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My Year in Books: What I Read in 2016

My Year in Books:  What I Read in 2016

Last year I decided to list all the books I’d read in 2015, broken down by category. I don’t know if this was interesting for anyone except me, but I did point out which books I recommended and which I definitely did not.

I decided to do the same thing this year. This year, you’ll notice, I read A LOT of Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. I’m trying to become a YA/MG author, so this is called doing my homework. You’ll notice that within the self-appointed homework assignment, I stopped for a while in the Judy Blume cannon. I realized I’d never read the classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, so I read that and then went back and reread a couple other Judy Blume books.

You’ll also notice there isn’t much in this list that I highly recommend. I don’t know if I’m becoming pickier or if books are becoming crappier, but these days I rarely come away from a book with rave reviews. (See my post about that.) At Thanksgiving I was so dejected by my inability to find amazing books that I reread two of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels just to comfort myself.

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I’m not sure what to do to remedy this problem. I started using #AskALibrarian on Twitter, but I’ve been disappointed by several of the books they’ve recommended to me. I recently read The Year of the Gadfly and Searching for the Rose Notes, both suggested to me by librarians on Twitter.  Although they both started out promising, the plots and character motivations became more and more muddled and ridiculous as I continued, and by the end of both books I found myself saying “Really? I read all the way to the end for this?”

I really want to find some amazing books to read in 2017, especially since I’ll be on maternity leave, and I’ve heard that breastfeeding is a great time to settle in with a novel. I guess I’ll keep asking friends and librarians and the Internet for suggestions, and I’ll  remember that if I’m really not enjoying a book, I don’t have to read to the end. There are plenty of other books to choose from, and I know there must be books out there for me to fall in love with.

What do you guys recommend?  What have you read this year that you loved?

Here is my list of books. (The * means I didn’t finish the book.)  Happy reading in the new year, everyone!

 

YA/MG: 35

The Voyage to the Magical North by Claire Fayers

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

George by Alex Gino

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro*

Trash by Andy Mulligan

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (I wrote a blog post about this one)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Hired Girl Laura Amy Schlitz

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher*

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead – RECOMMEND A really well-done contemporary Middle Grade novel.  I wrote a post about it here.

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Ash by Malinda Lo – (Cinderella as a lesbian of sorts.  Beautiful writing; terrible plot.)

Fairest by Gail Carson Lavine

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (I wrote a blog post about this one)

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas (I wrote a blog post about this one)

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — HIGHLY RECOMMEND – A quiet YA romance between two misfit kids. Rowell creates so much tension and emotion within simple school and home scenes. I loved the characters, the dialogue, the interior monologues, everything. Beautifully-written and a great example of a story told from two points of view.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy — RECOMMEND – A YA comedy-romance about a fat Texas girl who decides to enter a beauty pageant. If you want a tutorial on how to plot a contemporary fiction novel, this is it. Murphy puts all the emotional highs and lows in just the right places and takes the reader on a charming roller coaster ride. She’s also created a fantastic character in Willowdean.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

A Path Begins (The Thickety #1) by J.A. White

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Blubber by Judy Blume (reread) — HIGHLY RECOMMEND Loved this book when I was a kid, and, to me, it is still the perfect contemporary middle grade novel. There are a lot of books for this age group about bullying, but in so many of them the bullying is predictable or generic or stereotypical.  In Blubber the characters, situations, and the bullying itself are all highly specific, and that’s what makes this book so real.

Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume (reread)

The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (reread) — HIGHLY RECOMMEND Loved this book as a kid and still love it now. Raskin breaks all the rules (adult characters in a middle grade book, “head-hopping” in the narration, etc.), but she won the Newberry Medal for The Westing Game in 1978, which just goes to show that you can do anything you want in a book, as long as you do it well.

A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan

I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

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This is what the cover of Blubber looked like when I read it in the late 80’s.

