Reading

Friday Writing Inspiration: Stephen King

IMG_8239.PNG It's Friday, and I'm hard at work on kicking off new ideas and getting ready to promote the hell out of old ones :D

It's a good problem to have: Over the next 2-3 years, I'll have 4 books coming out. It's an absolute dream, and I am so thankful every day to get to do this writing thing.

But dream or no dream, when you're working on this many projects, it means as soon as you let something go you're off to concepting and drafting once again. The good news is, I can't exactly get lazy--I have deadlines to account for, after all (even if I do tend to always get them pushed just a little bit). But the bad news is, with all the writing going on, I've been a bit remiss in holding up Stephen King's second (and just as important) piece of advice: reading.

I've long believed that reading--and reading voraciously--is the best thing a writer can do to educate themselves. Better than an MFA, better than craft workshops, better than obsessively reading advice on the internet from their author heros. I'm not saying that all of these don't have an important place in improving one's writing, but no amount of instruction is going to even come close to the sheer amount of learning a writer does by simply soaking up other writers' words.

It's why I am not a snob about reading. I read in most genres, literally and super-commercial, high-brow and low-brow (though I hate those designations).

But over the past few months, as the deadlines have loomed and the emails from editors have repeatedly showed up in my inbox reminding me of another deadline once one has passed, I haven't taken the time to make much of a dent in my TBR pile.

So here's to reading! Over the last week, I've gone back to my first love and have tried to choose reading over TV/Internet/insert-timesuck-here. Because I love TV, and I like the Internet, at least, but nothing is so amazing as a damn good book.

So here's to writing--and reading--and taking King's advice to heart!

Happy Friday, y'all.

Children's Christmas Books That Meant a Lot to Me as a Kid

41r8ux9-hnL I had a pretty blessed childhood in the reading department. My parents both read to me just about every night, and we practically lived at the library. It probably has a lot to do with why I became a writer. There's something about books that just always feels safe and comforting and like going home. Of course, nothing felt so magical and wonderful as a book at Christmas-time. There are always the classics like The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but here are a few slightly less ubiquitous ones that I still look forward to reading each year.

As I was putting up my tiny little apartment tree for Christmas this year, I got to thinking about my favorite Christmas book of all time, Bialosky's Christmas (above). It's a sweet story about a bear who spends all day getting his house ready for his Christmas celebration (he runs into a few hitches along the way). Only problem is, he keeps thinking he forgot something, and (spoiler alert!), it's that he never sent out invites to his friends. Of course, his friends show up anyway, and they have a grand old Christmas time. Man, I loved this book as a kid and still do. My mom, sister and I may have had a drawn-out text convo about it yesterday.

P.S. Here is my tree on the left and Bialosky's on the right. See the resemblance?

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Anyway, in the course of the conversation, my sister and I started talking about the other best Christmas book of all time, The Sweet Smell of Christmas. It would be just a fun illustrated book, except it has SCRATCH AND SNIFF STICKERS ALL THROUGH IT.

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Can you get any better than that? My sister and I loved scratching the book to smell oranges and pine and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, our copy's stickers stopped having any scent left quite some time ago ...

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And finally, a Christmas children's book post would not be complete without Jan Brett. Most eighties and nineties kids are aware of the magic of Jan Brett's stunning illustrations and awesome stories. The Wild Christmas Reindeer is great, but my favorite is The Mitten, a story about a lost mitten that soon provides a warm home for just about every animal out there.

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The best part of Jan Brett's books were the side illustrations that hinted at what was to come on the next page (see below). Hello, learning about foreshadowing at a young age!

There were tons of others, but those are the three that stick out in my memory, that I return to year after year. What were your favorite Christmas or holiday books as a kid?

 

Friday Writing Inspiration: Anthony Trollope Writing Quote

Anthony Trollope Writing Quote

One of my favorite authors, and now, one of my favorite quotes. I'm not sure why Anthony Trollope never gets taught in school. He's a British serial novelist who is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. His stories are so captivating and enjoyable, yet still very well-written, like a high-class old-time soap opera. But of course, Dickens get all the praise and attention when it comes to serial novelists. I actually only found out about Trollope through a bookseller in Williamsburg's recommendation. I owe to him a better lit education than I ever received from a college professor.

Anyway, anyone who's read Trollope (and please, read Trollope! Start with He Knew He Was Right. Plus, than you can watch the BBC miniseries.) knows that his writing appears effortless. His books are thousands of pages, and I've yet to come across so much as a turn of phrase that's awkward.  It's refreshing to know that what appear so easy for him, was actually quite labored.

So here's to lots of work--and lots of beautiful writing!

Happy Friday!

