2013 Reading Stats and Faves

I always want to read more books than I can squeeze in a year, and 2013 was no exception.

First off, my final tally for the year: 58 books total. Last year, I read 59. However, this year, I finally started to not finish books I wasn’t loving. On top of the 58 books, I started another 30-40 books. I usually give a book a good 50 pages before bailing, but I found I was sometimes getting as far as 100 pages before deciding it’s not for me. I also skimmed a bunch more books for research purposes, but I didn’t include those in my count either.

So how did the 58 books break down? Probably not surprisingly, the vast majority were YA. The deets:

  • YA: 39
  • Adult: 10
  • Non-fiction: 4
  • MG: 3
  • New Adult: 1
  • YA in Spanish: 1

I had quite a few favorite books this year, and I’ve been recommending some in my Twofer Tuesday posts throughout the year, like these two great YA page-turners. I also read quite a few great adult books, including THE NIGHT CIRCUS (mind-blowingly amazing!), THE EXPATS (fast-paced and thrilling!), and THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND (tragically beautiful!).

As wonderful as so many books I read last year were, my absolutely favorite book of 2013 was one that spoke to me right from page one–one of those books that seemed like it was written expressly for me: FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal.

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The voice blew me away, the writing was gorgeous, and the characters real. I already can’t wait to read it again. If you’re looking for a modern day fairy tale, I simply can’t recommend this book enough.

Happy reading, and happy 2014!!!

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Twofer Tuesday: ARCS from NCTE!

Though I didn’t attend the recent NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference in Boston, I had a ton of fun at the Great NCTE Kids/YA Lit Tweetup on Friday night at the Trident.

It was great seeing old friends, including most of my Boston Writers’ (aka Crêpe-eaters’) group, as well as chatting with people I knew online but had never met, and those I’d never even knew of before. Besides talking about writing projects with others, one of the most exciting things to discuss were the new ARCs (Advance Reading Copy) out at the conference.  I wound up with two wonderful ARCs and am happy to report that they were both amazing!

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OTHERBOUND is a fantastic YA debut by Corinne Duyvis. I’d already wanted to read it when I first heard the blurb–about a boy transported into the mind of a girl living in a different world–but I never thought I’d be so lucky as to get my hands on an ARC. Everything about this book was done amazingly well. I was immediately drawn in to Nolan’s Earth-based life and his urgent struggles to appear “normal” in spite of his apparent seizures, a consuming side-effect of his travels. Likewise, Amara’s world was richly-drawn and full of surprises, including some great plot twists, believable magic, and a perfectly-done developing lesbian love-hate-friendship-romance. I so loved that it wasn’t a coming-out tale at all, but simply an additional shining star to an already complex story. So sorry that the rest of you have to wait until next year for this one! (Except the Mr. Crêpe Club, where it will no doubt be passed around.)

SEVEN WILD SISTERS by Charles de Lint is a companion novel to THE CATS OF TANGLEWOOD FOREST, which I haven’t yet read, but I definitely want to get it after reading this one. SEVEN WILD SISTERS captured my attention as a “modern fairy tale,” and it did not disappoint. My six-year-old twin daughters have been reading the books in the “Rainbow Fairies” series, which are fine, but I wanted to present them with some fairy stories that have more of a literary bent, and we plowed through this one (with me reading out loud). Sarah Jane’s adventurous spirit drew us all in and her plucky resolve carried us through the story. Most of all, as a mom trying to protect and nurture my girls’ belief in magic, I was amazed how captivated my little sprites were by the little details that came to life on the page. What a lovely book!

Anyone else snag an NCTE ARC that was particularly delicious? Please tell!

Children’s Poetry Blog Hop

My amazing friend and soon-to-be debut young adult author Jaye Robin Brown tagged me to participate in a blog hop about children’s poetry. Thrilling! I adore poetry!

But, hmm, children’s poetry? I have to admit, I was never a fan of the typical happy, sing-songy poetry as a child, unless you count the craziness of Dr. Seuss, because crazy is pretty awesome.

However! As a linguist and trilingual mom, I’m going to pick one snippet from each language that together represent my poetic tastes for children.

First off, English. THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES by Edward Gorey is one of my favorite books because of the illustrations as much as the text. How can you not love something that begins like this?

A is for AMY who fell down the stairs.

B is for BORIS devoured by bears.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the book takes us through an alphabet of children who met their untimely demise by at least somewhat gruesome means. Well worth a read!

In German, my favorite is the classic DER STRUWELPETER by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann.

