Monday, September 30, 2013

From the Vault

Every Monday, we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

Today's Question :: How has the arrival of autumn impacted your writing routine?

Jessica - Well, the hardest thing for me has been adjusting my schedule in a major way. I had some long, lazy summer days to dilly dally about and write whenever I felt like it, but now I need to schedule in an hour or two when I can and really make the most of my time. Between a full (and exhausting) day of teaching 8th graders, working out, and having a life, writing is one of those things I need to squeeze in somewhere, and it's been a challenge finding the best time and place for it. But it's super important, so I've been managing so far. 

Jaime - The arrival of autumn has actually made me want to start writing again. I’ve been taking an unplanned writing hiatus for the past month or so, and now the chillier weather is giving me the urge to sit down and churn out words. Here’s hoping that happens soon!

Karen - Autumn? What is that? Kidding. Sort of. I live in Florida. Our two days of autumn haven't arrived yet, but when they do, I plan to drink yummy apple cider, or a spiced pumpkin latte, while writing on my porch swing.

Katy - I'm not a big fan of autumn, actually, which works out well because where I live, we have fantastic Indian Summers. As soon as my girlie starts school, the sun comes out and the days heat up. While it's sort of strange to drink pumpkin chai when it's seventy-five degrees outside, I have been trying to buckle down and get the first draft of my WiP knocked out. Having the weekdays to myself has definitely aided in that. 

Matt - Football season doesn't help.

Leigh - Autumn hasn't really impacted my routine as much as the start of school has. With the girls back in school, I'm back to having a nice, predictable block of "quiet time," and I feel more in control of my schedule.

Copil -  The kids are back in school. Muahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Alison - The kids are back at school and for the first time since Kindergarten, I am not. So, I've been trying to find a writing groove, and for the most part I've been following the Stephen King method—write early in the morning so that the writing is more of an "I wanna" than an "I hafta." I've only been at it for a few weeks and have been pretty productive on the writing front. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Erica - Autumn has impacted my writing routine in a negative manner in the sense that university started back up, so I'm now trying to juggle 18 credits, 2 internships, tutoring, and my photography business in addition to writing. I'm hoping to get back on track though before winter.

Chihuahua ZeroThe fiction side has gone into early hibernation. My priorities reshuffled. Don't worry, I'll wake it up...someday. At least the non-fiction side managed a couple of blog posts and too much lyric analysis.

Your turn... How has the arrival of autumn impacted your writing routine?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ask-A-Dude: WTH Edition!

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Ask-a-Dude!

Remember, you can ask your own questions using the submission form on the right!

Today's question is:

Q: Men. Ughhhhhhhhh! What the hell?

A: Good question.

For some reason, my Twitter stream lately has been full of bad behavior by guys who should know better.

I talk, jokingly, about bad behavior and the evolutionary biology that underpins it. But seriously, I'm an idiot. If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it? If I begged? What if I told you we'd make millions on YouTube? More than enough to cover medical bills. Still no? Good on you, that's the right answer.

The truth is, we're closer to the heat death of the universe than we are to the biological beginnings that evolved our asses. I wear glasses. How easy do you think it would have been for me to find a One Hour Optical on my way to the bronto-crane at the Bedrock quarry? Over 60% of Americans, like me, couldn't pick their own feet out of a police line-up, they have such bad eyesight. Back in the stone-age, we'd be dead. And yet, we've overcome our biology with a tiny bit of glass and some ingenuity.

Is it really that hard to believe that we can overcome our biology in other areas? Or is it more likely that some people have a vested interest in perpetuating the narrative that guys behave like idiots because of biology.

