Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yay! It's Brent Hartinger!!

When the power from above (Colleen Mondor) announced the blogger/author match-ups for this extravaganza of interviews you all have been enjoying since Sunday, I was pretty giddy. I already loved Dana. My best friend gushed over Story of a Girl. Pretty new writers. Fantastic work, but not an avalanche to cover.

And then there was Brent Hartinger. Dude's got a lot of books. A lot of short st
ories. Plays. Material to cover a whole mountain side. And I'd only read some of it, and it'd been a while. I'm a big picture girl. I like to have all the information possible. If I'm going to interview someone, I WILL have read all their books. Their short stories. Whatever I can get my hands on. I was manically excited because, well, it's Brent Hartinger! Who wouldn't be excited? So I read, and read and re-read the stuff I had read in the past. Prior to this frenzy, I had been in a crappy reading rut - you know - when everything you're reading is mediocre at best and it's just depressing? Brent was a gust of fresh air. Important, poignant, and never forgetting to have some fun. Oh, and I think I might have scared him just a little...

JP: Going from realistic teen fiction to children's fantasy in Dreamquest is a pretty big jump. There were hints of this interest in Grand & Humble, you contributed a short story to the fantasy compilation Young Warriors, and you've said, "fantasy has always been [your] one true love." Why haven't we seen more fantasy from you in the past? Why children's and not teen?

BH: Wow, you either do great research, or you're stalking me. If it's the former, I appreciate the time and effort.

(JP: Gas is too expensive for stalking these days. sigh. ;)

Keep in mind that there are the books authors write, and there are the books authors find publishers for. My first few books were fantasy, but I was a terrible writer then and they were sucky books, so they didn't get published (thank God!). It was just sort of random chance that the first book I actually sold was realistic teen fiction. And once you establish yourself in one genre, publishers tend to like you to write more in that genre. It's all about branding, you know.

But trust me, I've been writing fantasy my whole life.

As for the children's thing, this story seemed to me to be sort of a "classic" children's story--in the vein of Alice in Wonderland or Roald Dahl, but with an edgy, hopefully contemporary twist. So I set it as middle grade.

JP: Dreamquest is equal parts fantasy and satire, and all good satire aims to point out the idiocies of life. It's immensely different in tone and attitude than everything else I've read by you. Was your experience writing it different in any way to past efforts? What are you poking sticks at with the satire?

BH: I wrote the first draft years and years ago, but it was one of those sucky early books I mentioned earlier, and I doubt a single word of it is still the same. But honestly, my process for all my books is basically the same: I get the story idea, then I fumble around for a while trying to find the right "tone" of the story, and the voice of the characters. It's true that this time around the tone and voice are very different from my other books, but only because it seemed to work for this story.

But yeah, this is my first outright satire. A girl plagued by nightmares wakes in a land inside her own head called Slumberia, in the "dream-studio" where they film her nightmares. The most obvious satire is of Hollywood, where I lived for a few years trying to sell my screenplays. But it's not really about Hollywood per se. I like to say it's about any place where people put profits ahead of people. Sadly, it's very timely these days.

And can I just say? The best children's books area always the ones that can be read and enjoyed even after you grow up, right? That's totally my philosophy. That said, kids get much more of the satire than adults think they do.

JP: You are very versatile in your fiction, both in subject and in format. You've said that you like writing fantasy best, but which of the formats that we frequently see your work in (novel, short story, play) is most comfortable for you to write in?

BH: Truthfully, I probably most like writing screenplays, because it's all about structure and plot and drama and conflict. I just absolutely love plot: the artistry of the character arc, or the perfectly crafted story with the perfect come-full-circle ending, totally inevitable, yet absolutely unpredictable. To me, a story is like a sculpture--just as precise, and just as beautiful. And it is storytelling we're doing, right? Emphasis on the story?

I also really like writing books for kids and teens, because I think kids really love plot too. But I do occasionally get discouraged, because I don't think writers of books get much credit for plot. I read these kids' books all the time that literally seem to have no plot. But because the language is evocative, they're praised to high heaven and win all kinds of awards. Meanwhile, a book with a clever, artful plot, but more straightforward language is sometimes ignored (by everyone except the kids we're supposedly writing for!).

Wait. Did I just say all that out loud? Yikes. I'm going to get in trouble.

JP: Last Chance Texaco and Dreamquest are darker stories that exhibit a certain disillusionment – what fuels that, and what is more difficult to write?

BH: It goes back to what I said before. The hard part is finding the tone and the voice. Once I do that, all my books are all about equally easy--or, more accurately, they're all equally insanely difficult.
But I totally believe there's a place for darker stories too. What is a book? It's a trip into the subconscious mind of the author. Some parts of my mind are happy, funny, optimistic parts. Other parts are bitter, cynical, and jarring. But hopefully both trips are worth taking.

JP: One thing that appeals to me about your Russel Middlebrook books is that there is an honest innocence and optimism. Much of what I've read depicting gay teens has a darker tone. Could you comment on the different representations within the genre?

