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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my short fiction has appeared in such publications as Upstreet, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Sycamore Review, and Inkwell.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.

wonder Corey Fell in Love With R.J. Palacios WONDER    and Reading for FunThis was supposed to be The Summer of the Pleasure Read. After a few years of working in publishing and having my primary job be reading and assessing manuscripts, I was really looking forward to reading whatever I wanted. And enjoying it in the way I used to, before words became my career.

I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that, exactly, but I’m working on it. In between beta-reads and re-reading my own books and reading pages for critique group, I’ve managed some actual, honest-to-goodness pleasure reads.

The top top top of my list for this summer was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s an absolutely fabulous middle-grade novel that blew my MIND. I started it over a glass of wine on Monday night, and finished it with some tacos Wednesday. About a boy who is entering the school system after years of homeschooling, Wonder is a kind of middle-grade Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — HUGE praise, because that is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. The protagonist Augustus was born with a facial deformity that astounds even the kindest, least judgmental adults and children. When he enters an actual school for the first time, he has to combat bullying, complicated friendships, and his own fears. Told through multiple perspectives, Wonder is somehow both introspective and a page-turner. Augustus is that perfectly flawed kind of narrator, and those around him are nuanced, complicated, and trying their best as well.

It is gorgeous writing, and really showed me what great (contemporary! non-fantasy!) middle-grade can do. I was totally inspired and excited as I come back for my second attempt at writing a middle-grade novel, after a never-finished failed first try. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you liked Sherman Alexie’s well-loved novel, you’ll love this, too.

I also read and enjoyed Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han’s collaborative novel, Burn for Burn, which is also told though multiple narrators. (Is this a trend? Because attempting this a few years ago was one of the hardest things I ever did.) The three girls are really different, and their struggles feel particular and just heavy enough to carry the book forward in a can’t-put-it-down way. This passed the airplane test. (Which is: will I read more than half of the book on an airplane? If yes, It’s good.) And it made me love both these authors even more. I especially appreciated the world they built — a high school I understood but that also felt fresh and unique and specific. I don’t think enough about Place in my novels, so it was exciting to be reminded how big an impact it can make on the overall reading experience.

Lastly, since it’s me, I’ll mention one of my non-YA/MG reads, a really exciting non-fiction gender examination called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Oh man, I loved this book. Orenstein plunges into the way Disney princesses, American Girl Dolls, and other girl-friendly toys have shaped young girls. I love nothing more than thinking about how gender influences the world we live in, and I especially love it when I get to think about how gender plays a roll in the lives of children and teens. Reading outside of our given genre, and especially really sinking our teeth into excellent non-fiction, is a great way to deepen our own novels, and I think this is an important read for children’s book writers, teachers, parents, women, men, you know, basically everyone.

So no, I haven’t read forty books or escaped the curse of Reading As Work, but I’ve had some great reads this summer, and have a big pile of books to tackle in August!

Mary Reveals Her Favorite Book This Summer … and a Horrifying Truth

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On August - 6 - 2012

Jasper Jones 212x300 Mary Reveals Her Favorite Book This Summer … and a Horrifying TruthUnlike last month’s question (don’t get me started), this one was a no-brainer. I’ve read a lot of books so far this summer, but Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey was far and away the best. I learned after I bought the book that it was a 2012 Printz Honor Book, which didn’t surprise me at all. I haven’t read the other finalists yet, but I’m guessing that I’ll wish this book had won.

Jasper Jones first came out in Australia in 2009. Hey publishing industry, why do we have to wait for books in English to be available in English speaking countries? But I digress. The book takes place in small town Australia during the Vietnam war. It manages to avoid the standard Vietnam-era clichés while still shedding some light on what it was like to be a kid during that time. The setting is fantastic but not obtrusive—it never gets in the way of the characters. The main character is 13-year-old Charlie, who is refreshingly mature and intelligent. As the book opens, he’s visited by town misfit and ne’er-do-well Jasper Jones, who takes Charlie into the brush to share a terrible secret. As the mystery unfolds, so does daily life in Charlie’s town. We meet Charlie’s Vietnamese best friend, Jeffrey, whose family is realistically and never stereotypically drawn, and Charlie’s love interest, Eliza, who is a strong character with motivations of her own. While the plot is tight and the central mystery is compelling, some of the best parts of the book are lazy small town moments, when Charlie and Jeffrey are acting like boys, or when the town converges for a cricket game.

