Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for August, 2012

Book Review: When You Wish Upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthy

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On August - 31 - 2012

When You Wish Upon a Rat 406x600 Book Review: When You Wish Upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthyWhen You Wish Upon a Rat is the first middle grade novel from bestselling Australian Author Maureen McCarthy. Once again I have to ask, why oh why do we have to wait to get our hands on great books written in other English speaking countries? Yeah, yeah, I know the official publishing industry answer. Still, it’s a shame we in the US had to wait two extra years to get this gem of a novel!

Originally released in Australia under the title Careful What You Wish For, When You Wish Upon a Rat is the story of eleven-year-old Ruth Craze, who is understandably annoyed by her inattentive family and saddened by the recent death of the one person she felt like she had a connection with, her aunt Mary Ellen. Before Mary Ellen died, she gave Ruth a precious gift, an (apparently) toy rat named Rodney that’s described as “…like a little gnome or a strange elf from a dream, ugly yet weirdly beautiful too.” Well, you can see where this is going, but that doesn’t spoil the fun. I immediately fell in love with the character of Ruth, probably because she’s a girl after my own heart. “So what if she’d quietly read a book? What harm did it do?” Ruth thinks after being chided by her mother for being less than attentive at her brother’s concert. Exactly! Ruth doesn’t want to attend a boring cycling race with her annoying family, and we don’t blame her. Who wants to be dragged along all the time and treated as if their wants and needs are unimportant? So with the help of her strange friend Howard, Ruth heads off to find a lost Rodney.

I did find McCarthy’s structure a little disconcerting at the beginning due to some jumping around in time, but I quickly got used to it, and the excellent characters soon washed away any doubts. I especially loved Rodney’s humorous creepiness once he appeared in the story to offer Ruth the titular wish. I won’t say what the wish is for fear of spoiling it, but I found the resolution very satisfying. I highly recommend it for lovers of middle grade, and I think fans of both realistic fiction and fantasy will enjoy it.

When You Wish Upon a Rat will be released in the US on September 1st.

Cover image: Amulet Books

Sona’s Summer Reads: Better Late Than Never

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 30 - 2012

10335308 Sonas Summer Reads: Better Late Than NeverOkay, so yeah, I’m a little late. It’s August 30, which means, unless you’re one of those people who counts the first three weeks of September as summer — and c’mon, who really does? — this barely counts as a summer reads post.

But I’ll tell you this: August 30 is still technically summer. Anyway, so for most of this summer, I’ve been traveling a lot. We did a two-week stint in California, a few days in AC, another week in the lovely Provincetown, Mass., where my husband Navdeep earned a scholarship to a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, an amazing program with some awesome online classes, too. In between work-work, hanging with the kid (who, yes, is still not back at daycare), occasional workshopping (yay for returning to that in September!) and trying to squeeze in some writing, well — I still managed to read! Caught you off guard there, huh? You thought I’d be one of those slackers who didn’t manage a single book all summer. Nuh uh, not me. That would have simply been sacrilege.

So in my signature long-windedness, that’s me saying, yes, I do have summer reads for you! Only one YA, but hey, you’ll cope.

Herewith, the list:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
For the longest time, my sister (and screenwriting partner) Meena and I claimed that one Kevin Williamson had stolen our “life.” You know, by creating hit teen shows like Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries, which we both read in high school (back in the day, when the books first came out) and thought would make a perfect teen TV drama. Anyway, it turns out we were wrong, because, in actuality, it was one Mindy Kaling who’d been living a parallel life all along — and now she’s documented said parallel life in her really funny, super-nostalgic and very YA memoir. It’s wry, insightful, embarrassing, and rings oh-so-true, especially if you’re a small, hippy brown girl from the Northeast who was pretty book-obsessed and un-athletic in high school, but then used all she learned there in her later work. (Yeah, I’d say that is a pretty accurate description.) Anyway, it’s got plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s a good warm up for Mindy’s upcoming sitcom, The Mindy Project, which premieres in September (which marks the beginning of the FALL).

