Monday, January 31, 2011


I just got back from The Land of Acronyms!

Or, you know, #nyc11scbwi. however you want to think of it.

I discovered a few things while I was there. Not the massive, life changing things that some people get out of it, but Things nonetheless.

I learned that my MFA/MA was the best decision I've made in a long time. I can see how much it has benefited my writing, how much I've learned through it. Simple things, like about inciting incidents and where to begin a story, and bigger things about subject matter, and how to read.

I learned that I need to pay more attention when scheduling my time at conferences. Three agent breakouts was superfluous, especially when much of what they said could be found On The Internet. I didn't enjoy Friday much due to this.

But Sara Zarr's speech on Saturday made up for it. So amazing. I'm going to try to be more patient now. To do the work, and to love it. That's what's important, after all.

It wasn't what I thought it would be, maybe. My critique sessions with Mary Kole and Kate Sullivan were great, and I'm considering going to LA either this summer or next. Once I'm more connected in the YA world.

I don't regret the experience at all, and am proud to be a SCBWI member.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Outside my window the snow is lovely. The sunlight reflects on it, brightening my room. Like a true Southern child I want to gallivant in this white stuff that I don't understand.

But I won't. I'll eye it warily as I traipse off to class, wishing for the thaws, which are months away. Wishing that we could get the snow, the slush, and the slipperiness over with, so I don't have to be afraid.

I'm afraid of snow. There you have it. Twenty-one years old, backpacked across Europe, slept in sketchy hostels, been to Underground Atlanta past nine pm. I am afraid of snow.

And that fear is never going to go away. No matter how long I live in the north, and adjust to the snow. No matter how many pairs of boots, and ice-picks for my shoes, and how much rock salt. I will always be afraid that one day I will fall.

People here don't understand that. They laugh at me, because it is just snow. But it's also ice. They haven't seen how one fall can change my life for months, years at a time. It was this way in Atlanta before the first fall. I hope I don't have to injure myself to prove the point again.

I have every right to be afraid of snow. I'll get used to it. Stop talking about it. I may go years safely plodding along. But I will always be afraid. When you've got a disability there are certain fears that live in the back of your brain every day, fears that no one else understands.

That's one of mine. Snow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And Then--?Preparing for SCBWI!

What did I get myself into? Let's recap, in the style of my assignment from Anna Staniszewski this week. A story told in "and thens"

On the phone with my mom four months ago this writers conference idea felt like a lark, a good experience.

And then I got a spot at the writing intensive.

And then my friend with the elevator-building didn't have room for me, so it's off to my other lovely friend with the fifth floor walk up. (I love her. A ton. I hate stairs)


And then BoltBus cancelled my bus 24 hours in advance.

And then I booked AmTrak which gets in at 2:20 AM.

And then I freaked out for a while about pitches, and summaries, and first 500 words.

And then.... what?

Will the faculty eat me? Will someone decide that I and my monkey hat are unworthy? Will Big Things and Cool People happen, or will I be too train-lagged to notice?

Stay tuned!

PS. Anna, I promise I won't hand this in tomorrow. I do not have a death wish. I can spell your name from memory now. I can has extra credit?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Musings: Tell Me a Secret

Tell Me a Secret

I loved this book a lot. Mostly because it didn't do what I kept expecting it to do. There was no "she must give this baby up", no miscarriage, no abortion, no any-other-way-novels-like-this-cop-out. She wasn't required to give up all her dreams, in the end, wasn't punished for having a baby. I approve more than you would believe. Even though I'm adopted, and should be championing that to the hills, I hate when it's the only option for teens in a book or movie. 

There was also more depth to Rand than just being a pregnant girl. I believed she was an artist, believed in her fascination with her dead sister. The imagery in the beginning of the book was gorgeous, and her relationship with her boyfriend was so well written that you grieved at the loss of their relationship. I do think for someone who obviously loved her so... uniquely.... that his brusqueness after was exaggerated, but who knows how a scared teenage boy might act.

