Monday, April 28, 2014

From the Vault ~ Pretty Prose

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 --> We have to ask this one periodically because, well, we LOVE pretty prose! What YA novel have you read recently that has the prettiest prose?

Tracey - THE DREAM THIEVES instantly comes to mind. Maggie Stiefvater’s prose makes me weep with jealousy and dog ear pages with particularly beautiful passages.

Matthew - A lot of the YA I've read this year had pretty straightforward prose, so I wouldn't necessarily say "pretty," but SPEAK, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and ELEANOR & PARK all used voice, language, diction, cadence, imagery and so on in very different (from each other and from most books), but beautiful ways.

Leigh - I think Laini Taylor writes really pretty prose, but I know others who think she overdoes it. (Haters gonna hate.) I recently started DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT, but I had to take a break to do a beta read. It's possible that's my vote... (I didn't get very far!) Maybe yes? I've read some reviews that say this installment is very different from the first, which I loved...

Sarah - This isn't a new book but I read it recently and that's WITHER by Lauren DeStefano. Besides loving the inherent darkness in the story, the prose was super super pretty.

Jaime - While it doesn’t top my list of fave “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, I would definitely call the prose in CRUEL BEAUTY (Rosamund Hodge) pretty. This was one of my favorite things about the book, hands down.

Alison - Can I say the awesome Katy Upperman’s? :-) Also, I just finished CHARM AND STRANGE (Stephanie Kuehn)—at times eerie and chilling, but so gorgeously written.

Katy – Alison, you are too kind! <3 I recently read Lauren Oliver's PANIC and thought the writing was gorgeous -- no surprise there. And I've read some debuts lately that blew me away with their stunning prose: Brandy Colbert's POINTE, Tess Sharpe's FAR FROM YOU, and Emery Lord's OPEN ROAD SUMMER are all beautifully written. 

Your turn...What YA novel have you read recently that has the prettiest prose?

Friday, April 25, 2014

In Praise of Rejection

Rejection suuuuuuucks. Believe me, I know. Back in my dating days, I heard 'no' so often I started to think it was my name.
I even began preemptively turning MYSELF down to spare the poor girl the awkwardness of saying what was obvious to everyone but me. Made me sound like a Jedi.

"You don't want to go out with me. I'm not the man you're looking for. Move along."

Do you have ANY idea how unappealing that is as a pick up line? If you hung out at yo-yo conventions, Oliver Platt look-alike contests, or anywhere they were giving out free donuts in the late 90s, you do. I was the guy in the corner trying to make denim overalls happen, sitting with a bear claw and a wilted corsage on the table before me. Oh, I wasn't meeting anyone. The corsage was aspirational.

I'm just glad I got my act together and married better than I deserved well before Internet dating took off. Seriously, can you imagine my bio? Or my profile picture?


I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the remarkably good taste exhibited by single LA females helped me get my act together, and taught me the following DON'Ts:

1. It's disingenuous to tell a girl at a Super Bowl party that you're "totally into football" when you didn't know it was a Super Bowl party, don't actually know what "football" is, and just thought your friend had a yearly soiree to give out his amazing 7-layer dip (which, in my defense, came in a huge-ass bowl and that's why I thought--you know what, never mind)

2. Girls know you're not an "aspiring director" because real directors don't actually wear jodhpurs or carry around comically oversized cardboard megaphones

3. Close talking, parroting back everything you learned about her in a Google search, and pulling out age-progressed photoshopped images of the two of you kissing on the moon are NOT endearing 

Querying is kinda like that. You put on your best font, wash behind your commas, check your teeth for flecks of passive voice, and make sure you don't smell like stilted dialogue. Then you head out, bright and cheery, into the world.

Some of you will go on arranged "dates" with an agent who's a friend-of-a-friend. Or maybe you'll head to where lots of agents hang out (like conferences and pitch contests), in hopes of making an impression on "the one." Still others will go the online route, trying to determine the perfect match based on past sales and wish lists.