Considering my inclination towards science fiction and fantasy, I’m surprised that I consider a realistic book to be my favorite of the summer so far. And this leads me to the horrifying truth. The worst book I read this summer was a fantasy. I’m not going to name it. Let’s just say that I feel stupider after reading it. (And yes, Dhonielle and Amy, you warned me!) It turns out that sometimes realism is better. There, I said it. Excuse me while I have a cry.

Cover Image: Random House Children’s Books

Jean-Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didn’t Hate It

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On August - 3 - 2012

Hunger Games Jean Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didnt Hate ItSometimes, I try to stay away from what’s popular because I just can’t believe the hype surrounding it. I waited until the second book came out in the Harry Potter series before reading the first one, and of course I was hooked by the opening line. I just couldn’t believe a book could be that good, that everyone who read it ended up loving it, and so I didn’t give in until I got tired of people disbelieving me when I said I hadn’t read the first book.

Then came Twilight and I couldn’t understand how a book with such bad reviews could be so popular. I wanted to know why, what was it about Bella and Edward that captivated people? I wish I could lie and say I’ve never read Twilight, but I have. And I read the sequel. But I stopped with the third book. Out of pure curiosity, I had a friend tell me how everything ended and then did a finger puppet reenactment for some other friends who hadn’t read any of the books. The reenactment was basically my right index finger intensely asking my left index finger, “Why aren’t you scared of me?” and then brooding while my left index finger floated through the scene in a selfish haze.

So when The Hunger Games exploded on the scene, I was cautious. I heard the complaints about it being a weak Battle Royale ripoff, but then I saw it rising to the top of the bestseller lists. Friends and classmates recommended it, but I didn’t want another Twilight experience, and I knew nothing could ever live up to the hype like Harry Potter did, so I just said, “yeah, okay, I’ll check it out,” knowing full well I was planning on doing nothing of the sort. The only reason I ended up reading the book is because my sister bought movie tickets and I wanted to know how I was going to be wasting two hours of my life.

I went into the book expecting the worst and came out pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it was pretty good. I had to give Suzanne Collins props because I was only hoping I’d be able to finish the book and she had me wanting more.

I’ve read quite a few books this summer, some good, some bad, one or two awesome ones, and it’s kinda funny that I consider The Hunger Games the best book I’ve read these past few months simply because I didn’t hate it. I know Public Enemy told everyone not to believe the hype, but in this case giving a hyper-popular book a try was totally worth it.

Image courtesy of Scholastic

quarantine the loners 198x300 This Summer, Janes Reading List is All About Dystopia and Diversity

Where did the summer go? It seemed like it went by really quick. Oh… that’s because I spent it reading so many great books! I went through quite a few of them, but here are the ones that stood out for me:

Every year, a list is posted naming one ugly and one pretty girl from each grade at Mount Washington High School. The List by Siobhan Vivian — a New School Writing for Children alum — is told from the perspectives of these eight girls. I loved how each girl has a different reaction to their new status and how they found out that being pretty or ugly goes further than just looks. This is definitely a great beach read.

I found very few YA books that are written from a guy’s point of view, so Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas was a great discovery. Seventeen-year-old David Thorpe’s high school has been infected by an unknown virus that kills anyone who’s not a teenager. His school has been quarantined by the government and all the students are trapped inside. Gangs have been formed based on social cliques. David wasn’t part of a group, so he and his younger brother Will are loners. The gangs have turned violent and David needs to find a way to keep Will and himself alive.

I found out about Divergent by Veronica Roth from Amazon’s suggested reading based on my browsing history. In a dystopian future, society has been separated into five factions which are expected to promote specific virtues; Abnegation for selflessness, Candor for honesty, Dauntless for bravery, Amity for peacefulness, and Erudite for intelligence. Fourteen year old Beatrice Prior discovered she not only had to be a quick learner in order to survive in her new faction, but she also needed to know how to recognize who her true friends were.