BH: Good eye. Yes, that was totally intentional. I deliberately wanted to get away from the idea that a lot of gay teen books had fallen into, which is that being gay is all horribly serious and traumatic. First, that didn't describe my own teen years, which were sometimes horrible, but were also sometimes hilarious and just plain fun. Plus, let's face it: there's a lot of humor to be mined in the idea of a gay teen. I mean, a gay guy having to take showers with the hottest guys in school? Come on, that's just objectively funny, isn't it?

But I get why authors go in a different direction. So many people are so obstinately ignorant of what it might mean to be a gay teen, how hard it can be, that you just want to crack them over the head with the things that do happen and say, "Look, you idiot, can't you see how miserable you're making these people?!" But let's face it: those people aren't going to be reading gay teen books anyway.

JP: One of the bullies in Geography Club is named Brent… Can an author dub a character with his name and it be entirely coincidental?

BH: Well, it's not coincidental, but it could just be that the author couldn't think of another name that day and decided to get cheeky.

JP: We don't really meet Russel's parents until "Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies", which is the third Russel Middlebrook book. What's up with that? In fact, parents don't find too much love from you at all. In Dreamquest, the parents are pulling Julie apart. Why do you think that there is such a lack in positive parental roles in your writing and in teen lit in general?

BH: Hmmmm, I can't imagine any explanation for that, can you? Here's a hint: something about writing "what you know"? My mom died a few years back, and suddenly I started writing about all these bitchy mothers. I guess I have, uh, issues.

But the truth is, good storytellers look for drama, for conflict. I know a lot of people complain that parents don't come off very well in kids' books, but kids' books are told from the point-of-view of the kid. Who are the big antagonists in a kids' life? It's bullies, who also pop up pretty frequently in kids' books, and it's parents. Most of the characters in an engaging story are antagonists, so most of the parents in kids' books are antagonists too. If a character has a great relationship with his parents, they probably won't come into the story all that much, story being conflict, after all.

But I hasten to add I have written some positive parents: Manny's dad in Grand & Humble (more or less), and Min's parents in Split Screen.

Ok, I'll give you Min's parents. Especially her mom, she's awesome, but Manny's dad? Dude lied. A LOT. Repeatedly. Blatantly. Now, I realize that it was all in furthering the plot, and I recognize your conflict argument, but still. He could have come off rosier. He was definitely a good dad otherwise, but trust is a huge issue, and lying doesn't endear me much, personally; this wasn't an Easter Bunny/Santa lie...(um, I say all of this with the utmost respect, really. no, really. oh man. now who's in trouble?) I suppose that's what you mean with the more or less bit. I just want to say that he's a marvelously flawed character, but... I guess: Do the means justify the end? Were the lies worth it? Were they necessary? (yes, to the plot, but to Manny's relationship & perception of his father?)

Ha! You have a point.

Let's phrase it like this then:

Min's parents in Split Screen, for example, and Manny's dad in Grand & Humble, who has some flaws but is ultimately a decent guy.

JP: Split Screen's full title is awesome. I find it interesting that while the third book has the most light-hearted title, it's actually dealing with some of the heavier issues Russel has had to face - all while the characters are playing extras in a zombie movie. Were you wanting to lighten up those serious issues a little? Why zombies?*

BH: Another excellent insight! I'm totally impressed. You should, like, review books. Oh...wait.
Anyway, yes, I knew that the issue Russel faces would be pretty heavy, so I deliberately lightened the plot, and the titles. A spoonful of sugar and all that. (For readers unfamilar with the book, it's actually two books in one, one from Russel's POV, called Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies, and one from Min's POV, called Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies. It's the world's first gay teen "flip book"!)

Ahhhhh, zombies! Well, aren't they just the best metaphor ever? The walking dead? I mean, there are just so many things you can do with that!

The book's been out for a few months now, so I guess I can now reveal one of the book's "Easter eggs": obviously the true "soul-sucking brain zombies" aren't the characters they're playing in the movie, they're characters from real-life. But every time one of these real-life soul-sucking brain zombie appears, I added a little clue. For example, the first time Russel's parents appear, they're taking down Halloween decorations--coffins and skulls and all the rest. Get it? They're "zombies," so they're clutching coffins and skulls?

Once you know what to look for, all the others soul-sucking brain zombies have clear identifiers too.

JP: I once heard (in those suspicious ways that librarians have) that Geography Club was challenged somewhere, not because of the gay content, but because Russel physically met someone he knew from the Internet. Can you tell us about that, or any other surprising ways your material has been challenged or banned?

BH: Yup, you heard right. It was a big fat ban in Washington State, which led to a series of copy-cat challenges around the state (and maybe one ever tells us authors anything). But eventually the ban was overturned, and it was actually a very good thing, because, well, it got a ton of publicity for the book but, even more importantly, it got the whole community talking about literature, and libraries, and even gay teens. That was a very valuable conversation to have, and I'm flattered I played a small role in it.

