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City of Bones – Read-n-Feed

I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a Read-n-Feed post, but I’ve decided to jump start it again with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Cassandra was the keynote speaker at the 2012 YALLFest, along with Holly Black, and it was very inspiring hearing them talk about their writing friendship, especially as I sat in the audience with so many of my own writing friends. 
 
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 496
Amazon Description: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
 
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...
 
My writing lesson from City of Bones is the way Cassandra used the main hobby of the protagonist to color her writing. And in this case I literally mean color. Clary is an artist, a talent she inherited from her mother. In the beginning, she uses her art as a form of stress relief and to work though her feelings like others might use a journal. Later, her artistic ability comes into play in a way that is important to the narrative. 
 
Most of City of Bones is told in third person from Clary's POV, so Cassandra uses Clary's artistic eye to full effect in her descriptions. Sometimes she actually compares things to famous paintings, like: “There was a queasy sense of something organic about the bikes, like the bio-creatures in a Giger painting.” and “If Bosch's paintings of hell had come with a soundtrack, they would have sounded like this.” Other times, she describes things in a way linked to her hobby like: “When he smiled at Clary, a thousand small lines rayed out from around his eyes, like the cracks in an old painting.” and “Luke's expression went blank, like a canvas wiped clean of paint.”
 
I don't have any talent in the visual arts, so I'm not really keyed into color and light when I take in my surroundings, but it completely makes sense that someone whose passion is art would hone in on hues and shadings, like Clary does when she describes things. And this would apply to other hobbies as well: if the protagonist is a musician, the wind blowing through the trees might remind them of a piece by Bach; if they cook, then the smell in a friend's car might remind them of a certain spice; if someone is into fashion, then the first thing they'll notice about other people is what they're wearing. The viewpoint character's passions and hobbies are a lens through which his/her world is filtered. 
 
And this also applies to secondary characters. Even though the narrative might not be filtered through their point of view, their passions and hobbies will still impact other aspects like their vocabulary and physicality. A love interest who writes poetry might speak in lyrical sentences. An athletic best friend might pepper their speech with motivational phrases like "keep your eye on the ball" and "it ain't over until it's over." But all athletes aren't the same because one who plays football moves differently than one who excels at golf. These types of small details make characters feel real rather than just cardboard cutouts spouting dialog to move the plot along.
 
The way Cassandra utilizes her protagonist's artistic eye to highlight the beauty and creepiness of her New York settings is a great reminder to use our characters' interests and talents to full advantage. Having a number of interests make characters three dimensional, and these interests should affect the way they see and talk about the world around them.
 
If you’ve read City of Bones, what did you think? Do you use your main character’s passions/hobbies as a filter through how s/he sees the world? Do you use passions/hobbies to add dimensions to secondary characters? 

Where Things Come Back - Read-n-Feed

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for the signed copy of The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd. There were lots of fun answers to the question of what animal people would like to be spliced with, but birds and felines were the clear winners. From reading the answers, I think if we could all be flying cats, most of us would be pretty darn happy! 
 
So now, the moment you’ve been waiting for . . . according to Rafflecopter, the winner is . . . Wayne D. Congratulations! I’ll send you an email to get your address.
 
For today’s Read-n-Feed post, I'm jumping back to last year's YALLFest and featuring one of the authors I saw there.
 
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): contemporary literary
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2011)
Pages: 228
Awards: Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2012) and William C. Morris YA Debut Award(2012)
Amazon Description: 
In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.
 
Meanwhile, the crisis of faith spawned by a young missionary’s disillusion in Africa prompts a frantic search for meaning that has far-reaching consequences. As distant as the two stories initially seem, they are woven together through masterful plotting and merge in a surprising and harrowing climax.
 
This extraordinary tale from a rare literary voice finds wonder in the ordinary and illuminates the hope of second chances.
 
Since I’m more of a thrills-and-chills-plot-driven kinda gal, I don’t read literary fiction as often as I probably should (I also usually skip my veggies to guarantee room for dessert). But I saw John Corey Whaley speak as part of the History & Mystery panel at YALLFest, and he was so charming and adorable as the lone dude on a panel of kick-butt women (like Robin Wasserman and Sarah Rees Brennan) that I decided to add his book to my frightfully high TBR pile.
 
