Road Trip Wednesday #35: June's Best Book

Welcome to our 35th Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link in the comments - or, since this week's topic is a short one, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic:
What's the best book you read in June?

Kirsten: "Sometimes all it takes is a sentence to know you've got something special in front of you..."

Kaitlin: "I loved--LOVED--that she kept with the awesomeness of the genre while also carving out her own little spot..."

Amanda: "Beautifully written and a cool concept that I was a bit surprised to see work..."

Kate: In which Sherman Alexie replaces some hotties as Kate's backup boyfriend.

Road Trip Song of the Week:
''Cruel Summer'' by Bananarama

Bonus Fun!!
Are you a RTW participant? You can now declare your awesomeness by showing off the new graffiti-inspired RTW icon on your blog! Check it out in the sidebar.

Next week's topic: What would your ideal writing desk look like? Right down to the perfect pen or laptop.

Guest Post: Michelle Hodkin Talks Sticks & Stones

Today, we bring to you a guest post by the awesome Michelle Hodkin, lawyer and YA author represented by Diana Fox of Fox Literary, LLC. Her debut novel, THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Fall 2011. Find more of Michelle at her blog, website & twitter.

Sticks and Stones
Michelle Hodkin

Michael Jackson and what may or may not have happened with his underage Neverland guests. Woody Allen and his marriage to his ex-wife’s adopted daughter. John Mayer and his asstalking mouth.

Gross. Really gross.

But…I love Thriller (who doesn’t?). I’m obsessed with Annie Hall (DIANE KEATON!). And John Mayer’s voice is like butter (*Melts*).

But can I love the art without supporting the artist? If I buy Woody Allen’s movies or John Mayer’s music, am I implicitly saying “No problem guys, I’m cool with your sketchy shenanigans?”

Because there are some books I love by some authors I don’t. Authors who have said things that are mean or done things that have hurt people. Authors who have behaved badly, who I’m not sure I want to support with my dollars.

But there’s a subtler line, too. Authors who haven’t hurt people, but who have offended people. And not necessarily with their novels, but with their religious beliefs. With their quotes. With their comments. With their words.

And to someone, somewhere, I could someday be one of them.

Today, it's our job as writers to be visible on the internet. To blog and tweet and make friends and be funny and to entertain as well as to inform but above all, to be INTERESTING. And being interesting can be hard, especially when your day looks like this:

Wake up.
Screw around on the internet.
Write a little.
Screw around on the internet.
Shower, maybe.
Screw around on the internet.
Screw around on the internet.

So we have to work to bring the funny. We have to put effort into being entertaining. And sometimes, we aim, we shoot...

We miss.

If we’re lucky, maybe no one was paying attention. If we’re not lucky, our mistakes live on in infamy.

This internet thing, it’s a tricky business. And we have to ask ourselves what our priorities are. Some of us just want to be published. Some of us want to hit it big. For each of us, though, the journey is different.
But it never ever hurts to consider how our words will affect people.

Because that's what being a writer is all about.

~Michelle Hodkin

The Trailer for Every YA Book Ever

Ever stayed up at night, wondering desperately what the book trailer for every YA novel ever would like? Okay, maybe not. But here it is anyway!

To all YA writers and readers: I, teen writer Emilia, apologize in advance for creating this abomination video. It's, uh, sort of awful. But after watching The Trailer for Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever, I was overcome with THE URGE. Cheesiness, silliness, and general debauchery follows - because that's pretty much what trailers are made of.

As it's so eloquently put at the end: YA 4EVER, dudes! Although the genre-pattern stereotypes featured here can be lame to find in a book, when they're handled correctly, they can also help form the literary backbone that makes YA awesome (except, yeah, the token minority thing is just lame).

Truth is, I missed a ton of great stuff - what else belongs in the trailer for every YA book ever?

Tools of the Trade

Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Sandra Dallas.

"Moscow Never Sleeps" by Martin Cruz Smith.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

What is so special about these three pieces of writing? Every single one of them, in some way, helped me write one of my WIPs.

What else is interesting about these three books? Not one of them is a YA novel.

As YA/children's writers we are constantly told to know the market. To read within our genre. To find out what is selling and gobble it up. And this is really fantastic advice. Reading YA gives you the tools to write YA - to understand voice and tone and why first person POV is so dang popular.

But there are tools outside of the young adult genre too. As a matter of fact, every book and magazine article and newspaper out there has the potential to teach you.


A writer's toolbox is full of words and stories, not genres - and stories are everywhere. You just have to look.


Query Series: Kristin Halbrook & Suzie Townsend

In this Saturday series, YA Highway writers share the query letters that landed their agents -- and why the queries worked, from the agents themselves. Next up...

Author Kristin Halbrook
Agent Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary Management

from Kristin:

I actually really enjoy writing queries. Looking for taglines, finding ways to insert voice, boiling down a 60k ms into a couple hundred words. It's very deconstructionist - and I love that. This particular query was fun because I'd had the high concept movies running through my head as I wrote. I wanted to capture the fluff of Cher (Clueless), the mystery of Veronica Mars, and the dark upscale lifestyle of Heathers. So when I went to write the query, those concepts were the perfect jumping off point/hook, I thought.

This query got a good number of requests and I was excited to get one from Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, who repped my dear friend Kody Keplinger. I'd only heard good things about Joanna. Joanna did eventually pass - with a super nice, thoughtful and complimentary rejection. But she recommended I query Suzie Townsend at FinePrint Literary, who was just beginning to take on clients of her own. I honestly hadn't heard of Suzie (sorry Suz!), but if Joanna was recommending her, I was listening.