Leah

Book Reading: David Levithan, Andrea Cremer, Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

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Last week, I headed to my first YA reading in SF to see a host of YA superstars, including David Levithan and Andrea Cremer, reading from their new book, Invisibility, and Margaret Stohl, reading from Icons. Margaret's co-writer, Kami Garcia, was also in attendance to speak to the process behind Beautiful Creatures.

The event was put on by Not Your Mother's Book Club through Books Inc. and was awesome--eclipsed only by the fact that I had the pleasure of meeting the very talented (and fellow Bay Area writer) Malinda Lo (Ash, Adaptation) for coffee beforehand, along with some of the other authors. Let's just say that sitting at coffee with Malinda, David and Andrea and telling them about The After Girls and them nodding and asking questions and saying congratulations on publishing my first book was a little surreal. And one of those pleasant little reminders that yes, I've published a book and in a weird way I'm one of those author people now.

But back to the reading. It was delightful. David and Andrea gave me chills as they   read as two characters from Invisibility, a story about a boy who's invisible, and a girl who is the only person in the world who can see him. What a great concept for a romance! Margaret also read from Icons, a dystopian story where every character has a different uncontrollable emotion that turns out to be their strength. In a way, it sounded a bit like The Giver.

All of the authors were hilarious, and please go see any of them if they read in a city near you. You will laugh at David referring to himself as a bit of a book slut (he does write with a lot of different people), and you will be absolutely enchanted by Andrea's bubbly personality and passionate defense of all her favorite magical creatures. And seeing Kami and Margaret riff off each other is just awesome. But what I found most interesting was when their description of their writing processes--especially when writing with a partner.

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David and Andrea took turns writing chapters and sending them to each other, with little editing along the way and discussion of where it was going, apart from when they had to work out some of the magic rules of the main character's invisibility.

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On the opposite end, Margaret and Kami planned out their whole world in advance and had epic battles over who could keep in what lines as they were writing. So it seems like writing with a partner is just like writing on your own--everyone does it differently.

All in all a delightful night and a wonderful welcome into the YA community here in SF!

Little Free Library Love

Little Free LIbrary A little something to make a book-lover's Monday. I just found out about Little Free Library, an organization that aims to build tiny libraries all around the country--and the world. Not only are the little libraries adorable (they look like oversized birdhouses), but they act as a community book exchange, providing free books to anyone who wants them. Yay literacy!

Here's a link to their site and their photo stream on Flickr of the different libraries that have been built. Unfortunately, I no longer live in NYC, or else I would check out all of the awesome ones going up this week. Thanks to the wonderful Thomas for the tip.

Happy Monday!

Is technology making us bad readers?

girl-reading-iphoneI have always been an avid reader. It’s a big part of why I am a writer. As Toni Morrison says, “If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” That said, in the month or so leading up to The After Girls book release—as well as the couple of weeks since—I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. It’s not that I’m not reading. I’m blowing through Game of Thrones on audio books during my commute (hence my love for Arya Stark), and I’ve got Helter Skelter, the true story behind the Manson murders, on my Kindle, but I just haven’t been able to devour books like I used to. Case in point: my Goodreads book-tracker is constantly reminding me how far behind I am on my goal of reading 40 books this year, and Amazon sent me an email this weekend asking me to rate Helter Skelter (I’m not even halfway done! Usually, by the time I receive the rating email I’ve moved onto lots more books).

I think the most egregious thing is that Feed and How I Live Now are overdue to the library, and I’ve already renewed them once—and I haven’t finished either.

I could just be in a reading slump, but I can’t help but thinking that The All-Consuming Internet is to blame.

Here are the social networks I have a presence on as an author:

Facebook Twitter Goodreads Tumblr Wordpress Amazon Author Program Figment Pinterest

Here are the ones I have an active presence on as a human (I use these to share things other than writing):

Facebook Twitter Instagram Pinterest

As you can see, my social footprint essentially doubles when it comes to writing. And it’s great. I love blogging, connecting with readers and other writers, and finding inspiration from the millions people out there who love books as much as I do. But keeping up with so many networks takes time. Time that not so long ago I would have spent, say, reading an actual book.

The truth is, sometimes after a long day, it feels easier to just jump on all these networks and check out what’s new than to pick up a book. A book takes you away from the outside world. It requires your attention. And it doesn’t allow for multi-tasking. That’s what’s so wonderful about it—and what sometimes makes us averse to it. It requires commitment.

There are so many ways that technology has encouraged reading and literacy (hello, Goodreads!), but I’m going to make a point to set aside more time for actual reading and writing and less time for writing/tweeting/checking reviews/posting about reading and writing. We’ll see how it goes.

Oh and yes, I completely realize and appreciate the irony of talking about this through a blog post.

Happy reading, everyone!

Awesome Girl in Fiction: Arya Stark

I've posted before on feminism role models in YA literature, and while the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) isn't exactly YA, given the age of Arya at the beginning of the series (9), I think she's worth a look.