My one problem was that her friend Delany seemed to fit the "bad girl" archetype, and was never redeemed from that. I am tired of the one-bad-girl-bestie trope in YA. I also wanted to see more redemption for her ex-boyfriend, but I liked the lack of romantic focus so catch-22. Still, everything else felt so unique, from Rand's camping out in the NICU after her baby was born, to the fact that there wasn't an overly-sappy reunion with her parents at the hospital. 

Wonderful, in my opinion. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Being a Protagonist

Do you ever feel like someone's MC? I don't mean in a "God writes all" way. That's a little solipsistic for me. I mean as though someone out there is thinking: "How could I make it more difficult for the character in this scene"? And they do it.

Little things, like a leaking coffeepot on a Monday morning. A bag of M&Ms that spills its contents completely when I shift on the bed. The two suitcase that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now really don't want to go up the ramp to the door. Inconveniences that make me think of Murphy's Law.

I guess all I can do is store these things away, and use them for my characters. A cycle of cruelty, isn't it?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Musings: Girl, Stolen

Girl, Stolen (Christy Ottaviano Books)
Girl, Stolen by April Henry

I wanted to love this book. The main character, Cheyenne is blind, but that's not her big problem. She's been kidnapped by a guy who just wanted her stepmother's car. Now THAT'S a problem. She is creative, and tries to solve her own problem, which is impressive because her problem is huge. All very, very good things for a book with a disabled protagonist. 

Unfortunately, I found two snags: one disability related, and one not. Henry falls into the trap a lot of authors fall into when dealing in disability. Preachiness. There's a paragraph explanation of Braille, and the unnecessary "every blind person had their own way of folding money to tell it apart". Does it matter? Can't we just know that Cheyenne does it?

Secondly, the tone of the book felt off. I think it had a middle-grade tone in a YA book. Cheyenne seems incredibly innocent and doesn't have many traits except blindness. Her exclamation that the narrator of the Harry Potter books "uses a different voice for each book!" seemed so childish to me. Maybe she's just sheltered, but I didn't like her innocence being associated with her disability.

The tone, and even the cover of the book, felt too light for the direness of her situation. Kidnapping, murder, child abuse, they all feel so out of place, but they're in the novel. A few twists were just too big for the stage that had been set.

Also some facts felt off to me, though I'm sure the author researched. Cheyenne had gone to rehabilitation when she became blind, which made sense, but when she talked about her guide-dog there was no mention of guide-dog training. That's an intense program, and since it says she couldn't get a dog until she was sixteen I wondered when she'd had the few months to go through it.

I didn't like that she wasn't blind from birth. It seemed unnecessary when it let in the "woe is me, I feel so different now" thoughts. Yes, she grows considerably and takes independent steps and maybe feels that way less. But there were other ways to have growth. Blindness was another layer to the kidnapping plot, fine, but giving a blind-from-birth heroine would give another demographic of teen someone to look up to, as well as educating non-disabled teens. The book seemed too focused on the latter.

But I would recommend it. The adventure is fun, and Cheyenne kicks butt. It just wasn't all I hoped for.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Five

1. I go back to Boston on Sunday. I'm ready to get back in the game, but at the same time I've enjoyed being home. I am not looking forward to the snow. In fact, I am terrified of it. However, I will have to learn to deal with it eventually, may as well be now.

2. It's interesting how learning can change your perspective on things. For Writing ii this week we are reading Tuck Everlasting. I loved this book when my mother and I listened to it on audio some time in the early 2000s. Now...? The beginning is slow, parts that could be very dramatic aren't, and it's seeped in description. The concept is fabulous, but I wonder if it would be published today.

3. I love it when writing books convince me to take a jump I've been considering to make my novel better. Going to start some restructuring tonight, that I hope will really strengthen it.

4. I'm going to my first wedding of my 20s tomorrow. High school sweethearts from the year above me. My sorority sister gets married in September. iT'S STARTING! And me with no prospects. Whatever is an old maid (of 21)  to do? Potentially this:

5. How do I get all this stuff into two suitcases???

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Small Thought

I'll be truthful with you Blogosphere. One of my major flaws is arrogance. It comes when you're a "special snowflake child". The kind of kid with a disability who has been told her entire life that she can do whatever she wants lends itself to arrogance. I'm working on it. This has been aided by my new exposure to other writers.

