Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What banning books leads to

Tip of the Week: banned and challenged books lists are everyone on the Web this week. If you are looking for one to read, one of my favorites is Sarah Dessen's Just Listen.

We have a Banned Books week display at my library and have had it up for the past week and a half. It's sparked many conversations. Most of them centering around people asking, "What's a Banned Book?" or "I had no idea they still banned books." However, one woman came in yesterday and told us a story of a banned book controversy that just leaves me baffled.

The controversy stemmed from several books, including the book Freedom Writers, which I haven't read, but I know is about how teens in an inner-city environment used writing to change their lives (sounds positive, doesn't it?). Apparently while very inspirational some of the content in the books is questionable for a young age group. Despite this, a teacher in a nearby city of mine wanted to use it for a classroom assignment. In doing so, she got approval from the school board and administration, sent letters to all the parents telling them about the book and its importance, and allowed the parents to remove their child from reading the book if they wanted.

After the book had been read and in general everyone liked the book, many students who had opted not to read it started to feel left out, which heightened the situation. And as a result, I think some other parents and local religious organizations heard about the book controversy and then wanted it taken out of the library, along with a few other books. It went to the the higher ups and the decision resulted in the books being kept in the library, since they had strong literary value. Which sounds good, right?

But in the process of the controversy, the teacher quit. I think feeling the pressure around her decision to use the books in the classroom, despite her making every attempt she could to avoid controversy.

So let me review this, not only did the teacher lose her job, but people were angry that students were reading the book and some students were mad they couldn't read the book. Does it seem ironic to anyone else that with anything involving banning books, not only does nobody wins, but nobody is pleased?

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Could My Town Ban a Book?!

Tip of the Day: The last week in September is Banned Books Week. I love the ALA slogan: Free People Read Freely.
In April 2006, Alex Sanchez, YA writer, came to Rochester for our annual Teen Book Festival. Just a few months later, my suburb of Rochester removed Sanchez's Rainbow Boys from their summer reading list because of one complaint from one parent.

Soon, Webster NY was all over the news. My little town! Now known throughout the country as the place where they ban books! I was mortified.

My first thought was: we just invited him here! Doesn't anyone realize that? Talking to people throughout the community, it seemed they didn't. Whenever a parent asked me what I thought about the censored reading list, I'd bring up the fact that we just hosted him to talk about his books. And people would say "Oh really?" It drove me nuts. I mean, how could my town look stupider? "Let's invite someone here and then ban his books!"

I suppose I should be happy that the people censoring reading lists aren't that bright. But this is my town. This wasn't something happening somewhere else, in some backwards valley where they ban books and have never heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This was my tax dollars at work.

Alex Sanchez's website has a great page dedicated to the Webster controversy at http://www.alexsanchez.com/Banned_Books/banned_book_1.html. It has the Rochester newspaper articles and statements from the Webster Superintendent, including this gem, from after Rainbow Boys was reinstated to the reading list: "One of the most significant changes ... is the assurance that every book on the middle and high school reading lists have been read by one of the committee members ..."

Oh, there's a genius idea! Let's actually read a book before we decide to censor it. What a revolutionary concept. I have to add that the summer reading program asks middle and high school students to read and write reports on 2 books over the summer. Well, students, now you know the secret! The people who are grading your reports have never read the books! Feel free to make up anything you want.

So, yeah, this one's embarrassing on so many levels. Complaints from students and other Websterites put Rainbow Boys back on the 2007 reading list. Alex Sanchez came back for the 2008 Rochester Teen Book Festival, so I hope all is forgiven. But it's a sad, sad day when your own town makes the news for attempting to keep a book away from teenagers. I hope nobody judged my whole town for the actions of the school board but, hey, they probably did.

I swear, Webster has a fantastic library system. You'd like it here, you really would.

*Sigh.* Has anyone else experienced their own town in a book banning controversy?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer

Friday, September 26, 2008

Saving the worst for last!

Tip of the day: Register to vote. Please.

So the first young adult novel I wrote, I just started writing. No idea of where it was going. No serious thought given to the plot. Yep. I just started writing. I decided at some point the girl would be in a band. And her mom was kind-of a loser dating an even bigger loser.