 

ADULT FICTION: 17

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

Each Vagabond by Name by Margo Orlando Littell

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee — If you’re in the mood for something super light this is for you; it’s like Gossip Girl in book form.  And it’s set in futuristic Manhattan.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Girls by Emma Cline

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman (reread) —  HIGHLY RECOMMEND — Extremely imaginative and well-written fantasy.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — RECOMMEND — Beautiful and haunting and strange.  A sophisticated fairy tale of sorts that’s like Coraline for grown-ups.

Elligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Predjudice by Curtis Sittenfeld — HIGHLY RECOMMEND — I LOVED this book, and I’m not even a Jane Austen fan. I thought it was such a clever farce. Sittenfeld takes the P & P characters and story but modernizes and enhances them in such creative ways. Loads of fun.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia *

Cemetery Girl by David J. Bell

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Bees by Laline Paull*  — Very cool premise, and I loved it at first, but then I got bored about halfway through.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters — I mostly enjoyed it, but I’ve enjoyed other Sarah Waters books a lot more.

The Melting Season by Ira Sukrungruang

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Losing It by Emma Rathbone — I’m only to page 65, but I assume I’ll finish before the end of 2016.  So far I’m enjoying it a lot, so we’ll see.  It could be a RECOMMEND!

 

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I highly recommend this book.

 

NONFICTION: 8

Hidden Figures The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age by Katherine Ozment

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams by Deepak Chopra — RECOMMEND — This is a short little book with a lot of good, simple advice for how to live a happy and satisfying life – whether or not success, in your mind, includes money and accolades.

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears, Martha Sears, Robert W. Sears, James Sears

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis — I absolutely hated Aspen as a character and found her insufferable, and yet I couldn’t stop reading. I don’t know whether that’s a recommend for this book or not.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot -– HIGHLY RECOMMEND I’m sure you’ve heard of this book already, but the hype is real. It’s an interesting example of narrative nonfiction and an author who really inserts herself into the story.

Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert —  Normally I love Liz Gilbert. I loved her novel The Signature of All Things and I loved her first nonfiction book The Last American Man. I also loved Eat Pray Love. But I did not love this book. It was okay — not terrible — but mostly forgettable.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman — HIGHLY RECOMMEND — Written in a chatty, anecdotal style, I actually read this book before I got pregnant – just for fun. It’s very interesting and shines a light on how culture influences parenting styles.

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I highly recommend this book, whether or not you’re an expectant parent.

Babymoon, #AskALibrarian, & the Best Libraries

Babymoon, #AskALibrarian, & the Best Libraries

Last week, my husband and I went on a “babymoon” to Los Angeles. We’d been talking about taking a trip to L.A. for a long time and finally decided we’d better do it now. (It’s much easier to travel when the baby is still in utero.)

And why Los Angeles, you ask? Well, Paul spent some time there a few years ago and loved it – the sunshine, the ethnic food, the comedy club scene, the terra cotta roofs. Meanwhile, I lived in L.A. when I was nineteen and twenty (trying to be an actress and all), and I left with the opposite feeling. Back then I was young and poor and spent most of my time either working thankless extra jobs or driving on the clogged freeways to get to the thankless extra jobs. When I lived in L.A., I never ate out or went to clubs or did anything touristy. So this trip was a way for Paul to show me why he loves the smoggy, sprawling metropolis, and for me to come away with a positive L.A. experience.

And I’d say it was successful. On Friday we went to Disneyland, which was cute and fun. On Saturday we walked around in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. On Sunday we went to Griffith Observatory, hiked to see the Hollywood sign, and visited the La Brea tar pits. We also ate some delicious food. (I had my first ever Iranian rose water ice cream, and man it was amazing!) I still think L.A. is smoggy and traffic-clogged, but it’s got some good things going for it, too.

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Here I am in Beverly Hills!

One thing I wondered was if we should visit my old stomping grounds. Fifteen years ago I lived in a less-than-great neighborhood in North Long Beach, and my memory of it is filled with 99-cent stores, liquor marts, nightly police helicopters, and sketchy dudes wearing bandanas in the park.

“You know,” I told Paul, “I don’t feel the need to go there.”