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Okay, I really like Jennifer Weiner. Yes, she writes in the much-demeaned chick lit category — which I’ll proudly place myself into — but her work is fun, fast-paced, and frequently insightful. Nothing wrong with that. Many of us could aspire to such success. Anyway, she’s also a very vocal, feisty, no-nonsense woman, and her blog, which frequently calls out the New York Times and other publications on their sexist take on publishing, is pretty awesome. The Next Best Thing, her latest, centers on an everygirl who ends up the head of her own show in Hollywood. Given what I’ve mentioned above, you can see why this was a fun read for me. But underneath the fun, fast-paced read is an examination of the way women struggle to gain and maintain their own power — in the workplace, in romance, in life. Weiner’s got a light touch, but her work isn’t as fluffy as the Times thinks it is.

An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns by John Green
Having read and enjoyed — despite the tears — The Fault In Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I decided to go back to the classic John Green, perusing his other works, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth revisiting these, which both bear his signature confused-yet-adorable male protagonist, quirky, fun, troubled girls, and twisted, crazy plots that veer off in unexpected directions. Plus, his omnipresent themes of loss, reality versus fantasy, and figuring out who you really are. You may need to keep the tissues handy for these, too, but you won’t use up like three boxes like you did for Stars. Smart, weird, and really fun reads, as expected, from this YA icon. And if you’re a fan like I am, check out this awesome, autographed box set of all four!

Photo courtesy Three Rivers Press

Alyson’s Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!

Posted by Alyson Gerber On August - 29 - 2012

Document1 600x301 Alysons Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!
It all started about three weeks ago in Penn Station. I was 30-minutes early (as usual), bored, and Facebook had nothing left to offer me. While I waited for the train and my boyfriend, who was securing my extra-spicy Chipotle burrito, I decided to activate the Goodreads account I’d opened back in the spring. I was curious what other people were saying about the middle grade novel — Wonder — that Corey Haydu had recommended to me earlier in the day. After reading the first 30 out of 3,000 reviews, I added it to my ”currently-reading” shelf. By the end of my ride to Boston, I’d switched it to “read,” downloaded the following books to my Kindle Fire, and added them to Goodreads:

#1 One For The Murphys

#2 The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

#3 Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies

#4 The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney

#5 Deenie

#6 See You At Harry’s

#7 Out of My Mind

#8 When You Reach Me

I’ve never been a fast reader, and I’m definitely not the competitive type. I’m more of a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race/ I’m up against myself kind of girl. I should also mention that as far as I know I do not have an addictive personality. Yes, I am passionate and potentially obsessed with a handful of things/topics. Namely: horoscopes, The Gilmore Girls, manicures, and Sugar Babies (a popular 1990s caramel candy), but something about clicking on “currently-reading” pushed me to finish nine books in three weeks. That is more than we read per week in David Levithan’s lit class. I’m not sure if it is the act of announcing my progress to the world (if it is, dear Internet coders of the world, please invent this app for writing), or if it’s been part of a reading community, but whatever the reason, I am definitely addicted to Goodreads.

Burn for Burn e1345948151544 448x600 Summer Reading Success: Dhonielle Couldnt Put Down New School Alums Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivians Burn for BurnBack in June at the awesome FOLIO BEA party, I got the pleasure of catching up with fellow New School Writing for Children alums Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian. It was wonderful discussing their experiences during the New School program with the two of them and comparing/contrasting our experiences. It was also awesome to see ARCs of their collaborative project Burn For Burn.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a HUGE fan of collaborative writing and projects. Combining the talents of several writers into one book sounds like a recipe for success. And Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian have taken everything I love about their individual writing styles and put them into a book!

So a day after I left the party, I emailed my wonderful agent Emily van Beek (who represents both Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian — SQUEE!), and begged for an ARC. And I received that awesome ARC the next day because she’s awesome like that. And the book did not disappoint.

Our friends at Amazon describe the book as follows:

Postcard-perfect Jar Island is home to charming tourist shops, pristine beaches, amazing oceanfront homes—and three girls secretly plotting revenge.

     KAT is sick and tired of being bullied by her former best friend.

     LILLIA has always looked out for her little sister, so when she discovers that one of her guy friends has been secretly hooking up with her, she’s going to put a stop to it.

     MARY is perpetually haunted by a traumatic event from years past, and the boy who’s responsible has yet to get what’s coming to him.

     None of the girls can act on their revenge fantasies alone without being suspected. But together…anything is possible.

     With an unlikely alliance in place, there will be no more “I wish I’d said…” or “If I could go back and do things differently…” These girls will show Jar Island that revenge is a dish best enjoyed together.

