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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!

Why Do I Love YA?

Beth Revis giveawayI love the movie Grease. I remember watching it as a wee lass and being utterly captivated by the singing and dancing and romance and friendships and excitement (even if I didn’t understand some of the more risqué elements). I was bitterly disappointed to find out high school wasn’t really like that. For some reason, I could never convince my friends to spontaneously burst into a carefully coordinated song-n-dance routine. 

So what does my love of Grease have to do with my love of YA? For me, reading YA novels evokes that same sense of hope/nostalgia for the possibility of a fun adventure that at the same time could never actually happen. When I was a teen reading YA, all the romances, mysteries, adventures the characters my age were having seemed like something that might…possibly…hopefully…doubtfully...happen to me. And now that I’m an adult reading YA, it brings back those same feelings – those adventures could have happened to me, even though they didn’t. 
 
It’s a weird mix of hope and nostalgia (hopestalgia?) – wishing to experience those heightened emotions and escapades while knowing it will never be. I might use the term wistful to describe the feeling reading YA evokes, but without the undertones of melancholy; since it’s always an enjoyable experience, even for those stories that make me cry like a baby. 
 
I don’t know if any of that actually makes sense, but it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. Anyway, that’s why I love YA. Of course the hot boys and tummy-fluttering romances don’t hurt either. :-)
 
So what prompted this post? While it dovetails nicely with my resolve to read more YA, it’s actually because of Beth Revis (who was actually a panelest YALLFest for the second time). She’s having a bonkers giveaway: she’s giving one lucky winner almost fifty YA novels signed by their authors, and sharing why I love YA earns me a bunch of entries. Whoo hoo! Go check it out - meanwhile, I’ll be sitting here with all my fingers and toes crossed!
 
Why do you love YA? Have you entered Beth’s contest? If so, include the link to you YA love post so I can read it.

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?

YALLFest Returns

YALLFestY’all, the second annual YALLFest was a blast! I could probably just cut and paste my post about last year’s YALLFest here because it was the same type of awesomeness: funny and inspiring YA authors on stage and bonding with old and new writing friends. But instead of being lazy, I’ll try to come up with new superlatives to describe this year’s event.  

First of all, you have to check out the incredible lineup – it’s kind of mind blowing! There were 47 YA authors there and 25 of them are New York Times bestsellers – that’s a lot of writing talent in one location. I was excited to see all of them, but as a long-time fan of the show Bones, I was especially jazzed to see Kathy Reichs.  
 
The one drawback of having so many talented people in one place was that there were three panels happening at each time period, so without Hermione’s time turner, it was impossible to see everyone. So on Friday night, I printed out the YALLFest schedule and utilized several colors of highlighters to map out my plan of attack to get the most bang for my buck (Except not really, because the absolute best part about YALLFest? All that awesomeness was FREE!!). By Saturday morning, I was prepped and ready for my mission: absorb as much inspiration as possible from these YA writing luminaries. 
 
Fortunately I also had a number of partners in crime to share the day with: Kathleen Fox, Lisa Downey, Jillian Gregory Utley, Rebecca Petruck, Rebecca Enzor, Leah Rhyne, Kami Kinard, and new writing friend Laura Moss. It was so much fun to meet up throughout the day to chat about the panels we had just attended and compare notes. The keynote session was with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black discussing literary friendships, and I have to admit listening to them talk about the love and support of writer friends as I sat in the audience with my fantastic writer friends made me a tad teary.
 
Late in the afternoon there was finally a break, so some of us headed to Rue de Jean for a drink, where we started a new tradition of “serious” writerly discussions over wine and French fries. Thanks to Kathleen for the picture of Lisa, Laura, Rebecca E, me, and Rebecca P. Just like Kami (who made the leap from audience member last year to panelist this year – so cool!), I know others in this group will be on the YALLFest stage in future years – I just hope one of them is me!
YALLFest Gals
YALLFest really is a fantabulous event – both for readers and writers. The authors were very generous in sharing information about their ups and downs before they were published, their writing processes, and other fun stories. Plus Charleston is a fabulous place to visit in the fall. Thank you so much to Jonathan Sanchez of Blue Bicycle Books and Margaret Stohl for organizing such a fantastic event! They have already decided on November 9th for next year’s festival, so mark your calendars – I hope to see y'all there!
 
Were you able to attend this year’s YALLFest? What was the best piece of advice/inspiration you heard? Are you planning to attend next year?