We were staying in Westwood, near Beverly Hills. We had a rental car, but it would take forever to drive to Long Beach in the L.A. traffic. And once there, then what? It would have been interesting for me to see my old neighborhood, but there wasn’t really anything else to do or see there. (There’s the Carl’s Junior! And there’s the park where the gang member said hi to me!)

“Wasn’t there anything you liked about your neighborhood?” Paul asked me.

“Well… I liked the library,” I said. “And actually, the residential area around the library was really cute. These little bungalows with terra cotta roofs.”

I had forgotten until that moment about how I used to walk two miles to the library at least once a week. No matter where I am, the library is always a comfort to me.

And that’s actually what I want to write about today. Not Los Angeles or gangs in the park. I want to discuss libraries and librarians.

 

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No matter where I live or how long I stay, I always get a library card. If you look at my keychain right now, you’ll see cards from Cape Cod, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Maryland. (I’ve long since lost my Long Beach library card.)

I know that as a writer I should support the industry by buying books, but I’m a cheapskate who reads a lot – the library is an invaluable resource. I check out anywhere from two to ten books a week (both regular and e-books), plus DVDs from time to time. I often tutor at the library, and I’ve used the quiet rooms in various libraries as places to write. I’ve taken advantage of free library wifi, bought books at library book sales, and gone to free movie screenings at the library.

But one thing I rarely take advantage of are the librarians. In these days of electronic check-out, you don’t even have to interact with them at all. Which is too bad, because librarians know a lot about books, and they can be great resources for people like me who read and write.

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Librarian Eva

 

The other day I happened to notice that it was #AskALibrarian day on Twitter. You could tweet about the types of books you were looking for, and librarians would answer. I had a field day!

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For every tweet I sent, I got a couple of tweeted recommendations back. You have no idea how helpful this is. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the decision of what book to read next, but thanks to the librarians, my to-read list is now packed!

And then it occurred to me, I don’t need it to be #AskALibrarian day on Twitter to get this kind of help… I can just go to the actual library and ask a librarian in person!

My friend Meagan (of Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf) recently went to the Georgetown library in DC, which has an excellent children’s section. She was looking for possible comps for the middle grade book she’s writing, so she asked the librarian: “I’m looking for recent middle grade science fiction – like Ender’s Game but published in the last ten years.” The librarian gave her a hefty list of suggestions.

“That’s brilliant!” I told her. Why had I never thought of this before? In addition to always needing reading suggestions, I also want to find comps for the book I’m writing.  In all my years of taking advantage of the free things the library has to offer, I’ve ignored one of the most valuable resources: the people that work there and spend their days surrounded by books.

So I intend to start talking to librarians more often and seeking out their advice.  After all, I need to stock up on books for when the baby comes.  Meagan tells me that the constant breast-feeding I’ll soon be doing is a great opportunity to get some reading done!

 

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Bad picture of the Hollywood sign, but good picture of my baby bump!

 

 

SOME OF MY FAVORITE LIBRARIES:

Seattle Central Library: This 11-story library made of glass and steel is an example of SUPER cool, modern, eco-friendly architecture. (The building was completed in 2004.) If you’re in downtown Seattle it’s worth touring because this is such a funky, unique, “digital-age” library.

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The Seattle Central Library

 

Latter Branch Library in Uptown New Orleans: This library is housed in a gorgeous, neo-Italianate mansion (built in 1907) on famous, tree-lined Saint Charles Avenue. It’s a small library, but I used to love sitting at an antique desk in one of the reading rooms and imagining that I was a rich, turn-of-the-century New Orleanian. Oh, and the book sales take place weekly in the carriage house out back.

 

Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende: This library in Mexico offers books in both Spanish and English and was one of the first places in San Miguel to offer free wifi (although I never could get it to work for me). I like this library for its open-air courtyard, adorable café, and small theater that often shows free international films.

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Courtyard of the San Miguel Library.  Picture courtesy of TripAdviser.

