Book Activism: January/February

Though these be reviews in nature, I prefer to think of them as raising awareness.

Book activism, if you will.

There will be links to further check out these titles should my enjoyment make you curious.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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If you follow me on any social media platforms, you will have already seen me gush over this book. What a joy to read. The whip-smart dialog and super sexy, steamy romance set this book apart for me from other rom-com’s.

Description from the internet:

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.

2) A person’s undoing

3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

I read it in two days. I carried it around with me like a security blanket. I sniggered in the parking lot to pick up my son at school when I came to a sexy scene and realized only I knew what I was reading. Loved the characters, the pacing, the setting, and the sexy times.

I would 1000% like to see this made in a movie. Some fan casting to wet your whistle.

The Hating Game on Goodreads

Follow Sally Thorne on Twitter because she is adorbs

And/or on Instagram 


The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

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Shifting gears to a YA debut by London-based, American author, Katherine Webber. From the first time I read the description of this book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Description from the internet:

Wing Jones, like everyone else in her town, has worshipped her older brother, Marcus, for as long as she can remember. Good-looking, popular, and the star of the football team, Marcus is everything his sister is not.

Until the night everything changes when Marcus, drunk at the wheel after a party, kills two people and barely survives himself. With Marcus now in a coma, Wing is crushed, confused, and angry. She is tormented at school for Marcus’s mistake, haunted at home by her mother and grandmothers’ grief. In addition to all this, Wing is scared that the bank is going to repossess her home because her family can’t afford Marcus’s mounting medical bills.

Every night, unable to sleep, Wing finds herself sneaking out to go to the school’s empty track. When Aaron, Marcus’s best friend, sees her running one night, he recognizes that her speed, skill, and agility could get her spot on the track team. And better still, an opportunity at a coveted sponsorship from a major athletic gear company. Wing can’t pass up the opportunity to train with her longtime crush and to help her struggling family, but can she handle being thrust out of Marcus’s shadow and into the spotlight?

The prose blew me away. Voice and passion pulsed from every page. I loved the setting, which is 1995 Atlanta, and loved the characters even more. Katherine’s descriptions of everything from the track field to Wing’s LaoLao’s dumplings were absolutely delicious. I immediately felt I was back in time experiencing a taste of a world I have never seen, and thankful for the chance to see it through Wing’s compassionate eyes.

What a completely satisfying and rewarding read.

This book is already out in the UK, but will not be out in America until March 14th.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones on Goodreads

Follow Katherine on Instagram and also live in London vicariously through her

And vicarious living can also be done through her Twitter

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


Girl out of Water by Laura Silverman

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Another YA, by the super rad Laura Silverman. I was so intrigued by this book, which is such a departure from what I normally read, that I simply could not wait to get my hands on it.

Description from the internet:

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home-it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

Oh how I FELT for Anise! Such a compelling character. Her voice just leaps off the page at you. She is complicated without being angsty, and her journey is relatable and real, and a little swoony. I did find myself wishing for the ocean right along with Anise, but was so wrapped up in the plot that it didn’t deter me. Definitely a great early summer read.

This book comes out May 2017, so keep it in mind for those lazy, hazy days.

Girl out of Water on Goodreads

Follow Laura on Twitter 

And Instagram for bookish and social awareness news. 

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

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I decided to read this book for two reasons:

  1. My trusted friend, Kayla Olson (author of The Sandcastle Empire, which I will have a post for next week!!! STAY TUNED), insisted. Intensely. Maybe she hovered over me while I requested it from NetGalley.
  2. It is relevant to my fangirl interests.

It SLAYED me.

Description from the internet:

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

*flails all over the room* *Tweets @ author in panic* *emoji face explosion*

This book was not what I expected. Every time I felt I had gotten my footing, had figured something out, it changed. And I loved every second. I was completely sucked in to the mystery and romance. Loved how the author used Transcripts and Tweets, as well as traditional prose narration to weave the story.

This book is out in June and I highly recommend you add it to your TBR list.

Follow Me Back on Goodreads

Follow A.V. Geiger on Instagram

and Twitter and use the #EricThornObsessed hashtag to express your feelings 

(I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for honest feedback.)


I’ll just go bury myself in books now.

xo,

Rebekah

A Love Letter to Girl in Pieces

If you follow my blog, you will know I do not regularly do book reviews. For that, I use Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble because leaving a review on one of those sites for a book you love helps the author of that book immensely.

When I do talk about a book on my blog, it means that book has hooked me in the heart. It will not be reviewed so much as emoted about.

First, the description:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you. 
 

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. 
 

