Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for Inspiration

In my literature class, we've been talking about allusions, particularly with poets making reference to artists who came before and paved the way. In part, an allusion allows the writer to acknowledge her influences, to thank a mentor, to show literary genealogy.

I am so proud to write stories for young adults. I wouldn't be doing it, though, if not for these artists, whose influence is lasting and ongoing:

1. Judy Blume: During my middle school years, we spent part of every summer at my grandparents' house, 20 miles from my friends. I always brought a JB book with me--DEENIE and TIGER EYES were my favorites. I fell so completely in love with the stories I didn't notice the loneliness so much.

2. S.E. Hinton: I remember being completely blown away the first time I read THE OUTSIDERS, but TEX is my all time fave. It just felt so real. Reading Hinton was my first lesson in characterization (Paul Zindel, too. PARDON ME, YOU'RE STEPPING ON MY EYEBALL! is a good one).

3. John Irving/William Goldman: OK, technically not YA authors, but these guys taught me about plot, narrative structure, and how to manage reader expectations. In their books, you grow to know the characters so well, but what happens to those characters is constantly a surprise.

4. Sarah Dessen: I picked up a copy of DREAMLAND while I was writing my first YA novel. Dessen tells such a good story you don't notice the impact of the emotional journey until everything comes together in the final pages, and you realize how skillfully she's led you to that point. Her books are always so well structured, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in her heroine's world. (I'd put Meg McCafferty in this category as well--her book SLOPPY FIRSTS is just about perfect.)

5. Susan Isaacs: If you haven't read the book SHINING THROUGH (watching the craptastic movie version doesn't count) then grab your Borders coupon (50% off today!) and buy it! I've read ST four or five times over the past twenty years and I still don't want to put it down while reading. Why? A complex heroine you desperately want to succeed. A love interest that is quite her match. A familiar setting (WWII New York) that turns unfamiliar (Germany in the grip of the Nazis). All of Isaacs books taught me about how to engage a reader on multiple levels, and how to make it all work.

(I'd also like to add a few other YA authors whose artistry continues to inspire: Jandy Nelson, K.L. Going, Simone Elkeles, Jennifer Echols, Kody Keplinger, and Maureen Johnson. Thanks!) about you guys? Which authors do you give thanks to?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Personal Review of HP7

Harry Potter is a large part of the mythology of my children's childhoods. My guys made wands by covering pencils with brown construction paper, played platform 9 3/4 with a toy shopping cart, using every piece of luggage in the house (my walls will never be the same), ran through the backyard, shouting Expelliarmus! Stupefy! but never, ever Avada Ka----- (why risk it?). When my youngest was nine months old I sewed him his first Hogwarts robe. When my oldest was four, he insisted I use my eyeliner to draw a scar over his brow. His preschool teacher spent a few days wondering what it was until she gathered up the courage to ask me.

So this weekend I took my two Potter fans to see part 1 of the last installment of the series. It was thrilling for them, and, um, emotional for me.

There are many tear-worthy moments in the film, but the one that got me all verklempt was at the start (which meant my eyes burned with unshed tears for over two hours). Harry stands in the empty Dursley house, staring into his old room, the cupboard under the stairs. It's empty, except for some left behind items, namely the toy soldiers Harry played with when he thought that the world was a very small place. The cupboard that once seemed cramped now appears absolutely tiny, meant for a mouse. The look on Harry's face was full of meaning. He was mourning his passing youth, yes, but at the same time reflecting on everything that had come to pass. Would he exchange everything that had happened to reclaim that young boy's innocence? The answer was definitely, no.

What would have happened to that little boy, had he not been shaped by the love and friendship of good people? How would he have turned out without mentors to guide him, to tell him his life had meaning?

J.K. Rowling, genius that she is, gives the answer to us in Voldemort. By shirking our responsibility to the young, we risk raising selfish monsters who make the world a very dark place. Friendship and loyalty and integrity are meaningful and lasting, and brighten the world like the tip of Hermione's wand.

The Deathly Hallows illustrates all of these ideas coming full circle. Our Harry has grown up. And so have we.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Freaky Friday

You guys know what's going on this week, right?

1. HARRY POTTER!! I'm going to bring the kidlings this weekend. We can't wait. Kody Keplinger has a great post today about her love for all that is Weasley. Check it out here.

2. Add my total sleep time for the past two nights and you will still be in the single digits. Why? I was up reading DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. I'll post a review next year, but let me just say this: find a way to get your hands on an ARC. DIVERGENT is a nail-biter of a thriller, but also a deeply moving coming of age story. It has action, romance, and fantastic world-building, but what spoke to me the most was the surprising gentleness of the love story, given that the setting is so brutal. More later...

3. I'm, um, thinking of running a 5K with my oldest this Sunday. Pray for my knees.

4. Update: my students LOVED Mel Gibson's Hamlet. Now on to the Romantic poets.

5. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Are you guys cooking? Do you get a little creative with the stuffing? I love my mom's recipe (which is actually my paternal grandmother's) but I think I'm going to lobby for cranberries and pecans this year. What do you guys add? Anything interesting?

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Freaky Friday

And so it goes...

1. I'm not cut out for NaNoWriMo. I've spent November editing one project, readying another to pitch to my agent, and writing my current WIP. I have no idea how many words I've written (or deleted). Counting them now just seems...exhausting. I know: I suck.

2. I've got nothing against book packaging companies--some wonderful series have come out of that world--but James Frey's sweatshop mentality creeps me out. Check out the story in New York Magazine.

3. I'm convinced picking paint colors for my house is the hardest thing I'll ever do. I find this task more difficult than writing a novel. Oy! How do decorators do this all the time? It's causing me major stress. Maybe I'll post the color choices and have you guys do the picking?

4. I'm making a lot of my Christmas gifts this year. The aunts are getting knitted washcloths and homemade soap or scarves. Seems more in line with the holiday spirit, no?

5. I'm teaching Hamlet this term (Go ahead. Laugh. But believe it or not I've actually memorized some parts.). My students are really into it, and though we've read the play, I wanted to show them a film version. Well, there are many good ones--how to choose? After much deliberation, I went with the Mel Gibson version. He's really, really good as Hamlet--maybe the whole madness thing came easy for him?

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in`t."

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I'm in.

Not officially (because I've already started my novel), BUT NaNoWriMo here I come.

I'm about 20,000 words in on my latest. I figure it'll finish somewhere between 60 and 70,000, which means I'll write roughly the same amount of words as an official participant.

I've always been a little conflicted about NaNoWriMo. Maybe I'm a little uptight about slapping words on the page to make my daily count. Maybe it feels too much like quality takes a back seat. I'm an "edit as I go" kind of writer. It's hard for me to type without thinking too hard, which is--let's face it--what I'll have to do if I want to get 50,000 more words on paper. But hey, Kerouac wrote ON THE ROAD in three weeks. Of course, he was fueled by benzedrine. I'll be using green tea and fun size candy bars.

I'll post word count occasionally, and I encourage you guys to do so as well. Good luck! I'm definitely going to need it!