I started this book on my flight to Hawaii and finished it by the time I landed. I started it over twice because I just did not want it to end. Here’s what I loved about the book in no particular order.
  • Each girl had a distinct and interesting voice and I loved being in each girl’s chapters.
  • The backstories were thick and complicated — Mary’s story especially. I remember gasping out loud when I found out what happened to her. READ TO FIND OUT!
  • The teenage drama is palpable — best friend drama between KAT and her ex BFF REENIE; boy drama with LILLIA and ALEX; and an old wound for Mary between her and REEVE. They combined so many elements of high school drama seamlessly into one novel, and this first book sets up so many other things to be explored in the next two books in the series.
  • The pacing is extraordinary — the chapters hit that sweet spot of seven pages or so with the perfect balance of character information, snappy dialogue, and plot.
  • Last, but not least, its MULTICULTURAL! LILLIA is Asian, not a stereotype, and is refreshingly complex. Her ethnicity is not forgotten throughout the text, nor is it belabored. Her ethnic identity is drawn with the perfect strokes.

Pre-order this book, experience the wonders of collaborative work!

Photo courtesy Simon & Schuster

This Summer, Riddhi’s List Features Some Tasty Reads

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On August - 27 - 2012

TWB August Evertaster 393x600 This Summer, Riddhis List Features Some Tasty ReadsThis summer I read more than ever before, probably over 5,000 pages — at a rough estimation of about two novels a week, both middle-grade and YA. Amongst titles I thoroughly enjoyed were:

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Two aspiring filmmakers go through a riot of emotions as they make a film about a girl with leukemia. This was precious. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I know it’s a little late in the day to be talking about this one, but has anyone tried reading the book while listening to the audiobook version narrated by Allan Corduner? Doubly worth it. Just lovely.

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell by Crickett Rumley
An outspoken Jane is forced back to Alabama where she must learn manners in order to one of the Southern Magnolia Maids. I haven’t finished it, but find it pretty sharp and unique.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama
Guilty as charged and off with my head, I’m a sucker for Alice reimaginings. If you collect art books, this one’s a mustmustmust have. Clothbound jacket. Kusama’s trademark style. It really pops. Here’s a great preview.

Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
In an attempt to save himself from starving, Guster, a picky eater, gets embroiled in a food quest in search of the One Recipe — the recipe to end all recipes. As Guster and his family travel around the world, running from the Gastronimatii (a deadly, perfectionist cult of processed food-hating superchefs) they must collect some rather ordinary ingredients from some extremely unusual places. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes to eat. I mean read. I mean eat. While they read. It contains the most amusing method of butter churning (joggling bovines) I’ve ever come across. This was delicious from start to finish.

Image courtesy: Future House Publishing

New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On August - 23 - 2012

 New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!Hi everyone!

So much has changed in the two years since we started Teen Writers Bloc — the most exciting being that so many of us are publishing books of our own now! 2013 is going to be a big year for us, publishing-wise, so we decided to add a new page to the site where you can find up-to-date info on all of the upcoming YA and MG releases by Teen Writers Bloc members. Check it out here! And you can always find the page on the top bar of Teen Writers Bloc, right next to the “subscribe” button.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Cover Reveal: Escape from the Pipe Men!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On August - 22 - 2012

9780547859057 web 400x600 Cover Reveal: Escape from the Pipe Men!Hello, Teen Writers Bloc Readers!

I’m so excited to unveil the cover for my second novel, Escape from the Pipe Men! And yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. Take that, exclamation point haters!!!

The book is about a couple of kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Here is the official summary by the nice folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

Ryan has spent his life as a human exhibit in the Pipe Men’s intergalactic zoo. But when his father is accidentally poisoned in a separate alien exhibit, it is up to Ryan and his sister, Becky, to escape and search the universe for the cure. As they travel across the galaxy, Ryan and Becky are shocked to find out that their benevolent overlords, the Pipe Men, are reviled by scores of alien species plotting to rebel. Caught up in an interstellar revolution, Ryan and Becky must play the diplomats among a spectacular and imaginative cast of aliens, staving off a war they know nothing about, all in the hope of finding the antidote to save their father’s life. In her second novel, Mary G. Thompson brilliantly captures the inception of a revolution by delving into the conflicting motivations of oppressed factions, in this fast-paced adventure sure to delight science fiction fans and mainstream readers alike!