A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

Kathleen Glasgow, the author of Girl in Pieces, and I are friends on Facebook. We have never met in real life, but after reading this book I feel like a tiny piece of her soul now resides in me. This book is deeply personal, for the writer to share with the world, for the reader to experience through the text. This is a book you will likely not find easy to get through, and when you finish you will not quickly forget or move on from.

Kathleen sent me the ARC (which stands for Advanced Reader Copy) because we’re both authors in the YA community, and because I stalked her Facebook when she was giving them out for review.

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I started it immediately, wanting to read and get my thoughts out on the internet to best help promote the book. About sixty pages in, I abandoned my plan. There were times when I could only read three or four pages in a sitting because it was making me feel feel feel. It became clear that this book was not junk food. This was not a speed read. This was a book you experienced, sometimes in public— while waiting for a movie, while ignoring family members at meals, while sitting by a pool — and sometimes only in the dim quiet of your bedroom, surrounded by blankets to ease the pain.

Not everyone will feel what I felt for Charlie. To some, her journey will be compelling, but completely other from their own experience. But anyone that has ever experienced deep, confusing self-harm —for whatever reason, in whatever walk of life — will be able to see a little of themselves in Charlie.

By nature I like to maintain control. By hard work, years of discipline, lots of good loving and growing up, I have learned how to let go. As a teenager I was still learning how to exist in the world at all. As a teenager, I was overtaken daily by fear. It became unmanageable and impossible to maintain, so I restricted. I built walls around myself. I ate only candy some days. Tuna others. Often, pickles and sugar-free jello were my only reward for a day in the world. I shrank down, and eventually, I became a whiff of my former self. This action was accompanied by all manner of obsessive compulsive behavior, and followed by many years of retraining my mind and body to live in the stupid, big, uncontrolled world I had been born into.

Charlie cuts. She cuts away the pain. She cuts away the lack of power she has over her life. Reading about her journey as an adult I felt so thankful to Kathleen for writing this book for young women, boys…grown-girls still lost in this. When you are trapped in this kind of pattern, sometimes it feels like you aren’t seen. That people are looking away from your pain, unable to deal, too busy, too something. I know that because I felt it at times, even though everyone saw, everyone knew, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to help dig me out.

Girl in Pieces sees all the crooked edges and works to make them safe. It is a voice to this silent scream. It is a conversation starter.

There is no glory or beauty in Charlie’s scars, and the author does not make light of the very dark and dangerous path self-harm can lead to. But this is Charlie’s journey to learning to love herself regardless of the ugly she has taken into, and cut onto, her body. It is a journey worth taking with her.

The writing is stunning. It moves along the page like notes of music from an instrument. There is color and life swirled in with the pain. Funny, honest, thoughtful moments that make the story feel like looking in on a real life. There’s rough romance, and some language even a sailor might blush at, and somewhere in there I went from being certain this was a story about every other kind of pain than my own, to knowing this was a story about all pain and how there is always a way through it without hurting yourself or someone else.

I cried. I finished the book on the couch while my son watched Teen Titans. I had to get up from my spot and walk away, close the bathroom door, sob on the edge of the tub. I hugged the book to my body. I consider it one of the best I’ve read this year, and an important book, one that should be read, and praised, and shared.

Here is a link to pre-order Girl in Pieces, so that you might experience something truly fucking angelic.*

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*You’ll understand once you’ve read. And you’ll love it.

 

 

The Good Dinosaur Rewrite

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Spoiler Courtesy

If you haven’t watched Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, and plan to, you may not want to read this.

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I have given this a lot of thought since I took my son to see The Good Dinosaur on Black Friday, and since it keeps swirling back to me the way a boomerang is supposed to I decided to share it.

First you must understand: I am a believer in the movie making magic that Pixar Entertainment wields. I pretty much go in to their movies with the expectation to be floored, wowed, torn into tiny pieces of human emotion. Over the years, I think I’ve developed an addiction to their specific brand of story. I gear up for the feels and I have rarely been let down.

I am also a writer that has endured — will always have to endure — high-level critique of my work. I know how hard it is to take that in, and even more, I understand how easy it is to get lost on the story’s journey, veering, spiraling, floundering until you no longer even recognize the work you’ve ended up with. I know how hard it is to fix it once you get to that soul-crushing crossroad.

That said, I have a pretty huge note at the story level of The Good Dinosaur, and rather than only tell you what I think isn’t working, I am going to offer what I would do to fix it.

Here is the movie description:

Luckily for young Arlo, his parents (Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand) and his two siblings, the mighty dinosaurs were not wiped out 65 million years ago. When a rainstorm washes poor Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) downriver, he ends up bruised, battered and miles away from home. Good fortune shines on the frightened dino when he meets Spot (Jack Bright), a Neanderthal boy who offers his help and friendship. Together, the unlikely duo embark on an epic adventure to reunite Arlo with his beloved family.