I'm so glad I listened. Suzie bowled me over with her enthusiasm for LOVELY, DROWNING and her insight into how I could make the project better. Although I was waiting to hear back from other agents with the full, I couldn't deny how impressed I was with Suzie. We signed a week after she offered and I've been in golden hands ever since.

the query, with Suzie's comments:
Joanna Stampfel-Volpe recommended I query you with my project, LOVELY, DROWNING. I would love for you to take a look. Here's the query:
This was of course, a huge point for me. Because Joanna's an agent I respect and a friend. She also knows my tastes. And she'd mentioned to me a few days before the query came that she'd just finished reading something she really liked but she knew was a project meant for me. I had been breathlessly anticipating the arrival of the query ever since that mention.

And that's something important to note. Because I've since received several queries which name drop - either naming another agent or a client of mine (or even a client of Joanna's) - and they only really work in the writer's favor when the person they're mentioning has also mentioned the project to me.
It’s Clueless meets Veronica Mars meets Heathers when the drowned body of high school senior Katie Sawyer’s best friend, Chelsea Mathis, tumbles out of the microscope closet during second period Chem. class.
Kristin really had me at Veronica Mars since I'm a crazy VM fan, but what I loved about this query is how succinct and to the point it is. In one sentence, I know have a high concept (Clueless meets VM) YA novel (high school senior) with a mystery (a dead best friend).
SoCal rich girl Katie has spent the past three and a half years cultivating the perfect teenage experience. But the death of her best friend sends Katie reeling and brings to the surface every bad experience she has compartmentalized over the years, especially her mom taking off and her toddler brother’s lost battle with cancer. If she wants to maintain her fairy-tale fa├žade, Katie has to pull herself together and leave the past alone. It’s more important to search out the identity of Chelsea’s killer, even if it means enlisting the help of the next door neighbor who knows more about her than she wants him to.
This gives me a little backstory and explains the connection with Clueless - the tone and the character - someone who seems frivolous but is actually hiding some painful memories. It also gives me more information about the plot. The character is going to try to find out who murdered her best friend - and there's a potential love story with this neighbor (maybe?). I love romance, so I'm intrigued about that.
Then Katie learns that Chelsea was pregnant at the time of her murder. Now she must come to terms not only with the secrets her best friend was keeping from her, but also the secrets she, herself, has hidden from the world, all while looking fabulous and maintaining her Chi.
Here's the twist! And of course, there's also information here (coming to terms with her own secrets) which let me know there are multiple layers to the story.
LOVELY, DROWNING is a Young Adult novel, complete at 60,000 words. I am pasting sample pages in the body of this e-mail. I would love to be able to send you the manuscript for consideration.
The query as a whole works very well. It tells me what I need to know. I know the character, the plot, and also the voice (details like "SoCal rich girl" "perfect teenage experience" "fairy-tale facade" and "maintaining her Chi" are very true to Katie's voice). Every word has a purpose here - every word counts.

But the different/intriguing aspect when I compare this query with other clients is the referral. Would I have requested the full without Joanna's referral? Absolutely. Again - I LOVEVeronica Mars so that alone would have had me clamoring to read LOVELY, DROWNING.

But Kristin queried me on 8/21/2009 (This was a Friday). I requested and received the full the same day. I started reading it over the weekend and finished Monday night. Tuesday I went around my office and got second reads and talked to my boss. And I sent notes and offered representation on Wednesday 8/26/2009. The reason I moved so quickly is partly because I was a new agent, and I didn't have many current client projects I was working on. I could pay more attention to my queries and request materials. But the fact that Joanna had read and recommended LOVELY, DROWNING to me was also a big factor. I knew at the very least, even if I didn't end up offering, I would enjoy the read because I trust Joanna. This meant that Friday as soon as I got the manuscript I printed it out (I didn't have a Kindle yet) and planned to start reading as soon as I could.

Want to query Suzie Townsend? Guidelines can be found at her agency's website.
Other installments in our query series:

Field Trip Friday: June 25

On Route 66: Kirsten discovered the
sign was no lie.

Field Trip Friday

Our weekly trip around the field of YA with stops at the most helpful, interesting or otherwise entertaining news.

This Week In Writing

Image credit
- Author Lilith St. Crow on how each new novel is its own experience. I especially liked this metaphor:
It’s like climbing the corner at the rock gym. Each time I go up that particular route, I do it differently. I still use the same skillset and the same tools. And sometimes I get into a difficult spot and have to hang there for a moment and think how the hell am I going to do this, now?"
- Author Isabel Allende gives advice to young writers

- When to tell instead of show from agent Mary Kole

This Week In Reading

- Breaking News from The Rejectionist: "Gay People Also Read, Purchase Books"

- The WSJ reports that kids in India have read YA for years, but until recently, it's mostly been imported. Now Indian publishers are commissioning original pieces for the Indian market.

- The HuffPo polls readers to determine the "next big thing" in YA.

- All sorts of kerfluffle over Sharon Dogar's ANNEXED, a fictionalization of the life of Peter van Pels, who hid with Anne Frank during the Holocaust. Amid rumors that the book features a sex scene between the two characters, The Telegraph reports the family is angry; two writers at Bookslut address it, the latter citing The Jerusalem Post's article; Jezebel is pissed; Metafilter is discussing it; The Guardian has the author's rebuttal, and Hornbook would like to point out that no one has even read it yet-- and said sex scene doesn't even exist. Fascinating stuff.

This Week In Getting Published

- Pimp My Novel cautions: The Internet Counts. Watch your mouth.

- Agent Michael Bourret says unpublished authors should enjoy this time. I know, I laughed too, but he makes some good points.

- Agent Jennifer Laughran on the Luxury of Choice.and the ones that got away.

- Twitter exploded Wednesday with a discussion about agent payment models. Victoria Strauss has one analysis on her blog.

- Thursday, it exploded again, this time on the topic of advances. Pimp My Novel has a post on the topic.

- Agent Kristin Nelson in defense of the one book deal

- Lots of "short and not-so-sweet answers" from agent Rachelle Gardner

- Moonrat explains why the first page of your MS is so important. (Spoiler: Because otherwise, she might not get to the second.)