Janice Hardy wrote a post about levels of writers today that made me think. Some people I know waver between the first two levels. It's easy for me to sneer at that. I sent out my first query letter at sixteen. However, it doesn't matter. Not when I've never had a yes on a letter. Not when even NYT Bestselling Authors still have things to work on. Goals to meet.

I'm learning to keep in mind that all any writer wants is to move to the next level, and where you are and how you got there doesn't much matter. The craft matters, the writing matters and being a good person matter. Not much else.

Remember this, self. Remember this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Musings: before i fall

Before I Fall

The trailer I thought I made up for If I Stay?

It was actually for this book. I've embedded it at the bottom of the post.

I loved this book. The voice was strong, and Sam, the narrator, really pulled me in. I think in some cases there were gratuitous details, but I also understand why they were there: to create a life for this girl. A life like any other life.

What I learned from it wasn't as much about craft as it was about me. Reviewers on GoodReads said they believed at the beginning of the boom Sam "deserved to die". Her actions, or the actions of her peers that she went along with, made it okay. They had no sympathy for her at the beginning.

But I did.

I was never, ever a popular girl. I was on the outskirts, not made fun of but not a part of it. I heard about the parties after they happened. But I knew what it was like to go along with a joke without analysing it. I attached myself to friends with strong personalities, went along with what they said without thinking. At some point, we've all found ourselves in a position to do something Sam did. Do we deserve to die for that? No. Does any seventeen-year-old? Not in my view.

Other thoughts, The Groundhog Day-esque repetition of Sam's DeathDay could have been mind-numbing, but it wasn't. Some times I wanted to see more thought behind her motives. The day she steals her mom's credit card, for instance, I understood her motives but would have liked them to be addressed a little more.

The best part of the book, for me, was that it showed how very, very different each day can be with a few tweaks. A few other choices, and a little more knowledge. Pay attention, it seems to say, to the point where Sam's mission matters less, and the message matters more.

Which is good, because in the end, someone has to die.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Road to Travel

Today is MLK. That's the way it was referred to in school. My twelve years of schooling in the South saturated me with the history of the civil rights movement. Southerners are still apologizing for the wrongs of our forefathers. We're not very far removed from those who would quash African Americans civil liberties. It was our grandparents and great-grandparents who voted. My mother remembers a race riot coming up the street on the day of Dr. King's death; she was a senior in high school.

Today is a day to celebrate the progress we've made. However, I can't help but think of the amount we still have to do. Leaving behind for a moment the black vs. white score Dr. King wanted to settle, let me enumerate the issues the country still faces.

Homosexuals do not have equal rights. Their difference is less visible than the difference between races, but they do not have equal civil liberties. They cannot marry in most places, nor have they escaped threats of violence. Dr. King's daughter is anti-gay rights. How far have we come?

People with disabilities have equal rights on the surface. There are ramps for us, and the ADA generation is growing up, attending college, entering the work force. Yet, a kindergartener can still be voted out of his class. The youth I work with every summer have been teased, sometimes by their own family members. They don't know their rights, they are not taught the history of those who fought for them. Maybe they know Helen Keller is the Apples to Apples trump card, or that she talks with her hips. How far have we come?

I can name off countless other, meaningless, stupid, prejudices people hold. Prejudices that affect my life, and the lives of my friends. I also know that we have come very, very far from the day when Dr. King gave his famous speech. From the educational video I dug up claiming homosexuality was contagious. From the ugly laws forbidding people with disabilities from walking the streets.

Unfortunately, the thought foremost in my mind today is that we have not come far enough.

Don't forget. We've only passed a curve in the long and winding road.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I'm a big fan of GoodReads, and after I read a book I tend to peruse its reviews on the site. Maybe I want validation of my opinions, or to figure out what I missed. Maybe I'm merely interested in what others have to say. Be that as it may, I finished Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist yesterday. It wasn't necessarily my favorite book ever-- the punky music snob references flowed a little too heavy for me-- but I became its devout defender after I read the first review.

