Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digi-Novel Update

I cracked open my copy of Level 26, the digi-novel I told you about a few weeks ago. The story is juicy, creepy, and moved very fast (last night, I almost forgot I actually do have to go to sleep at some point). Good book.

So then I got to the part where you’re supposed to go online and watch something. But the prompt was for a snuff film of one of the victims, made by our psycho bad guy…

As much as I imagined this might have cross-over appeal into YA, I would have to say: major negatory. Level 26 carries a rating of R-plus, if I can create such a category on the fly.

But a good book. The online part, the snuff film? I think I’ll pass…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mama's Got A Brand-New Bag

I’ve had my share of bad haircuts. The frizzy perm, the angled bob, the short do—they all seemed like a good idea at the time. Sometimes you just need a change. Look at Drew Barrymore's hair if you need more evidence.

My website is such a case. The old one was fine: there was information, short story links, sample chapter—it did the job. But sometimes, it’s just time for a change. So I spent the morning overhauling it, updating, and changing the design just for the hell of it.

Here it is. Hopefully, it’s not just another bad perm…

Let me know what you think.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grand & Humble

You can stop rolling your eyes now—I wasn’t talking about myself with this post's title. Grand & Humble is a book by Brent Hartinger, and I finished reading it last night. So I thought I would tell you what I thought.

For a quick recap: Grand & Humble is told from two perspectives: Manny and Harlan. Manny is poor, Harlan is rich, to put it simply—though the characters have a lot more depth beyond their economic status. We follow both as they are plagued by visions of their own death, visions they’re trying to explain. The book switches between the two guys’ point of view, which works very well for keeping the pages turning. A snappy, engrossing read.

The story has nice diversity to it: a deaf character, a gay character, which I appreciate a lot. My mind was there anyway, as this has been a topic of late in publishing, and the theme for next year’s YALSA symposium. And Brent Hartinger, like in his previous novels, knows just how to add diversity without making it feel like it was done for the sake of being p.c.

I won’t talk too much more, because I’ll give the ending away. Which was a real whopper I didn’t see coming. Not a mystery as I had hoped (no crime), but a good puzzle with characters who act. Which I like. I’m giving Grand & Humble a 4.5 out of 5, so go read it. Even if it isn’t a mystery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Links: Ode to the Craft

After reading this article in The Village Voice (warning—lots of f-bombs), I got to thinking. Well, first I was laughing, then I got to thinking. Mostly about how dumb some people are, and then about how incredibly valid this point is: have respect for the years it takes to hone a craft, whether it’s painting, writing, or editing, whatever.

For this Friday link post, I thought I would step away from the usual YA theme, and give you some writing craft related links. Because we could all stand to learn something new. Especially me.

So here goes my Ode to the Craft:

Kelly Spitzer, writer extraordinaire, talks about Rose Metal Press’ Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, which sounds really interesting. I have a soft spot for short fiction, and recognized some of the names there—will have to check this book out.

I finally sat down and read the 2010 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. It’s technically a reference, listing agents, book publishers, etc., but like the Playboy fans, I bought it mostly for the articles. Good stuff, with articles on YA writing, revision, and the latest in publishing.

Some of my writer friends have been partaking in a two-week write-a-thon. Kudos to all—and I thought Jenny had some smart thoughts on the whole process, and how lots of bits of writing make a bunch, and eventually a novel.

Barry Eisler has a ton of info for those of us in the trenches, so check out his website.

If you’re out of ideas, check out Writer’s Digest’s prompts to get a creative kick in the pants.

The Gotham Writers’ Workshop has a page devoted to tips from the masters, for those of you who could use some encouragement or guidance.

And if you're frustrated by hearing about the dismal odds of even selling your book, check out Kelly Corrigan’s story. She kicked some promotion butt and beat the odds with a baseball bat—rock on, Kelly.

On that note, this writer is off to write the weekend away…

P.S. Trying out new blog template, hoping it's easier on the eyes. Blogger people: you need more templates. You're hurting the creative people here with your boring choices.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book List

To start of my list of bonafide YA mysteries, I’m mining my recollection of books I’ve already read. Since my memory is what it is, this list will expand as I remember.