- Why agent Nathan Bransford writes vague rejection letters.

- "How Not To Be An Email Goober" from author Tawna Fenske

- Author Shannon Messenger guest posts at QueryTracker with pointers for pitching at conferences.

- Agent Elana Roth dispels the idea that a slow response indicates lack of enthusiasm.

This Week In Member Posts!

Besides updating YA Highway with new posts almost every day, our members have their own blogs where they post some pretty fabulous stuff. If you're not following them, you should be-- go check these out!
- Kody: The Worst Thing You Could Do To Your Characters: Being true to your character development (and check out her new website!)

- Kate: Snow White and the Seven Synopses: How Disney can help you write the dreaded synopsis

- Leila: If You Think About It... Leila's pet monster blog attacks

- Kristin Sr: They Love You, They Really, Etc.: The excitement that makes an agent say YES.

- Kirsten: When You Hate Your Book: Hanging onto the spark

- Michelle: With Emphasis On The Suckage: Includes gems like "'Oh, dear,' said the hot dog named Folly. 'Now I want some Velveeta cheese.'" and “Fish sticks. Flaky. Think about that.“

- Emila: YA Girls and the Battle of Female Badassery: ... I can't really summarize better than that!

- Kaitlin: They're Watching: How not to shoot yourself in the online foot

Congrats to Kaitlin, who is now repped by Elizabeth Jote of Objective Entertainment!

This Week In Other Stuff

Tent city pics from the HuffPo. You can
also check out #tentcity
- Blogs You Can't Live Without at The Bookshelf Muse

- Querypolitan is taking submissions.

- Filmstrip Friday: Each Friday, pop-culture junkie (and YA writer) Kathleen Peacock highlights a different movie or TV show from her ridiculously large DVD collection. Check it out on her new blog!

"Bug spray? Check.
Sleeping bag? Check.
Sparkly vampire? ...oh right. In the tree
outside my room. Check."
- Speaking of movies: In case you missed it, Eclipse comes out next week-- or as Cleolinda puts it: "Sparklemas approacheth."

This Week In The Random

Michelle just brought the following to my attention: Tattoo artists practicing on pigs. Do you think the pigs with bad ass tattoos rule the pen and pick on the poor Disney princess pigs?

Unrelated and equally random:

and courtesy of our girl Tahereh:

What Kind of Writerly Snack Are You?

I've been thinking about food a lot lately. I tend to get that way with the changing of the seasons. Spring, especially, is a time for food-thought, as fresh, local produce hits the markets and the doldrums of winter are coming to a close.

As I was thinking about bing cherries and the wild salmon running and Himalayan blackberry blossom promises, I got to thinking about the things writers like to snack on. The list is vast, but there's lots of talk about Twizzlers and cupcakes, cookies and coffee, popcorn and chocolate.

I'm sure many of us like to shuffle up our selection of munchies from time to time. A sweet to celebrate, something salty at that time of the . . . um . . . moon cycle. But what's your favorite writely snack? Better yet, which writerly snack matches your personality?

Take our fun quiz to find out the best nom noms for you*. Leave your answer in the comments so we can see your best writerly snack food!

*this message has not been approved by the FDA. But it might be more scientific, since they approve some pretty strange things.

Road Trip Wednesday #34: The Fictional World of FML

Welcome to our 34th Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link in the comments - or, since this week's topic is a short one, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic:
If your favorite fictional characters submitted to FMyLife, what would they write?

Michelle: "Turns out those coats in the back of the wardrobe are where Peter hides his PCP..."

Amanda: "I killed people to get out of the arena just be thrown back in."

Kate "Today, I saw a woman at Walmart with my face tattooed on her back. FML."

Kaitlin: "My favorite literary characters would be separated into people with actual problems..."

Kristin M.: "Today, Little Bear got hold of my U.S. history book."

Road Trip Song of the Week:
"The KKK Took My Baby Away" by The Ramones

P.S. Bonus fun!
Are you a RTW participant? You can now declare your awesomeness by showing off the new graffiti-inspired RTW icon on your blog! Check it out in the sidebar.

Next week's topic: What was the best book you read in June?

Slow Cooking a Rump Roast AKA Revisions

Okay, not really. But the analogy kind of fits.

Especially when you're talking about revisions. See, a lot of times, revisions take a certain amount of stewing to get them to that just right pull-apart stage. You want the perfect blend of seasoned adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and verbs that will make everyone's mouth water in anticipation.*

My process usually goes something like this:

Write the book.
Send to Agent.
Send to betas.
Get feedback from Agent.
Cry, whine and throw a tantrum. ('s perfect...*sniffle*)
Give it a few days. (In which I go through the stages of 'I can't write, I suck')
Clean my house in a desperate bid for control.
Realize Agent was spot on.
Begin revising.
Have brainstorm idea that makes book 1000% better.
Send giddy e-mail (or ten..sorry Mandy!) to Agent telling them how right they were.
Dig in to revisions and finish in record time.
Back to betas for plot-gap patrol.
Back to Agent.

Those few days of stewing always help me see the big picture. The bud has been planted. It takes root in my head and starts to sprout.* Subconsciously, I start to insert these ideas into the plot. Before I know it, that AHA moment strikes and I start tentatively typing out notes. It grows, blossoms, and takes on a life of its own.

Soon, I have a completely revised manuscript that is so much better than the first draft. What have I learned from all this?

Trust the process. If you want the perfect roast, you can't rush it. Sit back and enjoy the aroma while you pick away at your revisions, and soon, you'll have a brilliant book AND a great dinner!

How about you? What is your Achilles revision heel and how do you get over it?

*excuse the overuse of analogies today. I am weaning back on the coffee consumption and trying to fight my way out of that morning haze au natural!

Top 5 Twitter Transgressions for Writers

At the risk of sound all high and mighty by tackling this subject, I need to point out that I had a Twitter account a year ago and failed. I mass followed people just to get followers, I never interacted, and I blasted people with links in blatant self-promotion.

