Boston Loves a Bunch of Authors

This weekend Boston played host to many, many amazing authors for the young at heart and older than their years. On Saturday, Copley Square held the Boston Book Festival. The handsome man who filled in for Lemony Snicket was an uproarious delight. On Sunday, Emerson put on the first ever Boston Teen Author Festival that introduced me to the incredibly delightful, but sadly less publicized Erin Dione, Jack Ferriaolo, and more. We also learned today’s young paranormal/fantasy authors do not actually hate Twilight.

Some gems from YA: Overcoming Adversity.

“You can’t always win, but you can change your perspective.” – Barry Lyga, author of I Hunt Killers, and who once wrote something so horrible, he couldn’t be in the same room with it.

“Teens understand better the truth that love is as necessary as air and food better than adults do.” – Kathryn Burak, author of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things.

“When we talk about writing what you know…we mean an emotional truth that is both uniquely yours and also universally understood.” – Jo Knowles, author of See You at Harry’s, on writing Your Life: Revised.

When asked “What do you write?” Barry Lyga answers, “Words.”

On overcoming adversity in YA in books and life: “Growing up sucks. But we survived!”  – Barry Lyga.

“The sky’s the limit in YA. We can do anything we want!” – Jo Knowles

“It’s almost impossible to write about teens and not include hope.” – Kathryn Burak.

On why YA Lit seems more hopeful than Adult Lit. “Young adults move on to being adults. We adults move on to death.” – Amy Patee, moderator, and awesome Simmons professor.

“Teen books can change a person’s life.” – Barry Lyga

On whether YA authors have some obligation to teen readers: A resounding yes. To “write the truest books I can.” – Jo Knowles.  “Kids can tell when you’re being dishonest.” – Kathryn Burak.

On how do we overcome adversity in selecting books for teens: “Scotch.” – Barry Lyga. He also gave us a big tip on how to get away with a bloody murder…

“Censorship doesn’t work very well.” – Jo Knowles.

“When art moves you, it doesn’t matter what the art is.” – Kathryn Burak.

“Let’s play YA bingo! Dead mother, suicide, drugs/alcohol…” – Kathryn Burak.

“Every writer writes a million bad words, and until you write all one million, you’re not ready.” – Barry Lyga.

“If someone tells you something’s wrong [with your manuscript], they’re probably right. But if they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong.” – Barry Lyga. [Britt ducks from her editor, who may disagree.]

And that was just ONE panel. Here’s some more juicy tidbits from the YA: The Future is Now discussion.

“We love rendering your books unreturnable.” Cory Doctorow, author of Pirate Cinema, on signings.

On YA’s inherent hope: “[There’s] a dialectic between pessimism and optimism.” Cory Doctorow, who just inspired a grad school paper thesis. ” We find a way out of despair.” – Rachel Cohn, author of Beta. “[Teens] move from ignorance to knowledge.” – Gabrielle Zevin, author of Because It Is My Blood.

“The fundamental action of a YA novel is to put an arm around the shoulder and say, ‘This is how the world works, kid.'” – Cory Doctorow.

“[Today’s teens] have no desire to learn about this world. But they desire the imaginary world because they can still form it.” – An amazing sounding English teacher.

On why read dystopia: “[Teens] have a suspicion that our lives are not as good as we think confirmed, so we’re not alone in our misery.” – Gabrielle Zevin.

“Adolescence is a series of incredibly brave one-way decisions.” – Cory Doctorow, who planted the seed for an email I need to send to Dear Editor about maybe re-considering the the third act of TCoKGJ.

Last word:

“What I hope is that [teen readers] leave with a sense of how powerful they actually are.” – Gabrielle Zevin.


Banned Book Week 2010 Preview

One of my fondest memories as a teen volunteer at the West Regional Library in Plantation, Florida, was spending half of my shift on display. In the front check-out lobby, the librarians had erected a tiny makeshift room for a teenager. Very few mothers would have allowed the strewn popcorn, empty soda can, and ratty pillow-rocker chair thing. At least, my mother didn’t. That was not my room. But for an evening, this haz-mat area was my refuge and the symbol of refuge for all teens and children. Refuge from the arguing.