Here it goes:

YA Mysteries (books where the protagonist solves a crime as the main plot):

Acceleration by Graham McNamee (5)
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (5)
Rat Life by Tedd Arnold (5)
Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell (3)

YA Crime Fiction (there was a crime, but the protag(s) didn’t solve it):

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (5)
Echo by Kate Morgenroth (4)
Hit and Run by Lurlene McDaniel (3)
What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles (5)

I’ll look at posting this list as a sidebar, and keeping it updated as I read and have stuff to add. The numbers are a rating system 1-5, like Amazon, since that seemed like an easy way to go.

Of course, those are my ratings, which you’re free to ignore. Or argue with. I welcome arguments (but don't tell my kids I said that)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Techno Fleur

When your brain scatters a bit like mine does, it’s important to set goals. I have annual goals, monthly goals, weekly goals. It’s nice to have a list you can check. Makes you feel productive.

Part of my list of goals this year is to stop being such a bleemin’ dinosaur. I know how to wire the electrical system and fix the plumbing in my house, but when it comes to computers and related technology, I tune out. When stuff breaks, I sheepishly get the scowling geeks at my computer repair shop to fix it.

No more. I’m learning how to download stuff, go on Facebook, blog, etc. My hope is to eventually figure out how to have my writing available for readers to download. Because that’s where the future’s at, right?

I find it fascinating to read how innovative authors find ways to get their work out there, like M.J. Rose’s blog, and the past few posts on J.A. Konrath’s blog. Check it out, if you’re in publishing. It's the future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Wish List

I was browsing Amazon the other day, searching for some good YA mysteries. And after a little aimless searching (okay, a lot of aimless searching), I always wind up looking for new books by my favorite authors. Favorite authors who, for some reason or another, haven’t published anything new of late. Authors I wish would get crackin’ already. Warranted or not (Laurie Halse Anderson seems to be crackin’ all the time, for instance).

Here’s my wish list. If you’re any of these authors: please, get writing. On a mystery, to be exact. I’ll send you a steady supply of peanut M&Ms, whatever it takes to get you to sit your talented rear in the seat and get your fingers a-dancing on the keyboard.

Here ‘tis:

Gail Giles
Laurie Halse Anderson (a follow-up to Chains, to be exact)
Nancy Werlin (a mystery, please)
Marcus Zusak
Tedd Arnold (your kids books look nifty, Mr. Arnold, but I would love to see another YA mystery by your hand…)
S.A. Harazin

Who’s on your list?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Echo

I spent the weekend cleaning house, and getting my to-read pile prioritized, looking for YA mysteries. I managed to read Echo by Kate Morgenroth, which was pretty good, and just the right size at 137 pages.

Meet Justin, who’s starting to lose his marbles a little. His brother Mark died last year, leaving Justin to pick up the pieces. Justin loses his best friend, girlfriend, jock status, and general stature in high school. We’re along for this dark ride into the abyss of his life, trying to figure out along the way how brother Mark wound up getting shot, and whether this was really Justin’s fault, or if Justin’s just going crazy.

Echo gets to be quite the mind trip, which I really loved. And there was no fluff here either—something I really appreciate. There’s been plenty of opinionated bloggery about the right length of a manuscript, and I’ve had my own work rejected because it was too short. Echo proves that economy in words is a craft, not a liability.

Nice read.

But not a mystery, unfortunately, since our lead is not solving a crime—it’s happening to him, more than anything else. This is YA crime fiction, I would say. A worthy read, but alas, not a mystery.

Still, I’ll be looking for more of Ms. Morgenroth’s work. If you have a free afternoon or evening, read this one. It has all the quality of short fiction, with the emotional challenge of a YA. And does it get much better than that?

I think not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Links

I’ve been a good girl this week: I actually edited a manuscript I’d been avoiding. Bad news is, that means not so many links for your Friday. But I did find a few:

Hey kids! Want to read books about difficult topics? YPulse has an article on Point of View, Penguin’s department for novels covering ‘difficult topics.’ This would be teen pregnancy, anorexia, suicide—the fun stuff.
In all fairness, some of my favorite authors (Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green, for instance) are part of this new Point of View marketing effort, so I’ll give it some benefit of the doubt.

I actually went to Borders and their new Teen Ink (see previous blog post) department—was pleasantly impressed with this dedicated teen area. Lots of books, only one wall dedicated to Twilighty things, and easy layout for browsing the stacks. The benches were a little uncomfortable, but I’ll take them over beanbags any day. Kudos to Borders. May you make lots of money off your teen readers with disposable income.