After reading Where Things Come Back, my writing lesson is to experiment more with POV and tenses, since Corey uses various configurations within his novel. The odd numbered chapters are written in first person past tense by the protagonist Cullen. But at certain points Corey strategically breaks the strict POV/tense rules that are drummed into writers’ heads: when Cullen relays wisdom and advice given to him by the mysterious Dr. Webb, it is in first person present tense; and then there are other sections that always start with “When one is” which explain in third person present tense what Cullen is doing (sneaking out the window, lying on the floor, etc.) and describe the elaborate scenario he imagines as he does it.
 
As for the even numbered chapters, they are written in third person past tense and cycle through the POVs of several seemingly unrelated characters. They wouldn’t be included if they weren’t going to ultimately converge with Cullen’s story, but seeing how all the pieces eventually fit together is itself a lesson about how the most random things (such as walking out of a boring movie) can have huge repercussions on many lives down the road. 
 
At first the various POV/tense switches were a tad confusing, but I eventually settled into the rhythm, and as I did I realized it was the rhythm of a classic southern storyteller. Corey captured on the page the way my grandparents used to tell us stories in a languid manner, winding from one part of the story to the next, summarizing some parts, sharing small, quirky details at other parts, and along the way switching tenses and POVs as needed to best tell an entertaining tale. Instead of boxing himself into one POV and tense, Corey manipulated them to give his novel a particular voice.
 
I tend to gravitate to first person past tense in my writing, but this shows me how important it is to play around with the various options to give a different sound and feel to my stories. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go hog wild and use second person!
 
If you’ve read Where Things Come Back, what did you think? What POV and tense do you usually use in your writing? Do you ever use more than one in a story?

The Madman’s Daughter – Read-n-Feed

For this week’s Read-n-Feed post I’m featuring a book by another writing friend: Megan Shepherd. I met Megan at the Highlights Writers' Workshop at Chautauqua in July 2009. There were people there from all over the world, so it was fun to run into another Carolina girl (she’s from NC). Then in the fall of 2010, at the regional SCBWI-Carolinas conference, Megan and I were randomly assigned to the same red-eye critique group. Such a small-world moment! It was great to catch up and then follow her writing journey on Facebook.
 
I was thrilled when I learned Megan had sold a trilogy, and even more excited for her as I started reading the advance praise from places like Entertainment Weekly. It was even optioned for a movie almost a year before its release date. So awesome!
 
Megan signing Jocelyn's bookMegan’s book launch was in January, and she had it at her parents’ bookstore in NC. As luck would have it, I was visiting my sister that week, and she lives about an hour away, so we decided it would be fun to attend. And it was fun! They’d created a creepy signing corner to match the creepy vibe of Megan’s novel, and there were drinks and snacks (always a bonus!). It was very inspiring to see Megan on her big day and to get my very own signed copy of The Madman’s Daughter.
 
Then life interfered, and much to my embarrassment, I entered another reading drought. But now that I’ve gotten back on the reading bandwagon, Megan's book was at the top of my towering TBR pile.
 
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Gothic Thriller
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins (2013)
Pages: 432
Amazon Description:  Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
 
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
 
Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.
 
Even though I was familiar with the story of The Island of Dr. Moreau, I’d never read the original. After I finished The Madman’s Daughter, I found a detailed summary of TIoDM and was impressed with how Megan pulled things from the original, but manipulated them in a way to make them completely her own. 
 
She also did a masterful job of twisting the clues for the mysteries she created through plot points and characters from the original, so it all ended up weaving together into a beautiful whole. I know that’s really vague for a post that’s supposed to share the writerly things I learned from reading, but to be more specific would risk revealing spoilers. Let’s just say that she’s inspired me to take another look at my WIP (a mystery/thriller) to make sure I’m seeding my clues in the best possible way – subtle, but the reader will still go, “Well, damn!” when they reread sections. Lots of really clever writing by Megan.
 
There was also lots of beautiful writing. Megan takes full advantage of her tropical island setting, making it drip with menace in the same way it drips with humidity. Her descriptions do that double-duty thing that’s so hard to achieve – establish the setting but also create mood and atmosphere.
 
