The Compulsive Reader: November 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Thickety: The Whispering Trees by J.A. White

After the cliffhanger ending of The Thickety: A Path Begins, I can't believe it took me so long to get to this sequel to find out what happens to Kara and Taff! When we last left them, they were fleeing their village and headed into uncertainty in the Thickety. When the book picks up, they promptly meet danger, Sordyr, and another witch named Mary Kettle, who offers Kara and Taff safe passage through the Thickety and magic lessons for Kara.

The children hesitantly agree--only because they have no other choice. Kara learns that she is a special kind of witch, wexari, who doesn't need a grimoire in order to wield magic. That makes her more powerful, and more dangerous--if she chooses to be. As the children encounter death, betrayal, and the darkness behind Sordyr and his powers, the responsibility to use her magic carefully weighs heavily on Kara, and she is forced to make impossible decisions, with shocking consequences.

The second book moves quickly, much like its prequel, and explores weighty themes of redemption and responsibility of power. Kara and Taff both grow, in ability and in character. The losses and betrayals they experience up the stakes, and make an already convoluted plot even more tangled than the darkness they traverse in the Thickety. They must rely on each other and what they know about human nature in order to figure out what to do next, and grapple to maintain hope in the face of all that they've lost. White's plotting is impressive, with some great twists, and the stakes are raised impressively with this second volume. The mythos of the Thickety and the magic also develops in surprising and interesting directions, which gives the story depth and history. While the ending isn't quite as nail-biting as the prequel's, it definitely sets us up for a third installment, which will be out in February 2016.

Book purchased from local indie!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why You Should Really Write YA, A Response to That Bustle Article, With Tweets and Annotations

Today I got onto Twitter, which is always a dangerous game, and saw tweets about this article on Bustle, on why you should write a YA novel. It's not a surprise in this tech-y/DIY/instant gratification age that the idea that anyone can write (and publish) a book is perpetuated around every corner, but I clicked on the link despite the warning bells that were tinkling at the back of my mind. Because, you know, I do that YA writing thing, which is why this blog doesn't get as much time and loving attention as it used to. (Writing novels is hard, yo.)

But this article... I think I'll let my tweets (with annotations) say the rest. (Also, sorry for the swears, Mom.)
(To be fair, Young Adult is a super fascinating movie and not bad, per se. But I don't think it realistically depicts the life of any YA writer. Okay, maybe two. But not any that I know. And I know a LOT of YA writers. And I am one. So there.)

(We could go round after round about YA tropes, and storytelling techniques, strategies, and narrative styles that exist under the umbrella of YA. There are certainly some things that are more typical of YA than others, but there are ALWAYS outliers and exceptions. And I'd argue that high emotion should be characteristic of any good novel, most of what we call cliffhangers in YA aren't actual cliffhangers but unresolved endings, and short chapters? Seriously? Have you read a Rainbow Rowell novel?

If you want to talk more about YA and writing styles, drop me a line. We can go to coffee and I'll bring my MFA hood.)

(Look, I have two friends with film agents/movie options. If they got movies eventually, we'd all be ecstatic. But they'll also be the first to tell you that they would be shocked if that happened. Frankly, they're just kind of baffled and happy to have made it this far, but they don't expect much more even if we are all hoping for movies and multi-million dollar franchises. And without having hard numbers, I'd also say that most YA writers don't have film agents, let alone interest.)

 (ALSO, not every YA writer even wants to be involved in the process of making a film from their novels. I think films take a lot of time make, maybe, and that'd be time away from writing, which doesn't sound appealing to me or to many writers.)

 (I mean, really.)

(Enrolling in an MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults is a really great way of submerging yourself into a community of like-interested adults. We also throw some hella good parties.)

(I have lots of social media followers. You're probably one of them. If they all gave me a dollar, I could pay off my student loans, but that's stupid because I don't want your dollars. I just want to hang out and chat and favorite--I'm sorry, LIKE--your funny tweets and maybe have intense feelings about books with you. The idea of social media audience = sales or profit of any kind is kinda silly.)

