Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Year In Books

So I was supposed to be participating in this blog fest where I spend several days discussing all the best things about the books I read this year. Unfortunately, that is not going to be possible due to a bit of craziness in the family holiday vacation this year. Sorry girls!! But I did, at the very least, want to give you all a list of the books that stayed with me in 2011. I read just over 250 books this year so for a book to really stay with me is a BIG deal.

(Note: I limited this list to YA books since it is mostly what I read. Also, not all of these were published in 2011, but I read them then so I'm listing them.)

Eighteen year-old Evan and his best friend, Davis, get beaten up for being loners. For being gay. For just being themselves. But as rough as things often seem, at least Evan can take comfort in his sweet, sexy boyfriend Erik--whom he’s kept secret from everyone for almost a year. 

Then Evan and Davis are recruited to join the Chasers, a fringe crowd that promises them protection and status. Davis is swept up in the excitement, but Evan is caught between his loyalty to Davis and his love for Erik. Evan’s lied to keep his two worlds separate. Now his lies are about to implode…and destroy the very relationships he’s been trying to protect.

He’s saved her. He’s loved her. He’s killed for her. 

Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn’t protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he’s never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn’t matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another—Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed. 

Then along comes Evan, the only person who’s ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is. 

But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer’s committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn’t get what she wants… And what she wants is Evan’s death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about.

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. 
Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

Boy, did Blink get off on the wrong floor. All he wanted was to steal some breakfast for his empty belly, but instead he stumbled upon a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an "abducted" CEO, giving Blink a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now Blink is on the run, but it’s OK as long as he’s smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold. Enter a girl named Caution. As in "Caution: Toxic." As in "Caution: Watch Your Step." She’s also on the run, from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a nightmare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the train station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this na├»ve, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel. Charged with suspense and intrigue, this taut novel trails two deeply compelling characters as they forge a blackmail scheme that is foolhardy at best, disastrous at worst - along with a fated, tender partnership that will offer them each a rare chance for redemption.
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.
It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I StayWhere She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Will and Asheley have a troubled past. Their father left them when they were little, and their mother has just been carted off to an alcohol treatment center. Now, they have the house to themselves, and an endless California summer stretching out before them. Through alternating perspectives, they tell the story of how and why their lives spun violently out of control - right up to the impossibly shocking conclusion you'll have to read for yourself to believe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christa Talks To The Teen Boy--At Last

So you all have waited a long time for this, but at last, here is the interview with my teenage boy (Well, not my teenage boy, but you get what I mean). Warning: this is a bit of a long one because I ended up harassing him on Facebook with way more questions than I expected.
I promised him I wouldn't put his picture on my blog. Sorry. 
I should tell you in advance that he is adorable and delightful but he is NOT a reader. Which is why I want him to read my books. As many of you know, getting boys to read is one of the BIGGEST items on my agenda and I will shamelessly coerce all of them to do it with promises of cookies and knitted Spartan hats if I must.

Which of the following books have you read?

a. The Hunger Games
b. Twilight
c. 13 Reasons Why
d. Looking For Alaska
e. Perfect Chemistry
f. Boy Toy
g. The Sky is Everywhere

17yo: I've heard of Twilight and The Hunger Games, but I've not read either of them.

What would you call these pants?

17yo: Tight Capris
For real? You wouldn't call them jeans? You'd say to one of your friends, "Did you see the capris that girl was wearing?" and not "Did you see the jeans that girl was wearing?"
17yo: Tight Capris

What would make you read a book over playing a video game?

17yo: If it was a homework assignment:)

Who is your real life hero? Who is your fictional hero?

17yo: Real life- Jim Lovell. Fictional- John Wayne.

(Side note: John Wayne! Isn't this kid adorable?)

Which of these two covers would you buy and why?

17yo: Of these two, I would choose the Wicked Lovely book because the kissing in the shower is a little much for me.

What type of cover would appeal to you?

17yo: Hmm...I really like simple covers. For example, for Econ I had to read a book called Naked Economics and I really liked the cover.

I know your mom read to you when you were younger and you were also an early reader. When do you think you stopped reading for fun? 

17yo: Maybe around 7th grade. I think it was because I started to do other things like football and the school gave us more books to read. The English class I'm in now doesn't require us to read books and I can't remember all of last years : / But for my stats class we could choose a book to read each semester. I read the book Bringing Down the House and Moneyball and I enjoyed both of them, especially Bringing Down the House.