Whatever your process, it's about impression management. Is my story out of place at this party? Does my grammar make me sound unapproachable? Does this first act make my butt look big? 

The lucky ones will get rejected right away. Yes, lucky. No sense wasting anyone's time if you two aren't compatible. We all want to hear "Yes!" but, honestly, sometimes the next best thing is a firm "No thank you." We understand no. We can handle no.

What's more, rejection brings about its own clarity, in a way no amount of revising can. You might be absolutely sure your manuscript is perfect in every way. But there's nothing like a 'no' from one of your top agent picks to get you back to the page, where you realize you walked out of the bathroom with a muddled midpoint stuck to your shoe, or you're wearing mismatched genres.

'No' can also tell you something about your story you didn't realize. Maybe the agents you're querying are all wrong for your story. Ever walk into a club on Tuesday, Emo Night, thinking it's Wednesday, Justin Bieber Night?

Then there are the near misses. An agent likes your story, or your voice, or your characters, or your premise, but, unfortunately, not all at once. Just like dating, you'll find people who are pleasant, intelligent, attractive, and funny. But when you make out, his nose makes a weird whistling sound and suddenly you're all, "It's not you, it's me."

The best scenario is you make a connection with someone who absolutely loves your manuscript. Would you want any less from someone who has to go out and get other people excited about your novel? That's what you should be shooting for, someone who WANTS you, someone who understands you, someone who won't look at you weird because you eat pudding with a fork, or have back issues of Cat Fancy Magazine dating to 1987.

The worst scenario is, of course, a false connection. You know what I'm talking about. Things are going really well, he's telling you how attractive you are, that he's never felt like this about anyone before, how this is so silly, but he really sees you two together for a long, long time.

So you go home with him and wake up next to PublishAmerica.


Querying can be hard on the ego. But it turns out we shouldn't fear rejection, we should embrace it. It's true that each rejection puts you one step closer to acceptance. It can give you insight into your story, your pitch, your agent picks, even yourself. 'No' is a crucible where you melt the process down and re-cast it in unbreakable form.

I'm probably preaching to the choir, of course. If you're online, looking for insight into publishing, agents, storytelling, pitching, etc, and made your way here, you probably don't need to be encouraged to embrace rejection, you're already on a first name basis with it because you've accepted that the reward is worth the risk. If that's you, then congratulations, you're on the same road successful writers navigate to their dreams.

If you haven't embraced rejection out of fear, past experience, doubters, haters, or others, who cares? You can begin right now. Here, I'll start.


See? Wasn't so bad, right? Now go forth with your bad self.

Oh, one final thought. There's already enough creepiness in publishing from people who can't manage boundaries. So please don't read too much into my comparisons between querying and dating. It's an ANALOGY!

Hm, maybe now's a good time to tell you the DOs I learned from dating rejections, because I think they apply to querying as well:

1. Be respectful
2. Be present
3. Be yourself

Good luck, everyone!

Copil is currently querying his YA sci-fi. Also, STILL trying to make denim overalls happen. Reject him, reject him hard, via Twitter (@Copil).

Monday, April 21, 2014

From the Vault :: On Craft...

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... What’s your favorite craft/writing-how-to book?

Tracey - I love PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell, which explains the basics of plot and how to grab readers’ attention and hold it.

Matthew - I'm currently reading STORY, by Robert McKee. Not sure if it's a favorite yet.

Leigh - I have to go all the way back to Stephen King's ON WRITING. It was the first craft book I ever read, and okay, the only one. (Because of my career background, I had human writing mentors.) Oh! Another I've heard great things about is SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Everybody loves that one! I want to read it because it has a cat in it. 

Sarah - I am a huge fan of Les Edgerton's HOOKED which is a book purely on how to write beginnings, and inciting incident placements. I can honestly say it completely changed how I opened my novels, for the better.

Jaime - Well, I’ll always love ON WRITING by Stephen King first and foremost. I started reading (and keep meaning to return to) SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (Renni Browne & Dave King), which I found extremely helpful, mainly because they provide such great examples. It’s basically that whole ‘show don’t tell’ thing at work!

