Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ArmadilloCon Recap: Workshop

I'm back from ArmadilloCon!

Wow, was it ever an exciting whirlwind of an experience: three full days of critiques, panels and meeting lots of interesting people.

I'm still in processing mode, so over the next few days I'll summarize some of the highlights of the con. Today's highlight: the writing workshop.

For the workshop I submitted the first chapter of my current WIP. A few weeks ago four other first chapters/short stories showed up in my inbox, and I critiqued those before the con. Last Friday our group of five got together with two professional authors, who had also looked at our work. Then we spent a few hours chatting about how to make our stories better.

I was super excited about the two pros assigned to my group: Rosemary Clement-Moore and Phoebe Kitanidis. Both are successful YA authors and fabulous people. They had great comments for all of us.

And the other people in my group had smart things to say too. All of the submissions I critiqued were strong—great group of writers.

There were mixed reactions to my first chapter. One fellow student wanted me to make next to no changes; another had pages of notes. A third said the chapter had made her cry—I think this is the first time in my life I've been genuinely gratified to know I've made another person shed tears.

The pros had some great advice, which I have been mulling over. Rosemary had the same comment for all of us: show the characters internalizing the things that happen to them. She even has a great video to go along with the advice.

Overall I was very encouraged by the workshop and eager to get back to writing. At the moment I'm two thirds of the way through the first draft of the novel. Just about to start into the home stretch!

In the meantime, here's a big THANK YOU to Rosemary and Phoebe and the other students in my group.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mockingjay Release!

If you follow YA lit news or are a Suzanne Collins fans, you probably know that Mockingjay—the third book in the Hunger Games series—came out yesterday. I was at the bookstore as soon as it opened to get my copy and finished reading the book yesterday evening. Now I've had a day to digest the story.

I was absolutely blown away. No spoilers, so I might be a little vague, but here are my thoughts:

This was a totally intense book. Each book in the series has been more gripping than the last, and this finale was a complete thrill ride. I didn't see any of it coming. Suzanne Collins has a knack for telling precisely the story her readers were never expecting.

And that's even more of an achievement than it may seem at first glance. Collins isn't afraid to take giant risks. She doesn't follow prescribed story patterns; she follows her character's hearts.

That's what I love most about Mockingjay. It's believable. The plot doesn't come together all nice and pat; it's messy like real life is messy, like war is messy, and yet within that chaos is a work of genius. While there were plenty of scenes that left me in anguish, there was never a scene that left me thinking, “no, you should have done that this way,” because the characters acted exactly according to what made sense to them at the time.

Which is not to say that the ending wasn't still excruciating. (No spoilers, as promised.) Yet despite that, the ending was right. So often I will feel an odd emptiness at the end of a book because the final events are marked by mixed emotions—beauty and tragedy both—and yet the conclusion wraps up the story like a pretty pink bow, leaving me feeling strangely disconnected. Mockingjay does come to a conclusion, but it's a multifaceted conclusion that requires the reader to think, even do some soul-searching.

So if there is one young adult series that you read this year, make it the Hunger Games series.

And if you have read it, tell me what you think—“real or not real?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is an insightful novel by Mary E. Pearson about the possible future of medical technology.

Jenna Fox has just woken up after a year and a half in a coma. She remembers nothing of her life, her family, or herself. How own body sometimes feels strange to her. And her grandmother acts as if she's someone else, as if Jenna Fox has died and she's an imposter in Jenna's skin.

When I first read a review of the book with a brief description of the plot, I thought I had the story all figured out. I sometimes (perhaps unfoundedly) pride myself on being able to work out plot twists well in advance. But the idea of this book sounded interesting, so I decided to pick it up when I had the chance, even though I thought I knew what to expect.

I'm happy to report that I was wrong. I discovered pretty quickly that my initial expectations based on the review weren't quite right, though I formed other expectations right away about the “big reveal” that I could see coming.

And then the reveal came and went and there was still more than half the story to go! I wasn't even close to prepared for the plot twists still to come. Pearson handled me and my expectations as masterfully as she handles everything else in this book.

The pacing is spot on. I never felt the story drag, and in every circumstance Pearson feeds her readers just the right amount of information. In the background I can't help thinking “hurry, Jenna, hurry” right along with the voices in her head, even though I don't yet know what it is she's hurrying toward.

The character dynamics are rich and intricate. Every one of them adds something to each scene. Each of the characters develops in some way, and I enjoyed watching those changes unfold. The relationship between Jenna and her grandmother was particularly rewarding.

The writing is near flawless. It never got in the way. There were some great subtleties to it, particularly in the way the first person style changed over time. The language evolved as Jenna's mentality evolved, from impersonal and almost stilted, to fluent and engaged.

This may well be the best book I've read in a while, and I've read a lot of good books lately. This is one you won't want to miss.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


What's your favorite superpower?

I've had this conversation with a lot of people. The question is almost always the same, even down to the wording: “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

I've always had a hard time answering. In part that's because there are a lot of great superpowers to choose from. Who wouldn't want to be able to go invisible or conjure flame or breathe underwater?

Or fly? Wouldn't that be great? Of all the typical superpowers I've always thought this would be the most fun. Sure it's not necessarily the most useful for catching villains, but I think everyone daydreams at least on occasion about floating through the sky. I imagine flying is a lot like swimming—go through enough clouds and you'd probably even get just as wet. But there's something irresistibly romantic about flying.

The main reason I have trouble answering the superpower question, though, is that the power I'd really want isn't on the superpower A-list. It isn't in any comic books or superpower movies I've ever heard of. For the longest time I couldn't even describe exactly what it was.

I have a name for it now: it's the Velveteen Rabbit power—the ability to make things real. But it wouldn't just be about bringing stuffed animals to life; I'd be able to make the characters from my favorite books real, and give life to the people in my head, and even turn games into reality. So I suppose this superpower is more of a combination of the Velveteen Rabbit, Inkheart (which I loved, by the way), and Jumanji... only with a little more control over what becomes real.

And maybe that's the main reason I write: when I'm writing I'm giving as much life as I possibly can to the things I most want to be real.

What about you? What power would you choose?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Recommendation: Speak

Starting high school is stressful enough, even when you're not an Outcast, but for Melinda the beginning of freshman year is a disaster. An Event at the end of summer leaves her entering high school as the pariah of the freshman class. Even her best friend hates her; nobody understands the real story of that night.

But Melinda doesn't know how to share what really happened, and she's caught in a downward spiral of social anxiety, bad grades, and depression. She can't even admit to herself what she's gone through, much less Speak up to someone else. She locks herself away, mentally and physically, where she can't get hurt again.

In Speak, the story of one girl's struggle with acknowledging the truth, Laura Halse Anderson addresses issues that plague many teens all over the country. This book is useful both to those dealing with the aftereffects of trauma and those trying to understand what they are going through.

Speak is a truthful book. Melinda is a totally believable character. Anderson's portrayal of high school is honest and accurate in so many details, from “the first ten lies they tell you in high school” to grading Lunch and Clothes right along with Biology and Spanish. Whatever your high school experience, you will probably recognize Merryweather High as if it were your own.

The pacing in Speak is spot on as well. I could hardly put the book down. The truth unfolds little bits at a time, just enough to make me want to read “one more chapter” over and over. And I would gladly read the whole story over again.

I highly recommend this book.