Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Top Ten Books I Read This Year-ish

In the spirit of end of the year "best-of" lists here is a list of the best Y/A books I read this year. Actually, I can't remember if I read some of them last year so consider this the best books I've read... in a while.

Here it goes and in no particular order! Actually, that's a lie. John Greene's Looking For Alaska continues to be the best young adult book I have ever read. But the other books on this list are awesome - that's why they're on the LIST.

1. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Hilarious and the story was well rendered. It had just the right mix of gentle humor and mischievousness. There are like 900 sequels to this book. I plan to pick them up as soon as I can.

2. Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Sherman Alexie happens to be one of my favorite writers of all time. He's funny, poetic, witty and his use of figurative language is so strong, he's brought tears to my eyes many times. Big, BIG fan.

3. Marked - The House Of Night Series by PC Cast and Kristen Cast. I'm not just sayin' this because St Martin's Press happens to be my publisher as well as theirs. I had so much fun reading the first two books in this series. Zoey Redbird, the main character is compelling, strong and has her own mind. I love PC and Kristen's twist on the vampire world and right now (because of where I am in the series) I am scared to death of Neferet.

4. Evermore by Alyson Noel. Again, I am not just saying this because of the publisher. I loved this book. I adored Ever's voice and I felt really comfortable living in her head space. Ever's relationship with her sister is heart breaking. Ugh - just thinking about it gets me all misty. Loved this book.

5. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This book is HUGE. No, really it's like 400 pages or so. I was scared by the daunting size of it - that was, until I started reading it. I really enjoyed opening this book up knowing virtually NOTHING about the plot. So I was doubly surprised to find that my protagonist was a young male. The book's setting is in fictional Gatlin county - a southern Gothic town. The atmosphere of the book was my favorite aspect. Book 2 please?

6. 13 Reasons Why - Jay Asher. Beautiful narration. I felt like Asher fully embodied Hannah Baker, the tragic narrator throughout the book. Actually, the book is in first person narrated by main character, Clay Jensen but Hannah makes appearances throughout the narrative. It was mysterious, poetic and compelling. Loved it. Reminded me a little of John Greene's Paper Towns - which is a good thing.

7. Life As We Knew It - Susan Pfeffer.
Me. - Epistolary format (told in letters). Even now (I read it last January) it haunts me. I'm buying flashlights and Power Bars as I type this.

8. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (Sorry, I originally had Chasing Fire which was a typo) by Suzanne Collins. Dystopian society meets Logan's Run meets Reality TV meets awesomeness. I love the casual elegance of Collin's writing style. Katniss is strong, independent and is going to kick some Capitol butt in Book 3. Collins is probably my favorite writer that I have read in the last couple of years. I just love her ability to surprise you even down on the line level. She might write something long and languid in one sentence and then juxtapose another sentence that is really short and terse. Blows your mind. This was great on a narrative level as well as a literary level.

9. Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr. This book was really powerful but in a profoundly quiet way. I was compelled to keep reading because of the protagonist, Deanna's story. This character's conflict is so realistic. I don't want to give the plot away but in a general sense, every girl I have ever known has been in a similar situation to Deanna, even in some small form. I found the prose accessible and Deanna's family life and socioeconomic situation to be very realistic. I enjoyed it a lot.

10. And last but not least, as I said this is not in order...The Twilight Series. Yes, it had to be done. Even as over hyped and over Cullened as this series is, it stands as one of the best Y/A series I've read. I stood in line at midnight on Cape Cod when Breaking Dawn came out last year. I re-read the series this year and each time I opened the books I was compelled to keep reading. I really admire Meyer's ability to bring you so close to a character that you feel as though you are there with them, breathing in the same air, close enough to touch their skin. She writes so, so close to the bone. Even though I know Edward Cullen doesn't exist...I can dream, right?

On a non-YA note - I also suggest, Amy Hempel's Collection of Short Fiction. Loorie Moore's new novel (her first in 15 years apparently), called A Gate At The Stars and the Tin House collection of essays on the craft of writing.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 4, 2009

I had one of the best days of my life in NYC this past Monday. I met my agent, Matt who is funny, generous and extremely nice. He bought me a veggie quesadilla and we discussed existential crises. :) Then we met my editor at St. Martin's Press and she was gracious, invested and gave Matt and me candy. M&Ms, actually. They tasted wonderful on my 900 hour drive back to Rhode Island in rush hour traffic. So did the Crumbs bakery cup cakes I brought back for my boyfriend and family.

It's an incredible experience to meet an agent, editor and publisher who not only want to talk to you but like your written work. I never imagined myself in this position and every day that I wake up and get to work on the edits of Warm Days (now tentatively titled) I feel lucky and grateful.

So what's the plan? I work on "WD" for another month or so, flesh out some parts that need a little tweaking and then it goes back to St. Martin's where I suppose the wheels will start turning. I'll keep you updated as I know more but for right now, I'll keep smiling as I work on Lenah's story.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I listen to music when I write but it has to be music without lyrics. Most of the time its operatic or choral music like a soundtrack from a movie or ambient. I know a lot of writers use music to illuminate the mood or atmosphere of a scene, I know I do. Listening to music as I write helps me imagine a scene more clearly in my head. It's strange to think of fiction in "scenes," like you would a movie but I think it's easier that way.