You see, it was Banned Books Week. Each day, the librarians had us volunteers sit and read a book that had appeared on a “banned” list. I can’t remember the title I chose, but I can remember feeling exhilarated. Screw adults! I’m going to have access to this book and – gasp! – enjoy it!

Over the years I have reduced my participation in this fun protest against censorship and pointless idealogue bickering to the point of thinking to myself, “It’s Fall…isn’t Banned Book Week sometime soon?”

This year, it changes. Why do I care so much? Well, obviously as a writer, I have to confront the notion that these words I’m composing may very well be banned themselves. Recently, I wrote a chapter set in a public school’s sex education class. As my character is in religious ed, too, she got the Catholicized version. I can just tell one side will get angry I dared characterize 13-year-olds talking and thinking about sex. Then the other will argue that the chapter’s final scene is a critique of the glorified liberal “comprehensive” program. To a point it is. Because nothing is perfect or the right answer.

But just because a solitary adult is uncomfortable because someone doesn’t share your opinion doesn’t mean a child/teen will be. Do not deprive the youth of fresh perspective just because you have a psychological need to be right/to control.

Each day next week it is my goal to highlight first a couple of books that could be banned in the future due to content, books facing new challenges, and a classic book frequently challenged that might surprise you.

To be discussed! And please add your own in the comments!

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (Candlewick 2010), Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999), Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (Candlewick 2007), The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin 1993), and the “Friday  Fun” post (including brief snippets on such gems as the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary).


Young Adult Lit = Profitable Movie

Let’s not touch the T-word. Instead, let’s talk about the hauntingly and beautifully sad Never Let Me Go (2005) getting released this fortnight. It’s one of those Brit indies and stars such talent as Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield (the new new Spiderman). Oscar bait? Perhaps. Three-hankie evening? Most definitely.

Oh, and Gary Ross quite possibly will helm The Hunger Games movie. Not till 2013 will we see the powerful series on the big screen. Post in the comments your wish list for actors. Right now, I just know I want an incredible visual experience and a not-starlet to play Katniss.

The Busyness of Being a Writer

It’s not all cups of tea and scribbling sentences in the park. I feel I must blog. I must enter blog contests to get my name and stories out there. I must read others’ blogs. I must read, read, read. I must review. I must support other writers with critiques (Go you!).  I love it, but I must not get paid for it, apparently.

New Addition

Check out the link “My Other Blogger Life.” I am contributing reviews and musings for Catholic women ages 11-30. If that is not you or anyone you know, forward it along to someone who is.

The Mockingjay Speaks

Suzanne Collins spoke at the Wellesley, MA Free Library tonight. She had no commentary and took no questions. But the 100+ or so children and young adults did not care. They arrived in force. I saw at least two “District 12” T-shirts; my friend saw a “Down with the Capitol” shirt. Fandom for books (or writing in general) gives me hope. When children get excited about things, they REALLY get excited. So it’s pleasing that they go all out to get creative and design their own shirts based on the messages that spoke to them. They dog ear yellow copies of paperbacks and write notes on pink sticky paper. Girl who did that tonight, I was you 10 years ago. I am you now. Let’s never lose that part of ourselves.

I love book events for the motley expressions you pick up while waiting. Behind us, a grandmother talked to her teenage grandson. She had just got the book; he had read it. “Is it any good?” He passed her the book. “Yeah, but well, there are some girly parts.”

In Mockingjay? Must have been the rare Peeta-Gale-war-driven make-out scene. Is it not spoilerish if I refrain from saying with whom?

Suzanne read from Catching Fire and Mockingjay. She always imagined Katniss having a “futuristic Appalachian” twang. I cringed at first. That’s not how Katniss sounded in my head! Also, she pronounced Panem as “Puh-nehm”,  not Pan (like the cookware)-ehm like I always heard myself read. It was jarring. But that brings up the musty-dust-jacket-old question of how you reconcile not wanting your reading experience invalidated with the writer’s vision and the notion that the writer is boss.

