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PictureMeGone

Each year in my Creative Writing 1A class, I like to start with a discussion of point of view, voice and character. This year, I gave my new students the first chapter of PICTURE ME GONE by Meg Rosoff (Putnam, 2013). I’m a huge fan of Rosoff’s first novel HOW I LIVE NOW and PICTURE ME GONE equally enchanted me this summer when I read it. Rosoff crafts the novel from Mila’s first person point of view. Mila is from London and the novel opens with the news that she and her father plan to take a trip to upstate New York to visit a family friend. However, when this friend goes missing with no explanation, they decide to take their trip anyway and attempt to find him. Mila is a sort of female Sherlock Holmes, keenly observant of her surroundings. In the opening line, Rosoff writes: “The first Mila was a dog.” Mila goes on to explain she’s been named after her grandfather’s “long-dead dog”- a terrier. But she’s not resentful of this.

I ask my students, “What do we know so far about Mila?” Inevitably, I get a response like, “She likes dogs?” Then, after some discussion, the students come up with a list of details the author has shown us through Mila’s almost clinical voice that reveal elements of her character.

So why the dog? “Everyone likes dogs,” suggests one of my students. “I don’t!” chirps his friend. Another student raises her hand. “She doesn’t resent being compared to the dog. She’s sort of proud of it.” Someone else follows up, “Maybe she’s telling us she’s like a terrier, persistent, you know, without actually having to tell us that.” Right. She’s showing us, I say. And thus begins another year of Creative Writing. We talk about how story becomes powerful when an author shows his or her readers clues and details – sensory and emotional. And this starts with a strong voice and an interesting character (or characters) who want something, who have a problem.

PICTURE ME GONE is a beautifully-written, atmospheric novel and this Sherlock-like girl held my attention completely. She also proved a lovely way to begin our class discussion of point of view, voice and character.

I had knee surgery July 7th. The byproduct of too many years as a basketball player and a fall skiing last January. I’ve had knee surgery before – in high school for a basketball injury – and I remember healing pretty quickly and being back on the court in no time. Memory’s a funny thing. This time around, well, not so much. I’m forty, so that played into it, but I’m sure that last surgery took a lot of rehab and time. I just don’t remember it. iceknee

Three days in, on painkillers, I couldn’t even follow the plot of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as my daughter watched it on Netflix. Wait, why is that ant so huge? Two weeks in, hobbling on crutches, I said to my husband, “I had no idea it was going to be like this!! What was I thinking?” He got me more ice. And a snack. I did my exercises, complaining to my surgeon almost three weeks in that I had simply no idea I still wouldn’t be able to straighten my leg?! He was patient and sweet. You’re getting there, he said. It takes time. Do your exercises. Ice it. You’ll be off crutches in no time. You’ll be back in the gym soon.

Grrrrrr. I am not a patient person (insert laughter at enormous understatement here).

Meanwhile, in related news, my editor at Scholastic gave me the editorial letter for my new YA novel I’m writing for them. It was long. And she, as usual, made fabulous points. I got feedback from my agent and she, as usual, made fabulous points. This book needed a ton of work (read: the first draft was a freaking mess). I knew this when I sent it. Because first drafts generally are – freaking messes.

My knee. The revisions. I indulged in a few minutes (read: days) of being totally overwhelmed. My knee didn’t work! My book didn’t work! My husband went out for Haagen Dazs bars. (Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?)

Four weeks in at the gym, as I did my sad little slow turns on the spin bike, one of my trainers said, “Trust the process.” I tried not to throw a dumbbell at his head.

But he was right.  Over the last couple weeks I’ve been re-writing the book and guess what? All those notes from my editor and agent have made it so much better. Yesterday, I walked up and down stairs the normal way. Today at the gym, I did twenty minutes on the spin bike and my knee felt great. My lovely trainer, Amanda, took a picture to remind me.

bike

Trust the process.

Of course, I knew this already. Because of writing. Books always start out messy, frustrating piles of words. Overtime, hopefully, after many drafts, they become a novel. This knee, after many revisions in the gym, will be on the slopes in no time.

Bonus Track: If you missed my post on Book Vacations over at Hiver & Cafe’s blog, check it out. You still have a few days to enter for a signed copy of CATCH A FALLING STAR.

