May 31, 2008

I should be unpacking, but I'm ignoring the chaos... I can tell you that Dubliner Derek Landy was previously a cauliflower farmer. He and SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT are cleaning up at the Hay Festival now, though. Woot! Three cheers for farmers-turned-authors and their wacky zombie detectives! Yay!

May 30, 2008

Psst. Another stolen moment... say, "Check out Minh's really cool save the date' invites." He's allegedly helping with his DIY wedding, thus excusing himself for not blogging. Like we believe THAT.

Via the mental_floss blog, is there a YA novel character in this kid's sleeping habits, or what?!

Mal Peet talks books at the Hay Festival, and says he cribs from Emily Dickinson. Who knew?

Man, I wish I were fourteen! The readergirlz have passed on the news of an awesome writing opportunity for kids aged 14-19, thanks to HarperTeen. Aspiring writers can submit a story between 5,000 and 10,000 words (12 pt font, double spaced, one inch margins) to win a chance to be included in an anthology. Download the official entry form (which is a .pdf file) and be sure your entry is postmarked by October 1st and received no later than October 7th to be included. When's the last time you were UP ALL NIGHT?

All right. Back to work.

We Interrupt This Packing To Say: POETRY FRIDAY

This week, my brother told me that he is officially "Talking To A Girl." This is not to say that he has never talked to a girl before, but this is the Official Talking where he grins a lot, and willingly converses with me for a half hour or so and sends me two or three emails in a week. This might not sound huge to you, but he's generally a man of far fewer words.

The little twerp who used to be part Howler monkey and run around shrieking, using my body as a springboard and jumping off of things has now rounded a corner on the way to -- whatever else is next. Because he honestly couldn't tell you. I say, "So, cool, talking. What's after Talking?"

"I don't know!"
"Well, who decides what's next?"
"I don't know."

Um, yeah. Can't help you there, dude.

The poem I chose today is a paean to earlier days and the urge to madness that still exists within my "little" brother - and in all of us. Hope you find time to run 'til you drop.

Play hard, kids.

Animal Spirits

When I was five and

undifferentiated energy, animal spirits,

pent-up desire for the unknown built in me

a head of steam I had

no other way to let off, I ran

at top speed back and forth

end to end of the drawingroom,

bay to French window, shouting--

roaring, really--slamming

deliberately into the rosewood

desk at one end, the shaken

window-frames at the other, till the fit

wore out or some grownup stopped me.

But when I was six I found better means:

on its merry gallows

of dark-green wood my swing, new-built,

awaited my pleasure, I rushed

out to it, pulled the seat

all the way back to get a good start, and

vigorously pumped it up to the highest arc:

my legs were oars, I was rowing a boat in air--

and then, then from the furthest

forward swing of the ropes

I let go and flew!

At large in the unsustaining air,

flew clear over the lawn across

the breadth of the garden

and fell, Icarian, dazed,

among hollyhocks, snapdragons, love-in-a-mist,

and stood up uninjured, ready

to swing and fly over and over.

The need passed as I grew;

the mind took over, devising

paths for that force in me, and the body curled up,

sedentary, glad to be quiet and read and read,

save once in a while, when it demanded

to leap about or to whirl--or later still

to walk swiftly in wind and rain

long and far and into the dusk,

wanting some absolute, some exhaustion.

- by Denise Levertov, from This Great Unknowing: Last Poems. New York: New Directions Books © 1999.

Do NOT miss the new Nye poems at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Kelly's darling original piece to Kid2's first grade teacher -- I hope Mrs. O gets to read this one. The Poetry People are at Wild Rose Reader, hosted by Elaine.

May 29, 2008

Crossover Titles: Two from WWII

Ever since working on my very first novel manuscript--a mystery with a historical component concerning World War II Wales--I've been particularly fascinated with novels set during that period. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies--nominated for the Man Booker prize--actually does take place in WWII Wales, so of course I had to give it a whirl. While not a YA book per se, two of the viewpoint characters are seventeen and eighteen years old, and I think it might appeal to older teens with an interest in historical fiction.

Three main characters: a British investigator trying to mask his background as a German Jew; Karsten, an eighteen-year-old German prisoner of war detained in a camp in North Wales; and Esther, a seventeen-year-old Welsh farm girl whose life changes both drastically and subtly in the aftermath of the war. The story itself is musing and pensive in tone--much of the drama takes place within the characters themselves. This is not a novel of battle action, but rather a nuanced portrayal of rural life at the end of the war.

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is a crossover in the sense that it's a YA novel that I firmly believe an adult audience would benefit from reading--the depth of theme and characterization is as great (possibly greater) than any literary "adult" novel. Told from a unique point of view--that of Death itself--The Book Thief relates the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl from a poor German family who goes to live with a slightly less poor foster family in the outskirts of Munich during the Second World War.

Of course, she wasn't always a book thief; this story chronicles not only her subtle reasons for stealing (or rescuing) the occasional book, but also her unique relationships with her foster parents, her new friends, and the Jewish man who is living in hiding in their basement. This is a truly touching story of what could arguably be deemed "ordinary Germans" caught up in the horrific Nazi regime--a story of tragedy but also hope; of people struggling to do good despite everything. It's really an epic saga. Because death is the narrator, I felt a bit of distance from Liesel, the main character, and I wasn't too sure how I felt about that, but really, this one's not to be missed.

Toon Thursday: Return of Rejected Titles

I just had to take a break last week. The funny needs rest.

Anyway, a few links: some more sad news about Terry Pratchett came my way via a friend's blog. If, like me, you need cheering up after reading that, you might like to try your hand at baking a cake. Or perhaps spend some time coming up with humorous new names for your characters. Or, like me, you might derive some amusement from the latest Art by Committee sketches (I haven't had time to participate for a couple of weeks, but I've sure been enjoying other people's contributions).

I'm definitely planning to represent for FW at the Kidlit Bloggers' Conference in a few months, and I'm so excited to see the list of folks who are planning to go. I can't wait to put names to faces for those bloggers I haven't met face-to-face at other conferences yet. I'm not planning to go to SCBWI LA this summer (it just didn't grab me this time, and it seems like an every-other-year kind of thing for me), so this will be my fun networking event for the year. A much, much cheaper one to boot...

May 28, 2008

Ring Around the Blogosphere

My good people, don't make MotherReader track you down! The June 6-8 48 Hour Book Challenge is only a breath away now.

Having trouble deciding what to read? Want to crib some answers from others? Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is constructing her own Summer Reading List, and has graciously mentioned my novel. (Thanks, Susan, and Pooja, too!) For my own summer reading list, I've simply mined The Edge of the Forest's reviews and followed that up with Jen Robinson's Reviews That Made Me Want the Book (Did you know there's a new Claire Dunkle novel coming out? Jen did. The Sky Inside looks SO GOOD.)

From NPR's Tell Me More last week comes two young writers talking about their new book, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Twins Alex and Brett Harris, in 2005, started with they call a 'Rebelution. I hadn't heard of this before, but it's taking off in a lot of circles. The idea is basically that teens aren't slackers, and they CAN challenge themselves to do hard things. I like that, but I think that sometimes "hard" is a matter of perspective -- for instance, take this next story...

