Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Giveaway Contest Winners + Spring 2012 Video Preview

In a post last month, I highlighted some similarities among my three marvelous Spring 2012 novels, and offered to give away a copy of each to three random commenters. The winning commenters are:

  • Susan Adrian, for Irises by Francisco X. Stork (which now has a starred review from Publishers Weekly)
  • Uniquely Moi, for The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin (which Kirkus called "a smashing debut" in its starred review)
  • Gail Shepherd, for Above by Leah Bobet (about which one person on Goodreads said, "I'm jealous of my week-ago self because he still gets to read Above for the first time")
Winners, please e-mail me your addresses at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. And everyone, thanks for participating! You've encouraged me to do more such giveaways in the future.

If you would like to learn more about these books, as well as my fabulous Summer 2012 titles, please check out the Scholastic Librarian Preview. If you view it by age range, in Picture Books, I'm at minute 1:00 with the charming Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Deeney Murguia; in Middle Grade, I'm at 13:46 with the uber-fun Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas; and I kick off the YA section with the three books listed above.Watch closely and you'll see me toss a feather boa around my neck with bonhomie and savoir faire. Voila!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Q&A: Joanna Pearson, Author of The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills

This past summer, we published The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson, a funny, smart novel about sixteen-year-old (guess who?) Janice Wills, who styles herself as an anthropologist of life in Melva, North Carolina (a.k.a. the Livermush Capital of the World). Joanna amazed me by revising the book while she was in first medical school and then an internship -- part of a joint MFA/MD program offered by Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where she is completing her residency, and she was kind enough to answer some questions for me here.

In an essay called "How to Rid Yourself of Poetry--Almost," you wrote:

Writing poetry, it seems, is one of those habits that, at least among most members of polite society, one is expected to have outgrown. The fact of one’s persistent poetry-writing makes others uncomfortable—like wearing pantaloons and a feathered hat in the supermarket. You are either a throwback, a weirdo, a Renaissance Festival enthusiast, or someone who never fully exited adolescence. “Oh, you write poetry!” some well-meaning soul says. “I write poetry too! At least I used to! In ninth grade, I had a whole notebook chock-full of poems!” To this, you must nod politely, although you will secretly be saying, No, you don’t understand! Everyone had a notebook full of poems in ninth grade. What I write now, this is Poetry For Real! This is Serious Business! You will never actually say this, of course, because, first of all, no one would believe you, and, second of all, it would only make you look weirder.
I think you could switch out the word "poetry" for "children's/YA books" in the above, and many, many writers would recognize the same condescending tone from their own conversations. What drove you to write a YA novel, despite such disapproval, and what keeps you coming back to poetry?

Hmm. That's such a smart observation--one I''ve never considered! To be honest with you, when I first began working on this book, I actually chose to delve into YA because it's so completely different from poetry. I started what would eventually become Rites and Wrongs during the summer after my first year in my poetry MFA program. At the time, I was feeling exhausted from writing poetry and wanted to do something that would be really fun and light and totally different. I can now say officially that the process of writing YA and the process of writing poetry ARE indeed completely different. Utterly, wholly, completely different. I love poetry because I love sound and meter and form; I also love playing with language's accumulated resonances and meanings. It's precision work--like working on a tiny, jeweled box. Although there is definitely still storytelling involved, it's often more subtle, and more in the suggestion. Writing YA feels so much broader, like working on a large mural. And I think that when writing YA, one must tap into the adolescent part of one's brain, whereas when writing poetry, tapping into this part of one's brain is usually is a recipe for disaster.

I guess the dominant "respectable" genre will always be literary fiction (and don't get me wrong--I love this too!!), but both YA and poetry are backed by such ferocious, fervent communities.  YA and poetry are the underdogs--maybe that's the main similarity, that underdog charm.

Where did this book start from for you, particularly the anthropology concept?

This answer is easy: the book started with Janice's voice. Everything else grew out of that. Janice is, in a way, the purest distillation of adolescent insecurity and hyperawareness. She's the ur-teenager, if you will. And her interest in anthropology is really an outgrowth of this. How good an anthropologist Janice is throughout most of the book is definitely open to debate. I'd say she's a pretty good misanthropologist, though.

One of the things I loved about the manuscript was that it paired that teenage emotional instinct to analyze and critique everything with an academic/intellectual discipline made for it -- which is of course also very teenage, to get wrapped up in some giant system of seeing the world. What systems did you subscribe to as a teenager? Do any of those linger in your worldview today, and how?

Huh. Good question. I guess the main system I subscribed to as a teenager was simply the binary system of cool/uncool. Of course, this is made more complicated by the addition of the parallel pseudo-categories of "cool"/"uncool." By this, I mean that "cool" people tend to do very uncool things. This elegant binary system still remains very tempting to me--to almost everyone, I think. (Except for maybe my dad, who has transcended all notions of coolness, and is therefore, perhaps, the coolest of all.)

How did the manuscript change in the course of the revision process?

