Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lost in Translation

I’m heading off to the motherland in a few days—that would be Holland, the land of windmills, fries with mayo, and gorgeous beer. It’s always a strange thing to go back, as I’ve lived elsewhere (U.K., U.S. and a planet called North Dakota) for the past 15 years or so. Holland is home but isn’t, all at the same time.

As a result of growing up in Holland, I can claim I speak German, French, Dutch, and Latin (well, sort of, Latin’s a dead language after all). I say claim, because beyond ordering dinner, I don’t get very far with my German and French. And even my Dutch is a little rusty, believe it or not. Language is a living thing: if you don’t use it, it fades.

Not that I don’t pick it right back up again. But there’s always one language that suffers: once my Dutch gets better, my English gets a little odd: the sentence structure is off, word choices not quite what they should be, and I get a stronger accent. Not such a big deal while I’m on vacation, although it’s unsettling for the writer in me. After all these years between two languages, I’m convinced there’s only so much room in the language center of our brains. You have to choose one.

So for the next few weeks, I’ll be off to be Dutch again. And when I get back, I might blog with an accent. Just to give you a heads up.

Review: How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan

Some of you probably know: I’m a big fan of the short story. I cut my teeth as a writer while attempting to craft shorts, and still love to write a short or two. Many of my favorite books are short story collections.

This is the first YA short story collection I read, one I picked up after enjoying Nick&Norah's Infinite Playlist, which was co-authored by Levithan. How They Met is essentially a collection of love stories; according to the jacket flap, Levithan starting writing these to entertain his friends.

I won’t go into the individual stories too much here, since that would take forever. Each of these love stories was very different from the other—not easy to pull off in a collection, where any lazy plotting or recurrent characters would be easily revealed. And there’s none of that in this collection.

What struck me most about the writing was that despite the somewhat wry look on life, these are all very hopeful love stories. Some of them even border on schmaltz—and I like it (amazing, I know).

I highly recommend you pick up this book, if you’re into YA, and like a story you can finish in a single sitting. You’ll have 18 really great ones in How They Met. This book seems like the perfect present for someone you love.

On a side-note: I’m adding a category on the YA Sleuth blog for YA short story collections, because I love shorts so much. Even if they’re not mysteries—I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday Links

Here’s some of this week’s news in YA:

Want to get jiggy with Generation Y? Here’s the current slang according to Trend Central, and it’s totally cosmic, dude. Okay, I’ll stop now. Honestly, I’d never heard of any of these, but that might have something to do with the fact that I’m old.

And on a side-note: what’ll happen when we run out of alphabet? What comes after Generation Z—do we start back at A? Imagine the pressure on those kids…

Anyway, on that same topic, Liz Funk (who doesn’t want that name?) blogs at YPulse about the botched depiction of teen life on TV and in books, suggesting the writers should get more teen input. Seems like a great point (and her examples are really good, so read that blog.)

I thought this was cool: you can invent a gadget for Alex Rider! Penguin and MAKE magazine are partnering in this contest to promote the November 17 release of the next Alex Rider book, Crocodile Tears. Check out this article in PW, including an interesting short interview with author Anthony Horowitz.

Stephenie Meyer is on Oprah this Friday, for you fans.

Kindle for PC is now available. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but plan to soon. Those Kindles and Nooks are cool, but a little pricey considering they’re just for reading (you can buy a lot of books with $200), so I’ll be interested how Kindle works on my trusty laptop. I’ll let you know.

And Cushing Academy is ready to embrace technology completely. They even spent $10k on 18 e-readers—how come that math makes no sense to me? But I’ll be interested to see how this works out; schools seem like prime candidates for e-books to me.

The Toronto Star talks about what it means to be Jewish to young people. Interesting stuff.

And on a final unrelated note: my local TV station reports that Utah is the happiest state in America. I have to say, I’m still not moving there…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wal-Mart: I Love You

Well, not really, and I'm sure I'm in good company. But Wal-Mart: I Love You is a flash fiction challenge run by a few writer friends of mine, based on the People of Wal-Mart website.

I wrote my story, and will be posting it on November 30. This was fun. I'd forgotten how much I love flash fiction; I love the sharp prose, I love how you can read it in just a few minutes, and how as a writer, it's a finished piece of work without months invested. Flash fiction is so much fun. Must write more of it again...

Anyway, watch this space on November 30 for a fun YA flash.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

I picked up Jumped because it made the ABA nominee list, and looked like the kind of book I would enjoy. Plus it has a skinny spine, and you know how I like that. Author Rita Williams-Garcia is also a Coretta Scott King Honoree (for Like Sisters on the Homefront, which I will now have to add to my list).

Jumped is written from three perspectives: Trina, who is a confident artist, Dominique, who’s rough around the edges with a solid temper, and Leticia, who falls somewhere in the middle.

All Trina (in her pink outfit) does is pass by Dominique, but at the wrong place and time. Dominique (“Do I look invisible to you?”) vows to get back at Trina, and we follow these three girls throughout their day at school, as tension builds and builds.

The shifts in perspective are expertly done—the voice is incredible for each of these girls. All written in first person, it would be easy for the author’s voice to intrude, but there’s none of that. As a short story lover, I enjoyed this book for its succinct storytelling, great build in tension, and ambiguous ending.

Jumped is a solid 5, and goes on my crime fiction list. Go read it. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday Links

Look no further for all of this week's YA news! Okay, maybe you could look further, because I’m not on top of everything. But here’s some of the newsworthy stuff I found:

An article in PW last week by Wendy Werris reported on the fall meeting of the California Independent Booksellers Organization. Very interesting stuff being said about the teen market, including some stats telling us that 75 percent of teens read for fun every day, on average 43 minutes a day. So good news! Too much interesting stuff to report here, so check out the article for yourself.