But what was really strange is that when I started writing, there were all these cats. Why? I have no freaking clue. Her mom worked at a Humane Society and couldn't stand to see the cats put down, so she'd bring them home. Would the cats play an important role later one? Perhaps there was some kind of symbolism involved, or they were a metaphor for something? Uh, no. Nothing. Just figured I hadn't seen any stories about a girl with a lot of cats, so hey, it's something different!

I wrote about eight chapters and then came to my senses as I figured out that a story with no plot and 23 cats probably wasn't going to be selling anytime soon.

Here's a little snippet of the brilliant masterpiece, THE GIRL WITH 23 CATS:

What am I supposed to do, leave them there to die? They deserve to be loved, Cassie. I know what it feels like to be unwanted and it believe me, it hurts. I can’t hurt these poor precious cats like that, I just can’t. They have every right to live a happy, love-filled life. And if you don’t think so, then you take them out and shoot them. Yeah, take them out back and put a bullet into their sweet little heads if you think I should have left them there to die. All those people I work with at the Humane Society, and I’m the only one who gives a crap. I don’t care if we have 50 cats, Cassie, I will keep bringing them home and loving them as long as there is breath in me.”

Have you learned anything this week? I hope so. I hope you've learned that with every word we write, we improve. And what we think is great today may not seem so great tomorrow. And if it really sucks? Well, no worries. It'll make great blog material, which makes it worth something after all, right?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Am the Next Stephen King (or Lesson Learned: Write What You Know)

Tip of the Day: If you come across some horribly embarrassing angsty poetry that you wrote when you were a pre-teen or teen, burn it. Or post it on here so we can all have a giggle. :)

Before I started writing YA around three and a half years ago I didn't write much fiction. I used to write stories and such as a child but not so much as an adult. I wrote loads of nonfiction though. The first time I tried to write a fiction book was a little over four years ago and I decided I was going to write a horror/murder mystery story. Yup—I was going for Stephen King-esque stuff. I got about 29 pages in and realized, hmmm, I know nothing about really scary killers, police investigations, or big murder mysteries. I can’t really go anywhere with this book. I was majorly stuck. And the idea was kinda crazy anyway. The book was called Best Friends Forever and was, get this, about a psycho killer who is the Main Character’s (a college professor) best friend since childhood and she is kidnapping college girls and setting them up in a slumber party atmosphere in a hidden house (unbeknownst to the MC of course). The killer never felt like she had real friends growing up so she was forcing girls, dead or alive, to be her friend now.

Oh boy, I can’t believe I’m even posting this. This will come back to haunt me won’t it?
Ok. Here are two snippets from the book:

* * *

“Why are you doing this to me?” Amanda cried as she wiggled in the hard wood chair, trying to free herself. “Who the hell are you? Untie me you goddamn freak!” The room had a faint sweet smell, like baby powder. It reminded Amanda of the Babe perfume she wore when she was a kid. The room was small with white walls and white shelves with stuffed animals and books set upon them. There was a small twin size princess bed with a flowery pink canapé against a wall and a pink bean bag chair in the corner. A small TV sat atop the white desk only a few feet from where Amanda was tied.

“Now, now,” a woman replied in a sweet voice, “do you really have to be nasty? No one likes a bad attitude. Try to calm down.”

“Screw you!” Amanda screamed and wiggled harder, trying to pull her hands from the yellow twined rope that tied them to the back of the chair. Her wrists burned from the rubbing of the rope. “You have no right to keep me here! You can’t do this to me! Help! Someone help me!” Amanda screamed but didn’t know if it would help. Or who could possibly hear her. She didn’t know where she was except that it must be a house. And she didn’t know how she got here. One minute she was getting in her car in the campus parking lot, the next thing she knew she was tied to a chair in what looked like a kid’s bedroom.

“Geez Louise Amanda. You are a selfish, selfish girl.” The woman crossed the small room and began to rummage through a black duffel bag on the floor. She pulled out a roll of silver duck tape and turned back around to face the screaming girl. “Don’t you know that a good friend doesn’t just talk but listens?” the woman asked.

Amanda’s eyes widened as the strange woman ripped off 6 inches of duck tape and smoothed it across her mouth.

“There, much better,” she said. “We are going to get along just fine.”

And another snippet:

“So Jen, do you have a crush on anyone from school?”

