November Reads for the Road

Please consider taking a moment from your own reading to donate books or funds to the Ferguson Library, in Ferguson, Missouri. The library in Ferguson remains open, despite schools being closed, and offer children's programs throughout the day. Donate by using the button in the top left corner here: or send books directly through the Hope Through Stories program:

If you're looking for something for your own reading pleasure, consider these YA Highway recommendations:

Kristin H. recommends FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters: If you love the slow, careful burn of a romantic, atmospheric Gothic, with a cast of strange, affected characters, this book's for you. The ending goes off the rails just a touch, but the final chapter puts a satisfying bow on this story about two young women doing their best to manipulate crimes in their own favor.

She also read and loved SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo: The Grisha series just keeps getting better and better with this second installation. Bardugo's world is as lush as ever, and watching Alina's power grow is satisfying. The best part, though, may be the gray morality of The Darkling. A complex villain is always appreciated.

Kate read GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES by Isabel Quintero -- Great voice and an authentic setting. Loved that it was honest and full of hope without becoming saccharine.

What are the recent reads you'd recommend we all need to get our hands on?

Five Ways to Stay in Touch With Your WIP During Busy Times

Daydream! About your WIP, I mean. Not about taking a nap. (Ok. As well as daydreaming about taking a nap.) Think of all the characters you love and all the scenes calling to you, waiting to find their way into words. The beauty of daydreaming is that it keeps things alive and glowing, and you can do it while travelling to see far flung family members, while cleaning, while drifting off to sleep, while navigating the supermarket. And you don't have to have your computer switched on or even nearby, nor do you have to be fully awake and capable of constructing actual sentences. But at the same time, you're still playing make believe, still thinking your way through all the chains of imaginary events to come, still celebrating the potential in your story. It might not have any noticeable effect on your wordcount, but daydreaming totally counts. Always.

Collect shiny things. It's the next step on from daydreaming. Sometimes if I don’t have time or energy to do actual writing, I'll find shiny things and write them down, things I'm looking forward to expanding later on, small ideas, pieces of description, snatches of dialogue. Or I'll find shiny things I've already written down and read over them. There are other ways to collect shiny things too, like making a board of inspiring pictures on pinterest, or a playlist of all the songs you associate most strongly with your novel, or gathering a bunch of poems and quotations which take you straight into the heart of your main character – anything that evokes all the aspects of your project that fascinate you and obsess you. Anything that keeps the writing muscle inside your head moving, even if it isn't doing actual writing right now.

Lower your targets. If your goal is a thousand words a day but life is getting in the way, aim at five hundred instead. If you aim at a hundred words a day, try fifty. As soon as I halve my target, two things happen. One is that the angry perfectionist who lives in my brain gets even angrier than usual, the one who wants me to produce large numbers of flawless words every day because this will supposedly stop the world from ending or something. But the other thing that happens when I halve my target is that I immediately feel relieved, like I've just set down a heavy load I've been carrying for days, and suddenly, the whole prospect of writing just seems so much easier. If I get ridiculously busy, I might halve my target again. Or completely get rid of it. If my goal is “just write some words, any words,” then that's doable, dammit, even with a preschooler asleep on top of me and half an hour left before I need to start dinner. Alternately, you could keep your daily target the same, but cut down the number of days when you have to meet it. Instead of writing five hundred words every day this week, what if you wrote five hundred words every second day, and left things to rest on the others?

Be kind to yourself about the words you do manage to write. If you're working outside your normal writing routine, there's a chance it will be harder to get into the flow, and things might feel slow and stilted and generally as good as you want them to be. But the aim is to stay afloat, not to win the Olympic freestyle. If you manage to write words at a time when the rest of your life is making it really, really hard to write words, then that in itself is a win. During busy times, you need to devote the writing space in your head to thinking about everything you love about your project. If you waste that space on getting grumpy at yourself for not living up to your (probably maybe slightly unrealistic) expectations, then you're getting in your own way. Stop that.