I’m looking forward to reading the next part of Juliet’s journey in Her Dark Curiosity. Check out the gorgeous cover here.
 
Giveaway
While I was at Megan’s launch, I bought an extra book for her to sign, and I’m giving it away this week to celebrate my super fantabulous news (read about it here).
 
Since Dr. Moreau is infamous for his experiments on animals, I’m asking: If you could be spliced with any animal(s), what would it be and why? To enter the giveaway, leave your answer in the comments.
 
I’ve had a lifelong obsession with dolphins, so I’d want to be part dolphin to zoom through the water. But maybe also add in something with huge wings, like the condor, so I could zoom through the air, too.
 
There are also social media related ways to receive extra entries – just fill in the Rafflecopter form, and I'll use it to pick a random winner.
 
The giveaway is now over - congratulations to Wayne D. for winning!
 
I’m willing to ship internationally, so this is open to everyone. The giveaway will be open for a week, and I’ll announce the winner next Friday, August 9th. Good luck!

A Book Is Just Like You! – Read-n-Feed

Toward the end of last year, I went on a reading binge and resurrected my Read-n-Feed posts, which made me feel all industrious and proud of myself. But then I got engrossed in several writing projects and stopped reading again. I have a really hard time reading other people’s stories while I’m immersed in mine – they get muddled together in confusing ways. So while it’s great that I’m making significant progress on the writing front, I miss reading. Now I’m determined to find the right balance and revive my Read-n-Feed posts . . . again.
 
Like last time, I’m kicking it off with a book by a friend of mine: Kathleen Fox. I met Kathleen six years ago when I first joined SCBWI, since she ran the local critique group. I was petrified walking into that first meeting (sharing my work with strangers, what?!?), but Kathleen and the others quickly put me at ease. Kathleen is warm, witty, and supportive, and I’m so lucky to call her my friend.
 
Kathleen is a fabulously funny writer, who also manages to infuse a ton of heart and soul into her writing. Her stories can have me giggle-snorting at one moment and then ugly crying just a few pages later. While A Book Is Just Like You! is not that type of emotional roller coaster, it does have a special place in my heart: it’s the first published book that I helped critique. I know it would have been fantastic even without my input, but I did feel a bit like a proud auntie when I held it the first time.
 
Author: Kathleen Fox
Illustrator: John Wallace 
Category: Picture Book
Genre(s): Nonfiction
Publisher: Upstart Books (2012)
Pages: 32
Description:  Do you know that a book is just like you? It’s true! Think about it:
 
• On the day you were born, you were given a name. A book is given a name, too — it’s called a title.

 
• You have a spine that helps to keep your body together. A book also has a spine, which keeps the book’s body of pages together.

 
• You don’t go to school naked — you wear clothes to keep warm, protect your skin, show off your fashion sense and, of course, to keep out of the principal’s office! Books wear clothes, too. A book’s clothes are called a cover, or jacket, and like clothes, they keep the inside of a book protected from things like kids with sticky ice cream fingers and little baby brothers.
 
With vibrant illustrations and hilarious comparisons, A Book Is Just Like You is the perfect teaching tool for helping students understand their books — inside and out. Grades K-3.
 
Since A Book Is Just Like You! is not only a picture book but also nonfiction, it is well outside of my wheelhouse, but that’s why it was such a great learning experience to read it. I’ve taken a few stabs at writing nonfiction articles for kids, but they have all been horrible. No matter what I try, they sound lecture-y rather than enjoyable. 
 
Kathleen avoids that pitfall by starting with an inventive premise: teach kids about the parts of a book by comparing it to something they are very familiar with – themselves. Then instead of using a teacher-y tone to explain the similarities, she uses a chatty voice that sounds like she’s discovering these similarities along with the kids rather than lecturing them.
 
In addition to the main text, each page is filling with amusing captions that accompany all the adorable drawings. These captions are where Kathleen’s humor really shines – they support what she’s explaining in the text in a memorable, funny way that should stick with young readers. 
 
I don’t know if I’ll ever try my hand at non-fiction for kids again, but if I do, I’ll be returning to Kathleen’s book as an example of how to make it both educational and entertaining.
 