Early on in the series, Arya is show to detest sewing, prettying herself and all those other girl things, and instead chooses to try her hand at sword lessons, which a series of circumstances cause her to master a bit sooner than she'd expected. She's a big like Hermione Granger, in that she's not afraid to be herself and never turns from adventure, but she's more rambunctious, more outspoken, and even less likely to be swayed by what society expects of her. In short, she's awesome.

Some might say that Arya simply adopts the traits of a boy, and thus her power comes from acting the part (she even pretends to be a boy later on in the story). But given the strength of Martin's other female characters (more on that later), I don't think he's at all saying that you have to act like a boy to have power. Instead, you have to be who you are--not what your teachers or your sister or even your parents want you to be. It's what I think most of us try to infuse in the characters in our books, regardless of whether or not they actually have swords.

Cunning, brave, adventurous, and even vindictive at times, Arya Stark deserves a place among the kick-ass girl heros like Hermione and Katniss.

Plus, how adorable is she above?

“A sensitive look at the wake of a friend’s suicide, infused with genuine emotion, hope, and just enough well-placed romance.”~Booklist

“The Writing King of Difficult Subjects has to be John Green. After reading The After Girls, I would definitely put Ms. Konen in his court.”~Ink and Page

“A striking debut and an eerily good book… THE AFTER GIRLS is a vivid portrayal of interrupted lives and enduring friendships. It is as much about the known as the unknown and as much about healing as loss.”~Michael Northrop, author of ROTTEN, TRAPPED and GENTLEMEN

Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?

As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever.

Get a copy of my debut young adult novel, THE AFTER GIRLS, here. 

Feminism and YA

Bella Swan vs. Hermione Granger It's been hard to read the news lately, especially concerning women. The horrific rape and death of the student in India has left all of us wondering what we can do. I just got back from breakfast with a good friend, and we both could only really talk about how bad things are. It's hard to see solutions when you hear about things that are so brutal and heartbreaking.

I think a lot of the people who say that there is no need for modern feminism were silenced by what happened in India. But the truth is, and maybe not to the same extent, but it happens here, too. Jessica Valenti wrote a good piece in the Nation on America's rape culture, and it shows that there are so many reasons why feminism is still necessary, whether across the world in India or right here in the U.S.

All of this got me thinking about the role of feminism in YA lit. These books are being read by young girls (and boys) when they are at their most impressionable. And while we think a lot about how much mature content can be included in this evolving genre (I struggled, myself, with whether to include swearing in my book--I chose to include when I thought it was necessary, as that is how teenagers talk), I think we don't focus enough on how these characters and their entire outlook affect kids at one of their most developmentally crucial stages of life.

An obvious example is Bella Swan in the Twilight series. Much has been written about Bella as a dangerous role model for young girls. I won't add too much here. Except for the idea that we should be encouraging young girls to literally trade their souls, their humanity, and their entire family and community to be with their first love is scary (oh, and I never understood the appeal of stalker-like Edward). Worse, though, is the sheer number of knockoffs that Twilight has inspired. And I'm not talking about just vampire books--there are tons of  stories and series created around young girls who make literally every decision for love.

I've read several dystopians that all had the same plot--Girl is in oppressive world, Girl has Cool Best Friend who hates the oppressive world, Girl clings to the ideals of that oppression, ignoring/falling out with her friend until Boy arrives to explain to her how oppressive it is, then she understands, then they fight evil together and ride off into the sunset (usually leaving Cool Best Friend behind). This plot device bothers me because A) it's pretty predictable and boring, but B) why do these characters need romance to have their awakening? Can't they reach that decision on their own? Or with the help of their kick-ass friend? It feels very 1950s, like they can only vote the way their husband does. What if the girl doesn't have a boy falling all over her (I didn't in high school)--will she just go on thinking her oppressive society is really cool?

Of course, there are the obvious heros. Katniss Everdeen. Hermione Granger. They are smart, self-assured, strong, powerful, magical, interested in boys but not solely motivated by them. They are delightful, and I wish I'd been as cool as them when I was that age (hell, I wish I were as cool as them now). But they are also fantasy characters. Sure, without the bows and the wands they'd still be awesome, but most of us weren't like that in high school. So the question is--how do we create feminist role models in contemporary young adult lit? In realistic young adult? We could make them act and move independently of the dream boys (or the dream girls), but is that realistic? I, for one, thought about my crushes a lot in high school. Plus, love is fun to read about (and write about).

