Teen Writers Bloc

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

Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown Librarian

Posted by On February - 19 - 2013

Dear John Green*, After watching your fireside chat with President Obama, I got inspired to write you a letter. I am a middle school librarian at Harlem Village Academies in East Harlem, New York, and an up and coming MG/YA writer represented by the lovely Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider/ICM. My library has several copies of […]

Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by On January - 15 - 2013

Hi gang! To celebrate the impending release of my contemporary YA novel MY LIFE AFTER NOW (Seriously, is it April yet? I’m tired of waiting!), I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway! The giveaway is open from now through March 1, and one winner (chosen at random by Goodreads) will get a signed advance reader copy of […]

Kid Lit Critiques — A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!

Posted by On September - 7 - 2012

Announcement! Announcement! Jess Verdi and I have pooled our skills together to launch Kid Lit Critiques, a manuscript critiquing business. Check out a little more about us: Dhonielle Clayton and Jessica Verdi are two girls in New York City, living the writerly life: attending kidlit events, reading the latest books and ARCs, meeting editors and literary agents… […]

Jess’s Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by On September - 4 - 2012

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! Okay, I know it’s not considered customary or proper to begin a blog post with what is essentially a scream, but I can’t help it. My book has a cover! Check it out: MY LIFE AFTER NOW, my contemporary YA novel, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on April 1, 2013. Yes, that’s April […]

Cover Reveal: Escape from the Pipe Men!

Posted by On August - 22 - 2012

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 […]

22628 Alysons Summer Reading List Begs the Question: Is Rocky Horror Old Or Retro? My mother and I went to Barnes & Nobles a few weeks ago to buy my 15-year-old brother a “free reading book,” for after his final exams. We bought two copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one for my brother and one for me. When I called to ask what he thought of the book, he said, “It’s kind of old, Alyson. I mean, Rocky Horror Picture Show is dated.”

“Really?” I asked. “I thought it was retro?”

“And no offense, but it says MTV on the back.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.

“Alyson.” He said my name like our 11-year-age gap made me elderly.

I expected him to have criticisms of the book, but it surprised me that he couldn’t get beyond the cover. When I was a freshman in high school (and my brother was 4), MTV was banned in our house. It didn’t stop me from sneaking downstairs to watch hours of forbidden music videos and marathons of The Real World, which at the time were “the shit.” And admittedly I went to Coolidge Corner for the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show and left dancing to Meatloaf more than once.

So when I went to make my own summer reading list, I consulted an expert. My brother and I both agree that The Hunger Games is a must. And with the movie coming out, I say, read it now. Plus, I love starting a series over the summer, because it doesn’t have to end in the middle of your perfect beach day, which is why I’m also adding Harry Potter and Uglies to the list.

But as I told my brother, if you want a summer read that’s classic and contemporary (and epistolary), The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great pick, regardless of how you feel about MTV.

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Luminous hires 197x300 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!Young Adult writer Dawn Metcalf is featuring a fabulous giveaway over at her blog. Her YA fantasy novel Luminous is set to release in 5 days on June 30th! Here’s a quick synopsis:

“When sixteen-year old Consuela Chavez discovers that she can remove her skin, revealing a lustrous mother-of-pearl skeleton, she slips into a parallel world known as the Flow; a place inhabited by archetypal teens with extraordinary abilities. Crafting skins out of anything – air, water, feathers, fire – she is compelled to save ordinary people from dying before their time. Yet now someone is murdering her new friends, one by one, and Consuela finds herself the focus of an intricate plot to end the Flow forever when all she really wants is to get back home, alive.”

In celebration of her fabulous debut novel she is giving away an array of prizes. Check them out and get over her blog and ENTER:

**GRAND PRIZE: Three Luminous Chicks of Paranormal Fic!***

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

ONE lucky winner wins something from everybody:
1. A signed hardcover copy of LUMINOUS
2. An ARC of IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma
3. An ARC of HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire
4. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
5. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
6. A packet of marigold seeds
7. 4 novelty buttons & a tiny troll doll c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
8. 3 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
9. A silver, beaded bookmark engraved with Native American blessing
10. A “Fan of YA” complete collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