Whew--it changed a lot.  At the very beginning, I thought that to make a good YA novel, it was mandatory that one include either several paranormal boyfriends or a dystopian combat scene, or else throw in enough intrigue for an entire season of The O.C.  So Janice was there from the beginning, but there were also some ghosts, blackmail, a mysterious car crash, people in disguises... And I don't think it made a lot of sense.  Then, a couple of very wise people (including one very wise editor) helped me to pare all this away and really focus the story on Janice and her voice.  So, yeah--the biggest challenge in revision was finding that viable structure.

How does it feel to be a published author—as opposed to being an author whose book had been accepted for publication, but not yet out, or an author whose work was just on submission? Has it made any difference in your life at all?

Things are not different in a major way, although I've now learned about new types of book-related anxiety. It's both thrilling and terrifying to have something that exists out in the world, particularly in a world in which people have so many venues to respond. The coolest thing has been getting the chance to meet a few adolescent readers who really loved the book. That's amazing--the reason I think most people write, really, is for that ideal reader, or readers. Still, it's a very anxiety-provoking thing to put yourself out there like that.... I have new respect for all the writers who have been doing this for years--and for pageant contestants across the land!

You have an incredibly busy schedule as a newlywed, a medical resident, a published author, a poet. . . . How do you make time to write? Do you have any self-disciplinary strategies you'd be willing to share?

Oh, man. I wish I did! Right now, it's been very difficult to find writing time. Last year, while I was an intern (which means I was basically working a thirty-hour shift in the hospital approximately every fourth day), it was basically impossible. My schedule's slightly better this year, so I'm starting with small things, like sonnets, just to get back into some kind of writing discipline. I have the beginnings of an idea for a second YA draft, but it's been kind of on the backburner. Right now, my husband Matthew and I consider it a victory when there's not a mountain of dirty dishes in our sink!

So the bad thing about my day job is that, particularly in the short-term, it's incredibly time-consuming. The good thing, however, is that my day job is the sort that always puts things into perspective and is, at various moments, frustrating, stressful, eye-opening, exhausting, interesting, and inspiring. I can't wait to have just a little more time for writing, though!

What is your favorite dance move?

That I can do, or that I can't do?? Since I can't do that many awesome dance moves, I'll name the one I most admire: the Worm.  People who can do the Worm are amazing to me.

What are you reading now?

I'm sort of in-between books at this second.  I just finished reading a bunch of great short story collections. Among them all, I really liked Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans and This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks. Next on my list is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. YA-wise, I'm definitely reading Shine by Lauren Myracle next.

Be honest:  How do you really feel about livermush?

I feel like everyone should just go try it first. I don't want to spoil any surprises!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Ballad of Erica Levine" by Bob Blue

I always enjoyed singing this song at Carleton's Folk Sing (consider your snarky remark about folk singing acknowledged here), and I post it now in honor of both "Breaking Dawn" and smart young feminists like Erica Levine, and with sincere wishes for you all to have a life like the last two lines.

When Erica Levine was seven and a half
Up to her door came Jason Metcalfe
And he said, "Will you marry me, Erica Levine?"
And Erica Levine said, "What do you mean?"
  "Well my father and my mother say a fellow ought to marry
  And my father said his brother, who is my Uncle Larry
  Never married and he said Uncle Larry is a dope---
  So will you marry me?" Said Erica, "Nope."
"My piano teacher's smart, and she never had to marry
And your father may be right about your Uncle Larry,
But not being married isn't what made him a dope.
Don't ask me again, 'cause my answer's 'Nope'."

When Erica Levine was seventeen
She went to a dance with Joel Bernstein,
And they danced by the light of a sparkling bobby sock,
'Cause the theme of the prom was the history of Rock.
  And after the prom, Joel kissed her at the door,
  And he said "Do you know what that kiss was for?"
  And she said "I don't know, but you kiss just fine."
  And he said "What it means is that you are mine."
And she said "No, I'm not!", and she rushed inside
And on the way home, Joel Bernstein cried
And she cried, too, and wrote a letter to Ms.,
Saying "This much I know: I am mine, not his."

When Erica Levine was twenty-three
Her lover said "Erica, marry me.
This relationship is answering a basic need
And I'd like to have it legally guaranteed.
  For without your precious love I would surely die
  So why can't we make it legal?" Said Erica, "Why?
  Basic needs, at your age, should be met by you;
  I'm your lover, not your mother---let's be careful what we do.
If I should ever marry, I will marry to grow,
Not for tradition, or possession or protection. No!
I love you, but your needs are a very different issue."
Then he cried, and Erica handed him a tissue.

When Erica was thirty, she was talking with Lou,
Discussing and deciding what they wanted to do.
"When we marry, should we move into your place or mine?
Yours is rent-controlled, but mine is on the green line."
  And they argued and they talked, and they finally didn't care
  And they joined a small cooperative near Central Square.
  And their wedding was a simple one, they wanted it that way.
  And they thought a lot about the things that they would choose
     to say.
"I will live with you and love you, but I'll never call you mine."
Then the judge pronounced them married, and everyone had wine.
And a happy-ever-after life is not the kind they got,
But they tended to be happy more often than not.