I turned in the first draft of my new manuscript to my editor, school is closed for the summer, and we’re winding up my daughter’s dance and theatre activities until August.  This means we’re melting into some of my favorite weeks of the year:  summer reading! Time to sit and enjoy some new books without too many distractions. Okay, I’m also getting knee surgery but that just means more guilt-free reading time, so I thought I’d list a few of the books I plan to dive into this month.

 

Extra Special Bonus: My ten year old daughter, Ana, is joining POV today as a guest blogger to share a few of the books on her summer reading list.

 

From Kim’s list, for adults:

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil (Grove Press)

The New Valley, his collection of linked novellas, shimmered with lush storytelling and rich characters. His debut novel, which has been called futuristic Russian folklore, promises the same. Plus, he created all the gorgeous illustrations inside so it’s like also getting an art book for your coffee table. It’s a two-for-one! Casually leave it out in your house where people will spy it and think, whoa, nice book.The Great Glass Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum (Touchstone Books)

This one had me at the title. Love it. Maum’s novel looks like a fresh take on marriage and infidelity, plus it’s set in both England and France. Mostly, I’ve heard that it’s funny and anytime someone can take something painful and find the humor in it (see anything Jonathan Tropper writes!), I find it a useful lens.

 

for YA:

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson (S&S Books for Young Readers)

I just started this book and it’s terrific – everything a YA book should be: a great set up (what happened to Sloan?), rich characters (Emily, the MC, is funny, sharp and interesting), and there is a cute smart boy. This is my kind of YA and I can’t wait to recommend it to my students in the fall for their independent reading.since you've been gone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ana’s list (in her own words):

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic)

I read Rules by Cynthia Lord and I really love her concepts and her characters. In Rules, Catherine wished she had a normal life because her brother was autistic, but throughout the book she figured out that normal is different for every family. One of my favorite characters from Rules was Jason. He was different from everyone else and he became friends with Catherine. One of the reasons I want to read Touch Blue this summer is because I really like Cynthia Lord’s writing. Touch Blue seems like a similar book to Rules because it has a girl who is challenged by something she wants and befriends two new people who help her figure out what she really needs.

touch blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion)

This is Rick Riordan’s second series, Heroes of Olympus. I read his first Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and I loved how he told the story in first person (Percy’s POV). I also love the character Annabeth. I read the first book in this new series and I love the characters Leo, Piper and Jason. I’ve already started reading Son of Neptune and in this book Percy Jackson’s POV returns as well as a character named Hazel and one named Frank. I like how it rotates POV every few chapters. These books are filled with action, humor, and Greek Mythology, which I love.

 

Amulet #6 by Kazu Kibuishi (GRAPHIX)

This one doesn’t come out until the end of August but I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve read the other five and they are about a girl and her family who come to live in their grandfather’s house and she finds an amulet necklace that starts talking to her (weird!) She chooses to be a Stone Keeper and the whole series is about her fighting the bad people (the elves) and learning how to control the amulet’s magic. These are graphic novels and the drawings are amazing. I highly recommend it, but start with the first one or nothing will make sense.

It’s May 19th which means it’s the start of #IreadYA week!  Scholastic’s This Is Teen team wants to celebrate (along with the whole YA community) the YA titles in our lives that make us – you know – feel all the feelings.

This week via Twitter and Facebook, I’ll be sharing some of the YA books in my life that matter to me, and other authors, bloggers, teachers, librarians, readers and book-lovers will be talking about the YA books that matter to them.  Sound fun?  It will be.

Start building your summer reading list!

Look I’ll get you started: #CatchaFallingStar #IreadYA (see what I did there?)

Catch a Falling Star

Scholastic (April 29th, 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some ways to participate:

Check out #IreadYA to find out what YA books people are recommending/ reading/loving…

Share your favorite YA books #IreadYA

Or, if you’d rather, you can post a comment here about what YA books have mattered to you and let me share them for you…

This week, let’s #IreadYA together…COLL014113-001-I_Read_YA-Spring_color_ways-02

 

In Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, she writes with great passion and insight about the special nature of the independent bookstore, how a bookstore is truly part of the soul of a community.  If you haven’t read this novel yet, you should.  It’s delightful. Bookstores mean a lot to me (I know, surprise, surprise).  But there is just something irreplaceable about the physical space of a bookstore – the thousands of worlds dwelling in the stacks, the smell of the pages, the very act of being greeted by another human being who loves the weight of a book in his or her hands as much as I do.  It really does have a soul.