Next up on my list is The Detention Club by David Yoo. I’m really excited about this one because it’s not only written from a teenage guy’s perspective, but the protagonist is an Asian American teenage guy. If anyone has any recommendations of where I can find more books like this one, please let me know!

Photo courtesy of EgmontUSA

 Too Much Reading is Making Jesss Eyes Cross (But Shes Not Complaining!)This has been a crazy summer for me, reading-wise. I’ve both read more than I’ve ever read before in my life, and at the same time didn’t get to read nearly as much as I would have liked. See, I work as an editor for a romance novel publisher. So forty-plus hours per week, I’m reading. I read full manuscript submissions and decide whether to pass, offer a contract, or write up a revision letter. I read contracted authors’ manuscripts and work my editorial muscles, helping the authors take their work to the next level. I also proofread, copyedit, write back cover copy, format and style for eBook publication, and wade through countless queries and plot synopses. It’s a LOT of reading. And I love every second of it.

However, because I’m reading all day every day, the last thing I want to do when I get off work at six o’clock is open a book. My poor eyes need a break! Still, I have managed to squeeze in a bit of extracurricular reading this summer. I’ve gotten the chance to read amazing first drafts and equally as amazing revisions from my fellow TWB peeps. I also read The List, by New School alum Siobhan Vivian, which was wonderful (although the third person-present completely threw me off and I felt like the whole book was being narrated by Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone). But by far my guiltiest pleasure so far this summer was Freefall – Season 9, Volume 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, by Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Moline. Yep, it’s a graphic novel, and yep, it’s a continuation of the almighty genius that was the Buffy television series. And yep, the whole graphic novel series is abso-freaking-lutely fantastic.

In a couple of days, I will be taking a bit of time off from my lovely editorial job and getting on a plane with Dhonielle to go visit our dear friend Amy in South Africa. It’s a 15-hour nonstop flight, people, and you can bet I’m prepared. My in-flight reading queue consists of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Vicious Deep by (my fellow Sourcebooks Fire author) Zoraida Cordova, and I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. Who knows, maybe one of those will knock Buffy off her pedestal as the best thing I’ve read this summer… time will tell!

Book cover image courtesy of Dark Horse

Corey’s Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Posted by Corey Haydu On June - 15 - 2012


OCDlove1 Coreys Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Guys. My book has a cover.

And I couldn’t love it more.

I was worried my cover might be too somber, or too boring, or not unique enough. I got everything I could have hoped for. The cover is downright VIBRANT, it’s quirky, it’s intense, it’s surprising, it’s whimsical, it’s edgy, it’s everything my book is, and it feels decidedly MINE. The designer (and, as always, my editor) seemed to really get my voice, my book, and how something can be both painful and hilarious, quiet and massive, unusual and relatable, obsessive and beautiful.

And, as icing on the cake, here’s a short description of the book:

When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic…and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control, but this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.

I’m thrilled, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Photo courtesy Simon Pulse

Mary’s Favorite Books of May

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On June - 6 - 2012

I’ve decided that every month I’m going to try to write about a few of the best YA books I’ve read during the month. I don’t care what the publication date is on these books; I just want to write about what I happened to read. So here goes!

This month I read three really great books. (I’ll just politely leave out the ones that weren’t so great.) It so happened that one was teen, one was middle grade, and one was nonfiction.

Rotters 205x300 Marys Favorite Books of MayRotters by Daniel Kraus (2011). Joey is a neurotic, mildly unpopular sixteen-year-old who’s basically coasting in life when his mother dies and he’s sent to live with the father he’s never met. But the father takes no interest in him, and he doesn’t have a place to sleep or even food to eat. He has no place to wash his clothes, and he has to walk miles to school. The school is no more welcoming than his father; Joey finds himself the most reviled kid in school, suffering bullying of the worst kind. Think that’s bad? Wait until he discovers what his father does for a living! Yep, it’s clear from the book’s cover, so I’m not giving anything away: he’s a grave robber. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out why Joey would get involved in his dad’s business, and if you think about them too much, some of the other character motivations in the book don’t make sense either. But the story was so well crafted and absorbing that I was able to suspend my disbelief. The author goes into extreme, believable, gruesome detail about the mechanics of grave robbing. There are definitely some vomit-inducing scenes. But they were all in service to the story and not done just for kicks. If you’ve ever been bullied, the whole 448-page book is worth reading just for Joey’s horrifically satisfying revenge on his tormenters. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Okay, there is something wrong with me, and I liked this book!