I was a total twit.

After a few months, I closed my account and decided I wasn't destined to tweet. A few months ago, some of my fellow highway girls convinced me to try it again, and I did. And I'm so glad. The writing community is just as helpful and supportive on Twitter as they are on forums and on their blogs, and I really enjoy being a part of it.


There are a few faux pas – Twitter Transgressions, if you will – that I have noticed. A few types of tweeple that use and abuse tweeting and their followers just a tiny bit. Who are these tweeple? Allow me to introduce you.

1. The Briber

One who tweets dozens of times daily reminding followers that one is having a contest and/or is nearing a certain number of followers and will be holding a contest as soon as that number is reached.

Sample Tweets:

@ChosenOne HEY GUYS! 23 more in Dumbledore's Army and I'm giving away an autographed Snitch AND a ride on my broomstick. #notaeuphamism


@ChosenOne Have you signed up yet? We still need 20 more DA members - prizes prizes prizes!

@ChosenOne Come on, seriously you guys. Just 20 more. Did I mention my broomstick's a Firebolt and it's, like, really fast?

@ChosenOne @Hot_Gin Not funny. :(

@ChosenOne Almost 200 DA members!!! I know some of you still haven't signed up. Come one, it's like you guys want @MugglesSuck to win or something...LOL (plz RT)

Nothing wrong with contests, nothing wrong with followers. But the redundant brute force tactic of slamming those already following with tweet after tweet after mother-lovin' tweet of contest reminders and follower number updates? The people subjected to this are already following, and if they're going to enter, one tweet was enough to convince them.

2. The RT Reflector

One who retweets every retweet of themselves, leading to a mirror-in-a-mirror effect that subjects followers to the mind-numbing experience of reading a single tweet several times for no real reason.

Sample Tweets:

@MaryMary Seriously. A day at the beach. Is that too much to ask?

@UnconsecRatedR GO TO BEACH THRU FOREST LOL RT: @MaryMary Seriously. A day at the beach. Is that too much to ask?

@MaryMary LOL You wish! RT @UnconsecRatedR GO TO BEACH THRU FOREST HA RT: @MaryMary Seriously. A day at the beach. Is that too much to ask?

@UnconsecRatedR BUT REALLY DO IT NOMNOM RT @MaryMary LOL You wish! RT @UnconsecRatedR GO TO BEACH THRU FOREST HA RT: @MaryMary Seriously. A day at the beach.

@MaryMary Silly thing. ;) RT @UnconsecRatedR NOMNOM @MaryMary You wish! RT @UnconsecRatedR GO THRU FOREST HA RT: @MaryMary Seriously, a day at the beach.

What the Reflector doesn't seem to understand, or understands but chooses to ignore, is that replying and retweeting are two separate functions. If followers want to see what the tweet is in response to, it's a simple click. But this is a misguided tactic for self-promotion that backfires and eventually makes me feel like I'm looking into some sort of Escher-like pit of RT despair.

(It must also be acknowledged that when this gets really out of hand, two parties are to blame. But suffice it to say that RTing yourself even once, fun as it sounds, is not attractive.)

3. The Passive Aggressive Pissant

One who tweets an angry message that is obviously aimed at a specific individual about a specific incident but is supposed to be understood as a general statement.

Sample Tweet:

@SparkleMePretty You know what I effing hate? Dogs who can't go more than 30 seconds without ripping off their shirt. Just sayin'. #steroidsshrinkyourjunk

Ah, the P.A. Pissant. Facebook is like a dirt hill filled with these darlings too. The frustrating thing is that chances are the person in question probably won't see the tweet, and if they do, they won't even know it's about them. Meanwhile, all of Pissant's other followers are left thinking one of three things: "God, I hope it's not me," "Ugh, Pissant is passively pissy again," or "....WTF does that even mean?"

4. The Follower Effer

One who #ffs each and every individual they're following in a series of mindsploding tweets every single Friday.

Sample Tweets:

@KillerKat Happy Follow Friday everyone! @peetabread @G_Hawt @PrimnProper @Cinnful @EffieT @FoxyFace @HayABeer @MuttCato #ff

@KillerKat Love you guys! (Still gonna kill you, LOL) @LuckyClove @onthethresh @AllThatGlimmers @BrutalBrut @Win_Finn @BTBabe @PrezSnowflake #ff

@KillerKat @G_Hawt What? Don't get all pissy. I #ffed you first last Friday.

@KillerKat @Dist1Boy @Dist1Girl @Dist2Boy@Dist2Girl @Dist3Boy @Dist3Girl @Dist4Boy @Dist4Girl @Dist5Boy @Dist5Girl @Dist6Boy @Dist6Girl #ff

@KillerKat @Dist7Boy @Dist7Girl @Dist8Boy@Dist8Girl @Dist9Boy @Dist9Girl @Dist10Boy @Dist10Girl @Dist11Boy @Dist11Girl #ff

And so on. Follow Friday is a fantastic thing, really. A tweet or two every Friday to share a few people that are your speshul snowflakes of the week. But seriously. Seeing pages like this really #ffs with my head.

5. The Condescending Monarch

All of the above are totally forgivable offenses. It happens. But this the land of Mi_Schu, this is grounds for instant and eternal exile.

One who addresses one's followers as if they are one's mindless minions by speaking to them as a group in a manner reflective of how one might speak to a newly hatched flock of chicks.

(The last part of this definition is what matters. I see nothing wrong with someone addressing all of their followers with a question, or to share an anecdote, or just as a general greeting. But the Condescending Monarch is under the delusion that addressing a few hundred Twitter followers puts one in the position of Saruman at the top of the tower of Isengard calling his cuddly widdle orcs to action.)