(Quickest, time-wise. Books take a lot of time! Books should take a lot of time because so much goes into them. This is a very important point--editing, copy editing, formatting, design, marketing, publicity, sales. These are all broad stroke points in a huge process. And I can tell you honestly, as a bookseller, you need to do your due diligence and make it all professional as can be, or readers won't give you much attention.)

(Seems like an unrealistic expectation? Past Tirzah was so polite. It IS an unrealistic expectation. Unbelievably unrealistic.)

(Nothing is guaranteed: Also a good life motto.)

(Personal anecdote: When I was younger, I used to imagine selling the book I was writing. I would get $300,000 for it and its two sequels. I don't know why $300,000, it seemed like a nice round number. I would be flush! I would pay off my car! I'd buy a couch! You wanna know how far this fancy daydream got me? Nowhere, in the middle of nowhere.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't still fantasize about what life might look like after publication, but I actively try not to because that shit is like a tiny innocent snowball that goes rolling down a very large mountain and turns into a boulder of snowy doom before its halfway down, crushing all motivation and focus on the actual work. And funny thing, if you want to be published, you need to do the work.

These days, I fantasize about getting a piece of dialogue right, or writing a metaphor that will make people say, "Huh, good one, Price." Also, chocolate for every 1,000 words I write.)

(Don't even go there.)

(Mmm, pie.)

(Now, I wouldn't argue if anyone wanted to pay off my student debts, but believe me, there are far easier and much more profitable ways of doing that than spending three hours every morning writing. I could wait tables, write ad copy, tutor a teen, open an etsy shop...and I can't think of any more skills I possess. But they'd all make me more money than I am earning or will hope to earn on anything I write between the last two years of my life and the next five.

So why do I write? Short answer: Because YA books saved my life as a teen, gave me guidance when I felt lost, and made me feel less alone. I have some stories in me that I hope will someday do the same for at least one teen. I write because I can't not.)

(Some words on the fancy degree, because I know there are people out there who might want to pick at this one point and while I am proud of my MFA, I don't want it to sound like I'm elevating myself above the MFA-less: You do not need an MFA to write and publish excellent books for teens--aka YA. You DO still need to do all the work, though. For me, an MFA was perfect because it gave me guidance, a structure, and access to amazing faculty members, all published and successful in their own rights, who offered me feedback on my work. As an added bonus, it expanded my mind--yay education!--and it gave me a built-in community I know I'll have for life. I highly recommend it. If you can't swing an MFA, then find the non-MFA equivalent of that! You'll need friends and a community and support that is all about that craft for when the market stuff gets depressing.)

 And, encore! My friend compiled a thing and it is great:

 Thoughts, ideas, etc. welcome. Please no tomato throwing. Comment or tweet at me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always felt a special affinity to the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. He was born on the day the last strip was published, he had a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was little, and he even once had a best friend named Susie. Now that he's seventeen, Hobbes has returned--as a talking tiger with a mind of his own--and Calvin has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calvin desperately wants to be normal, so he figures that if he can just meet Bill Watterson and convince him to draw one last Calvin & Hobbes strip, depicting Calvin as grown up and okay, then he'll be okay, too. And so he sets off for Ohio, walking across a frozen Lake Erie, with one not-real tiger and one maybe-real Susie, determined to find Bill.

I love, love, love this book. Whether or not you know and love Calvin & Hobbes (and if you've never read Calvin & Hobbes, you need to!), this is a story that will resonate with you. Calvin is an unreliable narrator, but delightfully so. Because of his schizophrenia, even he isn't able to tell you for sure what's real and what isn't, but he is determined to see his only solution through, even if it's what others might call crazy. And that's a brilliant source of tension in the novel--as the stakes grow, the question of whether or not Susie is real becomes imperative, for her sake if she's real and for Calvin's if she's not. The Hobbes character is downright delightful, which makes it rather tragic that he's this frustratingly, damagingly fictive element of Calvin's mind.