As for other challenges, I always tell authors not to worry too much about that, because you can't ever anticipate what will get people upset. It's almost never what you think.

JP: In Split Screen, Last Chance Texaco and now Dreamquest, you write from the perspective of girls. How is that different for you than when you write Russel or the boys in Grand & Humble?

BH: It goes back to finding the voice. But yes, I'd like to think the voices are different. I do give it a lot of thought, and I certainly think of these characters as different genders. Whether that comes through in the writing, I'm never sure.

JP: What authors do you get overly excited for when you hear about their next book?

BH: Lisa Yee, David Lubar, Octavia Butler, Robert Sawyer, my partner Michael Jensen, Robert Charles Wilson, George R. R. Martin, and Ursula le Guin, at least before she got plotless and boring.

JP: (ouch) What book do you think everyone ought to read, and at what age or stage of life should they read it?

BH: I actually don't believe in the "universal book" theory. I've been given too many "life-changing" books by other people, only to find them totally unimpressive. But that's the great thing about books: they're so personal and individual.

I tell kids all the time: not every book is for every person, but there is a book for everyone. Lots of books, actually.

That said, here are some books that I totally loved, and occasionally reread: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin; The Lord of the Rings; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; Momo by Michael Ende; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne; and The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald.

JP: One final penetrating question: What do YOU like on your pizza? Artichokes & Anchovies, like Russel?

BH: Oh! I totally forgot that I wrote that! Keep in mind that I wrote the first draft of Geography Club in 1999, so it all seems pretty foggy to me now. Crazy, huh?

But I'm a veggies kind of guy: mushrooms, olives, onions, etc. And artichokes. That part I agree with Russel.

JP: Thanks, Brent, for the interview!

While you wait for the sequel to Dreamquest and the I-Wish-It-Were-Sooner Kevin installment in the Russel Middlebrook series, you can find Brent all over the web. Try these first:

Official Website
As IF!
News Tribune

The Rest of Today's Interviews:

Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

Since I'll be in Chicago, here's Friday's:

Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Ann Peters at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production

And because I'll be in Michigan - Saturday's:
Justina Chen Headley at Finding Wonderland

*for the record: I like zombies. In fact, in I once made a webpage about zombies for a class. Everyone else was doing stuff about quilts, pets and other boring things. Except for my friend Brian. I think his was about beer…Ok, back to the interview…

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I love it when these things work out - Welcome, Dana Reinhardt!

Remember when I said that I wasn't just being nice because I wanted to interview the author someday? Hello, someday!

What excites me about Dana Reinhardt is that A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life and Harmless are vastly different books – you wouldn’t necessarily know that they were products of the same author. Reinhardt has exhibited significant range in just two books, and this makes me very eager to see what she’ll give us next.

So, when given the chance to interview her, I jumped, I clawed, I begged. Ok, not really, but I did ask very nicely, and Lo, Dana Reinhardt:

JP: Harmless is much darker in tone – so much so that I needed to take a break from its intensity and read something else before going back to it.
Has reader response been at all different between the two books?

DR: Reader response has been wildly different. Some people have had a hard time with HARMLESS. They’re so angry with the kids that it gets in the way of enjoying the story. To be fair, there are also readers who have let me know that they loved HARMLESS and thought it a much better novel than my first. To each her own taste, I guess.

Personally, I don’t quite get what all the anger is about. I have deep empathy for the characters in this book. I ache for what they’re going through and I feel like the mistakes they make could have been made by me, or by anyone at that age. The bottom line is that it’s much easier, I think, to love a book when you love the hero. HARMLESS doesn’t really give you a hero to love. But I think the other kinds of stories are worth telling too. Not every novel can be about the perfectly lovable kid.

JP: Some authors say that their characters are, in a way, real to them. It follows, under that philosophy, that characters could cause a certain amount of consternation to such authors. Since both novels are very psychological, did you ever struggle along with your characters while writing? Did they anger you or bring forth any other emotions? Because, I have to tell you, as a reader, both novels really hit me emotionally, and I'm normally a very cold, unfeeling person. Icy, really. I think that's a good descriptor. ;)

DR: Icy? You? I don’t believe it. I struggled more writing from point of view of a fourteen year old than I did a sixteen year old because at fourteen you’re less reflective and articulate and cognizant of the world around you. Because I cared about them, the characters in HARMLESS frustrated me at times. I watched how they made their bad decisions and sometimes all it would have taken for them to avoid the whole mess was someone whispering reason, but I couldn’t be the one to do that. I just had to watch everything unfold, and that wasn’t always easy. At the end of my first novel I felt terribly sad for Simone’s loss while at the same time proud of the young woman she’d become. I imagine it’s hard to spend all that time writing a book and not get emotionally connected to your characters. But you also have to know when to let them go.