I always knew I had to write a book about aliens and space travel some day. After all, my first love as a reader was science fiction. The first part of the concept was the alien zoo — what better excuse to come up with all sorts of crazy creatures? But the zoo was only the first part. My characters also needed to travel around the universe and discover what there was to see, because that’s exactly what I want to do once someone in the real world finally gets around to inventing faster-than-light travel! I’m so excited that Ryan and Becky are getting the chance to live out my personal fantasy, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Escape from the Pipe Men! will be released on June 11, 2013, and is available now for pre-order!

Oh yeah, and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Debut Author Interview: Kristen-Paige Madonia on ‘Fingerprints of You’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 20 - 2012

img07 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of You

This week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Kristen-Paige Madonia, whose literary YA novel, Fingerprints of You, hit shelves last week. The book centers on 17-year-old Lemon, who finds herself continuing the cycle of teenage pregnancy as she heads off on a cross-country journey to find the father she’s never known. The writing is sharp and vivid, and the Lemon’s coming-of-age is startlingly specific while being surprisingly universal. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Kristen-Paige to chat about YA versus adult, whether an MFA is worth it, and the importance of having mentors through the publishing process.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

Fingerprints of You is my debut novel, though my short fiction has appeared in such publications as Upstreet, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Sycamore Review, and Inkwell. I was recently named the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow and the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar, and I have received fellowships from the Hambidge Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Studios of Key West. I’ve been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I began applying to grad schools that I became truly focused on the craft. I received my MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and I currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia where I teach creative writing at the University of Virginia and the non-profit organization WriterHouse. In addition to teaching and writing, I’ve worked all kinds of jobs including positions as an assistant jeweler, a Barnes & Noble bookseller, a nanny, an assistant Kindergarden teacher, a receptionist, a wine pourer at a local vineyard, and an intern with a film and literary agency in Beverly Hills. Now that the book is launched, I’ve set aside a few months to travel so I can connect with readers in person at literary festivals and bookstores, but I’m looking forward to teaching again next spring.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Fingerprints of You? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Fingerprints of You follows the journey of Lemon Williams, a 17-year-old girl, as she searches for her father, a man she has never met. Lemon becomes pregnant in the opening of the book, and I wanted to use the novel as a way to explore that bizarre but beautiful phase in life when you realize the world is much larger than you thought, and that you have the ability to decide what kind of person you want to become. It’s set on the road and amidst the inspiring music and art scene in San Francisco, and the book explores the challenges of growing up in a single-parent home and the various ways we can confront our pasts, our skeletons in the closet. But at the heart of it, Fingerprints of You is about the comfort we find in one another and the security of family; not blood-born family necessarily, but the families we create for ourselves from the people we love and the people that love us back. My work is often inspired by what I call “stolen moments” – I people-watch and eavesdrop constantly, so if I’m lucky I’ll catch something in my surroundings that can be used to fuel a new project, and that’s how Fingerprints of You began. I first imagined Lemon and Stella when I was living in San Francisco, just after finishing my MFA. I liked to work in coffee shops in the city, and one afternoon I spotted a woman and a teenager crossing Fillmore Street in front of the cafe where I was writing. They immediately became Lemon and Stella: a feisty mother-daughter duo in the mist of that strange period of time when the child is becoming an adult and the parent is becoming, in the eyes of the child, an individual or person outside of their parent role.

I love the name Lemon — where did that inspiration come from? 

Lemon’s mother, Stella, is a painter, and when the book opens it’s explained that each month she picks one color to base all of her work on; the September that Lemon was born was the month of “Lemon” — a pale yellow paint color she used for her art work during that time period. But for me it was always her name, from the first page of the first draft, though I can’t be sure why. Sometimes the writer doesn’t get to pick all the details, but instead is presented with them organically and then explores their origins as we write forward.

This is pretty gritty for YA — and called a literary YA on your site. Can you talk about the rap YA gets and why you wanted to write in this genre? 