Enjoy your holidays. No, really. Writers are so good at guilt. When we have projects hanging over us waiting to be written, it's easy for them to turn into lurking, shadowy monsters made of unfinished business and despair, waiting to leap out and eyeball us when we walk around corners, breathing noisily down our necks, and reminding us, loudly and constantly, of all the writing we should be doing right now. But writers deserve to have fun times as much as everyone else. Look forward to all those words you haven’t written yet and all those scenes still to come, but don’t beat yourself up over them. In the meantime, breathe. Because you can't fuel all those joyously productive writing times without letting yourself have joyously unproductive times too, the ones when you surround ourselves in the best possible company, and do all the best possible things. Your project will wait, I promise you. Go live.

Field Trip Friday: November 21, 2014


- Wednesday night's National Book Awards saw a sledgehammer of a speech by honoree Ursula K. Le Guin, a big win for the amazing Jacqueline Woodson... and a headdesk of a "joke" by host Daniel Handler. He later apologized for his idiotic racist comments, but they're just one more example of the publishing industry's problems with race and diversity. ETA: Friday morning, Handler apologized again, admitting his comments were racist, and donated $10K to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks fund, with an offer to match more donations up to $100K.


- Beautiful and inspiring post from Myra McEntire about fear, writing, and authenticity.

- It's okay to give up on a project, if you're doing it for the right reasons, says Kat Howard.

- Lish McBride looks at moral ambiguity, YA lit, and The Princess Bride.

- "You never kill off enough teenagers," says R. L. Stine.

- Rachel Toor examines the habits of productive writers, and Chuck Wendig offers advice on writerly motivation.

- "Once a book is in the hands of a reader, its genre ceases to be important, and attention can properly turn to the magic of text and ideas. Calling a book "young adult" is only important in that it can help get a book to the right reader. After that it's a useless abstraction and should be discarded," says NBA finalist Eliot Schrefer.


- "[S]omeone needs to inform General Prayuth that if his system of government is threatened by young people emulating a Hollywood movie, it is pretty sure sign that things needs to change." As fandom gears up for the release of MockingjayThai students use the series's well-known salute to advocate for change, and Odds In Our Favor wants the spotlight to include the continued resistance in Ferguson. Rolling Stone says Katniss Everdeen and Arya Stark are the new female role models, and Wired says ruthless female leaders are the real heroes of recent dystopian flicks.

Toni Morrison talks to Stephen Colbert about race, racism, and reading Beloved for the first time since she wrote it.

- Stacked rounds up some fabulous 2015 covers that feature diversity front and center.

- What's the best way to approach your library about acquiring diverse titles? Angie Manfredi has tips.

- Asti at Oh The Books put together an awesome periodic table of YA sci fi!

- Dahlia Adler lists 4 mistresses of dark contemporary YA.

- A. S. King, Carrie Mesrobian, and Christa Desir discuss sexual violence in YA lit, and Erin E. Moulton looks at bibliotheraphy for teens dealing with mental illness.

- The MarySue wants to know why Tamora Pierce's novels haven't hit the big screen.


- Vote in the semi-finals of the Book Shimmy Awards and the finals of the Goodreads Choice Awards!


- Janet Reid shares the most common mistakes made by newly agented authors.

- Writers, editors, and educators remember Walter Dean Myers at Hunger Mountain.

- How many clients is too many? Jennifer Laughran discusses.


- Lisa Schroeder is giving away 8 awesome 2015 ARCs!

- Courtney Summers's upcoming All the Rage is getting all the blurbs, and she's sharing the riches with you!


- Rhapsody's CFO agrees with Taylor Swift and others who think free streaming is bad for music.

- Buzzfeed offers you six ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month without being an asshole.

- The principal of a Missouri high school says there's "nothing racial" about the powderpuff football team playing in blackface. (Meanwhile a different Missouri teen performed CRP on a baby surrounded by useless adults.)

- Over 100K people have signed a Change dot org petition asking TLC to cancel "Nineteen Kids and Counting" because of the Duggar family's efforts to overturn local legislation protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. (Full disclosure: this is happening in my hometown and I am having some not-so-secret rage issues about it.)

- John Cameron Mitchell will return as the star of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

- Marie Lodi at Rookie discusses the importance of online friendships.