Giveaway
To celebrate the re-revival of Read-n-Feed, I’m giving away a signed copy of A Book Is Just Like You! Since it compares the parts of a book to the parts of a person, I’m asking: If you could be any book, which one would you be? To enter the giveaway, leave your answer in the comments and feel free to share why you’d be that book if you have a reason.
 
When I asked Kathleen, she said she’d be How to Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman.
 
As for me, I’d want to be Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss because on the surface it’s fun and silly, but at its core it has a serious message. Ironically not a message I took to heart because change makes me break out in a cold sweat. 
 
There are also social media related ways to receive extra entries – just fill in the Rafflecopter form, and I'll use it to pick a random winner. 
 
The giveaway is now over - congratulations to Carol for winning!
 
This is a great book for librarians or teachers to use in their classrooms, so please share the giveaway with anyone you know working with young children.
 
I’m willing to ship internationally, so this is open to everyone. The giveaway will be open for a week, and I’ll announce the winner next Friday, July 26th. Good luck!

Unspoken – Read-n-Feed

For today’s Read-n-Feed, I’m featuring a novel by an author who cracked me up two years in a row at YALLFest:

Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Gothic mystery/fantasy
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (2012)
Pages: 370
Amazon Description: 
Kami Glass is in love with someone she's never met—a boy she's talked to in her head since she was born. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she has learned ways to turn that to her advantage. Her life seems to be in order, until disturbing events begin to occur. There has been screaming in the woods and the manor overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. . . . The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. Now Kami can see that the town she has known and loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets—and a murderer. The key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy she thought was imaginary is real, and definitely and deliciously dangerous.
 
I saw Sarah Rees Brennan speak on the History & Mystery panel, and (like last year) she was also the judge of the YA Smackdown. And she was hilarious. I knew anyone able to fire off zingers on the spot with an entire auditorium staring at her would be especially funny on the page with plenty of time to ponder each word. Turns out Unspoken wasn’t just funny, it was witty and clever, with dialog that had me leaning closer to the page with a smile on my face anticipating what the characters would say next.
 
I honestly think Unspoken should be on every aspiring YA writer’s list of books to read to see “the craft” in action. First of all, Sarah created a fascinating protagonist in Kami, and any teen who looks up to Bella Swan should be tied down and forced to read this book. Kami is independent and brave, but not in an obnoxious, eye-roll-worthy way. While Kami is in a “love triangle” (with the potential for more shapes to emerge), she doesn’t exist solely to be a point in a geometric figure. She’s more interested in her future as a journalist and solving a mystery than picking a boy. And through all the craziness, she maintains her sense of fun, so she’s not a dour character to hang out with (waves at Katniss).
 
With so much focus on creating such a dynamic protagonist, it would have been easy to let the secondary characters slide through the cracks. But Sarah brings the rest of the characters to life in interesting and quirky ways. Kami’s friends and family are so fully realized, they could each waltz off into his/her own starring role in another novel. They aren’t there just to drive plot points - they help make the entire world feel real. Which made it that much worse when book one came to a jarring end, leaving me howling for the release of the book two, which is still too far away.
 
I guess it’s obvious I’m a big fan of Unspoken, but it really hit my sweet spot: a mystery/thriller with angsty romance and lots of humor. In fact, that’s how I describe my own WIP, except mine doesn’t have the supernatural elements like Unspoken. One of my love interests even has a scar on his face, like one of Kami’s love interests, although now I think I’m going to de-scar my guy since Sarah has already done it so well. And as I circle in on finishing this (hopefully!) last major rewrite of my WIP, I’ll definitely use Sarah's writing as inspiration for making sure ALL my characters are three dimensional and compelling.  
 
If you’ve read Unspoken, what did you think? Do you make sure your secondary characters are as dymamic as your protagonist? What books have you read that inspired how you write your characters? 

The Book of Blood and Shadow – Read-n-Feed

First of all, thank you to everyone who left a comment with an embarrassing boy-related story as part of The Boy Project giveaway – they all made me cringe vicariously. And the winner is . . . Janelle! Congratulations! I hope you enjoy Kami’s book as much as I did!

And now for today’s Read-n-Feed, I’m talking about another book written by an author who impressed me at YALLFest:
 
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Mystery/historical
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (2012)
Pages: 432
Amazon Description: 
It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark. 
 