I love that word, “gritty” — it’s being used frequently to describe literary novels that are straddling the line between fiction for teens and fiction for adults. When you first write a book you don’t think about anybody reading it, at least I didn’t. I was writing for other reasons, so the idea of teens versus adults just didn’t cross my mind during the writing process. But once I realized there was a chance that Fingerprints of You may be marketed in that way, I started reading contemporary YA novels and was blown away by how smart and powerful some of the books are. John Green, Deb Caletti, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson… I was amazed by the exceptional level of writing and by the community of readers and authors involved in the genre. I think YA demands a specific kind of energy, a sense of urgency and immediacy. Teen readers won’t wait out a slow beginning – they must be engaged from the first page. They won’t hang around to see if the novel gets good in the fifth chapter — they’ll simply shut the book and tell their friends not to bother. And I love that. They demand a great deal from the author, as they should, and for that reason I find the books to be full of life.

It’s a lively conversation, this blurred line between adult and young adult readerships, and I’m finding that there really isn’t a clear definition of the genre, which is one of the things I like best about be called a YA writer. I’m honored to be categorized that way — the community of writers and readers congregating under that label is an inspiring crowd to run with, and there’s an increased recognition that the age of the protagonist doesn’t deflate the literary merit of a book. I’m guessing the blurred lines will become even more indistinguishable, and that’s a good thing – it means readers will be exposed to a wider range of work, and authors won’t feel confined to write inside a specific set of rules dictated by a label.

Of course in some venues there’s still a slight stigma attached to the YA label; there are certain magazines that won’t publish YA reviews, certain book awards that won’t accept YA submissions. Margo Rabb published an incredible article in The New York Times a few years ago entitled, “I’m YA, and I’m O.K.” — which I recommend to anyone writing fiction that straddles the line between YA and adult. Like myself, she wrote a book she imagined being labeled as adult literary fiction but was sold to a YA division. There are inevitably challenges that come with that process, and many adults still don’t realize the high caliber literature that can now be found on YA shelves. It’s an odd thing–these labels based on audience–and I find it fascinating that literature is the only art form that’s adopted the YA category; we don’t classify visual art, paintings or sculptures, for teens versus adults just as we don’t claim music to be one or the other. But at the end of the day I couldn’t be happier with the home that Fingerprints of You found at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

You’ve published a lot of short stories and done a lot of fellowships. How did you approach this, and what did you discover in this path? Advice for other writers?  

I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have landed a number of successes that have changed the shape of my career, but I’ve also applied for almost every award and residency out there, so I’ve had my fare share of rejection as well! I tend to spend a great deal of time submitting my stories, so there is a lot of work involved, there’s a lot of waiting and dead-ends behind that list of successes you’re referring to. So in terms of advice, while there all kinds of tricks or tips I could share, I tend to keep it pretty simple. First off, there are no rules. None. There are writing  techniques that may work and tricks that may help when you’re first starting out, but really there is no one way to do this magical thing we call writing. So no rules.

Other than that, I suggest you don’t bother doing it unless your heart is one-hundred percent invested, unless nothing makes you happier than finding that perfect sentence or writing that wonderful cast of characters you want to spend hundreds of pages with. A lot of people will tell you “no.” Rejection is inevitably a large part of the process, so you have to be doing it for you, not for “them.” You must have thick skin and a great deal of faith, but really it all comes down to doing it for the right reasons – because you love creating stories, you love throwing words on a page. And finally, if you can afford it, I always recommend attending conferences or joining a writer’s group or  organization. It can be a lonely endeavor at times, and creating a community can make all the difference when it’s time to wade your way through rejection letters or celebrate the good news when it comes!

Having done it, MFA — yay or nay?

For me my MFA allowed me to focus on nothing but writing for two years, and that’s such a gift, it’s a circumstance that I’ll never be able to recreate, though I try by attending as many writing residences as possible. So yes, if you can afford the financial commitment and if you are in a phase of your life that allows you to attend an MFA program, I think it’s an invaluable experience. Absolutely. And of course there’s the benefit of working with other authors — while I’m not of the mindset that creative writing can be 100 % taught, I do think there are tools you can learn in a classroom that you cannot learn on your own.

img06 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of YouWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