Via Ananka's Diary, we're introduced to a girl who has been kicked off her basketball team -- because she's a six-foot-one, twelve-year-old...girl. On an all-boy team. And better than most of the guys. (Her team mates are so cute, though. THEY seem to like her, even if their parents don't. The phrase 'greatness sprinkles' should be, like, up in lights around the world. Joey Alfieri - you're amazing.)

And please, don't call the WNBA. She wants to play for the NBA. Go 'head, Miss Jaime Nared. This is a girl who is doing a Hard Thing. She is being gracious -- if a little confused -- about the fact that the Powers That Be are currently barring her chance to play. She isn't copping an attitude, her parents aren't getting wild-eyed and vituperative on camera. Jaime just wants to play basketball, and she's clearly sticking to that desire. (Also, the guy on the Good Morning American interview CRACKED ME UP. He was so lost when she said "not WNBA." He was all primed with the 'someday you'll be older and play with the Big Girls' shtick. When she implied she had no desire to play with big GIRLS, he had no idea what to do next. Hah! Since I was the only girl on a guy's football team, I applaud this attitude like crazy.)

Hard things. It's all a matter of how you look at life...

Everybody and their blogger is talking about the Second Annual Kidlitosphere Conference being hosted in the lovely port city of... Portland, and attended by the kidlit blogospherati - including Colleen -the- Magnificently - Organized. I honestly can't wait to see what comes out of this Conference; last year, Anne Levy Boles led the gang in rethinking their reviewing practices and I'm sure this year will be no exception to new thoughts and new directions in the kidlitosphere. If you can go, go! And wave to everybody for me.

May 26, 2008

YA Poetry

GalleyCat talks about the effect of teen readers on poetry sales -- mentioning a favorite poet, Sonya Somes, and the highly prolific - Ellen Hopkins. (I'd like a reader's take on her, since I've not read any of her work. Do her books fly off the shelf at your library?) Who knew? When Kelly started Poetry Fridays, it was in response to a perceived lack in the genre, and it's showing some signs of turning around, at least a little. Could the kidlitosphere really have been a force for good, here?

We have got to get matching superhero outfits.

May 25, 2008

Remembering, Peace and Politics

The weather here has taken a turn for the cold and windy, and I hear it's the same at home in California. Strange days for those who are out for Memorial Day picnics and parades. It's hard to eat ice cream when it's fifty-five degrees. (Not that that ever stops anyone.)

I missed Poetry Friday this week, but found a poem that made me remember again trying to figure out in school what we were supposed to be remembering about Memorial Day. It must be odd, being a kid now, when it doesn't really feel like the country is in a war. Those who were young during the First and Second World Wars and the ensuing conflicts knew exactly what Memorial Day was for.


- by Glyn Maxwell, from The Sugar Mile. © 2006, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Mummy says it's pointless going. It comes

           It comes, she says, they'll have us where they please,

City, country, Hitler's got gas bombs

           I read about it, think about it: gas.

Our road had a big practice, with a bell

           That means the gas is coming, you can't see it

You can only smell it. If you've no sense of smell

           Or you're elderly it's likely you're too late,

You're standing there but dead. Anyway the gas bell

           Was just like our school bell, I told them that,

I told them they should change that...

(Read the rest at The Writer's Almanac.)

mental_floss had some facts about Memorial Day, should you be wondering about specifics. It started way back after the Civil War. Obviously, the South wasn't in favor of remembering those whose lives were lost in the "rebellion," and didn't recognize it as a holiday until after the First World War, when the definition was broadened to remember the dead from all wars.

Memorial Day isn't exactly politics, but it has political connections. Politics may not seem like something that comes up much in YA lit but it does. Savvy characters who observe their parent's political beliefs and come up with thoughts of their own can make for some greatly thought-provoking reading. Colleen at Chasing Ray is going to be highlighting young adult books that cover political subjects Wednesdays this August, and invites interested bloggers to join her.

I think this is a fascinating project -- we all may be surprised just how much political science is interwoven into the fabric of much of fiction, graphic novels and poetry collections. Want to get involved? Topics are these:

August 5th - Race in America
August 12th - The environment
August 19th - Class divisions in America
August 26th - US foreign policy

Anyone can join in - hope you do.
Peaceful Memorial Day to ya.

May 23, 2008

SBBT 2008: Varian Johnson, Mild Mannered Engineer By Day...

We’re pretty sure that Varian Johnson is a Super Hero in disguise. He’s a mild-mannered engineer by day, then he busts out with his YA chops by night – which qualifies as pretty super to us. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Civil Engineering AND he’s enrolled in the Vermont College MFA Program for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Talk about a guy with dual identities!

In 1992, Teen Talk Barbie burbled "Math class is tough!" But Rhonda Lee would beg to differ. In Varian Johnson's most recent novel, My Life as a Rhombus, first person narrator Rhonda Lee is good with the quadratic equations, imaginary numbers, and complex calculations, but her life contains a number of challenges much less cut-and-dried than mathematics.

We loved the gorgeous cover of this book, we were intrigued with Rhonda Lee as a drama-dodging, smart-girl diva, and we were further intrigued by the choices Varian Johnson made as a writer about her character and the situations she faced. Ethnicity, social status, family, and friendship issues loom large in this novel, and we couldn't help asking hard-hitting questions about some of the most thought-provoking aspects of the story. Fortunately for us (and for our readers), much like his characters, Varian Johnson has risen to the challenge.

Okay, so he doesn’t like tofu. We forgive him. He’s a Texan, and that 'steak' thing is in the blood. He’s got a sharp mind and a nice smile, and we’re more than happy to welcome him to Finding Wonderland and the Summer Blog Blast Tour.

FW: Do you remember the first words you wrote for My Life as a Rhombus? Where were you when you wrote them? Did they change, or stay the same?

The first words I wrote for Rhombus were, “Are you Rhonda Lee?” At the time, Rhonda was still a math tutor, but she was tutoring David (then named Isaiah). Sarah was still David’s brother, but she was a spunky eleven-year-old, not the character that we see today.

I was living in Dallas when I first started the novel, way back in the summer of 2003. It’s changed a lot since then, but the core part of the story is still the same. Likewise, the opening chapter is still very much the same.

FW: Rhonda and Maxine are the main characters in your two novels – both girls and both carrying a tremendous chip on their shoulders. Do you think you’d portray a Ron and a Max with the same angst and anger? What did you do as a writer to give yourself more of an insight into young adult girls?

I think Maxine portrays her anger in a much more sarcastic, and perhaps even self-deprecating way, than Rhonda. I wanted Rhonda to express her anger in a scientific, controlled manner—yet I still wanted to give Rhonda an “out” every now and then to react to something in a totally unscientific way.

During the time I worked on the novel, I was a member of a critique group made up of mostly women. In addition, I asked a few female family members and friends to read early drafts. Everyone was quick to let me know when something didn’t quite work.

FW: Wow, the sole man in a critique group full of women? That must have been an unique experience! Obviously it worked out well!