The reviewer likens the book to a journal written by their 14-year-old self, complaining about the sentimentality of a moment where Nick stands out in the rain. He's aware of everything around him, of feeling, of love. It's a powerful moment in the book. The cynical review chastises this moment as belonging to the world of trite teenage beliefs.

Yes, the novel is deeply embedded in the heads of its 17-year-old protagonists. And sure, they're a little emo, a little coarse, a little walled, and a little over-zealous all at once. But they're living. They're galavanting around Manhattan until dawn, feeling music, exploring the world.

When I was just eighteen, living in London for a few weeks, I hit a brick wall. I was lonely, made a dumb decision, got hurt. And I stood out in the rain one evening, and things were just... okay again. Cleansed.

I'm not a teenager, but I'm not out of adolescence, so maybe my view on this isn't "real" enough, but I say the day I stop believing there is truth that comes from standing out in the rain, the day I can stand at a concert and not wish to be further in the moment, to feel the release of the pulse of the drums, the connection with the artist standing above me. The day when all I want in the world isn't one more glass of wine with my best friends....

On the day I stop believing in the world people like Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman represent-- belief, love, music, adventure-- the world I love, and am coming to love even more. On that day, I no longer deserve the magic I have become privy to.

Maybe at thirty, or thirty-five I will look back on this blog with a cynic's eye. Oh, kid, you know not of what you speak. And if I do, I challenge you thirty-year-old me. Go stand in the rain, and look at the sky, and tell me there isn't something magical about that.

I dare you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I had surgery in early December to combat the lymphadema issues I've had in my lower legs since I was about eleven. I've had the surgery once before, but the swelling got out of hand again after the two infections I got last year.

Secret: I've been obsessed with boots my whole life. Heeled boots, ankle boots, riding boots-- you name them, I coveted them. Of course, by the time I was old enough to do so, I wasn't able to wear them thanks to the build up of excess skin around my ankle.

Last Sunday my mom and I went to the store and bought Uggs. There's still enough excess skin that probably all boots wouldn't work. Also, there's swelling in my calf which would make anything but ankle boots difficult. The thing is: that doesn't show. From my foot to my jeans, my legs are covered. No more socks bulging out, or skin hanging over the ankle of my shoe. No more jeans riding up, or weird bubble of skin under the tongue.

When I realized I was thinking this, I wondered: is it all about hiding even now? I look down at my legs, and get so excited that they appear skinny and, well, typical, and I wonder what my motivation was. Is it still, after all these years, to seem a little bit more normal. Perhaps.

But I also know it's more than that. It's making sure my feet will be dry(ier) in the snow. It's being warm, covering my body. It's that they're really fucking comfortable.

And it's fulfilling a wish I've had for years and years. So what if it's a little ableist?


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Musings: Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska

Why every cover on Amazon is different from the cover I read, I have no idea.

ANYWAY, about eleventy-hundred times in class my writing my professor told me I needed to read John Green. Whenever we'd discuss edgy YA it would lead to John Green. I now understand what she meant. The characters in Looking for Alaska are unique, a little above ordinary teens who nonetheless feel incredibly real. They smoke and drink and swear, but they are also uncertain, awkward teens who exist in a reality. 

Even if that reality is a boarding school in Alabama. Which, I don't know much about and John Green does. But what John Green does not seem to know (and which drove me batshit nuts) is that if you are FROM Florida a la his MC, you do not say "in Florida". You say "in North/South/Central Florida", and we find out you are from Orlando (aka Tourist Central) long before the middle of the book. 

No one not from Florida would care about these details, but I do okay. Also, if you're conjugating French verbs in the subjunctive, tell us that it is subjunctive otherwise we think it's being conjugated wrong. 

Those nitpicks do represent things I learned from LfA, but I learned more than that. I grew to understand the Midpoint Reversal that Janice Hardy talks about. I learned that it is okay to have intelligent characters who think about things other than sex (but that too). I loved his language and pacing. 