For you YA writers: send your shorts to YA Literature Review for their mag, and Rebel Books for their upcoming anthologies. I can’t take credit for finding these markets though; I found them on the brilliant Sandra Seamans’ blog—this girl is very serious about keeping up on short story markets. If you’re a writer, I suggest you bookmark her page.

More linkage for you YA writers: check out the Springfield Library’s links page. Some good stuff there.

Have you written a fabulous mystery novel? Enter the 2010 St. Martin’s Minotaur/MWA First Novel Contest. Lotsa rules, so do your homework.

From Patricia Abbott’s great blog: if you’re in Ann Arbor this Friday, go see Megan Abbott, Theresa Schwegel, and Tasha Alexander talk about their books at the Aunt Agatha Bookstore.

And check it out: they’re building a Harry Potter theme park in Florida. Sounds like fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Check It: The YA Mystery Checklist

Now that I got my Edgar rant off my chest, and my soapbox has been reinstated as a coffee table, I thought I should think about criteria for my list of YA mysteries. Since everyone else seems to be so liberal with their interpretation of the genre.

So here are my four must-haves:

1. Must have a mystery as the central plot. This means the solving of the mystery has to be at the front of the story, and at the top of lead character’s list. Navel-gazing and peer pressure allowed, but it had better while on the way to catch a bad guy. Or while washing the blood off your hands, or something equally mystery-worthy.

2. Must contain a crime, punishable by law. This was a tough one to add, but in light of recent crimeless ‘mysteries,’ I want to add this clause. Puzzles are cool, but crimes are better.

3. Must be YA.

4. Must have been first published within the last five years. The Face on the Milk Carton was a great book, but it’s about time we found some new YA mysteries to talk about. And no reprinted 'classics' either.

That’s it. I’m off to my bookstore.

Game on.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 2009 YA Edgar Nominees, or Fleur Found Her Soapbox

I’ve now read all the 2009 YA Edgar nominees, in case you’ve been hanging around the blog long enough to remember when I started this exercise. The point, for me anyway, was to see what’s happening in YA mystery today—what does it take to make the YA Edgar shortlist in 2009? I wanted to know.

And I was kind of… well, disappointed, if you want to know the truth. Don’t get me wrong: all of these books are worth reading—some should even be required reading, I think. But out of all of these, only one was a mystery. In my opinion.

Two of the nominees’ sole crime was a case of peer pressure/bullying-gone-wild (Getting the Girl and The Big Splash—though extra points for this one’s originality), one was a chase for a girl who was not really missing, so no real crime there either (Paper Towns), however nice the writing. One was a literary masterpiece (Bog Child), but not a book where the protagonist is solving a mystery—he’s just surviving his environment. There was no chase, no detective work. The only book that made the cut, or my cut anyway, was Torn to Pieces. And it didn’t even win—but let’s forget that for the moment.

I’ve spent a lot of time arguing the point that every book is a mystery, that all books have unanswered questions, so mysteries in them.

But I was wrong.

There is a distinct difference between the definition of a mystery in general, and a book that is labeled a mystery. I won’t go into label/genre definitions, because we could be here all day (and nobody wants that). I’ll put it this way: if these books weren’t written for teens, they wouldn’t be filed under mystery (with Torn to Pieces as the exception). Simple as that. They don’t explore human nature through crime, they don’t have the mystery or crime as a central plot element, and would be filed under general fiction if you took out the YA component.

So what’s the big whoop, you say. They’re good books, you said so yourself.

But these are Edgar nominees! These are supposed to be the year's best in mystery YA—what gives? Where are the YA mysteries?

Why, if mystery and suspense is one of the bestselling categories in fiction written for adults, is the genre so sadly represented in YA? Plenty of mystery and crime on TV. Why not in YA fiction? Are we afraid the kids might get squeamish? Or is it really the parents and librarians we worry about? Plenty of librarians who love mystery, I meet them all the time at fan conferences. So why so few mysteries in YA?

I want to know. Because I love mysteries. Mysteries explore human nature in an ultimate show-don’t-tell fashion. The best literary novels I’ve read are filed under mystery. The genre has merit, dangit. And I’m convinced that this category is neglected in YA. Just look at the Edgars this year, if you don’t believe me.