Jen slowly lifted her head to the right and tried to open her eyes. Her head was too heavy and she felt it roll back down to her chin. She waited a moment and then tried to roll her head to a straight up position again. She managed to hold it upright and blinked her eyes open.

“Wh…what…who are you?” Jen mumbled, straining to keep her eyes open and focused on the woman sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“We were talking about boys. Who do you think is cute?” the woman asked.


“I said, who do you think is cute from school?” the woman said in an annoyed voice.

“School?” Jenn stammered, “you go to Chicago U?”

“Chicago U?” the woman repeated laughing. “Oh Jen, you are so funny. No, Apple Grove high school of course.”

“Huh?” Jen said utterly confused. “What are you doing? Who is that?” she said now noticing the girl laying stretched out in front of the woman, apparently asleep.

“What does it look like I am doing?” the woman answered, brushing the long black hair of the dead girl stretched out on the rug before her. “Molly’s hair.”

Weird right? How on earth did I go from there to YA?! And the writing is terrible. Repeat myself much? The girl is stretched out, the girl is laying stretched out. Help, someone help! She didn’t know if it would help. And I love how in one line we know that the girl on the floor is apparently asleep but then we know in the next line that she is dead. I obviously had no critique partners back then.

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Did I Write That? (or These Books Better Not Be Published After I'm Famous and Dead)

Tip of the Day: Save all your writing drafts in three places: your hard drive, your thumb drive, and your email. You can't be too careful with your precious manuscripts!

For this week's post, I'm digging deep into the recesses of my hotmail account to dredge up an early draft of my first ever completed YA novel.

Just so you know, this is not a first draft. That would be too easy to post here for everyone to see -- I could simply add the caveat that OF COURSE there were glaring problems -- it's a FIRST DRAFT for goodness sake!

Alas, what you will see below is, ahem, revised and "polished" and sent to an agent who requested it back in March of 2006, when I did my first agent queries ever. (I have to say I am not at all sorry I don't have the draft that preceeded this which was sent to exactly one editor who requested it in the summer of 2005.)

The title of the novel at this point is also embarassing now bc it is too cryptic. Unless you know Vietnamese. Which you all do, I'm sure.


The novel is about 16-year-old Melanie whose 15-year-old adopted sister is pregnant with a 19-year-old boy's baby; Mel must keep the secret of the father's age or else her sister will be pissed -- even if it means that her own budding romance could be cut short by suspicions and jealousies.

And here's the winning excerpt from the March 2006 edition!

“Annie?” I say, knocking gently on her bedroom door. She doesn’t answer so I knock again, louder. “Come on Annie, please let me in.”

She still doesn’t respond so I open the door. Her favorite Dave Matthews Band CD is playing in her stereo, and she’s sitting at her desk where her sketchbook lays open to a page filled with a charcoal drawing of a winged girl in a long gown. Some lines of the drawing are blurred where it looks like a teardrop landed, similar to how my sweat-soaked final exams will look if the heat doesn’t break. Just one dim lamp is on in the corner of the room, and Annie’s holding the stick with the two blue stripes from the home pregnancy test up to the light.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says. She looks sad and sick and I’m not sure what to say. I’m sad, too, seeing my usually lively, happy, smiling sister so down. Just yesterday everything seemed OK. Just yesterday we were both happy.

Or at least I thought we both were.

I sit down slowly on the light pink comforter that covers her twin bed. I wonder briefly if this was where the baby was conceived, but then shake that thought out of my head, disgusted with myself.

“Is there anything I can do?" I ask. "Make you a batch of my chocolate peanut butter chip cookies?” I’m an excellent baker, which is probably a reason why I have a bit more of a stomach than Annie does – at least for now.

Now let's play What's Your Favorite Part of This Passage?
a) the nostalgic tone?
b) the unrealistic dialog between the sisters?
c) the inserted details irrelevant to the scene?
d) all of the above?

I know, I know, you're laughing. At least I hope you are instead of cringing and crying (that's what I'm doing as I read this). Let this be a lesson to me -- and all you others at the Recently Repped stage -- that sometimes it's a good thing that your first ever completed novel project did not get picked up and subbed....

I did revise this ms again in Feb 2007 and sent it to an editor who requested it. Yes, it is much better -- but her overall opinion was that it was a bit "soap operay." Hmmmm....that's better than horrendous! I still enjoy the idea of this novel and may revise it again someday....