It would take too long to give you a play-by-play of the entire plot, so what I am going to do instead is focus on the key points I feel like needed to be revised.

Shall we?

Concept and Set-up:

What if dinosaurs didn’t die out but lived on? The movie offers a society (similar to the world in CARS) run by dinosaurs. They have evolved to the point of creating their own jobs for themselves, finding ways to sustain their food supply, forming family units. They are essentially humans in dinosaur clothes.

I do think this concept works for an animated feature. Children can get into it, like they did CARS, and adults can pick out the finer nuances of the idea. (An example: The T-Rex cattle wranglers, meat eaters, that look like they are riding horses because of their tiny little arms. Pretty fabulous!)

But that is not the only BIG IDEA at play in this story. We also have parallels drawn between the world of Good Dinosaur and the Range, like Home, Home on the, as well as the classic protagonist spirit journey arc.

THEN we have the protagonist’s inability to fit in with his family because he’s timid and fearful.

Thanks to the protagonist’s fear, his father ends up dead.

But it’s not until the little Caveboy comes back a second time, that the inciting incident happens. Arlo (the protagonist) finally shows some story gumption when he confronts the Caveboy and blames him for his father’s death, chasing the boy away from the safety of his home and getting swept off by the river.

It is, to me, a case of too much, too fast. It gets muddled on delivery.

My Revision:

The description of the movie leaves out a huge chunk of this information and instead focuses — as it should — on Arlo’s journey. The issue with the setup is figuring out a way to make Arlo’s stakes high enough so that he needs to take this spirit journey, and endearing enough that we need to follow him on it.

I am suggesting two major changes:

  • Eliminate his brother
  • Leave his father alive.

Begin with the world set up: Dinosaurs don’t die.

Go to the small picture: a single dinosaur family surviving.

Introduce Arlo — scrawny, fearful, not really built for field labor, and is subtly seen as a disappointment by his father. On farms, boys usually take over once their father’s can’t run it anymore, but that isn’t Arlo’s strong suit. To give it a feminist edge, hint that his sister is better suited for this work and also wants it more than he does. Build the relationship with his sister up, show that Arlo needs to face his fear of letting his father down, and show how that manifests in him being fearful in other situations.

Introduce the Critters eating their food supply, and Arlo’s inability to kill the Caveboy. Have a scene here where Arlo says something awful to his father about farm life. Have his father call him a coward. And then, to drive it home, have his father go searching for the Caveboy to finish Arlo’s job and get injured. Arlo blames himself, and when he sees the Caveboy again, he CHOOSES to catch him to prove he’s not a coward. This is of course the wrong motive, which is important to show his growth through the story.

He falls into the river, goes unconscious and finds himself far from home with no survival skills and no idea how to get home.

This gives Arlo’s character real tension and tightens the plot, we don’t waste all that time on the father’s death, and we don’t meander with the brother that adds nothing to the plot. Arlo needs to be active, and he needs to be searching for something more. He’s a kid, of course he wants to get back home, he’s worried he’ll be in trouble because they’ll think he ran away, and probably secretly worried they will be fine without him, but Arlo is on this journey because of fear, and I think, because he needs to find out who he is. This is a coming of age tale, after all.

Things this changes:

  1. Needing to get home to help with the harvest. In the movie as it is now, Arlo arrives home at the end when they have already finished bringing in the harvest, negating this motive. They are exhausted and for all they know he abandoned them. By eliminating the father’s death, and making the sister more active, this would no longer need to be a driving force for Arlo, leaving him to have deeper goals and motives.
  2. The conflict he has over his father’s death. This is not The Lion King, guys, and for me, the father’s death had little emotional resonance. He spends the whole time either watching his son fail, or telling him to face his fear. Telling is the key word. With all that telling, I lost interest. I also feel like this is something I have seen too many times, and in this case it didn’t add to the movie.
  3. The connection between Spot (Caveboy) and Arlo over the loss of a parent. I think this could still be established. Arlo is a lost child, and so is Spot. All they have now is each other.

Smaller Points:

Shaman Character-

There is a weird Styracosaurus introduced early in the second act that could have served as a Shaman or Spirit Guide. Later, the father is used as a sort of Spirit Guide. Streamline this, pick one Shaman character and have that character recur at least three times in the story. Again, this is about utilizing the concept and worldbuilding. When you are trying to create an imaginary world, some things need to be told and retold to make the world feel fully fleshed out.

More characters on the Range-

Another way to utilize your world building is by using common and recognizable archetypal characters to fill out the world and drive theme home. Arlo needed to experience more for this to be a true spirit journey. His experiences are not varied enough, and his encounters to not provide enough of an argument.