 

The Library of Congress in Washington, DC: Part museum and part research library, this building is BEAUTIFUL inside and out, and houses Thomas Jefferson’s original book collection. (The Library of Congress is also, apparently, the largest library in the world.) In order to get into the research part of the library you need special credentials, but I like peeking in there and seeing all the dark wood and soft lamps arranged in a circle below the impossibly high ceiling. It looks to me like a library out of Harry Potter. Gorgeous.

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The Reading Room of the Library of Congress.  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress website.

 

Brewster Ladies’ Library in Cape Cod, MA: A beautiful little library housed in the home of an 1800’s sea captain (with some modern additions), this library is noteworthy because it was founded by twelve women in 1853. When it first opened, men were allowed to borrow books, but they had to pay more than the ladies. (That rule is no longer in effect.) I used to enjoy sitting in the parlor by the fireplace, pretending that I was a Massachusetts lady with a whaling ship captain for a husband.

 

The Main Library in Roanoke, VA: This was my first library love: the place where I got my first library card. I remember reading Dr. Suess books here. I remember the day I first strayed from the children’s section into the adult fiction stacks. I remember doing research for high school papers here (using the microfiche machine!) I always thought this was a pleasant building inside, but I used to LOVE climbing on the big rocks outside the library.  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of the big rocks.)

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Freelance Writing: Worth the Time? (And a List of Jobs That Are Not!)

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Freelance Writing:  Worth the Time?  (And a List of Jobs That Are Not!)

Recently I decided to get into the freelance writing world. There are thousands of blogs and websites out there needing to be updated with unique content on a regular basis. There are (apparently) thousands of people out there wanting to self-publish e-books but not wanting to bother actually writing the books themselves. And, of course, there is a seemingly-insatiable need for click-bait listicles. In other words, our online world has created a need for writers, and I figured I could make some extra money by being one of them.

There are lots of places to find freelance writing work – craigslist, Freelance Writing Jobs, ProBlogger Job Board, Erika Dreifus’s very excellent blog – but on the advice of a friend I decided to spend some time on a site called Upwork.

I figured I’d scan the postings every now and then, and if I saw a job that seemed interesting and worth my time, I’d apply for it.

My very first time on Upwork, I found a posting that sounded right up my alley. For $500, all I had to do was come up with 365 original creative writing prompts. I contacted the client, and she hired me. I wrote the prompts, submitted them through Upwork, and got $500 deposited into my bank account. Sweet!

Turns out, it was beginner’s luck.

Because gigs like that – well-paying and fun – don’t come around often on Upwork.

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It takes luck to find good freelance writing jobs.  (Photo by Umberto Salvagnin)

 

Next I got paid $18 to edit a short article. It took me less than an hour, so, okay, not bad. If I had a steady stream of one or two of those a day I’d be onto something, but it was the only Upwork job I found that week. Good thing I’m not relying on freelancing as my only source of income.

Last week I got paid $60 to write an article about DC neighborhoods for a real estate website. It was pretty easy. Soulless, but something I could do in the afternoon, after I’d used up my creative energy working on my novel. It took me 2 hours total. $30 an hour isn’t great, but it’s not bad either, especially considering I didn’t have to spend time driving anywhere.

But. Consider all the time I’ve spent this past month browsing the Upwork postings and applying to jobs (several of which I haven’t gotten). Is it worth it? I don’t know.

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Is it worth it??

 

It’s been interesting. I’ll say that. It’s been interesting (and often disheartening) to read some of the job postings. So many of them are simply not worth my time, while others are downright sketchy. I’m often amazed at the ridiculously low prices clients are offering, but I’ve heard that there are people doing these jobs overseas where U.S. currency is worth more. Of course, that’s why so many of the posts specify “native English speakers.”

Here is a small sampling of some of the ridiculous, hilarious, and sketchy Upwork jobs I’ve seen recently — for which I will NOT be applying.

 

Need Native Speaking Ghost Writer for 7000 word book ($70)

I need an author that does not mind taking on a somewhat  technical topic. This will be a how-to-guide and tips

There is just so much so much wrong with this post. First of all, 7,000 words does not a book make. Second of all, $70 hardly seems like an appropriate amount to pay someone to write a (albeit tiny) book. Third of all, might we want to know the topic on which we will be giving how-to tips?