***1ST-3RD PRIZE: More Luminous Young Ladies!***

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

ONE lucky winner wins Consuela’s pick:
1. An ARC of DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB by Tara Altebrando.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

ONE lucky winner wins Maddy’s pick:
1. An ARC of SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

ONE lucky winner wins Sissy’s pick:
1. An ARC of CHIME by Franny Billingsley.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

***4TH-6TH PRIZE: Let’s Hear It for the Boys!***


 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

 

ONE lucky winner wins V’s pick:
1. The first of the series, WAKE by Lisa McMann.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

 

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

ONE lucky winner wins Wish’s pick:
1. The first of the Vladimir Tod series, EIGHTH GRADE BITES by Heather Brewer.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

 

 

 

 

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

 

 

ONE lucky winner wins Tender’s pick:
1. An ARC of the upcoming, ultra-violent AU REVOIR CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK by Joe Schreiber.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)

HERE’S HOW TO ENTER: GO TO DAWN’S BLOG AND FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!

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spellbound cover 186x300 Debut Author Interview: Cara Lynn Shultz Talks SpellboundWay back in the day, when I was an intern at the much-missed Teen People magazine, this fun chick named Cara Lynn Shultz was one, too. Our paths crossed again every so often at People, but I didn’t know that, like myself, Cara’s long been toiling away at a novel or two. And now we finally get check out Spellbound, Cara’s first effort. TeenWritersBloc.com caught up with her to chat about paranormal pursuits, marketing yourself and making time to write.

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

I’ve always been a writer/editor, just in a different capacity. I was the Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper, the Fordham Observer, and after college I worked in magazines as an entertainment journalist and editor. But I didn’t write fiction professionally, just recreationally.

When I was fresh out of college, I used to email my friend Vanessa little stories about characters I came up with who lived in New York. The characters were seniors in college, named Claire and Alex, and Vanessa would read these tales during her commute between Manhattan and the Bronx. Years later, Vanessa moved and she found print-outs of the stories in an old purse, and gave them back to me. I was reminded how much fun I had with these characters, so I took them back out and began playing with them at the end of 2008. So that’s when I “officially” became an author.

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

After a rough couple of years, Emma Conner moves to New York to live with her aunt and start over at a new school, a posh Upper East Side prep school. As she’s learning to navigate the somewhat shark-infested waters, she finds herself drawn to a classmate, troublemaker Brendan Salinger — and strange things start happening. Streetlamps explode over her head. She has disturbing dreams of herself in another time, and her late brother appears to warn her to stay away from him — or else.

About the concept, I had the characters already, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them. So, I just started writing with a rough idea of what I wanted to do. I don’t really write with an outline; I kind of let the characters do what they want to do and see where it goes. I knew I wanted to do something paranormal since personally, I’m drawn to that kind of entertainment. And I knew I wanted a romance, since I was a newlywed and my head was filled with hearts and flowers and lollipops at the time. I’ve always been interested in past lives and reincarnation. So I just kind of put that all together.

Do you think kids and teens are especially interested in fantasy these days?

With fantasy, there’s all this possibility and unpredictability. Anything can happen — and anything usually does. It’s fun and unlimited and I think that’s attractive to teens and adults.

Can you talk a bit about your process, from conception to publication? What does a typical writing day look like?

Spellbound, originally, was a stand-alone book — writing a sequel came later. So, after I got my deal, I tweaked things in the first book to set up a sequel. I have a day job, so I don’t start writing in this capacity until night. I start writing around 8 or 9 p.m., and write until about 2 a.m. I’m a better writer at night; I’ve always been that way. On Fridays and Saturdays, I stay up until about 6 a.m., then sleep until noon, then it’s back to writing. There’s so much that inspires me; for this book, I drew heavily on my own teen experiences — and they’re ones that I think, for the most part, are pretty universal. The mean girls who you persecute you for no reason. The all-consuming crushes. Feeling awkward and out of place.

When I write, I write with my headphones on, so music plays a big part in my writing. It’s a huge influence, actually. As I write, I listen to songs that resonated with me in high school — it helps put me back in the headspace of being a teen — and some more current stuff, things I think my characters would like.

What has your path to publication been like?

My media background highlighted the importance of social media, and I’m really active on Twitter and Facebook. I think I’ve been pretty lucky — the YA community is really supportive, smart and dedicated community, and I’ve gotten to know a fair number of bloggers through Twitter.