Final Thoughts

The script would have to be revised throughout based on these changes, with an emphasis on the spirit journey concept and worldbuilding. By cutting unnecessary plot points, and getting the tension off a death and onto the struggle of the main character, the story will already feel less passive and more focused.

Critique is a compliment, it means I cared about this story. It is easier to stand on the outside of something and see the problems and even the solutions, than it is to be inside trying to solve them in real time. This is one opinion of a way to improve a story, and I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this.

Also, Pixar, if you are interested in hiring me, my contact info is in my bio. I have a screenplay sample, and I’m available immediately.

A Thank You Letter to Mockingjay

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This is not an essay on the merits or failures of Mockingjay the book or the film. It is not a critique.

This is a thank you letter.

But first you must understand my history with this story.

On the day before my twenty-sixth birthday, five years ago, at eleven o’clock at night, I finished reading Mockingjay for the very first time. Having read all the Hunger Games books in the span of three days, I had gotten too absorbed, too close to these fictional people, this fictional war, those fictional deaths. I spent my birthday sobbing. I struggled to make sense of the sudden dark hole I found myself in. I was an adult, a thinking woman who was raising a child and married and paying a mortgage, but I couldn’t have a conversation that day without welling up in tears.

It created a flood out of which many, many things flowed. I discovered the Young Adult genre because of these books, and began consuming fiction like it was some sort of gloriously delectable goody. I started writing my own fiction, too. Believing I could and should become an author. I found my own voice that way, imitating Suzanne Collins, Maggie Steifvater, Libba Bray — others, greats — until out of their brilliant voices my own, still raw but real, began to emerge.

But there was something I couldn’t shake. A gnawing that unsettled me and left me at a loss for words to explain. As life changing as The Hunger Games was for me, it also felt unfinished. Not wrong in the way Gilmore Girls or Lost will always be because of the way they ended, but like I was waiting for the rest of the story. I had walked with Katniss through the Games, through a war, through deaths and sacrifices, victory and loss, but the time I spent in her triumph was too short. What I needed for this reluctant hero was to experience the simplicity she had always wanted. A life without war and hunger — the things I would argue Katniss ultimately fought the Games and the war for. Even more than Prim or Peeta.

Two pages in an Epilogue, no matter how beautiful, were not enough for me.

Finally, I saw MockingjayPart 2, and in the last minutes of the movie I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Finally, I got what I needed for my hero and myself.

I watched the war’s harshness melt away from Katniss. I saw her look at Peeta like he was someone she wanted and not just needed to survive. I got to see her decide to lie beside him, letting him hold her and love her back. I saw her babies. And for a few minutes I wasn’t watching Jennifer Lawrence play a character, but I was with Katniss again. My Katniss. The one I had followed to war five years ago. The one that made me remember that books possess the power to change me when I let them.

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I was grateful. I found closure.

Certainly, my experience speaks to how the visual story can communicate a different part of the character’s experience. Katniss was a hard character to ever really know, even for a reader in her head, but when I saw her living on screen she proved to me, finally, that all she’d walked through had been worth it.

But I think it was more than that.

Humans crave the triumph of good over evil — unless you’re a Death Eater or member of Hydra or Sauron. That is why the heroes journey has been written in every form imaginable, and then was written again from another point of view, and then reversed, over and over and over.

We need Harry to walk into the Forbidden Forest and face Voldemort. We need Frodo to take the ring, and when he falters we need Sam to make sure he drops it in the fires of Mordor. We need Buffy to sacrifice herself for her sister and stop the end of the world…again. But I almost think sometimes we need the After more.

We need to see that Harry got married and holds down a job, Ginny probably bakes him pie on Sundays, and James likely wants one of those Muggle video game systems. We need to see Frodo go with the Elves because he gave too much of himself to his journey and now he needs to a quiet place to pass his last days.

We have to see that Katniss didn’t need power and prestige to consider herself the winner of the Games. She had done all she did so she could live a life most of us would find dull. The movie gave me that moment in a way the book alone had not been able to. I needed it.

We are in war all over the world. The horrors we experience in the fictional Panem are happening in real, more brutal ways, now, here, in our backyards, where our children live and play and learn. The reason we fight back isn’t for world peace. Peace is an unattainable dream. Mockingjay doesn’t pretend that it is, and I am not pretending it should be.

But what it promises is this: Our children are worth it. Humanity is worth it.

We don’t need much to win. Just a table filled with family and friends, the promise to work harder, the action of standing up to the bullies or the tyrants, to the terror and the violence. Unity is impossible, so stop seeking it. We will never all agree on policy or faith, whether guns should be banned or abortions outlawed. We are so divided, and in our division we are weakened. We will lose and become enemies, and when we need to, we will fail each other. We will riot and fight. We will kill. We will look the other way.