What are some books you have read in English?

17yo: In the past we've read Catcher in The Rye, Harold and Maude, Portrait of An Artist, My Name is Asher Lev, Antigone, and Grapes of Wrath.

Did you like any of these books?

17yo: Ehh, not really, maybe Antigone. I might have liked them more if I was able to read them at my own pace. 

This is the part in the interview where I tell him about the book I'm writing and describe the crazy plot for him:)

17yo: That sounds intense.

Is this your way of saying "Wait to give it to me until summer, Christa."

17yo: Haha I could use a good book to read while Im waiting for a loop at caddying.

So that is the reality of what I'm up against. What anyone who writes for teenagers (particularly boys) is up against. Yes, there are teens who love to read (I have two other boy betas who are BIG readers), but I think that my friend here represents a fairly significant majority of boys. Feel free to correct me. It's highly unscientific speculation. But I am so very grateful for the chance to pick apart his mind. Thank you, my 17-year old friend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Inside The Author's Studio With Elana Johnson

Hello friends! Welcome to another edition of Inside The Author's Studio. Today's guest is the fabulous author Elana Johnson. Her book POSSESSION is a dystopian book of awesome and one of you lucky commenters will receive your very own copy. (Side note: Elana is a bit of a personal hero for me. I contacted her when I first started writing and asked permission to post this interview on my blog. She is made of win.)

What is your favorite word? Shrub
What is your least favorite word? Fart
What turns your current MC on? Oh, man. How about wicked cool hair and a strong attitude? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
What turns your current MC off? Getting punched in the mouth and/or watching someone else kiss his girlfriend.
What sound do you love? The sound of rain falling on my roof.
What sound do you hate? Whining children.
What is your favorite YA quirk? I like lyrical writing, almost poetry in the text. No, wait. I like made-up words. No, wait. Strikeouts.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? World traveler.
What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting? Salesman.
If John Green exists and sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you? “Dude…” Yeah, that would be enough.  

Thank you, Elana!! Don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win POSSESSION. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inside the Author's Studio with Ali Cross

Today, I am super happy to have Ali Cross at my blog for a special edition of Inside the Author's Studio. Ali blogs here and her new book BECOME was released last week. Remember that one lucky commenter will receive a copy of BECOME (U.S. only please). 

What is your favorite word? JOYFUL!

What is your least favorite word? Um I’m not sure if I can say it. It’s a four letter word that starts with c and ends with t and is a very, very ugly word people sometimes call a woman. Blech.

What turns your current MC on? Ooh. Maybe I could say that word. ;) Hm, what turns Desi on? I think that would be fingertips gently traced over her neck and behind her hair.

What turns your current MC off? Someone trying to control her.

What sound do you love? I love the sound of my children’s laughter, or the sound of my husband singing “You Are My Sunshine” in a sleepy voice when I need a little comforting in the middle of the night (I have nightmares sometimes).

What sound do you hate? The sound of people fighting.

What is your favorite YA quirk? Oh heh heh. Um? Uh. (I’m about as eloquent as Desi, here). I don’t think people, and maybe especially teens, tell the truth about their feelings. So I tend to write teens that don’t tell the truth. I am suddenly doubting my answer here—wish I had a funny quirk to share, but Desi’s kind of not funny. Probably because I am not funny. :P

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? I would have liked to have a more of a career in singing. I sang for a few years with Opera Idaho—but I would have loved to sing at the Met or New York City Opera. But if you’re asking for something I have never done, even in part, I’d say large animal vet.

What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting? Hahahaha! It would have to be something really bad for me to prefer the cat urine—that stuff is horrid. Worse than horrid. Shiver. And I just now realized you did NOT say cat urine, but I’m not going to change what I wrote because everyone can agree that cat urine is baaaaaaaad. Yet I would rather bathe in that than be a potato sorter (again).

If John Green exists and sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you? First, I’d like to hope I didn’t snort my drink, or spill it on him, as I am wont to do around awesome, funny people. Then I’d hope he’d get right up in my face, give me that intense look he has and say, “Dude, you are the best nerdfigher anywhere and your words DO. NOT. SUCK.” 

This was a lot of fun Christa! Thanks so much for having me at your blog today! You’re the best!