In general, I don’t work well with outlines and tend to find them restricting… for me the process is messy and unpredictable and without rules, which one of the things I enjoy most about writing first drafts. I don’t usually know where a book is heading when I first start. It’s a process of discovery, and I like to allow the work to surprise me and to go places I hadn’t predicted or planned for. The days that I reserve for writing always start with coffee, and I try to work for at least a few hours before turning on the Internet, checking email, or logging onto Facebook or Twitter. My brain is clearer then, and it’s easier to connect with my characters before I invite any real-world chatter into my headspace. I write first drafts on my computer, but I always keep a journal with me wherever I go, and I use it for story and character notes, keeping book lists, eavesdropping in public places, and research. That journal gives me courage when it’s time to write, because I always know it’s filled with literary nuggets I can mine when I’m beginning new work. I break up my writing hours at home by reading or hiking. I live in a beautiful area, and I find that the best thing I can do for my fiction when I’m feeling stuck is to head to the mountains for fresh air and exercise. My iinspiration often comes from sensory details – the way a room sounds when it’s crowded, the smells of certain kinds of food, the way a person holds their body and what it might imply… those kinds of small images. I’m also greatly inspired by music, which certainly came into play with Fingerprints of You in terms of the rich live-music culture in San Francisco. And those stolen moments I was talking about — I often borrow clips of stranger’s conversations or something I’ve seen, an interaction or a specific setting, for inspiration for my work.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and I have my MFA; I’ve attended writing conferences and workshops, I’ve read countless books about the publishing industry, and a lot of my friends are published authors, but no matter how much you think you know, there’s just no way to understand the process until you go through it yourself. I’ve been working with my agent for some time now, and when the Fingerprints of You manuscript was ready for submission, we emailed and talked on the phone quite a bit. Eventually we chose six editors to send it to, and S&S BFYR were part of that original six. I know that makes the sale sound easy, but it wasn’t. Editors have to pitch a submission to a number of different departments (sales, marketing, etc.) and they have convince rooms full of people that your book is worth the purchase before they can make an offer, so there was a lot of waiting involved. And of course selling the book is only the first step! We sold the manuscript in September 2010, and here it being released in August 2012, almost 2 years later. But it really can’t be rushed because each step is unbelievably important – editing, copy editing, proofing, finalizing the book cover, receiving blurbs… I learned so much with each step, and the book is so much stronger because of all the work we all put into it. I was amazed by how many people were involved and so very grateful for their help and support. From my agent to my editor to my publicity team at Simon & Schuster, everyone that has been involved in the release of Fingerprints of You has been one hundred percent professional and determined to support the book as much as they possibly can. Publishers are in the business because they love books, and it’s easy to forget that sometimes when you’re collecting rejection letters and reading heartbreaking stories about authors who get orphaned or novels that get lost in big houses. But my experience has been nothing but positive.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

When my agent began sending out my first manuscript to publishing houses for submission, a novel that has yet to be sold, I became discouraged and contacted Judy Blume, one of my mentors and advocates, to ask for advice and feedback. At the time I was fearful we wouldn’t be able to sell the book and, consequently, my agent would lose interest, and my career would come to a screeching halt. And she said the most amazing thing: “It’s not your job to sell the book, that’s your agent’s job. Your job is to write the next one.” It was so obvious and simple, but I think of that whenever I’m feeling bogged down or intimidated by the business side of writing. At the end of the day, I’m a writer first. Nothing makes me happier than the process of creating the work, and that will always be the most important thing. So I like to remind aspiring authors that they must be prepared for rejection; they must be ready to hear “no” a lot. But as long as they’re writing for the love of the process, they’ll be able to carve their way through the phases of self-doubt and the fears of failure.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a teenager, like many teenagers do, I fell in the love with the Beats, and part of my literary heart will always belong to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. There’s something timeless about the spontaneous cross-country road trip, the jazz and the booze, the poetry, and the indulgent sex and drug binges. It’s a journey book, a genre I obviously favor, and the characters are on a quest for faith and love and friendship, as they hunt for a sense of an authentic and meaningful life.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is a new favorite, and I was thrilled to hear the news when he won the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award. It’s a super smart YA book, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.  I also recently read Model Home by Eric Puchner, which I loved, and Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, a brilliant book and fascinating study of point of view. But right now Richard Ford’s Canada and Alice Elliott Dark’s short story collection In the Gloaming are on my nightstand.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I just finished a first draft of another book, which means it’s kind of awful and really messy. It’s very different than Fingerprints of You. It required a lot of research, and I’m experimenting with point of view and the idea of memory and the filters of time. It has been a completely different process than writing Fingerprints of You, and that’s been challenging, but I think it’s been good for me and good for the work. So I’m letting that sit for a couple months now, and I’m starting to take notes for the book after that, a novel with a teenaged narrator that I imagine will be a YA book. But for now I’m just trying to enjoy the debut experience. I’ve been working on Fingerprints of You since 2008, and sending it out into the world is such an amazing thing, so I want to make sure I enjoy every moment of it.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely. As a writer you spend a lot of time alone, so establishing a kind of community is crucial. I have a writers’ group that I meet with once a month, and it makes a world of difference to have that kind of support system, to remember you’re not the only one wading through this strange and unpredictable world of writing. I also teach at the literary nonprofit called WriterHouse, and I always feel invigorated and inspired after attending events and working with my students there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Thanks so much for having me on Teen Writers Bloc, Sona!