We need heroes in our stories, but we are the only heroes available to this world. Us, thinking and feeling human beings that allow our hearts to be changed.Our heroes journey starts when we say yes. Yes, I’ll give back to the hurt and the wounded. Yes, I’ll listen. Yes, I’ll look at the pain and not ignore it just because it is not mine.

This is a thank you to Mockingjay, Part 2 for reminding me why I shouldn’t give up the fight. Why I can be my own hero in my own life. Why I already am.

Ruby Red Reread

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I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Ruby Red Trilogy by Sara Biren and her relentless love of the series. I was also fortunate to have other writer friends (Tracey and Jaime!) that loved the series and kept it at the forefront of my TBR list.

Then I was introduced to the German produced film titled Rubinrot starring these lovelies.

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And the obsession grew.

There is something particularly wonderful about this German published, International Best Seller that can bring you from the funk of winter, the grumbles of work or other strife and responsibilities, and to make you feel inherently hopeful about the future.

So, in the doldrums of winter, we hatched a plan to reread the series and let it carry us safely into spring.

If you haven’t already discovered these fabulous books, now is a great chance to do so in the company of friends. Feel free to join in!

Starting tomorrow, reread (or read!) Ruby Red through the month of February. Tweet with the hashtag #RubyRedReread all your reactions (but try to keep them spoiler free), swoons, feels, frustrations — anything!

In March we will read Sapphire Blue, and in April we will read Emerald Green.

I hope you guys are as excited as we (clearly) are. It’s going to be EPIC.

Gender Roles & Young Adults: Little Game

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As a Young Adult writer, and even more as a writer of diverse fantasy, I consider myself a fairly open-minded human. Creating a world where teens are able to break down barriers, conquer adversaries, and challenge the status quo, is an important part of my writing life. The question of gender roles is one I must examine without prejudice, and even more, I must be alert to what teenagers are saying on the subject.

Listening, writers are always listening. We have to hear in order to tell the story accurately.

So when my nephew, Benny (Ben J. Pierce) a 15-year-old actor with his own YouTube channel and ever-growing following on Twitter and Instagram, debuted his first single Little Game, I paid attention. *Note: I am always paying attention to what my nephew produces. I cast him in his first stage play, I knew when he was nine he was going to be something fabulous. 

A few weeks ago, on his show KidPOV, he tackled a touchy subject for a teenage boy (for anyone, really, because hot button issues tend to make people stupid and use nasty emoticons): sexism in the media. It was thoughtful. It was generous. It was nicer than I would have been.

Ben is not your typical boy. He never has been. So it came as no surprise to me that for his first single he chose to address the pressure placed on young men and women, boys and girls, to conform to societal norms regardless of desire or proclivity.

As a female who always liked dresses and dolls and boys, who was a princess who sipped tea from china, I wasn’t picked on as a kid. But the sweet-faced blonde girl with red patent leather shoes also liked to give bullies bloody noses, and bullies learned to stay away. They learned to stay away from friends and siblings, too.

But it’s cute to be a curly haired tomboy with a crush on Christian Bale in Newsies…when you’re a girl. Reverse this quirk to a boy who would rather tap dance than play football, and regardless of open-mindedness, no matter the change in times, certain names are used. With the pervasiveness of online bullying, these names become a permanent fixture in social media.

As we get older, we are expected to exchange childhood whims for more decidedly adult ones. We are expected to get in line with everyone else, and if we don’t, we are labeled. These labels are damaging. As a teenager, still very much forming who you are and what you want, still trying to wade through all your desires and curiosities, putting a word to a way of feeling or thinking can alter self-image and create self-hatred in a way that becomes irreversible. But not always factual. Not necessarily a true representation of who you are.

Say you are a thirteen-year-old girl who has always played sports, never wears make-up, doesn’t talk about boys you like because all the boys you know are either your friends, or gross. Say someone calls you a dyke. Tells you, you must like girls because of how you look, because you don’t talk about boys. Say you question yourself, and you discover no, you aren’t gay, but no matter what you say everyone still wants to label you that way. And because you are labeled that way, you are treated differently. You are side-eyed.

Or maybe you discover you are. And maybe you don’t want to talk about it yet.

Another person’s label cannot dictate who we are. There is no way to silence voices against you when voices want to be heard. There is no way to make everyone see you for who you truly are without bringing their own preconceived ideas into the mix. The need for acceptance is basic. It is human. Only a few opinions really matter. Ignore the rest.

Getting to that point, though, not so easy. Videos like Little Game, Young Adult literature written for and about teens, talking about these things honestly, helps.