Thanks to Ali for joining us!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

When Silence Destroys The Lives of Others...

Audre Lorde once said, "Your silence will not protect you."

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Penn State events over the past few days. I have many, many thoughts on this issue, but first, I think it is important for you all to know exactly the timeline of this abuse. Because it's not like this just came up this week. And not everyone knows how far back and how deep this case goes. Nor do they know how many people knew what was happening and chose not to say anything.

C.C. Finlay gives a very accurate and thorough timeline here. Please note the number of incidents that occurred and when they began. 1998. 1998 was the first time Sandusky was caught. And there were four incidents in which the abuse was witnessed by other people. Four. Legal action was not taken until the fourth incident. By Finlay's count, fifteen people knew about this abuse prior to legal action being taken. FIFTEEN.

And how many boys were abused between 1998 when the mother of one of the victims first reported what happened to her son and 2011 when Sandusky was finally indicted?

It's horrifying. It's staggering. FIFTEEN people. This is not just an issue of Paterno's silence not protecting him. This goes so much further than that. It speaks to a rape culture in which obvious abuse goes unreported or gets pushed under the rug because the abuser is a good guy and expresses remorse. It speaks of the culpability of those who kept silent for fear of losing their job. It speaks to the world at large and why so many people feel the need to defend Paterno.

I'm sick about all of it. I am sick of people not saying things when horrible things are happening. We all have a responsibility to stop abuse. If nothing else, we have a responsibility to SPEAK. We have a responsibility to SPEAK LOUDER when no one listens. This is not complicated. These were children. There was never a question of acquiescence in this. This is a very obvious case of abuse and STILL people are fighting about it.

I worry so much about the messages we are sending our children. I worry about what we are saying and the culture we are creating. Why would anyone who has been abused want to come forward when all they are met with is denial or rationalizations for not reporting? And what about the cases that aren't obvious? The cases where someone has been drinking and is raped or someone is wearing a short skirt and hitting on guys and is raped? If ten year old boys aren't being protected, why would a sixteen year old drunk girl date raped at a party be believed or protected?

I don't know what to say except SPEAK and SPEAK LOUDLY. A friend of mine once told me when she had teenage sons, she insisted that they be responsible for every girl at the parties they attended. They were to make sure all of them left safely and didn't get in situations that left them vulnerable. I thought this was an awfully big ask, but then she told me, "It's not enough for my boys not to be perpetrators, they have a responsibility, we all have a responsibility to stop others from being perpetrators. That's how our children should be raised. If they don't look out for each other, no one will."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is the R-word the worst swear word???

BACKGROUND INFO: For those who don't know, 6-9yo's are obsessed with swear words. The knowledge of such is the topic of much recess conversation. My kids talk about the F-word, the A-word and the S-word frequently (but hilariously, they don't actually know what the words are, just the first letters).

So this is the dinner conversation with my 9yo two nights ago:

9yo: One of the boys found a swear word in the Spanish word search.
Me: Yeah? Seems kind of weird for a word search.
9yo: Yeah, he said it was the worst one EVER but I don't know if it's a swear word.
Me: Huh.
9yo: It was the R-word.
Me: Hmm...I don't know any R swear words. Not even in Spanish. I think he was making it up.
(30 minutes later)
9yo: I keep thinking about that word. Can I write it down and you tell me if it's a swear word?
Me: Okay.

And then she hands me a slip of paper and the air whooshes out of my lungs.


I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. My daughter doesn't even know where babies come from (I'm a feminist, I am ready and willing to have that conversation with her, but she has ZERO interest so I don't push it). How the heck was I supposed to respond to this piece of paper?

This is what I said: Jojo, this is a terrible word for many reasons. But it's not a swear word. It's a grown up word that I don't think you're ready for yet. But when you're ready, I'll tell you. I don't want you asking other kids what this means. This is a conversation for you and me to have when you're older.

I have no idea if this was a good response. I've been stewing about it ever since. Part of me is glad that this boy thinks the R-word is the worst swear word. Part of me wonders how he heard it in the first place (although honestly, it could have been anywhere). Part of me wants to pull my daughter out of school and protect her from all this. She's 9 years old. I don't want her introduction to sex to be wrapped into violence.

But the truth is, mine was. And I have worked for many years with an organization (The Voices and Faces Project) whose mission is to not brush the issue of rape under the rug. Whose mission is to deconstruct the rape culture we live in so that good dialogue can happen around this issue and change can be affected.

