The Compulsive Reader: January 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting Back in the Groove

Yesterday a co-worker mentioned that the last blog post was almost three weeks ago (gasp!) and while it sent little shivers of guilt down my spine, it was also the jolt I needed to get back to blogging. Or at least put blogging back on the to-do list.

A lot has happened since the last post--I went to Vermont for my fourth residency at the VCFA Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA program. There was a lot of snow and it was quite cold, but I was warm and happy the entire time I was there because I was surrounded by my beloved VCFA family, and my lovely Craftographers. I climbed on a sign and ate crepes (so many crepes) and listened to brilliant lectures and participated in a dynamite workshop, witnessed the legendary Katherine Paterson receive an honorary doctorate degree, threw a dance for the graduating class (Darling Assassins FTW!), and absorbed so much information that when I flew home last week I was in a fog and barely managed to make my connection. Then I slept for an entire day. And then back to work!

Some photos from Montpelier:

One must not go to residency unprepared...

Especially not when there are maple cayenne bourbons to be had...

And completed theses to be found in the official Thesis Room!

Signs must be climbed.

And College Hall demands to be marveled at.

From many angles.

Yeah, that happened...

But the Darling Assassins graduated!

And I dressed up as Other Mother for the Villain Ball...

And knitted this beauty during all of the fantastic faculty and student readings!

My Craftographers have a fantastic sense of humor.

And I came home with a surplus of books, per usual. But four of them are signed!

If you write books for children and teens and you haven't been to Montpelier, what are you doing with your life? It's really the best thing in the world.

I'm sharing these photos with you all in the hopes that you'll forgive my lack of updates. As much as it looks as though all I did in Montpelier was climb on things and dress up and party, it was a lot of work and the work is only just beginning. I'm starting my final semester, which means that I'll be busier than ever and I'll almost have an MFA. (Which is crazy.) Next time I go it'll be for the last hurrah and graduation, which is altogether too depressing to dwell upon, so we won't.

I've got a whole slew of books to talk about, and a huge pile of books to read for this semester. I've got some fun giveaways, new releases, and cool blog tours happening soon. So, check back. I promise it won't take me three weeks to write again.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Melanie Crowder on Verse Novels and Audacity

Melanie Crowder is the author of Parched, an educator, and a Vermont College of Fine Arts grad. Her second book, Audacity, is the story of activist Clara Lemlich, and it's out today! It's also a novel in verse, and so Melanie is on the blog to discuss why she wrote Clara's story in verse!

Here's Melanie!

When you get a group of writers in a room, chances are we’re either wringing our hands over our newest project / struggle / bane of our existence, or we’re celebrating our recently completed project / triumph / reason for our entire existence. When we’re through with all the angsty stuff, we’ve probably moved on to discussing and debating some aspect of the craft of writing. A topic that comes up over and over again is: Why verse novels? Why not tell your story in traditional prose?

My new book is a verse novel, so I get this question a lot. To answer, I have to tell you a little about it. Audacity is the story of real life labor activist Clara Lemlich. Her family escaped the Russian Empire in the wake of murderous pogroms and settled in New York City. Clara was intelligent, ambitious, a dreamer, and a very intense person. For her, prose simply fell flat. It wasn’t enough. But in free verse—the elevated language, and the image-rich lines allowed me to capture her passions, aspirations, her crushing defeats and triumphs on the page.

But beyond this one story, why do writers choose verse novels? If you’re thinking it seems like a lot of work to write an entire novel in free verse, to endlessly search for the balance between the needs of the story and the needs of each individual poem, it is. If you think we’re gluttons for punishment, we most definitely are.

However, there are some books that just have to be told in verse. Something about the rhythms of the words on the page, or the tone of the story, or the main character’s way of seeing the world demands broken lines galloping down the page. When you close one of those literary gems after savoring the final poem, you’re left with a feeling of inevitability—that story had to be told in free verse. 
Of course, that’s subjective. Here’s something a little less so. If you wander into your local bookstore, gather a stack of verse novels and skim the jacket copy, you’ll find commonality in many of them. Immigrant stories. Books about other cultures. Books about people on the fringes of society. The protagonists of verse novels are often people in transition, occupying the liminal space between what they were and what they are becoming. The form can be a mirror for the character. 
Audacity’s audience is teens. Young people who aren’t really kids anymore, but who are not quite adults either. They live in the borderlands between the two; in the liminal space. A verse novel, likewise, is neither prose nor poetry, but some amalgamation of the two. The form can be a mirror for the reader.

Two out of the last four years, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature has been awarded to a verse novel. It seems the genre is really coming into its own—being celebrated as a popular and powerful form of modern storytelling. Verse novels at their best are breathless, intimate encounters with intense, compelling characters. As a novelist, reaching for that makes all the work worth it.
Audacity is out today! Pick up your copy now!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Questions with Katie Van Ark, Author of The Boy Next Door

Katie Van Ark is a fellow VCFA student and the author of brand new YA romance The Boy Next Door! To celebrate the release of The Boy Next Door, out TODAY (!), Katie answered three questions for me to share with you fantastic blog readers. (Only three because we're also both busy packing and getting ready to fly out to Vermont for another VCFA residency on Friday! But they're three extra good, extra juicy questions, promise!)

TCR: What are your favorite swoon-worthy YA romances?