I think the biggest thing we can do is to have them fight their own battles. It doesn't matter if it's for the state of the world or for the state of a friendship. I think that's the biggest difference between Bella and Katniss--Bella joins Edward to fight his battle, Katniss fights her own. On a smaller scale, in realistic YA, it means having them argue with their parents, question their teachers, realize that popularity doesn't always lead to happiness (Cracked up to Be is a great example of this), or that having a great boyfriend doesn't define your whole life (Mia's decision in If I Stay). They can mess up, they can do stupid things, they can cry over love and hurt their friends say things to their mothers that they will most definitely regret later (that's being a teenager). They don't have to be perfect feminist role models, but at the end of the day, we should at least be writing characters who live for themselves and not for someone else. At least that's my thought on the matter. I'd love to hear how other writers feel.

Oh, and on a lighter note, there's this, from Buzzfeed (Bella Swan vs. Hermione Granger). It's also the photo above.

Great Christmas Quotes from Classic Novels

Classic Literature Christmas QuotesMerry Christmas, everyone! I'm not sure if it's because I was such a book-nerd when I was a kid, but something about Christmas just makes me want to curl up with an old book--or watch BBC specials. I like the idea of old mansions, wide corridors, lit candles and fires and no electricity--the works. And moors--there have to be moors! Anyway, in honor of Christmases past, here are some quotes from old, dusty books. Enjoy!

The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens “Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away.”

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Andersen "Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when--the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven."

The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy "Humpbacked Father Christmas then made a complete entry, swinging his huge club, and in a general way clearing the stage for the actors proper, while he informed the company in smart verse that he was come, welcome or welcome not; concluding his speech with

'Make room, make room, my gallant boys, And give us space to rhyme; We've come to show Saint George's play, Upon this Christmas time.'"

The Turn of the Screw "The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens "For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself."

Emma, Jane Austen "This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight."

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen “I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.”

Realistic Young Adult Fiction as a Genre

Last night, I headed with my friend to Greenpoint in Brooklyn for an event at Word bookstore as part of Brooklyn Book Festival. On the agenda: a discussion with authors Gayle Forman (If I Stay), Michael Northrop (Trapped), Matt de la Pena (Ball Don't Lie), and E. Lockhart (Real Live Boyfriends) about writing realistic YA fiction. The event came complete with brownies and brews from Brooklyn Brewery, and helped raised money for First Book-Brooklyn, which provides new books to kids in need through local literacy programs.

It was a fun panel--a good mix of laughter, beer, and insight--and also very inspiring for us up-and-coming writer types working on contemporary YA for shelves dominated by paranormal and dystopian series. It was an especially good exploration of what makes a book contemporary or realistic, and whether "realistic" can even be considered a genre. I think E. Lockhart put it best--the only thing all four of the panelists' books have in common is that they don't have vampires. I tend to agree that "realistic" shouldn't be considered a genre. It's what people have been writing and reading for hundreds of years and it's what they'll continue to read and remember and return to years from now. In a way, shouldn't everything be based in emotional reality? Aren't those the best books? Sure, none of us are actually going to wizarding school, but we all know that feeling of being somewhere new, making friends, trying to create a space for yourself in a world of cheaters and mean kids and evil lords (apart from the lord bit, that just about sums up high school).

What's more, many of the books that are being called realistic aren't even wholly based in reality--for example, Gayle Forman's If I Stay is literally an out-of-body experience, from cover to cover. Gayle does it beautifully, and so the reader doesn't feel like it's fantasy at all--instead it's just this stunnig tale of a girl's life and a chronicle of what really matters, when it gets right down to it--it just happens to be told from the perspective of someone who may very well soon be dead.

I think all the mish-mashing of genre just further proves that the best books are genre-less--they're impossible to define. They're mysteries with heart, and with characters as pensive and deeply developed as in contemporary (In the Woods), or they're dystopian that make you not only see the horror of war and poverty, but remind you why, in the end, it's better to fall for the good guy, the calm and kind-hearted person who balances you out (The Hunger Games, Team Peeta all the way). Or a 19th century novel written with a GRE-prep-book vocabulary and filled with subtle drawing room discussion that manages to be more desperately romantic than almost anything written since (Pride and Prejudice).

Those are the books that, in the end, I think we all want to write, even if we joke about coming up with the next paranormal or dystopian hit and cashing in. They're the books that I want to read not just because they are page-turners, but because I come away understanding something that I didn't quite get before--or understanding it in a new way, at least.

Both Gayle and Matt noted it on the panel: there's an undefined takeaway that you can't push onto a book (or else it's propaganda--or just bad), but it's something that, in the best books, comes naturally, leaving you thinking about them long after you've turned the last page. Gayle said that if she'd set out to write a book that convinces you to love and appreciate your family, it would have been horrible, and yet most readers come out of If I Stay feeling that way. Without being overt or obvious, or trying to make you feel that way, she's created a story that just does--it's something I think we all strive for every time we sit down to write--otherwise, what's the point?

(It's also worth nothing that at the meet-and-greet after the panel, I nervously introduced myself to Gayle and explained to her how I finished If I Stay on the subway and immediately started crying. Her response: "It should have a warning sticker!")