the house we’d lived in for sixteen years.
People have always told me I could be a model. I have a decent body and pretty clear skin. Before we lost our money, I didn’t really consider it because it seemed pretty shallow and lame. But I’m not a good enough student to get any sort of academic scholarship and sadly, I’m not so awesome in soccer that a college is going to throw money at me to play for them, which left modeling. I’d read an article in a fashion magazine about this girl who paid for college just by doing a bunch of catalogue work. I figured: how hard could it be?
Except no one told me you have to have a portfolio of modeling shots before they’ll consider you at any sort of reputable agency. What the hell? Isn’t that what a modeling agency is for? To take pictures of you? Evidently not. So after three embarrassing interviews at agencies, I told my mom we were going to have to make a small investment in building a portfolio.
Enter Bogdon, the mall photographer.
While Bogdon readjusted the light, his assistant Jake walked over and offered me something to drink. He had on jeans with paint specks on them and a black shirt that said “I See Dumb People” across the front. Funny. His dark hair was too long and I’ve never been into guys with goatees, but still he was good-looking. And sort of sweet to offer me a bevie.
“Thanks, but I’m not supposed to move.”
He walked over to the small cooler and table Bogdon had set up. He returned holding a cup of water with a straw sticking out of it and positioned it in front of my mouth. Bliss.
“So how long have you worked for Bogdon?” I asked.
“About three months. I go to the U and he asked my Photography prof if any of his students were interested in assisting so…”
I liked the way his voice sounded, strong and sure of himself.  I grinned at him. Maybe…wait, what the heck was wrong with me? I was flirting with Bogdon’s assistant? Clearly the lights and the dried grass were getting to me. I took a sip of water and waited for him to walk away. He didn’t. Huh.
“So does he do a lot of modeling photo shoots?” I asked, looking toward Bogdon kicking the light stand.
“As far as I know, this is his first. He mostly does weddings. He has a portrait studio in the mall, but that’s for families and little kids.”
I closed my eyes. Worse than I thought. Bogdon was like one of the Sears Family Portrait Studio photographers. I started to hyperventilate.
“He’s pretty creative, though,” Jake added, sensing my impending breakdown.
I took another sip of water.
“So you’re trying to be a model, huh? That’s cool.”
Okay, now he was sucking up.
“No, it’s really not. Listen, you don’t have to be nice to me because you feel bad about Bogdon. It was me and my broke mom who hired him.”
My mom had walked over to Bogdon and held the front of the light while he tightened something on the back. She whispered to him, but I could tell from her hissing she was questioning her “great photographer find” as well.
“I’m not being nice to you because of that. I was making small talk,” Jake said and squatted in the fake grass next to me. He smelled lemon-y. Yum.
I shifted my position and Bogdon looked up and gave me the don’t move a muscleglare. My arm had officially fallen asleep. I couldn’t even feel the watch anymore.
“Small talk, huh?” I said and slid my legs an inch to the right. Bogdon’s head snapped up. Geez, superhero hearing. “So do you live on campus?”
“No, I live in Richfield with my parents. It’s cheaper.”
I’d have to go that route too, especially since I obviously wasn’t going to be getting a modeling contract any time soon.
“And what do you do for fun when you’re not in class?” I was not hitting on him. Well, maybe just a little.
He smiled and my breath caught. Holy crap. Dimples. Game changer.   
“Well, I converse with wannabe models and try to talk them into giving me their phone numbers.”
I looked over at a now cursing Bogdon and stifled a laugh. What a train wreck. My gaze shifted back to Jake’s dimples. Maybe the day wouldn’t be a total bust after all.
“Do you have a pen?”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Inside The Author's Studio with Lisa and Laura Roecker

Today, I'm interviewing the Awesome Lisa and Laura Roecker whose book THE LIAR SOCIETY came out in March of 2011. Their follow-up novel THE LIES THAT BIND will be available Spring 2012. So without further ado, here is my version of the Proust Questionnaire and their answers.

What is your favorite word?

Laura: Enigmatic. Although Lisa would NEVER let me get away with using it in one of our books.

Lisa: I can almost guarantee you that “enigmatic” will NEVER turn up in one of our books. Unless Laura sneaks in and adds it after I've done my final edits. Which would be kind of bad ass, but would probably result in some kind of sister writer fisticuffs. In completely related news, one of my favorite (semi)words is fisticuffs. I like words that sound like what they mean.  
      What is your least favorite word?

Laura: Thimble. Perma-lisp word.

Lisa: Ooh, thimble is good. I also hate "fuddy duddy." Anyone that uses the term fuddy duddy most certainly IS a fuddy duddy. Gotta love the irony.

What turns your current MC on?

Laura: Liam Gilmore and getting involved with stuff. She can’t help herself.

Lisa: I can actually kind of relate to Kate. I always manage to get myself involved in stuff that's really none of my damn business. 

What turns your current MC off?

Both: Seth constantly eating in her ear. Ew.

What sound do you love?

Laura: A solid laugh from my daughter. The real, real kind.

Lisa: Ooh, another good answer! My favorite laugh du jour comes from my 9-month-old son. It's also pretty satisfying when the older two laugh at one of my jokes. They don't really think I'm that funny. I also love the dull popping noise that my phone makes when I have a new email. It's the sound of possibilities! 

What sound do you hate?

Laura: Any variety of whining.

Lisa: I hate the sound of screaming/fighting which is unfortunately the soundtrack of my life right now. Good times.

What is your favorite YA quirk? 

Laura: Reading ARE YOU GOING TO KISS ME KNOW, which is freaking hilarious. MC texts her best friend constantly and her texts are laugh out loud funny. That’s my current fave.

Lisa: Hmmm...I loved all the OCD quirks in Adele Griffin's THE JULIAN GAME. All that counting and the rituals. Fascinating stuff.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Laura: I’d love to try being a librarian.

Lisa: I'd want to be a publicist for a publishing house. I can't imagine anything more fun and exciting than promoting books that I love. (Christa's side note: Hey, I do that job!)

What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting?

Laura: A salesperson. I am the WORST salesperson on the face of the planet.

Lisa: Waitress. I actually waitressed at The Ground Round one summer in college and I ended up crying EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. And Laura was the hostess and she kept seating tables in my section without telling me, so they'd get really mad and hungry and they'd yell. And I'd cry. Because I'm a people pleaser and I hate it when people are mad at me. It was a complete shit show.

Laura: Um…for the record, the hostess is not responsible for “telling” the waitress she has a new table. The waitress is supposed to know that said table IS IN HER SECTION.

If John Green sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you?

Laura: “Your book is the most influential YA book I’ve read in a long time.” HA (preferably he would leave out the “HA”).

Lisa: "Wait, Lisa is the older sister? Whoa. I totally thought Laura was the older one. You don't look a day over 18, Lisa."

These girls are made of AWESOME. I'm so happy they were willing to be my first interviewees. And I will randomly choose one of the lucky people that comment on this post (before midnight tomorrow night) to receive your very own copy of THE LIAR SOCIETY (see side bar for details) or if you already have it, let me know and I will send you a $20 gift card to Amazon to purchase THE LIES THAT BIND when it comes out.