So what to do, Fleur? Well, I’m changing my blog description: I’m no longer finding the mystery in YA, I’m just looking for mystery books in YA. And every time I find one, a bonafide, true mystery with a crime in it that someone is solving YA-style, I’ll list it here.

I’m a little ticked off by how lousy mystery is represented in YA, if you haven’t figured it out yet. And I found my soapbox again. Lucky me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buzzin'

Some books get all the publicity, marketing money—you know how this works. And I certainly have nothing against Dan Brown. The man worked hard to get where he is.

But to even out the odds a little, buy something else, M.J. Rose said in her cool blog. So for me #buy+brown: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd.

Pass it on. Share a book you’re excited about.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Edgar Nominee: Torn to Pieces

I had originally put Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell aside, since I figured out the plot by page two. But the point of reading the YA Edgar nominees of this year was to get a full picture of what’s happening in YA mystery. So I felt I had to read this book, too.

And I’m glad I did. After a bit of a choppy start, I got absorbed by the story of 17 year-old Anne, whose mother goes missing. At first, Anne’s thinking it’s just another business trip (her mother is a ghostwriter who travels a lot), but eventually, she realizes something’s wrong. She asks her grandparents for help, and they give her a sealed envelope with a letter from Mom.

Meanwhile, there’s hot guy Tal, mysteriously odd Evan, and a host of other weird stuff that you’ll just have to read the book for, because I’ll give too much away otherwise.

The verdict on this book? It’s a mixed bag. It had a distinct romantic suspense, chicklit-ish flavor to it: Mom has money, buys clothes, hot boys at every corner… Not my cuppa joe, but alright. The mystery/crime components were a little contrived, a bit like taking half a dozen Lifetime Network movie plots, and blending them together. There was an awful lot going on, and all in one book.

And yet… This was a mystery. The first of the nominees that actually had a mystery with a crime (several, in fact), and a main character solving them. And the author wasn’t afraid to put the lead in deathly peril on a regular basis—kudos! After reading a few cop-outs, this was like a breath of fresh air. And I think this is just the kind of book a teen girl with a love for mystery would really dig.

I think the plot could’ve used a little less of a heavy hand. But Torn to Pieces was an actual mystery!

Hot dang.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Early Linkatude

Friday links (a.k.a. time-wastery) come early, since I’m actually hoping to get some writing done tomorrow. So here you go:

It’s a book! It’s a movie! It’s a website! No, it’s a digi-novel. When the TV writers strike was going on (last year, was it?), apparently CSI creator Anthony Zuiker was bored and came up with this hybrid entertainment. It’s not written for teens, but seems to fit the demographic anyway. Plus, looks like Duane Swierczynski is in on the crime, so I have high hopes. The novel, Level 26, is out this week. I bought myself a copy, so I’ll let you know what I think. You know how I like to do that.

I thought this article in The Wall Street Journal about Facebook as a parenting tool was funny. It was so much easier to be a teen back in my day. And don’t these helicoptering parents know better than to comment on their kid’s Facebook page?

Nathan Bransford asks if books for kids should be rated for content (like movies and TV), which I thought was a very interesting discussion. My initial answer is yes, but I’ll have to think about that one for a while to be sure. Plus, the comments are interesting to follow. Wish we could get some teen feedback on that one.

Newsweek has an article about the effects of 9/11 on millenials, or the now grown kids of that hellish day (first I heard that term, but okay). Interesting, though I think the conclusion that today’s focus on service in a result of 9/11 alone is a bit easy. I would argue the current economic and political climate is a more logical (and current) infuence. But read for yourself.

For you unpublished writers out there, Pikes Peak Writers is opening up submissions for their 2010 Fiction contest. And speaking of new writers, check out this story about a 17 year-old’s 10-book deal. You go, M’Lin!

For you teens: vote for your 2009 top 10 reads at YALSA. But be speedy, because voting ends September 18.

And to the people who keep sending me e-spam, saying they’ll buy my timeshares: I don’t have any. Really. Not even if you email me every day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Edgar Nominee: Bog Child

Last week, I talked about Siobhan Dowd, who died far too early, and left two manuscripts behind. I read one of them: Bog Child, Edgar nominee this year. I was careful not to let the fact that Ms. Dowd was no more cloud my opinion of this book. The point of my reading all the nominees was, after all, to take an honest look at YA mysteries. Heartbreaking stories aside.