“It seemed as if girls like her were either always starving themselves or throwing up their tofu lunch.” (My Life as a Rhombus, pg. 2)
As a lover of tofu, TadMack has to defend her girls from Rhonda’s criticism! It seems that both Rhonda and her father blame wealth and privilege for Rhonda’s early downfall. Do you feel it’s more important to discuss class than race with young adults?

Tofu? Blah! Give me a steak sandwich any day!

I think both class and race are still important. However, with Rhombus, I was more interested in exploring the differences in social status within an ethnicity than problems solely tied to race. Rhonda, Sarah, David, and even Gail to a degree, are products of their environment. While their race has affected them, it’s their (and their parents’) different social statuses within the community that really affects how they see each other.

FW: (We maintain you just haven’t had tofu done right! Anyway!)

The adults in Rhonda’s life are pretty complex and full of their own issues – Rhonda’s Dad maintains a double standard with regard to his sexual behavior and hers, and Sarah’s mother uses her position as a Supreme Court Justice to get enough information to blackmail Rhonda (which was really scary). Did you add conflict to the adults’ lives for a specific reason? In your experience do young adult novels depict adult lives as generally problem-free?

As parents are an integral, necessary part of teenagers’ lives, I think parents are an important part of the young adult novel. Things don’t get easier for a parent just because they are older, have a job, etc. And while most parents try to do the right thing, like teenagers, they sometimes get it wrong.

I don’t see Rhonda’s dad or Sarah’s mother as “bad guys.” I see them as parents trying to make the best of messy, unfortunate situations. I wanted to show that even adults don’t always have the right answer. Of course, it’s difficult to have the “right” answer in situations like Rhonda or Sarah’s where there is no “right” or “wrong.”

FW: That’s a really good point.

Rhonda defends David’s violence toward Johnnie by telling Sarah “it’s in his nature to take care of you,” but a moment later argues that David beating up Christopher is “a funny way” of showing his love for her. Rhonda obviously disagrees with the idea that loving her means beating down the people who offend her, but what do you think she would describe is a boyfriend’s role in a relationship?

I think Rhonda is still figuring out want she wants out of a boyfriend. I think she leaned on Christopher too much emotionally, and when that relationship went bad, she closed herself off from all male relationships.

Right now, I think Rhonda would describe a boyfriend’s role as just “being there” for her—not necessarily fighting her battles, but just being there for support. As she gets older, I would hope that she would see that some battles are easier to win when two people are fighting instead of one.

FW: We were surprised to see Rhonda prevent her father from confronting Christopher or his family. Why did she choose to protect him? What do you see as the role of fathers in this story?

I think Rhonda still cared for Christopher at the time she chose to protect him. While she and her father were somewhat close before her pregnancy, they still had a strained relationship, as Rhonda’s father struggled to deal with her mother’s death. I think Rhonda was looking for emotional support from someone—anyone—and that just happened to come along in the form of Christopher.

As I said before, I don’t see Rhonda’s father as a bad guy, I just see him as a guy trying to protect his daughter. He doesn’t always get it right, but all of his actions stem from his love for his daughter.

FW: Rhonda finally being able to cut down her food intake because of David and to confront Christopher for David’s sake points to how she really feels about him – and how little she values herself. When she finally takes action for herself, it seems almost anticlimactic – during the writing process, did you consider her taking other options than throwing the rock?

I did consider a few other options, but I felt that Rhonda didn’t need to do anything else in the scene. I think she’s too smart to engage in something worse with Christopher, like resorting to something more physical. I think she realizes that it won’t do her any good to hurt Christopher just to get even. While she doesn’t necessarily forgive him, she comes to realize that it’s time to let the past stay in the past.

FW: Rhonda is an intellectual who enjoys math, and her friends are all unique or unusual in other ways. What attracted you to writing about characters that are out of the mainstream? Do you find yourself gravitating towards writing about particular types of characters?

Well, I majored in engineering in college, so I was really attracted to the idea of writing a novel that featured three-dimensional characters that happened to like math. At the time, I hadn’t seen many novels that reflected this. Of course, a few months after I sold the novel, both John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton, 2006) and Wendy Litchman’s Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra (HarperTeen, 2007) came out.

I don’t know if I gravitate toward any particular type of character. However, I fully admit to being a fan of contemporary fiction. Perhaps I’ll try another genre one day, but for now, it’s all about realistic YA.

FW: Did your own experiences in young adulthood affect your choice of subject matter or themes in your writing? If so, how? What drew you to writing for young adults? What projects are you working on now?

I think most YA authors find that their childhood affects their writing in some way—although for me, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing. If anything, when I look back, I realize just how important my high school years were in shaping the person that I am today. That’s probably why I enjoy writing YA so much—it’s a way to explore feelings and ideas when a teen is just experiencing them for the first time.

For the next few months, I’ll be finalizing my next novel, tentatively titled The Path of the Righteous. The easiest way to summarize it is that it’s a coming of age story about a preacher’s kid. After that, I’ve got a few other projects that I’m tinkering with, but I’m not far enough along to speak confidently on them.

FW: What’s one thing you never get asked in interviews that you’d like your readers to know about you?

Most people don’t know that when I first thought about writing My Life as a Rhombus, I considered writing it as an adult novel from Rhonda’s father’s point of view. But very quickly, I realized that this was Rhonda’s story, and if anyone was going to tell it, she was.

FW: Definitely. A strong woman like Rhonda has a strong voice, and tell it, she did.

As usual when we've finished an interview, we think of 1001 OTHER questions we could have asked, like, 'Where and how to do you write? How do you juggle your writing with your day job? What has been your family's response to your work?' However, the main point of the SBBT is to pique everyone's interest and to remind them of just how many great books there are out there to read and share. THANK YOU so much for stopping by and giving us a bit of your time! We wish you creativity and excitement and a long, long career in the superhero -- er, YA writing business!

This has been an amazing week! Colleen at Chasing Ray has a list of EVERYTHING from the past week, so if you've gotten behind, visit the list and catch up!

More author and illustrator goodness can be found on blogs all across the 'sphere today; check out these links for the last day of the 2008 Summer Blog Blast Tour:

The very articulate Jincy Willett @ Shaken & Stirred
Gifted poet John Grandits @ Writing & Ruminating
The long-anticipated Meg Burden @ Bookshelves of Doom
That cool Wednesday guy, Gary D. Schmidt @ Miss Erin
More 'newes' from Mary Hooper @ Interactive Reader
The hugely talented Javaka Steptoe @ Seven Impossible Things

Happy Summer!

May 22, 2008

Dispatches from the Book Boxes: SBBT Continues

This summer kick-off hasn't been without its tiny disappointments. Two of our interviewees weren't able to participate. We did find out that Diana Wynne Jones is writing a new book, however, and so we couldn't be TOO disappointed when she was unable to make our interview schedule!

Now, while the author/illustrator goodness is going on, don't forget to be thinking of who you'd like to hear from next time. The goal of the Blog Blast Tours is to reintroduce authors whose work is older but beloved, to celebrate new authors and to connect illustrators and writers with young adult readers in every way we can. You'll notice that not all of those interviewed have a new book out or are "big names" in the YA circuit -- and that's the beauty of it. There's every chance to discover someone new!