My writing professor was correct, I did learn a lot from my first John Green book, and I'm excited to learn more

Monday, January 10, 2011

Choosing Books

The ALA announced the awards in Children's Literature today. The only one of the award-winning books I had read was Five Flavors of Dumb, which received the Schneider Award for teen fiction (my review of the book here). Will Grayson, Will Grayson cleaned up. This week, I picked it up and got turned off by the secondary protagonist's voice (sad, I love John Green). Am I now ashamed, since it is award-winning?


Am I going to add every award-winner to my to read list on GoodReads (already overflowing)?


Why? First of all, I'm sure they'll all end up on my syllabi over the next year or so. But more than that, what makes a book appeal to me isn't going to be what makes it appeal to the Newbery Committee. I might read them down the line, but the award won't make me pick them up. And that's okay. My resolution for 2011? Don't bother with the books I don't like. It makes the ones you do seem all the better.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Musings: Mockingbird


Time to outline the bullet points I use for judging a book with disabled characters:

1. Is the disability the only point of the book. Which is to say: is Dealing With Disability the sole reason the book exists? Is it the entire concept, rather than a part of the concept?

In this case, no. Erskine does a very good job of creating a plot and character independent of Caitlin's Asperger's. Her brother died in a school shooting inspired by the Virgina Tech shooting. Any child would be lost and confused after this, so her disability becomes another layer to her experience, rather than the only thing we care about. 

2. Is the disability cured unrealistically at the end of the book? Many books with disabled characters end with everything being hunky-dory in the end, despite the main characters challenges. Mockingbird is a little guilty of this. The final scene shows Caitlin successfully attending an assembly which would have made her have a meltdown in the past, and then takes her shoes off in the grass although she is generally sensitive to touch and sensation. I thought this a little exaggerated. Caitlin has grown, and is learning to deal, but maybe this was too-much, too-fast.

3. Does the character have other important traits? Yes, yes, yes. Caitlin was a totally believable character outside of her disability. She's loving, in her way, persistent, wiling to learn new things, artistic, and very smart. Her relationship with her brother and father was wonderfully realistic. I thought maybe her drawing was cliche-- how many characters on the autism spectrum are depicted as artists-- but her other endeavours rounded this out nicely. 

4. What nitpicks do I have that a typical person wouldn't? I've grown up in the disability community. Books meant to introduce typical people to the disabled often irk me for illogical reasons. My sister has an Asperger's diagnosis, and we know a lot of people with autism. I've begun to feel that in literature they are all portrayed in a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime way. Unfair, of course, because Mockingbird was meant for an entirely different audience, but I'd like to see some variation. The classic symptoms are shown here very well, but of course there are other manifestations.

Also, the authors note at the end of the book seemed entirely unnecessary. I had to skim it, or else have the book ruined. It did the "many children have Asperger's, and I believe in early intervention" thing I applauded the novel for NOT doing. I mention it because, like it or not, it's a part of the book and I feel diminishes the overall effect. 

But, in general, I enjoyed the book very much and approved of the depiction of Caitlin's disability. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Five

1. Starting off on a downer. A boy from my undergrad Erik Downes has been missing for three days. He was on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica with two professors and several other students. Four of them got caught in a riptide. Erik hasn't made it back to shore. Please include him, his family and my uni in your thoughts and prayers. The Oglethorpe community is such a small one. I don't know Erik well, but I know other students on the trip, and the professors involved. He's on student government and in the fraternity I knew best, so our paths did cross. It's so jarring to realize these things happen to people whose face you once saw almost daily.

2. Doing line-edits on current manuscript to make it presentable for class and SCBWI means paying close attention to words and description. I spend hours on paragraphs and decide it all sucks. So that's fun.

Except it is. I love it when WIPs eat my brain.

3. Speaking of which, I have a new one in mind. I don't know when I'll start it. I need to learn to shift gears and let WIP 1 go. The plot and structure seem pretty solid now, so maybe soon I'll be able to.