I worry that by not explaining this word to my daughter, I am (possibly) allowing someone else to create the lens for her. But still, I'm not ready to tell her yet. At the SCBWI LA conference, Donna Jo Napoli said we must write about horrible things not only for those who have experienced them, but also for those who haven't so that those who have been sheltered may develop empathy and compassion. I agree with this completely. And yet, when my 9yo wants to know what rape is, the words can't form in my mouth. And I'm not convinced that they should. Yet.

I'm very curious as to what other parents would have done in this situation. Did I miss an opportunity for dialogue or am I rightly allowing my daughter to hang on to her innocence for a little bit longer???

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Inside the Author's Studio with Nova Ren Suma & A GIVEAWAY

It is time once again for you all to meet another fabulous YA author. Today's guest for Inside the Author's Studio is Nova Ren Suma, author of the absolutely wonderful IMAGINARY GIRLS. Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of IMAGINARY GIRLS. 

1.     What is your favorite word? I’m afraid it might be the word just. (I mean, just look at my first drafts before I start revising and reining myself in. I seem to adore that word so much I just use it constantly. I just can’t help it.)

2.     What is your least favorite word? Can’t. (When someone tells me I can’t do something, I immediately get fired up and decide I can and I will.)

3.     What turns your current MC on? Mystery.

4.     What turns your current MC off? Being locked for hours in a coat closet.

5.     What sound do you love? A pounding rainstorm—especially when heard from beneath an umbrella while walking through the park at night, or through an open window when I’m indoors and dry, or (my favorite) while in the passenger seat of a car that’s driving down a long, dark road.

6.     What sound do you hate? Jackhammers on the sidewalk when I am trying to write! Not even earplugs or music can keep the sound out of my head, even from twelve floors above the street! Can you see it drives me insane!

7.     What is your favorite YA quirk? (i.e. The Colonel’s desire to give everyone nicknames) Lists. 1) I love it when a narrator suddenly breaks into list form to tell you important things. 2) Or even random things. 3) Because often what’s revealed in the list colors everything else in the story. 4) Or acts as a diversion. 5) And I always enjoy a good diversion. 

8.     What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Do you ever wonder about being something completely other than what you are? After a day sitting in a chair and agonizing over words, I do. So if I were a different person entirely from the person I am—and by that I mean if I were a physically coordinated, graceful, fit, and brave person—I’d be a surfer. That’s all I’d do. I’d surf, nap on the beach, and wake up early the next morning to go in the ocean again. I should probably admit that I’ve never surfed before and I can barely swim, but watching from afar it seems so exhilarating. So worry-free… aside from sunburn and sharks, of course.

9.     What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting? Debt collector. That’s something I’d never do to anyone else, even with a gun to my head.

10.     If John Green exists and sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you? “I read your book and I loved it.” Don’t we all wish he’d one day whisper such beautiful words into our ears? (And one day, if he does indeed exist and I ever get to meet him, I’ll probably say those very words to him. Because I’ve read all his books and I love them.)

Thank You Nova! Isn't she adorable? Go follow her on Twitter: @novaren

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Inside the Author's Studio with Myra McEntire

Hooray! Inside the Author's Studio today features the incredibly cool, very adorable Myra McEntire. Remember, one lucky commenter will receive a free copy of her awesome book HOURGLASS.

1.     What is your favorite word? Serendipity.

2.     What is your least favorite word? Turgid. Don’t ask.

3.     What turns your current MC on? I plead the fifth.

4.     What turns your current MC off? Garlic breath.

5.     What sound do you love? My kids’ “evil” laughs.

6.     What sound do you hate? Crying. The soul crushing kind.

7.     What is your favorite YA quirk? (i.e. The Colonel’s desire to give everyone nicknames) My MC’s tendency to punch people. I wish I could get away with that.

8.     What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Photography. Or some kind of visual art.

9.     What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting? SALES. I WILL DRINK URINE BEFORE I EVER TRY TO SELL ANOTHER THING.

10. If John Green exists and sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you? Oh, no, your awkwardness doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I LIKE IT. 

Yes, Myra is as AWESOME as I suspected. Thank you for joining us today! Don't forget to comment in order to win HOURGLASS. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Christa Talks To The Teen--The September Edition

Okay, lovelies, it is time once again for me to ask questions of my teen beta Aliya so that old(er) people can gain insight into the inner workings of a reading YA's mind. 