Speaking of "big" names, e. lockhart is fabulously huge for her 'Boyfriend' books, and her general awesomeness. Today the inestimable Dr. Lockhart (yes, she has a shiny doctorate in English, people: brilliant writer of fiction AND big fat papers) is at the YA YA YA's. Go show her some love.

Definitely don't miss Mary Pearson at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy today.

Another big name's on tap today, Dar Williams! Not talking the songs, though, but talking the books - and she's quoted as describing picture books as NOT EASY. YES! A smart celebrity! **BONUS** a song! Very nice.

And just so you know? Jennifer Bradbury was told she would make a great guy. That's probably the best compliment EVER for a woman writer writing a guy character.

I'm LOVING the airtime that Greek gods and goddesses are getting these days. First it was the awesome Percy Jackson, and now it's kind of a graphic novel/poetic treatment that makes them superheroes! You've got to check out the interview with Charles R. Smith, Jr. at Writing & Ruminating. If nothing else, you'll find some good excuses for why you can't shoot when you're playing basketball...

Mary Hooper has a time machine. Man, I want one. She's at Miss Erin's.

Chasing Ray has nonfiction covered today with Elisha Cooper's great experiment. He spent a year in a public high school and uncovered some of the fascinating pressures and experiences of the day-to-day. It's a book I definitely want to read.

The Guardian has a piece on making the most of cover blurbs -- since you already judge a book by its cover anyway, what are you looking for?

Some of us *cough* have wished that a week would go by without Certain Authors being mentioned in the press... When Harry Met Sexism means that we haven't reached a Rowling-free world just yet. A Guardian literary critic sounds off on a Harvard Crimson student writer who dismisses J.K. Rowling as just a flash in the pan, and claims that "writing bedtime stories is lame." I'm surprised anyone even bothered to answer that foolishness, but this critic mentions several excellent fantasy, science fiction and speculative fiction writers who are women who are getting short shrift. Hat tip to Tamora Pierce for this one.

I'm knee deep in packing and boxes, and hope things don't get quite so out of control as last time. And hopefully this is the LAST move for another three years or so! Tune in tomorrow for more SBBT goodness!

May 21, 2008

Just Droppin' In...

I wanted to make sure to put in an appearance...I was out of town all weekend endur--I mean, enjoying family fun time, which evidently makes me ill, since I now have a head cold. That's my excuse, and I'm stickin' to it. If I still feel bad tomorrow, I might have to put off this week's Toon Thursday, which makes me sad. But sometimes it has to be done.

I'm hopelessly behind on blogs, too, but I've got a few links for y'all. One is that the 2008 Children's Choice Book Award winners were announced--YA-wise, the major (though unsurprising) bit of news there was that J.K. Rowling won the Author of the Year Award. Did I mention I wasn't surprised? Yeah.

Next, a few Narnia-inspired news bits. On Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews Herbie Brennan on his latest editorial project, Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. He contributed an essay, along with Ned Vizzini, Sarah Beth Durst, Brent Hartinger, Elizabeth Wein, and many others. It sounds like a fascinating project if you're a Narnia fan. Secondly, though there are a few spoilers, you won't want to miss Fuse #8's Caspian vs. Caspian--Betsy's take on comparing the book to the movie is quite amusing. If you haven't clicked that link yet, let me just say this: Susan + Caspian + tongue action.

On the writing front, though I'm working on finishing a first draft, I'm also going back to revise my last "finished" draft with an eye to characterization, since those are the types of comments I received (when I received any) from agents. In addition to good old-fashioned brainstorming--writing down any and every idea, no matter how ridiculous--I'm also going to do some writing exercises from a book I like called What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It's just one of those books I randomly picked up ages ago, but it's helpful for sparking ideas. Anybody out there have writing-related books whose advice they swear by?

Read All About It

I love SBBT... because when you read the interviews, you find out all the skinny on the real world of writing and illustrating for children. For instance, now I know about...

The REAL YA, Farmhouse:Delia Sherman @ Chasing Ray

Four words: Pink. Bible-toting. Buses. No, really. Ingrid Law at Fuse #8.

Penguins. Wings. And one REALLY awesome book on the power of shoes. Polly Dunbar @ Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Visiomutation = coolest goddess power EVER.Tera Lynn Childs @ Bildungsroman.

Staying on my toes! Siena Cherson Siegel @ Miss Erin's place.

Even mid-revision, he's witty. I kind of hate him for that. Barry Lyga @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.

Kelly Bingham candidly answers questions @ MotherReader's. Don't forget to sign up for the Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge and maybe-perhaps-possibly win a copy of her great book, SHARK GIRL, or other creative, happy-making prizes!

May 20, 2008

Fun 'n' Sun: The Summer Blog Blast Continues!

Many of you enjoyed our interview yesterday with R.L. LeFevers, whose intelligence and wit made our interview with her so much fun. We hope you enjoyed her talk on writing process as much as we did, and that you'll make a point of stopping by Shrinking Violets to continue to help Robin and Mary celebrate the independent bookstores we all know and love.

We LOVE the Summer Blog Blast Tour, because it's a chance for us to celebrate books and the people who love them, write and illustrate them and enjoy them. It's not just a celebration of books, it's a celebration of ourselves as readers, too! You know, our blog tour's not over yet. Stops along the way today include:

Jennifer Lynn Barnes @ Writing & Ruminating,
Robin Brande @ HipWriterMama,
Susane Colasanti @ Bildungsroman,
D.L. Garfinkle @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy,
Susan Beth Pfeffer @ The YA YA YAs,
Sean Qualls @ A Fuse #8 Production,
and Ben Towle @ Chasing Ray.

If you missed the humble yet brilliant author David Almond's comments yesterday at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, GO. Read. ALL of the interviews -- including Jackie's with Susan Beth Pfeffer -- were amazing. Go on, now. And take your sunblock.

May 19, 2008

Bonus YA Positivity!

Hat tip Bookshelves of Doom, YA is on the top of the see-saw at the moment. We're informed it keeps the publishing world afloat. And apparently, the film industry, too. (Thanks toSF Signal for the link.)

Of all the YA books-turned-movies I've seen trailers for in the past three months, this one has the most promise. And... Bill Murray.

May 18, 2008

The Summer Blog Blast Tour: The Fabulous LaFevers

Welcome to the 2008 Summer Blog Blast Tour at Finding Wonderland!

We were awfully taken with Cybils Sci-Fi/Fantasy Nominee Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. It's a novel with mystery, magic, adventure, sinister villains, cool Egyptian artifacts, a moody Victorian London setting, cool cover art and—perhaps most important—an inquisitive and indomitable heroine. Theodosia Throckmorton is brave and intelligent, and like many of us writers, she's also an observer. Through Theo's eyes, author R.L. LaFevers brings this rollicking tale of intrigue and magic to life.

When she's not wearing her author hat, R.L. LaFevers is also a professional cheerleader! Only, without the flippy skirt and the pom-poms, Robin relies on her experience in the publishing industry to gives encouragement and support to introverted authors. Together with fellow author Mary Hershey, in 2007 this busy lady launched Shrinking Violets Promotions, and the website tagline says it all: Marketing for Introverts.