YALL Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

Y’all, when I first heard about YALLFest coming to Charleston, I was downright giddy about the chance to hear so many illustrious YA authors speak in one place.  Even better, I wouldn’t have to spend a single cent – not only were the events free, but since it was happening in my backyard, I didn’t have to pony up for travel expenses.  And now that it’s over, I’m still amazed that I got such a whopping dose of inspiration for FREE - always a bonus element of awesomeness for a penny pincher like me.  

On Saturday morning, with butterflies doing excited swoops in my stomach, I puttered down the Writers during YA Smackdown at YALLFestroad to Charleston.  Now even though I technically knew this was a young adult book festival, during the months of anticipation, the event had morphed into a writers’ conference in my head, so I was a little confused when I walked into the room and half the audience was middle school students.  Since the first panel featured the middle grade authors Pseudonymous Bosch, Kaleb Nation, Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin, the room was filled with fans so excited to see them, they were practically dancing in their chairs.  After doing the ‘duh’ forehead smack, I readjusted my expectations, and the day became less about learning about the craft of writing and more about being inspired by these amazing authors.  Just watching the kids lean forward in their seats, delightedly drinking in every word from their author idols, made me even more determined to be on a similar panel one day.

Writers during YA Smackdown at YALLFestThe day was packed with interesting panels with fun titles like: Fangs Among Friends; Demons, Witches, and Casters, Oh My!; and Reality Bites.  And the authors were so entertaining – not only were they funny, but they offered great tidbits of advice.  My only regret is that I didn’t have time to read more of their books before the festival.  I’ve been so bad about reading in the last few years, and my resolve to read-n-feed has sadly sputtered (I smell a New Year’s resolution!).  But looking on the bright side, I finally figured out what to put on my Christmas list, since it is now overflowing with titles from the YALLFest authors like Carrie Ryan, David Levithan, Sarah Rees Brennan, Heather Brewer, and Beth Revis, and too many others to name (click here for the full list of YALLFest authors and be sure to add them to your reading list).  I’m practically drooling in anticipation of reading all of them, especially Katie Crouch's The Magnolia League, since it features hoodoo magic like my current short film High Heels and Hoodoo

As inspiring as listening to the authors was, my favorite part was sharing the day with old and new writing friends.  It was so cool having my writer friends from different parts of my life coming together in one place to talk about writing and YA books.  Kathleen Fox, Lisa Downey, and Jillian Gregory Utley were there from my local writing group.  I was able to get reacquainted with Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck, two talented and fun writers I met at a SCBWI writing conference.  I also had the chance to catch up with Rebecca Enzor, Mina Mahal, and Sarah Turpin Leyland, local writer friends from NaNoWriMo.  I also ran into Leah Rhyne, a friend from my old job at Blackbuad, who I only found out was a fellow writer after I quit to write.  I also got to meet new writer friends like Debra Rook.  It was great to have a chance to connect with other writers when it’s usually such a solitary activity.  I have faith that these talented ladies will end up on similar panels some day, and I just hope I’m lucky enough to be sitting up there with them!

Thank you so much to Jonathan Sanchez of Blue Bicycle Books and Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl for organizing such a fantastic event!  I hope it’s just the first of many!

Were you able to attend the YALLFest?  If so, what was the best part for you?  If not, have you been to a writing event lately that inspired you?  And could I possible fit any more links in a single blog post?

YALLFest 2011

Y’all, YALLFest is coming to Charleston!  No, this is not a festival to see who can produce the most adorably drawn out y’aaaaalllll.  It’s a YA extravaganza bringing twenty top young adult writers to Charleston for a weekend of seminars and panels.  Even at the large kidlit conferences, you are unlikely to get this many NYT bestsellers (eleven!!) in one place, so I’m pretty much giddy with excitement that this will be happening just down the road from me. 

The festival will be November 11th and 12th.  It looks like the Friday events are only for high school and college students, so the big day for writers in the area will be Saturday.  There will be seven hourly panels at Blue Bicycle Books during the day, as well as a YA SmackDown on Saturday night.  The whole day should be a blast and an excellent way to meet other YA writers in the area.  If you live within easy driving distance, you should definitely be here.  And even if you don’t live nearby, Charleston is a gorgeous city and an excellent place for a November vacation!

YALLFest Banner

Click here to find out more about the festival, including the list of amazing authors who will be speaking. 

 

Are you planning to attend the YALLFest?  Which authors are you most excited to see?