1. Jeggings, bootleg, skinny jeans, or those flowy numbers I've seen people wearing? What kind of pants are the teens wearing?
I wear bootleg, but there are only a few of us left.  EVERYONE is wearing skinny jeans. 

2. Have you ever read a YA book that you thought a character might be better if s/he were gay in? (#yesgayYA)
I have never thought about changing a character before.  A character is just like a person in the sense that I have no say in whether or not they're gay, so I never thought about their potentials to be.  Unless, of course, the author purposefully has you wondering whether they're gay or not.

3. How old do you think my daughter needs to be to read Twilight? To Kill A Mocking Bird? Hex Hall? 
11 or 12.  That's when I started reading them.

4. Would you ever pick up a YA book with characters who were all a different race or ethnicity than you?
Definitely!  When I was younger I probably just wouldn't have picked them out from other books, but recently I've been reading a lot more about people who are different from me. 

5. Do fictional vampires need to worry about STDs?
Psh, no!  They are otherwordly and don't have to deal with the complications of STDs.  Unless we're talking about Peeps, in which case vampirism IS an STD.  Although, that would make an interesting twist... But no one would want a vampire with STDs.

6. How do you like your iPad? Are you reading exclusively on it yet? Pros/cons vs. regular books?
I LOVE it!  I use it for them than just reading (iPad games are the best!).  I still read physical books most of the time, but I'm slowly reading more and more on the iPad.  I'm afraid of neglecting physical books.  I will not give up my goal of owning 800 books!  I'm so glad I have it, when I get ebooks I'm not killing my eyes by reading on my computer or tiny iPhones screen anymore.

7. What do you think about the lack of parental involvement in YA books? Unrealistic? And if parents are more involved, does it taint a book for you?

I think it's a good character conflict and that's why it's in so many books.  Kids, teenagers, we need our parents, and it's a big deal when a person doesn't really have them there.  I don't mind parents being there in the books, but it does give teenagers a feeling of maturity to read about an independant teenage character.

Thanks Aliya. As usual, you are made of AWESOME. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Working on craft...sadly, not Kraft

Yes, it would be nice if I were eating Mac N Cheese, but no. I am fixing GESTAPO. I imagine all of you are as tired of hearing about this book as I am of revising it. But it has some craft "problems" as it were. It's funny when you've done some editing, when you've read books for critique partners, and when you've made your way through a giant slush pile, you start to realize what your bad habits are.

I'm not talking about the obvious ones like overuse of "just" and "that." I'm talking about things like when you're writing in first person and get in another character's head. I evidently do this quite a bit. Sadly, this is usually signaled by an inappropriate use of an adverb.

So if you've seen my website or you've been following me for awhile, you have a general idea about what GESTAPO is about. And perhaps you even know that I changed the whole thing from 3rd person to 1st person. Well, in doing all this revision, I've managed to forget that my MC doesn't know exactly what everyone is thinking.

For example, "Andrew swallowed uncomfortably."

This seems fairly innocuous until you start to ask yourself, "Can our MC see him swallow? And how does she know he's uncomfortable?"

Ack. Double ack. So I'm trying to fix those. I'm also guilty of failing to contract enough.

This morning, I used the FIND button to discover every "am" in my manuscript and see if I needed to change it to an "I'm" instead of "I am." I love the FIND button sometimes, but today, not only did it FIND all the "I am" cases, but also, "family" "game" and "team"---super fun weeding through that!

So what about you, my writing duckies? What are the bad habits you need to use the FIND button for?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Christa Talks To The Teen---The August Edition

Okay duckies, first of all, for those of you following yesterday's 3 truths and 1 lie, the lie was #4. And I am glad you all love my NYC bestie as much as I do. 

Now, it is time once again for this month's "Christa Talks To The Teen" featuring the lovely Aliya. Don't forget that this is a monthly feature done on the last Friday of every month, so if you have questions for Aliya, drop them in the comments and she will tackle them next month.

Christa: What's your favorite kind of YA to read?

Aliya: I go through phases in which I read a whole bunch of one kind of book at a time. I ALWAYS like romance in my books. I'll switch between heart wrenching drama, light humored comedy, suspenseful mystery, paranormal (don't even get me started in the individual creatures). I enjoy a lot of books so long as they're fiction (and usually have a romance).