I am not the only one that thinks Ben’s single is worth discussing. This week Buzzfeed picked up the story, and linked to the video. That, combined with others popular in the YouTube world speaking out in favor of his video, the views have jumped to (as of posting) 292,000 views. Ben is not the first to speak this message, as the article notes, and he won’t be the last.

Ben is a teen, speaking to teens, about what it means to be a teen. I am an adult who is listening.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: Why Maggie Stiefvater’s Writing is Special to Me.

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Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.

“What are you doing this afternoon?” my husband asked.

“I’m reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in the Raven Cycle,” I paused, tightening my fingers around the spine. “And it’s probably all I’m going to want to do for the rest of the day.”

“So, I don’t need to ask you if it’s good.”

“Good isn’t the right word. The feeling I get when I read these books, it’s the closest I get to how I feel when I’m writing. Not because her writing is like my writing,” I grappled with how to explain it so it didn’t sound like I was comparing myself to her. “It feels almost as personal, almost as living as my own characters in my own body.”

This would make sense to my husband. He is accustomed to sharing me with the voices in my head.

I remember a blog post (or an answer to an Anon on Tumblr?) where Maggie Stiefvater was talking about copying your favorite writers — literally rewriting their sentences (not for publication in any form or fashion) as a writing exercise. Now, I am pretty sure she did not use the word exercise, that is likely my paraphrase, but the thought is that by studying the sentence structure, word choice, rhythm, and so on by the actual writing of their words you could illuminate why it works, and learn how to apply that in your own writing.

I never did this, but I like the idea. It’s the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” but for writing. And as I read Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I knew there was something I needed to learn from this book. From the purposefulness of her words. From what she showed me, versus what she told me. I have gotten to a point in revision that requires more.

So I read. And I felt and I felt and I felt. I am a vocal, passionate fan of Maggie’s writing, and I am always surprised when another reader does not share my enthusiasm for her stories. Subjectivity is the name of the game, and this is why I am not arguing with another reader, pointing out their wrongness. I am going to make a case now for why her writing in particular strikes this cord in me, because it may surprise you with it’s threefoldness.

“Three,” Persephone said, “is a very strong number.”


One:

Words have to read a certain way in my head heart. I think (and I am not a scientist or scholar) we read to the inherent beat of our own hearts, so certain kinds of prose can feel wrong to a reader not because they are badly written, or uninteresting, but because they hitch in our heartbeat, so they hitch in our heads.

Writers write in the voice of a narrator, but we bring our own voices with us, filtering out our personality, but retaining our uniqueness. This is why anyone can write sentences on paper, not everyone is a writer.

I am going to talk about a massive best seller that I have nothing against, in fact, I very much see it’s merit. Marie Lu’s Legend was super challenging for me to get through, and I never really fell in love. And I knew I wouldn’t from page one. Why? Cadence. My rhythm and her narrator’s rhythm could never sync up. This does not make it a bad book. It makes it a less me book and a more for someone else book. Books are not meant to please all readers — they are not popcorn. They are not pumpkin spice lattes. They are the opposite of basic.

However! Maggie Stiefvater writes words in a way that flows through me like music. I do not have to acquaint myself with her rhythm when I open one of her books. And, don’t get me wrong, I love many books that do not follow my beat, but this is about why I love HER writing so much specifically. Her writing follows the beat of my heart.

Two:

I am a frustrated actress who still secretly (busted) dreams of performing. Writing is acting without a stage. Reading is an extension of this, so the first thing I look for in a story is character.

Maggie Stiefvater is a fabulous storyteller, in the most true, classic sense of this word, and some of that is because she gets that character is the base from which all good plot is built. Character defines world. Character creates voice. And characters should be alive. I am of the opinion that powerful characters (not characters with power, or characters in a place of power) are conjured from our own selves, deep observation of other people, deep questions we are asking without asking, and magic.

I say magic because to create is a magical thing. And Maggie is a bit of a magician. Reading her books is really living with her people. Getting to know them, making bargains with them, losing their bets, celebrating their glory.

Gansey thought of how strange it was to know these two young men so well and yet to not know them at all.

Something Maggie does in Blue Lily, Lily Blue over and over (intentionally, and likely not fully understood yet) is repeat this kind of phrasing, from different points of view, as if promising us that we will never know any of these people completely because they are people, and people are always revealing new layers, manipulating perspective, changing opinions, and so we should not get comfortable, not assume anything.

And this is what I believe in life, and this is what I want in stories.

Three:

Writing is digging into your own scars, so when I am writing I am bleeding. Reading is not always this way, but there are some things I think reading should try to be:

— Educational. You should learn something about yourself, your sense of humor, your own questions, your own darkness. And yes, you can learn all these things reading genre fiction of all sorts.

