Category Archives: Uncategorized

Warwick Children’s Book Festival

September 29th 2013

Today, I attended the Warwick Children’s Book Festival in Warwick, NY with some friends and my two kids. And even though the festival is called the Children’s Book Festival, I might leave my kids home next time. It’s hard to fawn over authors and illustrators when your kids are whining about going outside to the school playground. (I’m sure the highlight for my toddler was getting a foam play cookie from author, Ame Dyckman, who picture book Boy + Bot was a big hit at bedtime tonight.)

Benefiting the Albert Wisner Public Library, the book festival feels like a logistic feat. There are fifty children’s book authors and illustrators who sit at tables in the school gym with stacks of pristine hardcovers and paperbacks and Sharpie markers. Some of the authors had fun swag like foam turtle stickers and temporary tattoos (my 3-year-old’s favorite thing ever. My husband cringes whenever he asks if they can be permanent.) My ‘B’ boys had 3 picture books signed for them which we read tonight — all fabulous reads — all with bright and MOMA-worthy illustrations. This included Artie Bennett’s The Butt Book. (Side note: I overhead him give an interview about his book, Poopendous. That man is the boss of poop puns. Just sayin.’)

The highlights for me were meeting Susan Beth Pfeffer (again!) and having her sign The Shade of the Moon, the final book in the Life As We Knew It series. She is a lovely woman and a YA legend. I also met Kimberly Sabatini, author of Touching the Surface, who was super encouraging. A mother of three boys, she didn’t start writing until she was in her late 30s. Sometimes, at 34, I feel too old to begin a writing career. But it’s authors like Kim who make me realize that I can have a publishing career if I want it badly enough. (And I do!) Lastly, I met K.L. Going who took a few minutes to empathize with me about raising a preschooler and writing. She said she isn’t as prolific as she used to be because she has a four-year-old at home. She also gave a really interesting presentation about writing and publishing YA — unfortunately, my toddler wanted to stand on the chairs and babble really loudly and we had to go.

As a writer just getting her feet wet and a mom barely managing to stay awake past 9pm, it’s encouraging beyond measure to hear other YA authors talk to me about balancing motherhood and writing. Because most days I feel like I can’t balance laundry and dishes, let alone raising kids and writing. So I truly appreciate these fine authors for taking the time to talk to me about their work and lives. I’m feeling super encouraged. And perhaps, one day, I can attend the Warwick Children’s Book Festival as an invited author. But again…I am totally leaving my kids at home.

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I’m overwhelmed.

August 17th 2013

I’m feeling overwhelmed with writerly obligations. Wah. Wah. Call me a waaaambulance. I do know how to put things in perspective and my writing problems are issues of my own making. But damn, do I feel overwhelmed and I just gotta announce it to the universe so I can move on.

So what’s piled up on my plate that’s stressing me out?

twobookreviewspreeditsforLynnrenotetakingonbooksduebacktothelibraryformyWIP

shortassignmentsformyonlinewritingclassbloggingforTangledUpInWordsbloggingformyownwebsite

andapossiblerevisionforashortstoryIhopetogetpublished.

Not to mention takingcareofmykidscleaningmyhousefeedingmypetdoingthefoodshopping

Now how am I going to get this shit done? What did my friend Stephen say to me today?

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Well, get me out a fork and knife because I have an elephant to eat.

Who else is feeling overwhelmed? What’s stressing you out? (Frasier voice) I’m listening….

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Bullying and Susane Colasanti’s Keep Holding On

June 25th 2013

I checked out Susane Colasanti’s Keep Holding On from my local library and read the novel in one sitting. I’m not sure what possessed me to pick it up since I don’t usually read YA contemporary fiction (I’m a SF girl), except that I reviewed Something Like Fate and I really liked her writing. I read the first few pages and I was immediately hooked when I saw the protagonist eating lunch alone. And so I pushed aside my giant pile of unread ARCs and two review books and read Keep Holding On.