Anyone who argues that biology somehow excuses bad behavior should be barred from voting. And making movies. And cooking. Honestly, I'm at a loss trying to come up with something useful those people could be trusted to do, so why don't we just agree to put them in a museum.
Docent (played by James Lipton): Here we have Homo sapiens in his natural habitat. Normally the male of the species sleeps twenty hours a day but we've pulled all the Doritos from his cupboards as an incentive to. . .oh, look. He's cranky. Step back as he slams his face against the glass in a desperate attempt to extract himself of this Dorito-free nightmare. Oh, no. No, no. DO NOT FLING YOUR POO! Okay, people, keep moving. We'll get someone to hose that room down shortly. Next up, the cutest little wolf pups!
It's amazing to me that we continue to argue that "boys will be boys" and then act all surprised when that's exactly what they do. You know what happens in my house when my boys act like boys? We get out the star chart.

I think it might be time for a National Star Chart. You get a star if you work hard, clean your room, call your mother and treat all women with respect. You lose stars for wolf-whistles, creeper texts, and using the phrase "friend-zoned." Oh, and you get actual jail time for felonies.

At the end of the week, if you have enough stars, you get a tax deduction and you can pick anything you want from the Prize Box (which is really just a beer cooler). Stop! You get one prize, not a six-pack. You behaved like a gentleman, you didn't #$%@ing cure cancer! That's a good boy. Now go enjoy it slowly, not like it's oxygen and you're stranded in outer space.

And speaking of space, if, at the end of the week you have no stars, we launch you into the sun.

Do we all understand the National Star Chart rules? Okay, Obama, ball's in your court!

Since Ted Cruz will probably filibuster the NSC, we may have to go with Plan B. That involves getting to know women so we can communicate in a mature way and not make each other crazy.

If only there was a way to walk in someone else's shoes. Myself, I'd enjoy spending a day in my wife's Louboutin's. But she gets mad when I stretch them out and get them all hairy and that's a different thing entirely and not what I'm here to talk about. No, I'm referring to walking in someone else's shoes, metaphorical-like. Seeing the world from a different perspective, understanding what it's like to be a woman.

Oh, wait! There IS a way! It's called reading and while there are plenty of titles dealing with gender, equality and communication, I'd suggest starting closer to home, guys. Read some YA.

I've made this point before, that YA is like the collective wisdom of the female writers who make up the majority of YA authors. Not to say there aren't some uber-dudes writing YA (John Green, I'm farting in your general direction), just saying you could definitely learn a thing or two about the female condition by bulking up on a broad spectrum of YA titles.

Short of actually, ya know, TALKING to women, I guess this will do. One step at a time, right?

Talking doesn't always work because, to guys, women are as mysterious as the quantum world. You remember how Schrรถdinger's Cat was both alive AND dead until observed? That's how we feel when we try a pick-up line from a movie. How can "Swoon. I'll catch you." work so well for Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient but get my bro kicked to the curb when he tries it at the bar? It's like the line is both sexy AND creepy. Well, it is, at at least until you observe my bro. Then it's definitely creepy.

Reading YA has taught me that there are many such superimpositions of state that make no sense to the male mind but are perfectly at home in a woman's. And, just like quantum theory is actually old now, and allows for computers and satellites and all manner of stuff we use unquestioningly every day, it's completely okay to live with these superimpositions. You don't have to disentangle the particles. You don't have to "crack the code."

Just make an effort to see the world from a different perspective, and soon it won't seem like a contradiction to believe that not all kisses are invitations, nor invitations promises. That there's a fine line between smelling musky and smelling like a hobo. That sweat isn't disgusting until it is.

And that Ralph Fiennes can get away with a lot on a movie set you shouldn't even think about trying.

Copil actually has his OWN Louboutins to walk in. Pictures on Twitter (@Copil).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Unreview of Reality Boy, by A.S. King

This is such a wonderful, dizzying, infuriating, brilliant, and terrible book. I actually read it a few weeks ago, and needed to give it some time to sink in before I decided what I had to say about it. Before I get to my thoughts, let me allow the Goodreads summary to warm you up:

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

Okay. So I've read every book that A.S. King has ever written, well okay, published. I love every single one of them, but Reality Boy is perhaps my favorite. Gerald, AKA The Crapper, is the most tender, bad-ass, sad, thoughtful, damaged, and sympathetic character I have read in a long time. He is not the only great thing about this book, but if he were, it would be enough.

