Reading, Young Adult


Going Vintage by Lindsey LeavittI love it when a book makes me think. GOING VINTAGE by Lindsey Leavitt definitely fits into that category. The premise is that the main character’s boyfriend has a cyber-affair, so she gives up modern technology. Her hypothesis is that life was simpler when her grandma was a teenager, so she will only use technology that was available in 1962. As I’m sure you can imagine, the ultimate lesson is that being a teenager is hard in any decade. I discussed the book with my own grandma, who is 85. She confirmed that, yes, it was hard in the ’40s, too.

What I came away with was that even though technology does make authentic communication harder in some ways, there are also a lot of benefits. As with anything, you just have to weigh the good with the bad.

I could write a review of this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I thought it would be more fun to list the five modern technologies I couldn’t live without. (If you really want to see what I think of Lindsey Leavitt’s writing, check out my review of her middle grade novel, A FAREWELL TO CHARMS.)

1. My smart phone – I haven’t even had my smart phone a year, but I can’t imagine living without it now. It’s my connection to the world, my calendar, information immediately at my fingertips, my camera … the list goes on and on. I didn’t text before this phone because I had a flip phone where I had to press 1 three times to get a C. But I’ve discovered it keeps me in better touch with some friends and family members who just don’t want to talk on the phone anymore. There’s a scene in the book where someone calls Mallory on the house phone and she doesn’t quite know how to talk to them that way. I find that a little sad as I spent hours on the phone with my friends as a teenager, but at the same time, texting keeps me in contact with some people I never would have talked to on the phone.

2. The Internet – I’m old enough I remember a time before the Internet. It really got going while I was in high school and exploded while I was in college. How did we find information back then? How did we stay connected? Heck, I live on Twitter during the day. It’s how I get my news, how I connect with people. And everything I’ve learned about the publishing business I’ve learned online. Yes, it’s easy to misinterpret conversations online, particularly in places like Facebook, but if I weren’t on Facebook, I wouldn’t have any idea what was going on with my high school or college friends or extended family. And my college roommates wouldn’t have scheduled a weekend away last year, so overall it’s a positive thing.

3. My computer/laptop – If I had to write longhand or on a typewriter (which I did use back in grade school), I don’t know if I would be writing novels now. For sure the quality wouldn’t be as high. I spend hours moving things around and playing with word choices. I can’t imagine trying to do that longhand or even with a typewriter. Plus, my laptop is where I store my life–pictures, videos, music, etc. And believe me, I back it all up, too!

4. DVR – Maybe I will be able to do without this eventually thanks to shows being posted online, but the quality is still better through my TV service. I remember when we got a DVR. It was during the summer Olympics in 2004. It revolutionized the way we watched TV. I never watch commercials anymore. If I’m somewhere I have to, I get very impatient. My kids do, too. “Why can’t we fast-forward?” Or, “Can you pause that?” It’s part of their vocabulary to think everything in life can be fast-forwarded or paused. Just the other day my almost 3-year-old asked me to pause a book so she could go get a drink.

5. Kitchen appliances – I know this is really two, but I can’t live without my microwave or my dishwasher. I hate washing dishes by hand and usually get my husband to do it since he doesn’t mind. And as for the microwave, well, how did they heat up food before it existed? In the oven? On the stove? That would take so long! I love my conveniences.

What could you not live without? Have I missed anything?

Conferences, Querying

Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my Missouri SCBWI Conference recap. On to Part 2…

Illustrator Will Terry kicked off the afternoon sessions. He offered the most polished presentation of the day, and of course he had a visual component. Like Ms. Dryden, he spoke about how technology has changed the industry, but he had an entirely different focus. He gave us tips on several iPad apps I’m going to check out for my kids (The Wormworld Saga, Nighty Night, Mash Smasher).

He asked the question: Which is more important, story or craft? I thought this was a trick question, but it turned out it wasn’t. He used movies as examples, saying that his kids would rather watch the old Star Wars than the new ones. Why? Because while the earlier movies had the coolest special effects of the time, they focused on the story. The new movies also have the coolest special effects of the time, but the stories are weaker. I’d never thought of it that way, but he’s right, and it bears out in books, too. Writers like to knock TWILIGHT, but the story draws people in, so it doesn’t matter if the writing technique is weaker.

Mr. Terry said that if you build the right product, you won’t have to spend a lot on advertising because people will share it on their own. The key is to come up with something amazingly “something,” whether that’s good, shocking, touching or “something” else. Great advice, right? Get on that!

Best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins shared her publishing journey. It was interesting to hear how she started out publishing non-fiction. She wrote CRANK because of her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. Although I haven’t read her books (I’m a happy ending kind of girl), I appreciated the feedback she shared from her readers. Here’s a quote that really caught my attention:

“My readers need the books to understand themselves but also to understand people who are not like themselves.”