High school junior Noelle marks a big X over each day on the calendar. She’s counting down the days until graduation — when she can get away from her awful mother and the bullies at her high school. For Noelle, each day is a struggle. There’s no food in her house to even make a meager sandwich, something the mean kids in the cafeteria notice. Noelle’s mother — who works a minimum-wage job and barely makes enough for rent, let alone enough money to properly stock the fridge — is bitter and takes out her anger on Noelle in the form of flat-out neglect. Not only does her mother not buy her necessities like tampons and clothes, but the woman barely addresses her at all. And so Noelle goes to school with mayo and mustard sandwiches on stale bread. She wears cheap oversize t-shirts to hide her protruding ribs. She doesn’t let her best friend come over to her apartment and she won’t entertain the thought that popular, kind Julian might actually like her. Most upsetting of all, although certainly not shocking, is that her teachers don’t acknowledge the bullying or try to stop the bullies. She truly feels like no one cares about her. Told in Noelle’s first-person point-of-view, it’s a heart-wrenching read.

I had no idea the book was based on Colasanti’s struggles with bullying as a kid until I went onto her website and read her biography. Turns out Colasanti and I have a lot in common, and I’d like to think that if she and I had known each other in real life, we would have been friends. First off, we’re both Jersey girls from affluent towns where we weren’t the rich kids. And, like Colasanti, I too was bullied.

From fifth grade right up until I wore my cap and gown at high school graduation, I was picked on for everything from my clothes to my weird sense of humor to my nerdiness. I even went to my senior prom by myself, and that was by default, not by choice. (Side story: A girl came up to me at prom and said, “I wish I came by myself. My date is ignoring me.”)

Things I was teased over were, at the time, agonizing. Fifth grade was the first time I became aware of clothing trends being a big deal. In fact, I remember having a favorite t-shirt that my mom bought at Bradlees (remember that store?). A “friend” said to me, “You know you’ve worn that three times this week.” Had I? Why did it matter when it had also been washed three times? It was the first time I remember being embarrassed about my clothes. In seventh grade, I got hassled on the bus every. single. day. And it wasn’t just me. My friends were also teased and harassed and we were each bestowed a nickname by the bullies. Mine was “piggy” because of my nose (It’s big and I’m Jewish and I’ve learned to love it). You’d think we would have banded together and taken on the bullies, but we all just sat there and took the abuse. Freshmen year of high school I was teased and intimidated by a girl on the softball team, a girl who was on academic probation and couldn’t play in games. I suppose she bullied me because I was a good student (although a lousy softball player) even though earlier that year I offered to share my locker with her when she was new to the school and hadn’t been assigned one yet. Also that year, I also got sexually harassed in my business class. Daily. I was the only girl in the class and the teacher, nearing her retirement, did nothing to stop the bullying.

My high school experiences weren’t all bad. There were things I loved about high school — senior year English, Battle of the Bands, my all-girls Sweet Sixteen, and even my prom where I went stag. I had plenty of friends and good times too. Eventually the bullies stopped saying things when I stopped giving a shit about what they said.  I also had faith that things would be better when I went to college. And they did.

Originally, I was just going to write up this post as a book review. Susane Colasanti has written a highly accessible narrative in which readers will identify with either the bully or the bullied. I didn’t really want to get personal about my experiences, not because I worry about calling out the bullies (I didn’t name them), who I imagine live fairly mundane lives at this point, but because I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. (To be fair, I was only ever picked on — the name-calling never escalated to physical confrontations.) These experiences have shaped who I am today. They are the reason I’d prefer to teach my sons kindness and empathy over a good batting stance. They’re the reason I don’t keep my mouth shut when a mean customer berates a teenaged grocery cashier for not moving fast enough (oh, that happened).

Truth is, I have a really awesome life. I’m married to an amazing man who is kind, funny and exceptionally smart. I have two beautiful kids and a minivan with heated seats (and you’d be a fool to think that heated seats aren’t awesome). My book is going to be published. All roads led here, even if those roads weren’t always smoothly paved.

So, if there are any teenagers reading this right now who are being bullied by insecure assholes — keep in mind Dan Savage’s wonderful campaign that ‘it gets better.’ And not only does it get better, but it also gets great.

Hang in there.

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Tangled Up in Words

June 17th 2013

Good news. I am now a contributor to a fun YA writer group blog called Tangled Up in Words. Also cool, I just did a get-to-know-me piece complete with this photo of me in a blue cast from 1997. Check out my awesome, and baggy, Old Navy carpenter jeans.  meincastYou’re welcome, Internet. You’re welcome.