KVA: I'm so glad this question is pluralized, because I have a lot of favorites. I love Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan because: Sam Henry! Sam is almost enough to earn favorite status just by himself but Kenneally ups things even further with a perfect voice for heroine Jordan Woods. If I'm in the mood for a bad boy romance, then Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry trilogy tops the list. Elkeles rocks dual POV like no one else but really any of the Fuentes brothers and I'm good. :-) And I also adored Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. Since I spent time living in Paris, I especially appreciate how Perkins makes the city a character in the novel. Plus, Etienne! Really, I'm all about the book boyfriends.

TCR: What ingredients do you think make a great YA romance novel?

KVA: The essence of a romance plot is always the same, right? Somebody has to fall in love. So I love to see romances with really well-developed characters that keep me on my toes wondering how they're going to find happily-ever-after. (And they better find happily-ever-after. I'm a romance purist – please don't give me any of that happily-for-now nonsense.) Since there's more to life than love, I also like these characters to have something else that they want and are actively pursuing. Finally, even if there's more to life than falling in love, a romance is about falling in love so good kissing scenes are a must. Rainbow Rowell tops my list for this so far with Eleanor & Park - even when her characters are only touching hands, Rowell's scenes are still epically romantic!

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing The Boy Next Door? The easiest?

KVA: The hardest part was stopping writing. Because when your novel is being published, eventually you get to that copy-edit stage where your editor just says stop and you have to be done. I'm a revision-ista – it's my passion – so I could just go on tweaking one sentence or even a word forever. The easiest part? Honestly, none of it was easy. A lot of it was fun and there were many times when I got into a good groove with the project and accomplished a lot, but none of it was easy. And that's one of the things I enjoy most about writing, because I like a challenge.

Thanks so much, Katie! The Boy Next Door is out today in paperback, and you should definitely pick up a copy! 

About The Boy Next Door
Maddy Spier's been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls. How can she make him realize that they can be partners off the ice as well?

Gabe’s relationship with Maddy is vital. He can’t imagine skating with anyone else, and together they have a real chance at gold–maybe even making it to the Olympics! So he’s decided to think of her as a sister. After all, family is forever, but he’s never dated anyone for more than two weeks.

Then their coach assigns a new romantic skating program, and everything changes. Will this be the big break that Maddy’s been hoping for or the big break-up that Gabe has always feared?
Learn more by visiting Katie's website or checking out SwoonReads.com!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cover Reveal: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg Plus an Exclusive Excerpts

I'm excited to kick off 2015 with a cover reveal of fellow VCFA writer Ingrid Sundberg's debut novel, All We Left Behind! It'll be coming out in December (boo, so far away, I know), so maybe you haven't heard too much about it yet, but it better be on your wishlist! Here's what it's all about:
When shy bookworm Marion Taylor meets sexy soccer captain Kurt Medford at a party, what seems like a sure thing turns into a total mess. One minute they’re alone in the middle of the lake, igniting sparks of electricity. And the next they’re on dry land, pretending they don’t even know each other. But rather than the end, that night is the beginning of something. Something real and terrifying and unforgettable. 
As Marion and Kurt struggle to build the fragile pieces of a relationship, every kiss uncovers memories both of them would rather stay buried. Marion desperately wants to trust him, to share the one secret she’s never told anyone – but some truths aren’t meant to be spoken aloud. While Kurt is still haunted by his mother’s death, by the people he hurt, and by the mistakes he can never take back. 
Explosive together and hollow apart, Marion and Kurt may be totally wrong for each other – or more right than they ever thought possible.
All right, here it is!

All We Left Behind...

I love the deep blues of this cover, and when I read the description "explosive together and hollow apart" about Kurt and Marion, I can't help but think that this cover really captures the electricity of those words. 

Ingrid was kind enough to share an exclusive excerpt of the novel to celebrate the cover reveal! 
Halfway down the corridor I see Marion. Button down shirt. Blond hair. My feet slow to watch her pile her books up one by one, and it strikes me that she’s not the kind of girl I would ever pay attention to. She’s good looking, sure, but smart. The kind of smart that outweighs the good-looking part. I have to resist the urge to lean against her locker and mention how I couldn’t stop thinking about her wet, dripping body. I’d love to watch her face if I said that. That would get the smart to quiver right on out of her. Not that it’s the smart that scares me. Not that she’s the type of girl who could scare me at all.


Kurt Medford: Soccer captain. Gorgeous. Out of my league. He’s the kind of guy you watch from afar, tawny haired, beautiful; he’s not someone you actually speak to. There’s something intangible about him. He has that ability to slip in and out of the light, like a mirage you aren’t sure is real. But when he’s there in front of you, he’s there – sturdy and brilliant. It’s his grace, startling and unexpected, that steals the air out from under your feet. It’s as if you never really see Kurt, until he chooses to be seen.
About Ingrid:

Ingrid Sundberg holds an MFA in writing for children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. She grew up in Maine, but now lives in sunny California, where she misses the colors of autumn. She loves polka dots, baking, and dying her hair every color of the rainbow. All We Left Behind is her first novel. Find her online at: www.ingridsnotes.wordpress.com (and coming soon: www.ingridsundberg.com).
If you want to read more about All We Left Behind, check out Melanie Fishbane's blog for another excerpt, and of course, Ingrid's website to keep up to date on the book and Ingrid's writing!