Filled with macabre tales of misbehaving children who suffer the consequences of their actions, these stories are filled with morals like, “Eat your soup, or you will die!” and “Don’t suck your thumbs, or the thumb-cutter will come and cut them off!” My favorite tells the story of Paulinchen, who decides to play with matches:

Paulinchen war allein zu Haus,
die Eltern waren beide aus.
Als sie nun durch das Zimmer sprang
mit leichtem Mut und Sing und Sang,
da sah sie plötzlich vor sich stehn
ein Feuerzeug, nett anzusehn.

Needless to say, things don’t end all that well for Paulinchen:

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Finally, Spanish. We have a wonderful book, FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA PARA NIÑOS, and interestingly, my girls’ favorite poem, Muerte de Antoñito el Camborio, is about the murder of a young man, Antoñito, by his four cousins. But it’s such a gorgeous, haunting poem!

Voces de muerte sonaron
cerca de Guadalquivir.

Voces antiguas quecercan
voz de clavel varonil.

Hope these are some interesting examples! Now on to the interview questions:

1. Who was your favorite poet as a child?

Well, I didn’t much like traditional children’s poetry, and I didn’t discover any of the gems above until I was older, but I would have loved those three if I knew about them then.

2. Who is your favorite poet now?

Rainer Maria Rilke definitely gets top honors, but I have some other favorites, including Pablo Neruda and Sylvia Plath.

3. Is there a song you consider to be poetry?

I’d argue that most songs are in fact poetry, but arguments aside, I’ve been listening to Debussy’s Clair de Lune a lot recently, which was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name. It begins:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Beautiful!

I’m tagging another poetry fan and writing buddy, Angelina Hansen. Hope you can post your favorite children’s poems (or one of your own!) and thoughts next Friday for the blog hop!

Why Querying Is Like October Baseball

As a Red Sox fan, I’ve seen my fair share of October baseball. Making it past the regular season is a big deal, and it got me thinking about how similar it is to the querying process. Here are my top ten reasons why they’re alike:

10. Dude, you made it this far. You completed and polished an entire novel. Or, yanno, beat out all the other teams vying for a World Series appearance. Well done!

9. Everyone’s cheering for you. Your critique partners, family, friends, published authors, agents, and editors all want you to succeed.

8. Your characters are lovable. We feel their pain when they strike out, drop a ball, or experience The Dark Night of the Soul.

7. You sometimes take up strange rituals, like not trimming your beard or rubbing on your special-good-vibes-lucky-ladybug-necklace when clicking send.

6. Sometimes you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is a concept so familiar to Sox fans that I won’t go into detail here, but in the querying world, it’s like: partial request–boom! Full request–boom! Endearing pass on the material–oh, crap.

5. Sometimes you actually snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That agent who seemed too good for you? You never know. Query and you just might get a request!

4. Never give up. You may have the bases loaded with no outs, but if you’re the pitcher, you’ve got to stay cool and throw a strike. Bam!

3. There’s no crying in baseball. No, seriously. You can cry in Little League, but if you want to play big time ball, you have to get used to failure and rejection. No team can win every single game.

2. There are lots of chances. Best four out of seven games! You could lose the first three games and still walk away with a win. Your odds are even better in querying. In baseball, you have to win four, and in querying all you need is one.

1. There’s always next year. Because you’re already hard at work on the next novel, right?

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El Libro de Monica!

Big news on the blog today, and it’s about EL LIBRO DE MONICA! Why the Spanish? Well, in my house, we speak only Spanish. When my critique partner, Monica Ropal, called with THE BEST NEWS EVAH, my little girls hovered, asking. “¿Qué pasa, Mamá?” So in the midst of general hysterics, I told them, “¡EL LIBRO DE MONICA VA A SER UN LIBRO!”

Translation: MONICA’S BOOK IS GOING TO BE A BOOK! 

That’s right! My amazing critique partner, Monica (aka @MonicaYAWriting) has scored a book deal for her debut YA novel, THE BODY OF COOPER MCCAY! Her whip-smart agent, Barbara Poelle, did the deal with Running Press Books, and COOPER will be coming out in 2014! Yaaaaay! *passes around champagne and brownies*

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Monica and I met as roommates at a novel-writing retreat at VCFA (deets on this excellent program here: http://www.vcfa.edu/programs-faculty/postgraduate-non-degree/writing-novels-young-people-retreat), where we began our hopefully-lifelong friendship as critique partners. I fell in love with her characters in THE BODY OF COOPER MCCAY then, and fell even deeper in love as she revised. Let’s talk with her about the book!