Alison - SAVE THE CAT (Blake Snyder). My stories live by beat sheets. Helps with the synopsis writing too, btw. :-)

Katy – PLOT AND STRUCTURE and SAVE THE CAT, definitely. Also, I recently read STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon and I loved its tips and advice on creativity.

Your turn! What’s your favorite craft/writing-how-to book? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

There's something special about a book that a 30-something-year-old out of shape white dude father and his 12-year-old daughter can enjoy (for different reasons, but still) equally.

Before I get to what's so special about this book, let me share the summary from Goodreads, just in case there's still someone out there who hasn't read it:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

(I hate when they use italics in this kind of copy because I like to italicize the whole thing in these un-reviews, but oh well whatever, grumble, grumble)

I was very late to the party reading this book. Like nearly a year late I think, but it doesn't really matter. This is a beautiful, sad, charming, adorable, frustrating, and fascinating book. Rowell gets inside the heart and mind of teenage love like no other.

There are several brilliant things about this book, but the first one I want to focus on is the point of view construct. ELEANOR & PARK is told from an alternating, third-person narrator point of view, focused on one of the two main character's experiences, and then the other. It's not nearly as complicated as I make it sound, but what it is is genius.

This construct has been done before, of course, but in this book it gives the reader a unique insight into the world Eleanor and Park inhabit, and even more so, into the emotions and thoughts and opinions of each other they experience as they fall, surprisingly but unavoidably, in love.

One particular example of how this alternating POV worked so brilliantly that really stuck with me is this: In Eleanor's point-of-view, she often refers to herself (through the narrator) as fat or chubby, or ugly with terrible hair. This is important because I'm sure every teenager feels that way. I certainly did. But what's really beautiful about this book, what really made it shine, to my mind, is that while reading from Park's POV chapters, never once does any of those words describing Eleanor come up. He calls her pretty, beautiful, cute, and even sometimes infuriatingly annoying (but only in an adorable way that still makes her attractive to him).

I think there's a subtle, but very important message here about self image. Rowell handles it with such skill that I wonder if many people even noticed that, but for me it stood out starkly. Both Eleanor and Park actually suffer from it, that lack of self-confidence, that issue with body image and social status, and the never ending teen question of "Do I fit in?" But what they find in each other is someone who sees something more in them. Something beautiful, something that inspires them to love.

Anyway, I don't know. That wasn't the only amazing part about this book, but to me it felt incredibly authentic, and deeply moving that they saw in each other more than they saw in themselves.

Now ... I don't know if I would go so far as to call ELEANOR & PARK historical YA, because I'm not sure it takes place quite long enough ago, but the time period of the setting, which is the 1980s, is so alive and vivid and so exquisitely rendered that I immediately felt taken back to my childhood as if on the wings of a dream.

Not everything about the 80s is Wonder Years type nostalgia, of course, but pretty much all the references in ELEANOR & PARK are fun, genuine, and fill the tale with realism and believability. I was especially struck not only by Park's interesting and unique taste in and love for music, but in his incredibly vast knowledge of both popular and obscure 80s bands. It was clear to me that the author had actually lived in Omaha in the 80s as a teen, and instead of that awareness drawing me out of the story, it only drew me deeper in.

Another thing I love is how much balls this book has. One thing that will always make me give a book a chance is if it's YA, and uses an F-bomb on the first page. I mean, I get it, that's not everyone's thing, but for me, when I was a teenager, I was crass and horny, and angry, and scared, and I want the kids I read about to be just as real, you know? Obviously that kind of thing has to fit the character, and the tone and voice of the novel, but teens who swear always feels more authentic and believable to me than teens who don't.

Man, I could go on, but I think the last two points I'll try to touch on are the romance, and the end. Let's discuss the end first, shall we? We're all misfits here, right? For me, the ending of this book was perfect. I won't give it completely away, because who knows, there may still be some people out there who have not read it, but for me, the sad, ambiguous, frustrating way it ended was just perfect. I get that it might not work for some people (my daughter was certainly disappointed by it) but for me I just think that life is not this neat little perfect thing, and I want the books I read to reflect that, so the fact that SPOILER ALERT it did not all work out in the end END SPOILER just worked very well for me.