As a writer, I feel like my kitten’s been forced into a scratchy costume if everyone changes how the people in my head talked and looked. But as a reader, I like meeting the characters on my own terms. I befriend them and make them my own. Whenever I get published, I hope I have the answer that makes everyone happy.

Questions I wanted to Ask.

If anyone has uncovered the answers to these in interviews, please let me know!

1. Did you consciously know that Book 3 would be heavy on the revolution and depiction of war and vastly different from the first two books in the series?

2. A recurrent theme is the idea of a “sustainable population” and how awful it is that children are being used in war. What thoughts do you have about the real issues of declining birth rate in Europe and Japan as well child soldiers? Did they play any part in the writing of the 3rd novel? I mentioned the focus on the child and Katniss’ ultimate thesis that adults should not use children, and she deemed it pro-life. How do you feel about these readings?

3. Gale…changed. Did you consciously mean to depict him as a very real youth in certain very real societies in which young men whose homes have been destroyed resort to vengeful violence?

4. Katniss wonders to Beetee and Gale about their war tactics. “I guess there isn’t a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being,” (185). Sure there is. Or was. Panem is in a time and space removed from religion and seemingly the rest of the world. What happened?

“Stories Can Change Hearts.”

The declarative sentence that titles this post comes from Mitali Perkins, author of the newly published Bamboo People. I’ve always loved the power of simple declarative sentences after an Honors College professor gave us War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning to read. Though intended for two very different audiences, the two books share a common thesis. Bamboo People tells the stories of two young teen boys in Burma who learn the nature of the ethnic war and what meaning it can ascribe to humanity.

Perkins wrote this story to delve into the experiences of the young involved in such heavy a conflict and show how their small moral choices could lead to some semblance of justice for all. She says, “If words were not revolutionary, the Burmese wouldn’t be banning them.” She hopes she gets on the government’s hit list. Friends who are relief aid workers will bring copies of her book into the jungles in the hopes some young guys will fall into them.

Perkins’ book brings up the age-old publishing question of “When is it appropriate to write about conflict, people of different ethnicity, and/or the occurrences in a little-understood, shrouded country?”

Perkins’ answer was that she once heard “Never write about a suffering people until you’ve held their babies.”Why? Maybe it has something to do with the connection one feels when you having a breathing, pulsing, squirming bundle of softness next to your own chest. Your life rhythm syncs with his or hers. You also hold the most innocent of the conflict; the purest of hearts. And that starts to affect your own thoughts and perceptions, until your heart is changed figuratively, if not literally.

Perkins has held infant Karenni (Burmese ethnic minority) refugees in Thailand. She has peered across the border. She has extensively interviewed her friends who have intimate knowledge of the situation. That research and familiarity contributed to a well-thought-out novel with accessible language, a strong message, and wildly beating heart.

Congratulations, Mitali. You have a wonderful book, and even if you weren’t “Mother Teresa at 25,” if your books can change the hearts of people on either side of the Burmese conflict for the better, I will nominate you for literary sainthood.

If It had to be Someone Else, I’m Glad it’s You

Months ago I sent in an entry to the Associates of the Boston Public Library’s Children’s Writer-in-Residence grant. With the generous stipend and office of one’s own, the magnanimous private donor is giving you a part-time job wherein you get a salary. For writing fiction. It’s the dream. It’s what makes saving away at a “real” job and finding scraps of time to write after dinner worth it. If you can get it.

I did not get it.

But Elaine Dimopoulos did! Elaine is a lovely woman I’ve met at Simmons alumni events and a heckuva writer. Here’s her site:

It’s always joyous to see our art supported in such ways, and even more so when it’s someone you know and like!

Congratulations, Elaine! We look forward to reading more of Eco-Chic!

Success – S-U-C-C-E-S-S – Success

Tonight is the National Spelling Bee finals. Each year, children in elementary and middle schools (at least in public schools that I know of) compete to qualify for the Regional Bee, hosted by either a community organization, a newspaper, or an E.W. Scripps (formerly Howard Scripps from my own short-lived Bee days) company. Once they win their local spelling bee, spellers qualify for the national bee semifinals before the big show, now aired on ESPN. Spelling is a sport, people!

