NPR Wants Your YA Favorites

NPR wants your picks for the best YA novels ever. You can share your top five in their comments (make sure to read the rules first). It’s awesome to read through everyone else’s choices as well. So far mine are:

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Of course then I start thinking about all the awesome YA books and want to fit them all in, but I think I have a good representation of style, tone, and publication date, too. Runners up include: Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block, Harry Potter by JK Rowling, A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle, Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Note: I tried to focus on titles that are currently categorized as YA novels. So even though To Kill a Mockingbird is basically YA and usually read in middle/high school, it’s still commonly stacked in the adult section so I had to leave that one out. But I did lean toward the MG novels, because I figure the line can blur so easily.

Share your favorites here at at NPR’s post!

Toads, TED talks, and Magical Landscapes: the 2012 NESCBWI Conference

Sara Zarr giving her keynote. Somehow my only picture from the weekend.

Last Saturday I woke up before sunrise, grabbed my bags, and drove a couple hours to Springfield, MA. Why put so much effort into what would otherwise have been a sleepy Saturday morning? Because I had to get to the NESCBWI conference!

I attended the international SCBWI conference in January, but this was my first regional conference. As with the larger SCBWI conference, there was a fantastic writerly vibe at NESCBWI. Fellow attendees were friendly and enthusiastic; presentations were informative and invigorating; and I left excited to get to work.

It’s a smart idea to have a regional conference. While I loved going to SCBWI in New York, I’m not sure I could make the trip out every year. The New England version is a little more manageable. Also, the workshops I attended felt much more focused on a particular topic. I’m sure regional conferences allow a little more tailoring to what particular attendees want to work on, as opposed to a much larger conference. A few workshops I attended were about setting expectations for your writing career, creating magical worlds, and navigating book contracts. Again, really interesting and helpful stuff.

A few highlights/thoughts/fun moments from NESCBWI:

  • In her keynote speech, Sara Zarr (one of my favorite YA authors) talked about what characters care about. So often we’re asked “What does your character want?” but Sara mentioned that sometimes what you want can just be a symbol for what you care about. I hate the “what does X want?” question; the “what does X care about” makes so much more sense to me. (She also related the writing life to Frog and Toad stories. Loved it!)
  • Also from Sara Zarr: “Let your writing actions speak to your commitment.”
  • Cynthia Lord mentioned there are peaks and valleys in a writing career; it’s not always an upward trajectory. She suggested thinking of the successes and rewards as “gifts” from readers. If someone write a good review about you or wants to give you an award, it’s a gift. Gifts can’t be expected, and as a result there’s way less pressure on you to hit those peaks.
  • Kate Messner shared her TED talk with us (so cool!) and reminded us that sometimes fear lets us know we’re exceeding the artificial limitations we set for ourselves.
  • A behind-the-scenes look at New Yorker covers and comics from Harry Bliss. His keynote made me wish I could illustrate.
  • When creating magical worlds, ask yourself questions like “How would geography affect class structure?” and “What kind of medicine or drugs do they have?” Cinda Williams Chima gave such a great workshop; I felt with major fantasy invigoration.
  • The Apocalypsies/Class of 2012 debut novelists are awesome people. It was great to hear about how weird the first novel experience can be. Special thanks to AC Gaughen and Diana Renn for chatting with me afterward.
  • On a more personal note, I was invited to join a fabulous YA/MG critique group. So excited to start workshopping with such wonderful writers!

If you want even more on NESCBWI, make sure to check out these posts by other attendees/presenters. And if you attended, please share your thoughts/links to blog posts about your NESCBWI experience in the comments.


Stories of Story of a Girl

One of my very favorite contemporary YA novels is Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr–which was published almost five years ago! (Five years exactly on Tuesday.) To celebrate, Zarr is sharing some of the novel’s journey to publication on her blog this week. After the first post alone, I’m stunned that Zarr didn’t just shoot to success. Her writing is so good! How could anyone have rejected anything she wrote?! But that’s the fun and inspiring part of the “inside scoop” from writer’s–as always, it’s a tough job and you never know when your work will find that right agent/editor. Loving the back story so far!

Plus, Tuesday she’s hosting a giveaway on Twitter:

“Tweet something about Story of a Girl–a favorite line or moment, a memory of reading it, a response to the story, a comment about a character, etc., and use the hashtag #storyofagirl (easy to remember). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will randomly pick from these tweets and give away five signed copies of Story of a Girl.

Obviously, if you have a memory or favorite line or comment about the book, there’s a good chance you don’t need a copy. Play anyway, and if you win you could give your copy to a friend, or donate it to a school or public library. If you haven’t read the book, you too can play along. You can tweet something about one of my other books that makes you want to read Story, or straight up beg for a copy. Just be sure to use #storyofagirl in your tweet. Tomorrow. Tuesday.

So get your tweets ready and help celebrate five years of this awesome novel. Congrats, Sara!

Monday Morning Inspiration

Over at desirous of everything, Sarah has a great interview with one of my favorite YA authors, Sara Zarr. Zarr’s books are so subtle yet so moving–fantastic examples of what contemporary YA can be. It’s hard to imagine a time when agents/publishers didn’t take notice, but Zarr talks about how she dealt with rejection:

It felt more like pain than like frustration, I must say. It was a kind of sadness, and fear about the future. (Is this ever going to happen for me? Is what I’m experiencing now what the next ten years are going to feel like? Please, God, no.) I kept it to myself a lot–I didn’t have very many writer friends back then. And then I’d also get mad. My competitive juices would start to flow when I read published work and knew mine was as good or better. I felt I had something to prove, and in the last couple of years, especially, I think I was mostly burning on the fumes of rage and determination.”

I’m sure most writers (YA or not) can relate to these feelings. The question of “Is it ever going to happen for me?” is huge. There are so many talented people and not all of them get to be published authors, for a number of reasons. But I think it’s a relief to read about how an author like Sara Zarr felt the same way. I’m so glad she didn’t give up! Imagine a world without her books–too sad.

Make sure to click through for the rest of the interview, and happy writing!

PS–Sara Zarr has a new book, How to Save a Life coming out this month!