Fingerprints of You Cover Courtesy Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This Summer, Caela Spends Some Time With Cynthia Voigt

Posted by Caela Carter On August - 14 - 2012

433955 M This Summer, Caela Spends Some Time With Cynthia VoigtThis summer, I returned to my first love.

I’ve had a bit of a busy summer — between finishing copyedits and final touches on Me, Him, Them and It (Bloomsbury 2013), visits from my best friends and my favorite (and only) brother, various pre-wedding events, and getting ready for August 18th, which will be our Big Day — so I haven’t had time to read the newspapers and blogs looking for exciting new books.

But a summer without reading would truly drive me insane.

Instead, I needed a solid source of books: something that would quench my constant literary thirst without requiring a lot of research.

So, I remembered when Cynthia Leitich Smith visited our class in Fall of 2011 and she told us about her own writerly journey. She said one of the things she did when she was first starting out was to read every book by Paula Danzinger, in order of publication. She studied Danzinger’s career — how she started, how she improved, how she turned one book into a lifetime’s worth.

When I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I knew immediately what my consistent source would be.

You see, growing up I had a multitude of literary crushes. Ann M. Martin caught my eye pretty early when I read Karen’s Witch as a first-grader, and she upped the ante to true infatuation with Me and Katie the Pest a few years later.  I had a hot-and-heavy relationship with Judy Blume; I read Just as Long as We’re Together until the pages fell out. And I even had flings with The Bobbsey Twins, Sweet Valley High, and a series about a bunch of girls who rode horses.

But I didn’t know true literary love until I discovered Cynthia Voigt. I was probably eleven or twelve when I came across Come A Stranger and it opened my eyes to the world profoundly. It follows the story of Mina, the “only little black girl” at her summer ballet camp, as her father, Reverend Smiths, puts it. I was treated to Mina’s discovery that the world is unfair and her passage from naivete to discomfort with the world and her own skin to, ultimately, maturity. This book had very little to do with me — I was not a ballerina, I did not have a pastor for a father, and I was certainly not a little black girl. Instead, the book was a window to parts of the world I had never even considered. I was immediately hooked on Voigt and the wisdom with which she writes.

Next I read Orfe and Izzy, Willy-Nilly, devouring pages on my towel by the pool, in a chair at the town library, or under my covers with a flashlight if it was past my bedtime.

When I discovered that Dicey’s Song featured the same Dicey that I’d met in Come A Stranger, Ms. Voigt and I reached a whole new level of affection (unbeknownst to her of course). I loved the way the Tillerman books dipped into one another and criss-crossed without being a true series in the traditional sense of the word. I’ll never forget lying face-down on my bed with Come A Stranger and Dicey’s Song opened next to each other and reading the same scene back and forth — but from two different perspectives and in two different books. It felt like I had discovered a jewel chest in the library.

So here I am as and adult, the summer of my wedding, trying to start at the beginning of Cynthia Voigt’s celebrated career and wind up at the end. With over thirty titles spanning from 1981 (the year I was born — fate, I tell you) to 2011, there are certainly many I have missed.  She dips into fantasy, swings through middle grade, and takes on adult wisdom in YA.  I’ve loved every book of hers that I’ve read, but none will ever rival Come A Stranger. 

So that’s been my summer — a summer of love, literary and otherwise.

10 Things Steven Hates About Summer Reading

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On August - 13 - 2012

photo 10 Things Steven Hates About Summer ReadingThis installment of TWB’s Question of the month is one that speaks to all those out there cramming to get their summer reading finished for that first day of school. It calls for me to tell you all about the best book I read this summer. Well, I can’t do that. I was bad, bad student. I didn’t read one book this summer.