Christa: I grew up in the 80's and 90's, which of these words still work in YA:
Awesome, Sweet, Excellent, Badass, Cool, Nice, Lame, Douchebag, Baller, PHAT

Aliya: Awesome always works! Sweet is good. Excellent is a huge yes! Badass is constantly being used in my house. Cool works all the time. Nice is good. Lame is okay, but only sometimes. Douchebag is used, but not by me. I have never even heard of Baller of PHAT actually being used.

Christa: Sex, drinking, and alcohol---too much in YA books? too little? Appropriate for what's out there?

Aliya: I'm finding an appropriate amount. There is a good amount with and without those, and they're all realistic. Over half of teenagers seem to drink, have sex, and do drugs, and I think they want to read about it, too. The teens who don't do any of it generally want to read about it, sometimes just to understand the other people without joining them. But everyone wants a break from it at times, and there are books for that as well.

Christa: What TV shows do you think gets it right with teens? 

Aliya: I've been discussing this with my sisters, and my sister finally said "I don't know! Shows aren't for us to relate to, they're to entertain us!" Come on, most shows are outlandish and the others give us a few topics to connect with and then go overboard with the rest. There are emotions and circumstances from Degrassi, Glee, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager that are realistic, but it's TV, they exaggerate everything.

Thanks Aliya! As usual, you are made of AWESOME. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's In A Name---Becoming Attached to Titles

So I was messing around on Blogger dashboard, trying to figure out how people found my blog and evidently, the number one source for the past month is through a website that promotes itself as "a place for alternative people."

Well, that is maybe good...I think. I guess I am an "alternative" person. I married a black man. I write YA books about rape and people playing deadly games. I promote books about GLBTQ serial killers. I am a critique partner for someone who writes BDSM erotica. I also teach Sunday School. And am co-chair of my kids' school PTA. Yes, some might call that being "alternative."

But I was thinking maybe these "alternative" people found me because I have a book I've written called GESTAPO and one called MANHOLE and this is appealing to "alternative people" (Once again, for the love of cheese, please don't let any skinheads be following me--if you are, trust me, you are at the wrong place).

Which brings me to titles...I've read a few funny blogs/tweets about how titles get changed constantly and not to become too attached to yours. I see this and know it to be true, but I am VERY attached to my titles. Yes, my books could be called something else, but why would they be? My titles are awesome (see what I mean by being attached?).

And honestly, to me, a book doesn't feel like a book until I have a great title to start it with. It's ridiculous, I know, but still, there's something about seeing it on that first page that is very calming. So for those of you who are curious, the next book I'll be writing (hopefully during NaNoWriMo) is going to be called GIRL 26.

How about the rest of you? Do you think I'm nuts or do you become this attached to titles as well? And what are your favorite all time book titles?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Yes, I DO Have an Agent

In 1981, John Waters wrote and directed the film Polyester wherein he introduced audiences to "odorama" and provided each of them with scratch and sniff cards at the movie theaters. It was a hilarious concept and would have been really effective if I had actually seen it in the theater. But I watched it at home with no card and random numbers flashing on the screen every few minutes. It was still hilarious.

So as I write my "how I got my agent" story, I am going to provide you all with hot links to the things that helped me in the journey. And you can click on them or not. Sniff the card. Don't sniff the card. Your call.

As some of you know, I started writing my first novel GESTAPO about 18 months ago. And I finished it this past January. Er, sort of. Many, many people read it and gave me suggestions for how to fix it. And it did pretty well as far as things go. I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest and was a quarter finalist. I won some query and pitch contests with it. But still, it wasn't quite right. Because it was a first novel. Everyone tells you to trunk your first novel. Agents say it all the time. And they are right. The problem with trunking GESTAPO: my premise was compelling and it stinks to trunk great premises.

So I let my dear friend and mentor Heather Howland take a look at it and she tore it apart in the best possible way. All writers should have a Heather Howland in their lives. And because of all the revising I did after Heather's feedback, I started to get full requests on it.

Then I waited. Then I got a revise and resubmit request on GESTAPO. And then I waited some more. And in the meantime, I participated in this Testimonial Writing Workshop with the Voices and Faces Project. And while I was there, I figured out the next book I wanted to write. And I wrote it because I had to write it. It's called MANHOLE and when I first started it, I called it the book that would never be published. And many people offered to read that one too and gave me great suggestions for fixing it.