JP: What those three girls in Harmless did was clearly very, very wrong. At every turn they seemed to make the wrong choice. Did you at all have any difficulty wrestling with that? Did you want to at all give the girls, who are, ultimately, while not forgivable, by the end a little bit sympathetic, any break at all?

DR: Again, I feel tremendous empathy for the girls in HARMLESS. In my opinion morality is inchoate in the teenage years. Often what keeps some kids on the good side of things is pure luck. Any kid could have done what these kids did on a night when they were feeling fragile or vulnerable, when the pull toward self-protection was particularly acute. There are details about each of their lives that I think earn each of them some sympathy. But honestly, I wasn’t trying to give them a break or invent reasons why a reader might sympathize with them, I was only trying to understand the forces beyond immaturity or an underdeveloped moral compass that might have led them to make such bad choices.

JP: Straight from my review of Harmless: Are there degrees of innocence and guilt? Is a small lie different than large lies? Does intent matter at all?

DR: Intent is everything, in my opinion. Well, maybe not everything, but almost everything. This would be a much different story if these girls sat by the river that night and decided that what they wanted to do was make up a lie that would bring them more attention at school. Or a lie that would get somebody in trouble. All they wanted to do that night was deflect attention. They each had a secret or an image of themselves that they desperately wanted to preserve, and the lie was an effort to do that. They didn’t think through the damage the lie would do. Had they intended to do the damage, this would be a very different book. Intent is what separates this story from a story like Mean Girls or any of the many stories out there about girls who seek to harm each other.

JP: In my review of Harmless, I mentioned that the novel reminded me, in some ways, of the Salem Witch Trials because of the hysteria and loss of rationale and control by the adults based upon the actions and lies of a small group of girls. Did history at all come into your mind while writing it? Any other instance? Am I a crazy person to think this?

DR: No, you’re not crazy. (And you’re not icy either.) With this novel I was drawing on something a bit more recent than the Salem Witch Trials. I wrote this novel as a response to the many current stories in the news about kids who’ve done something horrible. I started to notice that my reaction to these kinds of stories was different to those around me. Most people read those stories and think what bad kids. I always think hmmm…. I wonder why good kids would do something so bad. So this novel was an exploration of that, really. Trying to imagine how kids who deep down are good kids, as most kids are, can get caught up in a bad situation.

JP: Simone grapples with HUGE issues in Brief Chapter, issues that full-grown adults haven't always figured out. Did you set out to tell a story with so much questioning? Many would have thought that just the adoption would have been enough for one tale.

DR: I set out to write a novel about Jewish identity. The adoption story was initially a plot device. I wondered why a kid at sixteen would be asking herself all these questions about what it means to be Jewish, what it means to belong to a faith and tradition. And then I thought, maybe she didn’t even know she was Jewish and that’s why she’s suddenly engaged in all these questions. That’s how the adoption story came about. Of course, as it is with writing, often things that start out as secondary ideas wind up becoming your primary themes.

And as for grappling with HUGE questions, I think that’s a good place to start when you sit down to write a book. That’s what growing up is all about, and these questions should be reflected and wrestled with and torn apart piece by piece in books for teenage readers.

JP: What do you want your audience to take away from your books?

DR: I just want readers to have enjoyed the novel and been absorbed in the lives of the characters and felt some level of emotional investment in how it all turns out. I don’t write with messages in mind, I write to give a reader a good experience.

JP: What was the first thing you wrote for each of the books?

DR: The first sentence.
Neither changed from day one.

I like starting at the beginning.

JP: Which authors do you always look forward to reading their next book?

DR: That’s a great question because it made me realize that on my list of favorite books, there aren’t any repeats. No author gets more than one spot. Maybe this is true for any reader: once you’ve fallen head over heels for an author’s book, nothing else he or she produces can ever quite measure up. I’ll read new books by authors of books I’ve already loved, but rarely do I fall in love the same way. So for example, I’ve got the new Michael Chabon novel by my bed, but I’m nervous to read it because of how much I loved his last novel. I’m curious to read the new Ian McEwen book, but I’ve never liked any of his books as much as I enjoyed Enduring Love. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’ve only ever tried reading one of his other many books, and I never got beyond the first chapter. I love many of the early Richard Price novels, but haven’t loved his later, more popular fiction. You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates is a book I treasure, but I can’t say I rush out and by every new Joyce Carol Oates novel. For one thing, who can afford to buy a new book every month?? Okay, that was a long answer. But you see what I mean.

JP: I do. As much as I absolutely LOVE L.M. Montgomery's Anne series, and as many times as I've re-read them, I've never bothered with any of her's beyond those eight. I just couldn't imagine that they would be better.

JP: Which book do you think that everyone should read, and at what age or point of life do you think that they should read it? Why?

DR: I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but my favorite novel is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and one of the things I love about it is that it’s great for readers of almost any age. To me, it’s as close to a perfect novel as there is. It’s got it all. Read it when you’re young and read it when you’re old and you’ll learn something new each time. And she never messed things up by writing another novel!