Kip: So, hey, Monica! What’s your book about? *cues spotlight*

Monica: The Body of Cooper McCay is about Cass, whose secret boyfriend is murdered, and one of her best friends is the prime suspect. But it’s not your typical murder mystery–because it’s also about how Cass deals with violence, mourns her loss, and learns to emotionally trust again in the midst of trying to figure out who killed Cooper!

Kip: You definitely have a way with characters, but I think I’m not alone in my head-over-heels love for your MC, Cass’ best friend, Mattie. Can you describe him through Cass’ eyes?

Monica: Mattie is … everything. Mattie is the one constant that has been in her life. He’s mute, and the challenge is their communication. But the challenge was for me, not them, because they have known each other so long, that every quirk of the brow and twist of the lips is worth lines of dialogue to them. 

Kip: Your novel takes place where you live, in Minnesota. Did the setting become a crucial character for you, or do you think your story could have played out anywhere?

Monica: The part of St. Paul that I chose is, I suppose like many city neighborhoods where rich and poor meet within a very small number of blocks and creates a very interesting but troubling dynamic. The space in which it’s set is very iconic. Everyone around here knows the shops on Grand, and the houses on Summit, and they understand the struggles of those in the Midway area.<

Kip: Now for some fun questions! What’s your writing routine like? Top three favorite authors? And how did you celebrate your book deal?

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Monica: Writing routine: I’m not superstitious, but I do like to have my Hermione coffee mug and music . . .  there’s always music. Moody, emotional, emo-type music. Something to get me closer to the emotional truth that I’m writing in that day. Top three authors: JK Rowling, Stephanie Perkins, and Megan Miranda. Celebration: We celebrated by going out for ice cream on Grand Avenue and I gave them a little tour of landmarks from the book. While we were there, a guy called out to his friend whose name was MATTIE! I nearly choked on my root beer float. We will have extensive celebrating next week in Disney World. And of course Harry Potter World! We’ll toast with Butter Beer!

Sounds great! THRILLED for you, Monica, and so glad to get to take part in this journey with you!!
 

Twofer Tuesday: YA Page-Turners

Time for another twofer set of book recommendations!

First, a caveat: pretty much the only thing these two books have in common was that I could not put them down. Well, and the reason that I couldn’t put them down was that I cared so much about the characters from the very beginning and wanted–no, needed–to know what would happen to them.

ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. This book! First off, the striking cover art really grabbed my attention. I had to know what a book that looks like this could be about.

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At first, I wrongly assumed it was a contemporary novel. It’s a historical! And it’s completely thrilling from page one. We find ourselves deep in the POV of the the eighteen-year-old main character, Judith, though her words are addressed to “you.”

So many mysteries to unravel. As we gradually find out what happened to Judith, we also discover the depths of her emotion and why she’s following–almost stalking–Lucas, the “you” in her thoughts. And such gorgeous prose:

Tonight the moon came out, and I went out with it, to watch it rise over the treetops. So silent, the moon.

FAIR COIN by E.C. Myers. Again, this book could not be more different. While ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME delves into a world in the past, FAIR COIN thrusts us into a near-future that makes the reader wonder if the unfolding story is in fact science fiction or fantasy. Is there a scientific reason driving the “wishes” that seem to be changing sixteen-year-old Ephraim’s life, or is there magic behind it?

But what hooked me early on in this book was Ephraim himself. While he’s thrust into a near-tragic situation on page one, his authentic voice when he deals with it immediately got me on his side:

Ephraim had stayed late, hoping for a chance to talk to Jena Kim, the hottest geek girl in his class, while his mother nearly killed herself. 

This sentence totally hooked me. Anyone who can put “hot” and “geek” in a sentence to describe the same person has got my attention. While the mystery of the strange coin and what it meant definitely kept me reading, I was of course hoping Ephraim would find a way to get his wish without having to wish it. 🙂

Looking forward to reading QUANTUM COIN!

Pay It Forward Giveaway!

When I saw Rachel Russell’s post about how the amazing generosity of the reading/writing community inspired her to launch a monthly Pay It Forward giveaway, I couldn’t wait to join in.

I’ve likewise benefited so much from getting to know other writers: on twitter, your blogs, and the other places we meet, like SCBWI conferences, WriteOnCon, coffee shops–the works!

This first month, I’m offering up a free critique of any/all of the following:

  • pitch
  • query
  • synopsis
  • first chapter

I know as well as all of you how important these pieces are while querying. That, along with your trusty barf bucket, as querying tends to make some of us queasy. I’ll even share my own none-too-clean bucket.

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If you’re readying your own bucket for the querying trenches, just comment below. I’ll pick a random winner for the critique package at the end of the day on 9/3!