One author I admire, Robert Olen Butler, wrote a book titled, From Where You Dream. The book is basically just a transcription of lectures Butler gave at Florida State University so it makes the tone conversational and approachable. What also makes the book so compelling is Butler's musings on the craft and how one comes up with prose that is both a sensory experience as well as an engrossing narrative. He thinks you can do this by approaching your writing from a film maker's perspective. Write your scene using "shots" to navigate you. Think of the "close up" or the "long shot" while you write your characters. He also talks about what it means as a writer to sit down every day with your characters and try to make them come alive.

Here is one quote that I found to be particularly illuminating:

Please get out of the habit of saying that you've got an idea for a short story. Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white hot center of you. Does this make sense? Do you understand what I'm saying? If you want to think your way into your fiction, if you think you can analyze your way into a work of art, we're going to be totally at odds philosophically about what art is and where it comes from. But if you have this aspiration and an open sensibility and if what I am saying makes sense, then you have to tell your mind to back the hell off. It's another place in yourself entirely where you must look to create a work of art. And I'll wager that virtually everything you've written so far has com from your head.

You know it's easy to get caught up in the ambition of being a writer. It's easy to get caught up in loving literature and wishing to be the person on the dust jacket. The ambition, as innocent seeming as it is, can very easily muscle out your deeper, more delicate, more difficult ambitions. It can muscle them out in favor of: I want to get published, I want to be famous. I want to win a prize. Or even in terms : I want to be an artist. ....What I want to nurture in you is the impulse: I'm ravished by sensual experience! I yearn to take life in! My God! I've got the sense that the world has meaning. Things roll around in my dream space, and I've got to figure out how to make art objects out of them! (13-14)

I am ravished by sensual experience. Music guides me through my difficult scenes. I'm thankful this year - thankful for all of it.

If you'd like to read Robert Olen Butler my personal suggestions are: his novel, Severance and his short story, "Jealous Husband Returns In Form Of Parrot." There is a link to it:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dear Insomnia - I hate you.

Because of my most recent insomnia experience I watched Rachel Ray last night from 3am onward. I also learned a lot about making gravy. All you need is a little flour, apparently.

As I lie here in bed, I wonder how on earth Becca Fitzpatrick got her book, Hush, Hush passed out at the New Moon premiere. This book's cover is amazing - epic even. Just the right touch of drama and turmoil. It makes me wonder about my own book cover and what it will look like. The cover of Hush, Hush makes you want to read the book and while I sit here contemplating Tylenol PM I might just dig in. I wonder though, how did Ms. Fitzpatrick succeed in getting this kind of publicity? I'm not sure if I would want that same experience (maybe I would, who knows) but I do know that she successfully put that book into the hands of thousands of people - in one day.

There's a certain anxiety that comes with watching or reading the Twilight series. Will mine be good enough? Can I reach an audience that large? While I wrote Warm Days, I read the books so I would know what other books were in the genre. As a young adult writer, it's of paramount importance that you stay current. You need to know what is on the shelves and what your competition is. I started reading the first book right around the time the hype started to really pick up. I sort of rode the wave with everyone else though quite unintentionally. My protagonist's story is so fundamentally different than Bella's.

Lenah is dark and twisted. How am I ever going to fit on the shelf next to the monster that is Twilight?? I've never read Vampire Diaries or Vampire Academy. I have read PC and Kristen Casts's House Of Night series, which I really like. Zoey is conflicted and strong - she keeps my interest. I believe their new book, Tempted just came out though I haven't gotten my hands on it yet.

Until next time...

Current reading list:

1. Goldengrove- Francine Prose
2. The Warrior Heir - Cinda Chima
3. Sense and Sensibility - Her greatness Jane Austen.

Listening to: The Ettes - Do You Want Power

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let me begin by saying that it took me eleven years to get to this moment. I know that because eleven years ago I started bartending. I was eighteen, working and going to school in Boston. I was slingin' drinks on Boylston Street. There have been many projects, many MANY rejection letters and many reams of paper (recycled).

Why did I write Warm Days? I was a New York City bartender, working late nights and living like a vampire. I'd sleep all day and work all night. It was a lifestyle, my lifestyle and I suppose it fueled some of the darkness that pervades the book. I wrote it in a fury - Lenah, my protagonist, came to me so easily. I was able to channel her voice with ease. She also came to me with a heavy British accent. I think she came from my subconscious - maybe it was all the BBC my mother made me watch as a child. Or perhaps my obsession with Olivia Hussey in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Who knows. She's British. All I know is that writing that book was a cathartic experience. It's amazing to think I am already working on the second book in the trilogy.

I'm being published in the US with St. Martin's Press. An amazing house out of New York City. I'm also being published with their UK counterpart. My book went to something called the Frankfurt Book Fair. An international brouhaha where hundreds of agents and publishers get together in Germany and bid on books. My book, Warm Days was one of the books that went - courtesy of William Morris.

My life feels like a dream - cliché, eh? But it does. I've been sending out letters and manuscripts for so long that this just doesn't feel like it's possible. But it is - it happened. I am publishing a novel!

I also am starting a low-res MFA program at Vermont College in January. I just finished my MA but I'm working on a MFA specializing in writing for young adults. This is going to be an interesting journey and I wonder what kind of writer I'll become.