When we're kids, we talk about things that are real and aren't real in such distinct terms, even though the lines are often blurred. (Santa Claus is real, by a faraway country or an animal never before seen in person may not be.) I think a common misconception about growing up is that we are better able tell what's real and what's not. But if anything, I think it becomes trickier. And Martine Leavitt addresses this brilliantly--are our feelings real, are our fears valid, does this belief hold weight, will this relationship withstand the trials of life? How do we know when something is real in all the ways that matter? All this, and more in this novel. Calvin is a brilliant little book, bursting with beauty and life.

ARC provided by publisher.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Few of My Favorite YA Short Stories

I've been making a point to read more short fiction in the past year, especially YA short fiction. I think that there is a misconception that there isn't much of a market for YA short stories, and it certainly is a less visible than adult short fiction, but once I committed to reading more short stories, I found that there is a lot out there. You just might have to dig a little! I've got an anthology round up post in the works, but for now: Here are some of my favorite YA short stories!

"The Summer People" by Kelly Link
Where to read it:  Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, or Link's newest collection, Get In Trouble

"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link
Where to read it: My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

When it comes to YA short stories, I don't think you can find better than Kelly Link. Her stories are brilliant, beautiful, and eclectic. She has a few collections in both the adult and YA markets, and she's edited a few anthologies, so she's someone you might have read and not realized. "The Summer People" exemplifies what I love about her work: relatable teen characters in a real-world setting that slowly becomes more unsettled with each page. And "The Lady and the Fox" is lovely and strange and just the right combination of magic and heartbreak.

"The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" by Libba Bray
Where to read it: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories ed. Kelly Link

I first read this short story in preparation for my first VCFA residency. Margaret Bechard was giving a lecture on science fiction, and asked us to read it in advance. The world that Bray builds, the string of moments that shape the protagonist, and the decision she's left with all completely entranced me. This is one of the best short stories I've ever read, and it's makes buying the entire Steampunk anthology 100% worth it.

"Paper Cuts Scissors" by Holly Black
Where to read it: The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

There's so much to love in this story: books, characters who come to life, a mysterious basement, and magic. I first read it years ago, but I go back to it every now and then and get something new from it every time. And the rest of Holly Black's collection (actually, anything she writes) is excellent as well!

"Resurrection Bay" by Neal Shusterman
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse

I downloaded this one in a whim and read it on my iPhone (sadly, it doesn't look like it's available in print anywhere), and I was thoroughly creeped out and completely enamored with this book. If you want a short story with a memorable setting and a creepy twist, this is a perfect pick.

"The Game of Boys & Monsters" by Rachel M. Wilson
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse

Rachel Wilson's short story takes a recent YA trope--monster boyfriends--and explores the dark underside of romance and danger. This is a sharp, unsettling, and beautifully written short story. I read it on my phone (it's only available as a digital download), but reading it made me feel like I ought to be wrapped up in a blanket on a window seat, reading the words in a leather-bound book.

"The Bus" by Maggie Lehrman
Where to read it: On the Hunger Mountain website, direct link here

You probably recognize Maggie Lehrman as the author of The Cost of All Things. This short story isn't magical (except for the writing), but it is a brilliant exploration of how a single moment can change everything. I think I held my breath while reading the majority of this story--Maggie layers tension and emotion and suspense brilliantly.

"Tilt-a-Whirl" by Rachel Furey (the 2015 Katherine Paterson Prize winner!)
Where to read it: On the Hunger Mountain website, direct link here

Everything about this story invites the reader in: the second person narration, the detail, the setting. This is a beautiful and deft piece that explores a moment of grief and connection in such a memorable way.

"Stupid Perfect World" by Scott Westerfeld
Where to read it: As a digital download from HarperImpulse, or in the Love is Hell anthology

I read this years ago, and the concept has always stayed with me: two teens in the far-future have to experience a "hardship" from the past for the Scarcity class. They choose adolescent hormones and sleep, and find that the surprising benefits far outweigh the inconveniences that their society has chosen to erase. I still really love this story for all that it does to challenge readers to think about what's really important in life.