Gerald's past is ... obviously pretty screwed up. His family is a mess, with the one healthy member, the middle sister, having fled to college and left her little brother to the devices of one of the most dysfunctional families I have ever read, made up of his neurotic mother, apathetic father, and let's face it ... psychopathic eldest sister (disclaimer, I'm not a psychologist, but she is truly evil, trust me).

King has this incredible ability to create characters you can simultaneously care for and be exasperated by. This especially applies to the parents in her young adult novels. Lucky Linderman's mother in Everybody Sees the Ants. Vera Dietz's father in Please Ignore Vera Dietz. And Gerald the Crapper's dad in Reality Boy. These people, and I'm sure the reason I connect with them so deeply has a lot to do with me being a parent myself, are so real and human in their flaws, you can't help but want to hold them, right after slapping some sense into them.

And these are just the parents, who in a YA novel are clearly only side characters.

Gerald is the protagonist, and he's a unique one at that. His past has left him angry and closed off to the world, and he has some interesting coping mechanisms, like seeing himself in a candy-coated world, surrounded by fluffy Disney characters, whenever the world becomes too much for him to take. King is known for her magical realism, and I suppose you could say Gerald's friends play that part in this book, but I took it to be much more psychological than Lucky's ants or Vera's paper dolls, and in many ways, that made it all the sadder. Gerald works at a concession stand at the hockey arena selling hot dogs, pretzels, and beer, and dreaming of running away with the traveling circus that comes to town. You might think that would be a terrible, thankless job, but he likes his boss, who is pretty cool, and he really likes his co-worker, Hannah, who eventually becomes his girlfriend.

Anyway, I'm straying too far into synopsis territory here, but I want to make it clear: this is a powerful, wonderful read, but it's a difficult book too, and I found myself infuriated at times, thinking about the things our society does to our children, and how we expect them to grow up in this age of technology and instant gratification. One thing I always do before recommending a book is to check Goodreads and Amazon (if the book is out) and try to find some one star reviews, to see if there is anyone out there who doesn't like the book, and also has the ability to make any sense out of why. Well, I couldn't find any of those for Reality Boy, and even though it's a challenging read, I think that's because most people will recognize its importance.

I would certainly recommend it for teenagers, but I think it's an especially important read for parents.

Reality Boy will release on October 22nd, but for now you can find A.S. King:

Monday, September 23, 2013

From the Vault :: Banned Books Week

Every Monday, we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

It's Banned Books Week!

From BannedBooksWeek.orgBanned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported. 

In recognition of Banned Books Week, tell us about a challenged book you’ve read and loved.

JessicaTHE CATCHER IN THE RYE by JD Salinger is one of my all-time favorite books, and one that frequently shows up on banned and challenged lists. I will always have a special place in my heart for Holden and his filthy mouth. 

Copil - Not the typical narrative but I remember reading THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK by William Powell, Peter M. Bergman and feeling like such a rebel. The bomb recipes didn't really work (they were slightly modified so you couldn't kill yourself) and most of the stuff read like it was written by the Walter Mitty of anarchists (overwrought cloak and dagger B.S. written by someone who probably lived in the suburbs). It was never actually "banned" but effectively made hard to get by not being allowed into most bookstores and libraries. Best thing that ever happened to it.

MattTHE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. So hilarious but also just incredibly awesome.

Katy – BLUBBER, FOREVER…, and ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, all by Judy Blume. These books were a staple of my childhood. They showed me that I was “normal,” and taught me that a world that's real is better than a world that's idyllic.

Alison - CRANKPERFECTIMPULSE—pretty much anything by Ellen Hopkins.

Jaime - I haven't read all that many of the books on the Banned Books list, but I've read and loved THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (several times) which I know has been challenged for a handful of truly ridiculous reasons.