Sample Tweet:

@FUTreebeard: Good morning my sweets! *pats orcys on head* I'm taking you all to Uncle Sauron's today! *puts orcys in basket* *skips to Mordor*

Right. Let's be clear on this; while I understand that one might get a huge rush out of having 100, 200, 500, 1,000 followers - 1,000 people want to know I just ate a pickle and now have pickle breath ZOMG! - "followers" aren't actually "sycophants." ( the traditional sense of the word, they are, but Twitter followers are not.) We're all just people connecting with people we know and others we don't. And if a twit pats me on the head or slaps me on the...cheek (without my permission or request), then that is quite simply the end of our tweelationship.

I've missed a few here that are big no-no's for writers, like carrying on what is obviously a private conversation without moving to DMs, or tweeting someone to ask for a favor so they're pressured into saying yes rather than look like a meanie in front of all the watchful followers. What other tweeting transgressions can you give me?

BEA Giveaway: WINNERS!

It's time! We have winners! Thanks to everyone who entered; we loved seeing what books you're looking forward to this year. If you are a winner, please email us at yahighway(at) with your mailing address so we know where to send your books!

*MATCHED by Ally Condie, and VIRALS by Kathy Reisch: Won by Crescent Feather

*BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, and THE SAGA OF LARTEN CREPSLEY by Darren Shan: Won by Kisha

*FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson and THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger: Won by Cheyanne Young

*MURDER AFLOAT by Jane Lesley Conley and THE MAGNIFICENT 12: THE CALL by Michael Grant: Won by Linda Scott

to everyone who won!

Broccoli and Other Things: A Post with Lots of Oddball Writing Advice

Read poetry. Regardless of whether you write it. Poetry is language at its most distilled. Every word counts, down to its last syllable. Poetry turns ordinary words musical, and says as much as possible with as little as possible. Reading poetry can help you find a similar sense of precision with each word you write.

Freewrite. Are you getting into lots of anxious fights with empty computer screens or blank pages? Put your project aside and try freewriting. Give yourself ten minutes, and write out every single thing that goes through your head, even if it’s ridiculous or boring or embarrassing. Write it as you first thought of it. Don’t cross things out. If something comes out wrong, correct it in the next sentence. Sometimes things will become feverish and fascinating and you’ll need to keep writing past the ten minutes to see what else comes out. If you want to know more about freewriting, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a good place to start.

Leave your car at home. Cars get us from one place to another as quickly and conveniently as possible. But cars are also insulated and cut off from the world. Try catching public transport, or cycling or walking. You can’t help but notice the people living their everyday lives all around you, how sometimes they’re dressed in mismatched clothes and muttering about people who aren’t there, and sometimes they’re on the phone, explaining in epic detail why they’re running late and telling the person on the other end that the bus is closer to its destination than it actually is.

You get a fuller sense of places as well. When you’re walking, you know the weather intimately, not just that it’s sunny but also that it’s sunny and cold, like the air is pretending that the sun isn’t there. You see buildings more closely, which ones are cared for and which ones are bedraggled, which ones are friendly and which ones are standoffish.

Then you can put everything away in the filing cabinet inside your head, in case you need to use it in something.

Try writing out dreams. Sometimes dreams are sharp and striking and won’t leave you alone, even when you’re well into the day, but more often dreams are thin and wispy, like absentminded butterflies. They like to disappear on you as soon as you’ve woken up properly. I keep a notebook near my bed so it’s easier to catch them. I’ve lost count of the number of story ideas I’ve had from dreams. Even when they don’t give you ideas, dreams are interesting. They give you a sense of the things that go on inside your head in the background when all the logical everyday stuff is switched off. I like coming up with dreams for my characters too. Sometimes they make it into the story in passing, more often than not they don’t at all. Still. You know a character better if you know their nightmares.

Be kind to your hands. They do a lot for you. This may seem like ridiculously obvious advice, but I know people with Repetitive Strain Injury. It’s chronic and ugly, and there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting it. If your wrists are sore, stop. The story won’t go away. Actually, even if you feel fine, regular breaks are still important. Even if you’re in the middle of a really really extra special incredibly important scene. Actually, especially if you’re in the middle of a really really extra special incredibly important scene. Because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be scribbling or typing furiously.

If you like to write by hand, invest in a good pen. One with good inkflow so you don’t have to press down too hard. I go through about one a week at the moment. They’re expensive, sure, but physiotherapy and voice recognition software are a lot more expensive.

Pay attention to light. It can be a fantastic way to create atmosphere.
Light is important to us humans. It influences our moods, our perceptions, our energy levels. A face glimpsed among trees, dappled by the shadows and the green-tinged light reflected from the forest, will seem quite different to the same face seen on a beach in hard, dry, sunlight, or in a darkening room at twilight, with the shadows of a venetian blind striped across it like a convict’s uniform. (John Marsden, Everything I know About Writing)
Don’t stick to what’s safe. If the thought of writing about a particular thing scares you, you should probably try writing about it. Even if it’s just as an experiment. Even if you think it would make your relatives worry about you, if they were ever to come across it. Trust me. The scary stuff is often the strongest stuff.

And last of all. I’ve cut this quote down a lot, so this post doesn’t end up too epically long, but you should definitely track down Bird by Bird and read the full version, if you haven’t already.

This is my favourite oddball writing advice of all time:
“There’s an old Mel Brooks routine, on the flip side of the “2,000-Year-Old-Man,” where the psychiatrist tells his patient, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.”...

The problem is that so many of us lost access to our broccoli when we were children. When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told the grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often either corrected, ridiculed, or punished... Sometimes intuition needs coaxing, because intuition is a little shy. But if you try not to crowd it, intuition often wafts up from the soul or subconscious, and then becomes a tiny fitful little flame. It will be blown out by too much compulsion and manic attention, but will burn quietly when watched with gentle concentration.