It's no surprise that we were eager to interview this author, and we're thrilled to death that she agreed to answer our questions! So, without further ado...

FW: First off, it's important to ask how far along you are with the SEQUEL to Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. Reader greed is perking here: just how long do we have to wait?

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris is all done and will be out Nov. 1, 2008, only a few more months! I’ll be signing ARCs at BEA and will begin posting teaser chapters on the Theodosia website beginning in September. So not too much longer!

FW: And please join us in applauding wildly for the world wide web debut of the new Theodosia cover art! (Please note that all cover art is used courtesy of Houghton-Mifflin, all rights reserved.) YAY! Wow! This is GORGEOUS! Illustrator Yoko Tanaka rocks the house! Thank you very much for letting us say YAY with you! Now, back to our prying questions...

Edgar Stilton, the most junior curate in the Museum is a lightning rod for the weirdness that goes on there… Theodosia's noticed. Can you drop a hint about Edgar? Will we see him again? Is anyone else like Theodosia naturally? Are you?

Ah, Edgar Stilton. I just adore Edgar. And yes, readers will be seeing him again. He has an even bigger part to play in Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. There is much more to Edgar than meets the eye.

As for your question as to whether or not anyone is like Theodosia, and more specifically, am I like Theodosia, I would have to answer with a qualified yes. Kids have amazing powers of observation and are still highly in tune with their own gut instincts. They often “see” or sense things that most grown ups miss. They haven’t gotten around to shutting down or ignoring large parts of their own experience if it doesn’t logically fit in with their preconceived ideas of reality or logic. It’s one of the reasons I love writing for children.

When I was a kid, I could always tell if someone had been in my room while I was gone, even if nothing had been disturbed. I could walk into a room where everyone was cheerful and pleasant and would KNOW that there was deep animosity between them. I can feel when someone is looking at me, and 90% of the time I know who is on the phone when it rings.

The thing is, when I do school visits and I ask the kids these same questions, a huge majority of them raise their hands indicating they’ve had similar experiences. But most adults discount this sort of sensory input or method of “reading” the world. And I thought, wouldn’t it be fascinating to read about a kid whose ability to do that was actually critically important? And in fact, maybe even instrumental in keeping the adults around her safe? Thus Theodosia was born.

FW: (See, that phone thing! I do that too! I knew there was a reason I really loved Theodosia. That's a really cool premise for a novel! - Tad)

Theodosia bears a resemblance to other Victorian-inspired heroines of children's literature: Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart, the girls from Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase. What drew you to writing about this type of character? Who are some of your writing influences?

Many of my early reading influences were British, C. S. Lewis, E. Nesbitt, Lewis Carroll, Tolkien. Frances Hodgson Burnett. However, what drew me to Theodosia’s character were the reasons I stated in the above question: wanting to write about a girl who could sense things—vitally important things—that the adults around her couldn’t. Then I had to work backwards from there. What sort of environment would lend itself to creating the most conflict for a girl with these abilities? What sort of culture would provide even more conflict by stifling her or curtailing her freedom – both to move about and be heard? Then once I realized her parents would be Egyptology specialists, I had to set the book in a time when exciting finds were still being made.

FW: Do you remember the first words of Theodosia that you wrote? Did you change them, or did the first scene remain mainly the same? What sparked your interest in Egyptology?

I studied the small black statuette in front of me, wrinkling my nose slightly when I finally caught a whiff of the curse it contained. “Aha! I knew it!” I said, speaking out loud in my excitement. My words clattered around in the cavernous room before dissipating into the air and floating away in a swirl of dust motes.

Curses have a particular smell to them. It’s a subtle smell, and it can take a while to zero in on it, but once you’ve experienced the smell of ancient magic, you never forget.

Those are the first words of Theodosia that I wrote. And while I did begin the book with her sensing the curse on the statuette, I created a lot more context around it. My first drafts tend to be fairly bare bones—get the juice of the story down, then go back and fill in around it.

My interest in Egyptology has always been strong. Also, it seems to me that the Egyptian practices are the foundation for so many of the subsequent magical disciplines and theories, that it just seemed the biggest well to draw from.

FW: Writing a novel in the Victorian setting yet from a modern perspective surely required a huge amount of research. What were some of the resources you used to fill in the vivid details of Theodosia's world?

Books that I found invaluable:

  • Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders

  • A New England by G. R. Searle

  • What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Poole

A website that was particularly helpful was: Victorian London.
And then, of course, Google. My personal best friend.

FW: Let's talk writing challenges. Was it difficult to maintain consistency of tone and Victorian use of language while also writing a book that would appeal to contemporary readers?

You know, initially there weren’t a lot of challenges with this book — it was simply a “just for fun, just for me” project. Since writing is my favorite form of recreation as well as my job, I often have different projects going. At the time, I was working under contract on a trilogy, and Theodosia was my “down time” project. So I didn’t really think in terms of challenges while writing the book, but more like trying to solve a puzzle. It was my muses’ playground, so if it became hard, I let it go for a while and came back to it when I’d figured out how to make it fun again. The entire first couple of drafts were fairly stress free, and by the time I was done with those, the story had sort of “set” and it was either going to work as is or not. Of course, once I realized it was something I wanted to submit, it required a bit of shaping and polishing.

I did do a bit of juggling with the tone and language of the book. I heard Theodosia’s voice very clearly in my head, and early on I decided since I was writing historical fantasy rather than non-fiction, or even historical fiction, my aim was to evoke the time period rather than faithfully recreate it with 100% accuracy. I was very careful to consult with dictionaries and etymology guides to be sure that the words she was using were in fact in use at the time, as I wanted to avoid glaring anachronisms. However, while she speaks somewhat more formally than we tend to do today and she uses language and words that are true to her time, I also wanted her voice to be accessible to modern readers. If there were choices that had to be made between recreating true Victorian speech or making her accessible, accessible won. My own feeling is, when I am telling a story, everything I choose to include or use must serve that story, rather than the story serving as a vehicle for historical accuracy, or a thematic lesson of some sort.

FW: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos contains elements of adventure, mystery, history and fantasy. Did you set out to write a book of a particular genre? What was the germ of the idea that became this book—what inspired you to write it? Did its crossing of genres make the process of finding a publisher difficult?

I actually didn’t set out to write a book combining all these elements. I knew it would be a historical fantasy and that was about it. The germ of the idea was that ancient artifacts still had magical power clinging to them, and there was a lone girl who had the ability to sense this. And I wanted her to have a grand, sweeping adventure—like so many boys in children’s literature get to have.

I don’t know that this mix of genres made it hard to find a publisher. I do know that a number of editors who read it loved a lot of things about it, but there was always one thing that held them back. One publisher wanted Theo to be American, another felt she wasn’t vulnerable enough, and yet another wanted more historical detail and setting. But I wasn’t comfortable making those changes. Then my agent had recently met Kate O’Sullivan from Houghton Mifflin, and decided she would be a good match. She was (and is) The Perfect Editor for Theo and me.