- A study suggests kids who are cool at 13 are often unsuccessful at 23, and another shows that larger schools are more likely to develop cliques.

- Apparently we can thank Google for the poop emoji reaching America.

- "Text neck" is a real thing that could be a real... pain in the neck. (SORRY.)

- Killer pieces this week:


Tumblr provides fixes for the the Barbie book I Can Be A Computer Engineer.

Three grandmothers smoke weed for the first time and then play Jenga. 

Check out the trailer for THE DUFF!

And this is a giant panda playing in the snow. You're welcome.

Road Trip Wednesday

This week's topic: Where is your favorite place to write?

Participate via comments, your own blog, tumblr, twitter (hashtag #roadtripwednesday), anywhere you'd like!

YA Before YA: What My Parents Read

My last post covered the history of YA as a genre and a movement - from the inauguration of YALSA to the creation of the Printz award. Today, I want to talk about the history of YA as it pertains to an individual. Specifically, to my father. 

I would probably not be a reader or a writer today if it wasn't for my family. The first gift my stepfather ever gave me was the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia. My dad wove his stories into our bedtime rituals; the next day, we wrote down everything I remembered about the characters and the plot, while he illustrated our makeshift books with cartoonish mice and bears.

So it matters to me, and to my personal history, how my family came to love literature. My dad was reading books long before the Printz award came to be - so what were the books that shaped his teenage mind? I asked if he had time to sit down with me (on the phone) for a while and answer that question. 

Dad: Hello!

Me: Hi! Are you ready to go?

Dad: I am! I've never been interviewed by my daughter. This is a first. Please edit me with extreme prejudice.

Me: I will. I promise. Okay. So... What's the first book you can remember reading as a young teenager?

Dad: Well, we had required reading - so I remember reading A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. I remember reading... which one had Pippin in it?

MeGreat Expectations?

Dad: Right, Great Expectations. But that was required reading - before I got into science fiction. I think mandatory reading is fine, but you have to get kids outside of the required reading. That didn't happen for me until later. The great thing about YA as a genre is that I think you're getting teenagers interested in reading sooner than you would if they didn't have it.

Me: What were some of your favorite stories, once you started reading for fun?

Dad: When I got into tenth grade I actually had a science fiction class, and that's when I really enjoyed reading. We had to read a book a week. I think that class is the reason why science fiction has impacted me so much as an adult. We didn't have lessons - we just talked about the books. "Wasn't that scene amazing?" "What do you think about the science - do you think we'll ever see that technology?" We talked so much about time travel. I think the first book I really got excited about was Ringworld (Larry Nivven).

Later on, I started reading more that wasn't "pure" science fiction, like Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz. I enjoyed them. I really got into Clancy and other war-related books. There happened to be science in there, but it was mostly the science of mass destruction. [Laughs]

Even now, the books I've most enjoyed - including the YA you've turned me onto - I gravitate toward science. Ender's Game, Hunger Games. I think it's really the way my high school professor presented that genre, the way he just loved to talk about it. For our final, we had to write a 500 word essay on what we got out of the class. It was probably one of the first As I got in high school. [Laughs]

Oh, and another favorite - back to my sci-fi roots again - a short story, True Names, by Vernor Vinge. That one's all about the persona we create in a virtual world, and how it's different from our real selves. I read that one in college, after high school - maybe '86, '87. I was just starting to work for TRW. We were learning about computers and what they could do, what they might mean - and then I read this book, all about that. Nowadays, that's nothing new; we know all about virtual worlds. But at the time, it was so interesting to me.

Me: So it was really the world-building that you gravitated toward?

Dad: Yes, future worlds - and also the science behind whatever the world was. In the case of Jurassic Park, what interested me immediately was the fact that they could bring back these dinosaurs from fossilized DNA - that was exciting! And Timeline was all about traveling back to the Middle Ages, and the fact that when they come back from the past their bodies are just slightly different, with bones that have shifted, deteriorated...

Me: All of those subtle details.

Dad: Yeah.

Me: What kind of reader were you as a young adult?