... My friend Terry says that when you need to make a decision, in your work or otherwise, and you don’t know what to do, just do one thing or the other, because the worst that can happen is that you will have made a terrible mistake. So let the plot go left in this one place instead of right, or let your character decide to go back to her loathsome passive-aggressive husband. Maybe it was the right thing, maybe not. If not, go back and try something else. Some of us tend to think that what we do and say and decide and write are cosmically important things. But they’re not. If you don’t know which way to go, keep it simple. Listen to your broccoli. Maybe it will know what to do. Then, if you’ve worked in good faith for a couple of hours but cannot hear it today, have some lunch.”
(Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)
Do you have any unusual writing advice to share?

Query Series: Kody Keplinger & Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

In this new Saturday series, YA Highway writers share the query letters that landed their agents -- and why the queries worked, from the agents themselves. Next up...

Author Kody Keplinger
Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

from Kody:

I went through about a million rounds on this query, changing things and then changing them back and cutting and adding. In the end, I went with my instinct and kept a few of the lines that others suggested I take out. For example, the "enemies-with-benefits" line is my favorite in the query, and a few critiquers thought it didn't work. but I stuck to my guns and kept it - and that line made it into my flap copy! Other lines people suggested cut went on the floor and will never be seen again. The first draft of this query was HORRIBLE and it never would have improved without the fresh eyes that helped me polish it.

the query:

Seventeen-year-old Bianca knows she’s the Duff (the designated ugly, fat friend). So when Wesley, a notorious womanizer, approaches her at a party she knows he wants to score with one—or both—of her hot friends. God, the man-whore’s arrogance really pisses her off! But Bianca needs to escape from some personal drama, like her mom’s abandonment and her dad’s denial, and a steamy fling with Wesley seems like the perfect distraction. Bianca makes it clear she’s only using Wesley, as if he cares. He’ll sleep with anything that moves after all. Unfortunately, the enemies-with-benefits plan totally backfires.

When her mom files for divorce and her father stumbles into a downward spiral of drinking and depression, Wesley proves to be a surprisingly good listener, and Bianca finds out that his family is pretty screwed up, too. As sickening as it sounds, she has to admit that she and Wesley are a lot alike. Soon she becomes jealous of the pretty girls he flirts with and his cocky grin begins to grow on her. Suddenly Bianca realizes—with absolute horror—that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated.

THE DUFF, my contemporary YA novel, is complete at 53,000 words. The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

from Joanna:

The query for THE DUFF was fantastic. It was concise, energetic, and conveyed the voice of Bianca so, so well. Plus, the title freaking rocks. But what really made me stop and pay attention was how Kody stated the conflict by the end of paragraph one, and she stated it with voice! This is the line at the end of paragraph one:

"Unfortunately, the enemies-with-benefit plan totally backfires."

She got me right there. I wanted to know how, I wanted to know more, I wanted to know Bianca. In the next paragraph she expanded on the story, showing me that this isn't just about Bianca and her hook up. There are family issues in this book. And the characters had layers. This was a manuscript I wanted to read.

This query was just perfect: professional, concise, and attention-grabbing. And you could tell she knew her audience (what I could NOT tell was that she was a seventeen-year-old author--jaw DROP).

Want to query Joanna Stampfel-Volpe? Guidelines can be found at the agency's Publishers Marketplace listing.

Other installments in our query series:

Field Trip Friday: June 18

Field Trip Friday
Our weekly trip around the field of YA with stops at the most helpful, interesting or otherwise entertaining news.

The Big News This Week
1000 followers. ONE THOUSAND. We are so honored and flabbergasted, we're not sure what to say except for

This Week In Writing

- Author K. Marie Criddle shows the Pros and Cons of an MFA-- with unicorns! (via Kiersten White)

- Author Cynthia Jaynes Omololu shows you how to write a book. (Doesn't get much more straightforward than that!)

- Author Maggie Stiefvater spent the week describing her revision process.

- 13 Writing Tips from author Chuck Palahniuk (via @hannahmosk)

- How long should your manuscript be? Long enough to touch the ground. Wait, that's a man's legs according to Abe Lincoln. QueryTracker has the real answer.

This Week In Reading

- Twitter exploded this week with the trending topic #booksthatchangedmyworld. Check it out to find book recommendations from readers, writers and publishing pros.

- Publishers Weekly says "P is for Paranormal-- Still." (Kaitlin, Lee and I say "woot!")

- YA is awesome but MG rocks too. Check out this great new blog for MG readers and writers.

- Agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel and Goderich discusses the big box effect on book buzz.

This Week In Getting Published

- Wondering if you should trunk your current novel? Agent Mandy Hubbard has the answer.

- 5 Lies Unpublished Authors Tell Themselves at Guide to Literary Agents

- Agent Rachelle Gardner did a week-long series on the sometimes contradictory advice writers hear from agents.

- Agent Kate Testerman live-blogged her slush.

- Meredith Barnes, assistant to agent Janet Reid, guest posts on agent Suzie Townsend's blog about the "YA" query-- not to be confused with a real YA query.

- Agent Jennifer Laughran: "There's always a market for awesome."

- The best and worst times to query and send your MS, from The Gatekeeper.

This Week In Other Stuff

- The Oatmeal has your guide to irony.

- Want to attend a writing conference but can't afford it? Check out writeoncon, a free online conference put together by six fab writers and featuring almost all our favorite agents!

- Love YA Highway? Our girl Emilia created a blog badge you can steal. Check out our sidebar!

- Adventures in Children's Publishing has an exhaustive roundup of industry-related posts.

This Week In Contests

- Cool book trailer contest at Quiddity International Literary Journal

- Emilia has a Punk Summer Giveaway going on her blog!

This Week In The Random

via Becca Rogers-- thanks Bex!

Vampire or Hipster? You decide.

I feel like these slow motion videos have some help to offer writers struggling with imagery. (Thanks Amanda!)

and because this is the YA Highway, after all: Dubious Achievements in Travel. (Thanks Michelle!)