Awful, right?

I think so. This is the first summer where I haven’t read anything. Not even so much as a sentence! I mean, I’ve been INSANELY busy. Actually, “insanely” is a mild adjective for the amount of busy I’ve been. But still, I had it all planned out in my head: a much-needed vacation was planned for 10 days between the end of July and beginning of August, and I was ready to sink my teeth in Mary’s Wuftoom. I ordered it online months prior and it’s been sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me, nearly BEGGING me to read it. But my brain was so tired from working so much that by the time vacation came, all I wanted to do was anything that didn’t require brain function.

Alas, 10 days came and went and it was pure relaxational bliss. But I didn’t get to read.***

Not. One. Sentence.

Seriously, guys, what’s up with that?

But August is all about summer reading. That’s the whole nature of this month’s Question of the Month. So instead of lying and telling you all about a book I didn’t read (even though I soooooo want/need/must read it), I shall regale you with musings from my childhood and the things I hated most about summer reading:

10.) Reading Lists. Why, oh why, was I only limited to certain books. Most of which I had either already read or books I had no desire to read. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak? Absolutely. But…well, I read that in 9th grade and I’m not sure I can get away with passing off the paper I wrote in 9th grade English to 11th grade English. My writing has improved not really all that much, but still tremendously so my teach would totes obvs know I just copied and pasted and changed the date on the heading to reflect the current year. Okay, so I can’t read Speak for the umpteenth time, what are my choices? Malcolm X? Snooze. Madame Bovary? Ummm, yeah. The Lord of the Rings? I own the movies, thankyouverymuch. Some Book About the Holocaust That Will Make Me Both Cry and Seem Like a Spoiled Little Baptist? Well, let’s see, it seems like the shortest book on the list so…#score!

9.) Having to Read More Than One Book. Um, I’m sorry, but I thought that when summer vacation was invented, it was invented so that I could go to the beach and eat so much ice cream that I puke? When, during all of my burning and binge-eating, will I have time to read TWO books. #sacrilege.

8.) My Mom. Many days were spent yelling “I’ll read when I wanna read! Geez woman, get off my case!” When did my mom become my English teacher? Because I don’t like this whole “school at home” thing.

7.) All My Friends Finished Their Reading in June. While I was busy cramming for my Chemistry Regents that I was definitely going to fail, my friends were all like “I’m not gonna tell him that I’m getting all of my summer reading done so that when he starts his at the end of August I can be all ‘Oh, I finished #monthsago.’” Yeah. That’s pretty much the story of my young adult life. I was busy watching reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210 when all of my friends were doing their summer reading. Whatever. Brenda being a drunken mess and fighting with Kelly over Dylan was far more entertaining that any old stupid summer reading book.

6.) Being Forced to do Summer Reading While on Vacation. This was always so #dark. My mom: “Don’t think you’re going mini-golfing until you finish two chapters.” Such torture. Honestly, just slit my wrists with Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams playing in the background…

5.) Forgetting to Renew the Book(s) to the Library. Overdue fees from a library for a book that you didn’t even want to read in the first place is like getting pooped on by a pigeon after you trip on the curb. HOW ELSE CAN THE WORLD KICK ME WHEN I’M DOWN?!?!

4.) Forgetting to Return the Book(s) to the Library. See above. x10.

3.) Book Reports. Seriously? I have to write crap about this book I was forced to read? What if I just read Harry Potter for the millionth time and write about how much I wanna be J.K. Rowling?! Would that count? WOULD IT? I’M DESPERATE! I have a great book report from The Sorcerer’s Stone back in 8th grade. It has paper cut-outs and glitter and a sweet narrative arc in the shape of the Sorting Hat! No? Not acceptable. Fuck.

2.) Having to Cram at My Locker the First Day of School. Yep. That was me. I was all, “hey guys, what book did you read?” in hopes that my friends read the same book. Of course, they never did because they were either in AP English or the universe hated me (jury’s still out on which one it actually was). So I was in the computer lab cruising Sparknotes for a book summary. #backtoschool!

1.) The Fact That Summer Reading Exists At All. #truth. I’ll stick to reading at my own pace during the other three seasons thankyouverymuch.

***NOTE: Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom will be read within the month. I have ideas on perhaps implementing the book into a new course that I’m teaching! #holler

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