Finally, the romance. Let's get one thing straight: I'm a dude. Okay, two things: I'm also pretty jaded. I really don't read romance. And I don't mean like actual romance novels, I mean I honestly don't enjoy reading YA when the main focus of the plot is two people falling in love, or worse, one person deciding which angle of the other two in her triangle she should end up with. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against love, but reading about it bores me unless there are a lot of explosions and sword fights to distract my male id. But ... in ELEANOR & PARK, there's something ... it's just ... I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's just something about the way these two kids fall in love that is so moving, and so genuine, and so non-cheesy, that it just never made me uncomfortable or bored me the way reading about teen love normally does.

I don't know. I'm a writer, so I should be able to express that better, but I just can't.

What did you all think? If you've read this wonderful book, please share your thoughts in the comments. Also, did anyone else notice the POV thing about Eleanor calling herself fat and Park completely disagreeing?

NOTE: I'm aware of some of the ... diversity critiques of this novel, and I don't necessarily disagree, but that discussion is not the purpose of this post. If you're curious what I'm talking about, Kelly Jensen covered the topic quite well at BookRiot. Mike Jung also wrote a somewhat more personal post on his Tumblr.

I really like Mike's post, because he points out it's possible to love a work and still be troubled by certain aspects of it.

Anyway, I highly recommend you read this novel if you haven't already. You can find out more about Rainbow Rowell here:

Monday, April 14, 2014

From the Vault :: Rock the Drop

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 --> Thursday, April 17th is Support Teen Literature Day! Many YA Confidential Operatives celebrate by participating in Rock the Drop -- a "guerilla-style book distribution scheme in which YA fans secretly leave copies of favorite books in public places for readers to pick up and enjoy." Will you participate in Rock the Drop? If so, what book(s) will you drop, and where?

Tracey - I’ve been meaning to participate in this for years, and again this year I’m going to try. I’ll probably leave behind JELLICOE ROAD because it’s one of my favorite books ever and a YA novel even many YA lovers haven’t read.

Matthew - This scares me a little, but I thinking of giving away some books at work, just to see what happens.

Leigh - I love love love this day!!! YES, I'm participating! Okay, truth: I always say I'm participating, and then I can never part with my favorite books. LOL! This year I will. (I won't.) I will! (I won't.) I WILL!!! (My precioussss...) ;) Seriously, it'll probably be a Sarah Dessen or a Deb Caletti or a Jolene Perry... or one of mine.

Sarah -  What the what??? How have I never heard of this? This is AWESOME! I totally want to participate in this. I'll have to think on this some, but my first thoughts are Anne McCaffrey's DRAGONSINGER, which is the first book in her YA trilogy in the Pern series and Monica Hughes INVITATION TO THE GAME. As to where, maybe the park outside my house? Or the grocery store or community center? I'll have to do some undercover scoping.

Jaime – I heart Rock the Drop so much! I look forward to it all year. My fave drop location so far was the Pediatric ward at our local hospital this past year. A repeat visit might be in order. I’m thinking of going with a theme for what books I plan on dropping this time around. I’ve read some heartfelt posts by YA authors about life on the midlist, so I was thinking I might help give some awesome midlist books some much-deserved exposure. Can’t wait!

Alison - Rock the Drop is over our spring break this year. So, I haven’t made specific plans, but I do hope to “drop” something. I will say that I’ve made it a habit over the past few years to donate books I’ve purchased and read to the English teachers at the local high schools for their classroom libraries. Hopefully those books are getting creased and dog-eared and read many times over. :-)

Katy – I’m definitely going to participate! Last year I distributed first books in dystopian trilogies with the hope that whoever snagged the books would continue on with the series. This year, I’m going to set out a few of my favorite contemps: JELLICOE ROAD, IF I STAY, and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. 

Your turn... Will you Rock the Drop? 

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