World Building: The Little Things

When you hear the term “world building,” it’s likely you associate it with fantasy or sci-fi. World building is necessary, though, regardless of what genre you’re writing. Contemporary worlds need to be accurate and feel real. It’s not the same, because you’re not creating a world from scratch, or incorporating fantastical or futuristic elements that aren’t present, but it’s still important and still presents challenges. It may not be exactly the same, but any world building advice you see can, for the most part, apply to any genre. I mention this because in this point, it’s probably going to sound like I’m only referring to world building as it applies to fantasy. But I’m not. Just insert the appropriate genre for yourself into your mind.

There are probably millions of blog posts and articles on this subject on the internet. A google search will find them for you, and there are definitely some gems. But I want to focus on a specific part of world building for this post: the details. You don’t want to create the potential for an ocean filled with all its wonder-filled depths, and leave your reader standing in the tide pools.

How real your world feels comes down to the tiniest of details. Does everyone speak the same language? And what language is it*, exactly? What part of the world does this take place in, or is it based on? If you want to evoke a Mediterranean feel, giving towns (and people) American sounding names isn’t going to accomplish the desired effect. Is the world supposed to feel medieval? Then you’re not going to want fancy modern bedding. Are your characters magical? Consider how it works, down to the last detail.

Even if it doesn’t all make it into your ms—which it most likely should not—you should have a grasp of all the inner workings of your world. It will make it more real to you, and that will be clear to your readers. The small details may be small. But they also might be the most interesting. Just like some of the incredibly cool creatures at the bottom of the ocean you’d totally miss if you didn’t leave the tide pools.

*this doesn’t mean you should necessarily try to invent a language. Unless you’re a linguist, you should probably stick to the basics. Just my opinion.

Road Trip Wednesday #33 When/why did you start writing?

Welcome to our 33rd Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link in the comments!
This week's topic:

When/why did you start writing?

Michelle: And I realized -- I had the time.

Lee: That moment when I realized if I didn't at least try, I'd never know.

Leila: It started with self-publishing when I was about four.

Amanda: I always wanted to write.

Kate: Let's talk about why I stopped writing.

Next week's topic:
If your favorite fictional characters used FML, what would they write?

*photo courtesy of PhillpC

Heidi Kling, Debut Author of SEA

Still haunted by nightmares of her mother's death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to post-tsunami Indonesia with her father's relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post-traumatic stress disorder. But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding and handsome Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage.

Kristin's review of SEA by Heidi Kling:

Any book which combines travel with romance and discovery is a must-read for me. I'd been anticipating SEA for some time, intrigued by the beauty of the cover, of the journey, of the promise of bittersweet. And what a promise fulfilled.

Kling writes a foreign locale beautifully: the humidity, sweat and salt in everything; hiding from watchful eyes in a culture that does not leave its teenage boys and girls alone together; a missing sad goat whose usefulness goes beyond "pet." SEA provides a clash of cultures that elicits bewilderment, laughs and sorrow from the reader and, just maybe, a growth of human understanding from Sienna.

It's no secret that I, personally, don't love dream sequences. SEA utilizes a number of these sequences to illustrate the longing and suffering Sienna feels over her lost mother. But I better enjoyed the moments Kling interweaves Sienna's loss and grieving with Deni's own grieving for his missing and presumed dead father. These are the deepest moments, the ones that help me connect with Sienna's pain. Unfortunately, the dreams push me away from Sienna. I tended to skim those passages, hungry for the deeper connections.

And there certainly are deeper connections in SEA. My heart ached for the multiple romantic veins, weaving through storylines and characters and countries. The tenderness with which emotion is handled is SEA's strength.

SEA is a read for those who love travel, discovery, sweet romance, serendipity and hope.

~ Kristin Miller

Kirsten's Interview with Heidi:
SEA was inspired by your husband's volunteer experience in a tsunami-torn Indonesian orphanage; it was a story you both knew you needed to tell. What unique challenges did you face when setting your book in a developing country?

First of all I wanted it to be authentic, respectful yet honest. I think those of us in wealthy countries like the U.S. take some things for granted like a plethora of toilet paper and clean, running water at our disposal. A Starbucks on every corner. So for Sienna to have a reaction to the heat, to the conditions, as a fifteen year old pretty sheltered kid I think is accurate. Another challenge was to create a setting so authentic it would feel like I'd been there--so far the readers who actually were there say it's pretty right on and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Overall, I have a tremendous respect for children and teen survivors everywhere, the fact that they are able to get up each day and carry on after facing losses I can barely fathom glued me to my chair for three years and made me write the book--as busy as I was, I knew I had to see this story through to publication to honor them and their fearless spirits.

Sienna's dad feels an overwhelming urge to help those in struggling and disaster-torn countries. Sienna, on the other hand, doesn't feel this push. What are the most important life/love lessons Sienna brings home from her experience in Indonesia? What do you believe are some of the biggest benefits teenagers can gain from international travel/volunteerism?

Well, I don't want to spoil the story. Are you sure Sienna learns anything overseas? ;-)

Honestly, I think just stepping outside your comfort zone is huge. The fact that SEA is set in Indonesia a predominately Muslim country is also major--in the U.S. most of the news we get about Muslim countries is not-great, and I was happy to introduce characters that weren't negative stereotypes. SEA would have been set in Thailand if that's where my husband would have volunteered, so I feel like that was an extra bonus, for me anyway, to add that extra dimension.

You've done an incredible job marketing SEA. What has made readers the most excited?

Thank you! The story means so much to me. I'm so in love with the characters--I really am. I miss them now that I'm not working on it and I just got teary answering your questions. I guess because I became friends with some of the real surviving boys, we supported them for awhile after the tsunami, and now one of my best friends Usul is working for a non-profit back in Aceh for woman's rights. He's my facebook friend and we email every couple of weeks. He was starving in the streets and homeless before we started supporting him. It's amazing what one person can do to help another, and I know that now.