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.
 
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
 
I saw Robin Wasserman speak on both the YA Coffee Shop Collective and History & Mystery panels. She was so quick-witted and funny that I couldn’t wait to read The Book of Blood and Shadow. It would be easy to say that what I learned as a writer was how to seamlessly mesh history and imagination because Robin is a master at that. It’s especially inspiring when you read on her website about the actual historical figures – the way Robin tied events from their lives into her story took considerable skill. But as impressive as it is, it’s not a tool I’m likely to add to my toolbox. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, and I’m just not patient and diligent enough for the massive amount of research needed to successfully write something so influenced by history.
 
For me, the thing from her book that really struck me as a writer were two paragraphs:
 
“That was the strange thing about translation, speaking someone else’s words in a voice that somehow was and wasn’t your own. You could fool yourself into believing you understood the meaning behind the words, but—as my father had explained long before I was old enough to get it—words and meaning were inseparable. Language shapes thought; I speak, therefore I think, therefore I am. In this case, Elizabeth’s letters, written in a language that died centuries before she was born, were already at some remove from her life. Transforming them, word by dictionary-approved word, into modern English meant there would inevitably be a little of me in Elizabeth. It didn’t mean there was any of her in me.” (page 25)
 
“Latin had always made sense when nothing else did. That was the point of it, for me. Language as mathematical equation, slotting one word in for another, shifting positions, adding, subtracting, substituting, applying one rigorous rule after another, until eventually, from the jumble of letters, a single, true meaning emerged. One meaning, hidden beneath all the mistakes and wrong turns. One puzzle, one solution. Latin was a question that supplied its own answer.” (page 366)
 
The protagonist Nora is extremely skilled at translating Latin, which not only drives the plot, but also helps define her character. Although I took two years of Latin in high school and a year in college*, it wasn’t Nora’s feelings about translating that grabbed me, but that her thoughts about translating perfectly capture how I feel about writing.
 
Writing is not just telling your story - it’s finding the right words to tell your story the right way. It’s speaking for your characters in a voice that both is and is not your own. Creating a story is beautiful and freeing, but it’s also messy. The rules of language and writing help control the chaos. Moving and substituting the words like logical pieces in a mathematical equation can turn any ol' story into something special.
 
I returned to these two paragraphs multiple times, thinking about how they applied to me, and I just hope someday I write passages that speak so directly to a reader that it stops her in her tracks and makes her think.
 
*Why did I do something so impractical like "waste" my time learning a dead language? Back then, I thought I was going to be a doctor, not because I wanted to be one, but because I thought that’s what students who excelled in school were supposed to do. How could I have ever guessed that learning those Latin words, which are the root of much of our language, would contribute to my journey to becoming a writer by fleshing out my vocabulary and my love of words? 
 
If you’ve read The Book of Blood and Shadow, what did you think? What language did you study in school and did you enjoy translating? Do these passages about translating speak to your experience as a writer?

The Boy Project – Read-n-Feed

For the resurrection of my Read-n-Feed posts, I’m actually cheating just a bit. I am kicking it off with an author from YALLFest, but since Kami’s a friend, I actually read The Boy Project when it came out early this year. But I think spreading the word about a friend’s awesome book is the best way to restart Read-n-Feed.

I met Kami a few years ago at a SCBWI conference in Charlotte, NC. Since we’re both from the Lowcountry region of SC, we quickly became conference buddies. Kami was further along in her journey to publication, and via her entertaining dry sense of humor, she generously shared advice and even a few war stories. She’s continued to demonstrate this generous spirit by sending me ideas to spread the word about Saying Goodbye, and even interviewing me on her blog (possibly the coolest idea ever for a blog: Nerdy Chicks Rule). I'm thrilled to have a chance to return the favor.
 
Author: Kami Kinard
Category: Middle Grade
Genre(s): Contemporary
Publisher: Scholastic Press (2012)
Pages: 253
Amazon Description: 
For anyone who's ever felt that boys were a different species....
 
Wildly creative seventh grader Kara McAllister just had her best idea yet. She's going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?
 
But Kara's project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy's bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara's research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it. . . .
 
Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.
 