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

Keep writing. It’s the best advice I’ve gotten, and the advice I’ve give an aspiring author. Even if you don’t have an idea for a novel, start a blog. Start a Twitter feed. Just stay active.

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

When I was a really little kid, I loved the Little House books. As I got older, I was crazy about The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins. Then I went through phases: Agatha Christie, Stephen King. Now I’m reading Got Junk? by Tom Acox and Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

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

Right now I’m writing the sequel to Spellbound, Spellcaster, which is due next year.

Thanks Cara! Can’t wait to read it!

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GrandPlan Cover large.img assist custom 245x374 196x300 Sona Remembers Those Lazy Summer (Reading) DaysOnce upon a time, long ago and not so far away, I lived on this magical street called Library Place. And yes, it had an actual library on one end of it.

I was about eight, and my parents (don’t call DYFUS!) used to let me and my sister (Meena, a year-and-a-half younger) walk down the block by ourselves and idle the hours away at the library, which back then was my favorite place to be. Summer was particularly fun, because without the weight of school and required reading on our slim shoulders, we could really indulge in those stacks of super-exciting reads of our own choosing.

I remember at the time that this particular library, the one on Library Place, had all these summer reading contests to motivate kids to read as many they could through that three-month break — with the prizes being a free book, a personal pie at Pizza Hut, or even just the simple gold star. I always loved having that record of all those books I devoured over the course of the summer, piles of Baby-Sitters Club monthlies that had built up during the school year, Judy Blume’s Fudge series, The Secret Garden, Bridge to Terabithia, Anne of Green Gables. (Yes, I know, I’m obsessed. But they were so good!)

Sadly, after third grade, we moved away from the magical Library Place, and while we still spent many summer hours at the library in our new town, it was never quite the same.

Recently, though, I’ve rediscovered my passion for the library, in particular the stately, long-standing Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library, which sits primly on Sixth Ave., not far from school. I spend hours before or after class perusing my options (and when I’m home, downloading eBooks and audiobooks from NYPL.org), and have managed to build up a fun summer reading list for myself. Here are my picks:

Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
With his first “kids’ book,” novelist and poet Mansbach serves up a deliciously wicked take on the picture book, complete with lovely kid-friendly illustrations and a rhyming lyrical voice. Your little one will never be the wiser, but this sure will make that bedtime story a hell of a lot more fun.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, by Uma Krishnaswami
Okay, so I’ll admit it: I haven’t actually read this yet. But boy were Dhonielle and I excited to see it when we came across it in Barnes & Noble the other day. And it’s at the top of my kid lit list. In the book, Bollywood-obsessed Dini, 11, is not happy about her family’s move from Tacoma Park, MD, to sleepy Swapnagiri, India. But maybe it will all be worth it if she can meet her favorite matinee idol, Dolly Singh.

How I Saved My Father’s Life (And Ruined Everything Else), by Ann Hood
In this middle grade tome by the author of The Knitting Circle and The Red Thread, young miracle-worker (at least that’s what she thinks) Madeline Vandemeer deals with divorce and dashed hopes — but can she keep the faith? A fun, flavorful read for middle-graders and grown-ups alike.

We’ll Always Have Summer, Jenny Han
The final installment in New School alum Jenny Han‘s delicious Summer series, book three sees beautiful Belly finally having to choose between her childhood pals Conrad and Jeremiah. If you haven’t read the first two, definitely start from the beginning — but all three will fit very nicely into your summer beach bag.

The Art of Forgetting, by Camille Noe Pagan
When her best friend Julia suffers from a brain injury, magazine editor Marissa learns how fragile the ties that bind can be. Fellow freelance writer Pagan knows of what she writes: a magazine writer who focuses on health and nutrition, she was inspired to write the story while researching an article on brain injuries. But science aside, Pagan deftly touches on the nerve-filled center of a friendship, loved and lost.

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Beach Book 300x180 Stevens Summer Book ClubDisclaimer: The following paragraph is an example of extreme laziness and horrific work ethic and should not be attempted at home by the faithful readers of Teen Writers Bloc.