I feel like in a lot of ways this is their story--I mean, it's told through Sienna's eyes, but through her she tells their story. I want to make sure as many people hear about it as I can. Maybe readers can pick up on all the love in the book and that's why they like it? I mean, I poured my heart into it. Maybe they can feel that? I don't know, honestly. I'm happy people are relating to it, and it's resonating with them.

What are you working on next?

I'm working on a fantasy about estranged witches and warlocks set in modern day beach town. It's a trippy, sexy, surfing magic mayhem book with swords and new agey type magic. It's a departure from SEA for sure, but still has a lot of heart and big themes like good and evil and everything in between. I'm a hopeful romantic, so I'm sure that will be an underlying theme in everything I do. I'm also contributing to Mystic Falls Vampire Diaries anthology that comes out with Smart Pop Books in October along with several happening YA fantasy authors. Did I just use the word happening? Is a disco ball spinning above my head? ;-)

If you had a month to travel anywhere you wanted (and no financial restraints!) where would you go and what would you do?

I just answered this in another interview and I said Indonesia--I'd walk where Sienna and Deni walked (and rode, and kissed and everything else.) So I'm going to tell YOU an around the world cruise. I love cruises so much. I know they are cheesy and wrought with senior citizens and buffets but I adore traveling to a new destination while I sleep, having no idea what new experience awaits around the corner the next day--and food availability 24/7! I told my husband when the kids are out of the house, that's what I'm booking first. I think they take 3 months though. Can I extend that month please?

Consider it done. Thanks, Heidi!

SEA's stunning book trailer:

Publishing Interviews: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

In our new Publishing Interviews Series, Kody Keplinger sits down with people on the other side of book publishing -- agents, editors, and more -- providing insight into industry happenings and just what goes into getting a young adult novel on shelves.

Today I'm honored to be interviewing agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer began working for Andrea Brown in 2007 where she now represents a wide range of children's and young adult authors and illustrators. Some of her clients include Tara Kelly, Daniel Pinkwater, Jackie Dolamore, Kate Messner, and more.

1. Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! First things first. How did you start working in publishing?
I started as a bookseller when I was about 12. I worked in bookstores my whole life, pretty much, as a children's bookseller, buyer and events person. I went to college for Drama and English, only because I was good at them and not much else, so I knew it would be easiest. I got an opportunity to intern for an agency, and I loved it, so I stayed! :-)

2. I know that your agency, Andrea Brown Literary, specializes in children's and YA fiction. Did you always know these were the kind of books you wanted to work with? Why did you decide to work in children's fiction?
I prefer to read children's books, and always have. I think grownup books are often pretentious or dull. (So are grownups in general, for that matter.)

3. When someone queries you, what are the things that automatically make you say "no"?
Practically everything makes me say no. No is the default. A better question would be, what makes me say "yes" -- and the only answer to that is great writing and/or a killer concept and great characters, plus a cool setting and an 'x-factor' that I can't define.

4. By that same token, is there anything specific that catches your eye? Is there anything you are particularly looking for right now?
I would dearly love to see something that I have never seen before. I should rephrase that. Something AWESOME that I haven't seen before. I actually really like realistic middle grade stories, and teen stories about human teenagers. I wouldn't mind fantasy if it is really well executed historical-fantasy or adventure-fantasy. I like well-done mysteries and thrillers. I love a great romance. I am a sucker for unusual setting, and I like things to be upbeat -- Funny is great, bittersweet is great, but I am not into things that are depressing or unrelentingly bleak.

5. I'm always fascinated by "trends" and what people seem to all be writing about at once. Have you noticed any trends in the submissions you've recieved lately? May I ask what they are?
Ugh. I am so NOT fascinated by trends. I am the opposite of fascinated by them. I would say 95% of my inbox at the moment is paranormal romance with some sort of creature (mermaid, selkie, siren, werewolf, unicorn, vampire, zombie, mummy, or some combo like selkwolf or mercorn) - and I am totally not interested, unless it is truly, totally genre-busting. I have enough. No more room at the inn!

6. Once you recieve a submission you really love, do you follow a process before you offer representation? Do you look at the author's online presence if they have one? In your experience, how does a manuscript go from a request for the full to an offer?
If I love it, I look up the author to see what else they have, and if their website is a total turn off, (Do they promote a Nazi party agenda, for example? That'd be a dealbreaker). If they have a blog, do they seem like somebody that I might get along with? I will also often chat with my co-workers and boss, and possibly have them read some of the text -- particularly if I am on the fence about if I should take it on or not.

Then I make an appointment to chat with the author. Then we chat, usually for a half hour or more, about what the agency is like, what we expect, what we want from their book. revision ideas, etc. Then the author goes and decides if they want to sign up with us. Then we send them an agency agreement.

7. Can you explain to us a little bit about how submitting to editors works? How do you decide which editors to submit a manuscript to? How does the process of submission work?
Well, I make a list. This list is based on my offhand knowledge, combined with combing through our extensive database, combined with asking for my colleagues advice. Usually the list has 6-8 editors on it for a first round. Generally, I email or call all those people and pitch the book. Most of them usually say, go ahead and send. Then they read, and hopefully buy the book! I like to do a fairly small number at a time so if we are getting rejections and feeback we can go back and tweak the manuscript.

8. And, because we have to ask, what are some of your favorite non-client YA novels or authors right now?
HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford
WHITE CAT by Holly Black
LIAR by Justine Larbalestier

BUZZ QUESTIONS (answer these as fast as you can without thinking, ready, go!)

1. Favorite book-to-movie? (Doesn't hae to be YA): PRINCESS BRIDE
2. Book you are most looking forward to reading this year? PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder (middle grade)
4. Something no one would guess about you? I used t o be in the circus. (Oh wait - people probably WOULD guess that about me.)
5. Favorite book cover? HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT

Thank you so much for talking ot us, Jennifer!

Want to learn more? Check out Jennifer Laughran on the Andrea Brown Literary Agency website and follow Jennifer on Twitter.