The agent who was scheduled to attend this year’s conference wasn’t able to get out of New York due to Sandy. Instead, Emma Dryden and Ellen Hopkins gave the agent speech from the viewpoint of an editor and author. Here are some of the tips they gave:

  1. Agents aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for potential.
  2. An agent has to love your work AND think they can sell it.
  3. Agents aren’t looking for a book; they’re looking for an author. You should have other projects available, especially if you write picture books.
  4. If you plan to write a series, don’t hold everything back for the third book because there’s no guarantee people will want to get there.
  5. Make sure the agent is the right fit.
  6. Your agent is working for you–you are paying them. (Probably wouldn’t hear an agent say that.)
  7. You need an agent for contracts, especially early on. Authors don’t have the clout to ask for things. Ellen Hopkins shared that she made her first deal without an agent and regretted that. She also pointed out that it’s about more than the advance. It’s about subrights and marketing support.
  8. Don’t put illustration notes in a PB manuscript. If a PB manuscript is excellent, the agent should be able to picture the illustrations from the text.
  9. Make sure you have a walkaway clause with an agent if things don’t work out.

It was interesting to hear these notes from the editor/author points of view, although I felt like I could have given the speech based on my querying experiences. In case anyone who was at the conference stops by my blog, I’d like to point out one answer that was incorrect. You should NOT follow up two weeks after a query and definitely not CALL to follow up. The only exception would be if the agent’s submission guidelines state to do so. A few say you can follow up if you don’t hear within a certain time frame, but I haven’t seen any that say you can call.

The day ended with a panel of all the conference speakers. I didn’t take any notes there, but I was about ready to go home by then. Overall, the speakers were entertaining and interesting. Until next year…


Missouri SCBWI Conference Recap, Part 1

I attended the Missouri SCBWI conference on Saturday. I drafted a single post with my key takeaways, but it was too long, so I’m splitting it into two. You’ll get Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

The first keynote speaker was the very entertaining David Harrison, a prolific author who’s been publishing since the ’60s. Here are a couple of quotes that stood out to me.

“What’s the best part about writing? Falling in love with this idea.”

He expanded further on this during his breakout session. He developed a whole book out of noticing he was losing his hair and another after reading a Far Side cartoon. It’s funny how one little thing can be the starting point for a story.

“Six years and 67 rejections later, I sold my first book. It was easy.”

Ha! And he was submitting in a much less glutted publishing marketplace, but what was true then is true today. I’m not at six years yet, but I’ve definitely received more than 67 rejections :).

The second keynote was by editorial consultant Emma Dryden, who spoke about the digital landscape. Ms. Dryden went through an alphabetical list of companies/trends that are affecting the industry. One that stood out to me was the iPad. I’m not sure I got it all exactly the way she said it, but here’s what I wrote down:

“The iPad put the capability of digital reading into the hands of millions of readers who didn’t know they wanted digital reading.”

Think about that for a minute. It really makes sense. The Kindle came out the same year, and it offers the same reading opportunity, but the iPad is different because the e-reader is just one part of the device. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess a small percentage of people originally bought it for reading, but a large number of people who bought it for other purposes now use it for reading. I know that’s been the case for my husband.

Ms. Dryden spoke about publishers getting into apps and bookstores figuring out how to stay relevant. Publishers have to re-imagine their business models. Bookstores are no longer the main customer. Publishers also need to go through Apple, Google, and Amazon and even direct to the consumer. Another interesting note was that enhanced ebooks are not as lucrative as publishers expected them to be. She said they’re only worth it if there’s extra value in the enhancements, and that’s not usually the case with fiction.

Thanks to YALSA also happening in St. Louis on Saturday, we had a panel of YA authors do a Q&A during lunch. They included Beth Fehlbaum, Jo Knowles, Deborah Heiligman, Selene Castrovilla, and Shannon Delany.

The first question to the panel was: How do you write about something true? I didn’t keep a good record of who said what, but the basic answer was that it’s a mistake to keep the story too close to what really happened. Instead think about what could have made the situation better. Take yourself out of the story and make it the character’s story instead. Then the story can take flight.

I did take down some other quotes. Most of these are related to how and why the authors incorporate character details and quirks.

“What do we remember about a book? We remember moments. We remember little things.” Selene Castrovilla

“Listen to the characters. Even when we don’t know where they’re going, they do.” Shannon Delany

“The characters that you love most in fiction, you can probably name things about them.” Deborah Heiligman

“You can’t just add quirks. Characters need to have a reason for them. They have to have a purpose.” Jo Knowles

So, I hope those quotes give you something to think about as you’re imagining characters. I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my recap. If anyone else was at the conference, I’d love to hear your thoughts.