JP: I have to ask – what can you tell us about what is coming up from you?

DR: I have a new novel coming out in 2008 called HOW TO BUILD A HOUSE. It’s about a girl who spends the summer building a house for a family who lost theirs in a tornado while sorting through her feelings about the break up of her own family. Forgive me-- I’m not very skilled at describing my own books, but I really am excited about it. I’ve just gotten over being sick of it and I’m able to appreciate it again.

JP: I can't wait to read How to Build a House! Thank You Dana SO Much!!

Your Wednesday Interview Schedule:

Mitali Perkins at Hip Writer Mama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production
Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating

Tomorrow you'll find my last interview of SBBT, with Brent Hartinger. By the time you'll actually be reading that, I'll be jetting off to Chicago and Michigan for 16 days! I'm very excited. Some people get all geeked to go to Europe, but Chicago's my favorite city, and I love my Michigan. You'll hear from me while I'm gone. ;) I'm bringing lots of books! Including my trusty iBook.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Your Tuesday Interview Schedule

Today's Summer Blog Blast Tour:

I may not be hosting an author today, but don't forget to come back tomorrow and Thursday when I grill Dana Reinhardt and Brent Hartinger!!

Old News To You

The Quill Award Nominees were announced at Book Expo, and I've just now looked for the nominee list. This is noteworthy to me mostly because it was the populist nature of these awards that inspired the Cybils. Even so, I've read and reviewed 4 of the 5 titles nominated in the Young Adult/Teen Category.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Despite the fact that The Green Glass Sea is the only one I haven't read, and despite the fact that it won the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award... I don't know that I'll read it. All evidence says that it's a children's book, rather than teen. And what's Titan's Curse doing in the children's section? Not that the younger one's can't read it, but...whatever. I'm not spending anymore brain cells on this award.

(oh, and I'm rooting for Life As We Knew It. You know, if you cared. ABC & Sold have already gotten love, and if you follow my link to Incantation, you'll know how I felt about that one...Plus, if LAWKI wins, there's a bigger chance that the sequels Pfeffer want to write - sequels I desperately want - will actually happen. You know, in addition to the dead & the gone...which is due out May 1, 2008, and which I really, really, really want.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

In which I get to interview Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl just became my favorite of 2007 so far. Sorry Twisted (I still love you!).

Deanna made a mistake. She shouldn’t have ever gone parking with Tommy. But what could have been a private mistake turns into a very public one when her father catches her in the act, and Tommy spreads the sordid tale around school – which, in a small town like Pacifica, means everyone knows. Now it’s almost three years later, she’s done with sophomore year, and Deanna is that girl. She can’t escape her past; no one will let her forget what she did, and worst of all, her father hasn’t looked in her eyes since that night he pulled her out of Tommy’s car.

To the people around her, Deanna’s is defined by one moment -one mistake – despite the fact that she’s done nothing since then but prove otherwise.

1) I've been referring Deanna's indiscretion as a mistake. Do you think it actually was a mistake? Is Deanna the girl she is because of that choice? Do you think she would be the same girl had she seen through Tommy? Can we be defined by one single moment in time?

The word "mistake" does carry a lot of negative implications that may or may not be actual or helpful, but at the same time I'd hesitate to say that Deanna's choice was positive or even neutral. You make an excellent point, though, that I think all emotionally healthy people eventually come to understand: who we are and how we interact with the world are in large part a direct result of everything we experience---good, bad, or indifferent. Things that seem like disasters when they happen may in fact catalyze huge positive growth, even if that growth isn't something you see or understand until years later. We don't have the power over time and space to go back and make different choices, or eliminate all pain and suffering from our lives...part of growing into an adult is figuring out how we react to and process those things, which is one reason YA fiction is so compelling. Adolescence is when we start to really see how choices---as well as things that happen to us that we may not have a choice about---form us. As for whether or not anyone can be defined by a single moment, I don't think so. I do believe there can be single moments that turn us in one direction or another, or inspire change. When you look back at a map of your life, those are the landmarks.

Story of a Girl really is one fantastic scene after another. I'd like to highlight one in particular between Deanna and her father, as I think it represents in two sentences two important, linked issues in the book: "…And that's why I couldn't touch him now and try I'm sorry one more time. I didn't have it in me to be turned away again," p 105.

2) Deanna is very physically standoffish and is uncomfortable receiving affection from both friends and family. Even when she wants to hug someone or comfort them, she holds back. She got into the situation with Tommy more because she was flattered that an older boy liked her, than because she liked Tommy in particular. How much is Deanna motivated by the fear of rejection and the need for acceptance? Are these the same thing to her? How about shame and embarrassment?