When I was in high school, summer reading was — prepare to gasp — always a chore for me. The reading lists never really had anything that I wanted to read. Let’s face it, the chosen “Classics” are not always the easiest books to read, let alone the most fun. Usually, I waited until the week before school to cram in a book or three. Oftentimes, I’d be sitting in the hallway on the first day of school between periods skimming through the ends of the books I knew I’d never read. And if all else failed, well, Sparknotes.com always helped a brotha out. My teachers’ penetrating glares when I didn’t know the answers to questions, however, were no fun.*

Moral of this story: Summer reading lists sucked. I was a bad student.

When I was younger I never had enough time during the summer months to read what I wanted to read because I’d be forced to read what I didn’t want to read. I’ve noticed (thanks to my 16-year-old sister) that summer reading lists now have a lot more variety and a lot fewer of the boring “classics.” (They save those for the year-long syllabuses). And what better time to pick up a great book than summertime?

When I’m at the beach, soaking up some color and getting my GTL on, the feel of a book in my hand is wonderful. I can lose myself in the pages and find myself wandering through castles or neighborhoods I’ve never known before. It’s a great excuse to just escape. And since I’m worlds apart from the “bad student” I was in high school, if a kid approached me now asking for advice on what books to dive into during the summer heatwaves, I’d have loads to recommend for kids of all ages:

For the young’uns out there: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (and its accompanying sequels) by Judy Blume. When I was younger, Fudge ruled my world. I was talking to my 10-year-old cousin the other day, and she had no idea who Fudge was. I was flabbergasted. I demand that all 8 to 12-year-olds get to know this series, because it was my life back in the day.

 Stevens Summer Book ClubFor the ‘tweens: Try out Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan or Totally Joe by James Howe. There needs to be more tolerance and acceptance for kids who are different, and it’s best to start at a young age. I also love Holes by Louis Sachar— it’s a great summer book!

For those who love their classics: Catcher in the Rye is a must. It’s the first book that ever “spoke” to my soul. Dramatic? Yes. Truth? Absolutely. I read it once a year to remind myself to never lose my voice.

For the teens out there who are too cool to read books about teens and would rather read adult books: If you’re into nonfiction, pick up any one of David Sedaris’s creative nonfiction memoirs. Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day are epic. Also, Junot Diaz’s Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are wonderful too. If you’re into fiction, Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is at the top of my reading list.

For kids of all ages (especially those who are young at heart): Harry Potter, Books 1–7. Let’s face it, come July everyone and their dog will be flocking to movie theaters all over the world to see who wins the ultimate battle between good and evil. Neither can live while the other survives, right? Well, in order to know what the heck that all means, you gotta refresh your memory. And why watch the movies when you can read JK Rowlings’ exquisite and exciting prose? I know that I’m starting from the beginning and going straight through until the very last page of Deathly Hallows before I make my way into my local multi-plex.

And what will I be reading this summer? Well, I’ll definitely be re-reading the Harry Potter series before the last movie is released. That’s a must. Also, I’m determined to pick up Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. I also want to read Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine.

*Note: No pencils, no books, and no teachers’ dirty looks were harmed in the writing of this article. Oh, and don’t use Sparknotes.com. That’s cheating and cheaters blow.

 

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 Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami YodaMy good friend Kate Milford raved about the straight-forward brilliance of a MG novel titled The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger. After she read this book, she came up with a fabulous summer writing challenge for our critique group: for us to attempt to write something clean, economical, and straightforwardly brilliant like this book.I kept passing it by in the bookstore and finally decided to pick it up at the library, so I could get started on this summer project.

My father says I got my love for science fiction/fantasy while I was in the womb. The day before I was born on May 26th, 1983, my father dragged my mother to stand in line on opening night to see Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi with his fingers crossed that her water wouldn’t break. And like a good daughter and future nerd, I stayed put and her water broke after they got home from seeing the movie. Strangely, I’ve always had a fondness for all things related to Star Wars and space operas. So when I saw the title and the little green and brown origami Yoda on the cover I was immediately hooked.

And the text did not disappoint because it is a case file and told from several different points of view. Tommy is investigating the weird/troublemaker kid Dwight’s origami Yoda, who seems to be giving magical advice to help kids solve their middle school issues and conundrums. Each kid involved in the investigation writes a chapter detailing their encounters with the mysterious and mystical origami Yoda, detailing the advice they received and how it helped them solve their particular issue.

 Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami YodaI absolutely loved the case file format and how we got to read things from other characters’ POVs, and each section felt so different than the others. The voices were wonderfully differentiated. Surprisingly, there was no physical description of each character (aside from the fact that one girl Sara wore hearing aides), and I found myself okay with it. As my fellow Teen Writers Bloc members will attest to, I am kinda of a nag when it comes to physical description. I want to be rooted in the way someone looks, even if it’s just one quirk. But this book used little doodles at the top of each chapter to show what Tommy, Rhondella, Kellen, Quavando, Sara, Harvey etc look like. The narrative didn’t have the space to go into physical details about each person, but the characters were developed through the way they relay their encounter with origami Yoda.

This book is awesome! I am inspired by  the structure and humor. Also, it was edited and published by our Middle Grade Lit professor Susan van Metre, editor extraordinaire at Abrams.

Check it out! I have already pre-ordered the next book Darth Paper Strikes Back.

Photo courtesy of Amulet Books and Anthony T.

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The Betrayal of Maggie Blair Cover Book Review: The Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth LairdMaggie Blair is an isolated, illiterate girl who lives alone with her mean grandmother on a tiny island in 17th century Scotland. Her life consists of hard work and not much else. So begins The Betrayal of Maggie Blair (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, April 2011), a solid historical novel about a witch scare and the true-to-life persecution of Scottish Presbyterians by the English King Charles II.

The book’s opening sequences describe how Maggie is drawn into her grandmother’s antagonisms and ends up accused of witchcraft beside her. I have to admit that while reading this part, I did feel like I’d read something similar before (most recently in the excellent adult novel The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman).

Luckily, though, the witch trial is only the beginning. When Maggie escapes to safety with her strictly religious “Covenanter” uncle, the novel flows into much less well-trod territory. I love how the author shows the conflict between the King and the Covenanters through Maggie’s uneducated eyes. Having learned no religious or political allegiances, the willingness of the King’s men to kill and the Covenanters to die for their convictions is baffling. Maggie is a strong character who proves herself to be more sensible than those around her even before she learns to read. I appreciate how Maggie repeatedly acts bravely, thus hewing to modern feminist sensibilities, while never straying from the role a real woman might have played in her time and place. The book is populated with other well-rounded characters—notably Maggie’s troubled grandfather figure Tam and others who help Maggie along the way.

I do feel that the book suffers a little bit from that sometime malady of historical fiction, following the research more than the imagination. But I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a strong non-boy-crazy heroine and wants to be absorbed in another time and place.

Cover Image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

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 Stay Inside With a Good Book: Dhonielles Summer Reading Picks!As a kid I wasn’t a fan of the great outdoors during the summertime (and unfortunately this trend has continued into adulthood, but with the help of TWB guest blogger and poet, Lenea Grace, I’m working on it). Bugs, picnics, the blaring sun, mosquitoes, sweating, and hot car seats kept me inside with a stack of books during the summer. I didn’t need camp, just lemonade, pink-frosted animal cookies, and a stack of books. As a former teacher, I loved creating summer reading lists because I knew the summer was a time for kids to recharge, work at their own pace, and lug these books on family vacations. So here are my picks for middle grade and young adult books for the long, hot summer ahead:

1. Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

I’m reading this book as part of my research process for my next creepy middle grade novel. I am just in LOVE with it. The characters are charming and the countdown to the end of the world is a great device to drive up tension. Here’s a quick blurb from Amazon.com:

“Magician Nick McDaniels and his 13-year-old daughter have been on the vaudeville circuit ever since his wife died. Spending her time on trains and in grubby boardinghouses, Hope longs to settle down in Chicago, their hometown, and desperately wishes for a blue notice telling them that their magician act is no longer wanted, but how would they support themselves? She needs money to tide them over until her father finds another line of work. In May 1910, Earth is about to pass through the tail of Halley’s Comet, and people are panicked. With the help of Buster Keaton, a lanky boy also on the circuit, Hope hatches the idea of selling anti-comet pills to gullible “Coins,” who will do anything to save themselves. Tubb uses rich historical material well in this clever story whose time line is a 17-day countdown to the comet catastrophe. Not only are Keaton and his family part of the scene, but so are Bert Savoy, a comedian in drag; Benjamin Franklin Keith, an impresario; and the Cherry Sisters, a dull act regularly pelted with rotten fruit. Wisecracks, most of them vintage, are interspersed in a way that makes readers feel Hope is muttering them in response to what is happening. In this lively first-person tale, Hope isn’t always completely believable because the language and vocabulary of her internal thoughts are sometimes too adult for a girl her age, even one with a father who spouts Walt Whitman. Still it’s a good show with heroes, villains, and heart.”