Why I Love the Bee (despite placing 15th in my regional bee in 1996):

– In this day and age of SpellCheck, some children are actually learning how to spell words using the dictionary.

– Spelling reinforces many other academic skills. The practice booklet divvies up words into categories, including words found in classic Literature, science, social studies, and pop culture (had I studied the Oklahoma! page more, I would know opportune has two “o”s, not two “u”s). Exposure to these titles and concepts could spark interest in going beyond memorizing the words.

– Spelling reinforces memory and reasoning skills. Despite being archaic languages, the ancient Greek and Latin roots provide a system to follow if your memory fails you.

– Watching the Bee exposes the public to many new, fun words, like serrefine (2007).

– Words are generally awesome. Everyone has a favorite word: favorite for the way it rolls off their tongue, favorite for what it means; favorite for the connotations. My grandfather’s favorite word was pusillanimous. I have no idea why, for grandpa was the antithesis, with his leathered skin, smoker’s-lung-gruff voice, and rakish face.

Fun Facts about the Bee:

– The first winner: Frank Neuhauser, sponsored by the Louisville Courier-Journal, in 1925 for the word gladiolus.

– 1937’s winning word: promiscuous.

– The most recent winner: Kavya Shivashankar, from the Olathe News in Kansas. Her word: Laodicean. This year, her little sister, Vanya, is the youngest to compete. She’s 8 years old.

Three cheers for the spellers tonight!


Last night I attended the PEN New England Children’s Book Committee (nee Caucus) presentation of the Susan P. Bloom Discovery Awards. The Committee bestows these honors upon unpublished authors of fiction and nonfiction for children based on entries of the first ten pages (or complete picture book text) of a manuscript. The winners receive some prize money and the chance of a lifetime – editors will read their complete manuscript.

This year’s winners:

  • Bette Anne Rieth, for her upper-middle grade/YA  novel Greetings From the Miracle, which opens with Dina re-connecting with her mother after she’s released from prison. Rieth’s evocative language places the reader immediately in the scene and in minds and motivations of the characters, who are as fleshed out as you or I.
  • Linda Zajac, for her upper-middle grade nonfiction text Ice Birds in a Warming Land, which begins in media res with a baby penguin trying to keep ahead, literally, of the melting snow. The premise sounds as if it will contextualize the current global issues into a story of survival that will have your tweens cheering not just for penguins.
  • Heather Jessen, for her picturebook I Won a Robot in a Raffle, which hilariously describes what happens after a prize is achieved. The witty one-liners provide ample room for an illustrator to capture and counterpoint the antics of this larger-than-life robot.

Congratulations, ladies! This award and your hard work (like that of previous wordsmiths) prove that the PEN is a mighty weapon against the constant badgering of relatives who phone you after the Today Show interviews a wunderkind and they wonder why you at tender age of [] haven’t published anything yet.

Attaining publication in the children’s literature world can be as easy and fun as ridding your house of bedbugs. The tears! The little suckers (manuscripts) just keep coming back! The restless nights punctuated by posting on forums with those who know.  But awards like the PEN help us all out and get us one step closer to the dream. Numerous previous winners have gone on to see their names in print.

So cheers to Bette Anne, Linda, Heather. And cheers to the wonderful members of the Children’s Book Committee for providing the writing community with this opportunity.

Chapter One

It was a dark and stormy night. So I stayed in and started a blog. Though I may travel into another dimension in my dreams.

But you, grab a sandwich, book, and kitten and get in bed. That is perfection. This blog will not be. But it will be full of wit and whimsy and wherefores about the writing world.

At 25, I am facing an epoch in my life. I can feel it. One day I will have full books under my name in your local independent book store. Until then, check out my publishing progress, thoughts on the craft and industry, pieces of my mind, and general coming of age.

I love you forever, dear reader.

P.S. Bonus points if you can name the literary allusions riddled throughout this post.