I think most of Deanna's discomfort with affection comes from the fact that her family just isn't very demonstrative. I've always pictured them (the Lamberts) as having been mildly affectionate when the kids were little, and then sort of stopping all meaningful touching once Deanna and Darren became teens. I think this happens to a lot of families---I know when I was a teen I didn't want to be touched and would say, "Don't touch me," or wrench myself out of hugs, but then there were other times I literally wanted to crawl onto my mother's lap. I think it's hard for parents to know how to respect boundaries but still show affection. Fear of rejection is something that I'm sure parents experience, too. How many times do you endure "Don't touch me!" before you stop trying? That can't be easy. But back to Deanna! I always felt like her primary motivation was the longing for family, and everything she does---both the good choices and the not-so-good---can ultimately be traced back to that. It's a universal longing that can be expressed in a million ways. At the time Tommy comes along, he is at least offering her something, and she's ready to grasp at anything.

3) p 122 "…the whole idea of parents seemed like a part of ancient history." Wow. Do you think that this is a common thought among teens? How do you think this attitude affects their universe?
I don't know if it's common. I do know that I felt extremely independent when I was in high school, and like I no longer needed parents. Other than the food/clothing/shelter thing, I saw them as pretty much just a nuisance. Obviously, part of the job of a teenager is to break away from parents and start to feel for ways to think and act independently. Ideally, this is done in a physically and emotionally safe environment where parents are keeping a healthy proximity to what's going on, while letting their kids test independence. Deanna is in a sort of perfect storm of circumstances---she's at the age at which she should be testing her independence, but her parents are distracted by financial issues, Darren's problems, and crazy job schedules. Enter Tommy Webber just as Deanna needs attention and affirmation, and the results aren't surprising.

That said, now I have to defend the Lamberts. Deanna's parents are together, they work hard to provide for their family, and they let Darren and Stacy live there even if they aren't happy about it. I don't see them as "bad parents." The family actually spends more time together and is more connected to each other's lives than a lot of families that might not have such dramatic problems. There's an underlying strength that the family has, and I see them as always coming back to each other even as they have conflict. Maybe when Deanna is thirty or so, she realizes that she really does have the family she longs for.

4) Deanna writes and thinks about "the girl on the waves" to express or cope with things she doesn't know what else to do with. Can you talk a little about how that worked its way into the story and how it was for you to write those sections?

That changed a lot over the course of revisions. Originally, that wasn't in the story at all. At some point, I added a fairly elaborate story of the girl on the waves as a way to tap into things that Deanna couldn't otherwise express. That didn't entirely work, either, so in the end that part got scaled way back. It was hard to find the balance and make sure it added to the story but didn't distract, and that those sections earned their space on the page.

5)"They never tell you this part in sex ed, how to talk about what you did and why you did it and what you thought about it, before, during, and after" p 126. How effective do you think America is in educating young people about sex? Why?

Well, I don't know. It's been a long time since I was in school, and I don' t have kids, so I honestly don't know what is being taught and how it's working. I did get an email from a girl who read the book and said she thought it was a good example of the kinds of things they were talking about in sex ed---all of the potential fallout of sex, including the emotional aspects. So that's good. But then I sort of look at the evidence and how kids are behaving sexually, and I don't know. There's still a ton of teen pregnancy, STDs, and a double-standard for boys' behavior vs. girls'. I'm sure there are a number of factors---there's the influence of popular culture, what's talked about and modeled at home, peer support and pressure, the availability of other options...not just what happens in a classroom setting. Anyway, I'm definitely not an expert. Those are just my observations.

6) The restaurant that Deanna works in is…disgusting. Especially on page 164: "What Michael called 'minestrone' was really a slimy mixture of leftover pizza sauce and water and vegetables from the salad bar that were about to go bad, with some macaroni thrown in." Have you ever worked in a place like that? What was it like?

Hah! I did work at a pizza place, but it was a fairly clean chain restaurant. I embellished the gross details to contribute to the general feeling of tarnish on Deanna's life. I like to think that the impressions of Picasso's are mostly Deanna's jaded teen viewpoint and not an actual health hazard.

7) What is the first thing that you wrote for this book, and did it make it into the final product?

I think the first sentence of the first draft was, "They made us watch this video in sex ed..." There are a few sentences left from the original first chapter.

8) You received many wonderful cover blurbs from some of the biggest names in YA Lit, including 'it' boy John Green. Can you tell us a bit about the blurb process and what it was like for you?

I am very, very lucky to have such generous friends and colleagues. The process was fairly painless---I asked people I knew if I could give their names to my editor for blurbs, and they generously said yes, and most of them did end up endorsing it. I was really overwhelmed, actually, and extremely grateful. The Chris Crutcher quote was the only one that came as a complete surprise, which was of course awesome.

9) Which authors are you always eager to read their next book?

I have to get everything M.E. Kerr writes---I was reading her when I was a teen and she is still going strong. I used to count the days to a new Robert Cormier book, may he rest in peace. These days I'm always eager to see what John Green is going to do next, and I can't wait for Mary Pearson's next book. I'm also ready for a new Brock Cole or Carolyn Coman book any time.