Do tell me I'm not alone in the horror of the first novel submissions!

Deena, Miss Recently Repped

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stories from a third-grade Emily

Tip of the Day: if you want to have some fun look through some of your old stories. Especially ones from your childhood.

This week’s blog entry turned out to be much more exciting to write than I had anticipated. While searching for an old story from high school, I found hidden deep within my school memorabilia box stories from second through fourth grade that I didn’t know existed. Reading some of these masterpieces with amazing titles like Super Cave, How the Elephant Got It’s Trunk, 10 Day Diary of Moon Trip, Icicle the Town, and Salt Boy proved extremely entertaining.

Picking an excerpt to share of my not-so-master writing skills as a third grader was hard, but I had to go with a little tale called NAN AND THE GHOST because it’s possible this story was my first foray into plots with mysterious elements and mild suspense. Here it is, spelling and grammar mistakes and all:

The night had grown cold. Nan could smell the scent of pine needles. The wind whistled thought a broken pane. It sounded the groan of someone is pain. Nan thought, “For two cents I’d leave this cabin and go home.” But she knew the whole situation would seem better in the morning.

Suddenly Nan heard a loud cracking sound. It was coming from the attic. Nan thought it might be a ghost. But she said to herself there is no such thing as a scary ghost. But Nan thought could there be such a thing as a scary ghost? If there was it would be a nice ghost or it would be a mean ghost. If it was a nice ghost, she could play with it. Then she thought it was probably her dad.

When Nan was downstairs her father and mother were downstairs too. When they were at the table eating they heard the loud cracking sound. Nan said to her dad and mom “I heard that cracking sound before today.” Dad said “I had better check the attic.” Dad went up the creepy stairs. When he was in the attic, he looked around. He had found a door. He opened the door. Inside was a rocking chair. It was rocking. It was right above the kitchen. That’s what caused the loud cracking sound.

As much as I try, I cannot read the line “For two cents I’d leave this cabin and go home” without giggling uncontrollably. I don't think that was the intended effect.

And I’m sorry, this was too funny I had to include a snippet from another story titled A STRANGE PACKAGE in which a girl gets a mysterious package that must be opened on “Nov. the 24.”

The next day I wanted to open the package, but I knew that I couldn’t. That’s why I called it a strange package. All I want right now is a fudge, gingerbread cake. I thought, maybe it was a bicycle. Maybe it’s a big toy giraffe that is in danger. Maybe it’s a court room and a judge that you can play with. It maybe a gentle giant that does magic and lives in a cage at the edge of a bridge. It maybe a giant giraffe that is just two years old and lives in a very big cage.

Okay, I have no idea where my mind was in the third grade. Seriously, a court room and a judge you could play with? Now if only a Judge Judy Lego set existed back then.

A writer was apparently born thanks to my third-grade teacher Ms. Murphy, and I didn't even know it. So thank you, Ms. Murphy for making us write so many creative writing pieces.

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Worst Story I Ever Wrote (So Far)

Tip of the Day: Reading the (currently) two Diary of a Wimpy Kid books with your kids is a great idea. Naming the neighborhood kids after the weirder characters like Fregley: umm, try to resist doing that.

This is an especially fun week at A2A. We’re looking back at some of the worst stories we’ve written. You have to write some bad stories to learn how to write good ones, right? Right? Well, let’s hope so, because if this was a contest as to who wrote the worst story, I think I’d have this sewn up in the bag.

Because after I graduated college, I went through an epic fantasy phase. After reading a bunch of Tad Williams books and The Wheel of Time, among other things, I tried to write my own epic fantasy.

The main characters were young adults struggling with their future plans, but they were teenagers in another world, trying to get out of arranged marriages and pass tests to get into the scholar citadel or whatever it was I called it. I have some notes on the world building mechanics that show an alarming lack of understanding of basic science. For example, my world had three seasons instead of four, because apparently I thought it would be OK to pick a random number.

Oh, let’s just cut to the chase. Here’s a snippet from an old Word file:

When Kiyla and Calaho entered the stable, Sparkle was saddled and brushed, his luminous scales gleaming in the late morning sun. He hummed contentedly even before he spotted Kiyla. She wanted to thank the person who had tended to Sparkle, but there was nobody in sight.

“The servants really disappear when you’re around,” she remarked to Calaho.