Then Deana Barnhart had this "Gearin' Up To Get An Agent" blogfest in July. And I put my query letter for MANHOLE up there because I had decided maybe I should trunk GESTAPO after all (yes, a few agents still had it but they'd now had it for almost 3 months). And I thought the query feedback went pretty well. So I sent the MANHOLE query letter out to five agents. Five agents who I know love dark YA. And who maybe wouldn't think MANHOLE was unpublishable.

And three days later, one of the agents who had GESTAPO called me to offer for it. Because, you know, that's how timing works. So I had to contact the agents who had the MANHOLE query and tell them I had an offer. And as you can only imagine, it was like Dr. Seuss's THE SNEETCHES because now two different books were in play and it was a big fat kerfuffle. (Off again, on again, in again, out again, through the machines they raced round and about again!). I ended up with four offers of representation. And yes, I had some of those phone calls while trying to attend the SCBWI conference in LA. Thank goodness for my CP Carrie who was there to talk it all out with me.

And not everyone will tell you this, but the whole decision making process is super exciting and ragingly hard. I mean really hard. And even when you absolutely know the right one, it is sort of painful telling the other ones "no." Because they were all right for some reasons, but "the one" is right for ALL the reasons.

Which brings me to my "right one"...the absolutely, utterly fabulous Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown LTD. My dark, edgy, feminist writer self couldn't be happier.

And for those of you who want to know my stats, I don't have the first clue. The funny two-book kerfuffle blew all of my query tracking out of the water.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inside The Author's Studio with Lena Roy

Okay, duckies, it is time once again to get to know a fabulous author and this month we are featuring Lena Roy whose powerful book EDGES knocked my socks off when I read it. If you are interested in details, click the book on the sidebar. And don't forget, one lucky commenter will receive their own copy of EDGES (leave your email address so I don't have to hunt you down).

Welcome Lena!
Q: What is your favorite word?
Lena: I love the sensuality in sounds, so there are many words I love. Take BOOMS for example. The Buh sound feels so good, and the OOOOOOO feels delicious. Then there’s the MMMMMM which make your lips vibrate, and do I need to explain how cool the ZZZZZ sound at the end is? That being said, it is a word I use very sparingly, because it is indeed so powerful.

Q: What is your least favorite word:
Lena: Adverbs. Didn’t Stephen King say they are the devil? I have to choose one?
 If I have to choose one word, it would be CAN’T. Say yes people! Believe in yourself!

Q: What turns your MC on?
Lena: From Edges: two main characters, Luke and Ava. Story is told in alternate points of view.
Luke: Australian hosteler Tangerine, hiking, red rocks
Ava: doesn’t think that anything can turn her on anymore after quitting drinking

Q: What turns your MC off?
Lena: Luke: Frank, hippy dippy spirituality
Ava:  her drinking, her boss, Frank

Q: What sound do you love?
Lena: My kids laughing and having fun.

Q: What sound do you hate?
Lena: Whining. My kindergartner stops when I sing (to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Telephone): Stop whining, stop whining, I don’t think I can take anymore/ Your complaints will get me off the dance floor.

Q: What is your favorite YA quirk?
Lena:Taking pictures of gnomes in Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, and the gnomes’ justified outrage.

Q: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Lena: Lounge singer, hands down. (Yes, another financially feasible line of work!)

Q: What profession would you rather bathe in a vat of urine than attempting? 
Lena: Bounty hunter. I’d be too scared!

Q: If John Green exists and sits at your table at a SCBWI conference, what would you like him to say to you? 
Lena: I got to sit next to him on a panel, and pal around a little bit at LeakyCon in Orlando. He is the real deal. I found the courage to ask him to read EDGES and he very graciously said “I would love to,” AND then when I gave it to him, he said: “I need a book to read once I’m done with my revisions: this is perfect.” Now of course, I would be ecstatic if he really did read it and gave it a shout out!

I came home and read Looking for Alaska which I hadn’t read before, so next time I see him, I would love to talk about theology and the complicated relationships we have with God.

Thanks, Lena for making it here today!  I bet I see John Green reading EDGES at the SCBWI conference this week.  

Readers, hit us with your comments for a chance to win your own copy of EDGES.