On a related note, Tess Gerritsen shares her reader demographics on the Murderati blog. One interesting fact: she has a following with readers under 18. This brings me back to last week’s article in PW, reporting on teen reading habits. Yes, 61 percent love mystery/thriller books, but 89 percent of teens venture into the adult section for their books. Not that this is a bad thing, but I’ll bet good money that it’s those mystery readers that get their books on the adult side of the bookstore. I’ve said it before: let there be more YA mystery/thrillers!

And off my soapbox now…

I found Harper Teen’s (new?) website Pitch Black, which gets major points for creativity. It’s a bummer it’s all about books with fangs, at least to me, but if you’re into vampire YA, check it out. Kudos for the creativity, Harper Teen people.

Another publisher promoting teen books: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's (now there’s a mouthful) did a live webcast on 60 of their new YA releases for teen read week, which I only read about until this week. But happily, you can still check out the archive of that webcast here.

Penguin is giving away money to charity to promote Mike Lupica’s novel Million Dollar Throw, which just came out this week. Props for thinking outside the box, I say. Read all about it in this PW article.

Want more bloggery? Check out School Library Journal’s article by Elizabeth Bird on blogs about children’s books (you have to read to the bottom of the article to get her top 10). Or try KidLitosphere (thanks to Olgy Gary for referring to this!)—there are a scary amount of blog links there.

On a bit of an off-topic and serious note: this month is Youth Homelessness Awareness Month, as reported on YPulse. Apparently more than 75 percent of homelessness cases go unreported, and these are kids who should be worrying about their grades and their hair, not where they’ll be sleeping that night. Very gripping stuff. Causecast tells you how you can help this growing group—talk about a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

GalleyCat’s Jason Boog reports on Jericho Brown’s advice for young poets: "Think about the whole of things, as opposed to thinking about right now (..)” Seems like good advice all the way around.

And as a final note for all us writers who think we know what craft means, check out this photo. Now that’s impressive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Living Dead Girl tells us about everyone’s nightmare: a girl (unnamed) is abducted when she’s ten, taken to be her captor’s object of cruelty. He calls her Alice.

We get tossed into her living hell of a life when Alice is fifteen. Her captor, Ray, starves Alice to keep her from growing, but Alice knows her time is up. Ray’s previous Alice washed up in a river when she turned 15, something he likes to remind our Alice of.

We follow every cruel detail of Alice’s captivity: the sexual abuse, the mental abuse, the starvation that makes Alice slow and tired. We get to see how everyone looks the other way, how Ray keeps the upper hand, and how Alice gives in to her situation.

Until it’s time to find a new girl for Ray, a young victim Alice picks out at her local park. Alice meets the young girl’s brother, who’s confused and damaged himself, and allows her to break out of her pattern of submission.

This book was so dark, I was afraid to put it down. The writing is sparse and poignant, just like I like it, but raw, in a way that made me cringe. Think Joyce Carol Oats’ darkness, and multiply by a hundred. Living Dead Girl was such a deep dive into desperation and evil, I was afraid I was never coming out.

Although this was not a mystery, it’s crime fiction with a capital C. And the writing is probably among the best I’ve seen, so it gets a 5.

I have to confess though: after I finished this book, I read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (also a 5, and most recommended by me, but not a mystery) just to cheer myself up. That’s how dark Living Dead Girl was. So come prepared.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Skinny Spines and Reluctant Readers

I’m a bit of an impatient reader, if you want to know the truth. When I browse my bookstore, I look at the spine. And if it’s really fat, I sigh. Do I want to commit to this book? It had better be really recommended someplace.

Yes, I’m one of those readers who skips past lengthy narrative passages until I reach a line of dialogue. Because that’s where stuff is actually happening. We all know this.

It’s not that I don’t have respect for the language, the beautiful descriptive passage, the profound introspection of characters. I’m sure the author worked really hard on it. And some authors, like Sarah Dessen for one, write some really beautiful books this way.

But if I’m honest, I look for the skinny spines. Because to tell a story with fewer words, now that takes some writerly muscle. Walter Dean Myers, Gary Paulsen, Rita Williams-Garcia—I could go on a while. These authors could take a few dozen pages to tell you all about a character’s inner life. But instead, they show you with a line of dialogue, the way they say something. Take Stephen King: he writes some real tombs, ones that are a bit much for me, but ones that readers love. But if you want to read his best work, pick up one of his short story collections. Now that’s some good writing.

I used to apologize sheepishly for my impatience. I would sigh when my work was rejected outright, without a second glance, because it was too short to make the cut. It must be my flaw, I thought. Everyone else seems to need at least 300 pages to feel a story.

But the more I felt that way, the more books I found with skinny spines. Good books. Short story collections that still have me thinking about the characters for days, like Levithan’s How They Met. And I found there’s a name for readers like me: reluctant readers. We’re impatient. Need skinny spines, so we don’t get overwhelmed some say. And we’re mostly boys, apparently.

So I’m a reluctant reader, I guess. And you know what? It’s a really great place to be. Because some of the best writing is behind those skinny spines—you just have to pay attention. I feel sorry for those of you who dismiss books that don’t make a certain page or word count, because you’re missing out on the greatest show-don’t-tell stuff that’s out there. Brevity is a virtue much underrated.

Here’s a thought: maybe reluctant readers are really just the sharpest ones.

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I'm so excited for the Aug. 25th release if MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL...!  If you want to join the fun, follow along with the bl...