 

5 Inspirational phrases for boys, ages 7-10 ($5)

I am looking for a good Creative Writer who can craft 5 short phrases that will be added to a poster for a little boy’s room.

Weird, but intriguing. Still, for only $5 it hardly seems worth the time it would take to apply for this job.

 

Ghostwriter For Poetry Project ($25)

Looking for someone who is willing to help ghostwrite who also likes poetry.

I really need to get this done tonight

Tonight, huh? Why? Is it due tomorrow for 11th Grade English class?

 

I need a ghost writer to write fiction books in the genre of erotica ($100)

I am looking for a ghost writer to write a short book in the category of fiction in the erotica genre. I would like to see what work you have previously done in the genre. I would also like you to read some free books on kindle in the genre which are best sellers so you can get a flavour of what I want. Initially this is a first short book of around 6,000 words. However I would like to publish a series.

Let me get this straight. First I need to read a bunch of self-published erotica, then I need to write a 6,000 word “book.” (An adult novel is rarely less than 80,000 words, btw.) And for all that I will get $100? I say nope to that.

 

20 long Article Writing Job – $5 per article

What I’m looking for is a decent article writer who can write well researched/engaging content for my websites.

The articles will need to be around 1800-2200  word long ( so somewhere around 2000 on average each).

You think you’re gonna get well-researched articles for $5 each?!?

 

Online dating message (icebreaker) writer needed

We run a small online dating profile writing service.  We currently have about 300 clients but will be doing some significant expansion for 2016 to the US and beyond.

As a side part of the business, we also write our clients’ initial ice breaker messages for them to send.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before (see here). It’s CREEPY!!

 

Article Rephrasing Expert Wanted ($150)

We are looking for a writer who is good at rephrasing articles. The text is mostly easy to read fluff content for the web.

I don’t know, guys. This seems sketchy, too.

 

letters ($100)

I need someone to prepare 4 recommendation letters based on the information template we will provide. The content should reflect outstanding language to flash the importance of the person and his work.

OMG, seriously?  Note to employers:  beware of glowing letters of recommendation.  They might have been bought.  So sketchy.  Also, “flash the importance”?  Whaaaa?

 

Write 1000+ words of Premium Bedroom Decor Content ($6)

I will give you one topic to write about in the bedroom decor niche.

If I am satisfied with your work, you’ll get additional work.

Six dollars? Bedroom Décor Content? No. Just no.

 

How to Break in and Burglarize any Residence ($50)

I am looking for a ghostwriter to write a humorous, yet true guide on how to break in and burglarize homes. I am asking for around 5,000-6,000 words of *high quality content* in exchange for $50.

Humorous, yet true? What IS this?  I don’t know, but I don’t want to be involved.

 

Are you EXPERTLY familiar with the American T.V. Show House M.D. ($50)

Hi… My ex-wife said I remind her of House M.D. though I have seen the show and in many instances totally understand him (when others dont) I am looking for a freelancer to help me understand who he is and why he is.  Obviously someone with background in Philosophy, Psychology or Literature is the optimal person.  Not just a fan of T.V. but someone who understands archetypes/conditions/philosophies etc…   If this is YOU… I could use your help.  Though I am unsure how much I can devote to this, it really depends on your writing ability, your articulation and creativity.    I would suggest a small job initially (500-1000 words) to make sure we are both on the same page, THEN we can discuss more work relative to this.  I STRONGLY PREFER NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS.

Okay, this is just plain strange.  Moving on…

 

Create a children’s book based around the honey badger from youtube ($80)

Looking for a talented, native english speaker to create a children’s ebook of 20-25 microsoft word pages. This book should be based around honey badger from you tube and integrate grumpy cat from youtube in a fun and creative way!

OMG, this is hilarious. I’m not going to write it, but I do hope this book gets made!