Thank you Sara for the honor of the interview! Find more from Sara Zarr at her blog and MySpace. Then, if not before - GO READ STORY OF A GIRL!! You simply will not regret it.

Wander over to today's other Summer Blog Blast Tour interviews:

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray
Mitali Perkins at Big A, Little a
Justina Chen Headley at Hip Writer Mama
Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick by Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland

And remember, you'll see Dana Reinhardt here on Wednesday, and Brent Hartinger in this space on Thursday. I'm SO excited!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The adventure begins!

High-tail thyself over toFinding Wonderland for the first installment in the Kidlitosphere's Summer Blog Blast Tour. It's with this year's Printz Award winner for American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang.

Today's Interview:

Gene Yang at Finding Wonderland

Tomorrow, I'll be hosting Sara Zarr, author of the amazing Story of a Girl.
Wednesday you'll find gush-worthy Dana Reinhardt in this spot.
Thursday I'm ecstatic to offer the multi-faceted staple of teen lit Brent Hartinger.

But wait! There's more!
Over 50 interviews will be posted with YA authors between now and Saturday. You are sure to find some of your favorites on the list. Every day participating bloggers will link to the interviews of the day. We hope you enjoy the tour as much as we have creating it. Let us know!

Monday, June 11, 2007

48 Hour Book Challenge - What I did

6 books

1,416 pages

Reading time: 16 hours 6 minutes

(1.47 pages a minute)

Blogging time: 3 hrs 42 minutes

Total Time Spent: 19 hrs 48 minutes

And so goes MotherReader's 2nd Annnual 48 Hour Book Challenge. It was fun!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Now isn't that a friendly little demon!

Ok, I seriously love this book. What a nice one to cap off the 48 Hour Reading Challenge with!

So there's this demon, right? Well, this demon is totally bored after an eternity of reflecting pain back at the souls in Hell. He wants to go experience the life that they messed up. He figures he could make his own body, but that would take some effort, and it's not like anyone will really notice if he just quietly slips in to Shaun's (a rather despondent teen who was going to die anyway) body. His goal is just to experience. He's not going to make any impact either positive or negative. But he finds out that you can't just take the sensations; living isn't just physical. Slowly, he does start to affect those around him - and the impact may just be a little surprising coming from a demon from Hell.

This was really funny. Our Demon was entirely charming. On one hand he's got a detached view of the world, but he can't help but let compassion and love in and it makes all the difference. And the cover rocks. Inane but true statement of the day: This book makes me happy. That's all the review needed, right?

'twould be a good pairing with Good Omens... A Certain Slant of Light shares the whole body-snatching thing, but isn't nearly as light-hearted (although, if you haven't read ACSL, you really ought to - It's very good!)

Reading: 224 pages in 1 hr 54 minutes
Posting: 21 minutes (phew! right under the deadline!)

Complete stats to come.

Well, sure twist it like that and I'll pay attention.

I don't quite know why, but I really thought this was going to be about pioneers. I was really ready for pioneers. Homesteading, etc. Plenty Porter is still historical fiction, as it's set in the 1950's, and while the Porter family does farm, it isn't quite the book I expected. Especially the ending. I Did Not See That Coming.

Plenty Porter received her name because, as the 11 and youngest child in her family, when she was born, her father said that 11 was Plenty. Sure enough. Things just work out for Plenty. She finds a watch belonging to her neighbor which ends up making her friends and giving her an education, which in turn, gives her access to what she really wants: books. Lots of books. All the while, her family is struggling to make ends meet and to cope with the fact that her sister Marcie is very ill, and no one knows why.

Brandon Noonan, in striving to create an original voice in Plenty used more clauses than I've seen in anything that I wasn't forced to read by one of my many musty literature classes. I've flat out never seen the word 'which' used so much. It was a round about way of language and a little difficult to become accustomed to. I considered bailing a few times, and I might have, were I not unsure of the rules for the Challenge regarding abandoning novels. I'm actually rather glad that I didn't, as it was interesting to see how everything fit together in the end.

Reading this, and not having read summaries or reviews (which I really do try to avoid with books I think I'll actually read), I was a little surprised to see that this was a teen book as it was reading much younger. It makes sense in the end, but what Noonan was doing was introducing all of the elements of the larger mystery and playing them off in a 'moments-in-a-young-girl's-life' manner. I wasn't at all prepared for what was actually going on.

Reading: 222 pages in 2 hrs 48 minutes
Posting: 35 minutes

Anyone else see an alien baby and rubber duck in those clouds?

Kinda an odd book, this one. Bit of a mix between John Green (which I love) and King Dork (which I hate).