Dad: When I got into an author, I rarely moved away from them. It's probably a crutch. For four weeks straight, I read all the Bradbury I could find - his big ones, anyway. Then I started looking for award winners, and I'd read them. I never ventured too far away from the big novels, because I knew those would be good. You don't win Nebulas and Hugos unless you're a good writer.

Because I am a loving daughter, I respected my dad's requests and edited this interview mercilessly. This is not a full transcript of our conversation. But, all the same, I'm so thankful my father took the time to talk about his favorite reads, as a young adult living in a world before the YA phenomenon. 

Thanks for reading!

Field Trip Friday: November 14 2014


- Amazon and Hachette finally reached an agreement.

- Congratulations to #WeNeedDiverseBooks, who topped their IndieGoGo campaign goal of $100,000 this week!


- Hilary T. Smith discusses the disconnect between writing and industrialization.

- Jodi Meadows shares the differences between author expectations and reality.

- Feeling lonely and isolated on your publishing journey? It's not just you, says Dahlia Adler.

- Isabel Quintero talks body image, speaking Spanglish, and making herself visible in fiction.

- Have you been reading Sarah Enni's amazing Carpool Lane emails? Check out the archives and sign up -- they're great for NaNo inspiration, but they're also amazing resources to bookmark for any time of the year!


- The executors of Maurice Sendak's estate are refusing to honor his will.

- "Black Girls Don't Read Sylvia Plath": a killer essay by Vanessa Willoughby at the Hairpin (via Sarah McCarry).

- Designer Christian Boer develops a font specifically for helping people with dyslexia read more easily.

- Epic Reads suggests YA books that Netflix should turn into web series, and Tracey Neithercott lists teen movies worth streaming.

- What keeps you from seeking or finding diverse books? LĂ©onicka Valcius wants to know.

- Sign up for the Rumpus's "Letters for Kids" and your kids will get periodic letters from children's authors! (via Holly Schindler)

- "Best Of" lists 2014:


- "New writers, particularly the ones who joined Twitter specifically to meet people and learn about the industry, are accidentally falling in with a bad crowd." Sarah LaPolla warns aspiring authors to not to believe everyone they read (and gives us a nice shout out!).

- The NYT examines the new cubicle layout of Hachette HQ.

- Jennifer Laughran gives you a fantastic and detailed look at the submission process from an agent's point of view.


- MTV's "Rebel Music" series features young Native American musicians advocating for change in their communities.

- "Alex from Target": A Texas teen's life gets turned upside down by a random viral photo of him working the cash register.

- 10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With the World. Besides killing everyone, I mean.


#FeministPrincessBride: your antidote to that stupid article in Time.

Get a sneak peek at the upcoming trailer for The DUFF and watch the teaser for Insurgent, both based on books by former Highwayers!

YALLFest Recap!

This was the first year I was able to get to YALLFest, the biggest YA conference in the U.S., put on by Margaret Stohl and the team at Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, South Carolina every fall. The conference is basically the anti-BEA: No booths with stacks of advance copies, no swarms of business suits or endless lines for reality TV stars-turned authors.

Instead, the conference focuses entirely on young readers, with panels focused on the publishing process, the shifting focus on “strong” women in YA lit, and even an interactive middle grade book-writing experience that was like Dr. Suess meets Mad Libs.

The conference was kicked off by a conversation between Sara Zarr and James Dashner. James talked about the seven years he spent toiling as an accountant, writing with every spare moment, before publishing THE MAZE RUNNER. In a story that proves the Utah writing community truly is special, James said he had parted ways with an agent and was pessimistic about THE MAZE RUNNER when Sara introduced him to her agent, Michael Bourret. The rest, as they say, is history.

The next panel featured several of the authors who contributed to MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME, an anthology of Christmas-time love stories edited by Stephanie Perkins. Stephanie said she reached out to contributor Matt de la Pena because his books, which typically deal with a blue-collar teen male perspective on race and class, had romantic plots that she loved. Matt said that, though he enjoys writing love stories, that element is not typically how his books are promoted or perceived, so writing the story for MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME gave him the chance to focus on that element.