— Entertaining. Reading is not popcorn, I have already said this, so it is also not a movie. It may take work to entertain yourself with a book. It will take imagination. But reading should fuel your mind and emotions, which means it should not make you wish you were cleaning the kitchen instead. We all have different barometers for this, yours is none of my business.

—Satisfying. When you close a book you may want to throw it against the wall, if you were given no promise by the author that the book would make you feel fuzzies, or if you were looking for something to bring out those emotions, you should feel satisfied. Satisfaction is not happy endings. Happy endings can also be satisfying.

Reading a Maggie Stiefvater book is like voyeurism. Sometimes, it is looking in a mirror. Almost always it is frustrating and thrilling and big. I need this to feel educated, entertained and satisfied. So, I can get this from other books, but I know I will get this from her books. She is not obligated to deliver this to me, and I am not obligated to always agree with the choices she makes as a writer.

But when she publishes a book, I have learned to expect a certain chipping away of my own soul while reading. I have learned to believe her capable to telling me the truth.


So. I needed to learn something from Maggie’s book. And I did. I learned I must be willing to get in the head of a particular character that I have resisted, and why have I resisted, because he will charm me and then he will really have power. And that is dangerous because of who he is.

Maggie Stiefvater writes books only she could write, which makes them more polarizing and less easily digested, but do yourself a favor and spend some time with the Raven Boys and Blue on their quest for a dead Welsh king.

A Glimpse at The Truth About Alice Book Launch

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The Truth About Alice is…you will have to read the book to find out. Here is the  description to wet your appetite.

Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

~ Goodreads

On May 30th, 2014 a crowd of eager readers, writers, friends, colleagues and family members crowded into the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, TX to buy a copy of this beautiful novel and congratulate Jennifer Mathieu on the singular achievement of debuting as an author.

I am not local to Houston, but after connecting with Jennifer last fall at Austin Teen Book Fest and becoming friends, I was thrilled to drive down for the book launch and do my part to promote her fabulous work. I received an ARC of the book from Macmillan back in March and devoured my copy in less than a day. The voices and subject matter gripped me from the first line, but it was the desire to uncover Alice’s truth, or to come to an agreement with her that the truth could never fully be ascertained, that pushed me forward at such a manic pace.

By the show of support at the bookstore that Friday night, I was not the only one rabid to get my hands on a copy. The store was packed to the brim.

A look at the crowd

A look at the crowd

Jennifer opened the evening by giving thanks to her husband for encouraging her on the long road to publication, for being her partner and her friend, and for taking care of their son when she needed “just a few hours to write.” She went on to talk about that journey, which was not short nor smooth — as the road to publication rarely is — and cheering others in pursuit to keep on.

She discussed the hot button issue that is the driving force in the plot, but said she didn’t set out to write the “slut-shaming” book. She wanted to write about a girl who was ostracized in a small town, and she wanted to work in multiple points of view. Jennifer closed by reading a small snippet from one of the four POVs — and my very favorite character — Kurt. During the reading, it was evident by glancing at the faces around me that I was not alone in being totally in love. In feeling and swooning and dying for more.

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Which is exactly why you should pick up your own copy as soon as possible. This book is wildly entertaining, but beyond its readability, it carries a weight and relevance that makes it a can’t miss read, no matter your age or walk of life.

Jennifer Mathieu 300dpi, credit George HixsonJennifer Mathieu started writing stories when she was in kindergarten and now teaches English to middle and high schoolers. She lives in Texas with her husband, her son, her dog, and two cats. Nothing bad has ever been written on the bathroom stall about Jennifer. At least she doesn’t think so. This is Jennifer’s debut novel.

Twitter :: Website

Check out the other stops on the tour if you haven’t already! And Macmillan has put together some fun Instagram videos you should definitely watch and share. They can be viewed here and here!

 

5 Steps to Handling Query Rejections Like a Boss

photo courtesy I Believe in Story

photo courtesy I Believe in Story

The life of an aspiring author is often likened to living on a rollercoaster. We are inspired to write a shiny new idea, we spend months pouring over said idea, writing and deleting, outlining, drafting, romancing the characters and their story, until we have a complete manuscript. We send it to critique partners or friends or husbands or wives who have no choice but to read. We revise our very soul onto the page and then we seal it in blood.

When all that has been accomplished, and a polished manuscript stares brightly back at us, we write our query. If we’re smart, we spit shine that baby as much as our manuscript. We pour over literary blogs for agent interviews, follow the #MSWL hashtag, make spreadsheets of agents we love who might love our book. Then, and hopefully only then, do we hit send.

More often than not querying results in rejection. Google query stats and you will find numerous blog posts on the subject. It will make you want to delete your query letter and go have a stiff drink in the afternoon.

Don’t do that. Read my guide instead.

Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #1

Recognize that your query and the manuscript it’s pitching are not perfect, not right for everyone, and in the end, not the only thing in an agent’s inbox that needs attention. Agents have no obligation to you. Accept that and stop feeling entitled. Acceptance is the first step to almost anything. Really, it’s not that hard. Don’t be a whiner.

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To read the full post check out I Believe in Story, the stellar literary blog I contribute to, by clicking on the link below!

5 Steps to Handling Query Rejections Like a Boss

Literary Agent Interview : Kirsten Carleton of Sobel Weber Associates, Inc.

Everyone join me in a warm blog welcome to, Kirsten! I hope you guys enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

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Q: Let’s get the basics out of the way. How long have you been an agent and what was it that first attracted you to this profession in the first place?

Kirsten: I started at Sobel Weber in 2009. I’ve always been a huge reader, and for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a writer. After taking tons of writing workshops, I gradually realized that the part I liked best was giving feedback on other writers’ work, which led me to publishing. As an agent, I get to be completely in the author’s corner – his/her success is my success, so we’re working together for the same thing.

Q: Many reading this interview will be writers looking to query you with their novel. Tell us what you represent and what tops your submission wish list?

Kirsten: Right now, I’m looking for both YA and Adult fiction, literary and speculative. I love when those things overlap: novels that are both literary and speculative, for example, like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or The Magicians. Good writing is a must, and I look for strong storytelling, with a plot that moves.

Q: If there were one part of being an agent that made you want to happy dance under confetti, what would it be?

Kirsten: I love sharing a vision with a writer, and giving criticism that brings that vision to light. A lot of time, it’s just a matter of getting the author out of his/her own way. The best is when I send notes and the author responds by saying, “I knew this, I just didn’t know that I knew this.”

Q: What are a few things that will make you reject a query, hands down? What makes you jump for joy when you see it in a query?

Kirsten: Do your research. Make sure you’ve got the name of both the agency and the agent right, and that you’re querying a genre we represent. Follow the rules and treat it as professional correspondence. Tell me enough about your book that I have an idea of the story, but don’t give away the ending. Show me how well you write, but avoid gimmicks like writing the query as the main character. If you have blurbs or writing credits, include them, but I don’t need to know that God told you to write this book or that your mother really loves it. Please please please include contact information!

Q: What does a normal day look like in the life of a literary agent?

Kirsten: People always answer this by saying that there is no “normal” day, and that it varies depending on what’s on the docket. Unfortunately for the interview (but not for me), that’s basically the truth! A lot of the day is fielding email from authors and editors. I also report on and respond to submissions, and get in touch with writers whose short stories I’ve read. I don’t read or take notes at the office though – there’s no time!

Now, you’re not just a literary agent, but also a person with feelings and interests, a human being not a robot, a girl not yet a woman…you get the idea.

For some fun:

Q: If you could pick three literary, television, or film characters to travel with, who would they be and where would you go together?

Kirsten: Oh man, difficult. How about: Maddie from Code Name Verity for her sense of direction. Tyrion from Game of Thrones to talk us out of tricky situations and provide colorful commentary. And of course the Doctor, who can take us anywhere in time and space in his TARDIS.

Q: What’s a TV show you’re obsessed with? Book you wouldn’t put down even if Tom Hiddleston came in the room?

Kirsten: Right now, I’m reworking my way through Veronica Mars. I gave money to the Kickstarter, but lost track of the release date, so it’s a race to catch up before someone spoils the movie for me! I also just started Broken Harbor. I’m loving it, which is no surprise, since I’m a big fan of Tana French’s previous books.

Q: What do you do for fun that doesn’t involve books, movies, or the internet?

Kirsten: Since the weather’s finally nice today, I’m going to say hitting an outdoor happy hour with some friends. Dear weather: please stay nice!

Kirsten_Carleton_(full_size)

Bio:

As an agent, I get to be a champion for the author throughout the challenging publishing process. I love sharing an author’s vision for the book, working to help him or her uncover it, and finding a home for it with editors and readers who also feel that connection. Beyond the individual book, I want to develop satisfying and successful careers that celebrate great talent.

I’m currently seeking upmarket young adult, speculative, and literary fiction with strong characters and storytelling. I’m drawn to books that capture my attention early on with a dynamic plot, and innovative storytelling that blends or crosses genres.

Before joining Prospect Agency, I worked at Waxman Leavell and Sobel Weber Associates. I hold a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration from Amherst College, and a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the Columbia Publishing Course.

Prospect Agency :: Twitter

kirsten [at] prospectagency [dot] com

A hearty thanks to Kirsten for chatting with me, and to you guys for reading! If you feel your work will connect with Kirsten, learn more about how to submit to her by visiting Waxman Leavell’s website.