FW: You've written several other novels, including The Falconmaster, which is an old favorite. Do you think you'll ever revisit historical fantasy fiction? What else (other than the next Theodosia) are you working on now?

I actually think I’ll focus more and more on historical fantasy, mostly because of the type of fantasy elements I prefer to write about: fantasy that has its roots in historical truths. History is so rich with the elements we consider fantastical today, that I like to go back and play with those. The thing is, what we consider “fantasy” today, was actually believed by earlier cultures and societies as truth or explanation or scientific discovery. By using these threads and expounding on them, I feel like it grounds fantasy in reality and gives it more of a “that could really have happened” feeling to it. Plus I just adore history. My husband teases me and says I only write fiction so I’ll have an excuse to do research!

In addition to beginning Theodosia Three, I’ve just finished up a chapter book about a young boy who is sent to live with a distant cousin of his father’s, and finds himself thrust into all sorts of new adventures. It takes place in the 1920s, before much of the current political climate and turmoil, so it’s historical as well.

FW: That sounds exciting! You mention on your blog that you're not a fan of the idea of writing every day, and wrote that early in your career you were juggling parenthood as well. What has changed about your writing process? What is, for you, a successful writing day?

You know, I’m really not a fan of writing every day and I get rather tweaked when I hear people say you have to write every day to be a “real” writer. Well, that works for them, and hallelujah, I say. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and I strongly feel that everyone’s process is individual and has to work for them. I do think, in the very beginning especially, it’s important to commit to regular writing time in order to build some discipline and stick-to-it-iveness, which are hugely important in any writing career. But writing regularly can also mean devoting large chunks of time on the weekends, or devoting your entire summer to writing. It doesn’t have to be butt in chair every day.

I mean, think about it. So many transformative, creative processes require stewing time, or fermenting time, or even gestating. Pick which terms work for you, but the point is that sometimes a quiet, fallow mind is needed for the ideas to fully develop. Forcing yourself to write daily—if it’s not a natural part of your process—can interfere with that.

When my kids were younger, I wrote every day, many times a day. When they were napping, while I “watched” soccer practice, when they watched a video. However, the truth is, writing in snatches like that lets you develop some writing skills, but not others. I think sometimes it can be hard to go deep in those circumstances, to really immerse yourself in the world you’re writing about. Which can be a big drawback. As the kids got older I ended up with bigger, more solid chunks of writing time, which allowed my writing to grow further.

A successful writing day involves rolling out of bed, grabbing a cup of coffee and heading over to my writing spot—a rocking chair in our living room that looks out over the valley. I’m barely awake, but my subconscious is feeling very chatty due to all the good down time it had during the night. I usually write by longhand or on my Alpha Smart, whose keyboard is more comfortable for me than a laptop. Plus, there are no distractions such as email or the internet. A good day means six to eight pages in that morning burst, then maybe another page or two during the day when something else occurs to me. Depending on the project, I’ll spend the later part of the day on research or polishing what I already have or, quite often, working on plotting out what comes next and refining that in more detail.

My absolutely favorite part of writing is when the idea first begins forming and I get to play with it, massage it, watch it grow. It reminds me so very much of being a kid and playing in that fully imagined way that kids do. I love it.

FW: How did you and Mary Hershey come up with the idea of Shrinking Violet Promotions? If you could only give one piece of advice to introverted writers out there, what would it be?

Mary Hershey and I had many conversations (whine sessions, really) talking about how critical author promotion seemed to be and how difficult it was for us, both of us being introverts. As we talked and strategized and gnashed our teeth, we commented that we couldn’t be the only ones having this difficulty. The majority of authors, after all, are introverts. Too bad there wasn’t a support group for us introverted writers struggling with the concept of book promotion. We looked at each other for a long moment. Duh. We realized that we should start one, and that it would be a great way to give back to the writing community at large since we both feel very strongly about how incredibly generous and supportive the writing community has been to us.

My one piece of advice to introverted writers would be this: Don’t feel you have to do it all. Pick three areas you can comfortably manage (a website, printing up bookmarks, and volunteering for your local SCBWI chapter, say). As you become comfortable in those duties (and you will) then later you can find stretch goals for yourself. But whatever you do, don’t risk letting promotional duties kill your creative drive.

FW: We're enormously grateful that you've stopped by. This has been both fun and informative, and we're grateful for the support system you've set up for writers like us. Also, we can't wait to get our hands on your next book! Thank you so much for your time! We wish you the very best as you continue to write amazing, entertaining, arresting and absorbing young adult books.

Don't go too far! This party is just getting started. There's nothing like the smell of sunblock and books in the summertime, so slide on your sunglasses and keep reading.

More author and illustrator goodness can be found on blogs all across the 'sphere today; check out these links for more 2008 SBBT Monday goodness:

Adam Rex @ Fuse #8,
David Almond @ Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Dave Schwartz @ Shaken & Stirred
Elizabeth Scott @ Bookshelves of Doom
Laurie Halse Anderson @Writing & Ruminating
Susan Beth Pfeffer @Interactive Reader.

Mad props go to Colleen of Chasing Ray for organizing the Kidlit Blogging Fabulosity all over again into the blog-blasting beast it periodically becomes. Thanks, Colleen!

May 16, 2008

Blasting OFF!!!!

...They're Authors. Illustrators. Both. They're professional, funny, introspective, irreverent, bold. Bright. Some of the best of young adult literature interviewed and honored by some of the best in the kidlitosphere. It's the 2008 Summer Blog Blast Tour and once again,
It's All About the Books!

Adam Rex, David Almond, R.L. Lafevers, Dave Schwartz, Elizabeth Scott, Laurie Halse Anderson, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Ben Towle, Sean Qualls, Susane Colasanti, Robin Brande, Debby Garfinkle, Delia Sherman, Ingrid Law, Polly Dunbar, Tera Lynn Childs, Siena Cherson Siegel, Elisha Cooper, Dar Williams, Jennifer Bradbury, E. Lockhart, Mary Hooper, Varian Johnson, Jincy Willett, John Grandits, Meg Burden, Gary D. Schmidt, Javaka Steptoe, and maybe more...


An Agreeable Destruction

Last week I mentioned that I am living sandwiched between construction projects -- the roof seven stories above me, and the demolition across the street. As much as I find the noise and dust intrusive, I expect it's nothing compared to how intrusive the elementary school across the block must find it. It looked, this morning, like the teachers had all finally given in to the lure of the big machines, and brought the kids over for a squint.

About seventy five kids - between the ages of first and fourth grade - got to march out from their classroom, cross the street, eel up the sidewalk and line up at the fence that separates their playing field from the construction site. The workers seemed a bit nonplussed for a moment, and there was a pause and a helmet-to-helmet consultation between hard-hatted gentlemen, probably asking one another what was meant to happen next. Then, with almost visible shrugs, they went back to work. They fired up the Caterpillar and pulled down some I-beams.


Engines whined. Metal shrieked. Children jumped around and screamed. It was enormously satisfying noise, wanton destruction, large machine maws gaping and crunching and metal sheeting crumpling like construction paper. The applause and cheers of the audience rose. Something that was meant to be destroyed was going down big time. Joy was uncontained.