 Stay Inside With a Good Book: Dhonielles Summer Reading Picks!2. Stolen by Lucy Christopher

This book was deliciously creepy, scary, heartbreaking, and a manifestation of one of my deepest childhood fears: to be taken. I am drawn to books with vivid settings and this one is set in the desert of Australia (and I have a new found obsession with the desert!). I found myself scared to read this book, but absolutely couldn’t put it down. I would tell myself, “Just one more chapter. Only one more,” before bed, otherwise I had crazy dreams.

Amazon.com blurb: “While 16-year-old Gemma is en route to Vietnam from England with her parents, she is drugged and kidnapped from the Bangkok airport. She regains full consciousness in a rustic house deep in the Australian Outback with a 25-year-old man who is going to keep her forever. Ty never sexually abuses her, but she is truly a captive. Little by little, Ty wears down her defenses as Gemma realizes that escape is impossible. Soon she discovers the stark power and vibrancy of the wilderness and becomes absorbed in it. She also learns that Ty has been stalking her for years, devising a crafty plan to steal her away to make her love him which she ultimately believes she does. Ty’s capture, taming, and release of a female camel effectively parallels Gemma’s ordeal. Her unique first-person narrative is written to Ty after her release. Both characters are as vivid as the desert setting in which they are immersed. Despite the fact that Ty is a kidnapper, the revelations about his difficult youth and his usually caring behavior allow readers, like Gemma, to eventually care about him.”

Happy Summer Reading Time!

Photos Courtesy of The Chicken House, Dutton Juvenile, Fiewel & Friends

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 Inspiration Finally: How the Play Enfrascada Helped Me With Writers BlockFor the past three weeks I have been seriously blocked with my current work-in-progress. I am at a point with the research for my new book that I am ready to write, or at least I should be ready to write. I have the basic story-line structure, the historical fundamentals, and a decent grip on who my characters are, but alas, I have been unable to put pen to the page.

I sit at the computer or escape to my local coffee shop and take out my necessary writing tools: notebook, research pages, setting doodles, and the primary historical sources I’ve gathered. I sit there and stare at the page or write and re-write the same sentence over and over again. Then I have a little tantrum that is reminiscent of a 1st grader who has ADHD and doesn’t want to sit down, stop fidgeting, and do their homework. An evil mantra circles in my brain: “I hate my life. Why did I decide to be a writer?” Then I start bullying myself by having an interior conversation about how I need to be writing and producing pages and how I am so behind and so lazy. Usually this works and I can buck up and get some pages out. But these past few weeks I have been blocked and unable to find the rhythm of the language in my new book.

On Friday I went to see the play “Enfrascada” at the HERE Arts Center directed by the fabulously talented Jerry Ruiz. I was feeling terrible before attending the play. I had planned to get up at 9 am and write, but didn’t end up getting up until 11, had to run and tutor for four hours, and then get from the Upper East Side to Soho for the play without being late. When I finally arrived and got a view of the gorgeous set I was immediately awestruck and inspired. All of the “bad day” stuff drifted away.

SummerArt3B3 241x300 Inspiration Finally: How the Play Enfrascada Helped Me With Writers BlockHere is the plot of the play in a nutshell from Nytheatre.com: “When Alicia’s fiancé cheats on her and ultimately leaves her for another woman, Alicia doesn’t want revenge. She doesn’t want to get even with Diego. She doesn’t want to punish him or his new girlfriend. She just wants things to go back to the way they were—back to normal, back to Alicia and Diego living together with their dog, Bandito, and having friends over to watch football on Monday nights. But when Diego won’t even take her phone calls, the normally rational, clear-minded, un-superstitious Alicia finds herself taking a suggestion from her two best friends that she would normally scoff at: a visit to a señora—herbalist, soothsayer, counselor, and spell-caster rolled into one woman, with the power to effect solutions where conventional Western medicine, psychology, or self-help has failed.