So I cleared my head and began reading. Bog Child is set in the eighties, in Ireland, during the time of the Troubles (as the book calls them). We’re knee-high in Irish/British politics, right along with Fergus, who’s preparing to take his exams (A-levels, for those of you familiar with the school system over there): stress #1. Then along with his uncle, he finds a buried body in the bog: stress #2. It’s the body of a child, later revealed from 80 A.D., and an archeologist comes in with her pretty-but-troubled teenaged daughter (stress #3) to examine and study the remains.

Meanwhile (thought we were done, huh?) Fergus’ brother Joe is in prison for his IRA activities, and has just become part of the hunger strike aimed to get the prisoners special status from Thatcher (remember her? I wish I didn’t…). And no one in the family, including Fergus, seems to be able to persuade Joe to eat: stress #4. To make things worse, his brother’s old friend is pressuring Fergus to run packages across the British-controlled border: stress #5.

It took me a chapter or two to get spun up on the IRA/eighties politics. I was hairbrush singing along with Madonna right around the time this hunger strike was happening, after all. And I can imagine an American teen might have some trouble grasping the book too—though a challenge is not a bad thing. However, once I got my bearings reading this book, it completely sucked me in. The writing is great—lots of showing, no telling. Fergus is easy to relate to: he has his plate full, and just wants to get the hell out of Ireland and become a doctor.

This book has so many layers (see all the above-mentioned stresses), it would have been easy for the story to feel scattered. But reading Bog Child was like listening to an orchestra, with the author as the brilliant conductor. It was perfect.

But… In context of the Edgar nomination, I have to say that the mystery component was, in my opinion, not strong enough to warrant a win, and I’m even not persuaded it should’ve been nominated, despite the brilliance. This is not a mystery—not even crime fiction, even, unless you reaaaaallly stretch the term. Yes, there’s a dead body with a mystery. But it just doesn’t fit the genre beyond that.

And yet.

You must, must, must read this book. It sings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Choose Your Literary Adventure

The most interesting thing about writing for and teaching teens is that I’m so much more aware of how different high school is in the States versus Holland, where I grew up. In Holland, middle and high school is split by academic level, for instance. And for English, German, and Dutch classes, I was allowed to pick what books I read—something I assumed was the same here in the U.S..

I was wrong, apparently. This article in The New York Times talks about how some schools are changing required class-wide reading of classics, and allowing kids to pick what they read. Fascinating stuff—and how exciting that students get to be active participants in their reading. Nothing against To Kill a Mockingbird, but there are lots of contemporary works that are just as exciting (Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, anyone?). Plenty of new classics waiting to be discovered. Plus teens should be able to make their own book choices, I think. But read the article and draw your own conclusions.

I don’t have much other linkage for the Friday this time around. So if you’re looking for distraction, go to YouTube and check out some kittens. That should tide you over for the day. And who doesn't love a kitten?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Digging Deep

I’ve started reading Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd, an Edgar nominee in the YA category this year. More on the book once I finish it, hopefully next week.

But this book made me think about something. As always when starting a new read, I first flip to the back of the book, to find out something about the author. I’m a writer myself, so I’m nosy that way. Bog Child is Siobhan Dowd’s third novel, the bio with nice picture said. Her first novel won several awards (I believe in England or Ireland), and she lived in Oxford with her husband Geoff.

Lived.

Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, at the age of 47. Bog Child was one of two unpublished novels she left upon her death. Needless to say, this made pause a while. It reminded me that people die (never a nice thing to think about), even writers, and of cancer (the big C and I have a history, so this pisses me off), and too young. And sometimes, they leave books behind for us to enjoy, thankfully, as did this author.

So as I pondered all this, I thought of my own writing. What if I kicked the old bucket tomorrow? What stories will I leave behind?

And what story will I regret not having written?

These are big questions, I know. Most of us don’t want to think about our mortality—there’s good TV on for one, better books waiting to be read, and Twitter that needs updating. But Ms. Dowd’s bio has been bugging me enough for the past few days that I thought of the story I haven’t written. Da Story. The one I need to tell. I’ve been putting it off, because it’ll require me to dig deep, but no more chickening out. Time to step up to the plate. And bring it.

So how about you? What’s your story?

Think about it. Twitter will wait.