The writing lesson I learned from The Boy Project can be summed up in one word: FUN! Kara is a witty character that makes it fun to spend time in her head. The premise of melding her science fair project with her search for a boyfriend is fun. The situations that result are extremely funny. Even the way the story is presented is fun – a journal with extras like charts and graphs and doodles and index cards. Reading this book was fun, and it seemed like writing it was . . . an absolute blast! (You thought I was going to say fun, didn’t you?)
 
Now we all know writing is hard work. I think the quote goes something like, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” And sometimes it definitely feels that way. But it should never feel that way to the reader. Kami does an excellent job of making it look effortless, like she was just sitting at her computer cracking herself up all day long. But I know Kami takes her craft very seriously, she even teaches writing, so a lot of technique went into making everything so entertaining. 
 
Kara’s lively voice and the predicaments she finds herself in could have stood on their own for a very amusing tale, but Kami takes things even further by adding extras in the journal. From the emails from BeBeTrueLove about finding a soul mate to a faux death certificate to bar graphs made of smiley faces, each extra item was another opportunity for a chuckle.
 
And we can look forward to more misadventures while studying boys because Kami just announced that Scholastic will be publishing The Boy Project Too in 2014 - hooray!
 
While writing, it’s important to think outside the box and really push the bounds of your creativity. If it looks like you’re having fun, then your readers will have fun, too.
 
Giveaway
To celebrate the resurrection of Read-n-Feed and Kami’s awesome book, I’m giving away a The Boy Project prize pack, which includes a signed copy of the book and a TBP swag bag with things like a bookmark, a bracelet, and tattoos. 
 
Since Kara experiences many embarrassing moments in her quest to understand the male species, you can enter the giveaway by leaving a comment sharing an embarrassing boy-related moment. 
 
Kami was kind enough to share one of her embasrrassing moments to get everyone started: "One time a boy from my church asked me to go to a dance at his school. I didn't like him enough to go, so I turned him down. Then I immediately fell down the front steps of the church, wearing a dress, of course. The poor guy rushed down the stairs and helped me up. I was dying of embarrassment, but after witnessing that graceful move he was probably pretty thankful not to have me for a dance partner!"
 
And to be fair, I’ll share one of mine, too: I had a crush on my lab partner in Chemistry (oh my God, how cliché!), and I was so busy trying to work up the nerve to flirt with him that I wasn’t paying attention and knocked a beaker of boiling water towards him. Luckily he jumped out of the way, but since I lunged for it, I ended up burning my face on the side of the Bunsen burner. It wasn’t serious, just humiliating. 
 
So if you’re willing, leave a comment sharing a moment that made you blush in front of a boy. There are also other social media related ways to enter – just add your entries to the Rafflecopter form, and I'll use it to pick a random winner.
 
The giveaway is now over - congratulations to Janelle for winning!
 
I’m willing to ship internationally, so this is open to everyone. The giveaway will be open for a week, and I’ll announce the winner next Thursday, December 6th. Good luck!

Resurrecting Read-n-Feed

Last year I decided I needed to add reading back into my life, not only because I love to read, but also because it’s an important way to grow as a writer. And since I wanted to be serious about it and keep myself accountable, I resolved to share the lessons I learned about writing while reading in blog posts called Read-n-Feed. Since there has only been one Read-n-Feed post in the ensuing fifteen months, you can see that plan worked out splendidly. 

Chloe ate a book!

But at the YALLFest a few weeks ago, I was both shamed and inspired anew to put my reading muscles (atrophied from disuse like my weakling regular muscles) back to work. It was embarrassing to be watching such charming and intelligent authors on stage and not have read their books. It made me squirm when I had to admit over and over to fellow attendees raving about any of the bestsellers that I hadn’t read them yet. I felt like an imposter, both as a fan of YA fiction and as a YA writer. And of course, all the panelists affirmed again and again that their best advice to aspiring authors is to read, read, READ!
 
So I’ve been reading.
 
Probably more in the past few weeks than in the past few years combined (pathetic, I know!). 
 
And I’ve been using the list of authors at YALLFest as my guide for picking books.
 
Freya ate a book!
 