Perspectives on destruction vary as we age. Perhaps it's because the older we get, the more we know enough about loss. Little kids are gleeful to knock down blocks and kick over sandcastles, but just a little bit older, and the inexorable march of the tide brings desperate wailing, moat digging, and shrieks as the sandcastles go back out to sea. It's hard to see things destroyed without reverting to the nostalgia of when they were new. Maybe most of us hold on tightly to what is, knowing the transient nature of circumstance, sensing the breathless balance of life against the razor-edged teeth of disaster, we've learned to be prepared at all times to mourn.

Is that any way to live?

Another Postponement of Destruction

Banging out the kitchen door, I kicked

before I saw it a thick glass baking dish

I'd set outside for dogs the night before.

It skidded to the top step, teetered, tipped

into an undulating slide from step

to step, almost stopped halfway down, then lunged

on toward concrete, and I froze to watch it

splinter when it hit. Instead, it kissed

the concrete like a skipping stone, and rang

to rest in frost-stiffened grass. Retrieving it,

I suddenly felt my neck-cords letting go

of something like a mask of tragedy.

I washed the dish and put it in its place,

then launched myself into a rescued day.

-- by Henry Taylor from Understanding Fiction: Poems 1986-1996, Louisiana State University Press, ©1996

If you want more of Henry Taylor's particular kind of poetic brilliance, here are a handful more from the Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Two Writing Teachers are hosting the Poetry Friday extravaganza today, please stop by.

The Weekly Standard talks poetry today, rolling words on its tongue with a languid, liquid verbosity -- viva la agenbite!

May 15, 2008

Toon Thursday: While We're on the Subject...

In our writing group this week, we've been talking a lot about flashbacks, and the thought-provoking post from Tami Brown at Through the Tollbooth has given us a lot of food for well as fodder for cartoons:

But enough about me. (You'll get MORE than enough about me if I ever get around to doing that meme...) Don't forget to go visit Jackie of Interactive Reader at her guest blogging gig on ForeWord--she's got some thoughtful musings up there about why we read blogs, and what keeps us reading.

A few tidbits from Jen Robinson: Did you know that this week is Reading Is Fun Week? I'm sure this is one of the many things I was briefly aware of and then forgot, so I'm glad that Jen reminded me. Don't miss the Athletic Book List the folks at Reading Is Fundamental have put together. Also, take a gander at Jen's 6 P's of Book Appreciation--it truly made me stop and think about what makes ME pick up a book and keep reading it. I agreed with a lot of what Jen said, especially with respect to the fact that it's VERY guilt-inducing to have a book lent to you and then not have enough interest in the premise to want to pick it up.

In fact, I have a nice handful of books on my shelf that people have lent me--some of which I maybe should read--but I can't quite summon the motivation to crack open: Sarah by JT LeRoy, State of Fear by Michael Crichton, The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, Living History by Hillary Clinton. Actually, the only one I feel like I "should" read is the latter, but I do get consumed with guilt that somebody wanted my opinion on a book and then I've just been letting it languish, unread. What books are languishing unread on your shelves?

May 14, 2008

I Can Count Them On One Hand

Five Things: brought to you by Kelly, who felt she should share the joy. Since A.Fortis is working her head off today, I'll take one for the team.

What were you doing five years ago?

Wow, 2003. I was living in Santa Rosa and driving a very long way to Oakland to my first year of grad school. I was reading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and doing a lot of wincing as it by turns horrified me and blew me away with its consistent and descriptive narrative style.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

  • Untangle this chapter's plot knots currently strangling my manuscript,

  • See if that weird wet spot on the floor in the guest room is still there, and find out what caused it,

  • Shop for lightweight walking shoes (sandals),

  • Call the chick from the Property Bureau (actual name of company) and arrange to see flat,

  • Scrub the bathtub and finish the wash.

(Yes. That's my VERY exciting life. Aren't you glad you asked?)

What are five snacks that you enjoy?

  • Ryvita crackers - just about any kind,

  • Dry Kashi Lean cereal, (Stop laughing)

  • 84% Dark chocolate and crystallized ginger

  • Watermelon drizzled with lime juice and sprinkled with cinnamon (Seriously)

  • random juice bars

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

  • Buy land on the West Coast and build a straw bale or a passive house

  • Keep bees and goats and make candles and cheese if I felt like it, otherwise write,

  • Open a summer camp for homeless and foster kids (and hire my mother),

  • Pay off my college debt, and the school debt of my immediate family,

  • Set up a philanthropic fund which invested so that it was making money while giving it away to people who want to go to school.

What are five of your bad habits?
Really, we could go all day with this one.

  • Biting my nails,

  • Being snappish with people I consider stupid,

  • Considering people stupid (Being critical),

  • Worrying too much about ridiculous things,

  • Not enjoying myself

What are five places where you have lived?

  • San Francisco, CA

  • Healdsburg, California

  • Deerpark, California

  • Pacheco, California

  • Glasgow, Scotland

What are five jobs you’ve had?
Only the semi-abnormal ones are any fun...

  • Strawberry weeder, My first job, 6th grade

  • House cleaner, For an elderly woman down the street, 8th-10th grade

  • Program Director and Rodeo Clown (summer camp, six years of this)

  • Laundry supervisor

  • Senate reporter (college paper)

The next question is which five people am I tagging... I'm not tagging five people; I've seen this around and know everyone's done it... except maybe Little Willow. And you?

May 13, 2008

Fiction with Fangs

...presented by TadMack and a. fortis for your reading pleasure.

a. fortis: I have to start off this post by saying that I am not a huge fan of vampire books. I’ve read some of the requisite classics like the Anne Rice quartet, as well as some modern-day popular series like the Twilight books. But there have really only been one or two vampire novels that had me jumping up and down, which is why I found :01 First Second’s recently-released books about bloodsuckers so…er…refreshing.

TadMack: I'm not much on vampires, either. First up, I came to the whole Joss Whedon thing late. As in, REALLY late. As in, I was in grad school and met a fellow Mills-ite who was doing her thesis on something like 'postmodern feminism, the transgressive woman warrior and the eradication of patriarchy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' And I thought, What? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. And BTVS is a nuanced and multilayered – and completely ridiculous and humorous – piece of television history that was well worth her critical analysis. At her urging, I watched episodes (still not all of them yet) of the show, laughed at the dialogue, examined the themes, and got a kick out of the whole thing.

But tortured, bleached-blond, undead dudes aside, I still am not into vampires. Much.

a. fortis: Yes, all discussion of hotties aside…and pushing aside our biases…we thought we’d share with you what First:Second has been up to vampire-wise, along with a few other bloodsucker tales which have had us… uh…drooling.

Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel (of La Perdida fame), Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece, introduces us to Dave. Dave works in an all-night convenience store, gets made fun of for being vegetarian, and has an enormous unrequited crush on Rosa, a cute Goth girl who hangs out at the juice bar next door. Doesn’t sound too abnormal…until you throw in the fact that he’s a vampire. Refusing to drink human blood makes him…well, a bit of a weenie in the vampire social circles.