4. I commented on Gayle Foreman's blog yesterday about my desire for a new band in 2011. Someone willing to sing about how desperate our current situation is. She agreed, we need a new Nirvana. Last night at dinner "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came on between "Life after Love" and "Truly Madly Deeply". If we've started forgetting the meaning behind the words like that, we do need a new force and in a hurry. Nirvana is not, and will never be, a soft-rock radio overplayed song. At least not if we remember the reasons they were so popular.

5. I tried this last year. By tried I mean we bought it for $13 and it sat in my fridge for nearly six months before it disappeared at a party. It is as disgusting as it looks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Importance of Beginning

I got a spot at the Writer's Intensive at SCBWI. Not only does this mean that I'll have to get a bus after class and show up at my friend's place in NYC at... oh... one in the morning, but it also means I'm obsessing about my manuscript's first 500 words.

I'm in the middle of revisions anyway, preparing to present chapters to my class back at Simmons. I'm not letting the first 500 get to me (a la Mary Kole's post), or trying not to. I spent all of yesterday finishing a draft and making a list of things I need to revise for. The first 500 is on there, but not all I need to do.

But it signals something to me that I'm thinking about this. I've conformed, in a way. I used to not care so much about beginnings. The book stood as a whole, on its own. The beginning doesn't matter. How can you judge a book on the first three (five, ten) pages when so much happens later.

Right. If you start sending the second chapter to agents, there's a clue that your beginnings need work. Not that I did this. Never....

Now opening lines are floating all over my head. Will they work to get the tone of my character down, to show how interesting her life is and why her problems are important? I don't know. But I know that revising these first words will help me revise the manuscript as a whole. The methods I use to pick them need to be applied to every page. That's why every revision of the first fifty my professor has sent me has led to a full-manuscript revision.

It's not because I'm obsessed (really) it's because I want a polished book, not just a polished first chapter, to be the beginning of my career.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Musings: The Bermudez Triangle

The Bermudez Triangle

I read this nearly a month ago, but it stuck with me. Maybe because I wasn't a huge fan of 13 Little Blue Envelopes and it made me figure out why Maureen Johnson is such a big deal. But I think it's more because it did things I've had trouble with, masterfully.

Third-person, three main characters whose stories work like a double helix, separating and coming back together to keep the story moving. The three protagonists were individuals with whom I could connect to, even though presenting characters like that in third-person, and with three of them, can be very difficult.

The subject matter of the book could have made it preachy. Sexuality in teenagers often leads to books all about how it is OKAY to be DIFFERENT and this is SHINY and HAPPY. In the Bermudez triangle, it's not. There are complications, but also side-stories. Life goes on, even though the characters are discovering who they are sexually as well as in general.

Johnson also created a believable world for her characters to live in. Their families were fleshed out, and locations described well. The thing was, while the secondary characters were amusing, sometimes they didn't seem to have a purpose. I'm of two minds about this, because while Nina's roommate in her summer program was funny, for instance, she didn't add to the plot. I think if characteristics of these people had been in the more major characters the novel might have been richer. But other details like the ones pertaining to the Irish-themed restaurant Mel and Avery work at were dead-on relatable. Maybe I'm just picky about character!

The wholeness of this book is what resonated with me, I think. The interwoven plots and themes. I learned a lot from the way Johnson managed the time span, and the multiple interesting characters.

Monday, January 3, 2011

GoodReads, Good Year

It's the first blog post of 2011! Since 2010 is over, and I can not read anything else in 2010, I can post my GoodReads stats.

i read 215 books for the first time in 2010. My total read was probably around 222 since I read I Capture the Castle every year, and I reread Harry Potter this summer. Of that, 47 were ebooks. Much less than half. However, I also read more than double the number of books I'd read in any other year. I averaged 75 in 2006-2009. Part of that was due to the summer of reading, but I imagine some was due to the availability of those 47 books on my iPad.

I also made more of an effort to read outside of school, and to read YA. That will be reflected in this blog over this year, I'm sure!

Tomorrow, I'll review Maureen Johnson's The Bermudez Triangle, so be on the lookout!