And starting this Thursday, I’m going to have my first Read-n-Feed post in over a year. *cue confetti and celebratory honking* And since it’s such a momentous occasion, I’m starting with my friend Kami Kinard, author of The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister. And as part of celebrating the resurrection of Read-n-Feed, I’m giving away a signed copy of The Boy Project along with special TBP swag. So mark your calendars, set a reminder on your phone, tie a piece of string around your finger – just remember to stop by on Thursday for your chance to win!
 
* So was it Chloe or Freya who was guilty of snacking on books? Or could it be that they were . . . *gasp* . . . framed?!?
 
How do you balance your reading and writing and other obligations? What are you reading right now? Any suggestions for YA books that MUST be added to my towering To Be Read pile?

Read-n-Feed: Extraordinary

** mild spoilers ahead **

The first book in my Read-n-Feed endeavor is the YA Fantasy Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new girl at school.  Soon the two become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears.  Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe – but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.

Soon she'll discover the shocking, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay.  Will she be strong enough to Extraordinaryresist? Will she be special enough to save herself?

Writing for young adults is tricky: we are supposed to have our characters grow and change so they can reach their goals, but at the same time we have avoid any whiff of teaching the reader a lesson, since teens have super sensitive BS meters.  In Extraordinary, Nancy sidesteps this issue by actually focusing on the lesson, but in a way that integrates so well into the plot it doesn’t feel preachy. 

The ‘moral of the story’ is that Phoebe must discover she is extraordinary just by being who she is.  That’s important for all teens to realize (adults too!), but it can seem like something cheesy your grandma tells you while pinching your cheeks.  Instead of trying to disguise this wisdom under layers of story, Nancy makes it the actual plot – I mean, even the title itself basically lays it out there for you.  But because Nancy creates a flawed character we can sympathize with, even while yelling at her in frustration, Phoebe’s journey feels natural rather than forced to teach us a lesson.

There is a scene were Phoebe explains to Ryland that because parents lavish their babies with love just because they are cute and little, even though all babies are cute and little, this convinces them of their own specialness, so even when life tries to teach them that they aren’t extraordinary, they can never completely believe it.  She says, “It’s probably why the human race survives.”  This really hit home with me: even many years removed from my teen insecurities, I can feel plain and ordinary.  And attempting to get published really intensifies those feelings – there are so many talented writers out there that I constantly question whether my writing is special enough to stand out.  But reading that scene made me realize that even if the world never thinks I’m special for my writing, my family and friends love reading my stories, and that’s something to be proud of and cherish.

So in my first session of learning something about writing from the books I read, the writing itself ends up not be the biggest lesson for me.  In admiring how daringly Nancy weaves the moral into her plot, I actually take the lesson to heart and believe that my writing can be extraordinary.  

If you’ve read Extraordinary, what did you think?  Have you read any books recently that gave you a boost you didn’t even know you needed?

Read-n-Feed

Books are yummy!I’ve always loved to read.  My nose was constantly stuck in a book, even when I was supposed to be doing other things (usually sleeping).  But when I started getting serious about writing, I pretty much stopped reading.  It’s not something I consciously decided, it just gradually happened.  I think part of it was that my mind was always in edit mode, which sucked the fun out of reading; so I gradually turned to other ways to enjoy stories (my beloved boob tube), where I could give that part of my brain a break.

The irony is I should now be reading more than ever.  That’s the one standard piece of advice most authors give to newbies: read a lot both within and outside of your genre.

So I’m resolving here and now to do better – I’m going to Read-n-Feed.  I’ll read more books to feed the monster in me always hungry for stories.  And I’ll think about what I’ve read to nourish the writing beast in me always hungry for more knowledge.  And to keep myself accountable, I’m going to report back here on the blog.  I’ll share what I’ve learned from reading a particular book that I can apply to my own writing.  It might be a new technique or a superb example that serves as a reminder of a tried-and-true rule or maybe even a ‘what not to do’ lesson.  Hopefully these “key takeaways” (forgive me, I spent ten years in corporate software development!) will strengthen my writing and be helpful to any other writers who stop by.

So how do other writers out there Read-n-Feed?  Do you analyze as you go?  Or are you able to turn off the writer side of your brain and just enjoy the ride?  If so, do you later think about what did and didn’t work?