Stan's always been...unusual. In some ways he's far behind his peers, but when everyone freaks out that he isn't learning to print, they find out that he actually has a genius IQ. He can do large math in his head quickly and has a Rainman-like encyclopedic knowledge of movies. The entire small town expects great things from him - especially since he won that chess championship. Now he's graduated from high school and he's got no plans for college. He works in a video store, dreams of writing a screenplay and is in love with a girl who's dating a guy Stan spends most of his time focused on avoiding. See, that guy has sworn to kill Stan, and Stan doesn't doubt that he meant it. And now, suspicious, scary things keep happening to him...

Can you see Going Nowhere Faster reminds me of Katherines & King Dork? There's a bit of a mystery Sean Beaudoin used as a plot device (like Portman's novel), but mostly there's a great deal of humor as our hero stumbles his way through life and love. He's obsessed with list-making, each chapter is named after a movie, and the text is sprinkled with his failed script ideas. All of which are entirely amusing. The most hilarious moment came when his mother unexpectedly picked him, his little sister and the girl he's crushing on up from the park. Mom's eccentric and completely unaware. She mortifies poor Stan. I had to put the book down, I was laughing so hard. I think my neighbor hit our shared wall at that point. Or that might have come later. I don't remember. Appendix A is worthless, but Appendix B is great.

I successfully avoided absent parents, but guess what I didn't avoid? Road Trips. Luckily, this one happened off-screen, and the soul-searching was performed before the cross-country trek. But seriously, authors? Enough with the road trips.

YA Books with Road Trips that I can think of off the top of my head:
Abundance of Katherines, The Real Question, Becoming Chloe, Born to Rock, Tallulah Falls, Honey Baby Sweetheart, Beauty Shop for Rent, Guyaholic, Defining Dulcie.
I invite you to add to these in the comments.

Reading: 235 pages in 2 hrs 9 minutes
Posting: 44 minutes

Saturday, June 09, 2007

If I wore those heels I'd fall flat on my face. Really.

Do you remember that sort of flippant thing I said awhile ago about characters going on road trips to find themselves? I think I should have taken some sort of hint from the cover of Carolyn Mackler's Guyaholic. Yep.

Lots of alcohol, lots of drugs and LOTS of sex. It's about as graphic as teen novels get. All as appropriate for the character. V is back. She's returned to continued success on stage, and has even been accepted to a choice college. But things, they are a bit odd in V-world. After literally falling into his lap V, has been dating Sam for THREE MONTHS. If you know V, you know that boys do not hold her attention for two weeks. Sam wants to define their relationship. Sam wants to be able to hold her hand. Sam wants to call her his girlfriend... V can't handle this. She doesn't want to lose Sam, but it sends her in the opposite direction. V screws up. Big time. Like Mara who went vegan to forget Travis, V decides to drive cross-country to see the flaky mother she hasn't seen in 18 months. So, as she drives away from Sam and toward her mother, V must confront the real root of her problems.

Who needs therapy when they can drive across country alone? V's a good kid. She just grew up with a lousy mother and no stable environment. She's got issues. She needed to work them out. V tends to use guys to cover up facing those issues. She substitutes their lust for what she doesn't want to think about. It's a poor substitution, and it can take you only so far. Especially if you suddenly find yourself wanting to trust someone. Take the guys away and what's left? Just you. Deal.

Due out August 14th, according to Amazon.

I'm going to go read something that doesn't have any pink on its cover. Hopefully, the next kid will have decent parents; I'm getting a little tired of absent/lousy mothers/fathers.

Reading: 179 pages in 2 hrs 14 minutes
Posting: 43 minutes

Speaking of books I should have read YEARS ago...

Vegan Virgin Valentine's been on my radar for years. One of those books that I'm always "getting to." It's not that I expected to not like it (because I totally liked it), it's more that I was a little underwhelmed by the cover (note I picked the pbk cover, even if it's a plague of an image) and, well, I never looked too closely at it even when I knew everyone else liked it (because?).

Mara Valentine's right on track. She's been accepted to Yale (early) and now it's just a race of tenths of points whether she or her ex-boyfriend Travis (the jerk) will be valedictorian. But before she settles down into that last slide toward college her niece (only a year younger; don't ask) Vivienne "V" comes to stay. V picks up a new vice everywhere she lives - she is Mara's antitheses and within hours V's fooled around with Travis. Looks like the last legs of high school won't be quite what Mara was expecting...

Can I tell you how much I was rooting for Mara & V? I SO wanted them to be friends - no - I wanted them to be sisters. Carolyn Mackler's given us a deceptively simple book. It's fun, it's sweet, but both these girls have their baggage. V's are pretty obvious, but Mara's got some serious issues too; along the line of Abbey, Mara a little repressed and rather attached to control - she's become so focused on being The One Hope, that she's let other things slide, like friends. She desperately needs a little shaking up, and V is just the girl for the job - if they can just get past the resentment they feel toward each other.

Why am I reading this now? Well, due to a lovely benefactress, I received the ARC sequel to VVV, Guyaholic in the mail this week. Just in time for a true gluttony of books. It's like it was meant to be.

Reading: 228 pages in 2 hrs 19 minutes
Posting: 36 minutes