Where Carolina and Yesenia swear by the range of remedies provided by the señoras—from Tarot cards to herbal medicines, from charms to spiritual readings—the more skeptical Alicia (who barely speaks Spanish and needs to bring one of the others along to translate) is initially more than dubious, treating her first visit as an anthropological investigation rather than a possible solution to her problem. But the more she suffers, and the stronger her obsession with regaining her past becomes, the more she finds herself believing—and willing to try.  Alicia’s relationship with and attraction to the culture of the señoras, with the power they represent and the promise they hold out to her, is one of the play’s darkest, strangest, and most powerful elements.

The Spanish word “frasco” means, among other things, “jars”; the play’s title, Enfrascada, is a pun that can mean both “jarred” and “engrossed,” or “wrapped up”—a word used to describe Diego’s relationship with his new, very Anglo girlfriend, Bethany. And in the hands of the curanderas, Alicia is soon putting her faith into the contents of jars: a jar full of honey, cinnamon, and brown sugar to bind Diego to her; a jar full of vinegar to be buried under his doorstep. But when even Carolina and Yesenia start to feel that Alicia’s going too far, something’s got to give.”

6525752.28 300x199 Inspiration Finally: How the Play Enfrascada Helped Me With Writers BlockI was completely engrossed in the entire production. The characters were fabulously individualized and realized and the set was magical. There were dozens of jars in three different shelving units. The jars had all types of creepy liquids and fibers inside them, and they were illuminated by florescent lights of varying colors. If you know me at all, or my writing, then you know that I am a fan of jars with creepy contents as well as root workers. These two things seem to show up in my work.

I loved the way the jars felt like a character in the actual play, and their contents were just as interesting and important as the women themselves. I think the look of the stage as well as the way the actresses interacted with the jars themselves helped to create this experience.

So after the play I stuffed my face with pizza and then ended up being so inspired that I finally pushed out some pages of my new work-in-progress. Thank you Tanya Saracho for writing an interesting play, and Jerry Ruiz for directing a play that was inspiring, mysterious and emotionally creepy, and helped me find the magic in the opening of my new book.

Photo Credit: Txt2Pic.com, VillageVoice.com, Clubbedthumb.org

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51rpy+ee1SL. SL500 AA300  Coreys Summer Reading Picks: Realism Doesnt Have to Be BoringI know a lot of kids (and adults) will be picking up dystopians, fantasies, steampunks, sci-fi’s and all kinds of imagination-heavy series and stand-alones. But if you want a fabulous realistic YA or MG here are my picks:

Middle Grade:

I’m going to recommend two books that were given to me by my boyfriend’s super smart twelve-year-old niece. The first, Every Soul a Star by Wendy Maas is a great contemporary read that centers around a few kids that end up far north to watch a very rare and very beautiful eclipse. Shifting narratives, first crushes, unexpected friendships, it’s a nearly perfect book for older middle-grade readers. Maas captures the complexity and pain of growing up without getting stuck in a negative angst. Honest and deep without being too heavy.

My second MG recommendation (care of the same super-reading sixth grader) is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever. I’m almost never a fan of historical fiction, but this is a really intense and compelling read about a plague taking over the countryside form the point of view of a smart, strong young girl. Couldn’t believe how much I liked this… so much so that I finished it on a long plane ride—a sure sign that it’s a solid summer read!

Young Adult:

For this category I’m actually going to recommend a novel that was marketed as adult but is DEFINITELY the perfect crossover novel: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. This one follows a Chinese girl and her mother, who move to Brooklyn and go through some serious culture shock and confront heartbreaking poverty. The summer is the perfect time to get engrossed in the life story of this engaging character as she comes of age under unbelievable pressure. The setting and atmospheric details are vivid, the characters are lovely and flawed, and the story is powerful. Summer’s a good time to get immersed in a world that isn’t your own, and that’s the power behind this amazing novel. And if there’s a mother-daughter book club out there, I’d send this in as my top recommendation. A really special book, and a rare teenaged Asian narrator.

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