 

In short, I will continue trying my hand at some freelance writing, but I am going to be very selective about which jobs I take.

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And beware of sketchy writing jobs!  (Illustration by Edward Gorey.)

YA & Middle Grade Literature: TRIVIA!

YA & Middle Grade Literature: TRIVIA!

I want to let you guys know that I am teaching a workshop class this summer for people who are working on YA or Middle Grade novels. We will do a combo of mini-lessons, discussions, writing exercises, and plenty of critiques of each other’s work. I taught the class this winter, and it went really well, and I’m excited to teach it again. Classes will be held on Tuesdays at 2pm at The Writers Center in Bethesda. If you know anyone in the DC area who might be interested, please spread the word!

And so, in honor of my YA/Middle Grade class, I’ve decided to do another round of Literary Trivia — see below. For some reason, I love trivia, even though I’m terrible at it. I went somewhat recently to DC Improv’s trivia night and was ecstatic just because my team didn’t come in last.

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Our door decoration is ready for the spring/summer season!

 

“Why do you like trivia so much?” my husband asked me when we got home. “You’re so bad at it.”

“I think it’s the anticipation of the next question,” I said.  I’m always hoping the next question will be something that is totally in my wheelhouse, like Beck songs, or children’s literature from the early nineties. Then, I will be the only one in the room who knows the answer, and I’ll feel super awesome.

Of course, then the next question comes, and it’s something about golf, and I’m like, “uh… Tiger Woods?” because he’s literally the only golfer I know. This doesn’t deter me, though.  I just get excited about the next question. Thinking that maybe the next one will be the one I magically know.

Every time I go to trivia, I fantasize about hosting my own trivia night, with nothing but questions I know the answers to. And then I remember, hey, I can do that on my blog!  (I’ve done it before.)

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Don’t worry, I won’t ask about the Baby-Sitter’s Club book I wrote in 2nd grade.

 

So, here you are. In honor of my upcoming class at The Writers Center, I present to you:

YA & MIDDLE GRADE LITERAURE TRIVIA

Answer as many of these questions as  you can without the help of google.  Answers are at the bottom of the page.

#1 The title of Lewis Carroll’s book about a girl named Alice falling down a rabbit hole is NOT Alice in Wonderland. What is the actual title?

#2 Before writing The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins was a writer for what American teen sitcom from the early nineties?

#3 This British children’s novel about time travel and girls at boarding school inspired Robert Smith of The Cure to write a song with the same name. What is the title of this novel (and the name of the song)?

#4 In the YA book Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, what day is protagonist Samantha made to live over and over again?

#5 In the book Blubber by Judy Blume, the class bully (Wendy) forces the class victim (Linda) to eat a piece of candy. What does Wendy tell Linda the candy actually is?

#6 Who is the narrator in the middle grade fairy-tale inspired book Far Far Away by Tom McNeal?

#7 What color is protagonist Karou’s hair in the book The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor?

#8  In Francesca Lia Block’s book Weetzie Bat, what is “duck hunting”?

#9 Name at least one of the jobs held by Louis in E.B. White’s book The Trumpet of the Swan. (P.S. Louis is the swan.)

#10 In the John Green novel An Abundance of Katherines, what is the significance of the name “Katherine?”

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The cover of The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

 

 

 

ANSWERS:  

#1 Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland

#2 Clarissa Explains It All

#3 Charlotte Sometimes

#4 Cupid Day (February 12)

#5 a chocolate-covered ant

#6 The ghost of Jacob Grimm

#7 blue

#8  looking for guys to date

#9 camp bugler at Camp Kookooskoos, works for the Swan Boat in Boston, and a jazz trumpeter in a nightclub,

#10 The main character, Colin, has dated nineteen girls named Katherine, all spelled that way.

 

 

 

My Year in Books: What I Read in 2015

My Year in Books:  What I Read in 2015

Recently I was visited by the book fairy. At first, I didn’t realize it was the book fairy. I thought I had gotten drunk and ordered books online then forgotten about them. But no, a quick look at my account proved I hadn’t ordered Writing Great Books for Young Adults or Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through. These books just magically appeared on my doorstep the other day.  It must have been the book fairy, working her magic through Amazon.com. Or, perhaps it was a sign that 2016 is going to be a good year for reading.