Rainbow Rowell and her editor, Sara Goodman at St. Martin’s Press, had a discussion with literary agent Sarah Burnes (full disclosure: she’s my agent!) about ELEANOR & PARK’s at times convoluted road to publication. Rainbow had all but given up on ELEANOR & PARK by the time it was published in the U.S., and Sara’s unique combination of tenacity and patience helped it become the juggernaut launching Rainbow’s YA career.

Rainbow also shared a great perspective on how to handle editor’s notes. Sometimes when an editor asks her to remove an element of the book, Rainbow says she adds more of that element instead. When an editor singles out an element, “They’re just telling you it isn’t working,” she said. Adding can be as effective as deleting, if it makes that element more organic to the book. Rainbow revealed that some of my favorite characters from her debut novel, ATTACHMENTS, were almost left on the cutting room floor when she got notes telling her to axe them. (Thanks for keeping the D&D, Rainbow!)

In what was perhaps the most emotional panel of the festival, a group of women gathered to discuss the mental illnesses they struggle with, and shared how they have learned to cope. Lauren Oliver shared an exercise that has helped her separate her feelings from negative interior voices: by imagining the inner voice as a physical demon, drawing or sculpting an image of the demon, and picturing it as a separate monster that lives within. On the subject of medication, Veronica Roth said when she told her therapist she didn’t want to be on medication forever, her therapist told her, “You won’t live forever. This is your one life and you have to make it as good as it can be.” Margaret Stohl shared the advice she gives to young readers: “It is impossible to suck at everything.”

The "She's Kicking It" panel featured a lot of women who are darn awesome in their own right: Leigh Bardugo, Sarah Fine, Alexandra Bracken, Ryan Graudin, Marie Lu, and Sarah Mlynowski. Most excellent moderator Jocelyn Davies asked a load of interesting questions, and in one of the moments that had all the women nodding their heads, Leigh said she does believe readers are harder on female characters than male characters. She noted one of her own male characters, who destroyed an entire village, was seen as “misunderstood,” whereas a female character who did the same thing would likely be seen very differently. Leigh also said she felt it was noteworthy that there is a lack of female anti-heroes, women as complex and interesting as Breaking Bad’s Walter White or The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano. Stop what you’re doing and go write these women, readers!

The silly hats and wigs were not even close to the most entertaining thing discussed on the YA and Hollywood panel. The writers shared how little they mind physical disparities between their fictional characters and the actors chosen to portray them, so long as the story is being told in the best way possible. Veronica Roth and James Dashner both admitted that, in some cases, the actors cast in their adaptions have replaced their visual of the characters. And Gayle Forman admitted that she kind of had a crush on Adam Wilde as played by Jamie Blackley.

So exciting, too – Ann Brashares said the four girls in the original SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS remain so close to this day that they are rallying to adapt the final book in the series. (Eee!)

The annual YA Smackdown is where the spirit of this festival is most on display: authors playing silly games, involving lucky volunteers from the crowd, and showing just how much fun writers can have when they get out from behind their computer screens. A few brave authors shared poems and other writing from when they were young adults (if you get the chance, ask Scott Westerfeld about “breathless breasts”), an updated version of Hollywood Squares saw Aaron Hartzler using all his acting charm to wrangle giggly authors, and the Taboo! Showdown with Veronica Roth and James Dashner was practically a photo finish.

And it wouldn’t be a YALLFest without a performance by the Beatles of YA, Tiger Beat! Despite the fact that she had laryngitis and had barely been able to speak all day, Libba Bray rose to the occasion and absolutely crushed epic anthems like Smells Like Teen Spirit and Whole Lotta Love. Drummer and vocalist Barney Miller nailed every rhyme in This Is How We Do It, and to top it all off, Tiger Beat brought the entire house to its feet to do the Time Warp (again!).

I wasn’t able to get to all the panels (where is that time turner?!) but I hope this rundown gives you an idea of the fun and excitement of YALLFest. The conference has been so popular, organizer Margaret Stohl announced that a brand new West Coast version – YALLWest – will be staged in Santa Monica, California in April 2015.

Can’t wait to see y’all there!