Plus, his Romanian boss (and vampire master) is your typical convenience store mini-tyrant, shouting at his hapless employees in a thick accent and then going off to play cards with his old-country pals in a cigar-choked back room. But Dave’s coping, more or less, and his roommate, a childhood friend, is down with his alternative lifestyle. And then…Dave’s potential love interest catches the eye of Wes, a mildly homicidal, ultra-competitive, surf-crazy vampire with a taste for human blood. This book was nicely drawn, well-written, and has a great sense of humor. Don’t miss the hilarious debate about the logic of vampire myth vs. vampire reality—cracked me right up.

TadMack: Vlad Dracul Magnet School is the one the folks in New Sodom, Massachusetts, don’t talk about. It’s private, and the kids at Cotton Mather High and Our Lady of Perpetual Homework steer clear. Cody Elliot would like to steer clear of everyone in that state of Massachusetts, and make his way back to California, thanks. They’ve just moved to New Sodom, and his Mom hates it, he hates Cotton Mather, and the only one who’s happy is his Dad, who has the opportunity to be a partner in his new firm. Cody knows he has to do something to shake his father out of his blind happiness, so he devises a cunning plan to force his father to let them all go home. Though it takes a lot of work, he’s going to flunk every single class at Cotton Mather.

Wish that had worked. All it accomplishes is to encourage Mr. Elliot to pull his son out of public school… and at Vlad Dracul, boy do Cody’s grades improve. Fast. But…why?

Douglas Rees wrote Vampire High as a quick-paced satire that manages to be slyly funny while looking past the surface of human nature, honor and ambition, and what motivates us. It's all about high school -- really.

a. fortis: A book that’s sure to draw in younger readers and entertain older ones with its lush artwork and charming stories is Little Vampire, by Joann Sfar (a name some will recognize from this year’s Cybil award winner, The Professor’ Daughter). Little Vampire contains three short graphic stories starring, well, a little vampire boy, along with his flying red ghost dog Phantomato, his human friend Michael, and an array of silly, scary, and wonderfully drawn monster characters. The stories deal with simple, classic themes of childhood, and without being didactic, express ideas of family, friendship, loyalty, tolerance, and patience. But with monsters. It was honestly so funny and charming I wanted to cry. And there’s something very French about it, too. The artwork is fabulously cacophonous and perfectly suited to the stories. To tell you the truth—this might be the one I end up reading again and again.

I just re-read what is possibly my favorite vampire book (and one of my favorite books, too, though that’s a very long list)--Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I’ll let TadMack’s review speak for itself, but I’ll also add that this is the book that inspired me to try baking yeast bread for the first time. Strange, but true. (The main character, Sunshine, is a baker in a coffeehouse.) I love that the book’s setting is sort of an alternate version of our own world, only with magic and magical Others--like vampires, were-animals, and demons. And there’s been a war with the Others, so it’s not like everyone gets along fabulously. In fact, Special Other Forces exist to hunt down Dark Others and prevent them from harming humans. Of course, nothing’s really quite that simple, and when Sunshine meets a vampire under unusual circumstances, her view of the world changes completely. If you haven’t read this one, YOU HAVE TO. Period.

TadMack: Sunshine is really well-written, and Robin McKinley, as she expertly balances tension and momentum in her plotting, could make a grocery list sound swell, so there’s much to like. At heart, Sunshine is a very edgy romance, completely UN-run of the mill, and, well, perfect because it is not like the rest. I’ve read a lot of books that include vampires, and usually… well, there’s a lot of eye-rolling. They cater to the transitory wish that many people have to be on their backs (*ahem*) and helpless about their fate – thus being more readily able to accept and embrace someone else being in control. McKinley only briefly goes there – and then moves away, while most vampire storylines wallow. To which I say a hearty, “Yuck, maybe?” None for me, thanks. If I’m going down bleeding? There will be no passive quivering. I’m going down with a sharpened stake in my hand.

I have what is commonly called A Bad Attitude, which is why I’m so fond of novels in which humans resist vampires. And win.

Helpless? Us? No freakin’ way!

Vivian Vande Velde keeps the pace fast and the tension high, and the nightmarish insanity constant. Companions of the Night is an oldie but definitely a goodie.

Romance is de rigueur for vampire tales, but Kerry Nowicki is just going to the Laundromat – not the place where big romance happens, except in sitcoms. In Kerry’s case, it’s duty that brings her – her four year old brother, Ian, has had enough people let him down since their Mom left – and took the washer and dryer -- last year. Dad’s asleep, and Kerry has her Learner’s permit, so she drives to the Laundromat to pick the stuffed koala bear Ian left behind earlier that day. It’s a college town, so it doesn’t matter that it’s eleven o’clock – the Laundromat is open and the bear is there somewhere. It’s just that there are some other people there, too – adults. And they’ve got a college student tied up, beaten and bloody. They swear he's a vampire. Kerry takes a desperate gamble and helps him escape.

That should have been the end of the story.

But it never is, is it?. No good deed goes unpunished, and Kerry’s life turns into one long fall into the dark. I won’t give anything else away, except to note that this novel frames one of the fundamental questions of dealing with vampires: will befriending one find for you the love of your life? Or be the end of it? A novel about life, death, love -- and choice.

Oh, all right. I can see some of you rolling your eyes at my Attitude. Yes. Vampires, according to the lore, trump humans, every time. Outside of that weird counting tic they have (seriously. That dude on Sesame Street? Only resisted sucking all the other Muppets dry because he was forever counting. Think about it.) and the whole daylight/stake-in-heart/garlic/iron holy symbol thing, they’re unstoppable, and a modern vampire? Forget about it.

a. fortis: I totally agree about the Count, by the way. It's like smokers, when they quit smoking by turning to chewing gum. He's just channeling his bloodlust into a more acceptable OCD behavior. Anyway, back to TadMack's overarching question:

TadMack: What happens if vampires actually worked together, to take over? Would humans really win?

That's what happened in Terry Pratchett's twenty-third Discworld novel, Carpe Jugulum. King Verence of Lancre invites the vampires of Überwald to the christening of his daughter, in an effort of earnest goodwill which quickly backfires. The vampires mean to take over the kingdom, but the witches of Lancre won't stand for it. Sadly, they might have to: Granny Weatherwax has vanished, Magrat is Queen and just had a baby, and Nanny Ogg has fallen under the vampires' spell.

The only witch who can really make a difference is young Agnes Nitt. Agnes is an apprentice witch, unsure of herself, and in a constant state of internal conflict. There's something else odd about Agnes. The vampires can't quite put their finger on it, but her mind...intrigues them...

The young priest of Om who bungled his first christening is having a crisis of faith. Omnians have a history of burning witches, and now there's a war going on, between witches and vampires. Oats thinks he should maybe be on the side of the witches... but that can't be right, can it?

This novel -- which isn't marketed as YA but can easily be a crossover -- is a fast and funny patchwork of almost every vampire cliché you've ever heard, but with a thoughtful, Pratchett-ian twist that changes everything. Sink your teeth in and enjoy.

It's Vampire Month, and there's a whole lot of biting going on! Check out the :01 First Second blog for more vampiring genius.