“They’re here to work, not parade around in front of the woman guests,” Calaho said testily. Kiyla saw a man in gray slip into the stables.

That’s right! I invented an animal that acts exactly like a horse instead of just using a horse. I’m pretty sure that earns me 65 cliché points. I’m not sure how many cliché points I get for the names “Kiyla” and “Calaho” but probably quite a few.

Actually, reading back through my old files, my writing isn’t quite as bad as I remember it. I had a habit of overdescribing how everyone looked and what they wore, but I remember being annoyed in my reading with fantasy characters that looked just like you and me except in a totally different world. So I overcompensated.

After changing my plot significantly because I decided I didn’t like plots based on prophesy (to be fair, in my story, it was teen angst based on prophecy), I finally decided that epic fantasy wasn’t for me. I decided to write a story about regular, contemporary teenagers because that would be “easy,” ha ha ha ha. But my Kiyla fantasy was my first serious, sustained attempt at a novel-length work that I didn’t abandon after a month. So it was a big milestone on my development as a writer. It also taught me that no matter what I wrote, I had very little interest in writing about the adults in that world, even though I was finally an adult myself. So bravo for my cheesy epic fantasy. There’s a little bit of Kiyla in a lot of my main characters. And I forgot how slimy Calaho was; he needs to come back in another form in one of my stories someday.

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer

Friday, September 19, 2008

I heart booksellers!

Tip of the Day: There’s a new blog in town! Check out http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com with agent Sara Crowe and her clients blogging on various publishing-related topics.

This past week I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s annual conference. Did you know there is such a thing, and apparently most states and/or regions have something similar? I attended on Monday as a presenter with a few other authors from the Class of 2k8, and we were able to talk with booksellers about author events and brainstorm ways to increase attendance at events. Afterwards, we had a lot of interest from booksellers in the audience wanting us to come to their bookstore for an event. We handed out our brochure and made connections. I do believe those bookstore connections are SO important.

I love indie bookstores, and it was great to be in a place where I could meet lots of people in one fell swoop that share a love of books and work hard to get the right book into the right reader’s hands.

On Wednesday I went back to the exhibit hall where publishers set up booths to show the booksellers what’s coming up in the near future. I spent some valuable one-on-one time with the regional sales rep for Simon and Schuster. This is the person who is traveling around, pitching books to the buyers, and trying to get them to carry titles in their stores. Next time she’s pitching, I hope I stick out a little more in her mind. And I probably will! That’s what some face time gets you.

I also signed ARCs of FAR FROM YOU, which was fun. Many booksellers stood in line to get it, so let's hope they read it, love it, and decide to order it! That's the goal, anyway. If you happen to see one on e-bay, let me know, will you?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh. My. Galleys.

Tip of the Day: If you haven’t yet, check out this rockin’ group of debut 2009 middle grade and young adult authors. In 2009 we’re doing the 12 months of Debsmas and giving away a big gift bag every month, each putting in something representative of our debut book. Guess what I’ll be giving away? :-)

They are so beautiful.

Not kidding. My galleys came this week and I am just in love with them! Truthfully, when the editor called me and said the galleys were on their way I didn't really know what they were (being my first time pubbing and all) so I just tried to be really cool about it. But then they came and I ripped open the package and saw this:

Copies of what the pages are going to look like! I was positively giddy! I just wanted to hug them and kiss them and sleep with them under my pillow. I think I even giggled. My 5-year was giving me some weird looks wondering why the mail had me carrying on so.

But come on wouldn't you? Look-- there are real pages here!

Now I'm supposed to read over this super carefully and make sure there are no mistakes anywhere and then send it back. But I kinda wanna keep them. They're just so darn cool.

Considering how excited I am over the galleys I'm probably going to have to be pulled off the ceiling when I get the ARC.


And in a COMPLETELY UNRELATED topic, but one I just can’t let get by, what is everyone’s take on this whole Lauren Conrad thing? You all know that I LOVE her reality show, The Hills, but to give her a three-book deal?! What makes anyone think she can write? Not that I know personally. I mean, she could have five novels on her hard drive at home and just never have mentioned it. But c’mon, if she isn’t a writer why give her a deal? Will people really think she wrote the books? Or do people not even care. Don’t get me going on the ghostwriting stuff again…


Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub