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I'm an actress, singer, dancer, and writer. I'm also a freelance journalist, a publicist, a bookseller, and a webdesigner. This LiveJournal, for the most part, pertains to books - book reviews, exclusive interviews with authors, press releases, and booklists. My journal has an emphasis on teen fiction, though there are plenty of items for adult fiction and for juvenile fiction (or "kidlit") as well.
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1. Poetry Friday: There are two things from Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

There are two things:
True things.
And lies.
When you figure out
which is which
it's like you are on the inside
of the balloon
looking out,
seeing the pin coming toward you
in the sunlight
but not being able
to move away.

Or maybe,
the thing is
that all of us are two people:
the one inside
the balloon.
And the one
holding the pin.

This poem is featured in the epistolary novel Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers. Though the majority of the story is conveyed in letters and emails, one of the characters, Ruth, has a poetry journal hosted on tumblr - which, as of this posting, is not an active account in real life. (Yes, of course I checked!)

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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2. Poetry Friday: If I can stop one heart from breaking by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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3. Poetry Friday: Fear is like a mountain by Lisa Schroeder

Fear is like a mountain,
looming large
in the background,
taunting you with its

It seems so much
bigger than you,
and the thought of
climbing it,
of overcoming it,
seems impossible.

But it is not you
against the mountain

The mountain does
not exist simply
to make you
feel small.

It exists for purposes
beyond your

To climb it is simply
to take one step
and then another
step and then
another step;
a walk uphill.

It is all in how
you look at it.

And when you reach
the top, there is no more
Only a view that
takes your breath

- from the book The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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4. Best Books of June 2014

June 2014: 18 books and scripts read

Recommended for ages 11 and up
The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita
Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

Recommended for ages 14 and up
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Non-Fiction Pick
Making Your Life as an Artist by Andrew Simonet

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5. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

What do you do when you think the person you love the most is about to make a terrible decision?

And what's more devastating: discovering what she's done or realizing you don't know her as well as you think you do?

The most important person in Nell's life is her older sister, Layla. Less than 2 years apart, the girls are thick as thieves - or, at least, they were. When Nell begins her freshman year of high school, she is excited to be sharing the halls with her best friend, Felix, and her awesome sister, who's a junior. But gradually, it becomes clear to Nell that Layla's hiding something and is spending time with someone she doesn't want Nell or anyone else to know about - and, much to Nell's surprise, it's someone she knows, too.

Nell doesn't know what to do. She can't imagine talking to either of her long-divorced parents about what's happening with her sister -- she's much closer to Layla than either of her parents, and she definitely doesn't want to push her sister away or violate Layla's trust. But Layla's not around much, and when she is, she's not in the mood for heart-to-heart conversations with her little sis. Nell can't tell Felix what's happening, either, because she feels like it's not her secret to tell, and she can't be disloyal to her sister, plus she doesn't want to burden Felix, who has more serious things going on in his household right now. More than anything, Nell wants Layla to return to who she used to be, the role model she looked up to, the happy, dynamic Golden girl who willingly shared her secrets, her laughter, and her life with her little sister instead of keeping her at arm's length.

Nell never minded living in her sister's shadow. She was never jealous of her sister's personality or athleticism; she accepted early on that Layla was the superior Golden, stronger, shinier, more outgoing - that's how Nell always saw her, perfect, up on a pedestal - and since their parents didn't outright compare them and Layla never called herself better than Nell, the younger girl was content with who she was. After all, the girls were so close that they were "Nellayla." No one and nothing could break their bond. The only thing that bugged Nell was when her sister or parents treated her like a baby, like she wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on, or she wasn't old enough to participate in something.

Nell cannot imagine something major happening in her life without telling her sister about it -- but she doesn't know if Layla would say the same thing about her. When did that change, and why? In the words of Bess Rogers, "It's hard to see the shift when you're so close." (1) Though Nell has a crush and other entanglements in the book, her true heartache comes from her sister, from this strange space that's developed between them. When Nell's suspicions are confirmed, when she learns for sure what's going on with Layla, she has to decide what's more important: keeping her sister's secret (and her trust) or making sure she's safe and sound.

Layla, you know I'd happily lie for you to save your life, or to fix your life, but it's a different story entirely to lie about something that I believe is ruining your life.

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt employs a unique and effective technique: Nell, narrating in first person, largely uses "you" when thinking about her sister, reliving memories from their childhood or considering things she wishes she could say to her:

You were so much a part of me I thought we shared a name until you told me: "I am Layla," and you tapped your chest, then reached out to touch mine. "You are Nell."

What divides us is clear to the world around us but has always been murky to me.

When alone, Nell often considers Duncan and Parker Creed, a pair of brothers she knew whose lives ended tragically - and separately, though Nell thinks they were clearly connected. If you lost a peer at a young age, you will understand how Nell feels when she says:

If Duncan and Parker Creed were still alive, they'd be eighteen and twenty years old. [...] To me they will always be fourteen and sixteen, and it's the strangest thing in the world that I'm older now than Duncan and almost as old as Parker.

The ways in which the boys left this world were sudden and scary, so even though they weren't close friends of Nell's, their deaths left indelible marks on her. She allows the thought of the Creed brothers to haunt her in a beautifully lyrical way, without ever being supernatural or a cause for concern; instead, she treats them like a sounding board, and their loyalty and perceived closeness parallels that of the Golden sisters.

You know that poster in the science lab? Albert Einstein with the quote, The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once. I'm not sure Einstein actually said this - maybe it just looks good under a picture of him with his insane hair - but I wanted to tell Einstein that sometimes time is of no use.

Everything in the world was happening at once. Every clock was ticking. Every radio station was playing. Someone has turned up the speed on the treadmill while I was still trying to walk.

The way the book begins, the way the book ends: beautiful bookends. And how Reinhardt fills what happens in-between, and her choice to tell this story from Nell's point-of-view - memorable and remarkable, how she reveals the complexities of something which seems so simple, something so many of us take for granted: love. Unconditionally.

We Are the Goldens is about the promises we make and break - promises we make to ourselves, to our loved ones, whether those promises are expressed in words or actions or simply in thoughts, because thoughts have a power all their own. It's about worries and questions and answers, the answers we didn't want but got anyway, and the answers we never get, ever. This book has love and loyalty and art and literature and a play and a party and soccer and stains and disappointments and tears and fiction and truth and windows and views and performances and breath and silence and support.

I wanted to feel without thinking. Sleep without dreaming. I wanted to twinkle underwater like the lights of the city.

(1) Bess Rogers is a singer-songwriter whose music, words, and voice I greatly enjoy. The lyrics "It's hard to see the shift when you're so close" come from her song Brick by Brick, which appears on her album Out of the Ocean. I could listen to that album every single day and never tire of it.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:

Interview: Dana Reinhardt
Book Review: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Book Review: The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
Booklist: Tough Issues for Teens
Booklist: Sisters

Learn more about Dana Reinhardt and her books at http://www.danareinhardt.net

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6. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Emi Price, an aspiring film production designer wrapping up her final year of high school, is balancing schoolwork with her film job while nursing a broken heart. Her ex - who has broken up and gotten back together with her multiple times - is working on the same film, making for some awkward moments on set. When Emi gets the chance to design a room that appears in a few scenes of the movie, she pours her heart into the project - but a key piece she placed in that room is removed, and her heart gets broken again.

Then life presents her with unexpected opportunities and people and things which change (solidify) the shape of her heart. You'll notice I didn't say "fix" her heart, or fix her. That's because what happens to Emi next helps her realize her dreams and herself.

Emi's best friend is a rock. Charlotte does not care one bit for Emi's ex, Morgan, and wants her friend to find someone better. Level-headed and direct, Charlotte is the kind of person you would want to run your business.

Emi's older brother becomes a remote caregiver. Toby, a location scout, is off to Europe for two months to find the best places to film. As a graduation present, he gives Emi the keys to his apartment and says she can live there for the summer under one condition: that something great has to take place there while he's gone.

"Like what?" I ask. I'm a little worried, but excited too. [...]
"That's all I'm gonna say on the subject," he says. "The rest is up to you."

His larger-than-life personality and determination inspires Emi to follow her dreams; his absence forces her to do it on her own.

And then there's a letter written by an old Hollywood star who recently passed away, a letter that Charlotte and Emi find tucked into something they bought at an estate sale. When they try to track down the person the letter belongs to, they end up finding a young woman named Ava who had no idea she was part of this legacy. En route to this discovery, Emi gets the chance to work on an indie movie that just might make her summer as epic as her brother hoped it would be.

Some relationships, be they familial, romantic, platonic, or professional, are, sadly, one-sided. The very best ones are balanced, symbiotic, with give and take, truly beneficial for all involved. The best people are the ones you can truly be yourself with, and who challenge you to live up to your potential. (I, like Emi's mom, think we should all have "a fierce belief in [our] own potential.") Emi, Ava, Charlotte: each of them have people in their lives they should be spending more time with, and others they should pull away from; and they can learn from each other, and lean on each other, if they dare. Because letting someone in means being vulnerable, and telling the truth can be painful, but ultimately, the only way you can grow and be happy is if you toss off what's holding you back and start reaching forward.

A good story, be it in print or on screen, told in words or pictures or music, can move you and shake you and shape you. Early on, Emi, who expresses the story in first-person present-tense, shares this in the narrative: My brother, Toby, and I talk all the time about what movies do. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream... Then, in her day-to-day- life, Emi must deal with events and people who are not what she expected - not necessarily for better or for worse, just different.

Emi loves what she does, and the respect and appreciation she has for the amount of work it takes to create a film will rub off on readers. She searches far and wide to find the perfect items that will "make the set transcend an artificial invention, the addition that will make audiences believe that what they're seeing is real." The following passage describes how Emi views her chosen profession:

This is what I love about production design. The writers imagine the story, tell us where people are and what they do and say. The actors embody the characters, give them faces and voices. The directors and producers transform an idea into something real. But the art department, we do the rest. When you see their rooms and you discover that they love a certain band, or that they collect seashells or hang their clothes with equal space between each perfectly ironed shirt or have stacks of papers on their desks of a week's worth of dirty dishes in the sink and bra strewn over brass doorknobs - all of that is us.

You don't have to be in the entertainment business or pursuing a career in design or production to "get" Emi or the movies she makes; you just have to understand what tugs at her heart: creativity and creation, and details and inspiration, among other things. In the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

In her first novel, Hold Still, author Nina LaCour shared her strong, steady voice in a story about grief, told by a young woman whose her best friend took her own life. LaCour's second novel, The Disenchantments, which was just as strong as her first, lent that voice to a male protagonist. Her voice continues to ring true in Everything Leads to You, coming through characters who feel fully realized, with their talents and flaws shown side-by-side, without shame, without pretense. When characters are described and discussed, their personalities and intentions come through first and foremost, so when their races and ages and classes and sexualities are discussed, it's matter-of-fact and honest but not, as Cosima Niehaus from Orphan Black would say, the most important thing about them. People can be influenced by where they came from, or who they love, or how much money they have in their pockets, but what's more important is how they treat others, and how they move through life -- how they live.

I want to confess. I thought her story was comprised of scenes. I thought the tragedy could be glamorous and her grief could be undone by a sunnier future. I thought we could pinpoint dramatic events on a time line and call it life.

But I was wrong. There are no scenes in life, there are only minutes. And none are skipped over and they all lead to the next.

I connected to this story as an actress and as a writer (I'm a novelist, a playwright, and a screenwriter -- and good goodness, how I wish the screenplay in this book, Yes & Yes, was a real movie!) Most of all, I connected to this story as a person who likes to create things, who was born with passion and drive, the need to make things happen. I keep talking about this book, just as I keep talking about Nina's previous books, because all three of them are remarkable and solid and so very, very good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you aren't already reading books by Nina LaCour, you should be.

Personal story: As luck would have it, the day I began reading this book, I booked a project. I brought the book with me to set, where I filmed a scene that challenged me in a wonderful way. Also, when a producer spotted the book with my things in the holding area, she immediately picked it up, read the back, and nodded in interest, then gently put the book back down. I was clearly in good company.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Book Review: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Booklist: Filmmakers in Fiction
Booklist: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Person
Booklist: Transition Times

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7. Snowblind Optioned for Limited TV Series

Fantastic news for one of my favorite people, Christopher Golden -- his spine-tingling book Snowblind has been optioned for a series! As reported in Deadline:

Universal TV, David S. Goyer Eye 'Snowblind' Limited Series

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Television and David S. Goyer have optioned TV rights to horror novel Snowblind, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden (Ghosts Of Albion, Joe Golem And The Drowning City). The New England-set book, published earlier this year by St. Martin's Press, tracks the denizens of a town still reeling from the disappearance of over a dozen people who were snatched during a sinister snowstorm 12 years prior.

Goyer is coming off of Da Vinci's Demons and Man of Steel and will supervise development and executive produce alongside Golden and Pete Donaldson. Project is being developed as a limited series. Snowblind also comes with a choice celebrity endorsement from horror maven Stephen King: "Snowblind is instantly involving and deeply scary. It will bring a blizzard to your bones (and your heart) even in the middle of July. Throw away all those old 'it was a dark and stormy night'; novels; this one is the real deal. And watch out for that last page. It's a killer."

Read the entire article by Jen Yamato at Deadline.

Read my review of SNOWBLIND by Christopher Golden.

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8. Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood

13-year-old Iris feels abandoned. Her mum recently left the family. Her dad isn't doing the best job holding down the fort. Her older brother is running with a bad crowd. Now a group of Irish Travellers has set up camp in front of their farm. Even though her dad doesn't want her to get mixed up with the campers, Iris can't help being curious about them. She strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old nicknamed Trick, an Irish boy who has seen so much more than she has, whose life is even less predictable than hers. Soon, Iris' family falls apart in ways she had never imagined.

Set in the UK, Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood is seen through the eyes of Iris - no pun intended, the point being that Iris is a good narrator for this story. She's at that critical age with a critical family situation. She's curious and naive, innocent and observant, torn between staying loyal to her family and seeking out something new. The boys who surround Iris - her father, her brother, and her new friend Trick - are even more troubled than she is. Iris is aware that her brother's new friends are reckless but doesn't know how to stop him from hanging out with them. All she knows is she wants to protect him, but she can't. She becomes distant from Matty, the girl who was once her best friend, and defies her father's orders by hanging out with Trick regularly.

My favorite brother-sister moment comes when Sam, an artist, finally responds to his sister's request to draw something special on her wall. This scene serves multiple purposes: illustrating the siblings' relationship, giving Sam a way to channel his pent-up energy and anger, and giving Iris something special. I also liked the moment when Iris listens to Sam tell the story of how he met his new friends and thinks to herself, "I just wanted to understand," and later, when she purposely keeps herself busy cleaning plates while her father and brother argue so she can hear what's going on and be right there to diffuse things, if need be.

The book's prologue tells of something that happens very, very late in the book. Though it is purposely vague, it does set the reader's mind on that path, so that when the tragedy finally occurred, I wasn't as surprised or shocked as I would have been had that first page not set things up. I can appreciate the prologue and its later repeat/reveal from a storytelling standpoint, as it's a structure that's used in many books (and movies, and TV episodes) - I'd love to hear if other readers liked it or not. Did it soften the blow, or make it easy to predict? Would you have had a different reading experience had the prologue not been included?

This is C.J. Flood's debut novel, and I enjoyed it. I think my favorite moments were the little ones, not the big ones. As I mentioned earlier, Iris is observant, and I liked when she noticed and described things that were so telling about her family and about herself, such as the state of their home:

The living room curtains were closed, but there was a gap in the middle where they didn't quiet meet. Mum had talked about replacing them ever since she shrank them in the wash last year. I promised that as soon as I had some money, I would do it myself.

Sunlight pierced through the gap, turning bits of dust to glitter.
- Page 68

Another lovely passage:

The next day came, and the next week, and we went on with our lives, which were just the same except for being messier and less organized and much, much quieter. - Page 81

My favorite sentence in the book is the closing sentence. Beautiful and true.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for Flood's next book, Everywhere River.

Visual note: I really liked the font the text was set in, which the publishing data page cites as "Incognito." Kudos to whoever selected the font. I also really like both the UK and the US covers of the book, which I think are pretty and appropriate for the story and the setting.

I have included this book on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist, under the category of Parent/Child Relationships. I would have listed it in another category, too, but that would have revealed a major plot point...

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9. Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita

Harper McAllister planned on spending the summer hanging out with friends and lounging around at home. A nice, low-key time. But after she goes on an unplanned shopping spree in an effort to impress her rich friends, Harper's dad makes an effort to bring her back down to earth by sending her off to summer camp. Her twin brother, Kyle, is also camp-bound. He's happy about it. Harper, not so much.

The back cover summary of this book, which mentions Prada and the country club, might make Harper sound like a rich snob, but we learn early in the book that her family's wealth is a recent acquisition. Two years ago, her father's wedding video company produced a low-budget music video for a rapper who was unknown at the time. When the song became record of the year, Harper's dad suddenly became the go-to guy for music videos. His production company took off, and his family moved from, quote, "a tiny house in middle-class Mineola to a mansion in J. Lo country." Harper's friends, popular and wealthy, don't bat an eye at price tags. They are used to wearing brand name clothes and going on family vacations to other countries. Two years into this world, Harper has gotten a little used to those things, too, but she hadn't really realized it.

Luckily, Harper's time at camp reminds her of her roots. She's a well-meaning girl, and she tries to bond with her fellow campers (with varying degrees of success) all while attempting to prove to her brother and to herself that she can hack it out here in the wilderness. The longer she's away from the city, the more comfortable she becomes with getting dirt under her fingernails and participating in camp activities. Summer State of Mind is a fun movie-ready, kid-friendly story with lots of sunshine, sibling rivalry, new friends, and first crushes, plus a creative project (yay for teamwork!) towards the end.

(Question: Did anyone else picture Lorde as London Blue, or was that just me?)

Bonus book: Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita is a companion novel to Sleepaway Girls, which also takes place at Whispering Pines. If you read Sleepaway Girls first, you'll recognize Sam and some of the other counselors and camp workers that appear in Summer State of Mind. If you read Summer State of Mind first, you should go pick up Sleepaway Girls and see how it all began!

Have you ever attended or worked at a summer camp?
Are you the outdoors type, or would you rather stay in?
Have you ever been on a zip-line?
Let me know in the comments below!

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10. Author Spotlight: Mary Rodgers

Author, screenwriter, and composer Mary Rodgers has passed away.

Ever heard of Freaky Friday? Rodgers wrote that famously fun story about a mother and daughter who accidentally swap bodies. Published in 1972, Freaky Friday was adapted for film three times: the 1976 version with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, based on a screenplay by Rodgers; the 1995 made-for-TV movie with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann; and the 2003 version with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.

When I was little, I checked out a copy of Freaky Friday from the library. I was a good two-thirds of the way through the book when I discovered a printing error: a chunk of pages repeated, and the ending was missing! I let the librarians know and switched it out for another copy. I then read the other books in the line, A Billion for Boris (aka ESP TV) and Summer Switch, in which the brother and father switch places.

Freaky Friday is not the only Rodgers book to be adapted for TV and film. In 1984, Summer Switch was made into an ABC Afterschool Special. The third Andrews family book was a movie as well, under the title Billions for Boris, and it featured a young Seth Green as Benjamin "Ape-Face" Andrews. Mary Tanner Bailey, who played Annabel in Billions, was also Rachel Fairbanks in The Voyage of the Mimi, and she was recently seen on an episode of Nashville.

I have not read The Rotten Book, which is not related to the Andrews family stories, nor have I read Freaky Monday, a book released in 2009 which is credited to both Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach, in which a student and teacher switch bodies. Hach wrote the screenplay for the 2003 Freaky Friday. Hach is also known for her stage work, having written the libretto for the 2007 musical Legally Blonde. (And let's not forget that Legally Blonde was a novel before it was a movie or a musical! The book was written by Amanda Brown.)

Once Upon a Mattress, the Tony-nominated musical comedy based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, features music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer. Once Upon a Mattress opened in 1959. It was the Broadway debut of the hilarious, remarkable Carol Burnett, who got a Tony nomination for her work as Princess Winnifred. Once Upon a Mattress has had countless productions all over the world. The Tony-nominated revival in 1997 featured Sarah Jessica Parker, Lewis Cleale, and Jane Krakowski, and the show was adapted for TV in 1963, 1972, and 2005.

Mary also contributed songs to the famous album Free to Be...You and Me, with Marlo Thomas and Friends.

Mary was a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a student. Her family tree is full of art, music, and creativity. Her father, Richard Rodgers, was also a composer. He is the Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Mary's mother, Dorothy, wrote My Favorite Things: A Personal Guide to Decorating and Entertaining in the 60s, then collaborated with Mary on the book A Word to the Wives nearly a decade later; the mother-daughter team also contributed a monthly advice column in McCall's. I had not heard of either of these titles until this morning - and as I write this now, I've just discovered another, The House in My Head, in which she details her dream house "from concept to realization," and yet another, A Personal Book. Mary Rodgers had five children, including a daughter (Constance, aka Kim) who is a painter and designer and a son (Adam Guettel) who a composer and librettist.

Which Freaky Friday film is your favorite?
What are your favorite songs from Once Upon a Mattress?
Let me know in the comments below!

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11. Poetry Friday: A Solitary Bird from The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

A solitary bird, hollow it flew
Through a haze of months marked by the moon
Come to a meadow, shiny with dew
Where hollow birds sang, and deep inside grew
The secret hum of a daisy in June.

- from the novel The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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12. The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

This summer, 13-year-old Nina is going to make the world a better place, one day (and one good deed) at a time.

After looking around her neighborhood, Nina decides to help out her friends and neighbors - and maybe even her own family - in small but remarkable ways. She decides to do 65 anonymous good deeds, one for every day of summer vacation. While some of these activities and gifts are planned in advance, others are spur-of-the-moment, but all of them are based on what the people around her truly need. Sometimes, it's an item to make them smile, or something related to a household project; other times, it's simply a shoulder to lean on. Nina listens to people, and she listens to her heart, and she can tell when someone needs a pick-me-up or a helping hand.

Nina's own house could use some smiles, too. Nina cherishes her memories of her grandmother, who passed away a year ago, who taught her to value simple truths. Now, with her grandma gone, her two lawyer parents immersed in their current case, and her college-bound older brother barely ever home, Nina misses having real conversations with her family. Meanwhile, her best friend Jorie is flirting with boys and planning their dates for the homecoming dance, and Nina's not really into that yet. Even though she is kind of seeing her long-time friend Eli in a new light...

As the summer continues, some neighbors seem to appreciate the good deeds while others are grow suspicious, thinking they are pranks. Mostly, though, Nina's actions have the intended result: they brighten someone's day and serve as a reminder than somebody cares. As her "little efforts" rub off on others, Nina realizes that "doing good is contagious," and she continues to practice random acts of kindness, just because she likes helping others.

The transition from middle school to high school can be all sorts of things -- overwhelming, intimidating, exciting, nerve-wracking, eye-opening -- all at once. This book captures that transition very well, and moves through the summer with a naturally flowing narrative fueled by a thoughtful, selfless protagonist. Nina is a truly good person, without a hidden agenda, and this novel is filled with moments that are poignant and uplifting without ever being preachy or cloying. As the story develops, Nina's resolve and voice grows stronger, and she never once is tempted to brag about her good deeds. She is refreshing and inspiring.

Hurwitz does a wonderful job of examining the strangeness and sadness that comes when friendships are tested, when you feel like you are growing apart from someone you've known for so long. Many books and films showcase the end of a friendship, often with the old friend burning or blowing off the protagonist. But not all friendships end in a big blow-up. Not all friendships end. They change, just like (as) people change. The bond between Jorie and Nina stretches like taffy throughout the book, stretching and straining as their priorities change:

In first grade, when Jorie moved into the cul-de-sac, we had playdates and did the things first-grade girls do. That was enough back then. But now? Jorie and I are in between two places. Like an intermission between the first and second acts of a play. I'm not sure how things are going to end up. - Pages 9-10

I miss the girl who couldn't glue, brought me the towel after we jumped into the water, made sure I was okay. The girl I knew. - Page 114

This is just one example of the connections Nina makes. Hurwitz masterfully creates distinctive characters and allows her leading lady to have clear relationships and storylines with different people, including her brother, Matt; her workaholic parents; Eli, who is literally the boy next door; Eli's adorable little brother, Thomas, who fancies himself a superhero; Sariah, a new friend in her summer art class; and the others on her street, ranging from high-strung Mrs. Millman, bossing around her dog and her husband, to the extremely pregnant Mrs. Cantaloni and her energetic three young sons, to quiet Mrs. Chung, to the elusive Mr. Dembrowski. Oh, and a fox.

In short: The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is delightful. Pick it up, and pay it forward.

Favorite supporting character: Thomas.

Favorite (and unexpected) scene: Running. (Another favorite moment: The swings.)

This is Michele's second novel for tweens. If you liked Nina's story, make sure to pick up the author's first book, Calli Be Gold!

Related booklists:
Transition Times
Middle School Must-Haves

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13. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence comes from wealth. She spends her summers on her family's private island in Massachusetts, alongside her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her maternal grandparents, their dogs, and, of course, her own parents. That is, until her parents split up; then her father is out of the picture. But everything's fine. That is, until her grandmother dies; then people stop talking about her. But everything's fine. That is, until Cady experiences a physical trauma and she cannot remember what happened the summer she was fifteen. For the next two years, as she struggles to keep her head above water and to recover her memories, only bits and pieces of that summer surface. She writes down what she can recall. She begs her mother, her cousins, and the boy she loves to tell her what happened. When she finally discovers the truth, nothing will ever be the same.

Everyone is buzzing about We Were Liars, and with good reason: the ending must be read to be believed.

But here's the thing that really struck me about the story: It's about things falling apart. Relationships, people, stability, memories, and secrets all unraveling. It's about destruction, both subconscious and self-imposed, subtle and blatant.

We've all heard variations on the saying, "You can't move into the future until you accept your past." Cady lost part of herself at age 15, and until she knows what and why and how, she is broken and stuck. The accident not only led to amnesia but also debilitating headaches that last for days, her mind and her body pushing her, failing her, trapping her, betraying her.

This book captures how precious summers can be: separate from the school year, a time full of ambition and things to do or lazy days at the beach or hiding out alone in your room with a good book. Summer, to Cady, means time with her same-age cousins - snarky Johnny and lovely Mirren - and Gat, the nephew of Johnny's mother's boyfriend, who has been visiting the island with the Sinclair family since he was eight years old. The kinship Cadence feels with Mirren, Gat, and Johnny is special. Lockhart captures those summer relationships that fade in the fall, then get revived every June:

We never kept in touch over the school year. Not much, anyway, though we'd tried when we were younger. We'd text, or tag each other in summer photos, especially in September, but we'd inevitably fade out over a month or so. Somehow, Beechwood's magic never carried over into our everyday lives. We didn't want to hear about school friends and clubs and sports teams. Instead, we knew our affection would revive when we saw one another on the dock the following June, salt spray in the air, pale sun glinting off the water. - Pages 35-36

I've been a fan of E. Lockhart's writing for some time now. As evidenced by the above passage, she has a way with words. With its underlying mystery, We Were Liars is different from her previous works. It is haunting. The release date coupled with the setting makes it a good pick for a summer read, though readers will most likely stay up all night, turning pages and waiting for the other shoe to drop, just as anxious as the protagonist to uncover the secrets of Cadence's fifteenth (and seventeenth) summer.

If you enjoyed We Were Liars, you will also dig Boy Heaven by Laura Kasischke. Trust me. Read my review of Boy Heaven. I would love to hear from people who have read both of these books. Leave a comment below!

We Were Liars has been acquired by Imperative Entertainment, and Lockhart wrote the feature script. You go, E. I hope they make the movie you've created.

I included We Were Liars on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.

Check out my reviews of E. Lockhart's novels The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and Dramarama.

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14. Poetry Friday: love is a place by e.e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

- e.e. cummings

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15. Poetry Friday: Something in the Water by Brooke Fraser

I wear a demeanor made of bright pretty things
What she wears, what she wears, what she wears
Birds singing on my shoulder in harmony, it seems
How they sing, how they sing, how they sing

I've got halos made of summer, ribbons made of spring
What she wears, what she wears, what she wears
I got crowns of words a-woven, each one a song to sing
Oh, I sing, oh, I sing, oh, I sing

- selected lyrics from Something in the Water by Brooke Fraser

If you can't see the video player above, click here to watch it on YouTube.

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16. Poetry Friday: Only by Marilyn Monroe

Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others -
one's own truth is just that really - one's own truth.
We can only share the part that is - within another's knowing - acceptable
so one is for most part alone.
As it is meant to be evidently in nature -
at best perhaps it could make our understanding seek another's loneliness out.
- Marilyn Monroe

From Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, a collection of Marilyn's writings, which I first heard about in Brain Pickings.

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17. Best Books of May 2014

May 2014: 22 books and scripts read

Scripts made up the overwhelming majority of my reading list this month. Amongst the binders and staples and papers and scribbles, there was Deb Caletti's latest novel, The Last Forever, a beautiful story that was a great read, especially as the cold weather here gave way to sunshine. Read my full-length review of the book.

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18. Poetry Friday: Marigolds by Robert Graves

With a fork drive Nature out,
She will ever yet return;
Hedge the flowerbed all about,
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
She will ever yet return.

Look: the constant marigold
Springs again from hidden roots.
Baffled gardener, you behold
New beginnings and new shoots
Spring again from hidden roots.
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
They will ever yet return.

Gardener, cursing at the weed,
Ere you curse it further, say:
Who but you planted the seed
In my fertile heart, one day?
Ere you curse me further, say!
New beginnings and new shoots
Spring again from hidden roots.
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
Love must ever yet return.

- Marigolds by Robert Graves

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19. Poetry Friday: Restlessness by D.H. Lawrence

At the open door of the room I stand and look at the night,
Hold my hand to catch the raindrops, that slant into sight,
Arriving grey from the darkness above suddenly into the light of the room.
I will escape from the hollow room, the box of light...
There is something I want to feel in my running blood,
Something I want to touch; I must hold my face to the rain,
I must hold my face to the wind, and let it explain
Me its life as it hurries in secret.
I will trail my hands again through the drenched, cold leaves
Till my hands are full of the chillness and touch of leaves,
Till at length they induce me to sleep, and to forget.

- selected lines from Restlessness by D.H. Lawrence

Read the poem it its entirety.

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20. The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

How many layers does it take to keep something - an object, a person, a memory, a secret - held safe forever?

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti is the story of a girl named Tess, and the people who have influenced her the most: her parents, each absent in a different way; her grandmother, who she hasn't seen since she was a toddler; and someone she never saw coming. The summer between Tessa's junior and senior years of high school is a summer filled with unexpected, unforgettable things.

Six months after her mother dies, Tessa's father decides that they should go on an impromptu road trip. Even though there's still a few weeks of school left, and even though Tess is nowhere near as impulsive as her somewhat irresponsible father, she agrees to the trip, thinking it'll be nice to blow off steam for a few days.

But what begins as a tourist-y jaunt from San Bernardino, California to the Grand Canyon continues on to Las Vegas, then to Portland, Oregon, where her dad grew up. Then her dad takes off without warning, leaving Tess stranded with a grandmother she barely knows.

Tess surprises herself by becoming comfortable not only with her artistic, lively grandma but also with her new surroundings. She falls in love with this little neighborhood where everyone knows everyone. Tess bonds very quickly with an boy her age named Henry Lark. Often found in the library, which is also one of Tess' favorite haunts, Henry is extremely smart and kind, and this friendship is a wonderful comfort to Tess.

Tess brought her most precious possession with her on this trip: the last pixiebell, a plant that her mother cared for, raised from a seed that her mother's father stole (!) while attending a party oh so many years ago. Caring for the plant gives Tess a connection to her mother, so when the pixiebell starts to wilt, Tess herself begins to crumble. With help from various townspeople (and no one is more helpful than Henry), they try to find a way to save the pixiebell - and, by extension, save Tess and her family.

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti is about finding your roots, and planting your own. It's about grief, and hope, and truth, and family. It's about the choices that are made for us, and the choices we make for ourselves. It's about celebrating what you have, honoring what you have, and knowing who you are.

Once again, Deb Caletti reminds us to embrace both the beauty and the pain in unexpected moments and in the most important parts of life. Whereas some books (and movies, and other types of stories) pile up coincidences for the sake of "high stakes" and/or happy endings, the revelations in The Last Forever are plausible, realistic, and that's why they resonate so deeply. The time we spend with Tess is time well spent.

My favorite lines from the book include:

...This connection between us. It feels old. Like it's already been, or will be, for a long time. - Page 134

The absence...has its own energy. Absence in general does. - Page 152

I'm having a hard time seeing the beauty through my own disappointment. - Page 165

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21. Poetry Friday: It's Always the Quiet Ones by Paris Carney

They say, "Come in, who do you wanna be?"
Ask, "What's your style, how can you impress me?"
Flips and turns, upside down
"I hope you brought your floor length gown. Nevermind, take it off and try this on."
Tear you down to build you back up again
And if you crack, you're in the dust my friend
I thought you knew this game was hard
You can't get points 'til you get scars
The secret is, they don't know what's good 'til it hits

It's always the quiet ones
You never see us coming
Always trying to define us
Then say we'll amount to nothing
See how far that we can bend
Before they break our souls
Just in time for the end
Say they're the reason that we're gold

Act like they simply adore you
Until you walk away, think that they're above you
Just because they've had their break and lots of money in the bank
It's all good, it's all fleeting anyway

It's always the quiet ones
You never see us coming
Always trying to define us
Then say we'll amount to nothing
See how far that we can bend
Before they break our souls
Just in time for the end
Say they're the reason that we're gold

It's okay, they don't know what they're doing
It's okay, they don't know what they're losing
It's okay, they don't know what they're doing
It's okay, we're gonna show 'em one day

It's always the quiet ones
You never see us coming
Always trying to define us
Then say we'll amount to nothing
See how far that we can bend
Before they break our souls
Just in time for the end
Say they're the reason that we're gold

- It's Always the Quiet Ones by Paris Carney

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22. Christopher Golden Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Publication

For immediate release

New York Times #1 Bestselling Author Christopher Golden Celebrates a Milestone

Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden It all started with Of Saints and Shadows, a book which helped lay the groundwork for the genre we now call urban fantasy. Christopher Golden’s debut novel kickstarted a critically-acclaimed career that is still going strong two decades later.

Since the publication of his first novel in 1994, Golden has received accolades from Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Charlaine Harris, Graham Joyce, The Boston Globe, New York Public Library, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and many more.  The #1 New York Times bestselling author has won the Bram Stoker Award and been nominated many times for the Stoker, the Shirley Jackson Award, and others.  His novels have been published in at least fifteen languages in countries around the world.  Over the past twenty years, Golden has written dozens of novels, as well as comics and graphic novels, short stories, screenplays, radio plays, and an animated web series.

 "I never could have imagined--twenty years ago, in a market that even then frequently saw books appear on the stands and go out of print in a matter of months--that OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS would still be in print, and never gone out of print, two decades later,” Golden says. “I've been a full-time writer ever since, but that first novel of the Shadow Saga is the one that started it all."

On June 1st, the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Salem, NH--where Golden made frequent signing appearances early in his career--will host a 20th anniversary celebration featuring cake, numerous giveaways, and author special guests including Brian Keene, Daniel Palmer, Mary Sangiovanni, Nate Kenyon, and Rio Youers.  Golden will also be offering special online giveaways leading up to and on June 1st. http://www.christophergolden.com

Golden's next novel, TIN MEN--now in feature film development at Warner Brothers, will appear in 2015 from Random House, but the author will read from that novel for the very first time at the June 1st event, as well as from his most recent publication, SNOWBLIND, available now from St. Martin's Press.

Christopher Golden is available for interviews. Please email crdg@comcast.net

Of Saints and Shadows Angel Souls and Devil Hearts Of Masques and Martyrs The Gathering Dark Waking Nightmares The Graves of SaintsThe Graves of Saints

On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Christopher Golden’s first novel, OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS, these fantastic authors and sites have shared their thoughts…

“Golden’s 1994 book is the template for a score of books that have been published in the years since its publication.  Many of those books have been bestsellers.  Reading Of Saints and Shadows again after so long, I was amazed to realize how many elements now familiar in the vampire and thriller genres appeared in Saints first.  Golden’s imagination and expert plotting wove these elements into a startlingly original book, as exciting to read now as it was when it first appeared on the rack.  Of Saints and Shadows should be part of every genre writer’s library.”
          --Charlaine Harris

“Some of my editor friends tell me that horror fiction is finally starting to make a
comeback after the catastrophic boom and bust in the 1980s. If that's true, writers like Christopher Golden are a big part of the reason.”
          --George R. R. Martin

“Christopher Golden was writing kick-ass urban fantasy before the genre even had a name.  The Peter Octavian novels are smart, fast-paced, lyrical and vicious.”
--Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin

“Christopher Golden is one of the most hard-working, smartest, and most talented writers of his generation, and his books are so good and so involving that they really ought to sell in huge numbers.  Everything he writes glows with imagination.”
                      --Peter Straub

“Although Of Saints and Shadows was not the first Christopher Golden novel I read, it was the novel that illustrated for me why it is he’s been so widely-read and well on his way to becoming a household name:  from the very first — the very first — this guy had a wizard’s ability to balance deeper themes with compelling plots that kept the reader from knowing they were being asked to see the worldview of a singular story-teller, one whose personal agendas never turn into lectures, and whose sense of pace, characterization, and overall story form began where most writers arrive after only a dozen novels.  Tis is to say, I’ve hated him for as long as I’ve been reading him, because i’ll never be this good of a story-teller.  Never.  I read all of his work, and will continue to do so, and have the anti-psychotic prescription bills to prove it.  Yeah — he’s that good.”
-- Gary A. Braunbeck

“Golden combines quiet, dark, subtle mood with Super-Giant monster action.  Sort of M.R. James meets Godzilla!”
--Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy

“It’s almost an entire generation since Christopher Golden put out his debut novel Of Saints and Shadows, bit the bullet and became a full-time writer. In those intervening years he’s produced a staggering number of follow-up books, comics and stories whose standard remains embarrassingly high. At PS Publishing, we were fortunate enough to do the special limited signed hardcover edition of The Boys Are Back In Town, a time-travel paradox that sits happily alongside Finney’s Time And Again, King’s 11.22.63 and, in the short form, Heinlein’s ‘All You Zombies’. Here’s a fine chance for nature nuts to see the tiny acorn from which mighty oak trees have since grown: I tell ya . . . Saints is as good now as it was then. And so’s Golden. Maybe even better. Damn his eyes!”
            --Peter Crowther, author of Songs of Leaving, publisher at PS Publishing

“A delightful read and a noteworthy debut by a writer who cares passionately about the stuff of horror.”
--Douglas E. Winter, in Cemetery Dance

“A breathtaking story that succeeds in marrying gore and romance, sex and sentiment. A brilliant epic.”
--Dark News, Paris

“Before Urban Fantasy was even a glimmer in our eyes, there was Golden’s Peter Octavian. ... Christopher Golden wrote the first Peter Octavian book back in the mid 1990's before Urban Fantasy was even a genre. While almost everyone gives credit to Charles De Lint and Laurell K. Hamilton for beginning our favorite genre, somehow Golden has been overlooked and I believe strongly he should receive credit as well as the worlds others have built after him have so many of the same characteristics.”

“It has a refreshing take on the whole vampire mythology. This is quite impressive, seeing as it predates the current vampire trend by over ten years.”
--Worlds Unimagined

“Golden redefined vampires in his Shadow Saga series.”

“A new book by Christopher Golden means only one thing: the reader is in for a treat.  His books are rich with texture and character, always inventive, and totally addictive.”
            --Charles de Lint

“One of the best contemporary writers of dark fantasy and horror.  As good as Stephen King.”
            --The Green Man Review

Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden   Angel Souls and Devil Hearts by Christopher Golden   Of Masques and Martyrs by Christopher Golden   The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden

If you'd like to run this press release at your website or blog or in your magazine or newspaper, click here to download the PDF.

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23. Poetry Friday: The Russian Doll by Elder Olson

Six inches tall, the Russian doll
stands like a wooden bowling pin.
The red babushka on her painted head
melts into her shawl and scarlet
peasant dress, and spreading over that,
the creamy lacquer of her apron.
A hairline crack fractures the equator
of her copious belly,
that when twisted and pulled apart,
reveals a second doll inside,
exactly like her, but smaller,
with a blue babushka and matching dress,
and the identical crack circling her middle.

Did Faberge' fashion a doll like her
for a czar's daughter? Hers would be
more elaborate, of course, and not a toy-
emerald eyes, twenty-four carat hair,
and with filigreed petticoats
like a chanterelle's gills blown inside out.
An almost invisible fault line
would undermine her waist,
and a platinum button that springs her body open.

Now I have two dolls: mother and daughter.
Inside the daughter, a third doll is waiting.
She has the same face,
the same figure,
the same fault she can't seem to correct.
Inside her solitary shell
where her duplicate selves are breathing,
she can't be sure
whose heart is beating, whose ears
are hearing her own heart beat.

Each doll breaks into
a northern and a southern hemisphere.
I line them up in descending order,
careful to match each womb
with the proper head - a clean split,
for once, between the body and the mind.
A fourth head rises over the rim
of the third doll's waist,
an egg cup in which her descendants grow
in concentric circles.

Until last, at last, the two littlest dolls,
too wobbly to stand upright,
are cradled in her cavity as if waiting to be born.
Like two dried beans, they rattle inside her,
twin faces painted in cruder detail,
bearing the family resemblance
and the same unmistakable design.

The line of succession stops here.
I can pluck them from her belly like a surgeon,
thus making the choice between fullness
and emptiness; the way our planet, itself,
is rooted in repetitions, formal reductions,
the whole and its fraction.
Generations of women emptying themselves
like one-celled animals; each reproducing,
apparently, without a mate.

I thought the first, the largest, doll
contained nothing but herself,
but I was wrong.
I assumed that she was young
because I could not read her face.
Is she the oldest in this matriarchy -
holding withing her hollow each daughter's
daughter? Or, the youngest -
carrying the embryo of the old woman
she will become? Is she an onion
all the way through? Maybe,
like memory shedding its skin,
she remembers all the way back to when

her body broke open for the first time,
to the child of twelve who fits inside her still;
who has yet to discover that self,
always hidden, who grows and shrinks,
who multiplies and divides.

- The Russian Doll by Elder Olson

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24. Interview: Joy Preble

Last year, I got acquainted with author Joy Preble when I redesigned her website. In 2013, she was preparing for the release of her book The Sweet Dead Life, a YA novel about a girl and her not-so-angelic brother, who becomes her guardian angel. Now, there's a sequel, The A-Word, which was released just this month. Pull up a chair, put on your wings, and check out my exclusive interview with Joy Preble.

Congratulations on the release of The A-Word! Did you always plan to write a sequel to The Sweet Dead Life, or was that initially supposed to be just one book?

Good question! Initially, this was definitely going to be a one-off. But the initial reaction to the project from both the publisher as well as some TV/movie types was so strong that my editor said, "Let's develop the world. Where could we go from here?" So although nothing further has come (yet) of the pie in the sky movie stuff, we did find that there was a lot more to Jenna and Casey's story. So I was able to know that as I finished The Sweet Dead Life and seed in some material that would allow me to advance the story in The A-Word. Plus, I love the heck out of Jenna! She is honestly the most fun to write of any character I've ever come up with. I never seem to have a problem channeling her voice. I could write Jenna for the rest of my writing career!

How did the original story, The Sweet Dead Life, come to be?

The original story actually came as an idea from Dan Ehrenhaft, my editor at Soho Press. We'd worked together briefly at Sourcebooks (publisher of my Dreaming Anastasia series) and our story telling sensibilities are very compatible. He basically presented me with a two sentence thumbnail idea: Mysteriously ill girl's stoner brother comes back from a fatal car accident as her guardian angel and together they unravel a big mystery. And he said, "I think you could totally write this." To which I replied, "Yes." Because my philosophy in the publishing world is that for the most part when asked to do a book you always say, "yes." After that, I wrote about 20 sample pages and told him that the story was going to take place in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I expected him to balk, but he was cool with it. And of course since we'd worked together before, we already knew it would be both serious and comic. We argued a bit about the title (his original suggestion was Plop, which is seriously the WORST title I have ever heard. But we had envisioned this as Fallen meets Veronica Mars meets Pineapple Express, so it sort of fits), but mostly we were completely compatible about where the story was going.

In what ways, if any, does the relationship between Jenna and Casey resemble your relationship with your siblings?

Thanks for noticing that I am indeed writing a sibling story here! Jenna and Casey aren't very much like my brother and me personally, but what I do find myself mining is the idea of siblings in general. Jenna really loves Casey and Casey really loves Jenna (in a good way, not a creepy Flowers in the Attic way!) and their relationship definitely drives the story. I am always gratified when reviewers comment on this and for the most part every reviewer who mentions it finds their relationship not only sweet but also very authentic. You know, growing up, I didn't really have a lot of rules. My parents were older than most of my friends' parents and honestly the only thing they wanted from me was to 'take care of your brother.' In retrospect, they really let us run almost completely at our own discretion. By today's standards where parents (including myself) hover so much, it's actually kind of shocking that they'd just let me take my brother to Cubs' games and amusement parks and biking for hours at a time or whatever. Essentially, it was like a training ground for writing YA novels: my parents were largely absent from most of my daily existence. So I do find that this kind of odd tension does inform the story a great deal. Casey and Jenna are largely on their own and Jenna even more so in The A-Word. I find it not only fun to write but also sort of fun and therapeutic!

Your trilogy of Anastasia books draw from historical events and figures. What draws you to the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia?

I have been hugely fascinated by Anastasia Romanov since about 7th grade when I read the biography Nicholas and Alexandra. The Romanov story is so enormously tragic that I just couldn't get enough of it! Pretty people on the wrong side of history; creepy sexual predator with enormous possibly supernatural powers bad guy Rasputin; Russia, which in general is enormous and dramatic and filled with this grand folklore; and Anastasia herself, because she was this beautiful and vivacious teenager who was gunned down before she could live her life. It is no surprise that she creeped into my fiction. (Along with genre fiction and my overall adoration of all stories Whedonesque.) Which resulted in a girl who thinks she's ordinary but who collides with a handsome, temporarily immortal hottie and learns that she is actually SPECIAL and can save the princess Anastasia who happens to be held captive by the Russian witch Baba Yaga. Uh, yeah. For those who haven't read yet, it's a trilogy, and it's complete now, so I would love you to dig in! It's definitely a genre-blending project and while it's not as well-known as some other YA fairy tale retellings (which it is in part), it has a small but very devoted fan base!

Would you ever write a story influenced by something that happened to your family, your relatives, in a time before you lived?

Yup! My Russian grandmother actually influenced some of the above, although only because she was gloriously unhappy. She was also a pretty unmotherly mother and some of her antics have definitely influenced a lot of what I write, including next year's book, Finding Paris.

Can you tell us more about Finding Paris?

Finding Paris comes out from Balzer and Bray on April 21st, 2015. I think the cover is almost ready but it isn't yet as I type this. It's my first non-paranormal YA and is a contemporary road trip/mystery/sister story that was inspired by something that happened to me on a road trip from Dallas to Houston. It's dark and twisty and there's a cute boy named Max and some very dark secrets and a narrator named Leo, whose full name is Leonora. It starts in Vegas, heads to LA, and ends somewhere else entirely. For now, that's what I'll tell you.

Which authors and artists have influenced you as a writer?

So many! But some of my top influences include: Libba Bray, Emily Lockhart, Maggie Stiefvater, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I've yet to visit Texas, which is your stomping ground. Tell me about a place that I simply must see there.

Austin. Definitely. Pretty much everything about it, including but not limited to the Congress Street bats and the food trucks and the music scene.

Houston, because I live here. And it's actually the 4th largest city in the US. Plus we have NASA. And shockingly good restaurants. And the best guac ever. Plus the Livestock and Rodeo every March. Come for that.

Dallas. And all the Kennedy assassination sites. There's even an X on the street where he was shot. It's creepy and sad and I avoided seeing it for years.

Barbecue in general. Look it up. Pick a few. I just ate lunch at City Market in Luling on the way home from the TLA conference in San Antonio with author Kristin Rae. It's so trippy, this smoke-filled bbq pit and all this meat! No plates, just butcher paper. It's like cave man eating. This primal thing.

The fake Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas. It has a red cowboy hat. Also, this may be a slight spoiler for one of my books.

That's a small start. It's a big state.

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Geez! 10? I have like a million. And the list changes frequently. But 10 that will probably stick around for a long time: The Great Gatsby, Little Women, A Wrinkle in Time, The World According to Garp, Outlander, Fault in Our Stars, Half Magic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Hunger Games, and MORE YA BOOKS THAN I CAN NAME!

The Sweet Dead Life was released on May 13th. The official book launch was held in Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. The book is available in stores and online internationally!

Click here to check out Joy Preble's website.

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25. Interview: Shirley Vernick

While I was watching the trailer for Shirley Vernick's latest book, The Black Butterfly, two regular customers wandered into the bookstore and asked what I was watching. I showed them the video and told them I was preparing to interview the author. They immediately wanted to know the author's identity and the book's premise. Then they contributed interview questions, which I've marked with our initials so you know who's who. LW is me, Little Willow; JY is the one with the cool yellow high-tops; RF is not R.F. Simpson from Singin' in the Rain, but I'll have to ask her the next time she comes in if she likes that film as much as I do! In the meantime, let's learn about the ghosts and hosts behind Shirley Vernick's brand-new YA novel, The Black Butterfly...

Question from JY: Do you feel any emotional connection to your main character?
Yes! Like Penny, I felt like an outsider during high school, and I didn’t know how to break in. I mean, a complete body and personality transplant might have done the trick, but otherwise, no clue. Other traits Penny and I share: love of new foods, a bit of a wisecracking sense of humor, and a fear of flying in puddle-jumpers.

JY: What inspired you to set the story in Maine?
I wanted to put Penny way out of her comfort zone - and in a place she couldn’t easily run away from. So once I plucked her out of her familiar urban surroundings, a tiny island off the coast of frozen Maine seemed like the perfect place to plop her down.

RF: How did you come up with your title?
The Black Butterfly is the name of the inn where Penny is staying during the story. I selected the name because I like its contrasting qualities. I associate butterflies with lightness and warmth, while I connect the color black with the dark of winter and of supernatural beings. The story combines these attributes in ways I think readers will find compelling.

RF & LW: How did you come up with your character names?
I spend a lot of time picking out my characters' names. I’m not scientific about it; it just has to feel right. So Penny is a name I’ve always liked, and I know a bunch of Georges who are great guys. Rita seemed to fit for an older woman from another country. Bubbles - Blanche - is named in honor of my own mom. I found the name Blue on a list of early 20th-century names, and that timing is pertinent to his character.

RF: What prompted you to make it a love triangle?
The characters made me do it! Seriously. I put the characters together in an inn, each with their own personality, backstory and desires, and they demanded it.

LW: What's your favorite ghost story?
Charles Dickens' "The Signal Man" creeps me out in a deliciously eerie way. It's not just that there’s a ghost, it’s that the ghost presages terrible accidents, and you never know who’s going to be the next victim. It's real sleep-with-the-lights-on stuff.

LW: What's the key to plotting a suspenseful tale?
Start with characters that readers care about. Put them in danger of abruptly losing something significant. Add obstacles but also allow progress, so readers won't know what to expect next. Keep the stakes high, and keep the possibilities open - you don't want readers to know how it's going to end until it actually ends.

LW: What's the story behind the snow globe in the trailer?
First of all, I love snow globes. More to the point, the snow globe in the trailer symbolizes the happy, cozy side of winter and the holidays: home (however you define that), family, friends, and the security those things bring. This stands in sharp contrast to many of the things Penny encounters this winter: strange surroundings, isolation and danger.

JY: Would you ever write a sequel or prequel to The Black Butterfly?
I’d love to write a sequel - picking up the following summer when the characters reconvene at the inn during high tourist season.

LW: You posted on your Twitter that you treated yourself to a Miyazaki film festival. Which one is your favorite?
Wait, I can only pick one? Then I’d have to say Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s a wonderful animation about a teenage witch who, as part of her training, must live alone for one year. She leaves her village for the big city, where she supports herself by starting a delivery service - after all, what’s a flying broom for, right? Along the way, she learns about herself, discovers new worlds, and meets a boy.

Check out my previous interviews with Shirley Vernick from 2011 and 2013.

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