2015 has certainly been a good year for reading. I finally started using Goodreads for real, which has been super helpful for remembering what I’ve read and what I want to read.  It’s also a good place to gush or vent about books, sort of like having an Internet book club.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read fifty-two books this year — an average of one per week. What have I been reading?  Well, since I write books for young people, I try to read plenty of YA and middle-grade to get a sense of what’s out there. (Plus they’re just fun to read).  And reading thrillers is a great way to study plotting and how to write with suspense. (Plus they’re just fun to read.) This year I also read some (but maybe not enough?) literary fiction, and I rounded things out with a hefty does of nonfiction.

My books from the book fairy, under the tree.

My books from the book fairy, under the tree.

So here is my year in books, with special notes next to those I particularly did (and did not) enjoy. Oh, and as it turns out, Our Family Outing was actually ordered for me by a friend, not left by the book fairy after all. But Writing Great Books for Young Adults is still a mystery. Was it a gift or was it magic? Is it a sign? Will it be a good read? Only time will tell…

 

It Was a Very Good Year for Reading, or, The Books I Read in 2015

     LITERARY FICTION:  11.5

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katharine McMahon

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (didn’t finish so this counts as a half)

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Find Me by Laura van den Berg DO NOT RECOMMEND How can a book with such a cool premise be so boring? I don’t know, but van den Berg manages to turn an apocalypse into a snooze fest.  So disappointing.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July HIGHLY RECOMMEND So weirdly sexual, so strangely heartfelt. July takes her usual type of protagonist — a lonely, neurotic, middle-aged woman — and gives her a disgusting and aggressive young roommate. This book is not for everyone, but it was definitely for me.

A House Made of Stars by Tawnysha Greene

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert HIGHLY RECOMMEND How can a historical fiction novel about an old maid who studies moss be a page-turner? I don’t know, but Elizabeth Gilbert manages to make it so. Completely compelling and beautifully written.

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man, has a message for you for 2016. photo credit.

Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man, has a message for you for 2016. photo credit.

     THRILLERS: 10

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh RECOMMEND Creepy and suspenseful murder mystery set in an ominous small town in the Ozarks.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (Note:  The first half especially is suspenseful as heck, but it is not for the faint at heart – it gets pretty darn gruesome.  Trigger warnings out the wazoo.)

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon RECOMMEND I read a lot of Jennifer McMahon books this year, as you can tell.  Even when they are sort of silly, I enjoy her stuff immensely because she mixes murder mystery suspense with supernatural spookiness in a way that is evocative and hard-to-sleep creepy. This one was probably the most suspenseful and had the least ridiculous ending. In a small town a girl is murdered… perhaps by the ghost of a girl who was murdered there thirty years before?

Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware DO NOT RECOMMEND Wanted to like this one, but the characters were dumb and the plot was even dumber. The big reveal at the end caused me to groan and hurl the book across the room. About a “hen party” (what the British call bachelorette parties) that turns deadly.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith Wanted to enjoy this hardboiled mystery by J.K. Rawling, and I sort of got into it for a while, but then it didn’t quite hold my attention, and I ended up skimming the second half just to find out what happened.

 

 

     YA/MG: 14.5

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (didn’t finish so this counts as a half)

Flora and Ulysses by Kate Dicamillo

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jen Han

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

Never Have I Ever by Sara Shepard

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor RECOMMEND Beautifully written fantasy with a kick-ass, blue-haired protagonist and a wild otherworld of dangerous angels.  I don’t usually get into YA fantasy like this, but I was totally into this one.  I tried to read the sequel, though, and I couldn’t get into it.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillio

The Chosen One by Carol Williams RECOMMEND Thirteen-year-old Kyra lives in a polygamist society and has to escape before she is forced to marry her sixty-year-old uncle who already has six wives.  Whoa is right.  Go get this book now.