 

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Guest post: NA & YA — A tale of two books

June 14th 2013

I’m fortunate to present a guest post by my friend and YA-Expert-on-Retainer, Jill Ratzan. I defer to her expertise on all things related to YA literature. These are her insightful comments on the difference between new adult and young adult as seen in actual literature. This is a post worth reading and referencing.

So my friend and colleague Kim — and lots of librarians, authors, publishers, and others in the book community — have been talking recently about something called new adult literature. As Kim’s written, misconceptions abound about what NA is and isn’t – and especially how it is or isn’t different from what’s (possibly deceptively) called young adult literature. My own opinion is the same as Kim’s — NA is a literature for and about newly independent adults, roughly ages 18-25. And while it may be a new topic of conversation,
it’s certainly not a new idea: Cynthia Voigt’s novel Seventeen Against the Dealer is a perfect example of NA . . . and it was published in 1989.

What I’d like to talk about specifically is a pair of recent books by Daria Snadowsky that, taken together, are a perfect example of the differences between YA and NA. In the first book, Anatomy of a Boyfriend (2007), we meet protagonist Dominique, a high school senior who’s about to enter into her first romantic relationship. Dominique meets Wesley; they date; they have several fumbling sexual encounters. They think they’ll be together for all time. But when Dom’s parents convince her to take a summer camp job far away from Wes, Dom meets someone new, and she and Wes part ways. (If this sounds like the plot
of Forever . . . by Judy Blume, that’s completely intentional: Snadowsky envisioned her story as an updated take on Blume’s YA classic.)

In the second book, Anatomy of a Single Girl (2013), Dom’s home for the summer after finishing her first year of college. She’s finally starting to pursue her dream career as a doctor by volunteering at a local hospital. She’s still smarting from her breakup with Wes…and then Guy comes into her life. Much sex ensues. But in between work
and hitting the hay with Guy, Dom has other things on her mind too. Her parents think she should have a curfew while she’s living at home, but Dom’s accustomed to making her own hours. She and her high school best friend Amy have to renegotiate what their friendship means now that they’ve been apart for the first time. In the end, a chance
encounter — and some unexpected news from Amy’s long-distance beau — force Dom to come to terms with yet another aspect of adulthood: what to do about the chain of exes one leaves behind.

Anatomy of a Boyfriend is a young adult book. In it, Dom’s encountering romance (and sex) for the first time. She’s also thinking about sports, friends, college applications, and the myriad of other topics that fill a high school senior’s days. But Anatomy of a Single Girl is a new adult book. Here, Dom’s comfortable with the idea of sex in general, and her focus is on how to find more pleasure in sexual interactions. She’s also grappling with how to balance her budding career with her love life, and is actively redefining what her newly-adult relationships with her parents and high school friends will be.

In terms of sheer word count, Single Girl features more sex than Boyfriend. The sex scenes in Single Girl are also more detailed, especially when Dom and Guy experiment with different sexual positions. But neither of these is the main point *on its own* — they’re both reflections of the situational differences between a high school senior and a rising college sophomore. Dom and Guy can have sex more often than Dom and Wes ever could . . . for the very practical reason that Guy has his own room at a local fraternity house. And since sex itself isn’t new to either Dom or Guy, they’re free to explore their own — and each others’ — bodies with more nuance.

Young adults grow into new adults. Their situations, concerns, and relationships are different from what they were as teens. At the same time, though, new adults are just that: new to adulthood. They’re not yet navigating marriage and children, full-time jobs, bills, or retirement savings accounts. Like Kim, I applaud the idea of a literature that lets 18-25 year olds see themselves . . . and their unique struggles and triumphs . . . reflected in fiction. And the corresponding idea that readers who aren’t necessarily new adults
themselves can use these stories as a window into a new adult world.

Jill Ratzan is still wondering when she herself will become a ‘real’ adult. She’s a school librarian at a small independent school and a reviewer of young adult and middle grade books for School Library Journal and BookPage magazine. Her passion is teaching and writing about children’s and YA lit. Visit her website at
https://sites.google.com/site/jratzan or follow her on Twitter @JillJYA.

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