Alexandra - Is it lazy to say Harry Potter? ;) My recent reread just intensified the fangirlness.

Leigh - Banned book... this always makes me think of HS b/c we read LOTS of banned books when I was in high school. LOL! I think every book we read was banned! Yes, my teachers were rebels. (Isn't the Bible also banned?) Anyway, banned books... HUCK FINN, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, SONG OF SOLOMON... I LOVED Song of Solomon, but it's Toni Morrison. Hard to go wrong there. 

EricaTWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler. This is one of the best contemporary books I've ever read and I just love it. It tells a tale of grief and sadness, yet it balanced with lighter moments. Just stunning.

Your turn... We'd love to hear about a challenged book you’ve read and loved.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ask A Teen Friday

As you know, we have these amazing teen spies and analysts--and today, you can ask them anything you want about being a teen!

Teen life? 

Reading habits? 

Anything in between?

Anything that will help you write your WIP??

Ask away!

And don't forget to check back in two weeks for their answers!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Magic of Rereading Harry Potter

This story starts with the worst ear infection I've ever had. It happened, interestingly enough, during the week which contains Harry Potter's (and JKR's) birthday, the 31st of July. (Tidbit: Harry would be 33 years old this year!) Anyway, without getting graphic, it was bad enough that I quite literally couldn't function, except to lie down in a stupor. For almost a week, the only agreeable activity I could manage was to listen as my mom read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to me, like she used to when I was little. (Yes, I am an adult. Yes, my mom read to me while I was sick. I am not ashamed.)

After I recovered, I continued reading Sorcerer's Stone where we left off, and continued on to finish the series about a week ago.

I've never read all the books in order one after the other like that. (When Deathly Hallows came out, I think I only reread books 5 and 6 before the release date.) If you're a HP fan and you've never read straight through all the books, not stopping or reading anything else in between, I absolutely recommend it. I saw plot setups and details that wove through all seven books, and am utterly amazed at the story (and backstory! and worldbuilding! and characters! and consistency!) JKR created. There were details from book one that impacted book seven. She had control the entire time. She had all this planned out from the beginning! I know it seems obvious to type it out like that, but when you think about the time and care that goes into crafting ONE good novel, and then multiply that by seven! To create a series that gets BETTER with every book, instead of staying the same or going downhill, (which unfortunately has happened to some of my favorites.) Not only that, but the books have so many emotional layers. I found myself, as an adult, identifying with the older characters in a way that I didn't when I first read the books as a kid and a teen.

I really could go on for an entire dissertation about this, so I'll stop here, and assume that if you're still reading this post, you agree with me that Harry Potter is an excellent series, full stop.

During my reading adventure, I noticed something else interesting as well. JKR uses adverbs. And passive voice. A lot.

This is perhaps the best realization I had: her writing isn't perfect.

Listen to me now. Her writing isn't perfect.

And it DOESN'T MATTER. This may go against everything your 10th grade English teacher ever said to you about what makes good writing, but those instances of passive voice and adverbial usage didn't make the book explode. There are no neon postit flags attached to the pages, pointing out the not-academically-perfect use of the English language. The flaws in her prose do not detract from everything GREAT about those books. If I didn't have a Bachelor's in English and a masochistic desire to write novels I might not even have noticed that stuff, because I was reading fast and so engaged in the story.

Why is that important? Because you and I do NOT have to be perfect to write stories worth reading. So often, learning to be a good writer can feel like pulling weeds. We're always after those parts of our writing that aren't up to par. We're always looking for flaws we can make better. That's a good thing.

But we also need to remember to do what Harry did in the 1st task of the Triwizard Tournament. We need to play to our strengths. Don't get so caught up in finding what's wrong that you forget to emphasize what's right about your story. Because when you connect with a reader and magic blossoms between your words and her imagination, she's not going to notice that clunky sentence or that flat-ish minor character. She's going to be enchanted with the things you did that are amazing.

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