The Aviary 198x300 Marys Favorite Books of MayThe Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell (2011). Switching gears here! The Aviary is not gross or gruesome in any way. It’s a very nice middle grade historical mystery with a little magic. I hate to admit this, but I picked this book for its cover. I love the deep green and the silhouettes. Knowing that I’d picked the book based on such fickle criteria, I was afraid I’d be disappointed, but I definitely was not. Eleven-year-old Clara has grown up in a mansion owned by old Mrs. Glendoveer, where Clara’s mother is a maid. There’s an aviary out back with only five birds in it, and Clara’s terrified of them. But when Mrs. Glendoveer dies, Clara learns that she had a mysterious past, and the birds are somehow involved. Why does the mynah keep squawking “Elliot”? With the help of a new friend, Clara sets about figuring out the mystery and manages to break free of her own restrictions and fears in the process. I really liked the pace of the mystery, because just when I was starting to think, okay, figure it out, Clara, she’d figure it out! I think this is absolutely perfect for kids in the middle grade age range.





Hole in My Life 198x300 Marys Favorite Books of MayHole in My Life by Jack Gantos (2002). I picked up Hole in My Life because I heard Jack Gantos on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me in April. I know that Mr. Gantos is a multi-award-winning author known for his Joey Pigza series and most recently, the Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvolt. But I haven’t read any of those books. I became a fan after reading the horrifyingly weird The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, which is about a girl who suffers from a genetic curse whereby people love their mothers so much that they keep them around after death, Norman Bates style. So I was interested in his background, and when I learned that he had a YA memoir, I decided to check it out. I liked Hole in My Life because it came off as a straight-forward recounting of events, seemingly free of tall tales and exaggeration. Young Jack, a teenager who aspired to be a writer but wasn’t really doing any writing, foolishly agreed to help smuggle a huge quantity of hash from the Virgin Islands into New York by boat. There was only one other person on the boat, and they were comically unprepared to even sail a boat, much less get away with it. So they got caught, and the author ended up in federal prison. Luckily, he managed to get out relatively soon, but his description of prison will leave you rethinking any plans you might have to commit crimes. Also, if you are an aspiring writer, you can take it as an inspiring story of how you can go astray but ultimately get your act together.


So I had a pretty good month of reading! How’d you do?

Originally published at http://marygthompson.com/blog

Image credits: Random House Children’s Books (Rotters), Knopf Books for Young Readers (The Aviary), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Hole In My Life)

 Book Review: Herbert’s Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre by Peter Nelson and Rohitash RaoI discovered the first Herbert’s Wormhole by accident last year, and I immediately fell in love. The book had everything an immature child at heart like myself could want: time travel, aliens, absurd humor, video games, and silly wigs. I loved the book so much that I immediately had to get on Teen Writers Bloc and sing its praises. So when I heard that there was going to be a sequel, I immediately pre-ordered it. Well, it finally arrived and did not disappoint! Without giving too much away, at the end of the first book, our heroes Alex, Herbert, and Sammi had saved the future through an elaborate scheme involving video games and the earth’s amiable conquerors, the Australian accented G’daliens. As Herbert’s Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre opens, the kids are living the good life, being lauded as heroes by humans and G’daliens alike. But the evil yet pathetic no-good G’dalien Gor-don is still out to get them. Gor-don’s plot involves stuffing his tentacles into high heels and pretending to be a human woman, a disguise which everyone takes at face value, much like that episode of Pinky and the Brain where Brain pretends to be Cher by wearing stilts and a wig. Anyway, the plot isn’t actually all that important. What’s important is that we get more absurd, childish humor involving silly wigs, alien nonsense, and bad puns. In fact, the whole book is worth reading just for the fact that the evil alien bullies are after some valuable substance called LUNN-CHMUNNY. The back of the book says it’s for ages 8–12. But I say, read it, laugh, and feel young again!

Cover image courtesy Harper Collins

pixel Book Review: Herbert’s Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre by Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao

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