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     NONFICTION: 16 (5 of which were books about writing)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert HIGHLY RECOMMEND I hate Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, but boy can she write a book.  This one looks at the life of a fascinating and complicated man, Eustace Conway, who dresses in the skins of the animals he’s killed and eaten (and tries to convince everyone else to do the same.)  The really fascinating part, though, is the psychology behind Estace’s failed relationships with girlfriends and his own father.

The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace:  A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs HIGHLY RECOMMEND Oh so heartbreaking! So very, very heartbreaking!  Will give you much to think about as far as the stew of poverty, race, and class in America.  Written by his roommate at Yale, this is the true story of brilliant and charismatic Robert who grew up poor and black, managed to work his way to Yale, but then returned to his old neighborhood where he dealt drugs and was murdered in 2011 at the age of 30.   This is the only book in years that has moved me to tears.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (only read half the essays so it counts as a half)

Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s by Brad Gooch

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (didn’t finish so counts as a half)

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (This book is forgettable, yet pretty hilarious and enjoyable while you’re reading it.)

Queen of Fall by Sonja Livingston

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Missoula:  Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (This book is long and full of trigger-warnings, but an important book, I think.)

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin HIGHLY RECOMMEND I would recommend this book for anyone:  man or woman, whether you’ve given birth or plan to or not.  Through individual stories as well as research and decades of midwifery experience, Gaskin shows that once birthing was taken out of the home, out of the control of woman, and put under the control of hospitals and doctors (and men), things changed, and not for the better.  This book gave me new understanding and appreciation of the mind-body connection and what women’s bodies are capable of doing, and it pretty much convinced me that if/when I have a baby, I want to do it at home.

Lust & Wonder: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

     Books on the Craft of Writing:

Save the Cat:  The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Writing Irresistible Kid Lit:  The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction For Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole HIGHLY RECOMMEND I’ve said this before, but this book is SO GOOD and I’d recommend it even if you’re writing for adults.  Lots of good stuff in here that I hadn’t read in other writing books.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin

Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind

You Can’t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction — From Memoir to Literary Fiction and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind

Jump into a good book this year! (Photo by my brother, Deven Langston)

Jump into a good book this year! (Photo by my brother, Deven Langston)

Labor Day & Writing Blogs I Enjoy

Labor Day & Writing Blogs I Enjoy

In the spirit of Labor Day, I am taking today off from blogging.  I’ll be back on Thursday.

In the meantime, you may want to check out some of these writer-type blogs I often enjoy:

Practicing Writing.  Erika Dreifus lists writing and publishing opportunities that pay and contests with no fee.  Great for a Scrooge like me!  And she always has a grab-bag of other writing related news and resources.

Nina Badzin blogs about writing and blogging and social media.  Some great articles and tips.

The Writer’s Almanac publishes a poem per day plus lots of little interesting tidbits about famous writers and people from history.

Jane Friedman has helpful articles and tips for writers who want to get published.

The Incompetent Writer.  Daniel Wallace blogs about fiction in a way that’s both academic and fun.

Burlesque Press’s Variety Show has a hodge-podge of poems, stories, reviews, and literary whatnot.

Sara Zarr.  I actually listen to her podcast, This Creative Life, in which she interviews (mostly YA) writers.  But I would imagine her blog is good, too.

Have a great day!  Relax and enjoy!

Me and my aunt in the pool...  where all good people should be on Labor Day.

Me and my aunt in the pool… where all good people should be on Labor Day.

May Memories: How to Get Published in Literary Magazines

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May Memories:  How to Get Published in Literary Magazines

May Memories…

Today we are flashing back to a post I wrote a year ago:  How to Get Published in Literary Magazines.  Just as helpful now as it was in 2014.

Although many journals are closed for submissions during the summer months, summer can be a great time to do some research, read some lit mags, and make yourself an organizational submission spreadsheet.  So get to it!

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If you’re lucky, your work might get excepted AND you might get paid for it! (But don’t hold your breath on that one…)