Lyrics via;ttELEVINE.html

Monday, November 14, 2011

CLEOPATRA'S MOON Chat Transcript

Earlier today, my author Vicky Alvear Shecter and I chatted about her novel Cleopatra's Moon on Twitter -- a fun conversation that covered how the book came to me (indirectly via SQUIDs!), the vetting process, my acquisitions interests right now, our ancient Roman names, and sundry other topics. You can read a transcript of the conversation after the jump.

We ran into one peril that I mention as a cautionary tale for future Twitter-chatterers:  I had failed to verify that #CMchat would be a unique hashtag for us, and as a result, we were repeatedly interrupted by country music fans, several of whom expressed their annoyance that we were horning in on their chat. (And to be fair, they did have the hashtag first.) I've deleted their tweets (and RTs of relevant tweets) from the conversation below. 

(I wonder, has anyone yet written a country music song about Twitter? The song titles for this chat could be "Cleopatra, Come Back to Me"; "Let's Retweet, Not Retreat"; and "You Stole My Hashtag -- and My Heart.")

Click to read the whole conversation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I have a longer post planned here, but it is taking some time to come together; and every day I do not post about this is another day that you may be missing out on this excellent bargain and novel.

SO. For a limited time only, you can buy a digital version of Elizabeth C. Bunce's wonderful StarCrossed -- an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, praised by Megan Whalen Turner and Tamora Pierce and Bookshelves of Doom, as satisfying and twisty and densely woven as your favorite sweater -- for $2.99. $2.99, people! That is a coffee at Starbucks! A smoothie at Jamba Juice! Three packs of pretzel M&Ms! And the pleasure of this book lasts much longer than any of those (especially anything involving wheatgrass). Plus this digital edition includes an extensive excerpt of the sequel, Liar's Moon, which came out just this month in both hardcover and digital versions. You can buy StarCrossed for:
  • the Kindle
  • the Nook
  • Google Reader -- To buy the Google edition from an independent bookstore, go to your favorite independent-bookstore-participating-in-the-Google-eBooks-program's website; click on the Google Books link; and complete the purchase through them. I suggest The Flying Pig in Vermont or Rainy Day Books in Kansas City.

As the book trailer shows, this features a girl thief who's pretending to be a noblewoman, trapped in a snowbound castle, with secrets and conspiracies and entanglements galore. As such, it is the perfect book to snuggle up with under blankets this winter, or to get lost in during long travels to visit friends-and-relations. And I daresay it would be even more delicious with a pack of pretzel M&Ms, because everything is; but I can't help you with that. Enjoy!

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Quote File: Character/s

Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life – is the source from which self-respect springs. – Joan Didion

It is fortunate to be of high birth, but it is no less so to be of such character that people do not care to know whether you are or are not. – Jean de la Bruyere

Every man possesses three characters: that which he exhibits, that which he really has, and that which he believes he has. – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out. – Thomas Babington Macaulay

One can acquire everything in solitude except character. – Stendhal

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Kahlil Gibran

We are all of us more or less echoes, repeating involuntarily the virtues, the defects, the movements, and the characters of those among whom we live. – Joseph Joubert

Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle. – Mahatma Gandhi

Another flaw in the human character is that everyone wants to build, but no one wants to do maintenance. – Kurt Vonnegut

A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. – Mahatma Gandhi

In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker. – Plutarch

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him. – Mel Brooks

The best morals kids get from any book is just the capacity to empathize with other people, to care about the characters and their feelings. So you don't have to write a preachy book to do that. You just have to make it a fun book with characters they care about, and they will become better people as a result. – Louis Sachar

Our schools are filled with kids who have been treated badly all their lives. They don't tell anyone, because there is shame in being treated badly. Many – girls and boys – have been sexually mistreated. Still others struggle in fear with sexual identity. They respond with eating disorders, cutting, suicidal thought or action. I can't tell you how many letters I've received from kids who found a friend in one of my books, a character who speaks to them. And if I get those letters, think of the letters Walter Dean Myers, or Lois Lowry, or Judy Blume get, thanking us for letting them know, through literature, that they are not alone. In light of all that, there's really only one thing to say to the censors. Shut up. – Chris Crutcher

Stories give us access to otherwise hidden, censored, unsayable thoughts and feelings now shiftily disclosed in the guise of plot and character... The hungers of our spirits are fed by sharing in the glimpsed interiority of others. – Ron Hansen

The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love? – Carson McCullers

Literature doesn't have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer.... The characters of Turgenev are ghetto dwellers. Dickens's characters are Nigerians.... Literature may come from a specific place, but it always lives in its own unique kingdom. – Ben Okri

To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battle and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. – Michel de Montaigne