 

On Saturday, May 3, as part of CA Bookstore Day, I got to experience this soul firsthand when The Bookseller of Grass Valley hosted a beautiful party for the launch of my new YA novel CATCH A FALLING STAR in the multi-purpose room of Forest Charter School.  They rolled out a red carpet, dotted the room with stars, set up a photo booth with costumes, and baked delicious treats.  We gave out books and a prize basket full of goodies donated by other local businesses.  Looking out at the audience, everyone there to celebrate this book and support The Book Seller, I couldn’t help but feel that soul Zevin wrote about in her novel — that special energy community creates.

 

So I want to send out a huge thank you to The Book Seller for my special day.  They sure made me feel like a star.  Here are some shots of the special event.signing2prizesredcarpetreadingsigning

Scholastic will publish my new young adult novel Catch a Falling Star on April 29th! In celebration, I will be giving away a Catch a Falling Star Stargazer Prize Pack on my website.

Catch a Falling Star

Scholastic (April 29th, 2014)

The prize pack includes:
• A signed hardback copy of Catch a Falling Star
• A “shoot for the stars” journal
• A $15 iTunes gift card so you can create your own stargazing playlist

To win the Stargazer Prize Pack, please write a comment on this post telling me about your favorite place to stargaze. In celebration of Catch a Falling Star’s book birthday, I will select a winner at random from the comments posted by noon PST on April 29th. This contest is open to US residents only.

Thanks, and, happy stargazing!!

Over the last year, my family has read the seven Harry Potter books out loud to each other. We have spent many hours curled up inside the world J.K. Rowling built around her boy wizard, his friends, and their journey. Harry Potter has traveled with us – to our winter vacations the past two Februarys, to weekends away, and, last summer, we loaded all the books onto Kindle and took them with us to Scotland and Switzerland. One of my favorite memories from our trip was reading to each other on the sprawling lawn of Urquhart Castle as the wind came off the rolling waters of Loch Ness. Recently, we closed the book on the last page of book seven. My daughter looked at us, tearful, and asked, “Now what?”

I was telling this story the other day and a friend remarked, “Wait, Ana read them all?” This surprised her because she knows my daughter well and knows that she won’t read anything dark. As a little one, she refused to watch most Disney movies on the grounds that “Disney hates mommies!” and wouldn’t watch Tangled until several weeks ago because that witch “totally freaks me out. I mean, she steals a baby and pretends to love her. That’s messed up!”

But she’s fine with Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. That makes sense.

I asked Ana, “Why are you okay with the Harry Potter books, but you don’t want to try other stuff?” She shrugged and said, “No matter what, no matter how dark, there is always hope. Besides, JK Rowling is funny. She always throws in something funny.” Ana’s right. She does do that. Over the past year, my husband and I found ourselves cracking up as we read, especially because as educators we appreciated her commentary on schooling via the wonderful Hogwarts world.

But I’m a Potterhead now even more than ever for a personal reason. Rowling’s books have acted as a gateway for my child to explore some darker themes, some more complex concepts. We’ve had amazing discussions about racism (all the Mudblood, half-blood threads), about slavery (Ana was Dobby for Halloween last year), about death and love and compassion and betrayal and sacrifice. The list is endless.

Harry Potter has given Ana a literary reference point, one she has embraced with her whole heart. Now, when we read things that are tough, we find her saying, “That reminds me of that scene in Harry Potter …” and she’s able to process more difficult content. I’m not going to be throwing Stephen King at her anytime soon but I’m thrilled to know this series has given her a way to process the harsh things she encounters in the world at large.

The other night, she snuggled on the couch, re-reading book six for about the fifth time, and she said, “Mom, sometimes I feel like these characters are with me even when they’re not.” Then, she giggled, “I know, that’s kind of weird.” I told her it wasn’t weird to me at all. It’s why I’m a reader, why books matter so much to me. I am the sum of all the books I’ve read in my life, all those stories and characters and triumphs and failures help guide me through a world that often doesn’t make sense either. I told her how happy I was she had Harry and Ron and Hermione and Neville and Luna as friends to help her.

I want to end with one of my favorite quotes from Albus Dumbledore. It sums up the reason I love writing YA Fiction, why it matters so much to me to write for this age group: “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

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